A book review.
I thought I knew a thing or two about drinking.
I grew up in Tura Beach. I went to Eden High School, back when it still claimed to have something to do with technology.
While growing up on the Far South Coast, I recieved a wonderful drinking education from my older sisters and their friends. While teaching me how to put on lip liner (thank you Anna but not really a skill I need anymore) they would share wise tidbits of scrappy drinking wisdom. ‘Always drink while you’re getting ready’, ‘It’s cheaper to drink at home.’ ‘Don’t ever add too much mixer, that’s what will get you really crazy.’ ‘Engage in long conversations with security guards.’ ‘Never try and pretend to be sober in front of your parents, it is physically impossible.’ There was always so much advice about drinking.
After high school, I even went to Art School. Monday morning art theory lectures were synonymous with vodka and orange Fanta. I have to stipulate orange as back then there were so many flavours. We once watched both Kill Bill movies back to back during our Foundation 1 class while drinking wine, as half the class smoked inside and then never discussed the films.
One of my lecturers moved our class back an hour because he would ‘never be able to make it here by 9 am” and constantly complained about how the ‘vibe’ of Art School had died. The ‘vibe’, he later went on to clarify, had something to do with taking too much acid and waking up with a nose bleed.
During the summer, we competed in what was known as the FA Cup, where Fine Art faculties from different universities across Sydney played a complex hybrid of futsal and beer pong that required the players to hold schooners of beer in their right hands.
For a long time, major events in my life seemed to pivot around large amounts of alcohol, for which I am still detangling myself. Those of you who know me can attest to the fact I still have a long way to go. I thought I knew all there was to know about drinking.
As it turns out, my 20’s were simply my undergraduate degree.
Kinsley Amis’s amazing read, Everyday Drinking, the Distilled Kinsley Amis is a Masters course.
Everyday Drinking, The Distilled Kinsley Amis was published in 2008, 13 years after the author passed away. With an introduction by Christopher Hitchens, Everyday Drinking, The Distilled Kinsley Amis is actually the complete collection of his three nonfiction books on alcohol published as a single edition; On Drink, Everyday Drinking and How’s Your Glass?
Kinsley Amis was an English writer, poet and critic, who passed away in 1995. He continues to be known as one of the great English writers of the last century, winning the Man Booker Prize in 1986 and fathering another great writer Martin Amis.
Kinsley was known for his drinking habits and therefore seems pretty qualified for the task of writing this book. In his memoir Amis wrote: “Now and then I become conscious of having the reputation of being one of the great drinkers, if not one of the great drunks, of our time”.
He suggests that this is the result of a naïve tendency on the part of his readers to apply the behaviour of his characters to himself. And yet the ‘Personal Life’ section of Amis’ Wikipedia page is devoted entirely to his drinking habits.
Amis is also the author of Lucky Jim, a book which boasts one of the most famous hangover scenes in literature (1).
“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 has been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum.”(2)
This scene from Lucky Jim foreshadows Amis’s incredible knowledge and insight into the hangover which makes his chapter on hangovers so insightful.
But first comes the drinking. To get to the hangover we need to first get drunk.
The book begins with an introduction to drinking and our long relationship with the drug. Amis writes about alcohol as a social tool. Instead of focusing on the negative effects it can have on a community like so many other writers of alcohol, Amis classifies it as one of the great human discoveries, doing for socialising what the hammer did for houses everywhere.
‘The strains and stresses of village living, to coin a phrase, are usually held accountable for these increases (in drinking). I should not dissent from this exactly, but I should single out one stress (or strain) as distinctly more burdensome, and also more widespread, than most; Sudden confrontation with complete or comparative strangers in circumstances requiring a show of relaxation and amiability.’
This is small town life.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia (3). Even more so in rural areas, where we drink at risk levels 11% more than our city dwelling relations.
The proportion of people who report drinking more than two drinks a day shows a similar pattern – 19% in cities, 23% in rural and regional areas and 31% in remote communities, such as Kiah and Tura Beach.
Amis takes his time to review notable drinking literature, followed by a breakdown of ‘Actual Drinks’ that seems to be quite en pointe all these years later.
There is an entire chapter devoted to cocktails, recipes and advice on how and when to serve them. The history of the Dry Martini, obviously his cocktail of choice, is a great meditation on gin and his recipe for the Old Fashioned is ‘far less complicated and bothersome than it may look, and the result is the only cocktail really to rival the martini and its variants.’
Classic recipes for ‘Generic Cold Punch’ make an appearance, only to be overshadowed by ‘The Careful Mans’s Peachy Punch’ consisting of 5 bottles of dry white wine, 4 bottles of champagne cidar, 2 bottles of British peach wine, 1 bottle of vodka and a can of tinned peaches. You can see where this is going.
Amis goes on to write about glassware, hot drinks, store cupboards, supplies and what to keep on hand at home. While Everyday Drinking is probably going to be the funniest thing you’ll ever read, it is also surprisingly informative and will leave you with a far more impressive drinking knowledge than all your friends.
This chapter taught me how to make my own sugar syrup and how long it can be stored in the fridge.
There are two chapters devoted to just wine, another chapter devoted to wine shopping and a chapter on the ‘Mean Sods Guide’ to wine. Where I quickly learned how to save cash at dinner parties and how to trick my friends into enjoying cheap wine that they think is expensive.
Amis is a genuine lover of alcohol.He writes about alcohol with fondness and an understanding of its traits. He does not discuss alcoholism or abuses of the drink, in the same way a food writer need not talk about binge eating and obesity in order to be able to review a meal.
There is never any stress on the need to refrain or moderate your own drinking. Instead, Amis focuses on what drinking can do for you.
‘The human race has not yet devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap faster, breaking the ice that is one tenth as handy or efficient as letting you and the other chap cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings.’
He writes with humour, cleverness and obvious sarcasm.
This is all very interesting, but no book about drinking would be complete without addressing the hangover. It is his incredible insights into the hangover that make this book a must read.
Here is where Amis gives name to what many of us have experienced but few have been able to put into words, the duality of the hangover into two distinct parts: the physical and the metaphysical.
After 15 years of drinking, I’m familiar with and pretty confident in navigating a physical hangover. You know what I’m talking about: dehydration, nausea, irritability, tiredness, inability to behave in a human like manner. I know I need to drink two glasses of water and lick a finger tip of vegemite before bed, (thank you Bennett). I know to always take my eye makeup off (thank you Erin) and I know to not make any plans for the following day.
Before I turned 30, the physical hangover was all I had to navigate but lately, I’ve noticed the arrival of a new and more complex beast, the metaphysical hangover. I had no idea how to handle it.
What is the metaphysical hangover? Also known as regret, drinker’s remorse, socially embarrassing moments, foggy memories, flash backs of things you said to the wrong person, questioning your reality, your choices and your sense of self worth.
‘When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begin to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover.’
The metaphysical hangover seems to be very connected with actually caring about your life and the people around you, which as a young person I prided myself on not really doing.
Amis’s chapter on the hangover is one of the great English essays of our time. Kingsley dismisses the run-of-the-mill cures that you can find in any newspaper, since they omit “all that vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure that makes a hangover a [fortunately] unique route to self-knowledge and self-realisation”. Amis considers this issue an ailment in need of cure. The somewhat ignored awkward cousin to drink that shows up at the party too late, makes you feel like shit and watches you awkwardly the next day.
Amis writes that one must first address the physical hangover if you are going to have a chance in hell of coping with the metaphysical.
According to Amis, the physical hangover can be fought easily with breakfast. Amis recommends the perfect hangover breakfast of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s which consists of 6 fried eggs served with a glass of laudanum (an alcoholic tincture of opium and seltzer). While many comment on the outdated nature of this book, I disagree. I imagine this breakfast would still be a hit if it was served with smashed avocados at the Kiosk.
Where to get your breakfast? Home would ideally be your best bet, because at this point you are wanting to be as horizontal as possible and fearing the worst of going out into the world and running into people from the night before which undoubtedly will happen in this area. During a hangover you need controlled and strategic social interactions.
You’re most certainly are not going to make breakfast yourself. If you do have the ability to cook your own breakfast then I strongly doubt the origins of your alleged hangover. Perhaps you have already cooked it the night before, such as middle-of-the-night nachos, or a takeaway meat lovers you picked up from Top Pizza on the way out of Dulcies. In which case, I applaud you.
‘You must devote a good part of your day to yourself and your condition. If in fact you are unable to devote yourself to the hangover and curing it,’ he recommends ‘immediately getting as drunk as possible and delaying the hangover process until a more opportune time.’
After a morning spent devoted to yourself, try to get through the rest of the day without engaging in society. Begin with the hangover literature course.
Amis recommends a long course of reading, beginning with the crappiest possible portrait of life you can find. He suggests starting with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, before moving onto Ian Flemming and CS Forster. Then by the afternoon you should be ready to head towards a light comedy such as PG Wodehouse.
Everyday Drinking is not just a book about drinking, but a meditation on hospitality and human interaction. It is funny but Amis’ humour hides many truths about drinking, socialising and our relationship with ourselves. This book exposes how we engage with others in social events and how difficult it can be to navigate large groups.
“I am … merely stating the basic fact that conversation, hilarity and drink are connected in a profoundly human, peculiary intimate way.”
It is hard to choose quotes from this book to feature in the review as the entire thing moves from one funny tableau to the next.
In short, this is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It is right up there with How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain De Botton and Solar by Ian McEwan.
A great read. Get your selves some!
Feature image from Bar Tender Atlas
1. Tim Marshell https://timmarshall20.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/the-best-description-of-a-hangover-ever-lucky-jim-kingsley-amis/
2. Lucky Jim by Kinsley Amis, 1954.
3. The Conversation http://theconversation.com/we-drink-in-the-town-and-country-but-who-drinks-more-9957