BUNHILL: The case of the Foreign Extra

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The Independent Online
HERE is a detective story, provisionally called A Tale of Two Dark Bottles. It all started when I went into my local off-licence in south London to buy some Guinness. There were two bottles on the shelf, both marked Foreign Extra Stout. They had the same capacity, they each cost pounds 1.09, but one was taller than the other and had a label that included the old legend "Guinness is good for you". Crucially, Watson, the label was badly scuffed.

I took them home and examined them carefully. The Guinness in each was strong - 7.5 per cent alcohol. One was clearly brewed in Dublin; the other label said it was brewed "in Dublin and Nigeria". It also had an address at Oba Akran Ave, Ikeja. Ha! This was without doubt a bottle of Nigerian Guinness. It had travelled 3,000 miles before coming to rest in London. The Dubliner had only had to skip 300 miles across the sea.

Something was clearly up. The first step was to see whether they were indeed the same drink. A carefully selected market research group tried them out in a blind test. They were subtly different - the Nigerian apparently has "a hint of banana".

The mystery was not, however, solved: what were the bottles doing on sale next to each in London? Only one man could explain this: the Man from Guinness. "I can't explain it," he said, though he was able to give me a useful history lesson.

Foreign Extra Stout was, it seems, first brewed in Dublin early in the last century for export to the colonies, especially in Africa. It was strong, which meant it travelled better, and became the biggest selling beer on the continent. It still is, and is brewed in 22 cities around the world.

But until last year you couldn't buy Foreign Extra in Britain, which was why African immigrants started importing it from Nigeria to satisfy their discerning palates. Guinness, separately, decided it could be the next designer drink (apparently we're drinking ever stronger beer), and launched the Dublin-brewed version in the UK.

This should have scuppered the unofficial imports - but it evidently hasn't. Why not? I decided to return to the original scene to continue my investigations. "Why do you stock the Nigerian Guinness?" I asked the off-licence manager. "Because people buy it," he replied. Which is the answer, I suppose: though "the free market" makes a pretty unsatisfactory villain in any proper mystery story.

SOMEONE was on the wireless this week taking about a Jacuzzi, which they pronounced in a pseudo-Italian way, turning the `zz' into a `ts'. I've heard this several times recently, and it is my duty as one of the few Britons to have talked to Mr Jacuzzi to put them straight: Roy Jacuzzi pronounced his name with a soft `zed' - and he should know.

There seems to be an urge to pronounce foreign names in a vaguely but not completely foreign way - why, for example, does "Renault" so often start English and finish sort-of French? Better surely to pronounce names in a throughly English way - unless you really know how to get them right. Even then, you may have problems: I am told that if you go into a pub and ask for a Lowenbrau with Teutonic perfection (Lervenbroy), you will get a lot of funny looks and no drink.

Well, I'll be drammed

FOLLOWING Bunhill's attempt to abolish the "level playing field" cliche by working out how much the process would cost, I am delighted to announce the destruction of another over-used phrase. It is the rhetorical question, "How many drops are there in a bottle of ink?"

J D Whitehall of Edgware says that a drop is equal to a minim, an apothecary's measure. There are 60 minims to a dram and eight drams to a fluid ounce, so a two fluid ounce bottle of ink would, he says, hold 960 drops.

Don Ismay (I think) of Carlisle uses the metric system, but starting from the knowledge that normal saline is 15 drops per millilitre, concludes that a 100ml bottle would contain 1,500 drops. This, converting into proper measurements, is almost exactly the same result.

Both receive a bottle of champagne (which, Mr Whitehall says, in an unsubtle hint, contains 11,290.32 drops).

Next, how long is a piece of string?

THE STATE of the "enterprise economy" (remember that?) can be gauged by the projects seeking venture capital. It is nice to see from Venture Capital Report that we are still able to think up old-fashioned gizmos.

A London enterpreneur wants pounds 150,000 to pay for the first batch of travel toothbrushes that will be sold via a shopping channel on American television. They've got toothpaste in the handle, see, which you squeeze though on to the head. Clever eh?

Underground trip

WHOOPS - in my excitement last week at the prospect of getting a car onto a London Underground platform at the Angel station, I managed to get the name of the company that is organising the stunt completely wrong. It's TDI, not TPA.

TDI is not yet saying how it will get the car underground, but we've had several suggestions and would like more.

Not just the right answer, but also daft ones. There are a couple of bottles of champagne for the best ideas.