Christmas Eve at Oddbins is doing exactly what Christmas Eve should do at Oddbins. The Liverpool store is thronged beyond all known laws of physics, and a sweet-natured queue snakes from the counter to the back of the shop and round on itself to the front door. Who in their right mind would think this was a good time to get the tasting samples out?
"Ello darli-er, good afternoon madam!" But of course. Hello, Crazy Chimp. "I see you're feasting your minces on our gins, I've got a lovely one here you'll enjoy. You're not driving, are you? Oh, good, there you are, Christopher Wren Gin from the City of London Distillery. Mmm, nice palate, liquorice and oranges going on there, very Christmassy. Handsome bottle too, looks just like St. Paul's Cathedral. So that's two masterpieces with Wren's name for the price of one! Tell you what, I'll let you enjoy it in peace while I go and pop one under the counter for you..." And he scuttles away on his knuckles, to charm somebody else.
At the end of the counter, a whisky lover is being told things by a chimp who has a slight smell of old books and a charming aura of forgotten academia. "...and Masataka Taketsuru, who established the distillery in 1934," instructs Curious Chimp, "was the first Japanese person to study whisky-making at Glasgow University. His Nikka From The Barrel is decidedly high in alcohol - 51.4%! But rather than merely making it hot, the extra abv adds depth, weight and richness, don't you think? Orange peel, cedar, woody spice - true decadence and indulgence, 50cl of Christmas. And the packaging? So stylish. If Blue Note was a distillery instead of a jazz label, they'd have made things that looked like this. Give me a bottle of this and a Horace Silver CD and I'll happily come and make Christmas dinner for you. As long as it's nut roast!"
In the corner of the room, a roguish chimp is telling a group of rum aficionados about the time he and his old chum Shifty had to flee to Venezuela in a borrowed Jaguar. Crafty Chimp is no stranger "...heh, heh, heh, and no sooner had she finished peeling my banana than in walks her brother - turns out he was the bloody ambassador!"
"That's one diplomatic incident I won't be returning to in a hurry, I can tell you, but this Diplomatico Exclusiva rum really is something you can go back to without a forged passport. It has the kind of gravitas that could get a chap out of any scrape - brown sugar and liquorice underneath delicious dried fruit peel and toffee characters - and it rather lends itself to be taken neat. Drunk au naturel, so to speak. Which takes me back rather neatly to the ambassador's sister..."
Wandering around the shop with an empty bottle of Brockman's Gin and a beautific smile is Loveable Chimp. He is trying to get people to smell his empty bottle, and though he hasn't quite got them in the palm of his hand, he isn't giving a monkey's. It's Christmas Eve and his family and friends are all in the one place, and they are in their element, helping to choose gifts and treats for his beloved regulars, and everybody is in the very best of heart and humour. He is surrounded by people and chimps who are giving a shit this Christmas, and this, he muses as his smile grows even wider, is the true spirit of the season.
Although, that Nikka whisky was pretty decent, it has to be said...
Thanks to all of you for another extraordinary year. Merry Christmas! x