Love Potion Numbers 1-8 by Adrian Besley
(From ‘Medicine’ show at the Bloomsbury Festival, October 2013

“I took my troubles down to Madame Rue
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She’s got a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
Sellin’ little bottles of Love Potion Number Nine…”

The bottom had fallen out of the fortune-telling game – there was no future in it, according to my clairvoyant friend, Madame Bouverie. So I’d branched out. To be honest, Love Potion Number One was mainly cream soda and some desiccated herbs I’d found at the back of the cupboard. I tried it out on a student. It produced a slight dilation of the pupils; a dreamy faraway look that might have attracted light-headed English undergraduates. Unfortunately, girls thought he was just watching football on the screen on the other side of the bar.

For Potions Two and Three I tried out a couple of recipes from my great-grandmother, Gypsy Primrose Hill. I was encouraged by the fact that Primrose had had two husbands, but newspaper cuttings revealed her father had won one in a bare-knuckle fight and the other was a travelling Hoover salesman who’d been chained to the bed for 12 years. An on-leave sailor had some initial success, but claimed his romantic adventures were dashed by a strange, lingering odour. I’d my doubts about those fish tails but, hey, you need to follow the recipe.

Potion Four was stolen by an aged widow who’d just had her tarot read. Maybe she’d drawn the Two Cups love card or the short-sighted dear mistook it for her Milk of Magnesia, but the upshot was I lost my best potion yet and three chaps at the local old folks home ended their lives with a surprised smile on their faces – one of them had only come to mow the lawn.

I then turned to science. They’ve invented pills to get you up, sprays to keep you up, oils to make it bigger. Pah! My Hank could do all that with a copy of National Geographic, a mix of stinging nettle and old banana, and a ten-minute lavvie break. But I did discover pheromones, chemicals that animals give off to attract mates. Some success then with Potion Five, but we’d never have known if that shy librarian hadn’t called into the pet shop in his lunchtime.

The potion game’s tough these days. You used to get some respect selling from a hand-painted Romany caravan – charm, mystery and danger in one unroadworthy vehicle. Certainly better than a rent=controlled apartment on 34th and Vine where Health and Safety popped around every two minutes.  Does it have any e-numbers, the inspectors asked? No, I told them. They seemed satisfied, so I never mentioned the wart pus or toad skin: potions Six and Seven were confiscated.

It was, I told myself, time to try the romance juice for myself. For Number Eight, I whipped in some nitrous oxide and a splash of gin, polished up my gold-capped tooth and jemmied myself into the dress that had Hank gasping at the 1953 Iowa Livestock Auction and County Fair (although that could have been asthma – bovine proximity often brought it on). I took a few gulps of Number Eight, dabbed it behind my ears and down below – just in case – and parked my silky backside on a stall at Marty’s Bar.

I downed a daiquiri and looked at my watch – an hour and nary a note, a glance or a twitch of fly button. Suddenly, I heard a velvet voice. “What’s a beautiful girl like you doing with an empty glass?” I turned round and came face to face with the most handsome fella I’d ever clocked: a knob of Borgnine, a twist of Sharif and a crush of Cruise (but not enough to spoil the flavour).

As the evening progressed it became clear that Number Eight had transformed me, a largish-boned, mature woman with a challenging facial hair and mole issue, into a ravishing beauty capable of snaring a gorgeous man half my years. When he asked me back for coffee, I thought, no, I’ve proved my point. Then again…

It was an unforgettable night of passion with the most rugged, caring, sensual man ever. He had been every inch the lover that Hank was and more (although I only measured by eye – so to speak) and I drifted off into dreams of riches from my magic elixir.

In the early hours I awoke, a warm body right by me. Eagerly I turned to him – and found myself in the arms of a disgustingly withered, pock-marked figure of 90 years or more. Panicking, I made for the door. Grabbing my clothes in haste I knocked a small bottle off the table. As I watched it roll away, I stared aghast at the ornate label: ‘Madame Bouverie’s Original Passion Potion’.