Nick. That was his name. He was in my year at school, had been ever since we'd gone there. Same year but always different classes. I had therefore never had much to do with Nick until he seemed to have decided that he wanted me to be his mate. I would have been sixteen then, I suppose. He was older; seventeen, which was how he came to be driving, and that was part of the Nick story.
Did I want to go to a cinema where you wear 3D specs? We can have a drink afterwards and then go to a club. Did I what!? Nick, let's get this straight, most certainly wasn't gay. No, the deal with Nick, as I came to suspect, was that he needed to attract new mates because he was adept at losing others he had acquired. The car was just one sign. There was the rest. Nick, to be blunt, was a complete poser.
Having declined the offer of the 3D specs, and still rather against my better judgement, I agreed to the drink and club, which - in my case - were problematic. I didn't look remotely eighteen. But Nick knew everyone, while at the same time not knowing anyone, hence the bloke in the pub was prepared to swallow the idea that I was of an age to be drinking. What I was never of an age to drink, however, was what Nick had. It confirmed everything. Vermouth and Campari! What the ... .
We had a bar in our living room. I say bar, it was in fact an old sideboard. My father glued this black foam padding with diamond shapes to the back of it. A bar it was, and it contained all manner of alcoholic beverages. It never lacked for at least one bottle of Noilly Prat. Which was how I came to have a distinct dislike for vermouth. It was no doubt a Christmas. I was given a small glass of this stuff. It was the first and last time I ever drank it. So when Nick ordered his drink (and we used to always have Campari knocking around as well), I thought you have got to be kidding. He wasn't.
Vermouth, it appeared to me, was sophisticated. Rather like Blue Nun and Black Tower were; there was rarely any shortage of these either. I have to conclude, therefore, that I wasn't then and am still not sophisticated, while this longstanding aversion to vermouth disqualifies me from ever having anything whatsoever to do with the Vermouth Hour.
Some reckon it all started in Madrid, but there is an alternative theory, and a stronger one. Vermouth took off in Tarragona in the nineteenth century. So the Catalans claim it as theirs, it having originated in Turin at the back end of the eighteenth century. Once it arrived in Tarragona, its popularity spread rapidly. The first Catalan vermouth brands started to emerge towards the end of the nineteenth century. The drink crossed into being a tradition. Workers could enjoy a drop when they had a break; a pre-lunch vermouth was all about stimulating the appetite. Whether Catalonia or Madrid, the vermouth hour had arrived. And it has never gone away.
This said, it did go into decline for a time. During the years of the transition to democracy, vermouth came to symbolise the past. It was what older people drank. A Madrid-centric view of this decline is that when the countercultural La Movida movement started in the early eighties, there was a younger generation shift towards beer and wine. Maybe so, but there's no doubting the fact that vermouth has enjoyed a major renaissance as part of a wider food and drink revolution which has married the highly contemporary with the traditional, of which vermouth is a representative.
Vermouth hours crop up all over the place. Majorca's fiestas and fairs have vermouth hours, but it isn't necessary for there to actually be any vermouth drinking. The "Vermut" is a sort of party and one typically to be held on Sunday lunchtimes, which is a nod in the direction of the past, as vermouth - tradition suggests - was most commonly drunk on a Sunday.
The "vermut" (or "vermutada") has run into a slight problem because of the confinement, and this has especially been the case in Santa Eugenia. The Sunday before last, the opposition Partido Popular demanded the resignation of the PSOE mayor, José Luis Urraca, and another PSOE councillor for having taken part in a vermutada. What this entailed was them dressing up and driving around in a truck and wanting to give residents a bit of fun. The mayor insisted that health recommendations had been abided with.
Whether any vermouth was drunk I couldn't tell you, but there was a determination for cometh the hour, cometh the vermouth. Sophisticated it wasn't; just a jolly. I don't know what Nick would have made of it.