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Say It Not So Loud

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1199086380/gallery_29805_1195_25514.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Tim Hayward

Back in the 80’s, I lived for a couple of years in California. I admit, I hung with a fairly neurotic bunch, but I was the only person I knew who wasn’t in some sort of twelve-step programme. There were a few low-grade narcotics abusers, a couple of interesting sex-addicts and one or two in recovery for the transgressions of their forebears but most were like me, drunks. At least they said they were. I never saw one of them the worst for drink. But, of course, as everyone knows, actual slobbering drunkenness is not an entry requirement to AA.

Jump-cut to London around the turn of the century. Here I am with an extended social circle in the higher echelons of the advertising industry. Every single person I know is out at least three times a week, drinking themselves catatonic and ingesting heroic quantities of drugs. Now it’s true, we’re Brits not Californians. We have Viking berserker forbears so we drink as a national sport and we have a genetic inability to share feelings with others so the idea of any kind of group therapy is laughable -- in a ‘nervous chuckle’ kind of way -- but amongst all those people, with their collapsing relationships and dissolving septums, did I know any alcoholics? No. Not a single one.

Which, in a roundabout way is why I love hangovers. For most, the sensation is merely a combination of headache, nausea and guilt. For me the anticipation and then the suffering of its exquisite pain is the balance to my drinking. The belay point at the edge of the precipice. It’s the fear of the pain which holds me back from oblivion.

I’ve been drinking now, pretty much uninterrupted, for over thirty years. I know drink and I know hangovers. Like some wrinkled medieval crone who can use her knowledge of herbs to curse or cure, I can prescribe cocktails to leave you as fucked up as a stabbed rat or I have spells that will get you through a breakfast meeting with the Head of Europe with smile and a ribbon in your hair.

If, like most people, you’re going to get messed up this holiday season, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the arcane lore, some of the alchemy of abuse. Let’s see if we can’t make things a little easier.

First, let’s look at the science. Professor Susan Greenfield, in her admirable writings on the human brain, identifies ethanol as a potent neurological toxin. Its effect is to temporarily disable brain functions -- including inhibition, embarrassment, judgment, balance and most forms of intelligent reasoning. Hmmm. So far, so good. She points out that similar effects may be achieved with narcotics or traumatic impact to the head. Having tried all three -- alcohol is the best by a country mile.

The pulsing headache, shivering, roiling intestines, dry mouth, prickly eyes, foul breath, diarrhea, acid reflux, clogged sinuses, dry skin, vile temper and lethargy of a really well earned hangover can all be traced to two basic results of alcohol poisoning: dehydration and withdrawal.


The body will use all of its available fluid in the effort to rid itself of alcohol. For most people, after an initial journey to the pub lavatory, liquid excretion can be nigh on constant throughout the night. No matter how hard the kidneys work, this still results in an increasing amount of alcohol and a decreasing amount of water for the body to use. By the time you retire to bed, the mucous membranes, stomach lining and the surface of the brain are all crying out for a bit of moisture. All the body has stored is the toxic remains of the last four slammers. Awfulness can result.

Drinking a large quantity of water before bed is one of the very few ways one can actually do anything to ameliorate a 'bastard behind the eyes.' An Australian buddy, an ex-Sydney cop and commando who knew a thing or two about drinking, swore by a recipe he called the 'Double Whammy.' This involved placing double doses of soluble ibuprofen, vitamin C and anti-acid in the bottom of a pint glass, topping up with cold mineral water and drinking before the foam subsided. Arguably, anyone who could mix something that complicated before bed was not drunk enough to require it but, it has been known to work.

Another water cure is apocryphally attributed to the fragrant Princess Diana. During her days as a champagne swilling Sloane Ranger, she would prepare a bag of orange segments and several bottles of mineral water which she placed in the refrigerator. She would then drink a liter of water and retire. When she arose in the night to do whatever passes for micturition amongst the Royals, she would go to the kitchen and consume one slice of orange and another liter of water. Naturally this meant that she would be up again, an hour or so later and, so on, through the night. She would awake, detoxified, hydrated, brimming with vitamins and glowing with health -- at which point, evidently, she'd chuck herself downstairs.

Last year I encountered a chap who used a military-spec hydration system during the party season -- a 3 litre bag of water slung in a slim neoprene backpack with a drinking tube. As he wore the appliance under his dinner jacket, he began the evening with a misshapen and fluid filled hump which, understandably turned women off a little. True, the hump deflated over the course of the evening but I seem to remember his dance card remaining pretty empty. I felt he was cheating.


We are told that alcohol is a drug and it’s thought that some of the symptoms of a hangover are those of withdrawal. Fortunately there is a whole family of ‘hair-of-the-dog’ cures based on drinking further alcohol. I favour these on the principle that no-one ever suffered from Delerium Tremens who remained steadfastly and resolutely drunk.

The ancient Spartans believed that wine in which an owl had been drowned was just the ticket (they also thought that cabbage leaves in their sandals and drinking from an amethyst goblet could prevent drunkenness -- a theory didn't survive the first symposium) but owls are getting hard to come by and they scratch terribly when you hold their heads under.

Pretty much every serious drinker in history has a favourite suggestion in this area. Jeeves gets the job after slipping Bertram Wooster a 'Bracer'. Kingsley Amis offers a couple of recipes for the 'Corpse Reviver', Hunter S.Thompson and Hemingway inter alia, favoured the Bloody Mary -- all of which pale into effete little aperitifs when compared to the following recipe . . .

The Bullshot

Make up a Bloody Mary to your favourite recipe then add at least as much beef bouillon as vodka. It takes at least 4lbs of beef and a gallon of water to make a cupful of decent bouillon and all that goodness can be ingested in but a few challenging gulps. If trapped in the colonies with only a Fortnum's hamper between oneself and starvation, canned consomme may be substituted. This tastes like cow dissolved in battery acid but it hits the spot. The only way to improve on it would be to use an industrial blender to liquidize an entire fried breakfast with a bottle of absinthe.

A Holistic Cure

Each of these approaches deals with the physical symptoms of indulgence but, as Sir Kingsley Amis, patron saint of irascible drunks pointed out, this is but half the story. The well documented depressive effects of alcohol allied to a feeling of guilt in all but the most psychologically well-balanced of drunks, mean that the morning after is enough to make even the most relentlessly upbeat ready to open their veins.

Anyone can throw down a Bullshot and retire to bed but it takes iron in the soul to get up and go about your daily business. Though many would recommend detoxing with milk-weed thistle an hour of meditation it is now medically and psychologically proven that only the following regime, in precise order, can help.

<ol><li>Wake without alarm (sudden shock increases heart rate, moving toxins to brain)</li>

<li>Lie about a bit allowing adequate time for collection of thoughts without recrimination or post mortem on previous night's behaviour (delicate emotional equilibrium can be shattered by inappropriate comment at this crucial stage)</li>

<li>Administer analgesics (swelling of brain membranes must be brought under control before head can be moved)</li>

<li>Long and relaxed shower with light baroque chamber music (stabilizes body temperature, removes coating, enables urination without complicated aiming)</li>

<li>Coffee (a short, oily, triple ristretto injects enough caffeine to raise the dead and has a salutory stimulating effect upon the bowel)</li>

<li>Large fried breakfast (lines stomach with fats, provides slow release carbohydrate fuel plus proteins to rebuild any body damage)</li>

<li>Newspapers (like chanting, occupies brain without any real effort)</li>

<li>Snooze or pub (self explanatory)</li></ol>

Above all, never apologize and never feel guilty. It's your hangover, you created it, you earned it and you knew what you were doing when you did. Wear it with pride and try for a better one next time.

<div align="center">* * *</div>

Tim Hayward is a freelance writer living in London, and former host of the UK forum. He publishes the newsletter Fire & Knives.

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Well, you certainly started MY year with a barrel of laughs :laugh:

I haven't read anything this funny in AGES. But maybe if I were a drinker, it wouldn't BE funny, kind of a loxological aquariagram. (See, that's why I don't. That and the TASTE of the stuff---we discussed champagne this afternoon, and quickly decided against. We looked at each other and just said, "Naaaah." Besides, I'm goofy enough sober).

I remember bringing a cold wet cloth to a roommate our freshman year. I reached to put the folded cloth on her pale, sweaty forehead as she lay, cutting class in our dim room, reeking Jagermeister through every pore.

"Don't touch my hair," she moaned. "It HURTS."

Was it Dean Martin who said he felt sorry for people who don't drink---cause the way they wake up is the best they're gonna feel all DAY.

PS: A Delta Bullshot skips all that sissy Mary stuff altogether---pour the bull-yon straight over the vodka. And stick a green onion in it.

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Dear Mr. Hayward,

Thank you very much for your fine (and succinct) work in overviewing the Hangover, and bringing us to a counterpoint where we can relish it's purpose in our lives.

I've enjoyed the piece on par with Amis' Money, of years gone by.



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After nearly three decades of "social" drinking (that's what you tell the doctor isn't it - "Do you drink" "Only socially doctor" "Gosh, you must be popular!") and increasingly murderous hangovers I tried hair of the dog for the first time recently and washed down a greasy Mexican-style breakfast with a bottle of Corona beer. It sort of worked but my mistake was leaving it at just one bottle. It only really works if you remain constantly pissed and I'm saving that particular treat for my retirement.

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Very good words, and timely too. Thanks.

Your drinking friends could call "getting three sheets to the wind" as "raising the halyard with the wayward Hayward". :biggrin:

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Tim, oh the suffering and the delight! Staying drunk for days is surely the only blessing of Christmas. If only one had a Jeeves to ask Cook to make up the bouillion.

My pal Charlie Maclean, the whisky writer, favours an Islay Malt held on the tongue - and thus anaethetised - washed down with a bowl of Cock-a-leekie.

My own seasonal disorder is reflux, caused I always thought by a year of acid comments about other people's food. But now have decided that mincemeat is the culprit. Uncooked dried fruits with raw suet are in fact not unlike the ingredients of cattle cake, and somewhat indigestible. So I was delighted to revive the 'defrocked friar'. A large-ish measure each of Cognac and Green Chartreuse on frapped ice. No known medication can beat this spiritually uplifting elixir. And oh how it clears the system for a great lunch.

Philip Dundas



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  • 2 weeks later...

"Above all, never apologize and never feel guilty. It's your hangover, you created it, you earned it and you knew what you were doing when you did. Wear it with pride and try for a better one next time."

Brilliant! Thanks for making me feel more enthused about cocktail hour.



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Tim, as an Irishwoman I can relate too well to this. It's flippin brilliant.

I've read it twice, and I had to comment on it's perfection. What regular drinker of spirits could not relate to this commentary on what many consider a true profession? Or at least a part time job.

It's the one's who survive, and drink happy and satisfy themselves and family; the ones who can work, love, and live happily and many times blissfully, those are the truly misunderstood. We adjust and act grown-up, but when the opportunity presents itself, well! let the spirit go friend, just let it go!

Loved this. Sending the link to friends and family, including the 2 that should be in rehab, the 3 who are in AA and the rest of us who are cracking up on the edge of it all.


"Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."

Oscar Wilde


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. It's flippin brilliant.

I've read it twice, and I had to comment on it's perfection.

Thank you, highchef. I felt the same way when it got tossed in though the virtual transom. All true, andthe writing!

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel


A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites


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The only way to improve on it would be to use an industrial blender to liquidize an entire fried breakfast with a bottle of absinthe.

I got so carried away with the imagery and the writing, I missed the sheer nauseating actuality of this.

Feeling bad anyway, lacing your shaking fingers through the carpet fibers so you won't fall any farther, head like a bucket of windchimes, gasping for anything cold and wet, and you lift to your lips a brimming cup of Osterized runny eggs, bacon and licorice sticks???!!!


And I think I just realized why the Seventies were the Age of Orange Shag.

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  • 3 weeks later...

As a petite woman (5'3", 101 lbs), it used to baffle my college gal-friends and guys friends (some of them foodball players) that I could match them drink for drink. I was blessed with an axpandable stomach of which I took full advantage and filled with water before each drinking contest and therefore was able to drink them all under the table; bathroom breaks notwithstanding. Throughout my college years, I never had a hangover - I had no idea what I was missing. Having read your highly satisfying essay, I'm going to make it my goal for 2008 to get myself "an exquisite" hangover. lol. Thanks.

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Oh Lola.

Perhaps you need to experience one, just because. I think you will find one's enough.

I like your method. Mine is different but equally effective. But... got that one, and now I know why. Without it, I could not have fully appreciated this lovely bit of writing!

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Marvelous I've long maintained that a good hangover should be worn like a badge of pride announcing that you had more fun the previous night than the rest of the room.

My own favorite hair of the dog, I discovered one day when I pitched up to a tasting of Austrian wines (somewhere suitably posh in Pall Mall) with a stinking hangover. Not feeling up to the bracing and mineral Gruners I slunk over to a table full of BAs and TBAs to find that they caressed my poor head beautifully back to health. Their lustrous combination of just enough alcohol, the right amount of sugar to correct the imbalance in the blood, and their divine taste. Sadly they tend to be a bit on the steep side. Though I can at least attack their younger less esteemed brethren should I still be suffering when I get to work.

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