Winter warmers

Vintage spirits are an ideal defence against the seasonal hordes

Before marriage and children cut off escape, I would defend myself against Christmas by inviting a fellow Santaphobe to stay. We would spend the day at our desks, and finish with a quiet supper of roast pork and claret. That and the meet of foxhounds on Boxing Day would preserve the joyous solitude that is otherwise the principal casualty of Christmas. Presents were forbidden between us and we treated church with the utmost caution, as another santastic and bambiferous place where you ran the added risk of being greeted.

All that changed with the advent of a family. Now I have to survive Christmas on the same terms as more righteous people and - to be honest - I don't know how they do it, especially those good folk who have no place to which they can retire from the factitious merriment, or who cannot afford the secret store of whisky in the cupboard there.

Well, we have to make the best of it, and the best of it should be in that cupboard.

Christmas is the time to try out, with your fellow Santaphobes, the vintage whisky that you have stored for this event. And in the matter of vintage whisky let me recommend Berry Bros & Rudd, whose beautiful and unspoilt house in St James's Street lies next to the site of the old Texas embassy, and is as eccentric as that implies.

Berry Bros has made a point of researching and storing whisky for two centuries. Its single malts have been matured with the same anxious concern for the final product as that bestowed by a mother on a favourite child. It also has a 30-year-old blended Scotch that takes the biscuit and also tastes of it.

However, there is a slight problem in recommending vintage whisky as a defence against hoi polloi, which is that the bastards have discovered it themselves. There it is at every airport, packaged and santafied. There's probably a bottle on that Christmas tree, wrapped in non-degradable sheen and with your name on it.

So, what is to be done? The answer is again to be found on Berry's list, and it is vintage rum. Almost nobody among the celebrating classes is aware of this drink, still less of the ability of rum, stored in the right cask and the right cellar, to become the perfect antidote to Christmas.

Those loved ones next door, with their paper hats and rude jokes from the crackers, drink Bacardi, because the adverts tell them to. But what do they know of rum as it should be - the drink that can be absorbed without a headache and with ever-growing appreciation of its spicy, cigar-box flavour? What do they know of solitude, of rapture, of the primeval time before love, when a sip of distilled molasses could put you in touch with your self and keep you there?

Sod them all, anyway.