My local auction house, Brightwells of Leominster, held a wine and spirits auction on Wednesday that included a remarkable collection of whisky, put up for sale by a man who had been acquiring rare bottles for decades.
Unfortunately, this fellow has now been told by his doctor that he mustn't drink the stuff any more, and presumably, rather than feel like a eunuch in a brothel, decided he'd rather get rid. I'm not a whisky drinker myself – the enduring consequence of an epic night of excess, and emesis, in Edinburgh 28 years ago – but even I could recognise the appeal of the lead crystal presentation decanter of Glenburgie, distilled in 1949, for which someone paid £360. Or the bottle of Mortlach, distilled in 1957, bottled in 1984, which went for £230.
What really caught my eye in the Brightwells catalogue, however, were 20 or so lots relating to the Royal Family. This whisky collector was plainly no republican: items included a limited edition bottle of Prince William "Coming of Age" single malt (estimate £200-£300) and a limited edition Rutherfords decanter commemorating Diana, Princess of Wales (estimate £400-£600), as well as other bottles marking the Queen's 80th birthday, the marriage of Charles and Camilla and the 100th anniversary of the death of Queen Victoria. There was even a Glendronach, distilled in 1960 and bottled in 1986, to celebrate the marriage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson. You'd have to be a pretty blinkered monarchist, or a huge Glendronach enthusiast, to want that in your drinks cabinet.
As it turned out, nobody did. Not enough to fork out the reserve price of £100, anyway. In fact, not one of the royal items reached its reserve. They all ended the afternoon conspicuously, humiliatingly, unsold, confounding the obvious intention of the vendor, and Brightwells, to cash in on next week's royal wedding.
By stark contrast with this apparent show of Herefordshire apathy, however, word reaches me that St Mary's Church in Ross-on-Wye, built at about the same time as Westminster Abbey, is planning a virtual royal wedding a week today, with a screen relaying events from the Abbey, and the same hymns and prayers to be intoned simultaneously by a congregation in best bib and tucker. Afterwards, there is to be a reception, with wedding cake.
Now, you don't have to subscribe to the belief that next Friday's hoopla is a national embarrassment to deem this, at best, a little cheesy, and at worst downright sickly. But let me urge you to reconsider. Guests to the St Mary's do are also requested to give a present to William and Kate, in the form of a donation to the church restoration fund, which seems to me a rather ingenious way of getting some solid parochial benefit out of all that expensive state pomp. Not that I'll be going or anything. But I might just drink a toast to the virtual wedding in Ross-on-Wye. Anything but whisky.
It wouldn't be Good Friday without a traffic jam
Next month sees the publication of a new book of mine, and while I wouldn't ordinarily dream of using my Notebook slot to give it a cheap plug, Good Friday seems like the perfect day for it. The book is called Cream Teas, Traffic Jams and Sunburn: The Great British Holiday, and celebrates most dimensions of the holidaying British, not least, as the title makes clear, our curious capacity for sitting in seemingly endless lines of traffic, so long as there's the promise of a 99 with raspberry sauce at the end of them.
Indeed, what encapsulates that fabled British stoicism better than a 20-mile Bank Holiday tailback? No frenzied tooting of horns, no encroaching on to the hard shoulder, just a massive collective sigh, a few muttered expletives, and an earlier-than-planned unveiling of the cheese-and-pickle sandwiches.
The worst traffic jam in the history of these islands, according to my research, occured on Good Friday 1987, and involved an estimated 200,000 people in 50,000 vehicles stuck on the M6 between Charnock Richard and Carnforth. I have had some dismal experiences myself on the M6 down the years, but I offer heartfelt thanks to the patron saint of motorways, St Moto, that I wasn't trapped in that one.
Of course, Bank Holidays weren't always synonymous with motorway traffic jams, albeit because they predate motorways and, for that matter, traffic. It is 140 years since Sir John Lubbock, a Liberal politician, banker and cricket nut, who felt that bank employees should get more time to play his beloved game, added four new holidays to the existing four.
His 1871 Bank Holidays Act made him comfortably the most popular man in the country, except among the old spoilsports who cited the example of the later Roman emperors who, on assuming power, used to keep the populace sweet by declaring new public holidays. Thus, by the fifth century AD, there were more than 100 public holidays a year, leaving insufficient time to hold the Roman empire together. Lubbock's opponents warned that too many public holidays would similarly undermine the British empire, and I can picture their whiskery ghosts looking down on today's motorway madness, saying "told you".
Looking forward to a culinary ordeal
My wife received the following letter this weekfrom a couple coming to stay in our holiday cottage. "Dear Mrs Viner, we would like to order, if not look forward to, a two-course dinner on the night of our arrival."
Had they written a simple "and" rather than "if not", there would have been no ambiguity. But by trying to be a little more flowery, they imply that they're slightly apprehensive about my wife's cooking.
It's so easy to make a meal of the English language.