On an average week, I probably get about 600 invites, to various restaurant openings, food events and macrame knitting workshops and that is just via email. The stuff that comes through the door is horrendous to deal with, such is the volume. Just recently, Barry, our regular postie, had to be signed off sick for two months because his back has finally given way. Yes, it's that bad. Slipped disc, between T11 and T12 on the thoracic vertebrate, apparently.
Of course, being human and with only one pair of arms, two legs and a head, there is only so much I do with the time that the good Lord gives me and it is nigh on impossible to go to everything. I am not an Instagrammer for goodness sakes! I do what I can. If I have the time, I will come along and look at your coconut tea (Ha! No I won't) or try your 'deliciously dirty morning baps'. Yes, this was a phrase from a recent press release, would you believe. A phrase that belongs to the same idiotic, non-ironic, prepubescent school of thought that Black Axe Mangal currently employs. However, if Grant is back in town and if Peggy is about to finally cark it after swallowing a tub-load of pills; well, I ain't going nowhere.
Once in a while though, something pops through the letter box that makes me stand up straight, with pipe in hand and shout out - 'Holly, put the kettle on! Some shit just got real.' A few weeks ago, this very thing happened. An envelope, officious, white and stiff and baring the emblem for 'Number 10' landed on our mat and it could only mean one thing. Dave wanted to have a word with me. Which didn't surprise me. It was simply a matter of time. But naturally, once news had got out, lots of people were very excited.
'That's amazing, Dan!', 'Pass on a message from me, Dan!' and 'Dan, can you deliver some special soup to Dave for me?' were just some of the comments that passed my way and I just responded with a casual - 'Ha, you pesky kids, I'll see what I can do.'
Whilst doing that pointy finger thing, in a totally ironic sort of way.
When the day arrived, I spent a ponderous amount of time in the morning, wondering what to wear and wondering what the hell constitutes as lounge wear. In the end, I settled for a jacket and snazzy shirt and not pyjamas. Because that is leisure wear. Soon, I was on my way to Westminster, in the pouring rain.
Security is quite strict at Number 10, as you'd expect, but after laughing at my passport photo, the police sent me through the gates, through a metal detector (no cavity searches, sadly) and then up that famous street, to go through that hallowed black door. Once inside, I had to park my phone at reception (more security) which I have to say miffed me a touch. But once I started walking up those stairs, looking up at all those portraits, of all those supreme leaders from our glorious past, I have to say, I was rather in awe.
'Just think Dan. All the people that have walked up these very stairs,' I thought to myself. 'Nelson Mandela. Ronald Regan. Geri Halliwell. Wow.'
I should probably say why exactly I was invited to Number 10 at this point. The call had come from DEFRA and this was to be a celebration of British Food and as I walked into the main room, verily, you could say that the best of British were there. Cropwell Bishop, cheese makers of creamy Blue Stilton from Nottinghamshire. Halen Mon, purveyors of finely flavoured sea salts from Anglesey. Adnams, brewers of some excellent and sometimes very strong beer from Suffolk. And Proper Corn, popcorn merchants of London and thus representing the new fad for healthy snacks that get stuck in your teeth. (In fairness though, their popcorn is delicious, especially their 'Fiery Worcester Sauce and Sun Dried Tomato').
|'You know, I once got raaally, raaaly drunk on cider. Like this drunk.'|
Initially, he was simply an enthusiast and enjoyed making cider at home, then he gradually started to show off his wares at farmer's markets and festivals. Having garnered a bit of a reputation, the next step seemed to be get to into cider production seriously. Which he did, bolstered by the growing trend for cider and, I suspect, a drive to protect it's image against commercial cider, all sugared orange and watered down by ice cubes. He stressed that cider should be authentic, tasty and above all, proper. With a slightly guttural, rolling R at the end of it.
Allen was eager for me to try some and I was happy to oblige and I have to say, after a first sip, it was refreshing to drink a medium cider that didn't fur my teeth. It was also drier than most, helped by the natural tannins within, imbued by the certain apples he chooses to squash, mulch and juice. And it was also faintly funky, giving off a tiny whiff or echo of south west scrumpy. But not so pungent that it would make you gag upon smelling it, let alone drinking it. And I have drunk some rough old ciders like that before, with mucus-like matter and twigs floating upon the surface. No, this was simply a very nice drop and one that I can imagine would go down quite well, on a sunny day, spent drinking without a care in the world. Oh those were the days.
When I remarked that his cider had a rural, farmhouse tang about it, Allen's face lit up and he then went in detail about lots of other projects and ideas, including blends and methods including varieties of apple, secondary fermentation and yeast cross-overs. Or something like that. I was busy wolfing the rest of my cider down but it was great to see his obvious passion and joy. I have always said that cider producers make for a happier bunch. Definitely over some po-faced beer brewers I could mention anyway.
So by way of introducing a new (and hopefully ongoing, but you never know with me) Friday Booze section, in which I aim to promote a new drink or tipple for the weekend, I would like to kick of with Hogan's Medium 100% Pressed Cider. Try and find it today, if you can, and get it down your Gregory.
|The Essex Cider Shop - An Alladin's Cave of Cider|
'BUT WHAT ABOUT DAVE?' I hear you ask. Well, yes, Dave did turn up, eventually. And he did a very fast tour around the room, with lots of people jumping around him, with lots of hand shaking and guffawing at celery, fruit cake and oysters. And then he got up on stage and told us what a wonderful thing British Food is (and it really is). But then he went curiously off tangent and got everyone to engage in a mass celebratory dance of the Hokey Cokey. Except in his version, we all had to keep putting our left foot in, our right foot in, our left arm in etc etc. There was absolutely no scope for putting any body parts out at all. No, we all had to keep dancing inwards and as such, we all collided together and fell down in a big bloody heap. At which point, Dave ran out the room, laughing and clutching a bottle of Ridgeview sparkling wine.
It was all rather bizarre to be honest and I am still trying to work out what the whole shebang was about really. But hey, at least I can tell my grandchildren that I once visited Number 10.
And whilst I was in there, I discovered Hogan's Cider.
|Halen Mon, Yorkshire Tea, Adnams, Proper Corn (clockwise, starting top left, obvs)|
|Dave - 'I hope brawn isn't on the menu'! Tom - 'Ha! It very nearly was!' (aside 'Quick, get it off the menu')|
|'Dave, smell my cheese.'|
Some of these photos are courtesy of Number 10 Press Office.
Thanks goes to DEFRA for the invite.