The first alcoholic drink that I enjoyed in my early teens was Martini Vermouth. I liked it neat with a piece of ice.
One evening, a wealthy relative invited my parents and me to join them at London’s Savoy Hotel, where they were staying. Before dinner, we had drinks in their suite. I must have been about fourteen then.
The room service waiter arrived, and we ordered drinks. I asked for my then usual Martini. Soon, the drinks arrived. I was handed a large glass tumbler with a thick base. It contained a clear liquid that did not look like Martini to me. Also, it did not smell like Martini, and its taste did not resemble anything I had drunk previously. Being a polite young fellow, I did not remark on it, but just sipped it slowly whilst the adults chatted.
When it was time to get up and descend to the dining room, I had an odd sensation. I stood up and looked at the floor which seemed to be undulating like the waves in the sea. Whatever I had drunk had gone straight to my head. What I had been served was not the dry Martini, which comes straight from the bottle, but the cocktail Dry Martini, which is mostly gin and only a dash of Martini. You live and learn.
Many years ago sometime during the 1980s, I spent New Year’s Eve in Belgrade, which was then the capital of a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia.
I was staying with my good friend Raša. He enjoyed a good party. We set out to attend one in New Belgrade, which was built after WW2 on the left bank of the River Sava, a tributary of the Danube.
The air was chilled when we left Dorčol, the old part of the city where Raša lived. There was an odour in the wintry air that I always remember: the smell of the smoke from the lignite that was burned in central heating units in the city.
As we travelled in the tram towards New Belgrade, my friend explained that many retired military personnel lived in New Belgrade. Many of these people kept guns and rifles in their flats.
Raša advised me to keep off the balcony and well away from windows as the last midnight of the year approached. The reason for this was that as the new year began, drunken people would begin firing their weapons to celebrate. There was a good chance both of being struck by poorly aimed bullets and by others that ricocheted when they struck walls and so on.
Midnight came and went, but I cannot remember hearing any gunshots. Maybe I had imbibed too much vodka and other highly alcoholic drinks such as sljivovitz and loza!
Now, Yugoslavia is only a fond memory as is my friend Raša. I last saw him in May 1990. He passed away several years later after having done much work to help refugees caught up in the civil wars that tore Yugoslavia apart.
It was the day after the much-loved fimstar Ambareesh died. He was a hero all over the Indian state of Karnataka. To respect him, alcohol sales were forbidden in Bangalore. It was what is called a ‘dry day’. One could not order any alcoholic drink at a bar, restaurant, etc.
So, being unable to order an alcoholic drink, I ordered Coca Cola.
“Coca Cola” the waiter queried, “it’s not available. Today is dry day, sir”
“But Coca Cola is not alcoholic” I protested, adding “Coke, you know”
“Ah, Coke, sir. I can bring you that,”the waiter said, at last understanding what I was trying to order.