There's nothing more comforting than the sorrowful mysteries of carp or chub

Fisherman's Blues on TalkSport: Keeping it reel.

Fisherman’s Blues
TalkSport
 
“It’s hot. It’s humid,” says Keith Arthur on Fisherman’s Blues (Saturdays and Sundays, 6am). “I’m thinking about the creatures being sacrificed on the altar of insanity that is global warming. Text me. Here’s Alan in Luton.” There’s nothing more comforting at 6am on a Sunday than Arthur recalling the sorrowful mysteries of carp or chub, taking phone calls and letting other voices interweave in a lilting and nicely depressing hum. 
 
Alan in Luton is worried about the lack of available flies made from peacock feathers. “I’ve been struggling for years now,” he says. “My tackle’s inadequate for what I’m doing.” As usual, Arthur is not just sympathetic about inadequate tackle but actively helpful, making suggestions for alternatives (“How about a pheasant’s tail?”). But he knows his callers don’t really want solutions. They just want to say, “I’ve been trying to google it,” and know someone is nodding kindly on the other end of the line, aware that soon this conversation will be over and so will the show and everything will drop back into its usual order. 
 
Then Richard calls. He is panting slightly, possibly a little delirious, burned by our apocalyptic July. “I’m just back from the Crane,” he says, “and it’s alive with fry!” It is important to communicate the extent to which this message has the quality of a broadcast being made from the top floor of a high-rise ten days after the zombie hoards have seized control. “I want the people of Twickenham to know it’s back. It’s alive!” Arthur sits forward, casting off 20 years of melancholy. “The Crane?” It’s a river that was ruined two years ago when Thames Water diverted raw sewage into it to prevent a back-up at Heathrow, killing 10,000 fish. So ruined was it that only in March an environmental charity noticed a “green tinge” in the water and made the sign of the cross.
 
“Take your kids down to the Crane!” yells Rich. “Break a branch off a tree and stick a maggot on a small hook and you will catch fish. Hundreds and thousands of fry! Perch! Barbel! Not pike, because I’ve never actually seen a baby pike, but anyway everything else is everywhere!” Then Richard utters a sentence never before spoken on Fisherman’s Blues – a sentence so romantic it seemed to contain the full scale of adult life, a sentence so inspirational it was the aural equivalent of silvery Perseus swooping down to the aid of all humankind: “Don’t bother with tackle!” 
Don't bother with the tackle. Photograph: Getty Images.

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 29 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue

NANCY JO IACOI/GALLERY STOCK
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There are only two rules for an evening drink: it must be bitter, and it must be cold

A Negroni is the aperitif of choice in bars everywhere from London to Palermo - and no wonder.

The aperitif has the odd distinction of being the only alcohol that can always rely on a sober audience: it is the opener, the stimulant, a spur to the appetite for good food and good conversation. This preparatory beverage is considered the height of sophistication, and certainly nobody labouring in field or factory ever required a pep to their evening appetite. Still, to take a drink before one starts drinking is hardly clever behaviour. So why do it?

One reason is surely the wish to separate the working day from the evening’s leisure, an increasingly pressing matter as we lose the ability to switch off. This may change the nature of the aperitif, which was generally supposed to be light, in alcohol and character. Once, one was expected to quaff a pre-dinner drink and go in to dine with faculties and taste buds intact; now, it might be more important for those who want an uninterrupted meal to get preprandially plastered. That way, your colleagues may contact you but they won’t get much sense out of you, and pretty soon they’ll give up and bother someone else.

The nicest thing about the aperitif, and the most dangerous, is that it doesn’t follow rules. It’s meant to be low in alcohol, but nobody ever accused a gin and tonic or a Negroni (Campari, gin and vermouth in equal portions) of that failing; and sherry, which is a fabulous aperitif (not least because you can keep drinking it until the meal or the bottle ends), has more degrees of alcohol than most wines. An aperitif should not be heavily perfumed or flavoured, for fear of spoiling your palate, yet some people love pastis, the French aniseed drink that goes cloudy in water, and that you can practically smell across the Channel. They say the scent actually enhances appetite.

Really only two rules apply. An aperitif should be bitter – or, at any rate, it shouldn’t be sweet, whatever the fans of red vermouth may tell you. And it must be cold. Warm drinks such as Cognac and port are for after dinner. Not for nothing did Édith Piaf warble, in “Mon apéro”, about drowning her amorous disappointments in aperitifs: fail to cool your passions before sharing a table, and you belong with the barbarians.

On the other hand, conversing with your nearest over a small snack and an appropriate beverage, beyond the office and before the courtesies and complications of the dinner table, is the essence of cultured behaviour. If, as is sometimes thought, civilisation has a pinnacle, surely it has a chilled apéro carefully balanced on top.

The received wisdom is that the French and Italians, with their apéritifs and aperitivos, are the experts in these kinds of drinks. Certainly the latter are partial to their Aperol spritzes, and the former to such horrid, wine-based tipples as Lillet and Dubonnet. But the English are good at gin and the Americans invented the Martini. As for Spain, tapas were originally snacks atop a covering that kept the flies out of one’s pre-dinner drink: tapa means lid.

Everywhere, it seems, as evening approaches, people crave a drink that in turn will make them salivate: bitterness, the experts tell us, prepares the mouth to welcome food. The word “bitter” may come from “bite”, in which case the aperitif’s place before dinner is assured.

I like to think that a good one enables the drinker to drown all sour feelings, and go in to dinner cleansed and purified. Fanciful, perhaps. But what better lure to fancy than a beverage that exists only to bring on the evening’s pleasures?

Nina Caplan is the Louis Roederer Pio Cesare Food and Wine Writer of the Year

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 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times