I relish the Art Deco whimsy of the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the Jazz Age equivalent of The Book of Common Prayer. I am braced by David Embury's fiercely opinionated The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks ("In general, the only liquor I have ever tasted that I regard as worse than tequila is slivovitz"), an American compendium which emerged from the highball era in the Fifties. I am refreshed by my colleague Michael Jackson's erudite and stylish Bar & Cocktail Book ("The very origins of rum are lost in the smoke of cannon, the clatter of swords, and the clamour of mainbraces being spliced"). And now I am relishing the World Encyclopaedia of Cocktails by Paul Martin, a new-wave "mixologist", who set two world speed records for mixing drinks before moving on to the more sedate territory of "cocktail consultancy".
I haven't tried all 2,500 of the recipes contained in Martin's book, which range from the A1 (two ounces of gin, one ounce of Grand Marnier, a dash of lemon juice) to the Zooper Dooper (as the name suggests, it's a pretty foul concoction combining Frangelico, pineapple juice, double cream and creme de cacao). En route, the dedicated imbiber can tackle such inventions as Paraffin, Dead Rat Shooter, Paint Thinner, Jelly Fish (a combination of Kahlua, Bailey's and grenadine, in which you create "grenadine tentacles with a cocktail stick").
Other seductions are Hairy Navel, Floor Polish, Onion Breath (which uses vinegar from a jar of onions), Limp Dick, Windowlene and, oddly enough, HG Wells. There can be few other volumes which link the name of Queen Victoria with Panty Burner or Prince Charles (one ounce of gin, one ounce of Drambuie, one ounce of lemon juice) with Multiple Orgasm.
Snatching up my slightly tarnished cocktail shaker, I co-opted a wary Mrs Weasel as a one-woman tasting panel and scored an immediate hit with the Panther (one ounce of Campari, one ounce of Cointreau, the juice of one lime): "Mmm, most yummy." But the Copper Illusion (four ounces of gin, half an ounce of Campari, half an ounce of Cointreau) made her feel "a bit wibbly- wobbly". The Laguna (two ounces of grappa, one ounce of bianco vermouth, one ounce of vodka, a quarter of an ounce of Campari) was succinctly described: "Ish ver' shtrong." My tasting panel retreated to bed soon afterwards. The Laguna, however, is baby's milk compared to a sulphuric swill called Firecracker 500, made of five overproof spirits with orange and lemon juice. "Like drinking seven pints of beer in three to four minutes," warned Paul Martin. "It's completely violent."
I doubt if I can persuade Mrs W to sample a more innocuous cocktail, invented by Mr Martin, which for some reason he did not include in the book. "Someone gave me a bottle of rice-wine spirit which had a couple of gutted lizards in it. How they got them in there I don't know," he said. "We used it for a drink which we called the Godzilla: three ounces of gin, one ounce of rice-wine spirit with lizards, a dash of Angostura. Stir over ice." And how did it taste? "Bizarre."
Egged on by a couple of cronies to see the Australian tourists play Middlesex at Lord's, I arrived during the lunch interval. "You'll have no trouble finding us," they'd said. "We'll be at the Nursery End." Hah! Most of the 7,000 crowd turned out to be at the Nursery End, and a good half of them were indistinguishable from my pals, in the middle-aged cricket fan's uniform of floppy hat and salt-and-pepper beard. It took half an hour to discern my friends in this army of doppelgangers - at least, I think it was them.
As a cricketing ignoramus, I had hoped that they might help to elucidate the mysteries of the summer game, but their jargon merely made it more surreal. After conjecturing that the pitch might be a "sticky dog", they wittered on about a bat being "hung out to dry", an "agricultural" shot being dispatched to "cow corner" and a batsman "leaving his periscope up" before "doing a bit of gardening". I cracked and asked for elucidation when one of my friends announced: "The old cutter is working well" - though there was no lawn mower in sight. His explanation was less than informative: "It's a ball which cuts in from the off-side."
In the next over, my other sporting adviser noted that "Shane Warne has been having a bit of trouble with his flipper." What was wrong with his hand? "No, it's not part of him," he replied testily. "It's part of his technique. The flipper is a deceptive ball from a leg-spinner that is very difficult to control. Can easily get tonked. Takes four years to perfect the flipper, you know."
While this piece of lore hung in the air like a zen aphorism, I noted one spectator who was wearing a dress. A white, filmy affair with a matching feathered hat. Nothing too remarkable about this, except he was a man. Transvestism seems quite the rage in cricketing circles, because shortly afterwards a muscular figure in a mini-skirt jumped onto the pitch and did a vigorous watutsi before being whisked away. My friends did not seem in the least astonished. "I saw 12 men dressed as nuns run down the course at Sandown Park," one muttered.
"I see Gat's lost a few pounds," observed the other. "Must be because Nancy's left."
It emerged that this was not a reference to a sundering of the ways in the Gatting household, but the departure of a legendary disher-up of bacon butties in Lord's pavilion. At that moment, an easy catch from the newly slender Gatting was dropped by an Aussie fielder and a portion of the crowd started to chant "Eeyore, Eeyore." My friend's explanation could scarcely have been bettered by Jeeves himself: "The implication is that he is a donkey."
An announcement over the loudspeaker can have done little to dispel the impression among Australian spectators that the English are a toffee-nosed lot. "After the game," it said, "a splendid social occasion will take place on top of the Mound Stand. For just pounds 15 you can enjoy a wine-tasting among exceedingly good company while surrounded by items of cricketing memorabilia." Maybe the concentration of calorifically deprived Gatting was ruffled by this tempting proclamation, because he was bowled in the next over. "I said he should watch the cutter," tutted my friend.
Forget the Rorschach ink-blot test. For an insight into an individual's psychology, look no further than the contents of their holiday suitcases. Amid suntan lotion and unravelled tape cassettes, the personality of the owner is there for all to see.
After arriving for a fortnight in Provence, a friend was dismayed to discover that his 17-year-old son had packed four pairs of woollen gloves but no socks. A more extreme example of mental laxity was encountered by another chum while on the way to Heathrow for a beach holiday in Morocco. As the tube train rattled through Hounslow, he asked his travelling companion, a postgraduate student at Oxford, what he was carrying in his elephantine rucksack. "Dunno," said the academic voyager. "I haven't unpacked since I was last away." "Where was your last holiday?" my friend asked incredulously. "Er, lemme think," came the reply. "Yep, it was Iceland".Reuse content