Friday, 4 March 2011
Once, a long time ago, I read an article about the Stones. It may have been about their tour of America in 1976. They were into Tequila. Everyone was into Tequila…except me, living in a bed-sit in Newport.
I went to my local, The Hand-post, and asked for Tequila. They had none. I asked for gin instead and a small packet of Smith’s Crisps. In those days each packet came with a tiny blue bag of salt, which you sprinkled as you wanted on the crisps.
I sat in the shadows of a wooden booth, regarded my gin and tonic, its garnish of lemon, and tried to remember how it was done. I’m easily embarrassed, but fortunately the pub was half empty. Just as well. It didn’t make a pretty sight: sucking a lemon, licking a small mound of salt and downing neat gin in a gulp. It didn’t taste very nice either.
But infinitely preferable to what was to come.
Somewhere around the Great Salt Desert, I bought a large bottle of Mezcal, its tiny cactus worm curled and defiant floating at the bottom.
Yes, like all those tired, sad drinkers everywhere, I’d heard about the hallucinogenic worm, and had no qualms in chewing it. Suck it and see, as they say, and I figured I’d earned my dues with that miserable gin and salt concoction all those years before.
The first taste of Mescal was…interesting, before my mouth seized up. I’d never tasted alcoholic diesel until then. I tried it again, and admitted defeat. There was no way I was going to drink this, and the worm knew it and glowered in triumph.
‘Mix it,’ Roland said, and a sense of purpose returned. This guy had come second in an Austrian cocktail championship. ‘You can disguise anything in a good cocktail.’
We tried it with orange, and lime; we tried it with gin, vodka, lemonade; we tried it with everything we had on board, and made emergency stops at out of the way off-licenses, but to no avail. Every time we thought: this it, success, evolution Vs the worm - a taste like smoked petrol seeped through tongue, mouth and oesophagus. We could, of course, have taken it half-a-teaspoon at a time, but life was too short.
And yes, we could have simply tipped the entire contents of the bottle into the earth – our little bit for the Texan oil industry. But that went against the grain of all I hold holy. We either drank it or we didn’t and the worm went free.
Just outside New Orleans, the worm went free, probably now part of a voodoo gris-gris, one of immense power and malevolence.