Anyone would think we have been en route for Saturn instead of Geneva. We came down by British Railways sleeper, the ‘Starlight Express’ from St Enoch’s station in Glasgow. I always enjoy it. One can smell the joints of beef being fired up in the sidings while one is partaking of a wee refreshment in the appropriately named Refreshment Room. There is nothing like dinner on a train before retiring just after the right side of Carlisle.
In the Soup
We couldn’t leave any earlier as Muriel and I were very busy. There was a Soup and Pudding lunch at the Kirk which cannot be cancelled even in the face of international incidents, not to mention a bit of “a hoolie” regarding a novel introduction.
Mrs Butterstone-Craig, who is new to the village, has spent time in India. The Soup Sub-Committee of the Parish Ways and Means Main Committee, reluctantly, gave approval for her Mulligatawny. This in the face of her generous donation towards repairs for, “The poor are always with us” stained glass window where a huge crack was threatening monthly donations to the Mission for the Homeless. Unfortunately many of the rustics rebelled in the face of curried soup and a schism was threatened, until Muriel stepped in with a reserve pot of leek and potato (with bits) and seconds of apple pie not to mention some emergency traybakes.
The day was saved, and Mrs Butterstone-Craig knows nothing of this, but the Minister and his wife will be having Mulligatawny for the next month.
An Important Milestone
There was also our Scottish Country Dancing Classes, a regular feature of the winter months. Muriel did not want to miss this as she feels I have reached an important milestone in the pointing of my toes and a general understanding of left and right. This week’s class was followed by an emergency committee meeting where the matters of the infamous “Newton Stewart Variation” and soft shoes verses hard shoes have become a matter for serious discussion and possible reference to the Scottish Country Dance Society in Edinburgh. This is something akin to referring to the stealing of a paperclip from the office to Judge Jeffries – no laughing matter, and bound to lead to the scaffold. Anyway I think matters may be coming to a head, but just don’t mention Lord MacLay’s Reel to Muriel.
The Sleeper Where No One Sleeps
Of course I didn’t sleep a wink. There is something very odd about sleeping sideways as the train goes forward. In addition I could hear Mrs Travers snoring in the next compartment, while Muriel was doing “nice toes, naughty toes” in the bunk below me. There was also a bit of an incident when the train went round the bend at Crewe Junction and Muriel slid off the full length Mackintosh Square she had put into her vanity case, as she does not trust British Rail sheets. I suppose really it was more of a Mackintosh oblong.
The steward was summoned and Muriel threatened to sue the entire Board of British Rail and Harold Watkinson, the Transport Minister despite him being a Conservative. Fortunately the steward had a bottle of brandy for such events and we all had complimentary drinks including Mrs Travers who had heard the commotion and decided she had sustained, life threatening knee injuries going over a set of points at Penrith. Which reminds me what exactly is the point of Penrith?
Meanwhile Lady Pentland-Firth was passing the night in a first class sleeping compartment with a business man from Bearsden who is big in zip fasteners. Muriel also managed to persuade the steward that everyone would make a complete recovery if they were all promised an extra packet of Rich Tea biscuits with the morning cup of tea while passing through Watford, which is always the best thing to do.
Taking “a Sherbert Dab”
I did suggest getting the airport bus from London out to Heathrow, but Muriel is not very fond of buses and the large amount of luggage made a black cab a more compelling, if expensive, proposition. On arrival at the airport Muriel did suggest to the cockney driver that his fair of 17 shillings and 6 pence suggested he was “a bit of an apple bobber”. This was possibly the reason why “would you Adam and Eve it?”, I had to unload the luggage from the boot myself and find our own porter. As he disappeared back down the tunnel under the main runway, he could be heard to shout “Sweaty Socks of course, tight with the old bees and honey”. Muriel didn’t hear this and instead remarked on how much he had redeemed himself in her eyes as he bade farewell with Mr Churchill’s famous Victory sign. Just as well she was not wearing her new “bin lids” at this point.
Special Treatment, a Nervous Traveller and Home Comforts
As Muriel is travelling on a diplomatic passport we were allowed to wait in the special V.I.P. Lounge with the Queen’s Messengers. These are experienced and sophisticated travellers who despite the attempts of Lady Pentland-Firth to engage them in conversation were more interested to know why Mrs Travers found it necessary to wear a parachute and carry in her hand baggage a plain loaf, half a dozen slices of flat Lorne sausage, a black pudding, a partially cooked stew and an apple crumble with a packet of Birds’ Custard. “Oh Madam” said the diplomatic bag carrier, “you are only going to Switzerland for a few days, I can assure you they have delicious food, wonderful cheeses such as gruyere and emmental and of course there are fondue evenings and muesli, for breakfast”.
This cut very little ice with Mrs Travers who replied that she had also taken the precaution of packing some good Scots cheddar of the dyed orange variety and some Dairylee cheese triangles and “ I have heard about they fondue things; if you think I am cookin’ my own tea while I am on holiday you a have another think coming and as to that uncooked porridge stuff they eat for breakfast, do I look like ma name’s Heidi? No as far as I am concerned if you canny steep, it ye canny eat it.”
Just at this point Sir Reginald Edward Manningham-Buller, the Attorney General and the leading member of the delegation, arrived and took sides with Mrs Travers, he said he never left home without a box of cheese triangles and after all he had prosecuted serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams, although as it turned out not very well. The Representative of the Trawlers’ Association said he had two bottles of Shippham’s bloater paste in his B.E.A. holdall and the representatives of the Foreign Office, Sir This and Sir That, said that they wouldn’t touch the thing called muesli if you paid them although both of their wives had asked them to look out for cuckoo clocks.
Worries about the Comrades and a Blank Wall at No. 10
In case you have forgotten and please don’t let this go any further, The Conference on the Law of the Sea is about to take place in Geneva. There is much disagreement about territorial waters and the comrades are as usual being very troublesome. There is grave concern in the west, and I don’t mean Dumbarton, about the waters between where the comrades live and the Japanese who need a lot of sea as they like fish.
Muriel’s good friend from S.O.E. days, Winnie, (who has a bicycle, a wool shop in Auchterader and a fancy man called Mr Chan), has been in Geneva keeping an eye on the comrades under the guise of running a crotchet and knitting workshop for the wives of delegates. Unfortunatly she has disappeared and this worries the Prime minister, Harold Macmillan, as he had plans to hang the completed work of crotched Japanese coastal waters, highlighting Mount Fuji and cherry blossom etc., in the Cabinet Room as it would make it cosier. Mr Macmillan is quite a cosy Prime Minister as his moustache shows. The Prime Minister is very anxious that the Japanese get some credit for having become much nicer people than they were during the last Unpleasantness when they were very horrid indeed, he knows this as he saw Bridge on the River Kwai last year.
On the other hand he is very wary of the comrades who he believes to be involved in subversion everywhere despite having Peter and the Wolf and other nice stories. For this reason he might well make John Profumo War Minister if he does well as undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office. We, it seems, are on the trail of Winnie, there is always the danger of course that she has been turned and has gone over to machine knitting.
In the Departure Lounge at London Airport
“Jasper would you like a cup of coffee and a slice of individually wrapped Dundee cake while we wait for our flight to be announced?”
“I don’t mind if I do Darling. By the way, have you seen Mrs Travers?”
“Yes she is in the Ladies putting on her combinations ‘in case it is cold up there’ and putting almond oil and cotton wool in her ears ‘in case someone has left a window open’ and she gets sucked out, not to mention buttering a few crackers in case she gets the munchies.”
“Are you sure we should be taking her Muriel, the Swiss are very particular you know?”
“Well the Handsome Stranger insisted and Grace is holding the fort in Glasgow. Do you need anything to read before boarding?”
“No I think I am fine Muriel thank you. I have The Glasgow Herald and my Baedecker’s Switzerland”.
“Up to date?”
“Yes 1913, – can’t have changed that much, after all they rarely got involved in anything unpleasant except stashing away money.”
“Sometimes Jasper you sound so bitter, that’s the trouble with you socialists.”
“Or perhaps I am just truthful Muriel? Now who is this in the disguise of an Alpine horn player?”
A Legend Arrives
“Thought you wouldn’t recognize me! Handsome Stranger here with your legend.
Mrs Wylie you are a Scottish knitting lady of the eccentric sort with an interest in mountain folklore and will be taking over the woollen workshop for the wives of conference attendees. Mr Wylie you are researching the story of a Calvinist figure called John Calvin who was a very important Calvinist figure influencing some of the more fun aspects of the Church of Scotland, particularly anxiety. You are preparing a lecture for your Hysterical, sorry I mean Historical Society.”
“What about Mrs Travers?”
“She is a leading international marine biologist with an expertise in seaweed.”
“Oh really that is quite unbelievable, the only experience she has of marine life is Blackpool where “she fell” under the influence of the silver tongued Mr Travers, a bottle of brown ale and 6 pennyworth of cod and chips, the result 9 months later was her Billy.”
“Well Muriel we shall see, shall we? The chief shadow, or “Mother” as we like to think of him – he is very fond of heels – likes to experiment. He says, counter intuitive thinking puts the excitement back into espionage.”
“And possibly put 2 bullets into our backs.”
“Come, come Mr Wylie; you do over think things.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen British European Airways announce the departure of flight BE1958 to Geneva, which is in Switzerland. Would those passengers travelling with William Tell Holidays please step forward and make themselves known to the ground crew.”
“Who are they, Muriel?”
“We are… it is our code name, hurry up Mrs Travers you can straighten that gusset later.”
“Where is Lady Pentland Firth?”
“Over there Jasper, give her a call.”
“Patience, that’s our flight; put that young man down, he’s barely out of short trousers.”
Up the steps to Silver Wing Class for a Yodel
“Good morning, Madam; Madam; oh and a right Madam as well. Good morning Sir, just first on your right; you are all in Silver Wing, it’s the first class.”
“That’s a window seat for you Madam, and might I hang up your ladyship’s mink.”
“Indeed you may, young man and you can hang out with me, indeed hangout out any time you like.”
“Honestly Patience, we haven’t even taken off and you are flirting with one of the Stewards.”
“Oh Muriel, don’t be a spoil sport anyway pound to a penny that one is on the other airport bus if you know what I mean. Oh Steward I am having trouble with my safety belt perhaps you might give it a click for me?”
“Oh for goodness sake Patience! I am not even entirely sure why you are coming with us anyway?”
“I am investigating the possibilities of a Swiss Night at one of my Classic Country House Concerts, to be called Beyond Yodelling.”
“Oh Patience please don’t tell me there is something beyond yodelling.”
“Oh yes, The Trio Schmid, surely Muriel you’ve seen them on Liberace?”
“I don’t suppose they yodel and cha-cha-cha?”
“Indeed they do Muriel.”
“I knew that stew would come in useful”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of Captain Binkie Beaufort welcome on board this BEA, non-stop flight to Geneva, which is in Switzerland. Please extinguish all cigarettes and if the lady in seat 5a would like to give the thumbs up after take-off I have put her stew in the warming drawer and the Captain says he wouldn’t mind a bowl once we are over the French Coast and he has some nice crusty bread which he is happy to share.
For your information there is a safety leaflet in the pocket in front of you and a water proof bag in case, well just in case; I don’t want to put any ideas into your heads, you know what they say about the power of suggestion and you will just start me off. Shortly after take – off we shall be making a sharp left to avoid Windsor Castle as the Queen is still in bed.”
Distracting Mrs Travers for takeoff
“Barley sugar Madam? Barley sugar Sir? Barley Sugar Your Ladyship? Barley Sugar Madam?”
“No thank you Miss I brought a Caramel Wafer and a few custard creams.”
“Jasper, distract Mrs Travers as we take off. You know what she is like with heights, let alone aeroplanes. I have enough trouble getting her on a stool to damp dust my classical niche.”
“Chocks away everyone.”
“Mrs Travers, I spy with my little eye something beginning with F.”
“Oh that’s a great help Jasper!”
“Och Mrs Wylie, ma lugs feel funny.”
“Just put the apple turnover down and suck this barley sugar Mrs T, and you will soon be relieved, isn’t that right Lady P-F?”
”Well judging by the number of times I have heard that line Muriel I would say you are absolutely right. I remember when I was in Berlin in 1933….”
“I think we will leave it there Patience we don’t want to overexcite the whole aircraft now do we?”
“Oh Muriel sometimes you are such a Presbyterian, if not a downright prude.”
“Well Patience do not forget I am going to research Calvin”.
“Jasper just stick to the Glasgow Herald, by the way any excitement to report?”
“The Scottish Garden City Movement is looking for funds and trying to get more disabled ex-servicemen into cottaging.”
“I should have thought Jasper that they had enough to worry about, I’ll send them a box of barley sugars instead. I remember in 1936 when I Bavaria with my cabaret act I was invited to some cottage in a mountain Eagle something or other…. awfully nice couple.”
That Passenger Looks Familiar
“Excuse me madam – Mrs Wylie”
“I believe you are with William Tell Holidays” said a man with a jeweller’s magnifying glass and an assortment of miniature screwdrivers on the table in front of his seat.
“Oh it’s you Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes of the very good varsity in Glasgow; I did not expect to see you especially not disguised as a Swiss Watchmaker.”
“Please take this envelope; it contains your instructions for arrival in Geneva which is in Switzerland.”
“Oh Mrs Wylie”
“What is it Mrs Travers”.
“Would this gentleman by any chance be a Swiss Watchmaker as there is something wrong with my movement?”
“Would you fasten your safety belt Lady Pentland-Firth we are going down.”
“Oh Steward I didn’t know you cared.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen we shall shortly begin our descent into Geneva which is in Switzerland, please advance your watches by one hour presuming they do not have dodgy movements.”
“Barley sugar for landing Madam?”
“I spy with my little eye something beginning with M and B”,
“Mount Blanc, ooh bit of a cross wind there.”
“Goodbye; thank you for flying with B.E.A..”
“Thank you Captain, I am always pleased to be on the ground.”
“Oh me too Mrs Travers, sometimes my knuckles are white from grasping the what’s it and trying to read the doodahs at the same time, and my head like mince from praying” replied the pilot.
“Well I thought you coped wi’ they hills, the cross winds, that other aeroplane alongside where we could see what the passengers were reading and generally atrocious conditions very well.”
“My pleasure Mrs Travers, the Alps are a challenge; they are so high and often hard to see. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way but the other pilot in the aircraft alongside waved me in the general direction. Thank you so much for the lovely stew, it really kept me going after the Normandy Coast. One gets so fed up with the foie gras and caviar from first class and fortunately the first officer had a nice bottle of Nuits Saint George which we shared. I don’t suppose you could do a steak pie for the return flight could you?”