Jasper’s Jottings: Old Fashioned

No Sparkle

November is a very tiring sort of month, don’t you agree? There is something distinctly odd about the weeks sandwiched between Bonfire Night and Advent. I suppose one might think of it as a sparkle deficit.

Occupations and Investigations

Cousin Lulubelle all ready to celebrate Ju

Of course Muriel’s American cousin does have Thanksgiving which I imagine is a sort of Christmas rehearsal and we in Scotland have St Andrew’s Day where, as far as I can see, nothing much really happens. The weather varies between cold and frosty and wet and grey which makes it not only tiring, but confusing.

Of course we have as you know our “occupations” with our various clubs and societies now in full swing including country dancing, which many live for, and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute who are busy putting as many items as possible into a matchbox, all of which are promoted by dark nights and fuelled by cake.  For those of a sporting nature there is always fly tying or carpet bowls and of course the gladiatorial contest that is the monthly meeting of the Parish Council. That, however, is not for the faint hearted or those of a nervous disposition. I, of course, have responsibility for “the Hysterical Society” as Muriel calls it, which as you know has not been without its difficulties after last month’s meeting was completely ruined by the strange affair of HiIda, our German “vuman vat did zee heavy vork”. She has now disappeared, having faked her death in a rare 18th century man trap on loan from the Pentland-Firth Estate.

Mrs T , the woman what does but not a lot, busier than ever

This is the subject of a police investigation and a great deal of complaining on the part of Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, who has had to “pick up the slack”, not to mention the damp dusting broom. 

Apple Turnover, Anna Karenina and Coconuts 

Sensing Mrs T’s annoyance and in an attempt to promote industrial harmony, Muriel has given her the morning off and a 10 shilling note to renew her support stockings and have a cup of tea and an apple turnover in the City Bakeries. In some ways it is all a bit rich given that Mrs T was not overly keen on Hilda in the first place, convinced she was after her position; and indeed for a while was held in police custody on suspicion of murder. As it turns out we should have been suspicious of Hilda for many other reasons.

Muriel herself has gone into town with Gayle (our ward and the daughter of our nephew Sebastian, the thespian who is in New York with the method actors) and Hairy Mary from Inveraray, the nursery nurse. Gayle is now in a push chair and Muriel feels it is time she got used to thick carpets in good department stores, so they are beginning with Coats and Mantles, followed by hats in Daly’s and then Karters, the Furriers as Muriel thinks it is never too soon for a girl to be dressed like a miniature Anna Karenina and the frosts are coming. I have no doubt Muriel will also return with a new hat.

a hat from “daly’s”

One would think the house would be quiet. However, the piano tuner is in the drawing room as Muriel is thinking of having a cocktail party for Christmas. Apparently the parquet flooring in the conservatory is a little dull and Muriel has got hold of some poor chap from foreign parts who is currently polishing it with coconut shells tied to his sandals. Muriel has heard this is what they do in the Carribean. The noise is pretty deafening.

Jasper and his beloved shed

I have, therefore, decamped to the shed as I have a new model of a World War I tank to go into my diorama of the Battle of Cambrai, which will require some thought as to positioning. Fortunately there is paraffin in my heater and a spot of whisky in my flask of tea so I should be able to keep the chills away.  Thank goodness for tweed and hot bags for the feet.

Stone Pigs and Silver Spoons

Well actually I have a hot pig as I am, what Agatha Christie calls, a “nice old fashioned type of person”. At least I hope I am nice. I think ceramic pigs (known as stone pigs) are an excellent way of keeping warm providing one remembers to wrap them in a towel as there is always a danger of toe stubbing.

An old fashioned sort of fellow

If I am old fashioned I hope it is in the best sort of way. I wouldn’t want to be old fashioned in the sense that some of our friends and neighbours are – you know the sort I mean, those who think there hasn’t been proper justice since Lord Braxfield was on the Bench or that the welfare state is state theft by any other name. No, I wouldn’t want to be that sort of nasty old fashioned person who thinks poverty is a personal failing or that women should be “enceinte, barefoot and in the kitchen”.

No, I mean the sort of wonderful ‘old fashioned’ – that others come first and one comes second. Although Muriel and I were brought up in very different parts of Glasgow, she with a silver spoon in her mouth and me with a coal shovel, we were both taught that others matter more than we do. That’s the sort of old fashioned person I strive to be. It is not easy – granted, especially when one is confronted by the great moral dilemmas of life such as who gets the last portion of syrup sponge and custard or hottest, most buttered piece of toast. I might fall down in these areas.

What is Fashionable Becomes Unfashionable

I suppose being old fashioned means many things to different people. I mean rickets and scarlet fever are old fashioned – who would want those? The late Queen Mary was old fashioned – she wore her bosom in the most old fashioned way I have ever seen. Morris dancing is old fashioned and was probably always has been. What was once fashionable also becomes unfashionable rather quickly like Sir Anthony Eden after Suez earlier this year, the Paisley shawl which looked fine with a crinoline dress and most inelegant with a bustle. Mourning jewellery was once very fashionable and is now forgotten.

As a young man I wore spats over my shoes; these would now suggest I was a gangster. Sock suspenders for men are a subject of derision but, I must confess, I find them a great comfort. Few in my youth would have worn corduroy as it had all the hallmarks of a country labourer, but now it is a sign of the country gent or even the university student along with a duffle coat. I imagine that in time they, along with beards and suede shoes, will cease to become sensational and become old fashioned for as Oscar Wilde said “It’s only the modern that becomes old fashioned”.

Some old fashioned things of course are used as a sign that trouble lies ahead as Bram Stoker wrote, “Count Dracula has directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found to my great delight, to be thoroughly old fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country”. As Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified solicitor visiting a client in Transylvania, finds out old fashioned does not necessarily bode well!

The Appeal of the Old Fashioned

The cosy fire

There are, however, old fashioned people and things that have an appeal, at least to me. It is something I suspect about comfort and knowing. Winter is old fashioned. What could be more old fashioned than a log fire?  In the winter it becomes an overriding occupation in the country where Muriel and I have our bolthole. One might say the rustics are obsessed by different types of wood, methods of storage and the qualities assigned to cherry or elm and the dangers posed by fragrant but resinous pine as it coats the chimney in tar.

Spotted Dick pudding

Puddings are old fashioned and so are parlour games and family quilts with each piece telling its own story. Stories themselves are old fashioned, serving to advise, warn, encourage and bind communities.  Travel by train is old fashioned – there is always the danger of sooty smuts as Celia Johnson discovered in Brief Encounter that most old fashioned of films.  However, one is far more aware of going somewhere different and there is the hint of adventure.

Old Fashioned Rituals of Our Lives

The rituals of life are rather old fashioned – birth, marriage and death are terribly old fashioned things and are marked in these parts in ways which sometimes seem themselves to belong to the past. No one passes a new baby in a pram without tucking a silver coin into the side of the blankets. Silver items are the christening gifts of choice; a coral necklace, still a gift for good luck. Young men still ask father’s permission for the daughter’s hand in marriage, and steak pie is the wedding breakfast of choice. Windows are opened at the time of death so the soul may fly and blinds and curtains are closed for funerals as a mark of respect. At Christmas the departed in our churchyards are remembered with a wreath of evergreens at most graves. 21st birthdays still mark a coming of age with parties and gifts of dressing gowns that will last a life time with shaving sets in leather cases, aspirational gifts from parents anxious that their sons have professional lives and there is still a symbolic and a real key for the door. A father may buy his daughter pearls for her 21st, but not a husband for they may break and broken pearls are the symbol of tears.

One Person’s Old Fashioned is Another Person’s Misery

Louisa May Alcott wrote in her book An Old Fashioned Girl, that she liked:

plain old fashioned churches, built for use not for show, where people met for hearty praying and preaching, and where everybody made their own music instead of listening to opera singers, as we do now. I don’t care if the old churches were bare and cold and the seats hard, there was real piety in them and the sincerity of it was felt in the lives of the people.

Of course a modern person might argue that this is all well and good if a person is content to act within the expectations and boundaries of society, but I often feel some sort of framework with which to live by may be old fashioned but preferable to the alternative.  I can myself put up with hard seats, although I do part company with Miss Alcott on the question of making one’s own music. This is rarely a good idea.

They say folk music is an expression of real peoples’ lives, I find it an expression mostly of moaning and a morbid obsession with transport disasters. Opera singers were invented for a good reason and let’s face it, being sung in foreign languages spares one the details which Muriel informs me, rather like ballet, is usually about toy makers, statues that come to life and Christmas decorations that get out of hand. Give me music for lounge lizards any day.

Only Words……..

Come to think of it lounge lizard is probably an old fashioned term used by old fashioned people. One first comes across it in Buster Keaton’s 1924 film Sherlock Junior. There are lots of words which are now old fashioned – who but hymn writers would use “asunder” or “eventide” for example.

Muriel’s grandmother was definitely old fashioned and  could not bear the use of the word ‘leg’, preferring lower limb, and would require the doctor if she glimpsed the sight of an undressed piano leg even on a boudoir grand. She would also never refer to a mother “being in labour”. She would refer instead to the ‘accouchement’, saying she could never discuss the entry of a human being into the world by using a word that sounded as if he or she were already trade unionists.

Mrs Lochhead, Muriel’s mother, would also describe herself as being up early in the manner of Samuel Pepys. Thus one would find her “up betimes”, despite having an “ailment” like the “ague”. This was never really the case as the ague was the old word for a malarial like illness which has not to my knowledge been recorded in Great Western Road for many a year. Mrs Lochhead would also talk of things taking place in the morning as being “in the forenoon”, and she never had breakfast she “would take a breakfast”.

Disapproval was the Lochhead version of old fashioned, they disapproved of most things – smiling in photographs was common; crying at funerals was for servants; public demonstrations of affection was appallingly vulgar; old age pensions was road to Bolshevism; not to mention anything which suggested enjoyment on Sundays or come to think of it most days.

Jasper’s Old Fashioned Favourites

There are some which have in my opinion stood the test of time like good timekeeping and manners in general. I don’t mean silly etiquette (although Muriel will disagree) as that is too often about snobbery and social control. I mean consideration for others.

Then there is public service which I think is good and deciding to do something and sticking to it. I do not really like borrowing money or anything come to that, but I do like the old fashioned notions of dividends; it is awful to worry about money, and dividends are so civilised. I prefer a pocket, to a wrist watch which says everything about a gentleman. A doctor who consults in his garden, is one of my favourite things, early rhubarb and espalier plumbs are always a good sign in a medic don’t you agree? Then there are old fashioned roses and moonlight. I think really Fred Astaire and Rita Heyworth say it best in song.

Wakey, Wakey

I think I can hear Mu outside the shed. It can’t be that time already. I must have dosed off.

A withering look?

“Jasper, Jasper, wake up, this shed smells of paraffin and whisky, I bet you haven’t trimmed your wick in weeks. For goodness sake, come up to the house you will catch your death of cold. Mrs Travers has put some chicken soup on. Jasper have you been drinking?”

“ Muriel, I’m old fashioned…….”

“More like drinking “old fashioneds”. I didn’t know we had any angostura bitters left.”

“Muriel your mother has been here with Buster Keaton and Samuel Pepys.”


November 1957

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7 Responses to Jasper’s Jottings: Old Fashioned

  1. seileasdar says:

    What a delightful way to spend ‘Totensonntag’, or remembrance Sunday in the German church calendar, sitting with Jasper in his beloved shed and listening to his musings and philosophical insights, away from the hustle and bustle of early Christmas preparations and winter defenses being pulled up in gentle and generous, albeit energetic, mode by our lovely and caring Muriel.
    It is rather pleasant to sit here with a wee dram and a wee warm feeling around one’s toes oozing from the pig, (or is that a leak in the stopper? I shall be stoic about it not to upset the otherwise perfect host in his realm). The gentle lilt of Jasper’s soothing voice in one’s ear, only marginally drowning out the enthusiastic whispering of that paraffin heater, and the mind is filled with memories, images and fabulous ideas! But where were we?

    Oh yes, the delights of the old-fashioned, as long as it is not tainted with bad memories or connotations. And unfortunately, Germany has its fair share of bad traditions what with the most recent unpleasantness and such. So there is a bit of a non-plussed gap in how one should behave properly at the moments. All eyes seem to be drawn to the far West, where culture and support seems to originate from, imported by the ever-jolly and gum-chewing Americans from our Allied Forces friends. And people fill the void with stuff, now that they can afford a bit of affluence again after the hard years. I wonder if this will last or be a remedy for socially empty souls?

    Luckily, the comfort of traditional foods has not been tainted by ideology, and so it is safe to retrieve into old recipes and ingredients that remind you of happier times, and that will heal the undernourished soul in Cold Times. Scotland is after all, not so different from Germany. We just don’t use as much animal suet in our puddings, mind you.

    It is good to find security in rituals and the knowledge of how and what to do when. Muriel will agree with me to say that a sure footing in social settings will avoid a lot of headache and awkwardness and unpleasant situations of having to intervene to restore order and equilibrium! The safety and appeal of the eternal ritual and set up of societies, now so favoured in chilly and bleak times, and how the Parish Council should be run, let alone the proper preparations and approved ways with the SWRI holding the candle high, so we can see our righteous way. There is Safety through knowledge and shared predictable experiences, so important within an ever-faster, ever-changing and modernising world. Just imagine what it would be without: disorientation and people forgetting their space and getting ideas! And we know where that leads to, people being dangerously let astray and having to falsify their untimely earthly departure in a historical man trap!

    Long live traditions and rituals, they structure life from cradle to grave. There is complete agreement here with Jasper, that lovable old and wise chap of natural wisdom and naturalness. We can enjoy the silence together, just like now, with a nice ‘tea’.

    But I still ponder where the dividing line is between the encrusted and the common sense manners, and most of all, the consideration for others. Love thy neighbour and all, well, maybe not in the bolthole, but you know what I mean. These regulations of social life should all be common sense and self-explanatory, even which knife to take to your sole, come to that!
    But we are fortunate and can rely on the ever-applied wisdom of our wonderful Muriel, our Queen of Etiquette, SOE Alumna, and Mistress of Conventions! Be it how to make the definitive sandwich, get properly in and out of a car, advice on how to avoid that ghastly lipstick stain on your crystal, or how to enunciate properly as a lady of class, our unique and incomparable Muriel will gladly be at hand to advise and dish out nuggets of insight and betterment.

    Our two intrepid heroes jointly battling their way through the thick jungle of modern day’s trials, tribulations and perils, both in their own ways, with their own set of skills, and their own worries, are after all not so different to each other. That’s what might have attracted them to each other in the first place, a kindred spirit found, cherished, nourished and treasured.

    The racket in the drawing room seems to have stopped, and I can hear the back door creaking open. Jasper looks quite cute, so fast asleep, his head tilted to the side, glasses sliding. I wonder if I should wake him before his lovely lady arrives? Too late, there she is in all her wintry-glowing glory.

    Time to go back into the future. It was again a pleasure visiting!

  2. Moira Taylor says:

    I suppose November is a tiring month, what with all the preparations needed for a good old fashioned Christmas.However, there is such a lovely smell to the November air that it can be invigorating without the need for artificial stimulants such as shed-kept whisky (not that I am pointing any fingers here ….).
    I do agree with your definition of old fashioned too, as mama used to say “Manners cost nothing” and “Manners maketh Man”, well you get the idea! As for things being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of fashion, they are mere trends rather than longstanding traditions like log fires; parlour games; thoughtfulness and custard. I have met with disapproval, as meted out by the Locheads on many occasions;one of the first was when being asked to leave a Woolworth store just because I had a youthful urge to run up the down esclator.Hardly a hanging offence I would have thought.
    Shame you were discovered in your shed by the redoubtable Muriel – I would have enjoyed a tete a tete with Buster Keaton & Pepys myself!

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

    Chéri Jasper,

    Hear, hear!! Nothing wrong with old-fashioned, old chap! In fact, I too like to consider myself old-fashioned in a great many ways……many of them involving good diction, proper pronunciation, perfect posture and Italian vowels. Not forgetting of course, the words of the glamorous Eartha Kitt:

    “I’m just an old-fashioned girl, with an old-fashioned house and an old-fashioned millionaire…….”

    It goes something like that, I believe! Mais oui – I’m all for old-fashioned and you, dear boy, as international man of tweed, epitomise all that is good, gracious and grand about ‘old-fashioned’. Wherefore do we root ourselves, if not in traditions that have stood the test of time and which provide us with a framework with which to live by, as you so rightly say, chéri. As a dear friend of mine oft says:

    “More choice does not equal more freedom.”

    I couldn’t agree more……and I believe we will witness the results of so-called ‘more choice’ in future decades. It’s so very, well…….’American’! I feel fearful for the state of our great nation’s mental health – unless, of course, elocution, deportment and the swift correction of ‘pigeon toes’ becomes compulsory for all young people. There’s also a lot to be said for Morris Dancing and Country Dancing for keeping the spirits (and knees) up, if you ask moi!

    Donc, chéri, one has need of a hot pig and a good old-fashioned cocktail…….to keep out the chills, tu sais………..

    Your most theatrical, old-fashioned gal,
    Lulu xxxx

    P.S. Did Muriel purchase a new hat? It is November after all!

  4. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Of distractions and department stores. Of kindness and understanding. Of what is important and what is puppetry. ‬

    ‪Yes, one does think of a sparkle deficit. This time of you could not even be livened by country dancing. Fly tying might do it, although untying them is more entertaining. When did the Scots first get zip fasteners?‬

    ‪Carpet bowls sounds equally interesting. How does one guard against burns?‬

    ‪I believe that there is no distraction quite as perfect as a department store. I’m aware that not many men agree but I am resolute. I was in a John Lewis today and made several stylish purchases. ‬

    ‪Not all piano tuners are blind. It is possible to make this discovery in unfortunate circumstances. In my defence that’s a perfect way to polish a parquet floor.‬

    ‪Jasper is a wonderful sort of old-fashioned. An appreciation of things that remain good because they have always been good. The glue that holds Society together. Kindness. As illustrated here, it crosses the class divide and any societal barrier. I too fail, generally with the cooking wine. ‬

    ‪The confidence to rise above fashion is an essential life skill one acquires as life progresses. To see one’s youthful fripperies once more in vogue brings an inescapable conclusion. Nothing changes, and anyone who tells you it does in selling something. ‬

    ‪The rural old fashioned are another matter. Little kindness to those over whom they have dominion. Odd rules about the survival of the fittest which are immediately undermined by the brandishing of firearms and packs of hounds. Some leverage at play there. ‬

    ‪So much symbolism and complication though. Broken pearls mean broken pearls. A cold, hard bench a better person does not make. Suffering you did not bring upon yourself a better person makes. I share a birthday with Calvin, so I know these things. ‬

    ‪It is a good idea to record the stories of our old people, while adding contingencies to their driving licences and not holding referendums.‬

    ‪My goodness that’s a disapproving stare. I find it comforting as I move out of reach of one withering stare that Mu’s will be there should I feel the need. ‬

    ‪But yes. Fruits, vegetables, doctors using their eyes and ears. Old fashioneds. Mechanical horology. These are a few of my favourite things. ‬


  5. That should have read “whom I don’t blame for this . . . “ etc etc.
    My secretary has fingers like swollen parsnips.

    Yours Aye!

  6. It is delightful to see my favourite traditional pudding pictured. However in these parts one would NEVER drown it in custard. A good traditional steamed suet Spotted Dick should be sliced and then served with fresh churned butter (Anchor will suffice if ones local Dairy cannot oblige) and sprinkled with a dusting of fine granulated sugar. This is how both maternal and paternal grandmothers of the Gruntfuttock dynasty made it and therefore the right way.
    Custard should be saved for other steamed puddings such as Syrup or Raspberry Jam.
    Please however pass my best regards to Mrs Travers, whim I don’t blame for this faux-pas in the slightest.
    Fine woman, fine woman.
    Kind regards

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