G&Ts all round

Countries, like people, have their favourite tipple. Gin is probably best associated with England, the country that gave it birth back in the late seventeenth century. Some 30 years later, London had 1500 working stills and more than 6000 places to buy gin. Over the years, its popularity waned. Vodka and whiskey took over. Yes, it had occasional flits with fame. Who doesn’t remember the line from the movie Casablanca when Bogart’s Rick Blaine wonders: Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

In the last couple of years, gin has been enjoying quite the revival in Britain with gin parlours opening up all over the place and craft distilleries experimenting with botanical additives. [Useless fact: statistics show that the Philippines is the country with the world’s highest per capita gin consumption… I’d never have made that association.]

There is something very stiff-upper-lippish about the G&T that goes hand in hand with the upper-class insouciance so redolent in period pieces. I think it’s the tonic that promotes it from the working-class gin-swiller to the pre-prandial gentry. And even tonics are enjoying regeneration. But perhaps the heat is getting to me.

I was once rather fond of my gin, with Ireland’s Cork Dry Gin my bottle of choice. Anyone visiting me from home would be asked to include a bottle along with the Tayto crisps and the Barry’s teabags. In Alaska, I was introduced to Bombay Sapphire, and later in London, it was the quintessential Gordons.

gin2I’ve just come back from a trip to the UK that took in Oxford, Durham, Bath, St Ives, and Bristol, a trip on which I rediscovered the joys of the juniper. The standard fare of Tanqueray and Hendricks (both produced in Scotland) are still on the shelves, but beside them are craft gins like Tarquin (Cornwall) and Brennan and Brown (Cheltenham).  And the question of the day is how they should be served. Lime, cucumber, orange peel, and lemon, respectively.  [Brennan and Brown already comes with an interesting hint of ginger.] I’m now particularly fond of Tarquin, served in a balloon glass with some orange-peel ice cubes. Another craving has been born.


Other countries have their favourites, too. Cachaça in Brazil. Rum in Barbados. gin3Rakija in Serbia. Each nation has its special spirit, a liquid thread in the fabric of its cultural make-up. Coincidentally, Ethiopia and Eritrea have a fondness for a honey-mead wine known as tej (which is also Hungarian for milk).

In Ireland, summer is typically cider time. The weather is too hot (if you can call 24 degrees hot!) for Guinness. The nights are too long for shorts. And if you retire to the pub on a sunny afternoon after a hike or a walk or a bike ride, you want something long anciderd cold. Cider, particularly Bulmers (known to the rest of the world as Magners because of some weird branding issue), served in a pint glass over ice would seem to be the choice of many. I know it’s mine.

Here in Hungary, with the temperatures soaring into the high 30s, the seven types of wine spritzer are even more popular than usual, with the hosszúlépés (1 dl wine: 2 dl soda) giving way to the vice házmester (2 dl wine: 3 dl soda) as more liquid intake is needed. Bottles of rosé and siphons of szoda are commonplace in a country where even the most he of he-men thinks nothing of drinking a girly drink in public. And that’s refreshing in more ways than one.

First published in the Budapest Times 24 July 2015


Time to (re)take responsibility

It’s not a gun that kills someone; it’s the person who pulls the trigger. It’s not Facebook or e-mail that ruins people’s lives, it’s the person who posts the message – or worse still, mindlessly forwards and shares messages without checking that their contents are true.

Just ask Mark Hendricks. Apparently, back in 2010, a friend of the South Africa native circulated a photo of Mark with the message:

People please beware of the man in the picture, as he is very dangerous and is in the business of selling young girls and boys. He also preys on ladies that are single to get them into the HUMAN Trafficking circle. If you do see him please just ignore him and get away from him as far as possible and alert the police ASAP. PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS PICTURE TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW. THE MORE PEOPLE SEE HIS FACE, THE LESS CHANCE HE HAS OF GETTING TO ONE OF OUR CHILDREN

The so-called friend who did this said it was just a prank. A joke. They had no idea the consequences it would have. In 2010, the message went viral and now it’s resurfacing again. It ruined Hendricks’s life once… and no doubt will do so again. The descriptive ‘living hell’ comes to mind.

That the friend was at fault for dreaming this up in the first place, is a no-brainer. Such a level of irresponsibility is heinous. But what of all the others who aided and abetted by forwarding and sharing? It could be argued that they thought they were doing something for the greater good of mankind, but no one obviously stopped to check if it was true.

My mother is fond of saying that paper will take any print. It doesn’t discriminate. And yet our ability to tell right from wrong, true from false, is what marks us as human. With the pressures of time and the myriad of information out there, can we be held responsible for not taking precious minutes to verify the facts? And indeed is verifying the facts even possible anymore? Has the widespread availability of information robbed us of our powers to tell right from wrong? Has the quickening pace of society and the expectation of instantaneous communication put pressure on us to the point that we simply forward and share so that we feel we are doing something?

We need to wake up to the fact that lives can be and are being ruined at the push of a button. And we need to take responsibility for the part we play in this. 

First published at DiploFoundation 30 August 2013