So we have a tray sitting on top of our 48-bottle wine rack in the kitchen and on this tray live gin, whisky, vodka, plus one or two extras such as Cassis and Noilly Prat, the little Manhattan of vertical bottles. We consume these beverages frequently and with evident enjoyment. But behind them stands the Musuem of Drink, the place where old booze goes into a grimy death-in-life, a row of crappy tenements hidden behind the Fifth Avenue facades we want people to see.
What are these dismal drinks and why have we got them?
- Lamb & Watt Carta Negra dark rum (from Guyana, it says on the label). The wife thinks we might have bought it to try and recreate the rum punches we once had in Barbados (one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak, as the recipe had it). There's plenty left. I assume that whatever kind of punch we managed to cobble together back at home tasted appalling.
- Lamb & Watt Grenadine. This is purely a sentimental bottle, not a bottle for drinking. The wife has had it with her in all her houses/flats/digs, over the years, faithful as a puppy, following her from place to place, a memento of her youth when it was given to her by someone. We couldn't drink it even if we wanted to, because the cap is now welded on with fluff, corrosion and a kind of Grenadine gum.
- Tesco Value Brandy. Cooking purposes?
- Angostura Bitters. Every five years or so I make myself a pink gin with this stuff, or even a Champagne Cocktail. Borderline functionality, but how long can it last? It must date back to the John Major years.
- Two bottles of Old Lady's Gin (it really is called that; you get it in France) now containing two kinds of home-made sloe gin, both undrinkable (we've tried them with both Champagne and tonic, still ghastly) but we spent so much time collecting the sloes we can't bring ourselves to throw the stuff out.
- Grappa from Waitrose. Originally we had a bottle of Kosher Slivovitz which a friend gave us as a sarcastic going-away present. It was so disgusting that I actually threw it away. But it seems we must always have at least one bottle of transparent filth, so the grappa crept in to take its place. Normally I quite like grappa, and I quite like Waitrose, but this stuff smells authentically like the oil refinery at Fawley, opposite Southampton. God knows why.
- Gusano Rojo Mezcal. The (teenage) kids made us get this when we were on holiday in Mexico. They drank a bit of it then wisely walked away. I have only ever sniffed it. The Mezcal Worm lies at the bottom of the bottle: you're supposed to fight mano a mano for the right to eat that worm (after you've drunk the rest of the bottle's contents) and thereby be vouchsafed some kind of cosmic insight. The only person I know who claims to have done this said he won the mano a mano fight, ate the worm, and promptly passed out for twelve hours of complete oblivion.
There are essentially two reasons why we have kept this muck for as long as we have. Sentiment - holiday nostalgia, personal history - is clearly one. The other is Visual Ballast: we want to create something of that sense of largesse you get in upper-middle-class drawing-rooms, where a tray (usually silver) stands in the corner of the room, bearing gin, whisky, sherry, port, some smart crystal tumblers, demanding that you have a drink. When of course you do ask for something, your host has to leg it to the kitchen and fill the ice bucket and make sure he's got enough tonic water and generally curse and strain, but still. You also find the Posh Tray in chi-chi country house hotels where they invite you to help yourself, but be sure to fill in the twee honesty book standing handily by. At any rate, it suggests a certain quality of life.
Only our Posh Tray is filthy and crowded with bottles of ordure. There is no other consumable that we could or would dare keep in this way - apart from that bit of our wedding cake, preserved somewhere at the back of a cupboard, although it may have been eaten by weevils - so why this, with all its neglect, its mixed messages, its terminal inertia? It's like keeping a mummified banana, or a packet of 1950s biscuits.
It is, in fact, one of those mirrors of the soul. Find someone's Drinks Tray, and you find a part of their inner self. In our case the Drinks Tray announces to the world the fact that we are sentimental, lazy, and slightly pretentious. A judgement which I would reckon firm but fair. So what's on yours?