Hello friends. It’s been a while, right? I could apologise for my extended hiatus from spewing forth into this webular blog, but quite honestly I have no excuses other than laziness and inertia, and any apology would be frankly, insincere. Anyhow.
When I was a hazy 16 year old, I hung with a group of friends who mainly partook in playing football in the park, obtaining ‘teenths of draw at the lowest possible cost (or ideally on tic), and cracking open cans of Tennents in someone’s living room. Typically after their parents had gone out for the night - and listening to CDs and watching MTV. You know - back when it actually played music.
Inevitably, given the THC influence most nights, the musical interludes would eventually turn throughout the evening to Bob Marley and the Wailers, Prince Buster and the whitest of whiteboy reggae, UB40. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was a UB40 fan, but I knew some songs - and god damnit, “Rat in mi Kitchen” is a great tune. Anyway - in the summer of 1994, UB40 were playing a massive concert - the “Reggae Bowl” - at Milton Keynes bowl. We had to get tickets.
So, one Saturday morning in August 1994, I found myself roaming around Prestos, with my friends looking to score some booze. Some tins of Tennents would do for the coach trip - but smuggling big tins of lager into a concert venue, well, that wasn’t likely to work. So we decided to each buy some half-bottles of various spirits, which - we deduced - would fit down our pants and not be detected. Surely, we chortled - they’d merely mistake the bulges for our gigantic teenage penises?
I didn’t know what to buy. I knew what not to buy - MD 20⁄20, or Maddog 20-20, as we knew it. The original alcopop, fortified wine with lurid colours and fruity flavours. Oh, this stuff got you drunk, but you’d be throwing up afterwards for sure, and throwing up was both inconvenient and a definite sign of teenage boy weakness. To be avoided.
I scanned the shelves and settled on a half bottle of White Horse whisky. Whisky. A man’s drink. I’m definitely getting whisky. My friends settled on other things - some chickened out, one, inexplicably, bought a full-size bottle of Warnincks advocaat (went about as badly as you can imagine). In the whole, though, we were wimpy, spotty teenagers - and aside from me, folk bought Bacardi and vodka, explaining that they could get Coke at the gig and they’d mix it. Easy. Not me, I was having whisky. No mixers. What is this? Amateur hour? It was a show of bravado.
The coach journey was exactly as wobbly as you’d expect it to, with 40 odd reggae stoners and kids making short work of the cans of lager and illicitly smoking some of their saved up for the occasion deals in the back rows. I think I had an eight pack of lager (probably a buy 4 get 4 free type deal - I’m a sucker for a deal). It was all gone before we got there. The journey was about an hour and a half.
On arriving, as predicted, they were doing bag searches and pat downs. We slowly shuffled to the front of the queue, nervously adjusting our crotches. This was the first big gig for most, if not all, of us - we didn’t know it would just be a cursory glance into a bag and the snatching away of obviously held bottles and cans. Only the most outrageously drunk or troublesome people were getting the full works. So, of course they didn’t spot our
giant dicks hidden grog. We were in!
So, over the proceeding next few hours, the idea was to eak out our supplies, so we wouldn’t have to visit the ripoff bars and queue for ages. Because I was stupid (and remain so), I more-or-less downed my whisky in one go. As a result, I spent the rest of the gig absolutely, roaringly drunk. I sang along with Chaka Demus and Pliers (I mean, who wouldn’t?), I boggled a bit at Jamiroquai - who were just about to break out into the bigtime, and got all group-emotional at UB40 in the way that only a bunch of drunk and stoned British men (boys) can do. It was a great gig.
Well, I think it was. I don’t remember most of UB40, because I spent most of the remaining time projectile vomiting in a bush, staggeringly drunk, unable to find my friends and - honestly - weeping gently. I was so sick, and so confused and scared and angry in a way that only alcohol can induce. I vomited. A lot. A real lot. I fell over a lot. I crashed out.
I’m not sure how I got back on the coach home, but, evidently, I did. I got home and collapsed into bed. The morning came, and - Achievement Unlocked - my first, real, hangover. Congratulations. We’d drunk lager and Maddog and all sorts of other things, other times, but not in huge volumes. We never knew what hangovers were. I remember the utter misery of that day vividly. I swore myself off whisky for life, and cursed its demonic powers. Never again. Never. Never ever.
So, fast-forward to today.
Tomorrow, Caroline and I are embarking on a roadtrip to the USA. We’re having a couple of days in Chicago - one of our favourite cities, and then the real meat of the trip begins, in Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky, and Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee. The express reason for the trip is to sample American bourbons, ryes and whiskies, direct from the distillers that produce them. What a difference twenty-odd years makes, eh? There’s also the added fantastic side-benefit of real BBQ, amazing musical history and southern hospitality. It’s going to be a fun trip.
How I rediscovered whisk(e)y is probably best saved for another post, but for now - take this lengthy diatribe as a signal that I’m planning on keeping y’all (getting in character) updated on our travels. I hope to not let you down.