Drinking Like A Kingsley Amis Character

The book: Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

Pairing suggestion: Guinness (8 pints); port, preferably stolen (half the bottle); aspirin. Awkward sexual misadventures not necessary or encouraged, but definitely appropriate.

Jim Dixon, the protagonist of Kingsley Amis’s most celebrated novel Lucky Jim, lives in constant fear of being obligated to do anything and often falls into situations that call for a drink. As one of the twentieth century’s most famous literary drunks, Amis could write about intoxication and hangovers with hard-earned experience to go with his comic talent. One of the best and most embarrassing benders in the book occurs over a weekend at Dixon’s boss’s house in the country. All festivities, including a mandatory sing-a-long, are dry, so after a particularly humiliating faux pas with his boss’s son, Dixon must sneak off to get properly wasted. He goes to a pub in the nearest town:

Gulping down what he’d assumed must be his last pint of the evening, he’d noticed that drinks were still being ordered and served, that people were still coming in and that their expressions were confident, not anxious, that a new sixpence had tinkled into the works of the bar-billiard table. Illumination had come when the white-coated barman struggled in with two fresh crates of Guinness. … His gratitude had been inexpressible in words; only further calls at the bar could pay that happy debt.

Later, when he is sheepishly hungover, he admits to having had seven or eight pints of beer. ‘Do I look as if I can afford spirits?’ he quips. Using this as our guide then, the first step to drinking like Jim Dixon, patron saint of the educated young angry man, is to get yourself some working man’s brown ale and drink eight pints of it. There’s a reason Guinness is a classic, and as it’s mentioned explicitly I would be remiss to exclude it. If the hearty, barley flavor of the stout isn’t to your liking, Newcastle could be an appropriate, albeit watered down, stand-in.

But seven or eight pints of Guinness, while enough to kick me into bed, won’t get you to the state of inebriation that Jim Dixon achieves. Back at the boss’s house, his beers put him in the mood to come onto his on-again, off-again love Margaret; her violent rejection pushes him to drink more. From his boss’s liquor cabinet he steals a bottle of port:

It was from this very bottle that Welch had, the previous evening, poured Dixon the smallest drink he’d ever been seriously offered. Some of the writing on the label was in a Romance language, but not all. Just right: not too British, and not too foreign either. The cork came out with a festive, Yule-tide pop which made him wish he had some nuts and raisins; he drank deeply. Some of the liquor coursed refreshingly down his chin and under his shirt-collar. The bottle had been about three-quarters full when he started, and was about three-quarters empty when he stopped.

Unless you are near a richer person’s stash, on Dixon’s budget you don’t have a whole lot of options. At my local liquor store most cheap and easy ports are very British or American in name: Graham’s, Taylor Fladgate, Churchill’s. Ignore these. The most obvious fit in an academic’s price range is Fonseca Bin no. 27, a premium reserve port wine with plenty of English on its label. It’s fruity, smooth, in no need of decanting, and for a wine is fairly alcoholic at 20% by volume, making it easy to drink but dangerous enough to cause a hangover to rival the one Dixon has the next 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 secret police. He felt bad.

Of course, a wider Kingsley Amis revue of alcohol would call for quite a bit more of the spirits that Jim Dixon couldn’t afford. But at any level, beginner’s or otherwise, of an Amis pairing adventure, one must take enough aspirin and drink enough water to help ease the pain described expertly above. Then again, as the saying goes, if you are sober enough to remember water, you are not drunk enough for a hangover, clearly.

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