Growing Taller

Dignity, Even in the Heat

oozing je ne sais quoi even in the heat

To quote the average Glaswegian “ ̓s warm intit daarlin’; the sweat’s puir drippin’ aff yoose too.” Or for those of you with  a more refined ear, “what an unusually humid day it is my good lady; I can see that like moi you too are gently glowing”. Never forget, ladies, no matter how uncomfortable the weather, horses sweat, men perspire and ladies gently glow. There are in any case few things that cannot be endured with the aid of a fan and a lace trimmed handkerchief, drenched in Eau de Cologne, and a cool drink.

It is apparently the warmest June in Glasgow since 1950. However, this is still no excuse for eating ice cream in the street or for discarding your corsets. I have today witnessed the sight of one or two well known West End ladies, (including Mrs Cynthia Savage, of Savage’s Condiments and Pickles) not only hatless, but with bosoms being worn at near waist level. Remember ladies you are heading for lunch at The Rogano not blow-piping it in the jungles of the Amazon.

It’s Nothing Really

I am having an iced coffee in the “Kenya Coffee House” in Buchanan Street. If truth be told I am also having one of their magnificent choux buns covered in chocolate and filled with real cream. One does not want one’s energy levels falling too much in this heat. I must confess I have been feeling a little lacking in the old get-up-and-go this week.

The triumph of the night

The Country House Concert at Lady Pentland-Firth’s was a triumph and I must agree with Jasper that it was almost entirely down to me. The failure of major international stars to turn up was almost a disaster, but Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of the Music Department at the Varsity, where he is an expert on shape notes, persuaded me to step in with my own version of the classic Mozart opera Cosi fan Tuttie. This is a tale of men testing women which is something Scots’ women are rather used to. Jasper for example is very testing.

I was very reluctant, but there was no choice, once an S.O.E. operative one is forever at the service of others. I knew that the future of the estate depended upon moi, as did the fortunes of Patience Pentland-Firth.  It does not seem unreasonable to say that it was a triumph and indeed all the major critics concurred that “Muriel Wylie gave a performance which has left us tearful and lost for words”.

My arias moved the critics to tears

Bookings for the next concert are already well advanced and Lady Pentland-Firth says she may even be able to afford to repair the Deacon Brodie Commode in the “Edinburgh Suite”. There are some mutterings about The Ring Cycle which is very flattering, but I do not do Wagner. It’s not that I do not forgive, (I will even pat a dachshund if necessary), however, I do not forget and in particular I do not forget the circumstances of my interrogation during the last Unpleasantness when my lipstick and nail polish were removed by those brutes.

Being a Diva is So Fatiguing!

To my adoring audience

In truth the heat and the aftermath of the concert have left me a little fatigued. Perhaps it is just the lows after the highs and I imagine that Callas and Sutherland are also used to anti-climax as well. One gives so much as a performer there are bound to be consequences. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not in the first flush of youth. I know that with my perfect posture and flawless complexion (I owe it all to Ponds and Helena Rubenstein) you will find this hard to believe, but it is true.

This week I have wondered if it is time to pass the baton of marvellousness onto someone else and then I give myself a good talking too and remembered that as a torch bearer for “gracious living”, it is my duty to continue. I am aware that many ordinary people, without hope or talent or a good pair of Rayne sling backs, have come to rely on me.

My “raynes”

I, however, also rely on you and take my inspiration from others who carry on despite all that life throws at them.

Lost in the Jungle and Still Standing Tall

This week for example I met a Sergeant K. McConnell who was rescued after 22 days alone and unarmed in the Malayan jungle. He bravely stayed for 5 days by his wrecked plane and then spent 17 days limping through the jungle. On being found, he refused to lie on the stretcher provided by the rescue party. I intend to inform Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does but not a lot) of this next time she complains about chopping sticks for the fire when it is barely below freezing and then has a two hour tea break.

China on Her Mind

A Miss Mitchison, who I bumped into in the powder room of the Central Hotel, has recently found herself “travelling in China”. Now I do not mean she has been going door to door with cheap tea sets, rather journeying through the “sleeping giant” on the other side of the world. Now rather than be overawed by “tediously orthodox communists”, this enterprising lady decided to make the most of her time and see what she might learn and “grow taller”. Thus she has been impressed by the railways with their children’s waiting rooms and special carriages for mothers and children. Equally impressive are special children’s theatres and cinemas. Even book shops have special children’s corners and libraries are easier to find and “less formidable to get into”.

She was particularly interested in the Shanghai H.Q. of the Young Pioneers where the leader, Mr Chen Wei Po, showed her around ‘The Path of the Brave’. This was a twisting, fenced-in, junior commando course rather I imagine like the east end of Argyle Street on a Saturday night. My new acquaintance suggested this would be ideal for some of our more unruly children. Mr Chen said it was all the result of “the liberation”, by which he meant the Communist Revolution. Before this parents, it seems, “beat their children” and children were “nationalists and afraid of foreigners”. Naughty children are not allowed into the Young Pioneers or onto ‘The Path of The Brave’ until other children have helped them to reform and get up to membership standards. We have something similar called The Masons.

Counter Revolutionaries in the Furniture Trade

I am not sure I can approve of this “moral reform” or what is clearly brain washing, however, I do approve of some of the new teaching methods, even if they are to give children a “dialectically materialistic background”. Thus a school in Peking teaches from objects so that children can see and handle things and learn from them. There is far less traditional classroom teaching and less emphasis on formal elaborate manners. The former I agree with the latter will lead to trouble many years down the line. Manners are after all a common language.

What I do find disturbing from my conversation is that children, on discovering that their father may be a counter revolutionary (for example he might be planning to set fire to a furniture factory because he has had a bad deal on a tea table) are encouraged to tell the authorities. Now my family who have been in furniture since the last century often had factory fires during downturns in trade, particularly where there was good insurance. It was something of a Glasgow custom. So they would have found it very inconvenient to be labelled counter revolutionaries. Indeed I am sure my grandfather thought of it more as an opportunity to modernise the plant and replace capital equipment. It seems that communist reforms here would not have led to new wood turning lathes or the latest band saw, but a hustle into a van and a trip over the Campsie Hills for re-education at the very least.

 A Study?

Travel it does seem broadens the mind, but not always. There is something very annoying about those who leave their native city for the supposed streets of gold elsewhere and then return as what one might call ‘social commentators’ on the very place that gave them life and opportunity. I refer to an article in The Herald entitled “Glaswegians Grow Taller”. According to a returning M.P. there are still far more short and undersized people in Glasgow than in any other part of Britain. There are, however, less of them due to war time conditions which produced “green ration books, cod liver oil, orange juice and school meals”. I am not convinced that returning to one’s native city after a period in the Deep South to describe the inhabitants as “interesting” as if visiting a zoological garden is entirely nice.

Glasgow Women Under Attack

I’ve never approved of smoking

Our returning politician compounds his felony by focusing his attention on Glasgow women. It seems we are all still smoking in the street and “talking with a ciggy wagging up and down”. Furthermore in the recent past a general dowdiness and lumpenness was “to be brutally frank… a distressingly common characteristic of the Glasgow Matron”. Oh really!

I take it this overpaid representative of the good citizens of the ‘Dear Green Place’ is unfamiliar with the finer residential developments of our city and for that reason its refined citizens. I have never smoked, and I feel a guilty pang if I am sucking a Fisherman’s Friend as I walk down Sauchiehall Street. As to dowdy and lumpen I intend to invite said gentleman to one of my Etiquette Classes where he will see only grace, beauty and a finely turned ankle and that is just me.

The blame it seems lies fairly and squarely with the garment to which said matrons are addicted and that is the “universal top garment of the female Glaswegian – the fur coat”. Through the eyes of this son of St Mungo we see we have “from the Cowcaddens to Kirklee reached the social equality of cave dwellers”.

Do i resemble a cave dweller? I think not!

It is almost as if our politician is on safari and from the safety of his jeep (or flat in Westminster) has seen through a pair of binoculars an exotic species, the Glaswegian housewife who is apparently at least, until recently, been seen camouflaged in her pinny, over which she wears her “fur coat with a down trodden pair of slippers at her feet and curling pins in her hair.” He clearly not spotted moi! The only explanation for his comments is well and truly revealed by himself – he is now it seems an “Edinburgh man”.

Auld Reekie –  Could do better in Drapery Windows

What passes for effort in Edinburgh!

Talking of Edinburgh and it seems we must, the city has been disappointing in its response to “Scottish Week”. I know this as a member of the Retail Drapers’ Association. At a meeting yesterday Councillor Patterson, the Honorary President, commended “Scottish Week” to all members asking them to feature Scottish articles in their window and internal displays.  The Chairman of “Scottish Week”, Mr Allan, regretted Edinburgh had not put on a bigger show and hoped that in future years they would give a more encouraging lead.

The “Chez Nous” Window in “Scottish Week”

He singled out Aberdeen as the city providing the best response and it will come as no surprise dear reader to learn that the business providing the most typical Scottish response was “Chez Nous” and Mr and Mrs Wylie of Glasgow. I hope you are reading this, the member for vacuous comments.

Revolution and Counter Revolution in the Cake World

I think I just have time for another coffee and then I am going to a demonstration of packet cake mixes. Steady – I know what you are thinking, but these have been accepted in America for a long time. I wonder dear Patty, do you use them in the Blue Ridge Mountains? In the United States they have, I am told, packets which produce high fluffy white Angel Cakes, chocolate favoured Devil’s Food Cake and delicious Brownies. I am told all one needs is an egg and a little milk.

Now I am well aware of the stigma attached to cake mixes and the views of Scottish housewives that anything which saves work probably has a sinful side to it and will lead to eternal damnation. However, cake mixes are becoming respectable and let us face it, how many of us since the war have been able to afford a cook. Well fair play there is me, but then there is you, Mrs Ordinary. You can always buy from a grocer that does not know you and trust me I will certainly not be telling that clever so-and-so M.P. in order that he might pillory the slothful fur-coated user of packet cake mixes.

The champion of cakes at the Rural bolthole Women’s Rural summer competition

On reflection I feel sure that the Chinese might well be fans of the cake mix; they will definitely see it as a sign of liberation. On the other hand while I might promote the cake mix in town, I would never dream of doing so in our Rural Bolthole where it would be seen as degenerate if not counter revolutionary and certainly might be cause to call for a van to take one over the hills and far away.

Well time to square up at the Kiosk before I attempt the ‘Path of the Brave’ otherwise known as the taxi queue at Queen Street station. I need to be at the McClellan Galleries at 11 for the Packet Mix Demonstration.

Exeunt

Champagne from “Fortnum’s”

Jasper and I intend to have a quiet night in and I am going to break out the Fortnum & Mason’s bottle of champagne to toast a dear friend who has so sadly and so suddenly just left us. Roy, who has lived for some years in Greece, was the most hospitable, witty and kindly of men who cooked the best Ossobuco we have ever tasted.

Shakespeare House, an Elizabethan coaching inn

We shared a Shakespeare connection with Roy and dear Nick.  They once entertained Jasper and I as if we were Titania and Oberon in their beautiful Buckinghamshire home…..

Where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine…

Such larks! Farewell Dear Friend.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

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3 Responses to Growing Taller

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    Félicitations ma chérie, on your Così fan tutte extraordinaire! A fantabulosa spectaclé, sans doute! One is not at all surprised to hear that many were overcome to the point of tears by your pitch-perfect performance.

    Fatigue – tell moi about it, dwaaling! One is all too familiar with ‘post-performance fatigue’! One gives one’s all in the name of Art…..breaks down fourth walls……sacrifices everything for one’s public….and, bien sûr, receives glowing reviews for one’s oeuf. But, at what cost? One is left feeling as an empty shell…..an empty vessel drained of all ‘marvellousness’ and ‘je ne sais quoi’. But what can one do?! One simply must rest in order to revive…..as you quite rightly say, dwaaling, one must rally round and fight the good fight in the name of ‘Gracious Living’; being ever mindful of those who know not what it is to be ‘simply marvellous’ (and, yes, I do refer to those amongst us who are swinging low and loose – sans chapeau et corset en été). Sacré bleu!

    Maintenant, Mu dwaaling, one must indulge in a wee pre-prandial Sherry prior to the kirk. One, as you know, is in a highly-charged emotional state, otherwise known as ‘pre-performance hysteria’. My avant-garde production of Alice – The Musical (based on Lewis Carrolls’s classic, timeless tale ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll) opens in just over a week…..and, dwaaling, there is simply so much to do! As always, one must remain at the vanguard of cutting edge, thrusting performance techniques…….the question is: does one have yet more white rabbits to pull out of the Mad Hatter’s hat…….??

    Yours weary in Wonderland,
    Lulu xxxx

  2. Moira Taylor says:

    Muriel, how right you are – I am glowing something frightful in this heat. In fact if I were to glow any brighter I fear I should be used to divert shipping from jaggy rocks along the coast!
    However, as you point out this is no excuse to lower standards and I was fair scandalised to read of Mrs Savage and her companions discarding their foundation garments as well as their headgear. Whatever next?
    I must congratulate you once again on your triumph at the Country House Concert – Bravo dear Muriel!
    Oh dear you really are a wag, Muriel, with your remark about the “member for vacuous comments”!You are quite right of course, the man is clearly a bounder and has no place in The Mother of Parliaments.
    I sincerely hope that the packet mix does not become de rigeur at the local flower show as this is not, strictly speaking (and I am very strict), translate into ‘home made’ for me.
    What a lovely tribute to end on dear Muriel & Jasper.

  3. Matthew Bate says:

    China indeed, a fur coat and slippers, and the loss of a fellow well met.

    Well, the sweat is certainly dripping. I’m not wearing a corset this weekend.

    Once again I fear for Lady P-F’s finances and I will continue to leave the car ’round the corner.

    I agree that Wagner is a worry. One would not in introduce him to one’s wife.

    This ‘China’ place. It won’t catch on. Cake mix indeed. Can you imagine a nation such as that becoming the most important economy in the world? No. Although the teaching methods look interesting. A feel is as good as a lecture I always say.

    The women of Glasgow should take to the streets in their finery. As should we all, I’ll bring my spurtle. If the MP is from Edinburgh he’s probably an invention of Sir Walter Scott. Chez Nous is clearly a truer representation of Scotland.

    RIP Roy.

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