The Negroni

May 23, 2010

 Hands up everyone who knows and loves the Negroni!

 In a summer long ago but it was called 1968, I was bored enough one lunchtime to sit and listen to a man in a pub tell me some nonsense. Pubs, of course, are and hopefully will always be constructed at least partly for the transfer of nonsense from one wannabe character to another. So the setting was right. And the particular pub, The Black Boy, had always been well stocked with wannabes. So the extras casting for my short drama was appropriate.

 This man who was roughly my own age had the slight advantage over me of actually having a career at that moment. Whilst I was a soon to be failed Chemistry student carrying only the price of one pint of what passed for beer in that pub in my jeans, he was a Purser of some modest level in the Merchant Navy with more than ten pounds sterling in cash upon his person! He was not in uniform, I was.

 He was bored, as homecoming seamen often are. Returning to their rural or suburban hometown to find that the local nightlife, not to mention the vacuum of daylight hours, does not quite match that of Caracas, Buenos Aries, Monte Carlo, or even Fort Lauderdale, they become impatient to get back to their ship, and pass their leave hanging around the saloon bars of pubs and golf clubs, hoping to find someone to talk to who would have even the remotest idea of what they had seen or experienced.

 As it happened I actually had a friend who was also in the Merchant Navy, and was also a Purser, for the Cunard Line, and so knew something of this man’s life before he even opened his mouth. And in a further coincidence I knew this man’s older sister and had fancied her awfully a few years before this incident.

 He was not much of a storyteller, and far from being fascinated by his revelations of shipboard shenanigans, beach parties with American girls of a certain type, how much money he made, and what his long term plans were, I fast become as bored as he already was.

 But he did buy me drinks. And since I had been brought up as a polite young man I felt it rude to snub the man. It was within half an hour of closing time; English pubs closed at 2.30 PM in those days; that he suggested we have a Negroni. It may have been a desperate move on his part to regain what he may have perceived as my wandering attention, or it may have been a desire on his part to get as drunk as he could before the pub did actually close.

 Up until this time my experience of cocktails was limited to the Gin and Tonic, and a taste of a Whiskey and Ginger (what my dear old Aunt Edna called a Whiskey Mac).

 It took quite lot of cajoling by my new acquaintance to get the barman to agree to mix Gin, Vermouth, and Campari together in equal parts, and find a suitable glass into which he could pour the concoction. And then there was an awkward moment as he calculated the price. But the barman was as intrigued as I was and once the price was settled he set about his task with enthusiasm. Economically it was the single most expensive drink I had ever enjoyed. And enjoy it I did. It was fabulous! Bitter, sweet, fruity and cool, consuming all the ice the pub had.

 The pub closed and I wandered off to the bus station to catch a bus home. I must have stunk. Getting of the bus at my village a girl I hardly knew stopped me to say how much she liked my sunglasses. I had forgotten that I was wearing any.

 Roughly 39 years later I sat at a roof top bar in a hotel in Naples close to the train station with my youngest brother. He’d never had a Negroni. The bartender here was adept at correcting this shortage in his experience, and we had two before setting off to find a restaurant for dinner amongst the piles of garbage that decorate the streets of that dense and fragrant city.

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