Saturday, 13 August 2022

Cleopatra Mark Two

I have been known to rehash the odd post or two. Some would say I'm a lazy bugger and should be castigated accordingly. And with that sentiment, I would heartedly agree. Lazy, indolent and mayhap, a tad slothful. What can I say? Guilty as charged. This post originally appeared in c2015. Writing is hard and although I do appear to have a modicum of talent for penning complete and utter bollocks, it does not preclude a degree of lassitude.  
That said, I have also updated grammar and amended errors, sundry. Thus, this post is supposedly about said exotic bint dissolving an expensive pearl in vinegar and drinking the acidic concoction, in one. Tis enough to give, even the most robust constitution, digestive dyspepsia- is there any other?

Reminds me of an ex Girlfriend- her name was Karen

Cleopatra (b 69BC-d 30BC) has inspired writers and artists for over two thousand years. The purported Egyptian beauty, who seduced two of the most powerful men of the Roman world has fascinated and beguiled us, ever since. Cleopatra has become a byword for despotic, lush, oriental opulence and extravagance; a woman who during a banquet with her lover, the sot, Mark Antony, is said to have dissolved a priceless pearl in vinegar and drank it. So what is the truth and after all this time, and should we care?

The first thing to note is that Cleopatra was not Egyptian, but a Macedonian belonging to the Macedonian dynasty that took control of Egypt after the death of the great general of antiquity, Alexander the Great (d 323BC). Macedonians: A load of Highland ruffians that ruled the world, because they could. The rulers spoke Greek and didn't even bother to learn the native Egyptian language, although Cleopatra apparently made the effort, as she did with other barbarian tongues. She became ruler of Egypt after the death of her father, Ptolemy XII Auletes, at 18 (51BC). To legitimise her rule she married her younger brother, aged 12, at the time- don't ask.

As regards her supposed beauty, let us consult the ancient writers for their considered opinion of her said pulchritude: “For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased…”

Plutarch's Life of Antony 

The only other evidence we have is her depiction on coins and sculptured busts. Allowing for a degree of stylisation, especially in the Greek renditions, a modest conclusion can be made. By the way, the Roman depictions are considered more realistic as befits this most practical and bucolic of peoples. On the available evidence it seems she was no ravishing beauty in the mould of Elizabeth Taylor, nor was she a hideous hag. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Her greatest attributes, lay in her charm, intelligence and accomplishments, which indeed, were great. How could it be otherwise?

We are on less firm ground when we come to the story of the pearl. Supposedly, Cleopatra bet Mark Antony that she could serve a meal costing 10 million sesterces. This would translate to about 30 million US dollars at today’s rates. Obviously, Mark Antony was intrigued (probably drunk) and so he accepted the bet. The next day she set before Antony an extravagant banquet. He was impressed but pointed out that the meal came nowhere near 10 million sesterces. Cleopatra smiled and produced a glass of vinegar into which she placed one of her large and incredibly expensive pearl earrings. The pearl fizzed in the vinegar and promptly dissolved. With a wicked gleam in her eye, Cleopatra drained the drink in one. All at the banquet agreed, that she had won the bet.   

The account appears in the writings of a Roman author, Pliny the Elder, in 77AD. We should be wary of its veracity for several reasons: Firstly it was written many years after the alleged event;  further, it was written by an enemy who had no love for Cleopatra and it has all the hallmarks of a myth. The ancients loved a 'rollicking' good story, just as we do today, and were not immune to subverting the facts if it suited. The story also suited Roman propaganda in which Cleopatra is suitably depicted as a
luxuriant despotic ruler- the antithesis of tough, rustic, stolid, georgic, Rome.

There should always be a kernel of truth in a good (and plausible?) 'tall story'. One part of the story can be tested today. Is it possible to dissolve a pearl in vinegar? The essence and nature of pearls and vinegar have not changed in two thousand years. Pearls will dissolve in vinegar but not in the way described by Pliny. A pearl, and especially a large pearl, will not dissolve within a very short time- we are looking at days. And remember, Cleopatra's pearl was very large. Therefore, the story could not have occurred exactly as described. The ancients should have got their facts right, we are talking about posterity, after all. This doesn't mean it didn't happen; a few modifications are required. If the pearl was crushed into a fine powder beforehand, then it would be possible.

Having established that at least one part of the original story can't be true, it casts a modicum amount of doubt, over the rest of the story. The story, with reservations, is wholly consistent with what we know about Cleopatra herself. The great lady was wealthy, a ruler in the grand ancient tradition and flaunted her power and privilege with extravagant abandon.       

I suppose, in the last analysis, we should revel in a tale well told and should not be asking penetrating and prosaic questions. Fiction can be intoxicating. After all, who questions whether Shakespeare's, 'Antony and Cleopatra' is a tale of real history? Tis a breathtaking, tragic, and beautifully narrated story framed in lilting prose that, on occasion, inflames the senses. Apparently, it can make grown men cry (not me though, I'm tough).

Historically, Cleopatra was an important character, although ultimately doomed. She played a fine game as only an intelligent ruler could in the face of subjugation to a greater power. She recognised the Roman Empire for what it was. Not sophisticated, politically, or culturally. However, it possessed the only two characteristics that really matter in the world's great arena; political stability (*see comment, below) and a large and well-trained military force. Nothing else really matters, at least from the grand geopolitical perspective. Expanding on this analysis, it is well to consider that the subjugator, the Roman Empire, when its time came, fell more to internal enemies than those without. Modern Western powers should take note.     

*As I'm sure you are aware, I'm not a great one for digression, but I thought it necessary to introduce a caveat on Rome's 'political stability', before I receive censure. The period in which I write is a time of great political upheaval for Rome. Prior to this era, Rome experienced relatively stable political conditions under the Republic, however, it did suffer from periods of social tumult. Caesar introduced a form of stability that pleased no one but himself. After his death, the Roman world descended into civil war. And with interludes, real peace and tranquillity (at least for the Romans) did not descend until the coming of the first Roman Emperor, Octavian. The rest is history- go read.   

Gratuitous photo of da missus and grand fruit

Thursday, 11 August 2022

War Horse- In the Beginning

British  Warriors Prior To Annihilation    

 Tis time to consider a post with a military flavour. Don't be angry, be amazed!

There can be no doubt that the horse has played a significant role, in war, since the 2nd millennium BC up until the Great War. Modern artillery, the bolt action rifle, the machine gun, and wretched flesh-ripping barbwire doomed the horse to the glue factory, circa 1914-1916. Sadly, for combatants of the First Great War, sentiment at the beginning of the conflict overcame reality. Thus is the raw emotional attachment of man and horse. A combination able to transcend reality until reality forced acquiescence on reluctant men- the horse had no say in the matter. Is there no more pitiful sight of seeing broken, once noble beasts (of both species)  littering the desecrated, shattered land of the post-apocalyptic battlefield?

When man first contemplated the horse, about 5,000 years ago there was no thought of using the beast to pull a cart (what's a cart?) or support the weight of a man. The horse of the time was a poor specimen without anatomical merit. The folk of prehistory were at the stage where domestication of tractable stock was becoming a reality. The stout oxen replaced the stout farmer at the plough. However, the ovine character and physiognomy prevented this beast of burden to progress as a useful creature for war, except in the field of logistics.     

Back to the primitive horse. Consider the modern variety. In our fields, we see the stout, round-bellied pony. In the right hands, this beautiful creature is happy to accept the weight of its beloved owner. Also, contemplate the thoroughbred. A pampered and expensive equine of intense beauty and restrained strength. A horse for Kings and Sheiks. A horse with a lineage to rival the descendants of King David and demanding a King's ransom. But it wasn't always so.

The horse that was to make such an impact on warfare went through a long process before it became the formidable warhorse that bestrode battlefields, unchallenged, throughout millennia. The horse available to folk of prehistory was unsuitable for use as a beast of burden and became another provider of protein. The ancestor of the modern horse was hunted unto oblivion by the Amerindians that crossed into the Americas at the end of the last ice age. The horse species available to stone-age man was much shorter than modern breeds and lacked the strength/stamina to bear a man's weight. By selective breeding, humans of prehistory used sound empirical observation and native intelligence to improve and modify suitable stock: first to enable domestication and secondly, to unlock desirable physical characteristics. Thus, it seems that primitive man was an evolutionary geneticist, thousands of years before Darwin put the fundamental principles on a sound theoretical footing. Not all species exhibit the necessary genetic plasticity. For instance, the humble onager and donkey have resisted all attempts to breed a strong-shouldered animal capable of bearing the burden of a man. Of course, the animal can be ridden upon the stout hind haunches but this mode of riding does not allow for fine control of the beast. Furthermore, these animals are notoriously stubborn and intractable to command if they so desire. No amount of breeding will produce an animal with a consistent and compliant/pliant disposition in these obdurate creatures.     

On the route to true cavalry, there was a necessary interlude. As the selective process was ongoing in the third millennium, and before the horse became robust enough to carry a rider in the forward 'control', position, the horse became harnessed for war, by being harnessed to the war chariot. The two-wheeled chariot, no more than 75lbs, was married to two horses. This was the first true 'vehicle' for war. The stamina and speed of the horse gave man a new advantage in the game of war. This union enabled the skilled charioteer, given suitable terrain, to speed across the land at an unprecedented  20 mph. 

The appearance of this new weapon on the primitive battlefield not only conveyed an immense tactical edge but also gave forth a terrifying psychological advantage akin to the German reaction when confronted by the British tank on the Somme in September 1916. It also resulted in the creation of a unique societal warrior elite, a trend that continued unhindered with the development of calvary proper.

By 1700 BC the perfection of the light chariot wedded to the short but powerful composite bow, produced a union in heaven or hell, depending on whether you were the protagonist or recipient. Once the horse became strong enough in the shoulder to carry a man, the chariot-borne warrior became obsolete except for isolated barbarian folk. The fierce, woad bestrewn, often naked warriors of Britain, were too primitive to have realised that the chariot warfare they practised was considered antiquated by their more civilised continental neighbours-  certainly, the Romans were mightily unimpressed. 

By the middle of the second millennium BC, chariot folk, descended unto the rich civilised lands of Mesopotamia and wreaked havoc amongst their more refined neighbours. Foot soldiers of the time, could not counter the combination of fleet chariots and the awesome majesty of the composite bow. Woe to the static warrior!

The dominance of chariot warfare was everywhere short-lived.  Once the horse had become selected to bear a man's weight upon its withers, the manoeuvrability afforded by this critical development doomed the chariot to be but a footnote in the history of war. The impact of the horsed warrior, in all its manifest guises, upon the battlefield, and by extension history, will become the focus of my next post...... Do not despair gentle reader! I have already embarked upon this critical composition that will grace this esteemed blog with timely abandon. Arse.      

Saturday, 30 July 2022

O No, Not Another Bloody Japanese Sniper Story....

Private First Class, Origami Mitsubishi, Prior to His Execution for Being Very Naughty 

Those of you who have followed my blog from its inception, will no doubt be painfully aware, of my unhealthy obsession with Japanese snipers present in the West Midland towns of Dudley and Tipton during the Second World War.  This obsession, nay compulsion, stems from boyhood trauma after being shot at by an anachronistic Japanese sniper whilst cavorting in coal dust (that was I that was cavorting in the coal dust, not the sniper). I was but three feet from Private First Class Karate Nagasaki-Mugumbo when he unleashed death from the muzzle of his rifle. Luckily for me, coal dust from my gyrating antics had stirred up eddies and a miasma settled on the sniper's pebble thick glasses thus impeding visibility. The speeding bullet went wide eventually settling down with a group of itinerants at number 10, Ferret Street......... Ever since this rather implausible experience I have always had a baleful interest in the eldritch domain of Japanese snipers.   

The problem of Japanese snipers became so problematical and intense that the Dudley council after the war decided to convert the old lard rendering factory into a home for 'Bewildered and Short-Sighted Japanese Snipers'. By January 1946 the home was at full capacity and expectant and homeless Japanese snipers were directed to the nearby town of Tipton for succour.    

The superintendent of the home, Captain (retd) Enoch Vowel keeps a tight ship and expects his charges to perform inspiring and heart-uplifting tasks for the duration of their stay. For instance, Monday involves its denizens performing a spirited and sanguineous recreation of the 'The Rape of  Nan King'. Local school children were encouraged to take part. A health and safety notice was issued explaining that the snipers participating should take care not to cut their fingers on the sharp bayonets issued expressly for the 'Extravaganza'. Afterwards, Mr Khan, of 'Khan's bone glue processing factory' agreed to collect the children's bodies for disposal, at no cost to himself.

The week's dynamic programme reads as follows:

Bide a Wee Home For Bewildered and Extremely Short Sighted Japanese Snipers 

                This Week's Activities/Atrocities

Monday Morning Cinema: 'Rape of Nan King' Technicolour version 

Monday Afternoon Inspiration: Lecture by the living god, Emporer Hirohito. 'How to get away with wartime atrocities and thrive'  

Tuesday Lecture: 'How To overcome unnecessary rhotachisms'  A lecture by Prof. Hiroshima Myopia.

Wednesday Practical Workshop:   'Shortsightedness and how to stop colliding with various purposely placed barriers in the tortuous corridors of the facility  

Thursday:      'Korean Comfort Women Night Extravaganza' 

Friday:          'The Advantages of the Berri-Berri Diet'  Presentation by  Dr Shinto Kendo-Nagasaki

Saturday:   'Recreation of the Death March'  Inmates will be forced marched in the Dudley                                     heat and humidity receiving beatings from the home's compassionate guards meted out arbitrarily and with gentle brutality (surely an oxymoron ) 

Sunday:      'Sunday Morning Service' with the Right Rev Hypocritical Mugumbo. Followed                                     by the execution of the survivors of yesterday's jaunt

Anyone particularly interested in my previous musings upon Nippon snipers can access my intrepid pontifications, by searching my blog. To be honest, I can't be arsed (arse) to put in the necessary links.

Lest we forget........... My uncle Charlie never did

Friday, 29 July 2022


Methinks tis time for a light-hearted post to cheer the spirit. And let's be honest things ain't going too well in the world. It seems the doomsday brigade is in fine fettle and predicting the end of all things. The Jehovah Witnesses believe that we are about to enter the period of 'Great Tribulation' prior to Armageddon. Afterwards the righteous will experience paradise on earth and 144,000 especially favoured folk, called the 'Anointed' will be whisked off to heaven to commune with God, Jesus and lesser supernatural minions. The problem, however, is that only JWs will saviour God's favour and the rest of humanity will be blasted unto oblivion. As there are only about 7,000,000 JWs the vast majority of humanity will cease to be. This seems a little harsh for an all-loving deity, but God moves in ways mysterious and unknown to mere mortals. 

But this post is not concerned with mankind's inevitable demise, whether caused by benevolent deities or, more likely, by our own hand; uncharacteristically I have left the beaten path and digressed. Today's topic, as described in the title, is concerned with phobias. Most of us have phobias. For instance, I have a strong aversion to my knee caps moving about a bit in a circular manner (Motopattelaphobia). This is a very common phobia, and about 10% of the population have a similar dread. Other common phobias: fear of heights; fear of snakes and the fear of spiders and others, too numerous to contemplate. This post is not concerned with these, humdrum, mundane horrors, for today's offering focuses on the rare and mostly unknown terrors afflicting humanity.

Let me start with a definition: A phobia is an irrational fear of an object or living creature (ie a ferret, Muscelidaphobia).


Peanut butter is sticky and has the mildly annoying habit of sticking/cloying to the mouth, palate and tongue. For most folk, this is just irksome, but not catastrophic. And yet there is a small proportion of humankind that experiences panic and real fear of this occurrence. This is an easy phobia to avoid and sufferers should stick (pun intended) to less 'clingy' comestibles. Perhaps tis the fear of choking that is the real issue for some and I can appreciate that peanut butter could be difficult to dislodge if you are prone to the habit of alternative nutrition. In particular, those who try to inhale their food and extract nutrition from the lungs- not to be recommended. 


I can express sympathy for those afflicted with most phobias on this list. I might not understand the problem but I can empathise with the sentiment. However, this particular phobia does not elicit any sympathy. Nomophobia is the unwarranted fear of not having their phone with them. This is more an irritation rather than a phobia. Some folk consider their phones as a natural extension of the body and continually examine their phone to check messages, and/or access information at will. My 12-year-old granddaughter seems glued to her phone and if it was up to her doting grandfather, her access would be curtailed and time-limited. I have made the suggestion to my daughter, however, as usual, my parenting wisdom is blithely ignored.     

Apparently, folk so afflicted express signs of distress, panic and even trauma once separated. A typical First World phenomenon. I can't begin to consider why individuals should act this way. Although all phobias are irrational to a lesser or greater degree, I'm more inclined to regard this 'ailment' as a behavioural addiction. 


No, this is not the fear of being eaten by a carnivorous plant- that would be 'Triffidaphobia'. Anyway, Venustraphobia is supposedly the rare irrational phobia of beautiful women. Men, thusly affected experience extreme anxiety in the presence of an attractive woman. Although it is said that the trait of 'attractiveness' is highly subjective, studies into what men find attractive in a woman are actually objective, measurable and predictable. Although this phobia is considered rare, I am of the opinion that it is more common than society would feel comfortable acknowledging. Why else would the rate of virginity in men, in the 18 to 30 range, go from 6% to 27% in the span of 30 years? Of course, I'm being flippant. The cause(s) for the rise in male virginity has a solemn itinerary/litany of reasons that are not to be addressed in this post.  Although, I will say this: there seems a strong correlation between male low self-esteem and female entitlement- enough said, for now.


This one, to me at least, is an enigma. To the strict Latin gramatician, this phobia reads as a 'fear of shit'. And let's be honest, everyone is afraid of shit. But apparently, this word construct evokes the fear of 'ugliness'. Tis interesting. Most folks are inwardly repulsed by physical ugliness in our fellow man. However, in our wonderfully accepting society, we can no longer express our natural revulsion. Everyone is beautiful and therefore, all is good in society. Sadly, it seems, that no one consulted human nature. Let us be frank. There are some aspects of our humanity that are very much hard-wired into the fabric of our very being. And one of those things is the natural and heart/head felt abhorrence to ugly folk who elicit negative aesthetic responses. These unfortunate souls are to be described as, FUGLY. There is no getting away from it. And forget what we are 'supposed to think', that ugliness, like beauty, is subjective. Go tell that to the poor benighted souls that deserve the aforementioned appellation. Society and it has always been this way, has approved and adored beauty. To be born ugly is to be relegated to the status of a lesser human. Again, don't listen to what folk say, watch what they do.......   


This is one of my personal favourites: Tis the fear of long words and to be fair, the above word is enough to strike extreme trepidation unto the most stoic, intrepid and stout-hearted individual. Again, I'm at a loss at the derivation. As many of these 'phobia words' are a fusion/intrusion of Latin, or in this instance, Greek into English's already mixed lexicon, I am at a loss to see how the Greek for 'water horse' has any legitimate reference to large words. To add to an already tortured etymology, the 'sesquippedalio' part is Latin, for long words. Now you know why I like burning stuff.    

  And finally.......


I can't but think that many so-called phobias are artificial constructs encouraged by the 'Empathetic Modern Western Society' motif. And so we come to the enforced and very artificial 'phobia', suitably called, 'Phobophobia'. We are supposed to accept that there are folk in the rarified atmosphere of  'reality' that take this shit seriously. May such folk become enfeebled and their twinkle entangled in fine twine that is subject to tightening- and yes, may their kneecaps move about, a bit, in a circular motion.  As a society, we have encouraged such enervating behaviour that deserves the contempt of our ancestors. And this was supposed to be a light-hearted post designed to lift the spirit and provide uplifting enchantment......  I have digressed.




Sunday, 24 July 2022

Face of Jesus: Tis Complex

The face of Jesus?

Tis a quiet Sunday afternoon and I'm chilling in my study and, therefore and consequently, I'm in a contemplative mood. I have just finished my second beer and I'm bathing in the delight of the 'second beer'  phenomenon. If you don't understand what I'm saying then you should not be on this blog. Desist immediately, and return to a blog more in keeping with your metabolic/mediocre keeping.

Thus, after revealing these very pertinent and relevant words (double positive) I will persist in the task at hand. Don't expect an erudite and/or well-researched post. In this instance, I am just going to pour out a stream of consciousness, as it happens to my tortured and rather overstimulated brain. May Woden forgive me.

Therefore, without further ado, I will launch, full tilt at the task at hand. For today's topic, I'm going full tit at the vexed and oft misrepresented topic concerning Jesus' appearance. The Gospels are no help, nor are the epistles of Saint Paul. Neither sources were remotely interested in Jesus' physical appearance. And this is in keeping with the standard Jewish doctrine of the time. Physical renditions were not to be encouraged. God's image was not accessible to Man, and as Man was made in His image, personal art was an anathaema.  Also, Jews were indifferent/diffident portrait artists (Arse). Once the Romans began to stop burning/crucifying Christians and began the slow, and often painful process, of embracing Christianity, poor Roman art, often in mosaics, depicted a Roman Jesus, replete with toga and burnished hair. In the Renaissance, we come upon Jesus encapsulated in the Western Tradition. Here we are confronted/affronted with 'North Western European Jesus'. That is the abomination perceived in numerous cathedrals and expressed in jarring lurid/florid representation in varied stain glassed monstrosities. And thus we are confounded with 'Jesus of Tipton'. A man enshrouded in long flowing, fair locks, blue eyes and a pale complexion unburnished by an unforgiving representation of a Meditteranean sun.

A bit of reality: The denizens of Palestine, two thousand years ago, were likely to be moderately toasted by a near eastern sun; of modest stature (typical for the time); the hair of burnt coal/coconut and eyes reflecting the dull, brown Judaen mud. A far journey from Utah, Jesus. Someone needs to tell the denizens of Mid-West America. Methinks they won't listen or comprehend. Nuff said.     

The face of Jesus


                                                     And Inevitably- 'Ferret Jesus'

Friday, 22 July 2022

Love and the Single Ferret

In this post, I'm going 'off script'. Tis, not a topic I would usually contemplate, but I'm in a wistful reflective mood and thus I'm happy to pontificate on stuff I would never likely put to paper. I'm a student of the human condition, otherwise known as a self-absorbed pretentious twat, and I'm curious about how humans interact with each other and what this reveals about our innate biology.

So today, I'm writing about the 'mating game' and particularly with regard to mate selection in the modern world. This is a male-centric view, for which I make no apologies, and as such encompasses my own experiences in the 'Great Game'. 

In 1972 I was 16 years of age and just left school. At this stage in my life, my dating experience was zero. Like many of my peers, I was socially awkward and immature. But things were about to change.....  Not too far from where I lived there was a youth club and every Friday night, it would host a 'Disco'. Most of the patrons came from the local High School, situated in a nice middle-class suburb. In contrast, my friends and I hailed from the local council estate and were attracted to the venue in order to meet girls. Just before our first visit, we bought booze from the local off licence and the four of us found a quiet spot where we shared and consumed a bottle of sherry and a few cans of beer. Thus suitably fortified we hit the dance floor. Now we were the interlopers and unknown to the local girls. In contrast, most of the attendees were known to each other and so we were considered a novelty and perhaps a little exotic as we came from the wrong side of the tracks. To our surprise, we proved popular with the local girls and I had a succession of girlfriends in a relatively short time. In fact, during the six months of attendance, I managed to secure five, short-lived and shallow relationships. Of course, this went to my head a tad, and after six months I became bored with dating 16-year-olds and was ready to hit the pubs and clubs. And this is exactly what I did and quickly found that girls in my age bracket (17 years) were completely disinterested and were dating 25-year-olds. This came as a shock and my ego suffered accordingly. As one 17-year-old said to me: "You are cute. Come back in 5 years". I became a tad disenchanted.  My nascent love life had been curtailed. Very quickly, my youthful exuberance, confidence and, perhaps a tad of insipid arrogance, were no more. I had become acutely aware that in the eyes of girls, my age, I was but a callow/shallow youth who lacked a highly desired 'dating trait'- maturity. It was a hard lesson and I became acutely aware that women, especially young women, can be excruciatingly cruel.

And so it came to pass that I gave up on the dating game altogether and it transpired that I would not have a romantic liaison for nearly two years. O, the humiliation of those love sterile years!

As an aside: I always had a thing for redheads. Two ex-girlfriends were of this stripe. However, I ended up marrying a blond, go figure.   

Anyway, that's enough about me wittering upon the travails of my incipient love-lorn beginnings. Let me know in the comments whether you have experienced a similar experience concerning love's youthful folly.              

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Drunk as a LORD

    Churchill Between Sips

Churchill is a man that provokes extremes. To some, he is the man that steered Britain to a successful conclusion during the Second World War. The man who refused to negotiate with Hitler in the summer of 1940 even though Britain was in a dire predicament. Even the American ambassador predicted that Britain would lose the war. To others, he represents all that was wrong with the British elite and aristocrats in general: brash, arrogant and with little regard for the common man. Of course, both viewpoints have merits and it is easy for both sides to rely on voluminous amounts of evidence to support their thesis. But when we are dealing with such a complex character, it is too easy to mould the man into any conceptual receptacle of our choosing. To my mind, he is a difficult character to analyse. For one thing, we are overwhelmed by the printed material on this man, much of it written by Churchill himself. Even Churchill's accounts of his own actions can be conflicting and contradictory- I steer my readers to his own memoirs of the Second World War, in five volumes. Personally, I have suspended judgement upon this man, although I will acknowledge that he was a 'Great Man', whatever that might mean, although it does not abrogate the man from moral censure.       

For today's fare, I'll discuss just one aspect of his life, and very briefly at that; his drinking. Churchill's drinking is the stuff of legends and from accounts, it is difficult to credit how he could walk let alone direct a wartime government.

It is said that he sipped a glass of whiskey throughout the day. However, this was not neat but rather a tincture with much water. Apparently, it was an expedient borne of his time in South Africa. The local water was tainted and unhygienic and therefore a dash of whiskey was used to sterilise the dodgy water. At lunch, which was rather rich and large, he would knock off a bottle of champers. Every meal was accompanied by alcohol. His favourite tipple was champagne and brandy. When he travelled to the US, during prohibition, he managed to cajole a doctor into prescribing brandy as a health tonic. Good man that doctor.  

It seems as though Churchill could be described as a functional heavy drinker. I refrain from the epithet, alcoholic, though some would describe him as such. Churchill himself was fond to foster the image of heavy drinking. However, in my opinion, I think he overegged the egg nog (hic). In fact, Churchill abhorred drunks and treated obvious intoxication in others with utter disdain.  

It is hard to credit that he could have operated at the high level he did if he was permanently 'blind drunk'. His intellect was prodigious, although mercurial. He was an undisciplined thinker, mayhap fueled by neurons modestly bathed in ethanol. At meetings, he would regale his fellows with a stream of ideas and he seemed a fan of fantastical schemes and endeavours. Most proposals would lead nowhere and if he did manage to see through a scheme, especially during wartime, it would oft go awry. Consider the Gallipoli campaign of the Great War. The battle was poorly conceived, planned and executed and Churchill must bear a heavy dose of responsibility for the debacle. The ANZACS never forgave him

How could a drunk have written to the extent he did? It has been stated that during Churchill's long life he penned a total of fifty books and 500 oil paintings. No mean feat.      

On objective analysis, the man drank to excess. There is no way he conformed to the government guidelines of 14 units of alcohol per week. From what I can see these so-called 'guidelines' are arbitrary limits proposed by committee and have no bearing on what actually constitutes a healthy alcohol input. Consequently, the limits are but the whim of a puritan and therefore wise souls should ignore them with a healthy unit of contempt. I am not encouraging excess consumption and we are all aware of the terrors/tremours of frank alcoholism. Most mature adults will have a horror story to relate concerning a friend, colleague or relative. Our individual capacity for the processing of alcohol varies markedly as does individual response. Genetics clearly places a great part in this- but I would say this, wouldn't I?   

I'll leave the final word and analysis to C P Snow: "Winston could not be an alcoholic- no alcoholic could drink that much"