Matters of Taste

It is the height of bad taste to comment on the taste of others (at least in public), no matter how bad it might be.

You Leave Me No Choice

My help is needed

I have a sense, however, from your desperate letters and telephone calls verging on the hysterical that you require some guidance from one whose taste is regarded as sans pareil. Could it be that the approaching wedding season is making you anxious? It is after all the occasion of the ill considered pattern, the all too clinging fabric and the hat resonant of a dahlia display in the garden of a Corporation house.


The dahlia, like the gladioli and carpet bedding in blue and white, is in bad taste along with flying plaster ducks and spam fritters. Such flowers are best left to those with allotments and batter covered meat from a tin requiring a key for access  best left to the sort of people who shop in their carpet slippers and put unwashed milk bottles on their doorsteps.

Philosophers – A Definition

It is my understanding from my various friends at the Varsity here in Glasgow, many with degrees longer than your arm, that the “concept of aesthetics” (and by that I do not mean the sport that requires one to wear shorts and a vest and throw spears like ancient Greeks) is and always has been of great interest to the philosophers such as Plato, Hume and Kant. Philosophers are people who sit around all day and get paid to think. In Glasgow this is called being “on the buroo” (Glaswegian pronunciation of bureau) and was a concept developed by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (who should have known better) in about 1906. This was taken to extremes by a Mr Beveridge, with help from a Mr Bevin, who added in free glasses and false teeth, which along with Mountbatten giving up India has surely signalled the beginning of the end of the noble enterprise that has been the British Empire.

Jasper in his favourite tweed suit

My husband Jasper has the potential of being a philosopher but  I keep him busy and see that he has plenty of exercise and fresh air. I suppose in many ways he is like a labrador in a tweed suit.

The Eyes Have It!

As I was saying good taste, or the human ability to judge what is beautiful good and proper, is as subject of academic interest. Plato is very complicated, no doubt due to too much sun and full of clichés so we will hurry on to David Hume. Hume’s terminology is widely regarded as archaic, so we will not linger. What is far more interesting is that he liked cooking and even bought a house in Edinburgh’s fashionable new town so that he could have a larger kitchen. He was very keen on beef and cabbage and that great Scottish standby “Sheep Heid’s broth”. This as Jasper says is a very economical thing “especially if you keep the eyes in as it will see you through the week”.

Hume owned a copy of Elizabeth Cleland’s cookbook published in 1755; she ran the first known cookery school in Edinburgh for young ladies. Hume once said he was “not an epicure, only a glutton”. This may explain why when he was walking across a field to look at the developments north of Princes Street he got stuck in a muddy hole and had to be rescued by some passing Newhaven fishwives. Being a noted atheist they would, it is said, only help him out if he recited his catechism. In later years Hume loved to tell this story about himself.

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

In many ways he reminds me of Jasper, at least he would, had he been a noted expert on the properties of custard. Jasper by the way has gone to the races at Ayr with Mr Macaulay, the bungalow builder, and Mr Savage who is in pickles and condiments. They are going by way of “Fishers” in Bothwell Street as yesterday Jasper saw their advert in the classifieds which said “tomorrow you may face ruin – where would you be if your vital business records were destroyed – Fishers for safes.” I would say that ruin is more likely to result from an afternoon’s racing at Ayr.

Fond of a Bit of Latin

Now Immanuel Kant, despite being a German, was a very clever man possibly because he might well have had a Scottish heritage. There is no evidence for this but was told so by his father who was a saddler and the Scots were quite good with leather, particularly shoes. Kant was very fond of the Latin Classics, he thus has much in common with dear Jasper who is very keen on Sophia Loren. She and I use an eyebrow pencil and surprised looks in very similar ways.

the charming Sophia Loren

The only problem with Herr Kant is that he denies any standard of good taste and apparently contradicting himself, a very European practice, says that good taste excludes fashion. This not only leads me to suggest he might have been more gainfully occupied in going into his father’s saddler’s business and doing something useful with his life.

Fit for Purpose

A woman of marvellousness with small shoulders

It seems the business of guiding you all in matters of taste falls on my little shoulders. Fortunately I am not a lone voice and if one picks and chooses carefully one can find shining examples of those who unlike Herr Kant are prepared to nail the colours of aesthetics to the mast of good taste.  Can I just say here, that when I say mast I do not mean flag pole for unless one resides at Buckingham Palace, a flag pole is a vulgar affectation particularly on a semi detached house in a scheme.

It Might Surprise You..

It might surprise you to know that I have a kindred spirit in the Football Correspondent of The Glasgow Herald. Surprising as it may seem to those of you who are fans and by that I mean rough boys from Council schools familiar with the Nit Nurse. I too am a bit of a fan of “the fitba”; probably because father was a director of Rangers and I still have a few shares. Naturally I have been keen to see how Scotland has been doing in its preparations for next year’s World Cup in Stockholm.

Judging by their performance in Basle yesterday against Switzerland I can say that the odds are long. Despite winning two goals to Switzerland’s one it was a poor display which does not auger well for 1958. I have to agree with The Herald correspondent that this irritating match, notable for its “poverty of passing”, was in part a matter of aesthetics. As he says in this morning’s Match Report an attractively turned out team starts with a “good conceit of themselves”. It pained him to say that the appearance of the Scottish team in front of a crowd of 48,000 was nothing short of “shocking”. As he went on to say,“To the expected dark blue shirts and red hose, were added shorts of a vivid orange hue and the ensemble was unbearably lacking in taste”. I have to agree with The Herald’s man that it was “no consolation to know that it was the Swiss who decided on the orange shorts”.

 A Lack of Dignity in the Scottish Team

It may have been little consolation, but someone should have thought to check the motives of a people who like to shoot arrows through apples, make noisy timepieces and consider melting cheese at the dining room table to be entertaining. That is in very poor taste. Who asks people to dinner and expects them to cook their own supper?

If there was any saving grace to the match it was in the performance of Docherty by far the best player and Mudie though he lets himself down by his overuse of heading. As The Herald correspondent added, “Football, whenever possible, should be played on the ground”. The rest of the players determined to play up to the wet conditions provided by a terrific thunderstorm “slipped and skidded on the lush green grass and gave the impression they were unsuitably shod for the occasion- one might have thought they were wearing Wellington Boots”. The Swiss on the other hand rarely found themselves sprawling in an undignified manner. Dignity is an integral aspect of good taste. If it’s any consolation, dear readers, although England won against Eire, they were far from impressive in a match that was all “froth and foam”. Froth and foam is as far from good taste as King Herod in a baby linen shop.

Too Much Sobbing

The Stoll Theatre, Kingsway, London

In a further example of bad taste one need look no further than the current production of La Bohème at “The Stoll Theatre” in London. Admittedly it has better sets than a rival production at “Covent Garden” where they seem to think an outdoor café scene likely in December, but overall it is something of a disappointment especially when compared with the same companies production of Lucia de Lammermoor.

I am afraid, and Jasper agreed with me when we saw it last week, that the responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of the tenor Antonio Annalvro. For some reason he sobbed through the part of Rudolfo which as The Herald music critic said was “in the worst of taste”. He has a good voice don’t get me wrong but a little interpretive direction would go a long way.

While we are on the subject of sobbing let me remind you of something I have said before and that is, one cries alone. Sobbing at funerals, as my mother said, is for servants. The essence of good funeral taste is the removal of a lace handkerchief, preferably Brussels lace trimmed, which is dabbed once to one eye and replaced immediately into one’s handbag. Anything else as my mother said indicated excessive morbidity or new money.

Tasteful Thoughts for the Future

Just in case you think my musings are going to be a catalogue of bad taste this week. I can point to some sunshine amid the gloom. Mr Roger Falk, a businessman, has for example suggested at a conference this week in Brighton that Britain should have a network of British Design Centres in some of our major overseas markets. He says that many of our products are sent abroad with little consideration regarding taste and that our packaging is dull with scant regard paid to the languages of those who will use our manufactures. Do I sense the hand of dear Prince Philip here?

In another speech regarding taste Sir Ian Jacob, Director General of the B.B.C., has said that despite changing tastes he promises to strive for interest and amusement but also to continue to produce first rate material of the kind listened to by those who tune into the Third Programme. I have to say I do wonder about this. Can Bach, for example, be amusing? I sense “bread and circuses”.

A Step too Far?

If one is looking for the home of good taste then one need look no further than Denmark where The Queen and Prince Phillip are currently making a State Visit to stay at the Amalienborg Palace with King Christian and Queen Ingrid. Apparently Queen Ingrid has done the flowers herself much as I do when we have guests.

A simple arrangement by moi

My good friend Elizabeth Morris writing in The Herald says that the Danes are the most uninhibited of the Scandinavian trio and that they believe life is to be enjoyed. A little different from we Scots who believe it is already ordained, to be endured with the promise of better to come. They work hard and have a high standard of living. They get three weeks holiday a year and social services look after the sick and the old, which they pretend to here and they “pension the unmarried mother”, which I think is a step too far!

Tasteful Homes but Dubious Social Standards

Danish homes are full of imagination and good taste. They are generally small and most people live in flats, but they all have central heating, radiograms and according to Elizabeth, oil paintings. The latter sounds like socialism to me; I wouldn’t trust Mrs Travers with an oil painting. She would probably make into 6 table mats. Danish furniture is beautiful and practical and you can see examples of this in my shop “Chez Nous” where I also sell glass and tableware.

smørrebrød, or as we know it a Danish open sandwich selection

The Danes eat well and their meat is of the highest quality. I rather like their open sandwiches although I always have to put a closing slice on a side plate for Jasper as this confuses him especially after a glass of Schnapps and some Carlsberg which is their beer. Now just in case you think all is beer and skittles, they indulge their children and also have “equality”, which means that women can smoke cigars . It is no wonder they have a high rate of divorce and suicide as well as a lot of bicycles.

A Danish Evening to Mark the Royal Visit

I hope we will not see our Queen in Copenhagen on a bicycle or with a cigar. She has gone on the Britannia from Hull where prior to departure she watched some fish being unloaded and visited a Council house, she is so brave.

The Danes are very excited by the visit, the first in 400 years and there is even a sweet shop with a model of Britannia in the window on a chocolate sea. This is very clever, but has to be matched against a country where a lady will not be offered a seat on a bus and must jostle on equal terms with men. This is in poor taste unlike their strong action in regard to drinking while driving in which case one goes directly to prison. I hope the Queen and Prince Phillip are careful when they visit the Carlsberg factory, still I don’t imagine Mam will be driving even in Denmark.

Well I must go and see if Mrs Travers has finished cutting out my cardboard model of Elsinor Castle for the shop window. Then it is off to Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a Danish Evening with readings from Hamlet, Hans Christian Anderson and Nielsen’s wind quintet.

thick gauze

In case you are wondering Lady Pentland-Firth is playing Ophelia and the Snow Queen. Let’s hope it is behind very heavy gauze.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

Celebrating our 250th post in Talk of the Town

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5 Responses to Matters of Taste

  1. Jim Clelland says:

    “My husband Jasper has the potential of being a philosopher but I keep him busy…” and a good thing too. A mind like that let loose, could be devastating.

    “Naturally I have been keen to see how Scotland has been doing in its preparations for next year’s World Cup in Stockholm.” I have faith in our plucky boys at “the fitba”.

  2. Moira Taylor says:

    Heavens above, Muriel! Could it be true? Are there indeed people who neglect to wash their empty milk bottles before placing them outside for the World to see?? I can hardly believe it.
    Easier to believe of course is that Jasper has taken himself off to Ayr with Macaulay the budgie breeder and Savage who is in a pickle on the continent. I think I have that right n’est pas?
    I was not surprised to find that you are a fan of ‘The beautiful game’ but surprised that you do not mention the much earlier fashion faux pas made by whoever chose to send Scotland’s finest out in a rigout of pink & primrose for Goodness’ sake! Possibly an antecedent of Mr I Kant I shouldn’t wonder!
    I quite agree with your comments about Sir Ian Jacob and believe his ideas are crackers …..

  3. Matthew Bate says:

    Taste, aesthetics and international diplomacy. Peak Muriel.

    Aesthetics is a very interesting branch of philosophy. But obviously I would say that.

    There’s no shame in being a Labrador! Jasper would be honoured to be compared to such a noble beast.

    Poor Hume, his beliefs being abused like that. I’d have waited for a passing humanist. Kant should have been left to rot if he seriously believed that there is no aesthetic hierarchy. That would place Mrs. T and Lady P-F in the same echelon! Scandal.

    There is much joy to be had in mocking the taste of those in the profession of association football, especially when contrasting them with the dapper gentlemen engaged in tennis, cricket and golf…

    I wonder if it is considered infra dig to sob uncontrollably at a wedding, especially if one is a participant?

    I’m off to start an overseas design office. But where… Denmark. I will obviously eschew meat and offer my seat to women.


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

    Chérie Muriel,

    Dwaaling, tu sais trés bien I am the firmest of fans when it come to ‘Gracious Living’ and all things ‘Simply Marvellous’ but I also adore a dahlia. Therefore, I really must protest in the strongest terms over your recent degradation of the dahlia, which in my artistic eye I deem to be divine, decorative and de rigeur – both Pom-Pom and Cactus! One fears the onset of horticultural hubris, ma chérie……on the scale of Traygate…..or perhaps far worse!!

    No, I have nae gone ‘off ma heid’, as Mrs T would say; nor have I taken to shopping in my slippers. You know moi – strictly a satin bed jacket gal – ask the milkman! Put simply, ma chérie, one RAWTHER likes the vibrant colours and the fun, modern lines of the dahlia. Ideal for the modern 1950s aesthetic….or should one say Scandi-chic style…..? One feels it more than most being of an artistic bent….!

    You should know that I’m currently under the doctor and he has prescribed a double-strength restorative tonic to calm my jangling nerves and soothe my horticultural hoo-ha……(at least, I think that’s what he said)……

    Yours dallying with dahlias,
    Lulu xxxx

  5. Patty C says:

    Well said, Muriel dear: commenting on the taste of others being the “height of bad taste,” taste being the operative word for moi–literally. As in when one is accosted by a culinary simpleton who declares “Ugh! HOW you can eat that!” Whatever “that” may be, it is rude to the hilt to disparage another’s dining proclivities. Such dullards. Stepping off my soapbox, I conclude with a deeply-appreciative nod of my semi-well-coifed head to the arbiter (arbitre du monde!) of fine living and exquisite taste: y.o.u., dear Mu, in thanks & appreciation for the tutelage I continue to receive, to combat the extremities of living in far SW Virginney.

     La courtoisie est l’essence même des bonnes manières.

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