In the Big Rock Candy Mountains… the little streams of alcohol Come trickling down the rocks

Harry McClintock.

Well, it wasn’t quite Heywire Mac’s vision of hobo paradise, nor Shane MacGowan’s dream vision of Brendan Behan, but a hiker in Hawaii recently discovered a literal river of beer.

In October, one hiker in Hawaii found more than he bargained for while trekking through Waipio on the island of Oahu when he noticed the overwhelming smell of beer coming from a small stream. And now, officials have just determined that the stream contains 1.2 percent alcohol by volume.

So — stronger than Budweiser, then.

Running about 120 feet below the H-2 freeway about 15 miles northwest of Honolulu, the stream was within striking distance from local alcohol distributor Paradise Beverages. Cox determined the pungent liquid was leaking from a storm drain poking out from underneath the freeway, down a cliff, and into the natural stream.

“He described the smell as being horrific,” said Cox. “The other day we came here you would think it was a beer pub that hadn’t opened its doors for three or four days.”

All That’s Interesting

So, kind of like my backyard office on any day of the week.

I am going, I am going, Where streams of whiskey are flowing

The Pogues.

Just in case any of us missed it, Australian folk-rock group Roaring Jack made it the point of one of their songs: Uisge beatha, water of life. In the Dune novels, the “Water of Life” is the blue liquid obtained by drowning young sand worms in water — poisonous to anyone not rigorously trained by the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, who use it to expand their consciousness.

Luckily for us, the real “water of life” isn’t poisonous (in reasonable doses), but it does occasionally serve to expand consciousness occasionally.

As it happens, we owe the “water of life” to a very real religious brotherhood.

Medieval monks called it aqua vitae, meaning “life water.” The expression was transformed into uisce beatha when it was transferred to Gaelic. As time passed and the word was anglicized, uisce evolved into uige, usque, and then uisky, which bears an obvious and close resemblance to “whiskey.”

You may have noticed that you can spell the drink two different ways – “whiskey” and “whisky.” Some people believe the extra “e” was added by Irish and American distilleries to differentiate their higher quality whiskeys during a period when Scottish whisky had a bad reputation.

Scotch was also introduced to denominate a Scottish whisky.

Only Good News Daily

Although anyone using the word “Scotch” is, let’s face it, either a Philistine or an American. Or is that a tautology?

In some more enlightened South American countries, “whisky” is used in the same way we say “cheese” when taking a photo. Which, under the circuitous influence of perhaps too much of the water of life, brings me to… “say cheese”.

The phrase appears to have been first used in this way around the 1940s, with one of the earliest references appearing in The Big Spring Herald in 1943:

Now here’s something worth knowing. It’s a formula for smiling when you have your picture taken. It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies and is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you’re thinking. Mr. Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his “Mission to Moscow.” It’s simple. Just say “Cheese,” It’s an automatic smile. “I learned that from a politician,” Mr. Davies chuckled. “An astute politician, a very great politician. But, of course, I cannot tell you who he was…”

It is thought the “politician” he was referring to was none other than Franklin D. Roosevelt, who Ambassador Davies served under. So did President Roosevelt himself come up with the phrase or simply learn it from someone else? Nobody knows, but soon after, saying cheese became a common phrase for people to utter when trying to get people to smile in photographs.

Today I Found Out

Of course, people didn’t smile for photographs for quite a while.

Have you ever noticed how Victorian photographic portraits seem so grim and humourless? It’s not because Queen Victoria was a miserable old bat who abolished the very notion of humour. After all, after an assassination attempt, Victoria found it in herself to remark that it was “worth being shot at—to see how much one is loved” (and with nine children, presumably she wasn’t as hostile to sex as is popularly supposed). The problem was that early photography involved long exposure times. The earliest known photograph took so long to expose that even the only person standing still in it — a gent having his boots polished — is a faint blur.

So, holding a cheesy — there’s that word again — grin for anywhere up to a few minutes was a bit much to ask. Still, there are photographs in existence of Victorians — even Victoria herself — flashing the pearly whites and generally looking like they’d be up for a good time.

Including what appears to be a time-travelling Christian Bale.

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Streams of Beer and Whisky

Lushington D. Brady

Punk rock philosopher. Liberalist contrarian. Grumpy old bastard. I grew up in a generational-Labor-voting family. I kept the faith long after the political left had abandoned it. In the last decade...