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Smooth Radio - review

Antonia Quirke listens to "Double Top 20".

Double Top 20
Smooth Radio

Early Sunday evening and David “Kid” Jensen is rather phoning it in on Smooth’s countdown of long-bygone hits (Sundays, 6pm), introducing each number with a researcher- allotted fan fact. “ ‘Nights in White Satin’ coming up, by the Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward after a friend had given him some satin bed sheets . . .”

There is a noticeably high percentage of bed-related chat on Smooth. Its favourite advert is currently one for a couples hotel where there are “no kids – guaranteed” and double massages on tap. Soon the 62-yearold Kid is back on playing Elvis’s “Always on My Mind” (“covered over 300 times”) and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” (“Mick Jagger there on backing”).

The songs all sound weirdly languid and fagged out. Still, no mention of bed for six minutes and no mention of the Osmonds either, which is highly unusual. There are times when it feels the entire station has been inexplicably given over to the Osmonds – either playing them or talking about them (“The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’ was a protest song about gas-guzzling cars”), or even allowing Donny himself to broadcast from his “dressing room at the Flamingo in Vegas”.

I say “broadcast” but really Donny’s Sunday night show is just snatches of him reading things from magazines between adverts and pre-recorded interviews about Whitney Houston conducted by someone else. Left to his own devices, Donny can talk about the bedroom more than pretty much anyone on the station. “Sometimes,” he said recently to Jensen, “I do my radio show from in between the sheets.” Kid, ever the gentleman, seemed slightly stunned and just went straight into “C Moon” by Wings, which, in the circumstances, sounded unbelievably rude.

Osmond’s thoughts so frequently return to the horizontal, he’s like someone perpetually making a pass at you. “Couples who share a bed,”’ he mused the other evening, “suffer from sleepless nights. Snoring can cause resentment, y’know. But I think what would cause even more resentment in my relationship [fruity laugh] is if I even suggested we slept in separate beds!” Then (and this can’t possibly be a coincidence) it’s straight into Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun go Down on Me”.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 January 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The A-Z of Israel

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The Bloody Mary is dead: all hail the Bloody Caesar

This Canadian version of an old standard is a good substitute for dinner.

It is not anti-Catholic bias that makes me dislike the Bloody Mary, that lumpish combination of tomato juice and vodka named after a 16th-century English queen who, despite the immense reach of her royal powers, found burning Protestants alive the most effective display of majesty.

My prejudice is against its contents: the pulverised tomatoes that look like run-off from a Tudor torture chamber. A whole tomato is a source of joy and, occasionally, wonder (I remember learning that the Farsi for tomato is gojeh farangi, which translates literally as “foreign plum”) – and I am as fond of pizza as anyone. Most accessories to the Bloody Mary are fine with me: Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, black pepper, even sherry or oysters. But generally I share the curmudgeon Bernard DeVoto’s mistrust of fruit juice in my spirits: “all pestilential, all gangrenous, all vile” was the great man’s verdict. His main objection was sweetness but I will include the admittedly savoury tomato in my ban. At the cocktail hour, I have been known to crave all kinds of odd concoctions but none has included pulp.

To many, the whole point of a Bloody Mary is that you don’t wait until the cocktail hour. This seems to entail a certain shying away from unpleasant realities. I know perfectly well the reaction I would get if I were to ask for a grilled tomato and a chilled Martini at brunch: my friends would start likening me to F Scott Fitzgerald and they wouldn’t be referring to my writing talent. Despite its remarkably similar contents, a Bloody Mary is a perfectly acceptable midday, middle-class beverage. If the original Mary were here to witness such hypocrisy, she would surely tut and reach for her firelighters.

Yet, like the good Catholic I certainly am not, I must confess, for I have seen the error of my ways. In July, on Vancouver Island, I tried a Bloody Caesar – Canada’s spirited response to England’s favourite breakfast tipple (“I’ll see your Tudor queen, you bunch of retrograde royalists, and raise you a Roman emperor”). The main difference is a weird yet oddly palatable concoction called Clamato: tomato juice thinned and refined by clam juice. Replace your standard slop with this stuff, which has all the tang of tomato yet flows like a veritable Niagara, and you will have a drink far stranger yet more delicious than the traditional version.

Apparently, the Caesar was invented by an Italian restaurateur in Calgary, Alberta, who wanted a liquid version of his favourite dish from the old country: spaghetti alle vongole in rosso (clam and tomato spaghetti). He got it – and, more importantly, the rest of us got something we can drink not at breakfast but instead of dinner. Find a really interesting garnish – pickled bull kelp or spicy pickled celery, say – and you can even claim to have eaten your greens.

I’m sure that dedicated fans of the Bloody Mary will consider this entire column heretical, which seems appropriate: that’s the side I was born on, being Jewish, and I like to hope I wouldn’t switch even under extreme forms of persuasion. But this cocktail is in any case a broad church: few cocktails come in so many different incarnations.

The original was invented, according to him, by Fernand Petiot, who was a French barman in New York during Prohibition (and so must have known a thing or two about hypocrisy). It includes lemon juice and a “layer” of Worcestershire sauce and the tomato juice is strained; it may also actually have been named after a barmaid.

All of which proves only that dogma has no place at the bar. Variety is the spice of life, which makes it ironic that the world’s spiciest cocktail bestows a frivolous immortality on a woman who believed all choice to be the work of the devil.

Next week John Burnside on nature

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis