One of the great pleasures of this job is the occasional invitation to evenings such as this. I call it ‘informative imbibing’, wherein you take in as much information as you do drink. My advice is to carry a notebook and maintain a steady hand, though in my experience the second does not always follow the first. So be prepared to back it up with what’s left of your memory and a friend’s comments to support your ill-gotten recollections.
With this in mind, I asked my good friend Ivan Leudar to accompany me to Time for a Tanqueray, an evening devised by Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Foundation (IABF) to sample the alcoholic and culinary delights found in Burgess’s archive. After extensive research the organisation produced a selection of canapés drawn from descriptions of meals in Burgess’s books, which were beautifully prepared by resident chef, Lucy Flippance. Copious plates full of devilled eggs and mushrooms were followed by lettuce-wrapped Waldorf salads inbetween trays of colourful gin-based cocktails mixed with silky skill by Vivian Pencz and her team.
Found in recipe notes in Burgess’s own hand, they consisted of the Jagged Flash, a dark mixture of sherry, gin, Benedictine and fresh limes tasting of smoky rooms, long dinners and literary tales. It was followed by Amber Gleam – a fine drink of gin, brandy, apricot brandy and orange juice that could be drunk in dusky evenings after dinner or sunny mornings before breakfast. Exotically emerald, the China Sea consisted of gin, brandy, angostura and crème de menthe. Served in martini glasses, it could have come with white dinner jackets, silk ball gowns and a cool sea breeze with just a hint of sex.
We were treated to a jazzy piano score by Tom Barber as well as two excellent talks by Ian Carrington and Emma Major. Carrington regaled us with details of Burgess’s own relation with drink – the author’s father was a pub piano player and his mother ran a pub and an off license in Moss Side. I remember, in the late 1980s, having a pint in a pub on Alexandra Road commonly known as the ‘Little Alex’. It is no longer there but it did provide Burgess with the name of the protagonist in A Clockwork Orange. A shopping list from the archive highlights a crate of gin on his weekly shop and, as was pointed out, weekly not fortnightly.
Emma Major from York University treated us to an all too short glimpse into the history of gin in England from William Hogarth’s Gin Lane to Old Tom, the latter being the first recorded vending contraption in which you inserted your coin into the mouth of a wooden cat and the appropriate measure of gin came out of its tail. The evening was completed with a short witty intro by Andrew Biswell (director of IABF) to a rare recording of Burgess singing what he claimed to be a popular pub song, although Biswell admitted that no hearsay evidence of this could be found.
Leudar and I rolled out into the night warmed, mildly drunk and fully informed. I look forward to many more evenings of ‘informative imbibing’ though I’ve always considered gin to be an education in itself.