Although I was on the electoral register in the Irish Republic for a few years I don’t think I ever voted. But I did go into the polling booth with my grandmother a few times to watch her vote and see what it was all about. It was a bit like, I suppose, watching the congregation take Communion before I was Confirmed.
I have been on the UK electoral register for about forty years. I have voted in almost every General Election, although I definitely missed 1983 as I was living in New York. My voting pattern has been predictable. No matter how apparently useless the Conservative candidates are they get my vote. I even am a member of the Conservative party. Now all that is going to change, maybe temporarily. I am going to resign my party membership and at the next General Election vote Lib Dem if having another referendum is still in their manifesto. There is little point living in a democracy and not voting how one thinks at an election.
We had a lunch party in the garden recently. There is no reason for guests to bring presents but some did and I have no objection. First a bottle of the local craft gin, distilled in Chiswick: Sipsmith. This is a cut above the usual mothers’ ruin that I swill. Next chocolates which sounds a cliché until you know that, unlike the gin, they were not sourced locally. But they are artisanal in spades, so to speak. There are three boxes: plain chocolate, chocolate and ginger, and roasted coffee beans covered in chocolate. The chocolates in the plain box are 75% chocolate which sound promising.
Now the interesting part. They come from São Tomé and Príncipe. It is not a country on my radar; population about 200,000, the smallest Portuguese speaking country and the second smallest African country (after the Seychelles). You have seen their flag, above.
These chocs are made by Claudio Corallo Cacao e Coffee. Here is the eponymous Claudio Corallo fiddling with a cacao tree.
His back story is interesting and comes from his website.
Claudio Corallo has 40 years of experience in producing coffee and chocolate, working mainly in Africa and for shorter periods also in Latin America (Bolivia).
In 1974, at the age of 23, he moved to Zaire and after several years of working in the coffee trade, he acquired his own plantations in the center of the country. In his top years the production was around 880 tons of coffee of the highest quality, which was exported and enjoyed around the world. When the political situation in Zaire turned grimmer and grimmer in the 1990’s, Claudio started to work in Sao Tome and Principe. Initially his objective was to use his extensive knowledge of coffee production for the production of cacao. The greatest challenge was the bitterness of the cacao bean. Claudio did not accept this; he saw it as a defect of the bean. To discover the origins of the bitterness and develop a cacao without this defect, he started a laboratory.
Only by experimenting with making chocolate himself he succeeded in really understanding cacao and chocolate and in making a bean that is not bitter. The final result is the chocolate you can buy now: unique in the world, not only because it is the only real bean-to-bar, but also because it is the purest chocolate available.
Well, what other gift could equal that? Well, actually, another guest brought 1/3 of a magnum of high-end Sauternes (like Pooh and his gift of honey for Eeyore, she had drunk most of it the previous evening) and a bottle of Dom Perignon 2004.
I fear our lunch was not as imaginative or extravagant as these presents. (Rebuttals by guests present will be redacted.) To digress, I read avidly restaurant reviews but, unlike Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, find descriptions of rather rich food make me feel slightly sick.