Sid Vicious, when asked by an interviewer how he would prefer to face the end of the world, shot back: “Armed and heavily sedated.”
As the end of the world has been banging on the door these last few days, I’ve been thinking of Sid’s recommendation, and wondering what I would do, if indeed there was time to make a choice.
I’ve contemplated this before. It was the first thing to enter my head in the mornings through the Cold War, other than the dreams which woke me.
I was usually standing in a field between the Hills and the badlands on the undulating wheat’n’barley country, like Dutton or St Kitts or somewhere north of Truro, watching mushroom clouds popping up on the veldt, each one a bit closer, lovely pink, white and grey: galah colours towering thousands of metres into the enamel blue, with a scale of distance that probably made them all seem closer than they really were. They always looked so neat and clean in those dreams, and would linger well through breakfast, at which point I’d try to work out what I’d do.
Like if it hadn’t been a dream.
I’ve always deliberately lived right on the epicentre, or well out of the way in the bush relative to things nuclear. No worries about time to think if you’re safe on the epicentre; plenty if you’re well away from it, unless the lass pointing the rocket has bung aim. I mean, living somewhere like Oodnadatta you may dwindle on without radiation sickness until the nuclear dark ensures no food grows: at least you’ll get a chance to drink the cellar before your meat withers on your bones.
Now, living where McLaren Vale hits the Hills near the Onkaparinga, I feel slightly compromised: I’m neither safely on the epicentre nor far enough away. It’ll be a slow radioactive rot that eats me here, after I see the mushroom clouds over Mawson Lakes and the RAAF at Edinburgh, then a bit closer to me when they get The Exeter in their crosshairs.
So into the sedatives, but what to drink?
I’d love to have the sort of cash that saw my fridge constantly stacked with a six-pack of Krug for such end-of-time emergencies; a quart or two of Highland Park 1994 Orkney Single Malt standing in reserve. A case of Castagna Genesis for irony; another of my landlord’s High Sands Grenache; Grange and St Henri from 1971 … you get my drift.
But, you know, that’s all pretty naive. Sid had it nailed. Sedatives and weaponry granted, I reckon I’d be better off with some proper fighting oil in the gizzard, ready for when the starving bogans from out in the houses come round with their pitbulls to rob my freezer.
I’d fight like a tiger. As my neurosurgeon will attest, I can become stupidly, savagely fearless under threat. Like nuts. Boonta. I don’t go looking for anyone to second my motion. But as a strategic manoeuvre, such action’s only worth the risk when there’s absolutely nothing left to lose.
In 1974 I was barred for life from the Stirling Hotel. Life. For introducing a drink that would work perfectly in such a fix. One you should keep at hand for Mushroom Day. One of its primary advantages is you’re not very likely to broach it before the time is right. Like you and me, too, would pillage that Krug cache if we could afford one and when the big day came, there’d be none left.
This is not likely to occur with Nelson’s Blood. When the appropriate time came, the odds would be 5:1 that you’d not broached your Nelson’s already. And if you’d sunk one before the deep freeze bandits broke in, they’d take one look at you and run for it. Then you’d fall into your last unfathomable slumber like a sailor bound in canvas with a cannonball at your feet to carry you down for a quiet stroll among the others.
If you’ve ever got maggotted with a shipful of sailors from a navy you’ll understand my suggestion that such folks are not only highly absorptive as far as liquor goes, but that every quart that goes in there looses a sort of exponentially-expanding flow of total bullshit. So the Nelson’s, which is a sacred warrior thing to them, comes from nearly 220 years of bar-room lore and myth and braggadocio.
By the time the young – 47 years – Horatio was sure he’d won the Battle of Trafalgar, he also knew he was a goner from a terrible musket wound. He’d already lost an arm and an eye in previous engagements; this time he was losing his life. He knew his spine was shot through.
To get their hero back to London for a proper funeral, his adoring men put his body in a barrel of the best officer’s-strength navy rum. Or so many tars will tell you. More bookish and puritan historians may insist it was brandy mixed with camphor and myrrh.
The wharfside Nelson’s Blood story says it was very fine rum which was all gone by the time they’d towed the Victory to Gibraltar. It seems the corpse went through several containers before they laid it out in state in London.
For three days.
In Gibraltar they moved Horatio to a lead-lined coffin which was most certainly then filled with “spirits of wine” for his last lap across the Channel.
Lap? Draught, more like. The story says the great warrior was so revered by his bloodthirsty men that they drilled a hole in the barrel and drank the spirit through a straw or reed, so when they tipped him out there was barely any rum left.
There are as many versions of Nelson’s Blood as there are heroic yarns, but the most beloved in dockside taverns is the tankard of stout with a good wallop of dark rum sloshed in through its head. The rum’s the rum; the stout’s his blood.
Not only is this a drink that tastes like your dead boss leaked vital body fluids in your glass but it gives you the sort of totally crazy confidence that’ll convince you that you can take on the entire crew of the Victory and simply spit ’em out like teeth.
You could give Mother Teresa a pint of Nelson’s and she’d up and snot you before she got halfway down the glass.
Which is why I am barred for life from the Stirling. Not that I got into any biffo. It was everybody else, your honour. It was the anniversary of Nelson’s death on a cold foggy night so I showed the lass behind the jump how to make one. Everybody wanted one. Carnage. The night of the flying stools. Barred for life.
The best Nelson’s I’ve sunk in recent years was made from Goodieson’s Stout with a shot of Mount Gay Rum. But Jeff and Mary don’t make the stout again till April. It’s a winter thing. It’s as good with their gorgeous Christmas Ale, but that could be all gone, too, by the time you get there. In which case take the more biffo-packed Cooper’s with Bundy dark, and if you don’t wake up in the can you’ll be out on them badlands picking 10km-high mushroom clouds to take home and fry in butter.
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