Gin

Being a doting Admirer, I enjoyed reading Bernard Mandeville’s remarks on gin:

Nothing is more destructive, either in regard to the Health or the Vigilance and Industry of the Poor than the infamous Liquor, the name of which, deriv’d from Juniper in the Dutch is now by frequent use and the Laconick Spirit of the Nation, from a Word of middling Length shrunk into a Monosyllable, Intoxicating Gin, that charms the unactive, the desperate and crazy of either Sex, and makes the starving Sot behold his Rags and Nakedness with stupid Indolence, or banter both in senseless Laughter, and more insipid Jests: It is a fiery Lake that sets the Blame in Flame, burns up the Entrails, and scorches every Part within; and at the same time a Lethe of Oblivion, in which the Wretch immers’d drowns his most pinching Cares, and with his Reason all anxious Reflexion on Brats that cry for Food, hard Winters Frosts, and horrid empty Home.

In hot and adust Tempers it makes Men Quarrelsome, renders ’em Brutes and Savages, sets ’em on to fight for nothing, and has often been the Cause of Murder. It has broke and destroy’d the strongest Constitutions, thrown ’em into Consumptions, and been the fatal and immediate occasion of Apoplexies, Phrensies and sudden Death. But as these latter Mischiefs happen but seldom, they might be overlook’d and conniv’d at, but this cannot be said of the many Diseases that are familiar to the Liquor, and which are daily and hourly produced by it; such as Loss of Appetite, Fevers, Black and Yellow Jaundice, Convulsions, Stone and Gravel, Dropsies, and Leucophlegmacies.

Among the doting Admirers of this Liquid Poison, many of the meanest Rank, from a sincere Affection to the Commodity it self, become Dealers in it, and take delight to help others to what they love themselves, as Whores commence Bawds to make the Profits of one Trade subservient to the Pleasures of the other. But as these Starvelings commonly drink more than their Gains, they seldom by selling mend the wretchedness of Condition they labour’d under while they were only Buyers. In the Fag-end and Out-skirts of the Town, and all Places of the vilest Resort, it’s sold in some part or other of almost every House, frequently in Cellars, and sometimes in the Garret. The petty Traders in this Stygian Comfort are supply’d by others in somewhat higher Station, that keep profess’d Brandy Shops, and are a little to be envy’d as the former; and among the middling People, I know not a more miserable Shift for a Livelihood than their Calling; whoever would thrive in it must in the first place be of a watchfulo and suspicious, as well as a bold and resolute Temper, that he may not be iposed upon by Cheats and Sharpers, nor out-bully’d by the Oaths and Imprecations of Hackney-Coachmen and Foot-Soldiers; in the second, he ought to be a dabster at gross Jokes and loud Laughter, and have all the winning Ways to allure Customers and draw out their Money, and be well vers’d in the low Jests and Ralleries the Mob make use of to banter Prudence and Frugality. He must be affable and obsequious to the most despicable; always ready and officious to help a Porder down with his Load, shake Hands with a Basket-Woman, pull off his Hat to an Oyster-Wench, and be familiar with a Beggar; with Patience and good Humour he must be able to endure the filthy Actions and viler Language of nasty Drabs, and the lewdest Rake-hells, and without a Frown or the least Aversion bear with all the Stench and Squalor, Noise and Impertinence that the utmost Indigence, Laziness and Ebreity, can produce in the most shameless and abandon’d Vulgar…

The Fable of the Bees, Volume I, Remark G. He goes on, naturally, to outline the social benefits of widespread gin consumption, but these passages are less entertaining, so I’ll resist the temptation to just carry on quoting chunks of Mandeville and stop there.Oxford’s bookshops seem baffled by The Fable. (They wouldn’t be the first to be so). When I went to buy a copy of the full text last week, to supplant the Hundert excerpted edition I used to use, I found that the computer at Blackwells filed it under “Nineteenth Century Prose Fiction”. Most of it is in prose, so one out of three may not be bad.

Counting the Units

Booze is bad for you, or so the Government tries to tell us with its claims that men should only drink 21 “units” of booze a week, preferably fewer, and women 14.

But here are the rules which enable us all to live long and prosper in a happy oasis of our own self-deception…

We start with two traditional rules:

(1) Drinking at lunchtime doesn’t count.
(2) Doubles poured at home count as singles.

To which we can add:

(3) White wine doesn’t count, either.
(4) Nor does Guinness (since it’s good for you).

and Raj reports a new and, to my mind, excellent rule:

(5) “Desserts with excessive quantities of Marsala in them shouldn’t belong on the list either. It’s food after all.”

What else? (Dan – what are your rules?)

Jo wrote [22.8.2002]: Interestingly, Guinness is so good for you that it actually counts as negative points.

Drunk Politicians

The happy consequences of Jeremy Paxman’s focus on Charles Kennedy’s drinking habits last week is that the backlash is underway, and defences of drunk politicians are appearing in the mainstream media. New Labour’s puritanism is always ridiculous, never more so than a few years ago when (it was reported that) MPs had been ordered not to let themselves be photographed with drinks in their hands, and while it is, in general, a good thing that train drivers, emergency workers and certain others are sober during their working days, to extend this logic to throughout the public sector and across the political classes is absurd.

So we have had Tom Utley’s defence of the drunk politician in the Telegraph, which joins Alan Watkins’ column in last week’s Independent on Sunday (before this controversy broke) on the prodigious drinking feats of the older generation in general, and Tony Crosland in particular. And a browse of the archives brings the words of this song to light, reported by Matthew Engel in the Guardian in its 1999 coverage of the Lib Dem party conference:

Speed bonnie boat
Like a hack on the make
Back to his seat on Skye.
Carry the lad that was born to be king
Back to his seat on Skye

Where is the man?
Down in the bar,
Loudly the whips pro-clai-aim
Out on the town
Out of his head
Charlie is pissed again

And Radio 4’s Sunday morning Broadcasting House played the happy-making clip of Alan Clark’s remarks to the House of Commons in July 1983, which led to one of the immortal passages in his Diaries:

Fool, Clark. Fool, fool, fool… The fucking text! I’d barely looked at it… It seemed frightfully long. So long, indeed, that I would have to excise certain passages. But which? And yet this didn’t really seem very important as we ‘tasted’ first a bottle of ’61 Palmer, then ‘for comparison’ a bottle of ’75 Palmer then, switching back to ’61, a really delicious Pichon Longueville… A huge Havana was produced, and I puffed it deeply while struggling with my speech… The Chamber was unusually full for an after-ten event. … As I started, the odiousness of the text sank in. The purpose of the Order, to make it more likely (I would put it no stronger than that) that women should be paid the same rate for the same task, as men, was unchallengeable. In my view, in most instances, women deserve not less but more than the loutish, leering, cigaretting males who control most organisations at most levels But give a civil servant a good case and he’ll wreck it with clich�s, bad punctuation, double negatives and convoluted apology. Stir into this a directive from the EC, some contrived legal precedent and a few caveats from the ECJ and you have a text which is impossible to read – never mind read out.

I found myself dwelling on, implicitly, it could be said, sneering at, the more cumbrous and unintelligible passages. Elaine Kellett-Bowman, who has a very squeaky voice, squeaked, kept squeaking, at me, “Speed up”. Some of the House got the point, enjoyed what I was doing, but I sensed also a certain restlessness starting to run round the Chamber. I did speed up. I gabbled. Helter-skelter I galloped through the text. Sometimes I turned over two pages, sometimes three. What did it matter? There was no shape to it. No linkage from one proposition to another. They very antithesis of an Aristotelian pattern…

Then the inevitable. The one sure-fire way of breaking through a speaker who won’t give way. “Point of Order, Mr Deputy Speaker”. I sat down. A new Labour member, whom I had never seen before, called Clare Short, dark-haired and serious with a lovely Brummie accent, said something about she’d read that you couldn’t accuse a fellow member of being drunk, but she really believed I was incapable. “It is disrespectful to the House and to the office that he holds that he should come here in this condition”. Screams, yells, shouts of “Withdraw”, counter-shouts. General uproar…

One more brief kerfuffle, and the Division was called. Nobody spole to me much in the Aye lobby, although little garden gnome Peter Rost sidled up and said, “After a performance like that I almost considered voting against”. Poxy little runt, what’s he ever done?

Any rational human being would, in any case, require a great deal of booze to survive at Westminster in the company of the dreary idiots who populate the parliamentary benches today.

Nick wrote [22.7.2002]: FWIW, Alan Clark’s bits come roughly 38 minutes into the broadcast, for those who want to jump to the meat of the matter.

Booze

Thanks to James for reminding me of this excellent remark in Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (Volume II, p.221):

An American, instead of going in a leisure hour to dance merrily at some place of public resort, as the fellows of his class continue to do throughout the greater part of Europe, shuts himself up at home to drink. He thus enjoys two pleasures: he can go on thinking of his business and can get decently drunk by his own fireside.

Speaking as someone who likes to shut himself up at home to drink, I’m not sure that this should be seen as a distinctively American practice, but it’s certainly a neglected topic among contemporary social theorists.