I suppose that the time had to come, and it duly arrived at Marriots. We finished last in a quiz. I can’t even blame over indulgence in their excellent Moongazer beer, as this was a Wednesday morning event and we were fortified by nothing stronger than coffee and Rebecca’s scrumptious shortbread. Our downfall was the inability to remember the names of the sisters and their husbands in Pride and Prejudice, and as so often happens we would be reminded of our failure again later that day. The book group at Waterstones were torn between a classic and science fiction novel for the next meeting. Our animator, Sian suggested reading Pride and Prejudice with Zombies as a compromise, but in the end we settled for the latest from Kashua Ishiguru.
Of course that is a bit of a simplification. Quizzes are not won and lost on one question and we also displayed a distinct lack of knowledge of the ingredients of cocktails such as a Sidecar and a White Lady. As you might guess, I am not much of a cocktail drinker, and I assumed that they are composed of rather random ingredients and mixed by bartenders who want to show off a bit having watched the Tom Cruise film, demonstrating rather more style than substance. Indeed, some might suggest that some jobs have taken on an undeserved mystique, with waiters becoming baristas and bartenders becoming mixologists, while the qualifications needed to enter these professions inflate to the point where a degree is needed to brew a pot of tea, which is, of course a criticism of the system rather than the people who have to participate in it.
And then I read the obituary of Dick Bradsell, written by Sophie Parkin in the Guardian. Dick, it seems, was the guy who turned cocktail making into an art with an instinctive grasp of how flavours worked, and blended and balanced ingredients to create a whole range of new cocktails which have become timeless classics. The Expresso Martini (icy espresso shaken with sugar syrup, a double vodka and Kahlua) was created for a top British model, while his own personal favourite was the Bramble, composed of dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and crème de mûre.
Interesting though this was, what really fascinated me was the man himself. He had a relatively conventional background, with his father being a radar engineer and his mother a chiropodist but by the time he attended art school Dick had a habit of wearing black eyeliner, a turban and a skirt as he sucked caviar out of a styrofoam wig head, while his flatmate confessed to being occasionally annoyed by his habit of ‘borrowing my ballgowns and trashing the hems with his Doc Marten boots when dressing up as Colette in an orange curly wig and going out disco dancing.’
He went on to work at many of the most prestigious establishments throughout the world, and trained many hundreds of bar staff whilst developing a set of rules that became the industry standard, insisting on things such as fresh juice and frozen glasses. Whilst his maxim that ‘perfection in bartending doesn’t just happen; you have to make the effort,’ I can’t help feeling that much of his success must be down to his personality and relationship with his customers. I don’t recall his TV appearances and don’t frequent the types of bars where he worked or that are now named after him, but I would have liked to have met him. Alas the chance has passed, but I would like to think he had a heck of a wake.