Drink to this: Sipping at memories

Drink to this: Sipping at memories

When I was a teenager, babysitting at the hairdresser’s house, I swirled the Pims and lemonade in my glass and listened to the surf rolling, pulling and crashing in the darkness below. I can’t remember what I had on the record player, possibly David Bowie or Stevie Wonder. My memory would not have been helped by the reefer the father had tucked down the back of the couch for me before they left for their night out.

Ah … that was the 70s. Don’t tell my kids. On the few occasions I’ve come across Pims over subsequent decades, the taste had shot me straight back to those times when the world was an unknown wonder, possibilities were unlimited and I was young and lithe and pretty.

At a neighbouring beach, another night had me on my knees, howling at the moon after an evening sharing a bottle of orange juice-laced vodka with friends. I was weeping over an unrequited love, a stray dog running in circles around me and barking in alarm. Later, I crept up to the boy’s house and knocked on his window and we did, indeed, end up in a relationship for a while. He was one of many who died in the heroin epidemic of the 1980s. But, when I sip vodka, I remember him, loose-limbed, carefree and accident-prone.

Kahlua and milk was another staple of the 1980s. The drink of sophistication for young women who didn’t really like the taste of wine. Sniffing the neck of the gummed up old bottle at the back of my pantry shoots me back to summer nights at the old Newport Arms, with tow-headed lads with their sun-peeled noses and the all the tanned girls with frangipanis tucked behind their ears. There was a thrill of excitement when I came through the entrance. You never knew what might happen, who you may meet and every night became a story to dissect with your friends afterwards.

Gin – known as mother’s ruin – has been such a regular drink of choice that last year, when in Canberra with friends, I begged them to come up with another idea when I chested up to a bar, stocked with gleaming and colourful bottles. To order another G&T when there was so much choice seemed a waste. Now, in preparation for this series, I have learned to make negronis.

When I met my husband, who works in the tourism industry, I graduated from youth hostels and B&Bs to resort-style holidays, staying in plush rooms and suites across Asia. Emerging from the cold-conditioned rooms, I would be smothered by the humidity like a hot pillow. In that environment, a cold beer by the pool was a relief as I watched the families hang over their pool toys like lazy jellyfish in the water.  

My new series of cocktail paintings is available through Sarah Birtles Art & Design


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