March 2, 2021
As we continue traveling with our pal Charles Dickens writing as The Uncommercial Traveller (be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talks Part I and Part II, to have a little more background on this collection of essays that isn’t perhaps read enough – oh, and be sure to see all Dickens Cocktail Talks, too), today we walk with him through London into a dining establishment that he’s very positive on, due to it’s low prices and big portions (remaining taste throughout), all focused it seems to me to be supportive of all income ranges. Great, right! Except there’s one facet that Dickens isn’t a fan of, and, really, who can blame him.
The most enthusiastic admirer of those substantials, would probably not object to occasional inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton: or, especially in cold weather, to a little innocent trifling with Irish stews, meat pies, and toads in holes. Another drawback on the Whitechapel establishment, is the absence of beer. Regarded merely as a question of policy, it is very impolitic, as having a tendency to send the working men to the public-house, where gin is reported to be sold. But, there is a much higher ground on which this absence of beer is objectionable. It expresses distrust of the working man.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 23, 2021
This is going to be a long quote (as a warning – but not to push you away from reading it, cause it is awesome), so not much in the way of introduction here. For more of that, be sure to read The Uncommercial Traveller Cocktail Talk Part I. Here in Part II, we’re going to hang outside another public house, but this time with a very wonderful dog, in an essay all about London “shy neighborhoods” and the animals (and people, thought a little less) that hang out within them. Dickens from all I can tell, had a big fondness for dogs – check out the Dombey and Son Cocktail Talk all about Diogenes the dog, my favorite Dickens character, for another example. Perhaps after you read the below, which has rockets up my list of favorite Dickens quotes quite rapidly. For the whole thing, but highlighted by the phrase “an intelligence of ears and tail” which I find absolutely spot on and lovely.
At a small butcher’s, in a shy neighbourhood (there is no reason for suppressing the name; it is by Notting-hill, and gives upon the district called the Potteries), I know a shaggy black and white dog who keeps a drover. He is a dog of an easy disposition, and too frequently allows this drover to get drunk. On these occasions, it is the dog’s custom to sit outside the public-house, keeping his eye on a few sheep, and thinking. I have seen him with six sheep, plainly casting up in his mind how many he began with when he left the market, and at what places he has left the rest. I have seen him perplexed by not being able to account to himself for certain particular sheep. A light has gradually broken on him, he has remembered at what butcher’s he left them, and in a burst of grave satisfaction has caught a fly off his nose, and shown himself much relieved. If I could at any time have doubted the fact that it was he who kept the drover, and not the drover who kept him, it would have been abundantly proved by his way of taking undivided charge of the six sheep, when the drover came out besmeared with red ochre and beer, and gave him wrong directions, which he calmly disregarded. He has taken the sheep entirely into his own hands, has merely remarked with respectful firmness, ‘That instruction would place them under an omnibus; you had better confine your attention to yourself—you will want it all;’ and has driven his charge away, with an intelligence of ears and tail, and a knowledge of business, that has left his lout of a man very, very far behind.
— Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
February 16, 2021
The Uncommercial Traveller by our pal Charles Dickens is not a book one hears about enough – heck, even a Dickens head like me hadn’t had it in his hands until recently. But I scored a copy, which isn’t really that hard, though said copy is like a print-to-order thing, with no, like TOC, or copyright notes, or title page, anything. Which is fine, and definitely better than no copy at all! If you don’t know (and I’ll admit, I didn’t know much until I got said copy), The Uncommercial Traveller is a collection of personal essays, or literary sketches as they say, that Dickens originally published in a journal he founded called “All the Year Round” (if anyone wants to gift me a few original copies of that, go right ahead), and really involves the main character (Dickens, that is, as far as it goes) writing about his wanderings around London, the UK, and (in a dreamy sort-of way and regular ways) Europe, including visiting the site of a famous shipwreck, strolling the city in the wee hours due to insomnia, mapping out the haunts of neighborhood dogs, visiting the town he grew up in, and more. They are all written in the Dickensian style, with wit, insights that remain relevant today, details rendered through his particular peculiar eye, and all. He stops at pubs and hotels and other watering holes, too, as he loved such, and drinks, so it makes for good Cocktail Talk-ing (oh, don’t miss all the past Charles Dickens Cocktail Talks, as there are many jolly ones). I’m not sure yet how many Uncommercial Traveller Cocktails Talks I’ll have yet, but you can bet they’ll be more! We’re going to start at one of those neighborhood public houses, one attended by theatre-goers during intermission. And while it does have drinks! It’s really an ode to the sandwich. But I love sandwiches! Especially with drinks.
Between the pieces, we almost all of us went out and refreshed. Many of us went the length of drinking beer at the bar of the neighbouring public-house, some of us drank spirits, crowds of us had sandwiches and ginger-beer at the refreshment-bars established for us in the Theatre. The sandwich—as substantial as was consistent with portability, and as cheap as possible—we hailed as one of our greatest institutions. It forced its way among us at all stages of the entertainment, and we were always delighted to see it; its adaptability to the varying moods of our nature was surprising; we could never weep so comfortably as when our tears fell on our sandwich; we could never laugh so heartily as when we choked with sandwich; Virtue never looked so beautiful or Vice so deformed as when we paused, sandwich in hand, to consider what would come of that resolution of Wickedness in boots, to sever Innocence in flowered chintz from Honest Industry in striped stockings. When the curtain fell for the night, we still fell back upon sandwich, to help us through the rain and mire, and home to bed.
–Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller
December 8, 2020
Well, it’s nearly time after a fair number of swell quotes to say so-long (for now – he’ll be back) to Raymond Chandler, with one last Cocktail Talk from a story within the collection Trouble Is My Business and Other Stories, this time “Red Wind,” which starts with the below quote that has a wind indeed in it. It’s a twisty kind of tall, beginning with that wind and a bar that’s across the street from Chandler’s PI Philip Marlowe’s apartment. Then there’s a lady, various angles, and lots of gumshoe-ing. Start it off with the below, and then read the whole story whydontcha? Oh, and also don’t miss all the other Raymond Chandler Cocktail Talks, cause you deserve to read them.
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
I was getting one in a flossy new place across the street from the apartment house where I lived. It had been open about a week and it wasn’t doing any business. The kid behind the bar was in his early twenties and looked as if he had never had a drink in his life.
–Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”
July 28, 2020
The Cocktail Talks from our old pal Charles Dickens’ classic story The Old Curiosity Shop are shading towards the longish (there’s so much good stuff, I don’t want to cull or cut if I can), and as I don’t want to distract, going to keep this intro short. For more about the book, more wonderful quotes about drinks and drinking shops in the delicious Dickens style, more about how I adore Dickens, and just more more more (which you should always want), don’t miss earlier Cocktail Talks from The Old Curiosity Shop: Part I, Part II (from longer ago), and Part III (from recent ago). And don’t miss the below either (or other Dickens Cocktail Talks), where a little mild porter is consumed, and where a window is opened to holler at a beer-boy – I wish I could do that now!
As a means towards his composure and self-possession, he entered into a more minute examination of the office than he had yet had time to make; looked into the wig-box, the books, and ink-bottle; untied and inspected all the papers; carved a few devices on the table with a sharp blade of Mr. Brass’s penknife; and wrote his name on the inside of the wooden coal-scuttle. Having, as it were, taken formal possession of his clerkship in virtue of these proceedings, he opened the window and leaned negligently out of it until a beer-boy happened to pass, whom he commanded to set down his tray and to serve him with a pint of mild porter, which he drank upon the spot and promptly paid for, with the view of breaking ground for a system of future credit and opening a correspondence tending thereto, without loss of time.
–Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
July 7, 2020
Hello you! Did you see or not see The Bertrams Part I Cocktail Talk, in which I called the immortal Anthony Trollope “Tony” and talked about this book we’re quoting from? If you didn’t see that yet, then by all means, go read it now (and you could read all the Anthony Trollope Cocktail Talks, too, if you want). But if you have, and so you really have all the background and build up and such, then why not dive right into the below quote, which focuses on two mad military men, who aren’t really a large part of the overall story (heck, they barely feature at all). But, this quote was my introduction to “tiffin-time,” which is like (or was? Still is? You tell me) an Indian afternoon tea, round 3 p.m., and where it seems they also had beer! I like it. And of course, I’m always happy to see the boozy wine punch Sangaree make an appearance!
“And the brows of Major Biffin and Captain M’Gramm were clouded. They had been filling the plates and glasses of these two ladies all the way from Calcutta; they had walked with them every day on deck, had fetched their chairs, picked up their handkerchiefs, and looked after their bottled beer at tiffin-time with an assiduity which is more than commendable in such warm latitudes. And now to be thrown on one side for two travelling Englishmen, one in a brown coat and the other in a black one for two muffs, who had never drunk Sangaree or sat under a punkah!”
–Anthony Trollope, The Bertrams
June 9, 2020
As I, like others, have been at home perhaps more than usual lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading (well, I do a lot all the time, but even more perhaps), and one thing I dove into during this time was The Complete Father Brown Stories by old G.K. Chesterton, which is a massive tome – ideal for right now! And I have to admit (cause we’re all pals here), that I watched the currently TV Father Brown tele show before reading any of the stories. Which is weird, cause usually I go at it the other way round. And, even weirdly, since we’re admitting things, I like the TV show better. Don’t throw things at me. Mark Williams is a genius actor, I like the small town England focus, and, well, I like his Father Brown a bit more than the book one. And skipping some of G.K.’s dated and wrong, oh, opinions, is okay, too. Which is not to say that the stories in the main aren’t good and shouldn’t be read. They totally should be, cause lots and lots of awesome is contained therein. Enough that I’m going to have a trio of Cocktail Talks from different stories, starting with below brandy bellowing.
“And you will have your usual, Sir,” said Mr. Wills leaning and leering across the counter.
“It’s the only decent stuff you’ve still got,” snorted Mr. Raggley, slapping down his queer and antiquated hat, “Damn it, I sometimes think the only English thing left in England is cherry brandy. Cherry brandy does taste of cherries. Can you find me any beer that tastes of hops, or any cider that tastes of apples, or any wine that has the remotest indication of being made out of grapes? There’s an infernal swindle going on now in every inn in the country, that would have raised a revolution in any other country. I’ve found out a thing or two about it, I can tell you. You wait till I can get it printed, and people will sit up. If I could stop our people being poisoned with all this bad drink——”
— G.K. Chesterton, “The Quick One”
August 13, 2019
If you missed The Two-Penny Bar Part I
, be sure to catch up on your brandy – and reading – and for that matter, don’t miss a one of the many mighty Maigret Cocktail Talks
, cause they are full of boozy jolly-ness, and will point you to many a classic read by George Simenon. This book (as it says on the back) that goes into the “sleazy underbelly of respectable Parisian life,” is too good, too, for just one Cocktail Talk post, especially because this second one has the good Inspector Maigret a little over-indulged on one of his favorite tipples – but this book does center around a bar!
“What are you drinking?” he heard a voice ask. “A large Pernod?”
The very word was enough to remind him of the week gone by, the Sunday get-togethers of the Morsang crowd, the whole disagreeable case.
“A beer,” he replied.
“At this hour?”
The well-meaning waiter who had offered him the aperitif was taken aback at the force of Maigret’s response.