Before Bacardi Breezers there was Taboo and Mirage.
It was New Year’s Eve. I was about 14 and my best friend Ali was spending the evening with us. We were all – me, my brothers, Ali, my mum and dad – going to a house party with friends of my parents in the village.
It was a bring a bottle kind of a party and when we arrived, Rene waved us through to the kitchen. “Just dump everything on the table in there and help yourselves.” We followed her instructions. At first we drank non-alcoholic stuff or the little bottles of French beer that my parents had taken along. After a couple of those we got braver and started to check out the other bottles on the table. Ali and I and my eldest brother, Jim, looked at each other, a plan forming in our minds. I’m not sure who voiced it first, but we all had the same germ of an idea sitting there. “We should try *all* of these.”
I don’t remember now what else was on the table and how much of it we drank. All I know is that there was a red bottle of Taboo and a yellow one of Mirage – and we were going to drink them at midnight. Everything we did before then would lead up to this one, revealing moment when we finally got to try these glamorous, gloriously tacky drinks.
The evening went on. We drifted around in our little teenage gang of three, shuffling awkwardly whenever adults tried to talk to us and every so often heading back to the kitchen to whisper conspiratorially about the midnight plan. “Taboo and Mirage, yes? Yes.” Somewhere along the way we lost track of time. We were outside in the garden when somebody shouted that it was 11:55 – “Is everybody ready?!” Jim, Ali and I raced into the house as the countdown started. The kitchen table was covered in empty bottles and full ashtrays. We fumbled through them to the centre, where the bottles of Taboo and Mirage still stood, conspicuously untouched. Downing whatever it was that we had in our glasses, we unscrewed the caps of the bright yellow and red bottles. “What do we do with them?” someone asked. “Are they mixers, or what?” None of us knew the answer and we didn’t have time to debate. Besides, there was nothing left to mix them with even if that was what we were supposed to do. We poured hefty freehand sloshes of both into all three of our glasses. “10 … 9 … 8 … 7 …” We stood, poised, glasses to our lips, smelling the sickly-sweetness of the liqueurs under our noses. I don’t know about Ali and Jim, but I was already more than half-regretting this dare. There was no turning back now, though. “3 … 2 … 1 … HAPPY NEW YEAR!” We looked at each other, raised our glasses, and drank.
Jim managed to down his in one, but I made the mistake of sipping it first and all was lost. Ali, next to me, had dribbled it down her chin and was giggling so much that I started laughing, too. Every time I tried to knock my glass back I would choke with laughter again. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what Taboo and Mirage taste like, but I do know that they’ll always remind me of a night standing by a scarred, wooden kitchen table, giggling fit to burst.
This story was written as part of the Scintilla Project, as a response to the day one prompt, ‘Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally able to do so.’
I’m 14 years old, and living with a host family in Brittany for the summer to improve my French. The family is made up of Grandmère and Grandpère, their daughter, and their granddaughter, four-year-old Sixtine. Sixtine treats me as her personal plaything, and finds it hilarious when I get things wrong. But how can you not know that, ignoramus?! Every day when I come home from summer school she pounces on me and orders me to sit with her while she watches Livre de la Jungle. Apparently I am Collonell’Artee. I decide it’s best not to analyse whether that’s a compliment or an insult.
After the film, Sixtine drags me out to her den in the garden, bread and jam in hand to keep us going until suppertime. The jam is homemade by Grandmère, and delicious. The sweetness of gooseberry jam, thick with fruit, spread generously over unsalted butter on rough-torn hunks of baguette will always make me think of that summer in France. Even the smell of it bounces me straight back to a time when I could forget that I was the odd one out who couldn’t hold a proper conversation and instead concentrate on being a bossy, elderly, male elephant playing with a four year old monkey.
One day when I get home from school Sixtine runs up to me, bursting with self-importance. Kate! Look! She presents me with her pink plastic beach bucket, filled to the brim with what look to be razor clams and a type of tiny black sea snail. I admire her booty with oohs and aahs. It’s not easy to be effusive with my limited vocabulary, but Sixtine seems satisfied at my attempts, and roots around to find the very biggest clam in the bucket for me.
Grandmère puffs out of the kitchen with a concerned look on her face. She gestures towards the bucket in which Sixtine is foraging with glee. Kate. Tonight we’re eating … these. Grandmère’s face is anxious as she waits for my reaction. I must look dumbstruck, as she puts her hands up with a smile. Non, non – I understand. I’ll make something else for you. I run after her as she heads back towards the kitchen – she’s misunderstood my expression. The horror on my face, far from being revulsion at the thought of eating (thanks to Sixtine’s enthusiastic rummaging, by now probably very dazed) molluscs, is caused by the fact that she would think I’d turn down fresh, delicious shellfish. Untying my tongue, I stammer in stilted French that not on her life am I missing out on clams collected a mere hour earlier. Grandmère claps her hands in excitement and cries, ‘Vraiment! Tu n’es pas Anglaise. Non – t’es Bretonne.’ before bustling back to the kitchen wreathed in smiles.
That evening at dinner I am, for the first time, truly one of the family.
Archipelago is the place to go if you fancy something different for dinner. They specialise in the weird and wonderful – from bugs to exotic meats to seriously strong drinks. Happily, however, there is more to the food than just its novelty value.
I started with crocodile marinaded in chilli and garlic, wrapped in blackened vine leaves and served with a plum dipping sauce. Two of the other diners had eaten crocodile before and both proclaimed that it had been fishy-tasting and not very pleasant. This, however, was delicious. The meat is dense and white and satisfyingly filling, and the charcoal taste of the vine leaves took the edge off the heat of the marinade. A caramelised duck breast served with pomegranate and pistachio nut salad was also excellent, the sweet sauce being particularly good. Peacock-on-a-date served with a tomato and vanilla confit, however, failed to excite. The vanilla was overpowering and the peacock meat itself somewhat dry.
For the main course, I plumped for peanut-crusted wildebeest, served with a lemon balm soba noodle salad and a garlic and ginger dipping sauce. The meat was disappointingly tough and the salad insipid. Zebra served with a port, juniper and blackcurrant sauce, however, was fantastic, the meat being like a particularly succulent beef steak, and the sauce providing a sweet, tangy contrast. The love-bug salad which many of us decided to try was also good, being a green salad in an enjoyably spicy warm chilli dressing, served with two crickets and three locusts. The bugs were, from the taste of them, marinaded in garlic and then deep fried. There is actually very little taste to the insects themselves – it was rather like eating somewhat substance-less king prawns.
For pudding, the obvious choice was chocolate-covered scorpion served with a shot of Sauternes. Once again, there was very little substance to the scorpion. If it hadn’t been for the extreme crunchiness of the shell, one would be forgiven for thinking that it was merely a chocolate mould. A rather more exciting choice, taste-wise, was the baby bee brulee. This was an orange-blossom honey and stem ginger creme brulee, served with white chocolate honeycomb and a tiny bee with the sting removed. The bee itself burst in the mouth like a ripe berry, releasing a surprisingly tangy, honeyed taste. The brulee was deliciously creamy, the ginger counteracting the richness.
Looking back on the evening, Archipelago wasn’t the best choice for a large group (there were 13 of us). All dishes are cooked to order and the space itself is small. I would happily go back again, but only as part of a much smaller group – four maximum, although I think the ideal would be an intimate tête-à-tête. Just make sure that your date has a strong sense of adventure.
(This review was originally published 27 June 2007)
Apparently ladylike fashion is back in again. Now, I’m all for that- tunics and skinny jeans do absolutely nothing for women like me, who have what is known as a ‘classic’ figure – but I’m beginning to notice a disturbing trend. Last night on ‘What Not To Wear’, a dress was described as ‘empire-line’. However, to me it looked as if it was fitted at the waist. For those who don’t know about the various codes of women’s clothing, empire line means that the skirt falls from just below the bust – think Jane Austen and you’ve got it.
Then this morning, as I browsed the online store of a certain well-established women’s clothes shop, I noticed a lovely dress which was also advertised as ‘empire-line’, despite having a belt that sat squarely on the waist. So I decided to check the sizing guide on the website. I quote:
“Waist positions have got lower over the last few seasons, so we don’t tend to wear things fitted into the smallest part of the waist just below the rib cage anymore.
What you’re looking for is your ‘natural waist’. To find it, put your hands just above your hip bones in line with your navel, then measure around at this level.”
Sigh. Now I understand that traditional waist measurements for clothes that sit on one’s hips (as has been the fashion in recent years) are somewhat redundant. However, that is surely why we measure both waist and hips. If the garment doesn’t sit on the waist, then measure the hips instead. Logical, no? Evidently not.
Quite apart from being cause for a rant, though, I’m worried about waistlines dropping. Women through the ages have had to fight to keep everything in the right place as they age. My waist was the one bit of me that I thought was guaranteed to stay put. If it’s now 2 inches lower than I thought it was, what hope for the – er – curvy bits of me? Plus, from the point of view of pure vanity, my ‘natural waist’ is about 6 inches bigger than my proper waist, and up with that I will not put – bring back corsets, I say!
(This post was originally published elsewhere in August 2007)