Jasper’s Jottings: Space to Think

Was That Wise Jasper?

The beloved Humber Super Snipe

If truth be told, and why not I say, I have had one too many for the road. Not that I am driving of course, that would be far too silly. No; I left the old Humber Super Snipe at home and have slipped Billy Travers a quid to give it a wee going over with the chamois. Billy is the son of our woman what does but not a lot, Mrs Esme Travers. Billy is something of a wide boy and the only down side of leaving him in charge of the motor car is that I may well discover at some future date that it has been the getaway car for some daring robbery involving leading figures in the Glasgow gang world.

Decontamination

Still beggars cannot be choosers otherwise it would mean doing the job myself and I have far more interesting things to do. In any case I would only get wet and dirty and Muriel would make me sit in the conservatory, steaming like some tropical plant, until I was dry enough to enter what Mrs Travers and I call the decontamination process or gradual re-entry into the world of carpets and soft furnishings through the back door.

This involves removing the old gum boots, leaving them on newspaper, but not the Daily Telegraph or anything containing a picture of H.M. or Princess Margaret. Then one has to pass over at least three coir mats which is dashed sore on the old feet, sliding on two old hand towels (one foot on each towel) across the linoleum to the cold room where Mrs T removes my overall and throws it out of the open window. I am then allowed to proceed to the bathroom and I am ready for a bath – in Dettol! If I need refreshment prior to the steeping then I am allowed to use the gardener’s china, which Muriel has for outside help, visiting trades people and those who read The Daily Herald. I will spare you the details of what happens when we visit a farm; let’s just say if the plague makes a return visit to Glasgow it will be halted in Kelvinside. 

Never One to be Contained by the Four Walls of an Office

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I find the conventional office a bit confining. One cannot think, given all the time that is required to be spent on thinking about work. I like to think of the world as my office and so, and please do not tell Muriel but I have set up pad and fountain pen at The Rogano in Exchange Square. Muriel is in a huff with the Manager here over his special last week of “eels” which she said made her feel like an East End barrow boy and is making her point by currently patronising The Spanish Lounge and making it known she has ordered castanets. So she will not be pleased if she knows I am here.

the R.S.A.C., Jasper’s beloved club

I will have to remember that I had lunch at The R.S.A.C. in Blythswood Square. That is the trouble with being married to a lady who, by her own admission, has managed the rare trick of combining a forensic mind with the right shade of kid gloves. It is not easy to cover one’s tracks – a bit like living with Miss Marple, only Muriel has better millinery.

Muriel has better hats than Miss Marple

If I can come up with a good back story then it will have been worth it for I have just had the most delicious “Karisma” – “a lobster dish, par excellence, served hot or cold for effortless enjoyment – this delectable dish is another of the many good things at The Rogano”. I totally agree and just as well I spotted that advertisement in this morning’s Glasgow Herald or I would be having last night’s leftovers with Mrs T, Hilda, zee german vuman vat does zee heavy vork, and “Hairy Mary” who is from Inveraray and is young Gayle’s Nursery Nurse.

Gayle is our ward and is proving to be a delightful, but messy, child who likes nothing more than to upturn her bowl of Heinz beef and veg and watch the reaction. To be honest I do not mind as I am rather partial to a spot of the old Heinz beef and veg myself – saves the bother of chewing and I can read Capodimonte Collector Monthly at the same time.

A Work in Progress

I must say that Pouilly-Fuissé is slipping down rather nicely, I might just have some crumble, it’s quite light and then the cheese board which will help with the hunger pangs later in the afternoon. The old vino is also helping my sore hip, far more than the wintergreen Muriel had Hilda applied this morning. I swear Hilda saw service on the Eastern front, she has hands that could chill vodka, which reminds me – I am supposed to get olives on the way home, don’t let me forget.

The finest of ballrooms in Edinburgh, the assembly rooms

Just to put you in the picture vis-à-vis the old hip – Muriel is insisting that we take up the Cha-Cha-Cha. It seems we have had an invitation from her dear friend, Shona who runs the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, to bring a bit of 1957 to this Georgian Institution next month. Muriel feels that Edinburgh is ripe for a little of her “je ne sais quoi” and needs a little something to add to its party repertoire other than shortbread and strathspeys. Needless to say, despite an already impossible workload, I am required to take part.

Now I am no natural terpsichorean so this is not easy, and the Taylor – Buckley School of Dance has been engaged to teach me some of the essentials for a simple routine. I am now waking in the middle of the night and all I can hear is Xavier Cugat in the background and Mr Taylor waving his cane at me and shouting at me is “and hips and hips” and to “go bigger on the New Yorker”. If I go any bigger I’ll stop the traffic at Anniesland Cross. Really I am not sure how it is possible to combine feet, hands and head and apparently never stop. I think I will just call the waiter to refresh my glass. 

Business in Dundee

I am not expecting Muriel back home until later, she has gone to Dundee to see some of the jute manufactures about new products to retail through our business “Chez Nous”, which is Scotland’s leading interior design company and purveyor of quality three piece suites and unusual knick-knacks or what Muriel calls bibelots. Our business partner Cousin Lulubelle believes “Chez Nous” needs to widen its customer base and go for products that will appeal to the pocket of the ordinary Scots who will increasingly find themselves in what are called New Towns.

Whole areas of our countryside are being turned into places where the new industries will flourish and people who formerly lived in Glasgow tenements will live in modern comfort. As the Scottish Land Development Corporation puts it “General Wade used a spade –  now bulldozers do it”. Of course Cousin Lulubelle with her American get up and go has sensed a market for furnishings and is accordingly pushing Muriel to take an interest in leatherette and glass clowns when her heart is really in tassels and deep buttoned sofas. I do sense a change in her, however, and she has even expressed a liking for beech tables with sticky out legs describing Ercol furniture as “one of the finest designs in British furniture of all times”.

She has gone to Dundee to see Mr Irvine at The Verdant Works, a splendid gentleman with whom she hopes to do some business regarding jute carpets which she thinks may well be just the thing to aim at those seeking to furnish a young person’s bedroom. Muriel telephoned last night to say he had given her the most marvellous tour of the works and she finds it a comfort to know that he still looks like his Edwardian predecessors – every inch the gentleman. She did say it was rather noisy and the women have to speak to one another in sign language. A jolly good idea all round if you ask me.

Muriel clinches the deal

Apparently she also bumped into a certain young man, Craig, who was at the very good Oxford Varsity learning about art. Muriel is very fond of Craig whom she calls “the dear boy”. They share an interest in cathedrals despite Muriel being a Presbyterian. I suppose she is a sort of high Presbyterian if that is possible and let’s face it with Muriel anything is possible. 

Muriel Speaks Or, Rather, Writes Her Mind

Making the day one’s own is always possible if one has at least made a jolly good stab at completing what I call “Orders of the day”. These are instructions which are usually listed just as one is tucking into a toasted grapefruit or a juicy kipper. They are listed twice once verbally and then in paper form in what Muriel calls “reinforcement”. Thus this morning I posted a birthday card to H.M. The Queen Mother who is 57, making sure the stamp was straight and that Mrs Travers spit was not allowed to seal the envelope in case it contained republican germs, and letters to a Miss Nott and Lord Altrincham.

The letter to Miss Kathleen Nott is Muriel’s response to an article in Encounter entitled “My Life in Hard Cash” in which Miss Nott says “the English are more abnormal about money than any other European nation”. Muriel’s rejoinder was along the lines of “remembering that the nation was Great Britain, whatever the peculiarities of the English and their relationship with money and indeed, had she ever visited Paisley, the use of the word abnormal in the context of Britannia was surely an inaccuracy as anyone who had carried out proper research would know  Britain is not any other European nation, it is the European nation as is obvious even with the shortest glance at a globe. Admittedly” she continues “it is set a little to one side, gliding between the North Sea and the Atlantic, but only in that benign way of a truly loved Emperor. For as we all know familiarity breeds contempt.”

The letter to Lord Altrincham is in connection with his recent piece on the Royal Family in which he “takes a hard look at the monarchy” writing with “sturdy, not servile. loyalty”. He criticises their public functions, presentation parties and the social composition of the court which largely comprises “people of the tweedy sort”. He wants change so that the Queen can “come into her own as an independent and distinct character” with more cultural activities and less unveiling of stones.

Well I will spare you the details of Muriel’s reply suffice to say it had to be sent as a parcel and there were long critiques of the words “character” when describing Her Majesty and the possible danger to the Scottish economy if the tweedy sort were to be replaced by people in man-made fibres. The words “Traitors Gate” and “Tower Hill” were mentioned, but if I were to tell all I would have to order another drink and that would be unadvisable. Personally I agree with his Lordship but as Prune Whip is on the menu for suppa I shall opt for silence as usual.

Fragrant Rights

Muriel beside her prize sweet peas

The letters duly posted, I called in at The Kelvin Hall to present Muriel’s entries for “The National Sweet Pea, Rose and Carnation Society” which is to be opened by the Marchioness of Bute along with a hand written note to the President. This reminded him that the wooden staging had been the gift of her father in 1919 as the previous structure had been broken up and used to make stretchers for the western front in the First Unpleasantness and along with a yearly donation, reviewed annually, once a year by the Lochhead family. It was, however, the letter went on to say not necessary for Muriel to win yet again “the most fragrant” categories despite having done so since 1919, others should have a chance while they still had the staging.

Good Old Fashioned Service

My new jim-jams

Talking of staging things, Muriel suggested that she thought my wardrobe was in need of a little refreshing which is her way of saying if I want that old gardening jacket it has gone to the forthcoming jumble sale in aid of The Home for Fallen Women which can expect to be busy after Glasgow Fair Fortnight. So to show willing I went first to Coplands, where we have an account, and bought a couple of pairs Clydella jim-jams in their sale, a poplin shirt and a crew neck pullover. I expect that Muriel will send the crew neck back as being suitable for the sort of man who wears suede shoes but, sometimes I like to put up a fight.

I then went to Rowans in Buchanan Street and was greeted by the Manager who said “Ah Mr Wylie, Mrs Wylie telephoned we have been expecting you, the man who is fastidious about his clothes appreciates the Rowan Service.”

I am clearly an appreciating and appreciated customer as he and his two assistants took infinite pains over my measurements for “a ready tailored summer lounge suit”. My inside leg had to be measured three times as, apparently, they would hate to make a mistake in that department as the front of the trouser can so easily hang badly causing great disappointment all round. “What do you do about keeping it up Mr Wylie?” asked the Manager, with the sort of concern one only gets with the best outfitters of the gentleman’s sort”. “Well generally” I replied, “I just use willpower, an old tie or a piece of string. I find that works when one is toiling away in an unkempt bed full of bindweed and sticky willy.” They were so amused I got an extra 10% off the sale price.

When a Hair Cut is an Investment!

They did ask if I would like to see some sports shirts which they had in the store room out at the back for valued customers with a modern approach to life but I had to decline. Muriel had made me an appointment to have my hair dressed at Sturrocks in Exchange Square. They offer more than just a hair cut, they offer “an opportunity” and their advert suggests, “A personal Investment, Gentlemen, that pays dividends is to have the hair dressed regularly at Sturrocks”. Well it was certainly an investment on my part and much dearer than my usual, quick whizz round with the clippers by Jimmy at Herr Cuts, the demon barber, but I have to admit it was handy for the old lobster lunch which is just around the corner and jolly good it has been too.

“Well why not waiter, just a double brandy and then I will be off. Don’t let me forget my shirts and suit; I don’t have long enough for anymore measuring and remind me again about the olives or was it tonic or was it vodka or maybe gin? Better just get the lot in case. Oh waiter if you push that table back I will show you my cha-cha-cha. Yes of course I do the New Yorker, like Gene Kelly.”

Later that Night

A stop for suppa at “Gleneagles”

“Jasper, Mrs T, I am home. A bit late as I stopped off at Gleneagles for a bite to eat. And before I look at your new purchases, Jasper, there are two policeman here who would like to see you with some silly story about your car being seen leaving the scene of a gangland robbery.”

Toodle pip

Jasper Wylie

August 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 12 Comments

Mother Needs A Holiday

Summer Can be a Pest

All that lovely green, but rather damp

I come to you this morning from the rather warm, damp Rural Bolthole. We are, I am afraid, in this part of Scotland, somewhat at the mercy of Atlantic weather. This sort of summer weather gives our wonderful countryside its green mantle but also makes the bread go mouldy rather quickly especially the shop bought kind. As Jasper said this morning when he spotted the tell tale signs on the toast Mrs Travers was trying to pass off as fresh “one would think we were supplying Fleming and Flory with the raw ingredients for antibiotic medicine.”

It is also what makes the west of Scotland such a delicious place for woodworm, the sight of which requires me to remain ever vigilant, and moths with whom Mrs T (who incidentally is our daily women what does but not a lot) and I are constantly at war. One only has to turn one’s head away for a moment and a cabriole leg looks like a pin cushion and one’s beaver positively deforested. Fortunately my good furs are in cold storage and the musquash I keep down here in the country – well that, to be honest is past its best, and anyway most people around here look a bit moth-eaten so who would notice?

In any case I am a bit reluctant to wear it since Jasper lent it to a local farmer who has the field opposite us for a distressed pet lamb one spring. It took me months to face gigot chops in a red wine and rosemary source with equanimity.

Warm Rain

The trappings for a seaside visit

It is to brighten up this afternoon and so I have sent Jasper, who is useless in the rain, (and come to think of it many other types of weather conditions) to “the shore” with our ward young Gayle and her nanny Hairy Mary from Inveraray. By Nanny I do not mean what some of you clinging to the lower rungs of the ladder that is British society call your goat or grandmamma. No, I mean a paid faithful employee who will in later years be able to assist you at the hustings (passing you your hot milk or blankie) should you decide to become a Member of Parliament or send you a cake if you end up in a boarding school or in prison. All three situations in my experience are interchangeable.

I am hopeful that Gayle, despite being the daughter of our irresponsible nephew Sebastian, (a thespian currently living in New York with some young men of similar interests)  and a costume designer with a speciality in foundation garments who cares more for pencil pleating than her own daughter, will under my guidance experience none of these things.

I too enjoy a paddle

I think sea air is good for children and husbands; it tires them out and they are less fractious of an evening. Even if it rains after luncheon they can paddle as the rain is warm although I have told Jasper to be on the lookout for jellyfish and nude swimmers from a caravan site near Rockcliff. He promises to keep his eyes peeled for both and report anything startling to the coastguard.

Society’s Signs and Signals

Sometimes I have trouble finding things for Hilda, the German voman vat does zee heavy vork. In all honesty she is better left in Glasgow where she enjoys cleaning out the gutters or replacing the odd slate or two, but I feel she must get some country air as well. After all the Germans do like to be outside in their own country and other people’s. She has already creosoted a length of fence, removed a considerable amount of vegetation from our river and attended a meeting about the forthcoming bed race, where she is proposing to enter a Bavarian Slay Bed.

the bees

So I have sent her up to the bees although I am not sure the protective clothing is quite the fit it should be, she is quite a one for the old appfel struddle and cream. They are not our bees, we are just looking after them, but I am wondering if I should get some, along with the new trees I am planning and possibly some Indian runner ducks which would be too amusing although they might amuse the foxes around here too. I noticed on a recent garden visit that these were essentials missing from my life. These things do say something about one’s self you know and inevitably lead to better suppa invitations. As dear Mama used to say “Muriel remember it is all signs and signals dearest.”

WE Weekend

Talking of signs and signals I believe I have said to you before that in my little world of graceful streets, washed Chinese rugs and close friends who have had ancestors executed within the wall of the Tower of London, WE  do not tend to holiday at this time of year. WE weekend in our Boltholes, but that is hardly a holiday.

Some of you might say our entire lives are a holiday, but then you have no conception of the burden that falls on the shoulders of the truly accessorised. Sometimes I can feel for our dear Queen, so young and such responsibilities. Only last week I was lunching in Edinburgh with Fiona Farquhar who is on the board of  the Edinburgh Festival, when I overheard some men from a hostel in the Grassmarket comment on some well dressed tourists who were a little lost “aye yous are lucky; yous can afford a holiday”. How little they realise what a burden a holiday can be.

Mother Needs A Change

My all important beauty regime

Now I do not want you to get the wrong idea. I do indeed approve of holidays I am just not going when and where you are. For it is true that “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I am not going to mention Jill she is never dull especially if she follows my beauty regime. It is, however, true that the constant delight and fulfilment that comes from running a home and husband 24 hours a day while a privilege can occasionally make Mother a misery and she needs a change.

Planning as with everything is a key. As my colleagues in Good Housekeeping say it is wise and indeed advisable to spend money on a holiday, provided you do not cut down on essentials such as food in order to do so.  You must set yourselves a budget. Thus if you are a married couple with no children with an income of £500 p.a. you should set aside £40 for holidays and the occasional amusement. If you are a married couple with three children, one at fee paying school, with a car you should put aside £90 for holidays. What about amusements I hear you cry – you have no time or money for anything amusing. If you are not married then holidays can be rather difficult and indeed unsavoury, everyone knows that you are not Mr and Mrs Smith even if you say so.

Hotels

Tripping the light fantastic

Hotels are expensive and with children do not always offer the best solution for a family holiday. Guests like Jasper and I find the running around of children quite annoying, especially if we are doing the cha-cha-cha in the ballroom. Some offer family entertainments and even playrooms which mean other peoples’ children are kept well away. The “Lodore Swiss Hotel” in Keswick is one such.

If you are considering taking a member of your domestic staff with you to help with a younger child  even for dressing or as a travel companion then many hotels offer servants’ rooms at cheaper rates. I can recommend “The Rosemullion Hotel” in Devonshire. They will usually have garaging for the motor car as well. This keeps Jasper happy as he hates seagulls aiming  for his beloved Humber Super Snipe. If a hotel is out of your range then do not despair for you might consider a seaside bungalow which will considerably reduce the costs providing Mother does not mind exchanging one sink for another.

Exchanging Homes

simply Marvellous Jam

You can exchange homes as well, or if you are a member of the gentry just visit your friends for extended periods, eating their food and playing tennis on their courts. The trick as a guest is making it look as if you are the one bestowing the favour. How do you think they got to be the gentry in the first place? You don’t get wealthy lavishing money on holidays. This really is advanced holidaymaking.  With enough confidence and a jar of red currant jelly or other homemade preserve in your case you can drag this out for the whole of August. I have known whole summers being taken up with the promise of singing lessons for one’s children with the arrival of an unexpected soprano you met in Menton in 1936. In our neck of the woods The Devonshire Nightingales (two sisters from the southwest) are still famous for their extended visit before the first Unpleasantness. They ate their own weight in cake and the promised payback concerts were always delayed by tickly throats.

The Return Visit

The problem is, of course, they will eventually come to you, but you just take it with a pinch of salt, throw a casserole into the oven, or show your pastry skills with the ubiquitous onion tart. Of course you can always make such visits more bearable by spending the afternoon taking tea with the neighbours and dragging your guests along. With any luck they will be so full of gingerbread that they will only need the simplest of suppas, when you return home perhaps just even a sardine on toast, which you can manage even if cook is in Margate.

At the local horse show

Better still is if guests arrive when there are village entertainments such as fêtes, horse shows or concerts of some sort. These are inevitably inexpensive, take up hours of a visitor’s day and lend a rustic charm to the experience of the visitor who will be enthralled by a pipe band, tug of war, nail driving competition or a set of matching jewellery made from a cucumber.

There are Limits

Of course not all of us on reduced means have friends with country houses and so one is forced to be more inventive. I regard caravanning and camping as a last resort and indeed would rather throw myself into a threshing machine. My question is why leave home for somewhere more uncomfortable? There is, however, no doubt many people particularly the fussy irritating sort of men who get a great deal of pleasure from linking caravan to car and buying extra long wing mirrors and negotiating boggy fields. In my experience they usually have wives in slacks, carrying Tupperware with expressions that say “I should have listened to mother”. I cannot imagine my life if was all about striving for a Lazy Susan and a protective grid around a tiny cooker.

It’s the Simplest of Things

A little light dusting – the chief joy of every woman

I realise that some people have not budgeted or have chosen to spend their income on short term gratifications at the expense of a family holiday and future memories, but never fear Muriel is here for you too. For it is perfectly possible to holiday at home. While housework is the chief joy of being a woman or, in my case, managing its operation, it is always good for a mother to take time away from the Vim and devote it to her children. Not too long mind or those marks around the taps build up, but some well considered hours with young people can be time well spent.

Take them to the cinema or if you are really desperate a museum. Have a day out “Doon the Watter” and Mrs T tells me you only need “your children, a loaf of breid and a bottle of ginger” and if you tell the weans to rush on while you flirt with the sailors you can usually get the fare for nothing. If you have to stay at home you can have treasure hunts in the garden or invite other mums with their children for lemonade and play games such as blowing dried peas along a designated route with a straw into a cup.

Imagination Under the Counterpane

A variety of moveable household objects such as fire guards and clothes-horses (winter dykes as some country people call them) which are currently not in use can be utilised with old blankets and counterpanes to make houses and dens in the garden. Imaginations will be let loose.  A hose pipe tied by father to a garden fork handle with string makes an excellent substitute for a trip to the seaside or if you can afford it a plastic inflatable paddling pool from Woolworths gives many hours of fun.

Indian runner ducks

Jasper has already bought one so that he and Gayle can play “Hunt the Bismarck”, although I was not happy about him using my egg whisk to create a tidal surge up the fiords which were made from some rather nice pieces of granite from my Alpine garden. However, as I am thinking of dispensing with my Alpine garden for a pond for the Indian Runner Ducks perhaps it does not matter.

Before Departure

I wish to cancel the papers

If you are going away, it is also Mother’s responsibility to shut up the house for the holidays. Before she settles back in the car seat or fights her way into the carriage for the train to Newton Abbot with her vanity case and the picnic lunch for 4 she must:

  • Make arrangements for pets to be boarded out or looked after by neighbours (remember they will need a gift on return and be asked in for drinks). Don’t forget to buy fish food for the gold fish in the pond.
  • Make arrangements for a neighbour to check the house each day. Give them money to pay the window cleaner.
  • Stop deliveries of milk, bread and newspapers.
  • Make security arrangements for valuables – pack silver, silver plate jewellery etc into a suitcase and take to the bank. They will do this for free as you are a valued customer.
  • Arrange for the forwarding of letters, the post office will do this free. Fill in a temporary change of address form. Go to post office in advance.
  • Empty larder of perishable food, turn off the refrigerator. Clean and leave the door ajar for freshness. Store fats in plastic bags; they will keep for several weeks store in a cool place.
  • Turn off gas and electricity. Turn off water at mains.
  • Lock and bolt windows and doors, remove fresh flowers and place plants in a bath of water.
  • Give spare key to the neighbour, inform neighbours and telephone police constable to tell him you will be away.
  • Telephone relatives to remind them you are away. Remember address book for postcards.
  • Locate and clean suitcases, inside and out, write labels. Wash and iron and pack families’ summer clothes and your own, remember to pack something nice your husband will want to see you at your best.
  • Pay any outstanding accounts and bills
  • Have hair shampooed and set
  • Buy kaolin and calamine just in case – make up first aid kit.
  • Collect husband’s dry cleaning – he will want his “ice cream jacket and his light grey slacks”.
  • Make up flasks of tea and picnic for the journey.
Delicious sandwiches for the picnic
  • Empty household rubbish into waste bin, clean and disinfect bin.
  • Change beds, clean house and vacuum so that everything is just right as the neighbours are coming in “and you know what she’s like”.
  • Make list of games to play in the car
  • Ask husband to clean shoes.

It’s Mother’s Holiday Too

Remember husbands and older children if you are in a holiday bungalow, camping or caravanning or even staying at home offer to do the washing up at least once this summer after all its mother’s holiday too. Have a wonderful time.

Muriel Wylie

July 1957

P.S.

I have just received this letter in the second post from a young housewife, it reads:

Dear Muriel,

I am going on holiday in August with my husband, who is on leave from the army. What do I need to worry most about?

Peggy from Paisley

My reply

Dear Peggy,

Next May!

Best wishes

Muriel Wylie (Mrs)

Posted in Talk of the Town | 5 Comments

Muriel’s Musings: O.M.O.

  We All Have Our Weak Points 

Feeling a bit more marvellous than last week

Well?  Indeed I am and thank you for asking.

I know you all think I have the constitution of an ox and a perfectly accessorised one at that, but even the chosen ones have their Achilles’ heel. Of course mine is not my heels exactly, because I wear Rayne shoes and have a foot care regime which is second to none. Let me tell you there is no reason why even in middle age one’s feet should not be fit to be seen at the scene of any accident or poking from a hospital counterpane. A programme of exercise including circular ankle movements which I call “One step, two step, tickly up there”, followed by “nice toes, naughty toes” will ensure good blood flow to the feet.

The judicious application of half a lemon rubbed into the heels (as with the elbows) works wonders once a week, along with the vigorous use of a pumice stone for more troublesome areas. Cream the feet each evening with some Cyclax foot lotion (quite the thing as H.M. uses it too and she never puts a foot wrong) and should you find your toes inclined to rubbing or blisters a little sheep’s wool makes a useful cushion between one little piggy and another.

Sheep may safely graze

I collect sheep’s wool from fences and brambles at the Rural Bolthole when Jasper and I are out on country walks and Mrs Travers, our woman what does but not a lot, disinfects and combs it out. I keep it in the Cold Room along with other emergency supplies. Of course the lanoline helps the toes anyway, but do be careful not to bind so tightly you cut off the circulation. As a child I collected sheep’s wool during the first Unpleasantness. This  was to save valuable cargo space for food imports instead of wool and other domestic products, presuming they could get past the U boats. It was sent to Lady-something-or-other, in London although I don’t imagine she did the washing and disinfecting herself either. The wool was used to knit “comforts” for the men at the Front.

Comforted by your Good Wishes and Flowers

Talking of comforts, (and I wonder if I should as I am quite sure all this talk of feet to begin with may have made one or two of you –  as my late Grandmamma used to say whenever lower limbs were mentioned – a little “frisky” this morning) thank you so much for your kind words, as I lay a bed. Jasper and the postman delivered your “Get Well Soon” greetings along with flowers from Tony Gilmour’s in West Nile Street. Tony does the flowers for the King’s Theatre when Her Majesty is in town you know. And Gary, your bouquet was sublime – you know moi so well.

A positive abundance of exotic flowers from dear Gary

It seems I am a bit of a martyr to my tummy particularly at this time of year when there are days of great warmth followed by humidity. One can tell with the rapidity by which a loaf of bread begins to go mouldy. Of course the dampness of the west of Scotland was what made us the Second City of the Empire as a result of the cotton industry. The damp holds the fibres together – ask Mr Coats or Mr Clark, they made a fortune out of damp.

“Hoovering”

While I was not exactly “hoovering between life and death” as Mrs Travers would have it in her usual “Mrs Malaprop” way, I did feel rather poorly. The old “kaolin and morph” worked wonders. It was typical that I chose to be indisposed while Mrs Travers was in Blackpool with her Billy and “the weans”.

the Magnificent façade of Blackpool’s Winter gardens

At least I had Hilda “zee German vuman, vat does zee heavy vork” and young Gayle’s nurse Hairy Mary from Inveraray to help. Unfortunately Hilda, being a European, has an overenthusiastic interest in medications –  which and how can I put this delicately –  are not taken by mouth. Quite frankly it would be the main reason for my objecting to joining the E.E.C., if I were not already committed to a United States of Europe for reasons of peace and prosperity.

I had to pretend to be asleep on a number of occasions as I heard the footsteps on the stairs, the rattle of enamel kidney dish, and her singing “Fe-fi-fo-fum…” which no doubt was for Gayle’s benefit. It was rather like being in a Grimm fairy tale. The thought brings tears to my eyes. I prefer British medicine that one swallows with water, although I suppose if one has “a delicate thrapple” as Jasper claims to have and “cannot get a pill over” it might be an alternative.

Jasper Does His Best

Jasper with his scythe, toiling dans le jardin

Jasper of course did his best, while I was unwell, but with the gardener also on holiday, he has been busy trying to keep the weeds at bay, especially the sticky-willie which is such a chore. He was not amused when he went to our local ironmonger’s to buy some weed killer for our red chips and Mr Steel said in what passes for humour among brown coated tradesmen, “Cooking tonight are we sir?” “It’s for my chips” said Jasper testily. “I thought so sir, I heard Mrs Wylie was unwell.”

a rather green garden our moi

When I felt a little better he did take me for an airing in the car and we went to visit a private garden open to the public for some charity or another. Those and such as those were all there admiring the landscape created from some old slate quarry with the help of “a slow daughter” (you can always tell – they wear ankle socks and Clarks sandals at 35), a one armed tractor driver and a dog that can tell chick weed from pansies. It was all very green. Personally. I like a bit of colour in a garden, but everyone thought it was marvellous so I have sent Jasper out to remove the geraniums and think about trees as I am sure I should open my garden or should I say gardens next year. I wouldn’t want to be thought common with an excess of colour.

A Very Poor Tea

Far be it from me to find fault, however, I have to say it was a very poor tea served in the tennis court, which is one thing to show off about, but not when all you have to offer is two jam sponges from Lyons, dusted with icing sugar to look homemade. Not to mention some fake empire biscuits – we all know that trick. I have done the two Royal Scot biscuits sandwiched together with a spot of Robertson’s myself, but not charged 2/6 for it.

the temple of Apollo

Talking of tricks I met Cynthia Savage  by the temple of Apollo – you know, her husband is in pickles and condiments and made a fortune in red cabbage. She was up to her usual trick of smelling a rose with one hand and using her tiny scissors with the other to take a cutting of mock orange. I couldn’t resist asking if that was a Madame Butterfly rose that she had hanging out of the basket she claimed was for her gum boots in case it was wet in the arboretum. I always keep the display cabinet locked when Cynthia comes for tea – it’s a bit like having Queen Mary in and finding the following day the jade animals have vanished. I shouldn’t judge but I don’t care for Mr Savage and I suspect Cynthia’s behaviour is a cry for help and all that piccalilli must take its toll.

In Memoriam – Madame Claire Voyant

Lady P-F prefers black

Fortunately I was well enough to attend the Memorial Service of Madame Claire Voyant, the medium and good friend of Bunty Haystack the crime writer. You may recall I disturbed a séance that was being held in my kitchen by a gullible Mrs Travers. Sadly Madame was killed recently in a horrible bus crash in Oxford Street while on a trip to London. Bunty has been very upset as she had become very friendly with the medium and was using her as a research source for a forthcoming book in her Rural Crime series – The Bunty Haystack Mysteries. You may have read “Turnip Terror” or “The Cream Tea Caper”.

Some of us went along to support Bunty including oddly enough Lady Pentland-Firth who  does not really know her but said she thought there was something very familiar about Madame Voyant. We did at least get to go in the ancient Pentland-Firth Rolls Royce which was fun. Indeed fun seemed to be the order of the day as the celebrated medium had left instructions that when she departed her memorial service was “to be gay” and there was to be no mourning and “no cult of the cemetery” as she was being “transferred to a better place”. So we all wore day dresses except Lady Pentland-Firth who said she could not enjoy a funeral in colour.

The service and reception were in the Ca’Doro, a grand suite of function rooms in Union Street just across from the Central Station. It has been “completely redecorated”, “refurnished” and “relit” as the manager proudly explained to me. The service was in the Venetian Ballroom and followed by a fork luncheon in the Palm Court.

I found it all rather odd, but odder still were the sheer number of people I knew who seemed to have used her services to communicate with the dead. Lottie Macaulay (wife of the millionaire bungalow builder) was there. To be frank that was mysterious, as she has trouble communicating with the living. Maud Maltravers had come from Melrose, they are in tweed and she would go to the opening of an envelope. The Chanlock-Craigs were there from Glenscoban Bridge as Madame had regularly brought them into contact with a successful cattle breeding ancestor, who gave unsavoury instructions about genes and heredity. Crystal Faulds was there too. She is to be “the face of makeup” for the new Scottish Television channel (STV) and claims that she got the job through inspirational conversation with her mother who has been dead since 1946 via Madame.

WEll……., Lady P-F fills us in

Now that’s not what I heard, but I am not going to be the one who spreads rumours from the casting couch. Put it this way as Lady P-F says “when we are talking of God’s gifts we  are not talking balcony brassiere here more the dress circle at the Kings!”

“…..let’s go on with the show….”

Also in attendance at the memorial service were the Handsome Stranger and Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes. The Professor is a leading expert on Grieg who is currently unfashionable because of “the simplicity of his melodic line”. He played the organ at the service, while we waited for “the vibrations” which according to Mrs Travers she felt through “ma new frock” although I tried to persuade her it was actually the Underground from St Enoch’s Square which provided the shuggle.

While I was half way through a mushroom vol-au-vent, the Handsome Stranger sidled up to me. Well I knew he was the Handsome Stranger, despite being heavily disguised as Ethel Merman. He needs to speak to me urgently and alone and says he will be passing the much sought after but rarely found house that is my West End home regularly during the next week and if no one is in perhaps I might place a packet of OMO in the window. “Do you mean the washing powder that adds brightness to whiteness?” “Yes exactly” he said. “Well I tend to use Persil as it washes whiter and that means cleaner, and it’s good for Gayle’s woollens” I replied, “but I will see what I can do.”

Good for woollens

The Handsome Stranger brought the memorial service to a close with a terrific rendering of There’s no Business like show Business.

 A Bored Muriel

In truth I am a little bored this afternoon. You know what it is like when you have been “hoovering between life and death”, one does want to do something but does not have the energy, all magazines have been read and everyone is otherwise engaged.  Only Frau Hilda is here bleaching aprons with jam stains on them. Hairy Mary has taken Gayle to the boating pond. Mrs Travers has gone on a coach trip “By Glen and Moor – A Good Day’s Tour, No 4”.

Mrs T loves a bus run

This a Ford and Wylie’s tour (no relation) they are the Ford main dealers in Glasgow and operate out of Pollokshaws as well as using Ford buses to run outings in the summer. There is nothing Mrs T likes more than a bus run. This explores “the beauties of the Clyde” and goes to “river and firth”. It starts in Glasgow and goes to Carluke and Lanark, down the Clyde valley to Crawford. Then it is on to Thornhill and across country to somewhere called Moniaive before setting out across the moors for Dalmellington and Ayr and home via Prestwick, Irvine and finally Beith where they make the furniture. She is going to be exhausted. I hope she will feel like topping and tailing all those blackcurrants we picked earlier this week.

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt – and I hope it continues to be

Jasper has gone into town  He was going to the library and then to have lunch at The Rogano where the dish of the day is “Jellied Eels” offered as “a cool delicacy” which arrive “tender and succulent” to your table at The Rogano, in Exchange Place just off mid Buchanan Stree”. Jasper asked if I would like to join him and I said did I really look like a costermonger. No, not my thing at all and I feel a little common for The Rogano. I do hope they are not lowering the standards like so many places these days/

I have asked him to pop into Mackays, the travel agents, to see if they can help me get me tickets for the Edinburgh Festival. I want to see Robert Helpman in Nekrossov and Moira Shearer is appearing with Anton Walbrook in Walter Hasenclaver’s A Man of Distinction.

Unexpected Callers Reveal Things are Far from Whiter than White

“Whiter than white”

There’s the door, “Frau Hilda can you get that for me please?”.

“Ja eure majestat gleichzeitig.”

“Danke Frau Hilda.”

“Meine konigin; it is zee errant and zee very difficult cosin from zee tief im Suden von America der cousin Lulubelle”.

“Lulubelle what are you doing here? I thought you were with Elvis and Sebastian in America!”

Listen here honey lamb

“Long story Cuz, but more important why are you advertising  your services in the window of this well appointed west end house?”

“What do you mean?”

Oh Muriel, honey lamb! You are so naive. A packet of OMO in the window means Old Man Out. In the last Unpleasantness it was a special offer, often combined with a plate of egg and chips.”

“I knew I preferred Persil! Oh there’s the door again.”

“Frau Vylie zer ez a gentleman at zer door who is asking if you do sunny side up or easy over any vay he is not fussy.”

“Well hush ma mouth!”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

July 1957

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Jasper’s Jottings: Fair Enough

You Might Even Go to Paisley

It is Glasgow Fair. For those of you who do not come from “Caledonia – Stern and Wild”, this is the annual trades’ holiday for the city, when most factories close and the workforce depart for their annual holiday. Different parts of Scotland have their Fair Fortnight at different times which as one wit said means that unlike our neighbours south of the border we do not have a day of unbearable travel congestion, just localised bottlenecks. It also means for example if you live, or “stay” as we Scots say, in Glasgow you can travel to Edinburgh or, if you are really desperate, to Paisley for essential shopping.

Threads from Paisley

Only joking, Paisley is a fine mill and engineering town, even if the canny inhabitants do require “the pigeons to bring their own pieces”, have the unique ability “to peel an orange in their pockets” and thrill to the sight of “fruit in the hoose and nae buddy’s sieck”. Oh the banter that comes with inter – urban competition.

So Many Interesting Facts about Trains

The entrance to Central Station

I bumped into an acquaintance yesterday Mr Margettes, the chief operating superintendent at Central Station, who was looking quite exhausted. He said that 250,000 holiday makers had already passed through the Central Station. Something like 450 additional trains have been made available throughout Scotland with 14 special trains taking Territorial Army soldiers to their summer camps.  More than 2,000 extra coaches have been borrowed from other regions in England and Scotland.

Mr Margettes is full of interesting facts, at least I think they are interesting. Muriel says he makes her want to yawn and that she cannot understand men and their fascination with trains. She believes that men hanging around on platforms with notebooks who become overexcited at the very appearance of one of the new diesel locomotives should be locked up.

Even More Interesting Facts about Trains

So I will refrain from telling her that between 7pm yesterday and 3am today – a southbound train passed through Carlisle Station every 9 minutes. These have been almost exclusively passenger trains except for a few fish trains. You can smell the difference, the passenger trains could do with more ice.

At Kilwinning, in Ayrshire, a train is passing at the rate of one every five minutes on its way to the coast. At Central Station, 13 main line express trains had left by late afternoon yesterday and 8 fully booked “starlight specials”, left St Enoch’s Station in the evening.  15 boat trains have left for Ardrossan and the Isle of Man and two trains have gone from Buchanan Street Station for Dover full of holiday makers bound for the continent.

The magnificent Blackpool Tower

Apart from the usual Scottish favourites, enthusiastic holiday makers have been heading for Blackpool, Llandudno, Whitley Bay and Scarborough. Two stowaways were discovered on a south bound train. Peter Blair, aged 6, of Thistle Street and Peter Lee, aged 5, of 81 Cathcart Road boarded a London Express at St Enoch, disappointed that they were not going with their friends. They hid under a table in the dining car only to be discovered by a dining car attendant. They were taken off at Carlisle and returned to Glasgow.

Increasing numbers of my fellow Scots are travelling by train to Europe, Spain is a favourite and many Scots are combining Rome with Sorrento where a 15 day holiday costs about £50 including, you will be glad to hear, train travel. I wonder if in the event that we join the Common Market there will be more travel to the continent? I think interesting times lie ahead.

The Anniversary

Muriel looking simply marvellous

I am not sure how Muriel will greet a newspaper account that the Riviera is no longer the haunt of the rich and famous but is often as crowded as Blackpool these days. Of course that is where dear Mu and I met just after the war, when I bumped into her helping that Matisse chap with his cut outs. Muriel says scissor manipulation was one of the more useful accomplishments she learnt at her good school. The others of course being the famous three armed dress and the carrying of egg shells to the waste bin on a china plate.

I am reminded of Nice and the Côte d’Azure because it has just been “the anniversary”. May I take this opportunity to thank you all for your many good wishes. I cannot imagine how you always remember. I find it hard enough to remember myself and often wonder how I came so late in life to the wonderful state of matrimony. I have concluded that it may well have been an excess of pastis and the intoxicating sound of a gypsy violin on the Promenade des Anglais as well, of course, as Muriel’s rare beauty, unique ability to accessorise  and her finely turned ankles.

Lushness Can be a Danger

The offending weed known as sticky willie

Unfortunately due to the pressures of business and an increscent request from Mr Chanter for “the books”, we did not have time to holiday in foreign parts. Muriel does not, in any case, like to holiday with the crowd or as she calls them “the bucket and spade brigade”. It seems “our sort”, that is to say those who live in Glasgow’s much desired West End and have Rural Boltholes do not go away at this time of year.

There is apparently a danger that gardens become too lush and lush gardens to a Presbyterian present the summer dangers that in winter are posed by dancing. As we say, “you know what dancing leads to”, well lush gardens lead to exactly the same thing. Thus weekends are spent in the country doing battle with “sticky willy” and ground elder. This is essential if one is going to open one’s garden to the public.

The Ha-Ha

Muriel has ambitions in this direction as she thinks it would raise funds for The Home for Fallen Women.  As I pointed out the opportunity to lose oneself in the shrubbery or walled garden might just lead to more fallen women. After all just look what happened to Doreen Dunstaffiage’s daughter, Rose, when she fell in the Ha-Ha at Buffy Bentall’s. Nine months later the bloom had certainly worn off Rose. Muriel said I was just saying this because I did not want the work that would be involved. Frankly I want the garden to be somewhere to read the paper not a weekly re-enactment of the hunt for David Livingstone.

A Wizard of the North and a King over the Water.

Abbotsford House, home of Sir Walter Scott

 

We did, however, manage a night away for the anniversary. Muriel fancied the Borders and so we motored to Drybugh Abbey by way of Abbotsford House. This is the former home of the “Wizard of The North” Sir Walter Scott, author of the Waverley Novels.  His descendants still live there. The house contains his wonderful library and demonstrates his antiquarian nature with a range of display cases containing his collections.

The drawing room

Muriel is very keen on the Chinese wallpaper which was the choice of Sir Walter’s wife, a French lady, clearly with excellent taste.

the beautiful hand painted Chinese wallpaper

Like most of us, from time to time, Sir Walter overextended himself and his bankruptcy brought about some of the best novels in English literature. Novel writing was not considered quite proper for a gentleman and so for a long time the author of Waverley, Rob Roy etc was a well known secret.

The Abbey

We stayed the night in a lovely hotel at Dryburgh before making an extensive visit of the Abbey. This is of course in ruins but contains not only the tomb of the illustrious Sir Walter but that of Field Marshall Haig from the first Unpleasantness with the Germans.

The last rest place of Haig

It struck me that lucky Haig is able to rest in his own land unlike the millions who lie in “some corner of a foreign field…”

Traquair House

From there we motored to Traquair House near Innerleithen. This is a Jacobite House where the famous Bear Gates are closed, not to reopen until a Stuart is restored to the throne.  As Muriel said “I wouldn’t, personally, spend too much time oiling the hinges.” This I thought interesting as Muriel has no more oiled a hinge than she has grappled with sticky willy.

Jacobite wallpaper

Muriel was rather taken with the white rose wallpaper in one room – a symbol of the Jacobite cause – supposedly the Bonnie Prince plucked a white rose at Gelnfinnan and put it in his hat. From then on the white rose has been a Jacobite symbol. At Traquair, they only grow white roses in keeping with their idea of supporting the Jacobite King.

Only white roses are grown at Traquair

I rather liked some of the beautiful glasses used to toast “the King over the water”. I was reminded of dear Granny Wylie, who used to sing Speed Bonnie Boat to me when I was a child and could not sleep. Not that Granny was a Jacobite, but she was quite fond of toasting the King, or indeed anything, over the water. Actually she tended not to add very much water at all.

The Worst Patient in the World and The Best Nurse

Not on top Form

Now I am sure you were expecting Muriel today, but she has been a little incommoded this week with a summer chill. Muriel being a Calvinist (except in matters of the wardrobe or soft furnishings) does not do illness well. She believes deep down that it is a like poverty and brown shoes in the city – a personal failing. I, on the other hand coming from The Gorbals, am able to enjoy a little ill health. Well one had to, there was often precious little else to make much of.

The sainted Granny Wylie

Granny Wylie would have made any modern nurse look dilatory as she rose to the challenge of the sick room. Others had money, fame and fortune, Granny had bicarb, arrowroot, kaolin and morph and “in extemis” the hot poltice. There was nothing like a case of septic throat, a quinzie or even just a giant boil to get Granny going. She was the Florence Nightingale of our Close and many a poor lassie said her soap and water enemas were like nothing else they had ever experienced. None of your chemist products for Granny Wylie she grated her own carbolic soap often using the same “Wonder Shredder” as she used for the macaroni cheese. In the recovery ward (her bed when the worst was by) there was always the treat of the bread and milk sprinkled with sugar to look forward to and knowledge you were on the mend. Muriel’s family were not like that and she was just left in a darkened room to ride out the worst. The result is she is a very bad patient. I think that’s her calling now.

Muriel Requires Attention

“Jasper, Jasper, I fear the end.”

“What end Muriel?”

“The bed end, Jasper. My covers have come out and I am chilly.”

“There you are then, all tucked in Darling. Would you like a hot bag or the stone pig?”

“No thank you Jasper, then I will be too hot.”

“What about some tea, some nice Earl Grey with lemon?”

“Oh no Jasper I couldn’t, the thought of the lemon.”

“I could get you some fresh lemonade.”

“No Jasper then I would be alone and anyway that lemonade tastes odd.”

“i think that is because it is without Dubonnet.”

“Don’t make me laugh Jasper.”

“Will I read to you dearest?”

Nothing too sensational, please

“Yes Dahling but nothing too sensational”.

Un-sensational News

“Well I have The Herald, let me see, well Coplands is closed today and Monday for the Fair Holiday. There is a “Potato Demonstration” at the Science Service Station in Corstophine where there will be a presentation about forthcoming and, dare I say, important changes in seed potatoes. Oh yes and Isobelle Hall is writing to say that despite our fears that in 1950’s Britain the horse is on its way out Horse Shows have never been more popular. Oh you will like this, the typical woman at a horse show will leave before the end to “put on the mince”.

Mrs T’s seaside entertainment

I wish Mrs Travers, our woman what does but nothing at al this week as she’s not here,  were not in Blackpool with Billy’s weans. I would just like a plate of mince and potatoes now I am thinking of potatoes.

Oh yes there is an article on men and beards. Well I suppose it would hardly be anything else would it? Unless one counts Mrs Macaulay and she could give most of us a run for our money.  Apparently no one ever questions a man about his moustache, but feel free to ask ‘why do you have a beard or why are you growing a beard?’ The most usual answer according to our writer is ‘I am  a painter.’   They are considered by some to be unhygienic and it is said that if you rub salt into your chin and hold a glass of water beneath it – your beard will grow immediately. The writer, a Mr Wright, says that an actor once said to him that beards are questionable because ‘they are usually sported by gentlemen of an artistic persuasion.’ So you think that is the same as ‘very theatrical’, Muriel? Sebastian has a beard.

Sebastian, our thespian nephew

Now there is so little news Muriel but  I could read you some details about the arrangement’s for Glasgow Fair trains, there is some wonderful information. Did you know that over……. Muriel you are not listening, oh you are asleep – fair enough.”

Chin chin

Jasper Wylie

July 1957

Muriel is NOT asleep!

(P.S. No I am not, but I would rather throw myself in front of the starlight express than hear about trains, now where is my Vogue, Jasper?)

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“Feeling Rather Queer”- 1967 and All That

Time: the present

Place: A Home for Elderly Thespians, Among Them Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox

Sir Sebastian

Party Time

Few excuses are needed for a party for the residents of The Home for the Terminally Overdressed, a retirement facility  tucked away on the Slough Trading Estate. This is a 1930’s development on the edge of the town poet laureate John Benjamin was once so very rude about. On the other hand it may well be considered to have had the last laugh as it produced the Mars bar as well as “Lady Penelope” and other Thunderbirds characters. They say location is everything and this unique experiment in themed ageing is conveniently located for access to Pinewood Film Studios and the West End of London via the M4.

Household Names and Incomprehensible Afternoon Quizzes

This is important because the residents who are living out their twilight years here are largely drawn from stage and screen. Many are, or have been, household names that have helped to shape the identity of our cultural lives although, because of data protection, no one is at liberty to go into too much detail. It is a forward looking organisation, at least according to the brochure, where it illustrates this by reference to “Pilates and Mindfulness” for those that have one (“bless” as Matron says frequently and annoyingly) and a recent decision to allow day time television personalities to be admitted to their number.

This has not been without controversy. For some of the residents regard themselves as the aristocracy of British culture now witnessing the arrival of the barbarians at the gate. As Polly Pallet, BAFTA winning make-up artiste on The Brothers, (responsible for that unique lorry drivers’ pallor as well as Kate O’Mara’s surprised look), said “this could set diction back a decade”.

Residents have also complained that corridors have become littered with “so-called antiques”, “re-purposed items” formerly known as rubbish and people wandering around in confused states asking for directions to the nearest “brocante”. So there have been some rather interesting improvisation sessions with the new people trying to ingratiate themselves by introducing a quiz where the least likely answer is the winning one. This is not understood at all by the old hands who simply mutter to one another that this sort of thing never happened with Double Your Money or Take Your Pick .

The Queen Agrees

Today is, however, a day of nostalgia as the residents especially those who are “very theatrical” celebrate one of the great turning points of their lives, which took place in 1967. This is often known as the “summer of love”, because of the hippies in America, but in Britain or at least in part of Britain, a forbidden love was finally recognised. On 27th July 1967 The Queen gave the Royal assent to an Act permitting homosexual acts in private between 2 men over the age of twenty one. This anniversary has not escaped the media who devour material especially anniversaries with an appetite that is both bewildering and transitory.

As the decade has rolled on we have given almost moments to slavery, the Holocaust, slaying one another in World War 1 and now it’s the turn of sex, which as any  child of the 1950swas  told didn’t really happen much before 1939. The rapidity with which we revisit our past, exploit it and move on rarely gives one the opportunity to smell the roses or in this case the lavender bush.

Hilary-Dee at her desk

The journalist, Hilary-Dee Range and museum curator, Vivenne Valhalla, have always been good at spotting a bandwagon when they see one. Together they have formed a production company to make the most of these opportunities.

Vivienne Valhalla, the “uber curator”

They have already had a preliminary discussion about new media possibilities over a parsnip and ginger gin and a lunch of halloumi and edible flowers and have hot footed it to Slough where they believe they have a source as yet untapped by the BBC or Channel 4. Sebastian Wylie-Fox has been on their radar for some time, but to their chagrin they have always been out foxed by the Fox.

A Versatile Actor

Sir Sebastian in his trademark pink

Sebastian Wylie Fox is loved throughout the land. He took up where Olivier and Gielgud left off. He is the luvvie’s  luvvie who has never looked back since he first performed Shakespeare’s King Richard in Richard III which is a well known play by Elizabethan/Jacobean playwright William Shakespeare – a popular choice for English Literature examinations. Although come to think of it, not as popular as under age love story Romeo and Juliet with musical options or the widely fanciful Scottish play about moving trees.

The young Sebastian as Richard III

Sir Sebastian, as he now is, has played with the great stars of British theatre – Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Dame Sybil Thorndike and the wife of the Spanish chef in Crossroads, when in a lean period he was a salesman for a Midlands modular shelving company who had a puncture outside King’s Oak, Birmingham and for a brief moment between a cancelled booking, and a cream sherry he became the Motel’s love interest. It was said that when he dropped ice from a pair of silver tongs into Noel Gordon’s Cinzano, the faux niche in Mrs Richardson’s drawing room shook more than usual, and a nation sighed and developed a thirst for the herby drink. Some even poached chicken in it.

The Past is Different – It was Not Always the Best

“very theatrical”

Despite the fact that Sebastian is one of the world’s most obviously “very theatrical” people, he has never admitted to overacting. He comes from another time and place, suffered ridicule and torment and has lived a lie for so long it is difficult to do otherwise.  Behind the scenes, Sebastian’s family particularly his Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper did much to improve the lives of the “very theatrical”.

the simply marvellous Muriel

His Aunt Muriel, the late great Baroness Wylie of Waterside, was secretly an advisor to the Wolfenden Committee in the mid 1950s. Muriel Wylie had always enjoyed the company of theatricals as they appreciated her sense of the dramatic in clothes and always knew exactly how much gin to put in her glass .

Jasper resplendent in his shed

Despite the fact that his Uncle Jasper lived in his own little world, mainly his shed, and knew little of what went on, he had a sense of justice and fair play and this influenced his wife.

A Lot of Leaning

It is said that in the 1960s his Uncle Jasper, who leaned to the left, had a considerable influence on Labour MP Leo Abse and that Aunt Muriel, who leaned to the right, had the same effect on the Conservative peer Lord Arran with whom she shared an oat cake or two.

Against a background of rising prosecutions encouraged by the fervent Home Secretary, Maxwell Fyfe and public confusion and ignorance about same sex activity (always referred to as gross indecency although no one knew what that was), the  Sexual Offences Bill was introduced. There was stiff opposition. The Earl of Dudley said “I cannot stand homosexuals. They are the most disgusting people in the world – I loathe them. Prison is too good a place for them.” Viscount Montgomery suggested it was tantamount to “promoting the work of the Devil”.

Lord Arran pushed on motivated in part by having inherited his title from his gay brother who had committed suicide. He did not refer to the Bill by name, calling it “William”. As Aunt Muriel said he was “related to everyone, which was useful”.

A Matter of Legality Not Love

There came to be a gradual realisation that legislating in matters of personal morality was, at best, tricky. It opened the way for ridiculous prosecutions involving smiling at one another in public parks and those whose names were found in the address books of ringleaders being taken to court en mass. The law as it stood provided an opportunity for blackmailers and over-zealous policemen. As to the relationships between two women, this had never been a matter for law as few believed it actually happened. Queen Victoria for example refused to believe in the existence of lesbians.

The Act passed, but only referred to England and Wales and not the merchant navy or armed services. Scotland much to Muriel Wylie’s disappointment would have to wait until 1980 and Northern Ireland until 1982. “Sadly, and I feel a little responsible” as Muriel wrote in her diary, “there was a noticeable increase in prosecutions after the legislation”.

It would be another 38 years before being “simply marvellous” was an opportunity open to all. 30,000 people would be prosecuted between 1967 and 2003.  As Muriel wrote “it was a start but it was really a matter of law and technicalities, no one mentioned love at all and that in the end,that is all that matters.”

Love is all that matters

She thought it was telling that during the parliamentary debate Roy Jenkins referred to those “who suffer from this disability” and that even Lord Arran  asked that people would show their thanks by “comporting themselves quietly with dignity”  and that any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future – would be utterly distasteful”.  Muriel Wylie was also disappointed to see the situation remain the same in Scotland, this she put down to the Church and to the presence of James Adair on the Wolfenden Committee, a Scot. “Unless” she said “one was there one cannot realise how conservative a nation Scotland was in the 1950s and 60s”. “Indeed” she would later say “we did not have the 1960s until the 1970s.”

Below the Parapet

Always on the lookout for a story

Understandably perhaps, Sebastian is reluctant to “come out” in a way that would make good television for the determined couple who pursue him for his memories and sensational sound bites. He is in any case aware that his memory is not what it was and is scared of tying himself in knots with Hilary Dee and the Uber Curator whom he regards as unpleasantly “thrusting women” of the type produced by their emancipation, instead of producing nicer men which would have been a bonus. In any case the Scots do not generally wear their hearts on their sleeves. Heads are generally kept below the parapet.

The Handsome Stranger

This is not to say he is not going to make the most of the celebrations as like his Aunt before him and her coterie of fabulous friends including Lady Pentland-Firth, the Handsome Stranger, Professor Sir Boozy-Hawkes, the ladies from the right side of

The Ladies from the right side of Carlisle

Carlisle and Patty in the Blue Ridge Mountains to name but a few, he likes a party. It is also something which will distract his two media pursuers, who will find plenty of filming opportunities to fulfil their stereotypical agenda of life before and after 1967.

A Night to Remember, if Only They Could

In the Hi De Hi reproduction Hawaiian Ballroom, a selection of afternoon chefs from television are presenting a cookery session  How Gay is Our Food? which seems to consist of sushi and fruit kebabs which has Vivienne screaming at her cameraman to get in as close a possible as the Kebabs are “so rainbow nation,”  which prompts her to turn to her colleague and ask, “we are still doing the Rainbow thing aren’t we?” “Oh yes absolutely darling, we are always chasing rainbows –anyone here with ruby red slippers?”

In the music room there is a Dame Ethel Smyth extravaganza, “tweed suits optional”, but prizes for the dreariest. The Lecture theatre has a well known art historian taking about “Art Deco – the camp choice?” This will be followed by “Hidden Signs, Symbols and Songs” which examines the real meaning of Any old Iron, Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow and the intended audience of Pale hands I loved thee. 

Sebastian’s Contribution

 Sebastian, as this is a fundraising event, has agreed to compère the evening’s main attraction in which he will present some of the recordings of Rae Bourbon, a friend of the colourful Lady Pentland-Firth who worked with him the clubs and cabaret circuit of the 1930s. These include Boys will be Girls, Don’t Call me Madame, Sisters of Charity and many more. It is rumoured they did time together but Sebastian will gloss over that.

Lady P-F from her days on the cabaret circuit

This will be followed by him that was in The Good Old Days doing a Hermione Gingold tribute act with such memorable lines as “Dame Fashion is a fairy and the fairies will get you if you don’t watch out”, which comes from The 1939 Gate Review with Walter Grisham and Michael Wilding. This infuriated the Lord Chamberlain who noted on the script “this was sung by two effeminates and a lesbian”.  The day will end with the usual Diana Ross and Village People stuff and the Lord’s Prayer in polari, with  cake.

Almost There – It Would be Such a Coup

A quiet moment

The media pair are thrilled, but still want some useful lines from Sir Sebastian who has successfully given them the slip until they corner him enjoying a quiet moment  with his paper, a pink champagne and a selection of  food nibbles served on one of those awful bits of roofing tile. His Aunt Muriel would have had kittens or at least the offending item covered in a doily. If only they could get him to say what the nation has been waiting to hear.

“Sir Sebastian is there anything that you would like to say about your sudden trip to New York in 1957 to live in Greenwich Village, with a spotted hankie in your back pocket?”

“I always had terrible hay fever.”

“Again Sir, if I could ask for a comment on 1957?”

“I believe it was the happiest year on record, recent studies have proved it.”

“Would you say” pressed the ace reporter thinking of the “Daily Wail” headline “that for you it was your gayest year?”

Jolly Sebastian

“It was pretty jolly, my aunt was mixed up in one or two strange deaths in the lead up to Britain joining the EEC.”

“Oh no, cut stop filming… Sir Sebastian, please if you don’t mind, not the EU. So boring, so last election, so Theresa… Brexit kills any magazine edition or results in reaching for the remote.”

“I was not talking about Brexit. I was talking about the skulduggery that took place trying to get into it, with the comrades and the tricky French and the strange death of a medium.”

“If you are talking Macron, we’ll be back, what a dish… Vivienne don’t you agree avec moi. Meanwhile, how about just telling our readers and viewers, that you are prepared on this important anniversary – to come out, after all it is 2017”.

“Tell them that in Moscow or the Middle East, that I may make an important announcement.”

“Marvellous, simply marvellous”.

“Please don’t say that. Only one person can say that; I mean could say that.”

“Sorry – well Sebastian, are you proud to be……. you know are you…?”

The youthful Sebastian shows off his scottishness

“A Scotsman – I certainly am. Now can I tempt you to a wee willie-winkie on a stick? Then I must go to bed. I am feeling rather queer, it’s been a long day.”

July 1957

P.S. Remembering fondly my dear Uncle Jasper and Aunt Muriel today on their anniversary, for whom love was everything.

My beloved uncle and aunt
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“Never Had It So Good”: Muriel to Thank

Indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.

Harold Macmillan British Prime Minister 1957 

As I was saying…

On the telephone to the Prime Minister’s Wife 

“I hope that’s helpful Dorothy. I think “Never had it so good” will set the tone nicely and who knows it may come to define Harold’s premiership.

An Optimistic Lady

Busy as ever!

You know me Dot, I am an optimistic lady and all around I see increased production in coal, steel and motor cars; everywhere in fact except here where Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does, but not a lot) has stagnated in terms of productivity and Jasper seems to go backwards. So I suppose one might consider him a one man economic downturn.

You might suggest that in case others are burdened by such drags on the economy, Harold cautions against rising wages and inflation as these, in my humble opinion, will be the curse of the post war years. Suggest he put in something about “common sense, restraint and the doctrinaire nightmare of socialism and the policies of nationalisation and central planning”. What’s that you said Dorothy? The line is not terribly good, no I quite agree planning is for cocktail parties not countries and on the question of colonialism how about “the pattern of the commonwealth is changing Britain’s position as the Mother Country. Our children are growing up”.

Although I cannot help feeling that Ghana’s decision to scrap God Save the Queen is a little petulant; granted it’s not a catchy tune but surely Dorothy it has to have brought some benefits? I do think something along these lines will set the right tone for our people and present the P.M. as a progressive which is what is needed for membership of the E.E.C.. Yes must dash too, I will put that knitting pattern in the post. Au revoir. 

Mrs Travers Listening in on the Extension

Yes Mrs T some Earl Grey with lemon would be ideal it is rather warm and, for your information, I can hear the click when you pick up the extension in the hall.”

“ Sorry Madame, I was just cleaning the spaces on the dial with cotton wool and disinfectant as per instruction following the unscheduled request by the milk boy to telephone the dairy following an usually high demand for gold top.”

“Yes Mrs T you are quite right I am sorry and when I think of where milk boys hands have been I am shaken to the core.”

“Where exactly have they been Mrs W?”

“Never mind that now Mrs T, just remember when you hear the clank of bottles hover like a gazelle, poised with a damp cloth.”

Mrs Travers – poised like a gazelle

“Never fear Madame. When I hear that milk cart I am like a greyhound at the races and by the way you might have suggested MacMillan said something about Africa and the winds of change.”

“Good point put I don’t want to over egg the pudding so I think I will leave that till a bit further on.”

“If God spares us” replied Mrs Travers.

The Reality of Political Allegiance

A tory convert

“Mrs T sometimes you are such a glass half empty lady. I do wonder why you are not with Mr Wylie and “the come and get it brigade” or socialists as they are generally known. Come to think of it why are you a Conservative Mrs T? Is it your deep understanding of the principles of one nation Toryism and the benefits of individualism?”

“No they have better Beetle Drives and take you in their cars to vote when it rains.”

“You don’t get that with the Labour Party then?”

“No way am I sitting on the cross bar of a bicycle to go down Maryhill Road to the polling station. Free teeth or no free teeth! Well I should get your tea and then I am going to have a wee ciggy outside before I go into town to meet Mr Wylie.”

Jasper Trying to Recoup his Losses

“Why are you meeting Mr Wylie? I did not, in any case, know that he was in town anyway.”

“Well he said that seeing as he was in the dog house over the Mint Julep incident last week he was going to book you a 29/6  facial at the Lancôme Beauty Department in Copeland’s which lasts over one and a half hours according to this morning’s Glasgow Herald. He then wants to meet me at MacDonald Brothers in North Street, where they have a large consignment of linoleum at greatly reduced prices, he is considering super marble for the cold room which he says is looking a bit tatty and he has promised me an off cut for my kitchenette at home.”

“Oh has he indeed. That is funny because Mr Wylie does not normally concern himself with kind of ground covering unless of the turf variety. I smell a rat here or rather a horse or two. While I certainly do not begrudge you a few square feet of linoleum, we have not discussed this and it is the sort of thing that, without increased productivity, leads to inflation. Added to which super marble is rather extravagant I think “not so super marble” would do both for you and the cold room. As to beauty treatment does he really think my face needs an hour and a half of work done on it?”

“Does that mean you won’t accept it?”

“Oh I didn’t say that, but after a fuss, you have to keep them on a tight rein Mrs T or they end up buying unplanned linoleum.”

“I thought you didn’t like planning Mrs W?”

“It’s fine so long as I do the planning.”

“Well I will get the tea then before a quick burst of increased productivity in the lemon curd department, before I go out.”

“Yes that would be good and could you bring my fan and some eau de cologne. I must get on I have my musings to write. Is it just me or is it warm in here?”

So Much to be Proud Of

the Tunnocks’ teacake

It is indeed warm, even in Scotland it has been a very good June. Somehow I feel it reflects the general mood of the country which is one of optimism and the P.M. will say just as much later in July when he tells the nation how fortunate they are. Indeed we seem to be in buoyant mood with building everywhere. There are many new homes springing up all over the place and not only that but whole new towns are taking shape.

Following on from the success of East Kilbride, the first sod has been cut for the creation of Cumbernauld near Stirling. It will be the next stage in solving Glasgow’s huge overspill problems as the slums are tackled, for example in The Gorbals where Jasper was brought up. If all goes well Cumbernauld will be another “contented community”, even if it is planned. Developments are not confined to the central belt either and as I write great progress is being made at the new Atomic Power Station at Chapel Cross near Annan in Dumfriesshire. Although the nuclear reactors are still under construction great benefits are already to be observed in and around Annan where many local people have found additional employment and the town looks quite prosperous. Jasper thinks that nuclear power will not turn out to be all it is cracked up to be. However, we are talking about someone who thinks a key economic indicator is the increase to 5 tons daily of Golden caramel being produced at “Tunnocks” of Uddingston. Jasper is devoted to their caramel wafers and their newest line the Teacake, but then he was brought up on condensed milk.

Differing Views on the Royal Family

Jasper is not particularly devoted to the Royal Family, certainly not as much as he is devoted to caramel wafers. I have asked him to cost the alternative and I mean a Presidency not a packet of bourbons. He can never quite give me an answer. Now I know we had Edward VIII who was something of a disappointment, although he did do quite a bit for the Scottish knitwear industry, but the late King was marvellous and the young Queen rarely puts a Rayne wrong (we share a shoemaker).

My “raynes”

As to Prince Philip, he was on television last night and even Mrs T said she felt like ripping off her elastic knee supports and giving her patella a good going over with a rubbing of wintergreen. Prince Philip was presenting a Panorama special on “The Geophysical Year”. This involves scientists from 63 nations cooperating “to unlock the secrets of this planet and the cosmic forces that affect it”. This began at midnight last night and coincides with the beginnings of a period of unusual activity on the part of the Sun which happens every 11 years. It will involve everything from observatories to snowshoes and huskies. As the Duke said among the aims are “improved weather forecasting, long distance radio, high level flight” and perhaps even “interplanetary travel” and importantly a “search for pure knowledge”.

Now while I would myself simply be happy to see more trains between Glasgow and Dumfries, this is very noble and as he says it is “a great adventure”. Needless to say the Chinese are already playing up – it must be a bit like having millions of Mrs Ts around you. They are trying to destabilize proceedings with Formosa, Mrs T uses linoleum.

Mrs T Never Draws Breath

The perfect pancake

“Earl Grey Madame, and I have taken the liberty of buttering some freshly made pancakes. You would have been amazed at the kitchen it resembled an assembly line. I enlisted the help of Hilda, the German voman, vat does zee heavy vork, and Hairy Mary, the nurse maid from Inveraray, as she had just put wee Gayle down for her nap. The productivity was pure dead amazing so it was, but I thought you could put on your own jam, the lemon curd is still setting; might help exercise the underarm flabby bits.

Putting on the jam

Before I forget – Dorothy Macmillan phoned back to ask what size needles and Stoddart’s Mattresses in Hunter Street phoned to ask if you have “a problem in the bed department”. I said I thought so since Mr Wylie was in the spare room since the Mint Julep incident, so he suggested he could solve the problem by converting the hair mattress into springs and he would recover the quilt in corded taffeta for £5 5s 6d, both returned within 3 days.

The Rev. Tom Allan of St Georges Tron Church phoned to say he was looking forward to addressing the Women’s Guild and just to advise you that in the light of the Medical Research Council’s report on the link between smoking and lung cancer he would be suggesting that smoking now had to have a Christian viewpoint and that would be that it should be given up.

Oh yes and Mr Wylie said Mr MacDonald would do the super marble for the same price as the not so super marble seeing as it was for the simply marvellous Mrs Wylie with a bit extra added on for the woman what does so much for so little. Also would you like to go to the Rogano this evening as they are having a Stroganoff Night and what would be your preference Lonnie Donegan’s Gamblin’ Man or Johnnie Ray’s Yes tonight, Josephine. I said I thought the Josephine thing was out of the question, due to the mattress remaking and separate rooms.”

Struuggleenough!

Ms Travers pours the tea

“Mrs T could you just pour the tea, please?”

“Certainly here you are, thought you’d like it in the blue and white and there’s nothing like a pancake to cheer one up. By the way Madame what is Stroganoff?”

“A bribe, Mrs T, a bribe.”

“Honestly Mrs Wylie, a facial, a nice bit of super marble linoleum, supper out and the number one records of June 1957. I’d say you’ve never had it so good!”

“Mrs T in the light of what the Reverend has said and my own personal belief that if God had meant us to smoke it would be more apparent, please give up smoking. And it is telephone, not phone. Suppose the Duke of Edinburgh had been on the other end of the line, what would you have said then?”

“I would have said, care to join me for some Struuggleenough.”

Mrs T ponders on the possibilities of stronganoff

“They say he has a very engaging personality and knows what he is talking about which makes a change in a man.”

“Yes my husband never knows what he’s talking about or has an engaging personality, come to think of it Madame he has no personality at all. Don’t get me wrong Mrs W a lack of personality in a man can be a good thing provided they have other qualities. As to H.R.H. he can be at the end of my line and leave his slippers under my bed any day”.

“Unfortunately Mrs T you are sending my bed to Stoddarts!”

“Never mind Mrs W, you have Lonnie Donegan to look forward to.”

à bientôt

 

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

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Jasper’s Jottings: Very Warm

The Very Essence of Sartorial

Jasper – man of linen

Jasper Wylie here – international man of tweed and as it is unusually warm, linen as well.

Mint Juleps and Careless Talk

Lulubelle prefers soda

They say that “Mum’s the word” and “careless talk costs lives”, but if truth be told my tongue has been loosened by two or three, or was it three or four, mint juleps. My wife’s cousin, Lulubelle who is from America, gave me the recipe and dashed fine they are too. I have all the necessary ingredients in my shed from where I am writing to you. Well I have the Bourbon in a box labelled “old screws”, there is water in the rain butt (the cousin prefers soda, but anything will do in an emergency) and mint in a pot. The only thing I do not have is the crushed ice, but, fortunately, I have Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does but not a lot) on tap.

When I am in need of ice I just hoist the Jolly Roger on the flag pole and she appears as fast as her ulcerated legs permit with the ice bucket and a pair of tongs. This system works well for other purposes, especially in Ascot Week when Mrs T is invaluable as a runner for the bookie’s runner. My lady wife is not very keen on the old gee-gees so Mrs T and I operate in the shadows where this is concerned in the belief that what the eye doesn’t see the heart does not grieve over. There are strange rules about off course betting so it is all a bit under the wire if you get my meaning. No names, no pack drill as they say and my code name for the purposes of placing a bet is “Tansy”.

Peculiarities Are In The Eye Of The Beholder

The offending bottle of perfume

If truth be told I am a little the worse for wear.  In all probability I should not be talking to you in my cups, but it is all Muriel’s fault as she dropped a bottle of perfume on my foot whilst unpacking, after a couple of days away. This bottle incidentally is more of a shop display item as it almost takes two people to carry it. Muriel, my lady wife, does not carry it about with her. She leaves it in our hotel room and on a daily basis decants it into a handbag sized bottle in case she has to sit next to someone who is a stranger to Odorono or who eats fish and chips from newspaper in public.

Muriel carries this, along with her famous Mackintosh Square just in case the preceding customer at café chair or, heaven forbid, on a public transport seat might be a Socialist. Muriel believes that Socialism is a transmittable disease. I of course, being of humbler origins, have no such peculiarities although come to think of it in the summer months I do have a wooden clothes’ peg with me at all times so that on entering a building or I can peg my panama hat to the waistband of my trousers, thus ensuring it is not easily lost in a country house or left adorning the remains of a Roman hypocaust.

While Muriel was unpacking her valise in her dressing room I made the mistake of entering the inner sanctum, looking for my dressing gown, and startled Muriel who let go of aforesaid mentioned bottle of Eau de Cologne, which fell onto my un-slippered foot.  She said to get some ice and to take something for the pain. So I did, and here I am, and I must say old chums, it already seems much better.

A Wee Sojourn by the Lakes

The famous duet

Muriel was unpacking from us having been away for a couple of days for some rest and recuperation. You are doubtless aware that Muriel was the star of the recent Country House Concert (assisted by me in a small way) at Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country Estate. If you are not, then you must have been on a jungle expedition or detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, for Muriel has sent press releases with follow up telephone calls to all the press she approves of.

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

Despite her undoubted pleasure at the reviews she deservedly received, she found the experience very fatiguing and so we decided a couple of nights away in the Lake District would be a good thing. Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, who is head of Music at the Varsity here in Glasgow and is an expert on Dvorak, arranged the hotel bookings for us as he has shares in one or two hotels which give a discount. This was very kind. He is most generous and also said Mrs T might come.

Apparently he is a fan of detective stories and the occult and so he generously sent Bunty Haystack, the writer of the Rural Murder Mystery Series, and her friend, the spiritualist  Madame Claire Voyant, to London for a couple of days so that Bunty might give readings in Foyles and Madame Voyant could attend a conference on psychic research to see what the world is coming to

Sur le Lac

The topiary garden at Levens Hall

As usual we took the Humber Super Snipe down to Westmorland, visiting the gardens at Levens Hall where they have the most marvellous topiary hedges and roses. We then went onto the Borrowdale Glen and put up at the Lodore Swiss Hotel which is a great favourite of Muriel’s.  It sits just in front of the famous falls and looks out over Derwentwater.

The Lodore Swiss Hotel

While there we received a message from the Handsome Stranger who it turns out has a home on an island in the middle of the lake. Apparently he and Sir Boozy needed to see Muriel urgently on a matter regarding a libretto for the next concert. They would send a boat for her. It seems I was not needed and a good lunch, with custard would be provided for me while Muriel was discussing her vibrato and bel canto, or was that can belto? I can’t quite remember.

To the island

It is always rather annoying to be unwanted, but actually it suited me. There is something distinctly odd about those two, they could almost be related. A rather handsome launch was sent for Muriel while I pottered around Keswick and enjoyed a good lunch and we both had a run round the lake in the early evening sun so I didn’t miss out.

the Handsome Stranger’s house on the island

Muriel looked a little perturbed when we met up again later at dinner, although I thought the fact that news of her triumph in Così Fan Tutte had reached the Comrades and was even reviewed in Pravda could only be a good thing. Something was clearly bothering her as she was talking in her sleep – something about a woman with a crystal ball and the death of Lord Pentland-Firth. Then a little while later she was talking about what sounded like “training to use exploding ducks”. At least it made a change from the snoring which she does not do. That’s the mint juleps talking. I have said too much.

A Hotel Guaranteed to Appeal to Muriel

The Keswick Hotel

Being a last minute reservation the Lodore was unable to take us for a second night. There was an unexpected cancellation at the Keswick Hotel in the centre of the town by the station and we got a discount thanks to Sir Boozie. Fortunately the Keswick Hotel cheered Muriel up especially when she discovered that the Queen had been at the same hotel the previous year.

Set in 4 acres, this establishment has views of Latrigg and Skiddaw mountains. It is a true railway hotel and was opened in 1869 following the completion of the railway in 1865 by the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway Company. It has welcomed many distinguished guests including Sir Winston and Lady Churchill. During the last Unpleasantness, it was a “safe house” for Roedean School pupils.

The car was booked in too

Last October the Queen came and a new building was erected linking the station platform with the Hotel so that Her Majesty would not get wet should it rain. The Hotel was able to take the car in its garage, but there was no room for Mrs T.

She seemed quite happy to stay once again in rooms in Paraffin Alley.

Ice on demand

I think I will freshen my glass. Ouch! My foot is beginning to hurt again. I will just hoist the flag.

“No need Mr Wylie, I anticipated your call. Here is some more ice. No need to worry she is putting new shoe trees into the Raynes and fresh tissue paper into her hats. Here is the paper and by the way the boy has not come back with the winnings yet and I have to go to Timothy Whites to see if they have any more Eau de Cologne bottles to replace the one your foot broke. Then I am going home early. Madame has given permission, she is cooking this evening. Here is the paper. See you in the morning.”

Perusing the Evening Paper

“Thanks Mrs T; toodle pip.” Umm what have we here, Premium Bonds in existence for about a year it seems; doesn’t time fly?  Wonder what I have done with mine. Not sure, I agree with running the country’s finances by what amounts to a lottery. A bit like making the poor pay for services in the hope that one day they will be rich. That’s Harold Macmillan for you.

Oh dear! Eight people have been killed in London. It seems a bus on Route 7 has collided with a queue in Oxford Street at a bus stop. That is rather sad – to go out for a day’s shopping and not come home; so many people affected when this sort of thing happens. As my old Granny Wylie used to say “you never know the minute”.

Another Island

Well I see that, like Muriel, Noel Coward has been on an island although he was not in Keswick, he has been living in Jamaica which is a bit different I imagine. The great playwright has been accused of not paying his taxes, in the press. I suspect there are other reasons why the press do not like Noel Coward. He arrived in Southampton on the Queen Mary “dressed in a black tweed jacket with a white diamond pattern, dark trousers and a black and white checked bow tie”. When asked about his tax affairs he said he was “disgusted but entirely unworried”. According to one passenger he found the whole business of talking about money “rather vulgar” adding “I am an artist”. He is here to see Michael Wilding in his new play Nude with Violin.

Cunard’s Queen Mary

Now I wonder if I should have another little Mint Julep, y’all as Lulubelle would say? Well y’all think I all will. I wonder if I should hoist the old Jolly Roger for peanuts, it cannot be too far off suppa time. Oh I forgot Mrs T has gone early and if I summon Muriel I will get a talking to and have to eat peanuts with a spoon which takes ages. Gosh! I do feel a bit squiffy. Hark! I hear angry footsteps – enemy at 6 o’clock. Bolt the drawbridge men.

News of a Terrible Accident at a Bus Stop

“Jasper are you talking to yourself again, Jasper I know you are in there let me in. I have just had Bunty Haystack on the telephone; there is terrible news. She has been in a bus accident in Oxford Street with that Madame Claire Voyant and I am afraid the medium is dead.”

“What about Bunty Haystack?”

“She is alive, or how else would she make a telephone call?”

“Through the medium.”

“Oh Jasper, stop being factious and let me in……. Jasper let me in!”

“Did you bring ice and peanuts my little chickadee?”

“Jasper are you drunk?”

“Why I do declare, y’all ah am!”

“And I do not need a spoon with the nuts, I have my own fingers.”

Muriel is Not Amused

“Jasper you are quite at liberty to spend the entire evening in the shed, but I shall not be running up and down the path with ice or anything else. Perhaps before I go you could tell me why a boy has just knocked at the front door with £10 for a Mr Tansy and why have you not paid the last coal bill?”

“Muriel I am disgusted, but entirely unworried by your accusation that I have been betting on the gee-gees and as to the question of the coal bill I find any talk of money rather vulgar.”

“Jasper, you behaviour is appalling. I am going to go out for suppa. I have a standing invitation from the Handsome Stranger.”

Muriel administers a withering look prior to departure for dinner

“I bet you do Mu, have a nice time and by the way, I am thinking of taking up painting and I am going to paint you Nude with a Violin.

“Jasper I hope you have a pillow and blankets in there otherwise it is going to be a long night.”

“Nighty Night Miss Mooriel, honey lamb, tote that barge lift that bale get a little………… Muriel, it is midsummer night do you fancy dancing in a stone circle with a violin and flowers in your hair?”

“Really Jasper, do I look like a pagan? I am a past president of the Women’s Guild and we do not dance around stone circles?”

“Pity.”

Jasper Wylie “hic!”

June 1957

 

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Growing Taller

Dignity, Even in the Heat

oozing je ne sais quoi even in the heat

To quote the average Glaswegian “ ̓s warm intit daarlin’; the sweat’s puir drippin’ aff yoose too.” Or for those of you with  a more refined ear, “what an unusually humid day it is my good lady; I can see that like moi you too are gently glowing”. Never forget, ladies, no matter how uncomfortable the weather, horses sweat, men perspire and ladies gently glow. There are in any case few things that cannot be endured with the aid of a fan and a lace trimmed handkerchief, drenched in Eau de Cologne, and a cool drink.

It is apparently the warmest June in Glasgow since 1950. However, this is still no excuse for eating ice cream in the street or for discarding your corsets. I have today witnessed the sight of one or two well known West End ladies, (including Mrs Cynthia Savage, of Savage’s Condiments and Pickles) not only hatless, but with bosoms being worn at near waist level. Remember ladies you are heading for lunch at The Rogano not blow-piping it in the jungles of the Amazon.

It’s Nothing Really

I am having an iced coffee in the “Kenya Coffee House” in Buchanan Street. If truth be told I am also having one of their magnificent choux buns covered in chocolate and filled with real cream. One does not want one’s energy levels falling too much in this heat. I must confess I have been feeling a little lacking in the old get-up-and-go this week.

The triumph of the night

The Country House Concert at Lady Pentland-Firth’s was a triumph and I must agree with Jasper that it was almost entirely down to me. The failure of major international stars to turn up was almost a disaster, but Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, head of the Music Department at the Varsity, where he is an expert on shape notes, persuaded me to step in with my own version of the classic Mozart opera Cosi fan Tuttie. This is a tale of men testing women which is something Scots’ women are rather used to. Jasper for example is very testing.

I was very reluctant, but there was no choice, once an S.O.E. operative one is forever at the service of others. I knew that the future of the estate depended upon moi, as did the fortunes of Patience Pentland-Firth.  It does not seem unreasonable to say that it was a triumph and indeed all the major critics concurred that “Muriel Wylie gave a performance which has left us tearful and lost for words”.

My arias moved the critics to tears

Bookings for the next concert are already well advanced and Lady Pentland-Firth says she may even be able to afford to repair the Deacon Brodie Commode in the “Edinburgh Suite”. There are some mutterings about The Ring Cycle which is very flattering, but I do not do Wagner. It’s not that I do not forgive, (I will even pat a dachshund if necessary), however, I do not forget and in particular I do not forget the circumstances of my interrogation during the last Unpleasantness when my lipstick and nail polish were removed by those brutes.

Being a Diva is So Fatiguing!

To my adoring audience

In truth the heat and the aftermath of the concert have left me a little fatigued. Perhaps it is just the lows after the highs and I imagine that Callas and Sutherland are also used to anti-climax as well. One gives so much as a performer there are bound to be consequences. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not in the first flush of youth. I know that with my perfect posture and flawless complexion (I owe it all to Ponds and Helena Rubenstein) you will find this hard to believe, but it is true.

This week I have wondered if it is time to pass the baton of marvellousness onto someone else and then I give myself a good talking too and remembered that as a torch bearer for “gracious living”, it is my duty to continue. I am aware that many ordinary people, without hope or talent or a good pair of Rayne sling backs, have come to rely on me.

My “raynes”

I, however, also rely on you and take my inspiration from others who carry on despite all that life throws at them.

Lost in the Jungle and Still Standing Tall

This week for example I met a Sergeant K. McConnell who was rescued after 22 days alone and unarmed in the Malayan jungle. He bravely stayed for 5 days by his wrecked plane and then spent 17 days limping through the jungle. On being found, he refused to lie on the stretcher provided by the rescue party. I intend to inform Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does but not a lot) of this next time she complains about chopping sticks for the fire when it is barely below freezing and then has a two hour tea break.

China on Her Mind

A Miss Mitchison, who I bumped into in the powder room of the Central Hotel, has recently found herself “travelling in China”. Now I do not mean she has been going door to door with cheap tea sets, rather journeying through the “sleeping giant” on the other side of the world. Now rather than be overawed by “tediously orthodox communists”, this enterprising lady decided to make the most of her time and see what she might learn and “grow taller”. Thus she has been impressed by the railways with their children’s waiting rooms and special carriages for mothers and children. Equally impressive are special children’s theatres and cinemas. Even book shops have special children’s corners and libraries are easier to find and “less formidable to get into”.

She was particularly interested in the Shanghai H.Q. of the Young Pioneers where the leader, Mr Chen Wei Po, showed her around ‘The Path of the Brave’. This was a twisting, fenced-in, junior commando course rather I imagine like the east end of Argyle Street on a Saturday night. My new acquaintance suggested this would be ideal for some of our more unruly children. Mr Chen said it was all the result of “the liberation”, by which he meant the Communist Revolution. Before this parents, it seems, “beat their children” and children were “nationalists and afraid of foreigners”. Naughty children are not allowed into the Young Pioneers or onto ‘The Path of The Brave’ until other children have helped them to reform and get up to membership standards. We have something similar called The Masons.

Counter Revolutionaries in the Furniture Trade

I am not sure I can approve of this “moral reform” or what is clearly brain washing, however, I do approve of some of the new teaching methods, even if they are to give children a “dialectically materialistic background”. Thus a school in Peking teaches from objects so that children can see and handle things and learn from them. There is far less traditional classroom teaching and less emphasis on formal elaborate manners. The former I agree with the latter will lead to trouble many years down the line. Manners are after all a common language.

What I do find disturbing from my conversation is that children, on discovering that their father may be a counter revolutionary (for example he might be planning to set fire to a furniture factory because he has had a bad deal on a tea table) are encouraged to tell the authorities. Now my family who have been in furniture since the last century often had factory fires during downturns in trade, particularly where there was good insurance. It was something of a Glasgow custom. So they would have found it very inconvenient to be labelled counter revolutionaries. Indeed I am sure my grandfather thought of it more as an opportunity to modernise the plant and replace capital equipment. It seems that communist reforms here would not have led to new wood turning lathes or the latest band saw, but a hustle into a van and a trip over the Campsie Hills for re-education at the very least.

 A Study?

Travel it does seem broadens the mind, but not always. There is something very annoying about those who leave their native city for the supposed streets of gold elsewhere and then return as what one might call ‘social commentators’ on the very place that gave them life and opportunity. I refer to an article in The Herald entitled “Glaswegians Grow Taller”. According to a returning M.P. there are still far more short and undersized people in Glasgow than in any other part of Britain. There are, however, less of them due to war time conditions which produced “green ration books, cod liver oil, orange juice and school meals”. I am not convinced that returning to one’s native city after a period in the Deep South to describe the inhabitants as “interesting” as if visiting a zoological garden is entirely nice.

Glasgow Women Under Attack

I’ve never approved of smoking

Our returning politician compounds his felony by focusing his attention on Glasgow women. It seems we are all still smoking in the street and “talking with a ciggy wagging up and down”. Furthermore in the recent past a general dowdiness and lumpenness was “to be brutally frank… a distressingly common characteristic of the Glasgow Matron”. Oh really!

I take it this overpaid representative of the good citizens of the ‘Dear Green Place’ is unfamiliar with the finer residential developments of our city and for that reason its refined citizens. I have never smoked, and I feel a guilty pang if I am sucking a Fisherman’s Friend as I walk down Sauchiehall Street. As to dowdy and lumpen I intend to invite said gentleman to one of my Etiquette Classes where he will see only grace, beauty and a finely turned ankle and that is just me.

The blame it seems lies fairly and squarely with the garment to which said matrons are addicted and that is the “universal top garment of the female Glaswegian – the fur coat”. Through the eyes of this son of St Mungo we see we have “from the Cowcaddens to Kirklee reached the social equality of cave dwellers”.

Do i resemble a cave dweller? I think not!

It is almost as if our politician is on safari and from the safety of his jeep (or flat in Westminster) has seen through a pair of binoculars an exotic species, the Glaswegian housewife who is apparently at least, until recently, been seen camouflaged in her pinny, over which she wears her “fur coat with a down trodden pair of slippers at her feet and curling pins in her hair.” He clearly not spotted moi! The only explanation for his comments is well and truly revealed by himself – he is now it seems an “Edinburgh man”.

Auld Reekie –  Could do better in Drapery Windows

What passes for effort in Edinburgh!

Talking of Edinburgh and it seems we must, the city has been disappointing in its response to “Scottish Week”. I know this as a member of the Retail Drapers’ Association. At a meeting yesterday Councillor Patterson, the Honorary President, commended “Scottish Week” to all members asking them to feature Scottish articles in their window and internal displays.  The Chairman of “Scottish Week”, Mr Allan, regretted Edinburgh had not put on a bigger show and hoped that in future years they would give a more encouraging lead.

The “Chez Nous” Window in “Scottish Week”

He singled out Aberdeen as the city providing the best response and it will come as no surprise dear reader to learn that the business providing the most typical Scottish response was “Chez Nous” and Mr and Mrs Wylie of Glasgow. I hope you are reading this, the member for vacuous comments.

Revolution and Counter Revolution in the Cake World

I think I just have time for another coffee and then I am going to a demonstration of packet cake mixes. Steady – I know what you are thinking, but these have been accepted in America for a long time. I wonder dear Patty, do you use them in the Blue Ridge Mountains? In the United States they have, I am told, packets which produce high fluffy white Angel Cakes, chocolate favoured Devil’s Food Cake and delicious Brownies. I am told all one needs is an egg and a little milk.

Now I am well aware of the stigma attached to cake mixes and the views of Scottish housewives that anything which saves work probably has a sinful side to it and will lead to eternal damnation. However, cake mixes are becoming respectable and let us face it, how many of us since the war have been able to afford a cook. Well fair play there is me, but then there is you, Mrs Ordinary. You can always buy from a grocer that does not know you and trust me I will certainly not be telling that clever so-and-so M.P. in order that he might pillory the slothful fur-coated user of packet cake mixes.

The champion of cakes at the Rural bolthole Women’s Rural summer competition

On reflection I feel sure that the Chinese might well be fans of the cake mix; they will definitely see it as a sign of liberation. On the other hand while I might promote the cake mix in town, I would never dream of doing so in our Rural Bolthole where it would be seen as degenerate if not counter revolutionary and certainly might be cause to call for a van to take one over the hills and far away.

Well time to square up at the Kiosk before I attempt the ‘Path of the Brave’ otherwise known as the taxi queue at Queen Street station. I need to be at the McClellan Galleries at 11 for the Packet Mix Demonstration.

Exeunt

Champagne from “Fortnum’s”

Jasper and I intend to have a quiet night in and I am going to break out the Fortnum & Mason’s bottle of champagne to toast a dear friend who has so sadly and so suddenly just left us. Roy, who has lived for some years in Greece, was the most hospitable, witty and kindly of men who cooked the best Ossobuco we have ever tasted.

Shakespeare House, an Elizabethan coaching inn

We shared a Shakespeare connection with Roy and dear Nick.  They once entertained Jasper and I as if we were Titania and Oberon in their beautiful Buckinghamshire home…..

Where the wild thyme blows,

Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,

Quite over canopied with luscious woodbine,

With sweet musk roses and with eglantine…

Such larks! Farewell Dear Friend.

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Everyone’s A Critic

Muriel saves the day

Muriel to the Rescue

It is the interval at the first Country House Concert of the Season at Pentland Firth Hall. The promised stars Fonteyn, Markova, Sutherland and Gielgud have all found excuses not to appear  and Maria Callas and Guiseppe de Stephano have a tummy bug and are unable to leave New York. Muriel Wylie has stepped in at the last minute unwilling to be upstaged by her cousin and acting in the national interest, but we cannot say too much about that. Her Cosi fan Tutte   will go down in history.

The Road to No Where

Muriel dans le jardin of the Hall

Pentland Firth Hall, a not so stately pile, lies a heap of clashing architectural styles said to have given Pevsner, “the boke” deep within South West Scotland guarding the entrance to many a secretive glen. This is not so much a forgotten part of the country, but one not much thought about in the first place. Beneath Powell and Pressburger skies sagles soar and streams flow over the landscape like the veins on a body. If you have the right guide with you one can even experience the exact spot where the last Wild Boar in Scotland was killed. Possibly last Tuesday. It is on the road to nowhere, but then most places here are on the road to no-where or what the locals refer to as “there and back”, when they are asked directions by an innocent abroad. It is not only the case that most people know one another, they are also related to one another. Some in fact more closely than they would care to know, the term aunt is a very fluid one in the village. 

More Important Things than Nuclear Annihilation

the “lover” approaches

Change is generally unwelcome, the favourite response when the new is proposed is “Naw –  it’s aye bin”. Or “thanks, but no thanks”. World events take place, political leaders come and go and indeed Glasgow folk stay at the weekend, but the rhythm of country life continues. It is the modern era, the 1950s and the world faces nuclear destruction. However, here the important things are ploughing matches, sheep dog trials, the flower show and the annual bed race. There used to be a river raft race, but since to the astonishment of the hardy locals the army declared it dangerous the Parish Council has withdrawn its support.

There may be non-proliferation treaties and marches to Aldermaston and new furniture with sticky out legs, it is, however, the tray bake and the number of items one can get into a matchbox which excite passions here. When the curtain is pulled across the tables for the monthly S.W.R.I. meeting and the guest is taken behind to find the best gooseberry marmalade in the Parish, this is when one realises what it is to be alive. Suffice to say that when the long resisted steam train made its first appearance here, other parts of Caledonia “stern and wild” were already getting used to the competition provided by road freight and the Wright Brothers had taken to the skies.

Change? Seen It All Before

Così fan tutti begins in earnest

There are some who realise that resistance is futile and that sooner or later there must be change and indeed progress. Time does not stand still and people must make their livings in the modern world even if that means replacing Tartar, the milk round horse, with an electric float. The old guard have of course seen it all before and the covenanters’ graves in the Kirkyard are testament to the difficulty even kings “in that London” had in trying to implement their foreign notions of bishops and prayer books. This was in the 17th century, which just seems like yesterday, which when you can trace your family back 300 years living in the same cottage often without redecorating, is exactly what it is. Somethin’s do get through – dykes for example are far more popular than they used to be.

The Pentland-Firths – Always Improving

Landowners have of course brought change or “improvements” to the landscape. These are generally improvements of great financial benefit to themselves which are sought in order that they might send their children to good schools south of the border where they learn confidence, Greek dancing and how to speak using as few consonants as possible. For the peasants this has generally meant more work at the very least and for some unforeseen opportunities to travel abroad with only a wooden kist and a bible to their names.

The Pentland-Firths have, generally speaking, always been the most improving of landlords and were quick to adopt the ha-ha, the turnip, three crop rotation and the shell grotto. Some developments have, it is true, been a disaster and the previous late Lord Pentland-Firth, a socialist, must have deeply regretted his idea of turning the estate into a safari park as he and his wife, who was a vegetarian and wove her own cloth (need I say more), were eaten by their own lions.

Mozart is always popular

The present incumbent Lady Patience Charity Pentland-Firth, widow of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, faced with crippling taxation and debt has also been forced to be innovative in her approach to improving estate management. She has embarked on a venture which will, she imagines, make the estate into a concert venue like Glyndebourne or Aldeburgh. She not only knows Ben and Peter well, she also knows that Mozart is a key to getting the right sort of people in and that they only have one stronger preference and that is Bach, but he goes on a bit and it is hard to get an organ in a walled garden.

Patience By Name Only

Unfortunately Patience, a former dancer and Cabaret artiste who peaked in the interwar period – most days according to gossip, has little administrative expertise and is easily diverted by anything in trousers capable of putting one foot in front of another, especially if they are seen to have a bulge in their pockets in the form of a full wallet.

Muriel and Jasper having rescued her from an over-reliance on cheap sherry have come to her rescue as Muriel is simply marvellous at organising everything. What Lady P-F does not know is that her late husband was far from being a hero and was indeed a spy passing naval secrets to the enemy. As Britain is thinking about trying to join the new European Economic Community, the government wants no embarrassing stories about the past as the French would like any excuse to veto membership.

The comrades would love to see a disunited Europe. The collapse of a British country estate and the inevitable unmasking of its secret past would make them as happy as a new five year plan and a bottle of vodka. The Establishment is determined that the concerts will be a success despite the handicap of Lady P-F herself. Muriel’s role is central to this, but she faces a number of loose cannons in the form of unpredictable events and an unforeseen element in the form of a crime writer Bunty Haystack who seeks to use the story of the poisoning of the Admiral in her forthcoming book. In her research she is aided by a psychic medium. Unwittingly they pose a grave danger to Patience and the nation. Tonight, however, plans seem to be falling apart from the very start, with the promised concert stars failing to turn up and a pack of journalists, who make hyenas look like nuns at compline, now circling for the kill.

In the Press Room

Is he really strangling her?

The Trafalgar Room at Pentland Firth Hall has been turned into the Concert Press Room. One can tell that by the number of unshaven men in belted raincoats with soft hats and cigarettes in the corners of their mouths and glasses of whisky in their hands. They are bashing out their copy on portables or dictating down the line when they can get to the telephone. These are the theatre critics of our great newspapers, hardened by years of dodgy Lears and painful Portias.

They are unanimous in their view of the first half of the evening with its bizarre Così  as an “unmitigated disaster” and “a cultural catastrophe” which is “the equivalent of the eruption of Krakatau, or the Lisbon earthquake”. The use of adjectives is remarkably similar and we can read over their shoulders “I found the opening very mediocre”; “she made no connection with audience”; “a chichi of 18th century fashion”; “insufficient rehearsal” “the conductor was introspective to the point of incomprehension”; “in the duet his limited range of expression verged on the desperate”; “restraint was not the characteristic of Mrs Wylie’s Così Fan Tutte where she was surly asking too much of the audience to believe she was one of two young maidens”; “what on earth was Mr Wylie doing?; “it might have been good if he had succeeded in strangling her and saved us all.”

The same was being said of the two women in the washing scene in the woodland glade of Allan  Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd. “This seminal piece of Scottish literature was rendered utterly ridiculous by the parts of Jeanie and Meg, being played by an Esme Travers and a German vuman vat normally does not act, but does zee heavy vork in zee tasteful vest end house”; “does not, and should not, act. would be my guess” said one critic; “In addition” he said “this mildly erotic rustic scene was rendered pointless by the large expanses of elasticated support stockings and an overpowering smell of wintergreen”. Furthermore that having washed their clothes in the pool the two maidens were about to wash themselves, “is the stuff of nightmares”.

Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

whatever could that be?

Of course none of this could possibly find its way to the pages of our daily newspapers.  There is a question of national security and a question about our future in Europe. More importantly there is the matter of what one might call urban élites coming down to make fools of those who live in the country and somehow seem to be lesser beings for lives lived without or at least with far less affectation, very few copies of Elizabeth David cookbooks and indeed much poorer television reception. The locals may fight like cat and dog among themselves, but an onslaught of outsiders, brings a unity rarely seen outside, a battle formation in the Roman Legions. To this end the hacks have been so pre-occupied they have failed to notice that around the room are several individuals all circling their prey. These include those who operate in the shadows like The Handsome Stranger and those who operate in village espionage like Young Auld Jock, the schoolmaster, the postmistress and the shock troops of the Women’s Guild used to circling a church hall at soup and sandwich lunches ever on the lookout for those who would sneak in without paying for a bowl of leek and potato soup and some millionaire’s shortbread.

the “lovers” leave

At a signal from a Miss Lulubelle, an American lady about to give a medley of Appalachian songs inspired by 18th century Scottish tunes, the guardians move in and whisper into the ears of the surprised journalists a little individually tailored message guaranteed to bring about a re-write for first editions and then handing over a slip of paper with some helpful suggestions and suitable quotes. Messages like “does your editor know how much of his petty cash goes to bookies at Epsom Race Course?”; and “was that really you in the back row of the Gaumont watching Silk Stockings with the business correspondent of The Scotsman? Handsome lad, wife at her sisters was she?”; “we were searching through the cash book that came from “Busty Betty’s” and we came across your name, seems you saw quite a lot of Pauline from Partick”; “that exposé you did of Gang Warfare in the East End of Glasgow – is it true you write under a pseudo name? We hear that some of the members would very much like to know your real name.”

Yes influence with the press is a wonderful thing.

Relaxing now it is over

The Morning after the night before – Breakfast at the Wylie’s

Muriel is already up and in her housecoat reading yesterday’s Herald Jasper comes down for breakfast prepared by Mrs T.

“ Morning, Precious”

“Morning Prec.”

“Good morning Mrs Travers – that was some night.”

“Aye it was! I am fair scunnered wi’ tiredness, three or four sausages Mr Wylie?”

“Just the four Mrs T. I am having lunch at The Pentland Firth Arms. Is that today’s Herald, Darling?”

“No yesterdays, seems I have missed the “Festival of Women” where according to Jean Kelvin they had a stand where one could make up one’s face, try on a hat and costumed jewellery and then be photographed in colour, having already been photographed at the start. A panel of judges would then decide which women “had made the most of themselves” with prizes. Sorry I missed that, so much time taken up with the concert.”

“Oh darling you have nothing which needs to be improved, you would have been a judge surely.”

Mrs Travers raises her eyes heavenwards

“My thoughts exactly Jasper – oh there’s the paper boy now, quick my white cotton gloves. One never knows where paper boy’s hands have been.”

“I thought it was milk boys hands Mrs W?”

“Umm they’re all in it together Mrs T…. thank you young man, I hope you have not been smudging the Duke of Edinburgh – he’s 36 you know, heer’s 6d. Mind you invest it in National Savings Stamps.”

The Critics Speak

“Così fan tutti” saves the day

“Well hurry up Muriel what do the critics say”.

“Let me see … oh yes here it is. Jasper it is simply marvellous. I’ll read it to you, it says:

 The first Country House Concert of the season at the Pentland-Firth Hall was an outstanding success. The  evening flowed effortlessly with a conductor who provided a superlative interpretation. The garden setting for “Cosi” was inspired and Mrs Wylie’s character combined a mastery of the technicalities with “charm and restraint”. The comedic interpretation of Allan’s “Gentle Shepherd” was sophisticated and witty; the ingénue, Mrs Esme Travers, is surely a rising star on our stage, the Audrey Hepburn of the laundry world. In the extract from “Humphrey Clinker”, Mr Travers captured perfectly the fear and trepidation of the 18th century Englishman about to venture into Scotland while nervously buying provisions at the border to avoid the dreaded sheep’s heid broth. Miss Lulubelle took us to a new place as we accompanied her on a journey through the Appalachians tracing the legacy of Scots’ song through the wanderings of the immigrants from our own glens. The spiritual and ethereal quality of her voice is in sharp contrast to her reputation as a tough business lady with a rissole in a bread roll empire. (These are known as burgers).

The Herald goes on to say, that “with her country house concerts Lady Pentland-Firth has ensured the post war survival of the country house.”

“Well that is good isn’t it Muriel?”

“Indeed it is Jasper provided no one else upsets the applecart, now what about some more tea Mrs Travers? Unless of course being a star has gone to your head and you are going to go all Bette Davis on me.”

“Why ask for the moon Mrs W when we have the stars.”

Muriel Wylie

June 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Foxes and Poultry

“An Election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry .”   George Eliot from  Felix Holt 

Theme Night

It is Food and Drama Night at The Home for the Terminally Overdressed, a cutting edge residential facility for thespians from stage and screen. You will find it tucked away on the Slough Trading Estate. Here, for a price, there is person centred care for those of a theatrical bent and many of the residents were once household names particularly from the heyday of British Television in the 1970s. Despite all the strikes and de-industrialisation, not to mention the sexism and racism, the 1970s was quite a nice time with flared trousers and platform shoes, when we all knew was that Thursdays was Top of The Pops and Sunday evenings meant The Onedin Line or The Brothers. There was nothing quite like chilli con carne and if you added a small tub of cream to chocolate Angel Delight and covered it with hundreds and thousands you could even pass it off as your own chocolate mousse.

A Rumbaba

Sadly these days have gone and chilli is now without carne because of the methane and Nigella and the like have more sophisticated ways with mousse although no one actually has time to make it. The culturally unifying force of two or three channels (if you could afford BBC 2) has gone. We are a nation fragmented by choice and digitisation and other things. It is rumoured in the Home that rumbabas are on the menu!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

vintage place settings

“Food and Drama” is one of the more popular nights at the Home and this evening guests have worked hard to bring some memories and some magic back into their lives and there are several elderly Sidney Poitiers from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, there is a well known husband and wife team who have come as Lady and the Tramp with a bowl of spaghetti which is proving difficult to handle with zimmers. The Harry Burns and Sally Albright characters from When Harry Met Sally might well have been a mistake as this particular Sally has recently had a hip replacement which rather limits the “oh ah” scenes when it came to each character “doing their turn” to their fellow residents.

Undoubtedly a great success are the two sisters who once won fame and fortune on Opportunity Knocks who have come as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? “This” said Matron in the awards part of the evening “is a wonderful example of how our residents turn disability to advantage as our “Joan” has found herself confined to a wheelchair since making a guest appearance on Playschool and falling over Humpty and going through The Square Window.”

In an aside to her PA she suggested that photographs should be taken as it would be useful for the national “Ageing Well” competition to be held at Blackpool in October. This should not include the rather life like dead rat and parrot, as families considering The Home for the Terminally Overdressed for their loved one might think it was some sort of sample menu.

Themed Living

Fortunately for those who once appeared in such memorable 1970’s programmes as Please Sir, On the Buses, Callan, The Persuders and Cilla to name but a few, they can relive their glory days in a series of themed spaces calculated to help nudge failing memories and encourage what is now called “wellbeing”, and was probably once called something else before it needed to be made into a commodity. You will find quiet corners such as “Val Doonican’s Niche” which contains a rocking chair and a guitar set against a panorama of the Mountains of Mourne. There is a previously “ladies only” space which explores themes of fictional correctional facilities in “Within these Walls”, which is a female prison workshop. This has, like most things, been recently re-imagined as “a gender neutral space” which suits “him from Upstairs Downstairs” who likes to wear the prison overalls and the Googie Withers wig from the dressing up basket.

As the Director of Personalised Care for the company said to “The Daily Wail” reporter “we are all theatre people darling, we don’t judge”. This is not like “The Daily Wail” which does and revealed all in headlines reading “Former Footman to Lord Bellamy in Hairspray Shock – I was terrified said our reporter.”

There are also larger spaces for more communal activities, such as the coffee bar designed to look like the coach in The Italian Job. This is not recommended for those with vertigo and there does tend to be a high staff turnover and the cost of replacement Italian crockery is challenging. 

Embodied Performance and a Wrongly Positioned Ironing Board

Sebastian Wyle fox

Of all the residents none is more famous than Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the nation’s favourite luvvie. Sebastian is one of our greatest classical actors. In his twenties he famously filled almost a complete row of the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, where he gave a ground breaking performance as Shakespeare’s King Richard in Richard III, which is a famous play by William Shakespeare, the rather well known playwright.

The young Sebastian in the definitive performance as Richard III

It was Sebastian who, in the 1950s, first fully embodied the performance of  the King’s “humphy back” in a pantomime villain portrayal which as Ken Tynan said “has never been improved upon”. Despite not getting the role of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger, “due to artistic differences with Osborne over the motivation of Mrs Porter’s ironing board”, he was undoubtedly one of Britain’s “slightly ruffled young men”.

Muriel Wylie

Much of his early success was due to the influence and expansive network of his legendary aunt, the late great Baroness Wylie of Waterside, who as Muriel Wylie was a major figure in the cultural landscape of post war Scotland. Sebastian was (unfortunately because of the times he lived in) what might be described as “very theatrical”, which in the years before Lord Wolfenden’s report meant he got himself into a bit of bother. Aunt Muriel, who was not above what we might call “knobbling a judge”, managed to get him off one particularly tricky charge and sent him to America in the care of her Cousin Lulabelle, who set him up in Greenwich village. At the actors’ school he blossomed under all sorts of people and Stanislavsky became his byword.

Lobster on the Menu

Sebastian always enjoys a glass of champagne

We still see, even with declining memory and physical stamina, that Sebastian and method acting are almost one in the same. Why today for example he decided that he would come to the Food and Drama evening as a lobster from the scene in Woody Allan’s Annie Hall. Over and above the difficulties of the costume, Sebastian insisted on absorbing his character by spending a large part of the morning in a perfumed bath surrounded by seaweed (good for skin tone) and following this by an excellent lobster lunch which he had sent for from some fancy chef along the Thames towards Maidenhead, which arrived by Deliveroo.

Matron says she is making “damned sure it goes on his extras’ bill as is the bottle of pink champagne”.  Sebastian has always seen the need to remain current and his portrayal of the dying moments of a lobster in boiling water through the medium of rap caught the imagination of the residents who have decided to invest in baseball caps and chunky gold jewellery.

Sebastian, despite being given a light sedative earlier in the day, can still work an audience and it is due to him that a rather bad tempered day has turned out rather well. Even if he was also the cause of the bad tempers.

New Directions and New Confusions

The mood in the Home reflects that of the country and here just as elsewhere there is division along party lines. The blame, if blame there must be, is laid fairly and squarely at the door of Brexit.

Actors are used to exiting a stage. There is stage left. This is the instruction for a character to leave the stage on the actor’s left facing the audience in the normal manner, that is to say in a quiet non dramatic fashion, making way for more interesting events. Exit stage right is the same but by the actor’s right facing the audience that is to say their left. So left and right as we know can be very confusing as stage left and right are the opposite of House left and  House right. Then we have down stage, upstage and off stage.

Now all  the world is a stage and this world stage is where Britain apparently wishes to be, but when the actors are elderly and not a little confused the introduction of another instruction Brexit makes for confusion and where there is confusion there is disharmony. This new stage instruction has resulted in an election and as George Eliot said when we have elections the fox is kinder to the chickens at least for a while.

A Lot of Georges

Hard to believe Sebastian is such a stirrer!

Sebastian, who is bored easily, can be a mischief maker. He learnt much from his cousin (once removed) about manipulating certain situations to advantage and this morning he enjoyed making the residents jittery with his tales of George Eliot. “Who is this George Eliot” said the former makeup artist on George and Mildred. “Oh darling” replied a researcher from That’s Life with Esther Rantzen “you remember… George Eliot, he used to be Mary Anne Evans, lived with a married man for over 20 years.” “Speak up dear, my battery is low.” “I said she lived with George for 20 years” “Who? He did or she did?” “Both actually.” “Well how very  peculiar, so typical of Sebastian Wylie Fox. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were in one of those blancmanges à trois either. I knew I should have gone to Hastings.”Did you ever meet his aunt and uncle?” “The Wylies; yes we had her on The Generation Game, contestants had to eat a banana with a knife and fork. Anyway dear Sebastian says there is a new stage direction, a Brexit and we must all get used to it.”

Divisions in the Home

Inevitably it was not too long before those residents who could remember what had happened at breakfast were meeting up with others in like minded groups. Those who had forgotten just went to easyobics or crochet. There were those who thought things had gone too far and and that the old stage directions should remain or we would be out of step with the rest of the world. Then there were those who thought it was too late and the Brexit should be embraced with its new opportunities for experimental theatre in places like Australia and New Zealand and with that awful ham actor in the States.

A Nice glass of Scotch

The Scottish residents inevitably felt that they were being marginalised, as they have been since 1603, and retired to the Caledonian Club on the 4th floor  with their glass of scotch, where those who had been in the Citizens’ Theatre and the 7:84 Theatre Company would demand Gaelic stage directions and write a musical based on the Highland Clearances with the working title Sheep-xit.

By the afternoon there was a full scale riot taking place in the mock up of the Houses of Parliament which had been built for The Pallisers and rescued by that woman on the TV who hangs about council dumps and turns old rubbish into things people with beards, living in Bermondsey, want.

The Usual Suspect

Matron was furious, she can always sense when Sebastian is at the back of something. “I can quite see why” she said “there have always been rumours he was a spy. He seems to make things happen by the simplest of actions and then disappears to watch things play out.”

Victoria Sponge

Fortunately by tea time everyone had exhausted themselves and after scones and Victoria sponge, many had a dose or watched a woman turning rusty baths into bookcases. Sebastian, true to form, had retired to look out his lobster outfit before going to his individualised reminiscence therapy.

 Old and with Memory Problems  (he does tell such silly stories)

“Sir Sebastian I wonder if you would like to share with us this afternoon your memories of the famous Country House Concert of 1957 which featured the woman who most clearly epitomises 1950’s Britain, your Aunt Muriel?”

“Così fan tutti” saves the day

“Indeed well you see it was really about how Così Fan Tutte saved Britain from the comrades and Bunty Haystack, a forgotten crime writer, and a spiritualist called Madame Claire Voyant from assassination.”

“Nurse I wonder if you would make a note? Sir Sebastian’s hallucinations are more pronounced, prepare a sedative.”

“Well of course I was in New York at the time having the time of my life in Hell’s Kitchen, but my Aunt’s diaries give a very vivid picture of that time and I have brought along one of the concert programmes. You see we had to stop the story of Lord Pentland-Firth’s murder becoming public. He was widely believed to have been a war hero, but had in fact betrayed Britain to the comrades. The Secret Service had instructed agents to make sure the news never got out. In 1957 Britain was trying to get Inxit, that is to say into the EU and the PM wanted no embarrassing leaks which could be used by the French.

Part of the strategy lay in making sure that Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts were a success or she placed herself in danger of blackmail. Unfortunately Bunty, through the medium, smelt a rat and would if allowed have behaved like a fox in a chicken shed. Will I go on?”

“Yes certainly fascinating, but first you are going to feel a little prick.”

“Life is full of disappointments.”

Sebastian Wylie Fox

The Doctor Findlay Medical Centre

The Home For The Terminally Overdressed

Slough

June 2017

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