Making Christmas Gay

Ever Prepared

I’ll see you soon

“Well Dahling, I hope you have a happy Hanukkah when it comes and Jasper says will you save him a slice of brisket and one of Cecilly’s (your woman what does, but much more than mine) special filled doughnuts. I know you will be busy too for the next couple of weeks so shall we say just at the back of 12 on the 3rd in Daly’s Restaurant for a spot of lunch and some hat shopping in the sales? Marvellous, au revoir until then.”

Oh sorry, my apologies, I did not realise you were there.

Together at a Good School

That, in case you are wondering and who wouldn’t with my telephone manner, was my dearest and oldest friend Jacqueline who lives off Great Western Road in a simply marvellous house with first floor drawing room in the Scots’ tradition. Well a tradition if you have a large house, otherwise I imagine you have a sitting room or, if you are really common, a lounge. I cannot bear the word lounge; it is far too languid and suggests torpor and sofa beds or “Put Me Ups”. Anyway Jacqueline would never have a lounge as we were at school together. We were comrades in liberty bodices as we navigated double Latin and the famous three armed dress.

the best use of an old Minton plate

Not to mention, so I will, the hours we spent practising taking our egg shells on a Royal Doulton or Minton plate to the waste bin after soufflé making.

Moi’s perfect soufflé

Of course it was never anticipated that we would actually have to cook anything, however, it was considered essential that we knew how it was done in order that we might supervise domestic staff from a position of knowledge. I  do still make the odd soufflé on Mrs T’s night off.


Jacqueline had “extras” such as elocution, as her father sometimes had to visit the south side on business; they speak a different language there. He was in children’s wear with a wonderful shop full of little coats with velvet collars and hand embroidered romper sets. I buy many of Gayle’s clothes there.

We rarely visited the south side as my mother did not like the sort of people one had as fellow travellers on the Renfrew ferry with two door cars. At least she was spared the Yoker Swan, which she believed would necessitate the sort of preparations required to find the source of the River Nile and not simply crossing the Clyde. I, of course, did not require elocution as I was brought by the stork in an advanced state of perfection, with an inbuilt ability to mix consonants and vowels in the most appealing way and of course to speak in public without ever getting lipstick on my teeth due to the correct positioning of my tongue, and perfect formation of my lips.

I did of course take ballet and had a private dance master, called Monsieur Antoine, who had lavender coloured bouffant hair and smelt of attar of roses. He taught me to waltz too. Later I broke out and secretly learnt the Charleston, Peabody and the Turkey Trot.

The handsome stranger

That is where I first met the Handsome Stranger. He never puts a foot wrong and his steps are perfect and he taught me everything I know. I was madly gay in those days. Mama and Papa were furious and of course Grandmamma never came to terms with the new short skirts and bobbed hair and was rarely able to leave her boudoir after the Treaty of Versailles, except to add codicils to her will.

That Little Touch of Lard

mince pies

“Oh thank you Mrs Travers, the coffee will be very welcome and the first of the mince pies. I really cannot afford the pastry, let alone the home made mince meat, but there is something about that little touch of lard that makes a really good short crust. Have you finished the brasses? Good; I am going to need them for my seasonal floral arrangements. And have you scrunched the chicken wire and located my laddered stockings? Then I can make my famous and much sought after present trimmings of gossamer festive flowers, which can then be used as a hair decorations for parties.”

“Yes mam.”

“Good, then perhaps you and Grace might make a start on the flat wear with the king’s pattern. I noticed it was a little tarnished. Dare I ask if we know the whereabouts of Mr Wylie?”

“Silver cleaning already underway Mrs Wylie. Grace has it in hand and as to Mr Wylie he is putting the finishing touches to his Hysterical Society Quiz for the December meeting. The subject being, as I understand it, The Story of Bells, and I don’t mean the whisky I mean the big things with clappers, which we don’t have too many of in Scotland on account of them being too exciting.”

“Thank you Mrs T keep me posted. I don’t want him slipping off to the races at Ayr, thinly disguised as getting his library books for the festive period. I know his every movement and his every breath. Tell me are you quite recovered from the Asian influenza as I notice that you are a little unsteady on your support stockings? I hope you have not been mixing the old Askit poowders with the Sanatogen tonic wine again? You know how it can send one quite doolally.”

“No Madam I have restricted myself to steam inhalation, Brands Essence and the odd spoonful of honey and lemon mixed with a wee drop of whisky to prevent reoccurrence.”

“Well might I suggest you go easy on the steam inhalation.” 

Visiting Lady Pentland-Firth at Home Farm

I am quite glad to have a little time with my feet up on the old camel saddle you know. Why is it we all run around like headless chickens at this time of year? And we don’t really even have Christmas in Scotland, since it was thought to be even more exciting than bells in the 17th century. I have it on good authority that next year Christmas Day will become an official holiday in Scotland for the first time.

Making arrangements

Talking of poultry, we were at the Rural Bolthole at the weekend. I had to see Lady Pentland-Firth about next season’s Country House Concerts; she has got it into her head that we should put on Wagner’s Parsifal which is a well known (if you have been privately educated) opera by the German composer Richard Wagner.

She sees this as the perfect setting for “Parsifal”

She feels her estate gardens would be the perfect backdrop for the “Magic Gardens of Klingsor”. I feel this is rather too ambitious but Patience feels it will attract the right sort of people to the estate. Jasper says he rather fancies an evening of Olde Tyme Music Hall instead and would pay not to see Wagner. Her ladyship is determined and wants to know how it might be achieved with minimum outlay and maximum income. Not to mention a major role for Luigi, her latest squeeze from the Italian café, who apparently sings like an angel.

 Killing Two Birds with One Stone Apparently

While I applaud Lady Pentland-Firth’s attempt to make the estate pay in the face of state theft, I sometimes feel her view of the situation is far from the reality. For example she suggested that I might as well kill two birds with one stone, or indeed as many as I liked by selecting some Christmas and New Year poultry from Home Farm.  Her prices apparently are very competitive. Her management is, however, something else.

We walked out of the French doors from the Duke of Cumberland Salon to the General Wade Terrace and just as we were about to enter the Garden of the Picturesque and proposed site of the Wagner evening, a tractor appearing to be driven by the cook sped past and went through a yew hedge in the direction of the medieval fish ponds, where it certainly arrived as we heard the splash. “I must get that tractor seen to” said Patience, “No” I replied “you need to see to the staff. What is the cook doing on the tractor that is a job for the gardeners or a farm hand?” “But Muriel she is so good with deer paté; she always has a full bucket of liver under the kitchen sink. Let’s go and see the piggies.”

Painted Pigs

Just as well as we found the pig man in tears having come back from market to find some village boys had been up and painted the pigs in a variety of colours with paint found in an outhouse. I have to admit a blue and pink stripped pig has its charms, but I am not sure what a butcher would think of that. Lady P-F thought it was wonderful but then she has taken to decorating the Robert Adam portico with fairy lights which among the gentry is regarded as the height of vulgarity as Christmas gaiety rarely goes much further than some greenery around the Gainsborough or perhaps, if one is really pushing the boat out, a Christmas tree hung with decorations brought back from foreign travels and only marginally damaged by various fires, floods and armies of mice.

Everything has a story

Of course every decoration has a story which means that putting up the tree takes a whole day and an ability, if one is not a family member, to appear entranced by Aunt Agatha’s olive wood souvenirs bought while helping Flinders Petrie on a dig in Palestine in the 1920s and now much chewed by whippets.

Picky Poultry

a resident of home farm

Things were not much better on the poultry farm where Patience tried to interest me in the “Golden Goose” she has been trying to palm off for many years to any poor passer-by with a fancy for aristocratic foodstuffs. “It is no good Patience you have tried this before, that gander is at least 21 years old and how could you even think of killing it? It is an avid fan of the B.B.C. Home Service and thinks The Archers are a horror story.” “Muriel I only keep the wireless on so he has company and anyway both help keep the foxes away from the chickens. None of them are keen on the Third Programme.” “Well they are not going to take very kindly to Parsifal then are they?”

Perusing December 1957’s Woman Magazine

Christmas 1957
The Christmas edition of “Woman” from Lottie

I had intended to begin reading Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a professional Victorian, to get me into the mood for Christmas but perhaps I will just peruse Woman which Lottie sent over. Of course I am much more of a Vogue or The Spectator sort of person but it does no harm to see what ordinary women are reading.  Advice on gifts seems to be all important.

Apparently Prince Charles is getting a midget racing car for Christmas, it is low and ‘rather rakish and has the Prince’s initials in gold letters’. I wonder if I could get one for Gayle, my ward. Small gauge electric trains are very popular, I am sure that would appeal to Jasper. For those visiting Father Christmas in department stores Robin Hood and nurses’ outfits are popular. If you want to get a new look for a room then the latest thing from America – where else? – is to insert a coloured light bulb into the big light. “There are pink, blue, gold and green ones; they change your colour scheme in a flash.” A bright idea, no red I notice, so one can assume that Woman is a magazine of taste. Just in case the change of light upsets pets then worry not as this Christmas you can “give your dog a sedative”!


I am a little puzzled, and forgive the pun, by the suggestion that if one is stuck for a gift for an older person or an invalid, we can contact Elsie Baldwin who has run a jigsaw library from a gay London office since 1934. She sends out hand cut puzzles graded to suit every skill by post or one may call in person. It seems the late Princess Marie Louise was a regular. Perhaps Jasper is right and we need we need to cut back on the Royal Family if doing jigsaws is the qualification then it seems to me the field is wide open. Miss Baldwin is quite the skilful business women as not only are royalty on her list but she is something of a psychologist too. She hires out quite a few jig saws to party hostesses “they find a puzzle in progress gives early or shy guests a talking point”. Is it just me – because I am afraid if I were an invalid on my death bed the last thing I would want would be a thousand piece jigsaw of a Swiss chalet. Or worse if I were to arrive at a party and have to complete the mizzen mast of HMS Victory before I got a drink I would not be best pleased.

The Best Packages

Of course our women’s magazines are full of ideas for presents that one can make. Why not knit a bright beret in an enchanting glittery, style for special occasions and a gay, simple classic for everyday?

Why not knit a beret?

Why not indeed particularly as this gives one the opportunity to knit a party beret in Patons’ Fuzzy Wuzzy, one style not only has a ribbon bow but the talking point of little ears. I would have to get extra wool for Mrs Travers or it would be difficult for her to listen at the door with her glass.

For very special people

On the other hand for “young special people” Woman recommends “a gay unfamiliar package” , perhaps the Princess makeup pack with vanishing cream, face powder and lipstick – beginners bliss for 6s 6d. Make sure the wrapping is appealing and why not go for Spicers’ “Gaywrap” with a “wealth of choice of colourful designs ready to add a finishing touch…..”


Remember as Edith Blair writes in “Pack a Pretty Parcel” that a gay parcel says “wrapped with love”. Rest assured says Edith “it does not mean extravagance”. she is so right, I do feel that one always want a parcel wrapped with love.

gift wrapped

If one, however, wants to be extravagant, then why not “a boxed set of towels and face cloths”.  After all with the new coloured bathrooms “towels should be gay”.  It is important to remember that at this time of year we cannot all afford to be gay with exciting gifts, such as a Sunbeam Mix-master or Goya Gift box. However, it is possible to brighten up someone’s life with the smallest “minding”.

Some bright worcester ware

What about a Worcester Ware tin tray for 4/9d or unlined house gloves by Dunlop at 3/9 a pair or for 1/4d, a bottle of Camp Coffee after all “you get more out of a bottle of Camp”.

Time to be gay and spontaneous

“Hello Muriel, I have finished the History Society quiz and let me tell you it will be challenging. Ooh are there any mince pies left? And by the way if we are not going out this evening I have got us a little treat, a 1m000 piece jig saw Along the Seine in Autumn, could one ask for a better winter evening?”

“Yes Jasper, have you nothing with a bit more gaiety about it?”

“Well I have got a 500 piece hand cut “Bird Watching”. We could have drinking chocolate with it.”

Bird watching jigsaw puzzle

“Jasper if you are not careful you will be old before your time and worse not in the least bit gay.”

“Well, Muriel would you like to go out for lunch and see Funny Face at the Cinema and then perhaps a little dancing at the Locano Club?”

“That’s a bit better Jasper, yes I would. I’ll just  finish reading  the Woman Magazine with my coffee. Evelyn Home is trying to give advice to a woman ‘who dare not be ill’, ‘a spineless boy’, ‘two cousins who wish to marry’ and a woman who is ‘caught in the flames of madness’ as her fiancé is abroad. And here is an article about Ernest who despite having spent 12 months in a sanatorium now has his own duplicator. Such excitement.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

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The Great Semolina Shortage of 1957

Clinging to Life

Jasper is “clinging to life by a thread”. Or so he tells me. He has, by skilful self diagnosis, “a dose of the Asian flu”. This is as a result of  reading the M.O.H. for Glasgow’s Report in The Herald that deaths from the virus are up in the city.

Jasper like most Glaswegians is given if not entirely to hypochondria at least to exaggeration. You have to remember that here, in what Defoe called “the dear green place”, even the simplest thing that goes wrong like the non appearance of a tram or an overdone roll and sausage is a “catastrophe” and many mild inconveniences are considered to be events that are “ pure dead devastating”.

the Tunnocks’ teacake – a popular teatime treat

I suppose there has to be a down side to the city that produces the greatest ships in the world as well as Creamola Foam and the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer and Teacake.

Don’t Go Rambling Around Kirkyards in Winter

The local graveyard – spooky and damp at any time of day

I would say that Jasper has a bad cold brought on by his rambling around the Kirkyard with his Hysterical Society chums trying to find the grave of a villager who served in the Napoleonic Wars. Even Jasper’s famous tweed suits do let in a modicum of damp and that is where the rot sets in.

Jasper in his favourite tweed suit

Typically he has managed to have everyone running around after him, plumping pillows and preparing steam inhalations. Anyone would think he was deep sea diving as this requires, in addition to the towel-covered basin and chair (“in case I faint from want of sustenance Muriel”) two additional helpers, one to add the boiling water from the copper kettle (kept for incapacity) and another to put the towel (must be white and fluffy) over his head to ensure minimum steam escape.

While I am not prepared to indulge him Mrs Travers always is and now she has a deputy in the form of Grace Cambell, a lady from the Caribbean, who has recently joined what I believe some refer to as “Kelvinside’s Royal Household” – too funny for words, but I can understand it – we have standards in common and good bag management.

A Prejudice Against Nurses

Grace has been engaged, for a trial period understandably, to take the place of Hilda, the missing German vuman vat did zee heavy vork. Grace it turns out is ideally suited for Jasper’s current indisposition as she trained as a nurse in the West Indies. Mrs Travers seems to be getting on well with her. Grace is a willing worker and, like Mr Travers, Mr Cambell it seems, is rather difficult. He is a chimney sweep and according to what Grace told Mrs Travers there are few flues this side of Anniesland Cross that have not experienced his rod and brush. Of course I myself prefer my flue to be swept with a holly brush, which is far more traditional in Scotland. My neighbour across the road, Mrs Lottie Macaulay, seems to have taken an instant dislike to Grace. I cannot think why; perhaps she has something against nurses?

I Know What He is Up To

Actually I am a little suspicious that Jasper is dragging this whole cold thing out a little too much. I have a feeling he is trying to avoid the extra Scottish Country Dancing Lessons that I have been sending him to in order to prepare for the festive season. Jasper has two left feet where Scottish country dancing is concerned and I for one would like to correct that which I am sure must be possible without callipers.

Of course coming from The Gorbals he can do the basic Ceilidh dances – the Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant and even, if push come to shove, an Orcadian Strip the Willow.  However, in our society if one might be permitted to sound a little pretentious which I know is so unlike moi, I have to say something with a little more finesse is required. One might for example consider the Duke of Perth or Lord Maclay’s Reel, something which shows off a finally turned ankle in a pas de basque or a well angled shoulder in a dos-à-dos.  For as I am sure you know country dancing is really the wrong name, for these are far from the jigs of rustics; they are really court dances which are derived from European influence on Scottish society with the arrival of Marie De Guise in the 16th century. The dances are elegant and gracious, however they are also quite challenging.

It’s For His Own Good

Quite frankly if one can master the Duke of Hamilton , then one is quite able to spend a weekend at Balmoral, which in truth I never have, but one never knows when the call might come, they certainly could do with some new carpeting. Too much tartan is not a good thing.

Jasper has tried quoting Lord Chesterfield’s advice to his son that “Dancing is a very trifling and silly thing”, to which I have countered his argument by finishing the quotation and that “it is one of the follies to which people of sense are sometimes obliged to conform and then they should be able to do it well…” As I have said to Jasper between inhalations of menthol crystals, “remember the graceful motions of the arms, the giving of your hand and the putting on and off of your hat genteelly, are parts of a gentleman’s dancing”. It is also a fact that dancing “teaches you how to present yourself, to sit, stand and move genteelly”. I suppose he has a point when he says there was not much call for gentility in Hospital Street, where running was the key to survival. Still one can try.

Senseless Whirling

Of course Scottish Country Dancing was part of the curriculum when I was at The Westbourne School for Young Ladies, it was very much an accomplishment. As I said graceful movement is the aim and as my dear Grandmamma said to me, “Muriel dancing is not about senseless whirling and getting so dizzy that one ends up falling into a hay bale and losing one’s virtue. Dancing is a measured thing and a lady would do well to remember that in a reel or Strathspey one’s pearls never leave one’s chest.”

The uttering the word “chest” usually left her breathless and reaching for the sal volatile (smelling salts to the uninitiated). I have to admit that at the time I wondered how Grandmamma managed to ground her pearls as her chest was a not inconsiderable structure and it would not have surprised me to know that an ill timed pousette or an over hasty “Postie’s Jig” may well have given her a bruised nose. Her pearls it has to be said were like pigeons eggs. So the weight may explain a great deal.

Enhanced Cake Production

fruit cake

Dancing aside there have been more practical considerations this week, many of them centred on the preparations for the festive season in the kitchen. As you can imagine domestic cake baking approaches a feverish pitch at this time of year as the women of Scotland service the glue of society that is provided by sales of produce at Church and Village hall sales by Women’s Guilds and the S.W.R.I..

Proper Scottish soup – with bits!

We had our Guild Christmas soup and pudding lunch last weekend at our church in the Rural Bolthole. In case you are wondering soup and pudding at midday is a custom in Scottish rural areas, lying between “ma 10 o’clocks” and “ma 3 o’clocks” which are snack times. This forms part of the rhythm of country life providing sustenance to hard working farmers who “have been up at the beasts” since 5am and are hungry. The main course of meat and potatoes is served in the evening. Church lunches are rounded off with endless tea and a traybake or at this time of year a piece of shortbread.

An Understanding 

My simply marvellous shortbread

Now shortbread is a very competitive business and I am famous for my shortbread with my secret crunch ingredient semolina. Indeed it is often the recipient of first prize at F.A.F.S. (The Flower and Fête Show) in the late summer.

Of course it is understood that the entrants like myself with a certain position in society have not actually baked anything themselves. That is what one has staff for. I can of course cook when required, for I am after all S.O.E. trained.

The Annual Kitchen Visit

It would require a considerable leap of imagination to think that those and such as those have actually got their hands in the mixing bowl. My Grandmamma only saw the kitchen once a year when she came down to present the staff with their Christmas presents. It was an event which filled her so full of dread that the preceding days took on the manner of a missionary about to depart for the South Seas.

It was not uncommon for her lower limbs to give way at the very sight of the green baize door and an uncarpeted stairway. There were in fact several years when she had to be conveyed below stairs in a sort of litter carried by two footmen. I remember one year in particular when on arrival and gasping her lavender soaked handkerchief to her nose she caught site of cook taking the skin off a pork link for the servants’ toad-in-the-hole and fell backwards into the arms of one of the valets. This would have been fine had she not come too and seen that he not only had his liveried jacket off, revealing a shapely torso but his shirt sleeves rolled up beyond his elbows. Grandmamma, who had insisted that her husband keep his coat on even on their wedding night, had never seen a man’s elbow and the kitchen maid was accordingly sent to fetch the doctor who proposed bed rest in a darkened room and a tonic wine.

Grandmamma and the Semolina Breakthrough


Despite her difficult relationship with the kitchen my Grandmother’s shortbread was in a class of its own. It was she who first introduced the semolina element into this favourite sweet bite. This was probably because she was friendly with the Marshall family who pioneered wheat based foodstuffs in Ibrox on the south side of the city. It was here that James Marshall set about producing “farinaceous substances widely known as Marshall’s Preparations of Wheat”. His crowning glory was semolina, a fine nutritious substance high in protein and carbohydrate, which The Lancet described as “a highly valuable form of food”. Of course others produced it but Marshall was better at marketing. He and his brother also produced Farola, a more refined product which they marketed for invalids and “the most fastidious”. Grandmamma, who was the most fastidious person she knew, ate it by the bucket.

In 1886 they won gold medals for their products in Edinburgh and Liverpool. The two brothers did not get on and split and formed two separate companies and involved themselves in what can only be described as the “Great Semolina wars of Glasgow”. James stayed at Ibrox and Thomas set up in Morrison Street in Kingston. It was all rather unedifying and our family tried to steer a course between the two, even on Bridge nights and were avid users of their various products.

Jasper as you can well imagine is a great fan of semolina cooked with milk and served as a pudding with cream and jam. He is a simple soul.  As you will have gathered I and many other ladies use it in “our” shortbread recipes but, it is also useful for giving roast potatoes a little extra oomff on Christmas day or if you prefer your “Ne’er Day dinner”. After the par boiling and shake, sprinkle enough semolina on the potatoes to lightly dust them in semolina and pop then in to roast.

Devastated by a Lack of Semolina

You can imagine then the commotion at the end of last week when Mrs Travers emerged from the kitchen at the Rural Bolthole, where we are spending a few days, proclaiming “Help! Polis! Murder”” and “I am pure dead devastated”, and “it’s a cat-at- tros-folk”. “There’s nae any semolina in the pantry.”

It seems that as Mrs Travers was about to start making my special shortbread for the Church Lunch, she discovered that the semolina stores were nowhere to be found along with an absence of several other forms of dried goods and an obvious invasion of mice. Now Mrs Travers is many things but disorganised is not one of them and I have to agree with her that somehow it was further evidence of Hilda sewing disharmony in the household – just as her masters behind the Iron Curtain sew disharmony everywhere else using I imagine far more dangerous means than semolina. “Mrs Wylie what will the Christmas Soup and Pudding lunch be without your perfect circles of melt in the mouth happiness with the secret ingredient that everyone else uses too?” “We should be able to get some from the grocer’s” I replied, “But it is early closing, Mrs Wylie.”

Help from My Purveyor

I decided to take matters into my own hands and telephoned Mrs Graham who said that her husband was in the Pentland Firth Arms playing gramophone records at The Old Folks Christmas Party. When I arrived Mr Graham, Licensed Grocer and Purveyor of Foods of Distinction, was just putting on Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka for the fifth time and said he would open up as they were about to play pass the parcel which always became quite violent so he would be glad to be out of the way for 15 minutes or so.

I must say he made me feel quite nervous as he said there was something of a shortage of semolina this year due to unspecific distribution difficulties with greater demand, for some reason, from behind the Iron Curtain and increased shortbread making (“not that anyone’s recipe comes close to yours Mrs Wylie”) not to mention its use as an invalid food, during the present Asian ‘flu epidemic.

Fortunately we found one remaining packet nestling between the macaroni and Brown and Polson’s blancmange powders. The day, or rather the shortbread, was saved.

Muriel’s Tactical Approach to Illness

Well the shortbread got made and what was left after lunch I sold for the Home for Fallen Women and made a tidy sum. It’s surprising how popular unmarried mothers can be at Christmas. So all is fair in love and semolina wars. Now just to show willing I am going to take Jasper an invalid tray up with a bowl of semolina and homemade raspberry jam. I have also bought him one of the new Biros which seems quite common so will have an appeal, especially as they advertise it as useful for doing the pools, or in Jasper’s case the racing at Nottingham which he does not think I know about. I am hoping he feels better as we have been invited to the Scottish premier of Around the World in 80 days at The Gaumont in Glasgow.

A Tray for Jasper

“Oh  goody Muriel, semolina and jam. Can I mix it in and make it go all pink?”

“If you must Jasper, and in keeping with your predilections for the lower end of civilisation, here is something new – a Biro. It does away with bottles of ink which to me sounds like the beginning of the end but I thought it might appeal.

“Thank you Darling; how thoughtful.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Oh, better; for a while it was touch and go but a lot better. Any cream? Good. I might come downstairs to watch some television, I could do with some fresh air, but I am too weak for country dancing. So very weak Darling.”

“I realise that Jasper, what about the cinema tomorrow? It’s David Niven.”

“Oh with the right care, I might just pull through. What time does it start?”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

December 1957


Grandmamma’s rather indecipherable writing

Muriel’s Marvellous Shortbread Recipe – I suggest you make it as a round and then cut into petticoat tails, but it can equally be baked in a rectangular tray and cut into fingers.

  • 1lb plain flour
  • 1 tablesp S.R. flour
  • 1 teaspoon semolina
  • 1 oz lard
  • 8 oz butter (or butter and marg is you must)
  • 5 oz castor sugar

Mix butter and fat to a cream. Gradually add the dry ingredients and knead well. Put in whatever tray you decide on and prick. Bake in a slow oven for about an hour. Cut into your selected shape on taking out of the oven.




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Muriel’s Musings: That’ll Be the Day!

The Talk of the Steamie, Apparently

apparently I am the talk of the steamie

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but having domestic help these days can be a mixed blessing. Now I am aware that many of you are running a home without such luxuries as a refrigerator or a top loading washing machine, let alone a food mixer or a daily woman (what does but not a lot)  and I can already hear you saying “well it is all right for her”.

I do have a social conscience you know, but let me assure you that having staff is a circumstance not without the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. You will have heard, since it is I believe “the talk of the steamie,” that I have to quote Lady Pentland-Firth, “lorst”, my German vuman vat did zee heavy vork. I cannot go into details, as it is as Mrs Travers would say “subterranean” but it seems Hilda was not all she seemed and has disappeared. Her whereabouts is a mystery and the subject of an ongoing investigation by the police and those who work in the shadows.

“The Shettleston Shine”

This is very inconvenient as at this time of year as there is a great deal of heavy work to be done, what with bed springs to be dusted and the copper pans to be cleaned with lemon juice and sand. This in case you are wondering produces a dull shine suitable for the kitchens of the discerning, it’s what my Grandmamma would have called an “Edinburgh finish”, dull but reliable with that all important hint of economy so beloved by the residents of our capital city. Jasper prefers the copper and brass to have more of a “Glasgow finish”, that is to say more brassy,  so that one can see one’s face in it, or what I call “a Shettleston shine.”

Man of tweed

Sometimes I have to remember that despite the tweed finish, poor Jasper is really rather common. I think of myself as a missionary. I am, I suppose, the David Livingstone of the soft furnishings world, the woman who has brought to the darkness the light of the chiffon pleated lampshade and the fully fringed standard lamp, with integrated wine table.

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

Which reminds me, I must order some British Museum dressing, for my inlaid tooled leather furniture or it will dry out and resemble a bog man or Mrs Travers after she has been exposed to too much sunlight on Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

The Employer of Choice

Mind you unless I can reappoint soon, I will be lucky to get the stair carpet turned before Ne’er Day. It’s my own fault really. I have advertised in The Glasgow Herald of course and have a mountain of applicants, (my reputation as the employer of choice proceeding me), but have lacked the vigour to apply myself. I think it has something to do with the onset of winter and the primitive desire to retire to the cave for the duration.

My famous bobble fringe

I know what you are thinking. If Muriel had a cave it would be like the 8th wonder of the world, a bit like one of Carlo Ferrario’s designs for the opera Fosca by Carlos Gomes only with sofa tables and some washed out peony lose covers and fringed lampshades. It is also always such a thought having to break in someone new and I know I have my little ways, like my paper fans for unlit fires and lavender water on my bolster covers.

Harmony at Home

Right at this moment there is also an unusual harmony in the household as Mrs Travers and Hairy Mary, the Nurse from Inveraray, are in the kitchen entertaining Gayle, our ward, with Jasper, my husband, making jam tarts. Although separated by many years, both Jasper and Gayle seem quite happy in the playpen and it would be hard to say who is covered in the most jam or who has eaten the most left over twists of pastry and raspberry jam.

Hopefully they will do nicely for afternoon tea, but in the meantime it is rather nice to be sitting with one’s feet up, although rest assured I am doing my routine of nice toes, naughty toes. I wouldn’t want you to think I have been idling away my morning in carpet slippers, curlers and candlewick dressing gown like some Labour voter.

Improving on Perfection?

No; despite being fatigued by a busy week I never miss the opportunity to improve myself (not that there is too much to do) by reading and of course I have my obligations to my many correspondents.

I have been reading Justine a new novel by Lawrence Durrell. The narrator is an impoverished writer rather like Jasper and the central figure a beautiful, rich, mysterious woman like someone not a million miles from where we are sitting. Indeed she also keeps a diary. Although perhaps – the real star is the city of Alexandria. Now I don’t mean the town on the River Leven near Dumbarton famous for its printing, textiles and the Argyll Motor Car Works; no, I mean the Egyptian port famous for its lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In Justine we see a picture of a place that is both elegant and cosmopolitan in its buildings and also full of poverty. I feel the Egyptian town is rather like Glasgow, except without the rain.

Ever the Source of Inspiration

Talking of rain I had a letter from Benjamin Britten this morning. Not the rabbit you are thinking of Beatrix Potter; none other than the composer of some rather good pieces, at least to my mind, and asking if I had any suggestions for something that might appeal to children. Well I was at the time watching Gayle transfixed by the rain battering on the conservatory roof and Mrs Travers came in and said it looked like Noah’s Flood. So I thought now there’s an idea and have quickly replied to him suggesting a piece based on the event.

Jasper said this was a good idea as he knew what Mr Noah felt like being mocked by Mrs Noah, his argumentative wife, and her gossips for building an ark. He felt the same when he had demonstrated his Battle of Cambrai diorama made out of papier mâché to Lottie Macaulay and Cynthia Savage when they were here earlier in the week to pick me up for the Christmas Fayre.

Commemoration with the Hysterical Society

Part of Jasper’s current World War I Exhibition

At least it was only 40 days and 40 nights for Mrs Noah; I suspect I am going to be treated to Jasper’s diorama until Armistice Day next year. It will, he tells me, be the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice and he plans something special for the Hysterical Society. As yet this has not been revealed. Let us hope it will not be a mock up of that train in the woods in Compiegne. I refuse to put railway lines across my herbaceous borders which are based on Vita Sackville-West’s at Sissinghurst; only with more colour.

Jasper says I am a bit carnapcious this week; perhaps it has something to do with the phases of the moon; I do think the moon affects one. After all if it can move water in and out twice a day on the coast, it is capable of a great deal.  There have been a couple of rather terrible events which have been praying on my mind. First there was a flying-boat crash on the Isle of White last month which killed 45 people and I have just been reading about the Lewisham Rail Crash in London which has killed 90 and injured 173. So sad for so many people for whom Christmas will never be the same. It is never easy to comprehend loss on such a large scale, either at the festive season or indeed at any other time.

Taken, Out of Kindness

Talking of which I was at the funeral of a lady this week, who died without any family around her, for she had none but many good friends who came to her tea. This is the season of “the winter clear out” in this part of the world when it is said that out of kindness those who might be best spared another winter are “taken” out of kindness.

the Pentland Firth arms

Nothing is ever straightforward in the country (or perhaps it is) and the funeral purvey was held in the Pentland Firth Arms with the traditional “going under” menu of soup and sandwiches followed by tray bakes and tea and coffee. Not to mention a wee dram to keep out the chill. The Speed Bonnie Boat Function Room (used by the Masons on Tuesdays and Rotary on the first Thursday of the month) was eschewed in favour of the main Bonnie Prince Charlie Dining Room “with sprung floor”.

Jasper Sets the Record Straight

Actually according to Jasper and his Hystericals, the Jacobites merely passed through the rural bolt hole or to be frank passed about 8 miles away, looking for a doctor. Also this area actually preferred King George but Jacobites are a better tourist opportunity than Hanoverians. They were not only on the losing side they also had better songs, symbols and images than the Georgians who have never looked great on shortbread tins or indeed any tins.

The reality of course was different but then in Scotland myth is everything. We never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Which reminds me – my Flora MacDonald wallpaper with the emblematic and deeply engaging white roses (part of my Stuart range) will be discounted in the January “Chez Nous” sale. Order now while stocks last to avoid disappointment.

Indoor Bagpipes and Bride’s Slice

The only trouble with having a funeral wake in the middle of normal business is that it does somewhat confuse casual visitors out for morning coffee or a light luncheon, not certain as to why they have become involved with so many people they do not know and the recipients of several rather good left over tray bakes, including the inappropriate but very tasty “Bride’s Slice”. Two earnest cyclists with beards and canvas rucksacks, who were clearly socialists, (I could tell they had cycle clips, drips on the ends of their noses and one was reading the New Statesman and talking with his mouth full, always a sign) nearly jumped out of their corduroys when the pipes started to play a selection of the deceased’s favourites during the cock-a-leekie seconds. Indoor bagpipes can be a bit of a shock to the uninitiated.

The Beginnings of the Festive Season

A nicely decorated picture frame

Not all has been doom and gloaming! Everywhere the marks of the festive season are upon us. Of course Christmas was banned in Scotland in 1640 along with most fun and entertainment and while officially neither Christmas Day or Boxing Day are public holidays here in 1957, there has always been some marking of the event since Victorian times and as the pages of the newspapers show, our shops are eager to sell Christmas presents even although it is really the New Year that we celebrate. This year I have designed an Advent Calendar for little Gayle which is keeping her and Jasper amused.

The village where we have our bolthole has been busy with Christmas Fayres selling all manner of goods knitted, crocheted, baked and painted or made on the loom or potter’s wheel, for ours is a place where people still value the homemade and the well considered. In most cases there is an opportunity for tea and cake and the profits going to one good cause or another. The Rural  had a most successful weekend just past raising a considerable sum for The Home For Fallen Women which is currently bulging at the seams. I ran my usual gifts’ masterclass with paper lantern decorations for the children and my famous decorated soap for a guest bedroom as well as my special austerity Christmas wrapping section featuring old music and flowers made from Mrs Travers old support hose.

Tea time – Later that day 

“I must say Muriel those stocking flowers of yours are very clever, I am sure they will appeal to someone who cannot afford the gift wrapping service at Daly’s,” said Lottie looking at a selection of Muriel’s handmade present trimmings on a tray in the drawing room.

“You are too kind Lottie. I take it you don’t want to purchase any?” asked Muriel. “It’s for a good cause”.

“Oh Muriel, I don’t see how the Home for Fallen Women affects little old me” gushed Lottie.

“No, but it certainly affects Mr Macaulay” muttered Mrs Travers struggling in with a large tray of tea and homemade jam tarts.  “By the way Mrs Wylie there’s a woman in the hall come about the assistant housekeeper post, I have already tried to put her off saying the last woman got a bit trapped in the job.”

“Well that is not exactly true is it Mrs T she just made it look as if she did. You cannot object to them all you know; you need the help what with you being a martyr to your veins and hypertension as you outlined in a recent letter to me, the word hypertension being the only one spelt correctly. Anyway I asked for application by letter.”

“Well I suppose so Mrs W. Anyway this one’s a bit different seems quite friendly says she came from the agency.”

“Show her in.”

In to the drawing room stepped a shy smiling lady with a smart white blouse and a colourful skirt with appliquéd pineapples, she was a lady from the Caribbean.

“Good afternoon Mrs Wylie”

“Good afternoon  Miss..?”

“Grace… Grace Cambell  ma’am, Mrs Grace Cambell. Sorry to barge in but I got your details from the agency. My husband and I have just moved north. Mr Cambell has a position as a chimney sweep.”

Mrs Travers plonked the tray down and snorted in disbelief at the idea of a West Indian chimney sweep, her mind running ahead of her with all sorts of strange images and things she knew she shouldn’t say.

Mrs Lottie Macaulay who always has difficulty with the unknown and unfamiliar widened her eyes, sucked in her cheeks, took a sharp intake of breath  and leaned forward to Muriel whispering in disapproval that was so loud all could hear. “Oh Muriel, that’ll be the day, I don’t think so do you, there are so many more to interview, look at the pile of applications on your desk, they all look more suitable.”

“How clever of you to be able to judge people from a pile of paper rather than someone standing before you” said Muriel looking distinctly frostily at Mrs Macaulay, “on the contrary I think this is indeed the day for us and for you Mrs Campbell. I feel instinctively we are going to get on. Now tell me where did you get that skirt?”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

December 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

Jasper’s Jottings: Old Fashioned

No Sparkle

November is a very tiring sort of month, don’t you agree? There is something distinctly odd about the weeks sandwiched between Bonfire Night and Advent. I suppose one might think of it as a sparkle deficit.

Occupations and Investigations

Cousin Lulubelle all ready to celebrate Ju

Of course Muriel’s American cousin does have Thanksgiving which I imagine is a sort of Christmas rehearsal and we in Scotland have St Andrew’s Day where, as far as I can see, nothing much really happens. The weather varies between cold and frosty and wet and grey which makes it not only tiring, but confusing.

Of course we have as you know our “occupations” with our various clubs and societies now in full swing including country dancing, which many live for, and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute who are busy putting as many items as possible into a matchbox, all of which are promoted by dark nights and fuelled by cake.  For those of a sporting nature there is always fly tying or carpet bowls and of course the gladiatorial contest that is the monthly meeting of the Parish Council. That, however, is not for the faint hearted or those of a nervous disposition. I, of course, have responsibility for “the Hysterical Society” as Muriel calls it, which as you know has not been without its difficulties after last month’s meeting was completely ruined by the strange affair of HiIda, our German “vuman vat did zee heavy vork”. She has now disappeared, having faked her death in a rare 18th century man trap on loan from the Pentland-Firth Estate.

Mrs T , the woman what does but not a lot, busier than ever

This is the subject of a police investigation and a great deal of complaining on the part of Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, who has had to “pick up the slack”, not to mention the damp dusting broom. 

Apple Turnover, Anna Karenina and Coconuts 

Sensing Mrs T’s annoyance and in an attempt to promote industrial harmony, Muriel has given her the morning off and a 10 shilling note to renew her support stockings and have a cup of tea and an apple turnover in the City Bakeries. In some ways it is all a bit rich given that Mrs T was not overly keen on Hilda in the first place, convinced she was after her position; and indeed for a while was held in police custody on suspicion of murder. As it turns out we should have been suspicious of Hilda for many other reasons.

Muriel herself has gone into town with Gayle (our ward and the daughter of our nephew Sebastian, the thespian who is in New York with the method actors) and Hairy Mary from Inveraray, the nursery nurse. Gayle is now in a push chair and Muriel feels it is time she got used to thick carpets in good department stores, so they are beginning with Coats and Mantles, followed by hats in Daly’s and then Karters, the Furriers as Muriel thinks it is never too soon for a girl to be dressed like a miniature Anna Karenina and the frosts are coming. I have no doubt Muriel will also return with a new hat.

a hat from “daly’s”

One would think the house would be quiet. However, the piano tuner is in the drawing room as Muriel is thinking of having a cocktail party for Christmas. Apparently the parquet flooring in the conservatory is a little dull and Muriel has got hold of some poor chap from foreign parts who is currently polishing it with coconut shells tied to his sandals. Muriel has heard this is what they do in the Carribean. The noise is pretty deafening.

Jasper and his beloved shed

I have, therefore, decamped to the shed as I have a new model of a World War I tank to go into my diorama of the Battle of Cambrai, which will require some thought as to positioning. Fortunately there is paraffin in my heater and a spot of whisky in my flask of tea so I should be able to keep the chills away.  Thank goodness for tweed and hot bags for the feet.

Stone Pigs and Silver Spoons

Well actually I have a hot pig as I am, what Agatha Christie calls, a “nice old fashioned type of person”. At least I hope I am nice. I think ceramic pigs (known as stone pigs) are an excellent way of keeping warm providing one remembers to wrap them in a towel as there is always a danger of toe stubbing.

An old fashioned sort of fellow

If I am old fashioned I hope it is in the best sort of way. I wouldn’t want to be old fashioned in the sense that some of our friends and neighbours are – you know the sort I mean, those who think there hasn’t been proper justice since Lord Braxfield was on the Bench or that the welfare state is state theft by any other name. No, I wouldn’t want to be that sort of nasty old fashioned person who thinks poverty is a personal failing or that women should be “enceinte, barefoot and in the kitchen”.

No, I mean the sort of wonderful ‘old fashioned’ – that others come first and one comes second. Although Muriel and I were brought up in very different parts of Glasgow, she with a silver spoon in her mouth and me with a coal shovel, we were both taught that others matter more than we do. That’s the sort of old fashioned person I strive to be. It is not easy – granted, especially when one is confronted by the great moral dilemmas of life such as who gets the last portion of syrup sponge and custard or hottest, most buttered piece of toast. I might fall down in these areas.

What is Fashionable Becomes Unfashionable

I suppose being old fashioned means many things to different people. I mean rickets and scarlet fever are old fashioned – who would want those? The late Queen Mary was old fashioned – she wore her bosom in the most old fashioned way I have ever seen. Morris dancing is old fashioned and was probably always has been. What was once fashionable also becomes unfashionable rather quickly like Sir Anthony Eden after Suez earlier this year, the Paisley shawl which looked fine with a crinoline dress and most inelegant with a bustle. Mourning jewellery was once very fashionable and is now forgotten.

As a young man I wore spats over my shoes; these would now suggest I was a gangster. Sock suspenders for men are a subject of derision but, I must confess, I find them a great comfort. Few in my youth would have worn corduroy as it had all the hallmarks of a country labourer, but now it is a sign of the country gent or even the university student along with a duffle coat. I imagine that in time they, along with beards and suede shoes, will cease to become sensational and become old fashioned for as Oscar Wilde said “It’s only the modern that becomes old fashioned”.

Some old fashioned things of course are used as a sign that trouble lies ahead as Bram Stoker wrote, “Count Dracula has directed me to go to the Golden Krone Hotel, which I found to my great delight, to be thoroughly old fashioned, for of course I wanted to see all I could of the ways of the country”. As Jonathan Harker, a newly qualified solicitor visiting a client in Transylvania, finds out old fashioned does not necessarily bode well!

The Appeal of the Old Fashioned

The cosy fire

There are, however, old fashioned people and things that have an appeal, at least to me. It is something I suspect about comfort and knowing. Winter is old fashioned. What could be more old fashioned than a log fire?  In the winter it becomes an overriding occupation in the country where Muriel and I have our bolthole. One might say the rustics are obsessed by different types of wood, methods of storage and the qualities assigned to cherry or elm and the dangers posed by fragrant but resinous pine as it coats the chimney in tar.

Spotted Dick pudding

Puddings are old fashioned and so are parlour games and family quilts with each piece telling its own story. Stories themselves are old fashioned, serving to advise, warn, encourage and bind communities.  Travel by train is old fashioned – there is always the danger of sooty smuts as Celia Johnson discovered in Brief Encounter that most old fashioned of films.  However, one is far more aware of going somewhere different and there is the hint of adventure.

Old Fashioned Rituals of Our Lives

The rituals of life are rather old fashioned – birth, marriage and death are terribly old fashioned things and are marked in these parts in ways which sometimes seem themselves to belong to the past. No one passes a new baby in a pram without tucking a silver coin into the side of the blankets. Silver items are the christening gifts of choice; a coral necklace, still a gift for good luck. Young men still ask father’s permission for the daughter’s hand in marriage, and steak pie is the wedding breakfast of choice. Windows are opened at the time of death so the soul may fly and blinds and curtains are closed for funerals as a mark of respect. At Christmas the departed in our churchyards are remembered with a wreath of evergreens at most graves. 21st birthdays still mark a coming of age with parties and gifts of dressing gowns that will last a life time with shaving sets in leather cases, aspirational gifts from parents anxious that their sons have professional lives and there is still a symbolic and a real key for the door. A father may buy his daughter pearls for her 21st, but not a husband for they may break and broken pearls are the symbol of tears.

One Person’s Old Fashioned is Another Person’s Misery

Louisa May Alcott wrote in her book An Old Fashioned Girl, that she liked:

plain old fashioned churches, built for use not for show, where people met for hearty praying and preaching, and where everybody made their own music instead of listening to opera singers, as we do now. I don’t care if the old churches were bare and cold and the seats hard, there was real piety in them and the sincerity of it was felt in the lives of the people.

Of course a modern person might argue that this is all well and good if a person is content to act within the expectations and boundaries of society, but I often feel some sort of framework with which to live by may be old fashioned but preferable to the alternative.  I can myself put up with hard seats, although I do part company with Miss Alcott on the question of making one’s own music. This is rarely a good idea.

They say folk music is an expression of real peoples’ lives, I find it an expression mostly of moaning and a morbid obsession with transport disasters. Opera singers were invented for a good reason and let’s face it, being sung in foreign languages spares one the details which Muriel informs me, rather like ballet, is usually about toy makers, statues that come to life and Christmas decorations that get out of hand. Give me music for lounge lizards any day.

Only Words……..

Come to think of it lounge lizard is probably an old fashioned term used by old fashioned people. One first comes across it in Buster Keaton’s 1924 film Sherlock Junior. There are lots of words which are now old fashioned – who but hymn writers would use “asunder” or “eventide” for example.

Muriel’s grandmother was definitely old fashioned and  could not bear the use of the word ‘leg’, preferring lower limb, and would require the doctor if she glimpsed the sight of an undressed piano leg even on a boudoir grand. She would also never refer to a mother “being in labour”. She would refer instead to the ‘accouchement’, saying she could never discuss the entry of a human being into the world by using a word that sounded as if he or she were already trade unionists.

Mrs Lochhead, Muriel’s mother, would also describe herself as being up early in the manner of Samuel Pepys. Thus one would find her “up betimes”, despite having an “ailment” like the “ague”. This was never really the case as the ague was the old word for a malarial like illness which has not to my knowledge been recorded in Great Western Road for many a year. Mrs Lochhead would also talk of things taking place in the morning as being “in the forenoon”, and she never had breakfast she “would take a breakfast”.

Disapproval was the Lochhead version of old fashioned, they disapproved of most things – smiling in photographs was common; crying at funerals was for servants; public demonstrations of affection was appallingly vulgar; old age pensions was road to Bolshevism; not to mention anything which suggested enjoyment on Sundays or come to think of it most days.

Jasper’s Old Fashioned Favourites

There are some which have in my opinion stood the test of time like good timekeeping and manners in general. I don’t mean silly etiquette (although Muriel will disagree) as that is too often about snobbery and social control. I mean consideration for others.

Then there is public service which I think is good and deciding to do something and sticking to it. I do not really like borrowing money or anything come to that, but I do like the old fashioned notions of dividends; it is awful to worry about money, and dividends are so civilised. I prefer a pocket, to a wrist watch which says everything about a gentleman. A doctor who consults in his garden, is one of my favourite things, early rhubarb and espalier plumbs are always a good sign in a medic don’t you agree? Then there are old fashioned roses and moonlight. I think really Fred Astaire and Rita Heyworth say it best in song.

Wakey, Wakey

I think I can hear Mu outside the shed. It can’t be that time already. I must have dosed off.

A withering look?

“Jasper, Jasper, wake up, this shed smells of paraffin and whisky, I bet you haven’t trimmed your wick in weeks. For goodness sake, come up to the house you will catch your death of cold. Mrs Travers has put some chicken soup on. Jasper have you been drinking?”

“ Muriel, I’m old fashioned…….”

“More like drinking “old fashioneds”. I didn’t know we had any angostura bitters left.”

“Muriel your mother has been here with Buster Keaton and Samuel Pepys.”


November 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 7 Comments

Jasper’s Jottings: “Skylark”

I saw a fox yesterday in the grey dark as we made our way home from the county town in the Humber Super Snipe.

Lamb Chops

out to town

Muriel needed shoes, which became shoes and bag and the necessary suit to match. So we spent some hours in  Barbour’s, the Department Store of Distinction where we also had our lunch, lamb chops, mashed potatoes and vegetables for 5shillings 6 pence, a bargain if you ask me. Of course the crumble and custard were extra but as I always say “toffs are careless”. Well actually they are not because carelessness leads to the depletion of Trust funds and that would never do. So generally they are rather parsimonious to a degree which makes wartime austerity look like wanton extravagance. It would, however, destroy my line of thought to dwell on that one too much.

The Queen on an Easel

The queen on an easel

We were actually in town to attend the investiture of a dear friend with the MBE by the Lord Lieutenant of the county on behalf of H.M. The Queen. It was a lovely occasion as Muriel said, just hitting the right note of formality and friendliness. The Lord Lieutenant was as Muriel said manners personified and an excellent hostess.  Due to lingering over custard, we were almost late and yet Muriel managed to turn her relegation to the second row behind the Council table into the must have seat. How does she do it? I am lost in admiration as indeed were those in the front row who found it necessary to crick their necks by constantly having to turn around to catch the benefits of Muriel’s Bon Mots.  Even the Queen who was present in a framed portrait on an easel seemed to be at a disadvantageous angle.

Lions and Sharks

Afterwards Muriel and our deserving friend cornered the Member of Parliament to put him right on a number of policy matters. I could tell by his expression that he was under the illusion that he was swimming with dolphins only suddenly to realise that he was mistaken without his glasses and was indeed facing the full onslaught of two killer sharks.

Fortunately I quickly located the tea table and a rather nice selection of tray bakes fit for awards. I enjoyed these while looking at a rather nice Landseer in the vestibule of an African scene full of lions with a chum who wondered if Landseer had actually been in Africa. It certainly seemed a little odd for South West Scotland, wild and tough thought the landscape can be.

Now while the scene was a little fanciful, – a sort of cacophony of every wild animal under the sun I have in fact checked in my encyclopaedia and yes he was in Africa in 1909 where he designed the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Rand War Memorial. One learns something new every day, except of course for Muriel who knows most things to begin with and prefers to teach others something new every day. Or as we call it “instruct”.

I had a second cup of tea as I was feeling rather “drouthy” as we Scots say and was just about to test out a fairy cake when I was aware it was time to leave. Just as H.M. decides when it is time to leave when one is in the presence at the palace so, it seems, she can do it by remote control as her portrait was removed from the easel and placed in a canvas bag.

Under Threat from Spicy Sausage

It was good to have a diversion after the events of the last couple of weeks. As I am sure you will know gossip being what it is, that main and most reliable form of communication in these parts, that my monthly History Society lecture was spoilt by ‘the sudden death’ of Hilda, our German vuman vat does zee heavy vork. When I say sudden she was found in a man trap in the museum of the Woodlanders’ Hall where we were having the Mrs Blenheim Crawford Memorial Lecture given by Lady Pentland-Firth.

Lady P-F gibing her History Society talk

Mrs Travers our faithful woman, what does but not a lot, was arrested for her murder. Suspicions had been aroused because during a recent period of ill health, Mrs Travers found her position in our household somewhat under threat as the highly efficient and organised Hilda invaded Mrs Travers empire with her spicy sausages and alcohol drenched chocolate and cherry gateau. I must say this was pretty splendid, but sparked a conflict which threatened to destabilise our little corner of the world, where disagreements are usually over the choice of hymns and the wrong sort of sherry.

Golden Girl

Lady P-F settles down to tell her story

We spent a beastly night in the Hall while we were being interviewed by the police with only limited refreshment facilities. Only Lady Pentland-Firth seemed to enjoy herself having been firstly the centre of attention when her lecture on local superstitions was cut short with the dramatic discovery of the body.

Lady Pentland-Firth always has a range of facial expressions to hand for any occasion and her various looks for the discovery of a body were indeed worthy of an Oscar. Of course she was on the stage before she married the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland and victim of a Flower Show lunch poisoning. She was a well known star on the cabaret circuit in Europe before the last Unpleasantness influencing among others Marlene Dietrich, Carmen Miranda and Josephine Baker. The sophisticated acts involving bananas developed by these stars had their origins in a routine developed by Lady P-F involving two onions, a carrot and a cup of lentils.

From her cabaret act

Fortunately the captive audience allowed Lady Pentland-Firth the opportunity to reminisce for hours about Paris and Berlin and a world adrift after the horrors of the first Unpleasantness. Argentine Tango was her forté, Valentino her lover and she was the inspiration for such lines as George Raft’s. “Is that gold? I thought so; but then everything about you is gold”.

Dancing and Cards

As I had heard most of these stories before I was quite glad when the police inspector arrived with the pathologists although I think it was just a bit if a disappointment to Lady P-F when it was discovered that the body was not Hilda but a clever concoction of dirndl and charcuterie. It was probably just as well, as Patience was about to take some of our more genteel parishioners down some of the less salubrious parts of Buenos Ares with a story about how she put the key into corned beef.

Meanwhile out of the shadows came The Handsome Stranger who bundled us all into cars for the police station where Mrs Travers was playing pontoon with the desk sergeant. The Inspector was reluctant to release her even if there was no body, as he has had some experience of dealing with young Billy Travers, Mrs T’s son who has over the years proved to be nothing if not a regular customer. Muriel said it really was necessary to set Mrs T free as she was due to give the dining room a good going over before Christmas and what if she offered to sew some extra special things on his apron (if you know what I mean).

A Smokescreen of Food

The handsome stranger

This may have had an impact but the Handsome Stranger, who works in the shadows, suggested that Mrs T needed to be released as a matter of national security as Hilda would undoubtedly come back for a woman who had poured scorn on a number of recipes like her Soljanka. “That” said Lady P-F “is not food from the Black Forest, it is a meat stew beloved by the comrades in the GDR made with red peppers, cucumbers and capers.” “I thought” said Mrs Lottie MacCaulay the bungalow builder’s wife who had just come along because her husband was away on a golfing trip “she was from the West.”  “That is what she wanted you all to think”, said the Handsome Stranger “and she was very clever at covering her tracks with an expertise in German regional cooking. Her Black Forest gateau was a case in point, but actually she is more at home with the old Jagerschnitzel and Eisbein of the East.” “Well how very devious” said Lottie completely captivated by something more exciting in her day than the church flower rota, in which she was now behind.

Devious on Every Front

“Devious is the name of her game indeed” said the Handsome Stranger, “I am afraid you are all going to have to sign the Official Secrets Act as I have to tell you she is a very senior member of the Staatssicherheitscdienst”. “That’s a lot of s’s” said Lottie. “You want to try saying it!” said the Handsome Stranger. “It means she is basically a comrade.”

How to pronounce your vowels

“I knew it!” exclaimed Mrs Travers, who was playing her last hand while the Inspector was taking of her handcuffs, “and to think I gave her my steak pie recipe, you know Mrs Wylie the one with the beef links. That recipe has never been as far as Bellahouston let alone Berlin”. “Well” said the Handsome Stranger “we don’t know if she is back in Berlin; somehow I think not, as she was sent to infiltrate the Wylie household and undermine the British way of life as they realise that Mrs Wylie in her search for marvellousness is a key element to life in the west with her serviette folding and pronouncing vowels with her teeth against the back of her upper lip.” 


“If I might interject” said Muriel at this point, “it is napkins, not serviettes, do I look like a barbarian?” The Handsome Stranger apologised and said this was exactly the sort of thing that was confusing him now that the civil service was opening up to merit which sometimes meant mixing with people who had not been to good schools or had family members executed on tower green. To atone for his appalling faux pas he agreed to sign up for one of Muriel’s “Fun with Folds” days in which she would demonstrate napkin folding into a fleur-de-lis shape, with a linen napkin to take away included in the cost along with coffee and fork luncheon. All agreed this was tremendous value including the Inspector who was quite interested having once tried paper folding, but did not think it would go down well in the Lodge where more manly pursuits were generally the order of the day.

For Your Eyes Only

Of course, and I can tell you this as I know it will go no further, this was not the whole story. Muriel has been assisting with the British Space Programme and the Skylark Rocket which was launched this week. It is believed that future wars will be fought in space and so we must know more about the atmosphere. This missile takes measurements which help to provide that information. Muriel has been involved in the look and colour scheme of the rocket as “it is important that we look our best even if we are only spending 10 minutes in space”. Hilda has been on her trail and the incident in the museum is just one of many events designed to pick away at British institutions and what could be more British than a meeting of the History Society, with tea and coffee interval not to mention homemade shortbread.

Well I had better go. Muriel has given me a list and I have gum boots to put on, leaves to sweep and hinges to oil. There is so little time in November – the days are so short and one has to do what one can between what the locals call “Light o’clock” and “Dark o’clock”. At least Mrs Travers is safely back in her kitchen and Muriel has already put an advertisement in The Herald for a replacement woman to do the heavy work. I wonder what has happened to Hilda  as I said last night when I drove home from the Investiture. As the fox ran across the road, Muriel said it had a smile that reminded her of Hilda or as we now know her der agent Feldlerche, or the Agent Skylark. Sometimes this feels like a very cold war.

Jasper Wylie

November 1957


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1917 – The Origins of Muriel’s Musings

Patriotic tunes for dark days

Forty years ago it was 1917 and Britain was dealing with the horror that was Passchendaele, the 3rd Battle of Ypres, where it was raining continuously.  The Glasgow Herald reported the war casualties of the week, listing 126 Officers and 4463 “men”. British Forces were also engaged in the Middle East.

I have been in the attic and found some rather interesting bits and pieces from my childhood and in the mood for reminiscing I will share these Bon Mots with you today.

Home Front, November 1917

In Glasgow’s much sought after and enviable West End, war also rages between the headstrong Muriel Lochhead and her mother Ellen, (nee “Sweetie” MacCavity). Ellen has always lived on her nerves and got on other peoples’ nerves. She has a short fuse and a temper like a sherbet fountain, which is appropriate as she is the daughter of an Edinburgh sweet manufacturer who thinks that having to live in Glasgow is the equivalent of being sent to Van Diemen’s Land. It is said that Muriel’s father John Lochhead, Glasgow’s biggest ironmonger, famous for his outsize knobs and knockers “does not have his troubles to seek”.

Frank “Fast Boilings” MacCavity

Rumour has it, however that compensation came in the form of a large dowry from Frank MacCavity’s black stripped balls and the profits of his painless dental surgeries, which were not very painless at all. Fortunately Jock’s determination to have the shiniest knob in Glasgow keeps him “out to business”, as Glaswegians say, and then there is his famous charitable work. It is widely believed that his Chairmanship of the Home For Fallen Women and his unceasing support for the Pyde Piper Orphan Homes will result in him being made Lord Provost of the Second City of the Empire. Many already think of him as “a city father”, if not just simply, father.

Mother and Daughter – Too Much Alike

Muriel adores her father but her relationship with her mother is more “effervescent” shall we say? The trouble is they are both alike in many ways, as they are both women out of their time. Ellen is bored with her husband and his Admiralty work, bored with knitting comforts for the troops and is secretly comforting an artist in Bath Street, where she has had an awful lot of pictures reframed recently. She does, however, know the bounds of propriety in refined society and where her pan bread is buttered. Muriel, who is headstrong, also has an interest in the arts and design, but this time she has gone too far and she has been expelled from Westbourne School for Young Ladies.

“Just you wait young lady until your father gets home, goodness knows how the news will affect his dickey.”


If you say so Muriel; he is exhausted by war work. The Admiralty is demanding bigger nuts and longer screws and all you can do is get sent down.”

“Well Mama, I am Dux of the school and won the St Mungo Prize for my ruche pink cushion and three armed dress and I had the lead part singing ‘Anytime’s Kissing Time’ from Chu Chin Chow.”

So Rude

A song for girls

“Yes Muriel but wearing that less than decorous costume and then going to the boys’ Hallowe’en Dance without changing was inappropriate and so rude, so very rude Muriel. Why could you not have sung the charming Red Cross song instead?”

“But Mamma, my costume was exotic and designed to establish that we British have an interest in orientalism. I have only sought to copy the London production for the sake of Art. I don’t want to be a nurse.”

“Muriel your father does not pay those fees for the sake of Art. He wants you to be able to pass around trays of petite fours and talk without using too many consonants. Did you really find it necessary to include a chorus of slave girls from “Busty Betty’s” down by the canal, a camel, and a donkey, poultry including a one legged turkey and various snakes? I hate snakes they are so…”


“No; suggestive. And Muriel people could see your lower limbs! If this gets out, it might send your Grandmamma into a fit of the vapours.”

“I rather think Mamma that with the Russians in revolt and the slaughter at Passchendale we have more to worry about than some spotty boy at the Academy seeing my legs.”

“Oh no Muriel do not say legs, that would kill your Grandmamma, she won’t even eat a turkey leg.”

“Well that is just as well Mamma as the one I borrowed only has one and is said to be impotent.”

“Muriel, how are we to marry you if you use words like important, where did you learn that?”

“From  Cousin Lulubelle.”

“I should have known it, that is what comes of coming from America, they have no sense of euphemism. Now I must gather my wits before your father comes home. I am going to suggest we send you to Cheltenham Ladies College where they are very in favour of vowels and then a good finishing school in France, now go to your room.”

What is a Girl to Do?

A suitable magazine to peruse

“What am I to do?”

“Well certainly no sensational reading like The Glasgow Herald. You might glance at Mother and Home. Although not the sections on corsetry. How about an essay on self improvement – something like, ‘My thoughts on a Better Muriel’? Now really leave me alone I feel my nerves coming on, as if I don’t have enough to think about what with bread rationing, the Food Hoarding Order and the women what do, not doing much at all since 1914 and going off to make munitions at Beardmore.

Honestly Muriel you are such a disappointment. I wish you could be simply marvellous like other daughters, it would make your father so very happy and perhaps he would come home more often. Do something for the war effort.”

The Musings Come to Muriel

Well really, one thinks to oneself how is it possible to improve on perfection? I suppose I could try being simply marvellous. It is difficult with this awful war getting everyone so worried. I know. I shall endeavour to take everyone’s mind off the troubles in their old kit bags and think about the important things in life. I shall write down my thoughts and describe the inspirational nature of my week and make Mama and Papa proud of me. I think I will call it “Muriel’s Musings”. It will be inspirational yet amusing, thoughtful yet provocative. I may even mention corsets.

First Edition: Great Wars and Not so Great Wars

What a busy week it has been in Glasgow. We have been rather hectic turning out cupboards and drawers for waste paper. Do you realise dear reader that ¼ lb of waste paper makes a charger case and 2lbs a cartridge cylinder case? It is important that in this the 170th week of what is being called The Great War, presumably others were not so great, that we all pull together. We owe it our brave boys who are as we speak contending not only with a foul enemy, but foul weather too as they endeavour to keep the Kaiser out of Kingsborough Gardens

Not only that, but there has been the most awful to-do in Russia with wanton damage in the Winter Palace. Papa is worried that this might be catching and affect his nuts and bolts factory which might be the recipient of Bolshevik actions as one or two of his workers are a bit that way inclined. There is a widespread feeling that alcohol is to blame as the Glaswegian is rather keen on his “wee refreshment” of an evening or even of a day if given half the chance. Prohibition is much talked of in The Herald. Poor Mamma is concerned that this will affect her four hourly medicinal Madeira wine which she has had since being under the doctor.

Custard for Comfort

Food and high prices are a constant worry, but do not fear ladies for I have been to a marvellous food economy exhibition in Glasgow’s Athenaeum, where ideas are presented in “a haven of light and music” with two attractive concerts a day. There are cookery lectures from Miss Dodds and an attractive exhibition of honey and working bees. There are labour saving devices and a poultry farm display, many of the poultry having both lower limbs, well I suppose they only have lower limbs.

With beef in short supply there is ample advice for the housewife on alternatives such as Cremola Custard Pudding which ‘gives satisfaction and the experience of economy’. It contains all the nourishing qualities of fresh eggs and makes the most delightful custard. What is more Cremola is made in Glasgow. Papa says if I devote my life to custard puddings I will one day make a man very happy.

“Goddall’s” egg powder

We all know that because of the American harvest failure and the menace of the U-boats, flour is in short supply and poor in quality. Goddall’s Egg Powder will banish dining room grumbles, it makes war flour acceptable and a large tin takes the place of 21 eggs. Do not forget ladies that cocoa makes an appealing drink for children and a splendid sandwich filling can be made from lentils. If you are short of butter and your bread is not as fresh as it might be then a slab of chocolate between two slices is an excellent tea time treat.

Foundations of a Great War

Ladies, war is no excuse for neglecting how we look. Indeed we owe it to those who have to look at us to look our best. Let us consider the canvas. It needs the best of foundations. I cannot speak too highly of posture and therefore I recommend for winter the side spring corset available at ‘Corsets of Distinction’ for 15s 11d. If one is fortunate enough to be in McDonald’s Department Store this weekend then one is in for a treat as Ladies’ Directoire Kickers are available in a vast range of colours – black, white and grey from 8s 11d to 16s 4d. For those and such as those Milanese embroidered cami-knickers are available on request. The ankle length directoire knicker is available for ladies who desire more ample coverage of their lower limbs and are priced at 8s 11d  being reduced from 12 shillings due to demand tailoring off because of war nerves.

Looking Good is Still Important Despite The Zepplins

If, like dear Mamma, you may be what is generally called matronly or as I have heard Papa say “a winter model”, then rest assured there are solutions for you to be found at 205 Bath Street where you will find J. Stewart and Co., Tailors of Distinction. Here Mr Young has made a study of this branch of Lady’s tailoring, and his exceptional experience is at the service of ladies desiring suitable styles. Mamma says he is indeed an expert and his hands move like a flying shuttle so it is best to keep moving and have a hat pin to hand, whatever that means.

Now in case the winter chills are already reaching you or you are bothered by Zepplins, never fear skunk muffs are in season with the pillow shape at 25 guineas reduced from 22 guineas. If a beaver has more appeal then you are in for a treat, as these are retailing at 22 guineas. As McDonald’s say there is nothing that beats “a handsome muff”. Except perhaps some stylish millinery, and ladies you are in for another treat at the Anchor Mills in Paisley where Messrs Clark and Co. are offering practical demonstrations in home millinery. If there is one thing that will get us through this dreadful war it is the ability to crochet a hat and matching glove set.

Beauty Routine

Looking after oneself in great wars is vital. I recommend morning exercises and one cannot go far with what I call ‘nice toes, naughty toes’ followed by “I must, I must improve my bust”. War nerves can play havoc with the skin. Feeling hot in the face is quite common after meals where they are rushed and too much tea is drunk. Cut out afternoon tea.

‘Oatine’ Face Cream

Some of you have been asking about spots – now I know they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away but too much fruit can cause pimples. If you are working in a buffet or canteen or even in a shell shop or munitions factory and have dry skin then I recommend ‘Oatine Face Cream’. No returning soldier from the Front wants to see wrinkled skin. Hair is a woman’s crowning glory at least mine is. It is also a barometer of one’s health. Poor hair may well be the result of constipation or bad teeth, try feeding your hair with castor oil and paraffin.

Keeping Cheerful

It is important to keep cheerful in war time. Mamma and I went to see La Bohème at the Theatre Royal last week with the O’Mara Company. To be honest this is not very cheerful and I cried enough tears to make the River Kelvin overflow. Mamma was not very pleased as she said I was making an emotional scene which is only suitable for servants. I had wanted to go to Bostock and Wombell’s Show at the Zoo buildings but Mamma said many of the animals were inappropriate which was confirmed by Cousin Lulubelle who was taken by her mother, Aunt ‘Macaroon’ Mary.

I am quite jealous as she got to see ‘Anita, the Living Doll’ which Mamma said was common. I cannot imagine then that I will be allowed to see Dainty Rene Ralph the “singing sensation” at The Alhambra (the one in Glasgow not Spain in case you are wondering). Papa who believes in keeping cheerful in war time is in a lot of trouble as he went to see The Island of Desire at the Picture House in Jamaica Street. This is a deluxe tale of love and passion in the South Seas which I imagine is a little further than Newton Mearns. Perhaps I am destined not to keep cheerful.

Right on to the End of the Road

Sometimes I wish I was a waif as the Glasgow Dickens’s Society is giving waifs – 1,000 of them – a cinematographic display, “interspersed with songs” but, also “a good dinner of hot beef steak pie and potatoes and plum pudding”. It is going to cost £100. Papa is donating quite a large sum as he says he feels so responsible for the waifs of the city.He really is a beacon of charitable goodness.

He is also supporting Harry Lauder’s Fund for disabled ex-servicemen. Mr Lauder wants to provide homes, pay the rent and give the men new tools to make them productive again. Poor Mr Lauder lost his son last year; he was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He wrote “Keep right on to the end of the road” in his memory. How sad to lose a child. I hope he will be there to meet Harry at the end of the steep hill. Sometimes it is hard to keep cheerful in wartime.

“Muriel Papa wishes to see you in his study, bring your composition.”

ways to earn a bob or two

Must bash on – next week: a Christmas doiley, a recipe for dainty lemon buns and money for old false teeth.

â bientôt

Muriel Lochhead

November 1917

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 The Best Hallowe’en Ever

A goulish light for Hallowe’en

When the cottagers and those and such as those looked back in the years which were to come it, as generally agreed that October 31st 1957 had been the best Hallowe’en ever.

Men – the Cause of All Our Problems

There had not been such a devilish atmosphere since the last witch trials which had been a high point of local history and were, at the time, a pleasant diversion from economic ills. It has as they say “aye bin the same” and  from our modern perspective the demonization of men is probably serving the same function, only this time to distract us  “Brexit”, which if not folly is at the very least mind numbingly boring. In all probability, it was men who caused “Brexit”, just as they cause everything else, apart from spring cleaning and raffle tickets, so perhaps a little demonization is called for.

When Men Could Whistle and Be Proud of It

Jasper, a 1950’s man

In November 1957 men were held in much higher regard and were consequently more optimistic. Not only had the chief man, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, told them and their wives they had “never had it so good”, there were many things to be proud of – a new news programme Today on the Home Service; the Jodrell Bank Observatory had become operational; there was a new British vaccine against the Asian flu and the release of David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai allowed men to whistle a lot and relive another time when they were happier – the last Unpleasantness.

People were even happy enough to think about trying to get into the E.E.C.. This, and staying there, has been a very long prequel to “Brexit”. Perhaps we shouldn’t have bothered in the first place; we have never been very good at being members of clubs where we did not control the committee or at least have a wife who did.

“Wraiths and Warnings!”

For those with eyes to see there was some writing on the wall in 1957 – a successful Russian sputnik in space which made the Americans very nervous mainly because it was launched in a rocket so powerful it was capable of carrying other more malevolent objects over huge distances. There was a fire at the Windscale nuclear reactor, in the north of England the previous month which released large amounts of radioactive contamination into the area and worse the government unveiled plans to allow women to join the House of Lords for the first time. This would put chaps into some very awkward situations.

For the literary minded, an edgier, more uncertain future was perhaps being foretold in the many new publications like John Braine’s Room at the Top, John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos and Stevie Smith’s poem  “Not Waving, but Drowning”. Still there was always the comfort of Agatha Christie’s new Miss Marple novel 4.50 from Paddington.

 Best to Stay Put

Fortunately, there were still parts of the post war world where these weighty matters were of less concern than really major issues such as church heating systems, dahlia competitions, the ingredients of a fruit loaf and the availability of a three hole mousetrap, the latter being quite useful at this time of year as it gets colder.

The rural idyll

Such is the nature of vast parts of rural Scotland outside the central belt, which is somewhere one goes only if one has to, which is not very often, as  everything is to be had i what with even small villages having a butcher, baker and candlestick maker and one can buy everything from a “screw nail” to a length of pulley rope.

Why would anyome go to that London?

As to going to “that London”, well who but the unhinged would do such a thing.  “Tam, the man” went once, “aye you ken Tam, he was a driver for Dolly’s Buses, wis never the same again; took his wife twa days tae clean his cuffs and collars. Folk said after that, he drove like a demon and Dolly was forced to put him on the late shift as they drunks on “the vomit comet”, didn’ae notice his mad eyes and wild cornering. Aye Tam, jis had wan glimpse o’ that London and he wis dun frae. Aye, ended his days as an ambulance driver, they folk didn’ae mind either.”

Dancing, Teas, Going Under and a Race!

The beloved well fired morning rolls

The bright city lights are not needed for entertainment either, just as they have everything they need from well fired morning rolls to the necessities for ginger wine, so too do they have an endless supply of activities particularly in the winter, when there is barely a night without dancing or a Saturday afternoon without a tea in aid of something or other.

A selection of standard traybakes found at any rural tea

As the winter clearout begins to save the old folk the worry of another hard winter when “I jis want tae be awa”, there is always the possibility of a big going under  to brighten up a short November day. This is the opportunity for a heat in the church, a bit of a sing, a nice cup of tea and hopefully a plate of warming soup and a sausage roll at someone else’s expense.

Rare dry sunny days are an opportunity for the men folk to engage in bogie or bed races or the much looked forward to raft races. This is where they fearlessly sale down river to the town in a homemade vessel of fanciful and hopefully seaworthy construction. This is an activity so dangerous that the army refuses to take part, but we are talking here of a different breed of men, they are the sort who regard being run over by a tractor as an occupational hazard, sorted by a wee dram and a cow dung poultice. The finding of an unexploded bomb in a newly ploughed field does not require the attendance of a specialist military unit; one just reburies it somewhere else. After all, “nae use in bothering folk”.

When the Veil is Lifted Things Can Go Awry

The Bonfire of the Villagers

As one might expect for those who live in the glens, the old ways and traditions have a compelling attraction. The cold and the lack of light draws them to old festivals like Hallowe’en with its Celtic connections and the temporary lifting of the veil between this and the world beyond.

They are naturally drawn to fire and Bonfire Night is another attractive option above and beyond associations with religious division, and anyway there is always a nice Shepherd’s pie or sausage and mash. Of course things can go wrong, bonfires get out of control and Catherine wheels have a mind of their own, one lad even being chased through his house by one.

In the little part of rural Scotland popular with the Wylies and their chums  “The Night when the Dead Walk” in 1957, coincided with the Historical Society Meeting where chaired by Jasper, Lady Pentland-Firth gave the Mrs Blenheim Crawford Memorial Lecture, or at least she tried to.

Lady P-F begins

Despite Jasper’s usual planning, the meeting went spectacularly wrong when Muriel who had gone to check that all was well with the sausage suppa had discovered that Hilda, the German voman who did all the heavy vork  to save Mrs Travers, the daily woman who did not really do enough, was dead in a mantrap in the adjacent Woodlanders Museum, a mutual society whose premises the History Society were renting due to a 40 watt bulb requirement in the village hall. We catch up with events the next day.

The Interrogation of Mrs T

led away

“Mrs Esme Travers”, said Inspector Wild. “I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Frau Hilda what’s her name, a German lady who does zee heavy vork for your employers, the Wylies. Due to the nature of the allegation you will be held pending the completion of a great deal of paper work and the arrival of Sheriff “Guilty” Gordon, who has been located sleeping on a bench in “The Masons Arms”, or was a mason’s arms, I forget? Anyway he was dressed as his favourite hanging judge, Jeffries, for the Lodge’s  Hallowe’en party where he won first prize. I incidentally came third for my Sherlock Holmes, I have my own deerstalker. Have you anything to say?” “Apart from the fact there are a tray of sausages going to waste in the oven of the Woodlanders Hall, I am innocent. You are just picking on me because I am originally from Warrington which is half way between Liverpool and Manchester and my inability to do the Postie’s Jig  at Country Dancing which has been compromised by bunions and restricting support stockings, I am a political prisoner and I throw myself on the mercy of the people.”

Murder is No Excuse for Bad Manners

“Mrs Travers you are nothing of the sort. You are possibly a dangerous serial killer with an interest in ancient poaching bygones. What is more you have a son with a criminal record, a husband once associated with Busty Betty’s down by the canal and according to Mrs Wylie your damp dusting is not what it was, not that it ever was much. Take her to the cells, Constable.”“Will that be bread and water for her, Sir?”  asked the nervous young constable.“No sonny, I mean constable; it’s time for our ten o’clocks. Let us remember our manners –  Mrs Travers would you care for a fried egg roll?” “Well I couldn’t eat a thing Inspector, so that will do nicely.” “You do know Mrs Travers this might mean the death penalty.” “Not if you buy eggs from The Co-op, Inspector.”

Murder Can Be So Inconvenient

Muriel is anxious to get on her way

Meanwhile at the scene of the crime it is now the following day –  All Saints Day – and  the members of the History Society have had a long night, as they have not been allowed to leave until they interviewed and statements taken. They are fractious, tired and hungry despite having made their way through a pile of cold sausages and mashed potato, finished off with a slice of fly cemetery and some custard died pink to suggest blood which, given the circumstances, was a bit off putting but they ate it anyway.

Jasper Wylie, as Chairman of the History Society, is understandably peeved that his evening has been spoiled and wondering  if the Georgian mantrap has been irreparably damaged, they are after all quite rare. Muriel Wylie, who is supposed to be having coffee in Glasgow at  Dalys at 11, followed by a shampoo and set is worried about missing the train and her appointments. She is also wondering what effect being associated with a murder victim and a possible murderess might have on business at her interior design shop “Chez Nous”, after all mud sticks. However, it might increase the footfall of the curious which would be very handy in the run up to Christmas, perhaps it might be an idea to consider a range of merchandise linked with Mrs Travers such as the Travers tray-cloth or toast racks in the style of miniature man traps. It’s funny what tiredness and boredom does to the mind.

Patience is a Virtue – in Some Circumstances

Lady Pentland-Firth shocks the ladies

Lady Pentland-Firth is also easily bored and so has passed the night entertaining some of the more genteel ladies of the Society with tales of her life in inter-war Cabaret. The ladies, clutching lace hankies, feign horror at the thought of such sleaziness but secretly wish they too had a past in underground beer cellars in Berlin and cafés in Montmartre. “Oh it’s too much” said Clarice Caithness, “how could you Patience?”  “Well quite simple really – all you need is some rouge, a dressing gown cord and bath brush.” “Oh no!”  exclaimed Tricia Tantallion, “I think I am going to faint.” “Then” said Lady Pentland-Firth “you would miss all the fun.” “Oh Patience you really are too much” they cried in unison. “Do tell us more.”

Murder is Not Always Fatal

“Well Jasper, I see Patience is enjoying herself” said Muriel.

“Oh when will it be possible to go home?” moaned Jasper.

“Here comes the Inspector now with Professor  T.  Bone -Stake,  the Head of Forensic Pathology or something at the good varsity in Glasgow. Good day, Inspector is Mrs T all right?”

“I am afraid we have detained her Mrs Wylie following witness reports of an argument between Mrs Travers and the German vuman vat used to do zee heavy vork. And now that the Professor is here we can examine the body and once that is done you can all go home. I am afraid we do not have the expertise here in the country. If you would be so kind, as to follow me Professor.”

“I wonder how long this will take Jasper. I am not going to get back up to Glasgow this morning. I hope they don’t charge me for that shampoo and set.”

The learned Professor, wearing a white coat and gloves, came back into the room with an ashen faced Inspector.

“I am afraid” said the Inspector, “Mr and Mrs Wylie, there has been a dreadful mistake. That is not a German woman at all. It is a bundle of clothing, a sort of female “Guy Fawkes” if you will, dressed to look like one of the characters from a Black Forest cuckoo clock with a remarkably life-like mask that would fool anyone into believing it was a real body.”

“What?” cried out Lady Pentland-Firth “you mean to tell me that we have been here all night under house arrest for a cuckoo clock woman, there must be more to this than meets my eyeliner?”

“There may well be” said the Inspector “for in the pocket of the dirndl dress is a note which says ‘Free Laika’, whatever that means?”

“Oh I know what that means” said Jasper, “Laika is the name of the dog the Soviets have put into space now orbiting the earth. It has been reported in The Herald, but what has it got to do with Hilda I mean the Guy and if that isn’t Hilda, in the Man trap where is she?”

“Good question Mr Wylie, but we have arrested  a woman who, despite not doing a lot on the damp dusting front has not have committed a murder.”

“Well she might have” said Lady Pentland-Firth, “she looks capable of pretty much anything if you ask me.”

“Well” said the Inspector, who was by now looking rather flushed “it is rather difficult to have a murder without a body.”

“And she was quite a body” said Lady Pentland-Firth.

“Well” said the Professor  “as they say in the Kelvinside Gilbert and Sullivan Society, I shall be playing The Mikado if anyone would like tickets, here’s a pretty how de do.”

“I think we must make hast to the cop shop and release the one who does not do a lot” said the Inspector now considerably flushed, “I am not sure how I am going to explain this at the Lodge. I was in line to be a Grand Wizard you know.”

“Perhaps I might accompany?” you said a voice from the back of the hall.

“And, you are sir?”

“They call me The Stranger, well the Handsome Stranger actually.”

a rare photograph of The Handsome Stranger

“Home Office, Sir ?”

“Close, Inspector, here is my card.”

“Perhaps I should introduce you to the committee of the Historical”.

“No need Inspector, Mrs Wylie and I go back a long way. Shall we go? I have a couple of cars standing by.”

Men Again

The members of the History Society leave the hall. Muriel and Patience Pentland-Firth walk slowly together, Patience putting her notes into a capacious handbag and saying,

“What a mess Muriel, is it just me or are these cock-ups all the doings of men?”

“You could be right Patience, sometimes I think it is a mistake to let them out of the playpen, perhaps things will improve, just think we will soon be sitting in the House of Lords.”

“More likely polishing it Muriel!”

“Have you ever polished anything Patience?”

“No. Have you, Muriel?”

“ Not much, but I know a woman who can, if she puts her mind to it and we need to get her out of jail.”

Just to prove Muriel knows what a duster is!



“I bet you a pound to a penny that dog’s a woman.”

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Hysterical At The Historical!

No Surprise

It will not surprise you to learn that it is a dark and stormy night in the parish where those and such as those have their rural boltholes deep in the glens of South West Scotland.

Nature is Out to Get You

the rivers are running high

The rivers are running high after days of rain and what low lying ground there is has become drenched and sodden, fit only for gum boot or cloven hoof. The wind has whipped along the glens and swirled into the village where it is now lifting leaves, and rain-mates. Leaves, which have fallen only today from oak and ash, beech and birch, elder and sycamore, rise up almost to shoulder height. The needles of larch, though brown, cling defiantly to branches waiting for the moment when they can loosen their grip to malevolently block drains and find their mischievous way under slates, there to lodge and rot the beams of the cottagers.

the autumn trees

At the church the poisonous yew from ancient times keeps silent watch and at garden gates the rowan promises protection although its bright berries suggest a hard winter, as they do each year. This traditional guardian against bad luck provides a cheery welcome, with leaves now red and gold, but be careful stranger for a moss covered path lies beyond –  a green skating rink for the unwary.

Autumn, a Time of Preparation

Cottaging is very suitable for the dark nights of autumn or as the locals call it the “grey dark” which in many ways is more threatening than the pure dark of dead winter when you know where you stand and that is in the night “as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat”.

For the cottagers the autumn days are a preparation for the night, the long night of winter. The early promise of provender for store cupboards has been collected and lies in barns and in neat farmyard stooks, now covered with tarpaulin and weighed down with stones which in a prolonged frost, can be detached, and used upon the icy loch as curling stones. Apples from garden trees have been cored, sliced and dried in rings in front of the fire or are stored in newspaper (although of course in the Wylie household not any editions containing  photographs of the Royal Family as it would not do to scrunch up Prince Philip or Princess Margaret, even for Cox’s Orange Pippins).

Delicious brambles

Brambles are bottled or nestling in gin and tins are full of gingerbread. Those orchard and hedgerow fruits that remain now lie rotting on branch and twig or lying on the damp grass being slowly consumed by worms.  It is Nature’s warning to “tak’ ma heid we’re doomed tae go, and don’t forget ah telt ye so.”

When the rain does stop and the cloud briefly parts, there is light from the moon, but there are no stars. On stove and range, pots of soup and warming stews bubble away and in cosy corners knitting needles fly and dominoes are turned. Those who have experienced a little of city life may well be playing cards, but this like guessing the weight of a cake is still widely regarded as the work of the  D…l.  As you see, his is the name that cannot be written by those in polite, or impolite, society.

Winter – Fun at the Start

Polite or not, it has to be said that in the rural firmament this beginning of winter is rather enjoyed by the inhabitants rather as lemmings enjoy the first part of their journey to the cliff. There is something deeply satisfying about putting the first match to the grate containing doughnuts of yesterday’s Daily Herald or Manchester Guardian and drawing the curtains and playing with the knob on the wireless trying to find out what is going on in Luxemburg or Hilversum.

the Tunnocks’ teacake – a popular teatime treat

The notion of tea and a sweet bite (at 3pm for cottagers and the middle classes, 4pm for the gentry) is an excitement almost beyond compare. The smell of pancakes sizzling in the pan is positively divine, the sound of the squeaking tea trolley (“Jasper I must have asked you a thousand times to oil my left caster”) is pure heaven and the taste of new jam utter bliss. Of course in a few weeks time this will cease to be a novelty as cleaning out the fire daily becomes a chore, short days make time go quicker,  over warmed legs resemble the contents of a corned beef tin and waistlines thicken under the weight of local cake production. Scotland has not earned the description. “land o’ cakes” for nothing.

Thank Goodness for Winter Diversions

It is then that one is thankful for the “occupations and diversions” made necessary by rustic isolation –  choir practice, country dancing, film nights, the Scottish Womens’ Rural, the indoor bowling, fly tying,  the caged birds society, amateur dramatics and the Temperance Society, the latter being so small it meets in the telephone box bi-monthly as they have been banned by the manager of The Pentland Firth Arms who saw little profit in ginger beer. Some of the more radical elements of the village, that is those who refuse lifts on polling day from landlords, have started a Folk Club where they sing about the many dark days endured by what are known as “folk” in the past. These dark days have mostly been, it is said, caused by folk from the Home Counties who have never come to grips with a land that is swimming in soup and only has salad on prescription.

To counteract  this,  the Conservative Association has a new monthly Beetle Drive. Both have equally attractive refreshment opportunities  which presumably explains why Mima Macpherson is secretary of one and treasurer of the other and votes Liberal.  Indeed it has to be said most people are in everything, politics and class having less of an influence on membership than the size of the fruit scones and the quality of the “cup of tea”.

Jasper’s Balls

Jasper has thrown his lot in with the Historical Society which was founded in the 1880s and has amassed a large collection of antiquities which are housed  in  suitcases under guest beds in the homes of members pending the development of a museum. Star items include a canon ball, a good luck shoe found in a chimney undergoing renovation and a pair of gusset-less knickers left by Queen Victoria when she stayed at Pentland-Firth House. Jasper has been trying to make the society more attractive to younger members of the community, particularly those in their 60s and 70s who want a programme that does not entirely concentrate on stone axe heads and spindle whorls.

Jasper likes themes.  His study day in the village hall – “Balls” – was a sensation and included everything from musket balls fired by those hunting down covenanters to marbles, ball bearings, golf balls and balls in ancient Greek society.

Into the Woodlanders’ Hall

This evening we find him again at the forefront of local history as he is chairing the Hallowe’en meeting of the society, not in the village hall as it closed for repairs to the light (40 watt bulb included in hire 60 and 100 watt 3shillings and 5shillings extra) but in the  Hall of The Woodlanders.

This is a secret mutual society of men who work in the timber trades and have all sorts of funny rituals and spend hours discussing spruce, grain, comparing their saws and yelling “timber”. They even have their own museum of saws, cutting implements and devices to fend off poachers and those who try to steal Christmas trees. This is currently undergoing a redisplay and is closed to the public. We join Jasper as, despite flickering lights, he is speaking to the members in what has become known as the Mrs Blenheim Crawford Memorial Lecture. You may remember Mrs BC was Jasper’s secretary before her untimely disappearance.

Jasper Begins

“…. the Bovril flavoured tea will no longer be an issue as we have decided to purchase our own urn rather than rely on the good offices of the  Pentland Firth Rovers. For those who like Bovril arrangements are being made to satisfy that particular need.  Members will be sorry to learn that the catering packs of Garibaldi Biscuits purchased by Mrs Blenheim Crawford after the factory was damaged in an air raid in 1942 are almost at an end and I can safely say that by this time next year we may have to consider an alternative. Abernethy and fig roles are two suggestions which, as I fear they may be contentious, will be a matter for the AGM.

Might I take this opportunity to thank Lady Maud Maltraveress for her donation of several items including a surgical truss said to have been worn by King George IV when he visited Edinburgh in the 1820s. Also to Major General  Parkinson-Pitbull, may I say a heartfelt thanks for his kind donation for the original sandwich from his relative the Earl of Sandwich, it is good news to see that it comes with its original crusts. Oh yes and I almost forgot last but not least to Mrs Effie McCaffy, who does such sterling work in our bakers where she is queen of the well fired roll, thank you for the early renaissance pendant and suite of jewels which once belonged to Mary of Guise. It is always nice to have something to interest the ladies, even of a reproduction nature. Well meant I am sure. Can I remind you that next month we will begin the celebration of Christmas, when our new minister will examine the fascinating subject  “Calvin and why he took the fun out of the Scottish Christmas”. This will be followed by carols sung to original folk tunes by our very own Pentland-Firth Glee and Madrigal Club.

Introducing the Guest Speaker

Now, if someone might stop the doors from swinging open? Thank you. Mrs Travers. That brings me  to the  main business of the evening, oh yes and just one thing more – a supper of “dead men’s fingers and mash” will be served after the vote of thanks which once again brings  me nicely to the memorial lecture, in honour of Mrs Blenheim Crawford.

As you will recall Mrs BC worked tirelessly to record the folk history of the parish, much of it from oral sources. She was particularly interested in the nature of superstition and the celebration of Hallowe’en which is why it is so appropriate that we meet tonight. She was above all an expert on micro-gender-politico  stereotyping of Scottish gender specific scapegoats during the 16th century – a revisionist reversionary approach. Or to cut a long story short Witches.

Lady Patience Charity Pentland-Firth

Lady Pentland-Firth, using as few consonants as possible will now read a selection from the extensive notebooks of Mrs BC. Ladies and gentlemen, she needs no introduction for you all know Lady Patience Pentland-Firth, indeed for many of you cottagers she is your landlady and employer.”

 Locals overdo the adulation – but then they need the work and the cottages

Tumultuous applause aided by gramophone of same with words “Gawd bless her”. The lights flicker and broken branches batter the windows of the Hall of the Woodlanders.

Patience Gets into Her Stride

Lady P-F begins

“Thank you Jasper, how very kind. I know how much you all miss Mrs BC particularly for her abilities to work the roneo duplicating machine, but she has left a fine legacy of folk history and so my talk this evening is entitled “What the Folk?” For just as a question mark hangs over the fate of Mrs BC, so there are many questions regarding our superstitious traditions as they are largely unrecorded. I quote from notebook 666:

In our glen superstition was widespread. There were many homes, forests woods and bridges that were haunted. None but the brave liked to visit them after nightfall. There was widespread belief in fairies, witches and spirits. This was the reason why the cottagers made widespread use of charms and amulets. There were shoes for luck and it was common to bury a dead cat in the foundations of a chimney or fireplace.

At Hallowe’en, it was widely believed that witches rode on broomsticks to attend the Devil’s parties and that the souls of their boots were heeled with the bones of murdered men. Even one of my late husband’s ancestors Lord Ringan Pentland-Firth was widely rumoured to be a warlock.

On a daily basis we, in this parish, still put holes in the bottom of our boiled eggs to stop witches from using them as boats and decline to put new shoes on the table or walk under ladders and there are many who still refuse to leave their homes on Friday 13th. Of course some of these superstitions took on a more sinister light during the witch trials of the 17th century when many a poor woman was executed for keeping a cat or making a gingerbread that was not up to scratch.

In troubled times we look for scapegoats and what more easy target than the old single or widowed woman, barren and toothless, grey-haired and wrinkled of face.

Which reminds me I forgot to switch the oven on, Mrs Wylie if you  would be so kind as to ask your vumin vat does zee heavy vork, she knows the drill….

And Lady P-F continues

To continue we do not understand fully the nature of these persecutions.……. yes Mrs Wylie.”

A Terrible Accident

“I am sorry to have to interrupt you Lady Pentland-Firth,  but there has been a terrible accident. It’s Hilda, the German vumin what does zee heavy vork because Mrs Travers does not always do a lot.”

“What of it Muriel? Just tell her the sausages are already cooked; they just require heating up.”

“No Patience, Jasper everyone, I am terribly sorry. You see she is dead. She is in the Woodlanders’ Museum next door.””

“Has she had a stroke or heart attack, or something more teutonic?”

“No – she is in the mantrap.”

“Well I have often been there myself Muriel.”

“No Patience. She has been killed by stepping into the giant mantrap.”

There was all at once an outbreak of general hysteria with Lottie Macaulay completely beside herself. Mrs Travers who slapped her rather too hard announced  “Get a grip, someone should put they links on or it will be a pure dead waste. And I think there is something going on here!”


… be continued

Hallowe’en October 1957

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Jasper’s Jottings: Under the Doctor

Under Pressure

I have hardly drawn breath

I have barely drawn breath this morning but then it’s a tough life running a crack emergency medical service on one’s own, well almost. You see just about everyone is “under the doctor”.

Running About

Not on top Form

Muriel has not been well since we returned from Inverness and as you know she normally has the constitution of an ox. My lady wife is, therefore, en boudoir, and Mrs Travers, our woman what does, is holed up in the maid’s room. This does not really matter as to be quite honest she does not do a lot.

I have been attending both, assisted by Hilda ze German vumin, vat does zee heavy vork, and Hairy Mary from Inveraray, nursery nurse to our ward Gayle. I can tell you it is pretty exhausting running about with hot bags, beef tea, and cold compresses. There has been much talk from both ladies about “the change”, but as to knowledge they have both had this at least four times and therefore should, by my reckoning, be well and truly transformed. Still I play along and shake my head when they say “Is it just me or is it too warm in here?” or in Mrs Travers, case,  “Help, murder, polis! It’s the sweating and swellings.”

Under the Doctor In So Many Different Ways

Dr Cronk has been in to see Muriel. He is private of course and arrives in his Bentley with a gladstone bag containing the original leeches and bloodletting equipment which allow him to charge £15 guineas a visit, but as Muriel says he does look nice in a Prince of Wales check.

Mrs Travers has had Dr Payne who is from the local surgery and comes courtesy of the National Health Service, which Mrs T still calls “on the parish”. He comes with the latest equipment and medicines in a Rover and smokes “Craven A” for health reasons.

A touch of the vapours for Lady P-F

I almost forgot we also have Lady Pentland-Firth here as she let’s nothing pass her by and is in the guest bedroom having had a touch of the vapours on Monday. She is under Dr Valentine a newly qualified medic and rugby player, who she met in the Half Moon Bar of the Central Hotel recently and has been here since Thursday. Apparently his bedside manner is very up to date. Hilda having taken in two medicinal hot toddies, asked if the doctor was under arrest as his movements seemed to be confined with handcuffs and he was unable to speak. Furthermore she thought that Lady P-F must be on the mend as she was serenading the young man with some of her more memorable hits from her days in pre-war Berlin before she was ennobled.

Influenza from Foreign Parts or Outer Space?

The recommended medication for the flu

As any casual glance at the local press reveals all are suffering from influenza which is sweeping through Glasgow and has affected many aspects of our life here in the “dear green place”, to quote Daniel Defoe and even tomorrow’s game between Celtic and Rangers at Hampden has a cloud having over it.

This match between the old rivals has been much anticipated as it is the Scottish League Cup Final and both teams have already met twice this season. On the first occasion Rangers beat Celtic 2:0 and on the second there was a reversal of fortunes with Celtic winning 3:2. Both of these games were played at Ibrox. It seems the “fitba” has been badly affected by this “Asian Flu”. I am not entirely sure how we can have caught this as the furthest East we have been recently is North Berwick.

Mrs T remains unconvinced and is certain that all contemporary woes can be assigned to the cosmic rays coming from the Soviet Satellites.  Muriel has suggested that before the last Unpleasantness it would have been referred to as Empire Flu and at least the ̓flu after the first Unpleasantness had the decency to come from Spain like lemons and oranges. I am surprises she has not put the blame on the Shadow Chancellor, a Mr Harold Wilson, whom she has recently put on her list.

What Would We Do Without Hilda?

I must say old Hilda has stepped up to the mark and is, I think, enjoying the freedom in the kitchen which the absence of Mrs T has allowed. She is rather bravely wandering around with Mrs T’s symbols of high office -the Eubank and electric floor polisher, even daringly using them outside the maid’s room. It must be a little like Cardinal Wolsey on his death bed with Thomas Cromwell fiddling about outside.

Never mind every cloud has a silver lining and we are having frankfurters and sauerkraut for suppa with some sort of chocolate cake called a Black Forest Gateau for pud. Splendid. This will make a nice change from Friday’s usual fish pie. I am not keen on fish and yet it remains a Friday custom. You see if it were possible Muriel would be a Catholic Presbyterian as she is very bound by the heritage of her Scottish ancestors many of whom were Covenanters and some who were just plain thrawn. Yet she likes the glitter and theatre that comes with Catholicism. Her recent gift to the parish of sequined pulpit falls has, it has to be said, given rise to much chatter behind net curtains.

Muriel Misses Out but Jasper has Plans

Talking of the theatre, Muriel is very cross as we have had to cancel our visit to London to see Judy Garland in London where she has “been holding audiences in the palm of her hand”.   She was also rather keen to see Marcel Marceau, a mime artiste, who is very popular, I am not sure this holds much appeal for me. If I want to see mime artists I can go to the race track, well I could if Muriel allowed it.

I think what I will do will be to take a chance that she will be well next weekend as I rather want to see a Miss Shirley Bassey who is appearing at the Glasgow Empire after a season at the London Hippodrome and on her way to America. She will be appearing in Glasgow with Alan Clive, a British comedian, Ray Overbury, a tap dancer, and a team of sea lions. Although I suppose Muriel might turn her nose up at Variety especially at the Empire which can be a bit rowdy. She might prefer Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter at the Alhambra which promises song, dance, laughter and glamour in “The Five Past Eight Show”. Alternatively there is the Urals’ Ensemble at The Kings with Russian dances and songs. We shall see.

The Importance of  Strudel

“Guten Morgen, mein Herr Vylie; it is Hilda here. May I come in to your spacious and vell appointed sittoooterie?”

“ Of course Hilda;  how may I help you?”

“I vas vundering if you would like zee kaffe mit a little apfelstrudel and cream for zee elevenzees?”

“ By Jove Hilda! I vuld! I mean I would. Cake and cream in the morning it’s not allowed. What does Mrs Wylie say?”

“Frau Vylie does not know.”

“Who does?”

“Only Berlin, but they know everything.”

“Jolly good; yes we might get away with it –  I am a little peckish.”

“ Vell, I shall be but a moment, in the meantime here are your slippers, zee post and zee Bible, I mean zee “Glasgow Herald”, all of zeem varmed”.

“Varmed, vas is das? I mean what is that?”

“Heated up for your comfort and by zee vay Mrs Lottie Maccaulay, zee vulgar bungalow builder’s vife is coming after lunch to relieve you zo zat you may have some man time in your shed or club. I sink she has zee eye for you.” 

An Opportunity to Escape the Sick Rooms

Well in that case I might pop into town for a little rest and recuperation -let me just have a look in the classifieds to see what might be amusing.  Ummn well there is a luncheon meeting of the Publicity Club at the Grosvenor with a guest speaker on Stamp Collecting, which reminds me I wonder where my albums are? The Scottish Vegetarian Society has a meeting on “Vegetarianism and the Spiritual Life” at the Central Hall in Bath Stret with Dr Andrew Gold, “all welcome, silver collection”. I don’t think so – not if I am having frankfurters for suppa. The Glasgow Elders and Office Bearers of the Church of Scotland are having a discussion “Do we Require Bishops?” with the Reverend Hope. That’s in the Christian Union in Bothwell Street, don’t think I will bother – that will end up being too boozy for a Friday afternoon and I will fall asleep on the bus and end up in Clydebank.  What about, the “Arran Reunion of Natives, Visitors and Friends” who are meeting at the Grand Hotel with a demonstration by the Scottish Country Dance Society tickets from Mr Bisset? No I always get a fit of the giggles watching a strathspey. 

Things are Looking Up

A nice glass of sherry

Oh now this looks more promising. I could taxi it to Bath Street where there is a special offer on ‘Reddnut Ancient Browne’ Sherry at 22 shillings a bottle, a bit steep but Muriel will approve. Then I could have a brisk walk to Argyll Street where Anderson’s have Chianti at 7 shillings a bottle, which is a snip even if “grown under Italian Skies”, have a wee tasting session with Mr Anderson, order a case then meander to  Buchannan Street and go to Rowans where they have a special offer on golfing pullovers from 55 shillings and want one to “appreciate the protection of wool”. Not only that but they have “any colour you fancy” so long as it is lovat, grey or blue.

Rogano’s, our favourite haunt

Then I could have a late luncheon at Rogano’s where they have Paté de la Masion. This, as Muriel would tell you, is a sort of ‘Shippham’s’ meat paste for epicures and is “delightfully contrived from chicken liver, onions, veal and fresh cream” and makes   “a wonderful introduction to any meal.” I wonder if that would leave any room for the frankfurters? I am sure it would.

Now what else is going on? The Moderator is worried about the wireless and what people see on commercial television, “the mind of man” he says” is now completely incapable of being arrested by the spoken word”. He wants to live here, there are many days when in view of the spoken word I would quite like to be arrested. I am  sure that the Prime Minister Mr MacMillan would like to have the Soviet leader Mr Kruschev arrested as  he is a master of  what The Herald calls “upside down language” such as he demonstrated recently when he described “the small peace loving states of Syria and North Korea”. The Sputnik has emboldened him and given him new powers at the same time as having reduced those of Mrs Travers and her abilities to damp dust and vinegar wash skirting boards.   Oh Muriel will want to know this  – The Queen is in Washington; there is a rent strike among the miners in Sanquhar, better not tell her that! And Prince Charles and Princess Anne are making good progress with their swimming lessons.

B.E.A. Viscount

B.E.A.  has made a million pound profit in August and  the Council of Europe has suggested that there should be a common European foreign policy to prevent it from becoming a protectorate of the United States or Russia. Well that will never happen will it?

Hilda Makes Herself Indispensible

“Zer you are Herr Vylie; zat vill keep you going.”

“Hilda would you mind keeping an eye on Mrs Wylie, Her Ladyship and Mrs Travers while I pop out for some emergency rations?”

Sleeping like an alabaster effigy

“ Zat is fine Mrs Vylie is sleeping like an alabaster effigy; her Ladyship has said she will pay to have zee ceiling replastered in the guest bedroom and the one who does so little, vell she can stew in her own juice as you British say.”

Feeling so much better

“Splendid Hilda you are such a treasure; just like a matron in Emergency Ward 10. What would we do without you?”

“Flattery is not necessary, Mr Vylie. Vork is my passion. Now suppa is at 7.30 and lateness is not tolerated.”

“Quite so Hilda, punctuality the politeness of kings, can I get you anything while I am out?”

“Some liver salts would be appreciated, no fruit flavours, after all as your ‘pooh bear’ would say life is not all folderols.”

“See you later then. Now if Mrs Wylie or Mrs T should decide to get up and try and make a fish pie or lemon junket for pud, don’t let them. I know they will say Jasper needs to be fed properly, so for that reason tell them I insist at great personal cost they both stay in bed until Sunday might.”

“I was planning scnitzel for Sunday.”



Jasper Wylie

October 1957

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Muriel’s Musings – Special Highland Edition

 Organisation and Problem solving

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

Helping You to Understand Things

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

Jasper and his beloved shed

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

Part of Jasper’s World War I Exhibition

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

The Glamour of Nature

the glamour of nature portrayed by James Paterson

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

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

note the mackintosh square

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

No Digression  and a Good Clasp

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

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

The bag – note the clasp

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

Help is needed –  Muriel is here

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Time for Turnip is Coming

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

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

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

Leadership with Lampshades and Tassels

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

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

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

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

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

In the Soup

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

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

Proper Scottish soup – with bits!

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

Garnish is Everything

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

the cucumber sandwiches sans crusts – always!

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

simply marvellous radish roses

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

The Dangers of Cosmic Rays

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

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

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

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

October 1957

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