Got a hangover? Heave yourself out of bed and throw yourself on the mercy of one of these literary cures, suggests Emma Hughes.
If happiness writes white, inebriation’s ink is a tedious shade of puce. The older you get, the clearer it becomes that there really is nothing remotely interesting about getting sloshed. Like Tolstoy’s cheery families, all boozy evenings wobble unsteadily along the same trajectory: one top-up too many, tears on the taxi floor and a trail of toast crumbs.
It follows that reading about intoxication itself is boring beyond description. But hangovers — ah, there’s something for a writer to get his teeth into. Think of the now-legendary one in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, surely among the most masterful descriptive passages ever committed to paper:
‘Dixon was alive again,’ it begins, with biblical solemnity. ‘Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning.’
A day spent chewing the duvet with the curtains drawn is bad enough, but braving the world with a killer hangover can change the course of history. In Flashman at the Charge, our anti-hero is afflicted by a bout of drink-induced dyspepsia so dramatic that it ends up starting the Charge of the Light Brigade. Overhearing ‘the most crashing discharge of wind’ coming from Flashman’s direction, Lord Cardigan mistakes it for the report of a mortar and launches the attack. Russian Champagne — his tipple of choice — has a lot to answer for.
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PG Wodehouse:Worcestershire sauce, raw egg and red pepper
Where there are hangovers, there are hangover cures. And the most famous literary one is, of course, whipped up in P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves Takes Charge. A gateway drug to the prairie oyster, it consists of Worcestershire sauce, raw egg and red pepper, made marginally less icky by vigorous whisking. ‘Gentlemen have told me they find it extremely invigorating after a late evening,’ Jeeves reassures a dubious Bertie Wooster, who lies groaning beneath his counterpane.
Will it actually help if your head feels like a cement mixer? It’s hard to say, but anything that tastes this grim is bound to do you some good.
Ernest Hemingway: A jigger of absinthe, diluted with iced champagne
If Jeeves’s remedy is the liquid equivalent of a rap on the knuckles, Ernest Hemingway’s is a karate chop to the kidneys. True to form, he christened it Death in the Afternoon. ‘Pour one jigger of absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness,’ he instructs—and then, even more ominously: ‘Drink three to five of these slowly.’
This one might sound tempting in the wake of Christmas parties, when you’re feeling festively emboldened and actually have the component parts to hand. However, all but the steeliest are likely to take one look at the noxious brew and heave it straight down the sink. Still, the very act of mixing a Death in the Afternoon is guaranteed to perk you up a bit—if only because it reminds you that things could be an awful lot worse.
Kingsley Amis: Beef paste and vodka
Amis, as we’ve seen, was the Poet Laureate of sore heads, but it turns out he was equally creative when it came to cooking up cures for them. Common to all of his homemade hangover remedies seems to have been enough vodka to floor a Cossack. Those of a sensitive disposition might want to give his suggestion of beef paste and vodka a swerve and stick to a tried-and-tested Bloody Mary.
Bruce Robinson: Aspirin, saveloys and a walk in the country on a blustery day
The most effective hangover cure of all isn’t, strictly speaking, a literary one, in that it doesn’t come from a book and wasn’t concocted by an author. However, it is taken from the screenplay of Bruce Robinson’s iconic film Withnail & I that’s become a set text for the sozzled. The perennially soused stars throw everything at their hangovers, from aspirin to saveloys eaten in the bath. But it’s Uncle Monty — he of the buttonhole radish — who comes up trumps by forcing his reprobate houseguests to go on a blustery walk. When you’re really feeling the wrath of grapes, you could do a lot worse.
(Warning: The clip below contains language of which even the strongest-willed among us might resort to in case of a terrible hangover)
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