Couples often like to mark the anniversaries of those momentous occasions in their relationships, first kisses, first meal out, first holidays, proposal and so on. How about the first time your girlfriend farted in front of you?
Australian love bird, Ryan McErlean, from Queensland promised to buy his inamorata, Kaylie Warren, a cake if she ever trumped in his presence. It took the bashful Kaylie three years to summon up enough wind to make waves, but the ever alert Ryan heard the pip around 2 o’clock in the morning.
True to his word, the gallant Ryan lashed out $40 on a chocolate cheesecake to celebrate this earth-shattering moment, complete with the message “took you three years, congratulations for finally farting”, piped in icing. How thoughtful.
The game Kaylie, I’m pleased to say, saw the funny side.
Restaurants around the world are grappling with the problem of how to open whilst adhering to physical distancing guidelines.
The Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, a three-Michelin-star rated gaff, which reopened for dinners in its garden last night, has a novel idea for creating that special ambience when it can serve meals inside.
Mannequins, dressed in 1940s-style clothing, will sit at those tables which cannot be used by guests. A new take on a dumb waiter, you might say.
You could even lob bread rolls at them without fear of retaliation.
During an election campaign, it is not unknown for a politician, vying for votes, to shake the magic money tree and promise their voters the earth, or, allegedly, in the 1928 US Presidential election, a chicken in every pot. This rather homely phrase was intended to convey the notion of prosperity for everyone as there would be enough food for the whole population to share in.
Its origin seems to go back to 17th century France and Henri de Bourbon who, somewhat confusingly, was Henri III of Navarre between 1572 and 1610 and Henri IV of France between 1589 and 1610. Let’s just call him Henri. In a biography of him, Histoire du roy Henry le Grand, published by Hardouin de Péréfixe in 1662, the king is reported as declaring, in French, naturally, “if God gives me more life I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in his pot”. We can’t be certain that he did say it, of course, but I admire the sentiments.
Henri’s pious hopes were picked up over time, often by more radical elements, as this report of the impact of free trade on the conditions of the labouring classes printed in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine of April 1830 shows; if the supporter of the industrious poor “cannot absolutely realise the benevolent and amiable wish of Henry IV, that every peasant may have his chicken in his pot on Sunday, he will at least endeavour to render him independent of the charity of others, and relieve him from absolute want”.
In 1928 the Republican Herbert Hoover and the Democrat Al Smith were battling out to become the 31st US President. The Republicans sought to capitalise upon the era of prosperity that was associated with the outgoing Calvin Coolidge’s presidency by focusing on their achievements. One advert heavily featured in the newspapers in October of that year boasted that “Republican prosperity has reduced hours and increased earning capacity, silenced discontent, put the proverbial chicken in every pot. And a car in every backyard, to boot”. Hoover’s opponent, Smith, couldn’t miss the opportunity to point out that the average working man couldn’t afford a chicken for dinner on a Sunday – they were expensive, not mass-produced as they are today – let alone buy a car.
There is no evidence that Hoover, to whom the phrase and its extension, and a car in every garage, is attributed, ever used it directly in a speech. Perhaps the nearest that he came to using it was in a speech at Madison Square Gardens in New York on October 22, 1928 in which he boasted “the slogan of progress is changing from the full pail to the full garage”, the pail being a nod to William McKinley’s election promise of 1896 of providing a full dinner pail for all.
Keen students of history will recall that whilst Hoover was elected, condemning Al Smith to becoming a footnote in history, 1929 saw the Wall Street crash, plunging America, and other world economies, into a period of economic depression, and leaving many Americans desperate for anything to eat on a Sunday or any day of the week, never mind chicken. But, hey, that//s politicians for you.
Who would have thought that when I bought a bottle of Elemental Cornish Gin in St Ives and decided to write about it, I would be penning my 100th ginaissance inspired piece? Not me, certainly.
Over time, my taste has crystallised around gins which are juniper-forward, a gin is not a gin without a heavy hit of juniper; enough additional botanicals to make the taste interesting but not too many to overload it, less is often more; a neutral base spirit rather than one made from wine or apple which bring their own, distracting and often brings its own astringency; a bottle that gives a clue as to the botanicals used; and an ABV in excess of 40% to give it a bit of a kick. As for tonics, if you are spending a lot of money on your gin, it is foolhardy to mix them with anything other than a tonic that is going to accentuate the flavours without taking over.
Much of what I have prescribed does not apply to this week’s featured gin, Crawshay’s Welsh Dry Gin, but more of that as we proceed. As the name suggests, it is made in Wales, more precisely in the cellars of the 17th century Hensol Castle which nestles in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan countryside, just outside of Cardiff. The distillers are the appropriately named Hensol Castle Distillery and the name of the gin bears tribute to the London iron merchant and South Wales ironmaster, Thomas Crayshaw (1739 – 1810).
In 1786 he took over the Cyfarthfa Ironworks, near Merthyr Tydfil, developing it into one of the most important ironworks in South Wales. Nicknamed The Tyrant by some because of his imperious manner, he left an estate worth £1.5m and the ironworks to his son, William. And his connection with gin? None, other than he was a lad of 12 when the Gin Act of 1751 was passed. Still, you have to have a backstory, no matter how tenuous.
The bottle, though, is a thing of beauty, tall, slim and elegant, rather like an elongated wine bottle, green in colour with black labelling. The band at the side tells me that it is “distilled with 15 botanicals and crammed with fresh fruit from a secret family recipe”. The lettering is mainly silver although, to make it stand out, Crawshay is in white. To press the Welsh provenance, the labelling is bi-lingual and on the neck, there is to be found the Welsh dragon. It took a little digging to find out what the botanicals are but it seems that the following go into the mix: Juniper, Cilantro, Angelica, Lemon Grass, Green Cardamom, Star anise, hibiscus, Laos, Jamaican pepper, Ginger, Rosehip, Paradise seed, Strawberry, Raspberry and Blueberry.
The top of the bottle is grey in colour with a cork stopper. On removing it, the aroma that greeted me was a pleasant mix of juniper, the first sensation, and the crisper notes of citrus. In the mouth, again the juniper made itself known but then the citrus and floral elements came into play before a more spicy, peppery sensation made its appearance, lingering into the aftertaste. With an ABV of 37.5% it is a little undercooked for my taste and while it is a well-balanced drink, it is hard to discern what many of the botanicals are contributing.
In summary, I found it a light, refreshing drink, ideal as a sharpener on a languid summer’s evening before hitting the harder stuff. For the record, they also do a range of flavoured gins, strawberry, orange, and rhubarb and vanilla, don’t get me started on those, as well as a range of liqueurs and a vodka.
I must confess that I am a late convert to Maugham. For some reason, I had always considered him a bit passé but I enjoyed Ashenden and decided to explore some more of his works. The Razor’s Edge is one of his later works, published in 1944 and made into a film two years later, starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney. As Maugham observes at the end, it is a success story as the major characters strive to achieve their goals, Elliott, described as “that arch-snob…also the kindest, most considerate and generous of men”, social eminence, Isabel, wealth and comfort, and Larry, enlightenment and self-discovery.
The narrative structure is interesting and novel. Maugham as himself flits in and out of the story, sometimes as an observer or a messenger, often giving verbatim accounts of what one or more of the characters have told him. As readers, we join Maugham in trying to piece together what has happened. It is an unusual technique, a little difficult to get your head around at first, but Maugham pulls it off with aplomb.
The book has no geographic lodestone. It starts in Chicago but flits around Europe, following the six principal characters. It is they that Maugham is interested in rather than where they happen to be, giving the story a sense of universality. It is an exploration of character, personality, hopes, ambitions, despair and loss.
The thing I have grown to like about Maugham is the sheer quality of his prose. This is what well-written English should sound and feel like, never too wordy, a flash of wit, never too moralistic, ready to embrace all forms of human life with equanimity. Sardonic wit can be a bit cloying if not used sparingly but Maugham gets the balance right and his jokes don’t seem as dated as those of some of his contemporaries.
The stand-out character for me is Elliott Thompson, painted with humour and affection, an American broker in fine art who uses his expertise to ingratiate himself into the finest circles of society. He is a snob but will go to extraordinary lengths and suffer no end of humiliations to obtain that golden ticket. As Maugham remarks, “When he had fixed his eye on his prey he hunted it with the persistence of a botanist who will expose himself to dangers of flood, earthquake, fever, and hostile natives to find an orchid of peculiar rarity.”
The central character, though, is Larry Darrell, a First World War flying ace who is suffering what we would now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He eschews the conventions and expectations of society, preferring to drift around finding himself than settling down and earning a living. This attitude loses him the hand of Isabel who decides to play safe and settle down with the stolid Gray Maturin. It is clear, though, she still carried a flame for him. Larry eventually goes to India and finds enlightenment at the feet of a guru, He has the feel of a prototype of a 1960s hippy, but also someone of the inter-war generation who is frustrated with their lot and is seeking a better alternative.
The chapter in which Larry explains his path to enlightenment can be hard going in places, Maugham unusually warns his reader that they could easily skip the section without losing anything of the storyline, but, for me, it is the section that brings the book together and adds gravitas to what otherwise might seem a much lighter novel.
I enjoyed this book immensely and can understand why it was such a bestseller, resonating with the world-weary reading public looking for a better life following the imminent end of the Second World War.