Specially Packed for Pleasures

Made with Real Lemons

The old lemon houses of Limone

“Mrs Wylie, I am sure yous are puir dead melt’n in this heat so I’ve made some fresh lemonade with the Limone lemons you had sent from Fergussons.”

“What a kind thought Mrs Travers, what with you being our daily woman what does (but normally not a lot) and all that.”

“I come Mrs Wylie wi’ the latest news from going the messages.”

MacFisheries

“If it is about that man who has been bitten by a snake, while gathering heather in the Trossachs while having a picnic with a woman called Janice, who works on the white fish counter in MacFisheries, I know all about that. I understand that they had to get serum from the varsity in Edinburgh.”

“And is that a good varsity like the one here in Glasgow?”

“I believe it has aspirations Mrs Travers. Could I possibly have some ice in this, if you remembered to fill up the ice tray of my cream coloured Kelvinator? It was named, of course, after Lord Kelvin, who was naturally at the varsity here in the “dear green place.”

“Certainly Mrs Wylie; but no it was something else.”

What Might the Great News Be?

“Then I imagine you are referring to the death of Miss Minnie Brown of Muirkirk, which is an Ayrshire mining village. She lived above the shop which she has run for as long as anyone can remember and rarely went out for more than a day except to go to Church and “the Rural.” She left no will, but £20,000 has been discovered in her house hidden in suitcases, cardboard boxes, pails, tea chests and under cushions.”

“Who is her nearest relative?”

“Apparently a Pekinese called Mr Woo.”

“No it’s not that, it is even more interesting and on our own doorstep, well next door but one to be accurate. It’s about….”

“Mrs Travers, you know full well that I am not one for idle gossip especially when it comes from a man who has made his money in fireplace companion sets and his wife has net curtains and a circle of pampas grass in the front lawn.”

A Story Closer to Home

“No Mrs Wylie, not next door but one,down that way, I am talking about next door but one the other way, Mrs Lottie Macaulay, wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who has made his pile in concrete.”

“If it’s about her having been spotted at Communion wearing white shoes and a totally inappropriate floral diamond brooch, in the shape of a bouquet that was so big it looked as if it had been handpicked by Tony Gilmour (the florists of choice of West Nile Street) – I’ve heard, Mrs Crisp told me when I was coming out of Lizars, the opticians.”

“No it is not that, it’s about her niece Lydia.”

“You mean Lydia Port-Seaton who married Guy Cranston- Riddel in that completely over the top wedding in St Giles?”

“The very same Mrs Wylie.”

Pardon?

“No I am not interested, I am trying to catch up on world events, as portrayed in The Glasgow Herald. Cyprus is in a terrible state.”

“All right I will go and fetch the ice, but anyway she has been caught in fragrant delicatessen.”

“Oh!……Come back Mrs T, the ice can wait. I am all ears, just let me get my notebook.”

“Are you sure? I need to take some lemonade to Mr Wylie, he’s busy planning the Armistice Day Concert in the shed and he says it is hot work.”

Jasper’s HQ

“He can wait and anyway he would not be so hot if he took off that awful jumper and put on a short sleeved shirt. I am sure he said he bought one during the National Strike so that he looked more like a comrade.”

“That’s Mr Wylie for you spends money like a man wi’ nae arms.”

“Do sit down Mrs Travers, I assume you have your Mackintosh Square in your pinnie pocket?”

Mrs Travers – poised like a gazelle

“I am always poised for action Mrs Wylie like Thomson’s Gazelle.”

“A wounded one I imagine Mrs T. Now where did this take place?”

Exact Details Please

“Next door but one, like I said.”

“What? In a double fronted, honey sandstone villa in the avenue in Glasgow’s much sought after but seldom attained West End?”

“Yes; and in broad day light too.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“Well I suppose, given that in midsummer it never gets dark in Scotland it is indeed most likely to have happened in broad day light. Tell me, how do you know this?”

“Well I met Mrs Macaulay’s woman what does far more than I apparently do in the bookies where she was collecting her husband’s winnings and I was putting a bet on for Mr Wy…… I mean oor Billy. She was much traumatised, indeed she had already had three Askit Pooders and it was only 10.30 am. So I suggested we had a wee milky coffee and an apple turnover in the City Bakeries in Union Street.”

“And?”

Getting to Nitty-Gritty

Mrs T continues with her story

“Well it seems that Guy Cranston-Riddel who is a Wing Commander in the R.A.F. has been posted to Cyprus to help with the deteriorating situation between the Turks and the Greeks. Mrs Cranston-Riddel, a former W.R.A.F. herself ,was to stay on until term finished at that posh boarding school in St Andrews so that she could fly out with their girls. In the meantime she decided to visit her Aunt here in Glasgow.”

“Yes that explains the additional set of hanging out ‘frillies’ I saw on the washing line, which I had thought way too small for Mrs Macaulay, even although she has given up on her daily Fry’s Chocolate Cream sandwiched between two slices of plain bread which I always thought betrayed her social origins. Do go on.”

“Anyway Mrs Wylie, it seems that Mr Macaulay decided to put in double wash hand basins in their bathroom as an anniversary present for Mrs Macaulay and while they were out at golf the plumber called.”

A Plumber in the Joint

“I think I can see where this might be going Mrs Travers so perhaps, you might omit the obvious plumbing terminology, if you could cut to the chase.”

“Well I don’t think there was much chasing Mrs Wylie. I gather Mrs Cranston-Riddel had divested herself of her summer housecoat before the plumber had finished sweating his pipe under the hot tap. Well when I say not much chasing, she did at least make a show of it for the sake of decency and ran downstairs where they ended up underneath the dining room table.”

“Goodness Mrs Travers, you know so much… and then what happened?”

Under the Table

“And then Mrs Macaulay’s daily woman, what does such an amazing amount, came in to put out the table mats for a suppa party that night and caught sight of the couple under the table.”

“It would have been the better part of valour to have ignored them.”

“I am not entirely sure what that means Mrs Wylie, but anyway it was difficult as Mrs Cranston-Riddel was shouting per ardua ad astra which means….”

“I know what that means Mrs Travers it is the R.A.F. motto through adversity to the stars.”

“Exactly. I believe, Mrs Wylie, she may well have got to the stars, according to Mrs Macaulay’s woman what saw too much and is on the Askit Pooders.”

“If only Mrs Macaulay had taken my advice and stuck to the old fashioned tablecloth all of this might have been avoided. Table mats are asking for trouble and really are rather common.”

“From what I have been told Mrs Wylie, it would need to have been a pretty large tablecloth.”

“To think that girl was convent educated.”

“They are always the ones that go off the rails.”

Alert the Home for Fallen Women

“Well indeed, I wonder if she is going to need some help from my committee at the Home for Fallen Women?”

“Isn’t Mrs Macaulay one of your fundraisers?”

“Yes she certainly is, it might be difficult. I had better give her a call and tell her I think next Easter might be busy so we need to have one or two extra jumble sales. It might help her to open up. Of course we must not spread gossip, so not a word to Bessie Mrs T, I believe we can both be counted upon to be the souls of discretion. In the meantime should you hear anything else, don’t think of sparing me the appalling details. Who knows when Lottie might want to confide in me and it is better that I am well briefed.”

“Well by all accounts that’s certainly more than the Wing Commando’s wife was.”

“That’s Wing Commander, Mrs T.”

“I know Mrs Wylie I choose my words carefully, oh here comes Mr Wylie.”

The Innocent Abroad?

“Hello Muriel. Hello Mrs T. I thought one of you might have brought me some iced lemonade; it is stewing in that shed and I am only up to 1915. By the way have you heard…..”

“About Mrs Cranston-Riddel under the table?”

“No, about the Glasgow tram driver who received an electric shock while at the controls last night. He managed to bring his machine to a stop.”

“That’s more than the plumber at the Macaulays’ did.”

“What are you two on about, what I was saying before you erupted into gales of laughter, was that the driver managed to bring his machine to a stop in Shettleston Road before he was treated for shock at the Royal Infirmary; which reminds me, a man has been bitten by a snake in the Trossachs.”

“We know Dahling, we know; don’t we Mrs Travers?”

“Yes Ma’am we know a great many things.”

“Did you both know that they hanged Peter Manuel this morning at Barlinnie Prison?”

“Let’s not talk about that Jasper. I bet he wished he had a table to hide under, nasty piece of work.”

Jasper Finds Muriel and Mrs T Unexpectedly Obliging

“Honestly Muriel, Mrs T you are both talking in riddles. Talking of talking in riddles I just met Lottie at the corner of her driveway bundling that niece of hers into a taxi for the airport. She seemed a bit disengaged and was not at all pleased when I asked her about progress on the bathroom front. I felt I had said something wrong. Anyway I hope you don’t mind Muriel, but to make up for any distress I have asked them in for suppa this evening. Sorry Mrs T I know it will be a lot of last minute work for you.”

“Oh Jasper, Dahling don’t be silly, what’s a little impromptu suppa and we haven’t seen the Macaulays for such an age. I am sure she will have so much she will want to tell us. Mrs T now I know you had plans for meeting up with your Support Stocking Support Club tonight at the Trades and Labour Club, with smoke filled atmosphere and mirror ball, but do you think you might be persuaded to stay on?”

“Oh Mrs Wylie I would be glad to do yous this obligement, despite being 15 hours on these various veined legs. Mrs Macaulay always has so much worth listening to at the dining room door with a glass. I am sure she will have much to tell about her niece’s visit. I understand that wherever she visits in the course of her husband’s postings for the R.A.F. she takes a great interest in local people particularly their plumbing arrangements.”

There is Always a Price to Pay

“I must say you are both being very obliging on such a hot day. I think I should pop into town and get some sherry, a nice iced fino I should think. Muriel is there anything we need?”

Rogano’s

“I tell you what Jasper, just to cut down on the work a little could you pop into The Rogano and ask them for a selection of their carry out Hors d’Oeuvres which they are advertising as specially packed for pleasure.”

“Like the plumber Mrs Wylie.”

“Don’t be common Mrs T.”

“Really ladies! I mean Muriel, Mrs T, it is if you are speaking in tongues. Now Mrs T, I must get you a wee something for your trouble. What about two tickets for ‘The Mike and Bernie Winters Show’ at The Glasgow Empire? They have several speciality acts such as performing budgerigars, or there is a play, ‘The Lovebirds’ at the Kings with Betty Driver. A honeymoon couple are given a gift of a lovebird who has knowledge of their past, or if you like Stanley Baxter is at the Alhambra.”

“Thank you Mr Wylie they will do nicely.”

“I wasn’t really meaning all of them Mrs T, but I suppose so, I might just as well add in Lex McLean at the Pavilion and you can be out every night next week.”

“Whatever you say, Mr Wylie. Now don’t think of the money think of your effortless suppa party this evening and my cultural enrichment as a member of the truckled working class.”

“I never think of anything else Mrs T and while we are at it with my old cheque book what would you like to do Muriel seeing as there would appear to be a week of cold suppas ahead of us while Mrs T is hitting the entertainment high lights of the city.”

Muriel Seizes the Day Too

“Well Jasper since this evening with the Macaulays has been thrust upon us so very much at the last minute and it will be quite exhausting even for one who is simply marvellous, I would like something to look forward to. So I would like to go to The Regal tomorrow and see Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet.”

“Yes indeed Muriel, anything else? I should like to know just in case I need to visit the bank manager for a loan.”

“Well Jasper there is Cecil B. DeMille’s ‘Ten Commandments’ in Vista Vision and Technicolor on at The Gaumont, but on second thoughts an evening about the Old Testament will only remind moi of the Minster and all the soup fuss, so let’s just be Indiscreet, everyone else has.”

Jasper off to town

“Very well, I will fire up the Humber Super Snipe, and pop into town. Oh yes and before I go did you know……..”

“Yes we know all about the wealthy Pekinese in Muirkirk.”

No Flies on Jasper

“No not that… I mean do you know all about Mrs Macaulay’s niece, the plumber and the fact they discovered from the underside of the table that it is by Waring and Gillow of Lancaster and quite valuable.

“Jasper you knew?”

“Oh yes, of course; it’s been all round the Golf Club for days. Mr Savage said that Cynthia says it serves them all right for skimping on tablecloths. Otherwise the indiscretion would probably have gone unnoticed if not unheard. As they say in the R.A.F., which is 40 years old this week, per adua ad astra!”

à bientöt

Muriel Wylie

July 1958

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Jasper’s Jottings: The Rambling Rector

Home is Best

As they say, “East, West – Home’s best” or rather as he said, as it was the title of Goldsmith’s poem which is by the famous playwright Oliver Goldsmith who is now dead, as he was born more than 200 years ago in 1728.

An Inspired Idiot and An Evangelical Muriel

Muriel will tolerate nothing that is “common”

Goldsmith was the son of an Irish curate, rather dissolute in his habits (Oliver that is, not his father) and yet clever. He was a great writer and a great gambler. Indeed he was described by Horace Walpole, as “an inspired idiot”. I am sure he must have had a shed for he certainly had a massive output. This as Lady Pentland-Firth always says “comes in handy”. He wrote the pastoral poem The Deserted Village and a very good play She Stoops to Conquer.

Muriel does not like this play, not only because someone said she reminded her of Mrs Hardcastle, but mainly because the heroine, Kate Hardcastle, pretends to be “common”. Now as I am sure you are aware the eradication of all things “common” has been Muriel’s mission in life. Indeed in matters relating to this campaign she might be regarded as the Billy Graham of the movement! In this play Kate Hardcastle, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, tries to win over Charles, the son of an equally wealthy Londoner, who prefers to be with kitchen maids.

On Top of Her Game and Often at the Bottom of Things

Lady P-F – the cabaret years

I cannot help thinking, by way of contrast, of Patience Pentland-Firth who is perhaps the person highest up the social pyramid I know. Nevertheless, as we discovered on the way home from Spain, can always be found well below decks or behind the bulwark with the hired help. Perhaps this has something to do with her becoming an aristocrat by marriage rather than being “born to the purple”. She began her career as a cabaret artist between the wars and if she is to be believed between the sheets too, as I overheard her say “I always made sure they were pure Egyptian cotton.”

Fallen Arches

Now I am sure you do not want a guide to 18th century literature, but to be fair, Goldsmith had a point. I found that while it was interesting to be abroad and I did enjoy Spain apart from the bullfighting, the heat, the food, the politics, the accommodation, the espionage and the sherry headaches, it is good to be back. Travel does broaden the mind and it also helps one to understand why home is best. Of course we were not in Spain simply for fun and frolics. No, we were on matters of national importance although I have to say the sangria and sherry went a long way to make up for the inconvenience.

The Generalissimo

It is a fascinating country although I do not care for its President. I think the Spaniards will somehow never come to terms with the events of the 1930s. I had to keep quiet, as our lives were in danger, however, I did tell Muriel that as a socialist I undoubtedly would have gone to Spain, like so many Glaswegians as part of the International Brigades to fight for the republic. My fallen arches regrettably made me useless for combat and sadly I too realised that I might have been a hindrance to the cause and to the partisans hiding in caves the hills. Particularly of course in the event there were no regular footbaths available with a trained chiropodist and warm towels. Mrs Travers said she was sure that as I felt so strongly about fascism, something could have been put in my shoes to have given me support and helped me on my way.

Hilda – On Whom the Sun Will Not Rise Again

The death of Hilda, the double agent in the bullring, was a messy affair. The medical people tried to save her, but to no avail. The horns of a bull, like a dilemma, are very pointed. Those who work in the Shadows particularly the Handsome Stanger and Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes were disappointed as there was much she could have told them about life behind the Iron Curtain and the plans of the comrades for world domination. However, the main thing we had gone for, the map (the secret crotched map of the coastal waters between Japan and Russia which she had stolen) was rescued when it was tossed into the air and landed on Lady Pentland-Firth’s knees just as she was chatting up a strapping young Iberian vendor of “Caramelos, Cigars and lemonade”.

Although I do not remember too much about it, (due to a wee sip of medicinal sherry at a Bodega that lunchtime), I was apparently instrumental in bringing Hilda to justice and saving the matador, Mrs Travers, from certain death.

Winnie’s knitting

Of course, the big surprise of our adventure in Spain was the discovery of Winnie (she of the bicycle, the Wool Shop in Auchterarder and the novelty knitting) and Mr Chan (of crispy noodle fame at least in the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, speciality menus O- S available on Wednesdays in a leap year with chop stick lessons available on request) who were both thought to be dead. I am not sure how this is going to be explained in either the Govan Road or particularly tweedy Auchterarder. Govan might well be a little more colourful and cosmopolitan due to the shipyards, but Auchterarder ? I have to say murder is rare in rural Perthshire and resurrection, come to think of it, practically unheard of. It will most certainly be the talk of ‘The Copper Kettle’ during morning coffee.

Sailors Beware!

After the Spanish authorities had concluded their paper work Hilda’s remains were handed over during the night at sea to a ship belonging to the comrades to return her to the communist block. They seemed indifferent to her fate perhaps realising that it would be foolish to make a fuss as they have been exposed over the map issue and worse found wanting in crotchet skills.

outside one of the forts

We had a few days to recover in Spain. I explored the forts in Cadiz and thought how exciting a paper on the Peninsular War might be for the Historical Society. We returned home by Royal Navy frigate to Portsmouth and hence by train home to Glasgow. On board Mrs Travers showed the ship’s cook how to make stovies and Lady Pentland-Firth declared the crew quarters to be some of the most comfortable she had ever experienced. Some of the crew said Lady Pentland-Firth was one of their most unusual experiences and this despite a great familiarity with aspects of Strait Street in Malta, when the ship docked in Valletta and the crew docked in Miss Lola’s Chicken Bar.

Back Home

The exclusive West End abode

It was indeed good to get home to blighty. Our mission was successful and the Handsome Stranger said that all in the Service H.Q. were extremely grateful. There is talk of the New Year Honours’ List. Muriel is already thinking about having her stationery reprinted. There are piles of letters and Glasgow Heralds to comb through although there seems to have been little in the way of news while we have been in Spain.

Gatwick Airport has been refurbished and extended and opened by the Queen who also visited Crawley New Town. New towns are very important for our business these days as new houses require new furniture and soft furnishings. The Duke of Edinburgh has presented the first of his awards for doing the sorts of things of which the Duke approves. This mainly means running around and getting lost without a compass. There is a new attempt to control urban traffic with what are being called parking metres. These have existed in America since the 1930s. Muriel is not amused and has described this as yet one more example of State theft and has written a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan.

Muriel Gets Back to Work

The last debutantes are currently being presented at Buckingham Palace and at Holyrood in Edinburgh which is a sort of Palace-ette,(as in Maisonette). I personally am pleased to see another chink in the wall of the divisive class system in this country. Muriel, however, who misses nothing but blows has seen an opportunity here and is busy running an etiquette class for Scottish gals on “How to curtsey to the Queen.” The class includes morning coffee, a buffet lunch as well as lectures and a trouble shooting session with Muriel when she will tackle difficult issues such as walking backwards and does one keep one’s gloves on when eating quails’ eggs. The answer, apparently, is yours for 5 guineas.

Hairy Mary and Grace have Everything Under Control

You will be delighted to know that we found all’s well and that our ward, Gayle, is thriving in the summer sun in the care of Hairy Mary, the nurse from Inverarary, and the house was in good shape in the care of Grace, the lady from the West Indies who Muriel has declared “a treasure”.

I am not sure this was very diplomatic as Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does, but not a lot, said she felt undermined as she “had always been the family treasure, despite a terminal wind problem.” Muriel said she is still a treasure, just a little tarnished and some effective flatware cleaning with the old silver polish might see her redeemed.

Church Modernisation Claims Another Victim

There has been no peace for the wicked since we returned. Indeed no sooner had we unpacked our valises and portmanteau at our “much sort after but rarely found villa” in Glasgow’s “exclusive West End”, than Muriel and I left for the Rural Bolthole.

We arrived here to find the village in turmoil. That is not unusual of course. It’s the constant fighting that makes them live so long. It seems that the Minister has resigned or rather been resigned as following some rather odd behaviour Dr Payne, our GP, has had him sent to the local asylum for his own good.

Many of the rustics delighted in telling us that they had seen the arrival of the men in white coats at the manse and that the dear demented Reverend was heard to shout, “It’s that wretched woman again, what a nerve sending her Gazpacho soup recipe from Spain by diplomatic bag.” Seemingly he tried waving his arms about, but they were tied behind his back as he continued to shout, “…this is one step too far towards Rome. The Mulligatawny was bad enough but a cold, garlic flavoured soup, swimming in oil is against everything John Knox stood for.” As they closed the ambulance doors he was heard to shout, “That Wylie woman will cause a schism bigger than 1843.”

The Minister is Rambling and Muriel Might Be on the Turn

At the annual Church Kitchen Stocktaking and Apportioning of Blame Meeting which took place on the Friday morning, it was reported that the ladies of the Parish were in full spate as they searched for missing teaspoons and tried to identify tea towel abusers. “Well who would have thought” said one, “our minister in the rubber room, who will open the flower show?” “Probably Muriel Wylie” said another. “Yes” said another, matching cups and saucers “I heard she has been in Italy considering……..” “Oh no surely not that!” exclaimed another who was missing a sugar cube. “Surely you mean Episcopalianism, not you know what?” “That’s bad enough” added another who had discovered a packet of biscuits opened and the contents not put in a tin, “they said he had been rambling for days.” “I heard” said another “he was offered a remote African Village, where they wear nothing but banana leaves to cover their modesty, apparently he said she would find him there and no doubt open a branch of her wretched shop to sell them velvet curtains for their round houses.”

A Night in the Garden of Pentland Firth Hall

The walled garden at Pentland Firth Hall

Of course all of this, like most things had very little impact on Muriel who had anyway received the Moderator’s blessing for Mulligatawny and now sees an open door for change – under her direction of course. In any case she has been busy preparing her course for the debutants and helping Lady Pentland-Firth out with one of her Country House Concerts.

These are beginning to make their mark on the lives of those who live in the countryside who thought the only music in their lives was from byre door hinges needing a drop of oil or the sound of a male sheep on seeing the approach of the shepherd with a clamping device in his hands. On Sunday I must say Patience , clearly enthused by her Spanish adventure, excelled herself with Nights in the Gardens of Spain.

Muriel inspects the walled garden at Pentland Firth Hall

As well as the musical offering, the grounds of Pentland Firth House were the location of many Iberian flavoured activities most of which were centred around the tennis courts with the Rambling Rector rose in full bloom or in the walled garden.

The Rambling Rector by the tennis court

Muriel conducted the first of her new workshops ‘Fanning About’ which were well attended and then together we read a selection from Spanish literature. The writings of Cervantes gave rise to the usual discussion about the pronunciation of Don Quixote. Before things got violent I diverted them with some images of his time in prison in Seville.

A style that is all her own

The work of Garcia Lorca was presented Lady Pentland-Firth, with the opportunity to demonstrate her flamenco skills. It has to be said the accompaniment provided by Young Old Jock from Nether Doh-Da on a guitar which has seen better days and more strings and Gladys Arbuthnot, from the mobile library, on castanets did not quite have the passion of the Andalucían Gypsies.

An Unforgettable Moment

The Ladies from the right side of Carlisle look very surprised!

The suppa of Spanish seafood was inspired and as the ladies from the right side of Carlisle remarked. “Who would ever forget the sound of Young Old Jock with his six fingers and three strings playing Rodrigo while watching the newly resurrected Winnie casting off for a knitted Sancho Panza while playing footsie with Mr Chan and sucking on a lobster claw?

Toodle pip

Jasper Wylie
July 1958

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A Load of Old Bull

Advertisement for the corrida

Travels by Donkey

Muriel and Patience sped across Seville by donkey, as all the taxis were taken, in order to save Mrs Travers from the double agent Hilda who had the strategically important crotched map of the coastal waters around Japan. This was desperately wanted by the comrades who would like to extend their coastal waters as far as possible, but the good guys – President Eisenhower and Prime Minister Macmillan – were having none of this as it might put up the price of tuna which is always good with “a nice bit of salad on a warm day” instead of haslet or mixed cold meats, not that anyone is ever entirely sure what haslet is.

Stolen From Under Their Noses

In fact the precious map had already been saved by Mrs Travers, the daily woman what does but not a lot, of the Wylie household and was in safe keeping in the Glasgow house. You know the one – double fronted villa “oft sought but rarely found” close to the Botanical Gardens and Byres Road, the epicentre of Glasgow’s West End.

One night when Jasper and Muriel were away at the Rural Bolthole in South West Scotland, the town house was burgled and the map was stolen before they had the chance to pass it to the Handsome Stranger who works “in the shadows” as they say. The thief left behind a packet of frankfurters and a torn ticket with the horns of a cow clearly indicated. Due to the zealous work of Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, a talented musician at the varsity with a sideline in forensics, we now know the identity of the villain.

A Different Kind of Curtain

The frankfurters were the calling card (as well as being culturally stereotyping – but there you go, this is 1958) of Hilda a German vuman, who has recently assisted Mrs Travers with zee heavy vork. This being necessary because Mrs Travers is a martyr to her knees, ankles, back and just about everything involved in the extensive application of Jeyes Fluid. Still there is only so much one can do with support stockings and the regular application of a winter green embrocating product from ‘Timothy Whites’.

Hilda, currently working for those who seek to extend the Iron Curtain across Europe, had to be stopped. Now the attempt to have only one type of curtain is a far from pleasing prospect for a simply marvellous woman like Muriel who makes a living from a variety of window treatments and matching cushions and 3 piece suite covers. In case you are interested next week sees a range of reductions at the summer sale of ‘Chez Nous’ – interior decorating for the discerning.

We join Lady P-F and Muriel as they arrive at the Corrida – bullfight to you.

Arrival at the Corrida

“Thank you Señor, how much do we owe you?”

“That will be 200 pesetas Señora and an extra 50 for the big titled lady, with the exciting hips.”

“There you are good Señor and there’s 20 for your trouble.”

“Oh Muriel don’t give him anything, the cheeky blighter! I would have him horse whipped if I didn’t think it might be appealing and anyway he has the whip. Really that was awful, I am saddle sore.”

“Oh do stop making a fuss Patience. We have a life to save. Now how do we get in? You know this is the oldest surviving Bull fighting ring in Spain.”

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla

“You don’t say,” replied Lady Pentland-Firth somewhat sarcastically.

“Good hombre, may I have two tickets for this afternoon’s fight?”

“Two tickets pretty laydee for La Ultima sensacion- Esme, La Mujer Diaria Versos KILLER. That will be 240 pesetas, cushions are a peseta extra.”

“I presume you will want a cushion Patience? Well in for a peseta as they say.”

A cushion for Lady P-F of course

“You want view Infirmary? Is very enteresting, it is extra.”

“Well Muriel that might be useful in case I need a wee lie down.”

“Very well then – and two to view the infirmary please.”

“Look laydees, the infirmary. There is the operating table in case of goring and beds already made up for the matadors and the statue of Our Lady watching over them. Now this way, here is the entrance to your seats.”

Entrance gate

“Oh Muriel there is someone selling things I am starving”.

“Caramelos…….cigarros… limonada!”

“Two of everything please, young man. And my what a handsome young man you are!”

“Patience stop it! We are not out on a date and how can you eat at a time like this. You are as bad as Jasper, he would eat at his own funeral.”

“Well Muriel a girl’s got to keep body and soul together, here have a caramelo and as you don’t smoke can I have your cigarro?”

“Yes as long as you don’t puff in my face; it’s a disgusting habit and bad for you.”

“Living is bad for you Muriel; sometimes you just have to do it anyway. Do you mind if I just blow artistic rings into the air? Anyway what are we going to do?”

“I wish I knew Patience, I wish I knew.”

Into The Ring

To the Bullring

The clock strikes and the Generalissimo, (who is staying in his apartment at the Alcázar) enters his box. Patience blows him a kiss and he waves back. There is tumultuous applause. He signals and the gates open and the procession enters the ring. In swagger the matadors, sparkling in the sunlight as the jewels and gold thread in their costume catch the light. Behind them are the cuadrillas, their assistants, followed by the bandilleros who stick darts into the poor animals and the picadors who spear the bulls from their terrified horses. Across the arms of the matadors are their red cloaks ready to demand the attention of the bull.

There are three of them, two handsome ones with tight knee breeches and a shorter one with a cigarette sticking out of the corner of her mouth wearing satin support stockings and curlers poking out from a hat which resembles a burnt apple turnover. She is unsteady on her feet and is constantly prompted by a stocky figure at her side. From time to time she takes ‘a wee swally’ from a bottle in the side of her breeches. Her cloak which is being trailed from behind like the coat of a haughty catwalk model is thrown from one side to another as in the pasodoble, revealing on the other side of its magenta lining a crocheted map of the coastal waters of Japan, stolen from the recent Conference of the Seas in Geneva.

To the Rescue?

The triumphal entrance

“Muriel that matador is no matador it is Mrs Travers and she is dragging the map along the ground. She looks as if she has taken a wee refreshment too far.”

“Oh Patience and her cuadrilla is none other than Hilda, the German vuman who escaped from the man-trap and now I come to think of it never actually did much of zee heavy vork anyway. We need to rescue Mrs T, let’s get down to the ring.”

“But Muriel they will never let us through; it is too dangerous. Anyway it is too late the President has given the sign.”

A Pot Roast

The door of the bull pen swings open and there is a roaring and a snorting and a cloud of dust as Mrs Travers swallows another mouthful of her brew, clears her throat and eyeballs the beast known as KILLER –  he comes to a standstill.

“Go on, goad him then, Sweetie” said a wild eyed Hilda, “you have already made the best paella in Spain, now you have a pot roast in your hands.”

With that Mrs Travers took the cloak and turned it like a dancer moving her hands with unexpectedly graceful movements rarely found in a Glaswegian woman, unless she’s going through her husband’s pockets. She moved it on one side of her body and then the other. The bull begins to accelerate and a collision course is inevitable.

Hemingway Meets Alice

“Oh Patience I feel as if I am in a Hemingway novel by that well known writer Ernest Hemingway” said Muriel rising to her feet in horror just as the crowd rose to its feet and shouted ‘Olé’!

“Who?” asked Patience, one who like Alice from the Wonderland was never one for books without pictures.

“You must have heard of The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon?

“Really Muriel I never thought of you as a Kama Sutra sort of person.”

‘Olé’ cheered the crowd.

“Oh Patience this is going to end badly.”

An Unexpected Arrival

Suddenly there is a commotion on one side of the ring and a man, who has spent the entire morning on a bodega in Jerez testing the sherry, spills on to the sandy arena shouting “Muriel Dahling! I’m home, a little worse for wear but I’m home what’s for suppa?”

“Muriel that’s your Jasper” said Patience in a statement of the obvious. “Don’t know what you think, but he looks absolutely blootered to me.”

“Yoohoo Muriel! ̓Tis I, Jasper; fresh from the plain in Spain, well not exactly fresh much now. I have a little drinky-poohs here for you and Lady Pretentious Doo-Dah. What are all these people doing in our living room, sorry I mean drawing room?”

“Jasper for goodness sake; stay where you are,” cried Muriel.

Mrs Travers turns and recognising Jasper shouts, “Over hear Mr Wylie; I am getting suppa, mushrooms or onions, but I cannot possible feed all these friends of yours.”

Good Fortune Plays Its Part

KILLER immortalised

With that KILLER who had sneaked up behind Mrs Travers swung his huge head to one side and brought it back with a great force catching his horns in the map and flinging it into the crowd where it landed on Patience’s lap. Mrs Travers seeing Jasper waving a bottle of sweet sherry at her from his basket of samples had already moved out of the immediate line of fire as the bull takes another swipe at what appears to be beside him which in this case is the now equally enraged Hilda.

So angry is she at the sight of Jasper who has spoilt her carefully choreographed plans that she does not see the final blow coming. Trumpets sound and the sacrifice is complete and the bull lives to fight another day. The Infirmary does what it can, but alas Hilda expires under the gaze of the Madonna her last words being “decadent capitalists especially that Wylie woman and her blasted curtains and lampshades.”

Not Quite Finished Yet

It seems the Generalissimo has had a wonderful afternoon and all the aficionados agree there has not been a corrida like this for many a year. He organises one of his cars to take everyone back to the Seville apartment. This is just a well as Jasper and Mrs Travers have begun tasting Jasper’s souvenir sherries and it looks like a long evening. Still they are safe and so is the map and Hilda has reaped her just desserts.

On the way out the seller of caramel, cigars and lemonade steps forward and says. “There is more before we finish” and hands over four train tickets to Cadiz with a whispered instruction, “Pretty Laydee, find the Calle Jon Del Duende and further instructions will follow.”

 To Cadiz

The Look of the self righteous

The train trip to Cadiz is interesting enough although Jasper and Mrs Travers close their eyes as the train stops in Jerez as they have had enough Sherry to last them a life time. They can recall little of yesterday and have thumping headaches to prove it. Lady Pentland-Firth brings to the table all the self righteousness of the reformed alcoholic and maintains the countenance of the beatified while adding the addresses of two matadors to her little black book.

outside one of the forts

The scene from the window is of the irrigated Andalucian Plain, where the rain mainly stays. As the train from Seville approaches Cadiz it makes a great sweeping curve. The travellers arrive in an unexpectedly attractive port with pretty buildings, wide squares and also dark narrow streets.

You can see the influence the Spanish had on the Wild West of the New world!

The forts along the coast provide a key to the strategic importance of the city and the memorial to the men of Trafalgar, a reminder that the Spanish also lost men just as we lost Nelson.

At the Calle Jon Del Duende

Calle Jon Del Duende

“You know the Romans knew Cadiz as Gades and the dancing girls of Gades were famous in Rome. It is said that the memory of these dancers is recorded in the flamenco stamps and steps of Andalusian Gypsies….”

“Oh Jasper, please not a running commentary. We need to concentrate with the task in hand.”

“Sorry Muriel.”

“Excuse me, English” said a voice from a narrow lane.

“Scottish, if you don’t mind Señor” replied Lady Pentland-Firth, irascible in the heat.

Find this cafe

“Sorry you all look the same to me pale and uninteresting, but never mind, here take this end of a woollen thread and follow it find the Café-Teatro Pay-Pay in the Calle Silencio.”

Where To This Time?

Up and down narrow alleys

Mrs Travers takes the end of some scarlet two ply and crocodile fashion, she is followed around a series of narrow alley ways until they reach the street of silence and the café where sitting at an outside table are a familiar couple, the woman is knitting a fan.

The Street of Silence is not so silent when they see who is knitting

“Hello Muriel, Jasper, your ladyship and of course Mrs Travers; a glass of sangria perhaps?”

“Goodness!  It’s you Winnie! Of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchertarder and Mr Chan of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant (crispy fried noodles free with dinners K to P Tuesdays and Thursdays). We thought you were dead!” exclaimed Muriel.

“I rather hoped you were” replied Patience, “I have all the twin sets I need and that Chinese food is never filling.”

“I don’t know I rather like your crispy Duck” said Jasper.

“Me, I am more of a sausage and mash person” said Mrs Travers, “but right now I could do with a cup of tea and an Askit Pooder.”

For Good Reasons

“I really am sorry to put you all through that.”

“We even had two funerals and a memorial service hosted by the knitting community, Winnie!”

“Yes it was all quite convincing wasn’t it” said a voice from the doorway.” It was Professor Sir Boozey Hawkes. “We knew that to convince the comrades we had to convince those closest to Winnie.”

“So who” asked Jasper “are the frozen bodies from the Swiss Alps?”

“Oh they were two convenient 2,000 year old bodies found in a glacier by archaeologists in more or less perfect condition. We managed to make Hilda think she had poisoned Winnie and Mr Chan with crotchet hooks. Hilda believed that with them out of the way she could progress her plans to take the map to comrade-land. She had, however, failed to consider that a third party, in this case Mrs Travers, might acquire the map. So she was forced to follow her back to Scotland.

Her identity might have remained secret if we had not found the tell-tale packet of German sausages and the corner of a ticket with a bull’s head allowing entry into one of Spain’s most historic bullrings. She had planned to rendez-vous with a submarine off the coast at Cadiz, but Mrs Travers had recognised this master of disguise over the making of a paella and ended up putting herself in mortal danger.

The map is in safe hands now thanks to all you have done for Queen and country. Now who would like to taste some Andalucian delicacies? I think the Foreign Office might stretch to that. Now I can recommend the gazpacho soup, it is cold but delicious.”

Cold Soup – Beyond Human Understanding

Lady P-F relives her flamenco days

“Cold soup! Whoever heard of such a thing? Just as well I have a wee pot of ham and split pea in ma carpet bag” retorted an incredulous Mrs T.

“Cold Soup” mused Muriel, “now that is an interesting concept for a Church Soup and Pudding lunch.”

“Oh no; cold and foreign Muriel! That will never pass the Guild Sub-Committee” said Lady Pentland-Firth. “Sometimes I think you enjoy making waves.”

Let’s go to and see some flamenco

“Well Patience perhaps I do but then it’s the waves that make the shore new everyday and we do have to have change. Anyway let’s forget about home for now. We will soon be up to date with the local news. What does everyone say to a night of tapas and flamenco in honour of Winnie and Mr Chan returning to us and the map safe at last and hopefully the preservation of our coastal waters?”

Flamenco dress and shawl

“Talking of coastal waters” said Lady Pentland-Firth, “it is so nice here in Spain I could imagine in the next decade there will be more British tourists here than in Blackpool.”

“Never hen!” replied Mrs T in horror, “but dream away your Ladyship.”

“Hmm; perhaps but all the same I think I might investigate buying some small fishing village and building an eye wateringly awful but lucrative tourist destination. I have seen a couple of places on the map. Look what do you think Jasper Torremolinos or Benidorm?”

“I am more a Saughton Sands person; Patience but if you have money to waste.”

Later

“What I don’t understand Muriel is why when Hilda already had secured the map, did she go through that performance of trying to get at you and Mrs T?”

“It’s all about female jealousy Jasper, something you men will never understand, sometimes winning is not enough there has to be a trophy too.”

The Narrator

June 1958

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seville

Remind Me

Now do please remind me when I get back to Scotland to organise a couple of my famous “How to” master classes.

Thrilled by Spain 

I am inspired and thrilled by my visit to Spain despite the obvious danger we are all in from Hilda, the German vuman vat used to help our daily woman Mrs Travers with zee heavy vork. Hilda has stolen the strategically important crotched map of the coastal waters around Japan and very possibly bumped off Winnie and her squeeze Mr Chan, the late owner of a Chinese restaurant on the Govan Road (free crispy noodles with dinners F- H, Monday to Thursday).

Nevertheless despite the obvious perils facing strangers in Spain, a country in the grip of the Generalissimo, one cannot forget work entirely. I think Spain has given me one or two ideas which will help me to help you achieve “marvellousness” through Gracious Living.

A Legend in Fanning

the language of the fan

If you will allow me to indulge myself for a moment I am thinking for example of reviving my near legendary class on the Language of the Fan, ‘Fanning About’, in which I teach non verbal skills for ladies of a delicate disposition. The ladies who dance flamenco here in Seville are experts in the use of fans and with their jet black hair, beautiful eyes and hands that are almost as beautiful as mine, say a great deal without opening their mouths.

It is quite amazing how, with the flick of a wrist and the revelation of sticks and guards (for these are the main components of a fan as we experts know them), one can communicate from one side of the room to another. It is one way we ladies can stick together in times of danger and I have learned something new – “we are being watched” from a Spanish lady with much experience and which may prove very useful here.

If you want me to put your name down, do write or telephone. I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed as my classes tend to be oversubscribed and one can only spread oneself so thinly. Perhaps I should open a school? After all, the best people have disciples.

Hands in Gloves

the famous gloved hand

Many of you have been to my ‘Scarf Management’ workshop and once again Spain has given me some ideas. Shawls are all the rage here, embroidered shawls in the brightest of colours and the deepest of fringes. It is, however the Spanish way with gloves that particularly captures my imagination. I think a “How to Wear Gloves”, workshop might be just the think for a dull autumn day in Scotland. Jasper might do a little history and then I could reveal my wrists. I am quite sure Mrs Travers would do a spot of lunch as part of an all inclusive package.

I feel my inspiration comes from having been in Córdoba – it has always had the most wonderful leather for gloves. They have had a tanning industry since at least the 8th century. The very best of course are never worn, simply carried or worn tucked into a belt. Spanish gloves were hugely prized by Elizabethan ladies and were often perfumed. I rather like the idea of perfumed gloves.

A City of Many Faces

Seville

I am fascinated by this city. It is large and divided into a number of districts. It is not in itself beautiful but has many beautiful buildings. H. V. Morton, who has become our guide courtesy of his simply marvellous book, says that it was here that the tourist poster was born as early British tourists made their way into Spain from the ports of Cadiz and Gibraltar in the 19th century. It was then a city of donkeys and mules loaded with water pots.

Patience proves she can in fact read

It has been a city of cruelty too where the Inquisition tested its fires and where there was fierce fighting in the Civil War only 20 or so years ago.

We now associate it with beauty, with dancing and Moorish tiles and with sherry produced 40 miles away in Jerez. Not to mention of course ‘the Barber’ and cigars.

The cigar factory of Seville

Jasper incidentally has hired a taxi and gone on a tour which will take him to a Bodega and to the factory where Bizet drew his inspiration for Carmen who rolled cigars on her thighs, which I regard as most unhygienic, but that’s men for you.

Naturally one associates Glasgow with tobacco, but of course one forgets that it was the Spanish who discovered the New World and that many of the ships carrying tobacco and gold sailed up the river into Seville. Astonishingly one can even buy a single cigarette in Seville. Not of course that I approve of this habit.

Chocolate Treats and Creeping Socialism

Delicious dipped in chocolate

You find me sitting in one of the many pleasant cafes that line the streets of this city. I am enjoying a treat – a cup of hot chocolate with tiny little strips of what tastes like doughnuts, which one covers in sugar and then dips into the thick chocolate which is nothing like what we have at home. Rather yummy and if I am not careful will be adding to the waistline. The Spaniards seem to exist on little treats like this.

They eat what I would call bits and pieces which they call tapas. The oranges are delicious and so too the olives. In case you are Scottish oranges are a fruit and olives are little green things which one has with drinks. They are a very sophisticated and I will be serving them at my future cocktail parties.

We are not staying in the famous Edwardian hotel which would have been my choice. No; because the Foreign Office is short of money we have been put up in a modest town house in the old Jewish quarter. We do at least have a Spanish housekeeper. Unfortunately Mr Macmillan’s government is a bit strapped for cash.

Personally I put it down to the National Health Service which is 10 years old this month. I said to Beveridge at the time of the White Paper. “Willy” I said, “it’s a very kind thought, but if you start giving away teeth, spectacles and wigs willy-nilly Willy you will create a culture of dependency.” I said as much to that young woman I keep meeting, can’t remember her name, she’s a chemist I think, husband works for Burmah Oil or something like that, wants to go into politics. Apparently East Finchley are interested in her.

Of course Jasper thinks it is all marvellous and goes on about his Granny Wylie having to sing to Music Hall queues in Glasgow to get money for medicine before the welfare state. I am always tempted to say that she could have afforded medicine if she had cut down on the old John Barleycorn. I have, however, learned to keep quiet and therefore keep the peace even in the face of creeping socialism.

Lady Pentland-Firth Renewing Old Friendships

Lady P-F relives her flamenco days

“Oh Muriel there you are; I have been looking for you everywhere.”

“Well Patience here I am, where have you been and why are you dressed for flamenco?”

After her rendez-vous with the Generalissimo

“Well Muriel I discovered that the Generalissimo has an apartment in the Alcázar and is here for the weekend and so I telephoned and he invited me round for old time’s sake and a glass of manzanilla. I offered to take Mrs Travers by way of presenting a hand of friendship. Despite the fact that she has been irritating me, with her newly acquired night school knowledge, but she declined. She muttered something about an air raid and a devastated town and some painting by that painter Picasso. I say painter lightly he wouldn’t have passed muster at The Glasgow School of Art for one thing and for two I wouldn’t have allowed him to do the gloss work on my estate cottages.”

“I am sure Patience, that despite your problems with modern art the Glasgow School of Art would have welcomed Picasso with open arms. I have to say, however I am not sure about the company you keep. So what is Mrs Travers doing then?”

“Well I have left her in the house with that rather strange housekeeper, with the wig and the scars around her ankles, who is showing her how to make paella and then she is going to take her to the Bullfight.”

“Rather her than me.”

“Apparently Srn. Trabajo Pesado has promised her a wee discount on 4 steaks afterwards which she said would do for Mr Wylie’s suppa as he says if he eats one more olive he will turn into a slick.”

“Quite frankly Patience I will be surprised if Jasper comes back from Jerez able to coordinate the upper and lower parts of his jaw let alone tackle a steak.”

“I am quite envious Muriel; sometimes I wish I wasn’t on the wagon, there is something about sherry over and above the fact that once one starts one cannot stop. Anyway Frankie says I’ve to get you over to the Alcázar Gardens, pronto.”

At the Alcázar

In the Hall of the Ambassadors at the Alcazar Palace

“Well Patience this is more like being in Damascus than Spain with all this fretwork fantasy, tiles and golden honeycombed ceilings. It is like a Sultan’s Palace despite being built for a Christian, Pedro the Cruel.

“Can’t we just look Muriel? It’s a bit like having Jasper here with a history of every stone. I must say the gardens are rather beautiful. I love the orange trees and the myrtle.”

the gardens are beautiful

“Did you know that all Royal Brides have Myrtle in their bouquets?”

“Muriel!”

The gardens are beautiful even with Lady P-F in them!

“Sorry Patience, but I must agree the gardens are gorgeous. I wonder if we might do something like this in Glasgow when we get home. Some tiles at the very least.”

“Who’s that in the hedge? Come on, who are you?” demanded Lady Pentland-Firth.

“Come out whoever you are” demanded Lady P-F

“Disculpeme, Señora.”

“Yes, Good day. I mean Ola, oh typical Andalusian gardener, how may we help you?”

“No; it is I who am here to help pretty laydees. Go first to the Archives of the Indies.”

“Is that all?”

“On the pesos I get, that is certainly all!”

Autographs at the Archives of the Indies

Muriel looking nonchalant

“Don’t start Muriel! I agree it is very interesting, even I am impressed by the signatures of Amerigo Vespucci, Cortes, Magellan and Cervantes.”

“Well Jasper told me that Cervantes had actually helped to supply the Armada ships with provisions.”

“How did the Armada work out then Muriel?”

“Oh really Patience you are the limit!”

Just then Muriel spotted a rather tired old curator who looked rather familiar, much like the gardener at the Alcázar but with a wash and brush up.

“Good after-evening Laydees.”

“Oh it’s you again. Are you a sort of Shakespearean everyman figure?”

“Umm Patience that is pretty impressive that you know something, well actually anything, about dramatic devices.”

“Actually I read it in one of Mrs Travers essays for the night school, mark my words Muriel that woman is going to be impossible.”

“Please pretty laydees, concentrate. Read the notes in the margins and find his resting place.”

“Whose resting place, what can he mean Muriel? Why can’t they just tell us!”

the Hall of the Archives of the West Indies

“Look Patience this is what he means, look at these books in the case, they all have marginal notes and all are by S. S. A. S. X. M. Y.. It’s the cipher of Christopher Columbus! He was known for his extensive marginalia and he is buried here in Seville in the Cathedral.”

“I have known many a man claim to have extensive marginalia and it unusually turns out to be wishful thinking.”

“Yes but how many of them discovered America?”

“Most of them knew it was already there.”

“You surprise me, Patience; now let’s go.”

The Cathedral

“Now before you start, Muriel, I am well aware that this is the largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe. I am also aware that it was originally a mosque and occupies 23,500 square metres which is sort of Spanish for yards. It is enormous.”

“Yes it really is. Morton in his A Stranger in Spain writing as H. V. Morton the famous travel writer, says it is a bit like finding oneself in Bradford with St Paul’s in the middle.”

”I wouldn’t want to do that.”

What, find yourself in St Pauls?”

“No – find myself in Bradford.”

“Quite so, I have never entirely got Yorkshire.”

Here we are, Muriel

“Here we are Muriel; it is the tomb of Christopher Columbus.”

“Well spotted Patience and it surrounded by heralds representing, Castile, León, Aragon and Navarre. On their shoulders they carry the coffin of the man who discovered America.”

The Heralds who bear the coffin of Christopher Columbus

“I don’t get this Muriel; what has this man who discovered America got to do with our quest for the crotched map?”

Just at that point a woman covered in shawls came from the shadows.

“Not you again?”

“No; I am another dramatic device who dwells in the tawny, brown light of yet another religious building, the other one is on tea break.”

“Typical, Muriel – the working classes are the same the world over. Even world peace cannot get in the way of a tea break.”

“Señoras, please think instead about the man, not what you know now, but what he didn’t know at the time.”

The Peseta Finally Drops

“I know Patience I know, Christopher Columbus did not know he was sailing to America, he didn’t know America existed he thought he was going to Japan. Somehow the knitted map of the coastal waters of Japan is in Seville. But where?”

“Think laterally or maybe longitudinally Laydees” said the shadowy woman.

“Oh are you still here? That is unusual.” said Lady P-F with more than her usual hint of sarcasm.

“Yes I am on until 5 pm” said the woman “and then I do a backshift warming up castanets at a tourist rip off.”

“We need something more definite than lateral thinking, my dear.”

“Well Laydees, it’s a question of geographical terms.”

“Like North West Passage?”

“Warmer.”

“How else Muriel, would one get to India and Japan?”

“Oh my goodness! It’s around the Capes! Patience, I have got it. Oh just a minute the Spanish housekeeper that is with Mrs Travers, I knew there was something odd about her Patience, she is not a Spanish housekeeper. Mrs Travers is making paella with a heavily disguised Hilda, the murdering vuman vat does zee heavy vork.”

“Muriel I don’t think it’s the paella we have to worry about; it is what is happening after.”

OH NO!

“You mean the Bullfight?”

“Yes Muriel I mean the Bullfight. You know of course what the Bullfighters use to make the bull mad?”

“Oh my goodness it’s the Cape; it’s all about the cape. The crotched map of Japanese coastal waters is going to be in the matador’s cape.”

“Why would that matter, it is only of concern to the bullfighter?”

“It depends Patience on who the bullfighter is.”

“You don’t mean someone who would do pretty much anything to get 50% off four sirloin steaks?”

“I do and she will have worked out by know who the Andalucian domestic help is. Her life is in mortal peril as the Bullfighter is none other than Mrs Travers, a woman what does and might be done to death despite her doing not a lot.”

“No surely not. I have seen the Bullfight poster and it is advertising “La ultima sensacion – Esme – La Mujer Diaria Versos Asesino.”

“Exactly Patience, it translates as The latest Sensation- Esme -The Daily Woman versos.”
“Versos who?”

“Versos………the toro ……KILLER!”

“Make haste Muriel, we must go to the Anillo de toros, there is not a moment to waste.”

Muriel Wylie
Seville, quite near Spain which is abroad.
June 1958

 

 

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Traversing the Plain

Minding My Own Business

Resplendent in my shed

I was in my Museum in a Shed minding my own business, when Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, arrived with the tea tray and some Dundee Cake and in something of a panic.

Action Stations

“Mr Wylie the Memsahib, sorry, I mean Mrs Wylie sends greetings from her boudoir and a message in her own fair hand which reads Action stations, all personnel prepare to decamp.”

“Decamp to where exactly Mrs Travers?”

“That London, I believe your grace, and while I am here, to save me coming down the garden path again, would you like gammon and a pineapple ring or toad-in-the-hole for supper? Mrs Wylie favours the gammon and wants a glacé cherry in her ring.”

“In that case I favour the toad, can we have chipped potatoes?”

“Seemingly not, Mr Wylie, Her Majesty – I mean your dear lady wife says no chipped potatoes for you, while there is no R in the month or even when there is.”

“Really Mrs T this is most inconvenient, I am putting the finishing touches to my model of a Belgian town during the first Unpleasantness. This will complete my diorama for the 40th Anniversary of the Armistice.”

“I had wondered why you wanted all those empty cardboard cereal packets Mr W.  What are using for glue?”

“Oh a mixture of flour and water for the papier-mâché and egg white for the corner tabs. You cannot beat the old methods Mrs T.”

“Well I think you can Mr W, but I long ago realised that in this household there is very little point in trying.”

Still Time for a Bit of Gluing

“Why exactly are we going Mrs T?”

Deep in conversation with the professor

“I am not entirely sure Mr Wylie, except I cannot help having noticed that Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, from the very good varsity in Glasgow where he is an expert in the English Concertina, and the Handsome Stranger have been much in evidence and helping themselves to your single malt. Why sometimes they are here so often one would think they are one in the same person.

the handsome stranger at work

Reading between the lines I think it has something to do with the robbery and the missing crotched map of Japanese coastal waters. Do you want me to lay out your expensively crushed linen suit and other items suitable for a warmer that London?”

“Why not Mrs T if one is going south one may as well make the most of it. By the way have you finished with that Shredded Wheat box? It would make a nice row of souvenir Brussels’ lace shops to finish off my town square.”

To That London

In That London looking for clues

Well I had to abandon my model, not to mention the ornamental trees made from old paint brush handles and lichen collected from the trees, for the Starlight Express. While in London we dashed round assembling clues and discovered how dangerous life in the Shadows can be. While sitting in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, waiting for the curtain to go up on My Fair Lady, which is based on Shaw’s Pygmalion, by the well known Fabian socialist George Bernard Shaw, we were sold a programme by none other than Hilda, the German vuman vat did zee heavy vork, before faking her death in a man trap.

There is a strong suspicion that she murdered Muriel’s dear friend Winnie, of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder and her bidey-in Mr Chan, a restaurateur in the Govan Road and crispy noodle specialist (only available from menus E and F). In the belief that she was leading us to bigger fish we let her go. Not only that, but we all wanted to hear I could have danced all night.

Scary Stamps

the scary man

As I ultimately deduced, in a brilliant piece of detective work the clues all pointed to Spain and to the city of Seville which is also Spain. Mrs Travers was not exactly thrilled at the thought of going to Spain as she is rather frightened of the Generalissimo whose picture she has seen on a stamp and who apparently disapproves of ladies who go swimming in somewhat reveal swimsuits.

Mrs T, by her own admission, has a rather risqué swimsuit.  This was knitted for her in a bouclé double-knit by the late Winnie with pantaloons and full skirt not to mention matching mob cap. She worries about being arrested and spending a night in a Spanish gaol with an uncouth and insatiable Latin gaoler who might take advantage of her. Lady Pentland-Firth, who is one of our party, said she could confirm the prejudiced stereotype and that she herself had herself plenty of experience of Spanish gaolers. “If you play your cards right they will often have a couple of onions and a few potatoes to hand and can make you something in the morning.” Mrs Travers doubted it was worth compromising one’s virtue for a frittata. To which Lady Pentland-Firth replied “Really Travers I don’t think you have quite grasped the opportunities provided by espionage, so typical of the prudish working classes.” Mrs T already irritated by Lady P-F, after the long train journey from Glasgow to London said, “Well clearly you have grasped anything that has come waving your way, typical of the immoral upper classes!”

Too Tempting

Mrs T packed and ready to go

This and the revelation that Lady Pentland-Firth had demonstrated her Fandango to General Franco during a period when he was somewhat lonely, had roused Mrs T’s interest and she decided would to come to Spain especially as she realised her tales would subsequently be the envy of the Bowling Club.

Reasons to Fly

Despite the Foreign Office’s current level of parsimony due to Mr Macmillan’s economic prudence, they were forced to send us by air from London to Spain.

Lady P-F ready to go

Lady Pentland-Firth said she refused to go by sea as many of her late husband’s ancestors had poor experiences of maritime adventures with Spain. One Pentland-Firth had perished at Cadiz with Drake and another at Trafalgar with Nelson. Of course there was also the Spanish line – the Late Lord Pentland-Firth’s mother, who was a Minch, was descended from at least two Spanish naval officers who were washed on to Scottish beaches after the Armada was defeated in 1588. Don Diddly Om Dom was reputed to be the source of the family’s dark eyes and colouring and Don Estos was said to have provided the family with their sparkle.

A New Landscape, Stark but Dignified

H.V. Morton – full of wisdom

We flew from London Airport by B.E.A, to Madrid arriving in the Spanish capital. It was a pleasant flight once again in the care of Chief Steward Jimmy Lee who looked after us so well and looked very smart in his summer uniform and then white jacket for the meal service. The descent revealed a stark dry landscape. I was reading My H.V. Morton Stranger in Spain who so aptly described it:

The trees had vanished centuries ago, much of the top soli had gone, and the bones of the land lay stark and bare in various shades of brown. There was a lonely dignity about it as there is about most wide, uncluttered landscapes, and blue and purple hills rose off the edge of the sky.

“A Gay and Impertinent Airport”

Mr Morton is right when he suggests that in comparison with the undulations of the plain, Madrid Airport is like a “gay and impertinent … pleasure steamer upon a sombre lake”. Mrs Travers was a bit alarmed when she saw the entrance to the Arrivals’ Lounge guarded by two armed men in sage green uniforms, wearing hats of black patent leather in a rather Napoleonic style. Fellow arrivals included passengers from South America, a reminder that Spain once had a mighty empire and that its influence is to be found all over the New World in language, architecture and dance.

Muriel travelling light

We were stopped by Customs. This took some time as Muriel always travels with a great deal of luggage despite swearing that she always travels with the bare minimum.  Muriel was at first rather angry as she generally feels that any bearer of Her Britannic Majesty’s passport should be allowed to pass immediately without hindrance, fear or favour. However, as the Customs Officers donned white gloves (to delve into the depths of duster coats and twin sets as well as “some new Horrocks’ dresses officer as worn by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth”) Muriel felt these were people she could understand. Lady Pentland-Firth had a round of ammunition confiscated and there was much hilarity as the officials tried to come to grips with the knitted swimsuit and a variety of reinforced foundation garments belonging to Mrs T.

White Gloves

It seems, and I am sure you will hear more of this, that white gloves are very important in Spain; they are a symbol of appropriateness. A glove in Spain, and this is confirmed by Morton, is an aristocratic symbol – the privilege of kings and bishops. Even here as he says “as the world becomes more democratic one sees fewer gloves, and the clenched fist, of course is always bare”.

We then queued with Mexicans, Peruvians and Argentineans at Passport Control. “Why have you come to Spain?” “Turista” each of us said in Spanish, as a large framed photograph of the man on the stamp stared at us from the wall. Our passports were stamped with a heavy hand. We took three ancient taxis to our hotel to accommodate the four of us and the luggage and after checking in we retired to our rooms as it was hot and siesta time.  Morton points out that “lethargy is Spain’s first gift to the stranger”; and one has to embrace it as the heat was quite something.

So I lay on the bed under the ceiling fan and thought like H.V. Morton of the writing of Cervantes, the music of Manuel de Falla, the paintings of Velazquez and El Greco. We were four ‘Strangers in Spain’ and we would have to wait until 10 o’clock for our suppa – a time still considered somewhat early although by the Spanish, but way past my beddy-bongoes.

A Hot Night in Madrid

Exploring Madrid will have to wait for another time as we had train tickets booked for Seville via Cordoba. It seems that we had all had a restless night. Muriel and I because of the heat, Lady Pentland-Firth because of a waiter called Juan who had been summoned for room service and Mrs Travers who had drained the welcoming jug of Sangria intended for us all to share. Apparently she thought it was Irn-Bru!

Muriel and Lady Pentland-Firth steadied her along the platform where we boarded the train. The Spanish railway system is very odd. It was badly damaged during the Civil War and still has ancient locomotives and worn out track. However, Mrs T needed all the recovery time possible.

On a Train in Spain

from Morton’s book

Thus we found ourselves on a train, on the plain, in Spain.

Muriel read a magazine about Balenciaga, the Spanish born courtier who is apparently one of the few who can design, cut, assemble and sew. So much so he is often described as an architect in dress design. Lady Pentland-Firth had purchased a new black leather notebook on the first page of which I could see, reading upside down, she had written, “My Spanish Adventures by a Lady of Quality”. Underneath she had pencilled “Juan, the waiter from our first night, a nicely presented bocadillo, but lacking in content, 3 stars”. Mrs Travers who still looked a little shaky tried hard to focus on “Passionate Librarian – Tales from the Non Fiction Stacks of a County Official”.

As the food offerings on our journey were something of an unknown quantity the Madrid hotel had made up a picnic basket for us with all manner of bread and cheese, olives and strawberries not to mention a bottle or two of the old vino and some nougat. We were due to go all the way to Sevilla, but a ticket inspector with rather good English (and from our brief conversation, also a rather good understanding of Spanish classical guitar music) suggested we might find it useful to get off at Córdoba and find “an exile’s place where East meets West, where the sign of Catherine of Aragon was introduced, and where the origins of the Paisley shawl might be discerned”.

Very Moorish

Very Moorish

We passed the time to Córdoba nicely with the picnic basket and even Mrs T perked up with a couple of Askit pooders. The town itself sits by the Guadalquivir and has a magnificent Roman bridge. The narrow streets of Cordoba are like somewhere further East and indeed one feels something more of this on catching sight of the inside of the fantastical Mezquita, a mosque, containing a cathedral at its centre.

Seemingly endless arches

With its seemingly never ending series of striped arches, it is rather like being caught in a series of circus mirrors.

Very impressive

Muriel was very taken with the designs and thought it gave her some ideas for a commission in Kilmacolm which she feels is crying out for Moorish Influence. This building was begun by Abd al Rahman I, a tall, one-eyed man chased out of Damascus when his family were killed by rivals.

H.V. Morton suggests he must have missed Syria very much as he introduced into Spain both the pomegranate and the date palm. From his gardens at Córdoba, the seed of the pomegranate was distributed all over Spain, by a man who always felt himself to be an exile.

the Caliph’s legacy

“This is it!” exclaimed a now sober Mrs T, “the Caliph was an exile from Damascus, the pomegranate was the sign of Catherine of Aragon and the unfurling fronds of the date palm are thought to be the origins of the Paisley pattern.” “As I said before” responded Lady Pentland-Firth “you pay that woman far too much, no good will come of it. I never could abide an intellectual char woman with pretensions to night school.”

 More Clues

Approached in the darkness

Fortunately, and as if on cue helping to avoid an unseemly row in a place of prayer, we were aware of the approach of  a hooded and bent figure tapping a white stick. He was like some standard fairy story character, whispering in a hoarse, but clearly educated, voice, “Alms, alms, alms, alms for the love of God, pretty laydees” looking at Lady Pentland-Firth, who patted her hair as if acknowledging her own beauty, and then gave him an icy stare. Muriel reached into her handbag and sprayed the old beggar with 4711 eau de cologne before handing over some pesetas, adding “Perhaps that will get you started in business Sir, nothing like a bit of self help as Samuel Smiles said.”

The beggar took the money and concealed it within the folds of his tattered drapery. “What you seek pretty laydees is not here, you must go now to the place of jacarandas and polka dots; find hooded youths and dripping candle grease, gardens of orange trees and a line of water and the resting place of the one who sailed on the Santé Maria and found new worlds.” “Oh don’t tell me” said Lady Pentland-Firth staring at Mrs Travers “you have the answers”.

“Well yes actually I do” replied Mrs T, “it’s the Cofradias in Holy Week who are hooded and drip candle wax, the gardens are in the Alcázar, and the resting place is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. All are in Seville where jacaranda blooms in spring and polka dots appear on the dresses of flamenco dancers. If you don’t believe me let us ask the blind beggar.” We turned and looked for confirmation, but he was nowhere to be found. “Not” said Mrs Travers “that we couldn’t see that coming! And anyway how many blind beggars do you know that wear handmade shoes?”

“You are becoming increasingly irritating, Travers. I have no idea why you are here and I just wish you would shut up.”

“Ladies please we are the British abroad we are supposed to set an example to foreigners, not argue in the streets!” exclaimed Muriel.

“I thought Mrs Wylie, we were the foreigners here” replied Mrs Travers.

“Don’t be ridiculous Mrs T. I am beginning to wonder if I am paying you too much.”

Hasta Pronto as we say over here!

Jasper Wylie

June 1958

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

On the Trail in That London

In that Londinium

Bedding Problems

Oh do please forgive me I should have been here sooner, but it is so unusually warm and humid in this part of the world that I have been “gently glowing” all morning. We are just not used to it of course and one feels so sluggish. The situation has not been at all helped by the usual fuss around the annual departure of my mattresses to Stoddart’s for remaking. They claim to deal with “every bedding problem”, but the jury is out on that one. Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, has been huffing and puffing about  so much, that she is perspiring quite heavily. Being working class and not really a lady she does not of course gently glow. Nor of course does she – and pardon my language, “sweat” as that would make her a horse.

Salad Days

A tasty salad

I have sent her to the kitchen to make some fresh lemonade and to think about a novel salad for suppa. Dorothy Affleck, who writes for The Glasgow Herald has a good piece on salads so I have clipped the article and given it to Mrs T who muttered something about “ naething wrang wi’ a wee bit o’ corned beef and a few syboes”. If truth be told I am wondering how she will cope with gammon and eggs in aspic in this weather.

Dans le jardin surviving the heat

We long for warm weather in Scotland and then when it comes we are quite defeated. Still I suppose and as I always say one can see why the cotton industry was so successful in the West of Scotland. Humidity was very good for Mr Coats and Mr Clark. I wonder if they had to drench themselves in 4711 Eau de Cologne, while visiting their factories?

Despite Dorothy’s interesting ways with aspic, I don’t even have the concentration for The Herald especially after reading about the Argyll by-election. Mr Michael Noble, the Unionist candidate, has warned that a vote for the Liberals is a vote for Socialism. Jasper, a self confessed pinko when it suits, says this is pleasing news, so corned beef for him tonight if he is not careful.

As far as I can see the Liberal party is in a wide orbit circling the Labour party like a sputnik. Mr Grimond who is leader of the Liberals says he prefers the socialists. Well, we shall see, as Grandmamma said “I want does not always get” – let’s hope.

A Need to Share

Now I am sure you want to hear about “that London” and my recent visit – well “steady the buffs” and all will be revealed. However, I have been elsewhere in addition to that London, but that will have to wait until next week as given the richness of my prose you will be over stimulated, possibly swoon and may not have a fan to hand, unlike moi who is always prepared.

Always prepared

You really cannot repeat any of this and I know I can trust you. Now where will I start?  Starting with titled people is always good.

Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, of the music department  in the very good varsity in Glasgow who is an expert on tonic sol-fa, and the Handsome Stranger who both work in the shadows have been hot on the trail of the theft of the crotched map. Not to mention, so we will, the possibly associated  murder of Winnie, of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder and Mr Chan of the Chinese restaurant in the Govan Road (dinners A- D a speciality).

Cheap Travel

As you know I was, during the last Unpleasantness, in the S.O.E and was recently reactivated at lunch in the Spanish Rooms at Charing Cross, with a Dubonnet and gin – which the Queen Mother assures me is non alcoholic.

Jasper

For the sake of appearances my proposed visit to the capital would include my husband  Jasper, Mrs Travers, my daily woman, and Lady Pentland-Firth an aristocrat with a past and too much interest in fishnet stockings to be wholesome.

Lady P-F’s legs encased in fish-nets

To quote the Professor “such an eccentric bunch would not attract attention as we would all be hidden in plain sight just as if the circus has come to town”.

Due to Prime Minister Mr Macmillan’s economic policy resulting in  a shortage of cash at the Foreign Office, we had to travel by the cheaper “Starlight Express” and settle for a hotel in Earls Court. “Never mind  Professor”, I said “we are British.” Jasper was initially not too happy as he has a nest of robins that have hatched in the middle of his World War I panorama, near his Brussels’ town hall made out of cereal packets. I soon brought him round with promises of bookshops and theatre. Lady Pentland-Firth said that travelling second class would make her view the lives of the poor with more compassion.

Letter at the Station

We arrived at St Enoch Station in Glasgow and I was just handing out Mackintosh Squares to the assembled party, (after all one never knows who has been sitting in one’s seat before one does) when a railway servant approached with a flushed face, out of breath and a letter in his hand addressed to moi.

As the train pulled out of Glasgow, Jasper got out his ‘Capodimonte Collectors’ monthly magazine, Mrs Travers her People’s Friend and Lady Pentland-Firth her little black book from her handbag which she proceeded to notate with a silver propelling pencil. As they were all occupied, I opened the envelope with my travelling letter opener which I always keep in the bottom of my lizard handbag in case I am attacked by trade unionists or pickpockets.

 Suggested Tour of London by Wellwisher Tours Ltd

“As Samuel Johnson  said when a man is tired of that London he is tired of life and we at Wellwisher Tours guarantee that your visit will not only lead you in the right direction, but be memorable and instructional. To that end we begin with a quiz which will lead you to some important highlights and provide further clues so that you might as it were knit your own map. Have a good trip.”

It was signed by F. Furter (Mrs), Managing Director.

As Jasper and Mrs T were bored by Carlisle (a common problem depending on which side one is on) and Lady P-F had run out of lead which is not like her, I asked if they would like to pass the time by joining in with the quiz.

The Quiz

Question 1: A favourite of Landseer, I am a roamer of plains, just one of four friends, guarding a nation’s one eyed hero. Who am I and where will you find me?

“Easy” said Mrs Travers, “one of the lions in Trafalgar Square who guard Lord Nelson.”

One of the lions in Trafalgar Square

Question 2: A place beloved by actors and where flower sellers offer violets to passers-by; you will find a model theatre used to raise money for the poor surrounded by departed thespians. I have the name of a saint, who am I and where will you find me?

“I cannot think” said Jasper who was back to reading his collectors’ magazine with one eye. “So boring”, said Lady Pentland-Firth who was remembering with a smile the gentlemen listed under  f of her alphabetical little black book.

“I think” said Mrs Travels, “it’s St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, often known as the Actors’ Church. Yon Sebastian has mentioned it.”

the model theatre in St Paul’s Covent Garden

Question 3: Nearby you will be able to buy me by the bag load, sweet and juicy, my blossom garlands brides, my famous seller was beloved by a king; and  I am on a million tables everyday. What am I?

“Are we nearly there yet?” asked Jasper .

“What is this the Brains Trust ?” enquired Lady P-F. “Really if I had known I was going to be sitting the diplomatic service exams I would have had a wee drinky poohs with the Foreign Secretary and brought him round with my fandango.”

Mrs Travers who was knitting and reading an interesting story about an elopement to Oban looked up and said, “Oranges. Now would anyone like some tea from my flask and a wee tray bake to keep us going ̓ til the restaurant car opens at Preston?”

oranges

Question 4: You will find me in between the leaves of The Four Winds near Charing Cross Road.

“Oh dear, not sure” said Jasper, “could it be something to do with Charing Cross Station, or an Eleanor Cross or perhaps it is something to do with trees; London plane trees perhaps?”

“Not sure either” said Lady Pentland-Firth. “Indeed not sure I care, couldn’t we have flown? Goodness I had forgotten all about S and M and who would have thought so many names under L, Oh I see they are all members of the House of Lords, goodness so many naughty nobles.”

“ I would suggest” came the response from the queen of elasticated support bandages, “that  this’s a reference to Charing Cross  Road book sellers and that the leaves are not of trees but the pages of a book perhaps one called The Four Winds?”

“I think” said Lady Pentland Firth putting a line through a page of O’s with a fountain pen she had borrowed from Jasper, “you are paying that woman too much Muriel.”

Question 5: You will find me in meditation, dressed in a habit, clasping a skull near the hero of Trafalgar.  My subject is associated with animals, my son follows my occupation and dies of plague.

“Really “said an impatient Lady Pentland-Firth, “does anyone have an Askit pooder,  I have a headache?”

“I think” said Jasper this is about the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.”

“Indeed it is Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers who was casting off the sleeve of a jumper for one of her Billy’s weans, “it’s a painting by Francesco de Zubaran featuring Saint Francis in Mediation. His son was also a painter who did indeed perish as the result of plague in 1649. A wee top up o’ tea anyone? And I have some scones in my bag if any of yous are puir dead starving tae death.”

“Don’t mind if I do” said Jasper who is always starving, “and thing with cheese?”

Lady Pentland-Firth applies her make up

“I don’t suppose Muriel that while we are sitting the common entrance examination, you might have a nail file I have a wee snag on this hand? And any spare nail polish would not go a miss. I know you frown upon a lady attending to her make up in public, but let’s face it most of these people look as if they are from the South Side, so it will not matter and quite honestly if we don’t get called for dinner soon, I for one will stab myself with one of Mrs Travers’ number 8’s, for I cannot do Preston and beyond without roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, or I will need to apply for foreign aid. Has anyone seen my cigarette holder?”

Lady P-F Gets Restless

Question 6: I have one eye on you from above, you have met my guardians. Now I lie beneath a gallery that whispers and a building that symbolises the survival of that London.

“Easy” said Jasper who seemed finally to have woken up.  “It is Trafalgar Square and Lord Nelson again and he is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral which was rebuilt after The Great Fire of Pudding Lane; and it survived the Blitz.”

“What about a game of Poker to pass the time?” asked Lady P-F. “I have a pack of cards in my garter.”

“I thought that was a gun” said Mrs Travers not even looking up from an article about Selkirk Bannocks.

“No” said Lady P-F “that is in the one on the other side, my late husband Salty advised that I should always wear it there.”

“You have so many late husbands your Ladyship” said an emboldened Mrs Travers “you would do well as a platform announcer at Manchester Piccadilly Station.”

A stare that is almost as terrifying as the withering look – but not quite!

Lady Pentland-Firth, inhaled deeply from her holder and blew out rings of smoke and gave Mrs T her death stare to which came the response, “should you need money that is, which you don’t of course. Tray-bake anyone?”

Question 7: The Merry Monarch established me in 1663. Currently appearing here is not the merry monarch’s purveyor of delights but another woman  who is being transformed from flower girl to society lady. .

“First sitting in the Restaurant” called the guard.

“It’s Charles II, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Nell Gwynne  and Lisa Doolittle in Shaw’s play Pygmalion renamed My Fair Lady for the Musical” we all said in unison.

Later

“Well that was good”, everyone agreed over coffee and cheese and biscuits in the dining carriage.

“What can all these questions mean?” asked Lady Pentland-Firth who could become lost very easily in intellectual problems, as animal cunning was more her bag.

“I think” I replied, “you will find these are clues to the whereabouts of the missing crotched map and perhaps even the villain of the piece, so we must visit each of these sites.”

“Good idea” said Mrs Travers rolling her eyes “funny no one else put two and two together.”

“I told you Muriel” said Lady Pentland-Firth “that you are paying her too much and sending her to those evening classes is  just the beginning of the end.”

Later the Following Evening at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 

After an exhausting day in that London far from Scotland, we were sitting in the Grand Circle at the Theatre Royal waiting for the curtain to rise on Act 1 of My Fair Lady. We have visited each of the sites mentioned in the quiz starting with Lions at Trafalgar Square.

Muriel with the lions

Next was the painting in the National Gallery, by Zurbaran, then a book seller in the Charing Cross Road area where we found a book, The Four Winds about aircraft travel.

Found it!

St Paul’s Cathedral came after that and here we visited the tomb of Lord  Nelson, then the Actors’ Church Covent Garden, also a St Paul’s where we found a theatre model, and a wholesale seller of  oranges and lemons and so forth.

In St Paul’s covent Garden

At each place we found or were given another envelope inside of which contained a sheet of paper with a letter pasted on it, cut out from a newspaper, ransom style. Not necessarily the quality press I admit, but then standards are falling everywhere even in the shadows. The letters were an A, an L, another L, an I, a V and an E. It was all rather exhausting and perplexing. What did it all mean, this strange cryptic tour of London near England? We tried rearranging the letters to see if they made a word, but to no avail.

 We Almost Forgot to Buy the Programme

The programme of the show

“Is everyone comfortable?  Who needs a fast boiling before the curtain goes up? Jasper, here are your mint imperials, Patience your acid drops, Mrs T your humbugs.”

“Anyvun for zee programme?

“Oh yes please I had forgotten the programme Jasper locate money, buy programme.”

“How much is that Miss?”

“Zat vill be 12 marks; zorry, I mean zee vun shilling.”

“Here you are Miss.”

“Zank you Mr Vylie.  Act vun, zcene 5 is particularly memorable, auf wiedersehen.”

“Muriel isn’t that marvellous? They memorise your name when you buy the tickets; now that is customer service.”

“On no Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers “that is not good customer service, she knows you. She knows all of us that is the double agent Hilda, zee German vuman vat used to do zee heavy vork, until she pretended to be trapped in a man trap. She is the one who has the map of the coastal waters of Japan stolen from you full Victorian villa in the illustrious West End of Glasgow. She is the murderer of Winnie and Mr Chan. Let’s get her.”

“No point, she will be far from here now and we will only miss Wouldn’t it be loverly. And personally” said Patience, Lady Pentland-Firth “I quite like a man trap.”

“Well” said Mrs Travers angered by having been duped by Hilda and left with much of the heavy vork after her departure, “you have  been sprung rather a lot.”

“Jealousy will get you nowhere , Travers. Really servants these days! My late husband would have had you horse whipped.”

“Ummph from what I heard your late husband was quite keen on playing the horse a well.”

“Quiet everyone! Look at the programme – Act one scene five Higgins’ Study – Later that day. The second song is underlined.”

Jasper Gets It

Act 1, Scene 5

“I’ve got it! By George I think, I’ve got it!”

“Got what Mr Wylie?”

“It’s about Spain – all the clues are about Spain!”

“What do you mean Dahling?”

“I mean, Nelson fought at Trafalgar –  it’s in Spain, marmalade  oranges come from Spain, the painter  Zurbaran is Spanish.”

“But  where in Spain?”

“On the plain in Spain.

“But where exactly on the plain in Spain, Jasper?” asked an exasperated Lady Pentland-Firth.

“Give me a piece of paper Mrs Travers, yes that betting slip will do and write the letter S on it now give me the other bits of paper Muriel,…… ……, let me just rearrange them……that’s it look it’s  S. E.V.I.L.L.A. It’s the capital of Andalucia. We have to go to Seville where the marmalade oranges come from that put Robertson’s of Paisley on a million breakfast table’s every morning. “

“Oh Jasper you are so clever”.

“No Muriel I am an Ordinary Man, Act 1, Scene 3!”

“I am not sure I can go to Spain” said Mrs Travers anxiously. “I am supposed to go to a wedding in Scotstoun next week with steak pie purvey and Spain under the Generalissimo is not the most attractive of places. He looks a cruel hard man without an inch of compassion or love in his body. I have seen the stamps”.

“Oh I wouldn’t say that exactly” smiled Lady Pentland-Firth enigmatically, “he had a lovely shinny pair of boots a shinny forehead and a………”

“Oh Patience you didn’t?” I exclaimed.

“Well he was so lonely; so very lonely.”

“I knew it” nipped Mrs Travers, “you showed Franco your fandango didn’t you ? On second thoughts, I will just miss that wedding; book me a ticket. Anyone like a Black Magic?”

Curtain Up at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane June 1958 with Anne Rogers and James Hayter in My Fair Lady.

“Shhoooosh, Mrs T!”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

June 1958

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

A Wee Reminder

Where We Are Now

From time to time it is good policy to review and revise. After all, the memory can play tricks and even the writer of these pages is apt to become confused by his, (or is it her?), own sheer inventiveness.

It is June 1958. Our Monarch is the young Queen Elizabeth. The second to bear that name, unless that is you live in Scotland where they get very upset by such impudence as they did not have the first one. All agree, however, that Prince Philip is pretty much a “bobby dazzler” and to quote one well known daily woman what does, but not a lot, “he can leave his slippers ootside ma bedroom any day”. Even Mrs Muriel Wylie considers him rather dashing.

The dashing prince in all his glory

Prince Philip has just opened the London Planetarium. Here it is possible, for ready money, to sit in a chair and watch the stars inside rather than stand outside in the cold for free. However, Prince Philip quite likes it if people stay outdoors for long periods and to this end he has just invented The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

The Prime Minister is Harold Macmillan who leads a Conservative government, which is quite good unless you happen to be a socialist in which case you will disagree with Mr Macmillan’s assertion, that the recent spending cuts are nothing more than “little local difficulties”.

Sadness and Hopefulness

The year began in a rather sad way when an aeroplane crashed at Munich airport killing twenty one of the forty four people on board including many members of the Manchester United Football team returning from a European Cup tie in Belgrade. Fifteen days after the crash Duncan Edwards, thought by many to be the best footballer in England, died of his injuries in a Munich hospital.

Jasper – a man who ponders

More positively perhaps in the same month the philosopher Bertrand Russell launched the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. You may remember that our hero or is it anti-hero, Jasper Wylie, was an enthusiastic member but got lost and indeed arrested on his way to Aldermaston in April.

The Circle of Paint

It appears that in 1950’s Britain many people despise all things Victorian, as most are seen as dust traps.

For those opposed to dusting, their saviour has arrived in the form a man called Barry Bucknell, who likes DIY, advising people to cover their panelled doors with hardboard and give them a coat of white paint. This reduces dusting considerably. Using a crystal ball, it would seem that many years into the future people will come to the conclusion that this was a mistake and spend a lot of money taking the hardboard off and discovering the joy of wooden moulding and, of course, dusting.

Muriel Adapts to Customer Demands

Exuding marvellousness and je ne sais quoi

Meanwhile this new view of simpler interior design has an impact on our heroine Mrs Muriel Wylie who is, by her own admission, someone who cannot deal with false modesty especially when it comes to her own gifts, and is a simply marvellous woman. Muriel owns an interior decorating shop, “Chez Nous”, which caters for those and such as those in the more exclusive parts of Scottish society found in places such as Kelvinside in Glasgow, Morningside in Edinburgh and half a street in Paisley.

Muriel, formerly a lover of anything with a bit of gilt or gesso not to mention a large tassel or tie back, has come to terms with Scandinavian design and is currently selling much in the way of furniture with “sticky oot legs” and glass ashtrays.

Scandinavian glass at “Chez Nous”

Muriel is preoccupied with obtaining a share of the market for light modern furnishings for the new open plan ‘semis’ being built for the post war generation of families.

Cousin Lulubelle

Her Cousin Lulubelle keeps an eye on the books!

The 1950s – A Modern Britain

The modernisation of Britain can also be seen in the construction of the first motorway which has begun as well as the Church of England giving its backing to family planning.

Planning is a big thing in Britain – there are plans for everything and sex without consequences is as important as plans to decentralise the economy and diversify the regions. Chances are family planning will work better than trying to improve the lot of people outside London and the South East. This is probably because many people, with essential skills, dislike being moved from Hertfordshire to the North where it is colder and no one can understand them. Nor are they welcome as they can afford larger houses than the locals.

In matters of technology 1958 saw the de Havilland Comet 4 make its maiden flight and Britain entered the commercial jet age.  An article by Dr Ian Donald has appeared in The Lancet describing the use of ultrasound as a tool to be used in medicine.

Real Life is Far from Gay

The programme of the show

On the cultural front My Fair Lady starring Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews has opened in London and more interestingly perhaps Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey has opened at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and is directed by Joan Littlewood. This play with its themes of alcoholism, lack of money, class race, gender and sexual orientation reflects life for many people in 1950’s Britain. Many aspects of life such as divorce, adoption and the lives of women trapped in domestic drudgery are swept under the carpet with comments such as “we don’t talk about that sort of thing”.

Pregnancy outside marriage is a fate worse than death and many a child still passed off as a sister rather than a daughter. It is a world of new things and old hypocrisies.

Gay blancmange

Gay is a word used positively to describe things such as fashions, cosmetics or blancmange.

For very special people

The very theatrical have to be very careful, even communicating in another language to ensure their safety.

Sebastian

Some have had to leave the country. Indeed Sebastian, the nephew of our leading characters Muriel and Jasper, who will eventually find his niche as in the  Shakespearean world, has fled to New York to escape prosecution for being “far too theatrical”.

The Passing of a Moment

Britain has learned a harsh lesson with the 1956 Suez Crisis, but is still coming to terms with the fact that it is no longer the motherland of a great Empire. It has had its moment in the sun which is setting. A shortage of labour has encouraged people from the colonies to come to Britain. Being of a different colour they have a hard time but keep the country running.

On the other hand Britain encourages those whom it regards as potential trouble makers of the future to go and live in Australia and Canada. These are often child migrants sent away in the mistaken belief that their parents are dead. Still better than they become delinquents   For Britain is terrified of delinquency, as it threatens the wearing of bowler hats and the carrying of umbrellas.

Still Clinging to “The Finest Hour”- just!

Despite all this Britain still has an international role and has just taken part in the International Conference on the Seas. This is partly about territorial ambitions on the part of the Comrades who want to extend coastal limits, but also a realisation that the resources of the seas need to be conserved and not over exploited.  This was held in Geneva which is near Switzerland close to Europe.

Now as well as being an interior decorator par excellence Muriel Wylie was during the last Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos an agent for the S.O.E.. According to Sir Winston she was largely responsible for shortening the war by months (or was it hours?) as a result of blowing up many bridges in France and poisoning the frankfurters at a Gestapo “getting to know you” lunch for new recruits.

Winnie and her knitting

Muriel worked alongside Winnie who has, or should I say had, a wool shop in Auchterarder near Perth and is a known authority on Novelty Knitting. Making up the numbers was explosive expert Dynamite Di who now works with the BBC. Both Muriel and Winnie have been retained as “active” by MI5 and MI6. From time to time they disappear into the shadows when requested by either The Handsome Stranger, head of section, or by Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of the music faculty at Glasgow’s very good varsity and a noted code breaker.

Go to That London but Go Easy on the Expenses

For the purposes of monitoring the comrades Winnie was sent to Geneva in the guise of a crotchet workshop leader. The purpose of the workshop was to amuse the wives of delegates. It was also, and this is highly classified so not a word to Bessie, to try and recover the strategic map of coastal waters between the Soviet Union and Japan which was cleverly disguised as a large  crotchet blanket. This was stolen from the Wylies’ Glasgow residence having been hidden on the person of Mrs Travers, their daily woman.

Mrs T concealed the map on her person

The thief fled “oot the windae” and left an important clue in the form of a packet of boil in the bag German sausages and a torn ticket stub revealing a cow horn. After several days of frantic activity in the shadows, Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes called on Muriel and said they had narrowed the evidence down to one person who had been trailed to ‘That London’ and Muriel would have to go to and sort things out. Due to former chancellor Sir Peter Thorneycroft’s January economic cuts she would have to go by Starlight Express from St Enoch’s Station to ‘That London’ and stay in Earls Court as the department was very short of cash. 

Four Free Tickets, a Feather Boa and a Poisoned Needle

On the bright side they have received from an unknown benefactor, tickets for My Fair Lady with the cryptic message. “The clue is in the song, it is plain for all to see”. Sir Boozy Hawkes said as there were four tickets and they had an understanding with the Earls Court hotel having paid to repair the recent gunshot holes in the plaster work of the lounge bar, Muriel can take Jasper and “that cleaning woman with the enticing support stockings and forbidding corsetry, and I suppose that aristocratic old tart, I mean that very noble former cabaret star, Lady Pentland-Firth. She is always useful when it comes to diverting the comrades. Honestly the things that woman can do with feathers”.

Lady Pentlan-firth has always loved feathers

On the not so bright side and in a strange twist of affairs Winnie and her squeeze Mr Chan, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in the Govan Road, “dinners A – C a speciality”, have been found frozen in an Alpine hideaway and subsequently discovered to have died from poisoned crotchet needles.

Departure

So Muriel and Jasper accompanied by Mrs Travers and Lady Pentland-Firth have departed for the capital of the United Kingdom which is to be found near Britain and Woking where we will join them next time; in London that is not Woking.

 

June 1958

 

 

 

 

 

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Sebastian’s World: Royal Wedding Special, May 2018

 

Shuffled Off and Taps Aff

Muriel and Jasper in their younger days

Baroness Waterside, the cross bench peer and interior decorator extraordinaire, and her husband Jasper Wylie GOB (Grand Order of Bulgaria), have long since “shuffled off this mortal coil”.

Now just in case you have been educated at a failing school, that is a phrase used by the well known Shakespearean writer William Shakespeare who said it in his famous soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This is a play, which despite being written by a man from the Midlands, is set in Denmark quite close to Elsinore Castle. Denmark is where we get fairy tales and Lego from and Princes who talk to themselves.

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

Oh yes and sandwiches without tops on which do not go down well in Glasgow as the contents tend to end up down the front of halter neck tops on “wee nichts oot”. Retrieving a gherkin from a cleavage outside the Armadillo following a concert can cause all sorts of problems. “Taps aff” is a term applied to the reaction of Scots when they see the Sun (usually a day in May or June) and not an instruction to sandwich maker).

Revival

Despite the fact that Muriel and Jasper Wylie now occupy a cloud somewhere in heaven with their family and friends, there has been a revival of interest in all things connected with them. So much so that there is even talk of creating a theme park called “Wylie World” to be based in South West Scotland where they have mainly pot holes, spruce trees and no tourists to speak of. They do have cappuccino, but that is a fairly recent introduction, barely tolerated due to a focus on native food and beverages, such as ginger wine, ice cream floats, onions and turnips.

rather large lambs

There are a great number of sheep, but no one knows what really happens to them as lamb chops are rather expensive and carpets have generally been given up in favour of laminate flooring .So perhaps they are just to provide a visual break in what little space remains between the spruce trees and the wind turbines. The latter are given to rural communities in return for grants for guitars and to keep essential services going, which saves Government’s time and money. This is good as they have none of these. Governments have noticed that if people are kept busy filling in forms and singing with guitars they will not notice that they are themselves incapable of running a ménage (Christmas club) let alone a country.

“Wylie World” –A Real Possibility

The realisation that economies, even rural ones, need places for people to work has made “Wylie World” a real possibility. Of course all the usual suspects have jumped on the bandwagon and are busy organising far from inclusive events that will defeat the original purpose but are “a hoot” anyway. Tribute evenings have taken place where guests have been asked to come in the spirit of Muriel and Jasper and thus the ballrooms of many a country house hotel have been filled with duster coats and massed cha-cha-cha demonstrations.

There has even been a new board game designed to appeal to the young, based on the Wylies alleged spying activities. Like most of these games it is totally unintelligible which makes it more appealing and a virtual reality version is in development. One current problem is finding an actress, sorry – actor, able to take on the role of Mrs Travers the legendary woman “what did, but not a lot”.

Mrs T, the woman who did but not a lot

Few RADA graduates it seems are willing to allow makeup to provide them with legs that show extensive surgery for varicose veins.

Rides of Your Life?

Those promoting ‘Wylie World’ are taking American leisure and entertainment venues as their model. It is thus envisaged as a sort of Dollywood, but tailored to meet British expectations which are of course very limited as because of the last unpleasantness and eternal austerity since 1939, they are used to a “that’ll do mentality”. Manufacturers of Victorian Fairground rides are being sourced worldwide in the hope that rides can be developed which would include Jasper’s Humber Super Snipe in the most daring upside down experience yet known.

The Lady Pentland-Firth Wall of Death motor cycle ride has got to the drawing stage, but the speeds she managed to obtain are now considered unadvisable given the requirements of modern health and safety legislation. The Handsome Stranger’s Siberian spy ride will break new ground in its extravagant use of snow and ice and sip as you go cocktail dispensers. The latter may prove uneconomical due to new Scottish legislation increasing the price of alcohol to stem the national addiction with the “swally”. Little chance, one suspects, and the booze runs to Carlisle have already started.

The Key to It All

Sir Sebastian

Of course none of this is going to be possible without the co-operation of the major trustee of the Wylie Estate and that is their nephew, retired thespian Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox. As befits someone brought up not only by Muriel and Jasper, but Cousin Lulubelle he is, despite his age, pretty on the ball when it comes to business matters. He spent a number of years living in close proximity to millionairess Lulubelle Du Bois Sanders  while he was at method acting school. Not that there was really much to learn as the entire Wylie family were naturally given to overacting.

Cousin Lulubelle Du Bois Sanders

Time in New York, however, got the whole family out of what might have been a major scandal along with a prison sentence when  Sebastian  was discovered being very theatrical with one of his chums from the Ivanhoe Hotel.  Fortunately the Chief Inspector of Police owed Muriel a number of favours arising out of her intimate knowledge of his private life and Sebastian was allowed to disappear to New York until Scotland came to grips with what was  going on in the real world and became more comfortable with itself which was a year or so ago.

The young Sebastian as Richard III

Sebastian has become one of Britain’s most treasured actors on stage and on film not to mention increasingly digitally re-mastered. His Shakespearean roles have never been bettered except by a string of other actors. He has not been afraid to appear in British soaps and has been horribly disfigured in an Albert Square Christmas fire in Eastenders.

A Pair of Chancers

There is now rarely an award ceremony where he is not paired with Dame Judy or having a lip pursing competition with Sir Ian. In short Sebastian IS British entertainment or at least was, as he now lives in a themed retirement village for the terminally overdressed on the Slough Trading Estate. He has some memory problems or so it seems to people who do not realise he has real memory problems…… or does he?

He still makes occasional appearances and is also responsible for the huge Wylie collection of archives now much sought  after by many of the nation’s great and not so great museums and many curators all of whom think they are great, failing to realise they exist like everything else for a moment in time.

Hilary Dee Range – Always on the lookout for a story

Chief among his pursuers, indeed one might call them stalkers, (except Sebastian “never out  fox the Fox”,  is always one step ahead unless he forgets) are Sunday Slouch journalist Hilary Dee Range and her side kick the uber museum curator, Vivienne Valhalla. They are paying him one of their regular visits.

In the Mood for a Royal Wedding

The mood at the Home for the Terminally Overdressed has not been good. Brexit proved to be very divisive and many actors who are from the Caribbean have been wondering if, as the Windrush generation, they will be staying or going. It has also been a long winter and the promise of winter is still a tease even in Royal Berkshire.

Talking of which the activity staff, who are mainly from Eastern Europe and so have already got half a suitcase packed, have been busy stimulated by the forthcoming Royal Wedding. The Home has been decorated for the purpose and a street party is planned. This has caused some ill feeling. There are those who throw themselves into a royal knees up and say things like “Well say what you like as far as I am concerned the Queen never puts a foot wrong”. This is particularly true of those who have recently had cameo roles in The Crown or Victoria as they know how to wear court dress and which side the Garter Star goes.

On the other hand there are those in the acting world whose political beliefs tend to the Left and would rather have a street party featuring a stream of consciousness around socially realistic themes such as housing and under-employment. Although even they agree this would make the consumption of Coronation Chicken and Battenberg Cake a rather miserable affair.

A Collection for All

For this reason and the prevailing attitude of “well at least it’s a party” the residents have come together for a week of activities designed to stimulate neural pathways and add a bit extra to the monthly invoice. A Mary Berry look alike, who was formerly a Top of the Pops cameraman called Martin, has judged a wedding cake competition. In honour of the groom, an afternoon tea has taken place with a ginger theme. Sebastian has curated an exhibition of wedding dresses as well as photographs of weddings his Aunt attended from his extensive collection, which is taking place in the Elizabeth Taylor Loggia.

A lovely wedding dress from the 1930s, featuring Aunt Muriel as a bridesmaid (the one nearest the bride)

It is to this exhibition that our two London ladies from the arts and media world arrive breathless with anticipation. “Oh Sir Sebastian”, said the Uber Curator, Vivienne, “if only the wider world could see this, how it would tick all our boxes about  education, sorry I mean learning. I had almost forgotten that we no longer educate people.” “Wonderful” , replied the supplement journalist,  “so full of inclusive possibilities. Tell me Sir Sebastian while we realise this is only the tip of the iceberg, is there anything else in your Aunt’s collection by way of reflecting gender issues or indeed minorities ethnic or dare I say it additional needs?”

You name it…

“Darlings,” responded Sir Sebastian, “you name it, I got it. With the exception of course of the Southside of Glasgow and certain parts of Edinburgh, Aunt Muriel always believed this area of collecting was more the preserve of the ethnographer or unhinged.”

Probing Questions and Tantalising Answers

“Oh of course, we should have known” said the ace reporter.

“Yes you should.  Aunt Muriel was nothing if not comprehensive and of course Uncle Jasper catalogued everything.”

“Is there a particularly important Collection within the collection?” enquired Vivienne.

“Well of course there are Cousin Lulubelle’s wedding dresses which are quite extensive in number. Not to mention her widow’s outfits which are equal in number.”

“What about archive material?”

“Oh many important and nationally significant items such as her letters advising Jackie Kennedy and Princess Grace about wedding dress style and design. Of course there are her letters to Kensington Palace, following the wedding of Princess Diana when she offered to buy the couple a steam iron as the civil list was clearly not what it was.”

Divine Inspiration?

“Anything else of importance?”

“Well you see dear ladies, the dress collection is important in its entirety. Aunt Muriel of course not only had a business designing interiors but she opened in the late 1950’s a dress shop to cater for the ordinary middle class well paid customer.  Her financial backer my second cousin Lulubelle……”

Yes, Wall Street – is everything going up?

“Was she once removed?” said the excited reporter.

“On more than one occasion” responded Sebastian, “but despite that she believed that Aunt Muriel had too many eggs in one basket and needed to diversify.  “Honey lamb”, said Cousin Lulubelle, “y’all gotta  expand horizontally and vertically; y’all need to help the appearance of the Glaswegian woman on the outside as well as the inside of her home. Honey, jist prey.”

“Did she mean pray to the Lord? I imagine she was a southern Baptist.” said the Uber Curator thinking of the title for an interpretive panel .

No, she…. not exactly…. she meant prey on Women’s insecurities and she could see the consumer boom of the 1960’s coming this way.”

“The way of the Lord ?”

“No! Just way along Great Western Road, where they opened a dress shop called Muriels.

“And are these some of the dresses?”

“Yes as well as some family ones and associated memorabilia to provided context and meaningful object handling sessions. Do you think your Museum might be interested in expanding this, Miss……….”

The Uber Curator is Overwhelmed 

Vivienne Valhalla, the “uber curator” is overwhelmed

“Shut up, just shut up… why this is Museum of the Year stuff! Going forward, not to mention lifetime achievement stuff, going forward! Would you lend it to us? Better still would you donate it? We could then apply for Collection Significance status, expand our platform offer and I could get a better job.  I mean move on to other opportunities in the public service.”

“Not really. Some American institutions are interested and they have very big pocket books. The Met has telephoned.”

This Time Next Year, Or The Year After 

“Oh I thought they would be too busy with their exhibition on Catholic Influences on fashion,” said the Uber curator, looking puzzled.”

“They are dear ladies but they are looking for something for next year, or the year after; something really big, something really influential, something game changing.”

“And they think it’s your Aunt Muriel?”

My belovered Aunt Muriel

“Indeed they do.”

“Well” they exclaimed in unison, “we must dash for the train for Windsor, Vivienne is covering the Wedding tomorrow from a Window in Peacock Street. I imagine Sir, you will be watching it on TV?”

“No, I will be there.”

“Where – in the quadrangle with the other invited commoners?”

“No, inside a few rows behind the Family.”

“Who is your plus one?”

“Oh Aunt Muriel of course; she is always my plus one. Now must you really dash? You are going to miss The Rovers’ Return Royal Quiz and The Call the Midwife Special in the General Hospital Set where the Nuns are asking for Princess Diana to be made a saint.”

“But Sir Sebastian aren’t you getting muddled up. Call the Midwife is set in the 1950s and Princess Diana was in the 1980s and 90’s”

“Oh dear ladies have you learned nothing. It may have been the 1980’s or 1990’s and it may now be 2018, but that is all fantasy. You see for many of us it will always be the 1950s in Britain. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but we had hope then as well as sticky out skirts and now all we have is the unknown, with the exception of the Eurovision Song Contest and Strictly in the autumn.

That is why we like Royal Weddings even when we don’t really like them and of course it means cake and in Britain one is never more than five feet from a cake and cakes are a mixture of chemistry and hope like marriage.”

A Piece of Cake 

“Will you be back ladies? I do hope so. We haven’t discussed ‘Wylie World’ yet.”

“No Sir; thank you for reminding us, but that is big; very big it would mean lottery applications and actual work for us.”

“Ladies it would mean a lot more. Think of the audience development; it would be like Blackpool meets Royal Ascot, target audiences from A-Z.”

“You are so right…. Actually we should love a piece of that cake.”

“Glad to see you continuing to use my metaphors.”

“Oh and Sir , we have not even touched upon the whole spy thing and the missing map in 1958, and the death of Winnie of The Wool Shop, now considered the leading figure in Britain’s three ply and novelty knitting revival.”

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

“No neither we have. Perhaps I should come up to that London and talk possibilities.”

“Yes we could treat you to suppa.”

“Thank you The Ivy would be simply marvellous.

Sebastian Wylie Fox

Slough, near Windsor Castle May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

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“Ticklish Business”

In the “Drift Inn” Cocktail Bar of the Allan Hotel, 935 Sauchiehall Street 

A swing back duster coat for spring

 “Mrs Wylie, how nice to see you again, what can I get you?”

“Oh Barman, how kind of you to remember me.”

“Not at all Madame, how could one ever forget the simply marvellous Mrs Muriel Wylie, doyenne of the duster coat, champion of the cabriole leg coffee table and a vision in a veiled hat?”

“Goodness what a memory. Would you be by chance a friend of…..”

“Yes Mrs Wylie, a very good friend of your nephew Sebastian, who played the definitive Shakespearean role of King Richard at the Ayr Gaiety in a play called Richard III by well known Shakespearean play write called William Shakespeare. I had the honour of being his dresser he said no one could tie a chiffon scarf for the after show party like me.”

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III at the Gaiety theatre, Ayr

“Really, where did you learn your craft?”

“Oh Mrs Wylie I learnt all I know from you; I attended every one of your scarf master classes.”

“I don’t recall any men at any of my classes…. Oh I see were you perchance …?”.

“Yes Dorothy Lamour.”

“Yes now I recall; that monkey was a wretched nuisance, but he did look good in a turban.”

“Chimpanzee actually.”

“It’s all one to me bartender I am not one for fur, unless it has a satin lining and matching hat.”

Cocktail  – Easy on the Garden

“What will it be then?”

“Surprise me, a cocktail I think, but not too much garden.”

“Coming up, and is Mr Wylie joining you for luncheon?”

“No I have sent him to a conference organised by Remington Rand Ltd called ‘An Introduction to Computers for Senior Executives’. They are going to explain the basic principles of computers including their latest Univac File Computer, which is said to be that most advanced of its kind in business. I aim to be the most advanced in my business.”

“Do you think Mrs Wylie computers will have much to do with sticky out Danish style chairs and tassel tie backed curtains?”

“Everything. dear boy everything. ”

“Well there you are, one mint julep easy on the garden.”

“”Umm well anticipated barman, actually I am meeting my cousin  and business partner Miss Lulubelle du Bois from the very Deep South.”

Cousin Lulubelle from the U.S.A.

“Shawlands?”

“No; not of Glasgow of the United States – where cotton grows, bed sheets have multiple uses and Ava Gardner is still waiting patiently for her man.”

“A bit stereotypical, have you read The Grapes of Wrath?”

“No, I leave reading anything dreary to Jasper. However, as to stereotypical I generally find it works for me.”

The bar telephone rings.

“Excuse me Mrs Wyle, I must answer that. Here have these peanuts with my compliments.”

A Lone Woman  in a Bar

“Good afternoon The Drift Inn and will you…….. Oh yes certainly she is already here , very well Madame, I  will pass that on. I shall have it waiting; yes with additional garden and yes indeed Madame despite this being Glasgow, we do have ice in the drinks.”

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop as that would be the height of bad manners but might that be my cousin?”

“Indeed; Madame Miss Dubois is running half an hour late as her motor bike ran out of gas and it turns out the A.A. man is a Country and Western fan and she will be with you as soon as she can. Why don’t you go and sit over there by the window? It is more comfortable.  I will bring, your drink over and the peanuts and perhaps you would like The Glasgow Herald while you wait for your cousin. And do not worry if the management comes in and questions why an attractive young woman is sitting on her own in the middle of the day, I shall of course tell them you are expecting company of the female variety.”

“You are too kind, but can I remind you that this is 1958 and not 1858 and I am a businesswoman looking for business of the soft furnishing kind, not funny business of the kind you are thinking of! And if I was I would certainly be plying my trade somewhere where a three course businessman’s lunch cost more than 4/6d.

The correct way to serve peanuts

By the way change these peanuts and serve them on a doilly with a spoon. I never toy with nuts that may have been fingered by unwashed hands.”

Lulubelle –  a Cross to Bear, but a Cross with Cash

Really it is typical that I am left hanging around for Lulubelle. I could have gone to Watt Brothers and picked up that patterned Celanese fabric skirt for 3 guineas that would be a nice treat for Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does, but not a lot) after she has finished vacuuming the rafters in the attic. I could not help noticing as I passed by the window that they also had Grosgrain Duster coats for nine and a half guineas ‘in all colours’ and Cotton Brocade Duster coats for nine guineas. The moral of this story is never  go into business with a relative  who set fire to your dolls’ house in the nursery while shouting  ‘Mamma come quick, Muriel is burnishing Atlanta again.’

Miss Marigold Berry

The trouble was I had no choice after that awful business with my manager  Miss Berry and her paramour, Mr Napier in accounts. I should never have put them at either end of my newly installed vacuum pump change system. They nearly brought me to my knees and financial ruin. Lulubelle stepped forward with a cash injection and conditions, as she says ‘blood is thicker than water’ and she sensed a money making opportunity.

I suppose in many ways she has helped me to modernise with her American Business Models and know-how, but relinquishing total control has been difficult. At least I know now that volume sales of room dividers for open plan semi-detached living brings in more cash than a Queen Anne bureau and a Jacobean linen fold blanket chest in Kelvinside.

A Visualiser and Man of Ideas?

A Man of ideas

Now what have we got on in Glasgow for the weekend ? Well the theatre looks promising  – The Citizens has Bell, Book and Candle, which I am not sure I fancy so soon after The Crucible, one can have too much of the devil, even if it has “already completed a successful week at Ayr”.

I rather like the look of Ticklish Business at the King’s Theatre. It is a new play by Ronald Millar written especially for Yvonne Arnaud and Jack Hulbert. It is about a retired concert pianist and also has Moyra Fraser, who has “deserted ballet for light comedy.” Now that sounds promising; I could walk down to Bath Street and see if there are any seats left. That would be a nice surprise for Jasper.

He is feeling a little down since he decided that he needed to increase our income and applied for a post he saw in the classifieds which read ,  “Visualiser Ideas Man – must be fully experienced in all aspects of creative work.”  Even Mrs Travers nearly choked on her lunchtime bridie and beans, (don’t worry it is something the working classes eat, it will not affect you – I hope). Needless to say Jasper  who had, to give him his due, created several  idea boards did not get beyond the first interview. It seems Renaissance painted ceilings are not quite “of the moment”.

Quite frankly I don’t know why he bothered as Mrs T said when one has hair the colour of a Galloway Sky there is really little point. Mind you going via the Club was not the best of ideas either. He did not need to explain his ideas for promoting Spirit of Glencairn – A Whisky for our Times, as he needed only to open his mouth.

“Freshen your glass Mrs Wylie?”

“You’re reading my mind.”

The Usual Women’s Pages

I might have a look at that as an outing for tomorrow – The Scottish Covenant Association has its annual Scots Mercat at the McLellan Galleries tomorrow to be opened by Moira Shearer at 2.30pm. There are to be a number of stalls – “Bairns’ Wear”, “Peenies”, “Hankies”, “Bundle and Go”, “Cake and Candy”, “Flowers”, “Hamely Fair”, “Gee-Gaws”, “Drouth slakers”, “Buicks”, “Hamecraft”, etc.. Sounds a bit couthie, but I might take Mrs T if she has finished cleaning those rafters in the attic and it is only 6d.

One does wonder why the women’s pages are always reduced to fundraising and cooking items –  and look at this a main article on the ‘Around and About’  page, ‘Sewing Awards for Ayrshire’.  It seems that Ayrshire Scottish Women’s Rural Guilds have swept the board  in handicrafts winning prizes for a pink and white embroidered luncheon set in which 9 members learnt to do exactly the same number of stitches per inch! Now that will put us on the moon and provide a solution to the world’s problems. Some of us are Glasgow Women who Mean Business!

A woman who means business

Oh yes, more excitement ! The Lena Meiklejohn trophy for embroidery in wool has been won by Maiden’s S.W.R.I. for an evening bag in navy and red with shaded feather design.  All very clever in its own way – however, you will notice there is no page in The Herald devoted to men and their ability to use a fret saw or countersink  screw heads.

Still the S.W.R.I. National Conference in Edinburgh is to have a young woman called Shirley Williams, an economist on The Financial Times  talking to members, but I note the title is “The Nation’s Housekeeping”. What about the Nation’s garage spring clean? No… exactly!

 Miss Brodie – an Architect For Our Times

Now here is a piece about a woman who has achieved something in the world of men. Jean Kelvin is writing about a friend of mine Miss Margaret Brodie who has designed St Martin’s, Port Glasgow, and what is believed to be the first church in Scotland to be designed by a woman.

“Good afternoon Muriel”

“Goodness Margaret, what a coincidence I am just reading about you in The Herald and your new church. Do sit down, what can I get you?”

“That is very kind of you; I cannot stay long, I am off to Port Glasgow to supervise the installation of a piece of marble from Iona into the transept. A quick whisky and water would hit the spot; got to keep up with the men you know.”

“According to The Herald you have done just that Margaret, sounds as if it is going well.”

“Well yes and no Muriel. It has been a ticklish business. It is a church extension project and therefore on a very tight budget. My brief is to produce ecclesiastical dignity with feeling. So I have gone for simplicity, using random rubble from a demolished building in Greenock and a mahogany roof.”

“What about the Minister?”

“Oh he has been very good; excellent at fundraising. He is a member of the Iona community, which is why I am putting stone from the island in front of the Communion Table. I am also keeping things simple with a St Martin’s Cross which is a Celtic cross within a circle, all freshly cut in wood.”

“I see you have forbidden Jean Kelvin to report on your past history. I thought they might have said something about your role in the Empire Exhibition.”

“Well Muriel one needs to keep a bit of mystery, especially if one is a woman in a man’s world.”

“I agree Margaret, tell me do you need any pulpit falls or decorative features? I have a generous discount for friends.”

“Send me some ideas, but of course I hear you are not exactly flavour of the month with the Moderator at the moment.  Is it true that you encouraged the introduction of a non traditional Scottish soup at a soup and sandwich lunch?”

“Mulligatawny.”

“Goodness! Heresy! And foreign as well.”

“Well yes, but there does seem to have been some recanting and after all I am very generous when it comes to my weekly covenant and I have hinted at Episcopalianism!

“No I don’t believe it, you wouldn’t.”

“Probably not, but they don’t need to know that.”

“Well. I must bash on.”

“Are you getting the train to Port Glasgow?”

“No Muriel in a man’s world one has to arrive in a fast car, but not forgetting the eye shadow. See you soon.”

Well that was nice, haven’t see Margaret for ages. She really was the main woman, if not the main man at the 1938 Empire Exhibition. Twenty years ago now, everything pre- war seems so far away. She looked marvellous in her large picture hat. It was a wonderful day in Glasgow.

A Busy Bar

“I have just had a message that there is man in the garden who wants to see you; he says he’s a professor from the very good varsity in Glasgow, but I’d be careful Mrs Wylie. He looks shifty to me.”

“Let me see. Worry not young man, he is none other than Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of music and an expert on alpine horns. I do agree he needs a haircut. I will just pop out and see him”

My goodness, you do need a hair cut!

“Good afternoon Mrs Wylie, sorry to bother you at luncheon but your woman what does, who is currently stuck on a beam in your attic due to skelfs in her leg, said you were here. I have a message from the Handsome Stranger. We are making progress on the break in and the missing map. The evidence particularly, the boil in the bag frankfurters suggests one person. That person is in That London so we need you to be there as well.

Here are tickets for the Star Light Express from St Enoch’s Station,  sorry the Department is a bit short of cash for flights. Further instructions will become available, but we have booked a room in an Earls Court hotel. We have still to explain the mystery of the torn ticket stub with cow horns – our boffins are working on that. We have also received two tickets for My Fair Lady from an unknown source with your name on them and a cryptic message, “The clue is in the song, find me if you can, it is plain for all to see.” signed ‘Professor Higgins’.  All very ticklish but you can handle it I am sure. Must dash have an oratorio to conduct, Goodbye Mrs Wylie.”

The Royals are Busy Too

Well what a busy little place this is! The royal family seem to have been busy too . Princess Anne has had her tonsils out and for the three day Highland Bazaar in St Andrews the Queen Mother has sent a crocodile handbag. I wonder if I have time to go up there? No perhaps not. Still if I must go to London on business of national importance  at least I can go to the Chelsea Artists’ Show, I love the smell of corduroy and the chit-chat of Bohemians.

At Last Cousin Lulubelle Arrives

Cousin Lulubelle enjoys her drink

“Why uhoo y’all Cousin woman, it’s li’le ol’ Lulubelle heya, over heya; sorry to keep y’all waiting. My that A.A. man had some interesting chaps and boots, little ol’ me was feelin’ a might homesick. Now before we go in for lunch,  how are ma investments’ doin’, up, up, up? I hope things are  better in the U.K. than the U.S.of A. We have a depression!  Ma holdings are down in Detroit  where unemployment has reached 20%. Still the good news is Richard Nixon’s car has been stoned by students in Lima which is near Peru and met with demonstrations in Caracas which is close to Venezuela. I know a shifty politician when I see one Mu.”

“How was New York?”

“It was fine Muriel, Cousin. Sebastian is settlin’ in well and just loves the Village. He sends his love. I took him to see Paul Robeson at the Carnegie Hall just before I left. It was a sell out. He’s just got his passport back – Robeson, not Sebastian.  Talking music, I hear Connie Francis is in the hit parade over heah. Whose sorry now, thinking of doing a cover version maseyalf;  maybe with that little ol’ A.A. man – my what leavers and spanners he had in that li’le van. Now let’s see the figures honey lamb. I hope they are prepared by Mr Chanter for ma perusal.”

“Of course they are.”

“Umm why what beautiful copper plate and marvellous coloured ink, but overall a bit disappointing honey lamb like Detriot , just a touch ticklish in the black ink side wouldn’t y’all say? Now Muriel, did I hear y’all are going to theyat London?”

“How do you know?”

“Why we Southerners are all ears as well as all crinoline skirts. Now I want you to have a look at the latest fashions and trends and comeback with some ideas. Shall we order, ah could polish off a gaitor wi’ side orders of grits and gumbo.  4/6d for a three course business man’s lunch, why that’s day light robbery, let’s see if I can do a little business with that manager. Hey boy, what’s a girl gotta do for a discount around here? Now have I missed any news?”

“Well Bolton Wanders won the F.A. Cup against Manchester United  2.0 and we now have life peers and women can sit in the House of Lords for the first time. It’s a start, well it isn’t really; it’s 40 years since some women got the vote.”

“A seat in the House of Lords? Let me buy you one, that’ll be good for business, where do ah send the cash?”

“Oh y’ll, I mean Cousin, you can’t  just do that! This is Britain.”

Oh Cousin woman y’all so sweet;  so naive, so like that soppy woman in Gone with the Wind…… Boy! More mint in ma julep.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

May 1958

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