Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Shooting from the Hip.

Well, Wallace Hartley might have been a Methodist, but I'm not.
                 The hip flask was a development from the pilgrim’s bottle, the small ceramic or glass flasks used to carry holy water or oil from a saint’s shrine. In the 18th Century, the gentry began to use glass or metal flasks to carry small amounts of spirits when out shooting or hunting. The flasks were usually curved, to sit comfortably in the pocket. Hip flasks became more popular during WWI, when soldiers would carry whisky or brandy in them. In prohibition America, flasks could be slipped discretely in a back pocket or lady’s garter, evading the scrutiny of the authorities.

In RAF slang, a hip flask is a revolver.

To some, the hip flask is the drunkard’s friend. Nothing could be further from the truth. A flask will normally hold 4 oz or 8 oz of spirits, not nearly enough for your average soak. And no true gentleman would drink without also offering it round. The flask is there to grease to wheels of sociability.

These foldaway stirrup cups can be kept neatly in a pocket, and brought out to provide a vessel when the flask is passed around. We might be friends, but we don't want to be sharing spittle from the neck of the same bottle.

A triple flask picnic set, with a convenient carrying handle, could offer the choice of whisky, brandy and, say, sloe gin when out in the countryside. Remember, it gets a wee bit nippy up here in the North, and a quick snifter is often just the thing.

In Scots Gaelic the word sgailc (anglicised as skalk, scalch or skulk) means a smart knock or blow to the head, or a full draught of a drink. It also means the first dram of whisky of the day, taken as an aperitif before breakfast. The generous Scots host would offer his guest a nip first thing in the morning, just to get the day off to a start. There was a whole range of sgailc, from the sgailc-nide – the one taken still lying down in bed, and then there is the froichduilinn – ‘an elbow nip’, taken whilst propped up on one elbow. Next, when up and out of bed, the deoch chas-ruisgte – ‘ a drink while still barefoot’, and lastly, the dram taken whilst the porridge oats are being ground, the deoch bhleth.

Dr Samuel Johnson, in his A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland (1775), notes: -

"A man of the Hebrides, for of the woman's diet I can give no account, as foon as he appears in the morning, fwallows a glafs of whifky; yet they are not a drunken race, at leaft I never was prefent at much intemperance; but no man is fo abftemious as to refufe the morning dram, which they call a fkalk." 
 (p. 123)
It’s that long ‘s’ again.

By way of contrast, the last drink of the day, taken as one for the road before you leave for home, is the deoch-an-doruis, (the drink at the doorway). Sir Harry Lauder, the Scottish singer and comedian, popularised the phrase in his famous song, “Just a Wee Deoch an Doruis.”

In the introduction to his book Whisky G D Smith notes that in Britain you’ll be offered a nip, a dram or a tot. In America they speak of the shot, the slug or the belt.
Perhaps it’s just as well that we came second in the War of Independence.

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