I am looking at a bottle, a dark one. Clan Campbell Pure Malt Whisky Aged 8 Years – declaims the label.

But I have started in mid-story. I am selling my mother’s flat in Cannes, on the exclusive Palm Beach peninsular. Less than five minutes walk to four great beaches. Only €320k if anyone is interested. ‘Why is it so cheap?’ I hear you ask. It’s by the railway line. If it were not, it would be a seven figure sum. We deal as we find. I am hoping to find either a train enthusiast or a deaf person.

My mother was 99 years old, bless her, in December. She is in a rest home, still very mentally alert, but she is tiny. Always was. Five feet nothing. She doesn’t like me hugely, never did. I was a 10-pound baby, so understandable really. To my immense chagrin, I only grew to 5 foot 11¾ inches … I could never manage that last bit to six feet. Damn! But it was sufficient to tower over her, which simply made matters worse.

I must have been a stupid child. She used to beat me with a wooden spoon, when I was naughty, and boy was I naughty! One day she broke the spoon on me and then admonished me for breaking it. I went out and bought her another. That was not clever for a nine-year old but she never beat me again as she clearly loved the spoon more than me.

Now, decades later, I have to sell her flat. My parents bought it some 40 years ago. My dad liked do-it-yourself and painting, he was very good at painting…

I drove 500 miles and stayed for two weeks. In that time, 40 years of accumulated stuff was sorted, given away or saved for posterity. 40 years of horrendous DIY was eliminated. Where his many paintings were taken down the walls looked as they did decades ago, except with loads of screw holes. So the whole place had to be painted, ceilings and walls, in August, in Cannes. 40° heat. Not good.

Back to the Clan Campbell. When clearing the flat, I discovered it. It was in an innocuous dark-coloured cylindrical presentation box.

Last night, back home, I was looking for a suitable nightcap and my eye alighted upon this box. When I extracted bottle from box, I discovered it had a smart black top with a Gaelic inscription in gold. I went to draw the top which held a cork but it crumbled! So I took a corkscrew to the remainder, eased it out with meticulous care and a miracle occurred. No cork had entered!

Then my reward. I poured out a small glassful and smelled the aroma. It was so smooth! I tasted the smallest sip and it was smooth. Regrettably, I have never developed a lexicon of olfactory terms, such as a sommelier might employ, due to childhood hay-fever. But by golly it was good!

So the question was: How old was it and where had it come from?

My guess is that she could have kept it for 20 years or more. The distillery no longer produces an eight year cask. Wine corks can last for centuries, so why not whisky corks? Whisky corks are rare. Is this, with its decomposition, an indicator of age?

Knowing that neither of them drank spirits, my hunch is that it got put away and forgotten. Probably they were given it as a gift. Knowing it to be expensive, they could neither dispose of it, nor use it. The classic ‘unwanted gift’ dilemma!

Of course, with presents like that, people sometimes recycle them as presents the following year to someone else! I know this to be the case because I once got back an expensive bottle, which we had given a friend, four years later but from someone else! I knew it was the bottle we had originally given, due to a tiny nick in the label which I had spotted when gift-wrapping it. I did not give it away again but drank it, as it was clearly meant for me!

This bottle will not go to waste. I still (groan!) have a bottle of Bushmills in the ‘medicine’ cabinet, which I was given in 1991 and ‘visit’ maybe once a year, perhaps even less. Not because I don’t like it – but because I want it to last.

But the ‘eight years old’ must now be 30 years if it’s a day, because no cork would diminish that quickly. On the assumption I am spared, by the time I drink the last drop, it might even be half a century old…

There is a thought to conjure with, on the feast of Saint Sylvester!

This chappie was Pope from 314 to his death on 31 December 335, hence he got the last slot in the saints’ days calendar and this day is actually called ‘Sylvester’ in Europe by many. Now, in one apocryphal account, he cured Constantine the Great of leprosy by the administration of water, possibly even a baptism. Maybe it was really whisky?

Happy New Year and may the Spirit be with you all!

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