In Binns Restaurant
“I think Miss, I will have the rhubarb crumble and custard and coffee to follow.”
Not a bad a three course lunch for 1/6 in anyone’s book. I had the Scotch broth, the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Just as well I have the body of an athlete or it would put me off afternoon tea and suppa. Must admit I held back on the “Elevenses” and just had a coffee and scone with Mrs Travers (our woman what does, but not a lot) in The Café at the Plaza Dance Hall.
I am sitting in the restaurant of Binns, the department store in Dumfries; it is according to the management “the ideal rendezvous for both residents and visitors to Dumfries”. Needless to say I am waiting for Muriel who is somewhere with Lady Pentland-Firth and Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes.
Lady Pentland-Firth is of course the widow of the late Rear Admiral Lord “Salty” Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, who died mysteriously at a flower show lunch. The professor is head of the Faculty of Music at the varsity in Glasgow where he is an expert on the songs created by Henry Purcell for the basso profundo voice, which is no doubt where Lady Pentland-Firth comes in.
They are, for some odd reason, meeting in the Officers’ Mess at R.A.F. Dumfries which is very shortly to close after sterling efforts in the last Unpleasantness. The Professor, it seems, was there during the last Unpleasantness – something to do with navigation training which is odd given that he seems unable to find his way out of a paper bag. Last week I found him in Byres Road unable to remember where and when he had parked his Ford Poplar. Somewhere he thought between Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen, which suggested to me somewhere approximately between the Curlers pub and Botanic Gardens. I was right and we found it in Kersland Street with the doors unlocked, a cello sticking out of the window and a signed copy of “The Jubilate” in D Major behind the windscreen wipers with “Please do not park in front of our close” scrawled in ink.
Putting You in The Picture
Dumfries, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is a town in south west Scotland where we have our rural bolt hole. It is a land “associated with historic interest and fine scenery” and above all with the national poet Robert Burns who lived and died in the town and wrote many of his famous poems and songs here. You can visit the house where he lived with Jean Armour, his long suffering but astute wife. The town is on the banks of the river Nith and Burns wrote:
How lovely, Nith, thy fruitful vales,
Where bounding hawthorns galey bloom;
And sweetly spread thy sloping dales,
Where lambkins wanton through the broom.
May there my latest hours consume!
Lovely that is, until it floods which is quite often and causes great distress to local residents and shopkeepers.
Heaven-wards with Violin and Birdsong
Today, however, the hawthorn and broom are out in full as are the bluebells and the lambkins are already more like sheepkins.
This week the countryside seemed to honour the newly departed as Muriel and I attended a couple of funerals and while no one wants to go, it is inevitable and for those who stay on their temporary visas, the experience is better in the sunshine with blue skies. In these parts tradition rules and burials are still de rigueur. It is always the sounds that I remember, not only the congregation in the church and the sound of shoes on gravel, but outside in the cemetery – the birdsong which helps to make the sound of tassels falling on wood, and earth on purple pall all the more bearable. One old friend this week left to the sound of a solo violin, its virtuoso player of extraordinary talent sending the loved one heaven ward with the help of swallows, kites, song thrush and curlew. It was both unbearable and bearable.
Arrival at The Whitesands
Bearing a barely alive human being was the 10.30 bus this morning from Glasgow to the Whitesands. Mrs Travers arrived looking shaken and smelling of Muriel’s Je Reviens and my single malt. One can always tell which alighting passenger is Mrs T as she leaves in stages, gum boots are the first thing to come into view followed by bandages and support stockings in turn by the holdall, suitcase, and string bag containing an empty bottle of irn bru, a half eaten bridie and two, out of a packet of six, snowballs and three packets of Capstan Full Strength and a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. Most of the fug, which precedes her when the doors open and she leaves the remaining passengers looking as if they are stranded in a London “pea souper”, is her creation. It is no wonder her first words are, “that driver gets worse I feel like I might have the boke at any minute. Do yous I said tae him at Hamilton, think this is the mille miglia and yous are Piero Taruffi?”
“It’s nice to see you too Mrs T. Did you have any interesting travelling companions?”
“Naw, jist Mrs McGinigal frae Saracen Street and yon awful sister that does the black puddings for Galloway’s, down bye to visit their mother.”
“What is so awful about her?”
“Well she’s so ugly, which is a shame. But she could have stopped at hame.”
“That is a bit unkind Mrs T, even the unblessed have a right to a bus trip.”
“Maybe Mr W, but not those who look as if they were sat on when they were warm. Do you fancy a wee flutter on the gee-gees, I have The Racing Times?”
“Yes of course” I replied, “let’s have a coffee and then you can find a corner boy to take the bets and do some messages for Mrs Wylie. I will take your bags and put them in the car which is parked in English Street/ By the way are you going to eat the remains of that bridie?”
“All yours, but don’t let her catch you eating in the street, anyway where is she?”
“That’s ok we can walk up The Vennel, no one will see – she, I mean my lady wife, is having a meeting with Lady P-F and the Prof.”
“Sounds like we are in for another o’they classical concerts.”
“Indeed it does Mrs T; indeed it does.”
“Do you think Mr W they really enjoy that music; or are they just pretending?”
“Sometimes I wonder Mrs T. Sometimes I wonder.”
“Give me Frankie Vaughan any day, or even that Elvis. I like a bit of boogie-woogie you know like Little Richard, but that Chopinn just goes on and on and you cannot dance or dust to it.”
At The Plaza
“Those are good scones, not as good as yours of course Mrs T.”
“Always glad to do yous an obligement Mr W, but the answer is no, you are not having my half.”
“How were things at the Glasgow house, what about “Sooty Steve” the sweep?”
“ Yes he came and things are fine now, but it was a bit of a fankle on Tuesday I was quite pure dead devastated.”
“Better tell me more.”
“Well Mrs Wylie was quite right, the lums did need cleaning, but not only that there were two craw nests, one had fallen down and a second was built above it, a bit like one o’ they New York apartments; so no wonder the south facing drawing room of the well appointed , oft sought and seldom available full late Victorian villa was full of smoke. It was the craws arriving again.”
“I thought as much I could hear their wings flapping in the chimney; it sounded quite errie.”
“Yes Mrs Macaulay’s woman, what does far more than I do, wouldn’t come in for a wee cup of tea as she said there were gaists up the lum.”
“Did the sweep deal with the gaists. I mean ghosts?”
“Och aye Sooty Steve does nae hang aboot and Hilda and I gave him a wee hand.”
“What did you have to do?”
“We put an old candlewick bedspread over the fireplace opening, Sooty shoved his brushes up and down they came, about 9 of them.”
“And then what?”
“Well Hilda had her Jack Russell wi’ her so we stuck it behind the counterpane. You never heard such a commotion! Great wee dug even if it does yap. What with wee Hector, that’s the dug, and the new cowls on the lum pots we won’t be bothered again.”
“Oh we will Mrs Travers when Mrs Wylie finds out about the murder of the crows.”
“Mr Wylie I may look as if I were just taken from the circus but I have left Mrs W a thank you card from the Matron of the Old Crows Home, Cardonald, and i must remember to send a follow up letter describing their release into the wild next month.”
“Mrs Travers you should work for MI6.”
“Perhaps I do work in the shadows Mr Wylie; after all everyone else seems to.”
“I know what you mean but way more important there is racing at Chester and York, I fancy King Babar and perhaps you might get some Jersey Royals and some salad things and mixed cold meats and oh yes half a dozen eggs. Mrs Wylie says she is going to do devilled eggs with cayenne pepper and see if the bakers has any apple turnovers.”
“Did Mrs Wylie say apple turnovers?”
“No but we can pretend we thought she did; after all it is a light suppa tonight, here take a 10 shilling note.”
Back at Binns
“Yes another coffee might be just the ticket. Mrs Wylie seems to have been held up and do you have The Glasgow Herald?”
Well Muriel is not going to like that the Labour Party have done well in the English local elections. Apparently the political climate from the Government’s point of view is adverse, well what would one expect after the utter mess of Suez and the high cost of living not to mention the difficulty of getting petrol. Mr Thorneycroft, the Chancellor, says that we need to create more jobs for young people and that in 60 years time old people will be a tremendous problem. Well they should be able to plan for that one, provided short term thinking does not rule the day. It seems there have been rather a lot of babies born since the war. Well let us hope that in 2017 the post war babies will not be demonised pensioners. After all old age is not something that one can avoid.
Perhaps the elderly will be as unfashionable as the trams have become. Only last week I went on the last tram as it made its way from the Renfrew Ferry to Elderslie by way of Paisley Cross. It was, as you might expect, full beyond capacity as it travelled at 5 miles an hour along Paisley Road and at Paisley Cross there were so many spectators the police had to clear the way. Those passengers who were upstairs found themselves plunged into darkness as souvenir hunters removed the light bulbs! Outside, pennies were placed on the tracks and removed after the tram had passed over them. When we arrived at Elderslie, motor cars hooted their horns and people sand Auld Lang Syne. I felt rather sorry for James McCall who has been a tram driver for 41 years. There were two of the famous tram conductresses, Grace Samuelson of 47 Gauze Street and May Gallacher of 17 Lawn Street, both were kept busy issuing tickets as again they were much in demand as souvenirs. So another departure and another change in our way of life and I suppose there will be more on the way in the years to come.
Ah, here is Muriel in a stunning ensemble as usual. I’m so glad she’s wearing that pretty hat I bought her in Dalys.
“Darling over here.”
“Hello Jasper I see you couldn’t wait for lunch and I have just bumped into a guilty looking Mrs Travers so that either means the gee-gees or the bakers or perhaps both. I though, given that you have had what looks like a more than adequate luncheon, a simple salad would be enough for suppa, no need for potatoes and perhaps just a little junket for pudding.”
“Marvellous Muriel, simply marvellous.”
A man with a rumbly-tummbly evening to look forward to.