Getting religion

Getting religion

Michael Jackson has a glass of Glenn Hoddle with John Diamond

Musings with Michael Jackson | 16 Jun 2001 | Issue 16 | By Michael Jackson

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Did I ever tell you about the young guy who introduced me to whisky? I was 18 and working as a journalist on a newspaper in Edinburgh. One day, I was in the office pub with my best buddy, a Scot, when he began spoiling for a fight with me. Scots sometimes do this after a drink or ten. The punch-up is a form of bonding: “What kind of buddy are you if you won’t have a fight with me?” I pointed out that I matched him beer-for-beer. “But you never have a nip with your beer,” he mocked. When I recall my reply, I stun even myself. “I don’t like whisky.” Did I really say that? “You have never had a single malt,” he said. He then bought me a nip of Glen Grant 12. One sip led me down a road that would change my life – the road to Damascus (well, Dalwhinnie). Whisky led my buddy down another road. We lost touch. Forty years later, I was presenting a public tasting in a small town in Asia when in he walked. He listened with interest but declined all offers of a taste. He had become an alcoholic, lost his job and family, and wound up on the streets. He found shelter in a Salvation Army hostel, fell in love with one of his carers and married her. They now run their own Christian bookshop. The Man Who Introduced Me To Whisky came to mind when I read a column by John Diamond in the Saturday magazine of The Times. In the last three or four years, most of Diamond’s pieces were about his encounter with cancer. His column would cheer me with its candour, clarity and humanity – avoiding inspirational saccharine.I thought Diamond might be amused by a column I once wrote about my whisky friend. I did not know Diamond but I e-mailed my article to him, explaining who I was and making clear that I did not wish for a reply. The same day, my computer announced the following reply – “Michael: Of course I know who you are. In the days when I could still taste the difference between Glen Grant and Glenn Hoddle, I had you as my whisky mentor. In return for yours, a true story. Doing a piece in the Highlands, I found myself in the Railway Hotel, Inverness. A tourist came in with his wife. He was too stereotypical for words: plaid trousers, day-glo green short-sleeved shirt, yellow blouson and Bing Crosby Tyrolean hat. “What,” he said to the barman, “is your best Scotch?” It was obviously the question the barman spent his long, cold nights waiting to be asked. “Weeeel sirrrr,” he started, “some swear by the Glen Ballyhochtechochty. It’s a sweetish malt, with overtones of coffee and raspberries. Then there’s The Pride of Gloam Reekie which is very popular too. 30 years old, matured in oak barrels which were used by the Bonnie Prince hissel’ to piss in they say ...” And so he went on for about 20 minutes with the tourist rapt and furrow-browed. This is what he’d travelled thousands of miles to hear. The barman got to the end of his speech: “But if Saint Gabriel hissel demanded at the Pearly Gates to know what I’d drink in heaven, I’d have to say the Dew of McSporran. It’s a delicate light amber, tart almost to the point of acidity, but with a clean, fresh aftertaste. Could I be getting you one of those, sir?” The tourist quickly replied: “You certainly can, barman ... with ice and plenty of lime.” And the barman didn’t miss a beat. Best – John”Between writing his column for The Times, another for The Sunday Telegraph, his screenplay and Heaven knows what else, Diamond found the energy to produce that vignette, for an audience of one, on January 22 this year. His last column appeared on February 24. He died on March 2, aged 47. Protocol demands that journalists never write other than for money: also that they behave with rat-like cunning. Having swooped on that story, I shall send my fee for this column to the address below. If you enjoyed John’s anecdote, or even mine, feel free to add a bawbie. The Head and Neck Cancer Trust, c/o Hunters, 9 New Square, Lincolns Inn, London, W12A 3QN
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