The Christopher Hitchens guide to drinking (for the young) and artistically minded

christopher-hitchens-drinkingTowards the end of the marvellous memoirs of the late journalist, thinker, philosopher and humanist Christopher Hitchens – Hitch-22 – there’s a little gem of a section where he dispenses some advice “for the young” on drinking.

Hitchens loved a drop or two and could by all accounts – including his own – handle his booze pretty well.  He claimed to never miss a deadline or an appointment or class due to booze, though admits to being mildy tipsy once on the BBC (though no one, he says, noticed).

When writing at home he maintained a certain discipline when it came to drink.

He was partial to whiskey – “a decent slug of Mr Walker’s” – at about half-past midday cut with Perrier water and no ice, then at luncheon (not quite sure how soon this was after midday) “perhaps a bottle of red wine, not always more but never less”, no after dinner drinks but maybe a nightcap “depending on how the day went – though never brandy.

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious, and food less bland and can help provide…the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing,” says Hitchens with his brilliant wit, charm and self-deprecation.

But he maintains “he was never a piss artist”.

Here then, faithfully transcribed by yours truly are his “simple pieces of advice for the young” (and the artist I think) when it comes to drinking:

1. Don’t drink on empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food.

2. Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood.

3. Cheap booze is a false economy.

4. It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain.

5. Hangovers are another bad sign (as is watching the clock for the start-time to your next drink) and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night (If you really don’t remember, says Hitch, that’s an even worse sign).

6. Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed – as are the grape and the grain – to enliven company.

7. Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available.

8. Never ever think about driving if you have taken a drop.

9. It’s much worse to see a woman drunk than a man. I don’t know quite know why this is true but it is.

10. Don’t ever be responsible for it.

freshlyworded list of the week: 10 television dramas you have to watch before you die

3533683614_7e4b5741efHaving just watched the final episode of Season 5 of Mad Men – and mourning the long wait I must now endure until Season 6 comes out on DVD, I thought I might jot down the 10 television shows I reckon are among the best to ever grace the small screen.

Plus my wife and sister-in-law are watching Season 3 of The Walking Dead, which I have enjoyed, but there’s only so many gurgling, mindless zombies I can watch chasing the living through an American wasteland.

So these are 10 television shows I reckon are as good as just about anything you could watch at the movies, and in most cases, infinitely better.

(I’d welcome suggestions from other bloggers; yet to watch Boardwalk Empire, Primal Suspect and have a couple of seasons of Inspector Morse on my shelf too as well as The Tudors.)

1. The Sopranos

Apart from the bemusing final episode of Season 6, the Sopranos set a new television benchmark when it hit television screens in 1999. It could be set that it sparked the revival in television entertainment and inspired countless other shows. Who would have thought watching New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano pouring out his family and “business” problems to a sultry psychologist played by Lorraine Bracco would set the stage for the great gangster drama since The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas. Plus there’s all the other great characters: power-hungry Junior, stupid but scary Paulie and Tony’s drug-addicted nephew Christopher Moltasanti to name just three.

2. The Wire

Many people argue The Wire – the story about Baltimore police officers and the criminals they pursue – is the greatest television show every created. It’s certainly the greatest show never to win any major awards. Each of the five series looks at a different aspect of Baltimore society: the drug scene, the docks, local politics, the school system and the media. It features the first gay gangster-turned-robin-hood (Omar), arguably the finest portrayal of a police-officer on the small screen (Dominic West as Jimmy McNulty) but the real stars are the dialogue, which captures the language of the street perfectly and the carefully woven plot lines. Personally, my favourite character is Bubbles, the heroin addict turned police informer and in many ways the moral compass of the show.

3. Six Feet Under

The story of a dysfunctional Californian family running a funeral home. Each episode begins with a death and the body being prepared for burial by the Fisher Family. There is never a dull episode. It features great performance from Michael C Hall as David a gay man struggling with his sexuality and his virile brother Nate, caught up in a twisted relationship with Brenda, brilliantly played by Australian actress of Muriel’s Wedding fame Rachel Griffiths. And its darkly funny.

4. Breaking Bad

The story of family man Walter White (Bryan Cranston) a poorly paid high school chemistry teacher who upon being diagnosed with lung cancer, turns to cooking crystal meth with former pupil and local low-life Jessie (Aaron Paul) to build a nest egg for his family.  The pair get mixed up with organised crime and one of the scariest, suavest villains in the form of Gus Fring, the proprieter of ‘Pollos Hermanos’. Yet to see Season 5, but can’t wait.

5. Mad Men

Was there ever a cooler show on the television? The story of the lives of Manhattan advertising executives in the 1960s. Every shot is a period piece, the dialogue meticulous; you can sit back and just enjoy the decor and clothes, never mind the characters. Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Cambpell and of course Joan Harris – the most voluptuos woman ever to grace the small screen – are creations that would sit comfortably alongside any in the Great Gatsby.

6. Luther

John Luther (Idris Elba) is the toughest and most brilliant police officer you will ever meet. He operates by his own set of rules and code of ethics as he brings down the sickest criminals on the streets of London.  I’ve watched the first two seasons, and believe a third season will air this year. Also a chance to see Paul McGann of Withnail and I fame in a great role.

7. Law & Order: SVU

One of the longest running televisions shows of all time, the Special Victims Unit (SVU) spin-off has generated 14 seasons. The episodes featuring Benson and Stabler as the lead detectives are the best. Very well written, with believable characters and stories, all filmed on location in New York. Plus there’s that bad-ass motherf*cker Ice-T and the freaky, sardonic Munch to entertain you as well.

8. Secret Life of Us

An Australian series about the lives, loves and heartaches of twenty-something Melburnians living in St Kilda. Does not sound like much, but lots of great themes explored. Narrated by the philandering writer-in-training Evan (Samuel Johnson) with career-making performances from Joel Edgerton (now a Hollywood star) Deborah Mailmen and Claudia Karvan to name just a few. The first three seasons are the ones to watch. From Season 4, all the good characters have left the show (I’ve not watched it).

9. Midsomer Murders

Each episode in the 15 seasons set in quaint Midsomer county with its hedges, afternoon teas, quiet woods, grand old mansions and quintessential English villages (the deadliest county in England) is a feature-length whoddunit featuring the unshakeable Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles) and a number of different young side-kicks. The corpses pile up faster than freshly baked scones at a fete but you’ll never guess who the murderer is.

10. Downton Abbey

A period drama about masters and servants who live in palatial Downton Abbey in a changing Britain in the years leading up to World War One and beyond. Headed by the sweet-natured but strong-willed Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and his somewhat annoying American wife (Elizabeth McGovern, it features a brilliant performance by an ancient-looking Maggie Smith as Grantham’s mother, the towering Dowager Countess of Grantham.  And of course there’s the dour Mr Bates and impeachable Mr Carter, the butler of Downton Abbey.

freshlyworded list of the week: 11 meetings with famous people including Spike Lee, Johnny Vegas and Gary Player

The impression you form of a celebrity, someone you see regularly on television or in the newspapers, is often very different to the ‘real person’ when you meet them in the flesh.

Sometimes it can be an exhilarating experience, other times a disappointment. Often they’re just an ass!

Over the years, I’ve bumped into a number of people with varying degrees of fame, some just for a brief minute and others I’ve had the pleasure of engaging  in conversation.

These are the ones that spring most readily in mind:

1. Gary Player


I met golfer Gary Player at a charity event at his estate just outside of Johannesburg in the late 1990s. Winner of nine majors and over a 100 tournaments in his career, it was a pleasure talking to this legendary sportsman surrounded by his glass cabinets filled to bursting with his golfing trophies. We talked about the future of South Africa and what the young people needed to do to make the country work. I recall him being very optimistic about the future, very easy to talk to and a real gentlemen. This is of course the guy who said: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.”

2. Spike Lee

spike lee

I very briefly met film director Spike Lee, outside the Union Buildings, Pretoria, about 1999. He had just been part of a press conference with then South African president Thabo Mbeki to promote a television commercial he was shooting for one or other charity. He was getting into a car and I said to him: “Spike I am a great fan of your movies.” He turned around and said: “Oh yeah, which ones?” I told him “Do the right thing,” was my favourite.

3. Gary Bailey

gary bailey1

I met Gary Bailey, who was goal-keeper for Manchester United in nearly 300 hundred games, at a sports press conference in Johannesburg and remember he was very much like his on-camera persona (he hosts the Premier League show on Supersport in South Africa) – warm, friendly and sincere.

4.Michael Madsen

michael madsen

Michael Madsen played ‘Mr White’, the psychopathic criminal in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’,  a film I idolised. He came to London while I was writing for an accountancy magazine ( to attend a press conference to launch a film he was producing and to star in called “Red Light Runners’ (which I don’t think was ever made). It was being funded by some new tax ruling, which was why I was there. Entirely, inappropriately, after the press conference, I asked Madsen to sign my press pack, which he did. He looked a lot older and dishevelled compared to the cool character he played on-screen – dancing around his victim to “Stuck in the middle with you” with a switch-blade. Still it was a bit of a thrill to meet him briefly. Needless to say, I lost the press pack with Madsen’s autograph.

5.Jonny Vegas

Empire Awards 2010 - London

I met Johnny Vegas  (you may have seen him in Black Books, episodes of QI or doing his stand-up routine) also while working on the Accountancy magazine. We attended an awards night in Newcastle on a bitterly cold night, though it didn’t stop the local girls from wearing virtually nothing I recall. Johnny was the entertainment at St James Park (home of Newcastle United football team). He arrived on stage with a tray of Guinness pints, proceeded to get pissed, and then after the show we all joined him for drinks at a nearby pub. He has a really magnetic character, very charming and you should have seen the number of beautiful women hanging off every word of this rotund, jovial man. I got chatting to him about rugby – he is a rugby league fan (coming from the north of England) but we got to chatting about rugby union and I remember him telling me how much he enjoyed the game and was a big fan of the Springboks.

6. Bruce Grobbelaar

bruce grobbelaar

Anyone who is a Liverpool fan will know who Bruce Grobbelaar is . He played for the club in the 1980s and 1990s and was capable of being an unbelievable goalkeeper on his day, but also able to make the silliest mistakes. His career was tainted by match-fixing claims. I met him at an FA Cup event in a pub in Johannesburg. He was signing autographs on the back of beer coasters. He didn’t seem particularly pleased to be there and can’t say I left with a good impression of the man.

7.Dara O’Briain

dara o briain

Dara O’ Briain is probably most recognisable as a frequent guest on Stephen Fry’s QI show on the ABC. I met him when he was less well-known, but hosting our annual Accountancy Age awards in London. Being Irish, he was very friendly, talked a lot, said “ehm” instead of “um” and was also charming and funny.

8. Baby Jake Matlala

baby jake

Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala is a legend in South African boxing. He measures all of 4 foot 10 inches, but was an incredibly tough opponent in the ring as a flyweight fighter and ended up with 53 victories from 68 fights and won four world titles. I found him to be very lively, enthusiastic and sweet in person. Like his jabs and punches, he talked at a rapid rate.

9. Peter FitzSimons

peter fitzsimons

I met Peter FitzSimons very briefly backstage at the Australian Mortgage Awards. FitzSimons was the host and I was presenting one of the awards. He asked me, as we waited for the winner to come on stage, how the magazine was coming along (I was the editor then of a mortgage broking mag called Australian Broker), though I doubt he’d ever read it. But it was a nice thing to say. FitzSimons is a successful Australian non-fiction writer (mainly in relation to wars and battles), a journalist and columnist and played seven test matches at lock for the Wallabies.

10. Iain Banks

iain banks

Iain Banks (or Iain M. Banks if you like science fiction-writing) is a best-selling writer, most famous for his novel “The Wasp Factory” a very, very dark, nasty bit of fiction, considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. I met him at a book signing at Exclusive Books in Hyde Park, Johannesburg. I brought an older, paperback copy of The Wasp Factory. He remarked that he didn’t often see this version of his book. Needless to say, I think I lost that autographed book as well.

11. Andie MacDowell

andie macdowell

I am kind of fibbing on this one. I never actually met her, perhaps “stalking” would be more accurate. I was kind of obsessed with Andie MacDowell, the  model turned Hollywood actress, when I found myself in the Tate Modern Art gallery in London one afternoon, and there she was looking at paintings all on her own. I had a picture of her in my bedroom and loved her in Green Card, Groundhog Day and Short Cuts, perhaps it was her Southern accent that really appealed to me. Anyway, I ended up following her, from a discreet distance as she walked from room to room at the Tate Modern. Only for a few rooms mind you. If I wasn’t so star struck, I might actually have ventured a conversation. “What does this piece say to you Andie?” is perhaps the question I was pondering in my head.

freshlyworded list of the week: the 10 Woody Allen films you must see before you die

woody-allenWoody Allen, born in the Bronx as Allen Stewart Koningsberg in 1935, has been making movies since 1965, having starting out as a sketch writer and stand-up comedian.

In total he has written and directed (and in many cases starred in) 46 films starting with ‘What’s Up Tiger Lily?‘ and is currently in post-production on a film called “Blue Jasmine” starring Cate Blanchette and Alec Baldwin.

I admire him immensely: starting from his early stand-up comedy records (watch his famous and hilarious “I shot a Moose” sketch from 1965″) to his early relationship comedies to later more dramatic works.

Manhattan has been the canvas for his stories, but he’s also made London, Paris and Barcelona backdrops for his films.

Not all have been classics, some have been mediocre and forgettable and others have been plain awful.

Why do I admire him so much: it’s the stories he tells about love, relationships, anxiety, existentialism, religion all brought together with classic Woody Allen wit and insight.

It’s also his iconic angst-ridden, questioning, self-doubting and fallible jewish male character, portrayed so often in his films that I love so much.

These are 10 of his films that I have loved (I’ve not seen all of his films) and recommend highly:

215px-Crimes_and_misdemeanors2Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) is Woody Allen’s greatest cinematic achievement. It brings together all of his key themes – religion, morality, family, guilt, the meaning and purpose of life – in a seemless way with great writing, a pitch-perfect soundtrack and wonderful performances by its ensemble cast. There are numerous plots and sub-plots, but the film principally revolves around Judah Rosenthal (a brilliant Martin Landau), a successful and wealthy ophthalmologist, who resorts to desperate measures to end an affair with Dolores Paley (equally brilliant Angelica Huston).  Despite the heavy material, it is also extremely funny with the humour provided by Allen himself an idealistic documentary film-maker Clifford Stern, given the opportunity to make a documentary about his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), an obnoxious big-time television producer. He does it so that he can earn enough money to make a documentary about a life-affirming jewish professor, Louis Levy, all the while falling in love with Lester’s associate producer Halley Reed (Mia Farrow).

Annie Hall

Annie Hall (1977) would be top of many people’s lists of favourite Woody Allen films. At its heart it’s a love story between the angst-ridden, neurotic Alvy Singer (Allen) and quirky, lovable, absent-minded Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) with some of his best lines and jokes thrown in and questions about God and the meaning of life. There’s also some great cameos from Paul Simon, Christopher Walken and Sigourney Weaver.

One memorable line comes after Annie Hall parks her VW beetle almost perpendicular to the curb following an exhibtion of some of the worst driving ever seen on film.

Alvy remarks: Don’t worry. We can walk to the curb from here.

ManhattanShot beautifully in black and white, Manhattan (1979) is Woody Allen’s visual homage to the city that he loves. The city is the backdrop  to Isaac’s (Allen) affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), while pursuing the mistress of his best friend, Yale. There are so many iconic shots of Manhattan to drool over and great lines like:

Yale: You are so self-righteous, you know. I mean we’re just people. We’re just human beings, you know? You think you’re God.

Isaac Davis: I… I gotta model myself after someone.


Matchpoint (2005) sees Woody Allen move locations to London with this dark tale about seduction and murder starring Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

play it again sam

Play it Again Sam (1972) is actually directly by Herbert Ross, but based on Woody Allen’s stage play and stars him in the lead role of a love-sick film critic and schmuck who turns to his alter ego – Humphrey Bogart in his role as smooth talking Rick Blaine from Casablanca – for inspiration as to how to be a lady’s man.

love and death

Love and Death (1975) is a historical comedy set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia. Woody Allen plays neurotic soldier Boris, in love with his Sonja (Diane Keaton) who gets involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon, with philosophical musing and some very silly (but hilarious) skits thrown in.


In Midnight in Paris (2011), Owen Wilson plays Gil, an American would-be writer in Paris with his pretentious fiancée who finds himself transported back to the Paris of the 1920s where he meets, drinks and parties with his literary idols including F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and artists like Picasso, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.


Zelig (1983) sees Woody Allen play the title role of the chameleon (literally) like Leonard Zelig who can change his appearance to match the people he is with and becomes a global phenomenon. Told in documentary style, it’s hilarious.

deconstructing harry

In Deconstructing Harry (1997) Woody Allen plays Harry block, a writer suffering from writer’s block, with a penchant for prostitutes and vulgarity. It’s a very funny film as Block recalls events from his past and characters from his books. There’s a memorable scene played by Robin Williams, an actor worried about losing his focus who is shown as actually out of focus in the movie.


Broadway Danny Rose (1984) sees Woody Allen play a talent agent to a string of bizarre performers that no one else will hire. One of them is Lou, a talented lounge singer, making a comeback. Allen goes out of his way to help Lou, but finds himself being pursued by mobsters after trying to bring Lou’s crazy mistress Tina (Mia Farrow) to his concert.

And here’s four to definitely avoid:

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

Small Time Crooks