Heartbreaking listening

In the home of the power ballad, desperation can strike at any time

Oh yeah, Heart 106.2, a station traditionally fonder than others of the power ballad. Its ideal listener has now firmly solidified into a dumpee in a deepwater hell of longing, gripping the sink as the waves of personal loss overtake them, then mouthing the words "You will be mine again," as they lug their belongings out of the apartment.

"How can I make you love me?" wail the Corrs. "Just get here," threatens Oleta Adams. "If not now then when?" begs Tracy Chapman. Occasionally a DJ interjects but it's not always happy news. ("It's dustbin day today in Hammersmith. You can get a DVD telling you how to throw away paper.")

Heart's big guns are the "Heartbreakers", a half-hour stretch of songs of bald desperation which can occur at any point in the day, but especially at 11am, precisely when the city is experiencing a sugar low and checking its phone for messages that will never come. "I'm forced to fake a smile every day of my life! I was so young! You should have known better than to lean on me . . ."

At present Heart is particularly keen on the young Welsh singer Duffy, who has a beautiful, broad, "kitchen sink" face, a face born to be nightly rubbed raw by Alan Bates in a damp bedroom. Duffy's unyielding voice goes through a person like insufficiently defrosted shrimp, but she rules when it comes to music videos in which she cries stoic tears in the back of taxis, staring into the deep middle distance to show that she's not really singing to us, but to all the men lining up to hurt her.

Duffy's on Heart a lot. And look, here's Hugh Grant in an advert for Marie Curie Cancer Care ("It's Hugh Grant. I'd like to talk to you about dying").

Late in the evenings, things on the station frequently tip into bitterness. "Because of you I'm ashamed of my life," hollered Kelly Clarkson the other night. "Because of you I'm afraid. Because of you I find it hard to trust not just me but everyone around me." Man, that's some baggage. We were reminded by the DJ to keep texting in with our tales of lost love.

Cheryl emailed to ask if her pillow would ever be where it was before. The tone darkened further, compulsively. "How about a round of applause?" spat Rihanna from the turntable. "Trying to apologise! You're so ugly when you cry . . ."

In the early hours of the following morning I came to during a conversation with a caller identifying her hottest newsreader.

"Huw Edwards?"


"David Suchet?"


"Jon Snow?"

"Definitely not."

"Trevor McDonald?"


"Who is it then, woman?"

"Andrew Marr."

An uncomprehending pause. "Are you married?"

"My life is complicated. I'm in a partnership, yes. With a man. Colin."

A request was made for Gary Barlow. I went to shut the window in the kitchen. The police helicopters were out again. Listen up, Colin. How about putting your feelings last for a change? Haven't you heard of compromise? No, we will not make the same mistakes again! We will not break! But - if you'd only give us another chance, how we'd love, love, love.

Pick of the week

Last Night of the Proms
13 September, 8pm, Radio 3
At last it ends.

Let Me Entertain You
13 September, 10.30am, Radio 4
John Sessions on the history of pre-technology popular entertainment.

Night Waves
15 September, 9.15pm, Radio 3
A rare interview with Philip Roth.

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 15 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Iran

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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