28 January

Chinese Whisper image

It's Chinese New Year

So we are drinking a...

Chinese Whisper

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So tonight Chinatowns from San Francisco to London via Hong Kong and Singapore will be ablaze with lanterns and dancing dragons. There will be lucky fruit trees, round moon cakes, gift-giving and fireworks, plus red envelopes full of money for the children.

The year of the rooster begins today, the tenth animal and the only bird to appear in the 12-year cycle of animals in the Chinese zodiac. Whereas in English the term 'rooster' is quite specific, in Chinese the word is more generic, applying to barnyard fowl of either sex.

Were you born a rooster? Well, beware as according to Chinese astrology, the year of one's birth sign is the unluckiest in the 12-year cycle so fortune in all aspects of your life will not be very good.

If you are celebrating today, or if you are a rooster, perhaps commiserating, Happy New Year, and Happy Year of the Rooster. If you are not, why not join us in saying "Chin chin, China" with a Chinese Whisper Cocktail?

The word serendipitous was invented today

The word Serendipity means a fortunate happenstance or pleasant surprise. Well our cheerful discovery is that because this word was first used on this day in 1754 in a letter written by Horace Walpole, we can all today enjoy a Serendipity Cocktail created by Colin Field at the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

Walpole was describing to a friend an unexpected discovery he had made by referring to a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. The princes, he wrote, were "always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of".

It's Jackson Pollock's birthday

The father of Abstract Expressionism, an American icon, and unkindly known to some as "Jack the Dripper", Jackson Pollock was born this day in 1912.

Pollock's vast canvases, layered in dripped, smeared, heavy paint - he even rode a bicycle across one - transformed the art of his time. And today a Pollock canvas, 1948, is the fourth most expensive painting ever sold, raising a cool $140 million. Not bad for Jack the Dripper...

Despite the outwards serenity of his cabin in the Hamptons, a district which he helped to make fashionable, Pollock grappled with alcoholism, depression and nervous breakdowns, and his marriage was unhappy. He would die after crashing his Oldsmobile in a drunken rage.

Despite his dark ending, we are more than partial to Pollock's dark works - and the Hamptons, too - so we are toasting him with a Jack Collins.

It's the anniversary of the "Great Rum Debate"

Back in 1862 the poor American Navy had their rum issue discontinued, but it wasn't until a century later that debate really got serious about the Royal Navy's daily allowance.

It was on this very day back in 1970 that the issue was raised in the House of Commons - a session that became known as "The Great Rum Debate." A wonderful man called Mr James Wellbeloved, Labour MP for Erith and Crayford and an ex-wartime Royal Navy sailor, put forward a great argument: "A tempestuous sea is raging. Men are piped to a meal before action. If they can take their tot, they can consume their food; if they consume their food, they are able to face the coming action with greater strength and greater determination." Then asked, "Is there any evidence available to show that the rum tot affects the operational efficiency of the Royal Navy?"

Sadly, his argument was shot down, and the conclusion of the debate was that rum actually made the sailors rather drunk and irresponsible, so the daily ration was discontinued on 31 July 1970 - Black Tot Day!

Still, let's salute Mr Wellbeloved's valiant efforts with a Nelson's Blood - an appropriate way to enjoy your daily tot of rum!

Today is Auguste Piccard's anniversary

Long before Professor Brian Cox made physics sexy, the world was gifted with Auguste Piccard, a Swiss-Belgian physicist, explorer, high altitude balloonist and submersible designer. A professor of physics, Piccard flew 15km into the stratosphere in a balloon of his own design to check out the theory of relativity, then crashlanded on a glacier.

Then Piccard turned his interests to submarine design, and built the world's first passenger submarine. He also invented the bathyscape which took his son and a colleague almost 11km beneath the sea, the deepest ocean depth ever reached by human beings.

Piccard collaborated with Albert Einstein, with whom he appears to have shared a barber, wrote four memoirs, spawned a ballooning dynasty, and inspired Professor Cuthbert Calculus in the Tintin series. They don't make them like Auguste Piccard any more, sadly. And so we're toasting the great man, born on this day in 1884, with a Picador cocktail - the "original Margarita".

The anniversary of Pride & Prejudice

On this day in 1813, a shy, retiring spinster named Jane Austen, a fan of long, curvaceous sentences, published a book that's lived in the English (and predominantly female) imagination ever since: Pride and Prejudice.

Austen had published her first book a decade before and had under a decade to live: exactly what killed her is still a matter of dispute. What isn't is the magic of Pride and Prejudice, a rom-com before its time. It gave Helen Fielding the plot for Bridget Jones, has been filmed many times (the Bollywood version? Bride and Prejudice), and has even spawned its own zombie mash-up and online multimedia extravaganza.

So today we are drinking a Fosbury Flip, a Calabrese creation whose founding principles Austen might well have recognised.

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