Muriel’s Musings: “My Fair Lady”

That London

Our London Hotel

Jasper, my dear husband and I along with Lady Pentland-Firth, a decayed aristocrat of not very noble birth, and Mrs Travers our devoted, but largely ineffective, woman what does, but not a lot  are in “that London”. Now I imagine I do not need to tell you where London is, but we are en route to Scotland which is near Glasgow from Geneva which is in Switzerland not far from Zurich.

Not All It Seems

I know you think I lead a life of silver forks where every egg has a double yoke. Now granted this is true in many ways, but travel can be a mixed blessing despite the agonies of first class and B.E.A.’s insistence on the V.I.P. lounge. Sometimes I feel I just live with one long champagne headache. Of course we did have the privilege of sailing on Lac Leman and some skiing on the slopes as well as some very fine food and cultural experiences. However, I was also working in a diplomatic capacity for the benefit of our nation. This does take the edge of things, especially as this can mean mixing with many difficult people of the foreign sort.

I can’t help being marvellous

My advice is for those of you unsettled by the occasional glimpse into my seemingly never endingly glamorous life, rest assured all is not always what it seems. Sometimes one is just as well rubbing along just above the poverty line in a world of communal wash houses, backcourts and pawnbrokers. A life apparently without worry can be the exact opposite, so be careful what you wish for. At least you, with all your relative deprivation, have the neighbourliness of the stair-heid and the shared lavatory. Neighbourliness is something I know is something of which I am deprived especially since the great non-Scottish soup incident, or should I say treachery, which still simmers – the incident that is, not the soup.

Keeping Diplomatic Wives Interested

I certainly did not wish to be stranded for several days in the foyer of the United Nations in Geneva, in Switzerland, teaching diplomatic wives how to crotchet. Of course I was a last minute replacement for Winnie (she of the bicycle and the wool shop in Auchterarder,) who had disappeared with Mr Chan from Govan Road. Despite my heavy workload at ‘Chez Nous’, I believe in service above self and so I agreed to go and I subcontracted the crochet work to Mrs Travers (I like to provide opportunity for the less fortunate to shine) and took upon myself a supervisory role which allowed for plenty of time to shop.

The ladies appreciated my famous words of encouragement as I walked around, for at least 20 minutes a day examining their handicrafts saying “Simply marvellous” in a variety of languages, “have you come far?” and  “Are others in your country so devoid of dexterity?” As their little hooks went to and fro and up and down I could not help thinking that one of them, a rather strong looking woman, seemed familiar.

 Poisoned Crotchet Hooks, Frozen Bodies and Nice Fountain Pens

This woman was “the sort who are best stopping at home” as they say in the North of England, or somewhere else dreary. Or, come to think of it, whom one would employ for major spring cleaning or cleaning out stables. She pointedly avoided my gaze.

The daily routine of sewing, coffee, tea, eating and evening receptions at the Conference on the Seas (which the men attended, for what would we women know about the seas apart from frying fish) was interrupted by a dreadful discovery. This was of the frozen bodies of Winnie and Mr Chan in a remote mountain hut. Now not a word to Bessie, as I am subject to the Official Secrets Act, but it appears they have been done to death, murdered or in other words killed by the comrades using a poisoned crochet hook. The nature of the poison has yet to be identified, but behind the Foreign Office walls there is fury.

Winnie with her famous bicycle

This is very different from the usual Foreign Office day where languid Oxbridge types normally fill the hours from 9-5pm fitting Sobranie cocktail cigarettes into holders and gazing through the smoke and net curtains at Number 10 Downing Street awaiting telephone calls with alterations to speeches which they do with very nice fountain pens.

As crotchet has become a symbol of diplomatic discord we have been sent home by the Handsome Stranger who feared I might become a victim of an international tit-for-tat needlework outrage. “Is there a bigger outrage than crochet?” “Perhaps” said the Handsome Stranger “one might consider French knitting?” to which I replied “never in a month of Dimanches.”

Jasper Takes the Wrong Route

It is always nice to have a few days in “that London”. Jasper has gone to the British Museum. Let us hope he does not get himself in as much trouble as he did going on the C.N.D, march. He thought they said AIdwych instead of Aldermaston, and felt rather alone outside the theatre with a placard saying, “A Future without Fear at the Club”. He was only temporarily delayed at the police station and was allowed to go once I explained to the commissioner that he became disorientated whenever he left his shed and that I had recently decorated the office of the Chief Constable of Glasgow, who turned out to be an old friend from cadet days.

The Cabaret Club

Jasper’s role in the march was to follow on by taxi which was rather expensive, although at least I knew his whereabouts and a generous tip made sure he was returned in time for us to go to Murray’s ‘Cabaret Club’, where some old friends of Lady Pentland-Firth were taking part in Arabian Rhapsody “The largest and most exotic eastern spectacle ever presented including 45 of England’s loveliest showgirls”.

Her Cabaret Act in Berlin has become a legend

What we were not expecting was a cameo performance from Patience who, despite her age, has still some of the old magic that she exuded before that last Unpleasantness in Berlin. She has also been to the Palladium to catch up with some old chums and has been practising her high kicks for old time’s sake.

Taking Our Minds Off Murder

Mrs T was very taken with this show

Mrs Travers who finds Lady Pentland-Firth irritating declined to accompany us to the “lavish floor show”.  Jasper thinks she is rather upset by the murder, in particular of Mr Chan as she was very fond of his “Dinner B” lunch time option which included chips as well as noodles served on a hot plate with two little candles underneath. So Jasper got her a ticket for The World of Susie Wong” at The Prince of Wales, as he thought the advert asking “If you are in the mood for a rich and gaudy evening with lots of colour and laughter then Susie Wong is your answer”,  might just cheer her up.

I think Jasper was right as she has perked up and today she has gone to The Hong Kong Emporium where one “can obtain Oriental foods, delicacies, china wear, fancy goods silks, umbrellas, lanterns and decorative articles”. She is thinking of having “a wee night” for some of Mr Chan’s favourite customers after the funeral. Jasper has given her a couple of pounds to have her lunch there and she is looking forward to comparing the chips with those of the late Mr Chan.

Might One Need Wellies for Berkeley Square?

At the Aldwych

If Jasper does not get lost in the British Museum we are planning to go to the theatre tonight. I had wanted to see Watch it Sailor at the Aldwych Theatre but Jasper said, perhaps wisely, that he had already made something of an impression outside the theatre, having tied himself to the front door and we might not now get the best seats.

the place to be

He has, however promised me that we will have dinner in ‘Beachcomber’, Europe’s first Polynesian Restaurant, where we will “dine under a roof of bamboo cane and palm fronds to the soft sounds of Hawaiian music and surf breaking over coral sand”. Mrs Travers has thoughtfully, fearing a tidal wave in Berkley Square, got our wellies ready just in case. We are promised “….potent Pacific style drinks, served by lovely maidens dressed in the costume of the islands”. Jasper thinks it sounds most promising, however, Mrs T says it is just as well a full menu is available “for those who prefer Chinese or European food”.

Much In Demand – No Wonder!

I have filled my days doing a little shopping, for shoes and hosiery and it will not surprise you to know given my reputation as Scotland’s most stylish dresser and decorator, my presence where taste is an issue has been much in demand. Cecil Beaton, the costume designer and photographer, and Oliver Smith, the production designer, have invited me to attend some of the rehearsals for My Fair Lady which opens at the end of the month. “Muriel darling” they both said in unison “as the fairest lady of them all, can you come with your tweaking eye and searing wit and just tell us if we have missed anything?” Well you know me, I do not like to interfere, but I said, “Well Cecil if I could say one thing, black and white”. “That is two things darling” he said “but you are absolutely right, but we might leave that for the film”. I also said “Now Cecil use Sekers fabrics and never skimp on ostrich feathers they add a certain je ne sais quoi.”

Apparently the Queen of Transylvania, played by Margaret Halstan in the Embassy Ball Scene is based on well …. moi!

Rain in Spain and Exploding Custard in Scotland

Just in case you are poorly educated and I mean nothing offensive by that after all it was not your fault that your father spent all his money on the dogs, your mother drank, failed to save a bit each week and you were evacuated in the blitz at a vital point in your schooling (thank goodness for night school), let me help.

A sneak preview of the programme

My Fair Lady is a musical play which has been on in America near Broadway and on the 30th April 1958 will open at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. This is a very old theatre which Charles II liked almost as much as Nell Gwynne. It is based on Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which is a very good play by George Bernard Shaw despite his being a socialist. Like Jasper, who also claims to be a socialist, he spends a great deal of time in a shed. With music by Lerner and Loewe, this production stars the lovely Anne Rodgers, James Hayter and Charles Stapeley with Zena Dare and Hugh Paddick. It is all about a poor flower girl in Covent Garden who is used by a professor to make a point about diction or something. He makes her say “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” a lot and this makes them fall in love. Longer term I suspect the whole thing is doomed as mixed marriages across the classes seldom work without a great deal of hard work  – just look at Jasper et moi.

At least we have proved those wrong who said that marriage between a beautiful, intelligent woman who has been finished off at the best schools (and had the pick of Edwardian Glasgow’s demi-monde) and a man whose parents died in a vulgar custard powder factory explosion, “will never work”. My Grandmamma never quite got over the discovery that people of her acquaintance actually experienced custard made from powder.

The knowledge was widely believed to have been responsible for her seventh stroke, the preceding 6 also being connected to fashionable faux pas. Let me tell you there were many who pointed the finger at Jasper for not understanding what being invited to “a bite” is or how it differs from a suppa and who had not (despite the work of genealogists) had a single relative executed on Tower Hill, let alone Tower Green.

Flirting with Other Soup and Faith Options

As to the matter of the bite verses suppa, I shall return to that as soon as possible, promise. I am quite looking forward with a little bit of luck, to returning home to Glasgow even if it means attending dear Winnie and Mr Chan’s funerals. I am also anxious to see how the matter of soup and pudding lunches has panned out in my absence Do not think I have forgotten the matter of the mulligatawny soup; oh no! Indeed while I have been here in that London I have consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury about becoming an Anglican, although he seemed to sit on the fence when it came to soup matters. I met briefly with a cardinal to talk about Roman Catholicism, but apart from agreeing that my face looks terrific when framed by a lace veil, the cardinal had to admit that his church did not believe in soup and pudding before marriage.

Well I must dash – what does one wear for a Polynesian Suppa? Fear not Muriel will think of something marvellous.

Au revoir

Muriel Wylie

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5 Responses to Muriel’s Musings: “My Fair Lady”

  1. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Crocheted power, disgruntled mandarins, and the loss of a cross-cultural influence. ‬

    ‪Oh, to live a life of departure lounges and silver spoons. I’m even happy to mix with difficult people of the foreign sort. I’m getting rather used to them, even the Welsh. ‬

    ‪Is crochet an example of the cultural soft power we’re hearing so much about these days? I always thought it was something to do with Shakespeare or Martin Freeman but I’m sure toilet roll cozies count as well.‬

    ‪I’m not surprised there is grumbling in Whitehall. An intervention could be required. If it’s really serious they’ll have to wait until the perpetrator returns for a Sandhurst get-together and have a quiet word. ‬

    ‪I didn’t know that you could attend marches by taxi. This changes everything. I’ve always wanted a chauffeur and now I have an excuse. ‬

    ‪I’m sorry to have missed Lady P-F’s cabaret appearance. Must have been well Dench. ‬

    ‪I’ve never got the hang of Chinese restaurant chips. I think they use an uncommon oil. Chips come from chip shops, which can be of any ethnicity. I’m also uncertain about that restaurant. It sounds like the sort of place a chap could make a terrible mistake and be forced to live in a shed in Sussex. ‬

    ‪Trying to write a ‘poly-knees’ is half an hour I’ll never get back, much like my later childhood. A good summation, by the way. And all the top chaps live in sheds.‬

    ‪It is possible to live in a shed and make soup, as long you don’t plug two things in at once. ‬


  2. seileasdar says:

    Terrific faces in veils and a Polynesian soup and pudding bite

    Our intrepid explorers and social extraordinaires are still whiling in foreign countries, being in London, which is not in Switzerland, but closer to Glasgow. And due to form, confusion, misunderstandings and cultural influences prevail again with the Wylies.

    Thank the deities for Muriel’s alacrity and strong wit while Jasper is getting himself into bother, marching onto Aldwych, or rather needing to be unchained and saved from further embarrassment by his formidable partner by letting her gracious vitamin C play once again. (That is Vitamin Connection, not that strange new-fangled thing they put into oranges and other exotic fruit nowadays.) Her spending in supervision of her dear beloved yet sometimes clueless husband’s socialist playtime away might have been a very wise investment, as it at least meant his sound return on time for other exotic adventures.

    And what adventures are there to be had in That London! Experiences of Hong Kong half-worlds, Arabian Lady-Pentland legs, nautical courting delights, and Polynesian drinks served with matching dresses! The mind is full of wondrous images and swirling colourful delights. No wonder the art and stage world is in need of Muriel’s tweaking, searing and witting advices!

    What appears gracious on the outside is indeed hard graft and difficult decisions on the inside, and Our Scottish Fair Lady shows once again how much dedication goes into effortless appearances. Be it choosing the correct and fitting outfit for a Polynesian supper, or the matter of matching soup and pudding to one’s best choice of religion and how to look terrific in a veil. It must be hard to have your life restricted by so many rules and choices for suitably matching silver cutlery to eat ones double yolks.

    But her searing wit prevails; her upbringing supports her selections; and her unsurpassable training in the best circles of Scottish education guides her difficult steps on the slippery social parquet, pirouetting fast into unforgettableness. It is reassuring to read that she will be unfaltering in guiding and supporting those less fortunate on their assisted way to marvellousness, be it abroad, a field, or at sea, in all sorts of mismatched marriages and in health, and in all matters of style and effect.

    After all, isn’t it wondrous marvellousness and happiness in life that count in the end?


  3. Moira Taylor says:

    Oh Muriel you are SO devoted to the wellbeing of our nation that I fear you overlook your own needs.Neighbourlyness , when it does not impinge on one’s time/territory/bank balance is one of the joys of living in town. How tragic that you can no longer rely on those two harridans whose friendship is a pretence.
    It was very wise of The Handsome Stranger to whisk you away from the crochet set and out of reciprocal danger my dear.
    I somehow knew that Jasper would get in a fankle but never thought his sense of direction was SO poor! It’s a good job you were able to save him from himself. Again. Oh dear.
    We have tickets for the opening night of My Fair Lady so will look out for the Queen of Transylvania to ensure they have done you justice.
    For your Polynesian meal may I suggest something off the shoulder? A little risque, I know, but I do believe that if anyone can carry off risque, it is you!

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    By Jove! What a gay old time you are having in that London – everything from The Beachcomber to George Bernard Shaw and everything in between, dear heart! If anyone can pull orff a ‘Hula-Hula’ skirt for a Polynesian Suppa; you can, Muriel, my dwaaling. If you’ve got it; flaunt it, comme on dit…….

    One must say, one does RAWTHER like the sound of Murray’s Cabaret Club…..once a dancer; always a dancer, just ask Lady P-F. Once one has had the call of the grease-paint, the diamanté and the ostrich feather one is hooked for life! Oh, did one say ‘hooked’……oh dear… one is reminded of the terrible tragedy of Winnie and Mr Chan and the mystery of the poisoned crochet hooks. Whilst on the subject, Mu ma chérie, you simply must sort out the ‘Mulligatawny Brouhaha’ before the funerals of the aforementioned dearly departed. Otherwise, one fears the schism may threaten more than just our national security……the Church of Scotland and Scottish rural life combined!

    Maintenant, ma chérie, before one departs to impart diction like Professor Henry Higgins, one has one’s suspicions about the RAWTHER ‘butch’ Diplomat’s wife who kept averting your gaze. I fear ‘heavy vork’ may be her raison d’être. She is certainly no ‘Fair Lady’, if you get one’s meaning……

    Yours ‘elocuting like Eliza’,
    Lulu xxxx

  5. J Peasmold Gruntfuttock says:

    Simply marvellous as always my dear. I do hope that dear Jasper managed to get a snap on his Leica of Mrs T tucking into some Polynesian Pork. I do wish I’d known you’d been down here in that London. We could have had tea at Claridge’s. Next time I hope!

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