Home For Christmas

Madness in Town

Mission accomplished

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.

the R.S.A.C.

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.

the perfect Christmas wreath

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. 

That’s Life 

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.

Miss Marigold Berry

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.

Formica for modern living

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”.

Sebastian

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

Gay 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.

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

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.

Yardley Gift sets 1955

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”.

The Coty talc – 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

toffees for the terrible two!

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.

Lady P-F at her most intimidating

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.”

“Who?”

“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……….”.

“No chance.”

“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.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

Christmas 1957

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5 Responses to Home For Christmas

  1. Moira Taylor says:

    Its so reassuring to see how well Chez Nous is doing, Muriel, and well deserved too. Although I am not all sure about the Formica, a bit common, don’t you think?I feel it is yet another of Lulubelle’s influences and not really for ‘us’.
    I do wish I hadn’t read about the children’s party, I could fair go a pink blancmange now and there is none in the pantry. Full marks to dear Winnie for her thoughtful knitted toys.
    You are very kind to invest in a Ladyshave for Mrs Travers but I was rather alarmed that you are buying the same gift for The Handsome Stranger that you are giving to dear Jasper.Surely you cannot consider them to be on a par with one another??
    Very good advice to the assistant minister, Muriel, he sounds far too modern.
    Do have a simply marvellous Christmas with Jasper and a very good 1958 when it comes xx

  2. seileasdar says:

    Merry Muriel, everyone!

    How delightful to read that Muriel is finally winding down for the Christmas celebrations and remains steadfast and organised with her preparations.

    I am not surprised to read that Chez Nous is doing well this time of the year. One cannot but admire the style and the quality of her goods, and as Jasper pointed out so rightly, hers is indeed surpassing the pacesetter of the interior design world, at least north of the Tweed.

    And again, I am not surprised to read that Muriel’s master classes were a triumph. Her influence, after all, is second to none. And what a strike of genius to combine her flowering and foliaging events with catering to show off her panache in the kitchen! The British answer to Julia Child and her matchless art and expertise in the kitchen! How delightful to see the Queen of Flour, Fruits and Fools in action on cupcake advice! Remind me to book one of her classes. One can only thrive on her greatness.

    How good to read about her never-faltering dedication to the good causes in our society and the refreshing influence of dear Winnie in providing delightful toys and diversion from hard lives! Again, handcrafted goods save the day. It reassures me endlessly to read that knitted goods are still en vogue and treasured, as I hope that my own gifts of gloves, hats, socks and neck warmers will be appreciated by friends and families this evening when they unwrap them under the tree. Oh to see their eyes about the prospect of warm extremities and cosy fashion!

    I see that Muriel has chosen her own gifts with just the right modicum of concern and efficiency in purchasing trusted and tried gift sets that bring delight, aspiration and fragrance to deserving humble lives. I wish everyone would let themselves be influenced by the same care in preparing for a special day of harmony, reflection and tranquillity.

    We, for one, still have to decorate the tree, prepare the potato salad for this evening, have a walk, drink tea and eat biscuits, and then be all merry and happy. I hope I will have enough time for all the tranquillity that will be upon us!

    Merry Christmas and Fröhliche Weihnachten!

  3. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Seasonal greed, artistic ability and the social intricacies of the gift set. ‬

    ‪The shops are to be avoided at this time of the year. If you really must have a new teapot at the expense of your soul then you’ve probably misunderstood the meaning of teapots.‬

    ‪I tend towards a plain teapot, lacking artistic ability as I do. I leave the decorative to the talented. Even mighty Muriel couldn’t help me. I can’t imagine the horrors I would inflict on Society, if given chicken wire and the socialist press.‬

    ‪Marigold Berry, now there’s a name from the past. A bad egg, although all eggs are bad unless you have the permission of the source bird. ‬

    ‪Poor Sebastian and Dimitri, so far apart and theirs such a close friendship. I sympathise and understand.‬

    ‪I’m concerned that blancmange doesn’t actually exist, and is just a way of hiding unsavoury ingredients in a dessert. The children deserve the finest fruits. Mrs. Travers probably needs a bath. We all need hope. None of us needs a gift set, unless it’s from Penhaligon’s. Society has descended to the level Lynx Africa is the norm in the changing room. I am unique.‬

    ‪That’s not Archie Scott-Brown is it? No, I can’t imagine Archie being at all intimidated by Lady P-F. Never trust a vicar who plays the guitar, they’re neither one thing nor the other. They’re more prone to the other.‬

    ‪Merry Christmas ‬

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    My Dwaaling, how right you are: no one does seasonal symbolism comme toi, as demonstrated by your dear little candle cakes. Likewise, gay blancmange – nobody does it like you! Such a fanciful addition to any festive feast, I always say, and very popular with all the chums!

    Maintenant chérie, if one may be so bold (but do tell) – is that photograph of our dear chum, Sebastian, looking RAWTHER debonair, a new one perchance? One is simply delighted that he is once again gracing British audiences with his method in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. One is sure his exit ‘pursued by a bear’ is a thing of true, theatrical beauty. One is also overly delighted that darling Dimitri has accompanied Sebastian for Christmas – you know how it is – once a dancer; always a dancer……it is a meeting of minds with he and I……one has never found his grand battement too decadent……nor his gargouillades……

    Now, one simply MUST dash…..a quick spray of Coty L’Aimant and a quick mix of a Martini……Dimitri is popping over to discuss his Nutcracker……in detail……

    Joyeux Noël tout le monde!

    Yours shaken and stirred,
    Lulu xxxx

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