Saturday, 9 May 2015

Literary Drinks No.4: Lucky Jim

Dear all,

Welcome to the accompanying blog post for my Literary Drinks YouTube video on “Lucky Jim”.

If you haven’t watched it yet, here is the link:

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I really wanted to use this book for a video because it’s full of booze and even though it is sixty years old, the descriptions of pubs and the joys and follies of drinking still resonates. Also, there is something special about reading books you have a connection with and in this case to read about something so familiar (drinking in the pub!) gives me a little thrill. Of course, being a Londoner I am lucky that lots of books are set in or around pubs and there is no shortage of boozy tales, however, this one still feels special.

‘Beer,’ she said, ‘Buy me beer. The night is young.’ (Page 16)

To give you a brief overview of the book, Lucky Jim follows the trials of a young university lecturer (Jim) struggling with his place in life and his new workplace.

‘As a result he’d spent more than he could afford and drunk more than he ought, and yet he felt nothing but satisfaction and peace.’ (Page 52)

If I think back to my early working days (not in academia) it’s easy to recall the pressures of trying to be a professional and fitting into the adult world around you while still struggling internally to be mature and cope with the life/work balance and other priorities in a young person’s life... ahem, drinking and… well, you know.

‘In a moment he’d taken a bottle of port from among the sherry, beer, and cider which filled half a shelf inside. It was from this very bottle that Welch had, the previous evening, poured Dixon the smallest drink he’d ever been seriously offered.’ (Page 57)

That’s partly the reason I had this book in mind. When looking at booze in literature it doesn’t always have to be the ‘cool’ accessory. We can sometimes have the image of the James Bond Martini as being essential for the appearance of our character (it reminds me of how movie posters always seem to show the main character holding a gun – it’s an easy image to market) when in fact, if we are brutally honest, booze doesn’t always make a great accessory in real life! So, I wanted to pick a book that used alcohol to show the pitfalls and disasters that can befall the inexperienced and over-indulgent.

'He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by the secret police. He felt bad.' (Page 60: A hangover in case you are wondering!)
However, there was a problem. Although I am looking for unusual drinks or those that haven't been done too much already, there is only so far you can go. In this case, I knew there was an odd drink mentioned in the book but I couldn’t recall it exactly and upon re-reading the book I found more than I bargained for… Red Biddy. Upon investigation Red Biddy (there are a few variants, but in general) was an old time mixture of red wine and methanol. A type of moonshine it was popular (well, as popular as something like that can be) pre-war and during the poverty stricken time post war as an easy way to, putting it bluntly, get smashed on the cheap. Methanol is known as ‘fake alcohol’ and for good reason. It is easily made, cheap and dangerously strong (link for more info is below). In fact, it is so strong that at first I thought we could do some cool stuff by asking Ruairi to come up with cocktail versions that we could set alight and make a spectacle of. Then, common sense took over once I read how dangerous it really is. More than dangerous, it is deadly. So, as much as I really wanted to use Red Biddy for this video it would have been the most irresponsible thing I had ever done.

'There was something about Miss Cutler's cornflakes, her pallid, fried eggs or bright red bacon, her explosive toast, her diuretic coffee which, much better than bearable at nine o'clock, his usual breakfast time, seemed at eight-fifteen to summon from all the recesses of his frame ever lingering vestige of crapulent headache, every relic of past nauseas, every echo of noises in the head. This retrospective vertigo collared him this morning as roughly as always. The three pints of bitter he'd drunk last night with Bill Atkinson and Beesley might, by means of some garbaged alley through the space-time continuum, have been preceded by a bottle of British sherry and followed by half a dozen breakfast-cups of red biddy.'
So instead, as I mention in the video, I decided to use another book by Kingsley Amis, a classic non-fiction drinking manual, by way of cross-over and I had a stroke of luck. Kingsley named a cocktail after his debut novel and that was all I needed to go ahead with using the book for this video. So, although it is slightly cheating, I hope you understand my reasons and enjoy the drinks we do show you.

Here are the recipes for the versions of the drinks we made:


Some of the drinks in the book were made in larger measures for jugs/sharing so these are the smaller one glass versions.

‘The Lucky Jim’

Dry Vermouth: 5ml (0.2 fl oz)
Fresh cucumber juice: 10ml (0.4 fl oz)
Vodka: 75ml (2.5 fl oz)
Stir with ice
Slice of cucumber garnish

'The Salty Dog'

Wet rim of glass and coat in salt
Grapefruit juice (pink for us): 100ml (3.4 fl oz)
Gin: 50ml (1.7 fl oz)
Top up with ice

‘The Dizzy Lizzy’

Cognac: 10ml (0.4 fl oz)
Crème de Framboise: 10ml (0.4 fl oz)
Dry Vermouth: 100ml (3.4 fl oz)
Angostura Bitters two dashes
Stir with ice

‘Evelyn Waugh’s Noonday Reviver’

Use a tankard or pint glass
Gin: 50ml (1.7 fl oz)
Ginger Beer: Top up to half of glass
Guinness: Fill up glass
Gentle stir

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The edition I own and used for this video was published by Penguin Books, 2010 ISBN: 978-0-141-04671-6

Everyday Drinking by Kingsley Amis

The edition I own and used for this video was published by Bloomsbury, 2009 ISBN: 978-1-4088-0383-7

As you will see in this video, I didn't rate the drinks this time. We didn't want to make the video too long so instead it would be great if you send me photos of you trying them! If you decide to make any of these then take a few snaps and email them to me at (or via social media links below) and we will share them on our sites. It's just for fun :) 

Thanks for watching and don’t forget to let me know if you have any recommendations on what literary drinks we should recreate next.

Enjoy… responsibly!

Take care,


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