Wednesday 1 July 2009

Heat, Real Heat, and the Drink that Won the War

The warm weather (all right, hot - it certainly feels pretty hot on the Tube) is causing the usual heatwave hysteria, whipped up by the media as if there'd never been such weather before, whereas of course we've always been prone to the odd heatwave in this country - and that's the worst we have to cope with. In India just now the temperatures are in the 40s (according to the Continental system), whereas we have barely reached 30 degrees. Think of all those suffering such heat without benefit of air-conditioned offices or homes - and think of those sons (and daughters) of temperate Britain in far-flung torrid zones before air-conditioning was heard of. Think, indeed, of Rudyard Kipling, whose sparse autobiogarphy Something Of Myself, written when he was in great pain and knew he was dying, gives such a vivid picture of his seven years in Lahore, where he arrived at the age of 17 to work for the Civil & Millitary Gazette - seven years that formed him as a writer and as a man, and the memory of which is the beating heart of the book. Here he is recalling the hot - the really hot - season:
“In those months - mid April to mid-October - one took up one’s bed and
walked about with it from room to room, seeking for less heated air; or
slept on the flat roof with the waterman to throw half skinfuls of water on
one’s parched carcass ... often the night got into my head and I would
wander till dawn in all manner of odd places - liquor shops, gambling and
opium-dens, wayside entertainments such as puppet shows, native dances or in and about narrow gullies under the Mosque of Wazir Khan for the sheer sake of looking ... one would come home just as the light broke in a hired carriage which stank of hookah-fumes, jasmine flowers, and sandalwood.”
In the offices of the Gazette, sans air conditioning and clad always in three-piece suit and tie (like my own grandfather, never seen in anything less), Kipling toiled away ("..there is, or was, a tablet in my old Lahore office asserting that here I ‘worked.’ And Allah knows that is true also"), sustained in those barely tolerable conditions by endless chota pegs, a weak mix of a little whisky in a lot of soda. This was Churchill's all-day tipple too - the drink that won the war. Cheers!


  1. Sorry - don't know what happened to the line breaks there...

  2. Taken up line dancing Nige ?

  3. The historical imagination really needs to work hard sometimes. How on earth did our forebears put up with all those stiff woolen layers? Say what you want about tattoos and muffin tops, being able to stroll around London in shorts and t-shirt is one of the great boons of life today, nearly on a par with modern dentistry.

  4. thank goodness the met office are on hand to remind me to drink water if I am thirsty, otherwise I just might have expired

  5. And thank goodness Nige is on hand to advise us to drink chota pegs instead.

  6. Hmmn, I came across this definition of "peg" on a page called Behind Bars: Victorian Mixed Drinks: "To keep late Anglo-Saxon citizenry on the straight and narrow, King Edgar ordered that pegs be fastened in drinking vessels at given intervals; anyone who drank beyond these marks at one draught was liable to punishment. Meant as a deterrent, they became a provocation. Peg-tankards contained two quarts, and were divided into eight draughts. They inspired such expressions as "to take him down a peg" and "to put a peg (nail) in one's coffin". In popular parlance any drink of spirits became known as a peg."

    Amazing if true. Perhaps exactly the sort of wheeze the Met Office will start promoting in hot weather, together with a force of Peg Wardens equipped with German-made BMW tape measures costing £5,000 each.

  7. A chota peg as opposed to a burra peg? Give me the latter any day. Hic.

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