Summer Can be a Pest
I come to you this morning from the rather warm, damp Rural Bolthole. We are, I am afraid, in this part of Scotland, somewhat at the mercy of Atlantic weather. This sort of summer weather gives our wonderful countryside its green mantle but also makes the bread go mouldy rather quickly especially the shop bought kind. As Jasper said this morning when he spotted the tell tale signs on the toast Mrs Travers was trying to pass off as fresh “one would think we were supplying Fleming and Flory with the raw ingredients for antibiotic medicine.”
It is also what makes the west of Scotland such a delicious place for woodworm, the sight of which requires me to remain ever vigilant, and moths with whom Mrs T (who incidentally is our daily women what does but not a lot) and I are constantly at war. One only has to turn one’s head away for a moment and a cabriole leg looks like a pin cushion and one’s beaver positively deforested. Fortunately my good furs are in cold storage and the musquash I keep down here in the country – well that, to be honest is past its best, and anyway most people around here look a bit moth-eaten so who would notice?
In any case I am a bit reluctant to wear it since Jasper lent it to a local farmer who has the field opposite us for a distressed pet lamb one spring. It took me months to face gigot chops in a red wine and rosemary source with equanimity.
It is to brighten up this afternoon and so I have sent Jasper, who is useless in the rain, (and come to think of it many other types of weather conditions) to “the shore” with our ward young Gayle and her nanny Hairy Mary from Inveraray. By Nanny I do not mean what some of you clinging to the lower rungs of the ladder that is British society call your goat or grandmamma. No, I mean a paid faithful employee who will in later years be able to assist you at the hustings (passing you your hot milk or blankie) should you decide to become a Member of Parliament or send you a cake if you end up in a boarding school or in prison. All three situations in my experience are interchangeable.
I am hopeful that Gayle, despite being the daughter of our irresponsible nephew Sebastian, (a thespian currently living in New York with some young men of similar interests) and a costume designer with a speciality in foundation garments who cares more for pencil pleating than her own daughter, will under my guidance experience none of these things.
I think sea air is good for children and husbands; it tires them out and they are less fractious of an evening. Even if it rains after luncheon they can paddle as the rain is warm although I have told Jasper to be on the lookout for jellyfish and nude swimmers from a caravan site near Rockcliff. He promises to keep his eyes peeled for both and report anything startling to the coastguard.
Society’s Signs and Signals
Sometimes I have trouble finding things for Hilda, the German voman vat does zee heavy vork. In all honesty she is better left in Glasgow where she enjoys cleaning out the gutters or replacing the odd slate or two, but I feel she must get some country air as well. After all the Germans do like to be outside in their own country and other people’s. She has already creosoted a length of fence, removed a considerable amount of vegetation from our river and attended a meeting about the forthcoming bed race, where she is proposing to enter a Bavarian Slay Bed.
So I have sent her up to the bees although I am not sure the protective clothing is quite the fit it should be, she is quite a one for the old appfel struddle and cream. They are not our bees, we are just looking after them, but I am wondering if I should get some, along with the new trees I am planning and possibly some Indian runner ducks which would be too amusing although they might amuse the foxes around here too. I noticed on a recent garden visit that these were essentials missing from my life. These things do say something about one’s self you know and inevitably lead to better suppa invitations. As dear Mama used to say “Muriel remember it is all signs and signals dearest.”
Talking of signs and signals I believe I have said to you before that in my little world of graceful streets, washed Chinese rugs and close friends who have had ancestors executed within the wall of the Tower of London, WE do not tend to holiday at this time of year. WE weekend in our Boltholes, but that is hardly a holiday.
Some of you might say our entire lives are a holiday, but then you have no conception of the burden that falls on the shoulders of the truly accessorised. Sometimes I can feel for our dear Queen, so young and such responsibilities. Only last week I was lunching in Edinburgh with Fiona Farquhar who is on the board of the Edinburgh Festival, when I overheard some men from a hostel in the Grassmarket comment on some well dressed tourists who were a little lost “aye yous are lucky; yous can afford a holiday”. How little they realise what a burden a holiday can be.
Mother Needs A Change
Now I do not want you to get the wrong idea. I do indeed approve of holidays I am just not going when and where you are. For it is true that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I am not going to mention Jill she is never dull especially if she follows my beauty regime. It is, however, true that the constant delight and fulfilment that comes from running a home and husband 24 hours a day while a privilege can occasionally make Mother a misery and she needs a change.
Planning as with everything is a key. As my colleagues in Good Housekeeping say it is wise and indeed advisable to spend money on a holiday, provided you do not cut down on essentials such as food in order to do so. You must set yourselves a budget. Thus if you are a married couple with no children with an income of £500 p.a. you should set aside £40 for holidays and the occasional amusement. If you are a married couple with three children, one at fee paying school, with a car you should put aside £90 for holidays. What about amusements I hear you cry – you have no time or money for anything amusing. If you are not married then holidays can be rather difficult and indeed unsavoury, everyone knows that you are not Mr and Mrs Smith even if you say so.
Hotels are expensive and with children do not always offer the best solution for a family holiday. Guests like Jasper and I find the running around of children quite annoying, especially if we are doing the cha-cha-cha in the ballroom. Some offer family entertainments and even playrooms which mean other peoples’ children are kept well away. The “Lodore Swiss Hotel” in Keswick is one such.
If you are considering taking a member of your domestic staff with you to help with a younger child even for dressing or as a travel companion then many hotels offer servants’ rooms at cheaper rates. I can recommend “The Rosemullion Hotel” in Devonshire. They will usually have garaging for the motor car as well. This keeps Jasper happy as he hates seagulls aiming for his beloved Humber Super Snipe. If a hotel is out of your range then do not despair for you might consider a seaside bungalow which will considerably reduce the costs providing Mother does not mind exchanging one sink for another.
You can exchange homes as well, or if you are a member of the gentry just visit your friends for extended periods, eating their food and playing tennis on their courts. The trick as a guest is making it look as if you are the one bestowing the favour. How do you think they got to be the gentry in the first place? You don’t get wealthy lavishing money on holidays. This really is advanced holidaymaking. With enough confidence and a jar of red currant jelly or other homemade preserve in your case you can drag this out for the whole of August. I have known whole summers being taken up with the promise of singing lessons for one’s children with the arrival of an unexpected soprano you met in Menton in 1936. In our neck of the woods The Devonshire Nightingales (two sisters from the southwest) are still famous for their extended visit before the first Unpleasantness. They ate their own weight in cake and the promised payback concerts were always delayed by tickly throats.
The Return Visit
The problem is, of course, they will eventually come to you, but you just take it with a pinch of salt, throw a casserole into the oven, or show your pastry skills with the ubiquitous onion tart. Of course you can always make such visits more bearable by spending the afternoon taking tea with the neighbours and dragging your guests along. With any luck they will be so full of gingerbread that they will only need the simplest of suppas, when you return home perhaps just even a sardine on toast, which you can manage even if cook is in Margate.
Better still is if guests arrive when there are village entertainments such as fêtes, horse shows or concerts of some sort. These are inevitably inexpensive, take up hours of a visitor’s day and lend a rustic charm to the experience of the visitor who will be enthralled by a pipe band, tug of war, nail driving competition or a set of matching jewellery made from a cucumber.
There are Limits
Of course not all of us on reduced means have friends with country houses and so one is forced to be more inventive. I regard caravanning and camping as a last resort and indeed would rather throw myself into a threshing machine. My question is why leave home for somewhere more uncomfortable? There is, however, no doubt many people particularly the fussy irritating sort of men who get a great deal of pleasure from linking caravan to car and buying extra long wing mirrors and negotiating boggy fields. In my experience they usually have wives in slacks, carrying Tupperware with expressions that say “I should have listened to mother”. I cannot imagine my life if was all about striving for a Lazy Susan and a protective grid around a tiny cooker.
It’s the Simplest of Things
I realise that some people have not budgeted or have chosen to spend their income on short term gratifications at the expense of a family holiday and future memories, but never fear Muriel is here for you too. For it is perfectly possible to holiday at home. While housework is the chief joy of being a woman or, in my case, managing its operation, it is always good for a mother to take time away from the Vim and devote it to her children. Not too long mind or those marks around the taps build up, but some well considered hours with young people can be time well spent.
Take them to the cinema or if you are really desperate a museum. Have a day out “Doon the Watter” and Mrs T tells me you only need “your children, a loaf of breid and a bottle of ginger” and if you tell the weans to rush on while you flirt with the sailors you can usually get the fare for nothing. If you have to stay at home you can have treasure hunts in the garden or invite other mums with their children for lemonade and play games such as blowing dried peas along a designated route with a straw into a cup.
Imagination Under the Counterpane
A variety of moveable household objects such as fire guards and clothes-horses (winter dykes as some country people call them) which are currently not in use can be utilised with old blankets and counterpanes to make houses and dens in the garden. Imaginations will be let loose. A hose pipe tied by father to a garden fork handle with string makes an excellent substitute for a trip to the seaside or if you can afford it a plastic inflatable paddling pool from Woolworths gives many hours of fun.
Jasper has already bought one so that he and Gayle can play “Hunt the Bismarck”, although I was not happy about him using my egg whisk to create a tidal surge up the fiords which were made from some rather nice pieces of granite from my Alpine garden. However, as I am thinking of dispensing with my Alpine garden for a pond for the Indian Runner Ducks perhaps it does not matter.
If you are going away, it is also Mother’s responsibility to shut up the house for the holidays. Before she settles back in the car seat or fights her way into the carriage for the train to Newton Abbot with her vanity case and the picnic lunch for 4 she must:
- Make arrangements for pets to be boarded out or looked after by neighbours (remember they will need a gift on return and be asked in for drinks). Don’t forget to buy fish food for the gold fish in the pond.
- Make arrangements for a neighbour to check the house each day. Give them money to pay the window cleaner.
- Stop deliveries of milk, bread and newspapers.
- Make security arrangements for valuables – pack silver, silver plate jewellery etc into a suitcase and take to the bank. They will do this for free as you are a valued customer.
- Arrange for the forwarding of letters, the post office will do this free. Fill in a temporary change of address form. Go to post office in advance.
- Empty larder of perishable food, turn off the refrigerator. Clean and leave the door ajar for freshness. Store fats in plastic bags; they will keep for several weeks store in a cool place.
- Turn off gas and electricity. Turn off water at mains.
- Lock and bolt windows and doors, remove fresh flowers and place plants in a bath of water.
- Give spare key to the neighbour, inform neighbours and telephone police constable to tell him you will be away.
- Telephone relatives to remind them you are away. Remember address book for postcards.
- Locate and clean suitcases, inside and out, write labels. Wash and iron and pack families’ summer clothes and your own, remember to pack something nice your husband will want to see you at your best.
- Pay any outstanding accounts and bills
- Have hair shampooed and set
- Buy kaolin and calamine just in case – make up first aid kit.
- Collect husband’s dry cleaning – he will want his “ice cream jacket and his light grey slacks”.
- Make up flasks of tea and picnic for the journey.
- Empty household rubbish into waste bin, clean and disinfect bin.
- Change beds, clean house and vacuum so that everything is just right as the neighbours are coming in “and you know what she’s like”.
- Make list of games to play in the car
- Ask husband to clean shoes.
It’s Mother’s Holiday Too
Remember husbands and older children if you are in a holiday bungalow, camping or caravanning or even staying at home offer to do the washing up at least once this summer after all its mother’s holiday too. Have a wonderful time.
I have just received this letter in the second post from a young housewife, it reads:
I am going on holiday in August with my husband, who is on leave from the army. What do I need to worry most about?
Peggy from Paisley
Muriel Wylie (Mrs)