From grey skies in Oldham to wine tasting in Tuscany | Jack Marshall’s column

If it wasn’t for my fellow Oldhamer Professor Brian Cox unravelling the secrets of the universe on a semi-regular basis, my recent holiday may just have featured the single most fancy thing a person from the town has ever done. And, while I admit the bar isn’t exactly sky-high, the point stands: it was too fancy for me.
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First to Oldham. Oldham is a place which has thoroughly redefined the concept of grey over its decades of drizzle and a place which boasts comfortably the UK’s most depressing shopping centre - The Spindles. One Christmas, I saw a miserable-looking reindeer shivering outside the Cash4Gold branch in The Spindles and my festive spirit has never drained away so swiftly.

People from Oldham get social strata nosebleeds when they stray as far as Bury Market or, heaven forbid, the M&S Foodhall in Rochdale. It’s the kind of place which not only has a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but knockoff imitations named after Dallas, Georgia, Montana, Michigan, Virginia, Florida, California, and Orlando. Its Odeon is alright.

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Wine-tasting in Tuscany isn’t usually something someone from Oldham does. When it was suggested as a holiday activity, I almost laughed - were we even allowed? Turns out we were: the impossibly picturesque vineyard complete with cypress tree-lined driveway, had a pro-Oldham policy. Or at least no anti- one.

Smashing the social glass ceiling: wine tasting in TuscanySmashing the social glass ceiling: wine tasting in Tuscany
Smashing the social glass ceiling: wine tasting in Tuscany

Gently sweating in kitchen-esque Italian heat framed by a background of noisy but invisible cicadas, a kindly Italian lady came round to tell us about wine, delving into centuries of family history, dramatic vine yields, and the magic behind pucker-provoking tannins. We were way beyond the realms of ‘red’ and ‘white’ here.

Served a selection of prosciutto, aubergine, and something which looked like pea foam, the professionally silent and crisp-shirted servers plied us with some of the most expensive booze we’d ever drank. Of the half-a-dozen glasses we were all offered, the cheapest came from a bottle of plonk worth about £35. Very Pleasant Indeed.

But I’ll admit the grandeur was wasted on me somewhat. The reds tasted like reds, the whites like whites. They were lovely, but almost indistinguishable. Goes to show that you can take the boy out of Oldham…