Gin O’Clock – Part Ninety Six

If the ubiquity of their product is a hallmark of success in the world created by the ginaissance, then Whitley Neill must be doing rather well. Supermarket shelves, offies and bars and gin palaces are groaning with their extensive ranges of gins. I tried their original gin, featuring inter alia the fruit of the baobab tree and Cape gooseberries, and was impressed – see

The world has moved on and as I have explored a wider range of gins, my preference has crystallised towards gins which are prominently juniper-led. I seem to be becoming more increasingly out of synch with the gin-consuming public, or at least what gin distillers imagine they want, because coloured and flavoured gins really don’t float my boat. However, as this blog is meant to reflect what is going on in the world of gin, then it would be remiss of me to shut my eyes to what is a significant and vibrant part of the market.

Rhubarb has been a go-to for distillers because it adds a contrast to the piney, peppery flavours imbued by juniper berries. Whitley Neill have gone one step further by adding ginger to the mix to create their Whitley Neill Rhubarb and Ginger Gin. They have certainly got the product presentation right. The bottle is a striking violet colour, quite what that has to do with either rhubarb or ginger, I’m not certain, and the labelling is in a discreet white band about a quarter of the way from the base of the bottle. There it tells me that the gin was “inspired by the glory of the English Country Garden. Essence of rhubarb adds a tart crisp edge whilst the real ginger warms the palate”. It also tells me that they have been distilling for eight generations, from 1762, so you would hope they would know what they are doing.

A couple of things about the labelling put me on alert, the contrast between essence of when describing the rhubarb component in contrast to the real used in relation to the ginger and the impression that the hooch is distilled by them when it is outsourced to Halewood Wines and Spirits in Liverpool. I will pass on my usual moans about the absence of any information about the other botanicals. I understand that the starting point is their original gin to which the rhubarb and ginger have been infused so, if that is the case, it is juniper, Cape gooseberries, baobab fruit, coriander, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, cassia bark and orris root.

Removing the artificial cork stopper from the rather dumpy bottle, the immediate hit on the nose is one of rhubarb and ginger, pretty much to the exclusion of anything else. In the glass the crystal-clear spirit is surprisingly sweet to the taste, unlike any other rhubarb gin I have tasted which have been somewhat on the tart side. The sugary sweetness, if you spill some it is very sticky, is probably testament to the use of an essence rather than the real McCoy. Once the spirit has settled down, the juniper attempts to make its presence known as do the citrus element before finishing off with a warming, peppery aftertaste.

It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, although it was a little too sweet for my taste and the essential components of a gin seemed somewhat left behind. It was another one of those gins, there are too many around in my opinion, that seems to be aimed at people who don’t like gin. Why spoil a perfectly good gin to make this concoction?

Until the next time, cheers!

Book Corner – April 2020 (1)

Some Must Watch – Ethel Lina White

This taut, psychological thriller, published in 1933, spawned a 1946 film, The Spiral Staircase, directed by Robert Siodmak. Some later editions of the book were also entitled The Spiral Staircase as they sought to cash in on the film’s success, but Lina White’s title, which comes from Hamlet, “for some must watch, while some must sleep: So runs the world away”, perfectly encapsulates this gothic-influenced tale.

Down on her luck, unemployed in the depression, a domestic servant, Helen Cadel, takes a post as a lady’s help in a remote house on the Herefordshire, Shropshire, Welsh borders. There are eight others in the house, including a bedridden, testy aunt of the head of the household, Professor Warren. Four young women have been murdered in the area and the location of the murders are getting nearer the house. When out walking at the start of the story Helen gets the sense she is being watched. Her sense of unease continues until she reaches the safety of the house.

The bedridden aunt, though, punctures Helen’s sense of security by hinting that she might be in danger. To add to the gothic atmosphere a gale is blowing outside making it difficult for the occupants to leave. And then there is the new nurse, given the seemingly impossible task of looking after the aunt. She is huge and cumbersome, prompting speculation amongst the household that she is really a man and not only that, but some kind of madman soon to wreak a trail of destruction. So prevalent is the speculation that the nurse frequently overhears it when she enters the room.

The nurse is well-conceived and adds a dash of humour to what might otherwise be an overwrought thriller. Indeed, part of Lina White’s genius is the quality of her characterisation, each of the characters are believable and have characteristics that make them slightly sinister, whilst it is easy to find Helen a sympathetic innocent stuck in the middle of something that is beyond her wit to comprehend. The other quality that stands out is Lina White’s mastery of narrative prose. The book zips along at pace, wringing out every drop from the atmosphere she has created and leaving the reader anxious to find out what happens next.

The action is confined to just a 24-hour period and for Helen, her sense of unease growing as she senses that there is really someone in the house to get her, it gets worse. For good reasons, members of Professor Warren’s entourage start leaving the house. Helen is there with just the aunt and the nurse, or so she thinks.

I won’t spoil the denouement but, suffice it to say, it is not a let-down.

There is a slight eugenic tone in the book. Helen is chided by the professor for wearing a cross. In her defence, she says, “The cross represents a Power which gave me life. But it gave me faculties to help me to look after that life for myself”. Someone, though, has decided that her life is not one worth living. The question is: Who? I will leave you to find out.

Service Of The Week (2)

You have got to hand it to the clergy, trying to grapple with social media to provide their flock with the spiritual guidance that they need.

Take Paolo Longo, the parish priest of the Church of San Pietro and San Benedetto di Polla in the Italian province of Salerno. He thought it would be a good idea to live stream a mass using Facebook and it was. Unfortunately, though, he left the platform’s AR filters active, resulting in him appearing with various animated accessories.

When Paolo realised that his enterprising efforts had gone viral, he saw the funny side, commenting “even a laugh is good”.

Take a look

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Thirty Eight

The Olympic Flame hoax of 1956

It’s 2020 and the Olympics were supposed to be back, now put back a year, Japan having the dubious honour of draining their economy and building white elephants which deliver little in the way of a sport’s legacy. One of the highlights, for me the only one, is the torch relay, which takes a burning torch all the way from Olympus to the host city.

In 1956 it was Australia’s turn to host the event and the torch was making its way from Cairns to the host city, Melbourne, via Sydney. The procession was not without its drama. Runners suffered from the heat of the sun, torrential rains threatened to extinguish the flame, and the torch was dropped and broken in Lismore. On November 18, the mayor of Sydney, Pat Hills, was due to receive the flame from cross-country running champion, Harry Dillon, make a short speech and then pass it on to another runner, Bert Button.

A crowd of around 30,000 lined the streets to see the torch’s arrival, the press was out in force, photographers and cameramen at the ready. At 9.30am the runner, a young man bizarrely dressed in grey trousers with a white shirt and tie, made his appearance, holding the torch aloft. The police shepherded him towards the mayor and the athlete thrust the torch into the hands of Hills.     

It was at that point that Hills realised something was amiss. His hands were sticky from paint that had come from the handle of the supposed torch. On closer inspection, he found that what he was holding was a chair leg with a tin attached to the top and a pair of underpants ablaze, doused in flammable material. By this time the runner had melted into the crowd. Regaining his composure, the mayor addressed the crowd with these words; “that was a trial run. Our friends from the university think things like this are funny. It was a hoax by somebody. I hope you are enjoying the joke”.  

The mayor may have not been fazed by the prank, but the crowd turned ugly and surged forward. Women began screaming, fearing for the safety of their children and order was only restored when the police cleared a path down which Dillon ran at 9.40. Hills accepted the torch for a second time, made his prepared speech and passed it on to Button he went on his way.

The name of the prankster, Barry Larkin, a veterinary student at St. Johns College at Sydney University, was not made public until several years later but when he got back to the college, he was treated like a conquering hero. Even the college’s rector shook him by the hand and congratulated him. Larkin wasn’t supposed to be the bearer of blazing underwear. One of his co-conspirators, dressed in conventional athletic wear, panicked at the last minute and Larkin stepped into the breach. Hence the tie.

There was a serious message behind the prank, a protest against the origins of the original torch relay that was a feature of the 1936 games in Berlin. As to the ersatz torch, it was taken to a reception at the Town Hall and then found its way into the possession of one John Lawler, who had been following the procession by car. He kept it under his bed, as you do, until it got thrown out during a spring clean.

When Sydney hosted the games in 2000, the papers were full of accounts of Larkin’s shenanigans and although there were several attempts to disrupt that procession, enhanced security saw them come to naught.

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone.

Record Of The Week

The Coronavirus pandemic is forcing all of us to modify our behaviours and put on hold most of our plans and ambitions. It is particularly galling for those training for a special event or aiming to set a particular record.

Spare a thought for Jeff Reitz who had visited the Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim for 2,995 consecutive days until its enforced closure on March 13th. He had been attempting a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive visits.

Reitz was phlegmatic, saying, “on the negative side, I didn’t get to choose the end. But on the positive side, I didn’t have to choose the end”.

He plans to resume his visits when it reopens but, in the meantime, think of the money he will save.

Service Of The Week

I had always considered some elements of social media as a solution looking for a problem. The Coronavirus pandemic may be just that problem. It is prompting many reluctant silver surfers to embrace the technology in order to communicate with the outside world and to stay sane.

There are bound to be some teething problems as the 61-year-old vicar of St Budeaux Parish Church in Plymouth, Simon Beach, experienced when he decided to record his first virtual service via YouTube. Warming to the wisdom and beauty of his sermon, he leant forward and exclaimed “Oh dear, I’ve just caught fire”.

Being on fire for Jesus his sleeve had brushed against the flame of a candle, burning a hole in his pullover and sleeve, but not his skin.   

Better luck next time. Practice makes perfect.

What Is The Origin Of (275)?…

Punch’s advice – DON’T

There was a time when the weekly magazine Punch, or to give it its alternative title, The London Chiavari, was influential in the drawing rooms of England. Founded in 1841 by Henry Mayhew and the wood-engraver, Ebenezer Landells, it helped coin the term cartoon to denote a humorous illustration. To modern eyes, many of its jokes were rather lame but it lasted over a century, peaking in popularity in the 1940s, before closing for good in 2002. Doctors’ waiting rooms have never been the same since.

As well as cartoon, it promulgated a phrase which first appeared in its Almanack for 1845 under the month of January, namely, “advice to persons about to marry – don’t”. Sound advice, no doubt, although quite what prompted the organ to pour metaphorical cold water over the marital aspirations of a young man is not clear. One commentator thought it was a spoof on an advert going the rounds at the time. That might well be the case, although no such advert seems to have survived.

Of course, there is no point in looking for consistency in a humorous rag. To prove the point, when discussing the subject of clerical celibacy amongst Catholic clergy, Punch wrote on December 18, 1869, “one of the subjects likely to be debated in St Peter’s is, How to deal with priests who wish to marry. Mr Punch’s advice on this point would be very concise, only two words – let ‘em”.  

Mr Punch’s advice on matrimony other than concerning Catholic priests, though, found a ready audience and cropped up in pieces where people wished to make a forceful point in a jocular style. It was used in a piece about furnishing which appeared in Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts in its edition of October 12, 1861; “what has been viciously observed by Mr Punch in reference to matrimony, that I repeat, in all benevolence, with respect to this matter: To persons about to furnish. Don’t”.

Other examples appeared in an article about teetotalism in the Gloucester Journal of October 16, 1858 – “to tell a man not to drink, and then he will be cured of Drunkenness, is little better than a re-production of Punch’s advice to persons about to marry” – and in an account of a lecture given by a Lieutenant Verney on Queensland at Claydon Park School, as reported by the Buckingham Express on December 2, 1871; “the lecturer concluded by giving as the result of his experience, advice to those contemplating emigration, similar to Punch’s advice to those contemplating matrimony – Don’t”. For the school children it was a case of two aspirations being killed by one stone.

Punch’s advice had not only been applied to situations beyond matrimony but had also been abbreviated to rid it of the encumbrance of matrimony. It was used in any circumstance where the recipient of the warning was advised not to do something. It appeared in this sense in a short story published in the Eastern Daily Press on December 24, 1872; “if he contemplated interfering with the personal comfort of either myself or coolie, he had better take Punch’s advice, and Don’t”. It also cropped up in its abbreviated form in an advert in the Evening Chronicle of January 23, 1901; “Are you desponding? Take Punch’s advice and DON’T”. As well as following Punch’s advice, the proprietors of Roberts Sinclair’s Tobacco recommended an ounce of their baccy and one of their celebrated briars, a snip at a bob, to smoke it in as a cure for the blues, advice that may well be sniffed at now.

Our phrase is still used today, although the demise of the magazine may well see it fall into some obscurity. The Stage, the newspaper of thespians, printed a letter on April 27, 1995 in which any aspiring impresario was warned, “so what, apart from don’t can be Mr Punch’s advice to anyone who is contemplating running a theatre, dance or opera company?” Fortunately, there are some who still do.