On Christmas Eve back when I was sixteen years old, my friend Douglas and I drank a whole bottle of Bell’s whisky between us. This was not a good idea on many fronts, not least because we were at work at the time in the local video library (ask your parents, kids). In a drunken blur, I somehow made my way home safely, only to projectile vomit all over the Christmas tree and all the presents that had been placed beneath it. I was then dragged to the bathroom and next thing I remember was waking up on Christmas morning with acrid stench of whisky puke still thick in the air and nobody speaking to me. It would be a good thirty years before I could go anywhere near Scotland’s finest drink again and I have since discovered it is a very effective way to treat a common cold.
Whisky is always an emotive conversation subject, as nearly everyone seems to have a view, whether make or female. Politicians such as Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were great whisky enthusiasts and many tell me that it is a great accompaniment to smoking a fine cigar. In soap operas, it is usual practice when a character receives devastating news that they reach for the whisky bottle and down its contents like water. By the way, have you ever tried doing that? It’s just about the last thing you can glug like that, due to its corrosive effect as it passes your tonsils. It can also make you talk like Rab C. Nesbitt. Others tell me about its qualities as fighting juice and a couple of glasses could turn Mother Teresa into Jean-Claude Van Damme. No wonder in all those classic Hollywood Westerns of the 50s and 60s, it was non-stop gunfights and bar brawls, because all those saloon bars seemed to serve was whisky and nothing else! It didn’t matter if you were a double crossing poker player, a stranger from outta town or a bandit on the run, the gunslinger having a quiet whisky at the bar on his own, would soon be taking aim, once the effects of his beverage kicked in. Of course, after all the violence, he’d still be man enough to saunter up to bed the quivering blonde who had been watching all this from the top of the stairs in her tightly-laced corset.
Long before Playstations and Xboxes came along, these old Westerns used to be on the telly all the time when I was a kid and after watching them, we’d all be out in the streets playing “Cowboys and Indians” (you can guess which side I was always on?!?!). We’d try and talk like John Wayne or walk like Robert Mitchum, point our fingers like guns and make “Pee-owwww” noises, if we were playing at being cowboys. To be an Indian, you had to fire pretend bows and arrows and make strange “woo-woo” noises by waggling your finger in your mouth. All great fun as we took glee in “killing” each other and not quite as violent and bloodthirsty as “Fort Nite”. Occasionally – and especially at this time of the year – one or other of the movie channels will show one of those classic cowboy films, such as “Rio Grande”, “High Noon”, “The Sons of Katie Elder” or “Gunfight at the O. K. Corral” and if I am feeling nostalgic I can’t help but watch.
The only problem is that I am no longer that wide-eyed kid who sat in eager excitement when these films came on; no now I am a parent myself and I find my perspective has completely changed. I am now all cynical, scoffing and gawd help us, gone all health and safety when I watch. Why does every town only consist of a saloon, a jail, an undertaker and a bank? Where do people buy their food or their clothes? Why is there always a coffee pot brewing on every stove? Why is there no blood when people get shot? Why is it only old men that have beards? Why are the saddle on horses only held in place by a blanket thrown over the horse’s back? Why do they call every stranger “amigo”? How easy would it be to rob a bar at night, when they only have those swinging saloon doors to keep people out? Why are there power lines crossing the corral scene in “True Grit” when the film was supposed to be set in 1890? and why oh why oh why oh why o why did they only serve whisky in the saloon? If they had served tea or milkshakes or lemonade instead, maybe the West might not have been so wild….