by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard
The English (with a bit of help from the odd Scottish, Welsh, and Irish person) conquered the tropical world with gin and red herrings (both virtual and real in the case of the latter). I’m not much interested in the red herrings (or the Portuguese variant, salt cod, which obviously wasn’t as effective or I would be writing this in Portuguese) -- it’s the gin that I want to talk about.
The English drank the filthy fire water pink (neat with bitters and, one hopes, ice when available) and with Indian Tonic Water (also, hopefully, with ice most of the time). Then the Anglophonic Americans followed with a variety of gin-based cocktails.
In both cultures, the role of gin was celebrated in song and story. Indeed, it would be pretty safe to say that without gin, vast slabs of the history and literature of both nations could hardly exist.
All of which should mean, I think you will agree, as a literary person keenly aware of history, that two phenomena I have observed since my return to tropical life here in Port Moresby are deserving of special mention as indicators that the world is going to the dogs and not very gracefully at that.
The first is the paucity of bars and restaurants serving quality G&Ts and the second is the shortage of tonic water if you want to make your own.
I can take a pink gin if I have to but gin and tonic is my drink of choice. I like it long (about twice a standard glass) and I like it cold (plenty of ice). And I absolutely demand a slice of lime and a squeeze of juice (lemon is a poor substitute I’ll put up with in temperate climes).
Addressing the question of a decent G&T in a bar, I am reluctant to say it out loud, but I have had far superior G&Ts in such hell holes as Darwin and Dili than I’ve been served in some “reputable” establishments here in Moresby. I mean, a G&T in a shortish glass with only two rapidly melting ice cubes in it and NO LIME although prime limes plucked fresh from the mother tree’s twig that very dawning are for sale at up to four for a kina on the street outside? Come on!
And even in the one or two better performing places I’ve come across they really don’t grok the notion of “long”.
Thus the dedicated tropical liver (thank you for appreciating the pun) has been forced to fall back on his own resources, more or less confining his G&T imbibing to home. A long G&T is the ideal winding-down-after-work drink, lasting right through cooking and well into dinner itself. It is also ideal as the base drink for the busy host, allowing him to focus on meeting the needs of his guests.
I was greatly encouraged in this move at first by the fact that Port Moresby’s supermarkets offer at least two brands of cheap gin (to say nothing of rum and whisky) -- about half the price of Gordon’s and Sapphire.
But seeing me getting complacent, the supermarkets reverted to type with a catastrophic shortage of Indian Tonic Water (we will talk more about the vagaries of Port Moresby supermarket shopping at another time). I was forced to risk my malaria status (we’ll come to that in a moment) by drinking stuff like water and beer for nearly two weeks until a colleague, sensitive to the threat this posed to my health, spotted a few cans of the precious solution semi-concealed at the rear of a shelf of a certain supermarket, and texted me instanter. I was in the car and down there in a flash (allowing for the six minutes and ten or so seconds it takes to get out the gate) to make my purchase. Okay, okay, it was Boroko Foodland situated not in Boroko but in Gordons.
I stocked up (I remember the bad old days between ships in the islands) and just as well. It’s been a week now, but still the other supermarkets don’t seem to have caught up. In the tropics! Noel Coward (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen”) should be spinning in his grave, and as for W. Somerset Maugham...!
As I said, G&T is my drink of choice most of the time. I don’t mind a stubby or tinny or two (the Port Moresby world is pretty much split between “brown stubby” and “white can” -- the local South Pacific Breweries’ SP Lager and Export Lager lines) but under attack from the stubby suckers or tinny heads, I roll out my G&T rationale.
Quite apart from appealing to my taste buds more than somewhat, gin and tonic is a solid rational choice, a four-way winner. Here’s why:
Here in Port Moresby we are surrounded by a hoard of unseen assailants just bursting to get at us and lay us low. I speak of the mosquitoes carrying malaria, dengue fever, and 3,587 other nasties (for those inclined to argue about that figure, I have two words: “Prove it!”).
Now look at the noble G&T. The gin contains alcohol which kills pain. You need to kill pain when you have malaria, and given its prevalence, if you’re not taking anti-malarials there is a pretty good chance that you have malaria to some degree pretty much all the time. If you take modern anti-malarial drugs, you’ll feel the pain of them pretty much all the time too. So either way, you need to kill the pain pretty much all the time. Make mine a G&T, thanks.
The primary ingredient of tonic water (apart from water) is the anti-malarial, quinine. I have known pedants (who would not know a good time if it bit them on the bum) to argue that quinine isn’t that effective any more given the prevalence of malaria types now resistant to it and anyway, you would have to drink enough G&Ts to keep a camel going for a week to get enough quinine to make an impact.
Exactly -- that’s the beauty of it. You can get falling down drunk and *stay that way* and call it medicinal. Further, even if modern malarias are resistant, there is still some good old-fashioned malaria out there, real malaria, my kind of malaria, ready to have a crack at me if it can hitch a ride in the right vector. That’s what I’m protecting myself from. Phooey to all this i-malaria and the like. I’m just not interested.
This is where the l-o-o-o-o-n-g G&T fits in too. Here in the tropics, we have to keep the liquids up. Now alcohol, as well as banishing pain, has the pleasing side-effect of promoting the healthy movement of H2O through the system. The l-o-o-o-n-g G&T tops up, literally.
Water balance? Am I a shrivelled prune? No. Am I a stagnant puddle covered by a red slime? No. I learned at my mother’s knee that running water is pure water so I know that if I keep everything flowing I am on the right track for purity in both mind and body. Yes, I will have another, thanks. A smidgeon more ice this time?
Finally, the lime. Who will ever forget Captain Cook curing his scurvy-ridden sailors? Drinking my well-limed G&T, I can feel every one of my multitudinous wounds happily puckering up and pulling in a stitch. Sometimes, I swear, I can almost feel my gums sucking my teeth deeper into their sockets. Damn, it’s good!
So IF you don’t mind, I’ll continue to absorb the occasional G&T (but never on the Weetbix) preserving old values, keeping up the fight against malaria, H2O deficit and scurvy the way nature intended, and maintaining an environment for the appreciation and future development of English literature.
Yes thanks, but I really must insist, it’s my shout next time.
This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.
Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.