Sunday, November 30, 2008


Tonight, Ed - of Red T Music - is putting on one of his MicroMu events at MAO Live House: strange but true - Oxygen Can, a rather fun heavy metal outfit, are doing an 'unplugged' show. I'm really not sure how that's going to work - you might be able to unplug their instruments, but you can't unplug them: these boys are diehard headbangers. Still, their distinctive gimmick is that they have a second drummer who beats the shit out of an oil drum with a pair of heavy wooden billets - I suppose they don't need any amplification for that. Definitely an intriguing prospect, this; I am sorely tempted.

However, over at nearby rival venue Yugong Yishan there is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a screening of notorious North Korean monster movie, Pulgasari - the climax of a mini DPRK film festival being staged there all evening by the Koryo Tours boys.

Ah, and then there are some tasty match-ups in the English Premier League today: the Manchester derby, and Chelsea v Arsenal. I fear the lure of Luga's Villa may win out over the more 'cultural' options.....


Some poetic advice

never blame the booze

as i go up and down the town
hither to and fro i gather many a
smile and frown and talk of
thus and so i lately
listened and i heard two chaps
their luck bewail life did not get
a pleasant word they
told an awful tale for one of them
had just been fired he
glummed and wondered why he cried
into his beer
aspired to punch the boss his eye too
true the other one exclaimed this
world s a burning shame the
game of living has been framed it is
a rotten game and ever as they railed
at fate and wooed the sombre muse
they steadily absorbed a great
sufficiency of booze but neither one
that cursed his luck and beat the burning bean
would blame the downfall on the truck
that passed his lips between
and as i listened there i thought it were
more candid far to give its dues to what they bought
across the varnished bar they should indeed
be far more frank about their hard lucks boss
they should remark
each genial tank unto their bosses faces
you can t expect a man to drink as much as i do boss
and have much time to work and think
and put the job across
oh boss you ask too much of me
i do the best i can but who can lush
continually and be a working man
you can t expect a man to booze from morning
until night and feel quite nimble
in his shoes and add his figures right oh boss
you ask too much of us we have no flair for toil
we d rather daily dally thus imbibing joyful oil
you can t expect a man to souse
and do work for your business house so do not be unjust
twere more like reason if they said such words
unto their bosses than tear the hair
and beat the head and blame luck
for their losses

Dom Marquis (1878-1937), from archy and mehitabel

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Another unsuitable role model - Terry Collier

The Likely Lads was a popular but short-lived BBC sitcom of the mid-60s, written by the great comic partnership of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. I wasn't around to see the original, but they revived it in the early '70s as Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? and that show became one of my earliest favourites, one of the most resonant memories of my childhood.

It was a touching study of a friendship, of the bond between two young northern working class lads who'd known each other all through their schooldays. It was not always an easy relationship: it was something of an attraction of opposites, with Bob Ferris (played by Rodney Bewes) being meek, neurotic, earnest, ambitious, conforming, while his mate Terry Collier (James Bolam) was an indolent, curmudgeonly ne'er-do-well. But they were both fond of a beer or several, and this was probably my first introduction to the cosy camaraderie of pub culture.

At the outset of the revived series, it was revealed that Bob had signed up for the army on a wild impulse (perhaps after being dumped by a girl?), and Terry, not wanting to be separated from his lifelong friend, had followed suit; alas, Bob was rejected for having flat feet, while Terry found himself trapped in the army. Terry, we learned, had taken to life in the forces for a while, and while stationed in Germany had fallen for a German girl and got married. The marriage had foundered, and he returned to his hometown (it was supposed to be Newcastle, although I don't think there was any location filming until the later feature film version) and, after several years out of touch, resumed his often fractious but extremely warm friendship with Bob.

Bob had by this time got himself a steady, boring job and had married an attractive but very strait-laced, social-climbing, slightly shrewish girl called Thelma. Terry lapsed into the life of a bum, a shiftless scrounger apparently surviving mostly on the dole, and devoting his days to fishing, drinking beer in pubs, and having a regular flutter on the horses. He was in many ways disturbingly reminiscent of the archetypal working-class slob Andy Capp (a character also played by Bolam some years later, in a short-lived TV adaptation of the famous comic strip). I would never nominate the loathesome Capp as one my 'role models', however; as Homer Simpson once remarked of him, he was essentially just a "wife-beating drunk", and almost completely devoid of any positive qualities. Terry, on the other hand, could be very sweet-natured, and was affectionate and fiercely loyal to his family and friends - even to his apparent nemesis, Thelma (beneath their superficial dislike for each other, there was a grudging respect - and also, on occasion, a frisson of sexual attraction). He was also something of a barroom philosopher, railing passionately and convincingly against many of the ills of the modern world. And he was, of course, an ultimate exemplar of the 'bad influence', the catalyst of good times who tempts his more staid friend into reckless indulgence and bizarre adventures; though more often, perhaps, his role was to be the terrible object lesson that serves as a warning reminder to Bob and keeps him mostly on the straight-and-narrow. I fear I occupy a similar position in the lives of many of my friends (particularly uptight Indian medic, The Egregious Dr P); they like to exaggerate my wanton excesses because they are secretly envious, and take some pleasure in living a wilder life vicariously through me. If there is one person, one character I could blame for the path my life has taken, it is Terry Collier. No, 'blame' is harsh: I'm not really complaining.

The other secret of the show's appeal was that it fairly oozed nostalgia - an aching regret both for the loss of the more carefree life of childhood and early adulthood, and more generally for the loss of a simpler way of life in the past (Bob and Thelma's bland bungalow and their drab middle-class lifestyle represented all that was worst in the shallow materialism of modern consumer society; and Terry, I think, can be seen as obstinately, desperately trying to maintain an old-fashioned sense of family and community in the face of an accelerating fragmentation of society: these themes were underlined by the opening credit sequence which showed the monstrous concrete housing blocks that had replaced the quaint redbrick neighbourhoods where the boys grew up).

Also, the show had the most wonderfully mournful theme song, with some brilliant lyrics:

Tomorrow's almost over, today went by so fast;
Now the only thing to look forward to's the past...

The YouTube clip below has that song in its entirety (never heard like this in the show itself, I don't think); it is accompanied not by the original opening credit sequence, but by a montage of photos of Bob & Terry.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A fizzlin' Thanksgivin'

Ho, hum..... our dinner experience last night was not the best.

Sequoia usually does its own food (and laid on a very good Christmas lunch last year), but for this Thanksgiving week they had got in outside caterers (a Vancouver-based outfit called Culinary Capers - not sure how the heck that came about!).

Now, I appreciate the difficulties of catering to a big holiday crowd, particularly in a fairly small - and unfamiliar - space. But, really, these folks did seem quite overwhelmed by the logistics of the event - lots of goodwill, but fairly little actual service.

The food was nice enough when it eventually arrived (well, except for the fact that my main course was stone cold). But the portions were niggardly. Really - the one thing you do not want from a Thanksgiving Dinner is to go away still hungry!

I'd had my anxieties beforehand (but my companions had dithered so long about whether they wanted to do anything or not, that this was our only option - the only venue that hadn't completely booked out at least one week ahead): it was, after all, conspicuously the cheapest Thanksgiving deal on offer in town this year. However, if you're looking to trim your costs, it seems to me to be a false economy to scrimp on your ingredients (I mean, vegetables here are ridiculously cheap; and even the imported turkey isn't that expensive - Sequoia proprietor Frank Siegel has always managed to provide a pretty decent plateful of meat at previous Christmas and Thanksgiving events at a similar or lower price). The paltry dollop of mashed potato on each plate was, in some cases, barely more than a single forkful. A small piece of yam and a tiny piece of carrot completed the miserly allocation of vegetables. Very disappointing indeed. (I cleared my plate in about 2 minutes flat, and was almost immediately thinking about where the nearest place I could load up on rou chuanr was.) I doubt if many people who came last night will be in any hurry to sample their catering again.

And I need to start thinking about my Christmas options.....

HBH 108

Surreal floorshow;
Shots of paint-stripping vodka:
A Russian nightclub.

I'm really not quite sure how that happened.....

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Shall we? Let's!

The end of the week is almost upon us.

I have a Thanksgiving party with friends tonight.

And Luga, the estimable host at promising new sports bar Luga's Villa, is threatening to give away FREE TEQUILA at midnight.

It's such a pity I have to work tomorrow.....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This is the rather technical follow-up to my previous post. Non-lawyers may find it somewhat arid. My apologies. This is intended mainly for my mucker (and habitual disputant) The British Cowboy.

The regulations I mentioned earlier in my
discussion of the (spurious) "Jack Daniel's is not a bourbon" argument were first drawn up by Congress in 1964 and are promulgated today by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A full text is available online here.

The key section on the definition of 'bourbon' is Sub-part C, para. 5.22 (b) (1).

However, some slight confusion is potentially sown by the subsequent para. 5.22 (b) (2):

(2) "Whisky distilled from bourbon (rye, wheat, malt, or rye malt) mash" is whisky produced in the United States at not exceeding 160°proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored in used oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type. Whisky conforming to the standard of identity for corn whisky must be designated corn whisky.

First of all, unless it's a usage that has somehow become standardized in American conventions of drafting, the listing of "rye, wheat, malt, or rye malt" in brackets would suggest - in regular English - that they are all varieties of bourbon (whereas, in fact, they are presumably intended as a list of mutually exclusive alternatives to bourbon). This would appear to be very clumsy drafting.

Then we have the utter bizarreness of this phrase "whisky distilled from bourbon" (and yes, they do spell it whisky, not whiskey, throughout these regulations - that could provoke a whole new pedantfest!). How is this different from bourbon (and the other varieties of whiskey) defined in the preceding sub-paragraph? And has anyone ever heard this phrase used in the distilling industry? Are these provisions only applicable to drinks which have undergone a second distillation? The only essential difference between this sub-paragraph and the one preceding seems to be the provision about "used barrels".

And to cap it all, we have that final sentence about 'corn whisky', seemingly thrown in as an afterthought, a propos of nothing.

I had wondered if perhaps the preceding sub-paragraph might allow some whiskey the option of declaring itself to be either a 'bourbon' or a 'corn whiskey', and that this odd final sentence might be attempting to refer back to this, to close that 'loophole' (if so, it is plainly in the wrong place, and another example of bad drafting; but in fact, there does not appear to be any such loophole anyway). In 5.22 (b) (1) (i) 'bourbon whisky' is defined (amongst other things) as being produced "from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn"; 5.22 (b) (1) (ii) defines 'corn whisky' as being produced "from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn". No upper limit for corn mash content is prescribed in the 'bourbon' definition, but the 80% threshold might seem to bring a whiskey into the category of 'corn whisky' instead. However, (b) (1) (ii) further defines 'corn whisky' as being produced in uncharred barrels, whereas (b) (1) (i) stipulates that 'bourbon' is made in charred barrels.

I have seen some of the online "Jack Daniel's is not a bourbon" lobbyists claim that Jack is made from slightly over 80% corn mash. Does this mean that it is a 'corn whisky/whiskey', not a 'bourbon'? Well, NO - because it is made in charred barrels. There is no upper limit for corn mash content for whiskeys matured in charred barrels: over 50%, they're all bourbons. I have seen others of these lobbyists claim (though they do not attempt any connection between these two arguments) that Jack is not a bourbon because it is matured in used barrels. I don't think this is true, but that still wouldn't bring it within the definition of 'corn whisky', I don't think: (b) (1) (ii) might possibly be interpreted as allowing the use of charred, used barrels (the phrase is "used or uncharred new oak containers"), although this would be a pretty bizarre variation in the provisions; and it is, I would suggest, precluded by the subsequent clause "and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood". If you can't have charred wood in your new barrels, then you can't have it in used barrels either. So, Jack Daniel's is definitively not a 'corn whiskey'. Sorry.

If their maturation process does employ used barrels (and I'm pretty sure it doesn't), then it would seem to fall under the rather odd-sounding (b) (2) definition of a "whisky distilled from bourbon (mash)" rather than simply a "bourbon". But that's still a kind of bourbon, surely?

Now, those Tennessean blow-hards are probably not going to accept the legal definition as being decisive (because for them it's not about logic or practicality, it's purely about scorning their Kentucky neighbours)..... but I'm afraid I really can't see any room for doubt that under US law Jack Daniel's is a bourbon.

Footnote to the footnote: The British Cowboy points out below that I seem to have overlooked the word 'mash' included at the opening of that puzzling sub-para. 5.22 (b) (2). Yes, indeed, I had a complete blindspot about it - despite having read the turgid text through quite a number of times! I have to withdraw most of what I said about the drafting in that particular instance: it is acceptable drafting - not incompetent, incomprehensible, or contrary to the intended meaning, as I had suggested. It is, however, still dashed inelegant. And a very obscure piece of English. I have no more idea what "whisky distilled from bourbon mash" is supposed to be than I do what "whisky distilled from bourbon" might have been.


The other day, in recounting the sorry tale of my discovery of some fake Jack Daniel's here in Beijing, I was rash enough to make a passing reference to "other bourbons".

My America-based drinking buddy and long-time Barstool commenter, The British Cowboy, immediately waded in to remind me of the alleged heinousness of implying that JD is a bourbon.

Now, he has thus far omitted to give us his argument as to why such an appellation would be inappropriate. Perhaps he may yet bring something new to the subject. However, in an idle moment this morning I conducted some online research and discovered that - in the States, at least - this is already a well-worn controversy.

My nutshell summary of what I have discovered so far would be this:

1) Most of the reasons adduced by opponents of the 'bourbon' tag are incorrect.

2) Those that are perhaps not incorrect, are severely obscure and nit-picky, and really of very little relevance to the man-in-the-street.

3) The supposed distinction is, I would say, an invention of snobs, and not useful to the general populace.

It would seem that the good folks at Lynchburg, where the Jack Daniel's distillery is to be found, feel - not unjustifiably - that their product is a rather finer and more individual creation than the general run of American whiskeys, and so disdain to call it a 'bourbon'.

Since the name bourbon came originally from Bourbon County in Kentucky, and most of the best-known whiskeys called bourbons today are from Kentucky.... well, of course, all Tennesseeans (remind me again where you went to law school, Cowboy) disdain the term, out of a sense of rivalry with their neighbour state.

And so, American whiskey snobs have taken up the habit of refusing to call Jack (or other whiskeys from Tennessee - although, to my knowledge, there is these days only one other, at least that's commonly available) a bourbon.

Amongst the reasons these ridiculous bee-bonnet types have cited are:

Bourbon can only be made in uncharred barrels - WRONG.

Bourbon cannot be made in previously used barrels - WRONG. Well, this may be true according the US government regulations on the definition of different types of spirits (see full text here, if you're feeling lawyerly), but I'm not aware that Jack Daniel's does re-use its barrels; and, even if it did, the fact that they are charred would appear to bring them back within the definition of 'bourbon' under these provisions.

Bourbon cannot be made using the "sour mash" process - WRONG (many of the Kentucky bourbons are).

Bourbon cannot be flavoured by such means as 'The Lincoln County Process' (the charcoal filtering method which gives Jack so much of its distinctive character) - WRONG. This is probably the key argument for the Tennessee diehards, but it is not supported by the regulations I just cited, and some of the Kentucky bourbons are charcoal-filtered too.

The most intriguing argument I have come across is that Jack should properly be called a 'corn whiskey', since it allegedly uses slightly more than 80% corn mash in its raw ingredients. Now, that is such a can of worms that I think I'll pass over it for now (and perhaps return to it in a 'footnote' later). Let me just say that I don't think I've ever heard anyone use the term 'corn whiskey'; and that is not how Jack Daniel's describes itself. The terms that the 'Not a bourbon!' school are lobbying for are 'Sippin' Whiskey' or 'Tennessee Whiskey' or 'Sour Mash Whiskey'.

As a final sally, I would also observe that there is no shortage of references in American usage to "Tennessee bourbons" (and possibly more, the further back in time you go - suggesting that this 'Not a bourbon!' nonsense is a relatively recent fetish). And it is interesting to note that even some of the online 'Not a bourbon!' advocates make the same 'slip' I did of discussing Jack Daniel's in the context of "other bourbons".

Really, people, grow up and get real. There are TWO types of American whiskey: rye (made with predominantly rye grain) and bourbon (made with predominantly corn). What on earth is the point of trying to establish a separate category that would include only two members (even if you could find a way of defining them that did clearly differentiate them as distinctively and importantly different from 'the rest' of the bourbon family!)???

North American whiskeys are pretty unsophisticated creatures anyway, compared to their Scots and Irish forebears. There's absolutely no need to get so finicky about trying to differentiate them.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"The Pakistani Place"

My young drinking friends and I have a new favourite hangout for cheap eats (and not too unreasonably expensive drinks) in the Sanlitun area.

I am reluctant to identify it, since one of its chiefest charms at present is that it is almost invariably completely empty (well, no, not completely empty: there always seem to be one or two tables occupied, which suggests that it is doing just well enough to survive, but not building such a reputation that it risks becoming over-busy or developing any delusions of grandeur). However, sophisticated Net-traffic-monitoring tools and exhaustive personal enquiries have revealed to me that in fact I have only two regular readers who are resident in Beijing, so I'm probably safe enough in publishing "our secret" here.

The place is just opposite that hideous new mega-mall, The Village, around the corner from Luga's, on the upper floor. It is completely unprepossessing - indeed, almost invisible - from the outside, with only a small, unilluminated sign saying "Pakistan Restaurant" over the steps. Inside, it is small and very spare of decor - really little more than a standard Chinese 'hole-in-the-wall' restaurant. However, the big windows at the front do afford some nice people-watching opportunities.

I think it's probably been open a year or so already, maybe even rather more - but I'm afraid I always tended to ignore it, because to a casual glance it appears to be just as charmless and generic as the other (overpriced, not very good) restaurants on that little strip. The chuanr guy outside downstairs - who is, I think, part of the same business - should perhaps have tempted me to give them a try rather sooner: he does have conspicuously the most tasty and generously proportioned meat-skewers in that whole neighbourhood.

And the kebabs you can get inside in the restaurant (not on the menu, I don't think!) are even better - a treat for the tastebuds. Over the past two or three months, most of my irregular drinking buddies seem to have "discovered" this place (of course, they all claim to have been the first and argue about taking the credit), and it is now becoming a regular default rendezvous for us. They don't appear to have any actual Pakistanis in their employ, but I gather that the Chinese owners spent quite some time in Pakistan and take a pride in giving a good account of the recipes they have brought back. My pal The Suave Bengali pronounces their fare to be "very authentic", and he claims to know a thing or two about cuisine from the northern end of the great sub-continent (though I'm not at all sure that he's ever actually been to those parts). Well, yes, "authentic" does mean greasy as hell, but it's very nicely spiced, and the portions are a good size. The menu is pretty limited (although you can try your luck ordering off the menu), but it's all very well done; and it's much cheaper than any of the other Indian/Pakistani places in town - really quite a bargain.

Oh yes, and they have 10 kuai Tsingtaos too. In fact, they have lately succumbed to our requests to start stocking the big bottles of Tsingtao for us.


(And if you are a Beijing resident who has happened to wander in here, please disregard this post. It was no more than a practical joke, a late April Fool's Day prank. This restaurant doesn't really exist. And if it did, it would be frightful. Not worth investigating at all, I assure you.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Signs your Jack Daniel's isn't perhaps quite what it should be

Jack Daniel's didn't use to be a particularly common brand over here in China. The locals have been entirely seduced by canny marketing from Chivas Regal (a whisky I rarely see and have never drunk in the UK) and, to a lesser extent, Johnny Walker. And Jack, though quite reasonably priced compared with the tax-inflated price-tags we're used to overseas, has always been just a bit more expensive here than most other bourbons. If there's no mass market for it, then it's not worth faking. And, with its distinctive, complex charcoal flavour, it's pretty nigh impossible to fake it at all convincingly (although Chinese fakers - nor, sadly, most of the consumers here - are seldom that concerned with verisimilitude).

Alas, fake booze has been becoming more and more unavoidable over the past couple of years. Many brands that were previously reliable are now getting the coarse-alcohol-and-caramel treatment. Many bars that used to take some trouble to vet their suppliers now seem to have given up this unequal struggle (including, I'm sorry to say, my dear Pool Bar).

However, I don't think I've ever been fobbed off with fake JD before. Not, at least, with JD that was so obviously fake. And - oh, woe, woe, woe - it would have to happen in the Pool Bar.

I knew it was going to be bad even before we opened the bottle..... but I thought I'd try it anyway, out of a spirit of scientific curiosity.

How did I know? Well, I suppose it is just possible that the famous Lynchburg distillery has started producing some special labels (I really should take my camera along next time to get some photographic evidence of this, lest any of my readers should doubt me) for its China exports, but..... I think that's very, very, very unlikely.

The top of the label on this bottle was overprinted with the marvellous Chinglish slogan:
"Kind remind. Drink rationally."

It's almost worth enduring the methanol poisoning for moments of delight like that.

Bon mot for the week

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some drinks are more dangerous than others....

The 4th Martini

After the 4th martini
You become a time-traveller.
You can skip the banality
Or the inconvenience
Of the next few hours (or days)
And jump straight
To a brighter future.

Or you can fall back
Into the comforting arms
Of the yesterdays,
Snug with your memories,
Reliving favourite episodes
Of the past.

Once you have let go
Of the tiresome present,
You can go wherever you like:
You can slip sideways
Into parallel dimensions
Of fantasy.

Your mind can fly
From here and now,
Fly far, far, far away;
All it leaves behind
Is the empty shell
Of your body
To carry on drinking...

To order the 5th martini.


Well, I didn't go to Black Cat Bone's CD launch night yesterday.

I've never warmed to the new Yugong Yishan, I'm afraid. Partly, perhaps, it suffers unfairly from nostalgic comparisons to the old - much smaller, much grungier - Yugong (and, far back at the dawn of history, owner Lu Zhiqiang's first music club, the tiny and super-grungy Loupe Chante). But it is a cavernous, charmless space (and somewhat overlit for a rock club) - it always seems deserted unless there are at least a couple of hundred people in there. And it suffers from a truly terrible acoustic too. Chatter - and the constant clanking of dead beer bottles - from the bar booms down the room and can be an unwelcome distraction even during a fairly loud show; the background noise can completely overwhelm anything quieter - acoustic shows are pretty much impossible there. After various experiments with the decor, they've finally got up some heavy velvet drapes which soften the bright, rattly echo slightly - but it's still not a good space for music. The sound system doesn't seem that great either: they have a mixing-desk that looks as though it should be on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, but they don't usually seem to have anyone around who knows how to operate it! But even if all the knobs were tweaked to maximal effect, I think that high, high ceiling would still squelch the sound.

I think just about every single gig I've gone to there has disappointed (even Charlie Musselwhite, at the start of the year - although that was mainly down to the fact that we'd already had over two hours of great music from two support bands before the great man came on stage, and so were a bit bluesed out), and I now try to avoid the place as much as possible (so - expect it to win 'Music Club of the Year' awards from the undiscerning readerships of all the expat mags!). I figure Des and the boys will forgive me missing one of their gigs. They'll be playing all the other venues in town over the next few weeks, and I know it will be much more fun to catch them at MAO or 2 Kolegas.

Last night there was a rival attraction anyway, the excellent Ningxia folk rockers Buyi - also celebrating a new CD release - at MAO Live House.

Now, MAO is everything that the new Yugong, sadly, is not. The space is pretty much ideal in its dimensions for a small-to-medium-sized rock club. The lights are low, and the walls are black - so it can feel reasonably full even with quite a small crowd. With a big crowd - and last night, it was very big - it gets properly sweaty. And the acoustics and the sound system are impeccable. (Also, it's barely half as far away from my apartment as Yugong; and it's right over the road from my beloved Pool Bar.)

The one gripe I have with MAO is their programming policy. Sometimes they have ridiculously long bills, with more acts than anyone could possibly want to see in one night. On other occasions, well.... there's only one act - which isn't really enough. The advance information about who's on is rarely entirely reliable. And you certainly can't expect there to be any logic in the running order.

Also, rather weirdly, they do seem to be a bit obsessive-compulsive about starting on time (Beijing's other music clubs seldom get going within an hour or so of the advertised start time). I wonder if it's the influence of their Japanese investors, one of the major speaker manufacturers? They're a very orderly people, the Japanese, aren't they? Now, I would probably rather appreciate this unaccustomed punctuality - if I could only get used to it. But I'm so used to rock shows in this town starting late that MAO regularly catches me out with its prompt kick-offs.

So, last night..... well, it appeared that Buyi had started on the dot of 9.30 - if not a little earlier. There was no support. And they played only one rather short set. Jeez! I arrived shortly after 10pm, and only caught the last song-and-a-bit of their main set. Thank heavens for the encores, at least.

The 20 minutes of it I saw was a cracking show. Their statuesque lady bassist is looking even more lovely than ever, her hair now grown almost to waist-length. And the audience was packed with long-time fans who sang along enthusiastically with their favourite songs.

I do, however, feel somewhat short-changed.

And they didn't even have any CDs on sale! (Well, maybe they'd all sold out; but there was no evidence of any having been there in the first place.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Great Drinking Songs (12)

The laowai bluesmen of Black Cat Bone have been Beijing's top party band for the past 3 or 4 years. Finally, they have cut a CD - Drinkin' Alone - and the official launch is tonight at Yugong Yishan. So, now you know what you're all getting for Christmas this year.

Here is frontman Des McGarry, the coolest dude in town, singing one of their signature tunes, I Ain't Drunk (I'm Just Drinking). The sound quality's a bit crap, I'm afraid, but you do get a sense of what a fun live act they are.

This was shot at Yugong earlier this year. There are some rather better quality clips of them playing at the - far cooler - 2 Kolegas here and here (looks like they might be bringing out a DVD as well?).

[Yep, for some strange reason, only Japanese YouTube works for me at the moment....]

Friday, November 21, 2008

HBH 107

Bad boy in the room!
Apologies for presence!
Lock up your daughters!

Oh, how I wish.....

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Abby this year??

For the last 4 years, Abigail Washburn, a rather lovely American folk singer (plays a bit of banjo too) who'd spent some time working and travelling in China in the early Noughties and become rather smitten with the place (I know the feeling), had brought a small acoustic band over here in November for a mini-tour of China, always playing 3 or 4 dates in Beijing. I immediately became a fan. In fact, I think I've been to all but 2 or 3 of the dozen or so gigs she's played in the city now.

This year, alas, the sequence is broken. However, we can still enjoy our memories..... here, in this interview and jam session (with Beijing-based Mongolian folk rockers Hanggai) shot for Danwei TV a year or two ago on a rooftop in the hutongs near my home. (Is this in fact the roof of the Jiangjinjiu music bar next to the Drum Tower? I suspect it is, but can't quite tell. Does anyone know?) Enjoy.

Well, Abby may not have brought a band over this year, but I spotted her in the audience at a gig last week; apparently, she's in town for a holiday. And there's a rumour that she may sit in for a song or two with her friends Black Cat Bone at their CD launch party at Yugong Yishan this Saturday. Hard to resist....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What is random?

A friend tried to lure me out last week for some "random" drinking.

I chided him: "Drinking is never 'random'. Not unless you're using dice to make all your decisions!"

(Since I'm having a 'picture blog' week over on Froogville, I thought I'd enter into the spirit just a little here on The Barstool too. I wonder if any of my readers will get the reference here?)

King of Snacks

A week or so ago, a new little snack shop opened up at the very top end of Nanluoguxiang, just off Gulou Dongdajie. It appears to be entirely a Chinese-run operation, and I haven't yet been able to work out where their 'concept' came from. They appear to speak only Chinese, and most of the notices are in Chinese, but their main menu board does at least have some English translations on. It was the prominence of the word "pie" that caught my eye. A really good meat pie is something I often pine for here in Beijing (particularly since the demise a couple of years ago of the old John Bull Pub, which used to do a rather nice steak & kidney). This is a complaint I hear particularly often from Australian acquaintances. Australian meat pies are indeed a thing of wonder, as I fondly recall from my trip to Sydney back in the mid-90s (it is rumoured that a decent version of these is available in the pub inside the Oz Embassy, but I've never been able to get in to find out).

Well, the 'pies' at the new NLG shop are a wondrous hybrid of the Chinese baozi and an Aussie meat pie. The shape is more-or-less that of these traditional Chinese steamed buns, a flat-bottomed dome - somewhat flattened, but compensatingly broader than usual. The pastry is quite thick but very light, again a little like the spongy casing of the baozi, but with a rich pie-crust glaze on the outside. And they are very generously filled with MEAT.

At 5 kuai each, they are quite a bargain. 1 is a decent snack, 2 is practically a meal, and 3 is a veritable pig-out. It is an invaluable addition to the late-night food options in the area. (Yes, one can grow tired of rou chuanr, the mini-kebabs which are the ubiquitous street snack here. The only other option, really, is a jian bing, a strange, sweet & spicy pancake roll filled with scrambled egg and bulked up with a crispy waffle; however, these always sit rather heavily on my stomach at night, and I regard them as more of daytime snack. And you've got to go all the way over to Houhai to find a vendor for these, anyway.) These little round dumpling-pies are already in danger of becoming a daily indulgence for me - at least on those days when I go out (not so many recently, because of the sudden onset of some viciously cold weather), and when I have neglected to eat a proper meal in the evening.

One reservation, though; one word of warning - they are bit heavy-handed on the spices. The pepper in the 'ground beef and black pepper' option - my favourite - is sometimes a bit overdone, and the 'hot chicken' variety appears to have been doused in Chongqing hotpot (which is a couple of steps up from sulphuric acid!). Yes, it can provide some comforting 'central heating' to protect against this brutal north wind we've been suffering this last week, but..... it will strip the lining from your intestines if you indulge too often.

My investigations into this place are still in an early stage. I imagine they might well have some less spicy fare, and perhaps even some vegetarian offerings. I did happen to notice the last time I was in there that one of the items on the board was translated simply as 'pineapple' - do they have a dessert pie?? Or do they simply sell that pineapple-on-a-stick thing? I'll let you know when I find out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cold feet

A week or so ago, I discovered by chance (Fate giving me another playful dig in the ribs?) that there was a speed-dating event happening this weekend, in a nice little restaurant just a few minutes down the road from my apartment.

I had thought I might give it a go. However, it kept slipping my mind (I've scarcely had a day off - weekends included! - in the last 3 weeks; and I'm still sleeping terribly because of the plague of builders hammering away all night in the park outside my window), and I didn't get around to trying to pre-register for it until Sunday morning. Since I hadn't heard back from the organisers, either by phone or e-mail, by about 4.30pm, I decided to give up on the idea and find some alternate means of entertainment. About an hour later I received a text message that they had enrolled me and were very eager for me to come in order to balance up the numbers (did they really have more girls than boys on their hands? It usually works out the other way around, I think!). My new plan for the evening was neither very fixed nor very sociable - going to a film on my own - but I found myself feeling strangely committed to it. I suppose I had just "talked myself out of" the speed-dating idea.

Why the decisive waning of enthusiasm? Well, my image-confidence was not high: I'd spent most of the day in bed, having had a truly awful night's sleep; I have a filthy cold; I am about a month overdue for a haircut; and I really don't have any decent smart casual clothes to wear at the moment (I am long overdue for a major shopping expedition, but I just never seem to find the time). No, I looked like shit yesterday. Moreover, I have another very heavy week ahead of me in the recording studio, and I really can't afford to risk losing my voice - something which, in present conditions, trying to maintain an hour or two of sustained conversation would be very likely to cause. (My drinking buddy The Weeble has taken to mocking my perpetual drama-queenie anxieties about the state of my voice, my reluctance to spend time in any bars that are too noisy or too smoky. "Is your 'instrument' bothering you again?" he'll tease.)

But I think I had also suffered a resurgence of doubt about - not to say scorn for - the very idea of 'speed-dating'. It just doesn't feel like 'me' at all. Rather too much of an air of desperation about it. And perhaps also rather too much of a sense of ruthless cynicism, of impatient time-management ( "I want to find a new boyfriend/girlfriend this week, but I'm only prepared to devote a couple of hours out of my busy schedule to accomplishing this...." ). As I think I've observed somewhere on my blogs before, I don't really like the word 'date' in the first place. It's an American concept rather than a British one; and it seems to me to be both more pressureful (you can't just hang out with a member of the opposite sex to try to get to know them a bit better; any encounter, at least any one-to-one encounter, has to be a 'date' - with a fraught romantic/sexual subtext) and at the same time strangely more provisional, less committed (it is apparently possible to 'date' people casually, or to 'date' several different people at once - I just don't get how that's supposed to work). Moreover, I recall that my favourite soused magazine columnist, Jeffrey Bernard, once wrote that he abhorred the notion of speed-reading; he relished being an uncommonly slow, meticulous, thoughtful reader; and he facetiously added that he might possibly pay someone to teach him how to read even more slowly, so that he could enhance his enjoyment of reading still further. I'm much the same with women: I like to take my time in getting to know them. I'm deeply sceptical as to whether you can reliably make up your mind you'd like to go out with someone (the favoured British term for 'dating') - or even if you'd like to see them again, on however cautious and provisional a basis - in just 5 minutes (5 minutes of probably rather forced and phoney chat, at that).

And then, of course, there's the strain of finding new things to talk about. This event was threatening to provide 15 micro-introductions for each participant. I doubt if they hit that target, but..... even 8 or 10 would be maxing out my tired little brain, overtaxing both my memory and my creativity. I don't think anybody has that many upbeat, amusing, stimulating short conversations in them. But I'd hate to be repeating myself too often; I fear you're bound to seem a bore to others if you're starting to bore yourself.

A lot of people evidently find these events amusing, and a good way of making new friends, if not necessarily of finding suitable life partners. And I was really trying to lay aside my scepticism, to be more open-minded about the possible positive aspects of such a social get-together. Alas, participation would have required a greater level of energy and creativity than I can currently muster. Maybe next time.....

I would rather like to find myself a new girlfriend, now that the cold and gloomy Beijing winter is practically upon us; though I'm afraid I rather doubt if a speed-dating evening is going to produce very many suitable candidates.

But it's not as if I have any difficulty meeting fairly large numbers of interesting and attractive women in this town - it's just that most of them are not single, stark raving bonkers, or don't fancy me. Sigh.

I've just got to keep plugging away. One day, the right woman will come along. One day.

Bon mot for the week

"Excess, on occasion, is exhilarating. It prevents moderation from acquiring the deadening effect of a habit."

Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I guessed Norwegian!

Last night, I was standing around outside my new favourite hangout, the 12 Square Metres bar at the bottom of Nanluoguxiang, with a couple of friends who were having a smoke break (one of the big attractions of the place for me is its strict no-smoking policy; my throat doesn't get along well with high volumes of cigarette smoke in confined spaces).

All of a sudden, 4 drop-dead gorgeous - Scandinavian-looking - young women approached us to ask for directions to Ned's, the little Australian bar a few hundred yards further up the road.

My companions seemed to think that I had established a good rapport with their ringleader, and taunted me that I really should have offered to escort them to their destination.... or should have given chase, to renew the conversation as soon as possible after their departure. My defence for my asexual torpor was: "They are too young. They are too beautiful. And they outnumber us. In fact, since you two guys are 'married', they outnumber me - rather badly!"

An hour and a half or so later, when we were finally quitting 12 Square, we ran into them again: we happened to step outside just as they were again walking past, this time in the other direction, returning from their visit to Ned's. Another minute or so of flirty conversation ensued: tourists, climbing The Wall tomorrow, dawn start, needed an early night. Damn!

They were indeed Norwegian, which had been my first guess. I don't know how I come to have this uncanny ability. Well, two uncanny abilities, really. The ability to divine someone's nationality - very quickly, at a distance. And the ability to make a favourable impression on women I am never going to see again.

Cursed by the gods.....

Friday, November 14, 2008

HBH 106

Nature's alarm clock
Waking up before daybreak
Overfull bladder


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Yet more wisdom of the txts

A friend was quizzing me just a little while ago as to what my plans were that evening.

"Nothing set," I responded mournfully. "I'm trying to entice a gorgeous blonde out on a date. But she's spurning me."

"Ah. Confidence is all in these matters," he observed (un)helpfully.

I saw his point: "Quite so. She is completely confident she can do better."


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More 'cocktails'

To round off last week's posts on the Lobotomy and the Aegrotat, I thought I'd share with you a few more of the bizarre drinks recipes we came up with for cocktail parties during my wild student days.

The Terminator - this was an adaptation of an existing recipe I found in a book somewhere, though I can't for the life of me recall what its proper name was. Nor indeed am I very precise any more as to what was in it. I think it was just vodka with a dash of grenadine, diluted with lemonade or tonic water - probably lemonade (sweet'n'fizzy usually did the trick for party drinks). We made it in quantity, in a punch bowl. And the gimmick of it was that we didn't mix in the grenadine; we just let the thick red pomegranate syrup swirl streakily through the otherwise clear liquid. It called to mind the scene in the first Terminator film where Arnie's cyborg, after the latest bout of ultra-violence, conducts some self-repairs in a seedy motel bathroom, slicing open his damaged eyeball with a scalpel to reveal the laser within - and tossing the excised tissue into a bloody washbasin. We'd put a glass eye or a coloured contact lens in the bottom of the punch bowl to underline the reference. It was a big hit.

The Iconoclast - another sweet'n'fizzy classic, and another for which, like last week's Aegrotat, I must give the credit to the egregious "Mr A". This was was a mixture of port and Blue Curaçao - again diluted with lemonade, to make it a little more readily palatable, and to make it go further. I used to add a little real lemon juice as well, to take just a bit of the edge off the heavy sweetness of the drink. The intriguing thing about this concoction was that, by some freakish trick of optics, although the ingredients blended together, they appeared not to - from certain angles, at least, the drink would look layered: blue at the top, grading down to a purplish red at the bottom. Also, of course, it would turn your tongue BLUE. What larks! I have several party photos of smashed friends proudly displaying their discoloured tongues - like so many Maori warriors in the middle of their haka.

The Empire Builder - the signature cocktail of the small 'dining society' I founded (more of an anti-'dining society', really - we had more drinks parties and wine tastings than dinners; no-one [except me] knew who all the other members were, because most of them were very bad about actually showing up for events; and it was intended as a send-up of the pretensions - and the objectionable right-wing politics - of most of the similar clubs of that era). It was a variation on the classic Planter's Punch, using both light and dark rums (something of the same philosophy behind my orignal - sacrilegious! - blend of gin and vodka in the Lobotomy: I was seeking to offend and/or confuse!). It worked pretty damn well. Also, of course, the dark rum had to be Wood's Old Navy Rum - 100°proof! We'd try to use some fresh lime juice in the mix, although, of course, we couldn't possibly obtain enough for the quantities of the drink we were producing. However, I did find a lime concentrate (I forget the name of it now, alas) that was less excessively sweet than the standard British brand, Rose's Lime Cordial. And I think I would usually indulge my frequent strategy of boosting the sugar content further with a dash of gomme syrup, but then trying to disguise the fact with some lemon juice. As I said, it worked pretty damn well.

Rocket Fuel - yet another of "Mr A's" great contributions to drinking history: the greatest summer garden party drink. Delightfully simple, too: sparkling wine with a good slug of Pimm's No. 1 in it. Yes, you can use champagne if you want to be fancy, but there's really no need. Any old fizzy crap will do. A Prosecco is a good middle path between the cheap and the extravagant. It was a particular hit with the ladies. Sweet'n'fizzy again - it's such a simple formula! I think, back in the late '80s at Oxford, rather a lot of sex - probably rather unmemorable but, crucially, deniable sex - was had with the assistance of this drink.

Ah, we were young then.........

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Best comment yet on the American Election

(Courtesy, once again, of the indispensable FrostFireZoo.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The weekly bon mot

"Drinking is an art, not a sport."

Michael Moriarty (1941- )

Sunday, November 09, 2008


"You've had enough", she said.
And immediately I knew
I wanted more.
Nothing drives us on
Like another's disapproval,
Especially when
We know they're right.

This, by the way, is Post No. 900 here on The Barstool. At this rate, we'll be passing the 1,000 mark early in the New Year. Another party excuse, methinks....

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Great Love Songs (11)

Crikey, it's been a month since I posted anything in my 'Great Songs' series - very remiss of me. Perhaps I might blame the distraction of having had a love affair - of sorts - in that time.

Now that I am once more in the familiar territory of brooding and regrets, I shall feed my melancholy with some of the lovely Tracy Chapman - Baby, Can I Hold You?

Last night at the Pool Bar....

"I just lost (twice!) to a girl who can barely play. I think I made the classic Chairman mistake of allowing myself to be distracted by the sexy boots."

Ah, well - so long as we can learn from our mistakes!

Friday, November 07, 2008

A brief plug...

The remodelling of the former Room 101 on Andingmennei took a little longer than planned, but it is now pretty much done - well, all apart from the odd loose wire and a tiny lick of touch-up paint here and there. Oh, and finalising the menu!

The new place (same ownership, fresh 'concept') is going to be more of a restaurant than a bar, but will retain the bar - and the weekend live music - downstairs. They've settled on the name Gingko. (I think I rather preferred their original idea of Terracotta - although I find both a bit twee, and definitely suggestive of a fancy-schmancy Mediterranean bistro type of place rather than a bar.)

It will be another week or two before they're ready for a formal launch, but the soft opening phase begins tonight.

I wish them well. And I'll probably look in at some point.....

HBH 105

Gin & Tonic

Tartness of lemon,
Cool, clinking ice - and bubbles!
Perfect refreshment.

This was the best of 20 or so haiku I dashed off this week as a 'birthday' tribute to Moonrat, whose fine blog reached its second anniversary on Obama Day. Moonie has a bit of a weakness for gin. And nothing wrong with that!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Tonight's txt msg highlights

A friend was ribbing me about being out again, after last night's excesses. Choosing between staying at home feeling tired and cranky and heading out to the charming 12 Square Metres bar for a restorative malt whisky had seemed a no-brainer to me. I replied:
"There's hair-of-the-dog, and then there's Laphroaig. I am a very classy drunk."

The Laphroaig was slipping down particularly well, and I thought I'd rise to the challenge of killing off the bottle (only two more measures left). Also, I was waiting for a friend who was taking forever to get there, which was making me late for a musical rendezvous elsewhere. I apologised:
"Sorry - got sidetracked by unreliable friends and reliable whisky. Will be there for the 2nd set."

Later, one of the Pool Bar regulars asked me if I'd like a game. My rueful response:
"Yes. I want MY GAME back. Have you any idea where I left it?"
(I have not been playing well of late.)

Another great night; but considerably more moderate than the one before.


Well, that was a hell of an evening.

Things were a little quiet at the Saddle Cantina early on (at least, outside on the terrace: people seemed to think there was just a little too much of a nip in the air to sit outside, but I think I'll be happy in my shirtsleeves for a while yet), but by 8.30 or so the place was heaving.

I suspect it was the same in many other bars around town, and all over the country, in every country - a spontaneous worldwide party! There probably hasn't been such a universal outpouring of pride, relief, and optimism since the end of World War II (well, maybe the fall of the Berlin Wall or the release of Mandela might have been close....).

I discovered - rather to my surprise and horror - that one of my friends is a closet Republican. He was the only one in the place, and was suitably subdued. I was very good: I didn't gloat, I didn't tease, I didn't mention Sarah Palin once. I didn't even use the "How can you tell if you're a redneck?" line on him (although I was tempted).

I then went on to have an excellent night in Salud. And then, of course, I looked in at the Pool Bar "on the way home", and didn't get to bed until around 4am.

Today began with a goading "You're not going to be LATE this morning, are you?" message from my recording partner DD.

My rueful reply: "Given that it's 9.22 and I'm still in bed, I'm afraid I probably am. SORRY." Oh dear.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Cinco de Drinko - Politico!

Yes, the Saddle Cantina's once-a-month drinks promotion is once again upon us. And since we all have something special to celebrate today (for many of us, the first time in our lifetimes that the Americans have elected a President who isn't an Embarrassment To The Free World), I think I will head on over there and get bladdered with ecstatically happy American Democrats.

(There are rumoured to be 2 or 3 Republicans in town, but I don't think I've ever met them. And I suspect that even they would not have wanted a religious nut-job like Mrs Palin to get anywhere near the White House.)

Join me, if you will.

This is a momentous day, and I will probably write more on it at some point - but right now, I am wasting valuable drinking time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Not entirely true

A friend was trying to entice me out drinking shortly after lunchtime yesterday.

I was sorely tempted to join him, but I had to work. And I was just a tad anxious for him too, concerned that this sudden impulse to daytime drunkenness might be a sign that his current unemployment is dragging his spirits down (lord knows, it was getting the better of me when I was in the same state a couple of weeks ago).

I responded:
"I don't think I've gone out drinking midday, mid-week since I was an undergraduate!"

That is, of course, something of an overstatement. But I think it's probably true to say that daytime drinking (other than, occasionally, at the weekends) hasn't been an habitual lifestyle choice for me since those far-off days.

I was relieved (though also, in a strange way, slightly disappointed - thwarted vicarious hedonism!) that my friend decided not to go out drinking until the evening, when he would have some companionship.

Monday, November 03, 2008

New Picks of the Month

It's time once again to update my sidebar recommendations for favourite posts from my early days.

On Froogville, I choose The Simile Game, some frivolous wordplay and jokey poetry from nearly two years ago (although the 'poem' has renewed relevance for me now!).

And on the Barstool, I like Another great 'Hagar' moment. Hagar the Horrible, that is, the cartoon Viking marauder. This is one of my favourite jokes from that strip - and it somehow segues into an explanation (one of many possible ones, but certainly a major factor in the mix) of why I so seldom have a girlfriend. (There's more on Hagar here.)

Bon mot for the week

"I pity the man with no addictions. He hasn't found something he loves yet."


This is one of my favourite lines from a series of abandoned sketches for a 'drinking novel' I was toying with some years ago. Elsewhere, I expressed a similar thought slightly differently:

"Addiction is simply knowing what you like. People with no addictions are joyless sons-of-bitches."

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Traffic Report - blog stats for October

The 'slowdown' overtaking the world's economies has yet to be emulated in my blogging, despite my oft-stated resolve to stop overdoing it so much.

Last month, there were (the usual) 50 posts and nearly 15,000 words on Froogville.

On the Barstool, there were 39 posts and around 11,000 words.

Visitor numbers still seem to be fairly static at around the 150 per week mark, despite the generous puff (and occasional syndication!) I have received from the much more widely read Other Men's Flowers blog.

However, according to Statcounter, I have recently received first-time visitors to Froogville from places as diverse as Vietnam and Hawaii - as well as an 'unknown' who appears to be based exactly on the Equator, just off the coast of West Africa (an oil rig worker, perhaps? or a round-the-world yachtsman??). Meanwhile, the Barstool has drawn fleeting attention from Fiji and Malta. What is it about island nations and drinking?

I am also rather excited to discover that I am now the No. 1 Google return for "worst Irish joke". Alas, I fear it is an indication of the decline in popularity of the genre in recent years that the eminence of this post on the search engines does not yet seem to have drawn in a host of new readers.

Commenting has been rather thin of late. Tulsa continues in her monastic retreat from blogging. The Mothman has poor Internet access in Bulgaria. And the British Cowboy is developing a 'love life' again, always a fatal blow to online friendships. Of Snopes, The Bookseller, Little Anthony and the rest, nothing can be said. We haven't heard from Gary or The Lunch for a while, either. Mighty quiet around here.....

Thank you, anyway, to my few loyal and appreciative (if largely silent) readers. I suppose I will keep churning out this whimsy as long as anyone wants to read it.

A change of luck?

Imagine a suspense-building drumroll, if you will.

Yes, THIS is Post No. 888 here on the Barstool.

As I have already explained over on brother-blog Froogville (being the more prolific of my two online forums, it passed this milestone several months ago), '888' is the luckiest number there is for the Chinese.

I can only wish that this auspiciously numbered post will usher in a period of brighter prospects and greater happiness for me. The past few weeks have seen a huge building site springing up right outside my window, a complete stagnation of my income, and a stalled, ill-starred (wonderful, delightful, but doomed) love affair. Poverty, insomnia, and sexual frustration - it's really not a good mix. It's about time Life dealt me a rather better hand. Here's hoping.

It's not that I've suddenly become an optimist, you understand. It's just that I believe things can't really get any worse.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Aegrotat

To round off the impromptu 'Cocktail Week' here on the Barstool, I give you another of the strange experiments from my student days.

This one was an invention of my friend - and very occasional commenter on these pages - "Mr A".

The recipe was very simple (and had a rather musical quality to it, making it easy to remember - or difficult to forget!): vodka, Pernod, pineapple juice. In roughly equal quantities, I think; and - daringly! - served in a martini glass.

On paper, it really didn't seem like it should work at all. Yet, strangely enough, the flavours complimented each other rather well and the mixture proved to be dangerously palatable.

Of course, it didn't really matter what was in it or what it tasted like - it was an absolutely brilliant name, one that could hardly be bettered for a drink to fuel irresponsible student hedonism. 'Aegrotat', you see, is the Latin for "he/she is ill", and is used at Oxford University (and Cambridge?) for a medical certificate vouching for a student's inability to sit Final Exams for health reasons. If the student's tutors are supportive, the University can award a degree on the basis of this sick-note alone - although I think it only has the status of a bare 'Pass' degree, so isn't really of any value; it is one of the University's more antique traditions, and I imagine it is seldom if ever invoked these days; most students would surely choose to re-sit their Finals at a later date.

A great name, then, for a student cocktail. Overindulgence in The Aegrotat might well have jeopardised our ability to show up for Finals.

In fact, on one occasion "Mr A" threw an end-of-term party in his rooms on the Quad...... on lunchtime of the last Friday of term. I had my final tutorial of the term at the end of that afternoon, and I still had to do some preparation for it. I really shouldn't have accepted "Mr A's" invitation - but I never could resist a party. I really should have tried to be more moderate in my consumption - but I never did have much self-restraint when it came to alcohol. And, of course, daytime drinking hits you much harder. And The Aegrotat - making its debut that day, I think - was rather stronger than I had realised (although I suppose the name should have served as warning enough). I only stayed for an hour or so, restricted myself to 3 or 4 drinks - still more than enough to get me decidedly squiffy. I then whizzed off to the Wellington Square Classics Library to return a few books and put the finishing touches to my essay. Alas, I put my head down on the desk and lapsed into a stotious slumber for 3 hours....... completely missing the tutorial.

That was not by any means the only tutorial I missed in my time at Oxford (I was very far from being a model student); but it was, to my mind, the best excuse I ever had for missing one.