I miss Ronnie Scott and his euphemisms. Scott once told a story about fellow tenorman Ben Webster popping out for "refreshments" between sets. When Webster returned, his demeanour suggested that he was "obviously feeling very refreshed".
In my early 20s, I studied refreshment under Ben Webster. We were both living in Amsterdam, and used to drink at a late-night cafe owned by an ex-boxer, who obliged us to drink excessive quantities of the city's infamously ordinary lager. We enhanced the boring brew by using it to chase down Dutch jenever gin.
It was during this period that I did some of my most valuable work on hangovers, discovering on behalf of humanity the "herring cure". This entails venturing into the eternally rainy, gusty, cold streets of Amsterdam and eating two or three salted herrings, piled with chopped onions, from an outdoor stall.
Its beauty is that it combines all the elements of a classic hangover cure: a shock to the system (to distract the recipient from other discomforts); a remedy so daunting that the malady pales by comparison; fresh air (to clear the head); and food (to replace lost blood sugar). The last is the most important. The sweeter the onions, the better it works. Also, the herrings magnify the thirst, and the water thus consumed repairs the dehydration caused by alcohol. This, too, is crucial.
After a few bouts with Dutch salt herrings, Ben Webster fled to Denmark. There, they make sweeter herring dishes, soused in wine - hair of the dog for the akvavit-afflicted. Danish pastries are good in the sugar department, but a request for them might meet with puzzlement. The Danes call them Viennese pastries.
The Germans claim that their additive- free beers cause no hangovers, but this is not my experience. If you drink enough Weihnachtsdoppelbockbier, you can wake up with a head like alphabet soup. The only cure is "head-cheese": more brain than brawn. Eat it on pumpernickel.
The life of an itinerant professional drinker is alive with such threats, but one hopes to learn lessons that may usefully be passed to others. The old Czechoslovakia, for example, was very hazardous. Seeking to taste the beer of Budweis in the town's most famous bar, I thought I risked no fate worse than a beautiful single woman with high cheekbones and a Slavic melancholy (the bar is called The Meat Market). Instead, I was taken up by some Bohemians who had under the table a jug of home-made Slivovitz. We somehow finished the evening snorting snuff.
They told me that I would feel better next morning if I had the herbal liqueur of Carlsbad with my coffee. I am not sure about the liqueur, but, the gritty, pungent, coffee of those days worked wonders. Since the Velvet Revolution, the poor capitalist victims drink instant.
In Poland, after a night on rye-based vodka, I was offered the bread of the same grain and a bowl of czadnina soup garnished with prunes and apples. As czadnina goes, it was a fine example. "Good czadnina! Is this made from beetroot?" I asked, brightly. (Well, bright-ish-ly). "No, duck's blood," growled my host, Kowalski. That did the trick.
A Russian spent many long hours trying to persuade me that wheat vodkas were "purer". The damage was bad enough, but the blood-sugar was soon replaced by jam-filled blini pancakes. Just as well - that was all the hotel had for breakfast. For that matter, toast and jam or honey would have been just as effective.
The Chinese put lizards into bottles of alcohol. The result smells, to use a wine term, fecal. It also tastes as one imagines that sort of thing might. For the hangover, I know of no cure, though 100-year-old eggs might be worth a try.
You will notice that I take care not to mix my drinks. The theory is that the fermentation and maturation of different materials create more than one variety of alcohol. They also leave different acids, oils traces and substances of dubious benefit. Better to let the body fight the impact of a single, known enemy than to be attacked on several fronts.
I thought I was taking this approach when I spent a whole evening drinking the Japanese spirit shochu, in Tokyo. My host took me to a Hogarthian array of shochu stalls under some railway arches. "This one was distilled from rice," he explained. "Here is a version from buckwheat. This type is made from sweet potatoes." Did we drink one made from the nocturnal secretions of the sea-cucumber? I have a feeling we did. I thought thunder had hit my brain, but it was just the bullet-train overhead.
Despite having stuck to shochu all night, I had my worst hangover yet. Next morning, we had to leave Tokyo too early for breakfast, on an assignment in the mountains. "It's too hilly for animals here. The residents get their protein from insects," my friend told me when we arrived.
For breakfast, we bought a jar of baby bees, which looked like swollen rice seeds and tasted sweet but bland. I think they were the bee equivalent to lamb, rather than mutton. Then there were grasshoppers - which were crunchy and date-like. Finally came worms. They tasted - well, earthy - with a hint of juniper, like an old-fashioned gin. Already I felt better. The worst hangover had succumbed to the most disgusting cure.
Should you try this at home? If you do, and you die, don't come whinging to me. Problems such as those we may face in the year to come require desperate measures
Six wisdoms for the timid drinker
1 Pre-emptive strike. Drink milk beforehand to line the stomach. This may also make you feel too sick to drink much alcohol later.
2 Drink western vodkas or other relatively "pure" beverages, and suffer an evening of bibulous boredom. You will have a lesser discomfort next morning, but won't be able to say: "At least I enjoyed myself acquiring this hangover".
3 Drink water before you go to bed. The truly drunk forget to do this.
4 At night, and in the morning, take the proprietary product Resolve, which contains paracetamol, antacids and vitamin C. In my experience, this is as near as anyone has come to an effective remedy. A friend of mine calls it Remorse.
5 Sleep it off, then take a long, hot, purifying bath.
6 Remember, if you wake up without a hangover, that is as good as you will feel all day.Reuse content