Making Christmas Gay

Ever Prepared

I’ll see you soon

“Well Dahling, I hope you have a happy Hanukkah when it comes and Jasper says will you save him a slice of brisket and one of Cecilly’s (your woman what does, but much more than mine) special filled doughnuts. I know you will be busy too for the next couple of weeks so shall we say just at the back of 12 on the 3rd in Daly’s Restaurant for a spot of lunch and some hat shopping in the sales? Marvellous, au revoir until then.”

Oh sorry, my apologies, I did not realise you were there.

Together at a Good School

That, in case you are wondering and who wouldn’t with my telephone manner, was my dearest and oldest friend Jacqueline who lives off Great Western Road in a simply marvellous house with first floor drawing room in the Scots’ tradition. Well a tradition if you have a large house, otherwise I imagine you have a sitting room or, if you are really common, a lounge. I cannot bear the word lounge; it is far too languid and suggests torpor and sofa beds or “Put Me Ups”. Anyway Jacqueline would never have a lounge as we were at school together. We were comrades in liberty bodices as we navigated double Latin and the famous three armed dress.

the best use of an old Minton plate

Not to mention, so I will, the hours we spent practising taking our egg shells on a Royal Doulton or Minton plate to the waste bin after soufflé making.

Moi’s perfect soufflé

Of course it was never anticipated that we would actually have to cook anything, however, it was considered essential that we knew how it was done in order that we might supervise domestic staff from a position of knowledge. I  do still make the odd soufflé on Mrs T’s night off.

Extras

Jacqueline had “extras” such as elocution, as her father sometimes had to visit the south side on business; they speak a different language there. He was in children’s wear with a wonderful shop full of little coats with velvet collars and hand embroidered romper sets. I buy many of Gayle’s clothes there.

We rarely visited the south side as my mother did not like the sort of people one had as fellow travellers on the Renfrew ferry with two door cars. At least she was spared the Yoker Swan, which she believed would necessitate the sort of preparations required to find the source of the River Nile and not simply crossing the Clyde. I, of course, did not require elocution as I was brought by the stork in an advanced state of perfection, with an inbuilt ability to mix consonants and vowels in the most appealing way and of course to speak in public without ever getting lipstick on my teeth due to the correct positioning of my tongue, and perfect formation of my lips.

I did of course take ballet and had a private dance master, called Monsieur Antoine, who had lavender coloured bouffant hair and smelt of attar of roses. He taught me to waltz too. Later I broke out and secretly learnt the Charleston, Peabody and the Turkey Trot.

The handsome stranger

That is where I first met the Handsome Stranger. He never puts a foot wrong and his steps are perfect and he taught me everything I know. I was madly gay in those days. Mama and Papa were furious and of course Grandmamma never came to terms with the new short skirts and bobbed hair and was rarely able to leave her boudoir after the Treaty of Versailles, except to add codicils to her will.

That Little Touch of Lard

mince pies

“Oh thank you Mrs Travers, the coffee will be very welcome and the first of the mince pies. I really cannot afford the pastry, let alone the home made mince meat, but there is something about that little touch of lard that makes a really good short crust. Have you finished the brasses? Good; I am going to need them for my seasonal floral arrangements. And have you scrunched the chicken wire and located my laddered stockings? Then I can make my famous and much sought after present trimmings of gossamer festive flowers, which can then be used as a hair decorations for parties.”

“Yes mam.”

“Good, then perhaps you and Grace might make a start on the flat wear with the king’s pattern. I noticed it was a little tarnished. Dare I ask if we know the whereabouts of Mr Wylie?”

“Silver cleaning already underway Mrs Wylie. Grace has it in hand and as to Mr Wylie he is putting the finishing touches to his Hysterical Society Quiz for the December meeting. The subject being, as I understand it, The Story of Bells, and I don’t mean the whisky I mean the big things with clappers, which we don’t have too many of in Scotland on account of them being too exciting.”

“Thank you Mrs T keep me posted. I don’t want him slipping off to the races at Ayr, thinly disguised as getting his library books for the festive period. I know his every movement and his every breath. Tell me are you quite recovered from the Asian influenza as I notice that you are a little unsteady on your support stockings? I hope you have not been mixing the old Askit poowders with the Sanatogen tonic wine again? You know how it can send one quite doolally.”

“No Madam I have restricted myself to steam inhalation, Brands Essence and the odd spoonful of honey and lemon mixed with a wee drop of whisky to prevent reoccurrence.”

“Well might I suggest you go easy on the steam inhalation.” 

Visiting Lady Pentland-Firth at Home Farm

I am quite glad to have a little time with my feet up on the old camel saddle you know. Why is it we all run around like headless chickens at this time of year? And we don’t really even have Christmas in Scotland, since it was thought to be even more exciting than bells in the 17th century. I have it on good authority that next year Christmas Day will become an official holiday in Scotland for the first time.

Making arrangements

Talking of poultry, we were at the Rural Bolthole at the weekend. I had to see Lady Pentland-Firth about next season’s Country House Concerts; she has got it into her head that we should put on Wagner’s Parsifal which is a well known (if you have been privately educated) opera by the German composer Richard Wagner.

She sees this as the perfect setting for “Parsifal”

She feels her estate gardens would be the perfect backdrop for the “Magic Gardens of Klingsor”. I feel this is rather too ambitious but Patience feels it will attract the right sort of people to the estate. Jasper says he rather fancies an evening of Olde Tyme Music Hall instead and would pay not to see Wagner. Her ladyship is determined and wants to know how it might be achieved with minimum outlay and maximum income. Not to mention a major role for Luigi, her latest squeeze from the Italian café, who apparently sings like an angel.

 Killing Two Birds with One Stone Apparently

While I applaud Lady Pentland-Firth’s attempt to make the estate pay in the face of state theft, I sometimes feel her view of the situation is far from the reality. For example she suggested that I might as well kill two birds with one stone, or indeed as many as I liked by selecting some Christmas and New Year poultry from Home Farm.  Her prices apparently are very competitive. Her management is, however, something else.

We walked out of the French doors from the Duke of Cumberland Salon to the General Wade Terrace and just as we were about to enter the Garden of the Picturesque and proposed site of the Wagner evening, a tractor appearing to be driven by the cook sped past and went through a yew hedge in the direction of the medieval fish ponds, where it certainly arrived as we heard the splash. “I must get that tractor seen to” said Patience, “No” I replied “you need to see to the staff. What is the cook doing on the tractor that is a job for the gardeners or a farm hand?” “But Muriel she is so good with deer paté; she always has a full bucket of liver under the kitchen sink. Let’s go and see the piggies.”

Painted Pigs

Just as well as we found the pig man in tears having come back from market to find some village boys had been up and painted the pigs in a variety of colours with paint found in an outhouse. I have to admit a blue and pink stripped pig has its charms, but I am not sure what a butcher would think of that. Lady P-F thought it was wonderful but then she has taken to decorating the Robert Adam portico with fairy lights which among the gentry is regarded as the height of vulgarity as Christmas gaiety rarely goes much further than some greenery around the Gainsborough or perhaps, if one is really pushing the boat out, a Christmas tree hung with decorations brought back from foreign travels and only marginally damaged by various fires, floods and armies of mice.

Everything has a story

Of course every decoration has a story which means that putting up the tree takes a whole day and an ability, if one is not a family member, to appear entranced by Aunt Agatha’s olive wood souvenirs bought while helping Flinders Petrie on a dig in Palestine in the 1920s and now much chewed by whippets.

Picky Poultry

a resident of home farm

Things were not much better on the poultry farm where Patience tried to interest me in the “Golden Goose” she has been trying to palm off for many years to any poor passer-by with a fancy for aristocratic foodstuffs. “It is no good Patience you have tried this before, that gander is at least 21 years old and how could you even think of killing it? It is an avid fan of the B.B.C. Home Service and thinks The Archers are a horror story.” “Muriel I only keep the wireless on so he has company and anyway both help keep the foxes away from the chickens. None of them are keen on the Third Programme.” “Well they are not going to take very kindly to Parsifal then are they?”

Perusing December 1957’s Woman Magazine

Christmas 1957
The Christmas edition of “Woman” from Lottie

I had intended to begin reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a professional Victorian, to get me into the mood for Christmas but perhaps I will just peruse Woman which Lottie sent over. Of course I am much more of a Vogue or The Spectator sort of person but it does no harm to see what ordinary women are reading.  Advice on gifts seems to be all important.

Apparently Prince Charles is getting a midget racing car for Christmas, it is low and ‘rather rakish and has the Prince’s initials in gold letters’. I wonder if I could get one for Gayle, my ward. Small gauge electric trains are very popular, I am sure that would appeal to Jasper. For those visiting Father Christmas in department stores Robin Hood and nurses’ outfits are popular. If you want to get a new look for a room then the latest thing from America – where else? – is to insert a coloured light bulb into the big light. “There are pink, blue, gold and green ones; they change your colour scheme in a flash.” A bright idea, no red I notice, so one can assume that Woman is a magazine of taste. Just in case the change of light upsets pets then worry not as this Christmas you can “give your dog a sedative”!

Puzzled

I am a little puzzled, and forgive the pun, by the suggestion that if one is stuck for a gift for an older person or an invalid, we can contact Elsie Baldwin who has run a jigsaw library from a gay London office since 1934. She sends out hand cut puzzles graded to suit every skill by post or one may call in person. It seems the late Princess Marie Louise was a regular. Perhaps Jasper is right and we need we need to cut back on the Royal Family if doing jigsaws is the qualification then it seems to me the field is wide open. Miss Baldwin is quite the skilful business women as not only are royalty on her list but she is something of a psychologist too. She hires out quite a few jig saws to party hostesses “they find a puzzle in progress gives early or shy guests a talking point”. Is it just me – because I am afraid if I were an invalid on my death bed the last thing I would want would be a thousand piece jigsaw of a Swiss chalet. Or worse if I were to arrive at a party and have to complete the mizzen mast of HMS Victory before I got a drink I would not be best pleased.

The Best Packages

Of course our women’s magazines are full of ideas for presents that one can make. Why not knit a bright beret in an enchanting glittery, style for special occasions and a gay, simple classic for everyday?

Why not knit a beret?

Why not indeed particularly as this gives one the opportunity to knit a party beret in Patons’ Fuzzy Wuzzy, one style not only has a ribbon bow but the talking point of little ears. I would have to get extra wool for Mrs Travers or it would be difficult for her to listen at the door with her glass.

For very special people

On the other hand for “young special people” Woman recommends “a gay unfamiliar package” , perhaps the Princess makeup pack with vanishing cream, face powder and lipstick – beginners bliss for 6s 6d. Make sure the wrapping is appealing and why not go for Spicers’ “Gaywrap” with a “wealth of choice of colourful designs ready to add a finishing touch…..”

gaywraps

Remember as Edith Blair writes in “Pack a Pretty Parcel” that a gay parcel says “wrapped with love”. Rest assured says Edith “it does not mean extravagance”. she is so right, I do feel that one always want a parcel wrapped with love.

gift wrapped

If one, however, wants to be extravagant, then why not “a boxed set of towels and face cloths”.  After all with the new coloured bathrooms “towels should be gay”.  It is important to remember that at this time of year we cannot all afford to be gay with exciting gifts, such as a Sunbeam Mix-master or Goya Gift box. However, it is possible to brighten up someone’s life with the smallest “minding”.

Some bright worcester ware

What about a Worcester Ware tin tray for 4/9d or unlined house gloves by Dunlop at 3/9 a pair or for 1/4d, a bottle of Camp Coffee after all “you get more out of a bottle of Camp”.

Time to be gay and spontaneous

“Hello Muriel, I have finished the History Society quiz and let me tell you it will be challenging. Ooh are there any mince pies left? And by the way if we are not going out this evening I have got us a little treat, a 1m000 piece jig saw Along the Seine in Autumn, could one ask for a better winter evening?”

“Yes Jasper, have you nothing with a bit more gaiety about it?”

“Well I have got a 500 piece hand cut “Bird Watching”. We could have drinking chocolate with it.”

Bird watching jigsaw puzzle

“Jasper if you are not careful you will be old before your time and worse not in the least bit gay.”

“Well, Muriel would you like to go out for lunch and see Funny Face at the Cinema and then perhaps a little dancing at the Locano Club?”

“That’s a bit better Jasper, yes I would. I’ll just  finish reading  the Woman Magazine with my coffee. Evelyn Home is trying to give advice to a woman ‘who dare not be ill’, ‘a spineless boy’, ‘two cousins who wish to marry’ and a woman who is ‘caught in the flames of madness’ as her fiancé is abroad. And here is an article about Ernest who despite having spent 12 months in a sanatorium now has his own duplicator. Such excitement.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

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7 Responses to Making Christmas Gay

  1. seileasdar says:

    Duly read, my dear Muriel, and I beg your forgiveness in my slip of the mind. Somehow the (mac) cavity bit got stuck in my teeth, ehm mind. Ironmongerie with that Charlie boy is far more recommended and explains your unborn flamboyance, good taste and artistry, dear. No more talk of dentists in this gay time, dear. Please accept my profoundest apologies, dear Muriel! x

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Arcane social distinctions, a continental influence, and gay the way it used to be. ‬

    ‪My target is 401 words, just so that I can moan about having been edited by The Man. Well, the woman. ‬

    ‪Don’t worry about our hearing your conversation. If we were concerned the Internet would fall into disuse overnight. I saw Stephen Fry make that point to rather aquiline ‬young gentleman many years ago. Maybe he was in a lounge. It is possible.

    ‪Oh goodness. I have a two-door car. I hope that doesn’t make me common, or a seducer of women. It could be argued that I’m the registered keeper of a hatchback. This is awful. I’m clearly less of a gentleman than the handsome stranger.‬

    ‪All those wonderful cold remedies from the time before ephedrine. Other cures are available but can be difficult to take with a blocked nose.‬

    ‪Wagner would be a good influence on Lady P-F, I feel. Maybe she would be more organised. It’s possible that she absorbed something in her time in the Weimar. She is fortunate to have Luigi though, as long as his attitudes are appropriately modern. I’m certain he will have a positive effect on Patience’s culinary arrangements.‬

    ‪A jigsaw library…‬

    ‪We’d all be gripped by the Jackson Pollocks. ‬

    ‪Mx‬

  3. Moira Taylor says:

    Oh the thought of a gay time at Christmas cheers me up no end on a dreary , grey day. I was particularly taken by the berets and the Harlequin matches. Edith Blair is quite right, even a small gift can look extravagant if wrapped elegantly and, as you say, with love.
    I do wish dear Jasper luck with his quiz for the Hysterical Society.I hope he doesn’t have to put up with one of those know-alls who argue with the quizmaster about his answers – such a bore!
    It seems to me that Patience is in more need than ever of your guiding hand Muriel. Her taste borders on the vulgar and her control over her staff is non-existent.
    The jigsaw idea is a good one though – just think how long you could keep Jasper occupied (and therefore out of trouble) by providing him with a particularly difficult jigsaw, with one or two pieces missing …….
    Do have a splendid Christmas my dear!

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    My dwaaling, how else can one describe a Muriel Christmas other than ‘young, gay and glittering’?! Keeping it gay from packages to berets to towel sets to Goya Gift Boxes – mais oui, gaiety is your festive mode de vie! One which we should all aim to emulate, dear heart! One is not so sure about a gay unfamiliar package, but wrapped appealingly in Spicers’ Gaywrap, one is open to anything……..especially a little vanishing cream……..

    Votre ‘Bons Mots’ have certainly made one feel incredibly festive and gay…..having had a large pot of Watts Ceylon Dimbula (large leaf), one feels the need for a large pot of coffee avec some mince pies, “Jeeeves, break out the Camp coffee!” After all, one always ‘gets more out of a bottle of camp’………..

    Speaking of camp, one is keen to learn more of Monsieur Antoine, your dancing master. He sounds ‘terribly theatrical’ – one feels a strong affinity with him already! Would he perhaps mount ‘Parsifal’ with Lady P-F…….? No poultry, please! You know how one feels about poultry.

    Maintenant, it must be time for a wee Sherry to lubricate one’s chords in preparation to ‘locute’ – you know how it is, Mu dwaaling, you and I were born to instruct those less fortunate in the ways of perfect Italian vowels and crisp consonants. Merry Christmas, dwaalings……..!

    Yours keeping it gay all the day,
    Lulu xxxx

  5. seileasdar says:

    preparations, parties, and packaging

    How delightful to read that Christmas is entering the Wylie household proper with cleaning the silver and worrying about suitable presents and food! A time to shine for our Muriel with her inborn perfection and good upbringing in etiquette, manners, style and je ne sais quoi. It is reassuring to see that she peruses the leading magazines to be at hand for advice on all matters presents.

    Grace, too, seems to be a valuable addition to the household what with Mrs Travers enjoying her cold remedies a bit too much in her support stockings. One has to worry about these things, you know. And not let standards slip, especially with the silver, as it is the equivalent of one’s eye teeth when hosting – but Muriel will know what I mean, being a dentist’s daughter and all.

    Oh how gay Christmas must be at Muriel and Jasper’s. One can almost smell the aromas wafting, the lights sparkling, and the beautifully and understatedly wrapped presents piling up under the real tree, which of course is tastefully decorated with assorted artistical international traditional ornamental delights.

    We, too are busy doing our Readening now, as it is very bad luck to clean or do laundry ‘inbetwixt the years’. So we are busy scrubbing the skirting boards, windows, doors and linoleum within an inch of their lives – and ours. The tree is not going up before the 24th midday. So it will last until Epiphany. We have invested this year and bought more ‘Lametta’ (strips of tinsel) for the tree, so only the old stuff will need ironing up before hanging. The candles will be lit, the Lauscha baubles hanging, the sweets tied into the tree, and the lametta will be over the branches. It will be beautiful!

    On Christmas Eve, we will have the traditional biscuits, then go to church, then have potato salad and sausages with mustard, then the kids get their presents to open after they have sung or recited a poem, then it will be all ‘gemütlich’ for a bit and come eleven at night, we will all wrap warmly and trundle over to the church for midnight mass, communal singing and Glühwein. I hope it’s going to snow!

    Muriel’s busyness is infectious.
    Fröhliche Weihnachten, everyone!

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