Matters of Taste

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

You Leave Me No Choice

My help is needed

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


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

Philosophers – A Definition

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

Jasper in his favourite tweed suit

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

The Eyes Have It!

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

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

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

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

Fond of a Bit of Latin

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

the charming Sophia Loren

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

Fit for Purpose

A woman of marvellousness with small shoulders

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

It Might Surprise You..

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

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

 A Lack of Dignity in the Scottish Team

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

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

Too Much Sobbing

The Stoll Theatre, Kingsway, London

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

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

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

Tasteful Thoughts for the Future

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

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

A Step too Far?

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

A simple arrangement by moi

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

Tasteful Homes but Dubious Social Standards

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

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

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

A Danish Evening to Mark the Royal Visit

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

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

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

thick gauze

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

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Jasper’s Jottings: Departures & Arrivals

 In Binns Restaurant

Binns – the place to go

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

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

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

Lady Pentland-Firth

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

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

Putting You in The Picture

The home of Robert Burns in Dumfries

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

How lovely, Nith, thy fruitful vales,

Where bounding hawthorns galey bloom;

And sweetly spread thy sloping dales,

Where lambkins wanton through the broom.

May there my latest hours consume!

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

Heaven-wards with Violin and Birdsong

The beloved Scots’ Bluebell

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

rather large lambs

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

Arrival at The Whitesands

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

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

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

“What is so awful about her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At The Plaza

The Plaza, Dumfries

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

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

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

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

“Better tell me more.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you have to do?”

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

“And then what?”

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

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


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

“Mrs Travers you should work for MI6.”

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

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

“Did Mrs Wylie say apple turnovers?”

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

Back at Binns

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

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

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

Muriel Arrives

the chosen ensemble for town today

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

“Darling over here.”

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

“Marvellous Muriel, simply marvellous.”

Jasper Wylie

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

Toodle pip

May 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 6 Comments

An Oyster Lunch

At the Rogano with Sir Roger de Coverley

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

“Another glass of Chablis Muriel?”

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

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

Legendary Hands

such beautiful hands

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

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

“That is why they invented straws.”

“How true, how very clever.”

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

“Why do you need two glasses?”

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

Like a Native

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

The Handsome Stranger

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

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

Thoughts of France

Vive La France & la tour Eiffel

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

Winnie and her knitting

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

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

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

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

A Mission for Muriel

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

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

Prof. Boozey-Hawkes in contemplation

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What, bungalow building?”

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

News of the Séance has Travelled Far

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

Mrs T displaying her aura

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

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

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

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

The late Lord Pentland-Firth

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

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

“So Patience did kill him after all.”

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

Would you like a choc ice, sir?

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

Who Was It Then?

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

On the way to Flower and produce show, 1953

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

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

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

Hirem T Knockerfella III, a late beau of Lulubelle

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

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

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

A Lucrative Betrayal

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

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

Muriel works it out with her rapier like mind

A smart cookie!

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

“Exactly, spot on as always Muriel.”

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

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

“Indeed – Won’t she receive protection?”

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

“Why would they say non?”

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

“I can.”

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

“What about the comrades?”

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

So what do we do?

“Very clever Roger.”

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

“Presumably the medium.”

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

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

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

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

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

The country can wait; Jasper needs a pudding

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

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

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

Muriel Wylie

May 1957

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Always Alert!

Muriel Prepares for Some Bad News

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

The exclusive West End abode

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

It Could not be Worse

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

A bit on the grey side

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

Cheap Shoes and Sheep’s Wool

Under the dryer

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

So Little Help

I’ve not been sleep well

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

Mrs Travers

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

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

And As for Jasper

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

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

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

It’s All Been Bash and Dash

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

The happy couple,

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

Only the Most Modern Fabrics for Jasper

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

One Does What One Can

A woman who means business

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

Learning and Always Absorbing

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

Avoiding temptation – well almost

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

Just a minute

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

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

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

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

à bientôt

To be continued I’m sure…….

A look at the menu


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Cloaks…and a Dagger!

Your Captain Speaking

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

coming into Glasgow

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

Cabin Crew prepare for landing.”

Always Time to Buy Something

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

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

Happy Landings

sir Sebastian

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

Travelling in Style

Planes of yesteryear

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

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

Connections With the Past

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

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

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

 Flying is Not What It Was

Sebastian’s scarf

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

A Familiar Face

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

Vivienne Valhalla

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

Down Memory Lane

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

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

Don’t Look Back

Watt Brothers

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

The home of variety theare

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

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

Formerly the entrance to McDonalds, now part of Frasers Glasgow

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

the former “Fuller’s”, 99 buchanan Street

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


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

So Many Capes

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

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III

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

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

Cape worn by Sebastian as Richard III

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

Just Some Old Wee Wifey’s Clothes

A Muriel Wylie Cape

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

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

oozing je ne sais quoi – Muriel!

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

A Recent Find at The Barras

Hilary at her desk

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

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

Sir Wylie Fox

April 2017

Posted in Talk of the Town | 6 Comments

Tactful Human Touches


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

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

My silver cocktail sticks

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

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

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

A Supplicant with Coffee and Buns

Delicious Hot Cross Buns

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I could do some chips.”

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

The Easter Tableau Vivant

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

The shed

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

“Certainly, and who is playing Mary Magdalene?”

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

“Will she be penitent?”

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

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

“The being discovered in flagrante delicto?”

“No, using bought mayonnaise.”

“Indeed Mrs T; letter opener please.”

Sebastian is Enjoying America

Dear Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper,

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

Cousin Lulubelle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Love

Sebastian xx


Madame Alexander’s doll

Have sent Gayle a doll by Madame Alexander.

A Spot of Sherry

a little pre-lunch sherry

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

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

No Mean City

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

Dashing About

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

Uneasy Bedfellows

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

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

The Queen in Paris

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

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

Back From the Shed

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Do we have any?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no –  will there be chips?

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

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

“You are too kind Muriel”.

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

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

à bientôt


April 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 8 Comments

Moved By The Spirits

I am marvellous

Moving Forward but Maintaining Standards

Like you dear reader, wherever you may be, I have my faults, although sometimes I have to agree with Jasper that it requires a microscope to see them. I do, however, like to pride myself on my broad mindedness as well as my simply marvellous attitude to life and excellent posture. This is after all 1957, just in case you have been in a coma or happen to live in the Hebrides – if that is at all possible.

Sad to see it go

I have come to terms with the demise of the tassel in soft furnishings, accepted that our nephew Sebastian is on the very theatrical spectrum and strongly believe that the British Empire is going ‘down the Swanny’, or should that be the Limpopo or the Ganges? I have even been known to appear in public without gloves (although only on the South Side of Glasgow) and my American Cousin Lulubelle has sent Jasper and I a copy of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”, although I am a bit of a Pat Boone fan myself. There are , however, somethings I cannot and will not condone, including the disgraceful rushing from the cinema when the National Anthem is played, serving peanuts without a spoon

The correct way to serve peanuts

(men’s’ hands have been a constant annoyance in my life) and dabbling with the occult.

So Typical of the Gentry

Last week I was due at Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a Country House Concert Committee Meeting. When I arrived, having rushed suppa and missed “What’s My Line”, I was greeted by what remains of the domestic staff, the Butler, and told that her ladyship was unavailable as her ladyship had to interview a Russian musician at short notice.

Lady P-F

Well it did not look like short notice to moi and I knew full well that the noted soviet percussionist had been picked up by young auld Jock from the midday train from Edinburgh. Young auld Jock is noted for his strength and ability to eat a block of ice cream and put a fence post at the same time so his lack of ingenuity was required to transport various items of the percussion family to the Pentland-Firth pile.

When I asked the Butler why he required to be interviewed, having already been engaged to play, he replied in a clearly rehearsed speech, “because it takes a lot of practice to hit an instrument with the right amount of strength, in the right place at the right time”. Furthermore it appeared she was “interested in the possibilities of combining maracas, gongs and celesta,” as a means of interpreting “the sounds of a country house”. I was not best pleased, especially as I was missing Katie Boyle, David Nixon and Lady Isobel Barnett. Using people is, however, so typical of the so-called gentry, even if she is a parvenu. I returned home to my rustic retreat in something of what Jasper calls a “cream puff”.

Goings on in Muriel’s Kitchen

I settled down with a crème du menthe and began making notes for my fashion piece on “The Return of The Cape”, (more of that in due course) when I heard the strangest banging coming from the kitchen and feeling slightly alarmed I armed myself with a letter opener and spray perfume of Ma Griffe and went downstairs to the kitchen. I flung open the door to find Mrs Travers and what seemed like half the village in Hallowe’en costumes sitting around the table holding hands with a turbaned figure hands stretching heavenwards and eyes rolling like Al Jolson.

Church flowers

I knew immediately I had stumbled into a séance, something I do not approve of. I am after all a fully paid up member of the Women’s Guild, (my embroidered supper cloth is in constant use), I have a permanent spot in the July flower rota, (not to mention my famous Easter cascade in the transcept)  and my iced gingerbread is the high point of coffee following Sunday Service (but not during Lent) and as the Minister said only recently quoting Leviticus 19.31 “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits”. As he says (usually glaring at Lady P-F who winks back) this is the work of “fallen angels”. Well I could see a whole collection of fallen angels tucking into the food for my backgammon evening and a certain Mrs Travers making very free with the brandy I keep for ‘Steak Diane.’

Muriel is NOT Amused

“Stop this at once” I said as the be-turbaned one fell from her trance into a plate in front of her nose, spearing a sausage roll. “Mrs Travers? What is going on here?’ “Oh sorry Madam, I thought you were out.” “Clearly” I replied, “well I am now in and demand to know what you are doing and who this person in the turban is?” The medium was too exhausted to speak and so our neighbour, the rural crime writer, Bunty Haystack (author of “Sheep May Not Safely Graze”) spoke for her. “I am very much afraid this is all my fault Mrs Wylie; you see I am researching the spirit world for my new novel and Mrs Travers kindly offered to oblige. May I present Madame Claire Voyant,” pointing to the heap in the sausage roll, “international expert on the ‘other side’ and I think you may already know Polly Wanton, Vera Veil and Crystal Clear, local ladies with advanced minds.” “That” I said frostily, “is a matter of opinion.

a simple soul

Really Miss Haystack I am surprised at you taking advantage, of a woman like Mrs Travers, a simple soul, barely held together with support stockings, who is after all, originally from Warrington which is half way between Manchester and Liverpool – surely enough of a burden, without filling her head with nonsense and making her even more domestically incapable than she already is.” “I am so sorry Mrs Wylie” responded Bunty, “it is just that Madame Voyant says Mrs T has an aura that appeals to the spirit world.”

Mrs T displaying her aura

“She also, as you can see, finds the spirits appealing and has access to vast supplies of Border Tart and savoury snacks”, I added somewhat petulantly.

In Trouble and in Limbo

I turned to the three younger women and reminded them that I sing with their mothers in the choir and that we would be meeting up on Thursday evening to rehearse Bach’s St Matthew Passion. “Why Bach?” asked Polly, “it’s only ever Bach.” “You have answered your own question Miss Wanton. It is only ever Bach because he is clearly the  composer who most approaches perfection, even if it is two and a half hours long without the sermon.”  “Please Mrs Wylie, don’t mention this to our mothers, they think we are at Miss Treadle’s, ‘Sewing for the Needy’ circle, putting finishing touches to a matching tray cloth and serviette for use on a guest breakfast tray.” “Do you honestly think” I said, “that the needy, find themselves much occupied with either guests or breakfast trays?” “No probably not”, they replied in sheepish unison. At which point the heap in the dark, or at least the light limited to the flickering candles, began to move and shake and draw itself back up to an upright position revealing a woman who looked strangely out of time and place with her costume more attuned to the 1920’s, with its beads and tasselled shawls.

Making the Connection

“Oh my, oh my” she gasped, “the spirits have been busy tonight.  I am fatigued in a most exhilarating fashion. I am somewhat afraid that Mr Patel has been rather rough with me.” Who is Mr Patel?” I asked. “Oh my dear Mrs Wylie” replied Madame Voyant, “he is my spirit guide; if you look closely you may see him on my shoulder. I have a photograph of him in my bag.” At which she proceeded to rummage in her capacious hand luggage, without success, “Oh never mind” she added, “I will show you later, suffice to say he connects me with those who have gone before and wish to make contact with those who have yet to make the journey beyond and he gave me the most marvellous recipe for Mulligatawny Soup. In his own life he ran a spice export business from Bombay and was even to presented King George and Queen Mary at the Delhi Durbar. He is in Limbo.” “I thought” said Mrs T you said he was in Bombay.”

What No Soup?

Jasper smells curry!

“Oh, really” I said, “this is too much”, at which point Jasper came in. Apparently he had been home all the time as his lecture was cancelled and had heard nothing but said he could smell Mulligatawny soup and feeling rather famished, as suppa had been early, he decided to follow his nose. “Evening all, anything to eat or is this one of our fast nights? Oh I say! Sausage rolls and border tart, hand me over that plate Mrs T and I wouldn’t mind a beaker of soup, providing Dahling” he said looking at me, “you are happy with me drinking from a beaker and providing, of course, one can drink rather than eat soup?” “Here you are Mr Wylie” said Mrs T proffering a plate with a couple of sausage rolls one of which had a serious dent. “I am afraid there is no soup, you must have been dreaming.” “Definitely a smell of curry, Mrs T; my nose never lies.” This is true, Jasper has a very sensitive nose especially when it comes to cooking smells, once he gets a trail he is a veritable bloodhound.

Between the Worlds

“Mr Wylie is correct Mrs Wylie, Mr Patel is a wonder with turmeric, even from beyond, but one must think of his soup as a taste of things to come rather than the reality of here and now.” “That’s a no to Mulligatawny, Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers “but I have a spot of leek and potato I can heat up later when they have gone.” “Oh this is ridiculous, I said “and time you were all getting on your broomsticks and going home. Anyway Madame whatever your name is, how do you know what my name is?” “Oh Mrs Wylie, surely you must know that your simply marvellous lifestyle and programme for gracious living is not something confined to earth and the here and now. Why you are famous in the spirit world. Many follow your example as a means of existence while they linger between life and eternal rest.” “Do you mean….?” “Yes I mean the Mackintosh Square has a life beyond death and

Muriel demonstrates the art of the Mackintosh Square

let me tell you sling backs are a must for the fashion conscious spectre.”

Too Much!

Perhaps – I thought, well at least for a fleeting moment there might be something in all of this, but as I could not work out on the spur of the moment how to link the afterlife with monthly sales figures of Scandinavian inspired furnishings from “Chez Nous”, Glasgow’s finest Interior Decoration Shop, I came back to my senses. “Oh really this is too much and tell me which one of you simple minded souls were the spirits wanting to contact?”  “Actually Mrs Wylie”, said Bunty Haystack “they want to contact you.” “Yes, it is true” interjected an enthusiastic and almost recovered medium, “for you are the most spiritual and receptive of us all even although you have difficulty acknowledging it.” “Well wouldn’t you know it” muttered Mrs Travers pouring herself a sneaky whisky and gulping it back, handing the bottle to Jasper, who did likewise.

“Tell me who wants me – Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great?” “Or Genghis Khan or Machiavelli” said Mrs Travers not so very under her breath “or indeed Mr Patel?” “No; none of these kindred spirits Mrs Wylie, nor for that matter Mr Patel, for he is merely the conduit to me through which the departed communicate, although Queen Elizabeth was fond of a bit of spice as she has often told me.”  Taking a deep breath and adjusting her many bracelets, Madame Voyant looked at me and said, “Mrs Wylie it is the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, you know his mother was a Minch, who wants to speak with you. Do you recall him?”

Lady P-F descends into the abyss

“Of course I do, he died at a Flower Show Lunch  of unexplained causes  several years ago, leading to a whole set of complications including Lady Pentland-Firth, losing her estate, her descent into an Amontillado ‘drinky-poohs’ problem and all sorts of people being run over by Glasgow trams or eaten by lions.” “That’s just it Mrs Wylie. Lord Pentland-Firth’s death was no accident, he wants you to know his own wife murdered him.”

There’s a Book In It?

“Oh, how wonderful” shouted Bunty Haystack, “what a plot, I must telephone my publishers in the morning. I shall outsell Agatha Christie at this rate.” “You will do nothing of the sort Miss Haystack, this is slander. Patience may be many things but she is not a murderess and it would be so very vulgar to murder someone before the presentation of the late awards.”

Lady Pentland-Firth is no murderess

“What do you mean late awards? asked the curious medium. “ Oh” said Jasper, “all the cups presented by the committee are on behalf of people who have died in the village since 1870.” “Yep” said an inebriated Mrs Travers, “it takes hours and hours and hours. So many people have died since 1870, it is quite selfish.” “Yes” chorused the rest, “so rude so very rude.”

Later in bed

“Well Muriel thank goodness they have all gone, so annoying I missed Panorama which was about the spaghetti harvest in the Ticino Valley and there was barely enough soup to go round.”

“Jasper, do you never think of anything else but your stomach?”

“I think of you my Dahling; you are the centre of my world.”

“Oh Jasper how sweet, big kiss… but no you are not having custard or anything else for that matter, you need to lose some weight and I have a punishing day tomorrow beginning with a demi-perm before my tour de force on the return of the cape. Honestly Jasper what a lot of rubbish that woman talked and the rest are so gullible. And another thing Jasper, spaghetti is not harvested, even if Richard Dimbleby on Panorama says so.”

Muriel slumbers

But, Jasper was already snoring and dreaming of swimming in custard. Muriel closed her eyes, but could not sleep and lay as was her custom, effigy like ready for the Abbey, neatly under the counterpane, white gloves on her hands.

She was almost sure she could smell Mulligatawny soup and outside the moon, if she wasn’t mistaken, had become a smiling face; a smiling face with a turban on and  leading from the face two lines of stars, the stars looked like arms and hands. In one hand was a jar and on it said “Mr Patel’s Spicy Moments, Satisfaction Guaranteed” In the other hand was an image of an old sailor, in his hand one star glowed brighter, flickering on and off like semaphore and it said, “She did it”.

Muriel Wylie

April 2017

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

Séance on a Driech Scottish Evening

Short Day’s Journey into Night

spring in the rural idyll

It has been a beautiful spring day in the Rural Bolthole.

The rustics have had a joyful day with the warmth of the sun on their backs after months of cold and damp and the never ending darkness of a Scottish winter. By nature they are of course stoics and with a heads down and best foot forward attitude they have coped with nights that seem to begin about 2.30 in the afternoon, following a day which begins about 10.00 in the morning.

Delicious home made soup à la Muriel

Of course the process has been helped by a good supply of fire wood, vats of nourishing soup, endless knitting and dancing and of course the odd medicinal dram to keep the cold at bay. Social intercourse has taken place in a variety of warm surroundings including the church, The Pentland Firth Arms, the village shop or at the doctors. Favoured subjects include various medical conditions or ailments, which are highly competitive in nature, the more chronic the better. The past is always popular for conversation as it is always a much better place.

New residents are much discussed too as for example the city incomer who  is being castigated behind her back at the cold meats’ counter as a “floozy” for hanging out washing on a Sunday. The price of a gigot chop in the Pentland Firth Arms is compared with the price of lambs at the market, farmers it seems have “never had it so bad”. There is excitement about an upcoming Beetle Drive “in aid of our missionary partners in somewhere or other” where it’s hot and they make the most wonderful baskets, which are just the ticket for that morning visit to the shop as they comfortably take The Glasgow Herald, half a dozen potato scones, and a bottle of “Scotch” in a brown paper bag.

Everyone is Moved

Hard at work

The sudden appearance of the sun does tend to send everyone a little “doolally”. There is a sudden rush to wipe window sills, sweep paths and wash blankets . Indeed there is so much to do it is almost dizzying. Such is the pressure of conformity in a rural community that even those with the most disabling of conditions such as being “pure dead bone idle” are moved to leave their firesides and begin the vinegar and newspaper onslaught on grimy windows.

Moved by the spring

The alternative is to be at the receiving end of chilling stares, tightly folded arms and impossibly dramatic eye rolling from the villages M.A.D.S. (Most Advanced Domestic Specialists) These women with mean thin lips, threatening bosoms and years of experience of cupboard bottoming, blanket trammelling and pest control have the power to make or break a local reputation. They strike fear into the newlywed or the plain useless and one can sense them coming before they are seen in that they are preceded by a strong odour of bleach, naphtha and self righteousness. They are, however, the glue that binds the community together. Understandably there are many that greet the late afternoons “clouding over from the west” with relief as it might happily mean an April shower and a respite from such activities as putting “Cardinal Red Polish” on the front step.

Changeable Weather- Irritable Reactions

This very thing has happened in the village where Muriel and Jasper Wylie, along with many of Glasgow’s middle class, have their weekend homes. Jasper is delighted to have his lawn raking interrupted by a shower of rain and a sudden temperature drop.

Dans le jardin

Muriel who had been enjoying a cup of tea (clad in tweeds, naturally for the time of year)  picks up her note book and calls to Mrs Travers, her daily woman what does but oh so very little, to come and help clear away the tea things, before she collects the washing on the line.

They are having fish pie this evening. Jasper hates fish pie or indeed as he says anything that “smells like a harbour”, but Muriel has discovered his betting slips relating to activity at the Cheltenham Races. The punishment must fit the crime. Muriel does not approve of gambling anymore than she approves of sloppy speech, eating in the street, the Labour Party or women in slacks. The latter she has been known to describe as “targets for harpoon practice” and any with an elasticated waistband as requiring an “Askit pooder” and a Dubonnet chaser.

Change of Plans

It is “kitchen suppa” tonight, that is to say suppa with the minimum of formality and place mats and the napkin kept in the silver ring, rather than a tablecloth and fresh linen at the Georgian mahogany dining table which had belonged to Muriel’s grandmother. Despite being in the bad books, Jasper decides to push his luck and produces half a bottle of white wine as he says he can’t get fish pie over his delicate thrapple without “a wee swally”. Muriel ignores this and anyway has her coup de grâce already planned with a tin of

What a treat

fruit cocktail and some Carnation milk rather than the treacle tart and custard which as far as Jasper is concerned was the only light at the end of the harbour wall.

The lack of formality is typical of suppa during the week for those who are simply marvellous, as they have many social and charitable activities to fill their evenings. Muriel is due to be at Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a discussion about the next Country House Concert while Jasper is off to the monthly meeting of “the Hysterical”, as Muriel calls his History Society, where the treat is an illustrated lecture on the History of Pulpit Falls with Dr Timothy Twist, lecturer in contemporary embroidery from the Art School.

“The best laid schemes”, however, as Burns said can go wrong.  When Muriel arrives at the Pentland-Firth pile she is told that her ladyship has cancelled due to an emergency involving an in depth interview with a Russian percussionist. With similar bad fortune Jasper has arrived at the village hall to be told that Dr Twist has taken a queer turn at Central Station and cancelled. Apparently his secretary was very apologetic and said he had been overdoing things with a new reel of purple embroidery thread and would reschedule the meeting for the autumn.

Everyone Thinks They Are Home Alone

A dry stane dyke

Jasper arrives home first and has gone into the dining room where he is working on an article for the Parish Magazine on the History of Dry Stane Dykes in the Glen, which the editor said will amaze many of the readers, with his forensic dissection of construction

A different dry stane dyke

methods and materials.

Back again, looking none to pleased

Muriel meanwhile drives home feeling she has been somewhat used, having seen a light on in Patience Pentland-Firth’s boudoir with two shadows in close proximity behind the toile de jouy blind over the window. She is not best pleased and after changing into her housecoat and fluffy mules, pours herself a wee crème du menthe and sits down in the drawing room to write a lecture on this Spring’s fashion news which is “The return of the Cape”, for an afternoon presentation at Dalys.

At the Back of the House

In the kitchen Mrs Travers is unaware that her employers, having come through the front door, are home. Had she known she would have cancelled the evening’s activity which is a séance, exactly the sort of thing of which Mrs Wylie disapproves. To some extent Mrs Travers has been persuaded to host the evening against her better judgement by Bunty Haystack, prolific author of rural murder mysteries such as “Turnip Terror”, “Revenge of the Three Little Pigs” and “One Man Went to Mow and Didn’t Return”. Bunty, however, is one of these modern women who always gets their way and Mrs Travers is fond of “a reading” herself.

So it is with some excitement that she answers the chap at the door to find Bunty waiting with her acolytes – Polly Wanton, part-time barmaid at the Pentland Firth Arms, Vera Veil, bridal ware specialist and Crystal Clear, secretary to the owner of a local glaziers. “Good evening Mrs Travers, what a dreich night” said Bunty shaking her umbrella and removing her headscarf. The acolytes follow and do the same. They are enthralled by their famous friend and copy her every move as well as reading her books, where they are sure they recognise themselves. They also feel an author in the village is good for business.

In Great Spirits

The Border tart

While Mrs Travers fills the kettle the visitors busy themselves preparing the room by placing the round kitchen table in the centre of the room, dimming the lighting and turning off the radio. From her basket, Bunty produces a brass candlestick, a bunch of artificial white roses and a vase as “the spirits are drawn to the flickering light and to white flowers”.  Being drawn to warmth, they also like food and so Bunty is delighted when Mrs Travers stokes the Rayburn and then from the warming oven produces plates of sausage rolls, fruit scones and a border tart. Apart from anything else Bunty did not have time for suppa as she was putting the finishing touches to a particularly grizzly body in a barrel story, so Mrs T’s fare is most welcome.

There is another knock at the door announcing the arrival of the famous medium Madame Claire Voyant be-turbaned and dressed in a cape which when removed reveals a mass of shawls and fringes, bangles and beads – she looks as if she has just walked out of a silent picture starring Rudolph Valentino.

An Aura

A woman with a noticeable aura

“One has arrived” she announces dramatically handing Mrs Travers her umbrella and Gladstone bag. “The night is well disposed to communication with the other side; and you” she says looking at Mrs Travers through a lorgnette retrieved from the jumble of amber beads resting on her chest “have an aura, I can see it from here. You are a woman who has suffered pains and agonies, pains and agonies, torment and tumult. I see support stockings; I see a man, a slow boat to China and a knocking shop down by the canal.” “Would you like Earl Grey or Assam Madame?” asked Mrs T hoisting up her elasticated knee supports. “Assam, if you please; my spirit guide is Indian. I can feel him coming, coming, coming….

A delicious scone

but a scone and jam would be rather nice first.”

Madame Sees All

After refreshments, Mrs T removes the cups and saucers and crumb filled plates and the assembled company gather at the table. Madame produces a “speaking trumpet” from her bag which she places on the table. “Sometimes” she announces sonorously, “they like to come through the trumpet, especially if they are hard of hearing.” Polly Wanton gives a little giggle and receives an icy stare. “Now this is good; our number is divisible by three” she says “and we can begin. I want you to visualise a white light surrounding this perfect country kitchen. The spirits already know you are here. I want you to take a deep breath with me.” The assembled group take a deep breath as one and as they exhale the full force of a lunchtime pickled onion is released by Mrs Travers. Vera and Crystal look disapproving and Mrs T just shrugs her shoulders and whispers “better out than in”.

Madame is, by this point, oblivious as she announces she is “raising my consciousness to the alpha state and reaching down into the molecular level”. The assembled company realise that they are obviously in the presence of a great scientist as well as a medium. Suddenly they all feel a rush of cold air and a tinkling sound. Each think they can smell something. Is it perfume, cigars or possibly pickled onions?

The Spirits Move Them

The perfect scent to move anyone

Madame lurches violently to the left and then to the right and then she begins to incant, “Oh beloved Mr Patel, we bring you gifts from life unto death – perfume, cigars, sausage rolls and indeed pickled onions; commune with us Mr Patel and move among us.” There is nothing, but Madame repeats her lines, adding, “Spirit we are waiting for a response”. Suddenly the table begins to shake and to levitate, seeming to hover above the tiled floor before resting one of its legs on Mrs Travers bunion, but she stifles a cry.

There is a rap on the table and Madame says “Can we ask you a question? One rap for yes; two for no. A single rap follows. “Sprit do you have a message for anyone here?” A rap is followed by a strange sound which appears to come from the trumpet, it is like barking. “Does anyone know Bouncer?” asks Madame. “Bouncer was my spaniel”, replies Bunty Haystack, “he was a champion ratter, he went under the wheels of W.R.V.S. tea van during the Blitz. Is he well?” “He is quite well and wants you to know he does not hold you responsible for letting him off the lead.” Once again Madame begins to sway and then says, “Crystal it is mother here, I want you to know I am all right, but you must be careful of someone whose name begins with Mac in management. ” “Goodness me” exclaims Crystal, “that’s Mr Macauley, the millionaire bungalow builder, who has a 25% interest in “See Through Glaziers”, and far too much interest in my stocktaking in the stationary cupboard! Ooh I have come over all peculiar. Mother what other advice have you? I rather fancy Mr Sill in framing, but he never notices me.” “I have to go my child but try a touch of Blue Grass behind the knees.”

Spirit of the Sea

“Is there anyone else who wants to come through from the other side? Are you there spirits?” asks an anguished Madame who begins to cough. There is the sound of violins and as Madame begins to sway backwards moving her turbaned head in a circular motion she asks “Is it you Mozart who is  trying to come through?”  There is the sound of a fog horn and a sailor’s hornpipe to which she says “perhaps it is you Lord Nelson? I can smell the sea”, at which point seaweed seems to float about the table. There is another bang and she asks once again who is trying to come through.

An Unexpected Guest

The late Lord “Salty” Pentland-Firth

“I am trying to come through” announces Muriel, “what on earth is going on here? Mrs Travers is this what I think it is?” At which point Madame lets out a howl and says “I have a message for the simply marvellous one, it is me Salty Pentland-Firth, I cannot cross over….” “Be quick spirit” says Madame, “the veil is lifting.” “I was killed by my own wife; she poisoned me. Patience Charity Pentland-Firth is a murderess.”

….to be continued.

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Gushing river at the rural bolthole

Somewhere in deepest Southwest Scotland, those who lead simply marvellous but hectic lives within the honey coloured sandstone of the villas in Glasgow’s exclusive West End, have their weekend retreats. Here among the tumbling burns, gushing rivers and larch clad hills they can be themselves and frolic with their dogs in the beech woods and pass the time of day with amusing rustics among the iced gingerbread loaded plates of countless fundraising teas and coffee mornings.


The Pentland Firth Arms

In the words of a local artist well versed in the techniques of “en plein air”, Spring is “long awaited”. There are, however, signs that something is stirring, indeed some might argue that after last night’s Country Dance Spectacular in the function suite of The Pentland Firth Arms Hotel, there has been rather too much stirring. John Knox, who has done more than most to shape the mindset of the Scottish nation, realised the dangers of dancing, which he thought betrayed a certain tendency to madness. Worst of all was the sort of close dancing which enabled the transmission of gossip, scandal and heaven forefend stirrings!

Simple circle dancing might just be permissible, provided one does not forget the scriptures. Even then the jigging and birling promotes a dizzy forgetfulness which might well lead to… well you know what dancing leads to! The results will be all too clear come December, if – and there is always an if -“God spares us”. For the Presbyterians who inhabit this land firmly believe, even if they do not “believe”, that a day of pleasure is always paid for with a day of pain. There is, on the other hand, a fatalism that the future is always mapped out and there is little one can do to change it, as the people are fond of saying  “what’s for you won’t go past you”. This is not entirely pessimistic because at the end of the day one might just as well dance.

A Crack Shot

Dancing appears to be the favoured occupation of the hares in the fields at the moment and indeed of the birds in their courtship rituals. Red squirrels chase one another among the branches of the alder trees with their strange purple luminescence, a feature which vanishes as the leaves appear. On riverbanks weasels play on a carpet of emerging wild garlic soon to be harvested for soup and salads and rabbits begin their cheeky assault on emerging garden shoots unaware that a woman in a floral apron and support stockings has a rifle following their every move.

Just Like Chicken

“Gotcha” said Mrs Travers, (the daily woman what does, but not a lot) who has accompanied her employers to their rural retreat. “That will do nicely for a pie for Wednesday if I get it skinned and soaking in bicarbonate of soda, which will remove the gammy taste and Mr Wylie will believe it is chicken. The skin will make a nice pair of mittens for young Gayle, for next winter, provided I have some alum to preserve it.”

Mrs Travers retrieves the furry intruder and takes it to the cold room leaving it on a marble slab before washing her hands and picking up the wicker basket of “whites” a miscellaneous collection of sheets, pillow cases, a couple of Mr Wylie’s  shirts and some of her own necessaries –  a collection of garments more familiar in the 19th century but were bought at a sale in “Busty Betty’s” many years ago, and still show no signs of wear, only requiring an occasional purchase of a card of elastic for the legs. On the washing line they blow magnificently and given their size might easily be taken for the sails of a returning tea clipper from the South China seas.

Mrs Travers lacks the inhibitions felt by many of those women who would never display such items in public view, preferring them to dry more discreetly on winter dykes in front of Rayburns or at night in front of the fire after males have retired up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and the smooring of peats (as the gaels say) has taken place.

Lady P-F – always rather forward

Mrs Wylie’s foundation garments would never be seen in public blowing in the wind and on the odd occasion when lack of a fire has made drying outside necessary, they are covered on both sides by “modesty cloths”, or old pillow cases pegged to the line, furthest from view. There are of course some forward ladies like Mrs Wylie’s cousin, Lulubelle, and her neighbour Lady Pentland-Firth who flout this convention by preserving sets of racy underwear which are never worn but kept solely for washing line display. Of course not even these are displayed on a Sunday for that would be crossing the Rubicon or at the very least suggesting that one might be turning continental.

A Murderous Mind on a Bicycle

Crows on the riverbank

Stepping back to admire the blueness of her whites, the reverie of the washerwoman was broken by the aerial bombardment of a squadron of crows which alighted on the trees along the riverbank. “That happened to me yesterday”, said the voice from a bicycle which had just come up the garden path carrying the well known local writer of detective novels Bunty Haystack who specialises in murder and mayhem in the country side.

“Oh Miss Haystack, you startled me, I shall have to wash Mr Wylie’s combinations again.”

“I do apologise Mrs Travers, this bicycle is a very silent model, and indeed I used it in my best seller, ‘The Cycle Slayer’.”

“Yes I know; I have read it. That bit with the tyre levers gave me nightmares for weeks.”

“Oh good; did it really? How splendid!  I did wonder if I was overdoing it with the headmistress and the poisoned rain cape. Combinations you say?” said Bunty in a most lascivious sort of way, which was not surprising considering her reputation with men. “I would have thought Mr Wylie was a far more modern sort of gentleman in that department.”

Local News

“Well, indeed Miss Haystack, but Mrs Wylie does not like him spending too long in his shed without suitable layers, especially as he is not only very chesty, but also very busy with his papier-mâché scale model of the Western Front 1914-18 using my old Daily Record newspapers.”

“ Why the Daily Record, pray tell?”

“ Oh Mrs Wylie does not think it decent to use The Glasgow Herald or The Daily Telegraph and not even The Record if it has pictures of the Royal Family as it would never do to cover Princess Margaret with flour and water and lay her on a chicken wire base. Although I do happen to know that under Hill 60, there is a picture of The Queen Mother at Royal Ascot, not that she can ever know. Anyway how may I help you?”

“I am just delivering the local magazine.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Just the usual, although there is a bit of a telling off by the Minister about gossip after the man who drives the mobile drapery store ran off with her from “ that London” who bought “Druid’s Knowe” for a painting school. They say she is a naturist and he had plenty of free tuition in artistic matters.”

“Really you don’t say? Gossip is very destructive. Was he interested in oil or watercolour?”

“Mixed media according to Molly Moss who went there for a bit of help with her perspective. She said he was very forward in the ‘Life Classes’ and his line of beauty was all over the place.”

“Well the Spring Exhibition should be worth seeing. Anything else?”

“There’s a Sausage and Mash Supper in aid of the “Orphans To Oz Scheme”, so that the poor mites each get a Bible and a penknife to help them in the outback. The Women’s Guild has a ‘Prettiest Invalid Tray Competition and Mr Wilson has a new preparation against aphids which can also be used in jungle warfare if necessary – take your own lemonade bottle. And it’s Mrs Wylie’s turn on the flower rota, the theme is redemption. There is, however, something else you could do for me.”

The Spiritual Mrs T

A woman moved by Spirits

“Yes and what would that be? I hope it’s nothing like the time you suggested I dive into the curling rink in January to test your theories for “Death in the Duck Pond”?”

“No nothing so visceral, I am working on a new book about the world of the supernatural and I need first hand experience of a séance. You seem like a very spiritual woman to me Mrs Travers and if I might say so a woman prepared to push against the boundaries of understanding.”

A very spiritual woman

“Well I was married to Mr Travers for many years until he ran away only returning with a stuffed lizard from the East Indies which was made into an occasional table lamp. Now that tested the boundaries of most peoples’ understanding.”

“Well exactly one can always tell those who are that not afraid of the other side. Might we assemble here later? I have invited the noted spiritualist Madame Claire Voyant and some kindred spirits such as Polly Wanton, Vera Veil and Crystal Clear and one or two others.”

“No sorry Mrs Wylie does not approve of such things, she would not be at all happy. Mind you she is going out and he is at the Hysterical where they have a talk on the History of Pulpit Falls which will take hours.”

Muriel is about and Mr Wylie is in the bath with a headache of his own making

“Who is taking my name in vain?”  asked Mrs Wylie

“Good morning Mrs Wylie” said Mrs Travers and Bunty in unison.

“Good morning Mrs Travers, Miss Haystack. Good drying day by the looks of things. And what is going on here in Shangri-La today might I ask?”

“Oh as I was just saying to Mrs Travers that all is revealed here in the Parish Magazine. The Minister is a bit cross but that is not unusual. I must push on, there are quite a few of these to deliver and I want to pop in to The Tramps’ Refuge Table-top Sale. I have my eye on a rather nice tweed cape.  Nothing like an hour on a hard saddle I always say, except two hours, followed by a bit of machining on the old Singer!  See you on the other side, Mrs T.”

“On the other side what on earth is she talking about? No wonder those novels are so awful, any one would think she was interested in spiritualism. Honestly Mrs T have you read ‘A Rubber of Bridge too Far’? Simply ghastly.  Now I was wondering do we have any Wintergreen left my knee is a bit sore from all those reels and Strathspeys.

A sip of coffee to restore the soul

Then I thought we might have coffee in the morning room. Mr Wylie is in the bath gazing at the trees along the river bank. He has something of a hangover, so he will be worse than useless today, so no change there. Make sure he is subject to maximum noise and inconvenience. He has the History Society this evening and I have a committee meeting with Lady Pentland-Firth regarding our next Country House Concert.  I am thinking of taking the pastoral as our theme.”

“Do mean madam, taking the countryside and the village as symbols of stability, security and order through the eyes of shepherds and shepherdesses, using the symbolic to explain the complex?”

“I suppose so  Mrs T. I thought we might start with something Shakespearean. Teasing out the pastoral elements in As You like it and The Winter’s Tale, which are plays by that writer William Shakespeare.”

“Sounds like a good starting point Mrs Wylie and then you might select themes expressed by Ramsay in The Gentle Shepherd, Monteverdi in L’Orfeo, John Gay’s satire on the pastoral in The Beggars Opera, perhaps picking up on Tristan and Isolde  or even Stravinsky and Le Sacre du Printemps which always makes for a good finale especially if there is a sunset – very earthy and abandoned.”

“Umm yes and I was also thinking of an afternoon lecture on painting and the pastoral.”

“Oh you must Mrs Wylie, and don’t forget Poussin , Watteau and Claude. You might call it Fêtes Gallants.”

“Indeed I might Mrs Travers – have you been reading my notes perchance? Now before you have visions of yourself on a swing in a forest glade  have you done all the washing and thought about suppa. Mr Wylie says he’s thinking fish pie tonight.”

“He must have been reading my mind Mrs Wylie.”

“Now what about your evening Mrs T, why not do something a little different. We will both be out and Hairy Mary from Inveraray and Gayle will not be down until the afternoon train tomorrow.”

“Thank you Mrs Wylie I might just sit down with a slice of that fish pie if Mr Wylie leaves any and attend to my spiritualist, I mean spiritual, needs.”


March 1957

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Jasper’s Jottings: “That London”

Feeling a Bit Woolly

feeling a bit woolly

“Good morning Mr Wylie, are you ready for your breakfast?”

“I certainly am Mrs Travers, feeling a bit woolly this morning. That London is quite exhausting.”

“I wouldn’t give it the time of day myself Mr Wylie. All that smog and smut and millions of people breathing the same air and rushing around underground like ants. I don’t know how you and Mrs Wylie can be bothered at your time of life.”

“Better not let Mrs Wylie catch you referring to her time of life, she’s very sensitive about her age.”

“She’s very sensitive about most things.”

“Really Mrs T that’s a bit below the hand stitched, vegetable tanned, Italian leather belt.”

An Agitated Muriel

“Well she was not very pleased this morning when I had forgotten  to put out a bar of Morny French Fern soap and she had to make use of the Wright’s Coal Tar stuff she leaves out for myself and zee German voman vat does zee heavy vork. Anyway here are your winnings from the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I picked them up from the corner man when I was paying the TV rental and buying our Billy’s Capstan full strength.”

“Not now, Mrs T she will find out, she has ears like a bat and I am sure she was the prototype for radar, she knows my every move.”

“Don’t worry she went out, quite early in a bit of a “cream puff”, dressed to kill, singing “The March of the Women”, rattling a tin mug against the railings (in case she is arrested and sent to Holloway) and muttering about “Tory Traitors” prepared to shoot their own supporters in the back.”

Muriel has a Cause

“Apart from the fact that sounds like music to my ears and the usual sort of thing that happens when they unexpectedly get a new leader, like Harold Macmillan replacing Tony Eden, dare one ask what, and why?”

“She said you would say that, so I have to tell you that in the spirit of her grandmother she has taken up the cause of Women of Slender Means through the mechanism of the Soroptomist Clubs and the patronage of Lady Colquhoun of Luss.”

“What is the nature of this cause?”

The source of Muriel’s irritation

“Well it seems that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has abolished cheap night trunk telephone calls, increasing the charge from one and sixpence to three shillings minimum.”

“And why is Mrs Wylie so up in arms about this? Surely if people can afford a telephone they can afford the charges, or why have one in the first place?”

The Need to Phone Home

“Apparently the cheap rate is the means by which lady business people, teachers, nurses, midwives and students keep in touch with home and are, therefore, a life line for those with families in the Hebrides or Orkney and Shetland.  Mr Thorneycroft, the Chancellor has thus, according to Mrs Wylie, ‘undermined Scottish family life by making the Sunday telephone call home prohibitive. It is in effect a tax on the middle class working woman.’

Lady Colquhoun of Luss is up in arms and organising a meeting at the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street and ergo Mrs Wylie is also up in arms. There is also a sale of monogrammed towels at Trerons, next door, so the trip will not be wasted. According to Mrs Wylie’s placard, ties have been broken and there must be recriminations and agitations, the women of slender means are under fire.”

“Well who would have thought that, Mrs T! The Conservatives undermining their own support by raising the price of a trunk telephone call to Stromness. Mr Macmillan must have taken leave of his senses!”

Gloating Jasper

“She said you would gloat. Now what about some Ayrshire bacon, Lorne flat sausage and a fried egg?”

“Mrs T you are an angel in support stockings.”

“Flattery Mr Wylie will get you nowhere and indeed you are going nowhere today but the Mass X-ray in George Square, you don’t want a dose of that consumption. I have seen it take away better men than you.”

“I have a tip for the 2.30; are you interested?”

“I am – and you are still going, she wants proof as well.”

“Well in that case… Will I tell you about that London while you cook my breakfast?”

“If you must. Anyway she has only just been there, why again? Fancy a toasted grapefruit to start with a wee sprinkle of rum and demerara sugar?”

A Call from the Palace

a call from the Palace

“Well Muriel, it seems, had an important summons from the Royal Household and so needed to dash down pretty  quick; something about the Royal Yacht and some new quilted bedspreads. She also felt I needed a break what with the ingress of rain into the shed soaking some of my World War I exhibition having taken its toll. Mu also told me that there was a meeting of The Metropolitan Chapter of the Capodimonte Collectors’ Club in  Pall Mall which I might like to attend. We went on the Sleeper which, according to Muriel, gets one in early enough for a full day in London. I am never sure that this works as one is too tired on arrival having not slept a wink – well for me anyway. Muriel snored all the way. There is something very odd about lying sideways, while the train goes forward.

Our London Hotel

Fortunately as Muriel knows the Manager of “The Imperial Hotel” in Russell Square, we were able to get into our room early, have a quick Turkish bath to freshen up, breakfast and potter around Bloomsbury before elevenses in Fortnum’s which apparently is the Mecca of the simply marvellous. Their coffee, tea in Muriel’s case, and toasted crumpets are, it is true, pretty top notch. Though Muriel was rather appalled to discover they have gone that new trendy way and dispensed with tablecloths at coffee time.

a slight look of displeasure

We popped into St James, Piccadilly, which while not Presbyterian has some rather splendid Grinling Gibbons carvings although Muriel declared them to be dust traps, which are no longer suitable for a post servant nation. I spotted a rather natty dressing gown in Jermyn Street which Muriel said she might buy me if she gets the contract for some of the new John Lawrence houses.

The Red Lion

We had a quick snorter in the “Red Lion” and then lunch at “Simpsons”.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea was simply marvellous

I did not have pudding as Muriel was glaring at me in that Presbyterian way she has which suggests self denial might be the best course of action. Probably just as well, as we had arranged to meet dear friends Gary and Edward for afternoon tea at their Club. This was a splendid tea of the freshest bread and the most exquisite cakes and pastries.

Eyeing up the treats!

The jam for the scones was most delicate and the cream flavoured with a hint of lemon. Muriel was very taken with the  cake decorations using tiny edible flowers and gold leaf and is determined to introduce this manner of presentation to Glasgow’s exclusive West End.

Despite living in genteel Rye, which is a sort of English rural bolthole by the sea, Gary is very well known in the London theatre and musical world and can sometimes be seen presenting programmes on the television, introducing singers even of the modern boggie-woogie type.

Edwardo et moi

Edward, like Mr Chanter, is an accountant with a firm grasp of double entry book keeping, which means he gets to write in red and black ink. 

So Much in Common (Without Being Common of Course)

A kindred spirit

Muriel and I have never visited Rye although it turns out that one or two residents are, or have been, mutual family friends (well friends of Muriel’s family of course, the Wylies had creditors rather than friends) like Henry James, the refined novelist, who wrote quite well about Americans which is never easy and dear E. F. Benson who was a bit theatrical and even roller skated and wrote about some ridiculously snobbish and improbable women. Then there is our good friend Rumer Godden who writes about India – you will have seen Black Narcissus directed by other good friends Powell and Pressburger, who happen to reside near our own dear rural Bolthole.

So there was much to talk about and a general feeling that Muriel would find a ready audience for her classes on Gracious Living and a certain market for Mackintosh Squares as it is very damp by the sea. The afternoon flew by and it was with great sadness that we said farewell to our chums who had to return to Kent-shire as they have a pussy that spends the day in “Mouse Wood” and would be desirous of a more substantial meal.

As we left we noticed that the Club had some decorative sculptural features that suggested an appeal to the very theatrical market and would in the future be somewhere to take our nephew Sebastian, (when he returns from the United States) and his friend Dimitri.

New Talent

Fortunately we had an occupation for the evening and that was to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank where, out of patriotism, we went to see the young Scottish conductor Alexander Gibson with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a performance of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale which was “an outstanding success”, as all the critics agreed. Muriel went backstage to see  young Sandy and suggested his career might receive a massive boost were he to consider an appearance at one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts which are fast becoming the Aldeburgh of south west Scotland.

The Reason for Our Visit

Summoned to the Palace

After a restless night, due to the never ending sound of traffic in Russell Square we are, like Samuel Pepys, “up betimes”. Muriel took a taxi to Buckingham Palace where the Queen it seems had literally put out the red carpet and arranged to have the Horse Guards parade. The Queen said she had heard so much about Muriel from Princess Margaret and her new young friend a Mr Dimitri who had escaped from the Bolshoi Ballet and had a remarkable allongé.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who has little interest in allongés large or small, outlined some of his ideas for modernising Britain in a sort of Prince Albert way beginning with a focus on design. He wants to give royal residences an updated image with sleek lines and less clutter, starting with the Royal Yacht. He has heard that Muriel has a firm grasp of Scandinavian design principles and really rather fancies some sticky out beech legs himself. Muriel said she was quite sure that she could come up with some simply marvellous ideas before going on to swap duster coat stories with Her Majesty, who was looking radiant in spring yellow. The royal couple said they would have a bit of a catch up when they came North and would be interested in seeing one of Muriel’s interiors and perhaps even attending a Country House Concert.

Left to my Own Devices

For my part I attended my Cappodimonte Collectors’ Club meeting in the surroundings of a gentleman’s club before a rather splendid lunch of mulligatawny soup, steak and kidney pudding and steamed syrup pudding with custard. As I am weight watching I said no to the offer of cream. There were some splendid types there including a few from the Foreign Office who said they were sorry to have missed Muriel as she was one of the most splendid honorary chaps of the last Unpleasantness and furthermore they had heard that she continued to do her bit for the old Queens and Country.

Our suppliers of brown paper

Feeling rather full I took myself off for a walk around the East End, much of it still showing signs of bomb damage. I paid some calls to some of our fabric suppliers and to Mr C.H. Katz in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from whom I ordered some much needed items for our shop “Chez Nous” including brown paper, tissue paper, twine and string for our parcels.

Cousin Lulubelle on the Stage?

Muriel and I met up at an Italian restaurant for an early supper. This spaghetti stuff is becoming all the rage, rather tricky to manage at first but tasty. It’s just a pity that the Italians do not serve their food a little hotter, but I suppose that is not necessary in their climate.  Service was a little chaotic, again a result of the sun I suppose but it did mean abandoning our pudding as we had tickets for the theatre. I treated Muriel to The Crystal Heart, a musical starring Gladys Cooper. The songs sounded promising including, I would like to see the world, How strange the silence, Handsome husbands, D.O.G. spells dog, and It’s so British.  The plot involved Dame Phoebe Ricketts, a rich widow, sent to live on a desolate island under the terms of her husband’s will. Her only companions were a posse of “just women”. An unlikely term if ever there was one!  One day a handsome boat-load of men are washed up. A jolly good idea one would have thought, the only problem is that not only is Miss Cooper the romantic heroine over 70, she plays the role as one critic said ‘like a cross between …. a Tennesse Williams’ Southern Belle and The Madwoman of Chaillot.’

As Muriel said, no harm to the splendid Miss Cooper, who has done such marvellous work in her younger days, but Cousin Lullubelle might have made a better stab at it, as the critic might well have been describing her, only she does it for real.

Rather Too Theatrical

We might have been better going to see a new film about Vincent Van Gogh called Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas, actually playing something other than “a dreary He man”. Still we can catch that in Glasgow later and there is nothing like live theatre. Muriel had really wanted to see Olivier as Archie Rice in The Entertainer, but I could not quite bring myself to go and see the play which was said to have been Sebastian’s for the taking had he not had to leave the country, what with him being rather too theatrical.

Renaissance Marvellousness

Talking of art and artists our final hours in “that London” were spent in the National Gallery as Muriel wanted to see the first painting acquired by the gallery in lieu of Death Duties, a provison of the 1956 Finance Act (section 34). This is the “Pieta with St Jerome and St Dominic” by the 15th century Dutch artist Rogier Van der Weyden. It comes from the estae of the Earl of Powys. It is a small panel less than 18 inches by 14 inches, but “colour and composition are invested with a power of pictorial emotion out of all proportion to its size”. Muriel said it was simply marvellous as are her favourite renaissance pictures like “The Tailor”, which captures an ordinary profession so unusual in these times.

Dear Canaletto

We also had a quick look at  Canelletto’s paintings of Venice as Muriel has a hankering to go there later this year.

Talking on the Tube

While one cannot but agree with Samuel Pepys that when a man is “tired of that London he is tired of life”, there comes a point when one’s feet are tired and one’s brain entirely scrambled by the onslaught of culture. The down side too is that no one really wants to know you or cares and Muriel has to constantly tell me off for talking to people on the Tube as apparently they think I have escaped from an asaylum. I proved her wrong by pointing out that I had a perfectly decent conversation with a woman between Leicester Square and  King’s Cross. Muriel said that was because she was a working lady looking for business and it was just as well that I only had a single.”

Stand By Your Beds!

“More toast Mr Wylie, then you need to go for that X-ray; sounds as if you had a good time. Oh, stand by your beds here she comes.”

“It’s me Mrs T; any coffee?  Has Jasper gone to George Square? Oh you are still here Jasper, now net your coat on; you know you have always been a bit chesty”

“Hello Dahling. How are the revolting women and did you manage to get the charges reversed?”

Toddle pip

Jasper Wylie

March 1957

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