For this Old Devil, the glass was

Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

THAT Kings­ley Amis was a stir­rer, not a shaker, of the dry mar­tini is fit­ting. Through­out this hi­lar­i­ous and in­for­ma­tive col­lec­tion of Amis’s writ­ings on drink and drink­ing he takes fre­quent pot shots at favourite tar­gets, such as trendy pubs, wine snobs, busy­bod­ies, news­pa­per ed­i­tors, pop mu­sic and es­pe­cially for­eign­ers, as in this open­ing to a chap­ter on im­bib­ing abroad: I am not re­fer­ring to places like Paris, where you can drink as safely as any­where in the world, and en­joy­ably too if you have £ 25 per day to spend on drink alone and are slow to re­act to in­so­lence and cheat­ing. Yet in Amis’s world there were far worse things than be­ing a for­eigner. In his 1991 Mem­oirs, he re­counts host­ing a drinks party at which he met left-wing politi­cian and rad­i­cal tee­to­taller Tony Benn: ‘‘ At the first sight of [ Benn] the thought flashed into my mind, ‘ Who is this English c . . t?’ . . . I of­fered drinks. Some­one asked for a gin and tonic. I turned to the c . . t. ‘ Same for you?’ He re­acted much as if I had said, ‘ Glass of baby’s blood? It’s ex­tra good to­day.’ ’’

That story does not ap­pear in Everyday Drink­ing , nor do the sad ones that Martin Amis re­lates in his mov­ing 2000 mem­oir Ex­pe­ri­ence : the son try­ing to prop up his fa­ther but strug­gling be­cause ‘‘ ev­ery bit of him was fall­ing, drop­ping, seek­ing the low­est level, like a mud­slide’’. Not­ing this ab­sence is not a crit­i­cism, just a warn­ing for any­one ex­pect­ing painful self-re­flec­tion along the lines of Pete Hamill’s won­der­ful 1994 mem­oir A Drink­ing Life .

This is a col­lec­tion of Amis’s news­pa­per col­umns on drink­ing, writ­ten be­tween 1971 and 1984, and as such is full of cheer­fully cur­mud­geonly opin­ions and cock­tail recipes, many of which the se­ri­ous drinker will want to try im­me­di­ately. I rec­om­mend start­ing with Eve­lyn Waugh’s Noon­day Re­viver. This Amis, too, is seen by his son in Ex­pe­ri­ence : ‘‘ Al­co­hol meant many things to Kings­ley. Th­ese things in­cluded obliv­ion, in per­haps two senses, but there were in­no­cent gra­da­tions along the way. Part of his en­thu­si­asm was hob­by­is­tic.’’

That is not to say Amis’s drink­ing was any­thing but ded­i­cated. He would sniff po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in the pub­lisher’s de­ci­sion to call this col­lec­tion, which com­bines three pre­vi­ously outof-print works, Everyday Drink­ing, as the orig­i­nal first vol­ume was ac­cu­rately ti­tled Ev­ery Day Drink­ing . That Amis drank to get drunk is clear even in th­ese con­ver­sa­tional pieces, de­light­fully so in chap­ters such as The Mean Sod’s Guide, de­voted to tips for stiff­ing your guests on their drinks — ‘‘ wa­ter the sherry’’ and if any­one dares re­quest a mar­tini, drop in ‘‘ an olive the size of a baby’s fist’’ — while soak­ing up the top shelf stuff your­self.

His ad­vice on di­et­ing is sound: ‘‘ The first, in­deed the only, re­quire­ment of a diet is that it should lose you weight without re­duc­ing your al­co­holic in­take by the small­est de­gree ’’ ( Amis’s ital­ics); and his anal­y­sis of the idea that pre-bed wa­ter and aspirin will mil­i­tate against a hang­over is telling: ‘‘ any­one who can sum­mon the will and the en­ergy and the pow­ers of re­flec­tion called for has not reached the state in which he re­ally needs the treat­ment’’.

The hang­over has rarely been bet­ter cap­tured in print than by Amis in his break­through 1954 novel, Lucky Jim . In a bril­liant sec­tion of this col­lec­tion Amis mod­estly raises a glass to other writ­ers on the theme and per­sua­sively ar­gues that Franz Kafka’s The Meta­mor­pho­sis is the great­est

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