Just a small one... Giant bottle of sherry at Australia House in London, 1958. Photo: Getty
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Razors comes home and that thimbleful of sherry turns into an all-nighter

It’s funny how one’s stamina diminishes with age. I once drank Hunter S Thompson pretty much under the table many years ago but these days I find 6am is pretty much my cut-off point.

Ping! A text appears. It is Razors, my ex-housemate, who is flying over to England to settle some old scores or, as he euphemistically puts it, to “see my family for my birthday”. That old chestnut. I’d completely forgotten he was coming over but it is always a delight to see him, so I put on my pinny and take up my feather duster and give the Hovel a going-over in his honour.

“Jesus Christ,” he says when he sees the place, “it’s looking even more disgustingly Hovelly than it did when I was here.”

“Well, you’ve grown a beard,” I say.

We sit on the terrace, talking of this and that. Razors has become a key player in what I shall loosely describe as the media in New York and I keep trying to steer the subject towards him giving me a job but he manages to evade my skilful moves. Finally, I remember that he has occasionally shown a fondness for alcohol in small doses, so I go to the drinks cabinet and take out the bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream I keep for special occasions. There is about half of it left, which should be plenty. I pour us each a little glass and hope that the poison of drink will mellow him.

That’s always how it starts with Razors. Sherry had a reputation as a civilised drink; maybe they put something in it these days. One thimbleful turns into another and, before we know it, that half-bottle is gone. Razors has turned from a cultivated chap, appalled at the Met Opera’s decision not to simulcast John Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer, to a raging maniac wholly enslaved by booze.

“Shall we get another bottle?” he asks. I know what he can be like when he gets into this kind of mood, so I go to the corner shop and buy a bottle of Blossom Hill rosé (his favourite tipple).

What with one thing and another – and after a few adventures of which we have no memory but that leave us with minor unexplained cuts and bruises on our hands, a court order and, for my part, the sore-throat-like side effects of a choked windpipe – we find ourselves shooting the breeze, back at the Hovel, the debris of countless bottles of wine beside and around us, and it is six o’clock in the morning. The Hovel’s other resident – not the woman who scours the inside of teapots – comes down in his suit to go to work. Normally, he’d be going for his early-morning run at this time, which would have been more than I could take.

However, he is an affable man and if he is appalled at seeing his housemate and a strange man with a beard drinking wine on the terrace at six in the morning, he is good at hiding it. What he doesn’t know is how much worse it could have been. The last time Razors and I tied one on, we came to in the hold of a tramp steamer in the South China Sea and learned we’d enlisted in the Merchant Marine for three years.

It’s funny how one’s faculties and stamina diminish with age. I once drank Hunter S Thompson pretty much under the table many years ago – I always harboured an uneasy suspicion that I may have been slightly culpable in the matter of his early and unwelcome demise – but these days I find that six in the morning is pretty much my cut-off point. Perhaps it is the early-summer dawns that are so tiring.

Anyway, later on in the afternoon, when I have risen again and Razors has tried to push a full English breakfast down me, without a great deal of success, I get a call from the Estranged Wife reminding me of our forthcoming trip to — tomorrow, to take the eldest boy to a university open day. By coincidence, it is the same place I went to with the daughter a couple of years ago and made a bit of a scene with a philosophy lecturer who didn’t know how to pronounce “Descartes”. Relations with the ex are civil to the point of pleasantness these days, as long as we stay off the subject of money, but she tells me to behave better this time. “We’ll have to leave at 8am,” she says.

I contemplate the almost visible springs and coils from my shattered body clock lying about me and remember that Razors wants to watch the England game in a pub that evening. I explain that 8am will be out of the question: Razors is here and I am basically dead. She understands but does not perhaps sympathise. I muster all the dignity at my command; I say, “You’re not the boss of me”; and I relapse into a coma.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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Why does food taste better when we Instagram it?

Delay leads to increased pleasure when you set up a perfect shot of your dinner.

Been on holiday? Take any snaps? Of course you did – but if you’re anything like me, your friends and family didn’t make it into many of them. Frankly, I can only hope that Mr Whippy and I will still be mates in sixty years, because I’m going to have an awful lot of pictures of him to look back on.

Once a decidedly niche pursuit, photographing food is now almost as popular as eating it, and if you thought that the habit was annoying at home, it is even worse when it intrudes on the sacred peace of a holiday. Buy an ice cream and you’ll find yourself alone with a cone as your companion rushes across a four-lane highway to capture his or hers against the azure sea. Reach for a chip before the bowl has been immortalised on social media and get your hand smacked for your trouble.

It’s a trend that sucks the joy out of every meal – unless, that is, you’re the one behind the camera. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that taking pictures of food enhances our pleasure in it. Diners at the food court of a farmers’ market in Philadelphia were asked either to photograph their meal or to eat “as you normally would”, then were questioned about how they found it. Those in the photography group reported that not only did they enjoy their meal more, but they were “significantly more immersed in the experience” of eating it.

This backs up evidence from previous studies, including one from this year in the Journal of Consumer Marketing, which found that participants who had been asked to photograph a red velvet cake – that bleeding behemoth of American overindulgence – later rated it as significantly tastier than those who had not.

Interestingly, taking a picture of a fruit salad had no effect on its perceived charms, but “when descriptive social norms regarding healthy eating [were] made salient”, photographing these healthier foods did lead to greater enjoyment. In other words, if you see lots of glossy, beautifully lit pictures of chia seed pudding on social media, you are more likely to believe that it’s edible, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
This may seem puzzling. After all, surely anything tastes better fresh from the kitchen rather than a protracted glamour shoot – runny yolks carefully split to capture that golden ooze, strips of bacon arranged just so atop plump hemispheres of avocado, pillowy burger buns posed to give a glimpse of meat beneath. It is hardly surprising that 95 million posts on Instagram, the photo-sharing site, proudly bear the hashtag #foodporn.

However, it is this delay that is apparently responsible for the increase in pleasure: the act of rearranging that parsley garnish, or moving the plate closer to the light, increases our anticipation of what we are about to eat, forcing us to consider how delicious it looks even as we forbid ourselves to take a bite until the perfect shot is in the bag. You could no doubt achieve the same heightened sense of satisfaction by saying grace before tucking in, but you would lose the gratification that comes from imagining other people ogling your grilled Ibizan sardines as they tuck in to an egg mayonnaise at their desk.

Bear in mind, though, that the food that is most successful on Instagram often has a freakish quality – lurid, rainbow-coloured bagel-croissant hybrids that look like something out of Frankenstein’s bakery are particularly popular at the moment – which may lead to some unwise menu choices in pursuit of online acclaim.

On the plus side, if a diet of giant burgers and salted-caramel lattes leaves you feeling queasy, take heart: if there is one thing that social media likes more than #avotoast, it is embarrassing oversharing. After a week of sickening ice-cream shots, a sickbed selfie is guaranteed to cheer up the rest of us. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser