Friday, 8 March 2013


The visit to the surgery was following its usual course. The Ferret had just finished telling the doctor what was wrong with me when I said I know what is wrong with me: I am gagging for a drink.


The Head Ferret said: “I don't want him to be ill.”


I should explain that during these meetings both of them talk as though I am not there. But the point is I am drinking under doctor's orders. Not a lot, mind you. I have spilt more down my shirt than I'm currently allowed.

Five a day precludes organising orgies, even assuming, as I have, that he meant doubles. And what to drink? Something celebratory? Kir Royal, a mixture of champagne and a cube of sugar soaked in crème de Cassis, is celebratory but a fellow member of a dining club insisted the perfect drink is when the man drinks green chartreuse the woman yellow chartreuse and they kiss.The Head Ferret might judge that as liberty taking. A great favourite of my youth was Black Velvet, a mixture of Guinness and champagne which Count Otto von Bismarck invented and which was always drunk at the Grand National Winner's dinner at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. In the days when it was still a hotel.

All excellent aperitifs but there was something missing. Ritual. Non-drinkers do not realise that as important as the drinking is the preparation thereof. A pink gin, for example, when a drop of Angostura bitters is poured in and around the glass and then poured away before the gin is introduced.

Purely in the interest of historical research, I have collected over the years the signature drinks of many celebrities and famous watering holes, like the Cinnamon Club which was famous for its Rum Pomme, a delicious assembly of cooking apple purée, cinnamon tea bags and half a pint of golden rum. At Simpson's in the Strand the barman's Glogg was a mixture of red wine, brown sugar and golden rum.

When the Queen of Sheba asked the all-wise King Solomon for a motto which would apply in every mood and circumstance, he told her: “This too shall pass.” That is what I was looking for in liquid form. I have the recipes for Hemingway's daiquiri and David Niven's Bloody Mary. Both delicious but a touch too exotic for daily throat sprays.

What I was looking for was a drink for all seasons. I found it in a Dry Martini, which by wild coincidence is my signature drink. It fulfils all the requirements of ritual. I have the glass, generous in size, frivolous in shape. I have the shaker, the mixing spoon. It was the work of a moment to find Bombay Sapphire gin and I have friends who have studied the Martini at home and abroad. My oldest friend John Edwards, the Daily Mail columnist, has met everyone in the world. From his good friend Fred Astaire's daughter Ava he got the recipe for that great man's very dry Martini: 

Generous shot of gin or vodka. Tip up a bottle of Vermouth, then right it again, unscrew the cap and drip the contents in the gin (a little Astaire joke because there ain't any Vermouth in the cap). Shake or stir in a cocktail shaker with cube ice, not shaved, and drain into a frosted glass. Add a twist of lemon or an olive.

John, no slouch in these matters, suggests the best way to frost a glass is first to warm it, then put it in a fridge. Condensation quickly frosts. 

The legendary reporter Brian Hitchen has a million friends, including the late Johnny di Lustro, Capo di Tutti Capi of the New York Gambino family. A formidable ex-paratrooper who masterminded the hunt for train robber Biggs, I assume it was the Capo from whom Brian's muscular Martini originates. Use vodka not gin. Place four ice cubes in a frosted whisky glass, pour vodka to the slow count of ten and add two of the tiniest drops of the driest Vermouth. Slice a two inch long piece of lemon peel, twist to release the oil and drop it in the glass. Stir with your biro.

Three of either of the above before the main meal of the day, plus a large glass of 'The Singleton' single malt from Speyside as a nightcap - and welcome to Heaven.

Reader Brian Gesty writes apropos of my police car story last week:

The story of the coming together with the police car caused me to recall an old friend`s tale of when he crashed his Honda Prelude into a Morris 1000.

All the correspondence with the Insurance Company was ,apparently, headed  "Prelude in D Minor ".


In 1899 the Hague Congress on Peace outlawed throwing bombs out of balloons on the grounds that it was inhuman.

In 1942 Bomber Command's role in the war was defined by the RAF thus: “The purpose of Bomber Command is to destroy the morale of the civilian population.”

In Tokyo in 1945 80,000 civilians living in paper houses were burned alive in fire bomb raids. In all, 350,000 Japanese civilians were killed.To improve the killing potential, tests were done on specially built paper houses and the quality of nitrogen refined so that it burned bodies more fiercely and when quenched on skin it reignited... In 1945 the Japanese sent an offer of near unconditional surrender via Moscow. They made only one condition. They asked to keep their Emperor. Truman and the Allied High Command refused. After the refusal they dropped the atom bomb, massacring Japanese civilians merely to frighten the Russians who were our allies at the time, according to historian A.C Grayling in “Among the Death Cities”.

It is OK for governments to be generous with agonising death. However, a patrol of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders is under investigation as I write. In the first Iraqi War they were ambushed and in the heat of a day-long battle which followed it is claimed they killed four Iraqi civilians. Three Royal Marines face trial for a similar offence.

Parenthetically, in our decadent society where crimes against children are endemic one wonders whether Cupid and his troop of cherubim are fitting symbols of innocent love. By the same token it would be interesting to count the number of endless TV detective dramas which involve the violent deaths of children. This week there were three.