Archive for Formaldehyde

Mummified by Beer

Posted in Biographical with tags , on June 24, 2009 by telescoper

Years ago I went on holiday to Egypt with a friend. It wasn’t the usual kind of holiday because we didn’t stay in a hotel, but at the house of my friend’s cousin Moira who worked in the Cairo American College, in a suburb of the city. Since we were both pretty skint at that time we got an incredibly cheap flight to Cairo from London via Bucharest with the Romanian airline Tarom. The less said about the flight the better, especially the food on it, because it made Ryanair look positively luxurious, but at least we got there alive.

The first evening there we were both very tired and a bit overwhelmed by the surroundings, but we decided to go into one of the local bars for a quick drink before going to bed. Only two kinds of beer were available, both called Stella. (I should point out for legal reasons that this is not Stella Artois that we’re talking about!) The Egyptian Stella came in two varieties: Stella National (which was one Egyptian pound for a pint bottle; about 20p in British money then) and Stella Export (5 Egyptian pounds). Being impoverished, I ordered a pint of the National version. It tasted slightly odd, but basically OK. I drank up and went back to the house.

The next morning I had the worst hangover I’ve ever had in my life. I couldn’t understand it. I saw Moira at breakfast and she told me I looked dreadful. I explained that I had only had one pint the night before. She looked at me in horror.

“You didn’t drink the Stella National, did you?”

I said yes, I did, but I only had a pint.

She explained that the reason the “National” version was so cheap was that it contained something to stop it going off in the hot climate. The “Export” version didn’t have this ingredient because they couldn’t possibly export it if it did. The preserving agent turned out to be formaldehyde, which is used in embalming corpses.