My first angina attack came at Alton Towers theme park after an early morning and entirely ill-advised go on the Nemesis thrill ride. As I was facing eight hours supervising assorted children, I had to settle for a cup of tea and an aspirin as medication. And, later in the day, a cheeseburger.
Anyway, my cardiac condition remained stable for a couple of years until, while experimenting with my new Gaggia espresso machine, I consumed four super-strength ristrettos and, in the secrecy of the office adjoining our house, half a Silk Cut. Next minute I was lying groggily on the floor, nauseated and thinking about Graeme Souness’s heart bypass surgery, also triggered by espresso consumption.
I called my wife, who happens to be a doctor, and she arrived, suitably anxious and complete with ECG machine, some aspirin and, I was shocked to note, whisky.
“Drink this,” she said, pouring an enormous dram of Highland Park. I did. I also sucked down a soluble aspirin. And immediately felt better. Dilation of the requisite arteries, apparently. Nitro glycerine or amyl nitrate not being to hand.
Whisky has always been – sometimes ludicrously, sometimes effectively – associated with medical treatment. Some brands were advertised, under more lax regimes than today’s, as promoting health. And while there’s no doubt that over-consumption of alcohol can cause dire health problems – dilated cardiomyopathy being one example – whisky remains a suitable treatment for at least some cases.
The anaesthetic and psychological effects of whisky have undoubtedly proved beneficial to politicians over the years, particularly when it comes to lengthy ‘speechifying’. Mrs Thatcher, Winston Churchill – their fondness for a dram or three is a matter of record. And the curious case of the chancellor – permitted a small libation, traditionally, during the budget speech – surely proves that a proper appreciation of economics requires some kind of ethanol content.
One of the most interesting examples of political whisky consumption for ‘medical’ reasons came up in 2008 when the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was accused of imbibing during London Assembly sessions. He replied, at a press conference: “I tend to suffer from mild bronchitis through much of the winter.
“If I have to talk for two-and-a-half hours and through the mind-numbing tedium of questioning my members of the assembly, you will hear my voice start to go.
“At that point, I will pick up that tumbler of whisky and I have a sip. It then stops. The only way I can get through talking for two-and-a- half hours with a severe cough or bronchitis is to use alcohol as an anaesthetic.”
As for the legendary capacity for alcohol of Churchill, he said: “I don’t think I have ever reached Winston Churchill’s level and, as it didn’t impair him in the destruction of the greatest evil facing humanity, it won’t impede with my continuing to lead Londoners.”
Secret sampling of Red Ken’s glass proved it to be 47 per cent alcohol. The actual nature of the cratur remains a mystery. It didn’t help him beat Boris Johnson, though.
As for me, I take an aspirin a day, a blood pressure pill and something to lower my cholesterol. And I keep a flask of uisge beatha handy. It is, after all, the water of life. And to quote Dr JP Brooks of Michigan: “51 per cent of the physicians of this country consider the use of whisky necessary in the practice of medicine.”
What was true in 1922 remains the case, I would argue. Angina? Cheers!