The Whistler – June 2020

Well, this isn’t how I expected things to be when, last Christmas, Colette asked if anyone fancied taking over at The Whistler. I thought I’d be holding court in the garden of the Duke of Wellington, meeting people, writers, contributors. We’d share a chat and a drink as the wonders of West Hill revealed themselves. I didn’t expect to be locked in and locked down, spending time doing pub quizzes on my laptop, dancing in the kitchen and doing this strange social distance sideways skip on the pavement every time I ventured out. But then, I don’t suppose anyone expected that.

A strange couple of months? You could say that. But it’s been an interesting time, too. Despite spending all our time Zooming, it’s been a time to slow down, to consider and reflect. What does life look like? How does it work? Maybe there’ll be some changes – we’ll see. But amidst all the isolation and distancing, there’s been a lovely coming together. So often you see people on the streets standing apart yet together, sharing a chat and a laugh in a way we wouldn’t normally see. The community pulls together.

Vinod and Meena, the absolute cornerstones of West Hill, took it on – no surprises there – keeping the shop going, keeping the smiles going, making deliveries. The oil keeping the engine of community running.

They were awarded the Mayor’s Gold Certificate – “in recognition of your dedication, passion and hard work in supporting the community”. Quite right, too.

“It’s nice that people in the community recognise what we do” said Meena.

“The people in the community don’t need to be told” I replied.

And talking of keeping the community going, a word of thanks to Colette who has steered the good ship Whistler for so long. What an absolute star. Unsurprisingly, she’s been fantastically supportive and helpful since handing over, probably thinking “Was this a good idea?” more than once. But if she thinks that’s the end of her Advice Hotline… Not a chance.

Like most other things right now, we’re only online this edition. Next time round, who knows? But we’re here, we’ll always be here. And in a few weeks – or months – time, if you find yourself in a pub garden and you see a bloke in a linen suit and straw hat, nursing a vodka and tonic… come up and say Hello.

If you’ve got something to say, drop me a line. If you want to write something, drop me a line. If you want to draw, photograph, contribute in any way… drop me a line.

Jed Novick

Lockdown Reads: Cooking The Books

After a couple of months of Lockdown, even the view across Devil’s Dyke and a low tide beach at sunset might be wearing thin. Time then to pop over to Provence, or maybe down to Devon? In Cooking the Books podcast, I’ve curated some of the latest foodiest reads for you.  I talk to the authors about the food that takes us to Provence in Jo Thomas’ Escape to the French Farmhouse,  a 1950’s Scarborough summer in Benjamin Myers’ The Offing, downtown Chicago in Sara Paretsky’s Dead Land and 1600’s Norway in Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s Sunday Times Bestseller, The Mercies.  Joanne Harris takes us to her fictional Lansquenet -sous-Tannes for her latest in the Chocolat series, The Strawberry Thief and Veronica Henry is in Devon for A Wedding at the Beach Hut.




Gilly Smith


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Wine to go with cheese

Most of us are finding ourselves eating at home a lot more than in pre-Covid-19 times. In my household it means we eat a lot more cheese than usual, since we consider a cheese course an important part of a proper meal at home. With the cheese it’s very tempting to continue drinking whatever wine we’ve already opened. I think we can do better than that. Here are my thoughts.

When it comes to wine that goes with cheese, it’s got to be red. The only exception is a heavy sweet wine, like Sauternes, that goes wonderfully with very tasty blue cheeses. Roquefort is the usual example. That aside, any red will do, although in principle the stronger the cheese the more powerful the wine. Red is good but it’s not perfect.

To move up a notch we have to go to fortified wines. A dry austere Amontillado sherry is thrilling with any cheese, although it will dwarf a mild cheese, for which you might try a Fino. For those who get confused by the different types of sherry, remember that sherry is made at first like any white wine, but then left in barrels open to the air. If the wine develops a creamy layer of yeast on top, called flor, it becomes a Fino – dry, light in colour with a sharp yeasty tang. If the flor dies off or is killed off by adding alcohol, the wine is exposed to air and darkens, developing that distinctive, austere, almost bitter, nutty flavour with overtones of tobacco and spices from the oak barrel.  That’s an Amontillado. An Oloroso, that’s an even darker sherry which never had flor on top, would be marvellous too, but it, too, must be bone dry. They are much harder to find. Don’t use sweet sherry, not even anything with the word “cream” in the title. Save that for the pudding.

Equally wonderful would be a Tawny Port, again because it’s got that austere dry nutty, leathery tang. Ruby port wouldn’t do. It hasn’t been oxidised so it has a rich fruity flavour that goes with fruity puddings but not cheese. Ruby port is either matured in huge barrels or in tanks or even in the bottle. Tawny ports start off like ruby ports but spend longer – much longer – in much smaller barrels, slowly oxidising, turning brown and leathery, losing all that fruitiness but developing that spicy, nutty, leathery essence.

If we were really celebrating I’d ask for a glass of Madeira. Malmsey is my favourite but I’d settle for any of them. It’s not unlike port in the way it’s made but it’s from a different grape, different terroir and, unlike port, it’s gently heated while oxidising. Like port it needs to be at least 10 years old; then it’s heavenly.

But how can anyone manage to drink wine with the meal and a fortified wine with the cheese? The secret is to stick to small amounts. You only need a mouthful of the fortified wine. Then put the stopper back on and keep it somewhere cool. That way you’ll stay within your 14 units a week. And the joy of these fortified wines is they will last for months once opened. After all, at Downton Abbey they sit for years in decanters on the sideboard without going off.

Andrew Polmear