Feeling a Bit Woolly
“Good morning Mr Wylie, are you ready for your breakfast?”
“I certainly am Mrs Travers, feeling a bit woolly this morning. That London is quite exhausting.”
“I wouldn’t give it the time of day myself Mr Wylie. All that smog and smut and millions of people breathing the same air and rushing around underground like ants. I don’t know how you and Mrs Wylie can be bothered at your time of life.”
“Better not let Mrs Wylie catch you referring to her time of life, she’s very sensitive about her age.”
“She’s very sensitive about most things.”
“Really Mrs T that’s a bit below the hand stitched, vegetable tanned, Italian leather belt.”
An Agitated Muriel
“Well she was not very pleased this morning when I had forgotten to put out a bar of Morny French Fern soap and she had to make use of the Wright’s Coal Tar stuff she leaves out for myself and zee German voman vat does zee heavy vork. Anyway here are your winnings from the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I picked them up from the corner man when I was paying the TV rental and buying our Billy’s Capstan full strength.”
“Not now, Mrs T she will find out, she has ears like a bat and I am sure she was the prototype for radar, she knows my every move.”
“Don’t worry she went out, quite early in a bit of a “cream puff”, dressed to kill, singing “The March of the Women”, rattling a tin mug against the railings (in case she is arrested and sent to Holloway) and muttering about “Tory Traitors” prepared to shoot their own supporters in the back.”
Muriel has a Cause
“Apart from the fact that sounds like music to my ears and the usual sort of thing that happens when they unexpectedly get a new leader, like Harold Macmillan replacing Tony Eden, dare one ask what, and why?”
“She said you would say that, so I have to tell you that in the spirit of her grandmother she has taken up the cause of Women of Slender Means through the mechanism of the Soroptomist Clubs and the patronage of Lady Colquhoun of Luss.”
“What is the nature of this cause?”
“Well it seems that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has abolished cheap night trunk telephone calls, increasing the charge from one and sixpence to three shillings minimum.”
“And why is Mrs Wylie so up in arms about this? Surely if people can afford a telephone they can afford the charges, or why have one in the first place?”
The Need to Phone Home
“Apparently the cheap rate is the means by which lady business people, teachers, nurses, midwives and students keep in touch with home and are, therefore, a life line for those with families in the Hebrides or Orkney and Shetland. Mr Thorneycroft, the Chancellor has thus, according to Mrs Wylie, ‘undermined Scottish family life by making the Sunday telephone call home prohibitive. It is in effect a tax on the middle class working woman.’
Lady Colquhoun of Luss is up in arms and organising a meeting at the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street and ergo Mrs Wylie is also up in arms. There is also a sale of monogrammed towels at Trerons, next door, so the trip will not be wasted. According to Mrs Wylie’s placard, ties have been broken and there must be recriminations and agitations, the women of slender means are under fire.”
“Well who would have thought that, Mrs T! The Conservatives undermining their own support by raising the price of a trunk telephone call to Stromness. Mr Macmillan must have taken leave of his senses!”
“She said you would gloat. Now what about some Ayrshire bacon, Lorne flat sausage and a fried egg?”
“Mrs T you are an angel in support stockings.”
“Flattery Mr Wylie will get you nowhere and indeed you are going nowhere today but the Mass X-ray in George Square, you don’t want a dose of that consumption. I have seen it take away better men than you.”
“I have a tip for the 2.30; are you interested?”
“I am – and you are still going, she wants proof as well.”
“Well in that case… Will I tell you about that London while you cook my breakfast?”
“If you must. Anyway she has only just been there, why again? Fancy a toasted grapefruit to start with a wee sprinkle of rum and demerara sugar?”
A Call from the Palace
“Well Muriel, it seems, had an important summons from the Royal Household and so needed to dash down pretty quick; something about the Royal Yacht and some new quilted bedspreads. She also felt I needed a break what with the ingress of rain into the shed soaking some of my World War I exhibition having taken its toll. Mu also told me that there was a meeting of The Metropolitan Chapter of the Capodimonte Collectors’ Club in Pall Mall which I might like to attend. We went on the Sleeper which, according to Muriel, gets one in early enough for a full day in London. I am never sure that this works as one is too tired on arrival having not slept a wink – well for me anyway. Muriel snored all the way. There is something very odd about lying sideways, while the train goes forward.
Fortunately as Muriel knows the Manager of “The Imperial Hotel” in Russell Square, we were able to get into our room early, have a quick Turkish bath to freshen up, breakfast and potter around Bloomsbury before elevenses in Fortnum’s which apparently is the Mecca of the simply marvellous. Their coffee, tea in Muriel’s case, and toasted crumpets are, it is true, pretty top notch. Though Muriel was rather appalled to discover they have gone that new trendy way and dispensed with tablecloths at coffee time.
We popped into St James, Piccadilly, which while not Presbyterian has some rather splendid Grinling Gibbons carvings although Muriel declared them to be dust traps, which are no longer suitable for a post servant nation. I spotted a rather natty dressing gown in Jermyn Street which Muriel said she might buy me if she gets the contract for some of the new John Lawrence houses.
We had a quick snorter in the “Red Lion” and then lunch at “Simpsons”.
I did not have pudding as Muriel was glaring at me in that Presbyterian way she has which suggests self denial might be the best course of action. Probably just as well, as we had arranged to meet dear friends Gary and Edward for afternoon tea at their Club. This was a splendid tea of the freshest bread and the most exquisite cakes and pastries.
The jam for the scones was most delicate and the cream flavoured with a hint of lemon. Muriel was very taken with the cake decorations using tiny edible flowers and gold leaf and is determined to introduce this manner of presentation to Glasgow’s exclusive West End.
Despite living in genteel Rye, which is a sort of English rural bolthole by the sea, Gary is very well known in the London theatre and musical world and can sometimes be seen presenting programmes on the television, introducing singers even of the modern boggie-woogie type.
Edward, like Mr Chanter, is an accountant with a firm grasp of double entry book keeping, which means he gets to write in red and black ink.
So Much in Common (Without Being Common of Course)
Muriel and I have never visited Rye although it turns out that one or two residents are, or have been, mutual family friends (well friends of Muriel’s family of course, the Wylies had creditors rather than friends) like Henry James, the refined novelist, who wrote quite well about Americans which is never easy and dear E. F. Benson who was a bit theatrical and even roller skated and wrote about some ridiculously snobbish and improbable women. Then there is our good friend Rumer Godden who writes about India – you will have seen Black Narcissus directed by other good friends Powell and Pressburger, who happen to reside near our own dear rural Bolthole.
So there was much to talk about and a general feeling that Muriel would find a ready audience for her classes on Gracious Living and a certain market for Mackintosh Squares as it is very damp by the sea. The afternoon flew by and it was with great sadness that we said farewell to our chums who had to return to Kent-shire as they have a pussy that spends the day in “Mouse Wood” and would be desirous of a more substantial meal.
As we left we noticed that the Club had some decorative sculptural features that suggested an appeal to the very theatrical market and would in the future be somewhere to take our nephew Sebastian, (when he returns from the United States) and his friend Dimitri.
Fortunately we had an occupation for the evening and that was to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank where, out of patriotism, we went to see the young Scottish conductor Alexander Gibson with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a performance of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale which was “an outstanding success”, as all the critics agreed. Muriel went backstage to see young Sandy and suggested his career might receive a massive boost were he to consider an appearance at one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts which are fast becoming the Aldeburgh of south west Scotland.
The Reason for Our Visit
After a restless night, due to the never ending sound of traffic in Russell Square we are, like Samuel Pepys, “up betimes”. Muriel took a taxi to Buckingham Palace where the Queen it seems had literally put out the red carpet and arranged to have the Horse Guards parade. The Queen said she had heard so much about Muriel from Princess Margaret and her new young friend a Mr Dimitri who had escaped from the Bolshoi Ballet and had a remarkable allongé.
The Duke of Edinburgh, who has little interest in allongés large or small, outlined some of his ideas for modernising Britain in a sort of Prince Albert way beginning with a focus on design. He wants to give royal residences an updated image with sleek lines and less clutter, starting with the Royal Yacht. He has heard that Muriel has a firm grasp of Scandinavian design principles and really rather fancies some sticky out beech legs himself. Muriel said she was quite sure that she could come up with some simply marvellous ideas before going on to swap duster coat stories with Her Majesty, who was looking radiant in spring yellow. The royal couple said they would have a bit of a catch up when they came North and would be interested in seeing one of Muriel’s interiors and perhaps even attending a Country House Concert.
Left to my Own Devices
For my part I attended my Cappodimonte Collectors’ Club meeting in the surroundings of a gentleman’s club before a rather splendid lunch of mulligatawny soup, steak and kidney pudding and steamed syrup pudding with custard. As I am weight watching I said no to the offer of cream. There were some splendid types there including a few from the Foreign Office who said they were sorry to have missed Muriel as she was one of the most splendid honorary chaps of the last Unpleasantness and furthermore they had heard that she continued to do her bit for the old Queens and Country.
Feeling rather full I took myself off for a walk around the East End, much of it still showing signs of bomb damage. I paid some calls to some of our fabric suppliers and to Mr C.H. Katz in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from whom I ordered some much needed items for our shop “Chez Nous” including brown paper, tissue paper, twine and string for our parcels.
Cousin Lulubelle on the Stage?
Muriel and I met up at an Italian restaurant for an early supper. This spaghetti stuff is becoming all the rage, rather tricky to manage at first but tasty. It’s just a pity that the Italians do not serve their food a little hotter, but I suppose that is not necessary in their climate. Service was a little chaotic, again a result of the sun I suppose but it did mean abandoning our pudding as we had tickets for the theatre. I treated Muriel to The Crystal Heart, a musical starring Gladys Cooper. The songs sounded promising including, I would like to see the world, How strange the silence, Handsome husbands, D.O.G. spells dog, and It’s so British. The plot involved Dame Phoebe Ricketts, a rich widow, sent to live on a desolate island under the terms of her husband’s will. Her only companions were a posse of “just women”. An unlikely term if ever there was one! One day a handsome boat-load of men are washed up. A jolly good idea one would have thought, the only problem is that not only is Miss Cooper the romantic heroine over 70, she plays the role as one critic said ‘like a cross between …. a Tennesse Williams’ Southern Belle and The Madwoman of Chaillot.’
As Muriel said, no harm to the splendid Miss Cooper, who has done such marvellous work in her younger days, but Cousin Lullubelle might have made a better stab at it, as the critic might well have been describing her, only she does it for real.
Rather Too Theatrical
We might have been better going to see a new film about Vincent Van Gogh called Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas, actually playing something other than “a dreary He man”. Still we can catch that in Glasgow later and there is nothing like live theatre. Muriel had really wanted to see Olivier as Archie Rice in The Entertainer, but I could not quite bring myself to go and see the play which was said to have been Sebastian’s for the taking had he not had to leave the country, what with him being rather too theatrical.
Talking of art and artists our final hours in “that London” were spent in the National Gallery as Muriel wanted to see the first painting acquired by the gallery in lieu of Death Duties, a provison of the 1956 Finance Act (section 34). This is the “Pieta with St Jerome and St Dominic” by the 15th century Dutch artist Rogier Van der Weyden. It comes from the estae of the Earl of Powys. It is a small panel less than 18 inches by 14 inches, but “colour and composition are invested with a power of pictorial emotion out of all proportion to its size”. Muriel said it was simply marvellous as are her favourite renaissance pictures like “The Tailor”, which captures an ordinary profession so unusual in these times.
We also had a quick look at Canelletto’s paintings of Venice as Muriel has a hankering to go there later this year.
Talking on the Tube
While one cannot but agree with Samuel Pepys that when a man is “tired of that London he is tired of life”, there comes a point when one’s feet are tired and one’s brain entirely scrambled by the onslaught of culture. The down side too is that no one really wants to know you or cares and Muriel has to constantly tell me off for talking to people on the Tube as apparently they think I have escaped from an asaylum. I proved her wrong by pointing out that I had a perfectly decent conversation with a woman between Leicester Square and King’s Cross. Muriel said that was because she was a working lady looking for business and it was just as well that I only had a single.”
Stand By Your Beds!
“More toast Mr Wylie, then you need to go for that X-ray; sounds as if you had a good time. Oh, stand by your beds here she comes.”
“It’s me Mrs T; any coffee? Has Jasper gone to George Square? Oh you are still here Jasper, now net your coat on; you know you have always been a bit chesty”
“Hello Dahling. How are the revolting women and did you manage to get the charges reversed?”