Travels by Donkey
Muriel and Patience sped across Seville by donkey, as all the taxis were taken, in order to save Mrs Travers from the double agent Hilda who had the strategically important crotched map of the coastal waters around Japan. This was desperately wanted by the comrades who would like to extend their coastal waters as far as possible, but the good guys – President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan – were having none of this as it might put up the price of tuna which is always good with “a nice bit of salad on a warm day” instead of haslet or mixed cold meats, not that anyone is ever entirely sure what haslet is.
Stolen From Under Their Noses
In fact the precious map had already been saved by Mrs Travers, the daily woman what does but not a lot, of the Wylie household and was in safe keeping in the Glasgow house. You know the one – double fronted villa “oft sought but rarely found” close to the Botanical Gardens and Byres Road, the epicentre of Glasgow’s West End.
One night when Jasper and Muriel were away at the Rural Bolthole in South West Scotland, the town house was burgled and the map was stolen before they had the chance to pass it to the Handsome Stranger who works “in the shadows” as they say. The thief left behind a packet of frankfurters and a torn ticket with the horns of a cow clearly indicated. Due to the zealous work of Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, a talented musician at the varsity with a sideline in forensics, we now know the identity of the villain.
A Different Kind of Curtain
The frankfurters were the calling card (as well as being culturally stereotyping – but there you go, this is 1958) of Hilda a German vuman, who has recently assisted Mrs Travers with zee heavy vork. This being necessary because Mrs Travers is a martyr to her knees, ankles, back and just about everything involved in the extensive application of Jeyes Fluid. Still there is only so much one can do with support stockings and the regular application of a winter green embrocating product from ‘Timothy Whites’.
Hilda, currently working for those who seek to extend the Iron Curtain across Europe, had to be stopped. Now the attempt to have only one type of curtain is a far from pleasing prospect for a simply marvellous woman like Muriel who makes a living from a variety of window treatments and matching cushions and 3 piece suite covers. In case you are interested next week sees a range of reductions at the summer sale of ‘Chez Nous’ – interior decorating for the discerning.
We join Lady P-F and Muriel as they arrive at the Corrida – bullfight to you.
Arrival at the Corrida
“Thank you Señor, how much do we owe you?”
“That will be 200 pesetas Señora and an extra 50 for the big titled lady, with the exciting hips.”
“There you are good Señor and there’s 20 for your trouble.”
“Oh Muriel don’t give him anything, the cheeky blighter! I would have him horse whipped if I didn’t think it might be appealing and anyway he has the whip. Really that was awful, I am saddle sore.”
“Oh do stop making a fuss Patience. We have a life to save. Now how do we get in? You know this is the oldest surviving Bull fighting ring in Spain.”
“You don’t say,” replied Lady Pentland-Firth somewhat sarcastically.
“Good hombre, may I have two tickets for this afternoon’s fight?”
“Two tickets pretty laydee for La Ultima sensacion- Esme, La Mujer Diaria Versos KILLER. That will be 240 pesetas, cushions are a peseta extra.”
“I presume you will want a cushion Patience? Well in for a peseta as they say.”
“You want view Infirmary? Is very enteresting, it is extra.”
“Well Muriel that might be useful in case I need a wee lie down.”
“Very well then – and two to view the infirmary please.”
“Look laydees, the infirmary. There is the operating table in case of goring and beds already made up for the matadors and the statue of Our Lady watching over them. Now this way, here is the entrance to your seats.”
“Oh Muriel there is someone selling things I am starving”.
“Two of everything please, young man. And my what a handsome young man you are!”
“Patience stop it! We are not out on a date and how can you eat at a time like this. You are as bad as Jasper, he would eat at his own funeral.”
“Well Muriel a girl’s got to keep body and soul together, here have a caramelo and as you don’t smoke can I have your cigarro?”
“Yes as long as you don’t puff in my face; it’s a disgusting habit and bad for you.”
“Living is bad for you Muriel; sometimes you just have to do it anyway. Do you mind if I just blow artistic rings into the air? Anyway what are we going to do?”
“I wish I knew Patience, I wish I knew.”
Into The Ring
The clock strikes and the Generalissimo, (who is staying in his apartment at the Alcázar) enters his box. Patience blows him a kiss and he waves back. There is tumultuous applause. He signals and the gates open and the procession enters the ring. In swagger the matadors, sparkling in the sunlight as the jewels and gold thread in their costume catch the light. Behind them are the cuadrillas, their assistants, followed by the bandilleros who stick darts into the poor animals and the picadors who spear the bulls from their terrified horses. Across the arms of the matadors are their red cloaks ready to demand the attention of the bull.
There are three of them, two handsome ones with tight knee breeches and a shorter one with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of her mouth wearing satin support stockings and curlers poking out from a hat which resembles a burnt apple turnover. She is unsteady on her feet and is constantly prompted by a stocky figure at her side. From time to time she takes ‘a wee swally’ from a bottle in the side of her breeches. Her cloak which is being trailed from behind like the coat of a haughty catwalk model is thrown from one side to another as in the pasodoble, revealing on the other side of its magenta lining a crocheted map of the coastal waters of Japan, stolen from the recent Conference of the Seas in Geneva.
To the Rescue?
“Muriel that matador is no matador it is Mrs Travers and she is dragging the map along the ground. She looks as if she has taken a wee refreshment too far.”
“Oh Patience and her cuadrilla is none other than Hilda, the German vuman who escaped from the man-trap and now I come to think of it never actually did much of zee heavy vork anyway. We need to rescue Mrs T, let’s get down to the ring.”
“But Muriel they will never let us through; it is too dangerous. Anyway it is too late the President has given the sign.”
A Pot Roast
The door of the bull pen swings open and there is a roaring and a snorting and a cloud of dust as Mrs Travers swallows another mouthful of her brew, clears her throat and eyeballs the beast known as KILLER – he comes to a standstill.
“Go on, goad him then, Sweetie” said a wild eyed Hilda, “you have already made the best paella in Spain, now you have a pot roast in your hands.”
With that Mrs Travers took the cloak and turned it like a dancer moving her hands with unexpectedly graceful movements rarely found in a Glaswegian woman, unless she’s going through her husband’s pockets. She moved it on one side of her body and then the other. The bull begins to accelerate and a collision course is inevitable.
Hemingway Meets Alice
“Oh Patience I feel as if I am in a Hemingway novel by that well known writer Ernest Hemingway” said Muriel rising to her feet in horror just as the crowd rose to its feet and shouted ‘Olé’!
“Who?” asked Patience, one who like Alice from the Wonderland was never one for books without pictures.
“You must have heard of The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon?”
“Really Muriel I never thought of you as a Kama Sutra sort of person.”
‘Olé’ cheered the crowd.
“Oh Patience this is going to end badly.”
An Unexpected Arrival
Suddenly there is a commotion on one side of the ring and a man, who has spent the entire morning on a bodega in Jerez testing the sherry, spills on to the sandy arena shouting “Muriel Dahling! I’m home, a little worse for wear but I’m home what’s for suppa?”
“Muriel that’s your Jasper” said Patience in a statement of the obvious. “Don’t know what you think, but he looks absolutely blootered to me.”
“Yoohoo Muriel! ̓Tis I, Jasper; fresh from the plain in Spain, well not exactly fresh much now. I have a little drinky-poohs here for you and Lady Pretentious Doo-Dah. What are all these people doing in our living room, sorry I mean drawing room?”
“Jasper for goodness sake; stay where you are,” cried Muriel.
Mrs Travers turns and recognising Jasper shouts, “Over hear Mr Wylie; I am getting suppa, mushrooms or onions, but I cannot possible feed all these friends of yours.”
Good Fortune Plays Its Part
With that KILLER who had sneaked up behind Mrs Travers swung his huge head to one side and brought it back with a great force catching his horns in the map and flinging it into the crowd where it landed on Patience’s lap. Mrs Travers seeing Jasper waving a bottle of sweet sherry at her from his basket of samples had already moved out of the immediate line of fire as the bull takes another swipe at what appears to be beside him which in this case is the now equally enraged Hilda.
So angry is she at the sight of Jasper who has spoilt her carefully choreographed plans that she does not see the final blow coming. Trumpets sound and the sacrifice is complete and the bull lives to fight another day. The Infirmary does what it can, but alas Hilda expires under the gaze of the Madonna her last words being “decadent capitalists especially that Wylie woman and her blasted curtains and lampshades.”
Not Quite Finished Yet
It seems the Generalissimo has had a wonderful afternoon and all the aficionados agree there has not been a corrida like this for many a year. He organises one of his cars to take everyone back to the Seville apartment. This is just a well as Jasper and Mrs Travers have begun tasting Jasper’s souvenir sherries and it looks like a long evening. Still they are safe and so is the map and Hilda has reaped her just desserts.
On the way out the seller of caramel, cigars and lemonade steps forward and says. “There is more before we finish” and hands over four train tickets to Cadiz with a whispered instruction, “Pretty Laydee, find the Calle Jon Del Duende and further instructions will follow.”
The train trip to Cadiz is interesting enough although Jasper and Mrs Travers close their eyes as the train stops in Jerez as they have had enough Sherry to last them a life time. They can recall little of yesterday and have thumping headaches to prove it. Lady Pentland-Firth brings to the table all the self righteousness of the reformed alcoholic and maintains the countenance of the beatified while adding the addresses of two matadors to her little black book.
The scene from the window is of the irrigated Andalucian Plain, where the rain mainly stays. As the train from Seville approaches Cadiz it makes a great sweeping curve. The travellers arrive in an unexpectedly attractive port with pretty buildings, wide squares and also dark narrow streets.
The forts along the coast provide a key to the strategic importance of the city and the memorial to the men of Trafalgar, a reminder that the Spanish also lost men just as we lost Nelson.
At the Calle Jon Del Duende
“You know the Romans knew Cadiz as Gades and the dancing girls of Gades were famous in Rome. It is said that the memory of these dancers is recorded in the flamenco stamps and steps of Andalusian Gypsies….”
“Oh Jasper, please not a running commentary. We need to concentrate with the task in hand.”
“Excuse me, English” said a voice from a narrow lane.
“Scottish, if you don’t mind Señor” replied Lady Pentland-Firth, irascible in the heat.
“Sorry you all look the same to me pale and uninteresting, but never mind, here take this end of a woollen thread and follow it find the Café-Teatro Pay-Pay in the Calle Silencio.”
Where To This Time?
Mrs Travers takes the end of some scarlet two ply and crocodile fashion, she is followed around a series of narrow alley ways until they reach the street of silence and the café where sitting at an outside table are a familiar couple, the woman is knitting a fan.
“Hello Muriel, Jasper, your ladyship and of course Mrs Travers; a glass of sangria perhaps?”
“Goodness! It’s you Winnie! Of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchertarder and Mr Chan of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant (crispy fried noodles free with dinners K to P Tuesdays and Thursdays). We thought you were dead!” exclaimed Muriel.
“I rather hoped you were” replied Patience, “I have all the twin sets I need and that Chinese food is never filling.”
“I don’t know I rather like your crispy Duck” said Jasper.
“Me, I am more of a sausage and mash person” said Mrs Travers, “but right now I could do with a cup of tea and an Askit Pooder.”
For Good Reasons
“I really am sorry to put you all through that.”
“We even had two funerals and a memorial service hosted by the knitting community, Winnie!”
“Yes it was all quite convincing wasn’t it” said a voice from the doorway.” It was Professor Sir Boozey Hawkes. “We knew that to convince the comrades we had to convince those closest to Winnie.”
“So who” asked Jasper “are the frozen bodies from the Swiss Alps?”
“Oh they were two convenient 2,000 year old bodies found in a glacier by archaeologists in more or less perfect condition. We managed to make Hilda think she had poisoned Winnie and Mr Chan with crotchet hooks. Hilda believed that with them out of the way she could progress her plans to take the map to comrade-land. She had, however, failed to consider that a third party, in this case Mrs Travers, might acquire the map. So she was forced to follow her back to Scotland.
Her identity might have remained secret if we had not found the tell-tale packet of German sausages and the corner of a ticket with a bull’s head allowing entry into one of Spain’s most historic bullrings. She had planned to rendez-vous with a submarine off the coast at Cadiz, but Mrs Travers had recognised this master of disguise over the making of a paella and ended up putting herself in mortal danger.
The map is in safe hands now thanks to all you have done for Queen and country. Now who would like to taste some Andalucian delicacies? I think the Foreign Office might stretch to that. Now I can recommend the gazpacho soup, it is cold but delicious.”
Cold Soup – Beyond Human Understanding
“Cold soup! Whoever heard of such a thing? Just as well I have a wee pot of ham and split pea in ma carpet bag” retorted an incredulous Mrs T.
“Cold Soup” mused Muriel, “now that is an interesting concept for a Church Soup and Pudding lunch.”
“Oh no; cold and foreign Muriel! That will never pass the Guild Sub-Committee” said Lady Pentland-Firth. “Sometimes I think you enjoy making waves.”
“Well Patience perhaps I do but then it’s the waves that make the shore new everyday and we do have to have change. Anyway let’s forget about home for now. We will soon be up to date with the local news. What does everyone say to a night of tapas and flamenco in honour of Winnie and Mr Chan returning to us and the map safe at last and hopefully the preservation of our coastal waters?”
“Talking of coastal waters” said Lady Pentland-Firth, “it is so nice here in Spain I could imagine in the next decade there will be more British tourists here than in Blackpool.”
“Never hen!” replied Mrs T in horror, “but dream away your Ladyship.”
“Hmm; perhaps but all the same I think I might investigate buying some small fishing village and building an eye wateringly awful but lucrative tourist destination. I have seen a couple of places on the map. Look what do you think Jasper Torremolinos or Benidorm?”
“I am more a Saughton Sands person; Patience but if you have money to waste.”
“What I don’t understand Muriel is why when Hilda already had secured the map, did she go through that performance of trying to get at you and Mrs T?”
“It’s all about female jealousy Jasper, something you men will never understand, sometimes winning is not enough there has to be a trophy too.”