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"