A Conversation Piece

Waiting Patiently?

Coffee time

Lottie Macaulay and Cynthia Savage are meeting Muriel for coffee in Daly’s Department Store in Sauchiehall Street. Glasgow. It is winter and the two are be-furred to such an extent that if they were on an iceberg they would be harpooned.

“Well Cynthia, you know what she is like all her eggs have double yolks.”

“I know exactly what you mean Lottie, she always makes me feel as if I am slouching and should hide my nails under the tablecloth. I try to be marvellous, honestly I do; but sometimes I wonder if a life in pickles and condiments has soured me permanently.”

“I think you are exaggerating a little Cynthia. It is not exactly as if you are deeply immersed in the pickling part of the process with your hands peeling silverskins. After all, your husband is the Managing Director of “Savages Pickles and Condiments”, the people who put “The Piccalilli Into Paisley” and “The Beetroot into Bathgate”. When was the last time you were on the gherkin production line?”

“I was there for P.O.P..”

“What’s that?”

“The Pickle Operatives’ Party; we have it the week before Christmas and I distribute wee ‘mindings’ to the children, though I don’t stay long as I can’t stand the smell.”

“What, of the pickles?”

“No, the children.”

A Tiger in Tweed

“I can imagine Cynthia. You are such a saint. We have a dance for the tradesmen who are subcontracted to my husband’s bungalow building firm. Mr Macaulay says it helps to cement the construction business and then laughs at his own joke. While it’s a dance I feel that suits me, personally I could do without having to dance Mambo with a brickie from Barrmulloch or a roofer from Ruchazie, but Mr Macaulay says my shimmy helps dispel simmering industrial unrest. Between us, I call it the Concrete Ball.

“Oh Lottie” says Cynthia sniggering like a schoolgirl, “you mean balls don’t you?”

“Yes of course I do Cynthia, but I am not that vulgar. And then of course there are the women. Oh  Cynthia honestly you would die, it’s the evening dresses. It is quite tragic. It’s like ‘Night of Nylon’, there is so much static one could light up Shettleston. More coffee?”

“Yes, thank you, Lottie. Oh honestly where is Muriel? She said 10.30a.m., I am sure. She prides herself on her punctuality, you can bet your bottom dollar we will be in the wrong.”

“Perhaps Jasper has bought her that Alaskan Coat after all.”

“I don’t think so dear, he was pretty against it. It must be ghastly being married to a socialist.”

“Simply ghastly, but we all have our crosses to bear.”

“Yes, but don’t you think behind all that talk of nationalisation and free spectacles there is something about him – with that grey hair and the Prince of Wales check?”

The simply adorable Jasper

“I know exactly what you mean, a sort of tiger in tweed.”

“Yes, but she manages to keep him under control with that Hysterical Society; keeps him occupied and stops the roving eye.”

“Umm exactly, I caught mine the other day trying to show that platinum blond in wages how to use a rawlplug. Oh here she comes now.”

You Weren’t Listening

The perfect stockings for the discerning woman

“Darlings, there you are! I see you have started without me. I did say outside Ladies Lingerie at 11, did I not? I have just got the most marvellous bargain in a foundation garment and two pairs of 10 denier Kayser Bondor for the price of one. Lottie you look as if you might benefit from a new girdle, and Cynthia, dahling, do sit up straight, you look like a half shut knife. Why are you hiding your hands under that tablecloth? Now let me see. Oh dear we are letting things slip aren’t we? Don’t tell me you are peeling onions? Those chips say it all and cuticles are not so cute when they cover half one’s nails, now are they? Once we have had coffee, I will shepherd you towards the Beauty Salon, and I won’t take no for an answer. We shall revel in Helena Rubinstein before lunch.”

The waitress approaches the table, they know her well. Glasgow functions on knowing people at every level.

Regards to Mr Wylie

“Good morning Mrs Wylie, nice tae see yoose again, how is Mr Wylie?”

“Good morning Nan, it is always a pleasure to see you, Mr Wylie is meeting me later for lunch at Rogano’s. It is a “scallop special” day, but this morning he has gone to a lecture at Glasgow Varsity about Electronic Computers in Industry with a Professor Tizard of the London School of Economics, not such a good varsity as it is full of socialists.”

“Well, tell him Nan was asking for him and I will give yoose a wee free complimentary doughnut for him which I will just put in a paper poke. Now the usual half and half coffee and a choux bun, is it? Would yoose ladies like tae order anything before we set up for lunch?”

“Yes they would, two refills please and they can share a choux bun or Mrs Macaulay will need another pelt put into that mink.”

Who Wears Fur?

In my blue coat today

“I see Muriel you were not successful in getting Jasper to buy you that Alaskan coat after all. Mr Macaulay says I can have one if I wish.”

“So does Mr Savage; he says our brown sauce sales are going through the roof what with the cold weather and all the stews people are cooking, seems you are going to be the odd one out Muriel.”

“Well ladies, Jasper has said if I really want one he will oblige, but he believes fur is going out of fashion and while one does not want to be brutal he says that too many fur coats is a sign of a kept woman.”

“ Well we are not saying we will get one Muriel, after all our old beavers are good for going on the bus and one just does not get mink this colour now. I must say Jasper is being very forthright these days; where did you say he was?”

“Well Lottie, he has gone to an lecture about computers.”

“What are they exactly? you must pardon my ignorance on so many fronts.”

“Of course I do Lottie. Computers are the way forward; they make hard decisions and calculations and do the work of a hundred people all at once.”

“Sounds like a housewife to me!”

“Too funny Cynthia!”

“Will you be getting one Muriel; do they come with tassels?”

“Unfortunately ladies not just yet as they require rooms and rooms but Jasper says one day we will have one each.”

“Will they make husbands redundant?”

“We can live in hope.”

Like Attracts Like

Morning coffee

“ Here we are  – 3 Coffees ladies , one whole choux bun, one cut in half with two plates and one doughnut in a paper poke for Mr Wylie.”

“Thanks Nan.”

“Not at all Mrs Wylie, always glad to do yoose an obligement.”

I have come to the conclusion Muriel that that man of yours would get a piece at any door.”

“I know what you mean Cynthia, he does have a magnetic personality, but then they say like attracts like!

“I take it he is keeping well?”

“Oh yes Cynthia he has had the Asian ̓Flu, of course, it was a special strain which Dr Cronk said only struck the most discerning households.”

“Perhaps Muriel being brought up in a tenement in The Gorbals with one lavatory for four families sharing a key gave him some immunity.”

“Indeed Cynthia. How is that pastry going down Lottie? As they say a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. And you look as if you have some life down there.”

“Some of us, Muriel, are big boned. Anyway what have you been up to this week?”

Moral Decline and “The Lone Ranger”

“Oh busy, busy, busy, as usual ladies in my capacity as Chair of The Home for Fallen Women and a committee member of the Orphan Homes I went to a meeting in Perth where the headmaster of an approved school in Aberdeen spoke of the delinquent adolescent and the failings of fathers. He said that Scottish fathers were failing their children. They are still seen as providers whose obligations begin and end with bringing in a wage. With more automation on the horizon, with computers etc, there will be more leisure time, as men will not need to be at work for so long and they can spend time with their wives and families. After all if we are to reverse the nation’s moral decline we must strengthen its family life.”

“How Muriel does he propose to do that?”

“Well Lottie, he has suggested that the subject of fatherhood should be taught in schools just as girls get domestic science and mother craft.”

“Oh Muriel, wishful thinking! Mr Macaulay couldn’t push a pram without a false beard and wig not to mention emigrating to New Zealand. Let’s face it most of them would faint at the sight of a nappy. What about Jasper, do you think he would take to it?”

Making herself comfortable

“Possibly, he is very good with Gail, our ward and very good with that cat which now seems to rule our lives since it was reprieved from going Up Up Up past the Russell Hotel. I caught them watching the Lone Ranger on the television together last night. Of course we only have the set for nature programmes and never watch the STV, but it seems to calm Zelda she likes Silver, the horse. When there was a power failure at Lime Grove Studios last night four minutes before the end of the programme, Jasper had me telephone the BBC as he said Zelda wanted to know what had happened to Tonto?”

“Did they respond?”

“Indeed Cynthia, they put out a special announcement.”

“Muriel do you think Jasper spends too much time in that Museum in a Shed of his?”

Jasper’s shed

“Ladies men can never spend too much time in their sheds.”

Laughing in Church 

“Muriel we noticed you were not at the Church Soup and Pudding Lunch on Saturday in aid of “Knitting for Africa”. I did the most marvellous chicken and rice soup and Cynthia’s rhubarb crumble was the talk of the congregation, wasn’t it Cynthia?”

“If you say so Lottie.”

“Ladies, I did give my apologies, but I went with Jasper to hear The Rev. Dr. MacLeod, The Moderator of The General Assembly, talk about Scotland and the Nuclear Threat. You know what Jasper is like about disarmament. We agree to differ.  This was followed by the Minister of St Giles talking about moral re-armament, about the need for the Church to have a more daring, a more rebellious spirit and more fire among the Church Youth. He said we need young men like Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. Believe it or not ladies, he said we need more laughter in the Church.”

“No! Really? Are you sure you were at The Church of Scotland Muriel? It does not sound quite right. Don’t tell me we are going to be allowed to hang washing out on a Sunday?”

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

“Don’t be silly – I said more laughter, not heresy. However, I do have the latest intelligence on the pepping things up front. It seems, and you are the first to hear this, that Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes of the very good varsity here in Glasgow has been appointed as the new organist.”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“Oh my goodness. I must get there early. I will have to get something new to wear, too thrilling.”

“It seems we live in interesting times girls. At least we have something to look forward to after all this awful snow and the dreadful news since Christmas.”

“Do you mean Muriel, Mr Jo Grimond’s announcement that the Liberal Party will at the next General Election exceed all expectations and perform better than it has during the last 30 years?”

A Tragedy in Munich and Murders in Glasgow

“I am not talking comedy, Lottie. I was referring to the dreadful air crash at Munich with the football team.  Actually I was listening to the news on the wireless before I came out and it seems there has been no change in the condition of Duncan Edwards or Captain Kenneth Rayment, the co-pilot of the B.E.A. Elizabethan Aircraft. Mrs Busby says her husband does not yet know the full extent of the tragedy that has hit his team, Manchester United. I got in touch with that stewardess I know who used to fly from Glasgow before she married and had a baby. Apparently her husband was almost on that flight and the poor steward, Tom Cable, occasionally babysat for them. Her husband, Jim, swopped flights as Tom was a Manchester United supporter.

Of course the stewardesses were her good friends, both seem to be off the critical list now, and she and the Captain once went to La Bohème in Rome together. Both she and her husband have been on that aircraft Lord Burghley many times. So sad.

As if this was not bad enough now we have all that dreadful business with Peter Manuel. He faces 9 charges of murder and is awaiting trial in Barlinnie Prison.”

Fatally Injured in a Kitchenette

“Awful – too awful for words. Muriel I am quite sure he was once at my door selling encyclopaedias. Talking of terrible things, and you know me – not one do dwell on the macabre – did you hear about the woman who was shot in Manse Road, Wishaw? This Mrs Marjorie Livingstone is, or was I should say, the wife of Dr Livingstone, the Medical Officer with Lanark County Council. She was fatally injured on Saturday when a gun was being cleaned by Dr Livingstone and it went off accidentally in the kitchenette of their bungalow.”

“Too terrible Lottie. Now there are several things that make me uneasy about this story. Firstly a doctor with a gun, they are bad enough with stethoscopes. Secondly a doctor who has “a kitchenette” – he must be National Health doctor. And thirdly a doctor who lives in a bungalow – it does not inspire confidence. Well perhaps a fourth, Wishaw – now really Wishaw, what can one say, except where is that? There are all the ingredients of a mishap here, even without the gun.”

“Muriel, don’t be mean. We all know how you feel about bungalows but some of us, you know, make our livings from them possibly, even that one.”

“Sorry Lottie, but really would you live in one?”

“Certainly not!”

“Excuse me..”

“Yes Cynthia, what is it?”

“I thought Dr Livingstone died in Africa.”

Swing Back or Tweed?

So Bach…..

“Well ladies thank goodness we have Sunday to look forward to. We must plan our outfits. Oh ladies look at the time, I will not have time for Helen Rubenstein, but I will escort you over, Cynthia. I must dash off to meet Jasper for lunch and then I must do something useful. I have promised the Minister that I will type his Lenten letter on the old Royal. It is about the danger of this age going back to barbarism.”

“Do you think we are Muriel?”

“Think what Cynthia?”

“We’re going back to the barbers.”

“I hope not Cynthia, although Jasper could do with a trim, now you remind me. Now let us think of something to look forward to – how about we all go next week to The Age of Convenience Exhibition. I believe there is an electrical cookery demonstration and a display of Formica worktops. Ladies we have much to live for.”

Formica for modern living

“Just so long as we don’t have to buy one of those computers, Muriel.”

“No Lottie I was thinking about an electric frying pan for Mrs T and some new Pyrex. At least we can re-arm on the kitchen front. Now Cynthia up to the fourth floor with you and let’s get you started with some orange sticks. See you Sunday. What is everyone thinking?

very Handel

Swing back coats or fitted tweed two pieces? One is so Bach, the other so Handel. Oh I forgot it will be Lent so perhaps we shouldn’t overdo it. By the way I am giving up crystal glasses, but then sacrifice is my middle name. Jasper is giving up custard – I give him till Sunday!”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1958

 

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The Mawkin’s Murmurings

When Mr Brown… left Cairns Mill for his new residence, mawkin was placed in a bag and conveyed along with the other chattels. On the following morning pussey was found…sitting on the door of her old residence.

St Andrew’s Gazette 23rd June 1866

(Mawkin or maukin is an old Scots’ word for cat.) 

Mud on the Paws and a Glint in the Eye 

Here he comes!

Forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do not think you have had the pleasure. This is more than I can say for her next door’s cat who frequently comes over the dyke with mud on his paws and a glint in eyes. In that respect he is very like his master Mr Macaulay, the millionaire bungalow builder who is worth is weight in concrete. What we are talking about here is an opportunist. From where I sit, usually on the garden bench, I can see that when Mrs Macaulay goes out Mr Macaulay takes every opportunity with “her at number 26 – you know the blousy woman, new money at ‘Mon Repose’ as it has been renamed”.

As far as I am concerned it matters little. You see I have been “seen to” and at my time of life one is just glad for the attention. On the other hand the muddy paws of Harry, “who’s a handsome boy then”, annoy Mrs Travers who works (or so they say) for my owners the Wylies of Glasgow’s exclusive West End which is very posh and also of somewhere in Dumfriesshire, which is Scotland’s Norfolk, only less forward thinking and with fewer windmills.

Post Office Dangers

Griselda, better known as Zelda

Let me introduce myself. My name is Zelda or really if one was being strictly accurate, Griselda Pomegranate Scheherazade Wylie. I am now quite an elderly cat, a bit of “a has been” in fact; or as I heard Mrs Travers say one day after I had stolen a sardine destined for a toast in front of the fire suppa, “a never was been”. I should have been a Siamese pedigree and “First in Show”, but unfortunately mother who lived in the house of the local M.P. fell during the summer recess. While the Member for Scottish things and his family were in Antibes doing everything they could to get away from a Scottish summer, mother had a visit from Frank from the Post Office.  Frank was an ardent suitor and it was said the caterwauling could be heard in the next Parish.

Mother always blamed me for ruining her chances at Olympia and I live with the stigma to this day. I hate it when I have to go and stay with that awful woman Mrs Cynthia Savage who is in Pickles and Condiments for she has a pedigree Siamese called Bangkok Betty, who claims that in her youth she was at the court of King Rama VII. That silver collar is just too showy for my way of thinking for a real princess.

in the garden

I just have to put my best paw forward and these days it is hard to remember which one. As mother said in one of her kinder moments “Zelda just remember show your teeth, hiss and glide”. It is not always easy especially when one gets out into the garden on a sunny day or moonlight night to be greeted by a gang of tortoiseshell terrors and a chorus of “here comes the postal order girl”; or “look out girls here comes something from the Royal Male”; or “pay attention ladies see what the counter signatory has dragged in”; or the unkindest of all “was he a frank love, was daddy a frank? We hear you can get anything franked at a post office, is it true there were three deliveries a day then darling?” It seems there is no end to the post office illusions; the feline world is a very cruel place.

The Naming of a Cat

In case you are wondering I am named after Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of one of my owners’ favourite authors.

A withering look?

You may have heard of  “Mumsie” as Mrs Wylie calls herself  when she thinks no one can hear – she is known for her marvellousness and her withering look, which I see quite a lot. She tells me this Zelda I am named after was a high spirited beauty and encapsulated the Jazz Age, whatever that was. I am not sure why Mr Wylie refers to himself as “the Dada” as he is about as far from the avant-garde movement as his wardrobe is from that of the current Teddy Boys.

Jasper, An old fashioned sort of fellow

Although I have no memory of the incident it seems I was “saved” by “the Dada” one morning when he went to put some of his secret winnings from the “gee-gees” into his Post Office Savings Account, which Mumsie knows nothing about. “The Dada” also had to collect a parcel containing another piece to add to his Capodimonte Collection, whatever that is, when he noticed a hessian sack about to be put into the postman’s satchel for the midday delivery and saw that the contents were moving. “Oh don’t worry about that” said the postmistress busy stamping dockets, “it’s just another of Frank’s little indiscretions. Sir Fergus up at the Grange was furious, although I am not sure he can prove it, apart from the fact that Princess Phuket is a pure Siamese and Frank a moggy as black as the Earl of Hell’s waist coat just like the contents of that bag except she has a Siamese face. So I said we would deal with it. The postie is going past the loch so a couple of bricks should do the trick.”

Saved

Fortunately for me “the Dada” does not like Sir Fergus Lobby-Fodder, who apparently represents the Conservatory party and “the Dada” prefers the Surrealism party with its free callipers and little round spectacles. “The Dada” said this was typical of the harsh Cap – it – Alls and their treatment of the underdog, or in this case cat. So he took me home where Mumsie who runs a Home for Fallen Women when not being marvellous said I could stay, as a mouse had nibbled its way through her plaited straw handbag from Madeira and I might be a deterrent to such actions in the future. 

Old Age Does Not Come Alone

That was a long time ago and now I am old and stiff and I fear the mice sense an opportunity once again. I am a little poorly this week and Mumsie says it is a pity I have not done more pelvic floor exercises and then Mrs Travers would have less reason to use her mop and bucket and the Jeyes Fluid. They took me to “a nice man” who turned out not to be nice at all and looked in all sorts of places a girl cannot even mention.

It seems I am not bad for my age and have been very well looked after. Mumsie asked the ‘nice man’ and I quote “In the words of T. S. Elliot, Mr Barker – and you can give it to me straight please – is it time for Zelda to go Up, Up, Up Past the Russell Hotel, Up, Up, Up to the Heaviside Layer?

It is not yet time for that. Instead I require two jags a day which is to be administered by “The Dada”.

Pricks and Tinkles

So here I sit between pricks, on a crocheted blanket placed on an Edwardian lady’s chair which “gives her height to feel safe and low enough for tinkles”.

The Wylies have gone out leaving me with Mrs Travers which I heard the Dada say “is a bit like leaving someone to stay overnight with Albert Pierpont.” I am not sure who that is, but I did not care for Mrs T’s look when she gave me the leftover fish pie.

Outside Rogano’s

Talking of fish the owners (ha!) have gone to The Rogano for lunch. Mumsie, it seem “needs a break”, although I am not quite sure why as she has done little, but order more white vinegar which apparently makes my sleeping quarters smell like the House of Guerlain. The Rogano has ‘Karisima” on special today – a “hot lobster dish, par excellence”, which is “served in delightful cubes of effortless enjoyment.” I can confirm that this was not how yesterday’s fish pie was served; it was grudgingly, rather than with any form of  delight.

They have quite a lot to do after lunch. Mrs Wylie wants to get tickets to hear Lord Hailsham Q.C. speak to the Glasgow Unionist Association at the St Andrew’s halls. “The Dada” wants nothing to do with this, because Lord Hailsham is with the conservatories and so Dada  is going instead to see if he can get into the Joseph Thomson Centenary lecture on Thursday which is being held in the smaller Berkeley Hall. The lecture, The Opening Up of Africa – A Scottish Achievement is being given by Professor Ronald Miller and has “colour slides”. Mr Wylie is interested in Joseph Thomson as he comes from Southwest Scotland where we live at weekends or in the holidays in our rural bolthole. A gazelle has been named after him, Mr Thomson that is not Mr Wylie, who has nothing named after him.

The Latest Sensations

They both want to go to Mitchells at Great Western Road. This is a shop which sells gramophone records. They have been advertising a new “45 Counter” in their “luxury record department”. They mean rotations per minute not the thing with Bonnie Prince Charlie. This department specialises in the new 7 inch records which are the current sensation, unlike Bonnie Prince Charlie who long ago ceased to be a sensation and became a myth, or so I heard when “the Dada” practised his lecture for the Hysterical.

Both Mr and Mrs Wylie are very keen on current sensations. Mrs Mumsie is also very enthusiastic about new clothes and hopes to call in at “Marie Flaubert’s, the Continental Dressmaker” in St Vincent Street as she has “nothing to wear”. As I sleep in all her wardrobes I beg to differ.

Mumsie always likes something new

Mr Dada is, according to what I have overheard Mrs Travers tell Grace, (the lady from the other side of the world and I don’t mean the West Lothians) is trying to avoid going past Couper’s Furs in Sauchiehall Street as they are “the first house in Scotland” to have coats from Alaska. As you will know if you spend any time around here, Mrs Wylie likes to be the first to have anything new. Occasionally she is pipped at the post by the irrepressible, but “very common”, Mrs Macaulay who “makes up for what she lacks in class with animal cunning”, as Mrs Wylie told Mr Wylie this morning, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she is wearing an Alsakan coat at Church on Sunday. Knowing her she will have been hanging around the Princes Docks all night waiting for anything to dock with snow on it or looking vaguely Alaskan.” Mumsie has raised the dramatic tension by constant references to how cold she is and how only something from Alaska will stave off the hypothermia.

The Worst Winter in Ages

I can testify to it being rather cold

Poor Mr Dada; the weather is to a large extent on her side as we have had the worst snow in Scotland since 1947. Trains from London have been delayed for 8 or 9 hours, coal is running short in household bunkers and last Sunday there were even emergency coal deliveries. For those of you who have never been to Scotland on a Sunday this was pretty exciting, but as it broke the Sabbath an extra psalm will make up for the laxity. Doctors have been ski-ing to attend their patients in villages outside Edinburgh, an affectation one might expect and ambulances are stuck in snow drifts.

At the rural bolthole

Even the gentry, who are pretty gung ho about weather conditions and usually like to prove how hardy they are, have suffered. Lady Forteviet’s cattle float containing 4 bulls from Dupplin Castle has been stranded for 8 hours only 6 miles from Perth Auction Mart, ironically one bull is called “Snow Pilot”.

What Cats are Supposed to Do

Oh it is so boring when everyone is out. I know Mrs Travers is in but she is busy preparing a steak pie and rice pudding for Dada just in case he is peckish later. Grace, the new lady from far away, is damp dusting the stair carpet with used Earl Grey tea, scented with oils just in case I have made a mistake there. It seems I make increasing mistakes and if I do too many or even one on the washed Chinese rug, (which Mr Wylie says was woven by virgins under water and even he is not allowed to stand on it),  it will be The Russell Hotel for me.

This just goes to show no one has noticed I have not been upstairs for months. The old back legs are just not up to it anymore. Pity really because I like to go up to the nursery on the top floor as that is where young Gayle lives with the nurse and there is always a little milk available and some delicious Heinz Beef and Vegetable, provided they don’t see which they usually do not.

Gayle is looked after by Hairy Mary who is from the Highlands and has wild backcombed hair. She speaks Gaelic and calls me “Cat Sith”, a legendary cat from Celtic mythology which haunts the Highlands. They are black with a small white spot on the chest just like me. Some believe the “Cat Sith” will steal the souls of the dead and so they are not allowed into the room where a corpse lies. For this reason no fires are lit at a passing, as they attract this particular kind of cat. On the other hand a house which leaves a saucer of milk will be blessed. Some believe that a cat can transform itself into a witch and back, nine times and that is the origin of the saying a cat has nine lives.  I think I must have used up most of mine by now. Still some lobster leftovers might do the trick and perk me up.

Oh For a Visit to the U.S.A.

If I lived in America I might get lobster every day. I know this because the Wylies have left the Glasgow Herald spread out on the floor “in case of accidents” and there is an interesting article by Marie Muir about the lives of Transatlantic Cats. Please do not worry about the accidents I am hanging on and anyway Mrs Wylie has removed the Court and Social pages and any photographs of the Royal Family or the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. After all as she said to Mrs Travers if I were allowed to have a tinkle on Princess Margaret then we might as well declare Scotland a republic.

I am sure Princess Margaret has cats; she looks very intelligent like a cat person. Anyway according to Marie Muir, cats in America are very well looked after and she knows one called Edward who lives in Beverley Hills next door to a film star. When his owners go away Edward goes to a Cat Hotel where he has a suite and garden of his own with patio.

When they are away the manager of said hotel insists that the cats’ owners write to their cat. This must not be a postcard “but a real letter with the scent of the owners’ hands which are opened under his nose and left for him to mull over”. Another, called Chee-Chee, has warmed pork, liver, gravy and string beans everyday, French style, served on a hand painted plate. Another called Oscar has a daily doughnut with peas and a soft boiled egg which must be from a brown shell. He knows when he is being short changed with a cheap white shell.

America is the land of opportunity and choice. It seems there is an American cat food manufacturer who says “Few cats will eat a second meal out of an opened tin.” They want to live with Mrs Travers.

Mumsie and the Dada Return

“Hello Mrs Travers, hello Zelda, we are home, we have brought you Jailhouse Rock Mrs T to remind you of your Billy and some left over Karisima “for effortless enjoyment”, for you Zelda. Haven’t we Jasper?”

“Oh Muriel I thought you had it. I must have left it in Mitchells’ 7 inch department. Oh Mrs Travers what to do?”

“Never mind Mr and Mrs T I have some left in that tin from earlier in the week it should be enough for a third helping. Mrs  Sweet and Sour, I mean Mrs Savage, the pickle queen said she would be delighted to take Zelda for a night, it will be company for her pussey who gets so lonely.”

“Mrs T what is for suppa?”

“Oh  Mr Wylie Steak pie with beef links and rice pudding with skin and raisins.”

Later in the Wylie Drawing Room

Zelda is sleeping on Mrs Wylie’s knee, dreaming of lobster chunks. Jasper is struggling to stay awake.

“Jasper you know how you bought Mrs T that new Elvis Presley?”

“Yes Darling.”

“Did you get me something from the hit parade?”

“Muriel of course I got you something; I got you Marion Ryan singing “Love Me Forever.”

“Will you?”

“Promise, forever.”

“You’ll never leave me, lost and alone?”

“Never.”

From Lobster Land

Me too?

Zelda Wylie

February 1958

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Muriel’s Musings: Wedding Bells

Wedding Bells with “Vanity Fair”

It cannot have escaped your notice that ladies’ magazines are currently bursting with ideas in inspirational articles about weddings and marriage. The pages of Vogue, Vanity Fair and Woman’s Own are full of photographs and pages upon pages of advice. They are just the thing for early February days as young women sit wondering when it will be their turn to embark on the joyful state that is matrimony.

A Good Scottish Marriage

I, of course, married much later in life despite dear Mamma and Pappa’s desire to see the apple of their eye firmly established in a good Scottish marriage. My parents were not ones for “silly notions” about love; that was for the working classes who had nothing else. Pappa saw marriage as a business arrangement. As one of Scotland’s leading ironmongers with naval contracts and some award winning knobs and knockers in the art nouveau style, he longed for me to form an alliance with a foundry or a forge.

 A Dalliance

Apart from a girlish dalliance with Sooty Sandy, a blacksmith in the village where we had our rural retreat, it was not to be. I still feel a little thrill when I think of Sandy with his poker and bucket of whale oil hissing away as he toiled in that honest way we Westbourne School gels so adored. My Pappa would never have agreed to an alliance with anyone who actually got their hands dirty as was proved when I returned home late one night with handprints on my broderie anglaise chemise. To be frank my interest in metal work was in any case more at the retail end of things. Like so many Glasgow Girls I loved the arts and crafts movement and my mane of flowing red hair was said to have inspired many of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s designs.

Finding My Niche and Heart’s Desire

a youthful moi

I came out as I am aware many of you have and was finished off at some very expensive establishments. I was always something of a “thrawn girl”, strong willed and determined to have a career of my own. Men do not always like a woman with her own mind or indeed anyone else’s but theirs and I suppose I came across as haughty and independent.

In the end I found my niche in love of country and my secret wartime work in the S.O.E. as well as soft furnishings for which I had a natural aptitude. Fortune does favour the bold and of course not long after the last Unpleasantness I met Jasper which was like an earthquake. I did have a wartime romance, but they never managed to find him in that rubble and I rarely talk about it as Jasper finds it difficult to accept I once loved another. At least he does when he can be bothered to come out of his wretched Museum in a Shed.

Avec my beloved Jasper

We had a simply marvellous wedding with only a few hundred close friends, but it was not to be the sort of Princess Grace wedding of which  so many young girls dream. In one’s late forties tulle and lace make one look like the window dressing of a council house. Nevertheless as the press said I looked simply marvellous in that restrained, unaffected way that has become my understated self effacing trademark.

Sharing

A late flowering has not meant that my advice on matters matrimonial has gone unsought. In fact I am regularly asked to contribute to magazines and radio with my experience of life, love and marriage and of course style and good taste. For, love and marriage are like everything else, matters of gracious living. Only recently I received a large number of letters and telephone calls from you dear readers and students on the road to a simply marvellous way of living and I thought in this grey but hopeful month that I would share some with you. As I always say if you share it comes back tenfold.

From My Postbag…

  • The Question of Fathers

Dear Muriel

I am considering asking my girl friend for her hand in marriage. Should I ask her father first?

Yours Sincerely

Gary of Grangemouth

Beauregard DuBois, Cousin Lulubelle’s father

Dear Gary,

In my day no man would think of popping the question before asking her father. There was always a shot gun by the front door. These days it is not strictly necessary, but manners suggest you should lose no time in asking him informally and expect some questions about your prospects. Fathers care very much about their daughters. Mothers are usually only too glad to see the back of them.

Muriel

P.S. Is it necessary to be both Gary and from Grangemouth?

  • The Engagement Ring

Dear Muriel,

I intend to ask my girl friend of 8 years for her hand in marriage. Is it strictly necessary to have an engagement ring.

Barry, from Bothwell

Note the engagement ring

Dear Barry,

No, not strictly but she may be suspicious of your honourable intentions especially as Bothwell appears to be in a different time zone. If money is an issue perhaps you should rethink it all or ask your grandmother for help. Mine always had a few spare stones suitable for setting by a jeweller. The romantic but cheapskate gift of knotted string or flowers is a sure sign of a bounder and a virtue in danger.

Muriel

Dear Muriel,

My fiancé wants me to go away to Portobello for the weekend. He earns little money and has given me an engagement ring of garden twine. It is so romantic and I know he respects me. Should I go?

Nell of Newhaven

Dear Nell,

Are you sure you are not just a big Nellie rather than Nell? Garden twine might be suggestive of upright Gladioli in the garden, but it is not something to base a future together on. I would not go to Portobello under any circumstances, except those authorised by a Minister of religion. After all Nell would you buy a book having already borrowed it from the library?

Muriel

  • Press Announcements

Dear Muriel,

Is it necessary to announce one’s engagement in the press?

Unsure of Uddingston

Dear Unsure,

I can only assume you have not been to a very good school. In the part of Glasgow where everyone goes to a good school it goes without saying. If it is not in The Glasgow Herald then it has not happened.

Remember the announcement only appears on a Friday in “Social and Personal” or you might as well think about a change of identity and a life abroad. The announcement should be preceded by informing close relatives by letter, using a fountain pen; never write in biro – that is common.

All that is required are the facts, it is not necessary to make excuses about the brevity of the letter because you have so many to write. Of course they know that or you would be a no-body and live in Ayrshire. Send all letters by the same post or you will be written out of several aunts’ wills.

Muriel

  • Who Pays for the Wedding?

Dear Muriel,

Who pays for the wedding?

Iain of Inchinnan

Dear Iain,

You sound like a tightwad, but for your information the bride’s family pay for the wedding. After all you will be paying not only for the rest of your life but for the honeymoon and the house and the house furnishings. Believe me.

Off to the golf club – a rare moment to myself

Jasper (as Muriel has left the typewriter for a gin and it)

  • Looking Back

Dear Muriel

Iain again.

When my intended comes up the aisle should I look back?

Dear Iain,

I really do worry about you. Are you some religion other than Presbyterian? Certainly not. This is a wedding, not Hollywood or the Episcopalians.

Muriel

  • Wedding Gifts

Dear Muriel,

I am marrying above my station there are several things I worry about. I am thinking about giving my fiancée a string of pearls as a wedding present is this appropriate?

Also some of my rough diamond friends are suggesting cash is the best present or a gift that can easily be exchanged. Please advise.

Dave of Dennistoun

Dear Dave,

Firstly does Dennistoun have a station and secondly I feel somewhat apprehensive at anyone marrying a Dave. Do you perchance play in a skiffle group?

Now let us get back to basics.

While your idea of a gift of pearls is to be commended and suggest us to think your intended is chaste, I am afraid the answer is no. Pearls from a fiancé or husband are considered an ill omen as they traditionally represent tears, especially if the string breaks which they are apt to do. A young woman either inherits pearls or is given pearls by her father or godparents usually as a 21st birthday present. Sometimes they are, if they are particularly good pearls, given one at a time from first birthday onwards so that on reaching maturity one has a reasonable string to wear at one’s swan-like neck.

A word or two about wedding presents – wedding presents are only sent once an invitation is received and then sent a few days later. Presents for the Bridegroom are sent to his address, but shown with the Bride’s at her home on the Wedding Day. This is not America, a shower is something one has at Corporation swimming baths. All presents are acknowledged on receipt.

It is in very bad taste to exchange any gift even if you hate it – you should see my carved horn peanut dish, not that you ever will. I wouldn’t put it out if you paid me. The exception is where duplicate gifts are received and the sender has suggested in such a case an exchange should be sought. This does, however, suggest friends of unoriginal thought. I am sure your rough diamonds are most imaginative. Do they dress like Edwardians, ride scooters and use Brylcreem?

Having a list in a department store is the height of grasping vulgarity. One should, however, have a personal list to show to friends should they ask. Gifts of money are only given by family or very old friends of the family. You should not give gifts of table linen, or intimate gifts of bed sheets or pure wool Witney blankets – that is for relatives.

Oh Dave, how I can see your Wedding day in my mind’s eye particularly after the meal with the band as your by now rather merry rough diamonds engage with the Bride’s mother in an over enthusiastic Orcadian Strip the Willow.

I wish you the best of luck

Muriel

  • Where to Wed

Dear Muriel,

What do you think about Registry Office marriages?

Name and address supplied

a wee lie down

Dear Name and address supplied,

No wonder. When I received your letter, I had to have two Askit Pooders, a wee Dubonnet and a lie down.

Well it is legal, but lacks romance and warmth.

Are you on the run or from Edinburgh?

Muriel

  • Wedding Attire for the Older Woman

Dear Muriel,

I am a wealthy widow of some years who has just accepted a proposal of marriage from a handsome rough diamond who has a scooter, plays in a skiffle band and has a friend called Dave. He has made me feel like a woman again, especially when we went to Portobello for the weekend.

We plan to marry in Church as my fiancé is thinking of becoming a minister. What should I wear?

Patience Pentland-Firth  (Lady)

One of Patience’s weddings

Dear Patience,

Somehow I thought it was you. Shouldn’t you be busy preparing for Wagner at the Classic Country House Concerts, not running around on the back of a scooter?

To answer your question – as a widow several times over you may marry in any colour you wish. Your head should be covered (remember St Paul’s teachings) with a small hat. A veil is for first marriages and for those who should have stayed at home. Figured netting is acceptable.

Flowers may be worn on the costume but are not carried

As a widow bride of several times over, you should not carry a bouquet although you may wear flowers on your costume. You should be attended by a friend and yes I am happy so to do, provided it does not clash with a soup and sandwich lunch. Bridesmaids are not required as you are certainly no maid. A widow bride does not remove her first wedding ring (or rings) until the morning of the second marriage. In your case it might be as well to have a jeweller with cutters standing by and I am sure you will be able to reverse the current decline in gold reserves at the Bank of England.

I trust this is helpful, see you at the Rural on Wednesday.

  • The Best Man

Dear Muriel

I am writing to you in between the rehearsals for the Crew Show where I play Marlene Dietrich. I am about to be married to a very nice girl in Southampton, my home port and I have a very theatrical friend who I would like to be my best man. Do you think this is acceptable?

Chief Steward Mike, S. S Arcadia

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your letter. I see you are all at sea!

Wedding receptions can be rather stilted and become somewhat tedious so a very theatrical best man might well be a good idea. On the other hand the most important thing about a best man is that he is calm, cool and collected when he needs to be. Things do go wrong. He needs to be in control and of course has to make a speech. His speech should be “very light and very gay”.

I am wondering Mike if you are entering this marriage “unadvisedly” or “wantonly” as the Vicar will say. Remember one day you will have to stay ashore.

Muriel

Well as you can see I have my work cut out when it comes to advising couples about the great day ahead and it is a great day and not as Mrs Travers will have it when viewing a wedding from the top of a bus “another lamb to the slaughter”.

Advice to Guests

Before I leave you I have a few final words of wisdom to offer regarding the nuptials. Above all the day should be dignified. Even if one has a very theatrical friend present or some rough diamond friends on scooters, one of which is called Dave. So please plan ahead, and do not get over excited.

a perfect ensemble for a wedding, understated yet dignified

Do not get overdressed.  My neighbour, Lottie Macaulay, looked ridiculous recently at a Catholic wedding when she went dressed in a mantilla and flamenco outfit. I was unsure as to whether we should be singing Ave Maria or the Toreador song. As Jasper said if someone had speared her it would have been a mercy. Do not talk too loudly it is not your day and do not cry, weeping at the important parts of the journey that is life is for servants.

On that note I think I have said enough. In the mean time I have a fact sheet I will post on to you on receipt of a stamped addressed envelope. Next time we will take a peek into the wedding night and the life ahead. Must dash that’s the telephone.

Lady P-F calls

“Thank you for the offer Patience but I have no desire to go to Portobello in February with Dave or Mike, even if it is on the back of  a scooter.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1958

With thanks to Ettiquette for Everyone by Arthur Groom

 

 

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

Enjoying Ill Health!

I would be the first to admit that I am not a good nurse. 

Ankles Worth Sculpting

Frankly I have never felt the calling to don a white starched apron and hat, the strictures against Estée Lauder foundation and Helena Rubinstein lipstick being just one of a number of reasons. And oh, those awful flat shoes! They do nothing for those of us with perfectly turned ankles. As I am sure I have mentioned in the past it was once said by my good friend Henri Matisse that he was certain Canova had used my ankles to model The Three Graces. I am sure this was a compliment (he was always a bit distracted when using his big scissors and a roll of wall paper) although of course, had I been the model this would make me terribly old. He was such an old flatterer. Just in case some of you were not at the Westbourne School for Young Ladies or the Sorbonne, Canova was a very good sculptor, called Antonio Canova who lived in the 18th century and was very popular among those who went on the Grand Tour. 

Muriel’s Medical Heritage

When I say I am not a good nurse that is not to say I am without any medical knowledge. Naturally as a former member (and I should not be saying this, but I know it will go no further) of the S.O.E., I am trained in the art of the tourniquet as well as secret writing with pigeon you-know-what and of course I came top of the class in silent killing. My mother, a debutante, was an organiser of the V.A.D. Nurses in the first Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos.

My mamma during World War I

My grandfather, a very successful business man, also sponsored some of the research into wound treatments at the very good varsity of Glasgow during the Crimean Unpleasantness. As he said himself, during his final months when his memory was going “Aye I was one of the first tae realise the importance of yon lassie wi’ the name of a bird, Florence Turkey and slipped her a few quid frae time tae time”. Grandfather was as you will have realised unaffected by anglicised modes of speech and retained his broad Glaswegian of which he was very proud to the end. 

An Accent Full of Vowels

Dear Grandmamma

My Grandmother was the complete opposite she had “a real pan loaf accent”, you could cut with a knife and could extend a vowel for about three days. For example when going up the staircase at Pettigrew & Stephens, her department store of choice, she would realise there was someone behind her she knew and say without looking behind  “Iiiiis thaaaaaat yoooou at maaaay baaaack Mrs Mackeeeeeeeeeenzie?” By the time Mrs Mackenzie had the opportunity to answer back, Grandmamma had visited Haberdashery, Coats and Mantles and the “Most Affected” section of the fine Mourning Department and left through Fancy Goods into Sauchiehall Street. 

Never Miss An Opportunity

Grandfather may have been an old Glasgow worthy, but he was always very thorough in anything he took an interest in and not only was he providing much needed funds for the work at Scutari he was helping out in so many practical ways. For example the family furniture business was adaptable in so many ways and Grandfather took no time in abandoning the production of his famous “corner whatnots” and “library tables for the bookless household”, for more useful items for the battle field.

The wooden leg of a cocktail cabinet transformed into something more useful

Thus his easy assembled camp beds for the troops were a great seller to the war office and one has to say of great financial benefit to the family business. As a man of great humanity he lost no time in turning his lathes from cabriole legs for dressing tables to artificial limbs for those unlucky enough to be hit by enemy artillery. He also provided the polished plinths on which to mount any shrapnel recovered during amputation. It was said that on the plains of the Crimea no one could put a candle to him, but of course in some ways they could as Florence toured the wards at night bringing comfort to the troops, she did so with lanterns supplied by Grandfather. I shall never forgive the individual with a grudge who put up a sign at the Works saying “Crimea Does Pay”.

Send for Dr Cronk

So you see I have a long pedigree when it comes to healthcare, although unlike Jasper I have never been totally convinced by the National Health Service. However, I do not agree with my neighbour Lottie Macaulay, wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who is big in concrete, that it is a “malingers’ charter”.

The Doctor’s car

Talking of malingers brings me to the reason why I find myself doubting my abilities as an Angel of Mercy, that is Jasper. If I am a poor nurse Jasper is a first class patient. Jasper has had the Asian influenza; so have millions of others. Indeed it has been the worst pandemic since the Spanish ̓Flu of 1918-19. It is particularly bad for children and old people and those with heart or chest problems especially bronchitis. Not as Jasper will have it for those like him who are shortsighted and a little hard of hearing.

The Doctor’s other car

In truth I did have to call out Dr Cronk who came quickly after surgery last Monday. He arrived in his Wolseley instead of the Rolls Royce, as Jasper is not a private patient, like moi for whom Dr Cronk also wears his silk top hat, warms his stethoscope and writes his prescriptions in fountain pen and not biro. As far as I am concerned the biro is for the barbarians at the gate.

A Ladies’ Man and a Tweed Magnate

Jasper, man of tweed

Jasper is truthfully not himself. I can see that, but in my opinion he is too ready to succumb to the ministrations of those happy to trail up and down stairs with invalid trays and expensive periodicals. Jasper is totally loyal I know that, but he does have a way with the ladies. I think it is something to do with the attraction of tweed and felt headwear. Of course I do keep him in tip top condition with a varied and healthy diet, although I know full well he is no stranger to the odd sneaky fish supper and a steak pie at the Club. To be frank he would as we Scots say “get a piece (sandwich) at any door”. He has the charm of a spaniel or labrador.

Jasper has Mrs Travers wound round his little finger and it is mutual, I know all about their racing form arrangements. She is busy cooking him little treats “to build him up” and now he has Grace, who is from the West Indies and a trained nurse doing four hourly temperatures, pressure points and filling in a chart which is counter signed by Mrs Travers. I am not sure that he is not being oversubscribed with Askit Pooders especially since there is a bottle of medicinal Haig Dimple in the bedside cupboard. Even I know the two are not a good mixture but I suppose a husband in a state of mild delirium is at least a husband under control. 

The Big Red Tunnel

Mr Hookum waiting in the wings

Grace is a professional nurse, but Mrs Travers and Jasper are professional hypochondriacs who egg each other on in a spirit of mutual support. I have refused Jasper’s request to send for Mr Hookum from “Catchum and Hookum, Solicitors” to make a codicil for his will so that his collection of important pottery shards go to the local museum. As I said “Jasper if you can eat gammon and pineapple with a fried egg followed by jam roly-poly, you are still good for a few years yet, even if Mrs Travers has cut up the meat and is doing ‘into the big red tunnel’ and you are drinking tea from a cup with a spout.”

There comes a point when one just has to grin and bear things and pull one’s self together. Where would my simply marvellous programme of self improvement and the goal of gracious living for all be if I lay about all day with cold compresses and hot water bottles.

An Outing

Actually when Grace came into the kitchen this morning and said to Mrs Travers that Mr Wylie was wondering if an oxygen tent or iron lung might be advantageous, I decided it was time to go out. I used the excuse, not that I need one, that Jasper required some new pyjamas and that Coplands had a sale with a choice of Ceylonette or Twill Flannel in blue and green stripes. Now I am not fond of anything that ends in “ette” as it sounds artificial, so I plumped for two pairs of the twill.

I wonder what Winnie will make of my knitting?

I bought some Kayser Bondor stockings and some Paton and Baldwin’s four ply flecked wool, as I have read that knitting is good for peace of mind in January. I also succumbed against, my better judgement, to try Placentubex, “a sensational cosmetic discovery” which has “swept the continent” and smoothes wrinkles and crows’ feet.

It had better work!

At 35 shillings it had better give one a veritable face lift or Messrs Placentubex of 86 Clerkenwell Road London E.C.1. will be in receipt of a strongly worded letter.

To The Library 

After coffee I went to the Stirling Library in Exchange Square and selected some reading suitable for the sick bed, with the help of the librarian. I chose some new books, The Guns of Navarone by Alastair MacLean, Richard Mason’s The World of Susie Wong which I hope does not turn out to be sensational and Lawrence Durrell’s Justine which the librarian thought he might have read but I decided to take a chance as I liked the rather contemporary cover. I have a bit of a thing about typeface and calligraphy.

I am rather taken with the cover

The librarian was distressed to hear that Jasper was unwell and in case he was feeling better the Extra Mural Department of the Varsity had a class on Monday entitled “La Poesie Populaire d’Aujourd’hui”  7.30 at University Gardens or at the same time Mr Honeyman of the Art Galleries would be talking about “Modern Scottish Poetry” at the Philosophical.

It seems she had some spare complimentary tickets for both as Jasper was such a brick helping her to distribute copies of the American underground Magazine The Ladder at the Golf Club Ladies Lounge. “Mr Wylie is such a good sport” she said fixing her monocle and tightening her tie, “Now I don’t suppose I could interest you in a copy of Strange Path or Women’s Barracks?Brown paper covers of course and not exactly in Glasgow Corporation’s Fiction Card Index.” “Thank you, but no; although I wouldn’t mind reading the new Edinburgh writer, the one who lived in Bruntsfield.” “Oh you mean The Comforters by Muriel Spark, yes it is due in but there are two ladies ahead of you, Mrs Macaulay and Mrs ……sorry Lady Pentland-Firth.” *Oh! I didn’t know either of them could read.”  “Oh her Ladyship gets the London Review of Books you know.” “Does she indeed. I was unaware that there was a “Janet and John” version. Perhaps I might distribute some copies of The Ladder in the powder room of The Royal Scottish Automobile Club?” “What a splendid idea and miracles will never cease, I see you are actually first for the Muriel Spark.” “How kind; we ladies must stick together.”

Too Much to Carry

The trouble with libraries is that they mean carrying books, but still I knew Jasper would be pleased and it shows willing. I also had to cancel several of Jasper’s engagements which included a social evening at the Cappodimonte Collectors’ Club and a Burns Supper at the Automobile Club, which is no great loss – all that turnip and snuff every year cannot be good for one as delicate as Jasper. So there was a bit of trailing around with my parcels of books and pyjamas before getting a taxi home. I completely forgot that I should have cancelled our tickets for the Church of Scotland Glasgow Elders and Office Bearers Meeting with Miss Ella Ross lecturing on “My Work Among the Fisher Folk”. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Home Again

I am returned

“I am home everyone. How is Mr Wylie, Mrs Travers?”

“Oh clinging to life by a thread Mrs Wylie, only sustained by a large helping of Grace’s Barbadian cake with some evaporated milk and a nice cup of tea.”

“Hello Jasper do you have you any last requests?”

“Is there perchance another slice of that cake Muriel?”

“I think you have had enough Jasper, after all you don’t want to journey to the afterlife on a full stomach. By the way do you distribute magazines for the librarian?”

“Yes Darling, it’s something called The Ladder from America, a Do-it-Yourself catalogue I imagine. Gets me first on the list for new books and tickets for events. As they say a little help is worth a deal of pity.”

“Umm well… I have some books for you to help you through the crisis.”

“Thank you Muriel I don’t imagine I will finish them, but I appreciate the thought.”

“Well do what you can Dahling, I must go and help Mrs T with the suppa, she is poaching a chicken and doing duchesse potatoes and there is ice cream and meringue for pudding, but I imagine all you want is some bread in milk with sugar and a little junket, after all we don’t want to overdo things and have a relapse. Oh, and I have cancelled all your Burns’ Suppas and various Club outings for the duration of your convalescence.

“Muriel, when are the other staff coming back on the ward?”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

January 1958

 

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Getting On With January

I know, I know I shouldn’t be taking “a wee refreshment”, at this time of the day, but it is absolument brass capuchin monkeys.

Snow in the Pass

Snow in the pass

It has been snowing for several days and the North of Scotland, they say, has seen the worst blizzards they have endured for years. I suppose this gives them something to look at other than those endless bare hills which are bracing but, to my mind bleak.

the road to the rural bolthole is rather treacherous in the snow

The south of Scotland has snow too and severe frost. Jasper and I decided, (well I decided, Jasper votes according to his conscience and desire for a hot pudding and custard) that it would be foolish to venture along the Dalveen Pass in the Humber Super Snipe, so we are in Glasgow.

Entering the Dalveen Pass

Jasper has bought snow chains, but has no idea how to use them, he just thinks they are something men do but hopes he will not be tested and found wanting. In normal circumstances, I thoroughly recommend the Dalveen Pass through which one passes from Lanarkshire to Dumfriesshire or if you like from Wardrobe to Narnia; the direction – I leave up to you. Which reminds me, I must ask Mrs Travers, our woman what does (but not a lot), if she remembered to bring up the pelt of my beaver with some warm rabbit bran. My musquash is getting pretty past it. I might pass it on to Grace, she feels the cold.

A Graceful Presence

Grace is my replacement for the dastardly Hilda, the German vuman vat did zee heavy vork, who has disappeared after trying to fake her own death in a man trap and put the blame on Mrs Travers. Fortunately the Handsome Stranger, who works in the Shadows sorted all that out. However Hilda is nowhere to be seen and with spring on the horizon there will be much in the way of heavy vork, I mean work. You know what I am like about damp dusting and vinegar washed skirting boards.

Grace is from the West Indies and, in a quiet way, seems to be getting along with Mrs T which is no mean feat. Grace trained as a nurse and is able to pander to both Mrs T and my husband who are both hypochondriacs. So it will come as no surprise for you to learn that both have continued to suffer (when it suits them) from the Asiatic Influenza that hit Glasgow last year.

Sheep, roused in the snow

I only hope this winter will not prove to be as bad as 1947; that was awful. I certainly know from a telephone call from the wretched Bunty Haystack, crime writer and dabbler in the black arts who has a cottage near us in Shangri-La, that the shepherds are “rousing their sheep in the snow”. I am not entirely sure what that means, one does hear such tales of rural deprivation. 

Icebergs in Great Western Road

Mrs Travers was late this morning her reason, “icebergs in Great Western Road”. She arrived wearing her customary tennis rackets tied to her gumboots. One has to admire her ingenuity but I only hope she did not go pass Kirklee Terrace, I know people there. Grace asked if it was in honour of Dr Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary having met up last week at the South Pole. Mrs T said this was not a pub she knew and anyway seeing a doctor in a pub undermined her faith in the medical profession. Grace suggested a little rum in our tea would warm us up and she shared some stories about her homeland and the growing of sugar. She also wondered if Jasper might be interested in a rum baba for pudding.

A Rumbaba

Mrs Travers, sensing an opportunity for less work in her day and adding a second tot to her cup of Assam, thought it was highly likely.

Overextended and Anxious in January

I must say it is rather warming. I have never really thought about rum in the past, being more of an amontillado sherry lady myself with the occasional foray into Madeira. I do know, however, that my ancestors on the MacCavity side of the family (the ones with the sweet factories and painless dental surgeries) started out in sugar and imported rum. They were great devotees of the famous Glasgow Punch. I still have the bowl.

The family 18th century punch bowl

Drinking in the middle of the day is hardly in keeping with the spirit of the month of January when abstinence is called for after the excesses of the festive season. I began the day in good faith with a glass of hot water and lemon, but this is much more fun. One needs a little fun when all the news is doom and gloom. Even the classified adverts spread alarm and despondency.

Take today for example. It is suggested that if I have “obstacles in my orbit”, I need to send for a bulldozer from the Scottish Land Development Corporation. This sounds to me as if they are overextending themselves with the New Towns. That is the trouble at this time of year we all feel overextended and I don’t just mean in the waistline. A James Coffield, M.A., L.L.B. is advertising his services should one have Income Tax troubles. Of course I do, given that much of it amounts to state theft for projects of which I disapprove. Mr Coffield is a former High Grade Inspector of Taxes. So why isn’t he now one asks one’s self. Thank goodness I have Mr Chanter who is simply marvellous and high grade with everything.

To make matters worse, Fishers Safes are once again playing on our anxieties suggesting “Tomorrow You May Face Ruin”. Tomorrow I may face my Maker but there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t do much more with moisturiser and cider vinegar. There is such a tendency to create panic these days. Those of us who have survived two Unpleasantnesses know how to take things in our stride. Look at Sir William Burrell, the ship-owner, who has gifted his art collection to Glasgow. He had a fire at Hutton Castle the other day which damaged furnishings. He and Lady Burrell when interviewed did not talk of “obstacles, or “ruin”, but simply said “it was very alarming”. They are in their 90s, at least Sir William is 96 – it would be too rude to suggest her Ladyship’s age. I am quite sure they will not be succumbing to Miss Pamela Brown’s advertisement to “Some Aids to Comfort in Old Age”. Miss Brown has a range of Bed Rests and Bedside table lamps with luminous switches.

Doom and Gloom

January seems to bring out the pessimists. Indeed it has been reported that optimism is fading fast in Cyprus as the Greeks and Turks fail to get on with one another. It looks as if we might not always get on well with the Argentineans as they have sent a “Tourist Cruise”, to Deception Island in the Antarctic. They dispute Britain’s claim to the Falklands.

The bank rate is up to 7% and the government needs to reduce public spending. Most dispiriting to my way of thinking is our pre-occupation with war in cinema. Before the snow Jasper and I went to see Paths of Glory with Kirk Douglas. I agree with Molly Plowright in The Herald when she said that “the aim was to expose the idea of a heroic war” and that in this aim “the film failed”. All Quiet on the Western Front did that in a way which will be hard to improve on. Honestly I am beginning to sound like Jasper.

Sirens at 3.30

I think it must have been reading that Air Raid Sirens will be tested in the Glasgow Area at 3.30pm on January 30th when a “steady note will sound for 1 minute”. I suppose one needs to be prepared in case this “cold war” hots up but I have seen it all twice before and would rather not see it again. Who would have thought that Civil Defence would still be a feature of our lives in 1958?

Beware of Beasts at the Door

Mrs T in the kitchen ignoring the doorbell – you can just tell she is!

A siren, come to think of it, might be useful for our front door. Mrs Travers has selective hearing when it comes to hearing our wonderful original door bell, which one has to pull to operate, and it rings on the panel in the kitchen. Some callers have failed to get a response and when challenged about it Mrs Travers has a range of excuses the latest being “it could be “the Beast of Birkenshaw”, thought to be responsible for a string of murders across southern Scotland since 1956. A man called Peter Manuel has just been arrested and has appeared at Uddingston Sherriff Court charged with the triple murder of the Smart family and others. The police are still looking for a gun, believed to be an Italian berretta, and are searching the Clyde around Glasgow Green.  It sounds to me as if Mrs T is going to have to come up with a new excuse to prevent her from answering the door.

Associating with the Wrong Sort of Corpses

The trouble is Mrs T has a very vivid imagination partly driven by experience. Her estranged husband is a dodgy character. You may well recall his involvement in Busty Betty’s “Unnecessary Lingerie Shop” down by the canal, the police raid and his subsequent disappearance on a slow boat to China. Their son Billy is not much better – he is no stranger to being detained at H.M.’s Pleasure and leaving his long suffering wife to cope with “oor weans”.

Only last week Mrs T attended the funeral of an East End “acquaintance” of her Billy’s, as Billy is still in Barlinnie following the “borrowing” of Jasper’s Humber Super Snipe last year as the get away car for a jewellery heist at Lady P-F’s.  It was the inevitable over the top affair with, according to Mrs T, a closed coffin due to the occupant known as “Gooey the Grass” having been put though “the mincer” by a rival gang.

Mrs T has a fund of gruesome stories which she shares with the equally fascinated Mrs Lottie Macaulay, my neighbour. Even Lottie had to have a reviving amontillado during the tale of “Frankie, the Fence” who was pulled from the Clyde after three weeks. It seems despite advice from the undertaker the family insisted on “seeing ma Daddy”. According to Mrs T, Frankie was one of the Undertakers’ greatest challenges and required the purchase of extra rouge, false eyelashes and eyebrows the originals clearly having provided some marine animal with its elevenses.

The family were horrified as Frankie looked more like the ventriloquist belonging to Michael Redgrave’s dummy in The Dead of Night. Lottie was so appalled she had Mrs T go over the whole story at least three times just to make sure she had every last detail. Glasgow’s criminal element is not without its fatal attraction.

Dalliance in the City

Ready for the weather

Far more attractive is our City’s love of traditional pantomime. There has been much concern as ill health forced Stanley Baxter to take a break from “Mother Goose” at The Alhambra. The good news he is back and Jasper is taking Mrs T and the rest of the household next week. Jasper left early to check the heating at our shop “Chez Nous. When I say check, I mean he stares at it, says “Umm” and, in extremis, kicks it. I do not think we will be busy today and if the snow continues he will close early to let the staff get home.

He wants to pick up tickets for a lecture at the Royal Philosophical Society entitled Innovations on Ice and I have asked if he would call in at the Athenaeum to get me a ticket for the latest in their Trinity Celebrity Lectures. I am quite sure I must be on their list of speakers. In the meantime they will just have to make do with Lady Hart Dyke who will speak on Silken Dalliance for 4 shillings per person. I am looking forward to this as Zoe Hart Dyke is a leading expert on the breading of silk worms and her silk has been used in the Coronation robes and royal wedding dresses.

Of course silk features quite widely in my decorative schemes for the discerning. I am a great supporter of the Lochwinnoch silk weaving firm Caldwell Young which does the most beautiful striped fabrics. Glasgow may have its gangsters but it is also overflowing with culture and I am proud to be one of its most significant fountains.

Jasper Diverted to 1745

Talking of talks Jasper is preparing one for the Hysterical Society which meets again next month. They don’t meet in January as lengthy hangovers have meant some dicey moments with the lantern slide projector. Methylated Spirit burners need hands that do not wobble.

He has been lent a copy of The Gentleman’s Magazine for 1745 by a chum in the next village. As this consists of 12 editions bound in leather I have hardly seen him since New Year as he has either been in his shed with a magnifying glass and the paraffin heater or at the library with his friend, the librarian who has taken a shine to him. Don’t worry on my account, she is an expert on The Well of Loneliness but nevertheless she flirts unashamedly with Jasper always asking him what plans he has to explore his inner child. I hope his plans include exploring his tallboy which, with its drawers all over the floor and coat hangers all over the bed, looks as if has been raided by a Glasgow gang. It is one of the many obstacles Jasper puts in the orbit of Mrs T’s cleaning regime and let’s face it she is easily diverted from her domestic trajectory.

My faithful old “royal”

Oh dear I am chilly sitting at this typewriter. I could do with my Paisley Shawl. It looks as if it will snow again this afternoon I shall ring for some more logs for the fire and see if another of those splendid cups of tea might be available.

“Did you ring Mrs Wylie? I was not sure if it was yourself – or a beast at the front door”.

“Mrs T why are you wearing those ridiculous ginger false eyelashes?”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

January 1958

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“A Monstrous Giant Erection”

“A Monstrous Erection” 

Here’s to 1958

A very happy New Year dear readers and on behalf of Jasper and myself I sincerely hope that 1958 will be all that you wish for you and yours.

Cold Cream Fighting Off Eternity

My all important beauty regime with lashings of cold cream

It is hard to believe how quickly the decade seems to be rushing past; they say of course that this is what happens as we age. For children the wait between one Christmas and another seems an eternity. For some of us of a certain age, however, the feeling is of hurtling toward eternity despite lashings of Cold Cream and the strictest of “nice toes, naughty toes” exercise regimes. Still one has to make the most of each and every day and I fully intend to help you do so. After all, one has a responsibility as a simply marvellous person helping those who strive for gracious living. 

The Queen and Jasper 

Talking of gracious – I do hope you managed to see Her Majesty’s Christmas Message which was, for the first time, broadcast on television. I am sure that you were struck by the similarity between one’s drawing room here in Scotland and that of Sandringham House. Had I been asked, I might have suggested fewer family pictures in the background, as there was just ever so slightly the feeling that one had walked into a high street photographers. Of course I would never say this in public, after all one would not like to be thought of as disloyal.

Jasper of course (you will be well aware by now of his socialist leanings) said he would be avoiding the broadcast as he had promised to help Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, with the washing up. As they say, fine words butter no parsnips and after his third port Jasper was somewhat comatose on the sofa.

out for the count

We had to endure Jasper’s versions of H.M.’s pronunciation of words such as lost and off which come out as “lorst” and “orff”, which he said were not traditional pronunciations at his end of Hospital Street. This is the part of The Gorbals where Jasper was raised by Granny Wylie after his parents were killed in a custard powder factory explosion.

I don’t know why he has to be so irritating. I knew my traditional response of suggesting if that was how he felt he should “go and live with the comrades” would have little impact in the face of the finest produce of the Douro Valley and a pound of Stilton from Fergusson’s, so I kept silence like so many women before and no doubt since.

Little Local Difficulties

So now we are in that strange post festive period, with grey skies and no decorations. There is so much to do but frankly one feels a degree of lethargy and ennui. I think one can overcome this by gently easing oneself back into a routine. I like to start New Year with a little drawer tidying and stock taking. It can be a mistake to venture too far afield too soon especially with the temptation of the sales. Of course the reductions in price at “Chez Nous”, our emporium for the finest decorative details, are highly recommended and may be considered an investment.

Half price at “Chez Nous”

I am not sure that the Chancellor Mr Peter Thorneycroft will be spending anything in my shop as he has just resigned because of increased government expenditure. One can hardly do that and purchase a new occasional table, can one? It is not only Mr Thorneycroft who has resigned but also Mr Enoch Powell and Mr Nigel Birch, two junior treasury ministers. Harold MacMillan, the Prime Minister, who I know well, has described this in the press as “little local difficulties”. Dear Harold is the master of the understatement, but I know he is deeply worried about this. Perhaps that is why he has taken himself off to India and Pakistan? He and Dorothy have flown to Deli and Karachi on a Britannia Aircraft. I imagine Dorothy who is an accomplished knitter will have got through quite a few pullovers. I read in the Glasgow Herald that they received an escort in Pakistan of Bengal Lancers – how romantic. I should love to have been taken up the Khyber Pass by the Bengal Lancers. A girl can dream.

our new window display with a hint of India – I know, wrong elephant!

Which makes me think, perhaps I should have an Indian theme in the shop to brighten up January, you know elephants and Paisley Pattern, that sort of thing.

Nice Nice and Not So Marvellous Malta

Sir Winston Churchill is also on his travels. He has gone to Nice. Which is very nice. I adore Nice – that of course is where Jasper and I met when he discovered me helping Matisse (who was an artist) with his cut outs. I always have been dextrous with scissors; it is one of the advantages of a private education.

The Princess Royal is not going far, she has a chill. I only hope it is not the Asiatic Influenza which many of us have been suffering from in Glasgow. The Royal family have been “walking in Sandringham Park”, no doubt in a bid to keep germs at bay or at least keep their distance from the Princess Royal. Jasper says walking shows they have so much in common with ordinary people which is of course sarcasm.

View from “The Phoenicia” over the Grand Harbour, Valletta

I am sure Dr Fuchs will not get ̓flu as he is now only 200 miles from the South Pole which will keep sniffles at bay. Talking of bays, I had been thinking of the marvellous harbour in Valletta, Malta. I was there briefly during the last Unpleasantness. I cannot say much due to the Official Secrets Act, but the siege of Malta was one of the most unpleasant parts of the last Unpleasantness. I was sad to read that Miss Mabel Strickland, head of Malta’s Progressive Constitutional Party, (and her family own the simply marvellous “Phoenicia” Hotel) was stoned recently when she called on Prime Minister Mr Mintoff to resign. The crowd booed when Miss Strickland called for three cheers for Malta, Gozo and Britain. According to Reuter’s News Agency the crowd booed when Britain was mentioned. How very rude! I hope this is not the shape of things to come.

A Stunt Outside the Grocer’s

Advertising through television is certainly the shape of things to come especially where washing powder is concerned. This it seems is to be combined with inducements or “offers” to tempt the housewife. I quote a J.K.S. who reports a recent experience in the Glasgow Herald:

I was hurrying out for my morning shopping when I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a monstrous giant erection outside the grocers.

I feel instinctively, although she doesn’t say, this must be the South Side they are given to being stopped in their tracks although had it been in Paisley she would have been “devastated”. The cause of the monstrous, giant erection was the army of small men in duffle coats and a crowd of passers-by who were not living up to their name. J.K.S. (and no wonder she spares us her full name), found herself “hovering” in case we mistook her for a passer-by and realised that it was a TV Unit bound on an advertising stunt.

A Poor Choice

Again the duffle coats and small men suggest we are not talking Glasgow’s exclusive West End here. I would have liked more detail on that – so unlike The Herald. The writer said she would have been more interested if she had been wearing her knew winter outfit and not as she was for she “had I come flying out in my house shoes and old camel coat.” I rest my case who in the West End would a) fly out of a house and b) be seen dead in house shoes and an old camel coat? In any case camel is not good for West Coast Scottish complexions, so very draining.

Clearly J.K.S. was aware of her faux pas as she feared being “zoomed in upon and caught most unready”. She has only herself to blame. A little old lady standing next to her told her that anyone being interviewed was given £1 in Grocers’ Vouchers. Not surprisingly JKS was soon singing the praises of “Sopo” in return for free groceries, old coat and shoes notwithstanding. Yes, exactly; that’s what I thought, it has to have been filmed in Edinburgh. Camel coat says it all. Not even Southsiders would stoop so low.

The Danger of Dressing Gowns

In the same vein inappropriate use of dressing gowns can send out the wrong signals like a camel coat on a northern skin tone. I say this because I went to see “Woman in a Dressing Gown” at The Regal. I took Mrs Lottie Macaulay with me. She is my neighbour and the wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who has made a pile in (or is it of?) concrete. Not to put too fine a point on it Lottie is a little nouveau and a bit rough around the edges, you know the sort of thing diamonds before 6 and mink coat to a church soup and pudding lunch raising funds for the homeless. This only requires good tweed.

Like the star of this film, Lottie lingers o’er long in her dressing gown and I thought it might be a tactful means of indicating this to her. I have tried to suggest that those and such as those tend to talk about a “housecoat” and that one can dress it up with a chiffon scarf at the neck in a pussy bow and fluffy mules on the feet to suggest one is arty rather than bone idle. This is useful I said if someone calls rather too early or indeed too late.

Note the earrings and pussy bow worn to great effect with my housecoat

Never take off earrings until after 10pm, it is asking for trouble. I am not sure if she took the hint she is as dim as a Toc H Lamp, although sometimes well meaning. Jasper says I should not interfere and that the subtext of a man driven into the arms of another woman due to excessive dressing gown wearing was rather too near the bone as far as Mr Macaulay is concerned. He once chased me around the drawing room having called on the pretext of borrowing some snow chains from Jasper who was out and it was August. It is, as I say, a funny old world. 

Uniting the World with the Moderator and a Three Piece Suite

The Moderator spoke of the state of the world at a service to mark the centenary of Park Church. I was invited as a noted local philanthropist and provider of pulpit falls at reduced prices. He said that God has told him that we live in a united world and unless we give up the idea of nations we will soon be blown to smithereens. The Moderator should know as he is Dr George F. MacLeod grandson of the famous Dr Norman MacLeod who by his emphasis on the parish and not the congregation did much to restore the Church of Scotland after the “Disruption” of Victorian times. This was complicated and needs Jasper to explain but you have not got all day, so suffice to say we Presbyterians have a tendency to disagree with ourselves and then go off in a huff and set up new churches which is why our towns such as dear and frequently devastated Paisley are often referred to as “Jerusalem”.

If you don’t believe me take a train from Paisley Gilmour Street Station as it is getting dark, sit at the back of the last carriage and look back – you will see from the spires and towers, silhouetted against the sunset, there seems to be a church for each inhabitant.

Dr MacLeod taking as his text, “Look unto the Rock whence we were hew” said that God was telling him “The state of Glasgow’s housing is appalling, possibly the worst in Britain.” I only hope the new tower blocks and council schemes help. A decent home of one’s own is so important. As I said to Dr MacLeod, “it is the rock upon which one builds gracious living – a bit at a time beginning with a three piece suit and a nest of tables. I can do a discount for bulk sales.”

Hopeful Signs for 1958 

Perhaps the Moderator might take comfort from not only my generous offer of 10% on bulk sales of suites for a tower block but also, as the American President General Eisenhower has wisely suggested in a letter to the comrades, that Outer space should be used for peaceful purposes, Germany must be reunited, there should be a nuclear test ban and we need to reduce conventional weapons. There are also other interesting indications that the world will be increasingly united through improvements in transport. I see for example that B.O.A.C. (British Airways Overseas Corporation) is ordering 35 V.C.10 jetliners from Vickers Armstrong. Believe it or not they will travel at 600 miles per hour and are designed to be in service in 1965. They will of course have Rolls Royce Engines.

Thinking perhaps of German Unification a Miss Pickett-Brown is starting a German Club for Children in Park Circus. This takes place on Saturday mornings. She believes in learning with objects and uses games, handwork, puppeteering, dancing and acting to inspire her students who must be 6 years of age and older. Having read that she has an “interest corner”, featuring German Stamps and coins Jasper has gone along with some of his collection.

Beware the Enemy at the Gates 

Of course with the New Year we must not discard the old, willy-nilly. Not all in 1958 will be good.  B.O.A.C. may be planning improvements but I have disturbing news from British Rail that they are planning to replace some dining cars with “a new light refreshment service in second class coaches on the Flying Scotsman”. As I have just said in a letter to the Chairman of our illustrious railway, I have no intention of hurtling through Crewe Junction while making my way to a second class carriage in my sling backs in search of a sandwich and a piece of fruit cake in a cellophane wrapper.

I reminded him that civilisation is built on silver service and if it is the case that the barbarians are at the gates I might just as well go in search of “a monstrous erection” and free vouchers for “Sopo” from our grocers. Furthermore I have requested a reply from the organ grinder and not the monkey and on decent writing paper, with my name and his signature in black or blue black ink, with the stamp stuck on straight with a border of equal dimensions, copies to the Moderator and President Eisenhower.

Muriel Wylie

January 1958

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The Quiz Answers

So here we go – the answers for Festive Quiz of 1957.

1.Why should you never arrive early to a party according to the rules of marvellousness laid down by Muriel?

All set for the guests

If you arrive early, you look desperate which suggests you have no other friends. 

2.  The first ever Country House Concert at Lady Pentland-Firth’s estate took place on Twelfth Night. Why was it so important that this was a success, and how did Muriel ensure that it got good reviews?

Cousin Lulubelle was aware of the imminent bankruptcy of Lady Pentland-Firth if the concert failed and was waiting in the wings, so to speak, to move in on the estate for the development of condominiums. 

Cousin Lulubelle

Muriel and Lady P-F organised a lunch time reception for the Press at the Half Moon Bar at  The Central Hotel where the malt whisky was accompanied by a glimpse inside the account book from “Busty Betty’s”.

3. At the end of January Sebastian and Dimitri got into trouble over some brass rubbings in the Necropolis. Who got them out of prison and why was it so important for Sebastian to leave Scotland in February?

Lady Patience Charity Pentland-Firth arrives at the police station

Lady Pentland-Firth got them out of prison, reminding the Inspector that once upon a time she and he had been well acquainted.

Sebastian had to leave Scotland on account of his being not just theatrical, but very theatrical which having been in “The Service” left him open to blackmail.

4. In March, Mrs Travers was persuaded to get involved in a rather unusual activity – what was it, who persuaded her and why?

Mrs T – moved by the spirits

It was a séance and it was the crime writer Bunty Haystack who persuaded her to hold it, because Miss Haystack was doing research for a new book involving the supernatural and wanted first hand experience of a séance. 

5. Why did Muriel transgress during Lent?

My silver cocktail sticks

Muriel had given up the use of her silver cocktail sticks over Lent. She was in Paisley at a reception where small sausages where passed round without any means of eating them except with one’s fingers. The very thought! Fortunately Muriel had them in her handbag, as she was taking them to the Rural Bolthole for Mrs Travers to clean, this giving her something to do in the evening. Rather than use her fingers, she used one of the silver cocktail sticks.

6. In April 2017, Sebastian was asked to open an exhibition in Glasgow. Who curated this exhibition, where was it held, what was it about and how did Muriel feature in this exhibition? Bonus question  – why was Sebastian so upset by the Lord Provost of Glasgow?

It was curated by Dr Vivienne Valhalla, “uber curator”. It was held in the Museum of Fashion, soon to be known as “Mofash” and it was about capes. The recreation of the Wylie drawing room, complete with the walnut cocktail cabinet, was a highlight along with some of the capes worn by Muriel and an article from 1957 written by her on the subject of capes and cloaks.

A Muriel Wylie Cape in the reconstructed drawing room

The Lord Provost described the Muriel as “some old wee Glasgow wifey”. Sebastian put him right with the following riposte  – She was not ‘some’ Glasgow wifey! She  was some Glasgow lady – who meant business!

7. Who is Claire Voyant and how did she get mixed up with Lord Pentland-Firth?

The late Lord Pentland-Firth

Claire was the mistress of Lord “Salty” Pentland-Firth. She eventually discovered he was selling naval secrets to the Comrades and threatened to expose him and the Comrades. This sealed the fate of them both. Lord P-F was bumped off during the F.A.F.S.  lunch, but Claire got away and has been on the run ever since. Her apparent new found calling may be her undoing.

8. Why does Jasper carry a clothes peg with him in the summer?

Jasper and his panama hat

He uses it to peg his panama hat to the waistband of his trousers so that he does not lose it when he enters a building.

9. At the end of June on Route 7  there was a tragic bus crash in Oxford Street, London. Who was one of the casualities?

Claire Voyant

10. In August, the elderly Sebastian revealed some interesting information about a trip to Liverpool made by Muriel and Jasper in that same month 60 years ago. Who did Muriel meet at a church fete there and how did it effect the future development of British culture?

Sebastian on his favourite subject, Aunt Muriel

Muriel met a young Paul McCartney and thanks to her he was introduced to John Lennon and his group The Quarrymen. Muriel unconsciously gave the boys some ideas for songs which were later very successful, particularly asking them to remember her when she was 64.

11. How did Muriel and Lady Pentland-Firth ensure Bunty Haystack did not “spill the beans”?

Lady P-F does not mince her words

Bunty Haystack has done extremely well in the Flower and Fete Show (F.A.F.S.) having come first in all categories and become champion of champions – the first time an incomer has won everything since 1908. This has earned her the right to be Honorary Vice President for Life with a non executive seat on the committee and instant elevation to the secret Conclave of Puddings and Petunias (C.P.P.)

Membership of the C.P.P. means Bunty must never speak or write about F.A.F.S. or else she will be brought before her peers and following trial by tray bake, should there be a guilty verdict  will be debarred from every Flower Show and Rural Women’s organisation in the country,. 

This is a price no woman is prepared to pay.

12. What apparently happened to Hilda at Hallowe’en, how did Mrs T get involved and why did the Handsome Stranger appear on the scene?

Hilda, the German vomin vot did zee heavy vork, appeared to be caught in the man-trap in the Woodlanders’ Museum. For this, Mrs T was arrested for her murder because it was known that Hilda had tried to take over Mrs T’s position of superiority in the Wylie household during a bout of Asian ‘flu and they had been heard arguing at a later date.

led away

It turned out that Hilda had not been murdered. It was just a bundle of clothing, a sort of female “Guy Fawkes”  dressed to look like one of the characters from a Black Forest cuckoo clock with a remarkably life-like mask that would fool anyone into believing it was a real body. Once this was realised by the police, the Handsome Stranger made his presence known and with cars standing by ensured that Mrs T was released.

Well done to all of you for taking part and here’s to 1958 and another year of marvellousness and je ne sais quoi.

 

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The Festive Quiz of 1957

Muriel and Jasper

Well chums it’s that time of the year again when we discover who is “Mastermind” and who needs to stick in more and do some revision. As an incentive, there will of course be prizes.

And by way of assistance click here to begin. It doesn’t mean you will find the answers, but it’s a starting point for you and gives beginners to the ways of marvellousness an opportunity to see what they have missed all of their lives.

Who will be top of the class this year?

1. Why should you never arrive early to a party according to the rules of marvellousness laid down by Muriel?

Muriel looking simply marvellous

2.  The first ever Country House Concert at Lady Pentland-Firth’s estate took place on Twelfth Night. Why was it so important that this was a success, and how did Muriel ensure that it got good reviews?

Home of The Pentland-Firths

3. At the end of January Sebastian and Dimitri got into trouble over some brass rubbings in the Necropolis. Who got them out of prison and why was it so important for Sebastian to leave Scotland in February?

Cunard’s Queen Mary

4. In March, Mrs Travers was persuaded to get involved in a rather unusual activity – what was it, who persuaded her and why?

Mrs T displaying her aura

5. Why did Muriel transgress during Lent?

My silver cocktail sticks

6. In April 2017, Sebastian was asked to open an exhibition in Glasgow. Who curated this exhibition, where was it held, what was it about and how did Muriel feature in this exhibition? Bonus question  – why was Sebastian so upset by the Lord Provost of Glasgow?

Cape worn by Sebastian as Richard III found in the Gaiety Theatre, Ayr

7. Who is Claire Voyant and how did she get mixed up with Lord Pentland-Firth?

The late Lord Pentland-Firth

8. Why does Jasper carry a clothes peg with him in the summer?

Jasper – man of linen

9. At the end of June on Route 7  there was a tragic bus crash in Oxford Street, London. Who was one of the casualities?

10. In August, the elderly Sebastian revealed some interesting information about a trip to Liverpool made by Muriel and Jasper in that same month 60 years ago. Who did Muriel meet at a church fete there and how did it effect the future development of British culture?

The beloved Humber Super Snipe

11. How did Muriel and Lady Pentland-Firth ensure Bunty Haystack did not “spill the beans”?

“And so Bunty…”

12. What apparently happened to Hilda at Hallowe’en, how did Mrs T get involved and why did the Handsome Stranger appear on the scene?

a rare photograph of The Handsome Stranger

So there you have it. You now have until 3rd  January to get your answers in – please email them to the lovely Jackie, Secretary to Muriel and Jasper at jackie@artemisscotland.com

The answers will be published on 8th January along with the names of the winners. Inventive answers are always interesting but of course Muriel and Jasper’s decision is final.

TTFN

The Narrator

 

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Celebrating 5 years of Marvellousness

Simply Marvellous Muriel and Jasper

It was 5 years ago today that we began out little adventure to bring marvellousness and gracious living to you with a heavy sprinkling of my “je ne sais quoi!

So chums let’s celebrate with the recipe for the perfect champagne cocktail avec Jasper.

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year too. Let’s see what 1958 has in store for us all.

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Home For Christmas

Madness in Town

Mission accomplished

It is utter madness in town.  If I haven’t got it now, then we won’t be having it. Thank goodness I am a well organised lady and only have to flit in and out of the stores for last minute things and what would Christmas be without that last minute rush? Of course I have to be organised as I am a woman of business as well as a housewife par excellence. Added to which I have as much delivered as possible, which reminds me the Christmas tree came this morning, Jasper will need to find some bricks and a bucket.

the R.S.A.C.

I am in the Club, no not that one, don’t be ridiculous – the R.S.A.C. in Blytheswood Square waiting for Jasper to pick me up; he is off on “secrets”. I am just having a little refreshment.

“Chez Nous” is Doing Well

I am pleased to be able to report that “Chez Nous”, the only shop in town as far as interior decorating is concerned, is turning over a nice little profit as nervous hostesses rush in to replace an old table lamp with unfashionable shade with something more chic or one of my washed Chinese rugs to hide a stain on a drawing room carpet, just in case the neighbours come in.

the perfect Christmas wreath

My “Christmas in Flowers and Foliage” Masterclass was a triumph. Of course I had the usual comments like “Are you inspired by Constance Spy?” to which I had to reply with my usual modesty “Actually it is the other way around; I was a beacon for Constance and indeed Beverley Nichols. Indeed Beverley said I had given life and new meaning to chicken wire and damp newspaper.” Although of course as you know, I would never dampen any press coverage of Princess Margaret of H.M., although I must say the socialist press seems quite absorbent.

It is amazing how many ladies and indeed odd gentlemen come on under my tutelage, having begun the class with the usual comment, “I just don’t have green fingers” or “I have no artistry Muriel”. By the end of the day they are full of confidence and not a little cream sherry and desperate to get hold of some twisted willow and a piece of ivy. My class by the way includes coffee and shortbread, fork luncheon and afternoon tea with mince pies, not to mention my famous chocolate crispies with jelly baby and candle cakes which always brings forth hoots of delight. (The recipe for candle cakes is at the end, dear chums – I know how you love it. ) I am after all a bit of a whizz when it comes to seasonal symbolism. Should you wish to book for next year, Miss Smallcombe, my manager at “Chez Nous”  is always poised at the end of a telephone (Central 666) with some deckled scrap paper and a fountain pen. 

That’s Life 

In case you think my life is all double yokes and fur trim, well rest assured even the chosen in the decorative world have from time to time to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Buildings have to be maintained, one’s damp patches dried out and stock moved for maximum profit.

One also always has problems the minute one employs other people, no one ever has the welfare of one’s business at one’s heart the way one does, except of course one’s bank manager and dear Mr Chanter, my accountant who is marvellous with double entry. I am sure you will remember that awful business with my previous manager, Miss Berry, and her paramour making inappropriate use of my vacuum pump change and receipt system.

Miss Marigold Berry

There is also the question of one’s competitors out to make trouble. Why only recently there were rumours that my made-to-measure curtains were “not double the width as claimed.” As Jasper says I need to remember “he who flings, mud looses ground”. Talking of ground, much of it is now being built on for housing which is good for those seeking homes out of the city centre and it provides opportunities for decorating show houses.

Formica for modern living

This is very competitive and only last week I lost out to a competitor, (yes your disbelief is widely felt) merely on the question of price. When did we become so fixated with price over quality? After all I use the best underlay, latest Formica kitchen colours and full sized furniture. Still as Jasper, who is very wise, pointed out “Muriel if one wants the Harrods of room dividers they come to you; there are many branches of Woolworths if you want sticky backed plastic,” and he quoted his old Jewish friend Ernie who was in the hosiery business, “if you buy cheap, you buy twice.” The trouble is my Cousin Lulubelle, who is an American as well as my business partner, favours ‘the pile ̓em high and sell ̓em cheap approach’ which does not sit well with me.

Suffer the Little Children

One has to focus on the positive things in life and I am happy to report that my ward Gayle is thriving under our roof with the help of our nursery nurse Hairy Mary from Inveraray. She is of course the daughter of our nephew Sebastian, a thespian, currently in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale in New York where he is studying “the method”.

Sebastian

Shakespeare is a well known Elizabethan dramatist called William Shakespeare who is responsible for English literature and a great deal of overacting. This play of course contains Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”. Sebastian seems to be doing rather well and enjoying life in “the village”, we do rather miss him although from time to time we see his friend Dimitri, who dances with the Royal Ballet having escaped from the comrades who found his grand battement rather too decadent. He very kindly turned up earlier in the week and demonstrated a little of his Nutcracker at the Children’s Party I arranged in the City Chambers for the Orphans and The Home for Fallen Women.

Knitted toys and the Best Blancmange

Gay blancmange

I am as you probably know Madam Chairman of the Home for Fallen Women and my neighbour Lady Pentland-Firth is a leading light in the Orphan Home. As both organisations are not unconnected we work together at Christmas to bring a little cheer. Jasper was Father Christmas, but said he felt rather guilty at distributing second hand puzzles with pieces missing and mechanical toys without their keys. I have to agree that poor children deserve new presents and not just other children’s cast offs. Children deserve dignity too.

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

My old friend Winnie, she of the wool shop and bicycle, did, however, save the day by turning up unexpectedly with baskets of hand knitted toys which brought smiles to faces and gave them something to love.  At least the food was fresh we had jelly and blancmange, fruit and custard and Christmas pudding all courtesy of my favourites, Paisley firms Brown and Polson and Robertson’s marmalade.

Gift Sets All Round

I must admit that like most people I did not give this too much thought as I rushed about the department stores buying gifts for friends and family. Anyway what is done is done and the spare bedroom is piled with gifts wrapped and those still waiting for my wrapping expertise. I have bought quite a few Yardley gift sets.

Yardley Gift sets 1955

Mrs Travers is always amused by bath cubes especially as she does not have a bath but I feel it gives her something to strive for. As she seems to be getting a little bit of a beard I have treated her to a Ladyshave, “a permanent investment in beauty”. I bought a new Gillette razor for Gayle to give Jasper. Mary and our new household member Grace are each having “Paris” by Coty. Coty L’Aimant, by the way, smells very like Chanel No.5 but at a fraction of the price, but one doesn’t want to give the, ideas above their station though one does want to give them hope, hence “Paris”.

The Coty talc – Paris

My annoying neighbours Mrs Lottie Macaulay, the bungalow builder’s wife (he is big in concrete and elsewhere if you believe Lottie) and Cynthia Savage (her husband runs the pickle empire – Savage’s Pickles and Condiments) are getting tins of Sharps’ toffees

toffees for the terrible two!

which will be a challenge for their dentures, but should give their husbands a momentary opportunity to engage in the art of conversation. I have a Pifco hair dryer for Lady Pentland-Firth and my cousin in the hope they get the hint to do something with their hair (a good cut is everything) and for the Handsome Stranger and my dear husband Corvette gift sets.

The Assistant Minister Needs Advice

I am also tempted to give the new and rather dishy assistant minister, recently returned from missionary work in Buenos Aires, a gift set but as he has a beard (the subject of much discussion among the older generation who feel it is rather too louche for a man of the cloth to have a beard and may suggest radical leadings and a tendency to establish youth organisations with names like The Sunshine Club), I think it would have to be the Corvette “invisible” talc and 2 tablets of Blue Moss soap rather than the shaving bowel and aftershave. Talking of the Rev. Scott-Brown, who went to the very good varsity in Glasgow and then the even better one in Oxford and has degrees as long as my arm, he called the other day to ask my advice about the Gift Service. Apparently the choir master is unwell after the choir outing to the Horseshoe Bar and some urgent advice was required as per the printed programme. 

 Advice is Required

He had already spoken to Lady Pentland-Firth as while “the living” is for Presbyterians a congregational matter, the Pentland-Firths have traditionally been the major “heritors” providing the bulk of income and therefore, still have a sway in church matters. Lady Pentland-Firth had suggested Ave Maria, rather a lot of Bach and something by the 17th century Metaphysical poet Herbert Howells. The Rev Scott-Brown was clearly intimidated by her, as many are, until I suggested that she may well have just read all this up in her Oxford Companion to Music as she was more familiar with some of the fruitier songs of the Weimar republic than the seasonal works of our great composers.

Lady P-F at her most intimidating

Apparently, according to the Reverend, she also prefers the traditional language of the King James Bible and the traditional hymns and carols. This, in all honesty, is news to me as she normally finds Picture Post and Jean Plaidy pretty hard going. Well I have to agree that the King James Bible is a work of poetry, but sometimes one had to be a bit more contemporary. He wondered if he might use his guitar, even although it was not yet the 1960s and perhaps introduce a small band of young people in a sort of jazzy way. While I admired his thinking, I did ask if he had a return ticket to Buenos Aires and suggested he should take one step at a time and see how half a dozen candles might go down, but not on the Communion Table, as there would be a schism and we had not had one of those since at least last year. As for Ave Maria, keep the music in the piano stool.

Jasper Back from his Mission

“Oh Jasper there you are have you been buying me something?”

“I might have, Dahling”

“Just so long as it is Chanel and not L’Aimant! Would you care for a Martini? I am having one just like Yana.”

“Who?”

“Yana, the singer, you knowm she’s said to be Britain’s answer to Marilyn Munroe.”

“She sounds foreign.”

“Yes she’s from Billericay, although they pretend she is from Cornwall.”

“Oh yes I remember she sang Climb up the Wall, now that would pack them in at the gift service….. this night is written in the stars……….”.

“No chance.”

“Thought not, worth a try anyway, chin chin old girl.”

“Cheers, Jasper and Merry Christmas to you all, after all this night is written in the stars.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

Christmas 1957

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