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