Saturday, 27 December 2008

Floored by a Rollmop! Or is it Rolled by a Floormop?

A few Christmases ago - three, I fancy it was - I was brought to my knees by a Rollmop; you might know it as a pickled or soused herring. Now, I have always been extremely partial to this particular piscine product, but this individual held a nasty surprise in store for me. I will not go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that, in that year, I celebrated Christmas by consuming nothing other than water. The effect of this event was profound. Although I still continue to consume all other kinds of seafood, oysters included, I have not, from that day to this, eaten a Rollmop. So, if a single run-in with an individual clupea harengus in acetic acid can produce such abstinence, why, oh why does it not work with alcohol?

When it comes to alcohol, it seems that the phrase, 'you learn by your mistakes' is written in some language indecipherable to many of us. Because, dear reader, I would argue that we don't learn from our past mistakes when it comes to drinking. Picture the scene; you're invited to some bash or other - perhaps a Christmas party, or a leaving do - and you know you've got to be up and out early the next day. 'I'll just have a couple', you say to no-one in particular, but then, a few hours later, having acquired the taste for whatever you happen to be drinking, there you are, quaffing and carousing, and making Shakespeare's bibulous old Sir John Falstaff seem like a tea-drinking Methodist.

Then you start making mental calculations. 'If I leave in half an hour, I'll be home by one. That'll give me five hours sleep, time for a quick shower, and then out.' But then someone buys you another drink, and the whole thing has to be re-calculated, at a time when your mathematical skills are not, shall we say, at their sharpest. This you have already demonstrated by handing over a large denomination note for every round you buy, because you've lost the ability to count out the right amount of change.

Eventually, you find your way home, albeit probably not at the time you intended. Your clothes are all awry, and your pockets bulge with 'drunk's change' - piles of low-denomination coins. You somehow divest yourself of your clothes and tumble into bed and into a dreamless sleep.

But, in the morning, comes the reckoning:

'He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning...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. He felt bad.'

Kingsley Amis' description of Jim Dixon's hangover in Lucky Jim encapsulates the whole experience rather nicely, I would say. In the course of my fifty-odd years on this earth, I've had more hangovers than you could shake a Martini at. The pounding head, the overwhelming nausea, the unusual perspiration...yep, I've had them all. And, as I get older, they seem to last longer, despite my best efforts to treat them. So, in the absence of something called will power that might actually stop me drinking to excess in the first place, I need one of two things; either (i) something to lessen the effects of the alcohol; or (ii) a surefire hangover cure. Interestingly, my researches indicate that most of our forbears' energy was expended in finding preventative measures, rather than cures for the subsequent effects.

The ancient Greeks apparently believed that drunkenness was caused by noxious fumes rising from the wine they drank, but thought that the effects of the fumes could be nullified by wearing a wreath around the head. These wreaths were generally of myrtle, roses or violets, but some also believed in the efficacy of cabbage leaves, ivy or parsley. I suppose that, if this preventative measure failed, you could at least chew on the parsley to make your breath a little less unpleasant!

Cabbage and parsley also make appearances in ancient Rome. Emperors drank boiled cabbage water to prevent intoxication, whilst the politician Cato favoured the vegetable itself. "It will make you feel as if you had not eaten, and you can drink as much as you like." Unlike the Greeks, the Romans were not foolish enough to believe that wearing a parsley wreath prevented drunkeness. Of course not; they made it into a necklace instead.
I think, perhaps, we should be indebted to Pliny the Elder for his tireless search for remedies to prevent intoxication. In his Naturalis Historia, he lists a number of these: two raw owls' eggs drunk in wine over the course of three days; roasted sheeps' lungs; eels 'suffocated' in wine; powdered pumice in one's drink; a mixture of ash from the burnt beak of a swallow and myrrh; and, if all else failed, deep-fried canary. It is, perhaps, ironic that Pliny the Elder died during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, due, according to his nephew, to 'some unusually gross vapour, as I conjecture, having obstructed his breathing and blocked his windpipe'. In other words, inhalation of pumice dust.

Preventatives of, and cures for, drunkenness seem to have been in short supply during the middle ages. However, the one that keeps popping up is eels and bitter almonds. Raw eels were mixed with the bitter almonds, ground up into a paste and then served on bread. I suppose we can only hope that the almonds were cultivated rather than wild. Apparently, the ground up wild almond, unless roasted or treated in some other way, produces cyanide. A permanent hangover cure, I suppose.

I know I keep coming back to my old friend John Aubrey, but he does seem to have something relevant to say for almost everything I write. In his Brief Lives, he mentions the actions of Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher, and the method he employed to lessen the effects of alcohol:

'When he did drink, he would drink to excess to have the benefit of vomiting, which he did easily; by which benefit neither his wit was disturbed (longer than he was spewing) nor his stomach oppressed.'

So there you go. Drink until you spew. If you want.

Time marches on. In the eighteenth century, that Age of Enlightenment, we do, at last, find a hangover cure. And to my mind it's quite pleasant. Drip some clove oil onto a sugar cube and suck it, then chew a bit of parsley (parsley again!), followed by a nice cup of camomile tea, and round off the process nicely by taking a teaspoon of honey every half hour for two or three hours. By which time (to my way of thinking) the hangover will have gone of its own accord!

I'm not going to bore you with all the new-fangled hangover cures that involve paracetamol, or Alka Selzer. You've probably tried all of them at some stage anyway, with (I'm sure) varying degrees of success, and you might even be able to suggest some of your own that are more efficatious. All I will say is, if all else fails, knock out a quick prayer to St. Viviana. She's the patron saint of the hangover.


Comedy Goddess said...

I will try the sugar cube with clove oil et al but can I add some Vodka to the chamomile tea? Then we could call the whole process the Saint Vivianna cocktail. Lovelier sounding than the hair of the dog.

chris hale said...

Absolutely go for the vodka! In fact,just skip the sugar, the parsley, the tea...but I think the name for the cocktail is a real goer!

Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) said...

Tequila - once over done, never again. That's all I'm sayin'!

chris hale said...

Sir, I appreciate your delicacy. But was it a sunrise or a sunset?

SweetPeaSurry said...

I had a recipe for a minty drink that was reputed to cure hangovers. I never seem to have enough mint around to make it myself though. In addition, you can add liquor to the drink ... a bit of the hair of the dog ... as well. I'll need to see if I can find it!!!

Derrick said...

Morning Chris, if it is morning?!

Another interesting, informative and timeous post. I just bought some parsley, all I need now is a drink.


chris hale said...

Hi Surry. Our mint grows like mad. I'd send you a cutting, but I don't think it'd make it!

Hi Derrick. Yep, it's definitely morning! What's it to be then? A nice single malt...or a good old cuppa?

Madame DeFarge said...

Diet irn bru. I swear by it. Maybe it's a genetic thing, but it always works for me. I think it's the induced burping that does it.

Have a good New Year.

fate said...

Nice blog!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

The best drinking deterrent I know, (apart from being the driver), is to ask for as many glace cherries as possible to go on top of your drink. If you lay the cocktail sticks across the glass, each with about 5 cherries on, you can heap up a pyramid-like structure of around 30 cherries.

By the time you've munched your way through all these, you don't feel like drinking!

Cool Hand Luke said...

Crapulous - suffering from sickness caused by over-drinking.

from Foyles Philavery: a treasury of unusual words.

Simplicity said...

Oh how I wish I had known about St.Viviana over the years as I swore off rum and tequila forevermore! (Convictions which I have adhered to!)

I'll have to keep her in mind for my future endeavors with wine, beer and Sambuca!

As for the rollmops...blech! :)

willow said...

Rollmops?! Icky ick.

St. Viviana, huh? I'll keep her in mind. ;^)

Stevyn Colgan said...

Use my cure for hangovers. Don't drink too much. Simple. Works every time.

I'm no fun at parties any more (and Chris, you'll remember the kind of parties I used to have ...)

Word verification: Dexturb - to be mildly surprised by the taste of a sugar substitute.

Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) said...

Tequila slammers each one - slam, slam, slam, plonk!

chris hale said...

MDF - me, you don't sound like the burping kind! Happy New Year to you too.

Fate - Thanks, and thanks for dropping by.

Raph - I like this one! Perhaps I'll pick all the cherries out of the Christmas cake and try it.

Luke - What a great word crapulous is. I recently read somewhere that doctors have come up with the word Veisalgia as a technical term for the hangover.

Simplicity - Wine, beer, sambuca and rollmops. Now, that's what I call a cocktail!

Willow - If you don't fancy rollmops, how about jellied eels? (Translation - stewed eels in savoury jello). Yum!

Stevyn - I tend to go for the same hangover prevention method as you these days. And as for those parties - I've had the stitches out now and destroyed all the photographs!

Rob - Steady now! Try sipping them.

punk in writing said...

What on earth is a rollmop?

My best hangover cure is a litre of water with a tablespoon of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Should be drunk before going to bed.

If you're really hardcore you stay up and drink this stuff until you're sober again.

chris hale said...

Punky, it's a bit like those herrings in vinegar and dill that you can buy at Ikea, usually under the 'Abba' brand, curiously!

Your remedy is a good one as it replaces lost fluids and salt - the things that alcohol takes out.

punk in writing said...

Actually, Abba seafood has nothing to do with the band. The company name was registered in 1906 as AB Bröderna Ammeln, which loosely translates to Brothers Ammeln Ltd.
(AB stands for aktiebolag=company, corporation).

I've eaten pickled herring all my life but I've never heard of a rollmop before... Strange.

chris hale said...

Apparently the word rollmop is both German and Dutch in origin, and has something to do with Pug Dogs! Very strange...

Thanks for the information on Abba. I am a little disappointed that Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Annafrid are not running the company!

Braja said...

OMG rollmops! My first husband loved those...they kinda creeped me out :)

Jyoti said...

I am neither into drinking nor into rollmops ! Nevertheless I enjoyed your post ;-)

Cheers !

Jyoti at Me Versus My Soul's last blog post..A Great Week Start

chris hale said...

Braja - Oh dear! Have I brought back an unpleasant memory of pickled fish?

Jyoti - Thank you!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Happy New Year, Wordsmith of Middenshire!

I'm looking forward to a year of linguistic virtuosity and erudite treats on your blog!

chris hale said...

Thanks Raph, and a very happy new year to all of you in Knollshire!

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Chris, I remember rollmops from when I was a kid, saw them in jars in Dad's shop. I was lucky that Mum never tried to feed them to the offspring. The idea doesn't seem that appealing, although I love sushi.

Hangovers... LOL I haven't had one for years, learned to drink in moderation.

"Moderation" is an imaginary place, it exists wherever I am.