HELEN MUSA’s weekly arts column features opening concerts, exhibitions and shows in Canberra
IN 2015 my daughter was a waiter at 19. Through some strange synchronicity, I was a waiter/barman at 19. But that was in 1972. I want to share some of the differences and similarities between now and then.
For a start we both had ponytails, which we tied up, too, as part of the service routine. But hair is now a distant memory for me; luckily not for her.
Secondly, my daughter was required to undertake a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) course before she could commence work. One of the things the RSA taught her was how to assess and monitor the intoxication levels of patrons and how, diplomatically, to refuse service. She also learned how to measure standard drinks and advise patrons.
In NZ in 1972 where I tended bar and served as a waiter in an up-market reception centre (weddings, parties and serious attitude) we didn’t have RSA. We had Vince. Vince was a large person. He was charming and always wore a dinner suit. But he was also very strong and could apply a headlock with amazing speed, marching drunken or misbehaving patrons to the door with rapidity. And we had shot glasses to measure out the spirits, sized glasses for the beer and a “how much would you like” attitude to pouring wine; patrons would often say, when you left room in the glass for the wine to breathe, “fill it up, mate”. The emphasis was on the customers monitoring their own intake: in my view, the RSA philosophy puts too much responsibility on those running the business and those they employ. There should be a greater emphasis on customers’ responsible consumption of alcohol.
The third difference is that my daughter completed a bar service course at the Canberra Institute of Technology. I was helped by an Irishman (not a joke!) who knew more about beverages than was good for him and an English book that cost $NZ1.95 which I still possess. It’s called “All You Need to Know About Drinks” and, thankfully for me, it lived up to its title. In 64 pages it encapsulated a great deal of helpful material about wine, beer, making cocktails and insights into appropriate glassware. The last two pages even deal with what to do about hangovers.
And the great part about keeping hold of the book was that I could share with my daughter the wisdom and whimsy that its pages contain. Everybody should know that part of the décor of the tomb of Ptah-Hotep, who died about 4000 BC, shows the harvesting and pressing of grapes.
But on the subject of wine, the advice in the book is still excellent. The philosophy that is encapsulated in its pages is what I hope my daughter will apply now that she is on a working holiday in Europe. The book says: “Wine is like music – describing it in words means very little. The experience of other people is not much help but, in fact, understanding it for yourself is quite easy.”
The aim is to try things for yourself and tell others why you like particular wines, having regard to your own tastes and preferences. You need to know what you like and why others may or may not. For example, when you are young you tend to prefer sweet drinks, which seem sickly and mouth-dredging when you are older.
And the final similarity rings those bells. In 1972, my drink of choice was a screwdriver. This is simply equal amounts of vodka and iced orange juice. It tasted good because of the orange juice. The drink of choice that my daughter brought home in a six pack – a “juicy watermelon” vodka cruiser. I tasted one on a cloudy day as I was cleaning out the cupboard in the corner where the wine is kept. It tasted of nostalgia.