Tag Archives: morphine

March 29th

On this day in 1886 morphine addicted, Civil War veteran John Pemberton brewed his first batch of Coca-Cola. The rest, as they say, is history, so I guess we should look at a little bit of that, being all about the history, but before we go into the future, a little of Mr Pemberton’s past.


Evolution of the Coca Cola bottle

John Pemberton was a Confederate veteran, which makes sense as he lived in Atlanta, Georgia. He was injured at the Battle of Columbus in 1865 and like many of his contemporaries he became addicted to the morphine that was prescribed for his pain. He was a bit worried about being a smackhead, so sought for ways in which to rid himself from the grip of it. At that time there was a drink around called Vin Mariani. It had been created in France and was a mixture of wine and coca leaves. It was very popular and Pemberton must have come across it because he produced his own version called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. He marketed it as a medicinal tonic which could help cure morphine addiction, headaches, depression and alcoholism. It was also marketed to Southern Belles who were a bit highly strung with the blurb: “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusable stimulant.”


It proved a big hit and why wouldn’t it. Part wine, part cocaine, who needed morphine? And of course it “cured” alcoholism, unless one counted the wine in it as alcohol, which clearly people didn’t. It’s a little like saying you can cure a broken leg by breaking it, but such quibbles did not prevent big sales of Pemberton’s wonder tonic. What did prevent further sales of it was a temperance law that came into effect in Atlanta and Fulton County in 1886. French Wine Cola became verboten.

Not wanting to kill his golden goose while it still had many eggs to lay, Pemberton worked on finding a way of producing his tonic without the need for wine. He turned to a pharmacist called Willis Venables, who helped him to perfect and test a new recipe. Eventually they came up with their cola syrup which would be diluted in carbonated water, gave it the alliterative name, Coca Cola and thus it was that because of temperance we all got ourselves a soft drink that still sells like a bastard today.

Pemberton’s involvement in his creation did not last for long, but the Coke we know today was due to him, Venables and Frank Mason Robinson. The latter came up with the name and wrote out the first labels and adverts, in the Spencerian Script that still adorns them today. The following year the business was bought by Asa Candler who started to create the multinational corporation that Coca Cola is today. Although he bought the rights, there were some shenanigans at first. Pemberton sold to him and a couple of others, including Charles Ney Pemberton, his own alcoholic son (one gets the idea that the family was a little dysfunctional given its reliance on drugs and alcohol), but this was eventually all sorted out in Candler’s favour, probably with a bit of forgery and skullduggery on Candler’s part.

The cocaine thing? When it was first produced the recipe – the part we’re allowed to know anyway, minus Merchandise 7X (the secret

Cures everything but cocaine addiction. An early advert.

ingredient) – called for three parts coca leaves to one part cola nut. Coca leaves are where we get cocaine from. The amount that was in it was called negligible in later years, but it was probably a little more than that. Cocaine was popular at the time in a variety of medicinal beverages and thought of as pretty harmless and a good substitute or beer. Unfortunately in the 1890s feelings toward cocaine took a bit of a downward turn and in 1903 there was an article in the New York Tribune linking cocaine with “black crime” and calling for legal action against Coca Cola. This led to a slight change in the recipe and a major change in the marketing. From then on the leaves used in the recipe were spent coca leaves, i.e. after the cocaine has been extracted from them, rather than fresh ones and Coca Cola was no longer advertised as a medicinal tonic, but purely as a refreshing beverage.


Pemberton was long dead by this time. He died in 1888, two years after he’d created one of the most popular non-alcoholic drinks the world has ever known and one year after selling it all for a mess of pottage, relatively speaking. Coke has gone on to conquer the world, there’s even a word – Coca Colanization – which describes how it has been an instrument of US colonisation without the need for arms or force. It’s also been involved in a lot of anti-union disputes, bad working practice reports and possibly the death of union activists in countries outside of the US. This all sits very badly with me, because anyone who knows me, knows what a Coke fiend I am. I hate to support a corporation that is, whatever way you want to cut it, pretty bloody cuntish, but what can I do? Truth is it might not contain cocaine any longer, but those bastards have still found a way to make it addictive. Maybe one day I’ll do the whole twelve steps things and rid me of its syrupy evil. Until then, my name is Almaniacal and I am a Coca Cola-holic.


Today is the birthday of myopic hotty, Christophe Lambert, better known as Lord Greystoke or Connor MacLeod.


Oh. My.

Lambert (please pronounce it in the French way, to show that you have some culture, darlings) first came to the attention of the English-speaking public when he appeared in Hugh Hudson’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. He was an instant hit and why wouldn’t he be. He spent much of the film half-naked and when he wasn’t, he was all poshed up and cuter than a very cute thing from the capital of cute. He then went on to make Subway with Jean Luc Besson, which was a pretty good film. To be fair to Greystoke, I loved it, but you could hardly call it quality. I can’t say much more about it, because that would involve me getting in to the bit near the end where his “father” dies and that’s too unbearably sad and I cannot type through tears, dammit!


Christophe’s biggest success came in Highlander, where he played the legendary Connor MacLeod. The best thing about that film was that he played a Scot with a French accent and Sean Connery played a Spaniard with a Scottish accent. That and the Queen soundtrack which was aces. It was both a very silly film and bloody marvellous and Lambert proved that he looked just as good in a kilt as he did in a loincloth, i.e. very good indeed. Since the heady days of the mid-eighties, it’s fair to say that his light has dimmed a little. He’s made a lot of very bad films, a handful of critically well-received but commercially unsuccessful ones and sort of disappeared from view. Mostly.

These days he still acts, also produces and like many a fine Frenchman before him, he owns a vineyard as well as a mineral water company and a food processing company. He’s not doing bad for himself all things considered. Bless him.

Other facts about this utterly gorgeous man: he is gorgeous; his myopia is severe, he can’t wear contacts, so when he does act on film,

Blond for Subway. I may have to lie down for a while now

he’s pretty much blind, which lends him that odd gaze which many think has made him so attractive to women. I can’t contest that as the first time I saw him looking all bog-eyed in Tarzan I was a total goner for him. I used to have the film poster up in my flat. Readers, I loved him.


So, Christophe, I know you’re all loved up with Sophie Marceau and that and you’re not in the first flush of that stunning youth any longer, but I still would so … Happy birthday, you gorgeous man. You can monkey around with me (yes, I’m groaning too) any time!




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March 6th

On this day in 1853 La Traviata had its premiere in Venice. Given how popular the opera is, you’d think that it had opened to a rapturous reception. Oh no. There was booing, jeering and probably lots of rotten fruit thrown stagewards. So, how did something so reviled at first become so popular and why did the Venetians hate it so much at first? Questions, questions!


Violetta realises she's wasted the last few months of her life on a fat dick

Opera goers in Italy can be a bit on the expressive side and they do have a tendency to boo if things aren’t quite to their liking. To be fair to the Venetian jeerers there were a few things wrong with La Traviata, not least the leading lady. The opera, composed by Verdi with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, was based on La Dame aux Camélias by Alexander Dumas fils. The main character, Marguerite Gautier is a courtesan who is dying of tuberculosis. In the opera she is renamed Violetta Valéry and in the first performance she was played by Fanny Salvini Donatelli. Donatelli was 38 and a bit on the large side which struck the audience as rather comical. In the final act when the doctor sang that her illness had worsened and she had only days to live, someone shouted out “I see no consumption only dropsy!” Dropsy is known as oedema these days, basically a build up of fluids under the skin leading to swelling. The shout out was the modern equivalent of some “wit” yelling “You’re fat and you know you are!” Her age and physique aside, no one had any problems with Donatelli’s singing. Her voice was pure and strong and her performance was beautiful, even those who’d been laughing and booing were agreed on that.


They weren’t keen on the singers playing Alfredo (Violetta’s lover) and Giorgio (his dad); when they started up the booing got worse. So the premiere problems could be put down to a fat lady and two blokes who weren’t quite up to it in the singing department. How did it get more popular?

The next time the opera was put on Verdi and Piave got their wish with the casting. They’d not been keen on having Donatelli in the Violetta role from the get go. This time round they got Maria Spezia-Aldighieri, who was 25 and considerably slimmer than Donatelli. She also had a good set of lungs on her and breathed a different kind of life into the role of the dying prostitute.  In fact she was so good that Verdi credited her with making the  opera the success it then became. It probably also helped that he’d worked on the second and third acts and worked out some creaky bits. From that moment on the opera was a success, disproving the old adage that it ain’t all over until the fat lady sings. Ithangyew!

To give you a taster, here’s  piece from the opera you’ll all know.


Today was the birthday of Victorian lady poetaster, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning.

Elizabeth, or Ba as she was known by her ba-tshit mental family was born in 1806 the eldest of her parents’ 12 children. They all survived to adulthood except for one girl who was murdered by Elizabeth when she was 8 and going through her psycho-killer phase.  It was at this time that she wrote her first poem, On the Cruelty of Forcement to Man, which was inspired by her taste of murder. She continued to be a prodigy, but managed to lay off the murder. She wrote more poems but in the 1820s everything started to go a bit tits up for the family.

Elizabeth - resembling a heroin monkey - with her son Pen

First off, her father lost his estates in Jamaica and no longer got to make his money off slave labour. Then Ba got ill and had to start taking morphine. Before long she was a smack-head. Then her mum died and after moving lots and getting poorer the family moved to Wimpole Street. Lizzy continued to write poems and shit and then in 1840 her doctor told her to go to Torquay and try to lay off the smack. She went with her brother who allegedly drowned in a boating accident. Or maybe he stole Ba’s drugs and she killed him in a fit of rage. We shall never know for sure, but the pattern had been laid down way back in 1812.

Anyway, yada yada yada, she wrote even more poems everyone said she was great if a little feeble, then Robert Browning came to meet her and they got married, moved to Italy and had a son. The son was called Robert, but twee to the last, they called him Pen. FFS. Elizabeth wrote some love sonnets, continued with the smack and finally died at the age of 55 in Florence (the place, I’d hate you to get the idea that she’d climbed inside some woman called Florence and then died).

The fact is that she did write some fine poems and despite the fact that her father was all about the slavery, she was an abolitionist and clashed with him over his views, even though she loved him dearly. So, she probably doesn’t deserve to be dissed as she has been here, but I can’t help it. She’s all heroin chic and twee to me and she gets right on my tits. To those who love Ms Barrett-Browning, I apologise for my antipathy, but hey at least I’ve wished her a happy birthday of sorts. Er, yeah. Happy birthday Ba. You were grating great!

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