The Cambridge Union Society. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

The NS debate: This house believes that baby boomers left society worse than they found it

Key event at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 5 April will pit Shiv Malik, Laurie Penny and Simon Heffer against Kwasi Kwarteng, Mansoor Hamayun and Allison Pearson on the question of inter-generational equality.

As part of its partnership with the newly re-launched Cambridge Literary Festival (formerly known as Cambridge Wordfest), the New Statesman will host a flagship debate on Saturday 5 April at the Cambridge Union Society. Chaired by Rafael Behr, Political Editor of the New Statesman, six of the country’s sharpest political thinkers will debate the motion: “This house believes that baby boomers left society worse than they found it”.

Is this, contrary to received wisdom, an ideal time to be young? How have technology, travel and science improved young people’s lives for the better, and how much have they benefited from the struggles – sexual liberation, equality and post-war investment in health and education – of the baby boomer generation? Or is this, in fact, a far shallower world than the one the boomers inherited – one in which unemployment, constricted social mobility, austerity and environmental crisis are the end result of an overly selfish, financially irresponsible generation born after 1945?

As Rabbit Angstrom, the quintessential baby boomer in John Updike’s Rabbit series boasts: “I figure the oil’s going to run out about the same time I do, the year two thousand. Seems funny to say it, but I’m I lived when I did. These kids coming up, they’ll be living on table scraps. We had the meal.”

Proposing the motion will be the Guardian’s Shiv Malik, investigative reporter and author of Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth. Joining him will be Laurie Penny, columnist, activist and New Statesman contributing editor, along with Simon Heffer, Daily Mail journalist, historian and author most recently of High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. Arguing in opposition will be Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP for Spelthorne in Surrey and author most recently of Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World; Mansoor Hamayun, renewable technology entrepreneur and the chief executive of BBOXX, and Welsh novelist and columnist Allison Pearson.

Elsewhere at the festival, NS staff will be taking part in events with shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, literary critic John Carey and novelists Jim Crace, A L Kennedy and Adam Foulds. Other highlights include appearances by Melvyn Bragg, Hanif Kureishi, Eleanor Catton, Emma Donoghue, Pat Barker, Germaine Greer and Martin Rees.

Full programme information can be found on the Cambridge Literary Festival website. Tickets for the New Statesman debate, which will begin at 5.30pm on 5 April, can be purchased here.

NANCY JO IACOI/GALLERY STOCK
Show Hide image

There are only two rules for an evening drink: it must be bitter, and it must be cold

A Negroni is the aperitif of choice in bars everywhere from London to Palermo - and no wonder.

The aperitif has the odd distinction of being the only alcohol that can always rely on a sober audience: it is the opener, the stimulant, a spur to the appetite for good food and good conversation. This preparatory beverage is considered the height of sophistication, and certainly nobody labouring in field or factory ever required a pep to their evening appetite. Still, to take a drink before one starts drinking is hardly clever behaviour. So why do it?

One reason is surely the wish to separate the working day from the evening’s leisure, an increasingly pressing matter as we lose the ability to switch off. This may change the nature of the aperitif, which was generally supposed to be light, in alcohol and character. Once, one was expected to quaff a pre-dinner drink and go in to dine with faculties and taste buds intact; now, it might be more important for those who want an uninterrupted meal to get preprandially plastered. That way, your colleagues may contact you but they won’t get much sense out of you, and pretty soon they’ll give up and bother someone else.

The nicest thing about the aperitif, and the most dangerous, is that it doesn’t follow rules. It’s meant to be low in alcohol, but nobody ever accused a gin and tonic or a Negroni (Campari, gin and vermouth in equal portions) of that failing; and sherry, which is a fabulous aperitif (not least because you can keep drinking it until the meal or the bottle ends), has more degrees of alcohol than most wines. An aperitif should not be heavily perfumed or flavoured, for fear of spoiling your palate, yet some people love pastis, the French aniseed drink that goes cloudy in water, and that you can practically smell across the Channel. They say the scent actually enhances appetite.

Really only two rules apply. An aperitif should be bitter – or, at any rate, it shouldn’t be sweet, whatever the fans of red vermouth may tell you. And it must be cold. Warm drinks such as Cognac and port are for after dinner. Not for nothing did Édith Piaf warble, in “Mon apéro”, about drowning her amorous disappointments in aperitifs: fail to cool your passions before sharing a table, and you belong with the barbarians.

On the other hand, conversing with your nearest over a small snack and an appropriate beverage, beyond the office and before the courtesies and complications of the dinner table, is the essence of cultured behaviour. If, as is sometimes thought, civilisation has a pinnacle, surely it has a chilled apéro carefully balanced on top.

The received wisdom is that the French and Italians, with their apéritifs and aperitivos, are the experts in these kinds of drinks. Certainly the latter are partial to their Aperol spritzes, and the former to such horrid, wine-based tipples as Lillet and Dubonnet. But the English are good at gin and the Americans invented the Martini. As for Spain, tapas were originally snacks atop a covering that kept the flies out of one’s pre-dinner drink: tapa means lid.

Everywhere, it seems, as evening approaches, people crave a drink that in turn will make them salivate: bitterness, the experts tell us, prepares the mouth to welcome food. The word “bitter” may come from “bite”, in which case the aperitif’s place before dinner is assured.

I like to think that a good one enables the drinker to drown all sour feelings, and go in to dinner cleansed and purified. Fanciful, perhaps. But what better lure to fancy than a beverage that exists only to bring on the evening’s pleasures?

Nina Caplan is the Louis Roederer Pio Cesare Food and Wine Writer of the Year

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times