Celtic Illumination, part 146, A rose by any other name.
As I mentioned before, we were spoiled in the air force, we didn’t really have to do anything for ourselves, which with hindsight, is not a very good preparation for civvy life. All I had to do was fill out an application form and two weeks later was given a fully furnished three bedroomed house. And when I say fully furnished I mean right down to the knives, forks and spoons. There was a huge rigmarole about actually getting a married quarter; to take one you had to officially ‘March in’ and of course when leaving you had to ‘March out.’
There was an awful lot of rumour and urban myth surrounding married quarters. The required standard of cleanliness on a ‘march out’ was legend and poor old wives would spend weeks scrubbing and decorating their quarter as a matter of pride. Even the dishes had to be spotless and one chap I remember telling, or warning me, about his married quarter experience was Gary Palmer, who was a big, rugby flavoured, fellow. Gary was not prepared to be messed about by anyone and like many of us felt that during one ‘March out’ he was being picked on.
There was a wooden coffee table in the living room and the officer in charge pointed at it and declared that it would have to be replaced and he would therefore charge Gary for it. Gary then smashed the coffee table and declared that if he was paying for it, theoretically, the table was now his and he could do what he wanted with it. Normally the table would have been left where it was and God only knows what would have happened to the money. In the kitchen, the officer declared that the dishes had been left to drip dry and were streaky; therefore Gary was to be charged for a set of dining plates. It was after Gary had thrown the third dining plate out through the open kitchen window that the officer realised he wasn’t going to win with Gary and charged him with nothing else.
I of course respected my little, or should I say our little house. Most of the people I knew and associated with, on the married patch, were ardent home brewers. I was able to move my still from the cellar of the Lodge into our small third bedroom. Most of us would have been keen gardeners but only to grow produce to turn into booze. Even the compost heap would have been carefully looked after, in fact at any party the men, if needing to relieve themselves, would have been encouraged to go into the garden and pee on the compost heap, as this was known to promote better decomposition.
I loved old books, still do, and one of my prize possessions was an ancient cook book in which I had found a recipe for marrow rum. Strangely enough, after reading that recipe, half of the cultivated area of my garden was devoted to growing marrows. Other people grew different veg, for example Jon Hampson was a great home brewer and produced the most excellent strawberry wine. It was just as good as anything we would have bought in a bottle, but to give it that little personal touch Jon would drop a frozen strawberry into your glass, which really topped it off.
I was quite excited with my marrow rum recipe especially as the recipe stated that, rather than place a container under the marrow to collect the rum, it was easier to lie underneath it and allow the liquid to drop into your mouth, which would save you falling over having drank it. There was another recipe in the book which I was desperate to try and that was rose petal wine. This would involve a number of extra skills which I seemed to possess.
The first extra skill was to get up very early in the morning and, just as dawn was breaking, to raid every garden in married quarters and steal all the rose petals. It was the only way I could gather enough rose petals. Watton didn’t have a public park and with the way the married quarters were arranged, it was pretty easy to work my way along, through all the back gardens, without being seen or caught. I followed the recipe, boiling up the rose petals and adding the sugar and yeast, all I had to do now was wait.
It was quite funny that evening coming home from work and seeing the RAF police investigating the scene of the crime. I couldn’t believe that coppers were going from door to door investigating the offence of the century. I didn’t worry that I would be caught any time soon. In fact a couple of the girls had reported that they thought they had been followed, in the evening, as they returned to the married patch. The RAF police were on the ball, as were we. I was stood standing by the main gates when an RAF copper walked past. He was undercover, so I should not have been able to tell who he was, but the RAF shoes were a bit of a giveaway, however the huge earpiece hanging off the side of his head and the squeak and squawk of his ‘concealed radio’ sort of blew his cover, so to speak. To say that the RAF police were as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike is an understatement.
I liked to keep things simple and broke down the main alcohol producing process into easy steps. Basically I believed all that was needed was water, sugar and yeast. This got me thinking and the liquid with the highest sugar content that I could find was Crusha, a sort of thick syrup that was used to make flavoured milk shakes. I now turned this into wine, and not in a biblical sense, I wasn’t doing the old Jesus party piece I simply added water and yeast and left the demijohn in a dark, warm, place for two months.
If we had visitors I would ask what sort of wine they would like but rather than offer them the standard red or wine I would add orange, lime green, yellow or pink. If you decide to make some home based hooch I would recommend the marrow rum. Irene liked most of what I produced but her favourite tipple was a mixture of brandy and port. As her birthday was fast approaching I decided to buy the best bottles of port and brandy I could find. This involved asking the proprietor of the Crown hotel in Watton for advice. This found me stealing a bicycle at RAF Honington.
It was one of those situations where I had been to Honington to collect something or other and noticed a brand new RAF bicycle leaning against a wall. I felt it was my duty to liberate the bike, which would be a lesson to the person who had left it there, to be more security conscious with their belongings. As it was an RAF bicycle it wasn’t theft, not really. I swopped it for two bottles of the finest port that the proprietor of the Crown hotel had found in his cellar and along with a large bottle of brandy, gave Irene the finest drink she would ever have for her birthday.
I also remember the day that I opened the first bottle of rose petal wine. I was quite excited and wished I had been as creative as Jon Hampson and had had the foresight to freeze some individual rose petals so that I could have dropped one into each glass. My partner for the tasting session, and fellow sommelier, was Pete Chidgely. Peter and I were both working the evening shift, so had spent the day together getting into mischief. It was mid-afternoon and we decided that we should give the rose petal wine a go.
We were sensible, well; as far as rugby players go, and promised that we would only drink one bottle. We did only drink one bottle and it was a very pleasurably experience. The wine was a light pink colour but it actually smelled of roses. It was an interesting experience and as big roughy toughy rugby players we decided that perhaps it would be better if only the ladies drank this and we should only be seen drinking huge pints of frothing beer.
Peter went off to catch the bus to Honington and I wandered on foot to work at Eastern. It was only the next day when Peter and I got together again that we realised that we had both suffered a similar experience, due to the rose petal wine, which placed the rose petal wine into a different category all together. I had been lucky as I only had a ten minute walk to work, Peter, on the other hand had to endure a forty minute bus journey to Honington. And what was it we had both realised, well; rose petal wine, apart from being a very light aromatic and pleasant drink, for the ladies, was also now to be identified as the strongest laxative known to man.