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The Taste of Memories

Ernest Hemingway, in the Green Hills of Africa recalls how beer played a part in his adventurous life and in the book he briefly reminisces about his beer drinking in various countries. At a more modest level I have also had the good fortune to have quaffed beer and slurped cocktails in their place of origin.

The clinking of  glasses in a bar, the smell of a good cigar, bowls of peanuts and the background tinkle of a lounge bar piano have played quite a large part in my life and still evoke the pleasantest of memories.

Lamb’s Navy Rum is the first name that springs to mind when I think of alcohol. At the age of fifteen I grew accustomed to its heavy spicy smell, while passing daily a branch of Yate’s Wine Lodge,  (which back in the days I’m writing about catered for the rough end of the social drinkers) on my way to work.  That pungent smell of cane must be one of my earliest memory of alcohol.

 As a seventeen year old soldier I found beer to be quite unpalatable but in striving to be one of  lads I had to pretend I was enjoying my drink, and that drink was rum (Lambs Navy) and coke. One evening after having had a jab (inoculation),  I boldly drank copious quantities of the stuff only to fall heavily down a flight of stone stairs, at the bottom of which I slept. Awakening, miserably ill, in the cruel dawn of Aldershot and experiencing my first and possibly my worst hangover ever - I swore off booze for the rest of my life. However, following a few  abstinent days, being more curious rather than weak-willed, I decided to give the demon drink another chance.

During the  fifties one of my Manchester watering holes  was The Shambles; the city’s  oldest  pub and the only one that has the dubious honour of being physically removed and re-sited  twice. It was here that I and others of my ilk met for our liquid lunches (pints of the local Wilson’s Bitter) and  to conduct occasionally lucrative business. One important criteria I did learn in that mediaeval pub was the elaborate art of avoiding all but urgent work in the afternoons; a habit I would soundly recommended, and to which I have tried to adhere to throughout my adult life.

Then it was Liverpool for the best pint of draft Bass in England. The Slaughter House, in Renwick Street; where on hot summer’s days they would cover their hogs head barrels with sods of damp earth to keep the beer temperature constant. What little seating available consisted of empty champagne cases and females, who were not allowed to order, were further discouraged by a white line, painted six feet parallel to the bar, over which they were prohibited - on pain of being barred - from crossing over.

While later living in South America and attempting to import Scotch whisky into that continent, I had the pleasure of travelling to Scotland as a guest Matthew Gloag & Son, the distillers of the Famous Grouse whisky. I spent two memorable days learning about and sampling generous quantities of their excellent product and enjoying genial Scottish hospitality in general. This was before they were taken over by the Highland Distillers Company and Famous Grouse was catapulted into an internationally known, brand name.
Further along my road to ruin, in 1981 and as President of the Foreign Press Association in Ecuador, I was a guest at Radio Havana’s, 25th anniversary. That was my first visit to Cuba and I made sure I paid my obeisance to old Hemmingway by spending a good part of my time in the two bars he made famous, drinking frozen Daiquiris in La Florida and delicious Mojitos in La Bodeguita del Media; much to the annoyance of those who were dogging my every move, as they were condemned to long waits outside the establishments.

Some time later, with the recommendation of a Czechoslovakian journalist I had met in Nicaragua and then at Radio Havana, I managed to engineer an invitation to visit various leftist journals in Prague. It was in that beautiful city. albeit a bit scruffy in the days before the Velvet  Revolution, that I was taken to one of its oldest and most spectacular bars, the world famous U Fleku; to drink the dangerously strong U Fleku lager. I was usually accompanied by journalists, loyal to the Party but certainly unpopular with the non-Party member customers, who had no choice in those days but to suffer their arrogance.

It was in Peru in more pleasant circumstances that I tried Pisco Sours. I was writing and directing the documentary “White Death” for Ecuadorian TV; covering cocaine problems in the USA, South America and the Bahamas. One afternoon, the assistant director and I were relaxing in one of Lima’s most celebrated restaurants, La Rosa Nautica, which is beautifully situated at the end of a long pier which juts out into the Pacific ocean. We ordered two Pisco Sours. Served ice cold in large, squat tumblers, they were absolutely delicious and seemed innocuous enough, so we had a couple more and then a further couple. We should have known better, having been prior warned of their lethal potency but – not until we attempted to stand and leave did we realize the truth in the rumour. Despite being quite compos mentis we were both totally legless. The waiters - to the amusement of the other diners - had to half-carry us along the full length of the pier to  a waiting taxi. The documentary, luckily was a success.

Another well know cocktail which creeps upon you unawares and which I learned to my detriment is the Singapore Sling. I was in Singapore for a few days, in transit to  New Zealand and took advantage by nipping into the renowned Raffles Hotel, to tackle the concoction in the very bar which it had, back in 1915, been created. It was early afternoon (whenever possible I do my drinking early) and the famous long bar was empty so the chatty Malaysian barman had time to deliver me up a couple of his best. Naturally, I stayed longer than intended, staggering out into heavy Singapore night, having paid the sum a princely sum exactly how many Slings I do not quite recall.

Newcastle Brown in Newcastle, Bitburg Pils in Bitburg, Margaritas, in San Fransisco, Caipirinhas in Brasilia, Concha y Toro in Santiago, Chile, Strega (in Harvey Wallbangers), in Viareggio, Italy. I could go on ad nauseam about these magical brews, the occasional bad head and the diverse adventures I have gotten into while sampling them in their own element but you will have to allow me time to sober-up before continuing.



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