Everyday Drinking By Kingsley Amis: The Boozer's Bible

Whether you savour it or down it one, this book is essential reading for any committed soak.
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Consider yourself a “true drink-man?” A connoisseur of the booze?  If so, and you haven’t read Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis, then you’re not. These days, if known at all, Amis is perhaps best remembered as the dad of his famous author son, Martin. It should be the other way round. Amis was a renowned writer, drinker and philanderer. Despite devoting himself to the pleasures of both drink and women throughout his career, he was able to produce a commendably high body of work comprising novels, short stories and poems.

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Everyday Drinking is an unabashed classic. Written by someone with a widespread and enthusiastic knowledge of his subject, it’s a thoroughly entertaining read. The collection encompasses a trio of books written throughout the 1970s and 80s: On Drink, Every Day Drinking and How’s Your Glass? These often hilarious reflections cover recipes, an insight into the history of booze, sage advice, quizzes and a variety of drink-related articles.  The book is addictively quotable; for example, on the need for a man to have his own dedicated booze fridge, Amis says “Wives and such are constantly filling up any refrigerator… even its ice–compartment, with irrelevant rubbish like food.”

His refreshing style, allied to a philosophy founded on “the basic fact that conversation, hilarity and drink are connected in a profoundly human, peculiarly intimate way” makes this the ideal companion for the modern, discerning drinker.

While Amis disliked all forms of stinginess he was very much an advocate of quantity over quality

The first collection, and the most entertaining, On Drink, is packed full with opinions revealing a wilful disdain for political correctness.  Not only a paean to the joys of drinking, it embraces being drunk as well as the hangover. Furthermore, it contains invaluable cocktail recipes and, in these straitened times, most gloriously of all “The Mean Sod’s Guide”.  This allows you to appear a most generous host without having to waste too much of your best stuff on the likes of your wife’s boss. While Amis disliked all forms of stinginess he was very much an advocate of quantity over quality, arguing that guests “would rather have two glasses of ordinary decent port than one of a rare vintage.”

Don’t have quite enough booze to make a decent punch? Liberally fill it with cheap red wine, soda, cooking sherry and lots of fresh fruit to give the impression of extravagance.  The clincher, to keep consumption at an acceptable level? Add “menacingly it has more of a kick than might be expected.” Struggling to palm off those dodgy bottles of plonk you fell in love with on holiday? Try this for size. When, after being served, it leads to an awkward silence respond “Doesn’t travel well, does it? Doesn’t travel,” while bemoaning the fact that you really “have to have drunk a lot of it with that marvellous food under that sun...” However, compared to back then, supermarkets sell booze far cheaper so you perhaps don’t need to resort to “dropping in an olive the size of a baby’s fist” into your guest’s martinis.

I mentioned the recipes, didn’t I? Where to start? Since I bought this book I’ve used its recipes more times than I care to remember. In many cases it’s because I literally can’t remember, but there you go.  What Amis said 40 years ago still stands: “In an era of the business lunch, the dinner party, the office party and the anything-and everything party…the human race has not devised any way of…getting to know the other chap first, breaking the ice that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same time in agreeable surroundings…as drink.” With “cocktails, coolers, cobblers and cups” very much back in fashion, driven by the influence of series such as Mad Men, his recipe for a Dry Martini couldn’t be more fashionable.

Not only does Amis write on the pleasures of drinking he also, to marvellous effect, wrote on the consequences

Or what about those vacuous dinner parties where friends of friends attempt to engage you in witless small talk about “the economy” and “Assange”? Why not liven up such events with the introduction of The Careful Man’s Peachy Punch, a heady concoction containing 5 bottles of white wine, 4 of cider, half a bottle of Archers, the same of Vodka, some Ice and about 2lbs of Peaches. The key here - and it applies to any mixed drinks containing fruit - is to ensure that you soak the fruits, in the liquor, for at least three hours in advance.

I’d also heartily recommend the Christmas Punch. Amis claims it doesn’t give you a hangover. It does. And, if you’re anything like me, it’ll also get you a week in the spare room.  However, it also serves to get you through those “gruelling nominal festivities like Christmas, the wedding of an old friend of your wife's or taking the family over to Gran's for Sunday dinner'.” It’s a simple recipe. 3 bottles of white wine, and 2 bottles each of gin, brandy, sherry, vermouth, cider, fruit and ice cubes. What could possibly go wrong? To be fair, some are simply undrinkable, it must be said. Tequila Bloody Mary anyone? Bovril with vodka? As even Amis said, “strongly dis-recommended for mornings after”.

Not only does Amis write on the pleasures of drinking he also, to marvellous effect, wrote on the consequences. Who can’t fail to identify with perhaps his most famous quote, taken from his first novel, Lucky Jim? Describing the after effects of a heavy night on the sauce the eponymous Jim describes how: “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”.

He recommended a hearty shag as the most suitable remedy for the physical hangover

If that weren’t bad enough, it was as if “his mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum.”  What to do? He recommended a hearty shag as the most suitable remedy for the physical hangover. However, I would hate you to think him a boor. He made it clear that this was only an option “if your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) willing”. Alternatively, if you’ve over-indulged on a school night, then “stay in bed as long as you dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower breakfast…and clear off with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as you dare.” I wouldn’t try this too often, mind.

Conversely, the metaphysical hangover, namely, “that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (those two are not the same) anxiety, self-hated, sense of failure and fear for the future” is an altogether different beast.  The only remedy was to read the likes of Solzhenitsyn or Milton. In short “you must feel worse emotionally before you start to feel better.” by reading about those in a worse pickle than you. As someone who struggles to order a takeaway when hungover, I’d stick with a bunk-up, to be honest.

Every Day Drinking collates a number of weekly pieces Amis wrote for the likes of the Daily Telegraph. Whilst there can be a degree of repetition, such is the quality of the writing they remain enjoyable.  There’s a cracking section on” boozemanship”, providing handy advice on how to outsmart the most irritating show offs.  He eschews tonic with his gin, favouring only a little water, so as to “taste the botanicals”.

If wine is your thing I probably wouldn’t bother

I can’t deny Amis will appear curmudgeonly to some. For example, he detests “theme” pubs and the “bloody” overbearing pop music that was becoming common. Hold on, now you come to mention it… It’s probably on wine where he’s at his most anachronistic. If wine is your thing I probably wouldn’t bother. Amis is a product of his time and is very much a beer and spirits man. While acknowledging that the best wine will be better than the best beer he argues that a “lot of beer is probably better than a lot of wine.” He also rails against wine snobbery, arguing that you should drink any wine you like with whatever dish.

The collection ends With How’s Your Glass? It contains numerous quizzes which, although largely redundant, are still worth a read. What is an Atholl Brose? Or, Linie Aquavit? Perfect for your next family Christmas Day quiz. Fuelled by the Christmas Punch, of course.

I’ll leave it to your discretion as to whether you savour this in short slugs or down it in one. Either way, cheers!

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