My Secret Life adventure this week was another sharp reminder about how many key tourist attractions in London I have actually never visited. Hard to believe that as a fan of the London underground to the point of producing my 'nnoodl' jewellery collection, that I have never been to the London Transport Museum. I know, shocking, I think it was the thought of all of the ankle biting visitors that out me off. Ah, but like all good museums and galleries, the LTM has bought into the idea of the 'Friday Late' for adults, which they call Illuminate. This particular week featured a talk and tasting called the 'Scent and Spirit of London'. This sensory experience was hosted by Odette Toilette, aka Lizzie Ostrom, purveyor of olfactory adventures, and special guest Alice Lascelles, journalist, author, and hard liquor expert. Our first stop was to the Belle Époque era, and a glimpse at London via the legendary Cafe Royal, where the drink of choice was Pierre Jouet. As we sipped our own glass of the sparkling stuff, Alice gave us a flavour of this era of optimism. A glimpse inside the Oscar Wilde Room at Cafe Royal which itself has remained steeped in this feeling of decadence. Lizzie then introduced us to one of the scents of the time, coming from one of the oldest and most revered perfume house, Grossmith. The scent Phul-Nana means 'lovely flower' in Hindi. First created in 1891, the fragrance was unusual for its time mixing traditional feminine floral notes with herbaceous and aromatic notes, a precursor to later Oriental fragrances. This was a really heady fragrance, which you could hardly imagine wearing nowadays, but which Grossmith do continue to produce.
The next decade was the 1920s, and a foray into the world of the world renowned Savoy cocktail bar. Here, the bartender, Harry Craddock was responsible for making this one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world, where he created cocktails forming the Savoy Cocktail book, still a must for barmen everywhere. He was the creator of the next drink we were to sample, which was the Corpse Reviver #2, aptly named, this concoction of gin, Cointreau, absinthe, and lemon definitely had a medicinal feel to it. To accompany this drink Lizzie talked is through an equal unusual scent of the day, Habanita. This was originally produced as a scent for cigarettes for ladies, and came in small thin phials which slipped inside cigarette cases. It came with a strange almost underground club culture, almost sinister. This is another very head scent, with floral notes backed by the feel of scented tobacco paper and tinges of leather.
As we ventured into the 1940s we were reminded that we were straddling war time. To talk about the scent first, we were shown posters of the now legendary Yardley Lavender perfume. Ah this is the stuff of old ladies, reminiscent of my grandmas bathroom, and those knitted doll toilet roll covers. Wartime posted depicted women supporting the war effort, who were reminded to keep up their standards of make up and perfume. Perhaps the idea was to overcome the enemy?! The drink passed around was Spitfire ale. This was the coming of the 'local' bar in the real sense - a place of community and camaraderie. Alice told us how the Second World War could not put a stop to the enjoyment of Westerham’s ales, which were popular with young airmen stationed at nearby RAF Biggin Hill. Indeed, following the D-Day landings, Westerham Ales were exported to troops in Normandy inside the auxiliary fuel tanks of Spitfires!
Spirits were definitely high in the audience by this point, with the heady mix of drinks and scents filling the air. Our last stop on this journey was to the 1970s. This, Lizzie explained was a key time for Goya perfumes, and especially Aqua Manda, which every young female of the time would purchase in the form of perfume, talc, soap and so on. Such is its iconic status that thee has been a Facebook campaign since 2008 to resurrect it. This was a time of celebration, and the Queens Silver Jubilee. I was surprised to learn that the now Jubilee tube line had actually originally been called the Fleet Line. The dinner party came into being as women everywhere aspired to be the perfect hostess, serving an array of bizarre looking dishes. We were shown the Cinzano adverts which featured Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins. I did remember how we laughed at those on our tiny TV sets. We were handed out cheese and pineapple on a stick, obviously from a melon hedgehog - pure quality! The drink to accompany this was vermouth. Although this was a drink that I remembered as a teenager being the one at the back of my parents drinks cabinet, and most likely to be drunk only out of desperation at the end of a party. However, it is now back into popular culture featuring in one of my favourite cocktails, the Negroni, and apparently the one we were sampling was called Sacred and is actually produced in Highgate in London. I am discovering a lot about hidden London breweries in the Secret Life!
All too soon the talk was over, but of course we had access to the Museum and so it was time for a vibrant cocktail as we looked around the London buses and got probably over excited by the ever appearing miniature motorised vehicles whizzing around the venue.
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.