Heal thyself

Author: Fergus Henderson
Photography: Antonia Pesenti

As Christmas looms again for another year, our thoughts turn to that timeless question: what is it about the festive season that makes otherwise perfectly normal, sensible, civilised people think it's a good idea to follow a good dinner and a skinful of wine with shots of absinthe? It's a strange process, going from having a jolly time to having one that ends in collapsing and the help of an ambulance to get home.  What does this tell us about perfectly normal, sensible, civilised people? More to the point, what does this tell us about Christmas? Is it possible that all those Santas and all that ho-ho-hoing are somehow upsetting?

We used to have an annual Christmas party, and when our friends reached a Negroni roar, it was time to watch out. We took our eyes off the situation for a moment on one occasion, and in a somewhat confused state, a good friend managed to lock themselves in the bathroom, only to smash their way out, leaving the top half of the bathroom door hanging. The kids were very impressed the next morning. The other thing that suffers is the floor (there's a reason we had ours laid with rubber). Having sent the children away for a night so they don't have to witness our generation at play, the floor becomes a mulch of spilled drink and cigarette ash. Still, months afterwards, they have a habit of finding cigarette butts in strange places. What people mistake for an ashtray makes the mind boggle - pencil cases, candle boxes and Action Man's gas-mask. Is there no shame? Once the last guests have left, we leave out a huge tip for the cleaning lady and shut ourselves away and wait for the coast to clear. As I said, perfectly normal, sensible, civilised people.

Of course, such sensible, civilised behaviour comes with repercussions for the imbiber, too. The key thing when you find yourself a victim of overindulgence is to have the remedy readily at hand.

So you may prepare yourself ahead of time, I offer these essential cures. First, Black Velvet. This mix of half Guinness and half Champagne can bring a man back from the edge. I speak with experience. Allow me to elaborate. The scene is the West Country, the occasion New Year's Eve, the poison tequila. Rather the worse for wear the night in question, I managed to make my way on all fours through a muddy lane, but when I got home and managed to stand, I promptly fell in a bush, losing my glasses and gaining some nasty scratches. I awoke the next morning in the bath, bloodied and blind. And I had agreed to cook 100 breakfasts. Somehow I made my way downstairs and had a Black Velvet. A miracle! All my scars, internal and external, healed, and someone found my glasses. Bring on the hundred breakfasts.

But enough tequila talk. What about a good bacon sandwich? A bacon sandwich washed down with a glass of cold cider should help open the eyes. I also have a weakness for a sausage roll with brown sauce. Not the best sausages, though. I feel the rusk element of not terribly good sausages helps restore the sense of gravity. Potatoes roasted in pork fat are also a sheltered harbour. How can a simple tuber be so restorative with just the aid of lard? The theory that fast food will sort you out is misguided. It's fast in nature, but short-term in rehabilitation stakes. On the other hand (and this is a bit left-field, I'll grant you), a very cold glass of good white Burgundy can be quite efficacious.

And then there is the Dr Henderson: two parts Fernet Branca, one part crème de menthe, served on crushed ice - it's a pick-me-up that comes with the bonus of minty freshness. It's perfect for that moment after a good lunch and as preparation for a good supper. Don't be put off by the fact that it looks like swamp water, because the Fernet is the thing. There is no more effective cure for maladies of the season than a shot of Fernet Branca straight up.

It puts organs to sleep, improves the humours - it's truly miraculous stuff. The wise man of today is the man who makes sure tomorrow's Fernet Branca is in place, and that goes double for the festive season.

In the end, a life of moderation moderated by a little bit of what you fancy is balanced out by plenty of water and sleep. Unfortunately, I often find the process of reconstruction almost as enjoyable as doing the damage the day before. Now, where did I put that absinthe?

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