Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More London notes, these having to do with the drink

Today, as promised, some notes on beer, drink, pubs, and the perils thereof, derived from Hogarth and others while I was in London last week.

1 On our first night in town, our friend Gideon led us through crowds of happy drinkers who were spilling out of pubs into the warm air of a lovely spring evening to Rose Street, a narrow, roofed alley, in the middle of which is a side door to the pub that was our destination. I should have placed the alley myself, but I didn't until Gid pointed it out: in 1679, it was the site of the Rose-alley ambuscade, when John Dryden was set upon and beaten by a group of thugs thought be in the pay of Lord Rochester, who was avenging a literary slight. Like so many literary sites in London, the alley remains, as does the pub where the hired muscle surely secured the necessary measure of Dutch courage. It has, however, changed its name: what is now the Lamb and Flag was, in Rochester's day, the Bucket of Blood.

2 In 1751, Hogarth contributed a pair of engravings to a growing public campaign against gin drinking, a reaction to the Gin Craze, which saw the working classes consuming low-priced, low-quality gin at unfathomable rates. The more immediately arresting of the pair is Gin Lane, in which the evils of gin drinking (and, as Dickens approvingly pointed out, of the ill effects of allowing people to suffer in poverty) are depicted in reliably shocking Hogarthian fashion.

Though it traffics far less in the grotesque, the accompanying engraving, Beer Street, which shows the stalwart British turning to beer, rather than gin, and thus establishing themselves as solid, upright citizens, is worth taking a look at, too. Any Hogarth, after all, contains a wealth of entertaining detail; check out, for example, the trader copping a feel from a female peddler.

And then there's the poem underneath the image, which is enough to win Beer Street a place on this blog:
Beer, happy product of our Isle,
Can Sinew and Strength impart,
And wearied with Fatigue and Toil,
Can chear each manly Heart.

3 Another pub that received some of our custom while we were in London was the Toucan in Soho Square, which pours primarily Guinness. Hanging behind the basement bar is the following letter, which was clearly printed at some point in a newspaper, though I haven't been able to figure out where or when:
I will read with interest Mr Lomax's letter (Viz. this issue) re: lager commercials. I personally am a fan of the clever Guinness adverts, with their challenging visual imagery, their air of illusion, and the maturity and mystique which actor Rutger Hauer provides. If I have one criticism it is that they fail to mention that Guinness turns your shit to treacle.
P. McMurphy, Derby

4 The Toucan also featured the following quotation about alcohol from Ian Paisley behind the bar:
I would be happy to see the devil's buttermilk banned from society.
I knew I didn't like that guy.

5 I'll close this group with a sticker that my friend Jen and I marveled at when we saw it stuck to a wall:
Specified Risk Material

What, Jen and I wondered, could this sticker signify? And how scary is a Specified Risk Material? Less scary, Jen argued, than an Unspecified Risk Material. Perhaps it ought to be affixed to a bottle of fine gin, or my martini shaker.

Tomorrow, I'll close this week of London reading with a couple of brief notes on people and places.

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