A Conversation Piece

Waiting Patiently?

Coffee time

Lottie Macaulay and Cynthia Savage are meeting Muriel for coffee in Daly’s Department Store in Sauchiehall Street. Glasgow. It is winter and the two are be-furred to such an extent that if they were on an iceberg they would be harpooned.

“Well Cynthia, you know what she is like all her eggs have double yolks.”

“I know exactly what you mean Lottie, she always makes me feel as if I am slouching and should hide my nails under the tablecloth. I try to be marvellous, honestly I do; but sometimes I wonder if a life in pickles and condiments has soured me permanently.”

“I think you are exaggerating a little Cynthia. It is not exactly as if you are deeply immersed in the pickling part of the process with your hands peeling silverskins. After all, your husband is the Managing Director of “Savages Pickles and Condiments”, the people who put “The Piccalilli Into Paisley” and “The Beetroot into Bathgate”. When was the last time you were on the gherkin production line?”

“I was there for P.O.P..”

“What’s that?”

“The Pickle Operatives’ Party; we have it the week before Christmas and I distribute wee ‘mindings’ to the children, though I don’t stay long as I can’t stand the smell.”

“What, of the pickles?”

“No, the children.”

A Tiger in Tweed

“I can imagine Cynthia. You are such a saint. We have a dance for the tradesmen who are subcontracted to my husband’s bungalow building firm. Mr Macaulay says it helps to cement the construction business and then laughs at his own joke. While it’s a dance I feel that suits me, personally I could do without having to dance Mambo with a brickie from Barrmulloch or a roofer from Ruchazie, but Mr Macaulay says my shimmy helps dispel simmering industrial unrest. Between us, I call it the Concrete Ball.

“Oh Lottie” says Cynthia sniggering like a schoolgirl, “you mean balls don’t you?”

“Yes of course I do Cynthia, but I am not that vulgar. And then of course there are the women. Oh  Cynthia honestly you would die, it’s the evening dresses. It is quite tragic. It’s like ‘Night of Nylon’, there is so much static one could light up Shettleston. More coffee?”

“Yes, thank you, Lottie. Oh honestly where is Muriel? She said 10.30a.m., I am sure. She prides herself on her punctuality, you can bet your bottom dollar we will be in the wrong.”

“Perhaps Jasper has bought her that Alaskan Coat after all.”

“I don’t think so dear, he was pretty against it. It must be ghastly being married to a socialist.”

“Simply ghastly, but we all have our crosses to bear.”

“Yes, but don’t you think behind all that talk of nationalisation and free spectacles there is something about him – with that grey hair and the Prince of Wales check?”

The simply adorable Jasper

“I know exactly what you mean, a sort of tiger in tweed.”

“Yes, but she manages to keep him under control with that Hysterical Society; keeps him occupied and stops the roving eye.”

“Umm exactly, I caught mine the other day trying to show that platinum blond in wages how to use a rawlplug. Oh here she comes now.”

You Weren’t Listening

The perfect stockings for the discerning woman

“Darlings, there you are! I see you have started without me. I did say outside Ladies Lingerie at 11, did I not? I have just got the most marvellous bargain in a foundation garment and two pairs of 10 denier Kayser Bondor for the price of one. Lottie you look as if you might benefit from a new girdle, and Cynthia, dahling, do sit up straight, you look like a half shut knife. Why are you hiding your hands under that tablecloth? Now let me see. Oh dear we are letting things slip aren’t we? Don’t tell me you are peeling onions? Those chips say it all and cuticles are not so cute when they cover half one’s nails, now are they? Once we have had coffee, I will shepherd you towards the Beauty Salon, and I won’t take no for an answer. We shall revel in Helena Rubinstein before lunch.”

The waitress approaches the table, they know her well. Glasgow functions on knowing people at every level.

Regards to Mr Wylie

“Good morning Mrs Wylie, nice tae see yoose again, how is Mr Wylie?”

“Good morning Nan, it is always a pleasure to see you, Mr Wylie is meeting me later for lunch at Rogano’s. It is a “scallop special” day, but this morning he has gone to a lecture at Glasgow Varsity about Electronic Computers in Industry with a Professor Tizard of the London School of Economics, not such a good varsity as it is full of socialists.”

“Well, tell him Nan was asking for him and I will give yoose a wee free complimentary doughnut for him which I will just put in a paper poke. Now the usual half and half coffee and a choux bun, is it? Would yoose ladies like tae order anything before we set up for lunch?”

“Yes they would, two refills please and they can share a choux bun or Mrs Macaulay will need another pelt put into that mink.”

Who Wears Fur?

In my blue coat today

“I see Muriel you were not successful in getting Jasper to buy you that Alaskan coat after all. Mr Macaulay says I can have one if I wish.”

“So does Mr Savage; he says our brown sauce sales are going through the roof what with the cold weather and all the stews people are cooking, seems you are going to be the odd one out Muriel.”

“Well ladies, Jasper has said if I really want one he will oblige, but he believes fur is going out of fashion and while one does not want to be brutal he says that too many fur coats is a sign of a kept woman.”

“ Well we are not saying we will get one Muriel, after all our old beavers are good for going on the bus and one just does not get mink this colour now. I must say Jasper is being very forthright these days; where did you say he was?”

“Well Lottie, he has gone to an lecture about computers.”

“What are they exactly? you must pardon my ignorance on so many fronts.”

“Of course I do Lottie. Computers are the way forward; they make hard decisions and calculations and do the work of a hundred people all at once.”

“Sounds like a housewife to me!”

“Too funny Cynthia!”

“Will you be getting one Muriel; do they come with tassels?”

“Unfortunately ladies not just yet as they require rooms and rooms but Jasper says one day we will have one each.”

“Will they make husbands redundant?”

“We can live in hope.”

Like Attracts Like

Morning coffee

“ Here we are  – 3 Coffees ladies , one whole choux bun, one cut in half with two plates and one doughnut in a paper poke for Mr Wylie.”

“Thanks Nan.”

“Not at all Mrs Wylie, always glad to do yoose an obligement.”

I have come to the conclusion Muriel that that man of yours would get a piece at any door.”

“I know what you mean Cynthia, he does have a magnetic personality, but then they say like attracts like!

“I take it he is keeping well?”

“Oh yes Cynthia he has had the Asian ̓Flu, of course, it was a special strain which Dr Cronk said only struck the most discerning households.”

“Perhaps Muriel being brought up in a tenement in The Gorbals with one lavatory for four families sharing a key gave him some immunity.”

“Indeed Cynthia. How is that pastry going down Lottie? As they say a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. And you look as if you have some life down there.”

“Some of us, Muriel, are big boned. Anyway what have you been up to this week?”

Moral Decline and “The Lone Ranger”

“Oh busy, busy, busy, as usual ladies in my capacity as Chair of The Home for Fallen Women and a committee member of the Orphan Homes I went to a meeting in Perth where the headmaster of an approved school in Aberdeen spoke of the delinquent adolescent and the failings of fathers. He said that Scottish fathers were failing their children. They are still seen as providers whose obligations begin and end with bringing in a wage. With more automation on the horizon, with computers etc, there will be more leisure time, as men will not need to be at work for so long and they can spend time with their wives and families. After all if we are to reverse the nation’s moral decline we must strengthen its family life.”

“How Muriel does he propose to do that?”

“Well Lottie, he has suggested that the subject of fatherhood should be taught in schools just as girls get domestic science and mother craft.”

“Oh Muriel, wishful thinking! Mr Macaulay couldn’t push a pram without a false beard and wig not to mention emigrating to New Zealand. Let’s face it most of them would faint at the sight of a nappy. What about Jasper, do you think he would take to it?”

Making herself comfortable

“Possibly, he is very good with Gail, our ward and very good with that cat which now seems to rule our lives since it was reprieved from going Up Up Up past the Russell Hotel. I caught them watching the Lone Ranger on the television together last night. Of course we only have the set for nature programmes and never watch the STV, but it seems to calm Zelda she likes Silver, the horse. When there was a power failure at Lime Grove Studios last night four minutes before the end of the programme, Jasper had me telephone the BBC as he said Zelda wanted to know what had happened to Tonto?”

“Did they respond?”

“Indeed Cynthia, they put out a special announcement.”

“Muriel do you think Jasper spends too much time in that Museum in a Shed of his?”

Jasper’s shed

“Ladies men can never spend too much time in their sheds.”

Laughing in Church 

“Muriel we noticed you were not at the Church Soup and Pudding Lunch on Saturday in aid of “Knitting for Africa”. I did the most marvellous chicken and rice soup and Cynthia’s rhubarb crumble was the talk of the congregation, wasn’t it Cynthia?”

“If you say so Lottie.”

“Ladies, I did give my apologies, but I went with Jasper to hear The Rev. Dr. MacLeod, The Moderator of The General Assembly, talk about Scotland and the Nuclear Threat. You know what Jasper is like about disarmament. We agree to differ.  This was followed by the Minister of St Giles talking about moral re-armament, about the need for the Church to have a more daring, a more rebellious spirit and more fire among the Church Youth. He said we need young men like Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. Believe it or not ladies, he said we need more laughter in the Church.”

“No! Really? Are you sure you were at The Church of Scotland Muriel? It does not sound quite right. Don’t tell me we are going to be allowed to hang washing out on a Sunday?”

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

“Don’t be silly – I said more laughter, not heresy. However, I do have the latest intelligence on the pepping things up front. It seems, and you are the first to hear this, that Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes of the very good varsity here in Glasgow has been appointed as the new organist.”



“Oh my goodness. I must get there early. I will have to get something new to wear, too thrilling.”

“It seems we live in interesting times girls. At least we have something to look forward to after all this awful snow and the dreadful news since Christmas.”

“Do you mean Muriel, Mr Jo Grimond’s announcement that the Liberal Party will at the next General Election exceed all expectations and perform better than it has during the last 30 years?”

A Tragedy in Munich and Murders in Glasgow

“I am not talking comedy, Lottie. I was referring to the dreadful air crash at Munich with the football team.  Actually I was listening to the news on the wireless before I came out and it seems there has been no change in the condition of Duncan Edwards or Captain Kenneth Rayment, the co-pilot of the B.E.A. Elizabethan Aircraft. Mrs Busby says her husband does not yet know the full extent of the tragedy that has hit his team, Manchester United. I got in touch with that stewardess I know who used to fly from Glasgow before she married and had a baby. Apparently her husband was almost on that flight and the poor steward, Tom Cable, occasionally babysat for them. Her husband, Jim, swopped flights as Tom was a Manchester United supporter.

Of course the stewardesses were her good friends, both seem to be off the critical list now, and she and the Captain once went to La Bohème in Rome together. Both she and her husband have been on that aircraft Lord Burghley many times. So sad.

As if this was not bad enough now we have all that dreadful business with Peter Manuel. He faces 9 charges of murder and is awaiting trial in Barlinnie Prison.”

Fatally Injured in a Kitchenette

“Awful – too awful for words. Muriel I am quite sure he was once at my door selling encyclopaedias. Talking of terrible things, and you know me – not one do dwell on the macabre – did you hear about the woman who was shot in Manse Road, Wishaw? This Mrs Marjorie Livingstone is, or was I should say, the wife of Dr Livingstone, the Medical Officer with Lanark County Council. She was fatally injured on Saturday when a gun was being cleaned by Dr Livingstone and it went off accidentally in the kitchenette of their bungalow.”

“Too terrible Lottie. Now there are several things that make me uneasy about this story. Firstly a doctor with a gun, they are bad enough with stethoscopes. Secondly a doctor who has “a kitchenette” – he must be National Health doctor. And thirdly a doctor who lives in a bungalow – it does not inspire confidence. Well perhaps a fourth, Wishaw – now really Wishaw, what can one say, except where is that? There are all the ingredients of a mishap here, even without the gun.”

“Muriel, don’t be mean. We all know how you feel about bungalows but some of us, you know, make our livings from them possibly, even that one.”

“Sorry Lottie, but really would you live in one?”

“Certainly not!”

“Excuse me..”

“Yes Cynthia, what is it?”

“I thought Dr Livingstone died in Africa.”

Swing Back or Tweed?

So Bach…..

“Well ladies thank goodness we have Sunday to look forward to. We must plan our outfits. Oh ladies look at the time, I will not have time for Helen Rubenstein, but I will escort you over, Cynthia. I must dash off to meet Jasper for lunch and then I must do something useful. I have promised the Minister that I will type his Lenten letter on the old Royal. It is about the danger of this age going back to barbarism.”

“Do you think we are Muriel?”

“Think what Cynthia?”

“We’re going back to the barbers.”

“I hope not Cynthia, although Jasper could do with a trim, now you remind me. Now let us think of something to look forward to – how about we all go next week to The Age of Convenience Exhibition. I believe there is an electrical cookery demonstration and a display of Formica worktops. Ladies we have much to live for.”

Formica for modern living

“Just so long as we don’t have to buy one of those computers, Muriel.”

“No Lottie I was thinking about an electric frying pan for Mrs T and some new Pyrex. At least we can re-arm on the kitchen front. Now Cynthia up to the fourth floor with you and let’s get you started with some orange sticks. See you Sunday. What is everyone thinking?

very Handel

Swing back coats or fitted tweed two pieces? One is so Bach, the other so Handel. Oh I forgot it will be Lent so perhaps we shouldn’t overdo it. By the way I am giving up crystal glasses, but then sacrifice is my middle name. Jasper is giving up custard – I give him till Sunday!”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1958


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4 Responses to A Conversation Piece

  1. Patty C says:

    Ah yes, fur or no fur. I see none of the ladies who lunch is in a furor over buying a new mink coat given, as Lottie put it, “our old beavers are good for going on the bus…” I spewed my tea reading that one! As far as Jasper is concerned, definitely a tiger in tweed, and abetted by one Esme Travers, WDBNAL, leads a most interesting life.

    I must say the Kayser Bandol ad seemed rather racy for 50’s publications. Not that I am a prude, heavens no. Jumping ahead to 1968, Kayser Roth opened a new hosiery facility in the small Southern town I was living in. They manufactured “panty hose,” a brand new item for moi who had endured the horrible girdle and stockings until then. FREEDOM! Such comfort. My Mama used to say women had to suffer to be beautiful. I think getting perms and sitting under hot hair dryers, among other things, is unpleasant. Throwing out the suffocating girdle was a step forward. (I loathed garter belts, btw!)

    TTFN, Dearie…and stay as beautiful as you are! Cheers!

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Social and political competition, barbarians, and constant, grinding jeopardy.‬

    ‪It’s interesting to hear that women are more furry in the winter than the summer. I had assumed that was a modern thing. ‬

    ‪There is a simple way to solve arguments between these two women as to who gets the silver medal behind Muriel, who would naturally win the gold. Which family business has done the most good? Condiments or houses is simple, but good quality condiments Vs. shoddy houses? That’s a little easier. ‬

    ‪Children do smell. We should face that fact. ‬

    ‪Charitable balls give such joy, and they’re not the preserve of the ‘champagne socialist’, they are valid whether you swing to the right or the left.‬

    ‪There seems to be a good degree of politics in this conversation. I don’t understand it. I’m a straightforward sort of chap. I do agree with Jasper though, you don’t see much fur these days. Computers? Too many…‬

    ‪A man needs a shed. I think a great man once said something along those lines in a popular song. Lead-lined, ideally. I’m glad the church spoke out against the threat of nuclear war but it was a product of nationalism and partisanship so I doubt any partisan group could have solved the problem. Any organisation which bans the drying of washing on a Sunday isn’t best placed to comment on another’s insanity. ‬

    ‪Guns and killers. Plus ça change. Barbarism. I do need a trip to the barbers though…‬

    ‪Bungalows. Think of it this way. If upper floors were a recent invention and someone invented ‘stairs’, they would be banned immediately. Health and Safety.‬

    ‪I tend to favour a fitted two-piece, although I have always promised myself a cape. ‬


  3. seileasdar says:

    It seems Muriel’s young pupil Sabrina has left her most recent letter home lying around.

    Dear Mutti,

    how are you? Hope little Cesar is not getting too fat with you spoiling him!

    I am doing well under the constant tutelage of my etiquette teacher, Mrs Wylie. Muriel is quite nice to me, but she can be a bit oppressive with constant reminders and admonitions. It’s all very different from Germany and I never stop learning. I am afraid it will be a rather long time until I know how to behave properly in Scottish society. But thanks to Muriel, I can only improve!

    Muriel looks well after her charges, you have chosen well for me, dear Mum. She never tires of advising us of postures, manicure, and the slippages of our standards. Some of us seem to be her age and disguise as her friends, but I have the feeling that they, too, secretly take lessons with her. She is a true patron, sorry, matron, of etiquette and always matronises those who can benefit from her marvellousness.
    Since my last letter I have learned quite a few new things:

    1. Mrs Wylie is always punctual. Whatever the time.

    2. She says her actual name is Muriel Sacrifice Wylie, but she spells it Crystal.

    3. She also hopes that this new thing, computers, will one day do away with husbands who until then should stay in their sheds.

    4. The Wylies only get the most discerning strands of ailments delivered to their house. And then make the most of it, and the double-yolked eggs Muriel always has.

    5. Her husband, dear Jasper is a peach, and is very good with children and cats. He seems to have his own fan club of admirers (including me), but he probably doesn’t know, as Muriel keeps him fully occupied.

    6. You can only give pokes to someone without offending them when they are filled with doughnuts or chips (the pokes, which are actually paper bags)!

    7. Scots cook their stews with brown sauce. (How ghastly!)

    8. Don’t shoot pelted heaps on icebergs, they might be Glaswegian Ladies.

    9. And Bach might be too much to Händel during Lent, but there is always an excuse to dress up for new organists.

    I hope you don’t miss me too much. Give my love to Vati, too.

    Love Sabrina xx

  4. Moira Taylor says:

    Meeow! I doubt if Zelda could have been more catty and she’s an actual cat! I don’t know what those two would do without Muriel to keep them right.
    They are right about Jasper being somewhat of a tiger in tweed though – witness Nan’s generosity in the doughnut department.
    I would definitely opt for the swing coat Muriel.
    You’re welcome.

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