Gin O’Clock – Part Forty Four

There are only so many of bottles of gin that you can pack into an already crammed car boot and, frankly, afford. So some hard choices have to be made when you are surfing the ginaissance. On my visit to the wonderful Constantine Stores last September I debated long and hard about adding Tarquin’s Handcrafted Cornish Gin but ultimately decided to leave it until my next trip. So, naturally, it was near the top of the list of gins to buy on my recent visit.

Unlike Herno and Granny Garbutt’s you can’t say that the bottle doesn’t stand out from the crowd, courtesy of a rather spooky looking, light blue, melted wax creation which runs from the top of the bottle down to its mid-point. Once the contents have been consumed it would make a great candle holder or a decoration for your Halloween celebrations. The label is black with Tarquin’s Dry Gin in silver print and a picture of a flying bird with berries in its beak – juniper, perhaps. The logo is repeated on the wax wrapping on the cap and the stopper is an artificial one.

The hooch comes from Southwestern Distillery which is located on Higher Trevibbhan Farm in St Ervan, near Wadebridge in Cornwall. The distillery was established in 2012 – it now has three copper stills – and the gins were first made available commercially in the following year. Each batch produces 300 bottles of hooch and only spirit from the heart of the run, the head and tail lis discarded, makes it into the bottles. My bottle came from batch 1033 and bears Tarquin’s signature, as do all bottles made for commercial sale. Beware all imitations!

The sourcing of the botanicals is distinctly cosmopolitan. The juniper comes from Kosovo, the coriander from Bulgaria, angelica root from Poland, orris root and bitter almond from Morocco, cardamom seeds from Guatemala, cinnamon from Madagascar, liquorice root from Uzbekistan and Devon violets from Tarquin’s garden. The citrus notes are provided by the zests of seasonal sweet orange, lemon and grapefruit.

The base is a wheat spirit into which the botanicals are steeped overnight, distilled, tasted and adjusted and cut with pure Cornish water sourced from the Boscastle area to bring it to its fighting weight of 42% ABV. When Tarquin, the distiller, is satisfied with the end product, it is laid to rest for a few days before being bottles, sealed and labelled. Quite a performance!

And all the effort is not wasted. It has a very solid base of traditional gin botanicals and these come through loud and clear when the stopper is removed. But the citrus elements are also to the fore. When poured into a glass I found it a very well-balanced spirit, clear, juniper to the fore before the more earthy spices and citrus flavours come into play. It was neither too spicy nor too sweet, a sure sign that the mix and balance was just right. Surprisingly, perhaps, it did not leave much of an after taste but, I suppose, that is an invitation to reacquaint yourself with the taste sensation by having another mouthful.

I was really impressed and it is up there with my all-time favourites. At the rate I am going I can see I will have a spooky candle holder well in time for Halloween!

Until the next time, cheers!



Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Seventy

The health jolting chair

It is often said that one of the main ways to keep healthy is to indulge in exercise. For many, either through physical incapacity or inclination – I am firmly in the latter camp – this is a step too far. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could get all the benefits of exercise by sitting in a chair. This is what the Health Jolting Chair Company of 150 West 23rd Street, New York, claimed to be able to do in adverts that did the rounds in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly in the 1880s.

The claims for the chair were, as you would expect, fulsome. It was “the most important health mechanism ever produced” affording “a perfect means of giving efficient exercise to the essentially important nutritive organs of the body in the most direct, convenient, comfortable and inexpensive manner.” Judging by the illustration that accompanied by the text, it seemed, at least by modern standards, anything but comfortable, resembling a wooden, unpadded chair with a pair of levers which, presumably, controlled the movement of the chair and a handle beneath the seat which might have been used to adjust the height. How it actually operates is very unclear although the advert does say “it can be regulated so as to give it any degree of severity desired.

Perhaps the manufacturers were more interested in flogging the things than in instructing the suckers who bought it how to use it. And their potential market was enormous. It was “suitable for all ages and most physical conditions” and “indispensable to the health and happiness of millions of human beings who may be living sedentary lives through choice or necessity.” Particularly targeted was the fairer sex who, if the copywriter was to be believed, did nothing all day but sit around, a habit which has either caused or will cause disease.

Gloriously, the advert concluded that “no dwelling-house is completely furnished without The Health Jolting Chair.

If you weren’t convinced by any of this, it went on to list the specific health benefits that anyone sitting in the chair could expect to receive; a stronger heart, improved circulation, an increase in respiratory movement, exercise of the body’s nutritive organs, and muscle development, particularly of the arms, trunk and neck, “with the minimum strain on the heart and other muscles.” As well as being “a mechanical laxative, diuretic and tonic”, the chair specifically cured constipation, dyspepsia, the effects of a torpid liver and kidneys, nervous prostration, melancholia, anaemia, general debility, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, rheumatism, gout and neuralgia. It could also be used when it was too wet, hot or cold to take outdoor exercise.

What not to like?

I have been unable to ascertain the retail price to see whether it was really inexpensive – the manufacturers were surprisingly coy on that point. Anyone interested in purchasing the chair, could send off to the manufacturers and receive, by return of post, a pamphlet entitled Exercise of the Internal Organs of the Body Necessary to Health, which they claimed was “interesting.” The chair was sold by furniture and house-furnishing goods dealers under the trademark Vis Preservatrix – always good to have a Latin tag to boost your product’s credibility.

And the $64,000 question is; was it any good? Other than a placebo and giving the sitter the feeling that they were doing themselves some good by being shaken about a bit, probably not.

It is worth noting that the company that owned the Health Jolting Company also manufactured the electric chairs that sent malefactors to an early grave. When your chair arrived, it might just have been worth checking that you had got the right one!

An Eye For An Eye Will Only Make The Whole World Blind – Part Eight

Bir Tawil

We have seen before that drawing a straight line on a map may be a pretty neat solution for diplomats but it can cause unanticipated problems on the ground. Take the curious case of Bir Tawil, the land nobody wants.

It’s easy to see why. It amounts to 795 square miles of unforgiving, hostile desert and mountains with no permanent inhabitants, on the border between Sudan and Egypt. Neither country is keen to claim sovereignty over it. On the other hand the Hala’ib Triangle, about ten times larger in area and much more hospitable with extensive grazing lands and bordering the Red Sea, is a prize worth having.

The problems started in 1899 when the British, who controlled the area, established the 22nd parallel as the border between the two countries. The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Agreement for Sudan established a nice straight line which placed the more desirable Hala’ib Triangle in Egypt and Bir Tawil in Sudan.

But in 1902 the Brits had another think and decided that the dividing line between the countries should better reflect the indigenous characteristics of the people on the ground. Bir Tawil was used by the Ababda tribe who were based near the Egyptian town of Aswan. So the Brits amended the border to put it into Egypt. The Hala’ib Triangle, though, was given to the British governor of Sudan because the population culturally were more aligned to the Sudanese of Khartoum.

Life in the area went on pretty much as normal until in 1956 Sudan gained its independence. Keen to assert its new independence the Sudanese government defined its national borders in accordance with the 1902 agreement, laying claim to the Hala’ib Triangle and passing Bir Tawil to Egypt. They even planned to hold elections in the Triangle. The Egyptians, however, claimed that the 1902 agreement was only ever a temporary arrangement and that the 1899 agreement had established the borders once and for all. When he got wind of the forthcoming election General Nasser sent troops to the area to reaffirm Egyptian control of the Triangle.

Blows were not traded and whilst both countries maintained their claim to the Triangle, it was effectively under joint control. There were the occasional disputes and when relations between the two countries worsened in the mid 1990s the Egyptians expelled Sudanese police and officials from the area in an attempt to strengthen their control. By 2000, when relations had thawed somewhat, the Sudanese withdrew their officials from the area, effectively ceding control to Egypt, unofficially of course.

But what about Bir Tawil?

Technically, it remains a terra nullius, with neither country keen to absorb it within their borders. To do so formally would probably be tantamount to giving up their claims to the Triangle. And so it remains almost certainly the only part of the world which no country actually owns. It remains so to this day.

Where there is a void, someone will try to fill it and a couple of individuals have made trips to Bir Tawil to stake a claim. In a 2016 article in the Guardian Jack Shenker wrote an account of his trek to the area in 2011, planting a multi-coloured flag in the desert to legitimise his claim. In 2014 a farmer from Virginia, Jeremiah Horton, made a journey to the area, planted his flag, proclaiming it the Kingdom of North Sudan. He declared himself the sovereign and his daughter, Emily, princess, thus fulfilling her birthday wish to be a princess.

Needless to say, neither of these claims has been recognised internationally. Some time, I expect, the Sudanese and Egyptians will get round to resolving the issue. But maybe they won’t.

There Ain’t ‘Alf Some Clever Bastards – Part Eighty Two

Mary Anderson (1866 – 1953)

It’s an everyday scene. You jump into your car, notice the windscreen is a bit smeared, so you flick a switch and two mechanical arms, fixed to the exterior of your car, spring into action and clear it for you. When it is raining or snowing, the windscreen wipers are invaluable to help you see where you are going. But have you ever considered whose brainwave the wipers were?

This is where the latest inductee into our illustrious Hall of Fame, Alabama born Mary Anderson, comes in.

While in New York during the winter of 1902 Mary was travelling on a trolley car and it was sleeting. The stately progress of the vehicle was interrupted every now and again because the driver had to get out and clear the front window of the snow and ice that had accumulated. Instead of fuming about the delay that this operation caused to her journey, Mary started wondering whether some kind of blade could be produced which the driver could operate from inside the trolley car, allowing him to clear the screen without having to stop and start the vehicle.

Food for thought, indeed.

When she got back to Birmingham, Alabama, Mary’s musings were sufficiently advanced that she was able to commit a rudimentary design to paper. She then wrote a description of how it might work and hired a local company to make a working model. It was remarkably simple, consisting of a lever fixed to the inside of the vehicle which controlled a rubber blade fixed to the exterior of the windscreen. By controlling the lever, the blade, which was counterweighted to ensure contact, would go back and forth across the windscreen, clearing it of any obstructions. The blade was detachable, “thus leaving nothing to mar the usual appearance of the car during fair weather.

On 18th June 1903 Mary submitted her application for a patent for what she quaintly described as a Window Cleaning Device. In the supporting documentation Anderson described how the wiper was to be operated by a handle inside the vehicle which was detachable.

On 10th November she was notified by the United States Patent Office that a patent had been granted, number 743,801, and that she had exclusive rights over her invention for 17 years.

But, as we have seen before, inventing something is the easy part. Making a commercial success of it is another kettle of fish altogether.

Mary started searching for commercial partners but, surprisingly, found no takers. Rather like an aspiring author seeking a publisher, she received rejections by the sack full. Perhaps the letter she received from the Montreal firm, Dinning and Eckstein, on 20th June 1905 was typical; “we beg to acknowledge receipt of your recent favor with reference to the sale of your patent. In reply, we regret to state we do not consider it to be of such commercial value as would warrant our undertaking its sale.”

So that was that and Mary seems to have abandoned her attempts to put her invention into production, concentrating on managing some flats she had built instead.

Her patent expired in 1920. By that time many more people owned cars and vehicle manufacturers were looking to enhance the specifications of their models. In 1922 Cadillac was the first to include windscreen wipers on all of their models and soon they became standard equipment. The timing of their adoption was not coincidental, depriving Mary of cashing in on her simple but essential invention.

It was not until 2011 that Mary’s contribution to automobile safety was recognised by the Hall of Inventors, making her a worthy inductee into our equally illustrious Hall of Fame.

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Clever Bastards by Martin Fone which is now available on Amazon in Kindle format and paperback. For details follow the link

For more enquiring minds, try Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone

Fly Of The Week

It takes some planning, you know, to break a Guinness World Record and you need to plan for the unexpected, as this story I came across this week amply illustrates.

A group called Sinners Domino Entertainment were trying to break their own record, set in 2013, of 537,938 fallen tiles, by setting up 596,229 mini dominoes in a pattern. Twenty-two people were deployed with tweezers to install the dominoes, no bigger than a finger nail, over two weeks in preparation for the tenth Domino Day at Nidda, near Frankfurt.

Alas, they had neglected to consider the impact of a clumsy fly. Said fly landed on one of the tiles, triggering all the dominoes to fall in a spectacular fashion, before the requisite number had been put in place. There wasn’t enough time, according to spokesperson Patrick Sinner for the damage to be repaired.

Still, look on the bright side.

They did manage to create four records; the longest domino chain reaction – it took 15 minutes for the damage caused by the fly’s heavy footedness  to unravel – the longest domino wall, the largest spiral and the largest domino cube.

Back to the drawing board, methinks.

Nails Of The Week

I trimmed my finger nails this week, partly in honour of Shridhar Chillal from Pune in India. He has just chopped off the nails on his left hand, I read this week.

What is so noteworthy about so mundane a piece of personal grooming, I hear you ask?

Well, Chillal held the World Record for the longest nails, having let them grow, unmanicured, for 68 years. His thumbnail was around 6.5 feet in length and the combined length of all the nails on his left hand was 909.6 centimetres or just over 29 feet 10 inches, in old money.

Chillal married, fathered two children and worked as a professional photographer. Perhaps the length of his nails was useful in getting those tricky close-up shots.

But there was one drawback to his strange predilection – Chillal cannot open his left hand from a closed position or flex his fingers. Oh well!

What Is The Origin Of (192)?…


Kid Creole and the Coconuts, remember them? To my eternal shame, their 1982 hit Stool Pigeon persuaded me to buy their album, Tropical Gangsters, a disc which seems to have long since escaped my still impressively large collection of vinyl. The most common usage of this phrase is to describe a police informant, usually one that spills the beans in return for charges being dropped or a reduction in sentence but where does it come from?

The phrase seems to have originated from the world of hunting where a bird, a pigeon in this case, was used as bait to attract other, more attractive game. This is how the famous lexicographer, Noah Webster, used it in his History of Animals: Designed for the Instruction and Amusement of Persons of Both Sexes, published in 1812; “in this manner, the decoy or stool pigeon is made to flutter, and a flock of pigeons may be called from their flight from a great distance.

Some etymologists claim that stool was a variant of the French word estale which referred to a pigeon used to lure a hawk into a net and which moved via stale – used in the late 16th century to describe a person who entrapped another – and stall – used in the vernacular of 16th century pickpockets to describe the person who distracted the victim while the thief emptied their pockets. It may be the case but it seems quite a transformation to me. A pigeon, interestingly though, was a slang word from the same period to describe a simpleton or a fool.

What is more certain is that within a decade of Webster’s use of the phrase in a hunting context, it was being used figuratively to describe a human decoy. A court report dating to 1821 reports the testament of a witness who asserted “that Van Ort made use of him as a kind of stool-pigeon, to decoy or persuade other blacks to go to the south with him.” In a newspaper from 1825 a stool pigeon appears to describe a Methodist priest who was acting as a decoy or as the journalist put it “to have sold himself for a tool, or rather a stool-pigeon to decoy other Methodists into the snare designed to entrap them for the Presbyterian clergy.

In the 1830s and 1840s the phrase was being deployed to describe people who acted as decoys to catch or trick others who were often naïve or simple-minded or simply were unaware that they were being duped. Stool-pigeons at the time were on the wrong side of the law rather than acting in cahoots with the police and in the Revised Code of the District of Columbia of 1855, acting as a stool-pigeon was an offence against public policy.

But the police, who doubtless knew a good thing when they saw one, were soon using stool-pigeons to act as decoys for themselves. So common seems to have been the practice that the 1859 Dictionary of Americanisms found space to define a stool-pigeon as “a decoy robber, in the pay of the police, who brings his associates into a trap laid for them” and stool-pigeoning as “the practice of employing decoys to catch robbers.

A decade later the phrase was used without any specific link with the police or detecting but as a general epithet for an informer, as this extract from a House of Representatives report on electoral frauds, published in 1868, shows; “I do not want to have anything to do with giving names…I do not want to be a stool-pigeon for anybody.” By 1893 it had become a pejorative epithet for a useless person; “it was the first time in his life that he had been branded (in print) as a shyster, an impecunious fraud, a lazy stoolpigeon and other such epithets.

It still has pejorative connotations. No one likes a grass, after all.