One Sunday evening mid-blitz, somewhere in Kent and just before Christmas, everyone’s favourite adulterers Jessica Swanlake and Roger Mexico come upon a church. England’s war-weary are trudging in to warm themselves with advent nostalgia. Roger’s rationalism softens a moment and he and Jessica head in too—“to hear the music,” he explains.
Inside, a “scratch choir” composed mostly of pale-faced men bearing visibly the exhaustion of wartime nightshifts, barrage balloons, mud-soaked fields. One singer stands out:
Yet there was one black face, the counter-tenor, a Jamaican corporal, taken from his warm island to this — from singing his childhood along the rum-smoky saloons of High Holborn Street where the sailors throw mammoth red firecrackers [. . . ] From palmy Kingston, the intricate needs of the Anglo-American empire (1939–1945) had brought him to this cold fieldmouse church, nearly in earshot of a northern sea he’d hardly glimpsed in crossing, to a compline service, a program tonight of plainsong in English, forays now and then into polyphony[. . .]Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 128
The counterforce association of “counter-tenor” provides a hint of the redemptive humanism of this advent service section of the book—this Jamaican corporal is helping form another of these islands of love and companionship, bulwarks against Their mechanised death, that we often seem to come across here. The whole passage is beautiful, some of the loveliest pages in GR I’d say. I recommend a reread if you haven’t visited in a while. I’m certainly glad the rum from the corporal’s childhood streets has given me an excuse to return to them.
To that rum—my version here is the Appleton Estate 12 Year Old Rare Blend. It’s a great example of an aged Jamaican rum. I’ve made a simple cocktail of it with a bit of cane sugar syrup and lime juice. The fresh bright lime blends beautifully with the brown sugar, spice, apple, and dark marmalade flavours of the rum. It’s just enormously refreshing and moreish. In the context of our advent service passage, the drink seem to squint towards Christmas (those sugar and spice notes ) while remaining thoroughly tropical, refreshing with a distinctive Caribbean funk. Thanks Corporal.