The virus is in retreat, the lock-down is crumbling, the sherbet dispensaries will shortly reopen and there is a second spike of summer. Every prospect pleases, and only demonstrating man is vile. In London, we have been subjected to the most ridiculous public protests since the Gordon riots or the agitation in favour of Queen Caroline. During the latter follies, Wellington, riding back to Stratfield Saye, found his way blocked by a crowd of yokels who declared that they would not let him pass until he had toasted the Queen. ‘Very well, sirs, if you will have it so, God bless Queen Caroline and may all your wives be like her.’ He then spurred away, leaving open mouths in his wake.
In recent weeks, it has been less about open mouths, more a matter of empty minds. The best moment in recent days, if you delight in absurdity, came with the complaints about ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. Although it pains me to say so, ‘Swing Low’ is far more tuneful than the ghastly Scottish anthem. ‘Flower of Scotland’ sounds like a cow whose udders are overflowing, mooing for the milkmaid to bring relief. To understand the degeneration of taste, compare and contrast with ‘Flooers o’ the Forest’, which will bring mist to the steeliest Scottish eye. But I have never been able to understand why English rugby crowds adopted a moving and plangent negro spiritual. According to some interpretations, it was written to cheer on the efforts of the Northerners who were trying to smuggle escaped slaves to freedom. To me, similar to ‘All God’s Chillun Got Wings’, it is about sadness and stoicism; oppressed people clinging to their human dignity while taking comfort in the thought of a better world where the ‘Lamb… shall lead them unto fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’. So what has all this to do with the glorious barbarism of the rugger field? It may just be a piquant example of cultural appropriation, or is it a tribute to the stretcher-bearers from St John’s Ambulance Brigade? Whatever: when England next play Scotland, may the worse song win.
Apropos wiping away tears, a good bottle or two has helped to eradicate the last traces of cabin fever. One of them was an Islay whisky, the Corry-vreckan, produced by the majestic house of Ardbeg. Even by Ardbeg standards, this is a peaty giant: 57 degrees proof. Although it is distilled in south Islay, its name comes from the Strait of Corryvreckan, north of Jura, site of a famous whirlpool that features in Highland mythology as a sea monster which devoured a Gaelic princess. I have been through it on a calm day, and even then the man at the tiller said that he could feel the whirlpool’s tug. I have been above it on a ferocious day, witnessing a contest for mastery between a roaring sea and a raging sky. That day, no ship could have passed through the strait. Anything big enough to resist the water would have been in mortal peril from the rocks.
I was stalking, and when the ghillie and I came over the final hill, bent double into the wind, there was an eagle on an outcrop 20 yards away. It soared into the tempest. The spectacle of that bird patrolling the storm-tossed heavens, an air monster to rival the sea monster, its wings the gift of a pagan God, not a comforting one, will be with me as long as I live. The whisky was worthy of its name.
The second bottle was from the gentle hills of Chianti-shire. There is an estate called Petrolo, not far from Arezzo. Its wine-making is a harmonious blend of tradition and science. I tend to believe that even the super-Tuscans should never lose contact with their roots in Sangiovese. But Galatrona, Petrolo’s flagship, is 100 per cent Merlot. We had the 2012, which was complex, well-equipped with both fruit and tannins: altogether excellent. This is a flower of Tuscany. Or should that be flooer?
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