PUT THE FUN BACK INTO IMBIBING
It is a lesson with which the late Peter O’Toole would have been in sympathy, remarking that the only exercise he ever took was “walking behind the coffins of friends who took exercise”. Like Burton, Harris and Reed, O’Toole knew how to party, and still managed to reach the age of 81. Now I don’t for one moment underestimate the dangers of overindulgence where alcohol is concerned. It needs to be treated with respect, though I doubt if printing “PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY” on a bottle of wine has directly prevented anyone from falling over. “Drink less, enjoy more” would be my motto. It’s high time we put the fun back into imbibing. For a start, whatever happened to that dramatic dispenser of fizzy water, the soda siphon? Nowadays a chap can’t ask for a “whisky and splash” without being looked at as though he is off his drinks trolley. Somehow a bottle that goes “Schhhh” when you undo the screw-cap can’t offer quite the same comic value as a siphon, and neither is it nearly so efficient at putting out a fire when the host falls asleep in the club chair and allows his cigar to fall into the lap of his dress suit. Shame that. When did you last have a snowball (advocaat and lemonade)? Or a Babycham (fizzy stuff made from perry pears)? Girlie? Yes. But fun. In moderation. Well, maybe just the once; so you can say you’ve had one. And for the men – a proper dry martini (two-and-a-half ounces of gin, half an ounce of vermouth and an olive). Now this is a drink for those who can take their liquor. A friend of mine, along with a bunch of his best mates, decided that one evening they would trawl London in search of the best martinis on offer. They did their homework, they made out their itinerary, and at six o’clock after work on Friday they set out upon their quest to visit the top-rated half dozen establishments where dry martinis were mixed. First stop was Dukes Hotel in Mayfair, recognised by many as the best purveyor of dry martinis in the capital. The trolley arrived, the frozen glasses were removed from its interior, the cocktail was mixed to the Dukes’ own recipe and was, to general acclaim, matchless. Thus stiffened, my friend and his colleagues left that princely (sorry, ducal) establishment and made for their second venue. The story becomes more vague now. He thinks it was The Ritz. Suffice to say that after three dry martinis at three different watering holes my friend left his cohorts to their increasingly dizzying quest and boarded a bus home. At least, he hoped it was going in the general direction of his abode. He does not remember going to bed, only waking up the next morning to find that he was still wearing his shoes. Being dispensed his drinks, he had clearly not been in a position to read “PLEASE DRINK RESPONSIBLY” on the bottle. Having too much to drink is not fun – it empties the pocket, raddles the body and numbs the mind. But a single glass (all right, maybe two) of an evening is a daily pleasure, whether it be a G&T, a whisky and soda or a small glass of oloroso. It lifts the spirit, eases the mind and relaxes the body. My friend has made a New Year resolution to which he now sticks: he never drinks more than two martinis. And so you will forgive me if, at six o’clock sharp, I make for the drinks cabinet and mix myself a stiffener. I shall place the glass on a small silver salver and take it to the table alongside the chesterfield in the library where I shall lower myself into its cushions, lean back and take the first gulp of restorative fluid, reflecting on the fact that life isn’t half bad and that, who knows, 2014 might be a year to remember for all the right reasons. From me and mine to you and yours, a very happy new year!
A graceful age: cocktails recall an era of more relaxed attitudes towards drinking