Waugh Binge Recalled in Spectator Competition

Jeremy Clarke, author of the Spectator’s¬†“Low Life” column, is running a competition for the best description of¬†“the drunkest I’ve ever been.” The winner will be announced at the launch party for the collection of Clarke’s¬†columns to be held later this week. In the¬†run up to the launch party, Clarke wrote a column that included a selection of similar descriptions from the past that might inspire punters to write for his competition. Among these is¬†Waugh’s description of a¬†visit to Athens:

We went straight to a nightclub kept by a one-legged Maltese who gave us cocktails made out of odd drugs and a spirit of his own distilling. Later the première danseuse of the cabaret came out and warned us on no account to touch the cocktails. Later still, I drove around the city in a taxi cab on I forget what errand, and then back to the nighclub. The taxi driver followed me back to our table. I had given him as a tip over ten pounds in drachma, my watch, my gloves and my spectacle case. It was too much, he protested. The rest of my visit was rather overshadowed by this introduction to Athenian life.

This is a quote from Waugh’s 1930¬†travel book Labels (p. 149). It relates to his first visit to Athens, when he was an undergraduate. The book also goes on to mention his second visit during the 1929 voyage that¬†is the subject¬†of the travel book. On that occasion, he also suffered from over indulgence following¬†“a late night, drinking after a ball with some charming Norwegians.” He describes a “wholesome and accessible pick-me-up” offered by his friend Alastair Graham to provide relief. This consisted of a lump of sugar soaked in Angostura bitters and rolled in Cayenne pepper which is then dropped into a large glass of champagne:

Each bubble as it rises to the surface carries with it a grain of red pepper, so that as one drinks one’s appetite is at once stimulated and gratified, heat and cold, fire and liquid, contending on one’s palate and alternating in the mastery of one’s sensations. (Labels, p. 150)

Perhaps Mr. Clarke should suggest that the¬†Spectator keep a supply of the ingredients for Alastair’s remedy on hand for the revelers at the launch party. Or maybe the participants can be assumed to be so experienced in these matters as to not require any help.

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