Saved by the bellow

This past Christmas a single young man of my acquaintance, (let’s call him Fred), did a tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and one of the pre-arranged highlights was to be a visit to a distillery.

Knowing this, his boss, something of a whiskeyphile, told him to buy something really, really special. This, said the boss, the company would pay for, and said bottle would only be opened in celebration of something really, really special, such as the unveiling of a new branch of their chain of shops.

Thus it was that Fred visited the Jameson’s distiller in County Cork where he was allowed to bottle his own bottle of 25 year old Jameson Extra Special Reserve.

To which the master distiller affixed a fancy hand-written label, and added a hand-written certificate of authenticity, the bottle and label and the certificate then being placed with due reverence into a special box, which was duly sealed with sealing wax.

Naturally, this little effort came at some price, and it would be ungentlemanly of me to reveal just how much, so let’s just say that the amount was roughly similar to the GDP of a small African state.

Fred proceeded to carry this bottle in his luggage through Ireland, Wales, Southern England and home, where he deposited it in what he calls his “whisky drawer” in his office desk, the same drawer that he fills with all the presents given to him by suppliers, and from which he dispenses presents to customers when necessary.

Fast-forward to May. South Africa has been in lockdown for nearly two months, booze sales are banned, the populace is becoming desperate, and Fred is booked off work, seriously ill (with something other than the ‘rona), not able to speak clearly, anxious, ratty, depressed and high on some serious prescription drugs.

Meanwhile, in the evening of Day 50 of the lockdown, at Fred’s house, his lodger (let’s call her Caroline) had retired to her bedroom for the night to read. By and by she heard Fred, in the lounge, answer his phone. “Mutter mutter, yes… yes, of course… NO DON’T OPEN IT!!!!!!!” (SHOUTY caps intended). From years of arguing with his siblings and yelling at the television during rugby matches Fred has very well developed lungs, and the volume and anguish of his bellow brought Caroline out of her room at a sprint.

What had happened? Was Fred hallucinating?? Had he had a fit? Had he fallen off the couch???
And thus did the tale unfold. One Little Johnny, the son of one of Fred’s friends at work, turned 18 on Day 50 of the lockdown. And so the father, we’ll call him Claude, wanted to give Little Johnny something special for his birthday.

A really nice bottle of whisky, perhaps… But there’s a ban on sales of booze because of the lockdown.

So, knowing Fred usually has a stock of normal Jamesons and other whiskies in his whisky drawer, Claude turned to his old friend for help.

Would Fred let him have a bottle of whisky to give to Little Johnny, said bottle to be replaced after the lockdown?

Of course, said Fred, and he phoned his secretary to tell her to give Claude a bottle from the whisky drawer…

And so, over at Claude’s house, Little Johnny was duly presented with his father’s gift, and father and son set about opening the box, to enjoy the rite of passage of Little Johnny’s first legal drink.
But the lockdown, and the booze sales ban, had resulted in Fred’s whisky drawer becoming depleted, until very few bottles remained, including the special sealed box, the significance of which had escaped Fred’s secretary. So, when told to give a bottle to Claude she had done so, not wishing to disobey an order from her quite clearly sick and unhappy boss.

And Claude, likewise, thought nothing of it (Fred often spreads largesse of presentation bottles about), until he and Little Johnny battled to open the case because of the unique wax seal. And then, of course, he saw the hand-written label….

And to his eternal credit (Claude is a bit of a dipsomaniac), he realized something wasn’t right, and phoned Fred. “Fred, are you SURE I should give this bottle to Little Johnny?” “Yes, of course, why not?” “Well, we battled to break the box open, and the bottle’s got a hand written… …”

So poor Little Johnny will have to wait a little longer for something special to drink, and it sure as hell won’t be a 25 year old Extra Special Reserve.