With January, and most of its resolutions, finally over some of us are getting back into the swing of all things party – including hangovers. Here, George Spencer, travels back through time to see if we can learn anything from our ancient ancestors. ,
We’ve all been there. We’ve all woken-up the morning after the night before with a head like a bag of loudly clanging spanners, a mouth as dry and furry as a badgers arse and, in extreme cases, a Hansel and Gretel style trail of vomit leading from the bedside to the bog. These are the first indications that today, or at the very least, this morning is going to be bad.
Utilising every last scrap of energy you haul your broken body out of bed and then, once standing, asses the true extent of your ‘hangoverness’ – does the road to recovery merely require a cup of coffee and a slice of toast?
Are you going to need a couple of episodes of Two and a Half Men/Gossip Girl/Entourage (delete accordingly) and perhaps a fry-up before you’re ready to attack the day?
Or is it, as many of us will doubtless have experience the sort of hangover that puts you in touch with your own mortality and calls into question your morality?
How many people do you have to text to apologise for trying to snog them/not trying to snog them/snogging their friend (delete accordingly)?
How many of your flatmates are you going to have to apologise to for waking them up the day before an exam at four in the morning? How many washes will that t-shirt need to get those flecks of sick out? And perhaps most importantly, how on earth can I rid myself of this misery?
There are of course many modern treatments for this, surely the oldest ailment, which come in the form of handy pills liquids (I am a particular fan of an Irn-Bru/Ribena hybrid); but such remedies come with hefty price tags and often dubious success rates.
Therefore, if you’re a bit cheap or are such a piss artist that you’ve exhausted all conventional cures, it is worth casting your eye to the bingers of yesteryear whose creativity in this field never ceases to amaze.
First up are the lotions and potions of our ancient ancestors who, whilst they might not have been strawpeedoing WKDs and banging back sambuca, did like a tipple or two, particularly before and after battle.
One particular Roman boozer, Pliny the Elder, suggests a stomach turning concoction of owl eggs and raw garlic to be the best cure. Indeed, writing in his Naturalis Historia encyclopaedia, Pliny also espoused the mythical quality of eels to relieve the symptoms of a hangover which he ‘suffocated in wine’ before eating raw (others preferred theirs cooked with broken almonds).
When eels were out of season (or Tesco had run-out) well-to-do Roman families started their day with a meal of deep fried canaries. The canaries were to be caught by a servant fresh that morning, stuffed with sage leaves and then deep fried in olive oil. Greeks, on the other hand, tended to favour boiled cabbage before a session on the cans and raw sheep’s lungs the morning after. Tasty.
One hangover nostrum which rears its head throughout history is the ‘hair of the dog’ – a group noun for all cures which entail getting back-on the booze.
Etymologist seem to agree that the phrase originally referred to imbibing as cure for a literal dog bite (i.e. drink this because a dog has actually just bitten you) and only wandered in meaning after Shakespeare interpreted ‘the dog’ in a more metaphorical sense.
The idea is that you must grab the dog, your hangover, by the fur and show it who is boss by having another drink before it dominates you. Such cures are usually spicy (Bloody Marys or Prairie Oysters which consist of a raw egg with Tabasco and Worcester sauce) and weirdly enough often have Guinness as a main ingredient (from the champagne and flat Guinness of Black Velvet to the raw egg, vodka and Guinness of the Black Eye).
However, by far the most popular cure offered by history seems to involve neither drinking nor eating. Indeed, like almost all of life’s afflictions, the pain and gloom of a hangover is, according to many, best alleviated with an energetic session in the bedroom.
The writer Kingsley Amis is one such proponent saying, ‘if your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) is willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can. The exercise will do you good, and–on the assumption that you enjoy sex–you will feel toned up emotionally’.
Amis is keen to impress, however, that ‘if you are in bed with somebody you should not be in bed with, and have in the least degree a bad conscience about this, abstain’ and above all ‘do not take the matter into your own hands if you awake by yourself’.
So there you have it. Hopefully this brief trip down hangover alley has given you a few new and more adventurous ideas when it comes to getting yourself in a fit state to make those nine o’clock lectures.
At the very least it should have shown how blessed we modern folk are not to have to rely on eating raw animal or pickled eel in order to rid ourselves of a headache.