He lay on his chair with his hands clasped above his paunch not reading, or sleeping, but basking like a creature gorged with existence
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
Gin at lunch-time is never a good idea. This is the rule by which I will live the rest of my life.
You may wonder why it’s taken me this long to figure out something that surely is blindingly obvious to most right-thinking people. I suppose it’s because I’ve never before been confronted by this particular demon when the sun is high in the sky. Wine, yes…cider, obviously…beer-pop, of course. Even, on occasion, the lethal Serbian plum brandy, šljivovica – though that’s in a special category of its own. Staying with relatives in the former Yugoslavia it was impossible to avoid the stuff. Quite apart from the fact that everyone brewed their own, it was a bit like the attitude in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, where they used Windex to tackle anything. My family’s solution (in both terms of the word) was more alcoholic. The windows needed cleaning? A spot of šljivovica would do the job. Mosquito bites bothering you? Get out the šljivovica. Just in from a dawn walk to the fields to check on the sheep? Why, a small glass of šljivovica is just the thing!
Thankfully we were able to avoid this lunacy most of the time and it didn’t take too much of my adulthood to figure out that afternoons and any type of booze really don’t mix. Then, last December, I was stuck for a birthday present for Michael. After considering and dismissing the usual suspects, I hit on the idea of buying him a tour of a local (ish) gin distillery. He couldn’t go on his own though, so I bought two vouchers. Obviously.
Due to various things getting in the way – snow, Christmas, snow, Alex coming home, snow – it was last week before we got across to the William Chase Distillery at Rosemaund Farm in Herefordshire. The weather was fine, the traffic was light and we managed to restrict ourselves to one wrong turning. This is only the second distillery visit we’ve ever done; the first was just outside Inverness, when we learned all about whisky making. In essence there’s not that much difference. The basic ingredients change from malted barley and pure spring water to potatoes and pure spring water. The potatoes give vodka, of course; gin happens when juniper berries are added to the process. That’s it, in a nutshell. There are other nuances, various aromatics and spices which are combined in varying amounts and combinations. The Chase Distillery produces deliciousness such as Rhubarb Vodka, which tastes like a (very) boozy form of rhubarb and custard, and Orange Marmalade Vodka. Guess what that tastes like? There’s also Espresso Vodka, Pink Grapefruit Gin and Elderflower Liqueur, to name but a few. I didn’t try them all…coffee isn’t a favourite taste of mine so I gave the Espresso Vodka a miss…
It’s interesting that it’s long been the normal state of affairs to drink whisky, brandy and liqueurs straight but we usually add some sort of mixer to gin. For the late Queen mother, the mixer of choice was Dubonnet – and there’s always the delightful quirkiness of Noel Coward, who once said:
A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy
It’s a good thing Michael was driving. I made it up to him by donating the £10 off saving from my ticket so that he could buy two bottles of gin to take home (yes, I know it was his birthday present and ok, I did have a little drop last night) and by promising that the next time we visited one of these places that I would not get involved in any tasting at all.
Having spent an afternoon enjoying the demon drink I had an early night…then the next day we went for a thumping (!) good walk along the Grwyne Fawr valley. Fresh air cures almost all ills and this is one of my favourite routes, especially when the weather is this good:
If you’re at all interested in the history of the dam then you can have a look at a previous post: Black Mountains treats. Suffice to say here that we followed the old rail route up to the reservoir and then took the path that tracks alongside the eastern edge, looking down on the water. We’d already stoppped and eaten our picnic when we came across the decaying corpse of a mountain pony lying just next to the path. Thankfully we have fairly strong stomachs otherwise the cheese and onion sandwiches would have been wasted…and you can relax, there are no nasty pictures coming up. Here are some pretty ones instead:
I’m not entirely sure how far we went because the app on Michael’s phone stopped working due to the fact that we were out of GPS range, but we went much further than we had on our first visit here. We met a couple of women coming in the other direction who’d walked over from Hay-on-Wye, the other side of the mountain ridge – their trek was a round 12 miles and so I think ours was probably about 7-8. It would have been further except for the difference of opinion that we had: I wanted to go on so that we could reach the edge of the escarpment and look down onto Hay and Talgarth, but Michael had had enough. There followed one of our occasional spats which ended with him sitting on a rock watching bumble bees and me stomping off into the distance. I didn’t go very far, knowing that the longer I left it, the worse both our moods would be. So I turned around and we made our way back, again passing the markers we’d noted on the outward journey: two women from Hay-on-Wye and their dog; a muddy patch that called for some gymnastics or sturdy boots; a couple of deep puddles swarming with tadpoles; the dead horse, showing far more of its skeleton than you would normally choose to see; and then the dam.
As I said earlier, fresh air is a great cure-all and by the time we got back to the car our good moods had been restored. We had sunburnt necks, due to the unexpectedly good weather and the fact that we hadn’t thought ahead (as usual) but thankfully within a few days the cloud cover had returned and we were left with no choice but to sit indoors and drink gin…
A little opposition gives spice to life
L M Montgomery