Plain 1, Purl 1…?


In the last year, the London Cocktail scene has been dragging us backwards, into a kind of inter-war hell.  Whether it be Clipstone Street’s The Lucky Pig, or the imaginatively titled “London Cocktail Club” at Goodge Street, 1930s style lighting and 1930s style drinks have been alcoholically recharging recessionistas batteries in strangely unglamourous quarters of the West End.  We may be in a quagmire of a stagnant economic lunatic cycle, but at least it’s not as bad as the 1930s…. is it?  If you want to feel like a supporting playing in Bridlington-on-Sea’s provincial theatre production of “The Great Gatsby With Ice Cubes” then a London cocktail bar that thinks it is in 1936 will be for you.  Maybe they’ll really shake and stir things up by forcing you to listen to Glenn Miller, or send in someone dressed up as a aristo in a blackshirt for some genuine 1930s total madness.

Enter Purl.  I thought it was a knitting stitch.  Then I read “Our Mutual Friend”.  Many patrons of the Jolly Porters are wankered nightly in this novel on Purl.  It’s gin, spices, ginger and beer.   The Victorians were hardcore.  As well as “purl”, you could sup on a “Dog’s Nose” (just gin and beer) or even flummox about with a “flip”, which was a kind of Egg nog meets Carling Black Label spectacle which made you feel like throwing up after you’d sung six choruses of “Cheer up Mrs Dickens, even though your husband’s balls-deep in an actress!” or similar Victorian musical chant.  But the new Purl has nothing of the louche, casual Victorian city drinker. 

Purl seems to be marvellously cold.  You have to pre-book, usually at least a day in advance and then – here’s the thing – after two hours they ask you to leave.  In a time where most restaurant owners are weeping on street corners begging patrons to sup in their premises, Purl asks you to leave.  Two hours in is a critical point.  This is the stage where people decide whether they are only going to get moderately tipsy, or whether they are going to get royally mullered.  It is the tipping point between a “drink” and a “night”.  The unwarranted surgical nature of the booking process renders the bar owners at worst greedy, at best controlling.  This, of course, defeats the object, when the whole point of drinking a considerable amount of alcohol is the loss of control.    Now, I have not been to Purl.  Nothing from Purl’s website entices or cajoles or encourages me to give them my patronage.  Restaurants of course may have spent many years throwing you out after two hours, Ronnie Scotts throws you out after the first set on a week night, and perhaps this is the natural evolution of London that the bars are following suit?    As the pursestrings of Britain tighten in lieu of the impending Christmas mayhem and the ongoing slog of the economic collapse I shan’t be processing an ornate, antiseptic credit card booking through the delicate gates of Purl’s website.  I shall be pouring myself a Gin and Tonic from the personal Bluebird Bar at home and settling down for another spiffing viewing of The Hour, a second series of which has triumphantly returned to BBC2 on Wednesdays.

That’s after, of course, I’ve done my lengths.  To fight the tikka masala pouch which has been slowly and insiduously developing since 2002, and to tighten up thighs now charmingly mottled by the lack of elasticity apparent in one’s mid-thirties, I have started to swim a mile a week.  This is a huge performance, when I swim this mile divided into three sessions a week, and which involves a bath hat, fake tan, hair shampoo, conditioner, new towels and my bikini waxer.  No stretch of water is too wide for me to cross it.  No splashes from the exuberance of other swimmers is too much to endure.  Sometimes my hat comes off in the pool, but mostly it slowly squeezes itself up and off the top of my skull so I end up looking as if a mole has sat  on my head.  Mostly I swim without disturbing my lipline which is, admittedly, a talent.  It is the old University pool of my old University which means everyone there is seventeen years younger than me but every woman is somehow equal when standing in the changing rooms, naked and perform origami-like foldings of a Primark towel to try to conceal their bottoms.   Nevertheless, despite the humiliations, off I front crawl, readers, to delve into the depths of the ULU pool.  I am destined to faintly smell of chlorine all the time, to have ragged and dry cuticles after the water has butchered them.  But I’m determined to keep going, hat that looks like a mole or no hat. 

Of course, at a mile a week, I’ll have swum 6 miles by Christmas.  That’s the amount of mileage a black cab will happily take you at any time of the day or night from Charing Cross.  Should I continue into February I will have swum 12 miles, which is the distance between Hampstead and St Albans.  Should I still be swimming by this time next year, I will have swum half way to Dorset.  I shall be the Forrest Gump of swimming.  In goggles.  I have no desire to swim half way to Dorset, and I think I may well get into trouble at some point along the M3, but it’s nice to have a talent, eh readers?  Also, I do not get chucked out after two hours, unlike “PURL”.  That’s because I cannot actually be in the pool for more than 45 minutes without having a cardiac arrest.  However, what with the tired muscles after my 16 lengths, I can emerge from the pool disorientated, breathless and prone to my legs collapsing under me at any moment, which is not at all different from an evening in a London cocktail bar.

 See you in the deep end.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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