Aa tuthree months ago I was writing about the institutionalised haze of alcohol that befuddled the British and other navies for a couple of hundred years. Then a tuthree days ago, I was bloggin' about the poor, so desperate for booze that they were happy to drink beer in which their neighbours had just been drowned. Given that back-story, on Trafalgar Day (that's today for all ye lubberly readers who weren't brought up in a sailor suit like Bob von Trapp) it's inevitable that 'one' would think about Tapping the Admiral.
On the 21st October 1805, after Horatio Nelson was shot through the spine while standing on his quarter-deck at the Battle of Trafalgar. He was carried down to the orlop deck and died at tea-time three hours later. The common sailors were buried over the side, but the Admiral was immersed in a barrel of brandy for transport home to a state funeral. On dit que the common sailors were so desperate for drink that when the barrel was opened on arrival in England six weeks later it was half empty. I am very sorry to report that according to Andrew Warriner (no better man) this fine story is just a story. Nevertheless the practice of drilling a small-small hole in any barrel of liquor and surreptitiously sipping the contents became known as tapping the admiral or sucking the monkey which latter phrase was not very flattering to the 'diminutive' English hero, is it? Sailors are colourful coiners of foodie words and phrases: gannet (any hungry boy); scran (food); grog (rum ration); oggies (cornish pasties); growler (pie); babies heads (steak&kidney pudding); burgoo (porridge); lobscouse (ship's biscuit boiled with meat and veg); corned-dog (corned beef); snags or snorkers (sausages); toenail (beetroot); Spithead pheasant (kippers); kai (thick cocoa); all of which were eagerly scarfed up rather than being thrown in the gash (rubbish);