Fifteen Of The Gang

In London a bender was the name given to sixpenny piece because of its propensity to wear down and bend. It was also the name given to an elbow but its more common usage to denote a drunken spree may, according to James Ware’s Passing English of a Victorian Era, be a corruption of Bon Dieu. Good God, I never knew that.

The prelude to many a bender is an early drink. In naval circles in the 19th century, it was not good form to take a sip of alcohol until noon, when eight bells rang. For those who could not wait, the phrase call it 8 bells was a sign to denote the party’s agreement that, irrespective where the hands of the clock were, it was time for a drink.

Often the bender would result in someone not being able to see a hole in a forty-foot ladder, a delightful way to express the degree of their inebriation. To pay for the drink may result in the request to smash a thick ‘un. This was a request to change a sovereign. There is an element of despair in the phrase because the sovereign, a visible sign of affluence amongst the poor, once changed, had gone, and perhaps the owner would never possess another on again.

The morning after there may be an inquest as to what the drunken sot had got up to. A proposition may be put to them with the rider, can you say uncle to that? It was a challenge to come up with a plausible answer to the question posed. Depending upon the state of their wits, it may seem to be a carriwitchit, a puzzling question.

To sober up, there may be a need to resort to cat-lap, a term used, with some derision, by drinkers of alcohol to describe tea and coffee. It was also used in London’s club land to describe champagne by those who preferred their liquor stronger.          

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