My vindaloo martini wasn't quite the hit I'd been counting on
I am, of course, an obsessive reader of this journal. Only last week when John rang to insist that the best solution to the Kosovo crisis was to arm the KLA, I was able, without acknowledgement, to quote large chunks from Eske Wright's article about their involvement with drug-running and the manner in which their nationalist vision for the unification of all Albanian areas of former Yugoslavia would destabilise any postwar settlement.
So I was only being true to form when I dashed to Heal's for a cocktail shaker after being assured by Victoria Moore in these pages that "cocktails are having their finest hour". It was surprising to find that a stainless steel jug could cost rather more than a meal for two at Pierre Victoire but now that I've reached that low point in my emotional life where even a consumerist obsession counts as proof of the will to live there could be no half measures. Then it was straight to Oddbins to collect what my mixer leaflet listed as the essential ingredients: gin, dry and sweet vermouth, and Angostura Bitters. As my partner pointed out while I was busily making enough ice to imperil a medium-sized liner, it was not only a set of drinks from which I'd normally run a mile but also the type of alcoholic expenditure we traditionally reserved for the rare occasions when we entertained the head of Radio 4.
When Geoff and Marcia and Tom and Louise arrived on Sunday night to watch the Bafta awards, I waited until all the traditional orders had been made (three white wines and a glass of peach-flavoured Safeway's water for Louise) before I made my announcement. "Hey everyone, how about a cocktail?"
A consensus was quickly reached on dry martinis. Back in the kitchen I was disappointed to read that their manufacture involved nothing more complex than measuring out equal measures of dry vermouth and gin into my sparkling new mixer and then lobbing in a half a dozen lumps of ice.
But as I got down to business and my guests settled back to Jonathan Ross's opening monologue, I was relieved to find that the actual shaking of the ingredients required rather more subtlety than I'd envisaged. It wasn't enough, apparently, to hold the shaker slightly behind my left shoulder and rattle it like a maraca. There was also the specific injunction "not to shake too vigorously lest you bruise the gin" and a warning that I should pour out the final mixture in such a way that "it was eased away from the ice cubes".
There were also two final touches: the twist of lemon, which I briskly accomplished with the help of a potato peeler, and an olive from the fridge. "Cocktails up!" I shouted as Judi Dench started on her satellite thank-yous.
"What do you think?" I asked after everyone had taken their tentative first sip. "Sort of spicy, isn't it? That'll be the herbs in the vermouth."
"I think you'll find," said Geoff, plonking his glass down with some finality, "that it's more to do with the olive. If you want a really subtle dry martini it's better on the whole not to serve it up with an olive stuffed with the type of chilli pepper normally associated with the more extreme versions of mutton vindaloo."
After the Bafta awards I did manage to swing the conversation round to the similarities between the KLA and the IRA but late that night I found myself tucking the cocktail mixer away under the stairs, next to the automatic bread-making machine and an old Charles Atlas chest expander. Now all I have to do to redeem the situation is find a friend who fancies a long drunken evening on Angostura Bitters.