Monday, April 04, 2005

International Hangover Cures

Irn Bru. Made in Scotland. For Hangovers.

I went out drinking with my beloved fiancee yesterday. And why not? - it was a gorgeous Spring day here in London, and there are few things I like more than necking a golden glass of Leffe Blonde Belgian lager while soaking up the Charlotte Street sunshine.

Six hours later I reeled home. And now I have a mouth like an Algerian internet cafe toilet.

To celebrate my Pulitzer Prize winning hangover, here is a topical little skit I wrote onn this subject, just a few weeks ago..

International Hangover Cures

Feeling a little iffy this Monday morning? Did you wake up a few hours ago and think: why is there a drum & bass party in my head? What you have, of course, is a kociokwik. A katzenjammer. A resaca. Which are respectively the Polish, German and Iberian Spanish terms for a hangover (the first two both mean ‘a wailing of kittens’. Which is oddly neat)

No matter how bad you feel right now, even if you feel as bad as P.G.Wodehouse - ‘I was left in no doubt as to the severity of the hangover when the cat stamped into the room’ - there is some small comfort in knowing that throughout the world, on this fresh and lovely Monday morning, there are hundreds of millions of other people feeling equally as grim. If not worse.

In Sweden, as you read, strapping blonde tennis instructors are clutching their scalps and bemoaning the fact that they have ‘ont i haret’ - ‘a pain in the roots of the hair’. Meanwhile, next door, the shrewd and oil-rich Norwegians might have managed to stay out of the EU, but they’re still staggering about the fjord getting moody about the ‘tommermen’ - ‘the lumberjacks in the head’.

Further south, things are also pretty disagreeable for the Italians. OK they’ve got better shirts than us, but in the night they went and sicked all over them, and they are now gesticulating wildly to their mothers as they whinge about their ‘malessere dopo una sbornia’ - literally ‘the ailment after a binge’. And the oh-so-clever French aren’t feeling too smart either, they’ve got a ‘gueule de bois’. A wooden palate. Ha.

So we’ve established that the whole world gets a sore head. But what can we learn from our fellow members of the international freemasonry of feeling rubbish? Ever since the not overwhelmingly practical Assyrians suggested ground swallows’ beaks and myrrh as the ultimate hangover cure, drinkers the globe over have been searching far and wide for a sovereign remedy for their lumberjacks. And they’ve come up with some strange and intriguing ideas.

One theme that runs through the world’s hangover remedies is pain. Perhaps on a homeopathic basis (the idea that like deals with like), perhaps because nasty metabolic shocks induce the production of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), or perhaps as a simple corollary of the self-hating masochism that so often accompanies a really bad kociokwik, many cultures have thought to recommend bodily torment for their hangovers.

In New England the salt water cure is said to work, i.e. go jump in the sea. In some Caribbean countries a little futile bloodletting is the thing. And in Finland a really hot and painful sauna is the national remedy. This last has some basis in scientific fact: one of the main causes of a hangover is the congeners, the toxins in alcohol particularly prevalent in ‘coloured’ drinks (like red wine, cognac, and bourbon).

If you sit in a sauna, or indeed have lots of vigorous sex ( c Kingsley Amis) you will sweat out the toxins quicker than you would otherwise. Readers of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London will remember how he describes working as a ‘plongeur’, a washer upper, in a big Paris restaurant, and how the steamy, sauna-like ambience of his workplace was a great cure for his inevitable morning heads.

At some point the Pain Principle of hangover cures elides into the Painful Food Principle. It’s difficult to understand the rationale behind some exotic food-based hangover cures other than that they are so disgusting you will either throw up (removing the toxins again), or merely hate yourself less for having done some penitential suffering.

The Wild West Cowboy cure, for instance, involved brewing up a delicious tea of dried jackrabbit droppings. In southern Japan they are known to cherish a tisane of coral dust. Nearer home, old-style Englishmen swore by a portion of bitter almonds and raw eel. And from contemporary Holland comes matjes, a raw fresh salted baby herring. But perhaps these last two aren’t so mad: they are both full of salt and vitamins, and salt and vitamins are two things the hungover body needs to replace the minerals so carelessly sluiced into the Armitage & Shanks the previous night.

Salt is also, one imagines, a rationale behind the positively alarming number of international hangover recipes based in and around rank bits of offal. In Ecuador they like nothing better when feeling feeble that chowing down to a nice plate of ‘caldo de manguera’: a soup made from pigs’ intestines filled with rice and blood. Mm.

In the Netherlands it’s sheep’s trotters and oatmeal. The Japanese (big drinkers, the Japanese, even if they do lack one or two of the enzymes one needs to process alcohol) have, in their inimitably civilised way, even gone to the length of inventing the ‘ramen bar’ for their ‘futsuka yoi’ (two day hangover). A ramen bar is essentially a late night caff where the only thing on the menu is sheep’s stomach in soup. Go to the pleasure districts of any Japanese city around four a.m. and you’ll see thousands of slightly wobbly salarymen enthusiastically heading off for their bowl of tripe-broth.

Tripe? Did someone say tripe? Uncannily enough sheep’s tripe is favoured by Turks and Mexicans for their hangovers, too. This is a strange global echo, given that the cultures are otherwise so diverse. Similar echoes can be found in the worldwide fondness for post-excess pickles and eggs. Worse-for-wear Romans liked to down six raw owls’ eggs in one go. And then perhaps visit the vomitorium. Hungover Thais heartily recommend ‘son-in-law-eggs’ which sounds a bit maladaptive, but is only hard-boiled chicken eggs in a chilli sauce. Meanwhile the headsore Russians go for pickled cabbage, sauerkraut juice, and other vinegary concoctions, as do the Balts and the Poles.

Indeed a kind of pickle-belt runs across Eurasia, from Russia through Germany to northern England. Perhaps the water one would necessarily drink with pickles and eggs explains these predilections: dehydration being one of the main causes of hangover angst. This might also explain why the Scots swear by a can of Irn Bru.

If all this is a little rebarbative for your battered soul, and tender stomach, you could try some of the globe’s more spiritual and/or magical remedies. In countries where voodoo is an influence they like to stick thirteen black-headed pins into the bottle from which they’ve been drinking. Should you have somehow worked your way through an entire crate of Budvar you’re going to need a heck of a lot of pins. Next door in Puerto Rico they like to slice a ripe lemon in half and rub the halves into their armpits. Robert Boyle the seventeenth century scientist thought walking about on hemlock leaves all day was a fantastic way to cure the kittens. He’d probably have been better off with his chimney-sweep’s cure: warm soot dissolved in a glass of milk (soot, like charcoal, is a ‘chelator’: a chemical agent that combines with and removes the poisons in alcohol).

Still not enough? Nothing take your fancy? Then you’re reduced to the time-honoured Australian method. A bucket by the bed and the phone off the hook. Happy drinking.

 Posted by Hello


john b said...

Excellent article, despite the image of Kingsley Amis having sex.

Nonetheless, you missed out the only effective (and damn, it's effective) hangover cure: start drinking again.

This is a less painful process if you wake up still pissed before the hangover actually starts, but works either way. It's all about methyl versus ethyl alcohol, and the order your liver breaks them down...

michael said...

real pleasure to read...
there is, however, a little thing i feel you could take into account.
the word "kociokwik" is Polish indeed, though it is just a 'copy' of the German 'Katzenjammer'. The genuin Polish equivalent would be "kac".

Norman Smith said...

There are days where we cannot control ourselves from drinking a lot especially during holidays and there arrives the hangover.
hangover nausea