(I have decided to post all my old Gin Club articles, as well as some new ones, on my blog under the new category ‘Gin Club’, so please ignore/delete any resultant spate of updates if you are following on email.)
I sent out a cryptic message to the Gin Club: ‘Cock inn, five thirty.’
‘Ooh, you are having fun,’ Mad Lucy texted back. I think she had misinterpreted my order more as a mis-spelt, uncharacteristically confessional status update.
I ignored her lewdness and carried on: ‘Silent Movie Night after, Hockerill. In aid of Massive Organ.’
‘Fnarr fnarr,’ she replied.
Some of us were slightly late. She texted ‘Lone woman in dodgily named pub. Come quickly.’
The sandy-coloured inn has grown out of the ancient Hockerill crossroads. It’s endearingly medieval. Wonky as hell. Used to have a courthouse and jail attached. Called the Black Lion in the 15th century, and later The Vernon’s Head, it was a stopping place for stage-coaches on the East-Anglia to London road. Attendants would stay there, their employers preferring the posher Crown Inn or Red Lion opposite. The front of the pub proclaims: ‘Circa 1547’. Those walls have witnessed endless brawls, murders, back-street abortions, plagues. How many babies were conceived there? How many ghosts haunt its rooms? And how many middle-aged women hang out there drinking gin?
I fought my way to the right through the throng of blokes. The bar-girl cocked her head the other way, ‘They’re in the snug.’ How did she know I was with them? I suppose not being a bloke was a clue. Mad Lucy and Calamity Claire were hogging a sofa in front of a wide window onto the street. A pram was there with heaped blankets. ‘Ooh, a baby,’ I said.
They roared with laughter. ‘I stole it,’ Mad Lucy said. I hoped she was lying but she is mad, so you never really know.
‘D’you see all those blokes, propping up the bar?’ I whispered, eyes popping.
‘Couldn’t miss them,’ said Claire.
Jet-setter Jen turned up in over-the-knee boots offset by turquoise feathery snood. We’re lucky to see her, as she’s normally on a plane. ‘Ooh, whose baby?’ she asked excitedly.
‘Mine, I stole it,’ said Mad Lucy.
Two-gin Sue, so named because after two gins she goes pink and takes her clothes off, appeared looking like a Bond girl, fluffy hair, black lycra, blowing the smoking muzzle of her imaginary gun. ‘Ooh, is that a baby?’ she asked Mad Lucy.
‘Yes, she stole it,’ we chorused.
We put money in the kitty. Guinness for me, GnTs for Claire and Sue, cider for Jill, vodka for Mad Lucy. See, you don’t have to drink Gin, but it helps.
People kept walking past the window and looking in, like we were a fairground freak-show. We didn’t mind. Knocked back more drinks just to be sure. A bunch of teachers came in and nabbed the other sofa. They looked at ‘our’ pram. We looked suitably proprietorial. I chatted with Mr Pollard who used to teach my Chloe, poor man, no wonder he needs a few beers.
As I returned from the bar the street lamp was shining through the stencilled door-pane. ‘C**K’ was inscribed clearly in black shadow on my stool. LOL! My sense of humour has always stopped short of sophisticated, which is why, apart from my friend Gemsy-Wemsy, I’m the only person I know who loves that crude TV show ‘B*ttom‘.
We planned forthcoming Stortford pub crawls. Claire told me the Boar’s Head up Windhill used to be known as the Wh*re’s Bed. Despite living up Windhill, I’d never heard that! Someone decided we would start our own pub for older women, with gin, counselling, disco nights, to be called the C**k and Swallow. From there, we got onto s*x. Thing is, if we haven’t talked about s*x, we don’t feel like Gin Club has happened.
People sometimes stop me in the street and say, ‘I wish I had a Gin Club.’ I invite them along. If they can’t come, I say ‘All you need is some gin, tonic, and one friend. Even an acquaintance will do: by the end of the bottle they will surely be your friend.’ (Top tip: get the acquaintance to bring crisps.) So DON’T PANIC! You can all have a Gin Club….unless you are a teetotaller in which case you can have a Grapefruit Juice Club, which, must be said, doesn’t have the same ring.
Only once a week, though, otherwise you’ll probs go alcoholic. And always remember the first rule of Gin Club: don’t talk about Gin Club. Oops, I zip my lip.
NB: no abandoned or stolen babies were hurt in the making of this article.