Monday, October 31, 2016

The Worlds Most Practical Drunkards

I believe it fair to say, the British are the worlds most practical drunkards.

How so? 

Allow me to provide just one of many possible examples, which would tend to bear my thesis out:

The British were, in their time, the most thoroughgoing and successful imperialists the world had seen since Xerxes and Alexander (and by some measures, one might even say the most succesful of all time, without exception); controlling colonies, territories, and other posessions, in every corner of this good earth.

As it happens, the greatest fraction of these many jewels of empire, were located in tropical climes.

Being native to a few cool, damp, and windy isles, adrift between the north and Irish seas; the British peoples, were not notably tolerant of the extremely hot and humid conditions prevailing in these tropical regions. Nor did they posess notable natural resistance, to the many, varied... and it must be said, most unpleasant... diseases and maladies endemic to them

This however, did not appreciably deter the British from sending many of their best and brightest young men (or at least those rich enough to buy an officers comission, or secure a place in colonial service, or the EITC)... along with a few of those who managed to survive previous such assignments and adventures, and reach middle age; to govern them (which is to say, govern both the tropical colonies, and the young men in question... I will leave the determination of which was the greater challenge, to the reader).

This of course had the entirely predictable result of mortality rates for those posted to the tropics, often exceeding one in four. In fact, there were years in which some postings, suffered as many as seven in ten men, lost to these terrible ailments.

Still... Being British, and having a surplus of second, third, and fourth sons in the officer classes in those years...

...(and there always being an excess of the lower classes (men, women, and children) unable to find gainful employment in the home islands; there was no lack of those in Britain willing to serve as common soldiers, or take contracts of indentured service for 5 or 10 years, in order to seek better fortune in the colonies.

And of course, there was never a shortage of those convicted of minor criminal offences, such as stealing less than 10 shillings {that being a half pound, or about two weeks wages for a common laborer... about $1,000 today. Stealing more than 10 shillings meant a long prison term. Stealing more than 5 pounds, meant hanging}, failing to pay ones debts, incorrigible drunkenness, vagrancy, prostitution, or being Irish; who could be involuntarily transported to the colonies for a term of labor)...

...the frightful casualty rates did not give pause to the colonial administrators (or more importantly, the governors of the East India Trading Company). It only served to double, and redouble their efforts to find ways to prevent, and treat these illnesses.

After only 200 or so years of mass casualties... nothing of great importance... by the early 1800s, it was accepted that daily prophylactic treatment with tincture of quinchona bark... quinine...  would help prevent and treat these diseases, particularly the most common of them (and the one that killed the most people... and still does today), malaria.

Further, it was found to be more effective when combined with tincture of red willow bark...acetylsalicylic acid, aka aspirin... which helped reduce fevers, headaches, and other complaints and maladies of the joints and muscles.

Both tinctures are quite bitter however, and prone to upsetting ones stomach, particularly in the strengths necessary to be effective in resisting and treating tropical diseases.

Mixing these tinctures with a fair bit of sugar... thankfully common in the tropical colonies... helped make them more palatable, though still not pleasant tasting.

Diluting a spoonful of the resulting mixture, into a few ounces of water and bicarbonate of soda, or otherwise carbonated "soda water", tends to buffer the mixture; eliminating any tendency to upset ones stomach, and producing a healthful tonic, aiding in one's digestion.

Speaking of water... Of course, the heat and humidity being what they are in the tropics, one must always guard against dehydration, and heat stroke. To avoid this, it is advisable to sit in shady and cool areas, and drink plenty of water, preferably mixed with some of the vitamins and minerals that we lose through exertion and sweating.

It is even more important to stay hydrated when one is ill, and the tropical diseases under discussion, tend to cause extreme fluid and mineral loss, due to their unpleasant symptoms and side effects.

Unfortunately, lacking natural resistance to local waterborne pathogens, water in those regions was often not safe for the British to drink untreated; and in fact, drinking such water untreated proved to be one of the infection vectors for the unpleasant tropical diseases in question.

Thankfully, it was found that mixing local water with 80 proof alcohol (preferably alcoholic infusions of medicinal herbs and spices, such as juniper and various other various berries, citrus, rosemary, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander), to a concentration of at least 12% alcohol by volume, generally proved sufficient to sanitize the water, rendering it safe to drink.

Such alcoholic infusions also proved to mix well in similar proportion with the previously mentioned healthful carbonated tonic, contrasting it's bitterness, with a sweet, citrusy, and herbaceous character, which proved much more pleasant to drink; though still not quite right yet...

At that time, British people were not in the habit of regularly eating much in the way of fresh fruit or vegetables, as their native islands had a relatively short growing season, and comparatively few hardy native species suited to it, which could last rhrough the winter and spring months (either fresh or preserved). And of course, they also had long sea journeys to reach the tropics; during which such foodstuffs were unavailable.

This lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, in turn often led to several other deficiencies and diseases, most notable scurvy.

However, around the same time our healthful tonic came into common use, it was also confirmed that the juice of limes (and other citrus fruits of course, but limes were the easiest to grow or purchase, and stored the longest without spoiling ) provided one with the nutritive elements necessary to prevent and treat these deficiences and diseases, including scurvy.

As a further benefit, it was found that the juice of citrus fruits, when mixed with water and a little sugar, make a lovely tasting, and quite refreshing beverage; which is more effective than water alone at preventing and treating dehydration, heat stroke, and the... other unpleasant gastrointestinal effects shall we say... of tropical diseases.

Thus, a concoction of gin, tonic, and lime, mixed in proper proportion, and drunk at least twice daily, preferably in a cool shady spot with a nice breeze; serves to refresh ones thirst, aid in one's digestion, prevent and treat malaria and other tropical diseases, as well as prevent and treat heat stroke, dehydration, scurvy, headache, fever, aches and pains of the muscles and joints, and other such ailments as one might suffer from.

Personally, I have also noted it tends to improve ones attitude and outlook, and is quite salutary to ones mental and emotional health, and general state of mind.

Given this, I'm sure you will agree, it can be fairly said that the British are, by far, the worlds most practical drunkards.