Muriel’s Musings: Blood Bath

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I, for one, am glad to be home after our visit to the land of the cuckoo clock and the numbered bank account, not to mention a brief stay in that London.

Fatal Deaths and Recipes for Disaster

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

Not that our homecoming is entirely without sadness having returned with the defrosted mortal remains of Winnie (she of the bicycle and wool shop in Auchterarder, famous for her knitted boy) and her “squeeze”, Mr Chan (of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, offering dinners A to C). I say squeeze, but in all honesty having paid my last respects, he looked like an old saddle bag rather than a body.  One can never underestimate the importance of moisturiser in life. As those of you sworn to secrecy know, they have died in mysterious circumstances after an international conference on the future of the oceans in Geneva, close to Switzerland.

An important crocheted map of the coastal waters of Japan has gone missing. It is highly likely that the comrades are involved, but for reasons of diplomacy little has been said of this as they are widely believed to be going after old recipes for kedgeree and fish pies and governments do not wish to spread alarm among the grannies of the West, guardians of these traditions. As the Handsome Stranger said “Once the comrades get hold of our fish dishes it is but a short hop, skip and a jump to stealing our steak pies with puff pastry and beef links not to mention jam roly-poly with runny custard.”

A Legend in Wool 

A sombre affair

The funerals were held on Tuesday. There was a large turnout as both were popular in their communities. Winnie, who was really something of a legend in the wool world, would have been thrilled to know that her mourners included members of The Wool Growers Association, The Highland Home Industries, Harris Tweed, The Scotch Wool Shops, as well as representatives of the knitting needle trade, all anxious to make their point.

Favourites of Winnie

Inevitably music included Sheep May Safely Graze, The King of Love My Shepherd is and at the graveside her old favourite Baa Baa Black Sheep. The Minister read the lesson “All We like Sheep” and after I gave the eulogy, Winnie’s mortal remains left the Church to the sound of Hebridean waulking songs and a demonstration in the chancel of this process by the ladies of South Uist where Winnie often spent her summers.

One of my many tea cosies produced by winnie

The only problem was this is a rather wet process. It is just as well that we had to change from black into white for Mr Chan’s funeral or we too would have caught our deaths. As is the Chinese custom the wake was held before the funeral, we took iris flowers and helped Mr Chan on his way so that he would not become a “restless spirit.” It was all very sad although as Mr Chan was considerably older than Winnie it was considered appropriate that his life was celebrated, as longevity is much valued in Mr Chan’s community. This is in contrast to Britain where old people are a nuisance.

Spring Fever and Lizard Shoes

Au Printemps – spring arrangement

To the general level of personal sadness, (after all Winnie and I had been responsible for the destruction of many a bridge in occupied France) we seemed to come home to a general level of dis-satisfaction and tension. Now part of this of course may be put down to Spring Fever. The changing of the clocks and the Easter full moon seem to send people quite doolally.

First of all on the international front, we have Castro’s Revolutionary Guard attacking Havana near Cuba, but more interestingly, Cheryl Crane the daughter of glamorous actress Lana Turner stabbing to death her mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato.  I cannot say I was surprised after all what would one do with a man who wears lizard shoes? If I saw Jasper in lizard shoes I would immediately smell a rat.

At home we have had the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament March from Hyde Park Corner to Aldermaston, which Jasper attended by taxi after getting lost in the Underground and ending up getting arrested at the Aldwych. I did not go. While I appreciate the sentiments, I am afraid the only way to counteract bullies is by remaining strong oneself – sad though it is. Jasper and I agree to disagree on this one.

A.G.M. Season

Not only have we had to face the ambitions of the comrades, both Jasper and I have had to face problems closer to home. For this is the season of the Annual General Meeting. These are the mainstay of all our many and varied local organisations which are the glue of society. Glue I might add which socialism seeks to undermine!

A.G.M.s are, of course,  much loathed as they are firstly very boring and secondly used to settle old scores which have mounted up over the past year or used by those with social aspirations to climb the greasy pole erected by those and such as those. This week has seen me at A.G.M.s for The Home For Fallen Women, which I chair, The Orphan Homes chaired by Lady Pentland-Firth, and of course The Women’s Guild Soup and Pudding Committee. Jasper has had the Hysterical which as it turned out was far from hysterical.

A Dip into Sherbet

The Home for Fallen Women has been in my remit for many years and my mother’s and grandmother’s before me. The finance of course was provided by my grandfatherm so ahead of his time. He decided he could not in all conscience be considered as a good employer unless he looked after his female workers, when they “gave themselves up to passion”. My Grandfather MacCavity, an Edinburgh sweet manufacturer, was particularly concerned about the girls on the Sherbet Lemon line as they seemed particularly prone to falling.

Dear Grandmamma

My grandmother realised early on the sheer humanity exhibited by her husband who spent many hours consoling the “Sherbet Lassies” , a fact demonstrated by the fact that he often had the imprint of sherbet hands on his simmit (Scots’ for vest for the uninitiated). My grandmother would listen to the girls as they would tearfully exhibit their gratitude to grandfather’s philanthropy when they would shout to grandmother “all he said was would I like to see his Sherbet fountain”. My grandmother, dispensing a penny for the tram to the home would say “I know dear, it was the invention of that fountain which has enabled me to help you today. The hollow liquorice tip was sheer genius”.

In truth the organisation runs pretty smoothly although I am reliably informed that a pill will, within the next decade, make my efforts unnecessary. I wonder what grandfather would say? I still miss him, it is often remarked that we are very similar in looks. I suppose it is our red hair. Oddly enough in the early years many of the fallen women produced offspring that had red hair. Such a coincidence, but as grandfather said many of them had experience of also being on the strawberry boiling pans as well as the sherbet. Such a wise and witty man; he was so giving like moi.

Tough Love from Patience

Patience looking enlightened

I also sit on Lady Pentland-Firth’s committee for the Orphan Homes, as of course there is an obvious connection with our two organisations. Patience as always manages to appear to do much by skilfully employing others to do her work for nothing and be grateful for the opportunity. Her policy regarding the orphans is on the other hand considered enlightened and rather than leave them in Scotland to an uncertain future, she has combined her love of travel opportunities with practical common sense and provided a unique resettlement project for “the wee waifs”.

Provided with a new set of clothes, a bible, a tin opener, some sandwiches in greaseproof paper and a signed copy of My Life in Sequins, by her Ladyship, the orphans are given a unique opportunity. This comes in the form of a one way ticket to a colony of their choice. This is selected during an intensive almost half hour session in which with the orphans gathered at her feet, Patience with the aid of a wall map of the Empire, and a cane points at the map highlighting matters of interest that will appeal to young minds on the verge of delinquency. Thus we get , Australia “sheep”,  New Zealand , “butter”, Canada “wheat”, India “silk”, “but” said one misguided, but clearly intelligent boy, “India is no longer part of the Empire.” “Well” said Lady P-F, “that’s news to me, since when?” “Since 1947, your Ladyship.” “Well” she replied, “I am sure they will take you anyway.”

I do not particularly enjoy these sessions, but one thing is for sure, she keeps the expenses down. That is more than can be said for The Home for Fallen Women where I am currently expending rather a lot of the reserves to pay for last summer’s Glasgow Fair Fortnight. Blackpool has a lot to answer for. Now come to think of it perhaps that would help matters if the government made the location of “the falling” pay for the results. Oh yes, I had almost forgotten wasn’t that called the Poor Law, but then sometimes the old ways are best. 

Jasper Gets to the End of his Tether 

Jasper who is unused to committee ways (coming from a family whose only management experience was deciding who would go where when the weans were topped and tailed in the bed), struggles with his committee, particularly since the demise of his secretary Mrs Blenheim Crawford some years ago. She may have turned out to be a traitor but my goodness she knew how to take minutes and organise speakers.

While in Geneva, which is in Switzerland, Jasper assiduously gathered material for a lecture on ‘The Influence of Calvin on Social Policy and the Treatment of the Poor’ for the autumn session, with illustrated slides and roneo duplicated notes, with bibliography to take away. Now don’t say anything to him, but this was hardly going to be a winner under any circumstances, even if he did bring back a box of Swiss milk chocolates to share at the tea afterwards.

A dry stone dyke

In Jasper’s absence the Vice Chairman, a former archaeologist Professor Thomas Trowel, with the aid of committee member Miss Rosemary Riddle, a retired cashier at the British Linen Bank, took it upon themselves to organise a syllabus around dry stone dykes and variations on the five bar gate. According to Jasper there was neither consultation nor any evidence of accompanying annotated bibliography, let alone choice of two chocolates from a box of Swiss Milk.

By all accounts it was something of a blood bath with Jasper threatening to resign and Miss Riddle bursting into tears. Jasper said he would consider his position which was unnecessary as the following day the Professor tended his resignation from the committee saying he was off to Mesopotamia.  This was followed by the resignation of Miss Riddle who said she had too much to do looking after her elderly mother and a cat with a wooden leg.

Influencing Decision Making with Swiss Chocolate

Jasper’s shed

I told Jasper he really had over-reacted and that in my view there was little in excitement terms between 16th century social policy, dry stone walls and five bar gates as both seemed designed to keep people out except those predestined to be on the inside. I shouldn’t have said anything as he has been in his shed for two days and apart from that I have no room to talk.

At the A.G.M. of the Women’s Guild Soup and Pudding Lunches Committee (including the tea towel misusers inquisition sub committee) I managed to deal with the matter of the non Scottish soup question for all time. From now on the Church will be open to all makes of Soup even mulligatawny.  The menu choice, however, can only be made by those who are fully paid up communicant members.

I did say there should be wider parish involvement, but presbytery declined on the grounds of modernisation. Still Rome wasn’t built in a day, oh sorry poor choice of metaphor, Geneva in Switzerland was not built in a day. It was at least gratifying that I had the full backing of the committee, possibly not un-entirely connected with a number of visits the previous day bearing large gift boxes of Swiss Chocolates with decorative satin ribbons.

Encouraged by a summons to the manse, Mrs Lottie McCauley, wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who is big in concrete, and Mrs Cynthia Savage, whose husband is the Pickle and Condiment King, have temporarily left the committee for a few weeks of “quiet reflection” concerning their actions and their attempt to blame me for non doctrinal foodstuffs.

A Matinee Can Provide a Host of Useful Information

That’s the soup ready now, Mrs Wylie

“Oh Hello Mrs Travers, what is it?”

“Just to tell you it is lunchtime Mrs Wylie, I have had a bit of a go at that mulligatawny soup myself.”

“Oh well done Mrs T, what about Mr Wylie?  Still sulking in his Museum in a Shed is he?”

“Well actually he seems to be a bit better and when I said there was homemade bread for lunch, his pecker perked up.”

“I suppose the two committee members resigning will have helped how he feels, it really was too much. I know his talk will be equally boring, but he has put so much work into that Society over the years and the members are used to his brand of boring. Thank goodness for Mesopotamia Mrs T.”

“Yes Mrs Wylie, but that Yorkshire is a funny place.”

“I wonder what made both Professor Trowel and Miss Riddle go at the same time?”

“Could it have been my spotting them, excavating up an alley outside the La Scala after a matinee of “Run Silent Run Deep?

“Oh Mrs Travers you didn’t did you, but who would care?”

“Mrs Trowel, perhaps?”

“Well I hope Mr Wylie is appreciative.”

“No don’t tell him Mrs Wylie; he thinks it was his committee flair and let’s keep it that way.”

“Oh Jasper there you are, ready for soup. Mrs T says you are feeling better and that your pecker is up.”

“Muriel I don’t think my pecker has been up since Mr Atlee lost the election.”

“Oh Jasper don’t let’s start on that again. I am quite sure Mr Macmillan is doing his best and at least we all have access to teeth and glasses now and you had that marvellous day out at Aldermaston about nuclear things.”

“Muriel the atomic bomb is not a thing; it is a potential catastrophe.”

“Well Jasper I have turned atoms into something positive.”

“How?”

“Well do you remember that letter I had ages ago from The King of The Belgians, near Brussels, asking me for advice about his World’s Fair and what might symbolise it?”

“Vaguely, Darling.”

“Well clearly His Majesty was listening as I said “the atom” and he has written again saying he took my advice and the centre piece of the Fair will be a giant representation of the atom called the Atonium.”

“Soup everyone.”

“Yes please Mrs T.”

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about; it has got lentils in it just like Scots’ soups, just goes to prove we all have much in common as we have divides us.”

“Very true Mrs T, we are all Jock Tampson’s Bairns.”

“Muriel…”

“Yes Jasper.”

“If the Hysterical were Run Silent Run Deep, would I be Clark Gable or Burt Lancaster?”

“Umm tough one Dahling.”

Muriel Wylie

April 1958

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4 Responses to Muriel’s Musings: Blood Bath

  1. seileasdar says:

    Spring Fever and the soothing Influence of National Cuisine

    How moving to read about Winnie’s funeral, done in style and rather woollily themed. It must have been a moving spectacle that will have unravelled quiet a few tightly-knit cables within the assorted worsted congregation!
    Appropriate revelations were also administered to Mr Chan’s transfer to better and more fragrant places.
    And all that under the influence of atomic Spring Fever! Not just London is thrown into a turmoil, also the government of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland smells a rat with all that atomic armament. While the military blocks get under scrutiny and China and Romania demand the establishment of collective security systems, Britain continues blithely with atomic testing. The West Germans, however, are not interested in producing any more weapons – and why should they if their Allied Forces’ friends are already so good at it! Berlin is slowly developing into a hot house of espionage, and it is rumoured that Tempelhof Airport is the most Western surveillance post. But I am sure, Muriel will keep us right with her inside knowledge here! Everything is rather worrisome and rather too much focussed on the Atomium, even for the World Exhibiton that was just opened under its monumental shadow designed after Muriel’s idea, of course, in Brussels, which is near Belgium, and not in Switzerland, which would be neutral to it all and would eat more chocolate for consolation.

    German-British relations, however seem to improve further with the current state visit of our Chancellor Adenauer to London. It is hoped that the envisaged cultural treaty will materialise. Just imagine the benefits for the Germans! How, after all, did they manage to survive for so long without the restoring influences of Cullen Skink, Menu B à la Chan, and Kedgeree; the importance of Drawing Rooms, private parks, church hats and matching handbags, and of course the supportive advice of the national treasure of etiquette and style that is the formidable and incomparable Mrs Wylie of Glasgow’s West End?

    All is going to be well that ends well now that we can rely on her guidance. Maybe it will be time again to think about that Wylie Cultural Institute in Berlin? Or at least initiating a German edition of her simply marvellous monthly magazine ‘A Glasgow Lady’ for the deserving German market?

    S x

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Confident sheep, cabals of egomaniacs, and ambitious soup. ‬

    ‪Sheep May Safely Graze was my choice of music for my brother’s funeral, but he survived and ruined the joke. ‬

    ‪Not much changes, does it. A different cabal of egomaniacs is threatening to destabilise nuclear powers, protests unheeded. AGMs still happen, even if held in coffee shops by minority interest groups with little to recommend them to the greater populace. The only difference is that we now do it on Twitter. ‬

    ‪Fancy getting sherbet on your summit. I have fond memories of the eighties. It was certainly a boom time for fallen women. Somewhat trendy, in fact.‬

    ‪Jasper is right to mistrust committees. There’s a thing about camels and horses, isn’t there, but I’m not hungry. ‬

    ‪I would like to apply to become a former archaeologist. It sounds interesting. I would also like to be a former movie star and rock legend. It sounds like a worthwhile retirement. My autobiography would obviously have the appropriate footnotes. ‬

    ‪It must be hard work looking after your mother, and a cat, with a wooden leg. I’ll probably never know. ‬

    ‪Soup in exchange for devotion then. Can I dip my wafer in it? Can I at least flick my wafer at the overly-political? It seems bread does have an effect on Jasper though. I wonder if the shape of it has any bearing. Does it matter if it’s a bloomer or are we talking baguette? Perhaps that’s more Sebastian’s thing.‬

    ‪It would certainly be wise to uncouple one’s pecker from politics, at least since Louise Mench’s retirement.‬

    ‪Progress through soup.‬

    ‪Mx‬

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    Sad times, indeed, Mu dwaaling, as you bid your last farewells to your old SOE chum, Winnie and her ‘squeeze’, Mr Chan. One day in black; the next in white! No one does funereal, sombre glamour like you, dwaaling! Oh, one can picture the scene of Winnie’s funeral vivid, especially the Hebridean waulking songs……one imagines their lilting, haunting qualities were a comfort to all the mourners and a fitting reminder of Winnie’s love of wool and all things Scottish. As for Mr Chan……who doesn’t love an iris……?

    Je suis désolée, ma chérie, but all this has left one feeling RAWTHER uneasy……one can’t get the image of the ‘somewhat butch’ diplomat’s wife in Geneva (which is in Switzerland) out of one’s mind. One is on regular emergency snorters to steady one’s nerves! One is firm in one’s belief that you should keep your wits about you and avoid all shiny crochet hooks and sharp knitting needles……as Mrs T would say, “I feel it in my [Gin-soaked] waters.”

    Yours in a state of unease,
    Lulu xxxx

  4. Moira Taylor says:

    Sniff, choked sob, single tear trickling down chin. Winnie’s death has hit me hard. We were dyed-in-the-wool crochet afficionados; known to everyone as The Auchterarder Hookers. I can’t possibly carry on as a solo hooker, it wouldn’t be right; or as much fun.
    Dabbing eyes with a hanky (finest lawn of course) and shuffling off into the sunset …..

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