Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, December 23, 2016

Picture 071 ENGSUS00320120811163618
Picture 071 ENGSUS00320120811163618
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Christmas presents. I love to receive them, but it can be the devil’s own job to decide what to buy for other people. In the end I guess I buy things that I like, and hope that the recipient does too. This year I set off for a day in London to see the excellent map exhibition at the British Library with the words of the bar wife ringing in my ears. ‘While you are there, get something for Ed. He likes sport and good writing.’ Obediently I took a detour to Foyle’s and pondered. Chances are he has already read most of the decent cricket books, and probably can do without a ghosted autobiography of a football player. Still, the first choice was easy, and I picked up Roger Khan’s classic, ‘The Boys of Summer’. Next to it on the shelf was a copy of a book of sports writing by Gay Talese, a name that was unfamiliar but looked interesting so I took a punt.

In the end I guess I buy things that I like, and hope that the recipient does too. This year I set off for a day in London to see the excellent map exhibition at the British Library with the words of the bar wife ringing in my ears. ‘While you are there, get something for Ed. He likes sport and good writing.’ Obediently I took a detour to Foyle’s and pondered. Chances are he has already read most of the decent cricket books, and probably can do without a ghosted autobiography of a football player. Still, the first choice was easy, and I picked up Roger Khan’s classic, ‘The Boys of Summer’. Next to it on the shelf was a copy of a book of sports writing by Gay Talese, a name that was unfamiliar but looked interesting so I took a punt.

Fortunately I had a couple of days to read it before wrapping it up, and it turned out that Gay is an Italian American, born in 1931, and still around. His father was a tailor and Gay inherited a love of fine clothes to match his fine writing. I soon realised that I had read the title piece of his book, ‘The Silent Season of a Hero’ about Joe DiMaggio before in an anthology, but the rest was new to me. One short piece that captured my attention was about Billy Ray, ‘Last of the Bare Knuckle Fighters Still Spry at 93’, written for the New York Times in 1958. In it, Billy says “All day I could tell you about things… Jersey Jimmy, the national pickpocket, had a saloon in the Bowery. Sometimes you’d find dead people sitting at the bar. After a wake they’d bring dead guys in, set ‘em at the bar and begin to drink. When they finished, the bartender’d say, ‘Who’s paying? They point to the dead guy at the bar and walk out.’’ Don’t try this yourself, but do check out Gay Talese and Billy Ray online. The rest of the piece is easy to find.

Apart from presents, the other thing about Christmas is the seasonal drinks. Some like the strong beers of the season such as Adnams Tally Ho, but at 7% and tasting like Christmas pudding in a glass, it’s not my choice for a night out. Then there is Advocaat, which seems to be basically alcoholic custard. Perhaps there is a good reason we don’t drink it all year round. Mulled wine? We were in a pub in Henley just after Christmas a few years ago and the sister in law fancied a glass of mulled wine. When we tried to order it, the cauldron was empty, so the barmaid said to the boss ‘There’s no mulled wine left’, to which he replied, in a spirit of fun and camaraderie, ‘Get mulling, b••••’, a sentence I never expected to hear, much less write. Not for me the Cranberry sea breeze punch, Bitter orange & cardamom martini or Pomegranate rosemary spritzer (all recipes on the BBC Good Food Guide site) - I guess that I will continue to drink my normal pints of bitter, squeezing between the crowds of Christmas party goers who I hope enjoy the pub experience enough to return in January when they are needed. One final thought before I go mulling, if you want to kill the circus, go for the Juggler. It’s a cracker, as Frank Carson used to say.