Gin o’Clock – Part Thirty One

The ginaissance shows no sign of running out of fizz. For those of us who cannot get enough of the hooch, there is, mystifyingly in my view, a whole range of products on the supermarket shelves that are trying to cadge a lift on the gin bandwagon. How about having a gin-flavoured yoghurt, containing 0.25% alcohol, for your breakfast or, perhaps, gin-infused salmon for lunch or gin-flavoured popcorn and sweets whilst slumped in front of the telly? Is there no end to this madness?

That said, there is something vaguely appealing about taking a perfectly acceptable product and making it into something somewhat inferior. With this in mind I decided to have a go at making my own rhubarb gin. It all started with TOWT buying a few sticks of rhubarb which I found lurking in the back of the fridge. As she was showing no intention of making good on her original promise of a tasty rhubarb crumble, I negotiated the deployment of said sticks for my gin making.

Recipes are easy to find on the internet and boil down to three components – gin, caster sugar and rhubarb. The secret, of course, is in the ratios. The two constraining factors are the amount of rhubarb you have at your disposal and the amount of gin – I used cheap supermarket gin – you are prepared to sacrifice. Chop your rhubarb, after washing it and getting rid of the harsh exterior string – into segments of around 2 to 3 centimetres long. Weigh them and put them in a jar, adding 62.5 grams of caster sugar for every 100 gram of the vegetable. Seal the jar, shake vigorously and leave for 24 to 48 hours, stirring the mix  from time to time.

What you should find is that the sugar gets to work on the rhubarb and extracts the juice. By the end of 48 hours you will be surprised by how much juice you have in your jar. Then you add the gin – the ratio I used was 175 millilitres of gin for every 100 grams of rhubarb. Seal the jar, shake vigorously and leave for 4 to 5 weeks, agitating the liquid occasionally. The resultant liquid has a distinctive rhubarb smell. You then need to remove the pieces of rhubarb, strain the hooch a few times to get rid of those bits of the rhubarb that have broken off and pour the remaining liquid into a bottle.  My gin was distinctly cloudy but absolutely delicious.

There are two types of bar staff in my experience. There are those whose grasp of the basics of addition and subtraction are so tenuous that the time taken to complete any transaction defeats what urge to engage in conversation  you may have had and those who are the fount of all local knowledge. Fortunately, Emily at the Trengilly Wartha in Cornwall, a fellow gin enthusiast, was definitely in the latter camp. On learning that I was on the hunt for Cornish gin she recommended that I went to the Constantine Stores in the rural hamlet that is Constantine, near Falmouth.

Never judge a book by its cover. I parked up at an unprepossessing village shop, the type you might be lucky to get your papers, fags and a bottle of chateau grog in. But I was astonished to find upon entering the establishment that it had a stack of shelves groaning under the weight of upwards of seventy or so different gins. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The boot of my car was laden with a wide range of gins which will give me enough material to review for the foreseeable. It is also the headquarters of, an online wholesaler that ships around the world. It is well worth a look.

Until the next time, cheers.

Book Corner – November 2017 (3)

Miraculous Mysteries – edited by Martin Edwards

You must have read or seen something like this. A crime, invariably a murder most foul, is committed in circumstances which at first blush, and many subsequent ones, seems either impossible to have been committed or for the perpetrator to have got in and/or out. In the world of detective fiction these stories are known as locked-room mysteries – the classic scenario is when the victim is found knifed in the back or shot through the head in a room where all the doors and windows are locked from the inside (natch). The earliest example of the genre was Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

Drawing upon his encyclopaedic knowledge of detective fiction, Martin Edwards has produced an entertaining collection of sixteen stories that push the rather limited limits of the genre to the edge. Unusually in a collection like this, I hadn’t read any of the stories before, an added bonus to be sure. Some of the authors are familiar to the modern reader – there are stories by Conan Doyle and Dorothy L Sayers – but many are by writers I have come across for the first time. Some are superb whilst others, whilst retaining some interest, are more pedestrian, show their age or telegraph the denouement. The pleasure for the reader is doubled because it is not just a question of whodunit but working out how the dastardly deed was committed. I won’t spoil your enjoyment in this review.

To commit a locked-room crime requires ingenuity and resourcefulness on the part of the felon. But as Dr Tancred says in Too Clever By Half by G D H and Margaret Coles, if you do intend to murder, don’t make the mistake of trying to be too clever. There is always something you overlook, some little trace that ultimately gives you away.

The collection opens with a Conan Doyle story, always a smart move I think. The Lost Special isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story and it concerns itself with a train which disappears somewhere between Liverpool and London. The final story, The Villa Marie Celeste by Margery Allingham was published in 1960 and is the most recent story. It concerns the disappearance of a married couple who depart with just a pair of linen sheets. Although it is relatively modern, its central premise is how a win on the football pools can change people’s behaviour.

A personal favourite of mine is Christopher St John Sprigg’s Death at 8:30, a kind of rerun of Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men. This time it is the Home Secretary who is threatened with death at a very specific time unless a ransom is paid. The unmasking of the felon, X K, involves some rather unsporting behaviour by the old bill which would certainly have involved a full and comprehensive enquiry by the authorities these days.

Harking back to the days when the cat’s whiskers were a novelty, Grenville Roberts’ The Broadcast Murder features a murder which is broadcast live on the radio, to the consternation of the listeners. I suppose it is something that could go wrong with a live broadcast and might pep up our rather lame programming if it made a reappearance every now and again, just to keep us on our toes. There is a Father Brown story, set in America, The Miracle of Moon Crescent, in which the cleric investigates a death seemingly caused by a curse and in Marten Cumberland’s The Diary of Death, Lilian Hope’s diary lists all the victims, people she hated, who are to meet their maker.

If you like detective fiction and want to spend a couple of evenings by the fire, puzzling over how the corpse met its fate, you cannot go wrong here.

The Streets Of London – Part Sixty Seven

Herbal Hill, EC1

We have seen that many of London’s streets are named after pubs that one stood there or a trade or industry or activity that once flourished in the area. If you walk down Clerkenwell in an easterly direction, then just before the junction with Farringdon Road, on the left-hand side you will find Herbal Hill. This street was previously known as Little Saffron Hill, only gaining its current name in the late 1930s.

Hard as it is to believe today when all around consists of brick, concrete and tarmac, but this area was once the one of the most fertile in the City with gardens and vineyards aplenty. As what might be termed a scientific approach to medicine was fairly rudimentary, much faith was placed on the homeopathic qualities of plants and spices. Rather in the way that we reach for an aspirin or some paracetamol when we feel under the weather, so half a millennium or so ago people would turn to herbal medicine to sooth away aches and pains. It was only in extremis that a doctor was summoned, partly because of cost and partly because there was little faith, and rightly so, that the doctor knew what he was doing.

Whole gardens or parts of gardens were given over to the cultivation of herbs to supply the herbalists or for home use and in the 16th century there was an established garden in what is now Herbal Hill. Who owned it is not certain. There was a nunnery, St Mary’s, to the east of Farringdon Road and so it is unlikely that their land stretched to our road. The next pretender is the Bishop of Ely who was reputed to have a fine garden and a flourishing strawberry patch. The latter gets a name check in Shakespeare’s Richard III; “My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn I saw good strawberries in your garden there.” Records suggest, though, that Herbal Hill was outside of the Bishop’s garden.

The likely horticulturist whose work is celebrated in our street’s name is John Gerard who moved from Cheshire to take up a position as the head gardener to William Cecil in 1577. He tended two gardens – one in the Strand and the other at Theobalds to the north of the Bishop of Ely’s gaff. Gerard lived somewhere between the two. He was a great experimenter and became famous for the range and variety of his plants and his ability to propagate unusual species successfully. In 1597 he wrote a book entitled Herball or Generall Historie of Plants which is reputed to be the first catalogue of all the plants to be found in a garden, although some say that it was a translation of a Flemish guide.

It is true that there are passages where Gerard compares and contrasts the fortunes of his horticultural endeavours with those of the Flemish. The following is an example “my selfe did plant some shoots thereof in my garden, and some in Flanders did the like, but the coldness of our clymat made an end of mine, and I think the Flemish will have the like profit of their labour.” Rather like dear old Monty Don, not everything he turned his hand to flourished. But it is hard to see that this is a mere translation. Whatever the truth is, Gerard’s expertise was recognised by Anne of Denmark in 1602, giving him two acres of land to rent where King’s College stands and his horticultural endeavours have borne fruit in the name of our street.

What Is The Origin Of (155)?…


We are some way into what seems to be another interminable football season where outrageously overpaid “stars” hog our TV screens and back pages of our newspapers. Invariably when said “stars” are able to string a couple of words together in the always illuminating post-match interview, there is a reference to the gaffer, the manager or the boss. Football seems to be one of the last industries in which this quaint term for the person in charge is used but where did it come from?

The earliest recorded reference to the noun was, according to etymologists, around 1565 to 1675. It was used as a term of respect, employed by country folk to refer to their elders and betters, someone to whom due deference had to be accorded on account of their experience or position in the community. It appears simply to have been a contraction of either godfather or grandfather, or both. It is comparable to gammer, a noun to describe an old woman, which was a contraction of godmother or grandmother and first appeared around the same time. Unlike gaffer, though, gammer sank into obscurity, perhaps only to re-emerge when the first female professional football manager is appointed.

As time moved on, its meaning broadened to indicate an old man, irrespective of status and prestige, particularly an old rustic, with a slightly patronising, if not pejorative, side to it. By 1841 it was being applied to the head of a group of labourers or what we might term the foreman, again showing that it was being used as a mark of respect or at least an acknowledgement of rank or position. Our noun appears in the English translation of Honore Balzac’s Two Poets, the original published in 1837, with the sense that the gaffer is the boss or leader of a group; “He had dragged the chain these fifty years, he would not wear it another hour, tomorrow his son should be the gaffer.” And it has kept that sense to this day.

If you stay long enough in a cinema and have eyesight sharp enough to make sense of the credits – I fail to qualify on either count – you will see that someone occupied the position of gaffer. The gaffer in the film industry is the head electrician and their responsibilities include the execution and, occasionally, design of the lighting plan for a film. The pre-eminence of the position amongst the techies may have earned it the title of gaffer, adopting the sense of the noun as it has developed over the centuries. However, it may also have a different origin, reflecting the fact that overhead equipment was moved in the early days using a gaff, a handle or pole with a hook on the end. I think this is probably where it came from in this particular context.

The term gaffer as a term in the movie business first appeared in print in 1929 in Mary Eunice Macarthy’s The Hands of Hollywood, seven years earlier than the first citation attested in the Oxford English Dictionary. The gaffer’s assistant is known as the best boy, irrespective of sex.

And just to finish off our consideration of the term gaffer, the Irish, to illustrate their contrariness, use it to describe a youngster, usually male, while in glass blowing circles, the gaffer is the master blower, responsible for shaping the glass.

I Predict A Riot – Part Twenty Eight

The New York City Police riot of 1857

Handling a transition is always a tricky business, especially as the entity to be replaced is reluctant to relinquish its role as the reorganisation of the New York Police authority in 1857 reveals. The original force, the Municipal Police, was under the control of the City Mayor and was widely regarded as being corrupt. A law was passed by the state legislature in the spring of 1857 abolishing the Municipal police and replacing them with a Metropolitan police force under the control of the boroughs that made up the Big Apple.

But the Municipal police would not give up their place on the gravy train so easily. Supported by the mayor, Fernando Wood, who resisted attempts to enforce the new legislation, they continued to patrol the city, as did the newly established Metropolitan force. Chaos ensued. Felons arrested by the Municipals would be released by the Metropolitans. Something had to give. Even though the State Supreme Court backed the new legislation in May 1857, Wood held out, organising public meetings to rally support amongst the Municipals. In a vote, 15 police captains and 800 patrolmen elected to support Wood whilst the rest, led by George W Walling decided to side with the Metropolitans. The Municipals filled up the vacancies caused by the split.

The spark that caused the riot was the appointment of a new Street Commissioner. When the new appointee, Daniel Conover, arrived at City Hall to take up his post he was informed that Wood had appointed Charles Devlin instead and was forcibly removed by some Municipal officers. Conover immediately took a couple of warrants for Wood’s arrest and Walling was detailed to effect the seizure of the Mayor.

Walling entered City Hall but his attempts to carry out his commission were rebuffed. There were some 300 Municipal officers in the building and Walling returned with a force of some fifty officers. Walling met with fierce resistance. The Municipal officers charged out of City Hall and for the next thirty minutes or so there was fierce fighting between the two sets of police, during the course of which 53 were injured. The injuries sustained by a patrolman by the name of Crofut were so severe that he was crippled for life.

The result of the fighting was that the Metropolitans had to beat a hasty retreat, the wounded brought into the offices of the City’s Recorder to be patched up while the Metropolitans celebrated their victory in Wood’s office. But that was not the end of matters. The Metropolitans sought reinforcements from General Sandford and the Seventh Regiment who were just about to go to Boston and the reinvigorated force marched once again to City Hall, surrounded it and demanded the surrender of Woods. Realising he had met his Waterloo, Woods surrendered and was arrested.

Within an hour, though, Woods was at liberty and was never charged for his part in bringing disorder to the streets of New York. Those officers who were injured sued Woods successfully and were awarded compensation to the tune of $250 each. True to form, Woods did not pay up and the City had to meet the bill from its coffers.

During the early part of the summer the city had two police forces operating. Instead of increasing peace and security, each force would interfere with whatever the other was doing, releasing prisoners captured by the others as before. Gangs flourished and the situation could not be allowed to continue and eventually, in the autumn, the Court of Appeals upheld the Supreme Court’s decision and the Municipal Police Force was disbanded.