Home is Best
As they say, “East, West – Home’s best” or rather as he said, as it was the title of Goldsmith’s poem which is by the famous playwright Oliver Goldsmith who is now dead, as he was born more than 200 years ago in 1728.
An Inspired Idiot and An Evangelical Muriel
Goldsmith was the son of an Irish curate, rather dissolute in his habits (Oliver that is, not his father) and yet clever. He was a great writer and a great gambler. Indeed he was described by Horace Walpole, as “an inspired idiot”. I am sure he must have had a shed for he certainly had a massive output. This as Lady Pentland-Firth always says “comes in handy”. He wrote the pastoral poem The Deserted Village and a very good play She Stoops to Conquer.
Muriel does not like this play, not only because someone said she reminded her of Mrs Hardcastle, but mainly because the heroine, Kate Hardcastle, pretends to be “common”. Now as I am sure you are aware the eradication of all things “common” has been Muriel’s mission in life. Indeed in matters relating to this campaign she might be regarded as the Billy Graham of the movement! In this play Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, tries to win over Charles, the son of an equally wealthy Londoner, who prefers to be with kitchen maids.
On Top of Her Game and Often at the Bottom of Things
I cannot help thinking, by way of contrast, of Patience Pentland-Firth who is perhaps the person highest up the social pyramid I know. Nevertheless, as we discovered on the way home from Spain, can always be found well below decks or behind the bulwark with the hired help. Perhaps this has something to do with her becoming an aristocrat by marriage rather than being “born to the purple”. She began her career as a cabaret artist between the wars and if she is to be believed between the sheets too, as I overheard her say “I always made sure they were pure Egyptian cotton.”
Now I am sure you do not want a guide to 18th century literature, but to be fair, Goldsmith had a point. I found that while it was interesting to be abroad and I did enjoy Spain apart from the bullfighting, the heat, the food, the politics, the accommodation, the espionage and the sherry headaches, it is good to be back. Travel does broaden the mind and it also helps one to understand why home is best. Of course we were not in Spain simply for fun and frolics. No, we were on matters of national importance although I have to say the sangria and sherry went a long way to make up for the inconvenience.
It is a fascinating country although I do not care for its President. I think the Spaniards will somehow never come to terms with the events of the 1930s. I had to keep quiet, as our lives were in danger, however, I did tell Muriel that as a socialist I undoubtedly would have gone to Spain, like so many Glaswegians as part of the International Brigades to fight for the republic. My fallen arches regrettably made me useless for combat and sadly I too realised that I might have been a hindrance to the cause and to the partisans hiding in caves the hills. Particularly of course in the event there were no regular footbaths available with a trained chiropodist and warm towels. Mrs Travers said she was sure that as I felt so strongly about fascism, something could have been put in my shoes to have given me support and helped me on my way.
Hilda – On Whom the Sun Will Not Rise Again
The death of Hilda, the double agent in the bullring, was a messy affair. The medical people tried to save her, but to no avail. The horns of a bull, like a dilemma, are very pointed. Those who work in the Shadows particularly the Handsome Stanger and Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes were disappointed as there was much she could have told them about life behind the Iron Curtain and the plans of the comrades for world domination. However, the main thing we had gone for, the map (the secret crotched map of the coastal waters between Japan and Russia which she had stolen) was rescued when it was tossed into the air and landed on Lady Pentland-Firth’s knees just as she was chatting up a strapping young Iberian vendor of “Caramelos, Cigars and lemonade”.
Although I do not remember too much about it, (due to a wee sip of medicinal sherry at a Bodega that lunchtime), I was apparently instrumental in bringing Hilda to justice and saving the matador, Mrs Travers, from certain death.
Of course, the big surprise of our adventure in Spain was the discovery of Winnie (she of the bicycle, the Wool Shop in Auchterarder and the novelty knitting) and Mr Chan (of crispy noodle fame at least in the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, speciality menus O- S available on Wednesdays in a leap year with chop stick lessons available on request) who were both thought to be dead. I am not sure how this is going to be explained in either the Govan Road or particularly tweedy Auchterarder. Govan might well be a little more colourful and cosmopolitan due to the shipyards, but Auchterarder ? I have to say murder is rare in rural Perthshire and resurrection, come to think of it, practically unheard of. It will most certainly be the talk of ‘The Copper Kettle’ during morning coffee.
After the Spanish authorities had concluded their paper work Hilda’s remains were handed over during the night at sea to a ship belonging to the comrades to return her to the communist block. They seemed indifferent to her fate perhaps realising that it would be foolish to make a fuss as they have been exposed over the map issue and worse found wanting in crotchet skills.
We had a few days to recover in Spain. I explored the forts in Cadiz and thought how exciting a paper on the Peninsular War might be for the Historical Society. We returned home by Royal Navy frigate to Portsmouth and hence by train home to Glasgow. On board Mrs Travers showed the ship’s cook how to make stovies and Lady Pentland-Firth declared the crew quarters to be some of the most comfortable she had ever experienced. Some of the crew said Lady Pentland-Firth was one of their most unusual experiences and this despite a great familiarity with aspects of Strait Street in Malta, when the ship docked in Valletta and the crew docked in Miss Lola’s Chicken Bar.
It was indeed good to get home to blighty. Our mission was successful and the Handsome Stranger said that all in the Service H.Q. were extremely grateful. There is talk of the New Year Honours’ List. Muriel is already thinking about having her stationery reprinted. There are piles of letters and Glasgow Heralds to comb through although there seems to have been little in the way of news while we have been in Spain.
Gatwick Airport has been refurbished and extended and opened by the Queen who also visited Crawley New Town. New towns are very important for our business these days as new houses require new furniture and soft furnishings. The Duke of Edinburgh has presented the first of his awards for doing the sorts of things of which the Duke approves. This mainly means running around and getting lost without a compass. There is a new attempt to control urban traffic with what are being called parking metres. These have existed in America since the 1930s. Muriel is not amused and has described this as yet one more example of State theft and has written a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan.
Muriel Gets Back to Work
The last debutantes are currently being presented at Buckingham Palace and at Holyrood in Edinburgh which is a sort of Palace-ette,(as in Maisonette). I personally am pleased to see another chink in the wall of the divisive class system in this country. Muriel, however, who misses nothing but blows has seen an opportunity here and is busy running an etiquette class for Scottish gals on “How to curtsey to the Queen.” The class includes morning coffee, a buffet lunch as well as lectures and a trouble shooting session with Muriel when she will tackle difficult issues such as walking backwards and does one keep one’s gloves on when eating quails’ eggs. The answer, apparently, is yours for 5 guineas.
Hairy Mary and Grace have Everything Under Control
You will be delighted to know that we found all’s well and that our ward, Gayle, is thriving in the summer sun in the care of Hairy Mary, the nurse from Inverarary, and the house was in good shape in the care of Grace, the lady from the West Indies who Muriel has declared “a treasure”.
I am not sure this was very diplomatic as Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does, but not a lot, said she felt undermined as she “had always been the family treasure, despite a terminal wind problem.” Muriel said she is still a treasure, just a little tarnished and some effective flatware cleaning with the old silver polish might see her redeemed.
Church Modernisation Claims Another Victim
There has been no peace for the wicked since we returned. Indeed no sooner had we unpacked our valises and portmanteau at our “much sort after but rarely found villa” in Glasgow’s “exclusive West End”, than Muriel and I left for the Rural Bolthole.
We arrived here to find the village in turmoil. That is not unusual of course. It’s the constant fighting that makes them live so long. It seems that the Minister has resigned or rather been resigned as following some rather odd behaviour Dr Payne, our GP, has had him sent to the local asylum for his own good.
Many of the rustics delighted in telling us that they had seen the arrival of the men in white coats at the manse and that the dear demented Reverend was heard to shout, “It’s that wretched woman again, what a nerve sending her Gazpacho soup recipe from Spain by diplomatic bag.” Seemingly he tried waving his arms about, but they were tied behind his back as he continued to shout, “…this is one step too far towards Rome. The Mulligatawny was bad enough but a cold, garlic flavoured soup, swimming in oil is against everything John Knox stood for.” As they closed the ambulance doors he was heard to shout, “That Wylie woman will cause a schism bigger than 1843.”
The Minister is Rambling and Muriel Might Be on the Turn
At the annual Church Kitchen Stocktaking and Apportioning of Blame Meeting which took place on the Friday morning, it was reported that the ladies of the Parish were in full spate as they searched for missing teaspoons and tried to identify tea towel abusers. “Well who would have thought” said one, “our minister in the rubber room, who will open the flower show?” “Probably Muriel Wylie” said another. “Yes” said another, matching cups and saucers “I heard she has been in Italy considering……..” “Oh no surely not that!” exclaimed another who was missing a sugar cube. “Surely you mean Episcopalianism, not you know what?” “That’s bad enough” added another who had discovered a packet of biscuits opened and the contents not put in a tin, “they said he had been rambling for days.” “I heard” said another “he was offered a remote African Village, where they wear nothing but banana leaves to cover their modesty, apparently he said she would find him there and no doubt open a branch of her wretched shop to sell them velvet curtains for their round houses.”
A Night in the Garden of Pentland Firth Hall
Of course all of this, like most things had very little impact on Muriel who had anyway received the Moderator’s blessing for Mulligatawny and now sees an open door for change – under her direction of course. In any case she has been busy preparing her course for the debutants and helping Lady Pentland-Firth out with one of her Country House Concerts.
These are beginning to make their mark on the lives of those who live in the countryside who thought the only music in their lives was from byre door hinges needing a drop of oil or the sound of a male sheep on seeing the approach of the shepherd with a clamping device in his hands. On Sunday I must say Patience , clearly enthused by her Spanish adventure, excelled herself with Nights in the Gardens of Spain.
As well as the musical offering, the grounds of Pentland Firth House were the location of many Iberian flavoured activities most of which were centred around the tennis courts with the Rambling Rector rose in full bloom or in the walled garden.
Muriel conducted the first of her new workshops ‘Fanning About’ which were well attended and then together we read a selection from Spanish literature. The writings of Cervantes gave rise to the usual discussion about the pronunciation of Don Quixote. Before things got violent I diverted them with some images of his time in prison in Seville.
The work of Garcia Lorca was presented Lady Pentland-Firth, with the opportunity to demonstrate her flamenco skills. It has to be said the accompaniment provided by Young Old Jock from Nether Doh-Da on a guitar which has seen better days and more strings and Gladys Arbuthnot, from the mobile library, on castanets did not quite have the passion of the Andalucían Gypsies.
An Unforgettable Moment
The suppa of Spanish seafood was inspired and as the ladies from the right side of Carlisle remarked. “Who would ever forget the sound of Young Old Jock with his six fingers and three strings playing Rodrigo while watching the newly resurrected Winnie casting off for a knitted Sancho Panza while playing footsie with Mr Chan and sucking on a lobster claw?