Friday, 3 January 2014

What fresh hell is this?

The party’s over, the fizz is flat, the turkey has finally been seen off and the decorations are looking more shabby than chic. Here we are again in January, the cruellest month, its icy hand beckoning us into the dark nights and grey days of deepest winter. Even if you’ve hardly touched a drop over the festive season, January can feel like one long hangover – from too much food, too much drink, too much money spent.

Dorothy Parker was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of hard-drinking, wise-cracking writers and wits who met for lunch and cocktails at The Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan in the 1920s. Her riotous lifestyle meant that her experience of hangovers was deep and long-lasting and she dubbed the after-effects of drink as “the rams” and, with typically concise wit declared that “A hangover is the wrath of grapes.”

Even as we undergo the exquisite torture of entirely self-inflicted suffering that is the hangover, we can at least console ourselves with the descriptions of the hungover state from some of our foremost literary talents.

PG Wodehouse’s character Bertie Wooster was no stranger to over-indulgence and was lucky that his faithful Jeeves was on hand with his legendary “corpse reviver” (recipe uncertain, but see the Savoy’s version below) if he were “suffering from magnums”. Wodehouse also recognised that there is more than one type of hangover and classified them thus: The Broken Compass, The Sewing Machine, The Comet, The Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie. He did not go on to specify the symptoms of each; that is left to our own imagination (and experience).

Kingsley Amis wrote perhaps the most deliciously definitive description of the morning after the night before in his novel, Lucky Jim.

“Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

Is there a cure for such a condition? I recently had cause to consult my copy of Booth’s Handbook of Cocktails & Mixed Drinks, published in 1966 and written by John Doxat, who sounds like he would have made an entertaining drinking companion. Unsurprisingly, he writes with some authority on the after-effects of a night in the company of those he calls the compulsively convivial: “It is only the very wise who have never suffered, even mildly, from that matitutinal malaise or alcoholic remorse to which the ugly and descriptive word Hangover applies.”

He goes on to offer a number of drinks said to have some efficacy in remedying the condition, including the classic Prairie Oyster:

1oz Cognac
1 teaspoon wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcester Sauce
Dash of Red Pepper (presumably hot sauce such as Tabasco)

Pour over the yolk of an egg and drink without breaking the yolk.

Never mind not breaking the yolk, I should have thought drinking without gagging would be the most tricky part.

He also gives the recipe for the Savoy Hotel’s version of the Corpse Reviver:

1/3 brandy
1/3 Fernet Branca
1/3 White Crème de Menthe

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail-glass.

This is clearly from the “kill or cure” school of thought. Whether the corpse in question was grateful for being revived by this method, history does not record.

Along similar lines is the Heart Starter:

Good measure dry gin in a tumbler of iced water.
Add heaped teaspoon Andrews Liver Salts.
Toss down quickly; and wait.

Sounds ominous.

Perhaps the kindest morning after the night before treatment is a good old-fashioned Bloody Mary. Many of us have our own favourite recipes, but here is John Doxat’s:

1oz vodka
Iced tomato juice
Dash of celery salt
Dash of Red Pepper (see above)
Teaspoon of Worcester Sauce

Stir together in tall glass, with a little cracked ice.

It at least has the benefit of providing one of your five a day, if nothing else.

Whether any of these drinks works better than a lie-in with some Ibuprofen is very much in the eye of the beholder. As Robert Benchley, contemporary of Dorothy Parker and a fellow-member of the Algonquin Round Table, put it: “The only cure for a real hangover is death.” Gulp.

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