By Michael Jackson

Foiling Freckles

Michael Jackson's summer season, boosted by Bell's
The first place I recall drinking beer that had been finished in a whiskey cask was Goose Island, the pioneering brewpub in Chicago. Now I can buy Innis and Gunn Oak Aged Beer, from Scotland, in my local Safeway in London. I hope you remember where your heard these things first.I was in Goose Island the other day when in walked my American friend Krecje. He was wearing shorts, so I knew it was not yet Thanksgiving. Knowing when holidays are due is not my forte. When Krecje’s knees vanish I can reflect upon the summer gone.In London, my friend Billie drinks only gin-and-tonic from the summer solstice to the Equinox, at which moment of equilibrium she reverts to Scotch whisky.In vain do I persist that the summer is the Whisky Season, the time of year when you can hunt the spirit to its source at festivals in Kentucky, on Islay and on Speyside. Summer then segues into fall and winter. From the Glorious 12th to St. Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay, Burns’ Night and St Patrick’s. Sounds pretty convincing to me. That’s the Whisky Season, too, isn’t it?This year, I invited my partner Freckles to the Islay Festival. She accepted. A holiday was due, she assured me. This meant, even on Islay, no working.It was her first time on Islay, and she loved it: visited Ardbeg and Bowmore, discovered the reborn Bruichladdich. I enjoyed it, too, but was caught working: I allowed nose and notebook to coincide at Bruichladdich.Freckles informed me that another holiday was imminent, and a further festival, at which whisk(e)y had no role. This was a literary festival, at which one of her favoured events was the annual performance by novelist, playwright, television screenwriter (After Henry), radio broadcaster and actor Simon Brett . This usually took the form of a newly written play written as a solo piece.I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw the stage set: a room littered with old files and a desk piled with paper. It looked uncomfortably close to home. The character Brett had created was a writer, in his 50s. As his narrative began, he was packing a suitcase. The excessively frequent packing of suitcases is another of my offences against nature.The writer was not very good at bringing projects to completion, spent too much time in bars (“hanging around with television people”), and had difficulty in sustaining long-term relationships with women.A critical problem with his womenfolk was their belief that his writing drew on their lives with him, revealing to his audience their most private moments.Brett called his alter ego Jim Carpenter. “Lots of writers get over the agony of being alone by collaboration: Galton and Simpson, Clement and Le Frenais, Carpenter and Bell’s.”At this point, he opened a filing cabinet and took out a half-empty bottle of Bell’s, raising it to his lips.Addressing the bottle, he thanked it for its contribution to his work.Addressing the audience: “That stuff about writers not being able to form relationships: Nonsense! Me and Bell’s…over 35 years and never a cross word.”No disrespect to Brett, who had just proven to Freckles that a writer cannot change his spots, but hasn’t his play a vehicle for product placement?Turns out that Bell’s features extensively in Brett’s work. He has written 17 novels about a detective whose characteristics include a taste for Bell’s.“Why did you decide that Charles Paris liked Bell’s?” I inquired. “I didn’t,” insisted Brett. “It was his idea. Charles Paris turned me on to Bell’s.”One of the Paris novels had a bottle of Bell’s on the cover. Without telling her son, Brett’s mother sent a copy to the then proprietors of Bell’s.The response was a friendly letter and two bottles of the whisky. A discussion ensued about a charitable donation by Bell’s, but that came to naught.“They must have read the book,” sighed Brett.