1917 – The Origins of Muriel’s Musings

Patriotic tunes for dark days

Forty years ago it was 1917 and Britain was dealing with the horror that was Passchendaele, the 3rd Battle of Ypres, where it was raining continuously.  The Glasgow Herald reported the war casualties of the week, listing 126 Officers and 4463 “men”. British Forces were also engaged in the Middle East.

I have been in the attic and found some rather interesting bits and pieces from my childhood and in the mood for reminiscing I will share these Bon Mots with you today.

Home Front, November 1917

In Glasgow’s much sought after and enviable West End, war also rages between the headstrong Muriel Lochhead and her mother Ellen, (nee “Sweetie” MacCavity). Ellen has always lived on her nerves and got on other peoples’ nerves. She has a short fuse and a temper like a sherbet fountain, which is appropriate as she is the daughter of an Edinburgh sweet manufacturer who thinks that having to live in Glasgow is the equivalent of being sent to Van Diemen’s Land. It is said that Muriel’s father John Lochhead, Glasgow’s biggest ironmonger, famous for his outsize knobs and knockers “does not have his troubles to seek”.

Frank “Fast Boilings” MacCavity

Rumour has it, however that compensation came in the form of a large dowry from Frank MacCavity’s black stripped balls and the profits of his painless dental surgeries, which were not very painless at all. Fortunately Jock’s determination to have the shiniest knob in Glasgow keeps him “out to business”, as Glaswegians say, and then there is his famous charitable work. It is widely believed that his Chairmanship of the Home For Fallen Women and his unceasing support for the Pyde Piper Orphan Homes will result in him being made Lord Provost of the Second City of the Empire. Many already think of him as “a city father”, if not just simply, father.

Mother and Daughter – Too Much Alike

Muriel adores her father but her relationship with her mother is more “effervescent” shall we say? The trouble is they are both alike in many ways, as they are both women out of their time. Ellen is bored with her husband and his Admiralty work, bored with knitting comforts for the troops and is secretly comforting an artist in Bath Street, where she has had an awful lot of pictures reframed recently. She does, however, know the bounds of propriety in refined society and where her pan bread is buttered. Muriel, who is headstrong, also has an interest in the arts and design, but this time she has gone too far and she has been expelled from Westbourne School for Young Ladies.

“Just you wait young lady until your father gets home, goodness knows how the news will affect his dickey.”


If you say so Muriel; he is exhausted by war work. The Admiralty is demanding bigger nuts and longer screws and all you can do is get sent down.”

“Well Mama, I am Dux of the school and won the St Mungo Prize for my ruche pink cushion and three armed dress and I had the lead part singing ‘Anytime’s Kissing Time’ from Chu Chin Chow.”

So Rude

A song for girls

“Yes Muriel but wearing that less than decorous costume and then going to the boys’ Hallowe’en Dance without changing was inappropriate and so rude, so very rude Muriel. Why could you not have sung the charming Red Cross song instead?”

“But Mamma, my costume was exotic and designed to establish that we British have an interest in orientalism. I have only sought to copy the London production for the sake of Art. I don’t want to be a nurse.”

“Muriel your father does not pay those fees for the sake of Art. He wants you to be able to pass around trays of petite fours and talk without using too many consonants. Did you really find it necessary to include a chorus of slave girls from “Busty Betty’s” down by the canal, a camel, and a donkey, poultry including a one legged turkey and various snakes? I hate snakes they are so…”


“No; suggestive. And Muriel people could see your lower limbs! If this gets out, it might send your Grandmamma into a fit of the vapours.”

“I rather think Mamma that with the Russians in revolt and the slaughter at Passchendale we have more to worry about than some spotty boy at the Academy seeing my legs.”

“Oh no Muriel do not say legs, that would kill your Grandmamma, she won’t even eat a turkey leg.”

“Well that is just as well Mamma as the one I borrowed only has one and is said to be impotent.”

“Muriel, how are we to marry you if you use words like important, where did you learn that?”

“From  Cousin Lulubelle.”

“I should have known it, that is what comes of coming from America, they have no sense of euphemism. Now I must gather my wits before your father comes home. I am going to suggest we send you to Cheltenham Ladies College where they are very in favour of vowels and then a good finishing school in France, now go to your room.”

What is a Girl to Do?

A suitable magazine to peruse

“What am I to do?”

“Well certainly no sensational reading like The Glasgow Herald. You might glance at Mother and Home. Although not the sections on corsetry. How about an essay on self improvement – something like, ‘My thoughts on a Better Muriel’? Now really leave me alone I feel my nerves coming on, as if I don’t have enough to think about what with bread rationing, the Food Hoarding Order and the women what do, not doing much at all since 1914 and going off to make munitions at Beardmore.

Honestly Muriel you are such a disappointment. I wish you could be simply marvellous like other daughters, it would make your father so very happy and perhaps he would come home more often. Do something for the war effort.”

The Musings Come to Muriel

Well really, one thinks to oneself how is it possible to improve on perfection? I suppose I could try being simply marvellous. It is difficult with this awful war getting everyone so worried. I know. I shall endeavour to take everyone’s mind off the troubles in their old kit bags and think about the important things in life. I shall write down my thoughts and describe the inspirational nature of my week and make Mama and Papa proud of me. I think I will call it “Muriel’s Musings”. It will be inspirational yet amusing, thoughtful yet provocative. I may even mention corsets.

First Edition: Great Wars and Not so Great Wars

What a busy week it has been in Glasgow. We have been rather hectic turning out cupboards and drawers for waste paper. Do you realise dear reader that ¼ lb of waste paper makes a charger case and 2lbs a cartridge cylinder case? It is important that in this the 170th week of what is being called The Great War, presumably others were not so great, that we all pull together. We owe it our brave boys who are as we speak contending not only with a foul enemy, but foul weather too as they endeavour to keep the Kaiser out of Kingsborough Gardens

Not only that, but there has been the most awful to-do in Russia with wanton damage in the Winter Palace. Papa is worried that this might be catching and affect his nuts and bolts factory which might be the recipient of Bolshevik actions as one or two of his workers are a bit that way inclined. There is a widespread feeling that alcohol is to blame as the Glaswegian is rather keen on his “wee refreshment” of an evening or even of a day if given half the chance. Prohibition is much talked of in The Herald. Poor Mamma is concerned that this will affect her four hourly medicinal Madeira wine which she has had since being under the doctor.

Custard for Comfort

Food and high prices are a constant worry, but do not fear ladies for I have been to a marvellous food economy exhibition in Glasgow’s Athenaeum, where ideas are presented in “a haven of light and music” with two attractive concerts a day. There are cookery lectures from Miss Dodds and an attractive exhibition of honey and working bees. There are labour saving devices and a poultry farm display, many of the poultry having both lower limbs, well I suppose they only have lower limbs.

With beef in short supply there is ample advice for the housewife on alternatives such as Cremola Custard Pudding which ‘gives satisfaction and the experience of economy’. It contains all the nourishing qualities of fresh eggs and makes the most delightful custard. What is more Cremola is made in Glasgow. Papa says if I devote my life to custard puddings I will one day make a man very happy.

“Goddall’s” egg powder

We all know that because of the American harvest failure and the menace of the U-boats, flour is in short supply and poor in quality. Goddall’s Egg Powder will banish dining room grumbles, it makes war flour acceptable and a large tin takes the place of 21 eggs. Do not forget ladies that cocoa makes an appealing drink for children and a splendid sandwich filling can be made from lentils. If you are short of butter and your bread is not as fresh as it might be then a slab of chocolate between two slices is an excellent tea time treat.

Foundations of a Great War

Ladies, war is no excuse for neglecting how we look. Indeed we owe it to those who have to look at us to look our best. Let us consider the canvas. It needs the best of foundations. I cannot speak too highly of posture and therefore I recommend for winter the side spring corset available at ‘Corsets of Distinction’ for 15s 11d. If one is fortunate enough to be in McDonald’s Department Store this weekend then one is in for a treat as Ladies’ Directoire Kickers are available in a vast range of colours – black, white and grey from 8s 11d to 16s 4d. For those and such as those Milanese embroidered cami-knickers are available on request. The ankle length directoire knicker is available for ladies who desire more ample coverage of their lower limbs and are priced at 8s 11d  being reduced from 12 shillings due to demand tailoring off because of war nerves.

Looking Good is Still Important Despite The Zepplins

If, like dear Mamma, you may be what is generally called matronly or as I have heard Papa say “a winter model”, then rest assured there are solutions for you to be found at 205 Bath Street where you will find J. Stewart and Co., Tailors of Distinction. Here Mr Young has made a study of this branch of Lady’s tailoring, and his exceptional experience is at the service of ladies desiring suitable styles. Mamma says he is indeed an expert and his hands move like a flying shuttle so it is best to keep moving and have a hat pin to hand, whatever that means.

Now in case the winter chills are already reaching you or you are bothered by Zepplins, never fear skunk muffs are in season with the pillow shape at 25 guineas reduced from 22 guineas. If a beaver has more appeal then you are in for a treat, as these are retailing at 22 guineas. As McDonald’s say there is nothing that beats “a handsome muff”. Except perhaps some stylish millinery, and ladies you are in for another treat at the Anchor Mills in Paisley where Messrs Clark and Co. are offering practical demonstrations in home millinery. If there is one thing that will get us through this dreadful war it is the ability to crochet a hat and matching glove set.

Beauty Routine

Looking after oneself in great wars is vital. I recommend morning exercises and one cannot go far with what I call ‘nice toes, naughty toes’ followed by “I must, I must improve my bust”. War nerves can play havoc with the skin. Feeling hot in the face is quite common after meals where they are rushed and too much tea is drunk. Cut out afternoon tea.

‘Oatine’ Face Cream

Some of you have been asking about spots – now I know they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away but too much fruit can cause pimples. If you are working in a buffet or canteen or even in a shell shop or munitions factory and have dry skin then I recommend ‘Oatine Face Cream’. No returning soldier from the Front wants to see wrinkled skin. Hair is a woman’s crowning glory at least mine is. It is also a barometer of one’s health. Poor hair may well be the result of constipation or bad teeth, try feeding your hair with castor oil and paraffin.

Keeping Cheerful

It is important to keep cheerful in war time. Mamma and I went to see La Bohème at the Theatre Royal last week with the O’Mara Company. To be honest this is not very cheerful and I cried enough tears to make the River Kelvin overflow. Mamma was not very pleased as she said I was making an emotional scene which is only suitable for servants. I had wanted to go to Bostock and Wombell’s Show at the Zoo buildings but Mamma said many of the animals were inappropriate which was confirmed by Cousin Lulubelle who was taken by her mother, Aunt ‘Macaroon’ Mary.

I am quite jealous as she got to see ‘Anita, the Living Doll’ which Mamma said was common. I cannot imagine then that I will be allowed to see Dainty Rene Ralph the “singing sensation” at The Alhambra (the one in Glasgow not Spain in case you are wondering). Papa who believes in keeping cheerful in war time is in a lot of trouble as he went to see The Island of Desire at the Picture House in Jamaica Street. This is a deluxe tale of love and passion in the South Seas which I imagine is a little further than Newton Mearns. Perhaps I am destined not to keep cheerful.

Right on to the End of the Road

Sometimes I wish I was a waif as the Glasgow Dickens’s Society is giving waifs – 1,000 of them – a cinematographic display, “interspersed with songs” but, also “a good dinner of hot beef steak pie and potatoes and plum pudding”. It is going to cost £100. Papa is donating quite a large sum as he says he feels so responsible for the waifs of the city.He really is a beacon of charitable goodness.

He is also supporting Harry Lauder’s Fund for disabled ex-servicemen. Mr Lauder wants to provide homes, pay the rent and give the men new tools to make them productive again. Poor Mr Lauder lost his son last year; he was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He wrote “Keep right on to the end of the road” in his memory. How sad to lose a child. I hope he will be there to meet Harry at the end of the steep hill. Sometimes it is hard to keep cheerful in wartime.

“Muriel Papa wishes to see you in his study, bring your composition.”

ways to earn a bob or two

Must bash on – next week: a Christmas doiley, a recipe for dainty lemon buns and money for old false teeth.

â bientôt

Muriel Lochhead

November 1917

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4 Responses to 1917 – The Origins of Muriel’s Musings

  1. Patty C aka Yoga Mama Extraordinaire says:

    Tis true, bien sûr, out of adversity one’s true nature & spirit are born. Your musings begun during this dark time in history, coupled with the “effervescent” relationship with mommy dear, show a woman in the making whose formidable talents would one day help bring world peace and high end fashionable living to her country. Thank heaven for Muriel!

    To be sure, all the references to “bigger nuts and longer screws,” to “outsize knobs and knockers “ gives new meaning to euphemistic embellishment, which, of course, your devoted readers appreciate and expect. You never let us down, marvelous one: piercing through the mundane details, your marvy “references” leave us chuckling often. So edgy! So fun!

    In the humdrum of many lives, it is a great service to find one who can lift us up to find our better selves; one whose example sets the high water mark…

    “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

    Time to bring in the cat, fluff the pillows and get my gluteus maximus to beddie-bye. I remain,

    Your devoted,
    Gros Fromage au-dessus Le Pond

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪A pointless unpleasantness, a confectioner’s knob, and a handsome muff. ‬

    ‪Very few things are as pointless and upsetting as the first unpleasantness. It wasn’t an ideological war, no fascists. Just the three grandsons of Queen Victoria measuring their ‘reach’. Anyway, enough of the sadness, and probably enough of euphemism, M&J would never stoop so low. ‬

    ‪A mother who lives on her nerves, eh…‬

    ‪Confectioner’s Knob sounds rather uncomfortable. Oops. Euphemism. ‬

    ‪Oh dear. Has dear Mu gone a bit ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ or perhaps ‘Felicien Rops’? I’m sure it will have little effect on his bow tie. Muriel must have caused quite a stir…‬

    ‪Of course, it’s easy to blame the continent across the ocean, so let’s do that, but I wonder if Muriel had been more compliant as a girl she may not have played such an important part in our winning the last unpleasantness? There is a lesson here.‬

    ‪Corsetry. Brings back such memories of my mother’s catalogues…‬

    ‪Matthew’s Musings. ‬

    ‪I once heard a programme on Radio 4 on the subject of the lost men of Glasgow. The conclusion is that what they had lost was the trust of the women of Glasgow. That’s a tragedy.‬

    ‪How interesting that a century later much talk is of replacing animal ingredients with vegetable ones of equal satisfaction. The aubergine is popular these days.‬

    ‪I’m oddly fussy about foundation garments, for a man. A firm hold is preferable, although not to the point of ossification.‬

    ‪Mr Young needs to think about how his actions will be perceived in the future. Unfortunately one hundred years in the future. I’m certain a practical demonstration of a handsome muff would make his day. He’d probably wish to play ‘nice toes, naughty toes’ but provided timings are respected and or the correct attire is donned then it’s purely up to the participants. ‬

    ‪I have decided to undertake an experiment in feeding my hair. One shoulder with castor oil, one with paraffin. I’ll keep you informed. ‬

    ‪All that remains is to salute Messrs. Lauder and Lochhead. ‬


  3. Moira Taylor says:

    Oh Muriel, how on earth did you manage to be so terribly, simply marvellous with all these parental constraints? And I’m afraid your parents hardly set you a good example with your papa’s shiny knobs quest and your mama’s artistic leanings.
    However, it would seem that, despite their failings, your parents inspired you to become the doyenne of all that is stylish and marvellous.
    How clever of you to commit your thoughts to paper – in this way, countless generations will be able to enjoy your bon mots and take inspiration from them.

  4. J Peasmold Gruntfuttock says:

    Sublime and moving. What I’d have given to have seen Sir Harry’s ‘Wee Deoch an Doris‘ x

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