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The Knack

How To Master The Fine Art Of Day Drinking

The MR PORTER guide to enjoying cocktails in the sun without ending up in the gutter

On summer afternoons, usually around 4.00pm, I think of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Or his prayer, at least: “Please God, make me good, but not just yet.” It is the lament of the day-drinking man. Let the day roll onwards and brighter still, but stop me from sliding off my seat like an eiderdown in the night (thanks, Ms Nancy Mitford, for that). Therein lies the trick: how to go far, but not too far.

Drunkenness is a condition to which we are all entitled. Not all of the time or you become a bore (or dead). No one wants to be like Mr Evelyn Waugh in this respect. He might have been the greatest English novelist of the 20th century, but he got in his cups too often in the afternoon and it was no good. In her memoir, the Duchess of Devonshire (the youngest of the Mitford sisters) described him as “tricky company” due to the “phenomenal amount of drink the writer downed… You had to catch him early in the evening. He wanted to be friends and was full of compliments, but they turned to insults before you knew where you were.”

It is a knife-edge battle, which is best won with a nibble of food – not so much that you sink in somnolence, but enough so you don’t call your host a toad. An Aperol spritz is sensible; a Campari and soda wise. A large plate of carbohydrates is better still.

But you can still tip over that gossamer edge and you must be careful not to. Even if the person you are drinking with is as forgiving as Queen Mary, who, hosting a three-sheets-to-the-wind 1st Earl of Birkenhead (at that point England’s senior judge) on the Royal Yacht, watched as he vomited on the table, then coolly said, “I’m sorry to see that lobster does not agree with the Lord Chancellor”. For his part, he later asked, “Should I be drunk as a lord or sober as a judge?”

Drinking in the sun, you feel like the bee that has acquired the florist. In part because you are not supposed to be doing it. In the day, you are supposed to be doing something productive. Striving. Earning. Blame the Protestant work ethic and the Anglo-Saxon world’s consumption of it. But at least our everyday Puritanism leads to the pleasure of cutting against the grain. The thing to do is form a little party of afternoon expeditionary. The more of you, the greater the transgressive pleasure. It multiplies the frivolity. And frivolity while getting a tan is to be welcomed.

Choose carefully with whom you approach the day. You don’t want a Hegelian philosopher in this situation, but you also don’t want someone who is apt to have a drink and turn into Emperor Napoleon. The writer Mr Simon Raven provides a textbook example of the type to avoid. He disappeared on his wife on so many afternoons that the arrangement became permanent. She did once track him down and sent him a telegram saying: “Wife and baby starving send money soonest”, to which he replied, “Sorry no money suggest eat baby”. You want frivolity for your day in the sun; not wholesale abandon. Mr Raven spent his final years in an almshouse “for distressed gentlemen”, having drunk away the proceeds of his life’s work. A big chunk of it between 12.00pm and 5.00pm, no doubt.

Enjoy your day, but know when to end it to retreat to the deep comfort of your own bed. Remember: you can only get away with being DD (disgustingly drunk) if you are very good-looking or under 25. Oh, and drink some water while you are about it, will you?

To your health

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