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Posts Tagged ‘Binge-drinking’

I very rarely re-post anything I’ve written (in fact I rarely reread anything I’ve written).  I see the last time I did it was also at the time of Epiphany, so in a way it’s reassuring that I can put my current low-spiritedness and lack of inspiration down to seasonal fluctuation.

This piece originally appeared in the first week of January 2011, which appears to confirm my theory.  Unfortunately, it has a certain gloomy topicality.

Apart from poor CMJ, a few more to add to add to the list would be Alan Ross (died 14th February), Ian Peebles (28th February) and Tony Pawson (12th October last year).

Some of the morbidity of the piece was probably due to the bottle of whiskey that makes an appearance late on.  I never normally touch the stuff and this one was a Christmas present.  I’ve taken my own advice and steered clear of it ever since.

****************************************************

The first faint intimations of this year’s cricket season have started to appear.  The Wisden Cricketer have sent me a calendar, featuring “some of the U.K.’s loveliest cricket grounds” (including a couple – Sidmouth and Bourneville – I’ve visited).

Leicestershire have sent me last year’s annual report and financial statements – “The club has had what can only be described as a disastrous financial year …” – and the agenda for the A.G.M..  The main item is to “increase the age limit of a director from 70 to 80″.

But it is these little signs of life that keep us trudging on hopefully through the winter gloom.

E.V. Lucas put it nicely in his 1909 essay “Winter Solace”:

“During the snowstorm in which I write these lines the unlikelihood of the sun ever shining again on my flannelled limbs is peculiarly emphatic.  It is a nightmare that pursues me through every autumn, winter, and early spring.  How can there be another season?  one asks one’s self; just as years ago, a fortnight before the holidays, one was convinced that the end of the world must intervene.  The difference between the child and the middle-aged man merely is that the child expects the end of the world – the man the end of himself.”

This is no exaggeration – the fear of dying in the close season is a well founded one.  At the beginning of every season at the county ground there is usually at least one familiar face missing, and, at the end, some of those who wish each other “winter well”  know that they will not live to see the Spring.

The same appears to be true of more celebrated lovers of the game.  The following all handed in their dinner pails in the dead of winter:

John Arlott – 4th December

Brian Johnston – 5th January

E.W. Swanton – 22nd January

Neville Cardus – 28th February

On a brighter note, E.H.D. Sewell dedicated his last book “Well hit! Sir”  (1946) to “Professor de Wesselow and all the doctors and … Sisters and Nursing Staff of St Thomas’ Hospital who had charge of my case, without whom …” and, in it, said “if I am destined to see Donnelly scoring almost at will for Middlesex in 1947 I shall drink in the savour with as keen a relish as anybody”.  He was not destined to see Donnelly, who did not play for Middlesex in 1947, but he did live to see the classic and glorious season of Compton and Edrich.  He expired – presumably a happy man – on the 20th of September, three days after seeing Middlesex, as Champion County, defeat a Rest XI by an innings, with a century from Edrich and a double from Compton.

On a much darker one, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow cut his throat in a snowstorm on the 4th of March (if only he could have held out for another month …).

And then there’s Alan Gibson.  Gibson died on the 10th of April 1997, the first day of that season (if you count University matches).  But it’s doubtful how much interest he was taking by that stage.

But he too had once found the thought of a new season an incentive to pull himself out of a deep Slough of Despond.  In 1985 he had, according his son Anthony* drunk himself into the Bristol Royal Infirmary (at the rate of at least a  bottle of whiskey a day) and from there to “a hospital at Ham Green, which specialised in treating alcoholics on their last legs, as Alan was presumed to be.”  He perked up enough to write a piece, unpublished at the time, which begins -

“Christmas in hospital (this was my fourth) is always a bit of a struggle … The most relaxed of my four Christmases was in a mental home: a case, I suppose, of sancta simplicitas.”  

but moves on to regret that he had not received a game of OWZTHAT in his Christmas stocking and ends -

“For I am confident of being at the Bristol ground next summer and probably even more at Taunton and an assortment of other places as well.  When I came into hospital, I was quite unable to walk, even to rise from a chair.  But you should have seen me, after a week or two, dashing down the ward on my trusty zimmer.  On Christmas Eve I graduated to a stick; muttering proudly to myself, OWZTHAT?”

The moral being, I suppose, don’t lose interest in cricket and go easy on the whiskey.

A bottle of Whiskey, this afternoon

* Quotations from “Of Didcot and the Demon”, a collection of Gibson’s writings with reminiscences from Anthony Gibson, published last year by Fairfield Books (available here).

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So, further cause for our brave lads out in the heat of the subcontinent to celebrate today!  But will they know to how to do the thing properly?

There have been hints that today’s touring party do not lead quite as monastic a life as we have been led to believe.  Nick Compton has reappeared in The Cricket Paper, posing with some of his colleagues in the wake of victory in the last test, all clutching small bottles of beer.  I can’t help noticing, though, that they seem to be holding the bottles in an awkwardly dainty way, the better to show off  the labels (Kingfisher Lager, who one imagines have some kind of deal going with the ECB).

After the victory in Mumbai, Kevin Pietersen – perhaps inspired by the visit of Boris Johnson, in his well-cast role as Lord of Misrule – was allowed to leak a couple of tweets -

You having a good time????? DON’T stop the paaaaaaarty! #BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMx

and

Premature tweet for tomorrow am- I GOT A HANGOVER, whooooooooooaaaa! ☺

But after that there was radio silence – presumably because Andy Flower had been alerted and had confiscated KP’s ‘phone.

So let us return to Compton’s Grandfather’s account 0f the extended booze cruise that was the 1950-51 tour of Australia, conducted under the wise stewardship of Freddie Brown.  At first, Brown had turned down the chance to captain the tour, as he relates in his own autobiography …

“When I was wallowing happily in the bath the same evening, a member of the MCC committee said to me, ‘It rather looks as if you’ll be asked at the committee meeting tomorrow night to take the side to Australia’.

My reply was ‘I’m not interested’.  I gave as my reasons, firstly that my employers, British Timken Ltd., of Northampton, were sending out a side to South Africa under my captaincy to coincide with the opening of a new factory, and secondly, that I did not feel I had been given a really fair deal so far as the Trial match earlier in the season had been concerned.”

But, eventually, he relented (with the blessing of British Timken) and made sure to establish the right tone for the forthcoming tour on the voyage out.  Over to Compton Senior again -

“Wherever I played, or wherever I was there was always humour.  For me the game had excitement and colour, and always humour.  I remember an incident when we were on our way to Australia by boat in 1950.  John Warr, a great humorist of Middlesex and now the county’s captain, was a member of the MCC party, being taken out for his fast bowling.  One night was fancy-dress night and we were all strangely apparelled – I was W.G. Grace, I remember – by the time the before-dinner cocktail parties started in various parts of the ship.  We attended many of them, and they made us feel very happy.

John Warr was not by any means the unhappiest.  As well, he was Gorgeous Gussie*; though not with his height and sinewy limbs particularly gorgeous, he was certainly oddly fascinating.  His girl friends aboard had provided him with a little pleated skirt, exotic panties and a blouse with the right outline.  He was scented and made up, with plenty of mascara.  He carried a tennis racket, and swung it as he reckoned Gorgeous had swung.

As we entered the saloon for dinner, Gorgeous Gussie threw a ball up, swung lustily, and revealingly, and produced what looked like an ace.  It flashed across the tables and, on its way, took with it a full soup spoon which the kindest of old ladies was at that moment raising to her lips.  There was a liberal spray and mist of ship’s soup about her as she threw her hands up in surprise.

“Sorry, fault!” Gorgeous cried ecstatically; then, recollecting himself, John gave the amplest apologies, which were most graciously received.

The evening was far from over.  Freddie Brown was a Maori chief, having in his hand the chiefly staff called a Taiaha, made of leather and wool, with which he quietly belaboured those about him.  He looked very Polynesian indeed.  Jim Swanton was a stage grander, and was dressed up very convincingly as King Farouk; indeed the similarity was so close that most listeners to or viewers of cricket would have been startled to see him.  He was strutting about regally, as a king should, with his chin up and a sophisticated air.  This was too much for the less civilised Maori chieftain, who walked up to the Egyptian king, and felled him with a blow of his Taiaha on the place where the crown should rest.  For a moment the king was not amused, and the assembly of fancy-dressed figures, with Gorgeous Gussie swinging her racket in encouragement, saw the portly chief and the even more portly king scrapping amiably on the dining-room floor in mid-ocean.”

For younger readers, this would be the rough equivalent of Stuart Broad, dressed as Maria Sharapova, serving a tennis ball into an old lady’s soup, and  Alastair Cook  and Derek Pringle (both in blackface) wresting on the floor of the aeroplane  over to India.  I think it would take quite a lot of news management to keep that one quiet.

*Gorgeous Gussie (or Gussy) Moran, famous at the time for appearing at Wimbledon in a dress designed to reveal a pair of frilly knickers.

J.J. Warr (Middlesex and England)

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Highlight of this evening’s viewing, I thought, was The One Show.  I have a soft spot for this programme, if only because, if it’s on when I walk  through the door, I know I’m home roughly on time.  But it does also seem to be in the hands of someone prone to counterintuitive decisions.  For instance, it employs Phil Tufnell as a roving Arts Correspondent.  It has suprisingly erudite historical features presented, often, by Giles Brandreth (turning down the buffoonery level to about 3).  When their star presenters left they replaced them with lookalikes.

This evening’s show featured a report on the last outbreak of rabies in Great Britain (in Camberley in 1969) and one on the history of royal memorabilia, but the stars of the show – the ones sitting on the sofa –  were Gilbert and George.  To make them feel welcome the presenters (one of them, for some reason, Alexander Armstrong) had dressed up in G&G-style suits and ties.  What do I think about Gilbert and George?  I really don’t know.  If asked, I open and close my mouth like a recently-landed fish, because I struggle to have any strong feelings about them at all.  I suppose I quite like them, but more as a pair of harmless English eccentrics than artists.

I do remember visiting Tate Modern when G&G were having a major retrospective, wondering whether it was worth a tenner and deciding to settle for the modest selection of their work that was available for free.  That did, though, include this – an early work, entitled Gordon’s Gets Us Drunk (I have tried to embed this, but it seems to involve signing your life away … the link should work, though) – which I’ve always quite liked.  I suspect it was inspired by the character in Kingsley Amis’s “I Like It Here” who fantasises about selling beer with the slogan “Gets You Drunk” .  It does have the merit of embodying a literal truth.

2679238-tate-collection-gordons-makes-us-drunk-by-gilbert-george#

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The first faint intimations of this year’s cricket season have started to appear.  The Wisden Cricketer have sent me a calendar, featuring “some of the U.K.’s loveliest cricket grounds” (including a couple – Sidmouth and Bourneville – I’ve visited).

Leicestershire have sent me last year’s annual report and financial statements – “The club has had what can only be described as a disastrous financial year …” – and the agenda for the A.G.M..  The main item is to “increase the age limit of a director from 70 to 80″.

But it is these little signs of life that keep us trudging on hopefully through the winter gloom.

E.V. Lucas put it nicely in his 1909 essay “Winter Solace”:

“During the snowstorm in which I write these lines the unlikelihood of the sun ever shining again on my flannelled limbs is peculiarly emphatic.  It is a nightmare that pursues me through every autumn, winter, and early spring.  How can there be another season?  one asks one’s self; just as years ago, a fortnight before the holidays, one was convinced that the end of the world must intervene.  The difference between the child and the middle-aged man merely is that the child expects the end of the world – the man the end of himself.”

This is no exaggeration – the fear of dying in the close season is a well founded one.  At the beginning of every season at the county ground there is usually one familiar face missing, and, at the end, some of those who wish each other “winter well”  know that they will not live to see the Spring. 

The same appears to be true of more celebrated lovers of the game.  The following all handed in their dinner pails in the dead of winter:

John Arlott – 4th December

Brian Johnston – 5th January

E.W. Swanton – 22nd January

Neville Cardus – 28th February    

On a brighter note, E.H.D. Sewell dedicated his last book “Well hit! Sir”  (1946) to “Professor de Wesselow and all the doctors and … Sisters and Nursing Staff of St Thomas’ Hospital who had charge of my case, without whom …” and, in it, said “if I am destined to see Donnelly scoring almost at will for Middlesex in 1947 I shall drink in the savour with as keen a relish as anybody”.  He was not destined to see Donnelly, who did not play for Middlesex in 1947, but he did live to see the classic and glorious season of Compton and Edrich.  He expired – presumably a happy man – on the 20th of September, three days after seeing Middlesex, as Champion County, defeat a Rest XI by an innings, with a century from Edrich and a double from Compton.

On a much darker one, R.C. Robertson-Glasgow cut his throat in a snowstorm on the 4th of March (if only he could have held out for another month …).

And then there’s Alan Gibson.  Gibson died on the 10th of April 1997, the first day of that season (if you count University matches).  But it’s doubtful how much interest he was taking by that stage. 

He too had once found the thought of a new season an incentive to pull himself out of a deep Slough of Despond.  In 1985 he had, according his son Anthony* drunk himself into the Bristol Royal Infirmary (at the rate of at least a  bottle of whisky a day) and from there to “a hospital at Ham Green, which specialised in treating alcoholics on their last legs, as Alan was presumed to be.”  He perked up enough to write a piece, unpublished at the time, which begins -

“Christmas in hospital (this was my fourth) is always a bit of a struggle … The most relaxed of my four Christmases was in a mental home: a case, I suppose, of sancta simplicitas.”  

but moves on to regret that he had not received a game of OWZTHAT in his Christmas stocking and ends -

“For I am confident of being at the Bristol ground next summer and probably even more at Taunton and an assortment of other places as well.  When I came into hospital, I was quite unable to walk, even to rise from a chair.  But you should have seen me, after a week or two, dashing down the ward on my trusty zimmer.  On Christmas Eve I graduated to a stick; muttering proudly to myself, OWZTHAT?”

The moral being, I suppose, don’t lose interest in cricket and go easy on the whisky.

A bottle of Whisky, this afternoon

* Quotations from “Of Didcot and the Demon”, a collection of Gibson’s writings with reminiscences from Anthony Gibson, published last year by Fairfield Books (available here).

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Surrey v Leicestershire, The Oval, County Championship, Friday 4th June  

Not, perhaps, a full report, but a few vignettes.

The Oval tube station has a very pleasing aspect – art deco uplighters on the escalator, “classical” music played in the entrance hall (presumably to soothe the savage breasts that might otherwise congregate there and Behave Antisocially) and these murals -

 

 – the figure on the left is Alan Knott, I think (or possibly Jack Russell) –  the other two I can’t place.  The thought for the day – written out neatly on the whiteboard – is from Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist minister whose Metropolitan Tabernacle was situated not too far away ( I have a cousin who studied for the Ministry at the college named after him, also quite nearby) -

Interesting to see that his influence still persists near his old stamping (or preaching) ground – the quote-merchant at the entrance to the Hammersmith & City Line at King’s Cross prefers Bertrand Russell.

The last time I visited the Oval was for the equivalent fixture last year see here and I see then that Matt Boyce had already been dismissed by the time I arrived.  This was also the case on Friday, and seemed a good omen for my hoped-for repetition of last year’s performance from Leicestershire – a double century from Taylor and a hundred from Dut Toit.  I got something similar, though the runs were differently distributed – a big hundred from Jefferson, 61 from Taylor and decent knocks by Nixon and Du Toit.  

A wag behind me wondered whether the partnership between Nixon and Jefferson was the biggest at the Oval between two American presidents, which it might have been until Taylor (Zachary Taylor) came in.  An amusement for a long winter’s night – devise a Presidents’ XI.

I bear Surrey no ill-will, but I derive some satisfaction from seeing the richest county (we’re told) at the bottom of the Championship – at least money can’t yet “buy success” in this form of the game.  But then, wandering round the Oval, it’s clear that (unlike Grace Road or Wantage Road) this is not a stadium (ground is too small a word for it) that is made with the County Championship in mind, and that success there is not what they’re hoping to buy.  The towering Babylonian stands, the high rise pavilion, the endless bars and countless lavatories, the sumptuous (I’m sure) hospitality suites, the other nameless constructions and  – soon to come – the hotel need Test Matches and star-spangled 20/20 games, and no doubt they will get them, though I’m not sure even that will be enough to satisfy this mini-megacity’s ravenous appetite for cash.  There is an air of hubris about this place, though I fear the coming nemesis is more likely to be visited upon poor old Leicestershire, Northants and Derby than Surrey.

Mind you, a fair proportion of the money for the hotel must have been generated by the group whose photo I presented in my last past – not in fact the Surrey team (you guessed?) – but a stag do (I imagine) who seemed to be supporting Leicestershire, at least until the point (about 2.30 in the afternoon) when they must have been too ratarsed to have much idea where they were, let alone which team they were supporting.  At £3.70 a a pint (London prices!) they must have made a considerable contribution.  And no doubt, when the hotel is built, they could have been carried back to their rooms in wheelbarrows by the stewards.  I think I may have seen a glimpse of  the future here.

What would Spurgeon have thought of all this?  Not a lot, obviously, though I can’t deny that Little Bo Peep, Baloo the Bear and, no doubt Surrey themselves did seem to be enjoying their excesses.

“It is not how much we have but how much we enjoy that makes happiness“.  I shall think of that through the coming months, as I sit under my tree at Fairfield Road with a bottle of pop. 

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A curious article  in this evening’s Standard, concerning the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.  The full piece is here – but the headline is “Sally Bercow: ‘Two bottles a day, one-night stands, my life was out of control'”.   This apparently merits an appearance on the front page and a two page interview, in spite of the fact that, as the interviewer admits in the first sentence -

“Sally Bercow is a household name whom no one knows much about …”

The revelations seem to consist of  the fact that, as a younger woman, working in advertising, she used to drink “wine at lunchtime” and sometimes “a bottle in the evening”.  Pressed by the interviewer she admits (or claims) that this might sometimes have been two bottles.  This apparently led to her sometimes having “one-night stands” and falling asleep on the Tube, so that she woke up in Epping.  I’m sure we’ve all been there (falling asleep on the Tube, I mean, rather than Epping – though the Forest is rather lovely if you catch it at the right time of year).  So what is the point of these revelations?

She says herself that -

“”I want to run for Parliament as a Labour candidate so this has all got to come out and I’d rather tell it myself.”

I really don’t see why any of it (such as it is) has to come out, and, even if it did, I can’t imagine that many- if any – of the electorate would (if you’ll pardon the language) give two fucks one way or the other.  So my initial feeling is that this is an interesting example of a politician (or would-be politician) using the common-or-garden celebrity’s trick of the addiction-related confessional interview as a means of boosting her profile (my booze hell!)

The one who really comes out of this badly, I feel is John Bercow.   Mrs. B. says of him -

” They stayed friends, even in her wild years. “He’d have a single pint and I’d guzzle wine but he was so fixated on politics, I don’t think he noticed.””

Drinking to excess is one thing, but becoming addicted to politics at such an early age is a far more worrying sign.  No doubt many of us had a normal student experience with politics.  We may, for instance, have found ourselves at a party – slightly tipsy – and been tempted to enter into an argument about withdrawal from the European Economic Union.  We may have been approached by a dubious-looking character in a sidestreet wanting to ask us about our voting intentions and we may have given way to the temptation to engage them in conversation.  There is no shame attached to any of this, but to carry this fixation on well into later life – as Bercow has apparently done – is, in my view, to invite serious questions about his character.

A study in contrasts

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All first-class cricket grounds these days have a sign outside saying “Importation of alcohol strictly forbidden”. The only exception, I believe, is Lord’s itself, the MCC having obtained some kind of Special Dispensation.  The consumption of alcohol, on the other hand, is positively encouraged, not least by the numerous posters advertising Marston’s – official beer suppliers to the England side.  It’s just that it has to be bought from the various bars in the grounds, so maximising revenue.

My feeling has always been that, although watching cricket and drinking oneself insensible are both worthwhile activities, they don’t mix very well.  Others, clearly, take a different view, and, indeed, many spectators at test matches seem to regard the opportunity to go on an eight-hour bender as the primary attraction.

Another who seems to have felt that the great game is best viewed through a mist of alcohol was C.B. Fry, according to the brief biography by his secretary Denzil Batchelor (“the wittiest man in London”).  In a chapter entitled “Magnifico in Olympus” (a title which hints at the tone of the work) DB describes Fry reporting on a day’s cricket (I believe for the Evening Standard).

Apart from “a copy of Herodotus, a box of Henry Clay cigars” Fry takes with him “reserve hampers of hock and chicken sandwiches in case there has been a strike of caterers“.  At twelve he has “the cocktail a visitor from Mars has introduced into the box: a straightforward tumbler filled with equal measures of gin and whisky which as soon as it has been christened a Bamboo-shoot is somehow accepted by the company as innocent to the point of being non-alcoholic.”  

For lunch he has “lobsters with that fine Traminer ’26”, and then, no doubt, it’s back to the Bamboo Shoots.  Martineau reports that “I had a rather bored lady in tow when I ran into Charles.  He thought of a way of mellowing this gelid Diana … he sent a page to the Langham … to fetch a bottle of Liebfraumilch of a vintage which he considered to be worthy of the occasion.  The boy … was given strict instructions to drive back in a taxi which never exceeded fifteen miles an hour … The lady drank the great wine with an air of condescension. She said she had always liked Alsatian wines and could not understand why all her friends affected to despise them.”

And all this before he heading out for an evening’s dancing until three in the morning.

There’s no doubt that, in later life, Fry’s behaviour became increasingly erratic.  He decided, for instance, that he could best contribute to the war effort by offering himself – in his sixties – as a coal miner.  He expresssed some questionable political views.  He ran naked along the sea-front at Brighton.  One can’t help wondering if his alcoholic intake may have contributed to this in some way.

One cannot help but wonder too whether a bottle of Liebfraumilch would be enough to unfreeze today’s gelid lady – though he wouldn’t have had to send a page out to the Langham for it, the nearest branch of Lidl would do. But perhaps Liebfraumilch was a different drink in those days?

liebfraumilch52r

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