Oh do please forgive me I should have been here sooner, but it is so unusually warm and humid in this part of the world that I have been “gently glowing” all morning. We are just not used to it of course and one feels so sluggish. The situation has not been at all helped by the usual fuss around the annual departure of my mattresses to Stoddart’s for remaking. They claim to deal with “every bedding problem”, but the jury is out on that one. Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, has been huffing and puffing about so much, that she is perspiring quite heavily. Being working class and not really a lady she does not of course gently glow. Nor of course does she – and pardon my language, “sweat” as that would make her a horse.
I have sent her to the kitchen to make some fresh lemonade and to think about a novel salad for suppa. Dorothy Affleck, who writes for The Glasgow Herald has a good piece on salads so I have clipped the article and given it to Mrs T who muttered something about “ naething wrang wi’ a wee bit o’ corned beef and a few syboes”. If truth be told I am wondering how she will cope with gammon and eggs in aspic in this weather.
We long for warm weather in Scotland and then when it comes we are quite defeated. Still I suppose and as I always say one can see why the cotton industry was so successful in the West of Scotland. Humidity was very good for Mr Coats and Mr Clark. I wonder if they had to drench themselves in 4711 Eau de Cologne, while visiting their factories?
Despite Dorothy’s interesting ways with aspic, I don’t even have the concentration for The Herald especially after reading about the Argyll by-election. Mr Michael Noble, the Unionist candidate, has warned that a vote for the Liberals is a vote for Socialism. Jasper, a self confessed pinko when it suits, says this is pleasing news, so corned beef for him tonight if he is not careful.
As far as I can see the Liberal party is in a wide orbit circling the Labour party like a sputnik. Mr Grimond who is leader of the Liberals says he prefers the socialists. Well, we shall see, as Grandmamma said “I want does not always get” – let’s hope.
A Need to Share
Now I am sure you want to hear about “that London” and my recent visit – well “steady the buffs” and all will be revealed. However, I have been elsewhere in addition to that London, but that will have to wait until next week as given the richness of my prose you will be over stimulated, possibly swoon and may not have a fan to hand, unlike moi who is always prepared.
You really cannot repeat any of this and I know I can trust you. Now where will I start? Starting with titled people is always good.
Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, of the music department in the very good varsity in Glasgow who is an expert on tonic sol-fa, and the Handsome Stranger who both work in the shadows have been hot on the trail of the theft of the crotched map. Not to mention, so we will, the possibly associated murder of Winnie, of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder and Mr Chan of the Chinese restaurant in the Govan Road (dinners A- D a speciality).
As you know I was, during the last Unpleasantness, in the S.O.E and was recently reactivated at lunch in the Spanish Rooms at Charing Cross, with a Dubonnet and gin – which the Queen Mother assures me is non alcoholic.
For the sake of appearances my proposed visit to the capital would include my husband Jasper, Mrs Travers, my daily woman, and Lady Pentland-Firth an aristocrat with a past and too much interest in fishnet stockings to be wholesome.
To quote the Professor “such an eccentric bunch would not attract attention as we would all be hidden in plain sight just as if the circus has come to town”.
Due to Prime Minister Mr Macmillan’s economic policy resulting in a shortage of cash at the Foreign Office, we had to travel by the cheaper “Starlight Express” and settle for a hotel in Earls Court. “Never mind Professor”, I said “we are British.” Jasper was initially not too happy as he has a nest of robins that have hatched in the middle of his World War I panorama, near his Brussels’ town hall made out of cereal packets. I soon brought him round with promises of bookshops and theatre. Lady Pentland-Firth said that travelling second class would make her view the lives of the poor with more compassion.
Letter at the Station
We arrived at St Enoch Station in Glasgow and I was just handing out Mackintosh Squares to the assembled party, (after all one never knows who has been sitting in one’s seat before one does) when a railway servant approached with a flushed face, out of breath and a letter in his hand addressed to moi.
As the train pulled out of Glasgow, Jasper got out his ‘Capodimonte Collectors’ monthly magazine, Mrs Travers her People’s Friend and Lady Pentland-Firth her little black book from her handbag which she proceeded to notate with a silver propelling pencil. As they were all occupied, I opened the envelope with my travelling letter opener which I always keep in the bottom of my lizard handbag in case I am attacked by trade unionists or pickpockets.
Suggested Tour of London by Wellwisher Tours Ltd
“As Samuel Johnson said when a man is tired of that London he is tired of life and we at Wellwisher Tours guarantee that your visit will not only lead you in the right direction, but be memorable and instructional. To that end we begin with a quiz which will lead you to some important highlights and provide further clues so that you might as it were knit your own map. Have a good trip.”
It was signed by F. Furter (Mrs), Managing Director.
As Jasper and Mrs T were bored by Carlisle (a common problem depending on which side one is on) and Lady P-F had run out of lead which is not like her, I asked if they would like to pass the time by joining in with the quiz.
Question 1: A favourite of Landseer, I am a roamer of plains, just one of four friends, guarding a nation’s one eyed hero. Who am I and where will you find me?
“Easy” said Mrs Travers, “one of the lions in Trafalgar Square who guard Lord Nelson.”
Question 2: A place beloved by actors and where flower sellers offer violets to passers-by; you will find a model theatre used to raise money for the poor surrounded by departed thespians. I have the name of a saint, who am I and where will you find me?
“I cannot think” said Jasper who was back to reading his collectors’ magazine with one eye. “So boring”, said Lady Pentland-Firth who was remembering with a smile the gentlemen listed under f of her alphabetical little black book.
“I think” said Mrs Travels, “it’s St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, often known as the Actors’ Church. Yon Sebastian has mentioned it.”
Question 3: Nearby you will be able to buy me by the bag load, sweet and juicy, my blossom garlands brides, my famous seller was beloved by a king; and I am on a million tables everyday. What am I?
“Are we nearly there yet?” asked Jasper .
“What is this the Brains Trust ?” enquired Lady P-F. “Really if I had known I was going to be sitting the diplomatic service exams I would have had a wee drinky poohs with the Foreign Secretary and brought him round with my fandango.”
Mrs Travers who was knitting and reading an interesting story about an elopement to Oban looked up and said, “Oranges. Now would anyone like some tea from my flask and a wee tray bake to keep us going ̓ til the restaurant car opens at Preston?”
Question 4: You will find me in between the leaves of The Four Winds near Charing Cross Road.
“Oh dear, not sure” said Jasper, “could it be something to do with Charing Cross Station, or an Eleanor Cross or perhaps it is something to do with trees; London plane trees perhaps?”
“Not sure either” said Lady Pentland-Firth. “Indeed not sure I care, couldn’t we have flown? Goodness I had forgotten all about S and M and who would have thought so many names under L, Oh I see they are all members of the House of Lords, goodness so many naughty nobles.”
“ I would suggest” came the response from the queen of elasticated support bandages, “that this’s a reference to Charing Cross Road book sellers and that the leaves are not of trees but the pages of a book perhaps one called The Four Winds?”
“I think” said Lady Pentland Firth putting a line through a page of O’s with a fountain pen she had borrowed from Jasper, “you are paying that woman too much Muriel.”
Question 5: You will find me in meditation, dressed in a habit, clasping a skull near the hero of Trafalgar. My subject is associated with animals, my son follows my occupation and dies of plague.
“Really “said an impatient Lady Pentland-Firth, “does anyone have an Askit pooder, I have a headache?”
“I think” said Jasper this is about the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.”
“Indeed it is Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers who was casting off the sleeve of a jumper for one of her Billy’s weans, “it’s a painting by Francesco de Zubaran featuring Saint Francis in Mediation. His son was also a painter who did indeed perish as the result of plague in 1649. A wee top up o’ tea anyone? And I have some scones in my bag if any of yous are puir dead starving tae death.”
“Don’t mind if I do” said Jasper who is always starving, “and thing with cheese?”
“I don’t suppose Muriel that while we are sitting the common entrance examination, you might have a nail file I have a wee snag on this hand? And any spare nail polish would not go a miss. I know you frown upon a lady attending to her make up in public, but let’s face it most of these people look as if they are from the South Side, so it will not matter and quite honestly if we don’t get called for dinner soon, I for one will stab myself with one of Mrs Travers’ number 8’s, for I cannot do Preston and beyond without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or I will need to apply for foreign aid. Has anyone seen my cigarette holder?”
Lady P-F Gets Restless
Question 6: I have one eye on you from above, you have met my guardians. Now I lie beneath a gallery that whispers and a building that symbolises the survival of that London.
“Easy” said Jasper who seemed finally to have woken up. “It is Trafalgar Square and Lord Nelson again and he is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral which was rebuilt after The Great Fire of Pudding Lane; and it survived the Blitz.”
“What about a game of Poker to pass the time?” asked Lady P-F. “I have a pack of cards in my garter.”
“I thought that was a gun” said Mrs Travers not even looking up from an article about Selkirk Bannocks.
“No” said Lady P-F “that is in the one on the other side, my late husband Salty advised that I should always wear it there.”
“You have so many late husbands your Ladyship” said an emboldened Mrs Travers “you would do well as a platform announcer at Manchester Piccadilly Station.”
Lady Pentland-Firth, inhaled deeply from her holder and blew out rings of smoke and gave Mrs T her death stare to which came the response, “should you need money that is, which you don’t of course. Tray-bake anyone?”
Question 7: The Merry Monarch established me in 1663. Currently appearing here is not the merry monarch’s purveyor of delights but another woman who is being transformed from flower girl to society lady. .
“First sitting in the Restaurant” called the guard.
“It’s Charles II, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Nell Gwynne and Lisa Doolittle in Shaw’s play Pygmalion renamed My Fair Lady for the Musical” we all said in unison.
“Well that was good”, everyone agreed over coffee and cheese and biscuits in the dining carriage.
“What can all these questions mean?” asked Lady Pentland-Firth who could become lost very easily in intellectual problems, as animal cunning was more her bag.
“I think” I replied, “you will find these are clues to the whereabouts of the missing crotched map and perhaps even the villain of the piece, so we must visit each of these sites.”
“Good idea” said Mrs Travers rolling her eyes “funny no one else put two and two together.”
“I told you Muriel” said Lady Pentland-Firth “that you are paying her too much and sending her to those evening classes is just the beginning of the end.”
Later the Following Evening at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
After an exhausting day in that London far from Scotland, we were sitting in the Grand Circle at the Theatre Royal waiting for the curtain to rise on Act 1 of My Fair Lady. We have visited each of the sites mentioned in the quiz starting with Lions at Trafalgar Square.
Next was the painting in the National Gallery, by Zurbaran, then a book seller in the Charing Cross Road area where we found a book, The Four Winds about aircraft travel.
St Paul’s Cathedral came after that and here we visited the tomb of Lord Nelson, then the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, also a St Paul’s where we found a theatre model, and a wholesale seller of oranges and lemons and so forth.
At each place we found or were given another envelope inside of which contained a sheet of paper with a letter pasted on it, cut out from a newspaper, ransom style. Not necessarily the quality press I admit, but then standards are falling everywhere even in the shadows. The letters were an A, an L, another L, an I, a V and an E. It was all rather exhausting and perplexing. What did it all mean, this strange cryptic tour of London near England? We tried rearranging the letters to see if they made a word, but to no avail.
We Almost Forgot to Buy the Programme
“Is everyone comfortable? Who needs a fast boiling before the curtain goes up? Jasper, here are your mint imperials, Patience your acid drops, Mrs T your humbugs.”
“Anyvun for zee programme?
“Oh yes please I had forgotten the programme Jasper locate money, buy programme.”
“How much is that Miss?”
“Zat vill be 12 marks; zorry, I mean zee vun shilling.”
“Here you are Miss.”
“Zank you Mr Vylie. Act vun, zcene 5 is particularly memorable, auf wiedersehen.”
“Muriel isn’t that marvellous? They memorise your name when you buy the tickets; now that is customer service.”
“On no Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers “that is not good customer service, she knows you. She knows all of us that is the double agent Hilda, zee German vuman vat used to do zee heavy vork, until she pretended to be trapped in a man trap. She is the one who has the map of the coastal waters of Japan stolen from you full Victorian villa in the illustrious West End of Glasgow. She is the murderer of Winnie and Mr Chan. Let’s get her.”
“No point, she will be far from here now and we will only miss Wouldn’t it be loverly. And personally” said Patience, Lady Pentland-Firth “I quite like a man trap.”
“Well” said Mrs Travers angered by having been duped by Hilda and left with much of the heavy vork after her departure, “you have been sprung rather a lot.”
“Jealousy will get you nowhere , Travers. Really servants these days! My late husband would have had you horse whipped.”
“Ummph from what I heard your late husband was quite keen on playing the horse a well.”
“Quiet everyone! Look at the programme – Act one scene five Higgins’ Study – Later that day. The second song is underlined.”
Jasper Gets It
“I’ve got it! By George I think, I’ve got it!”
“Got what Mr Wylie?”
“It’s about Spain – all the clues are about Spain!”
“What do you mean Dahling?”
“I mean, Nelson fought at Trafalgar – it’s in Spain, marmalade oranges come from Spain, the painter Zurbaran is Spanish.”
“But where in Spain?”
“On the plain in Spain.
“But where exactly on the plain in Spain, Jasper?” asked an exasperated Lady Pentland-Firth.
“Give me a piece of paper Mrs Travers, yes that betting slip will do and write the letter S on it now give me the other bits of paper Muriel,…… ……, let me just rearrange them……that’s it look it’s S. E.V.I.L.L.A. It’s the capital of Andalucia. We have to go to Seville where the marmalade oranges come from that put Robertson’s of Paisley on a million breakfast table’s every morning. “
“Oh Jasper you are so clever”.
“No Muriel I am an Ordinary Man, Act 1, Scene 3!”
“I am not sure I can go to Spain” said Mrs Travers anxiously. “I am supposed to go to a wedding in Scotstoun next week with steak pie purvey and Spain under the Generalissimo is not the most attractive of places. He looks a cruel hard man without an inch of compassion or love in his body. I have seen the stamps”.
“Oh I wouldn’t say that exactly” smiled Lady Pentland-Firth enigmatically, “he had a lovely shinny pair of boots a shinny forehead and a………”
“Oh Patience you didn’t?” I exclaimed.
“Well he was so lonely; so very lonely.”
“I knew it” nipped Mrs Travers, “you showed Franco your fandango didn’t you ? On second thoughts, I will just miss that wedding; book me a ticket. Anyone like a Black Magic?”
Curtain Up at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane June 1958 with Anne Rogers and James Hayter in My Fair Lady.
“Shhoooosh, Mrs T!”