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Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hero as a Boozer

posted by on March 24 at 9:32 AM


In the last decades of his life, [Kingsley Amis] became a stickler for routine, finishing work at twelve noon, when the first Scotch was promptly downed, then to his club (the Garrick) for lunch, where he stayed drinking until five thirty, before leaving to be somewhere else for drinks at six. Every Thursday (or was it Saturday?), he went to dinner with his son, Martin, and daughter-in-law, Antonia, at Chesterton Road, and every Thursday (or was it Saturday?), he expected to be served the same meal—tinned potato salad and pressed tongue. He had no interest in food (“irrelevant rubbish,” he called it), but the kitchen cupboard at Antonia’s house (Martin now lives in Regent’s Park with his second wife) is bursting to this day with old bottles of strong sticky drink that were brought for him to have on his weekly visits, before, during, and after dinner.

At the end of Plato’s Symposium, after a night of drinking wine and talking about love with male friends, Socrates leaves not to go home and bed but into the day to do his business. His stamina amazes everyone. Booze means nothing to this man of ideas, this hero of the city.

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Ah, finally you get around to my hero. Not this Kingsley, the late drunk with the destroyed brain; the novelist and drinks expert.

But you fail to mention some of his other late failings: his habit, while deep in his cups, of screaming foul abuse at innocent people; for instance, shouting at them about what a vile terrorist bastard Nelson Mandela was. My favorite late anecdote was the time he accosted Claudio Abbado, the famous conductor, and, on the topic of Mozart, shouted "you don't know what you're talking about". Abbado, to his credit, merely stared at him for a few moments and then turned to someone else and changed the subject.

It's easy to forget that he was the best English novelist of the 20th century, possibly only exceeded by Waugh (who also had his little personality disorders).

Posted by Fnarf | March 24, 2008 10:33 AM

Being able to hold one's liquor is a mark of an excellent human being.

Posted by kerri harrop | March 24, 2008 11:01 AM

That is why Ireland is full of excellent human beings.

Posted by Kathy Fennessy | March 24, 2008 12:00 PM

Then again nothing is guaranteed. My dad was raised by two drink-happy Irish-Americans (both of whom lived well into their eighties), drank accordingly, and died of cirrhosis at 61.

Make sure your liver can handle it, ok?

Posted by irish descent | March 24, 2008 12:49 PM

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