Enjoying Ill Health!

I would be the first to admit that I am not a good nurse. 

Ankles Worth Sculpting

Frankly I have never felt the calling to don a white starched apron and hat, the strictures against Estée Lauder foundation and Helena Rubinstein lipstick being just one of a number of reasons. And oh, those awful flat shoes! They do nothing for those of us with perfectly turned ankles. As I am sure I have mentioned in the past it was once said by my good friend Henri Matisse that he was certain Canova had used my ankles to model The Three Graces. I am sure this was a compliment (he was always a bit distracted when using his big scissors and a roll of wall paper) although of course, had I been the model this would make me terribly old. He was such an old flatterer. Just in case some of you were not at the Westbourne School for Young Ladies or the Sorbonne, Canova was a very good sculptor, called Antonio Canova who lived in the 18th century and was very popular among those who went on the Grand Tour. 

Muriel’s Medical Heritage

When I say I am not a good nurse that is not to say I am without any medical knowledge. Naturally as a former member (and I should not be saying this, but I know it will go no further) of the S.O.E., I am trained in the art of the tourniquet as well as secret writing with pigeon you-know-what and of course I came top of the class in silent killing. My mother, a debutante, was an organiser of the V.A.D. Nurses in the first Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos.

My mamma during World War I

My grandfather, a very successful business man, also sponsored some of the research into wound treatments at the very good varsity of Glasgow during the Crimean Unpleasantness. As he said himself, during his final months when his memory was going “Aye I was one of the first tae realise the importance of yon lassie wi’ the name of a bird, Florence Turkey and slipped her a few quid frae time tae time”. Grandfather was as you will have realised unaffected by anglicised modes of speech and retained his broad Glaswegian of which he was very proud to the end. 

An Accent Full of Vowels

Dear Grandmamma

My Grandmother was the complete opposite she had “a real pan loaf accent”, you could cut with a knife and could extend a vowel for about three days. For example when going up the staircase at Pettigrew & Stephens, her department store of choice, she would realise there was someone behind her she knew and say without looking behind  “Iiiiis thaaaaaat yoooou at maaaay baaaack Mrs Mackeeeeeeeeeenzie?” By the time Mrs Mackenzie had the opportunity to answer back, Grandmamma had visited Haberdashery, Coats and Mantles and the “Most Affected” section of the fine Mourning Department and left through Fancy Goods into Sauchiehall Street. 

Never Miss An Opportunity

Grandfather may have been an old Glasgow worthy, but he was always very thorough in anything he took an interest in and not only was he providing much needed funds for the work at Scutari he was helping out in so many practical ways. For example the family furniture business was adaptable in so many ways and Grandfather took no time in abandoning the production of his famous “corner whatnots” and “library tables for the bookless household”, for more useful items for the battle field.

The wooden leg of a cocktail cabinet transformed into something more useful

Thus his easy assembled camp beds for the troops were a great seller to the war office and one has to say of great financial benefit to the family business. As a man of great humanity he lost no time in turning his lathes from cabriole legs for dressing tables to artificial limbs for those unlucky enough to be hit by enemy artillery. He also provided the polished plinths on which to mount any shrapnel recovered during amputation. It was said that on the plains of the Crimea no one could put a candle to him, but of course in some ways they could as Florence toured the wards at night bringing comfort to the troops, she did so with lanterns supplied by Grandfather. I shall never forgive the individual with a grudge who put up a sign at the Works saying “Crimea Does Pay”.

Send for Dr Cronk

So you see I have a long pedigree when it comes to healthcare, although unlike Jasper I have never been totally convinced by the National Health Service. However, I do not agree with my neighbour Lottie Macaulay, wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who is big in concrete, that it is a “malingers’ charter”.

The Doctor’s car

Talking of malingers brings me to the reason why I find myself doubting my abilities as an Angel of Mercy, that is Jasper. If I am a poor nurse Jasper is a first class patient. Jasper has had the Asian influenza; so have millions of others. Indeed it has been the worst pandemic since the Spanish ̓Flu of 1918-19. It is particularly bad for children and old people and those with heart or chest problems especially bronchitis. Not as Jasper will have it for those like him who are shortsighted and a little hard of hearing.

The Doctor’s other car

In truth I did have to call out Dr Cronk who came quickly after surgery last Monday. He arrived in his Wolseley instead of the Rolls Royce, as Jasper is not a private patient, like moi for whom Dr Cronk also wears his silk top hat, warms his stethoscope and writes his prescriptions in fountain pen and not biro. As far as I am concerned the biro is for the barbarians at the gate.

A Ladies’ Man and a Tweed Magnate

Jasper, man of tweed

Jasper is truthfully not himself. I can see that, but in my opinion he is too ready to succumb to the ministrations of those happy to trail up and down stairs with invalid trays and expensive periodicals. Jasper is totally loyal I know that, but he does have a way with the ladies. I think it is something to do with the attraction of tweed and felt headwear. Of course I do keep him in tip top condition with a varied and healthy diet, although I know full well he is no stranger to the odd sneaky fish supper and a steak pie at the Club. To be frank he would as we Scots say “get a piece (sandwich) at any door”. He has the charm of a spaniel or labrador.

Jasper has Mrs Travers wound round his little finger and it is mutual, I know all about their racing form arrangements. She is busy cooking him little treats “to build him up” and now he has Grace, who is from the West Indies and a trained nurse doing four hourly temperatures, pressure points and filling in a chart which is counter signed by Mrs Travers. I am not sure that he is not being oversubscribed with Askit Pooders especially since there is a bottle of medicinal Haig Dimple in the bedside cupboard. Even I know the two are not a good mixture but I suppose a husband in a state of mild delirium is at least a husband under control. 

The Big Red Tunnel

Mr Hookum waiting in the wings

Grace is a professional nurse, but Mrs Travers and Jasper are professional hypochondriacs who egg each other on in a spirit of mutual support. I have refused Jasper’s request to send for Mr Hookum from “Catchum and Hookum, Solicitors” to make a codicil for his will so that his collection of important pottery shards go to the local museum. As I said “Jasper if you can eat gammon and pineapple with a fried egg followed by jam roly-poly, you are still good for a few years yet, even if Mrs Travers has cut up the meat and is doing ‘into the big red tunnel’ and you are drinking tea from a cup with a spout.”

There comes a point when one just has to grin and bear things and pull one’s self together. Where would my simply marvellous programme of self improvement and the goal of gracious living for all be if I lay about all day with cold compresses and hot water bottles.

An Outing

Actually when Grace came into the kitchen this morning and said to Mrs Travers that Mr Wylie was wondering if an oxygen tent or iron lung might be advantageous, I decided it was time to go out. I used the excuse, not that I need one, that Jasper required some new pyjamas and that Coplands had a sale with a choice of Ceylonette or Twill Flannel in blue and green stripes. Now I am not fond of anything that ends in “ette” as it sounds artificial, so I plumped for two pairs of the twill.

I wonder what Winnie will make of my knitting?

I bought some Kayser Bondor stockings and some Paton and Baldwin’s four ply flecked wool, as I have read that knitting is good for peace of mind in January. I also succumbed against, my better judgement, to try Placentubex, “a sensational cosmetic discovery” which has “swept the continent” and smoothes wrinkles and crows’ feet.

It had better work!

At 35 shillings it had better give one a veritable face lift or Messrs Placentubex of 86 Clerkenwell Road London E.C.1. will be in receipt of a strongly worded letter.

To The Library 

After coffee I went to the Stirling Library in Exchange Square and selected some reading suitable for the sick bed, with the help of the librarian. I chose some new books, The Guns of Navarone by Alastair MacLean, Richard Mason’s The World of Susie Wong which I hope does not turn out to be sensational and Lawrence Durrell’s Justine which the librarian thought he might have read but I decided to take a chance as I liked the rather contemporary cover. I have a bit of a thing about typeface and calligraphy.

I am rather taken with the cover

The librarian was distressed to hear that Jasper was unwell and in case he was feeling better the Extra Mural Department of the Varsity had a class on Monday entitled “La Poesie Populaire d’Aujourd’hui”  7.30 at University Gardens or at the same time Mr Honeyman of the Art Galleries would be talking about “Modern Scottish Poetry” at the Philosophical.

It seems she had some spare complimentary tickets for both as Jasper was such a brick helping her to distribute copies of the American underground Magazine The Ladder at the Golf Club Ladies Lounge. “Mr Wylie is such a good sport” she said fixing her monocle and tightening her tie, “Now I don’t suppose I could interest you in a copy of Strange Path or Women’s Barracks?Brown paper covers of course and not exactly in Glasgow Corporation’s Fiction Card Index.” “Thank you, but no; although I wouldn’t mind reading the new Edinburgh writer, the one who lived in Bruntsfield.” “Oh you mean The Comforters by Muriel Spark, yes it is due in but there are two ladies ahead of you, Mrs Macaulay and Mrs ……sorry Lady Pentland-Firth.” *Oh! I didn’t know either of them could read.”  “Oh her Ladyship gets the London Review of Books you know.” “Does she indeed. I was unaware that there was a “Janet and John” version. Perhaps I might distribute some copies of The Ladder in the powder room of The Royal Scottish Automobile Club?” “What a splendid idea and miracles will never cease, I see you are actually first for the Muriel Spark.” “How kind; we ladies must stick together.”

Too Much to Carry

The trouble with libraries is that they mean carrying books, but still I knew Jasper would be pleased and it shows willing. I also had to cancel several of Jasper’s engagements which included a social evening at the Cappodimonte Collectors’ Club and a Burns Supper at the Automobile Club, which is no great loss – all that turnip and snuff every year cannot be good for one as delicate as Jasper. So there was a bit of trailing around with my parcels of books and pyjamas before getting a taxi home. I completely forgot that I should have cancelled our tickets for the Church of Scotland Glasgow Elders and Office Bearers Meeting with Miss Ella Ross lecturing on “My Work Among the Fisher Folk”. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Home Again

I am returned

“I am home everyone. How is Mr Wylie, Mrs Travers?”

“Oh clinging to life by a thread Mrs Wylie, only sustained by a large helping of Grace’s Barbadian cake with some evaporated milk and a nice cup of tea.”

“Hello Jasper do you have you any last requests?”

“Is there perchance another slice of that cake Muriel?”

“I think you have had enough Jasper, after all you don’t want to journey to the afterlife on a full stomach. By the way do you distribute magazines for the librarian?”

“Yes Darling, it’s something called The Ladder from America, a Do-it-Yourself catalogue I imagine. Gets me first on the list for new books and tickets for events. As they say a little help is worth a deal of pity.”

“Umm well… I have some books for you to help you through the crisis.”

“Thank you Muriel I don’t imagine I will finish them, but I appreciate the thought.”

“Well do what you can Dahling, I must go and help Mrs T with the suppa, she is poaching a chicken and doing duchesse potatoes and there is ice cream and meringue for pudding, but I imagine all you want is some bread in milk with sugar and a little junket, after all we don’t want to overdo things and have a relapse. Oh, and I have cancelled all your Burns’ Suppas and various Club outings for the duration of your convalescence.

“Muriel, when are the other staff coming back on the ward?”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

January 1958


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6 Responses to Enjoying Ill Health!

  1. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Seminal works, being easy to care for, and a wise use of NHS money.‬

    ‪I too am an appalling nurse. You don’t need the details. It has nothing to do with makeup or shoes. Watches, perhaps. Like Jasper I am a wonderful patient.‬

    ‪Avian excrement eh? I’ve heard of other fluids being used, come to think of it. Florence Shag would know. If there’s a campaign chest in need of a home I’m in the market. ‬

    ‪The good Doctor has had a very good idea. Obviously using a cheaper car in order not to be taken advantage of by trades is a well established plan. ‬

    ‪I need a Mrs. Travers, and perhaps a Grace. I’m certainly lacking grace. ‬

    Richard Mason’s The World of Susie Wong ‪sounds very interesting. I must order it. No bad books have the word Durrell on the cover. I’m sure any of these books would be a good way to spend a rainy evening. ‬

    ‪Barbadian cake…‬


  2. Patty C says:

    Postscriptorious or, peut-être, postnotorious:

    “The Ladder” most certainly was not a DIY magazine, unless of course … oh, nevermind. As my own dear Grand-mère used to say, “to each his own, said the old lady who kissed the cow.” Old-timey wisecracking from the foothills of North Carolina. She also said “things aren’t so bad that they can’t get worse.” Bonsoir, it’s much too late to be scribbling away at my desk. À bientôt, chere Mu.

  3. Patty C says:

    “…of course I came top of the class in silent killing.” Fabulous!

    Indeed, chere, Muriel, I can believe that. As one who has perfected the art of “je ne sais quoi” and fine living; as one who can bring her formidable personality to bear on the church and civic life; as one who cast a strong decisive oomph into the “last unpleasantness”; as one who may control the deepest workings of the British government, who participated in post-war spy networks and maneuverings around the Suez Canal (and who, for all we know, was in charge of its design and engineering); and, last but not least, as one who can manage and see behind the secretive shenanigans of Mrs T, WDBNAL, who, allied with one Jasper Wylie, attempt to get away with betting schemes and various tomfoolery at the rural bolthole (as you say: “Jasper has Mrs Travers wound round his little finger and it is mutual”); as one with all these—and more—abilities,

    Yes, I do believe, dear Mu, that silent killing was well within your youthful abilities and you were tops in your class! Today, that former “silent killing” has (in part?) translated into what has become your trademark Withering Look. If looks could kill, as they say! Perhaps the mastering of this talent could be included in your advanced training seminars?

    Cheers and best wishes from~

    You-know-who in ol’ Virginny

  4. Moira Taylor says:

    Dear Muriel, I am sure there are those called to nurse and those who are most definitely not.I must confess to looking quite alluring in a starched apron and I have the cool hands required for pastry and for laying on the fevered brow of some ailing Adonis. I do not shy away from even the grubbiest of tasks involved but I have no patience whatever with those who clearly ENJOY poor health! I have a tendency to tell them to take their medicine and get on with it. Of course there are those who would pay to be told off by a nurse in uniform but let’s not go there ……
    I do like a flecked wool as it produces such a surprising look when knitted into a fashionable garment.
    Not so keen, however, on the Placentubex; the name seems to hint at something nasty that should only be seen in the sluice room at The Western General. I could not possibly trust my delicate comnplexion to such a product. Pond’s vanishing cream has served me well over the years; a little witch hazel to tone following a quick scrub with a hot flannel.Can’t beat it dear.
    Oh and by the way, really admire your management of Jasper’s “illness”. Well played Muriel!

  5. seileasdar says:

    (My muse has been and left me this, dear Muriel)

    Modern Life on the Move

    No time like the present
    no time for the past
    time’s marching, time’s flying
    keep going, keep going
    keep racing on

    Time’s rushing
    time’s moving
    modernity’s fast
    keep going, keep going,
    keep muddling on

    new fashion
    new patterns
    no time like it’s now
    keep going, keep going
    keep pressing on

    illness and health, reclining in bed
    It’s all the same to
    the modern progression
    keep going, keep going
    keep plodding on

    no rest for the virtuous
    no test for the cure
    one has to use new things
    keep going, keep going
    keep moving on

    no time for a coffee
    and ‘how do you do?’
    it doesn’t quite matter
    keep going, keep going
    keep pacing on

    our lady is moving
    her husband is not
    no time to feel low
    keep going, keep going
    keep bettering on

    You can try to improve
    you can try to help out
    there’s always a new thing
    keep going, keep going
    keep moving on

    there’s no room for chatting
    there’s need for instructions
    no time to see finer reactions
    keep going, keep going
    keep moving on

    fast-paced is progression
    no idleness lives here
    things have to get sorted
    keep going, keep going,
    keep racing on

    no time for reflection
    no time to hold still
    things need to get better
    keep going, keep going
    keep plotting on

    new stock for the shop
    new hats to impress with
    it has to get sorted
    keep going, keep going
    keep working on

    there are meals to be planned
    there are matters to sort
    no buts and no whining
    keep going, keep going
    keep progressing on

    through hardship and worries
    through upsets and pain
    no time for reflection
    keep going, keep going,
    keep marching on

    until they’ve caught up
    with trials and woe
    a gin and a pudding restoring the two
    keep going, keep going
    keep racing on

    a hand that is reaching
    a cheek that is held
    after life’s tribulations
    calmness is felt
    and the pace taken out

    for a while

    let’s leave them alone

    keep going, keep going,
    there’s nothing to see

    keep going, keep going
    let’s leave them to be

  6. Louise Lewis (Lady from the right side of Carlisle) says:

    Chérie Muriel,

    I say! I do RAWTHER like the sound of Grace’s Barbadian cake with evaporated milk and a nice cup of tea. A dash of Rum would just round it off nicely……simply delicious! I too, like dear Jasper, am under the weather. However, I am not afflicted with the Asian Flu – mais non! My arthritic afflictions are playing up something rotten and I am in need of cold compresses, hot water bottles and sustenance in every shape and form to get me through. Send help and pray for moi, dwaalings!! If Dimitri were available to pop round that would be simply marvellous……no one applies pressure to one’s points like he does…….a man of enormous talent!

    One sympathises, nay empathises, completely with your distaste for nursing, Mu dwaaling. I too do not make a good nurse; taking care of the sick does not come naturally to moi. One finds it simply too tiresome and even loathsome on occasions…..the show MUST go on, as we thespians say!

    Such a pity that Jasper has been unable to address the Haggis at a Burns Supper this year……one hears that ladies are wont to swoon when he spouts forth The Bard. Whilst on the subject of poetry (you know one lives and breathes the spoken word), one is delighted to hear that darling Mr Honeyman of the Art Galleries will be talking about ‘Modern Scottish Poetry’. Another gentleman of many talents – as you know, Mr Honeyman has been one’s bona ballroom dancing partner for many years. His fleckerl is a thing of beauty!

    Maintenant, Muriel ma chérie, perhaps you would tell one where one can lay one’s hands on some of this Placentubex? The endless days and nights of pain are taking their toll…….one is a mere shell……

    Yours in deep distress,
    Lulu xxxx

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