Thursday 10 April 2014

Evelyn Waugh's Noonday Reviver

So, and not for the first time, I am seized by the conviction that if I drink one more glass of wine, I am going to die of ennui. I am haunted by something I am convinced Nicky Haslam - interior designer and legendary socialite - once said about European wines: They put something in them to make them taste funny. Maybe he did say it. Maybe he didn't. It's starting to sound plausible, even if he didn't. I am also falsely certain that he claimed that his favourite tipple was gin, and the cheaper the better. He cited (or I believe he did) White Satin as a quality choice, followed by Asda's own label. Can that be right?

At any rate, it starts to lead me down that deeply-rutted and potholed track known as Novelty Drinking. I want a drink, but I want something new, painfully new if possible. Number 2 son has worked behind bars in the West End of London, and claims to know his cocktails. He insists that without a bottle of rhubarb bitters you are nowhere as a decent Mixologist. And did you know that the secret of a good Bloody Mary - along with all the Tabasco and celery and whatnot - is to add a small measure of red wine? It's true: you get a much more elegant drink. But the rest of his recipes sound too complicated, and no fun if you have to put the ingredients together yourself. And what's the point of a cocktail drunk alone in your kitchen in the middle of the day? Context is everything. I don't really like Manhattans, but I once had a fantastic Manhattan overlooking Long Island Sound as the sun went down. That's not going to happen again.

I dig out Kingsley Amis's Everyday Drinking (also not for the first time) and hunt around for inspiration. Among other suggestions, he offers The Copenhagen (vodka, aquavit, almonds and ice); The Salty Dog (gin, grapefruit juice, salt, ice); The Dizzy Lizzy (Chambéry, framboise, cognac, Angostura, ice). They all sound terrible. I am briefly and suicidally drawn to something called a Tigne Rose: 1 tot gin, 1 tot whisky, 1 tot rum, 1 tot vodka, and 1 tot brandy. Apparently it was invented at the Tigne Barracks, Malta, by the 36th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. All newly joined subalterns were offered this unbelievable drink as a Saturday lunchtime apéritif. According to Amis, the sometime 2nd Lieutenant T. G. Rosenthal, from whom he got the recipe, 'Put three of them down before walking unaided back to his room and falling into a reverie that lasted until Monday-morning parade.'

On the other hand, there is Evelyn Waugh's Noonday Reviver. Waugh was a cantankerous drunk, doing his novels and journalism during the day, while lit up but lucid; his Diaries in the evening, while substantially pissed; and his Letters the following morning, hungover. He was also one of the most brilliant writers of the Twentieth Century, so I'm not going to moralise; I'm just noting the fact that he drank.

Which is why his Noonday Reviver, unsurprisingly, presents a challenge. The ingredients are: 1 hefty shot of gin, half a pint of Guinness, some ginger beer. The Guinness and gin should go straight into a silver tankard, with the ginger beer to top it all up. 'I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the attribution,' cautions Amis, 'but the mixture will certainly revive you, or something.' Very well. It has just gone noon, revival time. I feel pretty okay, actually, but then I always need some reviving. In a nod to health & safety, I use about one-third the recommended quantities in a whisky tumbler. It looks harmless enough.

By half-past twelve I have taken a few apprehensive sips, and to be honest, it could be worse. There's actually a synthesis going on between the Guinness and the ginger beer, an almost Far Eastern sweet/sour thing, on the brink of refreshing, and the whole is a million miles removed from the deathly Queen Victoria's Tipple I tried a while back. Trouble is, it's not a reviver - I can feel a numbness, a lethargy, starting to creep over me, the product no doubt of that gin, the hidden assassin - or, to put it another way, it's only a reviver if you're an alcoholic. If you want something to take away the pain of the morning after and dull the edges of the rest of the day, then this will do fine. Otherwise, no. Also there's the taste. It's not bad, but it is defiantly retro, treacly and spicy and full of burps. It would be perfect in 1951, in Waugh's freezing manor house in the West Country. But now? On a bright spring day? With added central heating?

I lob the remains of the Reviver down the sink and turn to the next drink in Amis's list: Woodrow Wyatt's Instant Whiskey Collins. And then put the book down. I am not so revived that I don't know when I'm beaten.


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