You wouldn’t have guessed it from her name but, Riesling is a Welsh woman through and through. She was born in Casnewydd (Newport to you and me), and she intends to die in Casnewydd, and that’s a fact. Her mother gave her this unusual name because she was partial to a drop of Riesling wine, made in the Rhine Valley in Germany. At 6:19 on the morning of Saturday 6 September 1969, the midwife recorded Riesling’s birth as “Girl; Weight: 6 pounds & 9 ounces; Time: 6:09 a.m.; Date: 6/9/69”. This curious coincidence of the numbers 6 and 9 is just about the most interesting thing you can say about Riesling. Everything else about her early life is well, uninteresting.
Riesling is not ugly or anything; she is not a beauty either. You could say she is plain, I suppose. Riesling is neither very bright nor stupid; neither tall nor short; neither good nor bad; neither fat nor thin; neither this nor that. In fact, on life’s scale of 1 to 100 for almost any measure, she sits smack on the 50 mark. In the looks department, the only outstanding thing about Riesling is her hair; it is outstanding, literally! No matter what she did to her hair in terms of shampoos, conditioners and gells, it always sprang up in wiry curls and ran in all directions. All she could do is to keep it relatively short so that it didn’t get in the way so much.
Riesling always lived with her parents until they died within 3 months of one another some two years ago. She was sad for a while and had to go through two funerals in quick succession. Not many people turned up for the two events. For her mother, 12 people turned up, including the vicar, her and her father. Three months later, 7 people turned up for her father’s funeral, and this time her father could only turn up as the dead person rather than a mourner so, he didn’t count in this case! It isn’t that people hated them or anything rather, like Riesling herself; both parents were themselves only children of only children. After their death, Riesling wound up entirely on her own in this world, living in the same 2 bedroom terraced house in Keynsham Avenue near the centre of Newport.
Riesling also inherited some money from her parents. However, her only luxury in life is eating good quality bacon butties, Turkish Delight and a bottle or two of Guinness in the evenings. She hardly ever goes out; she is only been on holiday once when she went to Cornwall but didn’t like their bacon butties; she doesn’t smoke; she hardly ever spends money on clothes and never on make up; she likes to listen to music on the radio but never buys records; she has a 25 year old colour TV, which, as far as she is concerned, still works well enough. So, her money sits in her bank account, waiting to be used on something or someone worthwhile.
Since 2004, when Newport was selected to host the 2010 Ryder Cup Golf Tournament, the city has been going through major urban regeneration. Amongst the changes taking place, the front of the River Usk has been cleaned up and landscaped for the city citizens and visitors to enjoy as a public space. Marks & Spencer in Commercial Street also recently had a facelift and was expanded. The store took on more staff, including Riesling herself to work in the Food Department behind the delicatessen counter. Before that, Riesling had a variety of jobs from dentist receptionist to shop assistant but none of these jobs demanded any degree of precision and exactitude which meant that she was quickly bored with them. Since M&S is very close to the riverfront, Riesling likes to go and sit on her favourite bench to eat her lunch and watch the world go by.
Riesling Damp has one good thing going for her; she is tenacious like a Welsh terrier; she never gives up on the things that she cares about. The trouble is, her care about things runs in the opposite direction to her tenacity. In other words, she doesn’t care about most things in life. Here are the things Riesling cares about:
The first thing Riesling is passionate about is doing things consistently. In the mornings, when she walks from her house in Keynsham Avenue to work at M&S in Commercial Street, she likes to take the exact route from the previous day and the day before that and the day before that too. She counts her steps and they have to be the same number as everyday which is 436 steps exactly. When she comes across someone in her way, she never sidesteps in case that adds an extra step or two to her total; instead she comes to a stand still and waits for the other person to move one way or the other before she proceeds on her way. At the delicatessen counter where she works, she likes to arrange her sausages, hams and cheeses in exactly the same way as everyday without a fraction of a centimetre variation. Her biggest pet hate is running out of certain sausages or salamis and waiting for the next big delivery to bring her replenishments of the missing items. When a customer asks for 200 grams of ham, she never, ever says to them: “just over, is this okay madam?”. She has practiced her slicing to the point that she knows how many slices will make exactly 200 grams. On the odd occasion when she gets it slightly wrong and the amount sliced turns out to be say, 203 grams, she slices another piece and swaps it with one of the others to see if she can bring the total down to 200 grams. This causes Riesling to be slow to the extent that some customers complained about her slow service to the checkout staff. Some of the regular customers had wised up to her little habit and to speed things up, they would ask for 8 slices of ham or three finger width of extra mature cheddar cheese or any other way of describing what they want without mentioning the weight. But Riesling is such a sweet and conscientious employee, who always arrives dead on time and leaves dead on time, has given management little or no reason to discipline her and for that, they put up with her quirky little habits.
The second thing Riesling cares about is quiz magazines and in particular, she likes to solve anagrams and word puzzles. In the evenings, Riesling would have her dinner of bacon butty and Guinness, wash her plate and glass and settle down to work on her word puzzles. Sometimes she watches television but only if there is a quiz show on like Countdown or Hard Spell but in the main, she prefers to sit down and do magazine puzzles until it is time to go to bed. In her daily life, Riesling likes to take people names or shop names and see if she can make anagrams out of them just to amuse herself. She found an interesting anagram for Marks and Spencer on the first day she started working there and it was “MR E SPANKS DANCER”. She also found an anagram for her supervisor, Thomas Evans and his anagram was “HOT VANE MASS”! Ever since she was a little girl, she worked out all kinds of anagrams of her own name but her favourite one is still “DAME SLIP RING”. She is now so good at anagrams; she can make one out of your name within 30 seconds of meeting you and hearing your name for the first time. She is always trying to beat her own record and one day, she hopes to go below 20 seconds! “That would be something, isn’t it?”, she thought to herself on so many occasions when the thought occurred to her.
The third thing Riesling passionately cares about is bacon butties. She loves bacon butties to such an extent she has them on most days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sure, she has to eat other things sometimes but, she would rather eat bacon butties instead. When she was little, no amount of cajoling from her mother would induce her to have anything else in her lunchbox except bacon butties. Now that she works at M&S, her job allows her to indulge her two passions of having access to good quality bacon and to practice the subtle art of slicing meats and cheeses consistently and to the precise specification of her customers.
Hearing and reading so much about healthy living and having a lot of time on her hands, Riesling decided to take up a sport to keep fit and to counter the effect of all those bacon butties she consumes everyday. She joined the Newport Athletics Club on the other side of the River Usk and tried various sports. She hated aerobics; she couldn’t get the point of jogging; she fell asleep during yoga; she couldn’t be bothered with competitive sport because that meant having to compete with someone else in a sport she didn’t care much for; and finally, she tried and liked climbing. A new indoors climbing centre was opened in early 2007 so Riesling took a few lessons on the basics. Ever since then, she has been keeping fit by going to the club 3 times a week to climb the indoor walls. She made astonishing progress in the sport so much so, she was invited on a number of occasions to join their outdoor expeditions to climb proper mountains but she refused in spite of the fact that she was told that she was good enough to be successful on the real thing.
Apart from the rare trip to Cardiff with her parents and a week’s holiday in Cornwall, she never left Newport and wasn’t sorry about that fact. She heard of places like Bristol, London and Paris she wasn’t sure if they served good bacon butties there and didn’t want to risk it!
All and all, Riesling Damp was a simple, contented, dedicated, tenacious but lonely woman who was waiting for the chance to be dedicated to and tenacious about some worthwhile cause or person besides speed anagramming, slicing precise ham and sticking to an exact number of steps between home and work.