Jasper’s Jottings: Very Warm

The Very Essence of Sartorial

Jasper – man of linen

Jasper Wylie here – international man of tweed and as it is unusually warm, linen as well.

Mint Juleps and Careless Talk

Lulubelle prefers soda

They say that “Mum’s the word” and “careless talk costs lives”, but if truth be told my tongue has been loosened by two or three, or was it three or four, mint juleps. My wife’s cousin, Lulubelle who is from America, gave me the recipe and dashed fine they are too. I have all the necessary ingredients in my shed from where I am writing to you. Well I have the Bourbon in a box labelled “old screws”, there is water in the rain butt (the cousin prefers soda, but anything will do in an emergency) and mint in a pot. The only thing I do not have is the crushed ice, but, fortunately, I have Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does but not a lot) on tap.

When I am in need of ice I just hoist the Jolly Roger on the flag pole and she appears as fast as her ulcerated legs permit with the ice bucket and a pair of tongs. This system works well for other purposes, especially in Ascot Week when Mrs T is invaluable as a runner for the bookie’s runner. My lady wife is not very keen on the old gee-gees so Mrs T and I operate in the shadows where this is concerned in the belief that what the eye doesn’t see the heart does not grieve over. There are strange rules about off course betting so it is all a bit under the wire if you get my meaning. No names, no pack drill as they say and my code name for the purposes of placing a bet is “Tansy”.

Peculiarities Are In The Eye Of The Beholder

The offending bottle of perfume

If truth be told I am a little the worse for wear.  In all probability I should not be talking to you in my cups, but it is all Muriel’s fault as she dropped a bottle of perfume on my foot whilst unpacking, after a couple of days away. This bottle incidentally is more of a shop display item as it almost takes two people to carry it. Muriel, my lady wife, does not carry it about with her. She leaves it in our hotel room and on a daily basis decants it into a handbag sized bottle in case she has to sit next to someone who is a stranger to Odorono or who eats fish and chips from newspaper in public.

Muriel carries this, along with her famous Mackintosh Square just in case the preceding customer at café chair or, heaven forbid, on a public transport seat might be a Socialist. Muriel believes that Socialism is a transmittable disease. I of course, being of humbler origins, have no such peculiarities although come to think of it in the summer months I do have a wooden clothes’ peg with me at all times so that on entering a building or I can peg my panama hat to the waistband of my trousers, thus ensuring it is not easily lost in a country house or left adorning the remains of a Roman hypocaust.

While Muriel was unpacking her valise in her dressing room I made the mistake of entering the inner sanctum, looking for my dressing gown, and startled Muriel who let go of aforesaid mentioned bottle of Eau de Cologne, which fell onto my un-slippered foot.  She said to get some ice and to take something for the pain. So I did, and here I am, and I must say old chums, it already seems much better.

A Wee Sojourn by the Lakes

The famous duet

Muriel was unpacking from us having been away for a couple of days for some rest and recuperation. You are doubtless aware that Muriel was the star of the recent Country House Concert (assisted by me in a small way) at Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country Estate. If you are not, then you must have been on a jungle expedition or detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, for Muriel has sent press releases with follow up telephone calls to all the press she approves of.

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

Despite her undoubted pleasure at the reviews she deservedly received, she found the experience very fatiguing and so we decided a couple of nights away in the Lake District would be a good thing. Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, who is head of Music at the Varsity here in Glasgow and is an expert on Dvorak, arranged the hotel bookings for us as he has shares in one or two hotels which give a discount. This was very kind. He is most generous and also said Mrs T might come.

Apparently he is a fan of detective stories and the occult and so he generously sent Bunty Haystack, the writer of the Rural Murder Mystery Series, and her friend, the spiritualist  Madame Claire Voyant, to London for a couple of days so that Bunty might give readings in Foyles and Madame Voyant could attend a conference on psychic research to see what the world is coming to

Sur le Lac

The topiary garden at Levens Hall

As usual we took the Humber Super Snipe down to Westmorland, visiting the gardens at Levens Hall where they have the most marvellous topiary hedges and roses. We then went onto the Borrowdale Glen and put up at the Lodore Swiss Hotel which is a great favourite of Muriel’s.  It sits just in front of the famous falls and looks out over Derwentwater.

The Lodore Swiss Hotel

While there we received a message from the Handsome Stranger who it turns out has a home on an island in the middle of the lake. Apparently he and Sir Boozy needed to see Muriel urgently on a matter regarding a libretto for the next concert. They would send a boat for her. It seems I was not needed and a good lunch, with custard would be provided for me while Muriel was discussing her vibrato and bel canto, or was that can belto? I can’t quite remember.

To the island

It is always rather annoying to be unwanted, but actually it suited me. There is something distinctly odd about those two, they could almost be related. A rather handsome launch was sent for Muriel while I pottered around Keswick and enjoyed a good lunch and we both had a run round the lake in the early evening sun so I didn’t miss out.

the Handsome Stranger’s house on the island

Muriel looked a little perturbed when we met up again later at dinner, although I thought the fact that news of her triumph in Così Fan Tutte had reached the Comrades and was even reviewed in Pravda could only be a good thing. Something was clearly bothering her as she was talking in her sleep – something about a woman with a crystal ball and the death of Lord Pentland-Firth. Then a little while later she was talking about what sounded like “training to use exploding ducks”. At least it made a change from the snoring which she does not do. That’s the mint juleps talking. I have said too much.

A Hotel Guaranteed to Appeal to Muriel

The Keswick Hotel

Being a last minute reservation the Lodore was unable to take us for a second night. There was an unexpected cancellation at the Keswick Hotel in the centre of the town by the station and we got a discount thanks to Sir Boozie. Fortunately the Keswick Hotel cheered Muriel up especially when she discovered that the Queen had been at the same hotel the previous year.

Set in 4 acres, this establishment has views of Latrigg and Skiddaw mountains. It is a true railway hotel and was opened in 1869 following the completion of the railway in 1865 by the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway Company. It has welcomed many distinguished guests including Sir Winston and Lady Churchill. During the last Unpleasantness, it was a “safe house” for Roedean School pupils.

The car was booked in too

Last October the Queen came and a new building was erected linking the station platform with the Hotel so that Her Majesty would not get wet should it rain. The Hotel was able to take the car in its garage, but there was no room for Mrs T.

She seemed quite happy to stay once again in rooms in Paraffin Alley.

Ice on demand

I think I will freshen my glass. Ouch! My foot is beginning to hurt again. I will just hoist the flag.

“No need Mr Wylie, I anticipated your call. Here is some more ice. No need to worry she is putting new shoe trees into the Raynes and fresh tissue paper into her hats. Here is the paper and by the way the boy has not come back with the winnings yet and I have to go to Timothy Whites to see if they have any more Eau de Cologne bottles to replace the one your foot broke. Then I am going home early. Madame has given permission, she is cooking this evening. Here is the paper. See you in the morning.”

Perusing the Evening Paper

“Thanks Mrs T; toodle pip.” Umm what have we here, Premium Bonds in existence for about a year it seems; doesn’t time fly?  Wonder what I have done with mine. Not sure, I agree with running the country’s finances by what amounts to a lottery. A bit like making the poor pay for services in the hope that one day they will be rich. That’s Harold Macmillan for you.

Oh dear! Eight people have been killed in London. It seems a bus on Route 7 has collided with a queue in Oxford Street at a bus stop. That is rather sad – to go out for a day’s shopping and not come home; so many people affected when this sort of thing happens. As my old Granny Wylie used to say “you never know the minute”.

Another Island

Well I see that, like Muriel, Noel Coward has been on an island although he was not in Keswick, he has been living in Jamaica which is a bit different I imagine. The great playwright has been accused of not paying his taxes, in the press. I suspect there are other reasons why the press do not like Noel Coward. He arrived in Southampton on the Queen Mary “dressed in a black tweed jacket with a white diamond pattern, dark trousers and a black and white checked bow tie”. When asked about his tax affairs he said he was “disgusted but entirely unworried”. According to one passenger he found the whole business of talking about money “rather vulgar” adding “I am an artist”. He is here to see Michael Wilding in his new play Nude with Violin.

Cunard’s Queen Mary

Now I wonder if I should have another little Mint Julep, y’all as Lulubelle would say? Well y’all think I all will. I wonder if I should hoist the old Jolly Roger for peanuts, it cannot be too far off suppa time. Oh I forgot Mrs T has gone early and if I summon Muriel I will get a talking to and have to eat peanuts with a spoon which takes ages. Gosh! I do feel a bit squiffy. Hark! I hear angry footsteps – enemy at 6 o’clock. Bolt the drawbridge men.

News of a Terrible Accident at a Bus Stop

“Jasper are you talking to yourself again, Jasper I know you are in there let me in. I have just had Bunty Haystack on the telephone; there is terrible news. She has been in a bus accident in Oxford Street with that Madame Claire Voyant and I am afraid the medium is dead.”

“What about Bunty Haystack?”

“She is alive, or how else would she make a telephone call?”

“Through the medium.”

“Oh Jasper, stop being factious and let me in……. Jasper let me in!”

“Did you bring ice and peanuts my little chickadee?”

“Jasper are you drunk?”

“Why I do declare, y’all ah am!”

“And I do not need a spoon with the nuts, I have my own fingers.”

Muriel is Not Amused

“Jasper you are quite at liberty to spend the entire evening in the shed, but I shall not be running up and down the path with ice or anything else. Perhaps before I go you could tell me why a boy has just knocked at the front door with £10 for a Mr Tansy and why have you not paid the last coal bill?”

“Muriel I am disgusted, but entirely unworried by your accusation that I have been betting on the gee-gees and as to the question of the coal bill I find any talk of money rather vulgar.”

“Jasper, you behaviour is appalling. I am going to go out for suppa. I have a standing invitation from the Handsome Stranger.”

Muriel administers a withering look prior to departure for dinner

“I bet you do Mu, have a nice time and by the way, I am thinking of taking up painting and I am going to paint you Nude with a Violin.

“Jasper I hope you have a pillow and blankets in there otherwise it is going to be a long night.”

“Nighty Night Miss Mooriel, honey lamb, tote that barge lift that bale get a little………… Muriel, it is midsummer night do you fancy dancing in a stone circle with a violin and flowers in your hair?”

“Really Jasper, do I look like a pagan? I am a past president of the Women’s Guild and we do not dance around stone circles?”

“Pity.”

Jasper Wylie “hic!”

June 1957

 

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Growing Taller

Dignity, Even in the Heat

oozing je ne sais quoi even in the heat

To quote the average Glaswegian “ ̓s warm intit daarlin’; the sweat’s puir drippin’ aff yoose too.” Or for those of you with  a more refined ear, “what an unusually humid day it is my good lady; I can see that like moi you too are gently glowing”. Never forget, ladies, no matter how uncomfortable the weather, horses sweat, men perspire and ladies gently glow. There are in any case few things that cannot be endured with the aid of a fan and a lace trimmed handkerchief, drenched in Eau de Cologne, and a cool drink.

It is apparently the warmest June in Glasgow since 1950. However, this is still no excuse for eating ice cream in the street or for discarding your corsets. I have today witnessed the sight of one or two well known West End ladies, (including Mrs Cynthia Savage, of Savage’s Condiments and Pickles) not only hatless, but with bosoms being worn at near waist level. Remember ladies you are heading for lunch at The Rogano not blow-piping it in the jungles of the Amazon.

It’s Nothing Really

I am having an iced coffee in the “Kenya Coffee House” in Buchanan Street. If truth be told I am also having one of their magnificent choux buns covered in chocolate and filled with real cream. One does not want one’s energy levels falling too much in this heat. I must confess I have been feeling a little lacking in the old get-up-and-go this week.

The triumph of the night

The Country House Concert at Lady Pentland-Firth’s was a triumph and I must agree with Jasper that it was almost entirely down to me. The failure of major international stars to turn up was almost a disaster, but Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of the Music Department at the Varsity, where he is an expert on shape notes, persuaded me to step in with my own version of the classic Mozart opera Cosi fan Tuttie. This is a tale of men testing women which is something Scots’ women are rather used to. Jasper for example is very testing.

I was very reluctant, but there was no choice, once an S.O.E. operative one is forever at the service of others. I knew that the future of the estate depended upon moi, as did the fortunes of Patience Pentland-Firth.  It does not seem unreasonable to say that it was a triumph and indeed all the major critics concurred that “Muriel Wylie gave a performance which has left us tearful and lost for words”.

My arias moved the critics to tears

Bookings for the next concert are already well advanced and Lady Pentland-Firth says she may even be able to afford to repair the Deacon Brodie Commode in the “Edinburgh Suite”. There are some mutterings about The Ring Cycle which is very flattering, but I do not do Wagner. It’s not that I do not forgive, (I will even pat a dachshund if necessary), however, I do not forget and in particular I do not forget the circumstances of my interrogation during the last Unpleasantness when my lipstick and nail polish were removed by those brutes.

Being a Diva is So Fatiguing!

To my adoring audience

In truth the heat and the aftermath of the concert have left me a little fatigued. Perhaps it is just the lows after the highs and I imagine that Callas and Sutherland are also used to anti-climax as well. One gives so much as a performer there are bound to be consequences. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not in the first flush of youth. I know that with my perfect posture and flawless complexion (I owe it all to Ponds and Helena Rubenstein) you will find this hard to believe, but it is true.

This week I have wondered if it is time to pass the baton of marvellousness onto someone else and then I give myself a good talking too and remembered that as a torch bearer for “gracious living”, it is my duty to continue. I am aware that many ordinary people, without hope or talent or a good pair of Rayne sling backs, have come to rely on me.

My “raynes”

I, however, also rely on you and take my inspiration from others who carry on despite all that life throws at them.

Lost in the Jungle and Still Standing Tall

This week for example I met a Sergeant K. McConnell who was rescued after 22 days alone and unarmed in the Malayan jungle. He bravely stayed for 5 days by his wrecked plane and then spent 17 days limping through the jungle. On being found, he refused to lie on the stretcher provided by the rescue party. I intend to inform Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does but not a lot) of this next time she complains about chopping sticks for the fire when it is barely below freezing and then has a two hour tea break.

China on Her Mind

A Miss Mitchison, who I bumped into in the powder room of the Central Hotel, has recently found herself “travelling in China”. Now I do not mean she has been going door to door with cheap tea sets, rather journeying through the “sleeping giant” on the other side of the world. Now rather than be overawed by “tediously orthodox communists”, this enterprising lady decided to make the most of her time and see what she might learn and “grow taller”. Thus she has been impressed by the railways with their children’s waiting rooms and special carriages for mothers and children. Equally impressive are special children’s theatres and cinemas. Even book shops have special children’s corners and libraries are easier to find and “less formidable to get into”.

She was particularly interested in the Shanghai H.Q. of the Young Pioneers where the leader, Mr Chen Wei Po, showed her around ‘The Path of the Brave’. This was a twisting, fenced-in, junior commando course rather I imagine like the east end of Argyle Street on a Saturday night. My new acquaintance suggested this would be ideal for some of our more unruly children. Mr Chen said it was all the result of “the liberation”, by which he meant the Communist Revolution. Before this parents, it seems, “beat their children” and children were “nationalists and afraid of foreigners”. Naughty children are not allowed into the Young Pioneers or onto ‘The Path of The Brave’ until other children have helped them to reform and get up to membership standards. We have something similar called The Masons.

Counter Revolutionaries in the Furniture Trade

I am not sure I can approve of this “moral reform” or what is clearly brain washing, however, I do approve of some of the new teaching methods, even if they are to give children a “dialectically materialistic background”. Thus a school in Peking teaches from objects so that children can see and handle things and learn from them. There is far less traditional classroom teaching and less emphasis on formal elaborate manners. The former I agree with the latter will lead to trouble many years down the line. Manners are after all a common language.

What I do find disturbing from my conversation is that children, on discovering that their father may be a counter revolutionary (for example he might be planning to set fire to a furniture factory because he has had a bad deal on a tea table) are encouraged to tell the authorities. Now my family who have been in furniture since the last century often had factory fires during downturns in trade, particularly where there was good insurance. It was something of a Glasgow custom. So they would have found it very inconvenient to be labelled counter revolutionaries. Indeed I am sure my grandfather thought of it more as an opportunity to modernise the plant and replace capital equipment. It seems that communist reforms here would not have led to new wood turning lathes or the latest band saw, but a hustle into a van and a trip over the Campsie Hills for re-education at the very least.

 A Study?

Travel it does seem broadens the mind, but not always. There is something very annoying about those who leave their native city for the supposed streets of gold elsewhere and then return as what one might call ‘social commentators’ on the very place that gave them life and opportunity. I refer to an article in The Herald entitled “Glaswegians Grow Taller”. According to a returning M.P. there are still far more short and undersized people in Glasgow than in any other part of Britain. There are, however, less of them due to war time conditions which produced “green ration books, cod liver oil, orange juice and school meals”. I am not convinced that returning to one’s native city after a period in the Deep South to describe the inhabitants as “interesting” as if visiting a zoological garden is entirely nice.

Glasgow Women Under Attack

I’ve never approved of smoking

Our returning politician compounds his felony by focusing his attention on Glasgow women. It seems we are all still smoking in the street and “talking with a ciggy wagging up and down”. Furthermore in the recent past a general dowdiness and lumpenness was “to be brutally frank… a distressingly common characteristic of the Glasgow Matron”. Oh really!

I take it this overpaid representative of the good citizens of the ‘Dear Green Place’ is unfamiliar with the finer residential developments of our city and for that reason its refined citizens. I have never smoked, and I feel a guilty pang if I am sucking a Fisherman’s Friend as I walk down Sauchiehall Street. As to dowdy and lumpen I intend to invite said gentleman to one of my Etiquette Classes where he will see only grace, beauty and a finely turned ankle and that is just me.

The blame it seems lies fairly and squarely with the garment to which said matrons are addicted and that is the “universal top garment of the female Glaswegian – the fur coat”. Through the eyes of this son of St Mungo we see we have “from the Cowcaddens to Kirklee reached the social equality of cave dwellers”.

Do i resemble a cave dweller? I think not!

It is almost as if our politician is on safari and from the safety of his jeep (or flat in Westminster) has seen through a pair of binoculars an exotic species, the Glaswegian housewife who is apparently at least, until recently, been seen camouflaged in her pinny, over which she wears her “fur coat with a down trodden pair of slippers at her feet and curling pins in her hair.” He clearly not spotted moi! The only explanation for his comments is well and truly revealed by himself – he is now it seems an “Edinburgh man”.

Auld Reekie –  Could do better in Drapery Windows

What passes for effort in Edinburgh!

Talking of Edinburgh and it seems we must, the city has been disappointing in its response to “Scottish Week”. I know this as a member of the Retail Drapers’ Association. At a meeting yesterday Councillor Patterson, the Honorary President, commended “Scottish Week” to all members asking them to feature Scottish articles in their window and internal displays.  The Chairman of “Scottish Week”, Mr Allan, regretted Edinburgh had not put on a bigger show and hoped that in future years they would give a more encouraging lead.

The “Chez Nous” Window in “Scottish Week”

He singled out Aberdeen as the city providing the best response and it will come as no surprise dear reader to learn that the business providing the most typical Scottish response was “Chez Nous” and Mr and Mrs Wylie of Glasgow. I hope you are reading this, the member for vacuous comments.

Revolution and Counter Revolution in the Cake World

I think I just have time for another coffee and then I am going to a demonstration of packet cake mixes. Steady – I know what you are thinking, but these have been accepted in America for a long time. I wonder dear Patty, do you use them in the Blue Ridge Mountains? In the United States they have, I am told, packets which produce high fluffy white Angel Cakes, chocolate favoured Devil’s Food Cake and delicious Brownies. I am told all one needs is an egg and a little milk.

Now I am well aware of the stigma attached to cake mixes and the views of Scottish housewives that anything which saves work probably has a sinful side to it and will lead to eternal damnation. However, cake mixes are becoming respectable and let us face it, how many of us since the war have been able to afford a cook. Well fair play there is me, but then there is you, Mrs Ordinary. You can always buy from a grocer that does not know you and trust me I will certainly not be telling that clever so-and-so M.P. in order that he might pillory the slothful fur-coated user of packet cake mixes.

The champion of cakes at the Rural bolthole Women’s Rural summer competition

On reflection I feel sure that the Chinese might well be fans of the cake mix; they will definitely see it as a sign of liberation. On the other hand while I might promote the cake mix in town, I would never dream of doing so in our Rural Bolthole where it would be seen as degenerate if not counter revolutionary and certainly might be cause to call for a van to take one over the hills and far away.

Well time to square up at the Kiosk before I attempt the ‘Path of the Brave’ otherwise known as the taxi queue at Queen Street station. I need to be at the McClellan Galleries at 11 for the Packet Mix Demonstration.

Exeunt

Champagne from “Fortnum’s”

Jasper and I intend to have a quiet night in and I am going to break out the Fortnum & Mason’s bottle of champagne to toast a dear friend who has so sadly and so suddenly just left us. Roy, who has lived for some years in Greece, was the most hospitable, witty and kindly of men who cooked the best Ossobuco we have ever tasted.

Shakespeare House, an Elizabethan coaching inn

We shared a Shakespeare connection with Roy and dear Nick.  They once entertained Jasper and I as if we were Titania and Oberon in their beautiful Buckinghamshire home…..

Where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine…

Such larks! Farewell Dear Friend.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

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Everyone’s A Critic

Muriel saves the day

Muriel to the Rescue

It is the interval at the first Country House Concert of the Season at Pentland Firth Hall. The promised stars Fonteyn, Markova, Sutherland and Gielgud have all found excuses not to appear  and Maria Callas and Guiseppe de Stephano have a tummy bug and are unable to leave New York. Muriel Wylie has stepped in at the last minute unwilling to be upstaged by her cousin and acting in the national interest, but we cannot say too much about that. Her Cosi fan Tutte   will go down in history.

The Road to No Where

Muriel dans le jardin of the Hall

Pentland Firth Hall, a not so stately pile, lies a heap of clashing architectural styles said to have given Pevsner, “the boke” deep within South West Scotland guarding the entrance to many a secretive glen. This is not so much a forgotten part of the country, but one not much thought about in the first place. Beneath Powell and Pressburger skies sagles soar and streams flow over the landscape like the veins on a body. If you have the right guide with you one can even experience the exact spot where the last Wild Boar in Scotland was killed. Possibly last Tuesday. It is on the road to nowhere, but then most places here are on the road to no-where or what the locals refer to as “there and back”, when they are asked directions by an innocent abroad. It is not only the case that most people know one another, they are also related to one another. Some in fact more closely than they would care to know, the term aunt is a very fluid one in the village. 

More Important Things than Nuclear Annihilation

the “lover” approaches

Change is generally unwelcome, the favourite response when the new is proposed is “Naw –  it’s aye bin”. Or “thanks, but no thanks”. World events take place, political leaders come and go and indeed Glasgow folk stay at the weekend, but the rhythm of country life continues. It is the modern era, the 1950s and the world faces nuclear destruction. However, here the important things are ploughing matches, sheep dog trials, the flower show and the annual bed race. There used to be a river raft race, but since to the astonishment of the hardy locals the army declared it dangerous the Parish Council has withdrawn its support.

There may be non-proliferation treaties and marches to Aldermaston and new furniture with sticky out legs, it is, however, the tray bake and the number of items one can get into a matchbox which excite passions here. When the curtain is pulled across the tables for the monthly S.W.R.I. meeting and the guest is taken behind to find the best gooseberry marmalade in the Parish, this is when one realises what it is to be alive. Suffice to say that when the long resisted steam train made its first appearance here, other parts of Caledonia “stern and wild” were already getting used to the competition provided by road freight and the Wright Brothers had taken to the skies.

Change? Seen It All Before

Così fan tutti begins in earnest

There are some who realise that resistance is futile and that sooner or later there must be change and indeed progress. Time does not stand still and people must make their livings in the modern world even if that means replacing Tartar, the milk round horse, with an electric float. The old guard have of course seen it all before and the covenanters’ graves in the Kirkyard are testament to the difficulty even kings “in that London” had in trying to implement their foreign notions of bishops and prayer books. This was in the 17th century, which just seems like yesterday, which when you can trace your family back 300 years living in the same cottage often without redecorating, is exactly what it is. Somethin’s do get through – dykes for example are far more popular than they used to be.

The Pentland-Firths – Always Improving

Landowners have of course brought change or “improvements” to the landscape. These are generally improvements of great financial benefit to themselves which are sought in order that they might send their children to good schools south of the border where they learn confidence, Greek dancing and how to speak using as few consonants as possible. For the peasants this has generally meant more work at the very least and for some unforeseen opportunities to travel abroad with only a wooden kist and a bible to their names.

The Pentland-Firths have, generally speaking, always been the most improving of landlords and were quick to adopt the ha-ha, the turnip, three crop rotation and the shell grotto. Some developments have, it is true, been a disaster and the previous late Lord Pentland-Firth, a socialist, must have deeply regretted his idea of turning the estate into a safari park as he and his wife, who was a vegetarian and wove her own cloth (need I say more), were eaten by their own lions.

Mozart is always popular

The present incumbent Lady Patience Charity Pentland-Firth, widow of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, faced with crippling taxation and debt has also been forced to be innovative in her approach to improving estate management. She has embarked on a venture which will, she imagines, make the estate into a concert venue like Glyndebourne or Aldeburgh. She not only knows Ben and Peter well, she also knows that Mozart is a key to getting the right sort of people in and that they only have one stronger preference and that is Bach, but he goes on a bit and it is hard to get an organ in a walled garden.

Patience By Name Only

Unfortunately Patience, a former dancer and Cabaret artiste who peaked in the interwar period – most days according to gossip, has little administrative expertise and is easily diverted by anything in trousers capable of putting one foot in front of another, especially if they are seen to have a bulge in their pockets in the form of a full wallet.

Muriel and Jasper having rescued her from an over-reliance on cheap sherry have come to her rescue as Muriel is simply marvellous at organising everything. What Lady P-F does not know is that her late husband was far from being a hero and was indeed a spy passing naval secrets to the enemy. As Britain is thinking about trying to join the new European Economic Community, the government wants no embarrassing stories about the past as the French would like any excuse to veto membership.

The comrades would love to see a disunited Europe. The collapse of a British country estate and the inevitable unmasking of its secret past would make them as happy as a new five year plan and a bottle of vodka. The Establishment is determined that the concerts will be a success despite the handicap of Lady P-F herself. Muriel’s role is central to this, but she faces a number of loose cannons in the form of unpredictable events and an unforeseen element in the form of a crime writer Bunty Haystack who seeks to use the story of the poisoning of the Admiral in her forthcoming book. In her research she is aided by a psychic medium. Unwittingly they pose a grave danger to Patience and the nation. Tonight, however, plans seem to be falling apart from the very start, with the promised concert stars failing to turn up and a pack of journalists, who make hyenas look like nuns at compline, now circling for the kill.

In the Press Room

Is he really strangling her?

The Trafalgar Room at Pentland Firth Hall has been turned into the Concert Press Room. One can tell that by the number of unshaven men in belted raincoats with soft hats and cigarettes in the corners of their mouths and glasses of whisky in their hands. They are bashing out their copy on portables or dictating down the line when they can get to the telephone. These are the theatre critics of our great newspapers, hardened by years of dodgy Lears and painful Portias.

They are unanimous in their view of the first half of the evening with its bizarre Così  as an “unmitigated disaster” and “a cultural catastrophe” which is “the equivalent of the eruption of Krakatau, or the Lisbon earthquake”. The use of adjectives is remarkably similar and we can read over their shoulders “I found the opening very mediocre”; “she made no connection with audience”; “a chichi of 18th century fashion”; “insufficient rehearsal” “the conductor was introspective to the point of incomprehension”; “in the duet his limited range of expression verged on the desperate”; “restraint was not the characteristic of Mrs Wylie’s Così Fan Tutte where she was surly asking too much of the audience to believe she was one of two young maidens”; “what on earth was Mr Wylie doing?; “it might have been good if he had succeeded in strangling her and saved us all.”

The same was being said of the two women in the washing scene in the woodland glade of Allan  Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd. “This seminal piece of Scottish literature was rendered utterly ridiculous by the parts of Jeanie and Meg, being played by an Esme Travers and a German vuman vat normally does not act, but does zee heavy vork in zee tasteful vest end house”; “does not, and should not, act. would be my guess” said one critic; “In addition” he said “this mildly erotic rustic scene was rendered pointless by the large expanses of elasticated support stockings and an overpowering smell of wintergreen”. Furthermore that having washed their clothes in the pool the two maidens were about to wash themselves, “is the stuff of nightmares”.

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

whatever could that be?

Of course none of this could possibly find its way to the pages of our daily newspapers.  There is a question of national security and a question about our future in Europe. More importantly there is the matter of what one might call urban élites coming down to make fools of those who live in the country and somehow seem to be lesser beings for lives lived without or at least with far less affectation, very few copies of Elizabeth David cookbooks and indeed much poorer television reception. The locals may fight like cat and dog among themselves, but an onslaught of outsiders, brings a unity rarely seen outside, a battle formation in the Roman Legions. To this end the hacks have been so pre-occupied they have failed to notice that around the room are several individuals all circling their prey. These include those who operate in the shadows like The Handsome Stranger and those who operate in village espionage like Young Auld Jock, the schoolmaster, the postmistress and the shock troops of the Women’s Guild used to circling a church hall at soup and sandwich lunches ever on the lookout for those who would sneak in without paying for a bowl of leek and potato soup and some millionaire’s shortbread.

the “lovers” leave

At a signal from a Miss Lulubelle, an American lady about to give a medley of Appalachian songs inspired by 18th century Scottish tunes, the guardians move in and whisper into the ears of the surprised journalists a little individually tailored message guaranteed to bring about a re-write for first editions and then handing over a slip of paper with some helpful suggestions and suitable quotes. Messages like “does your editor know how much of his petty cash goes to bookies at Epsom Race Course?”; and “was that really you in the back row of the Gaumont watching Silk Stockings with the business correspondent of The Scotsman? Handsome lad, wife at her sisters was she?”; “we were searching through the cash book that came from “Busty Betty’s” and we came across your name, seems you saw quite a lot of Pauline from Partick”; “that exposé you did of Gang Warfare in the East End of Glasgow – is it true you write under a pseudo name? We hear that some of the members would very much like to know your real name.”

Yes influence with the press is a wonderful thing.

Relaxing now it is over

The Morning after the night before – Breakfast at the Wylie’s

Muriel is already up and in her housecoat reading yesterday’s Herald Jasper comes down for breakfast prepared by Mrs T.

“ Morning, Precious”

“Morning Prec.”

“Good morning Mrs Travers – that was some night.”

“Aye it was! I am fair scunnered wi’ tiredness, three or four sausages Mr Wylie?”

“Just the four Mrs T. I am having lunch at The Pentland Firth Arms. Is that today’s Herald, Darling?”

“No yesterdays, seems I have missed the “Festival of Women” where according to Jean Kelvin they had a stand where one could make up one’s face, try on a hat and costumed jewellery and then be photographed in colour, having already been photographed at the start. A panel of judges would then decide which women “had made the most of themselves” with prizes. Sorry I missed that, so much time taken up with the concert.”

“Oh darling you have nothing which needs to be improved, you would have been a judge surely.”

Mrs Travers raises her eyes heavenwards

“My thoughts exactly Jasper – oh there’s the paper boy now, quick my white cotton gloves. One never knows where paper boy’s hands have been.”

“I thought it was milk boys hands Mrs W?”

“Umm they’re all in it together Mrs T…. thank you young man, I hope you have not been smudging the Duke of Edinburgh – he’s 36 you know, heer’s 6d. Mind you invest it in National Savings Stamps.”

The Critics Speak

“Così fan tutti” saves the day

“Well hurry up Muriel what do the critics say”.

“Let me see … oh yes here it is. Jasper it is simply marvellous. I’ll read it to you, it says:

 The first Country House Concert of the season at the Pentland-Firth Hall was an outstanding success. The  evening flowed effortlessly with a conductor who provided a superlative interpretation. The garden setting for “Cosi” was inspired and Mrs Wylie’s character combined a mastery of the technicalities with “charm and restraint”. The comedic interpretation of Allan’s “Gentle Shepherd” was sophisticated and witty; the ingénue, Mrs Esme Travers, is surely a rising star on our stage, the Audrey Hepburn of the laundry world. In the extract from “Humphrey Clinker”, Mr Travers captured perfectly the fear and trepidation of the 18th century Englishman about to venture into Scotland while nervously buying provisions at the border to avoid the dreaded sheep’s heid broth. Miss Lulubelle took us to a new place as we accompanied her on a journey through the Appalachians tracing the legacy of Scots’ song through the wanderings of the immigrants from our own glens. The spiritual and ethereal quality of her voice is in sharp contrast to her reputation as a tough business lady with a rissole in a bread roll empire. (These are known as burgers).

The Herald goes on to say, that “with her country house concerts Lady Pentland-Firth has ensured the post war survival of the country house.”

“Well that is good isn’t it Muriel?”

“Indeed it is Jasper provided no one else upsets the applecart, now what about some more tea Mrs Travers? Unless of course being a star has gone to your head and you are going to go all Bette Davis on me.”

“Why ask for the moon Mrs W when we have the stars.”

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Foxes and Poultry

“An Election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry .”   George Eliot from  Felix Holt 

Theme Night

It is Food and Drama Night at The Home for the Terminally Overdressed, a cutting edge residential facility for thespians from stage and screen. You will find it tucked away on the Slough Trading Estate. Here, for a price, there is person centred care for those of a theatrical bent and many of the residents were once household names particularly from the heyday of British Television in the 1970s. Despite all the strikes and de-industrialisation, not to mention the sexism and racism, the 1970s was quite a nice time with flared trousers and platform shoes, when we all knew was that Thursdays was Top of The Pops and Sunday evenings meant The Onedin Line or The Brothers. There was nothing quite like chilli con carne and if you added a small tub of cream to chocolate Angel Delight and covered it with hundreds and thousands you could even pass it off as your own chocolate mousse.

A Rumbaba

Sadly these days have gone and chilli is now without carne because of the methane and Nigella and the like have more sophisticated ways with mousse although no one actually has time to make it. The culturally unifying force of two or three channels (if you could afford BBC 2) has gone. We are a nation fragmented by choice and digitisation and other things. It is rumoured in the Home that rumbabas are on the menu!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

vintage place settings

“Food and Drama” is one of the more popular nights at the Home and this evening guests have worked hard to bring some memories and some magic back into their lives and there are several elderly Sidney Poitiers from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, there is a well known husband and wife team who have come as Lady and the Tramp with a bowl of spaghetti which is proving difficult to handle with zimmers. The Harry Burns and Sally Albright characters from When Harry Met Sally might well have been a mistake as this particular Sally has recently had a hip replacement which rather limits the “oh ah” scenes when it came to each character “doing their turn” to their fellow residents.

Undoubtedly a great success are the two sisters who once won fame and fortune on Opportunity Knocks who have come as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? “This” said Matron in the awards part of the evening “is a wonderful example of how our residents turn disability to advantage as our “Joan” has found herself confined to a wheelchair since making a guest appearance on Playschool and falling over Humpty and going through The Square Window.”

In an aside to her PA she suggested that photographs should be taken as it would be useful for the national “Ageing Well” competition to be held at Blackpool in October. This should not include the rather life like dead rat and parrot, as families considering The Home for the Terminally Overdressed for their loved one might think it was some sort of sample menu.

Themed Living

Fortunately for those who once appeared in such memorable 1970’s programmes as Please Sir, On the Buses, Callan, The Persuders and Cilla to name but a few, they can relive their glory days in a series of themed spaces calculated to help nudge failing memories and encourage what is now called “wellbeing”, and was probably once called something else before it needed to be made into a commodity. You will find quiet corners such as “Val Doonican’s Niche” which contains a rocking chair and a guitar set against a panorama of the Mountains of Mourne. There is a previously “ladies only” space which explores themes of fictional correctional facilities in “Within these Walls”, which is a female prison workshop. This has, like most things, been recently re-imagined as “a gender neutral space” which suits “him from Upstairs Downstairs” who likes to wear the prison overalls and the Googie Withers wig from the dressing up basket.

As the Director of Personalised Care for the company said to “The Daily Wail” reporter “we are all theatre people darling, we don’t judge”. This is not like “The Daily Wail” which does and revealed all in headlines reading “Former Footman to Lord Bellamy in Hairspray Shock – I was terrified said our reporter.”

There are also larger spaces for more communal activities, such as the coffee bar designed to look like the coach in The Italian Job. This is not recommended for those with vertigo and there does tend to be a high staff turnover and the cost of replacement Italian crockery is challenging. 

Embodied Performance and a Wrongly Positioned Ironing Board

Sebastian Wyle fox

Of all the residents none is more famous than Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the nation’s favourite luvvie. Sebastian is one of our greatest classical actors. In his twenties he famously filled almost a complete row of the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, where he gave a ground breaking performance as Shakespeare’s King Richard in Richard III, which is a famous play by William Shakespeare, the rather well known playwright.

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III

It was Sebastian who, in the 1950s, first fully embodied the performance of  the King’s “humphy back” in a pantomime villain portrayal which as Ken Tynan said “has never been improved upon”. Despite not getting the role of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger, “due to artistic differences with Osborne over the motivation of Mrs Porter’s ironing board”, he was undoubtedly one of Britain’s “slightly ruffled young men”.

Muriel Wylie

Much of his early success was due to the influence and expansive network of his legendary aunt, the late great Baroness Wylie of Waterside, who as Muriel Wylie was a major figure in the cultural landscape of post war Scotland. Sebastian was (unfortunately because of the times he lived in) what might be described as “very theatrical”, which in the years before Lord Wolfenden’s report meant he got himself into a bit of bother. Aunt Muriel, who was not above what we might call “knobbling a judge”, managed to get him off one particularly tricky charge and sent him to America in the care of her Cousin Lulabelle, who set him up in Greenwich village. At the actors’ school he blossomed under all sorts of people and Stanislavsky became his byword.

Lobster on the Menu

Sebastian always enjoys a glass of champagne

We still see, even with declining memory and physical stamina, that Sebastian and method acting are almost one in the same. Why today for example he decided that he would come to the Food and Drama evening as a lobster from the scene in Woody Allan’s Annie Hall. Over and above the difficulties of the costume, Sebastian insisted on absorbing his character by spending a large part of the morning in a perfumed bath surrounded by seaweed (good for skin tone) and following this by an excellent lobster lunch which he had sent for from some fancy chef along the Thames towards Maidenhead, which arrived by Deliveroo.

Matron says she is making “damned sure it goes on his extras’ bill as is the bottle of pink champagne”.  Sebastian has always seen the need to remain current and his portrayal of the dying moments of a lobster in boiling water through the medium of rap caught the imagination of the residents who have decided to invest in baseball caps and chunky gold jewellery.

Sebastian, despite being given a light sedative earlier in the day, can still work an audience and it is due to him that a rather bad tempered day has turned out rather well. Even if he was also the cause of the bad tempers.

New Directions and New Confusions

The mood in the Home reflects that of the country and here just as elsewhere there is division along party lines. The blame, if blame there must be, is laid fairly and squarely at the door of Brexit.

Actors are used to exiting a stage. There is stage left. This is the instruction for a character to leave the stage on the actor’s left facing the audience in the normal manner, that is to say in a quiet non dramatic fashion, making way for more interesting events. Exit stage right is the same but by the actor’s right facing the audience that is to say their left. So left and right as we know can be very confusing as stage left and right are the opposite of House left and  House right. Then we have down stage, upstage and off stage.

Now all  the world is a stage and this world stage is where Britain apparently wishes to be, but when the actors are elderly and not a little confused the introduction of another instruction Brexit makes for confusion and where there is confusion there is disharmony. This new stage instruction has resulted in an election and as George Eliot said when we have elections the fox is kinder to the chickens at least for a while.

A Lot of Georges

Hard to believe Sebastian is such a stirrer!

Sebastian, who is bored easily, can be a mischief maker. He learnt much from his cousin (once removed) about manipulating certain situations to advantage and this morning he enjoyed making the residents jittery with his tales of George Eliot. “Who is this George Eliot” said the former makeup artist on George and Mildred. “Oh darling” replied a researcher from That’s Life with Esther Rantzen “you remember… George Eliot, he used to be Mary Anne Evans, lived with a married man for over 20 years.” “Speak up dear, my battery is low.” “I said she lived with George for 20 years” “Who? He did or she did?” “Both actually.” “Well how very  peculiar, so typical of Sebastian Wylie Fox. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were in one of those blancmanges à trois either. I knew I should have gone to Hastings.”Did you ever meet his aunt and uncle?” “The Wylies; yes we had her on The Generation Game, contestants had to eat a banana with a knife and fork. Anyway dear Sebastian says there is a new stage direction, a Brexit and we must all get used to it.”

Divisions in the Home

Inevitably it was not too long before those residents who could remember what had happened at breakfast were meeting up with others in like minded groups. Those who had forgotten just went to easyobics or crochet. There were those who thought things had gone too far and and that the old stage directions should remain or we would be out of step with the rest of the world. Then there were those who thought it was too late and the Brexit should be embraced with its new opportunities for experimental theatre in places like Australia and New Zealand and with that awful ham actor in the States.

A Nice glass of Scotch

The Scottish residents inevitably felt that they were being marginalised, as they have been since 1603, and retired to the Caledonian Club on the 4th floor  with their glass of scotch, where those who had been in the Citizens’ Theatre and the 7:84 Theatre Company would demand Gaelic stage directions and write a musical based on the Highland Clearances with the working title Sheep-xit.

By the afternoon there was a full scale riot taking place in the mock up of the Houses of Parliament which had been built for The Pallisers and rescued by that woman on the TV who hangs about council dumps and turns old rubbish into things people with beards, living in Bermondsey, want.

The Usual Suspect

Matron was furious, she can always sense when Sebastian is at the back of something. “I can quite see why” she said “there have always been rumours he was a spy. He seems to make things happen by the simplest of actions and then disappears to watch things play out.”

Victoria Sponge

Fortunately by tea time everyone had exhausted themselves and after scones and Victoria sponge, many had a dose or watched a woman turning rusty baths into bookcases. Sebastian, true to form, had retired to look out his lobster outfit before going to his individualised reminiscence therapy.

 Old and with Memory Problems  (he does tell such silly stories)

“Sir Sebastian I wonder if you would like to share with us this afternoon your memories of the famous Country House Concert of 1957 which featured the woman who most clearly epitomises 1950’s Britain, your Aunt Muriel?”

“Così fan tutti” saves the day

“Indeed well you see it was really about how Così Fan Tutte saved Britain from the comrades and Bunty Haystack, a forgotten crime writer, and a spiritualist called Madame Claire Voyant from assassination.”

“Nurse I wonder if you would make a note? Sir Sebastian’s hallucinations are more pronounced, prepare a sedative.”

“Well of course I was in New York at the time having the time of my life in Hell’s Kitchen, but my Aunt’s diaries give a very vivid picture of that time and I have brought along one of the concert programmes. You see we had to stop the story of Lord Pentland-Firth’s murder becoming public. He was widely believed to have been a war hero, but had in fact betrayed Britain to the comrades. The Secret Service had instructed agents to make sure the news never got out. In 1957 Britain was trying to get Inxit, that is to say into the EU and the PM wanted no embarrassing leaks which could be used by the French.

Part of the strategy lay in making sure that Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts were a success or she placed herself in danger of blackmail. Unfortunately Bunty, through the medium, smelt a rat and would if allowed have behaved like a fox in a chicken shed. Will I go on?”

“Yes certainly fascinating, but first you are going to feel a little prick.”

“Life is full of disappointments.”

Sebastian Wylie Fox

The Doctor Findlay Medical Centre

The Home For The Terminally Overdressed

Slough

June 2017

Posted in Talk of the Town | 5 Comments

All Set?

May Blossom

May blossom

If it were possible for nature to be a bride then now would be her wedding day.

The countryside where we live is bedecked for celebration. Hedgerows are veiled in the white flowers of May blossom and its scent hangs heavy and intoxicatingly in the air. The theatre that is an outdoor church is lit with thousands of candles of horse chestnut flowers. The whiteness is enhanced by a green that never looks as green as at this moment for soon the colour will deepen to a more mature shade.

a riot of colour

Against this virginal background, colour and drama is introduced by the bold and brash incomers the rhododendrons and the azaleas. These are the additions to our landscape brought back by travellers and plant hunters and once eagerly sought by country house owners. Now they are even the pride of suburban gardens in Bearsden and Morningside and would you believe certain parts of Carlisle (the right side) and I am told Rye. Tears, and there are always tears at a wedding, of hope and regret are provided by that loveliest

the golden “tears” of the laburnum

of ladies the laburnum, shining brightly against the more sombre yew and copper beach.

“Aye, this might be all we get”

So used to the dark and the cold are we in Scotland that the lengthening days and the realisation that as “May be oot”, we can cast at least one layer of cloots. Note my dear friend by May one means the blossom not the month. There is everywhere a sense of temporary insanity as all in town and village attempt to be bright and gay, or at least bright. The need to make the most of things is made all the more urgent by the deeply held belief that as ever “we will pay for this later”. The summer is bound to be wet as we have peaked too soon. “Summers lease” is we are fond of saying far too short or to quote old young Jock, “tak’ ma heid, we’re doomed tae go, and don’t forget I told ye so.” The arms of Calvin are after all very long and his thoughts deeply embedded.

A tasty salad

For the time being, however, soup may be given up in favour of salad and country dancing and crotchet for walks and gardens. There are weeds to wage war on and walls to whitewash. For the cottagers it is time to prepare the ground for the vegetables that will inevitably win the classes at the flower show. Everywhere there are raised beds sprouting green shoots and complicated networks of canes tied together in secret combinations to support beans and peas. Just as galvanised buckets lie close to hand containing secret recipes to promote vigorous and thrusting growth in leek and gladioli. It is best not to enquire too closely about the ingredients suffice to say country people waste nothing.

 Everyone is Busy

Country house garden visiting

If the cottagers are busy with getting ready for their competitions, and of course they are designed to take minds of radical politics, then the established gentry and the middle class city dwellers who weekend in the country are also busy. They are busy working with their gardeners, visiting each other’s gardens for a tour and tea and going further afield to visit the gardens which appear in Country Life, The Scottish Field or Tatler and Bystander. This is to get ideas and to steal cuttings for large acres were not acquired by unnecessary expenditure on nursery plants with their inflated prices. Ladies going on visits to country houses can always be spotted as they carry unnecessarily large handbags which contain a pair of scissors and room for a damp flannel in which to secrete a twig or two.

evidence of previous raids with scissors

The void left by the end of choir practice, the S.W.R.I. meetings, bridge and classes where one learns to dance The Duke of Perth just in case one is invited to Balmoral are filled with other activities more conducive to the season. Garden parties are popular as is collecting for charity. It is hard to hide from the lady with the envelope or the tin can from the Home for Fallen Women or Orphans for Australia when you are battling ground elder in the front garden. This is a profitable time of year for ladies with cans to rattle and there is no escape, they know where to find you.

Bashing About Everywhere

Sketching and painting are popular too especially since one spent all that money last year on a residential course on “Perspectives on Peace”, with Dr Everette-Millais-Constable from the  Glasgow Art School a noted authority on cravats, “En Plein Air” and post last  Unpleasantness landscapes of devastation. One learnt some very clever techniques with colour wash, but there were times when it was almost too gritty, “after all one can see barefoot children in the countryside too, surely they have shoe shops in The Gorbals, don’t they?”

Why you might ask do we not take a holiday perhaps to the South of France or Italy? Well one never goes abroad between May and September, except to go to the  Chelsea Flower Show and one is inevitably invited to The Royal Garden Party at Holyrood and then there is The Royal Highland Show at Ingliston, so one is busy bashing about everywhere in-between dead heading and making compost.

What To Do With Men

Jasper’s shed

As for occupations for men, this is I admit an area of great difficulty. They tend to have spent so much of the winter in the shed with a paraffin heater, a barrel of sherry and some unsuitable art books that they have developed prison pallor and sometimes even a twitch. Although they do not know it they yearn to be outside in the fresh air.

The novelty of the vegetable garden soon wears off as they realise they will never be able to feed the family let alone the village in the days following a nuclear war; besides the rabbits here are very smart. Pruning trees is fun as this allows them to get out ladders and cut things down. they feel very in control.

It’s very exciting getting out the ladder

A project like a rockery is very fulfilling and inexpensive and they think it mathematical and therefore suitable for men. They quite enjoy wall building with stone or even bricks as they know Winston Churchill does it for relaxation at Chartwell.

If you are common or earning too much money in the new electronic industries then a small caravan is probably for the man in your life. They enjoy spending a great deal of time preparing it for trips that never actually take place. This involves connecting and disconnecting things, swinging things around and buying ugly wing mirrors so that they can pretend to see six miles behind them. This is exactly the same principle for those and such as those who have boats and who spend more time scraping their bottoms than actually navigating the Clyde. Indeed getting the boat in and out of the water can take most of the summer if you are lucky.

Birds of a Different Feather

Bird watching is something of which to beware. While this is an inexpensive activity and only requires a pair of binoculars, some waterproofs and sandwiches in greaseproof paper. it can in the wrong hands be a euphemism and indeed a deception for more covert activities. I have known many a nocturnal outing looking at the feeding habits of the short eared owl to have been in fact a night of unbridled passion with a blousy barmaid in Bathgate. I can also tell you that many a twenty year interest in blue tits turns out to mean a second family in the Lake District with the headmistress of a remote rural school. The moral here is only let them bird watch in groups and check their boots for tufts of moss – if you find pilky bits from an unfamiliar candlewick bedspread then turn up the heat.

Tested Love

Of all the summer occupations enjoyed by both men and women who live in the country, none is more easily anticipated by rustic and midge alike as the Country House Concert. This is an opportunity to earn some much needed income and to give the ordinary man or woman on the Glasgow trolley bus the illusion that at least for a couple of hours they are part of the collective British delusion that is country house living.

I am sure you will be aware that the Pentland-Firth Estate has struggled financially for generations. The current incumbent Lady Patience Pentland-Firth, widow of the late lamented Rear Admiral, needs to make her concerts a success because the house is falling apart. However, unknown to Lady P-F, Her Majesty’s Government also wants the concerts to be  successful because failure will leave her open to blackmail by the comrades and reveal the treacherous nature of her late husband’s wartime activities. This would be a serious embarrassment to the Government coming so soon after Suez.

the handsome stranger on duty

As a former S.O.E. operative I have been called back to help under the command of the Handsome Stranger and my day to day handler Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes, who is head of music at the Varsity and an expert on the French peasant waltz. You find us in preparation for our next concert “Tested Love – Women in Opera and Ballet”. Jasper has written the script with the Professor and with the help of our contacts in the service we have enlisted the help of one or two stars who will make the concert a great triumph. Of course Lady Pentland-Firth thinks it is all her doing but if truth be known she could not produce the skin on a rice pudding.

I See All

We are having a break from rehearsals and awaiting the arrival of the stars by plane and train. I am sitting in the folly on top of Jamaica Hill named after the Pentland-Firths’ Caribbean estates in the 18th century which provided much of the cash for the estate layout as it appears today.

From here I have a perfect view of all the comings and goings at the big house as it prepares for the event. Marquees are going up and the gardeners are busy sweeping the dew off the lawn with witches’ brooms. Inside the housekeeping staff are busy vacuuming backwards so that they do not leave the marks of their footprints on the expensive weaves. In the dining room village boys with dusters tied to their feet so that they do not scratch the table, place The Culloden Candelarbra, (a gift from a grateful Hanoverian Monarch after the ’45 Rebellion) onto the table. The Americans will like this provided no one tells them the silver went long ago to pay for dry rot and this is plated from Frasers. Illusion is everything.

A Clear View

I see everything

Jasper, who I must say has done wonders with a script featuring dying  heroines from music and literature, is I see through my binoculars having a well earned break from the technical rehearsal  exploring the marks on the tennis court he has long believed to be the signs of a Roman Fort. Lady Pentland-Firth seems to be spending rather a long time with Ronaldo Pastrami (a young Italian tenor destined to play Rodolpho in La Bohème) in the ice house. Oh and there is Madame Claire Voyant, the spiritualist, and her friends who are dancing around the Druids’ Circle, they are allegedly getting into the role of the chorus for an extract from Norma, one can only hope they follow her into the flames of the funeral pyre. I can hear they are off key from here.

Now a little to the left and there is Bunty Haystack, the writer of rural murder mysteries, in the walled garden which contains the Pentland-Firth national collection of poisonous British Plants.  This is popular among visitors to the estate, who love to hear the gardeners describe the various life threatening properties of yew, snowdrops, daffodils, deadly nightshade and so forth. I can see she has a bemused looking gardener in her thrall as well as a notebook and some test tubes.

Keeping a look out

She cannot see that from across the river, the Handsome Stranger is also keeping an eye on all the goings-on. Now a little to the right and there is Mrs Travers, our woman who does but not a lot, who I have lent to Lady P-F to prepare paper fans for the fireplaces, hiding behind the dustbins with a glass and a cigarette. Really she is the limit. Hark I hear noises, who could that be.

A Surprise, But Not A Good One

Prof. Sir Boozy Hawkes arrives

“Muriel I am very sorry to startle you; it is I, Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes from the varsity in Glasgow where I am head of music with my speciality in  tone poems. Unfortunately I have bad news for you.”

“Don’t tell me the price of gin is going up?”

“No not quite that serious, but Maria Callas and Guiseppe de Stephano have a tummy bug and are unable to leave New York. I have just received a telegram.”

“What on earth will we do Professor? The Bearsden and Milngavie Operatic Circle have booked a bus and are expecting one of the world’s greatest operatic pairings.”

“Not only that Muriel but the comrades have sensed something is wrong, look at the swans on the lake.”

“Gosh they are pretty ugly swans Professor.”

“Exactly and you should see the Queen of the Night in the Shell Grotto, she used to be Kevin when I knew her in Kiev, how times change. I have just met your Cousin Lulubelle in the orangery and she says she is willing to step in with some of her Nashville hits.”

“Well in that case I shall step in with my operatic highlights.”

“Canbellto?”

“If you insist Professor.”

“But Muriel you will need weeks of practice and we only have hours.”

“Professor do you know Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte, which is an opera by the well known composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?”

“Of course, I am an expert on the Enlightenment repertoire.”

“Well you hum it as we walk down hill, to remind us. Mrs Travers can run me something up to wear, she is doing nothing else and Jasper will do as he is told.”

“Can Mr Wylie sing?”# “Can he sing? His Oh can you wash a sailor’s shirt is famous, many have compared him with the Great Caruso.”

“Enrico?”

“No – Mr Caruso of Joe and Bella Caruso’s Fish and Chip Bar in Maryhill Road, he does a lovely fried haddock suppa according to Mrs Travers.”

“Muriel are you sure about this? We could postpone.”

“What and let the comrades get the upper hand, never! Professor start wiggling your baton, I feel an aria coming on, my coloratura is expanding.”

“I know the feeling Muriel; I also had the broccoli and stilton soup.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

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Matters of Taste

It is the height of bad taste to comment on the taste of others (at least in public), no matter how bad it might be.

You Leave Me No Choice

My help is needed

I have a sense, however, from your desperate letters and telephone calls verging on the hysterical that you require some guidance from one whose taste is regarded as sans pareil. Could it be that the approaching wedding season is making you anxious? It is after all the occasion of the ill considered pattern, the all too clinging fabric and the hat resonant of a dahlia display in the garden of a Corporation house.

Dahlia

The dahlia, like the gladioli and carpet bedding in blue and white, is in bad taste along with flying plaster ducks and spam fritters. Such flowers are best left to those with allotments and batter covered meat from a tin requiring a key for access  best left to the sort of people who shop in their carpet slippers and put unwashed milk bottles on their doorsteps.

Philosophers – A Definition

It is my understanding from my various friends at the Varsity here in Glasgow, many with degrees longer than your arm, that the “concept of aesthetics” (and by that I do not mean the sport that requires one to wear shorts and a vest and throw spears like ancient Greeks) is and always has been of great interest to the philosophers such as Plato, Hume and Kant. Philosophers are people who sit around all day and get paid to think. In Glasgow this is called being “on the buroo” (Glaswegian pronunciation of bureau) and was a concept developed by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (who should have known better) in about 1906. This was taken to extremes by a Mr Beveridge, with help from a Mr Bevin, who added in free glasses and false teeth, which along with Mountbatten giving up India has surely signalled the beginning of the end of the noble enterprise that has been the British Empire.

Jasper in his favourite tweed suit

My husband Jasper has the potential of being a philosopher but  I keep him busy and see that he has plenty of exercise and fresh air. I suppose in many ways he is like a labrador in a tweed suit.

The Eyes Have It!

As I was saying good taste, or the human ability to judge what is beautiful good and proper, is as subject of academic interest. Plato is very complicated, no doubt due to too much sun and full of clichés so we will hurry on to David Hume. Hume’s terminology is widely regarded as archaic, so we will not linger. What is far more interesting is that he liked cooking and even bought a house in Edinburgh’s fashionable new town so that he could have a larger kitchen. He was very keen on beef and cabbage and that great Scottish standby “Sheep Heid’s broth”. This as Jasper says is a very economical thing “especially if you keep the eyes in as it will see you through the week”.

Hume owned a copy of Elizabeth Cleland’s cookbook published in 1755; she ran the first known cookery school in Edinburgh for young ladies. Hume once said he was “not an epicure, only a glutton”. This may explain why when he was walking across a field to look at the developments north of Princes Street he got stuck in a muddy hole and had to be rescued by some passing Newhaven fishwives. Being a noted atheist they would, it is said, only help him out if he recited his catechism. In later years Hume loved to tell this story about himself.

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

In many ways he reminds me of Jasper, at least he would, had he been a noted expert on the properties of custard. Jasper by the way has gone to the races at Ayr with Mr Macaulay, the bungalow builder, and Mr Savage who is in pickles and condiments. They are going by way of “Fishers” in Bothwell Street as yesterday Jasper saw their advert in the classifieds which said “tomorrow you may face ruin – where would you be if your vital business records were destroyed – Fishers for safes.” I would say that ruin is more likely to result from an afternoon’s racing at Ayr.

Fond of a Bit of Latin

Now Immanuel Kant, despite being a German, was a very clever man possibly because he might well have had a Scottish heritage. There is no evidence for this but was told so by his father who was a saddler and the Scots were quite good with leather, particularly shoes. Kant was very fond of the Latin Classics, he thus has much in common with dear Jasper who is very keen on Sophia Loren. She and I use an eyebrow pencil and surprised looks in very similar ways.

the charming Sophia Loren

The only problem with Herr Kant is that he denies any standard of good taste and apparently contradicting himself, a very European practice, says that good taste excludes fashion. This not only leads me to suggest he might have been more gainfully occupied in going into his father’s saddler’s business and doing something useful with his life.

Fit for Purpose

A woman of marvellousness with small shoulders

It seems the business of guiding you all in matters of taste falls on my little shoulders. Fortunately I am not a lone voice and if one picks and chooses carefully one can find shining examples of those who unlike Herr Kant are prepared to nail the colours of aesthetics to the mast of good taste.  Can I just say here, that when I say mast I do not mean flag pole for unless one resides at Buckingham Palace, a flag pole is a vulgar affectation particularly on a semi detached house in a scheme.

It Might Surprise You..

It might surprise you to know that I have a kindred spirit in the Football Correspondent of The Glasgow Herald. Surprising as it may seem to those of you who are fans and by that I mean rough boys from Council schools familiar with the Nit Nurse. I too am a bit of a fan of “the fitba”; probably because father was a director of Rangers and I still have a few shares. Naturally I have been keen to see how Scotland has been doing in its preparations for next year’s World Cup in Stockholm.

Judging by their performance in Basle yesterday against Switzerland I can say that the odds are long. Despite winning two goals to Switzerland’s one it was a poor display which does not auger well for 1958. I have to agree with The Herald correspondent that this irritating match, notable for its “poverty of passing”, was in part a matter of aesthetics. As he says in this morning’s Match Report an attractively turned out team starts with a “good conceit of themselves”. It pained him to say that the appearance of the Scottish team in front of a crowd of 48,000 was nothing short of “shocking”. As he went on to say,“To the expected dark blue shirts and red hose, were added shorts of a vivid orange hue and the ensemble was unbearably lacking in taste”. I have to agree with The Herald’s man that it was “no consolation to know that it was the Swiss who decided on the orange shorts”.

 A Lack of Dignity in the Scottish Team

It may have been little consolation, but someone should have thought to check the motives of a people who like to shoot arrows through apples, make noisy timepieces and consider melting cheese at the dining room table to be entertaining. That is in very poor taste. Who asks people to dinner and expects them to cook their own supper?

If there was any saving grace to the match it was in the performance of Docherty by far the best player and Mudie though he lets himself down by his overuse of heading. As The Herald correspondent added, “Football, whenever possible, should be played on the ground”. The rest of the players determined to play up to the wet conditions provided by a terrific thunderstorm “slipped and skidded on the lush green grass and gave the impression they were unsuitably shod for the occasion- one might have thought they were wearing Wellington Boots”. The Swiss on the other hand rarely found themselves sprawling in an undignified manner. Dignity is an integral aspect of good taste. If it’s any consolation, dear readers, although England won against Eire, they were far from impressive in a match that was all “froth and foam”. Froth and foam is as far from good taste as King Herod in a baby linen shop.

Too Much Sobbing

The Stoll Theatre, Kingsway, London

In a further example of bad taste one need look no further than the current production of La Bohème at “The Stoll Theatre” in London. Admittedly it has better sets than a rival production at “Covent Garden” where they seem to think an outdoor café scene likely in December, but overall it is something of a disappointment especially when compared with the same companies production of Lucia de Lammermoor.

I am afraid, and Jasper agreed with me when we saw it last week, that the responsibility for this lies on the shoulders of the tenor Antonio Annalvro. For some reason he sobbed through the part of Rudolfo which as The Herald music critic said was “in the worst of taste”. He has a good voice don’t get me wrong but a little interpretive direction would go a long way.

While we are on the subject of sobbing let me remind you of something I have said before and that is, one cries alone. Sobbing at funerals, as my mother said, is for servants. The essence of good funeral taste is the removal of a lace handkerchief, preferably Brussels lace trimmed, which is dabbed once to one eye and replaced immediately into one’s handbag. Anything else as my mother said indicated excessive morbidity or new money.

Tasteful Thoughts for the Future

Just in case you think my musings are going to be a catalogue of bad taste this week. I can point to some sunshine amid the gloom. Mr Roger Falk, a businessman, has for example suggested at a conference this week in Brighton that Britain should have a network of British Design Centres in some of our major overseas markets. He says that many of our products are sent abroad with little consideration regarding taste and that our packaging is dull with scant regard paid to the languages of those who will use our manufactures. Do I sense the hand of dear Prince Philip here?

In another speech regarding taste Sir Ian Jacob, Director General of the B.B.C., has said that despite changing tastes he promises to strive for interest and amusement but also to continue to produce first rate material of the kind listened to by those who tune into the Third Programme. I have to say I do wonder about this. Can Bach, for example, be amusing? I sense “bread and circuses”.

A Step too Far?

If one is looking for the home of good taste then one need look no further than Denmark where The Queen and Prince Phillip are currently making a State Visit to stay at the Amalienborg Palace with King Christian and Queen Ingrid. Apparently Queen Ingrid has done the flowers herself much as I do when we have guests.

A simple arrangement by moi

My good friend Elizabeth Morris writing in The Herald says that the Danes are the most uninhibited of the Scandinavian trio and that they believe life is to be enjoyed. A little different from we Scots who believe it is already ordained, to be endured with the promise of better to come. They work hard and have a high standard of living. They get three weeks holiday a year and social services look after the sick and the old, which they pretend to here and they “pension the unmarried mother”, which I think is a step too far!

Tasteful Homes but Dubious Social Standards

Danish homes are full of imagination and good taste. They are generally small and most people live in flats, but they all have central heating, radiograms and according to Elizabeth, oil paintings. The latter sounds like socialism to me; I wouldn’t trust Mrs Travers with an oil painting. She would probably make into 6 table mats. Danish furniture is beautiful and practical and you can see examples of this in my shop “Chez Nous” where I also sell glass and tableware.

smørrebrød, or as we know it a Danish open sandwich selection

The Danes eat well and their meat is of the highest quality. I rather like their open sandwiches although I always have to put a closing slice on a side plate for Jasper as this confuses him especially after a glass of Schnapps and some Carlsberg which is their beer. Now just in case you think all is beer and skittles, they indulge their children and also have “equality”, which means that women can smoke cigars . It is no wonder they have a high rate of divorce and suicide as well as a lot of bicycles.

A Danish Evening to Mark the Royal Visit

I hope we will not see our Queen in Copenhagen on a bicycle or with a cigar. She has gone on the Britannia from Hull where prior to departure she watched some fish being unloaded and visited a Council house, she is so brave.

The Danes are very excited by the visit, the first in 400 years and there is even a sweet shop with a model of Britannia in the window on a chocolate sea. This is very clever, but has to be matched against a country where a lady will not be offered a seat on a bus and must jostle on equal terms with men. This is in poor taste unlike their strong action in regard to drinking while driving in which case one goes directly to prison. I hope the Queen and Prince Phillip are careful when they visit the Carlsberg factory, still I don’t imagine Mam will be driving even in Denmark.

Well I must go and see if Mrs Travers has finished cutting out my cardboard model of Elsinor Castle for the shop window. Then it is off to Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a Danish Evening with readings from Hamlet, Hans Christian Anderson and Nielsen’s wind quintet.

thick gauze

In case you are wondering Lady Pentland-Firth is playing Ophelia and the Snow Queen. Let’s hope it is behind very heavy gauze.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

Celebrating our 250th post in Talk of the Town

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Jasper’s Jottings: Departures & Arrivals

 In Binns Restaurant

Binns – the place to go

“I think Miss, I will have the rhubarb crumble and custard and coffee to follow.”

Not a bad a three course lunch for 1/6 in anyone’s book. I had the Scotch broth, the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Just as well I have the body of an athlete or it would put me off afternoon tea and suppa. Must admit I held back on the “Elevenses” and just had a coffee and scone with Mrs Travers (our woman what does, but not a lot) in The Café at the Plaza Dance Hall.

I am sitting in the restaurant of Binns, the department store in Dumfries; it is according to the management “the ideal rendezvous for both residents and visitors to Dumfries”. Needless to say I am waiting for Muriel who is somewhere with Lady Pentland-Firth and Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes.

Lady Pentland-Firth

Lady Pentland-Firth is of course the widow of the late Rear Admiral Lord “Salty” Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, who died mysteriously at a flower show lunch. The professor is head of the Faculty of Music at the varsity in Glasgow where he is an expert on the songs created by Henry Purcell for the basso profundo voice, which is no doubt where Lady Pentland-Firth comes in.

They are, for some odd reason, meeting in the Officers’ Mess at R.A.F. Dumfries which is very shortly to close after sterling efforts in the last Unpleasantness. The Professor, it seems, was there during the last Unpleasantness – something to do with navigation training which is odd given that he seems unable to find his way out of a paper bag. Last week I found him in Byres Road unable to remember where and when he had parked his Ford Poplar. Somewhere he thought between Dido and Aeneas and The Fairy Queen, which suggested to me somewhere approximately between the Curlers pub and Botanic Gardens. I was right and we found it in Kersland Street with the doors unlocked, a cello sticking out of the window and a signed copy of “The Jubilate” in D Major behind the windscreen wipers with “Please do not park in front of our close” scrawled in ink. 

Putting You in The Picture

The home of Robert Burns in Dumfries

Dumfries, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is a town in south west Scotland where we have our rural bolt hole. It is a land “associated with historic interest and fine scenery” and above all with the national poet Robert Burns who lived and died in the town and wrote many of his famous poems and songs here. You can visit the house where he lived with Jean Armour, his long suffering but astute wife. The town is on the banks of the river Nith and Burns wrote:

How lovely, Nith, thy fruitful vales,

Where bounding hawthorns galey bloom;

And sweetly spread thy sloping dales,

Where lambkins wanton through the broom.

May there my latest hours consume!

Lovely that is, until it floods which is quite often and causes great distress to local residents and shopkeepers.

Heaven-wards with Violin and Birdsong

The beloved Scots’ Bluebell

Today, however, the hawthorn and broom are out in full as are the bluebells and the lambkins are already more like sheepkins.

rather large lambs

This week the countryside seemed to honour the newly departed as Muriel and I attended a couple of funerals and while no one wants to go, it is inevitable and for those who stay on their temporary visas, the experience is better in the sunshine with blue skies. In these parts tradition rules and burials are still de rigueur. It is always the sounds that I remember, not only the congregation in the church and the sound of shoes on gravel, but outside in the cemetery – the birdsong which helps to make the sound of tassels falling on wood, and earth on purple pall all the more bearable. One old friend this week left to the sound of a solo violin, its virtuoso player of extraordinary talent sending the loved one heaven ward with the help of swallows, kites, song thrush and curlew. It was both unbearable and bearable.

Arrival at The Whitesands

Bearing a barely alive human being was the 10.30 bus this morning from Glasgow to the Whitesands. Mrs Travers arrived looking shaken and smelling of Muriel’s Je Reviens and my single malt. One can always tell which alighting passenger is Mrs T as she leaves in stages, gum boots are the first thing to come into view followed by bandages and support stockings in turn by the holdall, suitcase, and string bag containing an empty bottle of irn bru, a half eaten bridie and two, out of a packet of six, snowballs and three packets of Capstan Full Strength and a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. Most of the fug, which precedes her when the doors open and she leaves the remaining passengers looking as if they are stranded in a London “pea souper”, is her creation. It is no wonder her first words are, “that driver gets worse I feel like I might have the boke at any minute. Do yous I said tae him at Hamilton, think this is the mille miglia and yous are Piero Taruffi?”

“It’s nice to see you too Mrs T. Did you have any interesting travelling companions?”

“Naw, jist Mrs McGinigal frae Saracen Street and yon awful sister that does the black puddings for Galloway’s, down bye to visit their mother.”

“What is so awful about her?”

“Well she’s so ugly, which is a shame. But she could have stopped at  hame.”

“That is a bit unkind Mrs T, even the unblessed have a right to a bus trip.”

“Maybe Mr W, but not those who look as if they were sat on when they were warm. Do you fancy a wee flutter on the gee-gees, I have The Racing Times?”

“Yes of course” I replied, “let’s have a coffee and then you can find a corner boy to take the bets and do some messages for Mrs Wylie. I will take your bags and put them in the car which is parked in English Street/ By the way are you going to eat the remains of that bridie?”

“All yours, but don’t let her catch you eating in the street, anyway where is she?”

“That’s ok we can walk up The Vennel, no one will see – she, I mean my lady wife, is having a meeting with Lady P-F and the Prof.”

“Sounds like we are in for another o’they classical concerts.”

“Indeed it does Mrs T; indeed it does.”

“Do you think Mr W they really enjoy that music; or are they just pretending?”

“Sometimes I wonder Mrs T. Sometimes I wonder.”

“Give me Frankie Vaughan any day, or even that Elvis. I like a bit of boogie-woogie you know like Little Richard, but that Chopinn just goes on and on and you cannot dance or dust to it.”

At The Plaza

The Plaza, Dumfries

“Those are good scones, not as good as yours of course Mrs T.”

“Always glad to do yous an obligement Mr W, but the answer is no, you are not having my half.”

“How were things at the Glasgow house, what about “Sooty Steve” the sweep?”

“ Yes he came and things are fine now, but it was a bit of a fankle on Tuesday I was quite pure dead devastated.”

“Better tell me more.”

“Well Mrs Wylie was quite right, the lums did need cleaning, but not only that there were two craw nests, one had fallen down and a second was built above it, a bit like one o’ they New York apartments; so no wonder the south facing drawing room of the well appointed , oft sought and seldom available full late Victorian villa was full of smoke. It was the craws arriving again.”

“I thought as much I could hear their wings flapping in the chimney; it sounded quite errie.”

“Yes Mrs Macaulay’s woman, what does far more than I do, wouldn’t come in for a wee cup of tea as she said there were gaists up the lum.”

“Did the sweep deal with the gaists. I mean ghosts?”

“Och aye Sooty Steve does nae hang aboot and Hilda and I gave him a wee hand.”

“What did you have to do?”

“We put an old candlewick bedspread over the fireplace opening, Sooty shoved his brushes up and down they came, about 9 of them.”

“And then what?”

“Well Hilda had her Jack Russell wi’ her so we stuck it behind the counterpane. You never heard such a commotion! Great wee dug even if it does yap. What with wee Hector, that’s the dug, and the new cowls on the lum pots we won’t be bothered again.”

“Oh we will Mrs Travers when Mrs Wylie finds out about the murder of the crows.”

crows

“Mr Wylie I may look as if I were just taken from the circus but I have left Mrs W a thank you card from the Matron of the Old Crows Home, Cardonald, and i must remember to send a follow up letter describing their release into the wild next month.”

“Mrs Travers you should work for MI6.”

“Perhaps I do work in the shadows Mr Wylie; after all everyone else seems to.”

“I know what you mean but way more important there is racing at Chester and York, I fancy King Babar and perhaps you might get some Jersey Royals and some salad things and mixed cold meats and oh yes half a dozen eggs. Mrs Wylie says she is going to do devilled eggs with cayenne pepper and see if the bakers has any apple turnovers.”

“Did Mrs Wylie say apple turnovers?”

“No but we can pretend we thought she did; after all it is a light suppa tonight, here take a 10 shilling note.”

Back at Binns

“Yes another coffee might be just the ticket. Mrs Wylie seems to have been held up and do you have The Glasgow Herald?

Well Muriel is not going to like that the Labour Party have done well in the English local elections. Apparently the political climate from the Government’s point of view is adverse, well what would one expect after the utter mess of Suez and the high cost of living not to mention the difficulty of getting petrol. Mr Thorneycroft, the Chancellor, says that we need to create more jobs for young people and that in 60 years time old people will be a tremendous problem. Well they should be able to plan for that one, provided short term thinking does not rule the day.  It seems there have been rather a lot of babies born since the war. Well let us hope that in 2017 the post war babies will not be demonised pensioners. After all old age is not something that one can avoid.

Perhaps the elderly will be as unfashionable as the trams have become. Only last week I went  on the last tram as it made its way from the Renfrew Ferry to Elderslie by way of Paisley Cross. It was, as you might expect, full beyond capacity as it travelled at 5 miles an hour along Paisley Road and at Paisley Cross there were so many spectators the police had to clear the way. Those passengers who were upstairs found themselves plunged into darkness as souvenir hunters removed the light bulbs! Outside, pennies were placed on the tracks and removed after the tram had passed over them. When we arrived at Elderslie, motor cars hooted their horns and people sand Auld Lang Syne. I felt rather sorry for James McCall who has been a tram driver for 41 years. There were two of the famous tram conductresses, Grace Samuelson of 47 Gauze Street and May Gallacher of 17 Lawn Street, both were kept busy issuing tickets as again they were much in demand as souvenirs. So another departure and another change in our way of life and I suppose there will be more on the way in the years to come.

Muriel Arrives

the chosen ensemble for town today

Ah, here is Muriel in a stunning ensemble as usual. I’m so glad she’s wearing that pretty hat I bought her in Dalys.

“Darling over here.”

“Hello Jasper I see you couldn’t wait for lunch and I have just bumped into a guilty looking Mrs Travers so that either means the gee-gees or the bakers or perhaps both. I though, given that you have had what looks like a more than adequate luncheon, a simple salad would be enough for suppa, no need for potatoes and perhaps just a little junket for pudding.”

“Marvellous Muriel, simply marvellous.”

Jasper Wylie

A man with a rumbly-tummbly evening to look forward to.

Toodle pip

May 1957

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An Oyster Lunch

At the Rogano with Sir Roger de Coverley

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

“Another glass of Chablis Muriel?”

“Well I really shouldn’t, but if you insist Roger and after all I suppose one owes it to one’s self.”

“Exactly, after all if one cannot feel something for the finer things in life then how can one feel motivated to save the country as we always say in the Service. Another oyster, there are plenty here and a little drop of tobasco and some lemon, here let me squeeze it for you we don’t want to make those hands all sticky do we. Really Muriel you do have the most beautiful hands has anyone ever told you that?”

Legendary Hands

such beautiful hands

“Many times, and of course my hand care routine is legendary in the exclusive West End of Glasgow where I have a full late Victorian villa with upstairs drawing room. You need not worry about lemon juice I regularly recommend sitting for an hour with the finger tips of each hand inside a half lemon. It is good for the nails especially if one can get those from the Amalfi Coast and of course one can always combine this with sipping a Limoncello at the same time”.

“Fascinating, but how do you drink the Limoncello, when both hands are out of action?”

“That is why they invented straws.”

“How true, how very clever.”

“Yes intelligence is a factor, but really in this case one has also to be a good organiser. It works particularly well if you do this in bed and have a tray on legs, with a book rest. The bowls containing the lemons sit comfortably nestling in the eiderdown on either side of you, with your hands inside; make sure you take the pips out. Have a good book on the stand you cannot go far wrong with a Jean Plaidy, Mazio de la Roche or Betty MacDonald. On either side place a tumbler of iced Limoncello with a straw in each.”

“Why do you need two glasses?”

“To exercise both sides of the neck muscles of course – read a little bend forward sip to the right, lean back , read a little , bend forward sip to the left, it makes sense.”

Like a Native

“I suppose it does. Tell me Muriel, out of interest do you still do the Argentine Tango? I remember when we used that as part of our disguise in Blackpool. Jasper did get rather cross!”

The Handsome Stranger

“In answer to your question – like a native of Buenos Ares. It has proved useful with some of those dreadful S.S. officers in the past; I could take a man out with my gancho. Nowadays I’m more restrained but when engaged in “the trap”, I decorate like a woman on a Fray Bentos production line. As to Jasper, he was rather frosty.”

“I can well imagine Muriel I have a very vivid picture of you dancing on the Left Bank of the Seine after the Allies entered Paris, they still say your molinete has never been bettered and I know that for sure. ”

Thoughts of France

Vive La France & la tour Eiffel

“Ah beautiful Paris. I think of France often. I see very little of Dynamite Di these days since she went to be a researcher for Panorama, but that piece on the spaghetti harvest was particularly funny, I knew she would do well; she had such a way with fuses. I do of course see Winnie (she of the bicycle and the wool shop in Auchterader). Well perhaps I should re-phrase that, I did see a lot of her until you sent her to Suez on a reconnaissance mission, but she has really not been heard of since and she still owes me 6 balls of bottle green angora, which I have paid for.”

Winnie and her knitting

“Well yes Winnie, I am afraid, is a law unto herself, but she has her uses principally due to her complete ability to throw herself into the arms of any culture. She is still among the Bedouin and I believe she has ditched the China-man from the Govan Road and is currently enjoying the company of a sheik who is very taken with her Fuzzy Wuzzie.”

“Well who wouldn’t be? Her poodle range of soft toys in Fuzzy Wuzzy has been a best seller in Selfridges. I do worry about her however.”

“Oh Muriel I wouldn’t worry about Winnie, she can take care of herself and she is currently keeping an eye on some of our oil interests in the Middle East. We think oil is going to be a major issue in the next half century or so and may well destabilise the whole region.”

“Personally Roger I am not keen on unstable whether it be a table leg in Fuller’s Restaurant, a woman what does, or a geographical region. So cross making.”

A Mission for Muriel

“Exactly Muriel and it is on another destabilising issue that I wish to talk to you.”

“I am intrigued Roger, but I am also puzzled as to why you are here I thought Professor Sir Boozey-Hawkes, head of music here at the varsity in Glasgow was my handler.”

Prof. Boozey-Hawkes in contemplation

“He is in the main Muriel and you will see him in relation to the mission I have for you but he currently has a term’s sabbatical to write two important pieces, one on ‘Reflections of John Calvin in the Scottish Hymnal’, which will be a pop up song book for primary school children and a major piece on the controversy surrounding the Newton Stewart Variation in the Military Two Step which may well lead to a schism in the Scottish Country Dance Society and a possible bloodbath during Postie’s Jig.”

“Goodness me that makes the impending Middle East crisis over just about everything seem like a squabble over the last two well fired rolls in the City Bakeries. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes.”

“Fortunately he has special country dance shoes, which helps quite a lot. What about some magic lemon pudding to finish?”

“That would be splendid and I will have coffee to follow, now what is it  you want to tell me? And by the way you still have traces of mascara.”

“Yes sorry about that; the light was not very good in Raymond’s stock cupboard, did you like my eye shadow? Elizabeth Arden.

“That would have been my choice too especially with a powder blue two piece, very Jane Wyman. Now what was it? I do have to be back by 4pm Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does, has a rare tropical disease, apparently, so I will have to make suppa and be out in time for The Women’s Guild Beetle Drive. We are raising money for a Home for Maladjusted Boys, it’s Mrs Lottie Macaulay’s charity; you know she is married to the bungalow builder.  She says it’s all to do with puberty going wrong, things going up instead down.”

“What, bungalow building?”

“No being Maladjusted! However, bungalow building comes a close second in my book!”

News of the Séance has Travelled Far

“Yes well I shall attempt to be brief, but it has come to our attention that you were involved in a séance recently with a Madame Clare Voyant.”

Mrs T displaying her aura

“Not involved exactly, it was organised by Mrs Travers, who apparently has an aura, and I happened to stumble into it. She thought I was out.  I do not approve of such things, but to be truthful Roger she was led astray by one of our neighbours, the famous rural crime novelist Bunty Haystack, author of ‘Battered in the Bothy’ andChoked by Cheese’ who is researching a new novel.”

“Yes Muriel I  have read ‘Spring Drilling’, pretty gory although personally I preferred ‘Away in a Turnip Mangle and Other Tales for Christmas’, very seasonal.

“Indeed she has quite a lurid imagination. I suppose you are going to tell me she is not who she seems to be and you want me to keep an eye on her.”

“Oh she is exactly who she seems to be, it is the medium that concerns us and the story about the murder of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland.”

The late Lord Pentland-Firth

“Of course I suppose he wasn’t murdered.”

“Oh indeed he was Muriel; he was poisoned at the Flower Show Lunch”.

“So Patience did kill him after all.”

“No she didn’t. She had nothing to gain by killing him. Indeed as you know his death meant that she lost the estate entailed to his nephew and began her descent into an amontillado fuelled binge and a job as a cinema usherette selling choc ices.

Would you like a choc ice, sir?

Then of course she took up with a surgeon who was really a deranged circus artiste who was divided into three by the Auchensuggle tram having arranged for lions to eat the Pentland-Firth heir and his wife. Now that was gory!”

Who Was It Then?

“So Roger, who was it? It must have been someone with a deep grudge. Perhaps someone who had never won the Best in Show for a single gladioli; or onions imaginatively displayed in a tray of silver sand; or the largest marrow; or the victim of some dirty doings over a jar of rhubarb chutney?”

On the way to Flower and produce show, 1953

“I know Muriel that in your world of rustic activities the complexities and rivalries that accompany the annual Flower Show would make the Treaty of Versailles pale into insignificance but it was none of these things.”

“Was it my American Cousin and financial backer, the entrepreneur and country singer Lulubelle? It would be terribly good if she were to spend a few years behind bars.”

“No; sorry to disappoint you. It was not your cousin; although the Americans in the form of the F.B.I. are open minded about the fate of several men who have enjoyed her company if not her singing over the years.

Hirem T Knockerfella III, a late beau of Lulubelle

No Muriel it was “a foreign power”. You see the Rear Admiral, who was indeed a hero of Jutland, never quite got used to being on dry land and like so many who have sailed close to the wind and closer still to the edge, he craved excitement and money.  Added to which the Pentland Firth Estate has not just become a financial disaster, it has been so for many years.

Where there have been poor investments you will find the Pentland-Firths have had an involvement from the Darien Scheme to the City of Glasgow Bank Failure. Their resources were badly hit during the 1920’s and the General Strike put pay to their coastal shipping interests, particularly with regard to the transport of coal. Through his mother, who was a Minch to her own name, the Admiral had a portfolio of railway investments but it turned out these were the sort of lines that went to the top of hills and no where else.”

“So how have they managed to keep the estate going, even to the extent they have?”

A Lucrative Betrayal

“Well the Rear Admiral found it was very lucrative to keep the comrades well informed about British naval developments and various spurious companies were set up into which funds were paid. All went well until  a spurned mistress worked out what was going on and threatened to expose him and the comrades. So naturally they had to go.

He was disposed of before the judging which some might regard as a merciful release, given that the presentation of the “late”, trophies lasts some three hours, due to the many deceased villagers who have selfishly died in over a century  or more. Things can only get worse. Unfortunately for the comrades she escaped and they have never been able to find her.

Muriel works it out with her rapier like mind

A smart cookie!

“So he is a traitor and let me guess she is the medium isn’t she?”

“Exactly, spot on as always Muriel.”

“Why is she trying to suggest that Lady Pentland-Firth is a murderess?”

“Well it is not easy staying in hiding for any great length of time and it is very stressful. The comrades have eyes and ears everywhere. She will think that by pointing the finger at Lady P-F, that an investigation will be inevitable and as the whole story comes out the comrades will be exposed and she will receive the protection of the British Government. What better way, at least from her perspective, to expose everything than through the work of a popular crime writer?”

“Indeed – Won’t she receive protection?”

“No, the government or should I say successive governments will not want to be seen to have failed so dramatically in the area of surveillance and national security, they would look very foolish indeed. Particularly as they are thinking of applying to join the European Economic Community and don’t want to give the French an excuse to say “NON”.

“Why would they say non?”

“Because we use salad cream and cannot make a soufflé to save ourselves.”

“I can.”

“Yes of course you can Muriel but your marvellousness transcends cultures. For most people the only French thing they know about requires a purchase from a barber on a Saturday.”

“What about the comrades?”

“Well they would be happy to see anything which prevents a growing European alliance; they have an interest in disunity. So we do not want them to know we are serious and will put on a show of complete British indifference if not distain for the European ideal.”

So what do we do?

“Very clever Roger.”

“I thought so too. Thus we will on the one hand endeavour to prevent any idea that we are positive about joining Europe and on the other we do not want to give the comrades an excuse to meddle by letting them know that we know the truth about Lord Pentland-Firth’s death. So we have to perform a delicate balancing act whereby no book is published implicating Lady Pentland-Firth, because a subsequent trial would no doubt lead to the truth and we would be forced to sacrifice an innocent in the name of Queen and Country.”

“Presumably the medium.”

“Exactly, Muriel or in extremis Lady P-F herself.”

“But you have just said she is innocent, I know she is annoying but she does not deserve that.”

“It would not be the first time Muriel that someone has been used to protect the greater good. Now she must be beyond reproach, the estate needs to be seen to flourish and she needs to be seen to be an accomplished woman organising these wretched Country House Concerts. The comrades do not need to be given the opportunity once again to undermine the aristocracy. So you must make this work and you must also make sure that the book by Bunty Haystack never makes it to the presses and that the medium is kept under control for she is a very loose cannon. Now another cup of coffee and then I will put you in a taxi, I must get back to Raymond’s I have a French pleat at 4.15.”

“Well thank you for lunch, will I hear from you again?”

“You may but the Prof will be your first port of call. Can I thank you in advance. H.M.’s Government will be eternally grateful, not of course that anyone will know.”

The country can wait; Jasper needs a pudding

“I will do my best Roger, now I must dash and perhaps the taxi could stop at a grocer. I need a block of ice cream I have promised to make Jasper, Soufflé Suprise”.

“As in the French soufflé we were talking about?”

“No this is a sherry soaked sponge with tinned raspberries, top and bottom, with a block of ice cream resting on top, covered in meringue which you place in a very hot oven for three minutes”. Then we are off to the cinema to see Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia. Something I am sure the comrades will not like, but then she goes from “terrified creature to “radiantly beautifully woman” and that will unnerve them just like a more successful Lady Pentland-Firth will stop their devious plans .

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

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Always Alert!

Muriel Prepares for Some Bad News

“Madame Wylie I have some difficult news for you”, were Monsieur Raymond’s opening words to me when I arrived this morning at the “Little Paris Salon”, hairdressers to the Beau Monde of Glasgow’s exclusive West End; and, one might also add, to some of the demi monde of the South Side who make the expedition across the river. One does after all need hope. Jasper once suggested we might move to a new bungalow on the South Side which would be easier to maintain “as we mature”. He wasn’t too pleased when I said this was “social death” and we might just as well go the whole hog and move to Bridge of Weir.

The exclusive West End abode

I can tell you I soon put a stop to that nonsense. It’s a bit like suggesting one should move into an old people’s home. I would sooner vote Liberal. I have never been one for communal living; my boarding school experience was limited to a week, when father insisted on some awful establishment, where I made sure I was considered unsuitable. The white mouse in the games mistress’s knickers is another story.  No, I am afraid I am something of a free spirit. It is essential for the creative business lady about town. I would sooner sit in one room of my late Victorian full villa, (with strong hints of design by Sir James Burnett) covered in shawls in front of the fire, than subject myself to bungalow-dom.

It Could not be Worse

“Madame I am afraid, you must prepare for the worst”, said M. Raymond, and signalled to one of his assistants to bring me a strong cup of coffee (Blue Mountain, from Thomson’s in Renfield Street of course). “I am afraid you have not got much longer”. “Until what?” I asked. “Until you need a little help in the form of a rinse.” “Oh no! Not that! I cannot have blue or pink hair, but on the other hand I do not want to age gracefully. People make judgements about grey hair, look at how Jasper is treated – people think he is doolally.

A bit on the grey side

Well – perhaps with some good reason, but you know what I mean.”  “Yes Madame Wylie I know exactly what you mean. I am afraid in your country older people are not honoured in the same way that they are in more civilised parts of the world”. “Not all the parts of that sentence were entirely correct, but I take your point. However, what pray is a girl to do?” “Do not worry Madame, we are here for you. I am going to suggest a gentle rinse of the affected parts and then I will keep a constant vigil until more invasive procedures are required. Do not worry many ladies in their forties like you. require such emergency treatment.” “Oh Monsieur Raymond, I could kiss you, but I am on the church flower rota this week so perhaps not.”  “Time for kisses later Madame, now lie back and I will sort everything for you. Come here, Mimi. Come and wash the hair of an angel, yes of course the most expensive conditioner, it is the head of the simply marvellous one. And what about a little pedicure too, special offer this week?”

Cheap Shoes and Sheep’s Wool

Under the dryer

Umm that’s better already, I can feel my scalp burning a little but it will be worth it, perhaps just turn the dryer down a notch. “Another coffee don’t mind if I do. Yes please Mimi, a pedicure would be wonderful, my feet are a little sore. I am afraid I bought these shoes in a sale, not my usual Rayne and they are killing me”. “Well Madame Wylie you know what they say, you buy cheap you buy twice”. “So very true, but sometimes a bargain is hard to resist”. “Oh dear Mrs Wylie, your feet are suffering and you with your famously finely turned ankles too. There is a blister here and here and a little rubbing there, but I can help. First a foot bath and then a massage and I can do wonders with some corn plasters and finely teased sheep’s wool. Tell me Madame Wylie have you been under a lot of pressure recently, have you been worrying? One can tell a lot by reading feet. You know even here in the salon we hear all the time of your many good works and your ceaseless striving for business success in the competitive world of Scandinavian inspired interior design. You give all the time, but what about you?”

So Little Help

I’ve not been sleep well

“I suppose I have been a little preoccupied if truth be told. I have not been sleeping terribly well; you see I accidently became involved in a meeting of the occult where an acquaintance of mine was identified by a spiritualist as having been the perpetrator of a crime at a flower show lunch that is unsolved perhaps even undetected as a crime. Not only that but I have had the busiest week. You see Mrs Travers, our woman what does but not a lot, is sick.

Mrs Travers

Well when I say sick, she had a neighbour, (she lives in Maryhill) telephone me from the only working call box, having reversed the charges to say that Mrs Travers was “in her bed wi’ a wee touch o’ the onchocerciasis. “Now she must think I came up the Clyde on a banana boat yesterday. I have seen that “Guide to Tropical Diseases” in her handbag and it seems this outbreak of River Blindness has been occurring all over Glasgow and coincides not with the sudden arrival of a south American black fly, but the bowling season!

I don’t know about you Mimi, but I have never been attracted by bowling, too slow and those horrible white suits and unattractive hats do nothing for one’s hair, don’t you agree? So I have been relying on the assistance of Helga zee German voman vat does zee heavy vork and Hairy Mary from Inveraray who is nurse to our nephew Sebastian’s daughter, Gayle. So as you can imagine very little in the way of damp dusting and stair rod polishing has been attempted. Tell me how long have you been working in the salon Mimi”. “Oh you know I come and then I go, depending on business you know what they say, there’s no business like the permanent waving business.”

And As for Jasper

“Quite so Mimi; of course and I have my business to run so I know what you mean and although my husband help,s he is also very busy refitting part of his Museum in a Shed as he feels there is declining interest in the 40th anniversary of the First World War having just marked the Battle of Arras. While he is hoping to do something for the peace. he has decided to turn part of the shed into an observatory having watched a new programme called The Sky at Night, with a Patrick Moore.  He is also very high up in the Capodimonte Collectors Club, where he has gained something of a reputation on the depiction of the pastoral in ceramics, particularly shepherds and shepherdesses.

Thoughts in a woodland glade – a prize piece of Jasper’s

So the main burden of my design emporium falls on moi, which of course is fair as I am the only one with enough style and glamour to carry it off in a city still enamoured with Queen Anne legs, uncut moquette and Jacobean dining room suites. Still sales of Swedish glass and stylish tables with sticky out legs have gone through the roof.

It’s All Been Bash and Dash

Yes I suppose I do rather well all things considered, but we haven’t even touched my diary, for example this week has been all bash and dash. I had to come into town on Monday as Jasper wants a new desk. I said I would consider something for his birthday. Inevitably I went to see Mr Galbraith in John Street behind the City Chambers where he showed me “the gold seal desk” which is for the man who “radiates a feeling of well being and is a good judge of handsome value”.  Well I suppose Jasper must be after all he got me.

The happy couple,

This retails at £16 3s 6d. Mr Galbraith was keen to take me “up the back” and show me his “complete and expanded range” which was a little worrying as the shop was empty and his secretary had just gone to the City Bakeries for a roll and sausage. Anyway I did go to the outbuilding at the back and I must say I was rather impressed with “the Chairman’s Distinguished Desk”, size sometimes is important. One thing for sure Jasper is distinguished, it is what first drew me to him on the Promenade des Anglais when I was teaching Matisse to use scissors just after the last Unpleasantness. £77 3s 8d is, however, a lot of money even for the distinguished.

Only the Most Modern Fabrics for Jasper

In the meantime I did buy him some shirts from Rowan’s his favourite outfitters in Buchannan Street along with Henry Burton’s opposite where he buys his dressing gowns and pyjamas. Rowan’s were promoting “tasian”, textured nylon shirts as part of their famous Arket shirt range. Now tasian in case you are not keeping abreast of technological developments is an up to the minute development of nylon which as it is being sold by Rowan’s “proves beyond doubt that it has passed the most comprehensive of tests and examinations”. It is a poplin with soft lustrous appeal and a crisp appearance available in white or cream, with 3 sleeve lengths. The promotion suggests that housewives should tell their husbands Tasian shirts need no ironing. Now why would that be? Jasper thinks an iron is for wedging a door open on a windy day.

One Does What One Can

A woman who means business

Of course a lady who means business, as I do, has to be seen about town and so my week has been a round of charitable and social events as well. Of course I always have the Home for Fallen Women to patronise and I am deeply involved in Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts which is a strain on many fronts. This week I have also managed to fit in a coffee morning at the City Chambers in aid of Hospital Saturday, which was opened by Lady Maclean with stalls for cake and candy, fruit and flowers, white elephant and the tombola. I helped out at the latter for an hour while my neighbour Mrs Lottie Macaulay (her husband is in concrete) was appropriately on the white elephant stall, overdressed as always.

Learning and Always Absorbing

On Wednesday I was invited to the varsity in Glasgow where Professor Chisholm (you may recall he collaborated with Margaret Morris on Scottish ballets in the 1930s) was talking about his study of Joseph and Patrick MacDonald’s Collection of Scottish Vocal Music of the Highlands and Islands published in 1784. This was fascinating. Patrick was a minister at Kilmore in Argyll and an early collector of folk music. Most of this was in the form of reels, songs and dances. Some from the far north were collected by his brother Joseph. They are regarded as accurate and authentic and unembellished by the collectors. There is a silhouette of Patrick in the National Gallery. It is said some of the music came from veterans of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745  and that Joseph cried when he heard these “simple but artless melodies”. I think a Scottish theme might go down rather well as part of the country house programme. I will have to have a word with Lady P-F, if I can look her in the eye, but then perhaps I should.

Avoiding temptation – well almost

I then had to dash from the varsity to Blythswood Square and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts where there was an exhibition of the work of Forres, Yule, James D. Robertson and Alexander Goudie which was opened by Benno Schotz the sculptor. I didn’t buy anything; one cannot do poplin and paintings. I did, however, go into Mitchell’s in Great Western Road beforehand to buy Jasper a copy of Lonnie Donegan’s Cumberland Gap. This is very poplar at the moment. Apparently this is skiffle, enough said, but you know Jasper’s tastes. I bought Look homeward, Angel by Jonnie Ray, which I rather like even if he does cry at his own singing. Some of course have said I also make people cry when I sing. One has to be careful how one uses one’s talents; playing with peoples’ emotions has to be thought through.”

Just a minute

“Well you certainly have had a busy week Madame Wylie no wonder you are exhausted. And now all toes are nice toes and no naughty toes to be seen. Keep that sheep’s wool in between this little piggy and the one that ran all the way home, and see how it goes. Now I will get Monsieur to comb you out and that’s you marvellous as ever. Have you any plans for the afternoon?” “Well I think I might go and have the oyster special at Rogano’s and investigate some new sling backs”. “Yes you spoil yourself after all one owes it to oneself.”

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

“Mimi, you seem very familiar to me. Just a minute, you are wearing a wig and that size 38 perfect balcony bust can only belong to one person. It’s you! The Handsome Stranger! What on earth are you doing here?”

Very perceptive Muriel I see you have lost none of your je ne sais quois. This is my secret rendezvous point when in Scotland. I need to speak to you about Lady Pentland-Firth, let me treat you to oysters. I will hail a cab.

à bientôt

To be continued I’m sure…….

A look at the menu

 

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Cloaks…and a Dagger!

Your Captain Speaking

“Ladies and Gentlemen this is the Captain speaking. We are about to begin our descent into Glasgow and I expect to be on the ground in about 10 minutes, hopefully in one piece. Only joking. The weather in Glasgow is wet but that is nothing new; if you are travelling through to Edinburgh, you can’t win them all. Onward road transport is provided by our partners Glasbus who have a representative in arrivals. You will not miss her – she is a large lassie in yellow tartan, what we call a winter model with that modern make up, the shade of Caramac, eyebrows that look like dead otters and heels that require oxygen. Just mention my name and you will get a wee discount and an in bus catering pack containing a variety of Scottish treats and the name of a good dentist in Paisley.

coming into Glasgow

Thank you for flying Glasgair and on behalf of the crew I wish you a pleasant day in the dear green place.

Cabin Crew prepare for landing.”

Always Time to Buy Something

“Ladies and gentlemen the Captain has switched on the seatbelt signs, if your legs have gone to sleep due to the recent introduction of two rows of extra seats, rotate your ankles clockwise, that’s right; now anti-clockwise; good, feel the blood flow back. For those looking for that last minute gift for the lady in your life there are still a few moments to purchase something from our range of exclusive gifts including special offers in the ‘Soir de Shettleston’ range of hand printed scarves, ‘Nuits de Netherlee; available as a parfum or eau de toilette, the complete range of ‘Glasgow Kiss’ lipsticks from Heart Attack Red to Etiolated Nude a colour inspired by the lack of sunshine which lasts about half the year. For the kiddies there is a virtual reality headset at a fraction of shop prices featuring “Emergency Landing”, or the truly terrifying “I survived Airport Security and Passport Control.”

In a fever of activity, cabin crew sell cosmetics, collect glasses and the remains of haggis or black pudding ciabatta “available as a meal deal”. Bleary eyed businessmen drain the last of their bloody marys and wonder if they have a drink problem as it is only 11 am and they have had at least three, plus that quick one in Departures. Flight attendant, Leanne, closes the overhead lockers almost destroying her bun in the process and her colleague  Ashley checks the seatbelts are fastened appropriately which as he has features which might have been carved by Michelangelo and teeth like two fluorescent tubes pleases one old thespian.

Happy Landings

sir Sebastian

Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the nation’s most loved luvvie, looks out of the window and feels the aircraft turn a sharp left over the Firth of Clyde shortly followed by another turn to the left bringing them over the seaside town of Largs and over Castle Semple Loch and Johnstone. To the right he sees Paisley and wonders what ever happened to all the mills although he does recognise the Observatory and the tower of the Coats Memorial Church, a symbol of the town’s wealth created by a simple product – reels of sewing thread. Coming in over Linwood the plane touches down smoothly at Glasgow Airport and Leanne switches on Lulu and “Shout”, to which there is an outburst of applause by returning natives.

Travelling in Style

Planes of yesteryear

There is the usual mad scramble to retrieve coats and carry-on bags but Sebastian waits as assisted transport has been arranged for him at Luton. He thinks to himself that travel by air is not what it was and wonders what his Aunt Muriel would have made of it all. She loved to fly but that was in the days as she would say “before the bucket and spade brigade”, when one dressed to travel, wearing a hat and gloves and of course there was always somewhere to hang a mink coat and one ate with real cutlery and sat next to people who knew nothing of T-shirts or jogging bottoms.

Pilots might be a bit gung-ho, but one knew they were experienced – very often having taken part in the Battle of Britain or having chased submarines in the Norwegian Fiords. They were characters indeed and some were even reluctant to work without sheepskin flying jackets and goggles, even although they were only going to Brussels or Stockholm! They had names like “Binkie”, “Biff” and “Panda” and prepared for take off with a glass of champagne and for landing with two.

Connections With the Past

Now, mused Sebastian, even getting to and through the airport was like the 7th circle of Hell. Not he thought that Dante would be well known to many of his fellow travellers now, possibly not even known at all. No one he feels seems to know anything, or was that simply the inevitable thought of someone approaching the final curtain. At least he has the wheel chair not to mention the assistance of his “staff”, Dean Travers who drives for him, and his wife Pearl who sees to the administration of a man who is still much in demand by the media.

Mrs TRavers, the woman who did, but not a lot

Pearl and Dean are devoted to him and he in turn relishes the contact with the old days. Dean is after all  the grandson of Mrs Esme Travers who did (but, not a lot) for Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper.  Dean has done well, given that the Travers’ family had a gene much given to fecklessness – his grandfather was implicated in the famous affair of “Busty Betty’s” down by the Canal in the 1950’s and his own father Billy, who was not a bad man, just easily led, had been a small time crook who was in the wrong place at the wrong time as the coroner had said.  His own mother could only cook from cans which in Glasgow amounted to a character failing. Peas might have been one thing but tinned potatoes only suggested lassitude. Fortunately Nana Travers and indeed Aunt Muriel had come to the rescue.

 Flying is Not What It Was

Sebastian’s scarf

As the last of the passengers leave the aircraft, the ground assistance people come on board and help Sebastian into his chair and push him past the flight attendants who hand him the Lanvin scarf which had blown away when he crossed the tarmac at Luton. Sebastian in one of his “toffs are careless” moments, said they shouldn’t have bothered rescuing it from the wing tip of a Monarch flight bound for Alicante taxing alongside. “Oh not at all” beamed Ashley, causing Sebastian to reach for his prescription sunglasses, I couldn’t see that going down well in Benidorm could you Leanne? Get it reduced  in TK Maxx did we?” “No actually, full price in Paris in 1977”replied the theatrical knight acerbically “it was a gift to myself for Tartuff.” “Lovely” said Leanne, “is that the one with the forest fruits or the apricots, almonds and Chantilly cream, we love Paris, don’t we Ash?”

A Familiar Face

The Lord Provost’s car is waiting for them as promised as Sebastian is in Glasgow on official business having been asked by the Council to open a new exhibition at “Mofash”, as the  Museum of Fashion is known or at least it will be. Until recently it had been known as “Motex”, the Museum of Textiles, but the new director, Uber curator Vivienne Valhalla,

Vivienne Valhalla

(now Dr Valhalla, the result of her ph.d. on the zip) has decided the word textiles is too elitist. She wants ultimately to call it “Claes and Cloots”, as that is the sort of name that gets you a keynote at Museums’ conferences year after year. That, however, will have to wait until she has got rid of the more traditional curators who know things. One step at a time as she told the convenor who says she doesn’t care what the exhibitions are “as long as they weans are running aroond daft, screaming their heids aff and having fun”. In the meantime the existing programme has to be honoured, particularly as it is EU funded (at least until Brexit) with a generous provision for face painting and a budget that allows officials to travel to Estonia, although no one is entirely sure why.

Down Memory Lane

Before the opening there is time for a little tour of Glasgow although there is little, to be honest, that Sebastian recognises. He has always been puzzled as to why the city chose to put a motorway right through its centre. Uncle Jasper’s childhood home in The Gorbals, where he lived with Granny Wylie, was swept away in the rush to remove the slums in the 1960’s. Sebastian wonders if a little expenditure and some imagination might have saved some of those red sandstone buildings as not all were bad and what has replaced them seems at least to him as dreary as what went before.

In the more affluent West End there have been changes too. The school attended by Aunt Muriel and Sebastian’s daughter Gayle has been amalgamated with a boys’ school for economies of scale although to be fair the girls’ school is occasionally remembered at the back of the annual report after the adverts. The Wylies’ old house is now a boutique bed and breakfast with spa bathrooms, televisions with screens visible from Mars and for breakfast organic muesli woven by virgins under water, or something like that Sebastian remembers reading. Uncle Jasper’s Club, the R.S.A.C., has been transformed into a hotel which is something, but few if any of their old haunts remain, with the exception perhaps of The Rogano.

Don’t Look Back

Watt Brothers

Sauchiehall Street seems to Sebastian to be a shadow of its former self, the plate glass fronted department stores like Dalys and Pettigrew and Stevens have been replaced by hideous buildings and where are all the cinemas? At least Watt Brothers is still there so Mrs T would have been able to get her support stockings. And The Pavillion Theatre

The home of variety theare

is little changed from the time he appeared there in pantomime in the 60s, though now it is billed as the home of Variety, which Sebastian rememered was supposedly the spice of life.

There seems to be plenty of places to eat and drink, even if the food is all the same but where can you buy anything useful like a screw nail? Where is Crockets, the ironmongers and where are all the hundreds of businesses and warehouses that used to be up closes and stairways selling carpets and fabrics, making dresses and suits, turning shirt collars and repairing dolls? Perhaps says Sebastian to Pearl “it does not really do to go back, it is far from being the city I remember – not even a Lewis’s Polytechnic with a broken biscuit counter”. At least, he thinks the MacDonalds and Wylie and Lochheads buildings are there even if they are now something else.

Formerly the entrance to McDonalds, now part of Frasers Glasgow

It is hard to work out where old haunts like The Kenya Coffee House had been or the Ceylon Tea Centre and of course Fullers with its famous chocolate choux buns which Sebastian recalls was at 99 Buchanan Street. Dear me that is now a shop for mobile phones!

the former “Fuller’s”, 99 buchanan Street

What of gentlemen’s outfitters Rowan’s and Carswells and Burton’s where Uncle Jasper bought his summer dressing gowns. There are no banking halls to speak of and the library is now a gallery. He wonders if Aunt Muriel would ever have come to grips with getting money from a hole in the wall, after all she wouldn’t even cash a cheque in a branch office, “only cash cheques in head offices” she would say. George Square looks much the same, which is something but the post office has gone and The North British Hotel is called something else.

Sloan’s

At least Sloan’s is still in the Argyle Arcade and able to provide a spot of lunch, though again more the haunt of Mrs Travers than dear Aunt Muriel.

So Many Capes

Perhaps it is just as well they have to get to the museum for the opening as one can only take so much disappointment regarding the past. Banks of photographers and a red carpet

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III

greet the man who put Richard III on the map long before the King’s body was found in car park when he played Shakespeare’s King  Richard in a play by well known playwright William Shakespeare. The Lord Provost greets them and champagne is proffered before Sir Sebastian declares the exhibition open and is give a guided tour.

The exhibition is about “Capes”, that most useful and adaptable garment so often overlooked by society. There is the cape in history, the cape in literature, in film, in art and popular culture. So there is everything from the caped coat of Sherlock Holmes to matadors’ capes and capes worn by actors like Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple or Bette Davis and even that worn by Sebastian as Richard III found in a cupboard at the Gaiety Theatre Ayr.

Cape worn by Sebastian as Richard III

Of course there are the crowd pleasers like capes worn by comic book heroes such as Batman and Robin. Then there are the working capes such as those worn by nurses and policemen and the yellow bicycle capes worn by countless school boys and girls in the 20th century to keep them dry. There are make-up capes designed to keep powder off evening dresses, fur capes, bed capes. There are photographs of spectacular capes such as those worn by Elvis and Liberace, Dracula, Oscar Wilde and the three musketeers. Sebastian is delighted to see that the interpretation includes the language of the cape “including flouncing”, the cape as weapon, the cape as a statement including Sir Walter Raleigh laying down his cape for Queen Elizabeth to walk on.

Just Some Old Wee Wifey’s Clothes

A Muriel Wylie Cape

For Sebastian the highlight of the exhibition is the recreation of Aunt Muriel’s Drawing Room complete with the famous walnut cocktail cabinet, saved for the nation with generous contributions from the Art Fund etc, when it came up for auction recently. This coincided with the discovery of a trunk containing some of Aunt Muriel’s capes and cloaks along with an article she wrote about capes in 1957 when there was something of a revival in interest in the garment.

It would, however be in the early 1980s that Muriel made the cape her own when it featured regularly in her wardrobe for appearances in the House of Lords, where it was almost a uniform and of course the cape featured regularly in her activities in the now legendary Country House Concerts particularly for outdoor performances. While the curator thrills to her own idea of an empty space containing the Cloak of Invisibility, Sebastian smiles as he gazes upon his aunt’s capes and for a moment fancies he can hear her sling backs, the swish of her petticoats and if he is not mistaken that fragrance which was her trademark, Arpège.

oozing je ne sais quoi – Muriel!

It is funny how even when some people are gone they are still here and he is reminded of something his aunt once said “we are all remembered until the last person who knew us goes and then perhaps most of us are forgotten”. “Well” said Sebastian, out loud “trouble is Aunt you were not most of us.” The Provost, still chuckling about the cloak of invisibility, turned and said, “ some old wee Glasgow wifey’s  clothes, I imagine, let’s get another drink.” The famous actor indignantly replied “She was not ‘some’ Glasgow wifey! She  was some Glasgow lady – who meant business!”

A Recent Find at The Barras

Hilary at her desk

Thespian and Provost leave the temporary exhibition gallery, glancing at the shopping opportunities, which are many and head for the Meet the Press reception in the Ann Macbeth Sewing Centre. As they help themselves to more champagne they ask for questions and a well known newshound, Miss Hilary-Dee Range of ‘The Sunday Slouch’, just back from a spot as an overseas correspondent, brings silence to the assembled group when she asks, “Sir Sebastian the recent discovery of a diary in The Barras, which belonged to a well known Glasgow medium in the 1950’s, suggests that your Aunt Baroness Wylie of Waterside may have known rather more about the murder of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth more than 60 years ago than she admitted at the time. Do you have any comment to make?”

Sebastian feels a searing pain, like a dagger, going through him.

Sir Wylie Fox

April 2017

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