Jasper’s Jottings: “Skylark”

I saw a fox yesterday in the grey dark as we made our way home from the county town in the Humber Super Snipe.

Lamb Chops

out to town

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

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.

Lady P-F giving her History Society talk

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.

Golden Girl

Lady P-F settles down to tell her story

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.

From her cabaret act

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

The handsome stranger

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.”

How to pronounce your vowels

“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.

Jasper Wylie

November 1957


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5 Responses to Jasper’s Jottings: “Skylark”

  1. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪A Red making the bed, a risk to marvellousness, and a very useful rocket.‬

    ‪Shoes. They matter. As does prosaic food. I don’t have enough of either. I also don’t have the presence required to hold a room. I must do something about that. ‬

    ‪I’m often amused by the way in which Her Majesty is deemed to be present in some way when represented by a likeness. Were that the case my family would be present in the upstairs lavatory. Lawks.‬

    ‪Again, I find myself regretting having missed Lady P-F’s time in Berlin. I would imagine she took ones breath away, with a corned beef key.‬

    ‪Oh dear. Hilda the Red. What a fortunate escape. ‬Staatssicherheitscdienst.‪ ‬Try saying that with a saveloy in your mouth.

    ‪How close did we come to a substantially less stylish and marvellous United Kingdom? I can’t bear to think of it. I should point-out that there’s no need to be concerned that standards will drop following the introduction of recruitment based on merit. One can come from the soil and still not be a stranger to napkins even if one didn’t see one until adulthood. One still can’t fold one correctly though…‬

    ‪All aboard the Skylark! How very exciting!‬

    ‪I wonder what has happened to Hilda, and whether it will be Muriel that happens to her soon…‬


  2. seileasdar says:

    Who would have thought that Hilda was actually a Stasi spy. Just gets to show you never should trust anyone, really. She appeared to be very German, too German, actually, yes, efficient, not mincing her words, hard-working, direct, good in the kitchen, just like your average good German woman should be. And she could make food, oh yes, not only Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, the pièce de résistant of the Kapitalistische Erzfeind, also Schnitzel, and a daring piece of Apfelstrudel, beloved by our dear Jasper, and a staple not only for a full tummy, repleted with German cooking; but also of Souther German cuisine. How cunning her disguise, and clever indeed! Where did she learn it?

    Not a trace of that heart-burn inducing Easter-German cuisine, heavy on the sour-pickled vegetables and condiments, so much in favour in the DDR (mind you, filling your larder is easy that way) and its Sozialistische Bruderstaaten of Poland, Russia and all those other Ostblock Staaten behind the frontier, running straight through the wonderful city of Berlin, almost halving it in fashion and spirit and now recently recovering from allied bombings and blooming once again but differently with the help of first the Trümmerfrauen, the Marshall Plan, now the Wirtschaftswunder, and of course the enduring support of the Allied Forces of the USA, France and Her Majesty’s (although shrinking) Empire.

    I disgrees and fall into the habits of the Germans for long-winded, multi-layered sentences Mark Twain already scolded us for, when in fact, I only wanted to express the shock of recognition that Hilda was indeed not quite what she meant to be. Forgive me! And besides, why should she descend onto the Rural Bolthole village affairs? But then, her disguise was probably too perfect and admirable. I mean, who doesn’t like a help in the house that is cleanly, efficient, can cook and bake miracles on a plate, and entertain you with her funny vocabulary and enunciation. Who wouldn’t like her around, I ask you!
    A pity that she fell into the wrong hands of history and sold her soul to the Kommunistische Bruderkampf in favour of helping the Sovients in obtaining intelligence on, well, what in particular actually? Colour-schemes, fabric choices, interior designs, aesthetics of a rocket programme?

    Muriel’s involvement in valiantly helping out the troops is plaudable, and that it lead Hilda turning up in her life, to one part was beneficial (especially for Jasper’s palate), what with Mrs Travers not doing as much as, well you know what I mean, you can’t get the staff any more those days of social betterments and people getting ideas! It will inevitably be our Muriel’s next consuming challenge to find a replacement, what with all the other demands tearing at our intrepid Lady of Style’s List of Obligations. And then there is of course our dear Jasper, and Mrs Travers, and Lady P-F, an the church bazaar, and the weekly advisory column on style, etiquette, and other invaluable advice for the Modern Lady. My head is spinning already just thinking of the impact this small annoyance will have on her. Poor soul! Oh I see hard times appearing for our wonderful girl! Keep strong, I want to shout out, Muriel, keep strong, you can do it! Keep chirpy, we are all here to support you in spirit. And she will of course not show any sign of it to anyone. She will soldier on and do what needs to do. What a defiant spirit!

    But I still wonder if Hilda was indeed after the interior design specifications of ‘Skylark’, or if there was more sinister undercover play going on… After all, the Germans still struggle with the finer details and ingredients of a perfect sandwich. I just say ‘Leberwurstbrot’ and leave it at that, averting my eyes in embarrassment.

    Muriel, be careful! Jasper, stay alert, don’t dither, be prepared! You never know, now that this rift through Europe is getting stronger and you at the very forefront of happenings. Oh dear!

  3. Moira Taylor says:

    How delightful it must have been to attend an investiture. And how very forward thinking to have a female Lord Lieutenant! You were quite right to linger over the crumble and custard and this dessert must not be rushed, even for The Queen on an easel.
    You seemed to have been in a hurry to find the tea table, Jasper, and I think you must have hollow legs as my dear departed mama was wont to say.
    I am getting quite worried about your rural retreat as there seems to be an unusually high mortality rate, especially of the unexpected kind.
    I was surprised to hear that it was Hilda or Feldlerche in the man trap as that seems to be more up Lady P-F’s strasse.
    Thank goodness things appear to be returning to normal, well what passes for normal in your neck of the woods anyway!

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

    Chéri Jasper,

    Quelle horreur! One must confess that one is struggling to come to terms with the notion of ‘Staatssicherheitscdienst’!! It was the way she walked, you know, or should one say goose-stepped……?

    One always suspected that there was more to Hilda than Schnitzel, Apfelstrudel und Kirsch……one is on the chaise, as I write, with a soothing glass of Port to steady one’s nerves and line one’s clack. One had put the Port away for Christmas but needs must!

    Dwaaling, so in shock is one, that Hilda came close to infiltrating our esteemed Muriel and her important work aboard the ‘Skylark’ that I must remain on the chaise for some time with my darling, Mimi the Shih Tzu pondering the merits of napkin-folding and non-existent consonants…….

    Yours pondering with Port,
    Lulu xxxx

    P.S. the pathetic fallacy of the fox is not lost on one…….poor wee creature……

  5. J Peasmold Gruntfuttock says:

    I am so relieved that Mrs T is safely back in the fold and will be sifting the suet before you can say ‘Fray Bentos’. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to ask her to make you a spotted dick on my behalf so you can try it the way we eat it in Peasmoldia; sliced and then served with finest butter and a sprinkling of caster sugar.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s something unique about that fine woman.

    Bon weekend!

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