Bacon, the answer to hangovers. Photo: Getty Images
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Felicity Cloake: Hangover cures shouldn’t involve further suffering

In the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Tis the season to be jolly, as the old song has it, and though there’s barely a dent in the Advent calendar, the sticky scent of mulled wine already hangs over the nation like a festive fug. Angels are old news. In Britain, we prefer to herald the Messiah with booze and, for most of us, the Christmas party season is now in full swing.

I won’t dwell on the catering, which will be disappointing however good you’ve been this year, but in the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Instead of “preloading” (as I believe the young folk call it) with drinks while getting ready, try to channel your mother and have a proper meal before going out – or at least a helping of something fatty to slow down the rate at which alcohol enters your system. In parts of Africa, this would be a spoonful of peanut butter and the Mediterranean region tends to prefer olive oil but you could do worse than a sneaky glug of milk from the office fridge.

Drawing a discreet veil over events at the party buffet and quietly passing over the ill-advised doner stop on the way home, we move on to the next morning, when food really comes into its own – if you can stomach it, that is. You should at least try. Eating will speed up your metabolism, allowing your body to process the alcohol more quickly. Carbohydrates are a good bet for restoring depleted sugar levels, while protein will make up for some of the damage done in your brain – which is all the excuse you need for a fry-up.

However, a full English is not the only option. Indeed, the Roman sage Pliny the Elder swore by fried canaries and raw owl’s eggs, which is along the same basic lines, though it might raise a few eyebrows at your local caff.

Soup, one of the last dishes I’d rely upon in extremis, is strangely popular around the world, with tripe featuring surprisingly widely, especially in south-eastern Europe and Turkey. Head north, and sour pickle-based broths are preferred – counterintuitive, perhaps, but not as actively unpleasant as the rabbit-poo tea brewed up by American cowboys after a hard night round the campfire.

Dishes that actively stick two fingers up at one’s gag reflex are more common than seems entirely wise in the circumstances. Pickled sheep’s eyes in tomato sauce were once all the rage in Mongolia, while Korea still considers spicy broths gingered up with hunks of spine and congealed blood just the ticket for a dicky tummy.

Filipinos swear by fertilised duck eggs complete with bonus feathery foetus and Sicilians are said to have traditionally restored their machismo with a dried bull’s penis (though these days, like many Italians, they mostly stick to an espresso and a cigarette).

There’s an air of penitential suffering about many of these so-called cures, a belief that such wicked self-indulgence can only be rectified by a culinary hairshirt the morning after. Yet all these strong flavours and all that grease suggest that most of us also cling to the faint hope of distracting the body from its alcohol-induced misery by battering it with fresh horrors.

There may be something in this. Large, indigestible meals will certainly provide brief respite for thumping heads and whirling guts but the only cure is time. Time, sleep and a chargrilled bacon roll liberally laced with hot English mustard and thick-cut marmalade. Consider that last tip my gift to you. Happy partying and happy Christmas. 

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 04 December 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Deep trouble

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.