Moving Forward but Maintaining Standards
Like you dear reader, wherever you may be, I have my faults, although sometimes I have to agree with Jasper that it requires a microscope to see them. I do, however, like to pride myself on my broad mindedness as well as my simply marvellous attitude to life and excellent posture. This is after all 1957, just in case you have been in a coma or happen to live in the Hebrides – if that is at all possible.
I have come to terms with the demise of the tassel in soft furnishings, accepted that our nephew Sebastian is on the very theatrical spectrum and strongly believe that the British Empire is going ‘down the Swanny’, or should that be the Limpopo or the Ganges? I have even been known to appear in public without gloves (although only on the South Side of Glasgow) and my American Cousin Lulubelle has sent Jasper and I a copy of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”, although I am a bit of a Pat Boone fan myself. There are , however, somethings I cannot and will not condone, including the disgraceful rushing from the cinema when the National Anthem is played, serving peanuts without a spoon
(men’s’ hands have been a constant annoyance in my life) and dabbling with the occult.
So Typical of the Gentry
Last week I was due at Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a Country House Concert Committee Meeting. When I arrived, having rushed suppa and missed “What’s My Line”, I was greeted by what remains of the domestic staff, the Butler, and told that her ladyship was unavailable as her ladyship had to interview a Russian musician at short notice.
Well it did not look like short notice to moi and I knew full well that the noted soviet percussionist had been picked up by young auld Jock from the midday train from Edinburgh. Young auld Jock is noted for his strength and ability to eat a block of ice cream and put a fence post at the same time so his lack of ingenuity was required to transport various items of the percussion family to the Pentland-Firth pile.
When I asked the Butler why he required to be interviewed, having already been engaged to play, he replied in a clearly rehearsed speech, “because it takes a lot of practice to hit an instrument with the right amount of strength, in the right place at the right time”. Furthermore it appeared she was “interested in the possibilities of combining maracas, gongs and celesta,” as a means of interpreting “the sounds of a country house”. I was not best pleased, especially as I was missing Katie Boyle, David Nixon and Lady Isobel Barnett. Using people is, however, so typical of the so-called gentry, even if she is a parvenu. I returned home to my rustic retreat in something of what Jasper calls a “cream puff”.
Goings on in Muriel’s Kitchen
I settled down with a crème du menthe and began making notes for my fashion piece on “The Return of The Cape”, (more of that in due course) when I heard the strangest banging coming from the kitchen and feeling slightly alarmed I armed myself with a letter opener and spray perfume of Ma Griffe and went downstairs to the kitchen. I flung open the door to find Mrs Travers and what seemed like half the village in Hallowe’en costumes sitting around the table holding hands with a turbaned figure hands stretching heavenwards and eyes rolling like Al Jolson.
I knew immediately I had stumbled into a séance, something I do not approve of. I am after all a fully paid up member of the Women’s Guild, (my embroidered supper cloth is in constant use), I have a permanent spot in the July flower rota, (not to mention my famous Easter cascade in the transcept) and my iced gingerbread is the high point of coffee following Sunday Service (but not during Lent) and as the Minister said only recently quoting Leviticus 19.31 “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits”. As he says (usually glaring at Lady P-F who winks back) this is the work of “fallen angels”. Well I could see a whole collection of fallen angels tucking into the food for my backgammon evening and a certain Mrs Travers making very free with the brandy I keep for ‘Steak Diane.’
Muriel is NOT Amused
“Stop this at once” I said as the be-turbaned one fell from her trance into a plate in front of her nose, spearing a sausage roll. “Mrs Travers? What is going on here?’ “Oh sorry Madam, I thought you were out.” “Clearly” I replied, “well I am now in and demand to know what you are doing and who this person in the turban is?” The medium was too exhausted to speak and so our neighbour, the rural crime writer, Bunty Haystack (author of “Sheep May Not Safely Graze”) spoke for her. “I am very much afraid this is all my fault Mrs Wylie; you see I am researching the spirit world for my new novel and Mrs Travers kindly offered to oblige. May I present Madame Claire Voyant,” pointing to the heap in the sausage roll, “international expert on the ‘other side’ and I think you may already know Polly Wanton, Vera Veil and Crystal Clear, local ladies with advanced minds.” “That” I said frostily, “is a matter of opinion.
Really Miss Haystack I am surprised at you taking advantage, of a woman like Mrs Travers, a simple soul, barely held together with support stockings, who is after all, originally from Warrington which is half way between Manchester and Liverpool – surely enough of a burden, without filling her head with nonsense and making her even more domestically incapable than she already is.” “I am so sorry Mrs Wylie” responded Bunty, “it is just that Madame Voyant says Mrs T has an aura that appeals to the spirit world.”
“She also, as you can see, finds the spirits appealing and has access to vast supplies of Border Tart and savoury snacks”, I added somewhat petulantly.
In Trouble and in Limbo
I turned to the three younger women and reminded them that I sing with their mothers in the choir and that we would be meeting up on Thursday evening to rehearse Bach’s St Matthew Passion. “Why Bach?” asked Polly, “it’s only ever Bach.” “You have answered your own question Miss Wanton. It is only ever Bach because he is clearly the composer who most approaches perfection, even if it is two and a half hours long without the sermon.” “Please Mrs Wylie, don’t mention this to our mothers, they think we are at Miss Treadle’s, ‘Sewing for the Needy’ circle, putting finishing touches to a matching tray cloth and serviette for use on a guest breakfast tray.” “Do you honestly think” I said, “that the needy, find themselves much occupied with either guests or breakfast trays?” “No probably not”, they replied in sheepish unison. At which point the heap in the dark, or at least the light limited to the flickering candles, began to move and shake and draw itself back up to an upright position revealing a woman who looked strangely out of time and place with her costume more attuned to the 1920’s, with its beads and tasselled shawls.
Making the Connection
“Oh my, oh my” she gasped, “the spirits have been busy tonight. I am fatigued in a most exhilarating fashion. I am somewhat afraid that Mr Patel has been rather rough with me.” Who is Mr Patel?” I asked. “Oh my dear Mrs Wylie” replied Madame Voyant, “he is my spirit guide; if you look closely you may see him on my shoulder. I have a photograph of him in my bag.” At which she proceeded to rummage in her capacious hand luggage, without success, “Oh never mind” she added, “I will show you later, suffice to say he connects me with those who have gone before and wish to make contact with those who have yet to make the journey beyond and he gave me the most marvellous recipe for Mulligatawny Soup. In his own life he ran a spice export business from Bombay and was even to presented King George and Queen Mary at the Delhi Durbar. He is in Limbo.” “I thought” said Mrs T you said he was in Bombay.”
What No Soup?
“Oh, really” I said, “this is too much”, at which point Jasper came in. Apparently he had been home all the time as his lecture was cancelled and had heard nothing but said he could smell Mulligatawny soup and feeling rather famished, as suppa had been early, he decided to follow his nose. “Evening all, anything to eat or is this one of our fast nights? Oh I say! Sausage rolls and border tart, hand me over that plate Mrs T and I wouldn’t mind a beaker of soup, providing Dahling” he said looking at me, “you are happy with me drinking from a beaker and providing, of course, one can drink rather than eat soup?” “Here you are Mr Wylie” said Mrs T proffering a plate with a couple of sausage rolls one of which had a serious dent. “I am afraid there is no soup, you must have been dreaming.” “Definitely a smell of curry, Mrs T; my nose never lies.” This is true, Jasper has a very sensitive nose especially when it comes to cooking smells, once he gets a trail he is a veritable bloodhound.
Between the Worlds
“Mr Wylie is correct Mrs Wylie, Mr Patel is a wonder with turmeric, even from beyond, but one must think of his soup as a taste of things to come rather than the reality of here and now.” “That’s a no to Mulligatawny, Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers “but I have a spot of leek and potato I can heat up later when they have gone.” “Oh this is ridiculous, I said “and time you were all getting on your broomsticks and going home. Anyway Madame whatever your name is, how do you know what my name is?” “Oh Mrs Wylie, surely you must know that your simply marvellous lifestyle and programme for gracious living is not something confined to earth and the here and now. Why you are famous in the spirit world. Many follow your example as a means of existence while they linger between life and eternal rest.” “Do you mean….?” “Yes I mean the Mackintosh Square has a life beyond death and
let me tell you sling backs are a must for the fashion conscious spectre.”
Perhaps – I thought, well at least for a fleeting moment there might be something in all of this, but as I could not work out on the spur of the moment how to link the afterlife with monthly sales figures of Scandinavian inspired furnishings from “Chez Nous”, Glasgow’s finest Interior Decoration Shop, I came back to my senses. “Oh really this is too much and tell me which one of you simple minded souls were the spirits wanting to contact?” “Actually Mrs Wylie”, said Bunty Haystack “they want to contact you.” “Yes, it is true” interjected an enthusiastic and almost recovered medium, “for you are the most spiritual and receptive of us all even although you have difficulty acknowledging it.” “Well wouldn’t you know it” muttered Mrs Travers pouring herself a sneaky whisky and gulping it back, handing the bottle to Jasper, who did likewise.
“Tell me who wants me – Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great?” “Or Genghis Khan or Machiavelli” said Mrs Travers not so very under her breath “or indeed Mr Patel?” “No; none of these kindred spirits Mrs Wylie, nor for that matter Mr Patel, for he is merely the conduit to me through which the departed communicate, although Queen Elizabeth was fond of a bit of spice as she has often told me.” Taking a deep breath and adjusting her many bracelets, Madame Voyant looked at me and said, “Mrs Wylie it is the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, you know his mother was a Minch, who wants to speak with you. Do you recall him?”
“Of course I do, he died at a Flower Show Lunch of unexplained causes several years ago, leading to a whole set of complications including Lady Pentland-Firth, losing her estate, her descent into an Amontillado ‘drinky-poohs’ problem and all sorts of people being run over by Glasgow trams or eaten by lions.” “That’s just it Mrs Wylie. Lord Pentland-Firth’s death was no accident, he wants you to know his own wife murdered him.”
There’s a Book In It?
“Oh, how wonderful” shouted Bunty Haystack, “what a plot, I must telephone my publishers in the morning. I shall outsell Agatha Christie at this rate.” “You will do nothing of the sort Miss Haystack, this is slander. Patience may be many things but she is not a murderess and it would be so very vulgar to murder someone before the presentation of the late awards.”
“What do you mean late awards? asked the curious medium. “ Oh” said Jasper, “all the cups presented by the committee are on behalf of people who have died in the village since 1870.” “Yep” said an inebriated Mrs Travers, “it takes hours and hours and hours. So many people have died since 1870, it is quite selfish.” “Yes” chorused the rest, “so rude so very rude.”
Later in bed
“Well Muriel thank goodness they have all gone, so annoying I missed Panorama which was about the spaghetti harvest in the Ticino Valley and there was barely enough soup to go round.”
“Jasper, do you never think of anything else but your stomach?”
“I think of you my Dahling; you are the centre of my world.”
“Oh Jasper how sweet, big kiss… but no you are not having custard or anything else for that matter, you need to lose some weight and I have a punishing day tomorrow beginning with a demi-perm before my tour de force on the return of the cape. Honestly Jasper what a lot of rubbish that woman talked and the rest are so gullible. And another thing Jasper, spaghetti is not harvested, even if Richard Dimbleby on Panorama says so.”
But, Jasper was already snoring and dreaming of swimming in custard. Muriel closed her eyes, but could not sleep and lay as was her custom, effigy like ready for the Abbey, neatly under the counterpane, white gloves on her hands.
She was almost sure she could smell Mulligatawny soup and outside the moon, if she wasn’t mistaken, had become a smiling face; a smiling face with a turban on and leading from the face two lines of stars, the stars looked like arms and hands. In one hand was a jar and on it said “Mr Patel’s Spicy Moments, Satisfaction Guaranteed” In the other hand was an image of an old sailor, in his hand one star glowed brighter, flickering on and off like semaphore and it said, “She did it”.