Thursday 31 May 2018

Booze, Glorious American Booze

Image result for american flagMuch has happened since A Short History of Drunkenness came out in America a couple of weeks ago. First, there's a lovely review in the New York Times. I believe it will be in the print edition on Sunday, but, like an insomniac spider, it's already on the web and you can read it by following this link. I never thought that I picture I drew would end up in the NYT.

Second, there's a review the Wall Street Journal, which you can read here.

Third, I did an interview for the lovely folks at Big Blend Radio Hour that you can listen to by following this link.

Fourth, I wrote an article for Read It Forward, that, if you are forward, you can read here. It's about great fictional drunkards.

All of which leaves no excuse for any whisk[e]y drinker. A Short History of Drunkenness is officially a "refreshingly guilt-free account of getting sloshed through the ages".

Incidentally, in case you wanted to see the original Pubai seal, here it is. The beer drinkers are at the top centre, using straws to avoid all the horrid sediment that you got in Sumerian beer.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

The Moon May Be Made of Green Cheese

As a child I was confident that the moon wasn't made of green cheese, because, even at an early age, I could see that the moon was not green. I considered myself quite precocious in this, and imagined that my parents were proud of me.

But now that I am of man's estate, I discover that green cheese isn't green either. It's merely new, unripened, unmatured cheese. Green cheese is only green in the sense that a raw recruit is said to be green. This the original sense of green cheese recorded from the C14th century onwards.

Of course, if a cheese is physically green, you can call it "green cheese". Nobody is going to stop you. I have neither the time nor the weaponry.

And anyhow, the OED records that sense too. This quotation is from 1673:

They [the Dutch] have four or five sorts of Cheese... Green Cheese, said to be so coloured with the juice of Sheep's Dung.

But the original green cheese was usually white. Moreover, cheeses, traditionally, were usually round. This makes it a near certainty that the moon is made of green cheese; and that that's why you have a new moon every month, to keep it green. That's science.

So I was wrong as a boy, those were, as Cleopatra put it:

My salad days,
When I was green in judgement, cold in blood

Cheese, of course, goes with wine and sherry, which for some reason reminds me that my new and beautiful book A Short History of Drunkenness How, Why, Where, and When Humankind has gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present is out in America, and should be bought at once by all American readers.

The Inky Fool reached a melancholy 67%, but there was nothing more at the shop.

Monday 14 May 2018

Some Concealed Pigs

The wart is below the eye.
The pig is a curious creature. We all think we know what it is: that dear old, rather intelligent thing, rootling around in the mud and stuffed with lovely bacon.

And then one considers the guinea pig, which contains no bacon at all.

Then one thinks further and you realise that there's the hedge-hog. And the groundhog and the warthog and the road hog and that none of them, except maybe the last, contains bacon. And of course a wart-hog is just that. It's a hog with what appear to be warts. But a guinea pig doesn't look like a pig at all. Nor does a hedgehog. A hedgehog looks a bit like a porcupine.

And then, if you mull of the word porcupine enough:




You suddenly realise that a porcupine is merely a pork with spines, from the Old French porc-espin. It's enough to make a strictly kosher chap run screaming for the ocean, where of course there are no pigs at all. Unless a sea-pig existed. And there may be sea-lions and sea-horses but, surely there is no pigfish. Not even in Old French. That would be a porc peis - from the Latin pisces. Or porpais as it was by the twelfth century.

And then you realise your true porpoise in life.

The only possible way to relax is to visit the provinces and read poetry. So you quietly retreat to Swindon with a copy of Swinburne. And you know that don means hill and that burn means stream, but don't whatever you do think any further.

Incidentally, the Dutch don't say pearls before swine, they say roses before swine*, which I somehow think is prettier.

None of this has anything much to do with my new book A Short History of Drunkenness, which has just been released in America. But, if you're American and interested in history, or drunkenness, or if you're simply short, you should immediately buy a copy. You can do so by the simple expedient of following this link.

The Inky Fool found he'd been talking at crossed porpoises

*Or that's what I read, but see the comments.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

American Wino

Today is a day that will live in revelry: A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where and When Humankind has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present is released in the good ol' US of A. It's published by Three Rivers Press and you can read all about it, or even purchase it by following this link, or by toddling down to a bookstore.

The book should feel at home on that continent, as it has two chapters devoted to American drinking: one on the Wild West saloon and what it was actually like; and one on the subject of Prohibition and how, contrary to myth, it actually pretty much worked.

So in celebratory spirit, and in no particular order, here are some facts about drinking in America taken from the book.

1) In 1797 the largest distillery in America produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year. It was owned by the great distiller of early America, a man called George Washington.

2) The Pilgrim Fathers weren’t meant to land at Plymouth Rock, but the Mayflower had run out of beer. So they had to stop there.

3) American settlers, unless they lived very close to a brewery, drank spirits because they were easily transportable. A Kentucky breakfast was defined (in 1822) as ‘three cocktails
and a chaw of terbacker’.

A cocktail here is in essence exactly what it sounds like: a ‘Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters’ (1806). Whiskey for breakfast could be considered a challenge even then, so by mixing in a little fruit juice, or whatever came to hand, you
could take in all the health-giving benefits of an alcoholic breakfast (which were still believed in) and not vomit.

4) A lot of the booze sold in Old West saloons was fake. Here is a contemporary recipe for making something apparently indistinguishable from rye whiskey.

Neutral spirit, four gallons; alcoholic solution of starch, one gallon; decoction of tea, one pint; infusion of almonds, one pint; color with one ounce of the tincture of cochineal, and of burnt sugar, four ounces; flavor with oil of wintergreen, three drops, dissolved in one ounce of alcohol.

5) Prohibition didn't fully end until 1966 when alcohol became legal in Oklahoma.

6) Prohibition is a major reason that Italian food became popular in America, but to find out why, you will have to buy the book.

A Short History of Drunkenness can be bought from all good bookstores, and, I suspect, some bad ones. And purchased at all the usual sites on the World Wide Web. Follow this link for much more information.

And remember that Americans have always liked a tipple. There was a man called Frederick Marryat who travelled the USA in the 1830s and wrote a book trying to describe this new country to old Europe. He records that in the USA:

If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink.

Friday 4 May 2018

German Names

Image resultI've always liked foreign surnames. They're just so foreign. So exotic. And then you learn the language and you find that the names have a translation and that the translation is so dull, so very dull.

And that amuses me.

As a little boy, like most little boys, I loved Ferraris. The name seemed to encapsulate speed and glamour and whatnot. And when I became a man and found out that Ferrari is the Italian for Smith, and the most common surname in that doubtful peninsula, it made me giggle.

And then you find that Giuseppe Verdi is just Joe Green and that Giacomo Casanova is Jacob Newhouse and so on and so forth. But whereas Italians names all sound romantic (at least to the ears of Albion), Germans all sound austere and imposing. So just to ruin everything, here are a few Germans composers (or at least composers with German surnames):

Johann Sebastian Bach = John Sebastian Creek (I've no idea how this may relate to the British TV show Jonathan Creek)
Leonard Bernstein = Leo Amber
Robert Zimmerman (real name of Bob Dylan) = Bob Carpenter
Richard Wagner = Ricky Wainwright

And here are a few more Germans for good measure:

Richter Scale = Judge Scale
Schneider = Tailor
Schumacher = Shoemaker
Muller = Miller
Claudia Schiffer = Claudia Skipper (as in ship's captain)
Albert Einstein = Bertie One-stone (Technically the surname here originally meant "place surrounded by a stone wall")
Boris Becker = Boris the Baker
Max Weber = Max Weaver
Carl Jung = Charles Young
Sigmund Freud = Sigmund Joy

As James Joyce one wrote somewhere in the middle of Finnegan's Wake "they were yung and easily freudened".

Not that I'm an expert in German, or course. As Jerome K. Jerome put it somewhere in the middle of Three Men in a Boat: "I don’t understand German myself.  I learned it at school, but forgot every word of it two years after I had left, and have felt much better ever since."

This is Mr Joy

P.S. I know some of these people are Austrian, but the names are German.

P.P.S. Only four days until A Short History of Drunkenness is released in America.

Tuesday 1 May 2018


Illustration Hordeum vulgare0B.jpgAs I get older (which I keep, for some reason, doing), I find that I'm the only one of my friends not furiously procreating and getting married. Sometimes, (and you may be shocked to hear this) they even do it in that order.

There is therefore much demand in our modern and sinful world, for the old Shropshire dialect term barley-child. A barley-child is a baby born within six months of the wedding. This seems to be because your average farmer plants barley and reaps it six months later.

Anyway, barley-child is a useful term in these fallen times, and so I've been using it. Sternly.

It also shows that, though we of the modern world may be going to hell on a sex-crazed handcart, Shropshire has always been bad.

Shropshire within England
A heat-map showing fornication in the UK

P.S. Barley-child first pops up in Shropshire Word-Book, a Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words Etc (1879). It's a cracking read.

P.P.S. Only one week until A Short History of Drunkenness is published in the U.S. of A.