Firefighter Of The Week

Being a firefighter is one of the jobs where I have thought that being tall must come in handy. It must give you extra reach, and may even mean you needn’t clamber up a ladder.

Brandon Berridge from Winchester, a firefighter with the Tullahoma Fire Department in Tennessee, has taken this attribute to a new level. Standing 6 feet, 11.17 inches tall, he has been declared the world’s tallest firefighter by Guinness World Records.

Whilst admitting that his height has many benefits, including being able to see and reach things his colleagues cannot, he does admit to some drawbacks. Getting into confined spaces is a particular problem.

Comme ci, comme ça, as the French might say.

Cantering Through Cant (6)

I enjoy wearing a hat, but you need to make sure that your titfer is the real McCoy.

To bug, according to Francis Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), was “a cant word used among journeymen hatters, signifying the exchange of some of the dearest materials of which a hat is made for others of less value. Hats are composed of the furs and wools of divers animals, among which is a small portion of beever’s fur. Bugging is stealing the beever and substituting in lieu thereof an equal weight of some cheaper ingredient”.  

To bug a writ, though, was when a bailiff took “money to postpone or refrain the serving of a writ”.

The Irish used the term bug to describe an Englishman, “bugs having, as it is said, been introduced into Ireland by the English”.

A bug-hunter was an upholsterer and, given the materials they used, probably an apt description.

Bugs, be gone!

Gin O’Clock (111)

An early pioneer of the ginaissance, Martin Miller’s Gin has divided opinion amongst the gin cognoscenti, not least because in its early days, the distillate was taken all the way to Iceland and back, to be blended with that country’s fresh and pure water. The water now comes to Martin, so to speak, and so the rather heavy carbon footprint associated with the gin has been reduced. Despite its critics, the gin is a survivor, celebrating its 20th anniversary last year, 2019, and regularly to be found on the shelves of some of the nation’s larger supermarket chains.

How, then, to celebrate their anniversary? Obviously, by releasing a twist on their staple Gin in the form of Martin Miller’s Summerful Gin, which was made available between May and September 2020. I secured my bottle in August from our local branch of Waitrose. It comes in the distinctive Martin Miller bottle, tall and slim and extremely well-shaped for the hand. The labelling has a green background, representing the botanicals and, in particular, the two, rosemary and Arctic thyme, that make this version so distinctive. The label at the rear of the bottle informs me that “as Arctic thyme is emblematic of Iceland’s short summer and rosemary, a distinctive flavour of the English countryside, Martin Miller’s Summerful Gin includes an additional distillation of those botanicals, filling it with the essence of summer”.

As far as I can tell, the starting point is the original gin whose botanicals are juniper, coriander, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel, lime oil, orris root, cassia bark, ground nutmeg, liquorice, and cucumber distillate. In the process the earthier botanicals are distilled separately from the citrus elements, before being combined and the cucumber distillate added. This dual process is supposed to give the citrus some extra oomph. Summerful adds a third distillation to the process, for the Arctic thyme and rosemary. The thyme is supposed to bring some floral and earthier notes to the distillation with hints of citrus and mint while the rosemary brings lemon and piney aromas.

The good news is that the drink retains the distinctive smoothness and freshness of the original. On unscrewing the silver metal cap, the aroma is intriguing, distinctly junipery but with floral and citric notes. In the mouth the initial sensation is one of warm, reassuring juniper and spice. Almost imperceptibly the warmer flavours of the floral elements and pepper creep up on you before ending with the soft savoury notes of the thyme and coriander. It made for an intriguing and satisfying drink which, with an ABV of 40%, made for a gentle and welcome thirst-quencher on a warm summer’s evening.    

It worked well with a good tonic and I would imagine it would make an excellent, reliable base for many a cocktail. If this is what happens when Britain combines with Iceland, then long may the entente cordiale continue.

Until the next time, cheers!

Book Corner – October 2020 (4)

The Go-Between – L P Hartley

It’s a writer’s dream to come up with the perfect opening line. Often so much effort is put into creating that stunning beginning that the rest of the book seems a bit like a damp squib. L P Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between, has delivered one of the most famous openers in English literature, although many of us would struggle to identify the author; “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. Mercifully, after such a great start, this exquisite novel does not disappoint.

We first meet the protagonist, Leo Colston, as a man in his sixties in the drab 1950s, going through some old things from his childhood. He comes across a diary for the year 1900, the so-called start of the new “Golden Age”. Leo opens the diary and out of it comes tumbling the story of a traumatic period of Leo’s youth, culminating in a visit to Brandham Hall in Norfolk where he saw his equivalent of Stella Gibbons’ Aunt Ada Doom’s something nasty in the woodshed. It had a traumatic effect not only on Leo, it is fair to say it blighted the rest of his life, but also the other participants.

In some ways the story is a re-run of Lady’s Chatterley’s Lover, a posh bird, Marian Maudsley, faced with the prospect of a loveless and unwanted marriage with the local Viscount, horribly disfigured in the Boer War, having a tempestuous affair with the local bit of rough, Ted Burgess. The rather innocent, Leo, is suborned by Marian and Ted to run messages to them with arrangements for their next tryst. He is their go-between.

The book is redolent with symbolism. Leo has an obsession with the temperature of a warm summer. He goes to view the thermometer in the outhouse which records how hot it is and he religiously records the temperature in his diary. The heat of the sun is marked by a rise in mercury and, of course, Mercury was the messenger of the Roman gods.

When we first meet Leo, he is at the height of his powers. He is bullied at school and he puts his principal tormentors under a curse. When they both fall and seriously injure themselves, Leo’s reputation as a necromancer is established. But that represents the height of his powers and from then on his story is one of a rapid and sorry descent. “You flew too near the sun and you were scorched” is an apt summary of his story. It also epitomises the crushing of the hopes and dreams for the 20th century.  

The story is beautifully crafted and Hartley uses the principal characteristics of Leo, his inquisitiveness, innocence, willingness to please and naivety, to counterbalance the longings, subterfuges and plots of the adults. Towards the end of the book, Leo realises that Marian’s overt friendliness was just a ruse to get him to deliver her messages but despite that he finds himself drawn into Marian and Ted’s plans. The signs of the zodiac, which decorate the cover of Leo’s fateful diary, provide symbols and imagery that appear throughout the story.

Hartley finds time to explore the tricky subjects of class and gender, mainly through set pieces. The cricket match between the house and the villagers is little more than the playing out of the class war, a theme repeated in the after-match concert until their mutual antipathy is laid aside in admiration of Leo’s singing voice. For me the standout scene was Leo’s battle with the deadly nightshade, Atropa Belladona, a scene and motif stuffed full of Freudian associations.

This wonderful book works on so many levels as well as just being a good read. I’m ashamed it has taken me so long to discover it.

Face Mask Of The Week (2)

With the authorities battling to encourage some sections of its recalcitrant citizenry to take the wearing of face coverings seriously, help is at hand from an enterprising company, Black Label Bacon.

They have just launched a face mask that smells of bacon. Using what they describe as “the latest in bacon-smell technology” the Black Label Breathable Bacon mask is claimed to give the wearer the sensation of smelling a sizzling rasher. It makes a change from that heady mix of sweat and halitosis, I suppose.

As I have always said that one of the things that would stop me from becoming a vegetarian is my love of bacon, it might just be the mask for me.

For more details, go to