Flight to Geneva (which is in Switzerland)

Starlight Express

Anyone would think we have been en route for Saturn instead of Geneva. We came down by British Railways  sleeper, the ‘Starlight Express’ from St Enoch’s station in Glasgow. I always enjoy it. One can smell the joints of beef being fired up in the sidings while one is partaking of a wee refreshment in the appropriately named Refreshment Room. There is nothing like dinner on a train before retiring just after the right side of Carlisle.

In the Soup

Proper Scottish soup – with bits!

We couldn’t leave any earlier as Muriel and I were very busy. There was a Soup and Pudding lunch at the Kirk which cannot be cancelled even in the face of international incidents, not to mention a bit of “a hoolie” regarding a novel introduction.

Mrs Butterstone-Craig, who is new to the village, has spent time in India. The Soup Sub-Committee of the Parish Ways and Means Main Committee, reluctantly, gave approval for her Mulligatawny. This in the face of her generous donation towards repairs for, “The poor are always with us” stained glass window where a huge crack was threatening monthly donations to the Mission for the Homeless. Unfortunately many of the rustics rebelled in the face of curried soup and a schism was threatened, until Muriel stepped in with a reserve pot of leek and potato (with bits) and seconds of apple pie not to mention some emergency traybakes.

Emergency traybakes

The day was saved, and Mrs Butterstone-Craig knows nothing of this, but the Minister and his wife will be having Mulligatawny for the next month.

An Important Milestone

There was also our Scottish Country Dancing Classes, a regular feature of the winter months. Muriel did not want to miss this as she feels I have reached an important milestone in the pointing of my toes and a general understanding of left and right. This week’s class was followed by an emergency committee meeting where the matters of the infamous “Newton Stewart Variation” and soft shoes verses hard shoes have become a matter for serious discussion and possible reference to the Scottish Country Dance Society in Edinburgh. This is something akin to referring to the stealing of a paperclip from the office to Judge Jeffries – no laughing matter, and bound to lead to the scaffold. Anyway I think matters may be coming to a head, but just don’t mention Lord MacLay’s Reel to Muriel.

The Sleeper Where No One Sleeps

Muriel’s Vanity Case

Of course I didn’t sleep a wink. There is something very odd about sleeping sideways as the train goes forward. In addition I could hear Mrs Travers snoring in the next compartment, while Muriel was doing “nice toes, naughty toes” in the bunk below me. There was also a bit of an incident when the train went round the bend at Crewe Junction and Muriel slid off the full length Mackintosh Square she had put into her vanity case, as she does not trust British Rail sheets. I suppose really it was more of a Mackintosh oblong.

The steward was summoned and Muriel threatened to sue the entire Board of British Rail and Harold Watkinson, the Transport Minister despite him being a Conservative. Fortunately the steward had a bottle of brandy for such events and we all had complimentary drinks including Mrs Travers who had heard the commotion and decided she had sustained, life threatening knee injuries going over a set of points at Penrith. Which reminds me what exactly is the point of Penrith?

Lady P-F

Meanwhile Lady Pentland-Firth was passing the night in a first class sleeping compartment with a business man from Bearsden who is big in zip fasteners. Muriel also managed to persuade the steward that everyone would make a complete recovery if they were all promised an extra packet of Rich Tea biscuits with the morning cup of tea while passing through Watford, which is always the best thing to do.

Taking “a Sherbert Dab”

I did suggest getting the airport bus from London out to Heathrow, but Muriel is not very fond of buses and the large amount of luggage made a black cab a more compelling, if expensive, proposition. On arrival at the airport Muriel did suggest to the cockney driver that his fair of 17 shillings and 6 pence suggested he was “a bit of an apple bobber”. This was possibly the reason why “would you Adam and Eve it?”, I had to unload the luggage from the boot myself and find our own porter. As he disappeared back down the tunnel under the main runway, he could be heard to shout “Sweaty Socks of course, tight with the old bees and honey”. Muriel didn’t hear this and instead remarked on how much he had redeemed himself in her eyes as he bade farewell with Mr Churchill’s famous Victory sign. Just as well she was not wearing her new “bin lids” at this point.

Special Treatment, a Nervous Traveller and Home Comforts

As Muriel is travelling on a diplomatic passport we were allowed to wait in the special V.I.P. Lounge with the Queen’s Messengers. These are experienced and sophisticated travellers who despite the attempts of Lady Pentland-Firth to engage them in conversation were more interested to know why Mrs Travers found it necessary to wear a parachute and carry in her hand baggage a plain loaf, half a dozen slices of flat Lorne sausage, a black pudding, a partially cooked stew and an apple crumble with a packet of Birds’ Custard. “Oh Madam” said the diplomatic bag carrier, “you are only going to Switzerland for a few days, I can assure you they have delicious food, wonderful cheeses such as gruyere and emmental and of course there are fondue evenings and muesli, for breakfast”.

This cut very little ice with Mrs Travers who replied that she had also taken the precaution of packing some good Scots cheddar of the dyed orange variety and some Dairylee cheese triangles and “ I have heard about they fondue things; if you think I am cookin’ my own tea while I am on holiday you a have another think coming and as to that uncooked porridge stuff they eat for breakfast, do I look like ma name’s Heidi? No as far as I am concerned if you canny steep, it ye canny eat it.”

Cabin baggage

Just at this point Sir Reginald Edward Manningham-Buller, the Attorney General and the leading member of the delegation, arrived and took sides with Mrs Travers, he said he never left home without a box of cheese triangles and after all he had prosecuted serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams, although as it turned out not very well. The Representative of the Trawlers’ Association said he had two bottles of Shippham’s bloater paste in his B.E.A. holdall and the representatives of the Foreign Office, Sir This and Sir That, said that they wouldn’t touch the thing called muesli if you paid them although both of their wives had asked them to look out for cuckoo clocks.

Worries about the Comrades and a Blank Wall at No. 10

In case you have forgotten and please don’t let this go any further, The Conference on the Law of the Sea is about to take place in Geneva. There is much disagreement about territorial waters and the comrades are as usual being very troublesome. There is grave concern in the west, and I don’t mean Dumbarton, about the waters between where the comrades live and the Japanese who need a lot of sea as they like fish.

Winnie and her knitting

Muriel’s good friend from S.O.E. days, Winnie, (who has a bicycle, a wool shop in Auchterader and a fancy man called Mr Chan), has been in Geneva keeping an eye on the comrades under the guise of running a crotchet and knitting workshop for the wives of delegates. Unfortunatly she has disappeared and this worries the Prime minister, Harold Macmillan, as he had plans to hang the completed work of crotched Japanese coastal waters, highlighting Mount Fuji and cherry blossom etc., in the Cabinet Room as it would make it cosier. Mr Macmillan is quite a cosy Prime Minister as his moustache shows. The Prime Minister is very anxious that the Japanese get some credit for having become much nicer people than they were during the last Unpleasantness when they were very horrid indeed, he knows this as he saw Bridge on the River Kwai last year.

On the other hand he is very wary of the comrades who he believes to be involved in subversion everywhere despite having Peter and the Wolf and other nice stories. For this reason he might well make John Profumo War Minister if he does well as undersecretary of state at the Foreign Office. We, it seems, are on the trail of Winnie, there is always the danger of course that she has been turned and has gone over to machine knitting. 

In the Departure Lounge at London Airport

“Jasper would you like a cup of coffee and a slice of individually wrapped Dundee cake while we wait for our flight to be announced?”

“I don’t mind if I do Darling. By the way, have you seen Mrs Travers?”

“Yes she is in the Ladies putting on her combinations ‘in case it is cold up there’ and putting almond oil and cotton wool in her ears ‘in case someone has left a window open’ and she gets sucked out, not to mention buttering a few crackers in case she gets the munchies.”

“Are you sure we should be taking her Muriel, the Swiss are very particular you know?”

a rare photograph of The Handsome Stranger

“Well the Handsome Stranger insisted and Grace is holding the fort in Glasgow. Do you need anything to read before boarding?”

“No I think I am fine Muriel thank you. I have The Glasgow Herald and my Baedecker’s Switzerland”.

“Up to date?”

“Yes 1913, – can’t have changed that much, after all they rarely got involved in anything unpleasant except stashing away money.”

“Sometimes Jasper you sound so bitter, that’s the trouble with you socialists.”

“Or perhaps I am just truthful Muriel? Now who is this in the disguise of an Alpine horn player?”

A Legend Arrives

“Thought you wouldn’t recognize me! Handsome Stranger here  with your legend.

Mrs Wylie you are a Scottish knitting lady of the eccentric sort with an interest in mountain folklore and will be taking over the woollen workshop for the wives of conference attendees. Mr Wylie you are researching the story of a Calvinist figure called John Calvin who was a very important Calvinist figure influencing some of the more fun aspects of the Church of Scotland, particularly anxiety. You are preparing a lecture for your Hysterical, sorry I mean Historical Society.”

“What about Mrs Travers?”

“She is a leading international marine biologist with an expertise in seaweed.”

The magnificent Tower at Blackpool

“Oh really that is quite unbelievable, the only experience she has of marine life is Blackpool where “she fell” under the influence of the silver tongued Mr Travers, a bottle of brown ale and 6 pennyworth of cod and chips, the result 9 months later was her Billy.”

“Well Muriel we shall see, shall we? The chief shadow, or “Mother” as we like to think of him – he is very fond of heels – likes to experiment. He says, counter intuitive thinking puts the excitement back into espionage.”

“And possibly put 2 bullets into our backs.”

“Come, come Mr Wylie; you do over think things.”

Boarding

“Ladies and Gentlemen British European Airways announce the departure of flight BE1958 to Geneva, which is in Switzerland. Would those passengers travelling with William Tell Holidays please step forward and make themselves known to the ground crew.”

“Who are they, Muriel?”

“We are… it is our code name, hurry up Mrs Travers you can straighten that gusset later.”

“Where is Lady Pentland Firth?”

“Over there Jasper, give her a call.”

“Patience, that’s our flight; put that young man down, he’s barely out of short trousers.”

Up the steps to Silver Wing Class for a Yodel

“Good morning, Madam; Madam; oh and a right Madam as well. Good morning Sir, just first on your right; you are all in Silver Wing, it’s the first class.”

“That’s a window seat for you Madam, and might I hang up your ladyship’s mink.”

“Indeed you may, young man and you can hang out with me, indeed hangout out any time you like.”

“Honestly Patience, we haven’t even taken off and you are flirting with one of the Stewards.”

“Oh Muriel, don’t be a spoil sport anyway pound to a penny that one is on the other airport bus if you know what I mean. Oh Steward I am having trouble with my safety belt perhaps you might give it a click for me?”

“Oh for goodness sake Patience! I am not even entirely sure why you are coming with us anyway?”

“I am investigating the possibilities of a Swiss Night at one of my Classic Country House Concerts, to be called Beyond Yodelling.”

“Oh Patience please don’t tell me there is something beyond yodelling.”

“Oh yes, The Trio Schmid, surely Muriel you’ve seen them on Liberace?”

“I don’t suppose they yodel and cha-cha-cha?”

“Indeed they do Muriel.”

“I knew that stew would come in useful”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of Captain Binkie Beaufort welcome on board this BEA, non-stop flight to Geneva, which is in Switzerland. Please extinguish all cigarettes and if the lady in seat 5a would like to give the thumbs up after take-off I have put her stew in the warming drawer and the Captain says he wouldn’t mind a bowl once we are over the French Coast and he has some nice crusty bread which he is happy to share.

For your information there is a safety leaflet in the pocket in front of you and a water proof bag in case, well just in case; I don’t want to put any ideas into your heads, you know what they say about the power of suggestion and you will just start me off. Shortly after take – off we shall be making a sharp left to avoid Windsor Castle as the Queen is still in bed.”

Distracting Mrs Travers for takeoff

“Barley sugar Madam? Barley sugar Sir? Barley Sugar Your Ladyship? Barley Sugar Madam?”

“No thank you Miss I brought a Caramel Wafer and a few custard creams.”

The beloved custard cream

“Jasper, distract Mrs Travers as we take off. You know what she is like with heights, let alone aeroplanes. I have enough trouble getting her on a stool to damp dust my classical niche.”

“Chocks away everyone.”

“Mrs Travers, I spy with my little eye something beginning with F.”

“Fire engines.”

“Oh that’s a great help Jasper!”

“Och Mrs Wylie, ma lugs feel funny.”

“Just put the apple turnover down and suck this barley sugar Mrs T, and you will soon be relieved, isn’t that right Lady P-F?”

”Well judging by the number of times I have heard that line Muriel I would say you are absolutely right. I remember when I was in Berlin in 1933….”

“I think we will leave it there Patience we don’t want to overexcite the whole aircraft now do we?”

“Oh Muriel sometimes you are such a Presbyterian, if not a downright prude.”

“Well Patience do not forget I am going to research Calvin”.

“Jasper just stick to the Glasgow Herald, by the way any excitement to report?”

“The Scottish Garden City Movement is looking for funds and trying to get more disabled ex-servicemen into cottaging.”

Lady P-F – the cabaret years

“I should have thought Jasper that they had enough to worry about, I’ll send them a box of barley sugars instead. I remember in 1936 when I Bavaria with my cabaret act I was invited to some cottage in a mountain  Eagle something or other…. awfully nice couple.”

That Passenger Looks Familiar

“Excuse me madam – Mrs Wylie”

“Yes”

“I believe you are with William Tell Holidays” said a man with a jeweller’s magnifying glass and an assortment of miniature screwdrivers on the table in front of his seat.

“Oh it’s you Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes of the very good varsity in Glasgow; I did not expect to see you especially not disguised as a Swiss Watchmaker.”

“Please take this envelope; it contains your instructions for arrival in Geneva which is in Switzerland.”

“Oh Mrs Wylie”

“What is it Mrs Travers”.

“Would this gentleman by any chance be a Swiss Watchmaker as there is something wrong with my movement?”

Going Down

the Elizabethan beginning its descent

“Would you fasten your safety belt Lady Pentland-Firth we are going down.”

“Oh Steward I didn’t know you cared.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen we shall shortly begin our descent into Geneva which is in Switzerland, please advance your watches by one hour presuming they do not have dodgy movements.”

“Barley sugar for landing Madam?”

“I spy with my little eye something beginning with M and B”,

“Mount Blanc, ooh bit of a cross wind there.”

Happy Landings

“Goodbye; thank you for flying with B.E.A..”

“Thank you Captain, I am always pleased to be on the ground.”

“Oh me too Mrs Travers, sometimes my knuckles are white from grasping the what’s it and trying to read the doodahs at the same time, and my head like mince from praying” replied the pilot.

“Well I thought you coped wi’ they hills, the cross winds, that other aeroplane alongside where we could see what the passengers were reading and generally atrocious conditions very well.”

“My pleasure Mrs Travers, the Alps are a challenge; they are so high and often hard to see. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way but the other pilot in the aircraft alongside waved me in the general direction. Thank you so much for the lovely stew, it really kept me going after the Normandy Coast. One gets so fed up with the foie gras and caviar from first class and fortunately the first officer had a nice bottle of Nuits Saint George which we shared. I don’t suppose you could do a steak pie for the return flight could you?”

Jasper Wylie

March 1958

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Ageing Well

Time: The Present

Place: An Expensive Retirement Facility for the theatrical, the very theatrical and those who are simply “on all the time”, The Home for the Terminally Overdressed

Dramatis Personae:

Sir Sebastian Wylie Foxe, Britain’s foremost theatrical knight

The inhabitants of the Home for the Terminally Overdressed, cutting edge themed retirement experementm in various stages of dilapidation, vinous and otherwise

Two women of the thrusting cultural / media type

Brought to You Through the Medium of Dance

This week through the medium of dance and indeed anything likely to attract funding in these bleak times where Britain has become a lesser nation than it once was as in the early post war years, we find ourselves (to almost quote Sir Walter Scott) transported 60 years hence (or is it since) to so-called modern times.

The one and only Baroness Wylie

Lady Wylie, the first and indeed only Baroness Waterside and her husband Sir Jasper

Jasper, An old fashioned sort of fellow

famous for services to very local history particularly for “Broken Pottery and Broken Dreams”, a seminal work on the collecting of farmhouse kitchen stuff chucked into burns, have long since made their final journey to a place where all furnishings have French fringes, deep buttoning and no food arrives without a parsley and lemon basket garnish.

Lemon basket garnish, just as Muriel loved

Marketing – Now and Then

Their work, however, seems to live on despite the modern tendency to forget everything that happened more than 10 minutes ago. After all we live in a time when every day is a special day; for example International Women’s day, Pickled Onion Day or Veruca Awareness Day, each of these so special and unique that they are forgotten 24 hours later having been the subject of millions of “selfies” and who knows how many marketing opportunities. Once upon a time life was simpler and we just put coppers into papier-mâché houses for Dr Barnardo’s and bought paper flags for children’s homes.

Muriel and Jasper – Transcending Time and Place

Muriel and Jasper, transcending time

Despite a collective amnesia which allows us to pay scant regard to the lives of those who have gone before (unless of course the fog temporarily clears for an anniversary with paying exhibition, television programme presented by a cool Cambridge academic with matching tote bag), the world of Muriel and Jasper seems to have stood firm in the face of the winds of change. Their imprint on the sands of time (not to mention a range of furnishing fabrics) and indeed anything else, seems impervious to the tides of fashion and forgetfulness. Perhaps this has something to do with their strong personalities and those of the characters around them in 1950’s Britain.

The essence of Muriel

The vast Muriel and Jasper archive and museum currently being considered for World Heritage status, is a gold mine for researchers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, and those looking for Arts Council Funding due to a lack of business acumen. The ownership of the “World of Wylie” (trade mark all rights reserved) and also its curation concerning everything from a card of buttons to the nation’s nationally significant collection of antimacassars belongs to their nephew Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox.

The “very theatrical” SEbastian

He is the portal to their memory and the retail possibilities in the rich collection of objects and designs to be adapted for table mats, fridge magnates, matching garden forks and trowels in an artisan wooden box and Christmas tree decorations. Muriel and Jasper are not just a source of things you really do not need, although “Jasper’s Big Book of Custard” is a lovely Father’s Day gift, they are a major source for academics and others unable to get employment.

In many ways Britain after 1945 can only be seen through Muriel’s eyes especially after she bought some of the most fashionable spectacle frames produced in modern times.

Muriel on a mission

As the Cold War hotted up, Muriel Wylie was usually somewhere trying to put out the flames in her duster coat and sling backs. Muriel’s diaries are a revelation about what was really going on at the time. To her contemporaries she was an interior decorator par excellence who put the glazed chintz into Glasgow.

Keeping an eye on the comrades

We now know that she helped to keep the comrades in check and given the opportunity stripes and florals as well. Film and documentary makers know Sebastian is the key to their next BAFTA. A performer to his soul, he knows holding back sometimes has more impact and indeed bigger cheques.

So Many Familiar Faces

In a cutting edge retirement facility, hidden deep within a 1930’s industrial trading estate in Berkshire we find many of the nation’s most loved luvvies in The Home for the Terminally Overdressed. You would recognise many of them, for these are the heroes and heroines of our shared cultural past. As we no longer have much of a shared culture they seem particularly quaint. There are rugged former crew members from the Onedin Line’s ship the ‘Charlotte Rose’, and various smugglers from the first series of Poldark when Demelza was much feistier. There are retired camera men from Top of the Pops which was a weekly programme telling persons with long hair and tank tops what music was fashionable, unlike now when no one over 60 has a clue what is current and indeed hasn’t heard any new music since Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

If you look carefully you might just see the lady who looked after the sticky-backed plastic and paper-fastener supplies for Blue Peter or a member of the opposition in the House of Commons during the outstanding 1970’s series The Pallisers. This adaptation of Trollop’s novel, which was a book written by Antony Trollope, a well known Victorian writer during Victorian times, was quite famous for its courageous use of not only long scenes of dialogue requiring an audience with intelligence and concentration, but also facial hair – the mutton chops being particularly successful, although not on Susan Hampshire.

Forever on Set

Most of these former stars of stage and screen are simply old now and pass their days in a variety of locations within the home. These are designed to remind them of former times when their faces were as familiar as tins  of Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie which did a whole family for their tea and  packets of Angel Delight. To the latter mums added double cream and chocolate chips and passed them off to the neighbours as homemade chocolate or butterscotch moose.

There are mock hospital wards, pubs and even a cabin from Triangle with the curtains permanently drawn across the port hole which always posed a problem for the camera. Outside in the Percy Thrower Memorial Garden residents are encouraged to work with clashing colours in the rose bed and to build a centre piece from bricks which is usually a wishing well.

The Yellow Brick Road to the Gravy Train of Memory

For some residents who used to be called “wandered” in the days when people looked after their own elderly relatives (except when they accidently got on to buses for Scarborough) and are now called demented so that other people look after them (and stop them going to Scarborough, unless it is risk assessed) there are specialist facilities namely the Judy Garland Wing which is reached by the Yellow Brick Road on the fifth floor. This is for the most serious cases.

Sebastian

Here we find Sebastian who as the nation’s most loved Shakespearean actor has the best suite. Some days he is razor sharp and can still do most of Richard III unprompted and other days feel like living in a fog.

Hilary-Dee working on a story

He is still enough of an actor to use both to his advantage especially when the media come to call as they often do. Today he is expecting those tough media cookies, Hilary Dee Range of ‘The Daily Slouch’ and uber curator, Vivienne Valhalla, who know a gravy train when they see one – an organic, artisanal, gravy train of course served by men with beards, and a sense of the authentic.

Vivienne at work

A recent article in The Sunday Times about ‘The Politics of the Oceans’ mentioned, in passing, a 1958 conference in Geneva and the attendance of Muriel Wylie and some other rather odd characters from Scotland’s real and authentic capital, Glasgow. Up until now Lady Wylie’s only connection with the sea was thought to have been as a first class passenger on Cunard Line, particularly the great Queens. Not to mention her other links with the sea – her famous oysters in prunes which she served speared with little sticks at cocktail parties. The media women sense an authentic story and a slot on The One Show.

There is Method Acting in the Madness

Of course all actors know how to draw out a scene to breaking point and knowing full well that the media women (Sebastian would normally say ladies, but this now means the female residents appearing in black protest dresses at suppa which is never a good colour in photographs) are desperate to further investigate his acid free archive boxes and he is determined on some sport. Thus cantankerous and determined to be noticed, he has agreed to see them on a particularly busy day when he will be fully occupied and they can sit and watch until he is ready.

a rather cantankerous Sir Sebastian

He will be fully occupied as this is “Ageing Well Week” in Slough where the Home is situated. So handy for Pinewood and Elstree, just in case one gets that last call to be in Eastenders, as a charred body in a devastating Albert Square Fire. While this is a non-speaking role, it requires a lifetime of “inhabiting a role” so experience is required; it’s not for those straight out of Drama School.

Keeping Care Costs Down 

The Home’s specialist “activity organisers”, Jakub and Marie from Warsaw (where they like old people, unlike in Britain where they don’t much like old people as they cause bed blocking and ‘Brexit’ and have ruined Facebook) have planned a busy programme of events designed to showcase not only their willingness to allow residents to live in an ambiance that suits them in time and space, but also to help those who are not too forgetful to live in the modern world. After all “engagement” is a key to “living longer and better” or something like that. Something anyway, that might reduce the costs of social care and stop people from looking old, which can after all be quite upsetting.

This morning residents can try a range of dances to open up their neural pathways and encourage creative thinking. Argentinean Tango Taster- with Ché and Evita better known as Billy and Evelyn from Watford, is proving very popular, that couple who used to make guest appearances as benefit staff in Auf Weidersehen, Pet are proving that age is no barrier to a supple body as they dance around the floor. Line dancing is having a particular appeal for those who have lost partners or are just devoted to Dolly, who is in the entertainment world a living saint.

The media ladies are not happy being made watch Tango or Line Dancing but know they must wait until Sebastian is ready to speak to them. He has appeared looking like Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke and enjoys keeping them waiting, hence he encourages many encores of “”Black Coffee and “Two steps Forward and One Step Back”, a dance which just about sums up his life now.

The Tricks of the Trade

The diet drop-in sessions are not popular as most of the stars realise that a sprout shake would probably split the stitches behind their ears and who wants to eat avocado on toast anyway? Avocado is for face masks and hot and cold food in combination is never good for tooth implants. “Modern Make Over” is proving to be quite a draw as anything that helps take a few days off the old face is welcome although the current tendency for young ladies to reduce their complexions to the colour and consistency of cream with crème caramel remains something of a mystery. After all, those who have been treading the boards since they were 12 know full well what to apply to look their best with either a single spot or back lighting. Not to mention, how the judicious use of Elastoplasts on the hair line under a hat or wig can remove a furrowed brow instantly thus getting a couple of lines and three days work in Endeavour or a whole series of Countdown.

While most of the residents know that a guest appearance on the BBC’s Click, a programme about the world of modern technology, is out of their league they live in hope and so attend a session on Virtual Reality where they are shown how Oliver Cromwell can be made to appear in a football crowd or Queen Victoria leave her own portrait and dance with Mr Gladstone. 

Keeping up with Changes in Language

The residents are entranced by the voice coach who has been hired to explain modern terminology to keep them engaged with the modern world and so just as if they were in a foreign language class they repeat after the teacher, “Platforming”, “Going Forward”, “Brexit”, “Safe Spaces”, “Grime”, “Ed, or was it Ned Mavis? My hearing is not what it was Sherran” and “Love Island”. It is, to be honest, rather confusing as most associate platforms with Brief Encounter, Love Island with The Blue Lagoon and are puzzled by “going forward” as they know few people who are going backwards apart from that chap with glasses who wants to be leader of the Conservatives and introduce Adam ceilings for everyone and “Darling I haven’t seen Ned Sherrin for years have you?”

The session does, however, stimulate some discussion as to why everyone now begins a sentence with “So” and why diction on television is so awful apart from that lovely, Trixie on Call the Midwife. “I can hear her perfectly every time she says push sweetie” said the chap who used to be a juvenile delinquent in Crown Court and until recently sat on the bench himself presumably having reformed. It was generally considered a great loss that so much Terrance Rattigan had been abandoned in favour of mumbling. Acting it seems has been reduced to looks. Sir john Gielgud, it was generally believed, would be turning in his dressing gown.

What is Next?

“Well my dears….”

Having changed back into his signature pink clothes and had a sit down, Sebastian is ready to have some fun with Hilary and Vivienne.

“Well my dears, I do hope you have had a simply marvellous day with us on set?” said Sebastian.

“Yes of course wonderful”, they replied somewhat out of breath from having re-enacted the scene from The Good Old Days when the audience is asked to stand or sit each time a word beginning with the letter B is said. Of course with “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”, this becomes progressively more manic.

“Do you think we might talk about 1958 and the Geneva Conference on the Oceans?” asked Vivienne.

“So Sir Sebastian, if you could just…..”

“I think we might.”

“Was that a yes?”

“No; it was a might, which is neither yes or no. Do you like charades?”

“We were wondering if you have in your archive the knitted coasts of Russia and Japan marking out the proposed extension to international waters?” enquired Hilary.

Hilary-dee Ready with the note pad

“Perhaps – I do seem to remember that.”

“We think Mount Fuji was in crotchet, if the newspaper reports were accurate.”

“Really? How fascinating! Now what about a  cha-cha-cha taster first? It was always Aunt Muriel’s favourite and if there is time and after tea of course we can go to the basement and look for the knitted things. Do you know Tea for Two my dears?”

Sebastian

2018

Posted in Talk of the Town | 5 Comments

The Knitted Umbrella

A Transatlantic Telephone Call

Our well positioned telephone for transatlantic calls

“Oh Sebastian it is lovely to hear your voice on this “person to person” transatlantic call it must be costing you a fortune. Uncle Jasper will indeed be delighted to know you are understudying Tony Randall in Oh Captain at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway.

Yes darling, of course you know you can “play older” and I quite agree -everyone’s a critic now; and I am sure it is much more than just “a tired businessman’s show”. It surely cannot fail with José Ferrer directing. Well to be honest I don’t exactly think of Tony Randall as a singer either, I am sure you will be fine. It’s the audience that counts.

Any Other News?

Part of the Spring Display at “Chez Nous”

No not really Dahling. Uncle Jasper and I are busy, busy, busy as ever. Yes he’s at the shop now doing the windows for spring. It has indeed been a long winter. Oh the cat is rather poorly and your uncle is treating it like a baby.

Indeed talking of babies, your daughter is fine; yes toddling now, into everything, but we have a real treasure in Hairy Mary, the nurse from Inveraray.

No nothing more about HiIda, not a peep, vanished like snow off a dyke. Awful business that, but we have got Grace to help Mrs Travers to do the heavy work, yes that’s right Dahling, she is a nurse from the West Indies. Hopes to get work here eventually. Marvellous woman, her husband’s a chimney sweep, causes a bit of amusement that and he takes it in good part. Of course Lottie is a bit sniffy, but then ignorance has always been her stock in trade.

Wagner or The Old Bull and Bush

Lady Pentland-Firth is fine, I shall tell her you were asking. You know what she is like, she always comes up smelling of roses, she is one of life survivors. She is trying to put together her Country House Concert Programme. As you can imagine it involves all the world and his wife. Umm, yes you heard did you? I have to agree Sebastian, Parsifal is rather ambitious for a village choir even if the estate gardens were possibly the original inspiration for the Gardens at Klingsor. Yes I believe Wagner did find inspiration in her bushes, although I am sure they have topiary every bit as good in Germany.

Lady P-F sees this as the perfect setting for “Parsifal”

Well she has suggested I do Norma in September but I hate those Druid outfits and mistletoe berries get everywhere. Quite frankly I think we need to find something that appeals to Joe and Josephine public. I don’t think Casta Diva will pack the rustics in, but a bit of Old Thyme Music Hall might do the trick and as The Herald said last time I played the high priestess, when its critic was left speechless by my performance, “Mrs Wylie’s voice is more suited to comedy” and suggested “somewhere abroad might be more appropriate for her unique timing and phraseology”.

I cannot tell you Sebastian how uplifting it was to know that Glasgow’s newspaper of choice felt I might have an international career should I choose. I suppose the entire world and his wife have done Norma but it does take real talent to make people laugh.

Italian Vowels and Turkish Baths – Not at the Same Time!

the lady from the right side of carlisle was awe of Sebastian’s Italian Vowels

Yes I know Dahling, sorry to go on, this will be costing the earth and you won’t have any dollars to spend on seeing your friends at ‘The Mayfair Bar’ or the Turkish Baths. Talking of friends, Louise was asking after you yes that’s right my dear friend Louise – perfect ballroom hold and in awe of your Italian vowels, from the right side of Carlisle. Yes believe it or not there is.

Yes I must dash too, but thank you Dahling and tell Cousin Lulubelle that we look forward to seeing her soon and she can rest assured that all is well with her financial interests in my decorating business. So there is no need to rush back. Yes she certainly was right about Elvis he is making great waves here too.

Au revoir, Dahling, and don’t talk to any strange men.”

Prose Like Proust

No Crystal pour moi during Lent

Sorry about that, I do apologise, but I am sure you understand that a transatlantic call must be taken – at least you will when you become simply marvellous and have friends and relations who live abroad and are not on “party lines”. Really I do not have much time to talk today I have been up to my arms in alligators all week and did I mention it but I have given up crystal glasses for Lent?

The spring stock has been coming in, the cat is still unwell and I am behind with my article on The Hand Knitting Wool Council which met in London last week. Still when one has prose like Proust one can understand why one’s billet-douxs are in such demand by the fashion world. Mind you I could do with a cup of delicious coffee and half an hour to draw breath. Just let me ring for Mrs T who is boiling a ham bone for soup.

On top of everything else, I must get tickets for Jasper to have a little outing at the weekend. He has been busy at the shop all week and he has given up custard for Lent so he is a bit twitchy. If I don’t keep him occupied he will be like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.

Coping with No Custard

Just let me just have a look at the entertainment section of the paper. Well Mother Goose is still on with Stanley Baxter and Kenneth McKellar at The Alhambra and I suppose we could take Mrs Travers, but I cannot stand her constantly chewing homemade honeycomb crunch made with my sugar. There is a new play Gay Landscape by George Munro at the Citizens’ – it is about Glasgow so Grace might like to familiarise herself with the city. Perhaps she is not yet ready for Gay Glaswegians. Oh yes Jasper would like this Alma Cogan is in Glasgow and I do like a woman who changes frocks between songs. I feel it is such good value for money, but it’s at the Glasgow Empire and the audiences can be, well you know, rather common .

Perhaps it will have to be a film. There is Witness for the Prosecution at the Odeon in Renfield Street with Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich. We could ask Lady Pentland-Firth to join us, she and Marlene are old sparing partners from the Berlin of the inter-war years, but then we would have to hear about how Patience was the first choice to play Lola Lola in The Blue Angel until that unpleasant incident with Von Sternberg.

Lady P-F remembers Berlin

So I think it should just be the two of us at the Cosmo to see Marisa Allasio “the curvaceous new star in a gay Italian frolic” as it says here in the paper. According to the press she is a cross between Sophia Loren and Gina Lollibrigida. She plays a tailor’s daughter, accidentally affianced to two men while she actually prefers the tailor’s cutter. How, one must ask, can one be accidentally affianced? Sounds daft enough to be just up Jasper’s street and should keep all thoughts of custard at bay.

Where Are the Pearls?

Now here is another unlikely sounding story. It says here that on Sunday past a sailor was rescued from a desert island off Bahrain. He has apparently been 33 years on this Island in the Persian Gulf. His name is Al Haj Nassi and he was presumed to have died when the Bahrain Pearling Fleet was wrecked by storm in 1925. He said “I saw many ships sailing past but was never able to attract attention. My only food was grass, seaweed and fish which I caught with a net I made from grass”.

He had no clothes and is covered from head to foot in a heavy growth of hair.  My first question is the all important one, where has he hidden the pearls? Which reminds me I must get mine restrung.

My pearls need re-strung

Another person who seems to have found refuge in the seaside is Sir James Swinburne.  Sir James who is 100 years old is the father of modern British plastics. I am not sure this is anything to be proud of, but anyway many happy returns. He is hailed as coming from Inverness, but relocated to Bournemouth and I don’t blame him.

To be 100 in 1958 is quite amazing. That means he was born before the American Civil War and during the years when Dr Livingstone was exploring Africa not to mention the year in which Mendelssohn wrote the Wedding March and more importantly the fashion house of Worth was established. I do not wish to be morbid but in due course I imagine his death will be announced in The Herald. One can always rely on a death in The Herald. I have known many a premature death announced in lesser publications.

Posture is Everything

Perhaps Sir James’s longevity is related to his health regime rather than the discovery of plastics. He may even have practiced aspects of my own philosophy and daily programme of exercise. I would like to think of a knight practicing “nice toes, naughty toes”.

I imagine Miss Thelma Hollow does this too. I have always emphasised the importance of posture but have never come across her idea of “slimming by posture”. She also recommends “no fries, no pastries and no alcohol”, which is most Glaswegians’ idea of a living death.

According to Thelma if we learn to stand properly, that is to say straight with no slouching and tuck our hips well under and learn to maintain that pose we will all soon look like the most elegant Americans. Standing correctly can add two inches to one’s height and the most important aspect of that height is to be found in the space between the bust and hips. Nothing new there, all ladies who undergo my training in marvellousness know to stand straight; how that helps to lose weight is a mystery to moi.

Of course posture is important

It seems some ladies are taken in by Miss Hollow’s idea and are flocking to her salon in Bond Street “to look American”.

There is So Much More to Knitting 

Now as to The Hand Knitting Wool Council I can reveal that following my visit to London last week the knitters are taking their inspiration from the 1920s. It was a rather jazzy show with the models taking their cue from the Charleston which amused the audience. I must say the loose jackets and sweaters are very up to the minute and I rather liked the themes of “sailing”, “skiffle” and “shopping” particularly the latter in which I would hold the Chair at the Glasgow Varsity if there was one. I am not entirely sure what skiffle is except it seems to involve a washboard and is very popular on the BBC programme Six Five Special. I have always loved sailing provided it comes with three funnels, an outside cabin and an invitation to the Captain’s cocktail party.

Cunard’s “Queen Mary”, my kind of sailing

The fashion show gave more than a passing nod to the future with lots of capes and balaclavas. I rather liked Paton and Baldwin’s mock leopard skin ensemble which included 4 paws, très amusant. I was less convinced by the Emu Wools suit in honey-beige double knit mainly because I am not a fan of beige. I mean who would deliberately invent beige. On the other hand the knitted bag, gloves and umbrella was amusing if somewhat too much. I should like to know how a knitted umbrella behaves in the rain. Wet wool is somewhat heavy. I cannot imagine it having been much use on that island in the Persian Gulf. Apparently one can wander around for hours in a knitted suit and in knitted 3 ply, even dance. I must ask my friend Winnie about this, if I ever see her again.

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

She owns The Wool Shop in Auchterarder and is famous for her knitted boy, but has been away for some time, overseas with a Mr Chan.

A Telephone Call from the Shadows

the handsome stranger on duty

“Telephone, Mrs Wylie.”

“Who is it Mrs T?”

“He would only say he is a stranger from the past, so I imagine it’s that old beau of yours who works in the shadows.”

“Oh, Mrs T, what can he want I wonder?”

“Something of national importance I imagine Mrs Wylie. More coffee?”

“Yes please. And how is the ham stock doing?”

“Splendidly. I think I will do Scotch broth for Mr Wylie; it might help him take his mind off the lack of custard, he loves a bit of pearl barley.”

“Hello”

“Hello is that you”

“Yes; it is the Handsome Stranger; just listen there is no time to spare.”

“Very well, just let me put some jam on this scone and I am all ears.”

All at Sea

“The World Conference on the Sea is taking place in Geneva. The whole world is there to put into place new laws regarding the oceans. The comrades wish to have a 12 mile costal exclusion zone. The United States wants 3 miles. They and Great Britain believe that 12 miles plays into the hands of those who are naturally belligerent.”

“How so?”

“Well think of The Altmark carrying British citizens in Norwegian waters in 1940.”

“Ah I see and as the comrades have so many submarines we would be disadvantaged.”

“Exactly Muriel and there would be lots of sneaking through neutral waters in Scandinavia.”

“So what can I do?”

“We have an asset – a former colleague of yours who rides a bicycle and owns a wool shop in Auchterarder where she knelt at the feet of Jimmy Shand and danced the Bluebell Polka.”

“Yes;  I was just thinking about her, what is she doing?”

“She is ostensibly running knitting workshops for the wives of diplomats, well she was – we have lost contact and her project ‘Knitting the coastal waters of Japan’ was proving an invaluable means of gathering information about shipping movements on the east coast of comrade-land. It is astonishing what wives will give away when knitting one and pearling another.

Frankly Muriel we are in a bit of a stew and there is the most awful flap on especially as Lord Hailsham is busy saying Britain is not a footnote in history with its nose permanently in tradition, but still a powerful nation, standing tall with our allies against the  tyrants. Could you bash on over to Geneva and take over the knitting workshop for the sake of appearances? And see if you can find out what the comrades are up to and what has happened to Agent Winnie? Oh yes and she has that Mr Chan with her too. I love his sweet and sour pork with crispy noodles.”

A Cover Up

“I am not exactly much of a knitter, but having said that, I have just covered  The Hand Knitting Wool Council for a magazine article, I am even au fait with knitted umbrellas.”

“Splendid Muriel, I knew we could count on you. Harold will be so pleased. Get on to HQ and have them make some  brollies up – they will be splendid give-aways for the diplomats and a good cover for you, if you pardon the obvious pun. Everyone expects the British to have a brolly and the whole thing will be good for raising our export profile. It is just the sort of thing that will get us into the Common Market.”

“What about Jasper?”

“Oh take him too, the more normal you look the better or in his case the more eccentrically British – and take that cleaning woman of yours too, she never misses a trick.”

Jasper looking British

“I will do my bit.”

“That’s the spirit Muriel, I will leave the travel documents with that woman with the tie in the Stirling Library, you know Jasper’s friend the expert on The Well of Loneliness. They will be in the latest Jean Plaidy. Remember if you get into trouble, Britain’s only interest is in the price of cod and Chips, over and out.”

A Man’s World – When It Suits

“A fill up Mrs Wylie?”

“Yes please Mrs T.”

“Oh and by the way that’s your copy of The Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work just delivered.”

“Anything exciting?”

“No, not really just a piece on artificial insemination by donor.”

“I imagine we are against it.”

“You imagine correctly.”

“Let me guess – it’s written by a man and it’s the woman who cannot have children that need healing and not the procedure.”

“Of course.”

“Funny how men always know what is best for us, but then we end up being sent to sort out their mess.”

“I take it we are on the move then?”

“Indeed we are. Alert Mr W when he returns, bring down the suitcases from the attic. Pack warm clothes Mrs T and umbrellas, and I think we might take a break from Lent this evening. Mr Wylie will need some custard.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1958

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

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

 

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

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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