Jasper’s Jottings: The End of a Hooker

A map of Geneva in Jasper’s guide book

Alpine ascents can be tricky at the best of times, but at this time of year especially so.

The Problem with Conferences

As you will recall, if you were paying attention, while staying in Geneva which is in Switzerland we received intelligence that Winnie, she of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder, had been found after having been missing for some weeks. Winnie, along with her squeeze Mr Chan of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, in Glasgow had been at the U.N. Headquarters on important wool related business. She had been asked to take charge of the crochet workshops provided for the wives of delegates to the important Conference on the Seas. Conferences can be very boring for wives, there are only so many Swiss embroidered handkerchief shops one can visit and so much chocolate of the foreign kind one can eat.

Diplomatic Food

Wives are, however, very necessary in the diplomatic world as they tend to look quite nice and who else is going to pass round the plates of angels or devils on horseback? These actually are Muriel’s speciality when it comes to cocktail parties along with the Mambo and the Cha-Cha-Cha. If you are the sort of person used to sausage rolls i.e. from Shettleston or Sanquhar, let me explain.

An angel on horseback is an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled.  Muriel has never been a fan of oysters straight from the shell but can cope with them in this form. A devil is a tea soaked prune wrapped in bacon but containing a salted roasted almond. Remember to season your oysters with Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper first.

Never a fan of oysters

Oysters are now a delicacy, but in the 18th century in Scotland they were an everyday food. Indeed parts of “Auld Reekie” are said to be built on mountains of discarded oyster shells. Sadly this passion for oysters, and oyster suppas led to overfishing in the Forth estuary. This is quite ironic given that the potential for depleting fish stocks in the future is one important aspect being discussed at this conference in Geneva which is in Switzerland. Come to think of it is quite odd considering they have no sea at all.

Diplomatic Discord over Woollen Things

My apologies dear readers – I fear I am in danger of digressing from my own digressions, but rest assured I at least am utterly fascinated by all I have to say, it can keep me entertained for hours or at least until suppa time. Anyway the sudden disappearance of Winnie, threatened to bring the whole conference tumbling down as many of the wives had nearly completed crocheting “a small blanket suitable for an invalid and invaluable as an item for church sales of work”.

It was noted that the delegation of comrades from behind the iron curtain took umbrage at the proposed competition to be held on the last day when the Secretary General would present “an award for international hooking”. It seems competition, even of the woollen sort, is regarded as “a capitalist plot by the decadent West”. Muriel has been sent out to save the day and take over the classes.

Of course Muriel has taken the view that her role is to provide inspiration and direction rather than practical help and has had Mrs Travers demonstrating the stitches as according to Muriel there is far more experience of hooking in her part of Glasgow. For Muriel and her West End lady friends the preferred form of stitching concerns quilting and embroidery work. Muriel has saved the diplomatic day by suggesting that our retail business ‘Chez Nous’ might host a display of embroidery from comrade land.

Identification of Winne

Or at least we thought she had until the dreadful news arrived about Winnie and Mr Chan. After a hastily convened meeting with The Handsome Stranger, (who works in the shadows) and Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, of the very good varsity in Glasgow (here to study yodelling in peasant cultures), we departed on skis for the mountain hut where the unfortunate couple had been found, stiff as statues by a lonely goat herd who had been hoping for a couple of hours off with a glass of gluhwein and a blow of his horn with another even lonelier goat herd who was passing in the opposite direction and was pleased he would not have to play his zither alone. Despite being heavily traumatised they managed to raise the alarm.

Poor Muriel had to identify the frozen couple, as they sat by the fireplace in the hut each with a crochet hook in their hands and an unfinished blanket in their laps. When the Swiss police asked if she was sure it was her old wartime friend and S.O.E. colleague, Muriel replied that she was, as Winnie was wearing the sort of shoes only found in illustrations of Grimm Fairy Tales and her last few rows contained her signature stitch which is normally only found in the best work by ladies from South West Scotland which is highly complex and requires great dexterity and is known as “the Hook of Urr”.

Stiff on the Slopes

Being frozen it was hard to think of a dignified way to bring Winnie and Mr Chan down from the mountain. So we put them, still sitting bolt  upright, in a sledge with Mrs Travers and attempted to make our descent in a slow and dignified manner. This was impossible given Mrs Travers sobbing. We tried to divert her by singing, in unison, the current Perry Como hit Magic Moments.  Muriel asked why was it that the working classes got so upset by death and that her grandmother always said crying in the face of death was as bad as calling it “passed over” or some other euphemism favoured by those wage earning. Mrs Travers, between blubbers, said “Perhaps it’s because I am working class” and then fully got into her stride with “…….I’ll never forget the moment we kissed the night of the hay ride… The way that we hugged to keep warm while taking the sleigh ride, Magic Moments……….”

It has to be said that no one really felt like hugging Winnie or Mr Chan who by the time we reached the pastures began to resemble melting moments rather than magic moments and had to be lashed to each other and Mrs Travers. The two goat herds were paid handsomely to keep quiet (with Swiss francs and a gift basket of Scottish cheeses and speciality oatcakes) and said “thank you” adding it had been years since they had seen anyone that stiff in their hut and blamed the cold.

The Power of Scottish Soup

Scottish soup

The Swiss pathologist said that he had never seen such remarkably well preserved specimens for their age and could only presume that Scottish soup and country dancing had reversed the aging process even in Mr Chan despite not originally being a native of Govan. He doubted that mulligatawny soup would have had the same wrinkle defying properties as “a wee bit Scotch broth made wi’ a ham shank.”  It seems Mr Chan had, since coming into contact with Winnie, taken to the Strathspey with alacrity and his perseverance with the pas-de-bas step meant he now had the knees of an 18 year old.

Alas this was not enough to fight off fiendish foreign attempts to pervert the course of good international relations and it was senior pathologist Herr Professor Dr Gutt’s considered opinion that the two had died by absorbing poison, through their skin from the ends of their crotchet hooks.

Fishy Business

It will take some time to identify the exact nature and source of the poison, but the Handsome Stranger says the Swiss police are now involved. They had also intercepted a secret note addressed to Muriel and written in pigeon you know what. This was carefully hidden between the lines of a recipe for a kedgeree, with hard boiled eggs, which the police inspector thought sounded rather tasty and might try for his tea.

The message said that she had seen the comrades’ secret knitted plan of the coastal waters of the Sea of Japan, which clearly showed expansionist tendencies and a desire to penetrate the raw fish market. Mrs Travers said they should be allowed to get on with it as raw fish would never sell at MacFisheries and was on a par with cold soup as a delicacy that would note appeal to the Scottish pallet.

MacFisheries

Muriel said this was hardly the point as today the target might be the raw fish market in Japan, but tomorrow it might be the fruit market in Glasgow. As I pointed out to Muriel this would hardly bring about the collapse of the West as the Scots eat very little fruit unless they are sick and then only under doctors’ orders.

A withering look

Muriel gave me one of her looks.

Take Off for London

“ Mesdames et Messieurs, bienvenue à bord de ce British European Airways en provenance de Genevre qui se trouve en  uisse a Londres qui ce trouve en Angleterre. Veuillez attacher vos cientures de securite et distinguisher les cigars.” 

Muriel Reminisces about the Late Winnie

Winnie with her famous bicycle

“Well that has been a rather strange week or two, hasn’t it Jasper?”

“Yes Dahling it has; rather sad really. I am sure you will miss your old friend and her bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder.”

“Yes I will Jasper. We were involved in so much together during the last Unpleasantness with the you know whos. I owe her my life really as when we were being interrogated after we blew up that bridge and lessened the war by almost 3 hours, she did something so utterly selfless.”

“What was that Dahling?”

“Oh she gave the guards a hand knitted Fair Isle jumper for Goering with hand dyed yarns from plants gathered on highland beaches. He was so thrilled he postponed our being shot and gave us a breathing space to plan our escape, she really was simply marvellous. Of course it was my idea as you can imagine, but the yarns were all dyed from plants gathered by her. She used to spend  hours scraping them off stones and boiling them up in her three legged pot.”

“I saw them put the coffins in the hold. That was a nice touch covering them with single bed crotched blankets and her bicycle clips resting on a cushion.”

Winnie

“Well Jasper she went in the service of her country and once she defrosted I can honestly say I have never seen her look happier. Just a pity she didn’t turn that last corner of the blanket as I have a feeling they may be very collectable. Folk art is very fashionable you know Jasper, in some parts of the world where people have no money or taste, indeed we might do a little promotion when we get home.”

“Yes dear it’s an ill wind and talking of ill winds I am thinking of going on this march to Aldermaston against nuclear weapons as we shall be in London for a few days.”

“You please yourself Dahling; you know what I think once you let your guard down…….”

A Treat for Mrs Travers

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. I was just wondering if a Mrs Esme Travers might be on board as she said she  might have an apple dumpling for me? If so I would like to invite her to the flight deck while we fly over France.”

“Go on Mrs T, this is a wonderful opportunity, just think you will be the star turn at the steamie in Maryhill next week. That’s it now; I would leave your brandy and ginger ale on the table it will be there when you get back and her is the apple dumpling I put it in the overhead locker.”

“That should keep her occupied for a few minutes. She really is the most awkward woman, one would think she had 500 cigarettes stuffed down that corset.”

“Actually Muriel she has. Lady Pentland Firth sewed them in and there’s a bottle of Chateau Neuf du pape down each of those wellington boots and a large bottle of Ma Grief under her hat.”

“Oh Jasper she will get us all in the most awful trouble!”

“I thought we were going through diplomatic channels.”

“That was only on the way out Jasper. If she gets stopped by Customs who is going to start the spring cleaning on Tuesday? And by the way where is Lady Pentland-Firth and the Handsome Stranger, not to mention Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes?”

Where Is Everyone?

“They are sitting 5 rows back disguised as three of the Tiller Girls.”

“Why is this? We are going home; they do not need to be in disguise.”

“Look at the seats across from them Muriel.”

“You mean Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun?”

“Yes Muriel but that is not Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun singing ‘Ave Maria’, it is that Admiral Nearenuff  dressed as  Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun singing Schubert.”

“Tricky Jasper very tricky, but he clearly has a good skin care regime. We are being followed by the comrades, I hope they are not going to hang around. I have a daffodil tea on next weekend. They must think we have something they need. However, we don’t have anything. We never even found the knitted map. Oh best stand up Jasper she is coming back, well Mrs T did you enjoy that.”

“Indeed I did Mrs Wylie. Do you know they can talk and fly at the same time?”

“Amazing Mrs T amazing, you know you could be more comfortable if you took off your coat.”

“ No thanks Mrs Wylie, there might be a draught.”

“Why Mrs T anyone might think you had something sewn into the lining?”

“Might they?”

TTFN

Jasper Wylie

Happy Easter – I’m on the march to Aldermaston; staying at the Hyde Park Hotel just now prior to leaving.

March 1958

This entry was posted in Talk of the Town. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jasper’s Jottings: The End of a Hooker

  1. Moira Taylor says:

    Oh my.What a sad end to two excellent and well-loved hookers.Poisoning has to be the most dastardly and cowardly methods of killing.I only hope the two goatherds didn’t touch Winnie’s or Mr Chan’s crochet hooks as they may also become contaminated!
    I suspect Patience had something to do with the ghastly Admiral following you and Muriel.That woman really is a liability.
    Hopefully the knitted map will turn up soon, the Admiral must think that Muriel has it now – perhaps Winnie is wearing it?
    Do try not to get too carried away on the march, dear Jasper, we don’t want to see you arrested.

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Fishes, a fallen hero, and a time when even the violence was more civilised. ‬

    ‪Is it possible be a devil if you have not wrapped yourself in bacon? I do hope so. I’m unlikely to forget to season my oysters, not at my age. ‬

    ‪I’m glad they have discussed quotas and overfishing, I’m sure that will be the end of the matter.‬

    ‪Oh dear, poor Winnie. I suspect foul play. I am glad, at least that their final romantic evening together has been immortalised. Perhaps they should have been left in place as a memorial to those who have died covertly protecting the country’s interests.‬

    ‪Poison, delivered through the skin. Topical. ‬

    ‪Yes, I did.‬

    ‪So, Winnie was able to send a message using poo. Winnie… poo… there’s a joke their somewhere but I can’t quite reach it. I’ll have a distinguished cigar while I cogitate.‬

    ‪The story of Mu and Winnie evading execution is rather typical of the time. While there was violence there was also decency. They escaped because Winnie gave Hermann a gift, which I’m sure gave him some comfort the night he bit into that cyanide capsule. Civilisation.‬

    ‪This is all rather sad. I hope there will be some form of state recognition. I will raise a glass. Or two. Jasper’s gesture is appropriate. Nuclear weapons being the end of all things good. We’re quite capable of having hugely destructive wars without destroying the entire planet. ‬

    ‪Mx‬

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

    Chéri Jasper,

    Joyeuses Pâques et bon retour de Genevre!

    How was your march at Aldermaston, dear chap? One was only only thinking about Aldermaston the other day as I lay in my sick bed, dying of la grippe. Do you know, it was touch and go whether one made it through to Easter Sunday. Had it not been for the steam inhalations (with Friar’s Balsam and menthol crystals), the double-strength Hot Toddys and the goose grease and brown paper poultice, one fears one would have gone the way of Winnie…..this term has well and truly sucked the life out of moi…….

    Poor dear Winnie and Mr Chan…..it is simply too tragic! The end of a great hooker indeed, not to mention, a great Chinese in the Govan Road, as we know it. They say Winnie’s Hook of Urr was a thing of startling beauty and, of course, Jasper has already waxed lyrical about Mr Chan’s Dinner B. One hopes they will receive a fitting tribute involving a crocheted lobster suppa before they go to the big Strathspey in the sky.

    Dwaaling, didn’t I say that Admiral Neareenoff had got moi all on edge the first time he was mentioned? Was Lady P-F not fully launched to ‘fettle’ him, as we say in these parts? If anyone can; she can-can! Talking of the Can-Can and high kicks, dwaaling, you do know my dear late Grandmama, Mabel, was a Tiller Girl?! So, anything you need to ask regarding authenticity (nudge, nudge; wink, wink), ask away!! I do hope the Handsome Stranger and the Professor have fully researched the correct leg height when kicking……….

    Yours in full Tiller mode,
    Lulu xxxx

    P.S. I fear Mrs T may be hiding a lot more than a bottle of Ma Griffe.

  4. seileasdar says:

    A Team Torn Apart

    After all the excitement of the Geneva conference, which is in Switzerland, all this spying and smuggling business is really threatening to disrupt Muriel’s busy social lifestyle and cleaning regime. How inconvenient!
    Her team as alibi for a normal existence during the conference should take more heed of not drawing any attention to this spy in flyaway glasses extraordinaire. She has been tested enough this mission which was to Switzerland without them adding to the experience.
    But I seem to digress as much as Jasper is prone to experience, ending up on a tangent of a tangent’s tangent, on a small feeble twig that threatens to break off the tree any moment, dragging my thoughts downwards into the crevice with it and giving me a sore landing on the ground of reality, I am sure.

    I was very moved by the deep and formidable friendship Muriel had with Winnie, her of the bicycle and the wool shop in Auchterarder, which is in Scotland. How much they experienced together, grew together, and grew into each other’s thoughts, messages (in various naturalia), codes, methods and ways of being. Remarkable! Saving each other’s lives on various occasions through Muriel’s brilliant mind providing, as per usual inspiration and unfailing directions, while Winnie’s skilful expertise provided the finished objects, be it the knitted Stone of Destiny, single-bed blankets, the coastal waters of Japan, socks, tea cosies, nose warmers, the list is endless and will indubitably include repeated reference to the panacea of Scottish needlecraft, the famous Hook of Urr (Never to be confused with the Huh of Ook, which is not in Scotland). No wonder Muriel’s plans to promote folk art are ripening as we speak. It will be the least she can do in memory of her dear friend, finally carried carefully down the mountainside in a frozen aggregate and decently defrosted into a more malleable state for international air transport.

    Muriel and Winnie, a rather splendid pair of indefatigable formidable determined intelligent Scottish women, sure in their own personal styles, influences, preferences and skills, unsurpassable as a team.
    I wish I had known Winnie myself, and raise a dram in her memory.

    Here’s to Winnie of Auchterarder, which is in Scotland.
    May you always have at least two skeins of wool under your yarnarm, and a set of needles to knit them by!

    Sx

Comments are closed.