Vain echoes, desisting.

I have devoured Zachary Leader’s biography of Kingsley Amis, whom I hugely admire, and I wish in some ways that the book had been twice as long. But any life of Amis must have elements of a temperance tract, and from this fact emerge some interesting figures. Here, for instance, is the meal he ordered at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, when the Sunday Express took him to lunch there in February 1988: He began with a couple of martinis (“a proper drink”) while deciding to eat dressed crab and steak tartare. After he ‘boasted modestly’ that he knew nothing about wine, he ordered a Chablis Grand Cru (£44) and then a 1970 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (£140). Then a glass of Sauternes with his raspberries; port with the cheese and a large Calvados to mop up any survivors.

Three years later, in one characteristic month, he spent £315 on radio taxis; his bar bill at the Garrick was £432; drink for consumption at home cost him a further £1032. No wonder he considered his divorce had bankrupted him.

A couple of years later, he fell down some stairs after lunch:

Amis drank between a half and a quarter bottle of whisky, Gewurztraminer with the meal itself and a Cointreau as digestif. Morgan remembers him as ‘completely articulate’ at the end of the meal. ‘He wasn’t drunk or anything like that,’ Virginia Rush remembers.

But of course, he knew what had happened, and wrote it down, exactly. Here is an unfinished poem, apparently published in the TLS in 2004 but not during Amis’ lifetime, which Leader found among his papers:

Things tell less and less:
The news impersonal
And from afar; no book
Worth wrenching off the shelf.
Liquor brings dizziness
And food discomfort; all
Music sounds thin and tired,
And what picture could earn a look?
The self drowses in the self
Beyond hope of a visitor.
Desire and those desired
Fade, and no matter:
Memories in decay
Annihilate the day.

There once was an answer:
Up at the stroke of seven,
A turn round the garden (Breathing deep and slow),
Then work, never mind what,
How small, provided that
It serves another’s good.

But once is long ago
And, tell me, how could
Such an answer be less than wrong,
Be right all along?

Vain echoes, desist

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