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A Shout From The Attic: Ten Minutes At Doctor Dan’s

Ronnie Bray tells of the delights of Dandelion and Burdock and Doctor Dan Holroyd's Drink of Health - two products at the very top of the divine order of beverages.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's story - which sits at the top of the divine order of autobiographies - please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

A great pleasure of my late childhood was a visit to a wayside cafe to sit and sip a cold glass of Ben Shaw’s Dandelion and Burdock pop. This is still the best drink in the world but it has to be Ben Shaw’s, brewed in Huddersfield from their own subterranean spring water and goodness knows what other mystical ingredients. King George did not sup better than I did when attending to a quart bottle of the dark velvet mystery - Ah! The simple pleasures are the best.

Later, at Gabriella’s Milk Bar in Trinity Street, I discovered Vimto with a scoop of ice cream, and temporarily abandoned Dandelion and Burdock, but eventually returned to my childhood favourite. When I visit the children in America, I take a bottle for them, when I remember. With all the aplomb of untutored frontier folk, they declare "It's a bit like root beer.” Of course, it is nothing like root beer – not even A&W!

Mind you, there is one other drink that jostles handsomely with Dandelion and Burdock to sit at the topmost order of divine beverages, and that is Doctor Dan Holroyd's Drink of Health. What is was, how it was made, or what they put in it, I have no idea. All I know is that it tasted like nothing on earth ever tasted before or since, and I miss it.

When they demolished the old Victorian Market Hall in the name of progress to erect a concrete monstrosity that was obviously the result of an architect’s insomnia, the end was in sight for Doctor Dan.

Doctor Dan’s concoction tasted, well, herbal, but with a delicate bitterness that did not amount to unpleasantness. The brew was drawn from one of two huge varnished casks that stood on an impressive table at the back of the open-fronted stall. It could be bought in either the small size for twopence, or the large size for threepence.

Threepenn’orth was the size that men about town drank, so even though it was more expensive, you passed your thruppence across the counter and waited, watching the all-important ritual. The attendant – obviously not a doctor – opened the wooden tap driven into the barrel near its base and filled a glass to within an inch of the top. The glass was then placed on the counter in front of you, close enough to touch, but there was more to come.

Salivating in anticipation you held your breath as the menial uncorked a suspicious bottle of brandy-coloured liquid and topped up your glass to its rim.

It was now yours! Those without soul grabbed the glass and poured its contents down their greedy throats. Those with panache, me included, maintained the semblance of elaborate ritual.

When I started working, I bought my own clothes. For small amounts of money, extraordinary garments could be purchased if one knew where to go. My favourite shop was Millets Brothers, a sort of army surplus outlet that was stocked floor to ceiling with everything the soldier, sailor, airman, or eccentric could ever need.

I stood firmly in the ranks of the latter. My usual go-to-town-Saturday-morning-outfit consisted of a pair of cavalry twill jodhpurs, cheap, but two sizes too small, and an orange waistcoat. The shirt would be anything at hand that was sufficiently clean. The tie had to be a bow tie. Every other kind of tie was, and still is, pedestrian. The boots or shoes I wore with the outfit were whatever I had that did not let rainwater in. The hat was a Homburg and the gloves were gentlemen’s yellow string gloves, now no longer available, alas!

I cut quite a figure propped up at the counter, waiting for the moment to remove my gloves, before stuffing them ceremoniously into my pocket, then delicately clutching the brimming chalice and quaffing with an air that suggested, incorrectly, that I knew what I was doing. Liquid paradise entered my mouth and I imagined I had discovered the reason I had been born.

One was not enough but two was one too many, so I always stopped at one, hungry for more. When the new market started, Doctor Dan’s stall appeared for a few years and then slipped away to the place where all good things eventually slip away to. The secret of his drink of health went with it and the market hall, poor thing that it is, is the poorer for its absence.

Now I drink Dandelion and Burdock without ever thinking about Doctor Dan Holroyd and his Drink of Health. Those golden yesteryear moments have become another fragment of childhood magic that has abandoned an already desolate scene.

Dandelion and Burdock has to be sipped in a still and quiet place where I can gather what wits I have left and remember every glass of the stuff I have imbibed down the thirsty years. On some days, it was my only pleasure, and that has magnified its value. It is the stuff of memory and, on some days, it is memory.

Even so, it is not as good as once it was. But then, what is? If things were better now, there would be little to redeem a past that was not very good to begin with, and a drink of pop is a small price to pay to imagine that it could have been otherwise.

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