Joys of Modern Life

12. Vodka & Tonic
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The Independent Culture
VODKA AND tonic. Wonderful words. The former is a fabulous command. Perhaps it means "pour! now!" in some ancient East European dialect. Perhaps some superb fur-clad Cossack walked up to a Muscovite bar and shouted "Vod! ka!" while banging his fist on the table.

Tonic, however, is genteel. It conjures up images of nice ladies in floaty dresses sipping cool drinks on an English lawn.

Vodka and tonic became hugely popular in the late Eighties, when the conspicuous consumer consciousness decided that gin and tonic was a no- no. There were too many connotations of suburban housewives and depression. Vodka and tonic had glamour, a sort of post-glasnost gleam.

Now even Gwyneth Paltrow, the Gucci designer Tom Ford and Liz Hurley confess to a soft spot for the tipple, while Robbie Williams has two goldfish, one called vodka, the other, tonic. None of this has put me off.

Vodka and tonic may be referred to as vodka tonic - or "voddyton", in a sort of Abigail's Party way - but never as V&T. I remember my first. I was 15 and thought it was absolutely disgusting. This, of course, accounts for its appeal.

There was a ten-year gap before the next one. I fell in with a reckless crowd who thought that a bloody Mary should always precede breakfast. I learnt that Absolut and Smirnoff were best: Absolut because the bottle was designed by Philippe Starck, and Smirnoff because of its glorious past (its founder was purveyor of vodka to the Tsars).

I recall nights of drinking with my new-found chums, watching the tonic in my glass turn neon in ultraviolet light, and drinking in a garden at midnight while my stilettos sank into the lawn. We drank vodka tonics so strong you couldn't see the bubbles.

Over the years I learnt to make the perfect "smart vodka". First toss three ice cubes and a squeeze of fresh lime into a tall, frosted glass. Then add one part of syrupy, straight-from-the freezer Stolichnaya. Throw a slice of lime in with two parts of Schweppes tonic water. Take a good slug and feel the vodka kick, the tonic zing and the lime tang explode.

No other vodka combination comes close. Sea Breezes (vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice) is a C&A mini to the voddyton's Prada knee- length skirt; Cape Cod (vodka and cranberry juice) goes down faster than Monica Lewinsky in a hurry. No, Vodka tonic is It. With bells on.