I saw a fox yesterday in the grey dark as we made our way home from the county town in the Humber Super Snipe.
Muriel needed shoes, which became shoes and bag and the necessary suit to match. So we spent some hours in Barbour’s, the Department Store of Distinction where we also had our lunch, lamb chops, mashed potatoes and vegetables for 5shillings 6 pence, a bargain if you ask me. Of course the crumble and custard were extra but as I always say “toffs are careless”. Well actually they are not because carelessness leads to the depletion of Trust funds and that would never do. So generally they are rather parsimonious to a degree which makes wartime austerity look like wanton extravagance. It would, however, destroy my line of thought to dwell on that one too much.
The Queen on an Easel
We were actually in town to attend the investiture of a dear friend with the MBE by the Lord Lieutenant of the county on behalf of H.M. The Queen. It was a lovely occasion as Muriel said, just hitting the right note of formality and friendliness. The Lord Lieutenant was as Muriel said manners personified and an excellent hostess. Due to lingering over custard, we were almost late and yet Muriel managed to turn her relegation to the second row behind the Council table into the must have seat. How does she do it? I am lost in admiration as indeed were those in the front row who found it necessary to crick their necks by constantly having to turn around to catch the benefits of Muriel’s Bon Mots. Even the Queen who was present in a framed portrait on an easel seemed to be at a disadvantageous angle.
Lions and Sharks
Afterwards Muriel and our deserving friend cornered the Member of Parliament to put him right on a number of policy matters. I could tell by his expression that he was under the illusion that he was swimming with dolphins only suddenly to realise that he was mistaken without his glasses and was indeed facing the full onslaught of two killer sharks.
Fortunately I quickly located the tea table and a rather nice selection of tray bakes fit for awards. I enjoyed these while looking at a rather nice Landseer in the vestibule of an African scene full of lions with a chum who wondered if Landseer had actually been in Africa. It certainly seemed a little odd for South West Scotland, wild and tough thought the landscape can be.
Now while the scene was a little fanciful, – a sort of cacophony of every wild animal under the sun I have in fact checked in my encyclopaedia and yes he was in Africa in 1909 where he designed the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Rand War Memorial. One learns something new every day, except of course for Muriel who knows most things to begin with and prefers to teach others something new every day. Or as we call it “instruct”.
I had a second cup of tea as I was feeling rather “drouthy” as we Scots say and was just about to test out a fairy cake when I was aware it was time to leave. Just as H.M. decides when it is time to leave when one is in the presence at the palace so, it seems, she can do it by remote control as her portrait was removed from the easel and placed in a canvas bag.
Under Threat from Spicy Sausage
It was good to have a diversion after the events of the last couple of weeks. As I am sure you will know gossip being what it is, that main and most reliable form of communication in these parts, that my monthly History Society lecture was spoilt by ‘the sudden death’ of Hilda, our German vuman vat does zee heavy vork. When I say sudden she was found in a man trap in the museum of the Woodlanders’ Hall where we were having the Mrs Blenheim Crawford Memorial Lecture given by Lady Pentland-Firth.
Mrs Travers our faithful woman, what does but not a lot, was arrested for her murder. Suspicions had been aroused because during a recent period of ill health, Mrs Travers found her position in our household somewhat under threat as the highly efficient and organised Hilda invaded Mrs Travers empire with her spicy sausages and alcohol drenched chocolate and cherry gateau. I must say this was pretty splendid, but sparked a conflict which threatened to destabilise our little corner of the world, where disagreements are usually over the choice of hymns and the wrong sort of sherry.
We spent a beastly night in the Hall while we were being interviewed by the police with only limited refreshment facilities. Only Lady Pentland-Firth seemed to enjoy herself having been firstly the centre of attention when her lecture on local superstitions was cut short with the dramatic discovery of the body.
Lady Pentland-Firth always has a range of facial expressions to hand for any occasion and her various looks for the discovery of a body were indeed worthy of an Oscar. Of course she was on the stage before she married the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland and victim of a Flower Show lunch poisoning. She was a well known star on the cabaret circuit in Europe before the last Unpleasantness influencing among others Marlene Dietrich, Carmen Miranda and Josephine Baker. The sophisticated acts involving bananas developed by these stars had their origins in a routine developed by Lady P-F involving two onions, a carrot and a cup of lentils.
Fortunately the captive audience allowed Lady Pentland-Firth the opportunity to reminisce for hours about Paris and Berlin and a world adrift after the horrors of the first Unpleasantness. Argentine Tango was her forté, Valentino her lover and she was the inspiration for such lines as George Raft’s. “Is that gold? I thought so; but then everything about you is gold”.
Dancing and Cards
As I had heard most of these stories before I was quite glad when the police inspector arrived with the pathologists although I think it was just a bit if a disappointment to Lady P-F when it was discovered that the body was not Hilda but a clever concoction of dirndl and charcuterie. It was probably just as well, as Patience was about to take some of our more genteel parishioners down some of the less salubrious parts of Buenos Ares with a story about how she put the key into corned beef.
Meanwhile out of the shadows came The Handsome Stranger who bundled us all into cars for the police station where Mrs Travers was playing pontoon with the desk sergeant. The Inspector was reluctant to release her even if there was no body, as he has had some experience of dealing with young Billy Travers, Mrs T’s son who has over the years proved to be nothing if not a regular customer. Muriel said it really was necessary to set Mrs T free as she was due to give the dining room a good going over before Christmas and what if she offered to sew some extra special things on his apron (if you know what I mean).
A Smokescreen of Food
This may have had an impact but the Handsome Stranger, who works in the shadows, suggested that Mrs T needed to be released as a matter of national security as Hilda would undoubtedly come back for a woman who had poured scorn on a number of recipes like her Soljanka. “That” said Lady P-F “is not food from the Black Forest, it is a meat stew beloved by the comrades in the GDR made with red peppers, cucumbers and capers.” “I thought” said Mrs Lottie MacCaulay the bungalow builder’s wife who had just come along because her husband was away on a golfing trip “she was from the West.” “That is what she wanted you all to think”, said the Handsome Stranger “and she was very clever at covering her tracks with an expertise in German regional cooking. Her Black Forest gateau was a case in point, but actually she is more at home with the old Jagerschnitzel and Eisbein of the East.” “Well how very devious” said Lottie completely captivated by something more exciting in her day than the church flower rota, in which she was now behind.
Devious on Every Front
“Devious is the name of her game indeed” said the Handsome Stranger, “I am afraid you are all going to have to sign the Official Secrets Act as I have to tell you she is a very senior member of the Staatssicherheitscdienst”. “That’s a lot of s’s” said Lottie. “You want to try saying it!” said the Handsome Stranger. “It means she is basically a comrade.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Mrs Travers, who was playing her last hand while the Inspector was taking of her handcuffs, “and to think I gave her my steak pie recipe, you know Mrs Wylie the one with the beef links. That recipe has never been as far as Bellahouston let alone Berlin”. “Well” said the Handsome Stranger “we don’t know if she is back in Berlin; somehow I think not, as she was sent to infiltrate the Wylie household and undermine the British way of life as they realise that Mrs Wylie in her search for marvellousness is a key element to life in the west with her serviette folding and pronouncing vowels with her teeth against the back of her upper lip.”
“If I might interject” said Muriel at this point, “it is napkins, not serviettes, do I look like a barbarian?” The Handsome Stranger apologised and said this was exactly the sort of thing that was confusing him now that the civil service was opening up to merit which sometimes meant mixing with people who had not been to good schools or had family members executed on tower green. To atone for his appalling faux pas he agreed to sign up for one of Muriel’s “Fun with Folds” days in which she would demonstrate napkin folding into a fleur-de-lis shape, with a linen napkin to take away included in the cost along with coffee and fork luncheon. All agreed this was tremendous value including the Inspector who was quite interested having once tried paper folding, but did not think it would go down well in the Lodge where more manly pursuits were generally the order of the day.
For Your Eyes Only
Of course, and I can tell you this as I know it will go no further, this was not the whole story. Muriel has been assisting with the British Space Programme and the Skylark Rocket which was launched this week. It is believed that future wars will be fought in space and so we must know more about the atmosphere. This missile takes measurements which help to provide that information. Muriel has been involved in the look and colour scheme of the rocket as “it is important that we look our best even if we are only spending 10 minutes in space”. Hilda has been on her trail and the incident in the museum is just one of many events designed to pick away at British institutions and what could be more British than a meeting of the History Society, with tea and coffee interval not to mention homemade shortbread.
Well I had better go. Muriel has given me a list and I have gum boots to put on, leaves to sweep and hinges to oil. There is so little time in November – the days are so short and one has to do what one can between what the locals call “Light o’clock” and “Dark o’clock”. At least Mrs Travers is safely back in her kitchen and Muriel has already put an advertisement in The Herald for a replacement woman to do the heavy work. I wonder what has happened to Hilda as I said last night when I drove home from the Investiture. As the fox ran across the road, Muriel said it had a smile that reminded her of Hilda or as we now know her der agent Feldlerche, or the Agent Skylark. Sometimes this feels like a very cold war.