For this Old Devil, the glass was
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