A Drink and a Poem (Gin-and-Tonic & Sympathy in White Major)

 NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog published June 10th, 2016

Sympathy in White Major

When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in private pledge:
He devoted his life to others.

While other people wore like clothes
The human beings in their days
I set myself to bring to those
Who thought I could the lost displays;
It didn’t work for them or me,
But all concerned were nearer thus
(Or so we thought) to all the fuss
Than if we’ d missed it separately.

A decent chap, a real good sort,
Straight as a die, one of the best,
A brick, a trump, a proper sport,
Head and shoulders above the rest;
How many lives would have been duller
Had he not been here below?
Here’s to the whitest man I know —
Though white is not my favourite colour.
–Philip Larkin, 1967

I once made three gin-and-tonics — one each for myself and two friends — according to the recipe in the poem. Each glass contained enough for all three of us. It was moment of indulgence that we weren’t quite ready for. But Larkin gets a pass on his American-sized cocktails, because he is British and the British like their gin.

People almost everywhere drink them. It is said that in some places the drink can kill a cow from miles off. Not only is this a fairly pointless use of a leisure-time (or at least non-military) beverage, but it obscures the only real point of these absurd little cocktails — bringing people together. These little drinks are for sitting around with friends and being unproductive (coffee is for doing things). And about making sure that the happening place is where you happen to be, hence all the odd ceremony regarding their making and consuming.

The anxiety of not being in the happening place is a feeling that I have written ofbefore, and one which seems rather unbecoming of a grown man, who should be more secure than that, at least when not thinking about his unworn dinner suit.  When I first read the poem I thought Larkin was a bit of a chump for writing about the subject, but now I think he displays the characteristic that he spent his career convincing us he didn’t have — courage.

But that night I did make it for myself and two friends (I keep better company in my life than he does in the poem), and we slowly sipped our drinks and talked all night. A night like that is worth as much as a fine poem or solitude.


* I know that the spelling ‘gin and tonic’ is preferred over gin-and-tonic, but it is my article and I will format things how I wish. Gin-and-Tonic is clearly a single word and should be spelled as such. If “gin-and-tonic” were not a single word  the plural would be “gins and tonics” and few would ever commit that particular offense.

* Until I double-checked it, I thought this poem was Symphony in White Major — conflating it, I suppose, with Whistler’s painting. But the Poem isn’t that glum, even if it quite nearly as lonely.

* In British military history gin-and-tonic is counted as a medicinal remedy for malaria because of the quinine. If that were true why include the gin and garnish?

* On a second reading I realized that I assumed the reader would be up on Larkin-gossip. Forget the gossip, pour yourself a drink, and, for Heaven’s sake, use a lime.Wikipedia says British people often use lemon instead of lime. That is why you should never consult Wikipedia. This is a dangerous practice and pushes the gin-and-tonic close to Tom Collins’s domain. We will save our visit with Mr. Collins, However, for next week.

Tags: Cows * Malaria * Needlessly Prescriptive Opinions * Quinine * Symphony in White *Britain * Hyphens * Garnishes * Gossip * James McNeil Whistler * Lemons * Limes *


Dry-Cleaners, Elves, and the Duke of Windsor Revisited

The Follow Up to last weeks reprint, this ran May 12th, 2016. Like the previous entry it has remained unaltered.  

   Faithful readers may remember the confusion at the dry cleaners that I had. I was pretty upset over losing the black suit and I felt pretty silly to have gone so long without noticing.  I called it “chintzy,” which was unfair and a “Tux'” which is uncouth. It is a fine suit, not a cheap rental. Certainly, I was not happy ending up with the wrong thing, but I should only have been mad at myself. I had no right to take it out on the clothes.

      I figured that a dinner suit is exactly the kind of thing one ought to have on hand. However in the twenty-first century, few people need these sorts of things and I don’t move in their circles. I could go to every party that I am invited to dressed like a  tech-billionaire (adult diapers and stapled-on rags), but a reminder of  the good life is sitting quietly in my closet, almost unnoticed next to my black overcoat.
       Over the past few month I have picked up a proper silk bow tie, a white pocket square, cuff-links, and a silk cummerbund (I already had the proper suspenders), but to no real purpose. I haven’t received any engraved invitations. Part of owning things is an expectation of using them, and, in this case, having an occasion to use them. I have always lacked the occasion. It seems taunting of fate to send me this thing which I didn’t need or want and that was not given or passed down. It simply showed up in my closet one day to show me the deficiencies in my social life.
       Maybe we all have these sorts of troubles with our social lives.  I gave a pep-talk to a friend recently in which I said “When you’re young you constantly fear that there is a party going on somewhere and that you are not invited, and getting older is all about realizing that the party is wherever you are and making the most of it.”
       I was pretty happy having said that and I believed it at the time — and I believe it in general — but I have this corner of my closet that is dominated by the suit (that when hanging resembles a folded and neglected theatrical curtain), occasionally reminding me “yes, there is a party going on somewhere, and no, you are not invited.”



Adult Diapers * Suspenders * Engraved Invitations * Glamour Boys * Quoting Myself * Cuff-Links






The Duke of Windsor and the Mischievous Elves are Probably Dining without Me

Originally posted on September 30, 2015. This was the most popular entry on the old blog, which may be a sad indication of its quality. 


Two years ago I was honored to be the best man in my friends’ wedding. Luckily for me the only sartorial request they made was that I wear a black lounge suit and a white tie, which seemed simple enough. I detest tuxedos — the only time that they should be worn is when singing at The Sands or at dinner with the Duke of Windsor.

I would happily wear a suit everyday of my life if my job called for it, and go full white tie — topper and tails — when required, but I always felt that there was something a little tacky in the tux’. I can’t help but think that the only shiny things a person should wear are shoes, and that the only thing that should be clipped on is a tie-clip. So while I really would have been happy to wear a tuxedo on the occasion, I was all the happier for not having to.

I borrowed a black suit from my father, made a speech, lawlessly (but joyfully) signed a ketubah and saw my friends off to a lifetime of happiness.

Then came a busy two years in which I had many strange adventures and accomplished many things, but I also failed at a few — namely returning my father’s black suit which I had (like any good suit-borrower) had dry cleaned. Now and again, when I saw my parents, I would tell them that I would bring the suit back the next time I saw them.

A few weeks ago I had to go to a funeral and felt lucky that I still had the suit. I put on the trousers and was a little surprised that they had a black strip going down them like a military dress uniform, but were that same color as the pants. Then I put on the jacket and marveled at the tacky velvet collar. My father wouldn’t have something like that. For a few seconds I was secluded in a castle of denial. I reached into the coat pocket and found the most offensive thing of all — a black, clip-on bow tie. My castle of denial collapsed in a sinkhole of despair. I had two other suits, one at the tailor, one at the dry-cleaner. There was no way out of it. I put on a proper black straight tie and I attended the funeral with the coat folded up under my arm so nobody would see what I was wearing* but it would at least look like I had the proper clothes

The dark and mischievous elves of the dry cleaner offered up a changeling.** I can’t imagine any other explanation. When I asked my dry-cleaner about what happened he said that no one had come back with the suit — this is no surprise since the suit is nicer than the tux’.*** My tailor also reminded me that if talked to him two days or two weeks later, he would have been able to help me. But there was no telling where my suit was after so long. The elves had won and I was stuck with the changeling.

What does a man do with a notched (not even peaked) lapelled velvet-collared abomination? I tried giving it to my father who actually thinks that this story is funny, but he doesn’t want it. So I did what any decently attired amatur philolgist would do. I bought a proper bow-tie for it (I wouldn’t suffer to have the clip-on in the house), and I’ve been shopping around for pleated shirts. Certainly, I don’t have occasion to wear black tie, but something may come up. There must be some group of people attending black-tie events. And now that I’ve thought about it I’m a little miffed that I never get invited. I will keep hoping. Maybe there will be an opera premiere, or a charity ball, or maybe I’ll be in another wedding.

If anything comes up, let me know.


*did I absentmindedly put the tux jacket on before I left? Yes I did. And let me tell you, gentle reader, that it is indeed a great relief knowing that whatever terrible social faux pas you may make in future your greatest will always be in the past. And it is an even greater relief that after you’re seen at a funeral in black tie people will still be friends with you.

**This is just one reason to not bring your baby to the dry cleaner. There are others.

***This is not an expression of my anti-tuxedo prejudice: it was a nice suit and the tuxedo is a little chintzy

Tags: The Sands, My Parents, Clip-On Ties