Muriel’s Musings – Special Highland Edition

 Organisation and Problem solving

Many months ago, come to think of it – just after Sir Anthony Eden resigned following the Suez crisis I received a request from Ruth Coulthard, who lives on the Welsh borders, (someone has to) on behalf of a Dr Bevan and his committee of the A.H.I. (The Association for Heritage Interpretation). This was in connection with a conference in Inverness. Dear Ruth, despite the confusion of living near a border, is very good at organising things, even when people are asking her a thousand conflicting questions at once, some of them from abroad and some vegetarians. There are even occasions when both problems are combined into one person.

Helping You to Understand Things

These heritage interpreters are people who help us to understand all about what has been going on in the past, and how we should see it from our viewpoint of the present. Fortunately I am married to Jasper who lives in the past so knows very well what has been going on.

Jasper and his beloved shed

Jasper’s knows a great deal about the heritage of the First World War and as I may have told you has an exhibition of his treasures in his shed which is open to the public two afternoons a week. All proceeds from the entry money and the sale of Jasper’s book go to the Hysterical  (Historical) Society, of which he is chairman.

Part of Jasper’s World War I Exhibition

Of course I also have the somewhat limited services of Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot. While Mrs Travers has difficulty coming to grips with the damp dusting of my stair runner and Persian rugs she certainly knows what has been going on past, present and future. She has a reputation of having a touch of “the second sight” and of being a “spooky wife”. Not that I would let her lose on my Minton, without supervision.

The Glamour of Nature

the glamour of nature portrayed by James Paterson

A large number of these people work in the countryside and therefore, do not approve of sling backs or nail polish. I for one cannot understand why nature cannot be glamorous, indeed an artist and friend of my late Grandfather Lochhead, the nuts and bolts king of Glasgow, a James Paterson wrote of the “glamour of nature”. Mr Paterson knew how to arrange himself picturesquely in the countryside with a fetching smock and a jaunty beret worn to one side. I think much could be done with rucksacks for example to make them more stylish.

I myself would go for something in a Sanderson or perhaps for evening strolls, a slubbed dupion as it would catch the fading light. I notice also that when I mention the subject of a Mackintosh Square there are often barely suppressed giggles from these outdoorsy types.

note the mackintosh square

I know it must be terribly amusing to sit on a damp log in a forest or a mossy boulder by a babbling brook, but there is a price to pay for prolonged damp. All I can say to you, within the bounds of decency, are two words “ointment” and “Timothy Whites”, well that’s three but let us not be pedantic.

No Digression  and a Good Clasp

Anyway I am in danger of digressing which Jasper says makes A.H.I. people wince. Ruth and Dr Bevan (who is incidentally not related to the socialist Mr Bevan or Mr Bevin, at least as far as I know) pleaded with me to help them with their little conversazione in the Highlands by providing one of my lecturettes and would I write a conference report of 500 words, as “Muriel who else can we trust not to split an infinitive or who has a pre-war Royal typewriter with all the essential keys”.

Well that’s a tall order I must say! Now I know they like brevity and layered text, but frankly one is hard pressed to write 500 words on one’s bag (never handbag, what else would it be a foot bag?)  let alone about a four day gathering of professionals. In case you are interested, and who wouldn’t be – it was black morocco leather, suede lined with integral mirror and notebook and propelling pencil, oh yes and a good clasp. I do not like a half hearted bag-clasp, it makes one look weak.

The bag – note the clasp

A clasp needs to shut with authority. It was a gift from Jasper following an incident at the Club with a waitress and one too many amontillados. A man’s weakness is often a woman’s gain or at least you should make sure it is. Guilt is wonderful for accessories.

Help is needed –  Muriel is here

Of course I said I was able to help, after all as my Mamma always said, “I shall pass this way but once and if there is any help I can offer let me do it now for I shall not pass this way again.” Mother was full of wise words and these would often be wringing in the ears of many a departing tradesman as they adjusted their aprons when leaving our home. Sometimes I wonder if father realised how good Mamma was with tradesmen when he was away on business. She was particularly good with plumbers and could give a pretty good description of a ball cock as well as in extremis being unafraid to grab a plunger and have a go herself.

Having written on the subject for the “Inverness Courier” (described last week) I decided to take as my lecturette subject the minefield that is an invitation to suppa in the Scottish countryside. You would be surprised at the terror an invitation holds for many people unused to the ways of those and such as those. As I said in a simple way with headlines, key information and a more expansive piece for those from private schools – “delegates if you are to make any headway interpreting the heritage of Scotland these are the people one must cultivate as they are the key to objects and stories in the glens and besides they tell everyone else what to do including how and for whom to vote”.

Pontificating on manners associated with suppa (image courtesy of Sabrina Willekens)

I think we can safely say the highlights of my masterclass included getting in and out of a car, drinking from a class without getting lipstick on it and most importantly what to say and how to say it using short clipped sentences and very few consonants.

How to use a glass – the moment captured by my new pupil Sabrina

I think it was a revelation and comforted many. Perhaps those from abroad were a little confused, which is understandable as being from abroad is confusing. 

The Time for Turnip is Coming

Now education is a two way process and as you know I have a hunger for knowledge in the same way that Jasper has a hunger for,  well anything you can eat.

I am always ready to learn and I went to a wonderful master class on olive oil in the Adriatic where people have been encouraged to take pride in the history of olive cultivation in their region. I am wondering if we might do the same for the turnip in Scotland. This is one crop that has an image problem. I am already thinking of a turnip festival and the possibilities of new products such as wine and confectionary.  The olive oil talk has convinced me that I must get Jasper onto this sophisticated product and perhaps purchase a wooden bowl and ceramic salad servers, not to mention matching bottles for oil and vinegar.

No doubt this will have to wait until we go to somewhere in the Mediterranean. I want to move Jasper away from salad cream. I did ask if they had any olive oil in Boots the Chemists, but they said only small bottles for earache and looked puzzled when I said it was for Jasper’s radishes not his lugs.

Leadership with Lampshades and Tassels

Trimmings for lampshades from “Chez Nous” for the discerning client

Something I have noticed about modern people is that they like to know when they have done something if you have enjoyed it, have they done a good job and could they do anything else to make things better another time. Well all very good and earnest, but will there be a next time?

Surely if you have been employed to do a job, you should know if you are doing it well. I know full well that at my emporium “Chez Nous”, my taste in lampshades is sans pareil or I would be out of business. Also if one asks a hundred people for opinions you will get a hundred opinions most of which you cannot satisfy having just raised expectations that you will.

If one were, for example, in the position of asking Napoleon after the Battle of Waterloo what improvements he might make in future Battles of Waterloo, he might have had many ideas none of which he might put into practice due to him dying of the poisoned wallpaper. No, as I said to that young research chemist I keep meeting – you know – I forget her name but she wants to be a politician, have the courage of your convictions and just do it, that is leadership. This has always been my policy with curtain treatments at “Chez Nous”. If I think swags and tails will do the job I say so and stand by it. I certainly do not say, “Well they would have been better with a double interlining and lead weights”.

No regrets Dahlings just pull the cords, smile, glide and move on. After all those of us in the suppa class just take what is thrown at us, never moaning never complaining, how else could we have run an Empire?

In the Soup

Having said all that I am going to say something that  rather contradicts my “no complaints” rule, only because dear reader I am thinking of you. I am also a woman and contradictions are my stock in trade. It keeps Jasper on his toes.

There is one area of my conference experience where I think there might be room for future improvement and “re-imagining” and that is in the disputed and vexed area of  “The Soup and Sandwich Lunch – a  Celtic Cultural  Phenomenon”.  For some reason not explained to me by the organisers (perhaps we were a niche audience)  this lecture and tasting opportunity did not appear in the programme and took place in a cupboard under the stairs – but was I can tell you seminal. This is mainly because I asked many incisive and thought provoking questions about stock and steeping.

Proper Scottish soup – with bits!

Regarding the tasting opportunities,  as Jasper will tell you, while smooth sieved soups have their place in town and the polite parts of rural society “soups with bits” are essential for what are known collectively in the country as “the men”. You cannot lamb, shear or dip on a creamed soup in our climate. We are talking broth here. Jasper is of course an expert in this area as his Granny Wylie brought up 10 weans on sheep’s heid broth made on one gas ring in a Gorbals’ tenement. As Jasper said, in the bar afterwards, “at least they had the sense not to produce vichyssoise or cold cucumber soup which to the Scots are culinary horrors.”

Garnish is Everything

For my part the number of possibilities regarding “Sandwich fillings for Foreigners” (lecture restricted to 6 due to capacity in the broom cupboard) was fascinating. I did take issue with the presenter over one particular aspect of sandwich making for mass tourism as I suggested removing the crusts!  As I said and she wasn’t pleased. “We are trying to encourage foreign visitors, not feed chain gangs” I remarked.

the cucumber sandwiches sans crusts – always!

Now while I appreciate that brown bread, in addition to white, provides variety and indicates that Britain is becoming more multicultural, a little parsley would not go amiss. We eat with our eyes as well as our teeth and looks are important. A sandwich can be so much more with some game chips, a lemon basket decoration or some radish roses.

simply marvellous radish roses

Remember in future dear conference organisers my award winning “Go Gay with Garnish”, presentation workshop is just a telephone call and a cheque away and I have waived the patent on my perfect sandwich template. Incidentally since you ask the perfect length is 4 inches, with two diagonal cuts – size does matter.

The Dangers of Cosmic Rays

Now I must go. I am on my own in the shop this week. Just when one thinks the conference season has ended Jasper has taken himself off to the Labour Party. They are discussing “the colonies as economic slums”. Well one will see how things turn out when they are no longer colonies. I know I know, but what can one do. He is very keen on a red head, a Mrs Castle, and this Mr Wilson, the shadow chancellor who is attacking the government about the rise in interest rates. He does have a point I suppose as if one has borrowed £2,000 pounds to buy a house one is now paying £12 more a month in interest. Jasper also says that under Mr MacMillan the cost of living has gone up, mind you that did not stop him travelling first class to the conference. As I said, rather provocatively – it keeps a marriage fresh – “Jasper I wonder if the comrades have first class, in Russia?”

Talking of the comrades, as you will be aware they successfully put a satellite into space last week, beating the Americans. Mrs Travers is using this as an excuse for a go slow, (encouraged I fear by “Workers riots” in Warsaw and the Labour Party conference in Brighton)  as it seems she is much affected by the  “cosmic rays”. I notice she has cut out an advertisement from Jasper’s socialist rag The Daily Herald (you know the kind –  full of sensational articles about broken noses and classified adverts for vast quantities of spring bulbs endorsed by radio personalities, sheds, reconditioned army boots and hernia belts) which says Aspro can help with Asian Flu.

I confidently predict that Asian Flu will hit our little corner of Glasgow just in time for cleaning the silver next week.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

October 1957

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3 Responses to Muriel’s Musings – Special Highland Edition

  1. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪How to interpret history, the tastes of rural folk, and lumpy soup.‬

    ‪The Welsh borders and vegetarians. Whatever next.‬

    ‪I’m delighted that Jasper has a hobby. Hobbies occupy the mind and keep assorted monsters at bay. They also keep your hands busy.‬

    ‪I don’t believe Mrs. Travers to be atypical. I have found it useful in life to assume that the women around me know full well what I’m thinking and doing. Life becomes substatially less stressful when one proceeds on that basis.‬

    ‪I too live in a rural bolthole and can confirm that any semblance of style and marvellousness is frowned upon. As is anything new, whether that be a pair of shoes or an idea. Even a flowery shirt, which would seem to be at one with the surroundings, is frowned upon. It helps to remember that rural folk revere farming, not nature.‬

    ‪Is ‘man bag’ acceptable? I do hope so. It’s a briefcase during the week of course.‬

    ‪I wish I had seen Muriel’s lecture. I’ve failed to leave a car with dignity many times often from the passenger side while ‘poorly’ and from the drivers side having crashed it. I can’t remember ever leaving lipstick on the side of a glass, however. Oh wait a minute…‬

    ‪I’m with the rural community as regards the texture of soup, if not its contents. Vegetables only. Nothing ‘creamed’. For sandwiches, pulled jackfruit. Feel free to go as gay as you like with garnish. Four inches is insufficient, I’m regularly informed.‬

    ‪Interest rates and Asian flu eh. It could only be worse if we alienated ourselves from our closest trading partners.‬

    Mx

  2. Moira Taylor says:

    Muriel dear, if you did nothing other than introduce the Mackintosh square to country dwellers you will have left a massive mark. Oh dear, not that I am suggesting you have a massive … oh dear me I’m starting to babble now … pass me the smelling salts somebody before Muriel notices …..
    Totally agree with you dearest about the benefits of a solid clasp on a bag.It must snap shut as a loud snap conveys so much – confidence; wealth;smartness and of course, in the right circumstances, disapproval.Oh yes, I have made many a disapproving SNAP in my time.
    As for your ideas vis a vis the turnip- perhaps it could be sliced, uncooked, and made into occasional tables? Or cubed and scattered just inside the french windows to deter burglars? It could be fashioned into dentures for the poor, I’m sure they would last longer than the NHS ones and would cost considerably less. Infants could gnaw on them when teething. Oh here’s the doctor – must be time for my medication ………

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    C’est un grand spectacle up in the Highlands of Scotland bien sûr! My dwaaling, you have left not one soupçon of Suppa unturned! It is all simply too divine…….

    Although, one must admit; you lost moi at ‘Go Gay with Garnish’. Go gay all the way I say! One can never be too bright, too gay or too theatrical, à mon avis, and we are VERY theatrical! Mais oui…..the title words of your bijou lecturette have become my watchwords of the week.

    Maintenant chérie, if you will excuse moi, my Sherry glass is looking RAWTHER less gay than it ought……

    Yours, if it isn’t gay then go away,
    Lulu xxxx

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