Kingsley Amis on Drink


Kingsley Amis seems a rather interesting chap

Amis was by his own admission and as revealed by his biographers a serial adulterer for much of his life. A famous photograph of a sleeping Amis on a Yugoslav beach shows the slogan (written by wife Hilly) on his back “1 Fat Englishman – I fuck anything“.

In his memoirs, 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 due to a naive tendency on the part of his readers to apply the behaviour of his characters to himself. This was disingenuous; the fact was that he enjoyed drink, and spent a good deal of his time in pubs.

Amis achieved popular success with his first novel Lucky Jim, which is considered by many to be an exemplary novel of 1950s Britain. The novel satirizes the high-brow academic set of a redbrick university, seen through the eyes of its hero, Jim Dixon, as he tries to make his way as a young lecturer of history. The novel won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction and Amis was associated with the writers labelled the Angry Young Men.

I recently ran across this –
courtesy of the remarkable Arts & Letters Daily

he describes the hangover as “a great restraining influence” on our civilization

Take a Dipso like You
Kingsley Amis’s advice on all matters alcoholic

Here are some excerpts:

Photographs of the novelist Kingsley Amis, taken between his fiftieth birthday in April 1972 and his death in October 1995, sometimes show a resplendent sheen on his forehead, nose, and cheeks. This is what some people call “sweat alcohol,” a common problem among heavy drinkers of shorts and beer.

On both of the occasions on which I had the pleasure to meet this funny and distinguished man, he drank whisky throughout lunch and by the afternoon was wearing that slightly bewildered, slightly aggressive, slightly penitent expression known as the “Scotch gaze,” a look familiar to all who have walked the streets of Glasgow or Aberdeen at closing time on a Friday night. It is an expression curiously unique to whisky drinkers.

You can often tell a man’s tipple just by looking at him. Beer drinkers have bellies, gin swiggers sallow jowls, and wine, port, and brandy drinkers a “Rudolph conk,” formed by a rosaceous labyrinth of tiny, luminous blood vessels assembling itself on the nose.

Amis freely admits in all three books that he knows very little about wine, the reason given that his father, a clerk at the Colman’s Mustard factory, was not rich enough to give him good wine as a boy. Nevertheless, he blithely recommends Hock and Moselle over white Burgundy, while enjoining his readers to drink huge amounts of cheap table wine from France, Spain, Portugal, or Austria—”the better it is the worse the hangover.” “Make up your mind to drink wine in quantity,” he urges, and elsewhere: “No wine at all goes with . . . strong or ripe cheeses, bacon and tomatoes, sausages.” In fact, he says, “Wine doesn’t go with all food, or even most food.”

Alcohol science is full of crap. It will tell you, for instance, that drink does not really warm you up, it only makes you feel warm—oh, I see; and it will go on about alcohol being not a stimulant but a depressant, which turns out to mean that it depresses qualities like shyness and self-criticism, and so makes you behave as if you had been stimulated—thanks. In the same style, the said science will maintain that alcohol does not really fatten you, it only sets in train a process at the end of which you weigh more. Nevertheless, strong drink does, more than anything else taken by mouth, apart from stuff like cement, cram on the poundage.

the grand master when it comes to describing different levels of inebriation

His 1954 campus novel, Lucky Jim, contains a passage that is now regarded as the sine qua non (that’s Latin, too, ‘Tish!) of the literary hangover:

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.

The article finishes up with this para:

Curmudgeon is the word that is used—perhaps overused—to describe Kingsley Amis. Shallow wags also label him a right-wing reactionary, a misogynist, an anti-Semite, a brute, a pig, an ass, and heaven knows what in between. But from these three little books alone, he emerges as an intelligent, likable, honest, and excellently funny fellow. He had a large and dedicated circle of friends. At his death, he was widely mourned. Few, I suspect, will wish to try out his filthy cocktails, but these books (especially On Drink) may inspire some to read or to reread his novels and others to raise their glasses of dry white Burgundy to the memory of this extraordinarily interesting man.

harvey Warbanger is “some reeling idiot from California”

An interview in The Paris Review may be found here:
I leave you, Parishioners,
with his great advice:

Make up your mind to drink in quantity!

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