Over the new-year period, newspapers and magazines have been replete with summations of the “aughties” or “noughties”, with the tone being generally bad, so bad that some have suggested the decade has heralded the return of the cocktail.
It’s true: it’s now possible to get dry martini in places in South Africa where previously you had to explain carefully the mixing proportions to avoid a cup full of vermouth with some gin. The actual proportions of a good dry martini are these: rinse the glass out with vermouth and add enormous amounts of gin after stirring in a container of ice – no shaking please, notwithstanding the views of Mr Bond, it adds too much water to the drink. And gin, not vodka, because you want the thing to taste like something. But not much, because the point is to get slammed drunk quickly and painlessly.
The Christmas season is a great time for expunging the old year with an overdose of oral antiseptic. But generally the decade also needed a stiff one, starting as it did with 9/11 and ending as it did with the global recession. As my father used to say, “I’ll take my two double scotches simultaneously, thank you.”
This whole thing affected me so much that my Christmas reading included some classic drinking books by, among others, the famous Kingsley Amis, who seemed to find enormous amounts to say about booze. Amis was what he called “a drinks man”: smart, no-nonsense and, above all, charming . His obsession was also born of commitment, as his writing on the topic demonstrates. His explanation of a hangover in Lucky Jim set the bar high for other literary impressions.
This is the core of the extract: “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. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police.”
My favourite passage from On Drink was actually on the same subject, but this was no mere description, it was a philosophy of the hangover. He distinguished between the “physical hangover” and something much deeper and more penetrating, the “metaphysical hangover”.
“When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk.”
In a strange way, this is where we stand at the start of the new year: we need to remember that the crises of the past decade were not part of some devious and dastardly plan. They just happened and their seeming temporal congruence was just that.
Wishing for the next decade to be more like the ’90s than the noughties is the same as asking for the coin to drop perfectly equally heads and tails; it just doesn’t happen like that. There will be periods where heads predominates and periods when tails predominates.
It’s all too easy to see patterns where none exist, and somehow the patterns seem more vivid when the events taking place are bad. Our world is not leagued in a conspiracy of disasters, the Illuminati do not exist and 9/11 was not planned by W’s administration. What we have is a simple hangover.
(Presumably, Mr Cohen was so deliciously light-headed while writing this story that he misfiled the fact that the new decade starts only 1 January 2011. – Ed.)
Cohen is a business and political journalist and commentator of more years than he likes to admit. His freelance work has included contributions to the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, but he spent most of his life working for Business Day.After a mid-life crisis that didn't include the traditional fast car, Cohen now divides his time between Johannesburg and a house situated almost exactly in the middle of nowhere in the Karoo. Recent columns:
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas