Tactful Human Touches


I place great store by honesty, it is always the best policy. Exceptions of course can be made in cases of dire emergency such as during the last Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos, when our backs were against the wall. It is then that dishonesty becomes a matter of national interest and security.

I was often very dishonest in S.O.E. when behind enemy lines. Indeed my cover story was something of a fabrication, but one does what one has to do when under interrogation by powers of darkness, especially when one has been deprived of the basic necessities of human existence and I am talking cold cream, astringent lotion and lipstick here. Somehow – and it can only have been my simply marvellous acting skills – the Gestapo believed I was a simple boulanger’s daughter, despite my near perfect bone structure and a pair of knickers printed with a map of the Paris Underground on them.

My silver cocktail sticks

I am, therefore, going to confess that during Lent I transgressed – only once –  and used my silver cocktail sticks with the carnelian tops. You will understand my reason. I went to Paisley where I was expected to eat a sausage without a stick. Fortunately I had my set of silver cocktail sticks in my handbag as I had popped them in to take to the Rural Bolthole for Mrs T to wile away her leisure hours cleaning them for their post-Lent re-emergence. Paisley, however, is the sort of the town where, to quote Jasper, “the pigeons bring their own pieces” (sandwiches for the common).

Mrs T, our daily woman what does but not a lot

Talking of dishonesty I hear Mrs Travers (our woman what does but not a lot) coming from the kitchen. I am sure you too are aware of her heavy breathing and the sound of the rubbing of her support stockings against the crepe bandage.

A Supplicant with Coffee and Buns

Delicious Hot Cross Buns

“Good morning Mrs Wylie your Grace, there’s a letter from Master Sebastian in America so  I thought you might like your coffee a little early and I have pressed the Glasgow Herald with a damp cloth sprinkled with lavender water as you think the paper boy never washes his fish and chip infused hands. I have also toasted some hot cross buns and there’s a little bramble jelly. I didn’t think you would want a colourful jam as it is Good Friday. There are also no flowers in the house as requested.”

“Thank you Mrs Travers, nothing like a cup of coffee at this hour with a little sweet bite. I hope the brasses are gleaming and the stair rods are an example to the entire neighbourhood?”

“Oh indeed your excellency and when I have damp dusted the stair carpet I will make a start on the fish pie, although Mr Wylie will not be pleased. Can I plump your cushion ma’am?”

“No thank you Mrs T, I am still capable of cushion plumping and heaven knows one needs to be around here. Might I add there is no point in trying to curry favour with me by overegging the pudding or in this case the buns. I am still very cross with you regarding the séance. It was dishonest on so many fronts. You know how I feel about meddling with the spirit world. I have spoken to the Minister and let me tell you given the strange noises in this house since Madame what’s her name was here, I have half a mind to organise an exorcism, although the Minister has suggested this is a touch exotic for the Church of Scotland.”

“I am so sorry your madamship, whose simply marvellous smile shines upon every West End inhabitant even south of Anniesland Cross and transforms the rural bolthole into a place of radiance. It won’t happen again.”

“You are right; it won’t. Now concerning suppa, Mr Wylie will just have to put up with fish pie, I know the ingredients are from MacFisheries and not the Sea of Galilee, but one has to show willing.”

“I could do some chips.”

“No; chipped potatoes would be an indulgence in Holy Week. Mashed potatoes and peas will suffice. Where is Mr Wylie?”

The Easter Tableau Vivant

“He is in his study writing about his ‘Top 10 Inherently Funny Things’ for the parish newsletter. According to the editor, he writes with such imagination.”

The shed

“That makes a change; he generally does most things without imagination. You might as well take his coffee and the bottom half of a bun to the shed, where I imagine he really is, with my copy of The Spectator. He does not deserve the top – Good Friday is not about fun, Mrs T. Remind him he is playing James the Less in the Last Suppa Tableau which I am narrating at 4 o’clock and tell him to look out his sandals. You had better get him a linen sheet from the press.”

“Certainly, and who is playing Mary Magdalene?”

“Cynthia Savage, she of ‘Savage’s Pickle’s and Condiments’, red cabbage being their speciality.”

“Will she be penitent?”

“Mrs Travers, we will be lucky if she is sober. She has not been quite herself since Mr Savage was discovered in the North British Hotel after a New Year party with the supervisor on the piccalilli line who was covered in bought mayonnaise, toying with a dill pickle.”

“Yes I heard about that from Mrs Macaulay’s woman what does far more than I do and she said it was all over the West End of Glasgow.”.

“The being discovered in flagrante delicto?”

“No, using bought mayonnaise.”

“Indeed Mrs T; letter opener please.”

Sebastian is Enjoying America

Dear Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper,

Sorry not to have written sooner, but there is so much to do in America; it is even bigger than Dumfriesshire.

Cousin Lulubelle

I have been with Cousin Lulubelle, once removed, to help her young friend Elvis look for a new home. We went by Greyhound bus as Cousin Lulubelle thought this would be character building. Elvis has bought an old mansion house in Memphis, Tennessee, for $102,000. When I say old, being America, it dates to 1939 and was built in colonial revival style by Ruth Moore, a southern socialite. I imagine her to be much like yourself Aunt. I have a feeling that Cousin Lulubelle and Elvis’s manager do not get on. She keeps muttering something about hot chicken feet, whatever that means.

Memphis is in what they call the Deep South on the Mississippi river. It is not like the South side of Glasgow at all. They are very keen on music and eating outside using what they call barbecues. Like Glasgow much of its success was based on cotton produced by people who would rather have been elsewhere, but that is another story.

They talk very differently in the South from New York, indeed everyone sounds like Cousin Lulubelle, once removed. They speak slowly, drop their g’s like cockneys drop their h’s and draw out vowels. They are very polite, but I think “bless your heart”, may be more critical than it sounds. Strangely I can understand them better than I can of people from Aberdeen, but perhaps that’s because I am so used to Cousin Lulubelle.

I am settling in well to life in “the village” and the daily routine at the Actors’ Studio. Lee Strasberg is simply marvellous as Artistic Director, he understands everything about the Stanislavski System and I feel I am really learning my craft. We do preparation, character development and performance. There are some really interesting people here. I have been working with some of the other young actors – Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper and even Marilyn Monroe is here learning “the method”. We have to think emotional rather than intellectual. They would love Mrs Travers here, she is method down to her bunions.

When we are not working at the Actors Studio we “hang out” at interesting places like Old Colony at 43 West 8th Street, and drink apricot brandy and vodka and listen to music on what is called a Juke Box, where you put money in and select a record of your choice.

Must dash now – am rehearsing the part of Tom in Tea and Sympathy, you might have seen Deborah Kerr in the film last year directed by Vincente Minnelli. It is very daring I know but very tasteful. Deborah is never anything else of course.

Cousin Lullubelle says she hopes that you are taking care of business and that sales of three piece suites are going through the roof of the new town in East Kilbride.

As Deborah Kerr said, “be kind” and Happy Easter to you both and to Mrs T.

Lots of Love

Sebastian xx


Madame Alexander’s doll

Have sent Gayle a doll by Madame Alexander.

A Spot of Sherry

a little pre-lunch sherry

Well it’s nice to know he is getting on so well. That calls for a little pre-lunch Amontillado. Now what else is in the post? An Easter card from Dimitri. That’s nice; the Russians do Easter so well, or at least they did. I am sure that Mr Khrushchev does not do Easter at all.

Now what’s this? Dear Mrs Wylie would you like to give someone a rest cure in Saltcoats for 2 guineas? No I am not made of money. I do my best for those on straightened circumstances, but who would look after moi I wonder? And another advert, Dear Mrs Wylie, would you like to be ready for Spring? Try the slimming bath foam from the Tao Clinic opposite the King’s Theatre. Well yes I could pop in next week and in that case I could eat the other half of Jasper’s hot cross bun.

No Mean City

Tomorrow is looking rather busy already. We will be returning to Glasgow early in the morning as I have been invited to the Cathedral, (no doubt because I always look magnificent floating down a long aisle) by the Provost for a service of thanksgiving marking the end of the campaign for Mass X-ray in Glasgow against the evil that is tuberculosis. In case you are unaware Glasgow has the worse rate for infectious diseases in Europe.  I am ashamed to say we have some dire poverty and horrific housing. During this campaign 708,461 have been X- rayed, Jasper being one of them. The results exceed even those of the record breaking campaign in Los Angeles. Our citizens have responded magnificently in a desire as The Herald has said “to eradicate the stain of the reputation of their city, which is even more menacing than the exaggerated tales of gang warfare.” 

Dashing About

After the service I have to dash across town to Copland & Lye on Sauchiehall Street where in addition to having “a visiting Lancôme specialist” who will give advice and beauty treatments in the Perfumery Department there is an Exhibition of the Battle of Britain in Lace in the furnishing department. This is in aid of the R.A.F. Appeal on behalf of the St Clement Danes Church. I am always happy to do my bit for The Brylcreem Boys. Though I am not sure I would like such a scene on a tablecloth. Then it will be back home, an early suppa and if she is good we are going to drop Mrs T off at  The Pavilion to see Denny Willis in “Hey Denny”. We are taking Hairy Mary, our nursery nurse from Inveraray to see Petula Clark at the Glasgow Empire with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. It’s not quite my scene but one does what one must.

Uneasy Bedfellows

Might as well have another sherry; I know full well Jasper has refreshments in his shed when he is doing what he calls working and time for a quick peek at The Herald. I see the Prime Minister is in Arran and gave a speech about “trying to do his best for Britain”, but it’s “not easy”. I am not sure I feel happy about a Prime Minister who finds governing not easy, but I won’t mention it to Jasper, you know what he’s like. The P.M. has said that policy making in the Middle East is difficult, which is the sort of comment I would expect from Madame Voyant and her crystal ball and tarot cards. He has also said that his watchword at home is “opportunity”, well that’s the same as Mrs Travers’ son Billy which is why he so often ends up in Barlinnie!  Macmillan says power and transport are the keys to our economic future, which is rather like saying getting out of bed is a major part of going to work.

Mind you while on the subject of bed I agree with him on one thing and that is that “wisdom and extreme nationalism make uneasy bedfellows. I wonder if the Conservatives will ever recover from Suez and will Britain, having lost its Empire, ever find its role again? I must say while I am all for standing up against bullies I do wonder where the new American missiles for NATO will get us. They have names like “Honest John” and “Nike” and can carry atomic warheads. 

The Queen in Paris

Perhaps Europe will provide the focus of our future. Talking of which I see the Queen has been a huge success on her state visit to Paris arriving on a B.E.A. Viscount. As The Spectator (currently on loan to the shed) has said, it has been “more of a triumphant success than anyone dared hope”. This comes after our joint political defeat in the Middle East. Perhaps it will repair the Entente Cordiale at long last.

At any rate it seems to have brought pleasure all round and the Queen looked magnificent in the two strap ivory duchesse satin gown designed by Norman Hartnell. Reportedly it took a whole team of embroiderers weeks to bring the details to life with pearls, topaz, brilliants and gold thread. Hartnell very cleverly adopted as his design themes the emblems of France – poppies, fleurs- de-lis, wheat sheaves and the bee. C’est magnifique if you ask moi. The bee was a symbol of Napoleon and a symbol of hard work. It should be the symbol of our Queen she never puts a foot wrong. There were gasps when she arrived at L’Opéra and yet as dear Richard Dimbleby said of her at another event there were also those tactful and human touches such as the Queen “buttoning her silk coat as she walked…” I notice our fur coats are very similar.

Back From the Shed

“Hello darling, ooh sherry, is it lunch time?”

How are your ‘ten inherently funny things’ getting on?”

“Bit slow Dahling, something to with Spring I fear. It confuses me.”

“Yes I can see that, well what amuses you so far?”


“Well, Scottish country dancing as you know – that is very funny, with all that do-si-do and dizziness; jelly (and blancmange), due to the wobbling; serving hatches in bungalows, so pretentious; condensed milk, it underpins the rural economy as a key ingredient in traybakes; cucumbers because they do and Freemasons because secrets are always funny not to mention the outfits. So that leaves four to find. I was thinking about sycophants who describe members of the royal family doing up their buttons as if it were splitting the atom, but I will have half the village against me.”

“Not to mention Jasper dear the other half who are in the brotherhood and our friends who live in bungalows.”

“Do we have any?”

“Jasper I may be many things but I am not a snob.”

“Yes of course dear. Oh is that airmail from Sebastian?”

“It is but, you can read it later, you need to put your Last Suppa outfit on.”

“Oh really Muriel why can’t Mr Macaulay be James the Last? He looks more biblical than I do.”

“You know why Jasper. Anyway stop being so fussy; he really is a minor character, in fact no one really knows who he was or what he did so you will be perfect.”

“I hope we are not going on anywhere. If I have to sit still for three hours my knees will ache and I will want to come home for a bath and a wee refreshment and by the way what is for suppa? Not that we have even had lunch, but one needs hope.”

“That’s why we are going to Church Jasper. And for your information suppa is fish pie.”.

“Oh no –  will there be chips?

“No chipped potatoes Jasper. However, on Easter Sunday you can have roast potatoes and pudding with custard.”

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

“You are too kind Muriel”.

“Well it is an instruction from Deborah Kerr among others. I will explain later, come on – sandals and cloak adorned with scallop shells for you now.”

Happy Easter, dear readers and be kind to one another.

à bientôt


April 1957

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8 Responses to Tactful Human Touches

  1. Moira Taylor says:

    Thank you Muriel dear for sharing this Pathe News broadcast. I had hoped to view it at the pictures the other evening but, owing to a contretemps with my knee I was forced to cancel. Doesn’t our Queen look lovely in Mr Hartnell’s gown?
    Your transgression with the cocktail stick is perfectly understandable due to the lack of marvellousness of those in Paisley for whom, clearly, first-rate catering does not match up to our expectations. Imagine being expected to handle a sausage with one’s fingers! The very idea!
    Sebastian seems to be doing very well with his new friends in New York. I do hope Lulubelle doesn’t lead him astray – she has some very odd ideas. Indeed her new protege, Alvin Parsley is it, seems to be a strange young man. Why would a young chap on his own wish to live in a mansion? I’m sure a wee pied a terre would serve him just as well. Gayle must be delighted with the doll from her daddy, lucky girl. Talking Of Gayle, you are so kind to take her nanny out to the theatre; I do hope you are not spoiling the staff? It must be Jasper’s influence I expect.
    I suspect one of Jasper’s remaining ‘ 10 inherently funny things’ will be the sight of him in his sandals and a newly-laundered sheet.
    Happy Easter!

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    Not giving-up dishonesty for lent, no chips, and Her Majesty’s fastenings.

    I’m not sure if I could deal with seeing Lady Pentland-Firth eating a sausage without a stick. It’s the sort of thing one would have to become accustomed to with continual exposure.

    Conversely I’m not sure I could justify hearing Mrs. Travers coming from the kitchen. I wonder how else she is abusing her employer’s trust. I shudder to think, as does she.

    I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that Top 10 inherently funny things is funny in and of itself, and I’m certain that the intervening years have added to the list.


    • Muriel Wylie says:

      My Dear Matthew,

      As regards Lady P-F, it is a sight that no one wishes to see. With regard to Mrs Travers I suspect that you imply some hidden meaning that only chaps understand with reference to Mrs T. Jasper is in his shed at the moment but I will get to the bottom of this eventually. I do hope you are not being rude.

      Kind regards


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

    Chérie Muriel,

    C’est un triomphe, chérie, les Bon Mots cette semaine! So much detail – one is in awe! So much so, one has had to partake in a wee pre-breakfast Amontillado (well, it is a Bank Holiday and there has been mention of bought mayonnaise) to calm one’s nerves sufficiently to toast Hot Cross Buns and brew coffee (my coffee, as you know, comes from Watts – purveyors of tea and coffee to those from the right side of Carlisle). Although, you may have heard about my wee Easter treat of some specially blended Easter Tea from Fortnum’s…….a gift from the Easter Bunny……simply too divine, dwaaling……!

    Anyway, one digresses, one was positively enthralled: from your carnelian-topped silver cocktail sticks to tales of your S.O.E. days; Jasper’s Top Ten Inherently Funny Things (isn’t he a card?!); Sebastian’s Letter from America to your Easter Tableau Vivant. Simply marvellous, dwaaling, and to conclude with film footage of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and His Handsomeness, the Duke of Edinburgh, in Paris – c’est magnifique! The Queen’s Norman Hartnell gown is simply stunning!!

    Maintenant dis-moi, chérie, did Jasper triumph as James the Last in the Last Suppa or will it go down as his ‘last suppa’, not to mention, his last appearance in a Tableau Vivant? You know what a huge fan I am of a Tableau Vivant! As a form of artistic expression blended with narrative they are hard to beat, I always find. Je suis certaine your narration, Mu dwaaling, blended perfect diction with the most beautifully-formed and well-modulated Italian vowels this side of the Clyde. Perhaps Jasper would benefit from a touch of The Method, if Sebastian can spare the time? I would undoubtedly benefit from a little touch of Elvis if Cousin Lulubelle were willing to arrange a rendezvous……would you have a tactful word with her please, dwaaling…..?

    Now, a touch more Amontillado, je pense…….Joyeuses Pâques à vous……!

    Yours touching tactfully,
    Lulu xxxx

    • Muriel Wylie says:

      Dear Lulu,

      I am so glad you are paying attention to all the details I impart. At least I know my wise words as being listened to by someone. As to Jasper n the tableau vivant, let us just say that it was a small part and that in itself was a blessing.

      I raise my glass of amontillado to you as it’s nearly 5 and has been a tiring day.

      Toodle pip


  4. Patty C says:

    My, my, what will be the effects on dear, sensitive Sebastian from his jaunt in the US of A with the wild n wooly American cuz, Lulubelle? Will Rock & Roll, Elvis’ hip gyrations, etc, etc, cause him to drift away from his classical training? Will it be hillybilly heaven vs Shakespeare? I trust all is well…

    Wonderingly yours in the hinterlands,
    Patty C

    • Muriel Wylie says:

      Dear Patty Across the Pond,

      Do keep an eye on Sebastian pour moi. I do fear for him in the hands of Lulubelle. My mind will be at ease knowing I have you on board.



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