Monday, October 27, 2014


The past, as I feel I must have said before, is another country: they eat and drink things differently there.  I’ve been rereading Anthony Powell’s Afternoon Men. which has been reprinted in a new edition, with a foreword by Ed Park.  That's it above with a spanking new cover: some of the previous covers have been frankly lacklustre.

The title, as Powell indicates since it appears in the book’s epigram, comes from Burton’s  The Anatomy of Melancholy  -  … “as if they had heard that enchanted horn of Astolpho, that English duke in Ariosto, which never sounded but all his auditors were mad, and for fear ready to make away with themselves … they are a company of giddy-heads, afternoon men …”

So yes, in general terms, it’s not hard to grasp what an afternoon man is, somebody with time on his hands who has nothing better to do in the afternoons than drink.  This applies to women in Powell’s novel too.  For what it’s worth, I’m one of those people who finds that afternoon drinking is a one-way ticket to deep melancholy, if not downright suicidal depression. 

But I suspect there’s more lurking in that title. Afternoon Men was published in 1931, when British licensing laws were in full force, and pubs had to close in the afternoon.  Strict opening (and more importantly closing) hours had been introduced in Britain in World War One to ensure that the workers went back to the munitions factories after lunch.  So if you wanted to get a drink in the afternoon in London in 1931, or in fact in the afternoon in London right up to the mid-1980s, you had to go to some private drinking club, whether high or low.  In my mercifully limited experience, private drinking clubs, especially in London, whether high or low, whether in the afternoon or any other time, are deeply melancholy places.  It's hard to imagine the suave Mr. Powell hanging out in them, but no doubt he did, regarding it as "material."

Mr. Powell

William Atwater, Afternoon Men’s “hero,” finds himself in some kind of drinking establishment (not in the afternoon, I think, though it’s not absolutely specified) waiting for his “date” to arrive.  The bar is empty expect for two young men who “looked like perhaps quietly dressed pimps.”  The young men talk to the barman.

         “How’s George today?”
         “How’s yourself, sir?”
         The first one said, “That was a good one you mixed for me on Thursday, captain.”
         “One of our specials, sir?”
         “That Old Etonian.”
         “It’s a good cocktail, sir.”
         “I should think it was a good cocktail, George.”
         “Feel a bit lit after it, sir?”
         The young man leant across the bar, and said:
         “I’ll tell you this, George.  I was squiffy after two of them.  It’s a fact.”
He said it confidentially, as one might say: “The gift of tongues descended on me last night after months of fasting.”  Atwater ate the chips.


An Old Etonian cocktail, I now know, is made with 1.5 oz gin
, 1.5 oz Lillet blanc,
 2 dashes orange bitters;
 2 dashes Crème de Noyaux.  In other words, it’s a rather sweetened up martini, tasting of almonds.  Ah me.  The Old Etonian cocktail may have looked like this (the image is from

We can say with some certainty that the two men who looked like perhaps quietly dressed pimps were not Old Etonians.  Anthony Powell, of course, was.   I suspect it might be considered bad form for a true Old Etonian to drink an Old Etonian cocktail, but I’m not an expert of these things.  Atwater himself in the scene above drinks Martinis, and insists that they be dry, although as we know, even a 1931 dry martini was likely to be much sweeter than today’s version.

The woman Atwater is waiting for, Susan Nunnery, rings to say she isn’t coming, but Atwater meets her a few days later at a party she throws.

         Susan was standing by the door holding a cocktail shaker in her hand.
         “Hullo, darling.”
         “Hullo,” said Atwater.
         “Have a drink,” she said.
         She gave him a drink.  It was not very strong and quite nasty.
 Timeless stuff, eh?. 

I discover incidentally, that the Italian edition of Afternoon Men translates the title as Oumini Da Cocktail, (The Cocktail Men) and lord knows it must have been a tricky thing to render into Italian, but that title very subtly, and somehow crucially, misses the point.  I suppose Teste vertiginose  (that’s babelfish’s translation of “giddy-heads”) would have been out of the question.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


And while we’re on the subject of drinking out of unusual things (such as mason jars and boob glasses), I suppose women’s shoes are by some way the most intriguing “alternative” drinking vessel. 

As these images show, the shoe has been favored by the likes of Bette Davies, Joan Rivers and Rihana, and that’s just the women.

Of course, to be effective, the drink in the shoe has to be on the small side. Drinking a pint of Heineken from a stiletto just isn’t on.  For that you’d need the boot, which is a horse of a very different color.

When I was growing up in Sheffield my uncle Jim (that’s him above), who’s been mentioned before in this blog, styled himself as quite the beer connoisseur.  He refused to drink out of anything except a “straight” beer glass, like the one below, though as you can see it wasn’t absolutely straight – it had that small, curvy bulge at the top, which made it easier to hold:

If the barman served uncle Jim his beer in anything else, say a dimple mug, he’d refuse to accept it:

I think it had may have had something to do with notions of masculinity, maybe uncle Jim thought that having a handle was effete, but I’m only guessing.  Maybe he just thought the beer tasted served better that way.  Whatever the reason, evidence suggests that President Obama (more or less) shares my uncle Jim’s prejudices.

Of course if you’re desperate enough you’ll drink anything out of anything, and maybe visitors to Roy’s Choi’s new eatery in LA, named Commissary, will have the opportunity of drinking a gin and beet juice cocktail (yeah, really), served out of something what looks like the kind of hideous plastic thing you get your drink served in on a plane.

My uncle Jim would have been horrified, and I think he’d have had a point.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


There was a great story by Victor Lodato in the New Yorker a couple of weeks back, titled “Jack, July.”  It was about a meth addict in Arizona (yes, William Shawn might have disapproved) who wanders around in the heat, “tweaking” as they say, looking for, in every sense of the word, comfort - not least in the form of food.

The story’s protagonist, Jack, has been more or less unwillingly seduced by Jamie, a middle-aged Mexican he met in a restroom, who cooks for him silver dollar pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate chips, “Could the man stoop any lower?”

Jack goes to visit his mother and thinks he should have brought flowers “or a burrito” and although his mother isn’t home he manages to make off with a stash of granola bars.

He recalls visits with his meth friend Flaco to a Mexican restaurant named Birrieria Guadalajara, where they ate everything, “even tongue.”  There is in fact a Birrieria Guadalajara in Tucson, and they do have tongue on the menu: I’ll bet they’re really stoked to find themselves in the New Yorker.

And finally, at the end of the story, Jack returns more or less unwillingly to Jamie and says, “I’m sort of hungry” and although the reader imagines Jamie might well cook him more pancakes with whipped cream and chocolate chips, the man doesn’t actually stoop that low immediately – he simply gives Jack some meth.

I know nothing about Victor Lodato or his life, how much autobiography or research went into the piece, but as a piece of fiction it all seems thoroughly plausible.

And now I see a news items about 23-year-old George Jacobson who went on a week-long drug binge at the end of September, beginning of October this year, in the town of Roy, in Washington State, which seems a nice enough place from the photos.

Jacobson walked around being crazy and wandering into various people’s barns and houses.  He turned up in one home where the female owner found him looking agitated and repeating the words ‘bad neighbor.’  The woman, trying to calm him down, asked if there was anything she could do for him, and he told her to make him a sandwich, which she did, though police reports don’t say what was in it.  Anyway it did do the job of calming him to some extent, and when the woman’s husband came home they put Jacobson in their car, and drove him out to the edge of town and dumped him there.

Low level mayhem still ensued including Jacobson going into another house, pulling a gun on the inhabitants, demanding that he be driven to the neighboring town of Rainier, 13 miles away, and on the way forcing the driver to stop at McDonalds so he could buy himself a drink.

When Jacobson was finally arrested, he told the police he couldn’t remember much of what had happened to him in the last week – except stealing a car and that a “nice man” had taken him to McDonalds.  And he told them that all this bad behavior was because he’d taken LSD which had sent him on a bad trip.  He said that meth was his usual drug of choice.

When it comes to meth I pretty much only know what I read, and what I've occasionally seen in Breaking Bad.  So to educate myself on the eating habits of meth users I went to and found something called “tom’s tweaker tips” – if there’s any irony in this, it's far too subtle for me.

Tom says, “EAT!  Preferably stuff that’s good for you. … Remember, food is FUEL. Soft/Creamy/Mushy textures that won’t be too hard on your stomach are best: Yogurt, for the good bacteria you flush out every time that you douche. Bananas, for potassium ??? which helps prevent/soothe muscle cramps. Refried beans & cheese, with a little Taco Bell mild hot sauce. Hey, it’s free! (Try Beano to prevent gas … nothin’ less sexy than a giant TexMex lube fart!) Mashed potatoes & gravy. Or just with some butter & a little garlic salt. Mmmm. Cottage cheese & fruit. Oatmeal & raisins. Peanut butter. Avocado. Hummus. Even just a couple of spoonfuls is better than starving your digestive tract. Comfort food. The point is to get something nourishing into your system. And don’t worry: Carbs don’t count when you haven’t eaten in three days.”

Well, tweakers in my strictly limited experience, certainly do look trim, if not usually very attractive.  It think it often has something to do with the teeth.