Our destination was a boutique hotel in East London by the name of 40 Winks. The building is rather nondescript from the outside, a rather run-of-the-mill terraced townhouse on Mile End Road. But we had the correct address, and were all dolled up in the strict though sleepy dress-code. The instructions had stipulated nightwear, and we were to turn up no earlier than 7pm, no later than 8pm. So at 7.30 we were on the steps leading up to the front door, where Mr Carter presided over the arriving guests. Mr Carter is the owner of the hotel and was our top-hatted host for the night. The fourth member of our party was already inside, having arrived a little before 7pm. This meant that she was a Sinner. All guests were to be separated into Saints and Sinners, with the Saints a chorus of hallelujahs and the Sinners bellowing 'hells bells'. As our friend had been dubbed a Sinner, we were Sinners too. Much more interesting.
After popping on the white slippers provided by ladies in nightgowns, we padded up the stairs to the toppermost bedroom where guests were changing into silk and adjusting their jimjams. The bedrooms and bathrooms, stairways and corridors were bonkers and beautiful. Kitsch, chintzy, luxurious, curious, decadent, Gothic; all grandiosity on a small scale in this wonderful mini-hotel. Dark reds, rich creams, glossy black, burnished gold and pearls. A dressing table full of perfume bottles and trinkets stood beside a wrought iron bed, and taxidermy, antlers and tasselled cushions abounded.
From the top of the house to the bottom. Teacups filled to the brim with a gin cocktail were offered into eager hands as we poured into the basement, and hand-painted murals on the walls encircled us gin-drinkers. Top-ups came frequently, gin flowing in arcs from the spouts of tall teapots. Mr Carter did a turn as host, encouraging flirting and splitting the Saints from the Sinners in time for the bedtime stories upstairs.
|Gin cocktails. Photo from 40winks Facebook page.|
Sinners settled themselves on chaise lounges and satin floor cushions to listen to a black-gowned, red-haired tale-teller. She told us of a woman who wrenched out a man's tongue by the root with her own as she kissed him, then followed this with a shorter tale involving camels and mathematics. I listened in a warm haze of soft cotton pj's, gin and story-spirals. Then into another beautiful room to sit on a different satin cushion and be wholly captivated by Katrice Horsley. Big dark eyes, short corkscrew curls, glittery make-up and physical flair. But all she really needed was her voice. Tumbling words, rhyming, working and weaving in rhythms and refrains. My mouth was open as I listened. Death, love, mouths slurping brains, beads of blood blooming from bosoms, handsome princes, broad-shouldered narrow-waisted devils, and old crow crones. Almost an hour of these wondrous things, told in something like a long song.
From stories to music. A young woman wearing sequined white, decked out in a huge feather and pearl headpiece, played the musical saw and a Victorian children's piano. She ended her set with a version of Abba's 'The Winner Takes it All'. I don't know if it was the gin, the sleepy setting, or the fact that Meryl Streep singing that particular song always kills me, but I could have cried. The musician calls herself The Tiger's Bride after the tale by Angela Carter. I think this very fitting, as the whole evening struck me as something oh so Angela Carter: darkness, fairy tales, the visceral, theatricality, absurdity, decadence and storytelling. Is Mr Carter's surname mere coincidence? See here for more of an idea of the night.
I pulled out my curlers in the dressing room, strode into the cold wearing winter boots, and made my way home to a Turnpike Lane bed which, alas, is not surrounded by boutique-beautiful furniture and soft furnishings and stag antlers. But it is, as everywhere is, surrounded by stories.