Forever “Billies” | JIM FURLONG

My friend and I were coming down the front steps of Clovelly Golf Club about five or six years ago. We had played a round of golf and then stopped at the restaurant for what was a great meal. I had the pan fried cod. We had a glass of wine and were in the dying light of a late summer day when we headed back to our cars.

“Not bad for a couple of ‘billies,” my friend said to me. I asked him what he was talking about. He told me that for two poor boys from inner city St. John’s we were doing okay. He said we were hillbillies. I was from the downtown west end. He was from the downtown east end. I laughed and thought about what he said and, yes, he was right. We were coming out of a golf club well fed and satisfied with our day but, as he reminded me, we were still hillbillies.

I thought about that day last weekend while flipping through a magazine promoting the offerings at the local liquor store. The NLC had this slick, glossy coloured book on some of their latest offerings and the prices. There was one article on perfect wine pairings for a charcuterie board. Now, I must be honest with you, I didn’t even know what a charcuterie board was until a couple of years ago. When I was growing up there wasn’t much charcuterie down around the foot of Pleasant Street or up New Gower Street. Lots of bootleggers there but not much going on in the wine pairings department. There was surely a taste for the grape in my old neighbourhood, though. A big favourite was Old Niagara, which was a fortified rose and about 18 per cent alcohol by volume. A good bang for the buck. The price at the time was $1.95 a bottle. Some people called it fortified sherry by a not politically correct name. They called it bum wine. Maybe you can still get it. Another of that vintage type was Four Aces – a similar price, a similar strength and a similar alcohol volume. The equivalent in the United States was Thunderbird… Thunderbird is nice. Twice fifty is the price.

I whisper to you by way of information that Old Niagara was “delisted” at the NLC for a while. That means you couldn’t buy it anymore at the local boozers. It was a staple in our neighbourhood.

A Catholic priest I know once told me the wine used in Mass is not unlike Old Niagara in both taste and strength. Anyway, Old Niagara was our choice to have even when there was no charcuterie around to pair it with. In later years we took to Baby Duck or its cousin Newfie Duck. I have been hung over on them both but that isn’t the fault of the wine, is it?

The point is that I still miss Old Niagara. It came with a metal screw top and often was consumed outdoors straight from the bottle while it rested in a brown paper bag or alternatively from paper cups.

I hope my friend from golf reads this. It will remind him of how things were when we were younger and the world less complicated. Are we still billies? Of course, we are! Even if I now know what a charcuterie board is.

You can contact Jim Furlong at [email protected]