Cloaks…and a Dagger!

Your Captain Speaking

“Ladies and Gentlemen this is the Captain speaking. We are about to begin our descent into Glasgow and I expect to be on the ground in about 10 minutes, hopefully in one piece. Only joking. The weather in Glasgow is wet but that is nothing new; if you are travelling through to Edinburgh, you can’t win them all. Onward road transport is provided by our partners Glasbus who have a representative in arrivals. You will not miss her – she is a large lassie in yellow tartan, what we call a winter model with that modern make up, the shade of Caramac, eyebrows that look like dead otters and heels that require oxygen. Just mention my name and you will get a wee discount and an in bus catering pack containing a variety of Scottish treats and the name of a good dentist in Paisley.

coming into Glasgow

Thank you for flying Glasgair and on behalf of the crew I wish you a pleasant day in the dear green place.

Cabin Crew prepare for landing.”

Always Time to Buy Something

“Ladies and gentlemen the Captain has switched on the seatbelt signs, if your legs have gone to sleep due to the recent introduction of two rows of extra seats, rotate your ankles clockwise, that’s right; now anti-clockwise; good, feel the blood flow back. For those looking for that last minute gift for the lady in your life there are still a few moments to purchase something from our range of exclusive gifts including special offers in the ‘Soir de Shettleston’ range of hand printed scarves, ‘Nuits de Netherlee; available as a parfum or eau de toilette, the complete range of ‘Glasgow Kiss’ lipsticks from Heart Attack Red to Etiolated Nude a colour inspired by the lack of sunshine which lasts about half the year. For the kiddies there is a virtual reality headset at a fraction of shop prices featuring “Emergency Landing”, or the truly terrifying “I survived Airport Security and Passport Control.”

In a fever of activity, cabin crew sell cosmetics, collect glasses and the remains of haggis or black pudding ciabatta “available as a meal deal”. Bleary eyed businessmen drain the last of their bloody marys and wonder if they have a drink problem as it is only 11 am and they have had at least three, plus that quick one in Departures. Flight attendant, Leanne, closes the overhead lockers almost destroying her bun in the process and her colleague  Ashley checks the seatbelts are fastened appropriately which as he has features which might have been carved by Michelangelo and teeth like two fluorescent tubes pleases one old thespian.

Happy Landings

sir Sebastian

Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the nation’s most loved luvvie, looks out of the window and feels the aircraft turn a sharp left over the Firth of Clyde shortly followed by another turn to the left bringing them over the seaside town of Largs and over Castle Semple Loch and Johnstone. To the right he sees Paisley and wonders what ever happened to all the mills although he does recognise the Observatory and the tower of the Coats Memorial Church, a symbol of the town’s wealth created by a simple product – reels of sewing thread. Coming in over Linwood the plane touches down smoothly at Glasgow Airport and Leanne switches on Lulu and “Shout”, to which there is an outburst of applause by returning natives.

Travelling in Style

Planes of yesteryear

There is the usual mad scramble to retrieve coats and carry-on bags but Sebastian waits as assisted transport has been arranged for him at Luton. He thinks to himself that travel by air is not what it was and wonders what his Aunt Muriel would have made of it all. She loved to fly but that was in the days as she would say “before the bucket and spade brigade”, when one dressed to travel, wearing a hat and gloves and of course there was always somewhere to hang a mink coat and one ate with real cutlery and sat next to people who knew nothing of T-shirts or jogging bottoms.

Pilots might be a bit gung-ho, but one knew they were experienced – very often having taken part in the Battle of Britain or having chased submarines in the Norwegian Fiords. They were characters indeed and some were even reluctant to work without sheepskin flying jackets and goggles, even although they were only going to Brussels or Stockholm! They had names like “Binkie”, “Biff” and “Panda” and prepared for take off with a glass of champagne and for landing with two.

Connections With the Past

Now, mused Sebastian, even getting to and through the airport was like the 7th circle of Hell. Not he thought that Dante would be well known to many of his fellow travellers now, possibly not even known at all. No one he feels seems to know anything, or was that simply the inevitable thought of someone approaching the final curtain. At least he has the wheel chair not to mention the assistance of his “staff”, Dean Travers who drives for him, and his wife Pearl who sees to the administration of a man who is still much in demand by the media.

Mrs TRavers, the woman who did, but not a lot

Pearl and Dean are devoted to him and he in turn relishes the contact with the old days. Dean is after all  the grandson of Mrs Esme Travers who did (but, not a lot) for Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper.  Dean has done well, given that the Travers’ family had a gene much given to fecklessness – his grandfather was implicated in the famous affair of “Busty Betty’s” down by the Canal in the 1950’s and his own father Billy, who was not a bad man, just easily led, had been a small time crook who was in the wrong place at the wrong time as the coroner had said.  His own mother could only cook from cans which in Glasgow amounted to a character failing. Peas might have been one thing but tinned potatoes only suggested lassitude. Fortunately Nana Travers and indeed Aunt Muriel had come to the rescue.

 Flying is Not What It Was

Sebastian’s scarf

As the last of the passengers leave the aircraft, the ground assistance people come on board and help Sebastian into his chair and push him past the flight attendants who hand him the Lanvin scarf which had blown away when he crossed the tarmac at Luton. Sebastian in one of his “toffs are careless” moments, said they shouldn’t have bothered rescuing it from the wing tip of a Monarch flight bound for Alicante taxing alongside. “Oh not at all” beamed Ashley, causing Sebastian to reach for his prescription sunglasses, I couldn’t see that going down well in Benidorm could you Leanne? Get it reduced  in TK Maxx did we?” “No actually, full price in Paris in 1977”replied the theatrical knight acerbically “it was a gift to myself for Tartuff.” “Lovely” said Leanne, “is that the one with the forest fruits or the apricots, almonds and Chantilly cream, we love Paris, don’t we Ash?”

A Familiar Face

The Lord Provost’s car is waiting for them as promised as Sebastian is in Glasgow on official business having been asked by the Council to open a new exhibition at “Mofash”, as the  Museum of Fashion is known or at least it will be. Until recently it had been known as “Motex”, the Museum of Textiles, but the new director, Uber curator Vivienne Valhalla,

Vivienne Valhalla

(now Dr Valhalla, the result of her ph.d. on the zip) has decided the word textiles is too elitist. She wants ultimately to call it “Claes and Cloots”, as that is the sort of name that gets you a keynote at Museums’ conferences year after year. That, however, will have to wait until she has got rid of the more traditional curators who know things. One step at a time as she told the convenor who says she doesn’t care what the exhibitions are “as long as they weans are running aroond daft, screaming their heids aff and having fun”. In the meantime the existing programme has to be honoured, particularly as it is EU funded (at least until Brexit) with a generous provision for face painting and a budget that allows officials to travel to Estonia, although no one is entirely sure why.

Down Memory Lane

Before the opening there is time for a little tour of Glasgow although there is little, to be honest, that Sebastian recognises. He has always been puzzled as to why the city chose to put a motorway right through its centre. Uncle Jasper’s childhood home in The Gorbals, where he lived with Granny Wylie, was swept away in the rush to remove the slums in the 1960’s. Sebastian wonders if a little expenditure and some imagination might have saved some of those red sandstone buildings as not all were bad and what has replaced them seems at least to him as dreary as what went before.

In the more affluent West End there have been changes too. The school attended by Aunt Muriel and Sebastian’s daughter Gayle has been amalgamated with a boys’ school for economies of scale although to be fair the girls’ school is occasionally remembered at the back of the annual report after the adverts. The Wylies’ old house is now a boutique bed and breakfast with spa bathrooms, televisions with screens visible from Mars and for breakfast organic muesli woven by virgins under water, or something like that Sebastian remembers reading. Uncle Jasper’s Club, the R.S.A.C., has been transformed into a hotel which is something, but few if any of their old haunts remain, with the exception perhaps of The Rogano.

Don’t Look Back

Watt Brothers

Sauchiehall Street seems to Sebastian to be a shadow of its former self, the plate glass fronted department stores like Dalys and Pettigrew and Stevens have been replaced by hideous buildings and where are all the cinemas? At least Watt Brothers is still there so Mrs T would have been able to get her support stockings. And The Pavillion Theatre

The home of variety theare

is little changed from the time he appeared there in pantomime in the 60s, though now it is billed as the home of Variety, which Sebastian rememered was supposedly the spice of life.

There seems to be plenty of places to eat and drink, even if the food is all the same but where can you buy anything useful like a screw nail? Where is Crockets, the ironmongers and where are all the hundreds of businesses and warehouses that used to be up closes and stairways selling carpets and fabrics, making dresses and suits, turning shirt collars and repairing dolls? Perhaps says Sebastian to Pearl “it does not really do to go back, it is far from being the city I remember – not even a Lewis’s Polytechnic with a broken biscuit counter”. At least, he thinks the MacDonalds and Wylie and Lochheads buildings are there even if they are now something else.

Formerly the entrance to McDonalds, now part of Frasers Glasgow

It is hard to work out where old haunts like The Kenya Coffee House had been or the Ceylon Tea Centre and of course Fullers with its famous chocolate choux buns which Sebastian recalls was at 99 Buchanan Street. Dear me that is now a shop for mobile phones!

the former “Fuller’s”, 99 buchanan Street

What of gentlemen’s outfitters Rowan’s and Carswells and Burton’s where Uncle Jasper bought his summer dressing gowns. There are no banking halls to speak of and the library is now a gallery. He wonders if Aunt Muriel would ever have come to grips with getting money from a hole in the wall, after all she wouldn’t even cash a cheque in a branch office, “only cash cheques in head offices” she would say. George Square looks much the same, which is something but the post office has gone and The North British Hotel is called something else.

Sloan’s

At least Sloan’s is still in the Argyle Arcade and able to provide a spot of lunch, though again more the haunt of Mrs Travers than dear Aunt Muriel.

So Many Capes

Perhaps it is just as well they have to get to the museum for the opening as one can only take so much disappointment regarding the past. Banks of photographers and a red carpet

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III

greet the man who put Richard III on the map long before the King’s body was found in car park when he played Shakespeare’s King  Richard in a play by well known playwright William Shakespeare. The Lord Provost greets them and champagne is proffered before Sir Sebastian declares the exhibition open and is give a guided tour.

The exhibition is about “Capes”, that most useful and adaptable garment so often overlooked by society. There is the cape in history, the cape in literature, in film, in art and popular culture. So there is everything from the caped coat of Sherlock Holmes to matadors’ capes and capes worn by actors like Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple or Bette Davis and even that worn by Sebastian as Richard III found in a cupboard at the Gaiety Theatre Ayr.

Cape worn by Sebastian as Richard III

Of course there are the crowd pleasers like capes worn by comic book heroes such as Batman and Robin. Then there are the working capes such as those worn by nurses and policemen and the yellow bicycle capes worn by countless school boys and girls in the 20th century to keep them dry. There are make-up capes designed to keep powder off evening dresses, fur capes, bed capes. There are photographs of spectacular capes such as those worn by Elvis and Liberace, Dracula, Oscar Wilde and the three musketeers. Sebastian is delighted to see that the interpretation includes the language of the cape “including flouncing”, the cape as weapon, the cape as a statement including Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Queen Elizabeth to walk on.

Just Some Old Wee Wifey’s Clothes

A Muriel Wylie Cape

For Sebastian the highlight of the exhibition is the recreation of Aunt Muriel’s Drawing Room complete with the famous walnut cocktail cabinet, saved for the nation with generous contributions from the Art Fund etc, when it came up for auction recently. This coincided with the discovery of a trunk containing some of Aunt Muriel’s capes and cloaks along with an article she wrote about capes in 1957 when there was something of a revival in interest in the garment.

It would, however be in the early 1980s that Muriel made the cape her own when it featured regularly in her wardrobe for appearances in the House of Lords, where it was almost a uniform and of course the cape featured regularly in her activities in the now legendary Country House Concerts particularly for outdoor performances. While the curator thrills to her own idea of an empty space containing the Cloak of Invisibility, Sebastian smiles as he gazes upon his aunt’s capes and for a moment fancies he can hear her sling backs, the swish of her petticoats and if he is not mistaken that fragrance which was her trademark, Arpège.

oozing je ne sais quoi – Muriel!

It is funny how even when some people are gone they are still here and he is reminded of something his aunt once said “we are all remembered until the last person who knew us goes and then perhaps most of us are forgotten”. “Well” said Sebastian, out loud “trouble is Aunt you were not most of us.” The Provost, still chuckling about the cloak of invisibility, turned and said, “ some old wee Glasgow wifey’s  clothes, I imagine, let’s get another drink.” The famous actor indignantly replied “She was not ‘some’ Glasgow wifey! She  was some Glasgow lady – who meant business!”

A Recent Find at The Barras

Hilary at her desk

Thespian and Provost leave the temporary exhibition gallery, glancing at the shopping opportunities, which are many and head for the Meet the Press reception in the Ann Macbeth Sewing Centre. As they help themselves to more champagne they ask for questions and a well known newshound, Miss Hilary-Dee Range of ‘The Sunday Slouch’, just back from a spot as an overseas correspondent, brings silence to the assembled group when she asks, “Sir Sebastian the recent discovery of a diary in The Barras, which belonged to a well known Glasgow medium in the 1950’s, suggests that your Aunt Baroness Wylie of Waterside may have known rather more about the murder of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth more than 60 years ago than she admitted at the time. Do you have any comment to make?”

Sebastian feels a searing pain, like a dagger, going through him.

Sir Wylie Fox

April 2017

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