Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
We commemorate the poet and novelist Malcolm Lowry.
So who was Malcolm Lowry?
Most famous for his novel Under the Volcano, which tells the sorry tale of a British expat descending into tequila madness and disintegration, Clarence Malcolm Lowry was a writer, a poet and, well, a raging alcoholic. He travelled extensively, with a particular fondness for Mexico, a country from which he was deported at least once, and died young, certainly from booze and possibly also from sleeping pills.
Where did he drink?
Living in Fitzrovia, Lowry made good use of his many locals, among them the Marquis of Granby, The Plough, The Duke of York and the Fitzroy Tavern: he also seems to have appreciated the French House in Soho. Near his home town of New Brighton, he frequented the Egremont Marine; in Oaxaca, he enjoyed cantinas, probably including La Farola.
What did he drink?
'"Mezcal," the Consul said, almost absent-mindedly...', an order that marks the beginning of an unusually dramatic decline and, despite describing the liquor as having a taste like "like ten yards of barbed wire fence", Lowry drank plenty of both mezcal and tequila in Mexico, in an era when both spirits were noticeably less smooth than today. He was also a fan of gin.
But, in all honesty, Lowry would drink anything. Literally anything. An ex-wife recalled throwing out the rubbing alcohol to keep him off it (he had already sampled embalming fluid). So he reached instead for a bottle of hair tonic, which the cook had refilled with cooking oil...
Any famous drinking buddies?
In London, he hung out with Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet and dramatist who would die after an overdose of whisky. But Lowry's uncontrolled alcoholism and inner torment, which some attribute to bipolar disorder and others to guilt over a gay friend who killed himself after Lowry turned him down, made him difficult to be with, despite his brilliance and (when sober) his charm.
How did drink change his life?
Drink killed Lowry, left him raddled with alcoholism, sometimes made him violent, had him thrown out of places he loved, hospitalised him - and fuelled one of the great works of 20th century literature, Under the Volcano. Yet he had to sober up to write it, and who is to say what he might have written if he hadn't self-destructed?
Any drinking stories?
Lowry apparently invented a trick to enable him to keep drinking when his hands were shaking so badly he kept spilling the booze. He removed his tie, wrapped an end around each hand, and placed it over the back of his neck. Then he would take his glass in one hand, the free end of the tie in the other, and use the tie as a pulley to bring the drink steadily to his mouth.
Yes. Depressing. We know.