Category Archives: Why is it so?

Prohibition; Good-bye, Farewell and Amen

For eleven moons dear Reader, alcohol has not passed my lips.

I’m not ill, just still carrying a little Christmas cheer so have imposed Prohibition at home for a month. Well, nearly a month. Not Leap Day. Leap Day is for fun.

By the looks of the New Hampshire Primary, there’s a chance that the USA could be aboutjan-16-1919-prohibition-begins-usa-506x270 to slide into its dumbest policy-making era of all time (seriously guys, Trump?), but to date, the post-WW1 years seem to hold that mantle.

See in January 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the USA made it illegal to sell or manufacture alcohol in the USA, a law that lasted until its repeal in December 1933 with the passing of the 21st Amendment. Phew!
It’s pretty hard to pass an amendment to the Constitution. Of the nearly 12,000 proposed since 1789, there have been 27 ratified. Still guys, how about we aim for 28 and see if we can stop kids getting shot at school hey?

prohibition-posterThe 18th Amendment was intended to reduce crime.

As a policy, it was about as successful as the cracker 1935 plan of introducing cane toads to Queensland to control the cane beetle. Zero impact on the cane beetles, major environmental damage. Genius.

Prohibition simply pushed the industry underground and allowed the mafia to control the black market. Genius.2016-01-12 19.44.21

It also pushed all the good bartenders of the era off-shore. Many, like Eddie Woelke, went to Cuba and used their time wisely to create fabulous new cocktails.

Like another IBA Official Cocktail, the Mary Pickford – if you want to know more about the wonderful Mary, her celebrity gang that makes Kimye look like amateurs, and her pretty pink rum, grenadine and pineapple juice cocktail, (pictured here from Sydney’s Pilu at Freshwater), here’s where Liz Ellis and I discussed it on ABC Radio in January. 

5704707423_4fd4751ba4Cuba in the 1920s was known as the Paris of the Caribbean (and I’m assuming it wasn’t because as soon as you walk out of your hotel you tread in dog shit like I did on my first visit to Paris). In his 1928 book “When it’s cocktail time in Cuba”, Basil Woon described Cuba as being “a land where personal liberty and climate are blended in just the right setting of beauty and romance.” So like Schoolies Week then but less bogan.

Things were looking great for Cuba and anyone who could afford to jet down there from the USA for cocktail hour, but back in the Land of the Free, thirsty folk turned to making moonshine and bathtub gin. It was called “gin” because it was light in colour (gin and vodka are not aged in wood and therefore do not colour like other spirits), but would not have resembled gin as we know it today in any other way. Bathtub gin refers to any type of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions.

Like they did in M*A*S*H, with The Still.mash-season-3-episode-7-19-95bd

Ours was a big M*A*S*H household and I was really sad to hear on New Year’s Day that Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre on the first three series, had died.

These first few weeks of 2016 have been tough in farewelling people we might not have known but who have played important parts in our lives. Rogers was one of those for me.

Wayne Rogers was born in Birmingham, Alabama, 30 years before it became the centre of the civil rights struggle and Martin Luther King Junior wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In the letter, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

73108b5ece1d52e363b3ae950afd530aIn many ways, similar themes were explored in M*A*S*H, and although a comedy, it has been influential in my understanding of social justice and in seeing how comedy can so skilfully challenge our thinking on serious issues.

M*A*S*H also had a recurring theme of railing against absurd rules, and The Still was a great example of that.

I have battled through a lot of reading with words like “ethanol” and “methanol” and still don’t still_smithsonianunderstanding the home distillation process. General consensus though is that this still (which was one of three used in the show’s 11 years and is apparently in a box at the Smithsonian Institute somewhere) would not have worked and certainly couldn’t have made gin.

Closest thing it could have made – according to the chemistry-types who haunt the M*A*S*H forums – is Baijui, a Chinese alcohol made from grain. Or possibly vodka. And if you go HERE, some bright entrepreneur will sell you a 2015-12-09 17.13.29kit to make your very own.

With the amount of good local gin available now though – and I highly recommend Poor Tom’s from Marrickville – please don’t ask me to try your home-brew.

But the alcohol wasn’t the point of The Still.

The point was in the excision of a small amount of control and pleasure in an absurdly regulated environment.

Enduring themes, but not all TV sitcoms age well.

Case in point, look at this 8 minutes of gold below with the intro to 1981’s “Julie’s Wedding” when The Love Boat came Down Under. To Australia mate. Where everything is SO FAIR DINKUM.

Things of some note: “whacko” means good in Australian, if you’re confused, you feel “all up a gum tree” and Harry Morgan, who played M*A*S*H’s Colonel Potter was a guest star in the episode, alongside Tiny the Kangaroo and Elizabeth the Koala.

M*A*S*H though, still stands up as good viewing.  THIS CLIP combines Benny Hill music with some great M*A*S*H moments.

Sure, there is lot that hasn’t aged so well, like the treatment of Major Margaret Houlihan (particularly in the movie and earlier series) and the source of Trapper’s nickname. Robert Hooker’s book that inspired the movie and the TV series details John McIntyre being caught in a train toilet with a young woman who says “he trapped me”. This hilarious anecdote would – and should – now be referred to as “sexual assault”.102_abduction_margaret_houlihan

But the likes of Trapper and Hawkeye and Klinger and of course Colonel Flagg are important parts of my childhood. Every time a former cast member dies, I’m saddened. Here, watch this and you can be sad too.

Someone who isn’t in that video is Patrick Swayze, who appeared in one episode of M*A*S*H where he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Swayze, you’ll remember played Johnny in 1988’s Dirty Dancing. Like Cocktail, I have seen this movie several hundred times as part of my commitment to excellence in usheretting (it was the 80s, we were usherettes) and can recite it AND the words to THIS SONG.

What I didn’t know was that Swayze actually wrote it as well as singing and brooding so successfully in the clip that makes me seasick.

Something you may have missed is that in 2004, some bright spark decided to make a prequel “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”. Set in 1958 Havana, when being American and wealthy may have been losing its cache in Cuba, it has EXACTLY the same plot as Dirty Dancing, just with Cuban music. Swayze plays a small role as a dance instructor, but more interesting is to see Mad Men cast members January Jones (Betty Draper) and John Slattery (Roger Sterling) in roles I suspect they don’t talk about too often.

Perhaps they can blame the booze. After all, it’s what Homer Simpson in Homer vs the 18th Amendment toasts, “To Alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

As for me, I haven’t repealed my personal 18th Amendment so I’m off to get a sparkling water.

Vale Wayne Rogers.


Pour the lady a whisky

As someone whose name is routinely spelled with an extra “e”, I’m conscious of correct spelling of names. Animate and inanimate.

And so it is with whisky. Is there an “e” in it or not?

The answer is yes.

Back in early 1980s Br909079-sir-joh-bjelke-petersenisbane, family from overseas would come through the arrivals gate at the tin shed that served as Brisbane Airport and present a bottle.

Duty Free Scotch. Usually Glenfiddich. I had no idea what it was, but it wasn’t a time or place likely to be remembered for its sophistication. So any bottle that had to be hand-delivered internationally must have been exotic.cq5dam-web-1280-1280

It was never referred to as “whisky” and it took me some years to work out that Scotch actually is whisky. Even longer to work out that whisky ain’t always Scotch.

And then the two spellings, and this time it isn’t just the Americans playing funny buggers with the language.

So here we go. “Whisky” generally comes from Scotland, Australia, Japan or Canada.

“Whiskey” is generally from Ireland and the USA. I say generally, because Makers Mark and George Dickel, both of which hail from the USA, opt to drop the E.

A helpful way to remember it is that countries that have an E in their names, have an E in their whiskey. Generally. Everything goes to hell with this system now with the Kiwis making whisky from the Scottish-influenced South Island, but generally.

E or no E, like a martini, it seemed to me a drink for grown-ups.540

It also seemed likely to be a critical element in my chosen career. Back then, I was going to be a journalist, and had shaped my career aspirations from two sources; the Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter books, and the countless movies where hard-bitten but scrupulous journos would down a few belts after work and GET THE SCOOP.

Since my uncle didn’t own a newspaper like that prissy Sally Baxter’s did, clearly the booze was going to be of major importance to me.

But the news-hounds portrayed in the movies were mostly men. There are plenty of movies where you see anchorman-scotchmale journos confidently downing whisky but not enough Tess Hardings.

Katharine Hepburn played Tess Harding, Foreign Correspondent in the 1942 film, “Woman of the Year”. She played opposite Spencer Tracy for the first time in this film and kindled their journalistic romance over a couple of scotches in THIS CLIP. Being a young romantic, I thought it a portrayal of a wonderful marriage of hearts and minds and wanted a relationship just like it.

And when you consider that there were 26 states in the whiskey-with-an-e USA where women were legally prevented from being bartenders until well into the 1970s, is pretty amazing (Wall Street Journal covers this here). Possibly too amazing for some.

woman-of-the-year-1942Of course Sam tired of Tess’ brilliance and second-fiddling to her career and the whole marriage was imperilled until she donned an apron. He redeems himself somewhat by not letting her give the whole thing away, but it was definitely happier in the early scotch-drinking days (and given KH was dating Director George Stevens when production started and dating ST when production ended, maybe the apron thing was Stevens’ parting gift to her).

Five decades later the entire plot was lifted and bastardised for Up Close & Personal. If you managed to miss it, it’s a Michelle Pfeiffer offering of similar quality to Tequila Sunrise and also involving kissing in the ocean and THIS song which features orange lipstick and many shots of news-hounds at work and play.

MP plays the absurdly-named Tally Atwater, a television journalist who apparently “eats the camera”, sports a revolving door of hairstyles and endures no end of man problems with another genetically-blessed serious media type, Robert Redford.2f8a7199c499efa61995c303190280f4

I won’t be ruining anything for you by telling you that Robert Redford’s character – Warren JUSTICE – was killed off before he could demand that Tally stop being so damned successful and get back into his shadow.

But Tally Atwater is more Rita Hanson than Tess Harding which is not a good thing. Probably another goddamned vermouth drinker.

But Katharine Hepburn, now there’s a woman.

35And when I finished high school, in one of those things that seem so important at the time but
within about three weeks had faded into complete irrelevance, I was given a Katharine Hepburn book as a prize for Speech and Drama. Kismet. I would follow her into journalism.

Except I didn’t. Didn’t get the marks for bloody journalism, did I?

But I did get the book.

So I know that KH was born in Hartford Connecticut which 80’s girls will remember featured heavily in Sweet Dreams books and which you likely won’t know is considered the world insurance capital. Take that Paris!

But Hartford is a helluva town, especially for lovers of reading and writing.

Amongst notables from Hartford are Mark Twain (author of Huckleberry Finn) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of influential abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and reportedly the woman to whom Civil War President Abraham Lincoln said “so you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war”). Two books Tess Harding specifically (and a little pretentiously) mentions to Sam Craig during the scotch-drinking courtship.

I suspect there’s a lot about this movie that was meaningful to Katharine Hepburn. As well as meeting the love of her life (who regrettably may have been a bit of a dinosaury-shit in reality), her character paid tribute to her aunt, Ellen Whitcomb, a real mover and shaker in the feminist movement.

Like Katharine Hepburn’s mother – Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Not only did KMHH host bad-arse women’s suffrage leader Emmaline Pankhurst on her USA visit, she founded the organisation that would become Planned Parenthood. And if ever there’s been an incontrovertibly good idea, it’s that becoming a parent – or not – is better if done as part of a PLAN.

So hats off and thanks to you, Katharine Martha Houghton Hepburn. Especially on behalf of girls who like a drink.

Because according to movies of the recent decades, if you’re of the fairer sex and drink whisky, expect to find yourself in trouble.

Like wild-girl Rizzo, who Drive-In scuttle-butt said had a bun in the oven.rizzo Fortunately it’s a false alarm for Rizzo so no need for any tough decisions before we Chang chang changitty chang shoobop. Phew.

Betty Rizzo was played by the kick-arse Stockard Channing (although soon to be distressingly recreated by High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens).

Channing’s acting credits are long and include journalist Marcia McGrath, a part written by another Hartford local, one John Gregory Dunne.

JGD was, for some 40 years before he dropped dead with a Scotch in his hand, the husband of writer and journalist Joan Didion, who inspired generations of writers – and not only because of how impossibly cool she Joan Didionlooks in this photo, but because of the beauty of her prose.

Like Katharine, Joan has inspired me as a writer and as a woman. Her coolness knows no bounds, and at age 80 was named the face of the Spring 2015 Celine collection. What a kick-arse – if underweight – woman.


And yet, no one is perfect.

See, Didion and Dunne – another marriage of hearts and minds – collaborated to write the screenplay for a movie that would feature a song sung by another Celine. Yep, Up Close & Personal.

I need a scotch.



PS In one of those lovely quirks of fate, when I looked at the
bookplate in my Katharine Hepburn book for the first time in over a decade, I found this. An extra E.Book plate.jpg

Well played Universe.