Bewitching Poison: Gin Lane/Beer Street


Gin Lane

Good day to you Sir, Septimus Gripe Junior, pawnbroker to the gentry at your service.

My father? Oh yes, ‘e’s still with us, lives with me sister in St Giles parish, near that St George’s Church in Bloomsbury. Yes that odd looking one.

No Sir, ‘e leaves the business to me now Sir, never really recovered from the injuries ‘e got from the Parish Wardens in the 1750 riots just outside here, yes that’s right, in Gin Lane proper . You remember Sir, when they put  the price of gin up something cruel, why no-one could afford it any more, and without Dutch courage a lot of ‘em just lost the will to live. You could say, I suppose, that the drink killed them one was or another.

Truth is, Sir, my poor father ‘e’s been afflicted by the drunkenness over the past few years.  Sobriety’s a stranger to ‘im now, and that’sthe truth Sir, lost his way ‘e has.  Really all ‘e’d wanted to do was to show support for ‘is brother shop-keepers. Most of them had gin shops of course, and we did a lot of business ‘ere in those days because of ‘em.

Well, Sir, people pawned unbelievable things, and all for the price of  a drink.  We got all sorts coming in’here we did, distressed gentlefolk,  surgeons pawning their silver instruments, tongue depressers and the like. Don’t know how they managed without some of them.  Brewers’ drayman pawned their horses harnesses, of yes they did, Sir,  and some sailors even popped their  gold ear-ring, now you’d never have thought they would ‘ave parted with them, but they did Sir, oh yes they did.  And silver, we got lots of beautiful pieces, of course don’t know quite where they came from but we ‘ad solid silver inkwells and the like, sets of  silver spoons, remember once we ‘ad some really lovely ones with mother of pearl bowls.  We’d lots of little round perforated discs, quite heavy silver they were too, used to get them from ladies’ maids, so think they were accoutrements special like for females. My wife certainly never had anything like them.

Then of course, when they banned the import o’ brandy because of the war with the Frenchies, lots of the apothecaries round ‘ere were right badly ‘it. Couldn’t get their ‘ands on the spirits they needed to make their tinctures and cordials, they couldn’t, not for love nor money.  We had a fine collection of their blue Delftware containers.  Yes, Sir, that’s some of them up there still.  Yes, that’s right, that one’s signed, think it belonged to old Culpepper.

My favourite? Yes, like the look of that one there,    that  S. Zinzib. As a nipper I loved  the look of that word, oh and that one, Lo…Lohh….. something of fox lungs and swallow fat, surely couldn’t have been really that. Could it Sir?

Oh, Sir, they were real, were they?  Lohosh oh that’s it .  You don’t say, Sir,  sucked it off the end of a liquorice stick, well, well, well, some lung treatment.   Could do with some meself.  Mind you, I swears by sparkling brandy,  that and a caudle cup or two, fine wine tempered with cream. Very comforting it is too Sir, in moderation of course. None of that juniper based rubbish for me Sir.

Now Sir, what have you brought me today?  Oh yes, I can see it is silver Sir, and my goodness what fine caring on that ivory knob set at the top.  Oh I see Sir, it’s really a stopper

Yes, wouldn’t mind a swallow, never drunk brandy before from inside a real physician’s cane.

Here Sir, let me pull you up a seat.  Sir, oh Sir, think nothing of it, there’s no damage done, really, iIt was only a small plant, given me by my son. he’s now a plantsman in Chelsea,  it’s not a pledge, no Sir.   ‘E’ told me it’s a new variety, let me think.  Bellis Perrenis, yes Sir, that’s it.  And Sir, let me move that collecting box out of your way Sir,  No sir, wasn’t an ‘int,  no need for you to reach into your pocket Sir, really there isn’t.        Yes, that’s right it’s for that new Temperance ‘Ospital of the ‘Ampstead Road.   Oh, very generous Sir, thank you.Oh thank you Sir, wouldn’t say no to another Sir.   Cheers Sir.    Yes, yes Sir, indeed. Long live temperance, only not now, dear Lord not now.

Isobella Stewart


Happy Hour 1: Soby

She was looking at her screen waiting for a message.

“R u coming tonite?” it flashed.

Soby typed “yes J”

“Can u bring sisters?”

“Not sure. Praps.”

“Wot they called?”

“Sali and Abbi. Where will  i c u?’
‘Gin Joint? Address?”

Soby checked it out on Google. It was close to Victoria Park. Hard to get to. But that’d be fine, she’d drive. She never drank anyway. Her mother’s black Citroen was parked outside and it had a satnav. Mum was away, she’d never know. All mapped out then.

Returning to messenger she typed

“hey Sam. Got it. Wot time?”

“happy hour 6-7. B there- gig after maybe…”

Soby. Daughter of academic parents living in Tufnell Park. She dreaded being asked what her name was short for.

“Oh it’s not short for anything. It’s just Soby. It’s a made up name,” she’d reply.

The London evening-out traffic was a battle ground that night going east. But satnav got them there. Soby found it stressful, she wished they’d found a way on public transport. Abbs and Sal were happy to be out but Soby, ever the good girl, felt ill at ease in the bar – so achingly trendy – clutching a non-alcoholic cocktail.

“Soby, you’re so uncool,” remarked the boy. “Give me that.”

He took her glass away and spiked it.

“She’ll never know,” he said to his friends. “Gin doesn’t taste of much.”

He returned her glass, the juniper smell buried by orange juice and grenadine.

She finished the glass. It tasted good. Very good. She felt so happy and gregarious.

‘These boys are good fun, and I’m beautiful” she thought. She ordered another.

The bar was swimming in front of her. Lights pulsed.

“Steady Soby, it’s time to go.” Are you ok to drive?”

She managed to nod. It was only fruit-juice after all.

The car was a right off. Turned straight in to an oncoming car, apparently. Soby was found prostrate over the steering wheel, her yellow dress congealed in blood.

“Academic’s daughter killed in car crash” read the headline. Sobriety Newton, daughter of Professor John Newton was killed in a car accident in Hackney last Friday night. Her sisters Salitia, known as Sal, and Absinthia, known as Abi are both in a critical condition. Professor Newton and his wife are unavailable for comment but said to be devastated.”


Happy Hour 2: Dr Paralysis Morov

Dr Paralysis Morov cleared the medicine cabinet. It’d been a long day. All this stuff could do with a wipe over, but that could wait.

He’d used the tongue scraper on that barmaid. The double ended medicine spoons on a few, as his collection of three didn’t go far on a day like this. He was glad to have sent off that woman with plague, god help her. But, since she was nursing an infant, he’d dispatched her with a nipple guard. She’d die anyway, but at least her nipples would be less sore.

He drew a vat of alcohol from the back of the cabinet. Never mind those instruments, he thought. It wouldn’t do any harm to leave them. He poured some of the alcohol into an empty apothecary jar, and took a fine big swig.

“May as well get a little bit relaxed before happy hour,” he decided. Cocktails had become a tradition at the Paralysis Morov household on Friday evenings. Sometimes they’d invite friends. But at others, he and his wife Pulsitilla would kick up their heels in the consulting room, mix some drinks and even have a bit of a sing-song. Dr M had some fine ingredients to add to the alcohol from his medicinal jar. And he had the knack of making things look just-so by assembling some of those smaller blue and white jars on a handsome silver tray. For special occasions he’d use the stirrup cup left to him by Aunt Foeniculam, after she died in the Temperance Hospital.

One more gulp. The doctor hiccoughed and put down the jar. He looked around for a bigger, empty one in which to mix the drinks and he improvised a cocktail shaker using a silver nipple guard for the lid. Perfect!

Putting this to one side, he opened a drawer in his mahogany desk and retrieved a quill pen and a dog-eared sheet of paper.

“Happy Hour at Dr Paralysis Morov’s. All welcome. Cocktail of the day: Gin and Swallow.

He added a dash of gin to the medicinal alcohol, 6 spoons of swallow oil and, as an afterthought, a measure of wyvern.  He shook it all together.  He couldn’t resist a taste:  it was good. Sharp. Perhaps a drop or two more of the swallow? Yes, and another measure of wyvern, with its aromatic orange sweetness. He took another sip. Delectable!

He placed the notice outside the consulting room and shouted up the stairs.

“Pulsitilla! Come down. Let happy hour commence!” SAM_5357

Astrid Sutton Sharkey

Good Health

My fellow physicians in crime. Good evening. My name is Dr. Fuchs and may I cordially welcome you to the annual physician’s conference in support of The Temperance Society.

In the true spirit of the occasion, let us raise our glasses to our beautiful, charming and most delightful host, Madame Geneva –

“Good Health”

Now, whilst I recognise that we are not exactly pillars of sobriety, we are after all temperate in our indulgences – I do believe the clock has now struck twelve…. So time being of the essence and as I believe the good saying flows chaps-

“Fill your boots”

For after all if we are to truly understand the needs of those unfortunates…our patients… we must surely sample their delights. After all Apollo and Bacchus were both merry souls and who are we to argue with that?

As I know you are all aware The Foundation has done much good by way of its research.

Europhobia Myrsintis used most successfully in calming the weak nerves of those women falling foul of the bewitching poison.

Pulsatilla Vulgaris has been developed with unequivocal results in reducing the uninhibited sexual cravings of well let us simply say the “looser women”.

Coleonema used for the cleansing of the colon in the detoxification of the worst known cases, showing admirable results.

Yes my friends we have come a long way on our journey since our Great King William brought the Juniper Berry with him from Holland, appraising it wildly for its beneficial properties to the ailing. My dear fellows, the road to Hell is most certainly paved with great intentions, but the good man George Bernard Shaw was perhaps not a million miles off the mark when he wrote

“Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operations….”

Never more so than in our admirable and enduring professions, as we boldly go forward in our battle with their demons.

Now in a final toast to our continued successes, allow me to decant this rather noble and wonderful little vintage, “Eucomis Comosa”.

To do it full justice, let us follow in the footsteps of our great ancestors. I take Thomas Sypher’s most beautifully crafted, exquisite silver funnel and strainer from 1771 and give this wine the respect it fully deserves. So at the risk of leaving we all paralyse my dear friends I wish you all

“Good Health”

Geraldine Cornwall



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