The Hangover by Kingsley Amis (from Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis, Bloomsbury 2008):
What a subject! And, in very truth, for once, a ‘strangely neglected’ one. Oh, I know you can hardly open a newspaper or magazine without coming across a set of instructions – most of them unoriginal, some of them quite unhelpful and one or two of them actually harmful – on how to cure this virtually pandemic ailment. But such discussions concentrate exclusively on physical manifestations, as if one were treating a mere illness. They omit the psychological, moral, emotional, spiritual aspects: all that vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure that makes the hangover a (fortunately) unique route to self-knowledge and self-realisation.
Imaginative literature is not much better. There are poems and songs about drinking, of course, but none to speak of about getting drunk, let alone having been drunk. Novelists go into the subject more deeply and extensively, but tend to straddle the target, either polishing off the hero’s hangover in a few sentences or, so to speak, making it the whole of the novel. In the latter case, the hero will almost certainly be a dipsomaniac, who is not as most men are and never less so than on the morning after. This vital difference, together with much else, is firmly brought out in Charles Jackson’s marvellous and horrifying The Lost Weekend, the best fictional account of alcoholism I have read.
A few writers can be taken as metaphorically illuminating the world of the hangover while ostensibly dealing with something else. Perhaps Franz Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis, which starts with the hero waking up to find he has turned into a man-sized cockroach, is the best literary treatment of all. The central image could hardly be better chosen, and there is a telling touch in the nasty way everybody goes on at the chap. (I can find no information about Kafka’s drinking history.)
It is not my job, or anyway, I absolutely decline to attempt a full, direct description of the Metaphysical Hangover: no fun to write or read. But I hope something of this will emerge by implication from my list of counter-measures. Before I get on to that, however, I must deal with the Physical Hangover, which is, in any case, the logical one to tackle first, and the dispersal of which will notably alleviate the other – mind and body as we have already seen, being nowhere more intimately connected than in the sphere of drink. Here, then, is how to cope with:
THE PHYSICAL HANGOVER
1. Immediately on waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This recognises the truth that if you do not feel bloody awful after a hefty night, then you are still drunk and must sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.
2. If your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) is willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can. The exercise will do you good, and – on the assumption that you enjoy sex – you will feel toned up emotionally, thus delivering a hit-and-run raid on your Metaphysical Hangover (M.H.) before you formally declare war on it.
WARNINGS. (i) If you are in bed with somebody you should not be in bed with, and have in the least degree a bad conscience about this, abstain. Guilt and shame are prominent constituents of the M.H., and will certainly be sharpened by indulgence on such an occasion.
(ii) For the same generic reason, do not take the matter into your own hands if you awake by yourself.
3. Having of course omitted to drink all that water before retiring, drink a lot of it now, more than you need to satisfy your immediate thirst. Alcohol is a notorious dehydrant, and a considerable part of your Physical Hangover (P.H.) comes from the lack of water in your cells.
At this point I must assume that you can devote at least a good part of the day to yourself and your condition. Those who inescapably have to get up and do something can stay in bed only as long as they dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower (more of this later), breakfast off an unsweetened grapefruit (more of this later) and coffee, and clear off, with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as they dare. Let me just observe in passing that the reason why so many professional artists drink a lot is not necessarily very much to do with the artistic temperament, etc. It is simply that they can afford to, because they can normally take a large part of a day off to deal with the ravages. So, then:
4. Stay in bed until you can stand it no longer. Simple fatigue is another great constituent of the P.H.
5. Refrain, at all costs, from taking a cold shower. It may bring temporary relief, but in my own and others’ experience it will give your Metaphysical Hangover a tremendous boost after about half an hour, in extreme cases making you feel like a creature from another planet. Perhaps this is the result of having dealt another shock to your already shocked system. The ideal arrangement, very much worth the trouble and expense if you are anything of a serious drinker, is a shower fixed over the bath. Run a bath as hot as you can bear and lie in it as long as you can bear. When it becomes too much, stand up and have a hot shower, then lie down again and repeat the sequence. This is time well spent.
Warning: Do not do this unless you are quite sure your heart and the rest of you will stand it. I would find it most disagreeable to be accused of precipitating your death, especially in court.
6. Shave. A drag, true, and you may well cut yourself, but it is a calming exercise and will lift your morale (another sideswipe at your M.H.)
7. Whatever the state of your stomach, do not take an alkalising agent such as bicarbonate of soda. Better to take unsweetened fruit juice or a grapefruit without sugar. The reasoning behind this is that your stomach, on receiving a further dose of acid, will say to itself, ‘Oh. I see: we need more alkaline,’ and proceed to neutralise itself. Bicarbonate will make it say: ‘Oh, I see: we need more acid,’ and do you further damage.
If you find this unconvincing, take heed of what happened one morning when, with a kingly hangover, I took bicarbonate with a vodka chaser. My companion said: ‘Let’s see what’s happening in your stomach,’ and poured the remnant of the vodka into the remnant of the bicarbonate solution. The mixture turned black and gave off smoke.
8. Eat nothing, or nothing else. Give your digestion the morning off. You may drink coffee, though do not expect this to do anything for you beyond making you feel more wide awake.
9. Try not to smoke. That nicotine has contributed to your P.H.is a view held by many people, including myself.
10. By now you will have shot a good deal of the morning. Get through the rest of it somehow, avoiding the society of your fellows. Talk is tiring. Go for a walk or sit or lie about in the fresh air. At 11am or so, see if you fancy the idea of a Polish Bison (hot Bovril and vodka). It is still worthwhile without the vodka. You can start working on your M.H. any time you like.
11. About 12:30pm, firmly take a hair (or better, in Cyril Connolly’s phrase, a tuft) of the dog that bit you. The dog, by the way, is of no particular breed; there is no obligation to go for the same drink as the one you were mainly punishing the night before. Many will favour the Bloody Mary. Others swear by the Underburg. For the ignorant, this is a highly alcoholic bitters rather resembling Fernet Branca, but in my experience more usually effective. It comes in miniature bottles holding about a pub double, and should be put down in one. The effect on one’s insides after a few seconds is rather like that of throwing a cricket ball into an empty bath, and the resulting mild convulsions and cries of shock are well worth witnessing. But, thereafter, a comforting glow supervenes, and very often a marked turn for the better. By now, one way or another, you will be readier to face the rest of mankind and a convivial lunchtime can well result. Eat what you like within reason, avoiding anything greasy or rich. If your Physical Hangover is still with you afterwards, go to bed.
Before going on to the M.H., I will, for completeness’s sake, mention three supposed hangover cures, all described as infallible by those who told me about them, though I have not tried any of them. The first two are hard to come by:
• Go down the mine on the early-morning shift at the coal-face.
• Go up for half an hour in an open aeroplane (needless to say, with a non-hungover person at the controls).
• Known as Donald Watt’s Jolt, this consists of a tumbler of some sweet liqueur, Benedictine or Grand Marnier, taken in lieu of breakfast. Its inventor told me that with one of them inside him, he once spent three-quarters of an hour at a freezing bus-stop ‘without turning a hair’. It is true that the sugar in the drink will give you energy and the alcohol alcohol.
At this point, younger readers may relax the unremitting attention with which they have followed the above. They are mostly strangers to the Metaphysical Hangover. But they will grin or jeer at their peril. Let them rest assured that, as they grow older, the Metaphysical Hangover will more and more come to fill the gap left by their progressively less severe Physical Hangover. And of the two, incomparably, the more dreadful is…
THE METAPHYSICAL HANGOVER
1. Deal thoroughly with your P.H.
2. When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is and there is no use crying over spilt milk. If this works, if you can convince yourself, you need do no more, as provided in the remarkably philosophical:
G.P.9: He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.
3. If necessary then, embark on either the M.H. Literature Course or the M.H. Music Course or both in succession (not simultaneously). Going off and gazing at some painting, building or bit of statuary might do you good, too, but most people, I think, will find such things unimmediate for this — perhaps any — purpose. The structure of both Courses, HANGOVER READING and HANGOVER LISTENING, rests on the principle that you must feel worse emotionally before you start to feel better. A good cry is the initial aim.
Begin with verse, if you have any taste for it. Any really gloomy stuff that you admire will do. My own choice would tend to include the final scene of Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines 606 to the end, with what is probably the most poignant moment in all our literature coming at lines 624-6. The trouble here, though, is that today of all days you do not want to be reminded of how inferior you are to the man next door, let alone to a chap like Milton. Safer to pick somebody less horribly great. I would plump for the poems of A.E. Houseman and/or R.S. Thomas, not that they are in the least interchangeable. Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustum is good, too, if a little long for the purpose.
Switch to prose with the same principles of selection. I suggest Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. It is not gloomy exactly, but its picture of life in a Russian labour camp will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have, and who put up with it, if not cheerfully, at any rate in no mood of self-pity.
Turn now to stuff that suggests there may be some point to living after all. Battle poems come in rather well here: Macaulay’s Horatius, for instance. Or, should you feel that this selection is getting a bit British (for the Roman virtues Macaulay celebrates have very much that sort of flavour), try Chesterton’s Lepanto. The naval victory in 1571 of the forces of the Papal League over the Turks and their allies was accomplished without the assistance of a single Anglo-Saxon (or Protestant). Try not to mind the way Chesterton makes some play with the fact that this was a vicrory of Christians over Moslems.
By this time you could well be finding it conceivable that you might smile again some day. However, defer funny stuff for the moment. Try a good thriller or action story, which will start to wean you from self-observation and the darker emotions. Turn to comedy only after that; but it must be white – i.e. not black – comedy: P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen Leacock, Captain Marryat, Anthony Powell (not Evelyn Waugh), Peter De Vries (not The Blood of the Lamb, which, though very funny, has its real place in the tearful catagory, and a distinguished one). I am not suggesting that these writings are comparable in other ways than that they make unwillingness to laugh seem a little pompous and absurd.
Here, the trap is to set your sights too high. On the argument tentatively advanced against unduly great literature, give a wide berth to anyone like Mozart. Go for someone who is merely a towering genius. Tchaikovsky would be my best buy, and his Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique) my individual selection. After various false consolations have been set aside, its last movement really does what the composer intended and, in an amazingly non-dreary way, evokes total despair: sonic M.H. if ever I heard it.
Alternatively, or next, try Tchaikovsky’s successor, Sibelius. The Swan of Tuonela comes to mind, often recommended though it curiously is (or was in my youth) as a seduction battleground-piece (scope for a little article there). Better still for the purpose, I think, is the same composer’s incidental music to Maeterlinck’s play, Pelléas and Mélisande: not to be confused with Debussy’s opera of that name. The last section of the Sibelius, in particular, carries the ever-so-slightly phoney and overdone pathos that is exactly what you want in your present state.
If you can stand vocal music, I strongly recommend Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody – not an alto sax, you peasant, but a contralto voice, with men’s choir and full orchestra. By what must be pure chance, the words sung, from a – between you and me, rather crappy – poem of Goethe’s, Harzreise im Winter, sound like an only slightly metaphorical account of a hangover. They begin, “Aber abseits we ist’s?” — all right, I am only copying it off the record sleeve; they begin “But who is that (standing) apart?/His path is lost in the undergrowth”, and end with an appeal to God to “open the clouded vista over the thousand springs beside the thirsty one in the desert”. That last phrase gets a lot in. You can restore some of your fallen dignity by telling yourself that you too are a Duerstender in der Wueste. This is a piece that would fetch tears from a stone, especially a half-stoned stone, and nobody without a record of it in his possession should dare to say that he likes music. The Kathleen Ferrier version is still unequalled after twenty years.
Turn now to something lively and extrovert, but be careful. Quite a lot of stuff that appears to be so at first inspection has a nasty habit of sneaking in odd blows to the emotional solar plexus; ballet music (except Tchaikovsky) and overtures to light operas and such are much safer – Suppé, if you have no objection to being reminded of school sports days here and there, is fine. Or better, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, which would make a zombie dance.
Jazz is not much good for your M.H., and pop will probably worsen your P.H. But if you really feel that life could not possibly be gloomier, try any slow Miles Davis track. It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be. There is also the likely bonus to be gained from hearing some bystander refer to Davis as Miles instead of Davis. The surge of adrenalin at this piece of trendy pseudo-familiarity will buck up your system, and striking the offender to the ground will restore your belief in your own masculinity, rugged force, etc.
Warning: Make quite sure that Davis’s sometime partner, John Coltrane, is not “playing” his saxophone on any track you choose. He will suggest to you, in the strongest terms, that life is exactly what you are at present taking it to be: cheap, futile and meaningless.
* Wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things — ECCLESIASTES
I never tasted [whisky], except once for experiment at the inn at Inverary…It was strong but not pungent…What was the process I had no opportunity of inquiring, nor do I wish to improve the art of making poison pleasant — – SAMUEL JOHNSON
Christmas is the season for potted histories of the festival. Bolted on to the pagan solistice, celebrated for twelve feasting days in the middle ages, half stamped out by the Puritans under Cromwell, which caused pro Christmas riots. Christmas was fading from the scene under the Georges and then revived by the Victorians. Prince Albert brought the Germanic Christmas with him, the emphasis being on a family celebration. Charles Dickens turned it into the season of “hospitality, merriment, and open-heartedness” via A Christmas Carol and the country Christmas among snow in The Pickwick Papers. The commercialising civilisation of the Victorians invented crackers and Christmas cards and left us with the mish-mash of goodwill and purchasing, feasting and family we enjoy today.
The 12 days of Christmas have been extended to 30 or so of less concentrated celebrations with pantomimes, Nativity plays, concerts, work dos and Christmas jerseys. I took part in all of these this December and thoroughly enjoyed them.
The awful family Christmas, bleakly comical or merely bleak – the antithesis of Slade’s cheeriness in Merry Christmas Everybody – has become a tradition in its own right (a very recent example of the genre is Tom Wrigglesworth’s A Christmas Not Special).
It turns up in literature a good deal, Christmas being a time when characters get together and do their worst.
As well as exalting the ideal Christmas, Dickens could show an unhappy one at the Gargeries with the bully Mrs Gargery, and her victims, her husband Joe and her orphaned brother Pip.
We were to have a superb dinner, consisting of a leg of pickled pork and greens, and a pair of roast stuffed fowls. A handsome mince-pie had been made yesterday morning … and the pudding was already on the boil.
It is a ceremonious occasion. Guests come through the front door – locked for the rest of the year– and sit in the parlour – in wraps for the rest of the year.
Pip is kept very much in his place as an orphaned dependent, nagged and lectured by the rest. He is also sick with anxiety because he has stolen food for Magwitch the convict:-
Among this good company I should have felt myself, even if I hadn’t robbed the pantry, in a false position. Not because I was squeezed in at an acute angle of the tablecloth, with the table in my chest, and the Pumblechookian elbow in my eye, nor because I was not allowed to speak (I didn’t want to speak), nor because I was regaled with the scaly tips of the drumsticks of the fowls, and with those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain…..
Joe, his ally, does his best:-
he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any. There being plenty of gravy to-day, Joe spooned into my plate, at this point, about half a pint.
Pip’s misery is interrupted by soldiers who visit the house when searching for Magwitch, and this chance of a hunt enlivens the company:-
As I watched them while they all stood clustering about the forge, enjoying themselves so much, I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he furnished.
It is one of the most powerful scenes in the English novel, that Christmas dinner at the Dedaluses. Present:- Mr and Mrs Dedalus, Dante the aunt, young Stephen Dedalus, Uncle Charles and Mr Casey. Mr Dedalus carves, of course (always the man’s job).
the warm heavy smell of turkey and ham and celery rose from the plates and dishes and the great fire was banked high and red in the grate and the green ivy and red holly made you feel so happy and when dinner was ended the big plum pudding would be carried in, studded with peeled almonds and sprigs of holly, with bluish fire running around it and a little green flag flying from the top.
The green flag is for Irish nationalism. Tension starts rising between the devoted followers of Parnell and the devout Catholic Dante:-
Mrs Dedalus laid down her knife and fork, saying:
—For pity sake and for pity sake let us have no political discussion on this day of all days in the year.
(As the host carves, the hostess tries to keep the peace).
He heaped up the food on Stephen’s plate and served uncle Charles and Mr Casey to large pieces of turkey and splashes of sauce. Mrs Dedalus was eating little and Dante sat with her hands in her lap. She was red in the face. Mr Dedalus rooted with the carvers at the end of the dish and said:
—There’s a tasty bit here we call the pope’s nose. If any lady or gentleman…
He held a piece of fowl up on the prong of the carving fork. Nobody spoke.
It ends with Dante angrily leaving the table and the two Parnellites, Mr Casey and Mr Dedalus, weeping over the disgraced Parnell.
An atheist, Elizabeth Taylor had no time for Christmas at all, regarding it as something Christianity forced on the rest of society.
Richard, the young businessman, trapped with his wife and mother-in-law wishes despondently Christmas might be over. On Christmas Day he walks through the dull village “Lighted trees in the little houses, holly wreaths on front doors already looked old stuff. Christmas was petering out.”
He has a glum time while his wife has a childish enjoyment for Christmas including a stocking by her bed. Meanwhile their friends are depressed in London. Patrick waits in for his capricious boyfriend, “it should be possible.. to ignore the dismal Christmas scene outside, groups of people homing fast, back to Mother and Father, until they were all cooped up in their families, leaving the streets deserted. . . the deadly silence of the day.”
The boyfriend turns up, with a present of a tie that his uncle had given him, and he has his own memory of deadly family Christmases .. “It was a true sacrifice to this spirit his mother tried to foster when he, year after year, offered his cracker to his cousin. Taking one end, she would turn her head away and screw up her eyes, ready to give a little cry of alarm at the bang. Playing her part too he guessed. Wearily, but wearing his fixed, Christmas grin, he would read out the motto, put the paper hat on his head.”
1976 Ending Up by Kingsley Amis
It was adapted for television in 1989 and the Christmas scene starts at 31:00. (H/t JD)
The five main characters would in an allegory be called Malevolent; Boring; Affected; Put-upon; and Drunk. They live together in a cold cottage. Their accumulated years are strangling their bowels and hearts and brains. The grand-children and great-grand-children of Affected have turned up for a much begrudged duty visit. They sing carols and then:-
.. they had the presents. Those from the guests to the hosts were chiefly a disguised dole: tins or pots of more or less luxurious food, bottles of hard liquor, wide-spectrum gift tokens. Hosts showered guests with diversely unwearable articles of clothing: to Keith from Adela, a striped necktie useful for garrotting underbred rivals in his trade; to Tracey from George, a liberation-front lesbian’s plastic apron…
Christmas dinner was something of a success; it passed off, at any rate, without bloodshed.
Then there are parlour games which bring out the vicious hostility or bewildered stupidity of Malevolent and the rest. This grinding celebration is seen mostly from the point of view of the young relations who experience it as “boredom – a poor word, for the consuming, majestic sensation that engulfed him, comparable in intensity to a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience”. The young are full of repulsion and fear of the sight of “age, and then the only end of age.”
2001 Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections is structured around whether the mother Enid will manage to gather her grown up children to enact the rituals of Christmas. I haven’t got the book to hand, but here’s a summing up:-
The fetish she makes of Christmas has uncomfortably recognisable comedy and pathos. (Her seasonal round-robins – laboriously written out on hundreds of cards, doing their best to spin the family’s numerous disasters into sunny good news and looking forward to a “heavenly” family celebration – are a classic example of the transparent denial so common in these missives.) When she finally wheedles her reluctant brood into attending, the event is hobbled by the accelerating decline of her husband and the cross-currents of resentment and misunderstanding between the family members. Mistletoe and wine this is not.
Any other examples of the bleak Christmas in literature?
Is that you all organised then? Have a nice Christmas!
My favourite Christmas record:
Fats and the boys recorded this in Chicago on November 29 1936: they’d obviously begun celebrating a wee bit early.
Best wishes to all readers.
Normal service here at Shiraz will be resumed shortly.
A child was born in La Place, Louisiana on 25 December 1886: Edward “Kid” Ory, the Grand Daddy of all jazz trombonists.
Here he is in 1945 with his Creole Jazz Band, playing ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ (aka Christmas Tree, O Tannenbaum, The Red Flag, etc):
Mutt Carey (trumpet); Darnell Howard (clarinet); Buster Wilson (piano); Bud Scott (guitar); Ed Garland (bass); Minor Hall (drums).
H/t: Hal Smith
Some in general, excellent advice from a man who – like me – seriously objected to the intrusion of religion into the true, alcoholic, spirit of Christmas. His judgement broadly coincides with my own, and is therefore sound, except upon the question of beer: bloody Carlsberg!?! What was the man thinking of? I recommend Guinness’s revived West Indian Porter, anything from the Hobgoblin people , or – if you really must have larger, Veltin’s. Anyway, here’s Amis:
From Every Day Drinking (1981 – to be bourn in mind re: prices quoted ), by Kingsley Amis
Here is a mixed bag of seasonable concoctions. First and foremost and indispensable, Irish Coffee. It’s a bit of a pest to make, but never was such labour more richly rewarded. To make each drink, stir thoroughly in a large pre-heated wine-glass 1 teaspoon of sugar or a bit more, about a quarter of a pint of your best and freshest black coffee, and 1-2 oz Irish whiskey — no other sort will do. When the mixture is completely still, pout onto its surface over the back of a spoon about 2 oz chilled double cream. The cream must float on the other stuff, not mingle with it. If this goes wrong, take Michael Jackson’s excellent advice: “Don’t serve the drink to your guests — knock it back quickly yourself, and try again.”
Other drinks have sprung up in imitation with the same coffee and cream content but with other spirits as a basis, like Benedictine, which gives Monks’ coffee, and Drambuie, which gives Prince Charles’s Coffee — yes that’s what the UK Bartenders Guild call it. Of those I’ve tried, none compared with the original.
Except for being warm, the next drink could hardly be more different. This is the Raging Bull, an Amis original, though no great powers of invention were called for. Make Bovril in a mug in the ordinary way and stir with a shot of vodka , a couple of shakes of Worcester sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice (optional). That’s it. Very heartening in cold and/or hung-over conditions.
Now, an unusual evening warmer, the Broken Leg. having had a real broken leg myself earlier this year I puzzle over the significance of the name, but the drink’s straightforward enough. Slowly heat about a quarter of a pint of apple juice in a saucepan with a few raisins, a cinnamon stick and a lemon slice. When it starts to bubble, strain into a preheated glass or mug. Pour a couple of ounces of bourbon whiskey into the pan, warm for a few seconds and pour into the remainder. Formula from John Doxat.
Lastly, American Milk Punch. You drink this cold, but it’ll soon light a fire in you. The previous evening — this is the hard part put milk instead of water into your refrigerator ice trays. On the day, mix thoroughly in a jug one part bourbon whiskey, one part French cooking brandy and four parts fresh milk. Pour into biggish glasses, drop in milk cubes, stir gently, dust with grated nutmeg and serve. This punch is the very thing for halfway through the morning of Boxing Day, when you may be feeling a little jaded and need a spot of encouragement before some marvellous treat like the sons-in-laws coming over for lunch. In fact, it can be treated as Snowy Mary, sustaining as well as uplifting, and much kinder to the digestion than the old Bloody Mary, a delicious drink, I agree, but full of acid fruit juices.
Remember the Milk Punch for the New Year as a heartener before air trips, interviews, etc.
Christmas is traditionally a time when we behave kindly to our fellow human beings and push goodwill about all over the place. Well, to get myself into any kind of shape for being nice to others, I’ll have to take a lot of care of myself — and no more devotedly than in the sphere of drink. I intend to see that I have ample supplies of the few key items without which my Christmas would be a mockery, leaving me with no good will to spare for anyone.
My list leads with the Macallan Highland malt whiskey, my Drink of the Year (also of last year) and widely regarded in the trade as the king of malts. The flavour’s rich, even powerful, but completely smooth, as smooth as that of a fine cognac, and immediately enjoyable. Over Christmas I’ll be staying off it until comparatively late in the day, because the only drink you want after it is more of it. Macallen comes in various strengths and ages. I’ll be going for the standard 40 per cent alcohol at ten years old rather than the Macallen Royal Marriage, a unique blend of whiskies from 1948 and 1961, the couple’s respective birth years — wonderful stuff but a bit steep at £26.
I’ll also need a malt of a different type for when I’m not drinking the Macallen, selected from Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Tormore, Bowmore. And a good blend, preferably Famous Grouse, both for itself and for the interesting results if you move to a malt after it.
Must check that the Dry Martini makings arte in place — Gordon’s gin, Martini Rossi dry vermouth, and a jar of the largest possible hard, white, acid cocktail onions, much more of a sweat to find than the gin and vermouth. Check too on basic Bloody Mary makings — vodka, Worcester sauce and expensive tomato juice.
Table wines are not my forte, but on special occasions like the appearance of the Christmas turkey and trimmings I enjoy throwing down a good strong red. The one I’d go for is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not too recent, say ’76 or ’77. Any left over will go well with the Stilton. (perhaps a spot of port too with that, nothing fancy — somebody’s Special Reserve at about £5.)
I won’t be able to resist spoiling myself with some Musca de Beaumes de Venise, a sweet white wine from the Rhône that’s been tremendously successful here in the last couple of years. Made with the muscatel grape, fruity, flowery, and all that, an ideal desert wine, good with melon too.
We’re now beginning to deal with luxuries and treats, rather than the sheer necessity of Scotch or gin. Among liqueurs I’d certainly favour Kümmel, which with its caraway flavour does seem to take the fullness off after the plum pudding. Or a gross concession to guzzling like Bols apricot brandy or cherry brandy. But I’ll probably end up with Drambuie, drinking some of it cut 50-50 with my malt whisky, if I can spare any.
Back to the realm of stark need with the question of beer. I’ll be filling the refrigerator as full as I’m allowed to with large can of Carlsberg Special Brew and about half as many of the ordinary Carlsberg Pilsner Lager. Special Brew is a wonderful drink, but after a certain amount of it you do tend to fall over. Diluted with a weaker version of itself it gives you a longer run. To quaff the two of them half and half, really cold, out of a silver tankard produces as much goodwill as anything I know.
Most jazz attempts at Christmas tunes are dire – especially traddie versions.
But this version of Silent Night – by Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart and the so-called World’s Greatest Jazz Band (in 1971 or ’72) – is excellent. I presume the arrangement is by Bob Haggart:
Trumpets: Yank Lawson , Billy Butterfield
Clarinet & sop sax: Bob Wilber
Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble
Tenor sax: Bud Freeman
Piano: Ralph Sutton
Bass: Bob Haggart
Drums: Gus Johnson Jnr
A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem
Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.
Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948), in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.
Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:
2000 years of anti-Jewish lies
In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.
Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.
Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.
As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.
The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.
The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.
Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.
Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.
Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.
Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.
It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.
Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.
This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.
Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.
At this time of year, those of us without Christian religious convictions attempt to make the best of things by celebrating goodwill and love towards all humanity. For those of us in the jazz community, nothing can express this better than Mr Jackson Tea and his old friend Louis singing and playing ‘Rockin’ Chair’: the affection – indeed, love in the truest, platonic, sense – is obvious. It transcends all racial, cultural and other artificial divisions of humanity.
This 1957 TV performance is as near as we’ll ever get to a film of the legendary New York Town Hall performance of ten years earlier: Bobby Hackett (cornet) and Peanuts Hucko (clarinet) are once again present, which is just great; but Jackson and Louis are the timeless stars – wondrous then, now and forever: