Madness in Town
It is utter madness in town. If I haven’t got it now, then we won’t be having it. Thank goodness I am a well organised lady and only have to flit in and out of the stores for last minute things and what would Christmas be without that last minute rush? Of course I have to be organised as I am a woman of business as well as a housewife par excellence. Added to which I have as much delivered as possible, which reminds me the Christmas tree came this morning, Jasper will need to find some bricks and a bucket.
I am in the Club, no not that one, don’t be ridiculous – the R.S.A.C. in Blytheswood Square waiting for Jasper to pick me up; he is off on “secrets”. I am just having a little refreshment.
“Chez Nous” is Doing Well
I am pleased to be able to report that “Chez Nous”, the only shop in town as far as interior decorating is concerned, is turning over a nice little profit as nervous hostesses rush in to replace an old table lamp with unfashionable shade with something more chic or one of my washed Chinese rugs to hide a stain on a drawing room carpet, just in case the neighbours come in.
My “Christmas in Flowers and Foliage” Masterclass was a triumph. Of course I had the usual comments like “Are you inspired by Constance Spy?” to which I had to reply with my usual modesty “Actually it is the other way around; I was a beacon for Constance and indeed Beverley Nichols. Indeed Beverley said I had given life and new meaning to chicken wire and damp newspaper.” Although of course as you know, I would never dampen any press coverage of Princess Margaret of H.M., although I must say the socialist press seems quite absorbent.
It is amazing how many ladies and indeed odd gentlemen come on under my tutelage, having begun the class with the usual comment, “I just don’t have green fingers” or “I have no artistry Muriel”. By the end of the day they are full of confidence and not a little cream sherry and desperate to get hold of some twisted willow and a piece of ivy. My class by the way includes coffee and shortbread, fork luncheon and afternoon tea with mince pies, not to mention my famous chocolate crispies with jelly baby and candle cakes which always brings forth hoots of delight. (The recipe for candle cakes is at the end, dear chums – I know how you love it. ) I am after all a bit of a whizz when it comes to seasonal symbolism. Should you wish to book for next year, Miss Smallcombe, my manager at “Chez Nous” is always poised at the end of a telephone (Central 666) with some deckled scrap paper and a fountain pen.
In case you think my life is all double yokes and fur trim, well rest assured even the chosen in the decorative world have from time to time to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Buildings have to be maintained, one’s damp patches dried out and stock moved for maximum profit.
One also always has problems the minute one employs other people, no one ever has the welfare of one’s business at one’s heart the way one does, except of course one’s bank manager and dear Mr Chanter, my accountant who is marvellous with double entry. I am sure you will remember that awful business with my previous manager, Miss Berry, and her paramour making inappropriate use of my vacuum pump change and receipt system.
There is also the question of one’s competitors out to make trouble. Why only recently there were rumours that my made-to-measure curtains were “not double the width as claimed.” As Jasper says I need to remember “he who flings, mud looses ground”. Talking of ground, much of it is now being built on for housing which is good for those seeking homes out of the city centre and it provides opportunities for decorating show houses.
This is very competitive and only last week I lost out to a competitor, (yes your disbelief is widely felt) merely on the question of price. When did we become so fixated with price over quality? After all I use the best underlay, latest Formica kitchen colours and full sized furniture. Still as Jasper, who is very wise, pointed out “Muriel if one wants the Harrods of room dividers they come to you; there are many branches of Woolworths if you want sticky backed plastic,” and he quoted his old Jewish friend Ernie who was in the hosiery business, “if you buy cheap, you buy twice.” The trouble is my Cousin Lulubelle, who is an American as well as my business partner, favours ‘the pile ̓em high and sell ̓em cheap approach’ which does not sit well with me.
Suffer the Little Children
One has to focus on the positive things in life and I am happy to report that my ward Gayle is thriving under our roof with the help of our nursery nurse Hairy Mary from Inveraray. She is of course the daughter of our nephew Sebastian, a thespian, currently in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale in New York where he is studying “the method”.
Shakespeare is a well known Elizabethan dramatist called William Shakespeare who is responsible for English literature and a great deal of overacting. This play of course contains Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”. Sebastian seems to be doing rather well and enjoying life in “the village”, we do rather miss him although from time to time we see his friend Dimitri, who dances with the Royal Ballet having escaped from the comrades who found his grand battement rather too decadent. He very kindly turned up earlier in the week and demonstrated a little of his Nutcracker at the Children’s Party I arranged in the City Chambers for the Orphans and The Home for Fallen Women.
Knitted toys and the Best Blancmange
I am as you probably know Madam Chairman of the Home for Fallen Women and my neighbour Lady Pentland-Firth is a leading light in the Orphan Home. As both organisations are not unconnected we work together at Christmas to bring a little cheer. Jasper was Father Christmas, but said he felt rather guilty at distributing second hand puzzles with pieces missing and mechanical toys without their keys. I have to agree that poor children deserve new presents and not just other children’s cast offs. Children deserve dignity too.
My old friend Winnie, she of the wool shop and bicycle, did, however, save the day by turning up unexpectedly with baskets of hand knitted toys which brought smiles to faces and gave them something to love. At least the food was fresh we had jelly and blancmange, fruit and custard and Christmas pudding all courtesy of my favourites, Paisley firms Brown and Polson and Robertson’s marmalade.
Gift Sets All Round
I must admit that like most people I did not give this too much thought as I rushed about the department stores buying gifts for friends and family. Anyway what is done is done and the spare bedroom is piled with gifts wrapped and those still waiting for my wrapping expertise. I have bought quite a few Yardley gift sets.
Mrs Travers is always amused by bath cubes especially as she does not have a bath but I feel it gives her something to strive for. As she seems to be getting a little bit of a beard I have treated her to a Ladyshave, “a permanent investment in beauty”. I bought a new Gillette razor for Gayle to give Jasper. Mary and our new household member Grace are each having “Paris” by Coty. Coty L’Aimant, by the way, smells very like Chanel No.5 but at a fraction of the price, but one doesn’t want to give the, ideas above their station though one does want to give them hope, hence “Paris”.
My annoying neighbours Mrs Lottie Macaulay, the bungalow builder’s wife (he is big in concrete and elsewhere if you believe Lottie) and Cynthia Savage (her husband runs the pickle empire – Savage’s Pickles and Condiments) are getting tins of Sharps’ toffees
which will be a challenge for their dentures, but should give their husbands a momentary opportunity to engage in the art of conversation. I have a Pifco hair dryer for Lady Pentland-Firth and my cousin in the hope they get the hint to do something with their hair (a good cut is everything) and for the Handsome Stranger and my dear husband Corvette gift sets.
The Assistant Minister Needs Advice
I am also tempted to give the new and rather dishy assistant minister, recently returned from missionary work in Buenos Aires, a gift set but as he has a beard (the subject of much discussion among the older generation who feel it is rather too louche for a man of the cloth to have a beard and may suggest radical leadings and a tendency to establish youth organisations with names like The Sunshine Club), I think it would have to be the Corvette “invisible” talc and 2 tablets of Blue Moss soap rather than the shaving bowel and aftershave. Talking of the Rev. Scott-Brown, who went to the very good varsity in Glasgow and then the even better one in Oxford and has degrees as long as my arm, he called the other day to ask my advice about the Gift Service. Apparently the choir master is unwell after the choir outing to the Horseshoe Bar and some urgent advice was required as per the printed programme.
Advice is Required
He had already spoken to Lady Pentland-Firth as while “the living” is for Presbyterians a congregational matter, the Pentland-Firths have traditionally been the major “heritors” providing the bulk of income and therefore, still have a sway in church matters. Lady Pentland-Firth had suggested Ave Maria, rather a lot of Bach and something by the 17th century Metaphysical poet Herbert Howells. The Rev Scott-Brown was clearly intimidated by her, as many are, until I suggested that she may well have just read all this up in her Oxford Companion to Music as she was more familiar with some of the fruitier songs of the Weimar republic than the seasonal works of our great composers.
Apparently, according to the Reverend, she also prefers the traditional language of the King James Bible and the traditional hymns and carols. This, in all honesty, is news to me as she normally finds Picture Post and Jean Plaidy pretty hard going. Well I have to agree that the King James Bible is a work of poetry, but sometimes one had to be a bit more contemporary. He wondered if he might use his guitar, even although it was not yet the 1960s and perhaps introduce a small band of young people in a sort of jazzy way. While I admired his thinking, I did ask if he had a return ticket to Buenos Aires and suggested he should take one step at a time and see how half a dozen candles might go down, but not on the Communion Table, as there would be a schism and we had not had one of those since at least last year. As for Ave Maria, keep the music in the piano stool.
Jasper Back from his Mission
“Oh Jasper there you are have you been buying me something?”
“I might have, Dahling”
“Just so long as it is Chanel and not L’Aimant! Would you care for a Martini? I am having one just like Yana.”
“Yana, the singer, you knowm she’s said to be Britain’s answer to Marilyn Munroe.”
“She sounds foreign.”
“Yes she’s from Billericay, although they pretend she is from Cornwall.”
“Oh yes I remember she sang Climb up the Wall, now that would pack them in at the gift service….. this night is written in the stars……….”.
“Thought not, worth a try anyway, chin chin old girl.”
“Cheers, Jasper and Merry Christmas to you all, after all this night is written in the stars.”