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Pink Champagne


“A bottle of pink Dom Perignon please – I've had a terrible thirst for one for nine months now - if you know what I mean.”


It had been a memorable day in the career of Jamie Ruskin: that afternoon in 1980 he had been found 'not guilty' at the Old Bailey of robbing a swanky Knightsbridge Jewellers of their entire front window during an audacious closing-time raid; he had just enjoyed his first meal out since his arrest nearly a year earlier; and now he was ensconced at La Bussola, a highly fashionable Italian dinner-dance restaurant, celebrating his new found and unexpected freedom, comparing the culinary delights he had just eaten to the fare which would have been almost thrown at him had the trial not gone his way.


“Now,” he emphasised to his five guests, “if I had gone down today, I would not only have drawn fifteen years, but tonight I would be getting some pretty stale bread and a couple of hard boiled eggs. Instead of which I have had a banquet.”


“Yes,” Jamie repeated decidedly, “ a bottle of Pink Dom Perignon – if you please.”


The wine waiter Juliano had heard the request the first time, but had not been able to get a word in edgeways whilst Jamie was in full flow. He did not really know what to make of the guest he saw before him, a man in his early 30s with handsome but somewhat hardened features, a boyish manner, an expensive silk suit and a pretty but painted blonde to his left.  The rest of the party were patently from the same batch. It was at least clear to Juliano that the group were celebrating some event or other, and that Mr Ruskin was going to be settling the bill. Finally with the contrast of prison apples to the restaurant's Crêpe Suzette, Jamie ran out of steam and turned towards Juliano.


“Sir,” Juliano said modestly, “we have an excellent selection of Dom Perignon. We have in our cellar virtually every year in the 1970s, and even a few older bottles if you like.” The waiter produced a leather bound wine list and proceeded to read from the relevant page. “May I suggest a '66, which is the favourite of Mr Fabrizzi, the owner.”


Jamie specifically ignored his advice. “yes yes yes very impressive no doubt, but I don't care what year it is as long as it's pink.”


Juliano began to look uncomfortable, not least because Jamie's cockney voice was raised and a good number of the diners at surrounding tables were now looking on with a mixture of annoyance and amusement. Finally Juliano made his stand and in a barely audible voice, clearly meant for Jamie's ears only, he muttered “I am sorry to tell you that I have been the wine waiter here for 10 years and I have never served a bottle of pink Dom Perignon. In fact I do not believe Dom Perignon ever made a pink champagne.”


There was a momentary pause, but Jamie was not to be denied. “Can I speak to the manager -  please?” The way that Jamie emphasised  the word 'please' made it clear that this was an order, not a request.


Off went Juliano as if he had just been released from a kidnapping, and Mr Carlini was sent in to bat. The manager was all charm and smiles. “Can I help you Sir?”


“Yes, you most certainly can,” was the ungracious reply. “Now look, here's the score,”  - Jamie was now in showboating mode. “I've had a real touch at the Old Bailey today, and an excellent dinner here tonight – no complaints, no complaints at all – but all I want now is to celebrate the health of my brief with a nice bottle of pink Dom Perignon – you can pick the year yourself.”


Much of the language used by Jamie was quite unintelligible to the manager, but he got the drift. He began listing the Dom Perignon they had in stock, and suggested a couple of old and (purely by chance no doubt) extremely expensive bottles.


“Yes yes yes,” interrupted Jamie “I have heard from the wine waiter that you have a wonderful selection – but I would like a bottle of pink Dom Perignon.”


Jamie's last remark left the manager with no choice. “ Sir, I have been the manager at La Bussola for more than eight years, and I have never seen, or even been asked for a bottle of Pink Dom Perignon. In fact, I do not believe Dom Perignon ever made pink champagne. Perhaps you would like to speak to the owner of the restaurant, Mr Fabrizzi, who happens to be in tonight?”


“Yes I would – wheel him out”  retorted Jamie.


This little incident was now being treated as somewhat of an unexpected cabaret by the diners at the surrounding tables, and the curtain was now raised for the final act to unfold.


Mr Fabrizzi was not 'wheeled out' but arrived under his own steam, albeit somewhat unsteadily, having received from his manager a brief résumé of the state of play. “What seems to be the problem Sir?”


Jamie's reply was immediate and loud, “I will tell you what the problem is. I asked your wine waiter - very politely, for a bottle of pink Dom Perignon. He couldn't oblige, and nor could your manager. Worse still they both made me look a laughing stock in front of my friends here tonight and some of your other guests (at this point Jamie turned his head to acknowledge his attentive audience at nearby tables) by telling me that Dom Perignon never made a pink champagne. So now you know what the problem is.”


Mr Fabrizzi, unctuous in the extreme, was not going to be defeated. “And I am going to solve it Sir. I am arranging to bring up from my cellar three of our best old bottles of Dom Perignon, which I am sure you will find most satisfactory”


“Pink?” Was Jamie's only response.


“No Sir,” replied the embarrassed owner “I am afraid not, but please believe me, I have owned this establishment for eighteen years - wine is my passion, I pride myself on having one of the best cellars in London - Dom Perignon never made a pink champagne.” The last few words were whispered as if a confession from a man on his deathbed.


There was an electric silence, and it was difficult to see how the situation was going to be resolved. Mr Fabrizzi tried again. “Sir, please believe me, and if I may say so, this is one matter on which I have a very good knowledge,” he paused and as an afterthought added “in fact, if you can prove to me that Dom Perignon made a pink champagne, I will be only too happy for the entire meal for you and your guests tonight to be on the house.”


Jamie looked as if he was on the verge of a tantrum. He simply could not allow himself to look ridiculous in front of his five guests and a good number of other diners, no matter what the cost.


Banging the table with his right fist, which made the crockery jump, he played his ace. “Don't tell me Dom Perignon never made a pink champagne – I stole a lorry full of the stuff just over a year ago!”


Mr Fabrizzi retreated to his office and frantic telephone enquires followed. Suffice it to say that an effusive apology - but no bill, was presented at table seventeen that evening.

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