Another Goodbye

Making herself comfortable

There are no ordinary cats

Collett (a well known French writer) 

Coffee at the County Hotel, Dumfries

The County Hotel, Dumfries

“Well Darling”, said Lady Pentland-Firth as she arrived at the County Hotel handing her coat to the waiter, putting her handbag on the floor, untying her silk scarf and glancing at the menu, “you have certainly had a difficult few weeks.”

“That is something of an understatement”, replied  the simply marvellous Muriel Wylie looking in the mirror of her compact and wondering if she was entirely happy with the shampoo and set she had just had at Joyce, Hair Fashions in the High Street of Dumfries.

“Joyce”, the hairdresser’s of choice, apparently

“What kept you?”

“Sorry Muriel, I dropped the car off at Rosefield Mills, there is the tiniest of dents in my bodywork and then I dashed round to Percy Bros in English Street where I have been having my Bush seen to and Thomson’s where my gold watch was being cleaned. How about you, what have you been up to?”

The place to take your Bush

“Oh, I was on time as ever Patience, even although I had to go to the Bank for Jasper, but I was in town early as I had a couple of appointments of a business nature.”

“Don’t say, Muriel you are trying to flog that awful Scandinavian furniture with the sticky out legs here in Dumfriesshire? You will never get anywhere, it’s worse than Norfolk; they haven’t even come to terms with the Black Death.”

Work Takes Muriel’s Mind Off Things

“Very funny Patience, but I will have you know that the managing directors at both The North British Rubber Company and Carnation Milk have asked me for a price to redecorate their Management Dining Rooms. I know things are a little behind the times here, but I may just have persuaded them that it is time to say goodbye to the Jacobean Age.

a new opportunity for Muriel

Anyway even if my suggestions for glass tables and lemon leather chairs with black tapered legs come to nothing, it has taken my mind off things. I know Winnie would have wanted to die as she lived with a crotchet hook in her hands, but the finality is never easy. Especially after all we went through in France in the last Unpleasantness. It was Winnie who kept me going when I was tortured by the Gestapo.”

Lady P-F Wants the Gruesome Details

“What was it they did again Muriel? Remind me of their bestial acts once more.”

“ Patience they confiscated my foundation and lipstick and cut out the lining of my Mappin and Webb lizard bag as they believed it concealed the date of the DDay landings in 1944.”

“And did it?”

“No of course not that would have been too obvious; the date was in the inside of my Rayne shoes. Of course I wanted it to be the 5th of June as I felt the 6th suggested I had too large a grip on terra ferma, but Winston was having none of it.

The handbag

Honestly Patience, not only did I have those brutes thinking I took a size 6 in shoes but I had to have the bag relined in 1946 at considerable personal expense as S.O.E. said it was a hazard of the job. I will never forget Winnie singing one of her knitting songs as I nursed the minuscule amount of Helena Rubinstein’s “Deep Coral”, which somehow they had overlooked when ravaging my bag. Fortunately the clasp was so good it suffered no ill effects and is still going strong.”

Any News of the Intruder?

“What about the burglary?”

“Well that was unfortunate, luckily no one was hurt although Mrs Travers, who was of course busy sleeping rather than doing anything useful, was a bit shaken and had to be restored with half a bottle of brandy. She had the foresight to contact the Handsome Stranger who came at once.

I sent Jasper home to Glasgow to keep her company as there was no point in us both going; it would only raise suspicions. The only thing that was missing was of course the draught excluder containing the map. I don’t as yet know all the details, but it seems the intruder left some important evidence which the Handsome Stranger said was really quite tasty with some fried onions and French mustard. He has also sent a ticket stub to Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, at the very good varsity in Glasgow. Although the conversation with Mrs T on the telephone was a little disjointed, due to her hysterical shrieking –  such a feature of the working classes, I gather there is something significant to do with the horns of an animal.”

“I thought the Professor only worked in the Music Faculty. What on earth can he know about bits of ticket stubs with the picture of animal horns on them?”

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

“Oh Patience he is a man of many parts and knows a great deal about codes and secret signs and symbols. Music is full of them apparently.”.

“Well I like a man of many parts, let us hope he can shed some light on things.”

“Indeed Patience we really need to find that map, we do not want the comrades getting one over on us do we.”

“No of course not, Muriel off course not.”

A Face from the Past – Perhaps

“Are you ladies ready to order now?”

“Yes waiter, two Viennese coffees, which come from a city in Austria and two tea cakes with jam, which I presume are from the bakers around the corner?”

“Yes indeed madam. Excuse me Madame, are you or I mean were you once Miss Lily, who ran the “Eastern Promise” Club in Shanghai and who went on to sing in Berlin in all its decadence?”

Lady P-F from her days on the cabaret circuit

“Indeed ce moi, who wants to know?”

“Don’t you remember me? I used to tune your ukulele, if you know what I mean?”

“Good heavens, Tommy Top Note! Well I never, and my goodness you knew how to get a top A, you naughty boy. I never saw you after the long Night of the Appfel Strudel, what happened?”

“Oh I was arrested for theatricality as in my spare time I was Vibrato Vera from Venezuela.”

“Gosh I remember that routine, didn’t you work with Alistair Faulks from Airdrie?”

“Yes he was Angel Falls, wonderful in silver lame. He had the legs for it, we had that routine with a parrot, a fan and a can of petroleum.”

“Goodness, what a small world. May I introduce my friend Mrs Wylie, we are currently engaged in matters of international espionage, but two toasted teacakes would hit the spot just like you used to!”

“Oh, Madame coming up.”

“That’s what you always said, you tease’ don’t forget the jam.”

“On the house.”

“Fancy that Patience, coming across someone you worked with all those years ago when you were free and easy.”

Once upon a time….

“Oh Muriel Darling I haven’t a clue who he is, but we won’t have to pay a thing for this; maybe we should stay for lunch? And just for the record, I may have been easy but I was never free. As I used to say when I tickled anyone’s fancy – ‘don’t call me dear, call me expensive’, which reminds me how is your lovely husband; still hiding in his shed, is he?”

Zelda’s Departure 

Little Griselda, better know as Zelda

“Well I expect so Patience; he is desperately upset about the death of Zelda you know. We had to take her last week and help her on her way to the Heaviside Layer, past the Russell Hotel and the Jellical Moon.”

“Oh Muriel I am so terribly sorry, she was a very special cat.”

“Thank you Patience, but then as Collette, writing as the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette said “there are no Ordinary Cats.”

Our lovely wee cat

“True perhaps Muriel, but Zelda was extraordinary especially as she liked to run away in Co-op vans and hide in suitcases. Jasper must have been distraught.”

“Yes he is, as am I. He saved her you know as a kitten from drowning. He has decided to have a sort of memorial evening for her. He has an idea for an evening of music and poetry and prose all about cats, to raise funds for charity.”

“Well people do love cats, except those who like dogs. What is he going to call it.”

“A Night of Pussies.”

Lady P-F Senses a Commercial Opportunity

“Well Muriel!  What can I say! I can tell you with my commercial hat on as Managing Director of Pentland-Firth Estates, that will pack them in, what about having it at the Hall? I should be happy to host, for a small fee of course.

We could theme the whole place. You and I could do the “Cats’ Chorus”.

Now let’s get paper and pen, Oh  Vera, I mean Tommy Darling, can you bring your old friend a few sheets of foolscap? I was just thinking about that night in Berlin, you bad Tommy, and would you be a love and top up the coffees Muriel and I are talking Pussies. By the way Muriel who is the Heaviside Layer?”

“Not who exactly Patience, it is a layer of ionised gases 90miles above the earth. It was named after Arthur Kennelly and Oliver Heaviside.”

“Muriel I do envy you your private education.”


the handsome stranger

“Mr Wylie that is the Handsome Stranger here again, will I bring some tea?”

“Thank you Mrs T, that would be wonderful, just send him down.”

“Mrs Wylie telephoned to ask if you would like Lady Pentland-Firth to host the memorial evening.”

“That is kind say, yes. Oh hello there.”

“Good afternoon Jasper, nice to see you in reasonable spirits despite everything. Organising the memorial service for Winnie will take your mind off everything.”

“Oh no it is not for Winnie; it is for Zelda, my cat.”

“My apologies, yes one forgets how attached to animals certain people can become. I came to say that Boozy Hawkes is in touch with his chums in manuscripts and says he will have an answer in a day or two.”

“Jolly good show. Now do give me your opinion. I am thinking of opening with Kitten on the Keys or do you think something by either Debussy or Ravel would be more suitable? They were very keen on cats too.”

“What about Scarlatti’s Cat Fugue?”

“Good choice and I think Lady P-F has a harpsichord.”

“What else are you thinking about for the programme?”

“Well I was thinking about a short historical presentation with lantern slides, featuring how other civilisations have looked at cats. For example the ancient Egyptians mourned the death of their pet cats by saving off their eyebrows to signify their loss. Then perhaps we might see how the Chinese liked cats for pest free fields and the Celts who saw cats as having strength and magic.”

“What about the Christians and cats?”

“Good point Handsome Stanger, although they have always tended to be ambivalent seeing evil and witchcraft in cats although St Gertrude of Nivelles was the Patron Saint of cats, although we will need to be careful Muriel and the Moderator are already on a collision course over so many things. Cats might be the last straw.”

“I imagine you will be reading some extracts from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Cats.”

“Yes of course. I shall be Bustopher Jones, the cat from St James’s Club land, although I hardly think I am quite as fat.”

“No of course you are not Jasper; and Mrs Wylie?”

“The Gumby Cat perhaps, but I also want Muriel to read from Lewis Carol, as there are Dinah, Alice’s own cat, and the philosophical Cheshire Cat. I myself am thinking about reading from Saki and his tale of Tobermoray, the cat who is given the gift of speech and turns out to be haughty and sarcastic with something on all those assembled at a country house party including their backstabbing and infidelities. After all cats see all and hear all.”

Cats see and hear everything

“You will have to have Edward Lear and The Owl and the Pussy Cat.

“Indeed I will, you really are being most helpful. Won’t you stay for suppa? Mrs Travers is doing some nice sardines on toast and a milky pudding.”

“No thank you Jasper. I must get on the trail of international bad people. I think you could do with a few days of quiet in the country old chap.”

On the trail of bad people

“Nothing wrong with me, best to keep busy, what about the Tale of Ginger and Pickles and Miss Moppet by Beatrix Potter.”.

“What indeed Jasper; would you like a whisky and soda?”

From the Heavyside Layer way past the Russell Hotel

“Oh dear, “the Dada” is in a bit of a state. I shall have to tell him I am fine and all is well.”

Suppa Time

“Mr Wylie suppa is ready and oh yes there was a strange telephone call from someone. I think she said her name was Gertrude sounded as if she lived in Nivelles which must be on the south side, but she says you are not to fret and the night of Pussies will be a great success and you are not to worry as all is well beyond the Russell Hotel.

You do know some peculiar people if you don’t mind my saying so. By the way have you noticed that since Zelda died that ginger and white cat has moved in. He caught a rabbit this morning, looks like a wee bit of a chancer to me.”

“Oh dear Mrs T, squatters already.”

“Life goes on Mr W, just wait till the mice find out. Now I have cut the heads off the sardines. Do you want tomato sauce in the bottle as she is oot, as they say – when the cat’s away…… oops sorry Mr W poor choice of figurative language.”

“That’s all right Mrs T. I know you meant no harm and anyway as someone said time spent with cats is never wasted.”

“Wasn’t that Freud?”

“No one is sure, but it does not really matter who said it; just that they did.”


In memory of Zelda – a small cat, who talked a lot, enjoyed the Third Programme and liked to climb trees and have the company of people in her garden.

And for more information on T.S. Eliot and his cats, please have a look at this.


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Bedtime Rituals and Frankfurters

A Little Reminder


Just to remind you in case you have been either an ex- serviceman hiding out on a deserted Pacific Island in the belief that the last Unpleasantness is still in full swing, or living a rural part of Scotland, where that is possibly  still the future.

It is spring 1958.

The British Empire – Clinging On

Britain still rules the world or at least thinks it does. There have, however, been one or two shocks like the Suez Crisis and the advent of commercial television, which have suggested that this is no longer perhaps the case, but we will ignore that on the grounds that it is bad for morale and the bowler hat and umbrella business. The young Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for 6 years and her bobby dazzler of a husband, Prince Phillip, has just opened the London Planetarium which saves one going out at night to look at the stars.

Muriel in spring colours

The Prime Minister is Harold Macmillan, who is a Conservative, which suits our heroine Mrs Muriel Wylie, but not our hero Mr Jasper Wylie who is a Socialist when he is not at the golf club.

Jasper off to the golf club

The C.N.D. has just been established with a march to Aldermaston, demonstrating that people are fed up living with the threat of not living. Work has begun on our first motorway, which of course is in England. Some parts of Scotland have only just got “the electricity” so there is no rush here. The de Havilland Comet has made its first flight and My Fair Lady has opened in Drury Lane.

The programme of the show

Hancock’s Half Hour has just been broadcast on B.B.C. Radio with an episode entitled Sunday Afternoon at Home. Shelagh Delany’s  A Taste of Honey is in rehearsal at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Church of England has given its moral backing to family planning. These two events show that we are heading for the 1960’s and heaven knows what will happen there.

Career Opportunities at Home and Abroad

The lasting impact of two Unpleasantnesses in half a century define all that we British think about ourselves and all that we do. In many a shed and garage you will find the blackout shutters are retained and blackout curtains are always to hand in the attic. After all one never knows, does one? Meanwhile the effects of the cold war are everywhere and have created another career for Oxbridge graduates, that of the spy.

Nevertheless as a nation we remain optimistic and have encouraged nice people from the Caribbean to come and help us do the things we find we are unsuited to for long hours, poor pay and below standard housing.   This seems only fair as we encouraged them to leave their own countries in the first place to “seek other opportunities”  in the cotton, tobacco and sugar  industries and one has “a continuing sense of responsibility you know”.

By the same token we are encouraging some of our own people, especially those who might become “delinquents”, to take up opportunities of their own in countries that are as far away as possible. To make sure they settle we avoid telling them anything about their own families which might prove unsettling –  such as they are still alive. It’s “for the best” you know.

Changing Times

The foodarama in pink – new ideas for kitchens

There is, however, a sense of optimism despite the fact that socially we still seem to be in the 1930s. There is a desire for the new – new experiences, new kitchens and new patterns in dress and design. Atoms are everywhere – in the sky, in Brussels and are defining the shape of our coffee tables and dishes for peanuts.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley are challenging our ears with Great Balls of Fire and Jailhouse Rock.  Some of course prefer the more traditional sounds of Perry Como with Magic Moments or Vic Damone with On the street where you live.

The exclusive West End abode

Such are the choices of our main characters Muriel and Jasper Wylie citizens of that great, if somewhat sooty, city Glasgow. They live in Glasgow’s exclusive and much sort after West End and also have a rural bolt hole on South West Scotland, a place untouched by explorers or ethnographers due to the rumours of cannibalism or at the very least inadvisable bed races.

A Stable Family in an Unstable World?

The Wylies have an interior decorating business, “Chez Nous”, which clings to the old, but tries for the new. They are fortunate to have the help of a daily woman Mrs Travers, who does but not a lot, and  a new West Indian lady called Grace for “the heavy work”. Their household also consists of their ward young Gayle and her nurse Hairy Mary from Inveraray.

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

Much to their sadness their nephew Sebastian who is a thespian  (famous for his Shakespearean role of Richard III, which was a play written by the famous Shakespearean author William Shakespeare) now lives in New York. He had to leave Britain under a cloud following some rumours that he was very theatrical. Theatrical enough, it has to be said, to have been seen taking tea at the Ivanhoe Hotel in Buchannan Street with a man who was neither his uncle nor a scoutmaster. Or perhaps he was a scout master, anyway he was very keen on camping.

Old and New Threats to Human Life

Keeping an eye on things

“Chez Nous” is something of a front for the fact that Muriel, having being in the S.O.E. over 10 years previously, is still active “in the shadows” and has recently been in Geneva, which is in Switzerland, undercover at a Conference on the Seas. Here she kept her eye on things at cocktail parties and as a teacher of crochet, running classes for the wives of delegates  who, because they are women, are not allowed to do delegate sorts of things and require to be entertained. Muriel was replacing Winnie an old friend from S.O.E. days who had disappeared with her paramour, Mr Chan of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant with dinners A- D a speciality.

Unfortunately Winnie and Mr Chan have been poisoned to death – yes really! A strategic crocheted map containing details of the coastal waters between Japan and the comrades has gone missing and more importantly so have some international heritage recipes for fish dishes which Winnie was compiling for a book.

Muriel and Jasper’s lives are in danger so their handler the Handsome Stranger has sent them back to Blightly. All are quite fatigued, but have thrown themselves into that task which is even more important than national security and that is spring cleaning. There may be the threat of nuclear Armageddon, but that is as nothing compared with the treat of the moth and women who neglect damp dusting and vinegar washing the skirting boards. Why that is just one step away from hanging out a washing in one’s dressing gown, or going to the doctors with your Willie and a case of impetigo – or  as we call it social death!

To the Country

Muriel and Jasper have gone down to the rural bolt hole with Grace and little Gayle to open up the house and investigate the reports of carpet moth. Not that Muriel will investigate herself. She will take on a temporary workforce of local girls, desperate for employment until the summer opportunities open up at the local aerated water factory, not to mention the potato picking, so we won’t  – as it is rather hard on the back.

The spring breezes of the countryside will do Gayle the world of good and stop her missing Hairy Mary who has gone home for a month to help with the fishing. This has left Mrs Travers home alone in the Glasgow house.

Mrs T in Charge

The stairs to Mrs T’s house

Mrs Travers is rather enjoying the responsibility and the novelty of having a large villa to herself, so very different from her own two apartment tenement flat in Maryhill with shared lavatory on the landing and a weekly slot on the clothes line.

We join her as she retires for the night having helped herself to a not inconsiderable amount of Jasper’s single malt from the cocktail cabinet. She owes it to herself; after all she has had a busy day bristle brushing the hand knotted oriental rugs and separating the fringes with a moustache comb that belonged to Muriel’s father.

A Bedtime Routine is so Important

Getting ready for bed is a time consuming business at the best of times. With the Wylies it follows a well worn ritual that begins with the setting for breakfast, the washing up of the Ovaltine beakers, or perhaps crystal glasses if there has been a nightcap, the cat is then put out and the locking up begins. This is almost as complicated as that which takes place at the Tower of London as the Wylies firmly believe that behind any “unsnibbed”  door or window lies a “jakey” in waiting behind the privet with beady eyes on Mrs Wylie’s chinoiserie or Mr Wylie’s capodimonte.

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

As far as Mrs Travers is concerned their disappearance in the hands of a cat burglar would be a step in the right direction as their weekly dusting and monthly washes under museum conditions are a nightmare of the first order and anyway what is wrong with a nice set of flying ducks or a giant plaster Alsatian in the window?

Water and Fire – so Dangerous

Mr Wylie insists that the kettle is filled ready for the morning. This is unnecessary but goes back to his childhood in The Gorbals when water supplies were apt to be interrupted by bursts at a moment’s notice. This would mean that Granny Wylie would not get her morning cuppa or indeed her hot water and lemon “tae clean ma insides oot”. The fear of water disasters overnight is nothing as to the fear of fire. All electrical plugs must be pulled out and any lit fire damped down with dross or as Hairy Mary would say in the translation of the Gaelic “smored” often breaking into her famous peat smoring song if little Gayle is fractious.

The Long Goodnight

After final dishes have been “put past” and cushions have been plumped (and none must be left unplumped, that would be slovenly) it is up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

There is great excitement if little Gayle has been up late and  is given a fireman’s carry by Jasper, singing Wee Willie Winkie, although this often means more wakefulness for her. Jasper does not have to deal with this.

Jasper always falls asleep quickly. His snoring, resembling a full artillery attack on the western front, does however make sure no one else gets to sleep as quickly. Mrs Travers has often been awake watching her dentures clatter together in the jar as Mr Travers goes in for the final assault, over the top, from the room below. 

A Phased Goodnight 

a phased goodnight

Mrs Wylie has usually disappeared two hours previously having begun her  “phased nighty-night routine” which begins with removing most jewellery, changing into her dressing gown, putting on the fluffy mules and removing some, but not all, of the maquillage. At which point Muriel is totally divested of artificial beauty aids no one is entirely sure as no one living has ever seen that.  Not even Jasper. As Muriel herself says quoting Bagehot “one must not let daylight into magic”.

Even in the morning Jasper is not allowed to look at Muriel until she has put on her lipstick, earrings and chiffon pussy bow, “the neck you know reveals one’s age and I am certainly not doing that.”

Held Together 

For Mrs Travers the routine is less poetic but equally time consuming. It begins with her stubbing out her Capstan full strength into the ashtray on the bedside table,  collapsing onto the candlewick bedspread and bending down to remove her built up shoes. These were supplied by Mrs Wylie (and thus not on the National Health) to correct two different leg lengths which result in ungainly “hurpling” which is very noisy on the parquet floor in the conservatory. It also makes the annual polishing of the wooden floors with halved coconuts tied to Mrs T’s “Gutties” (plimsolls if you are from south of the border) less painful. Support stockings and elasticised bandages are then removed revealing “ma various veins” which are soothed with a generous application of wintergreen.

Almost Spiritual

Perhaps the most ceremonial part of the evenings ritual, bordering on the spiritual, is the removal of the all encompassing cross over apron or if guests have been in a hostess apron. This is discarded for steeping and washing. Arran style cardigan and blouse are then removed followed by a static infused dress from ‘The Bargain Fashion House’. Even although Mr Travers is in the seamen’s mission now, Mrs Travers still attends to her modesty by putting on her dressing gown over her foundation garments (a process she learned, early on in her marriage, poured cold water onto men’s passions if they happened to be gazing into the wardrobe mirror at the time while pretending to be keeping an eye on the damp patch in the corner of the ceiling).

With skills that might be the envy of the great Houdini she then unlaces the corsets leaving her free to remove what she calls her “breweries” and the underlying woollen vest. This allows for ample time for general scratching.  If a coughing fit ensues then she might relight the ciggie  for a few drags to settle her throat.   Finally “ma directories wi’ the reinforced double gusset”, are removed and replaced with a winceyette nightie, bed socks and an old cardigan to keep the shoulders warm. When Mr Travers lived with her it was at this point she felt pleased with herself thinking, Field Marshall Rommel and a Panzer division couldn’t get through those defences. 

Artificial Aids

If it has been a particularly trying day and she feels like spoiling herself Mrs T enthrones herself on an old Lloyd Loom  chair and soaks her feet in a bowl of warm water with Epsom Salts. There is generally a copy of The People’s Friend to hand by way of reading material. A pumice stone or a bit of sandpaper sees to hard skin on the heels and some sheep’s wool round the toes helps with any rubbing. On special nights there might be a bath with a dash of Squeezy washing up liquid in the water, for Hollywood glamour. Then it is time for the curlers to go into the hair with some setting lotion and to cover the lot with a net from a bag of oranges from  Malcolm  Campbell’s, “waste not want not that’s ma motto”.

Although she has few of her own teeth now Mrs Travers is not one for letting herself go and gives the remaining gnashers and her plates a good going over with Vim for extra sparkle. Then it’s time for a wee Askit pooder to help her sleep and lights oot.

Intruder in the night

The slumbering Mrs Travers

This particular evening, however, the sleep of the just is disturbed by a banging and clattering from downstairs. Mrs T wakes with a startle and reaches for a pewter candlestick, kept beside the bed for emergencies just like this one. Creeping downstairs Mrs T goes into the morning room and sees the window to the back garden is wide open and the draught excluder made from one of the late Winnie’s award winning Sanquhar Pattern Socks, containing the hidden rolled up crocheted map of the coast of Japan. “Oh no” though Mrs T to herself as there was no one else at home to share a thought with, “what will I do?  Hide the map in plain sight was the instruction Winnie left me in a musical box before she died. I must have left that window unsecured. The Wylies will not be pleased.”

Later, with Mustard

“Well” said the Handsome Stranger “here’s a how-de-do and no mistake. Just as well you called me Mrs Travers and not the police; that would only complicate matters. And what was it you said you found in the pot of seasonal pansies outside the morning room window?”

“Here Sir, a packet of frankfurter sausages and a ticket to something in a foreign language. What can that be?”

“Generally speaking it is a language other than English.”

“Can you translate?”

“No Mrs T, I am afraid it is more the cyrillic languages that are my bag, but I will get Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes on to it; he is bound to have colleagues at the very good Glasgow varsity who can help. I may be mistaken, but that looks like the horns of a bull in that torn off corner. Perhaps as it is indecipherable it has something to do with a fat-stock sale in Aberdeenshire.”

“What about the packet of frankfurters Sir?”

“ Umm tricky one, if I were you I’d put them in a pan of boiling water. Have you any rolls Mrs T? I am somewhat peckish, spot of mustard would be nice; I prefer the French, Auld alliance and all that.”

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Muriel’s Musings: The Bite

A Thank You from Muriel

a little emotional

All I can say on behalf of Jasper and myself is thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your kind words regarding the untimely death (or “passing” if you are an American or spiritualist and over fond of euphemisms) of my dearest friend Winnie and her “friend”, Mr Chan.

So Many Tributes

those famous hands

There have been many letters and floral tributes the length and breadth of Perthshire as well as from the Foreign Office, the French Government and the managing director of a leading manufacturer of boucle knitting wools. For dear Winnie combined a life fighting fascism in the last Unpleasantness with a mastery of novelty knitting that was the envy of the world. As the editor said in the late edition of last week’s trade journal Cast Off  “the world will never forget her family of dinosaurs made from old school pullovers, or the unique designs for the Edinburgh Festival Production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in Fair Isle Knit, which was written by the well known Shakespearean writer, William Shakespeare”. There are many unanswered questions about the murder of Winnie and Mr Chan, mainly who did it and how was it done, but these will take time and for the sake of world peace may never be fully answered.

Life Must Go On 

the famous bicycle preserved for posterity

Life, however, has to go on and I for one cannot sit around weeping all day long and imagining I can hear the squeak of her bicycle chain, which always needed to be oiled, as she pushed it up my back passage. There is also much to attend to in the way of spring cleaning and gardening not to mention all that needs to be done as our clubs and societies wind down for the summer recess.

For we Scots must prepare ourselves for the light nights and the possibility of sunshine, something we have not seen for six months. Membership at our evening and weekend events begins to dwindle as cobwebbed garden tools are brought out from sheds and there is a desperate search for one paintbrush that was actually washed before it was put away. In preparation for spring cleaning I have put Mrs Travers on an exercise programme with Jasper and as we speak they are currently running around the play park under the guidance of former Sergeant Major Redoubt formerly of the Queen’s Own Prancing  Highlanders. I have told Mrs Travers and Jasper that they can expect fierce fighting with the assaults on “oose and stour”.

Introducing “the Bite”

a savoury bite

Perhaps as we approach the end of the winter season of meetings and soirées it might be timely for me to talk to you, as promised, about a form of hospitality we have barely touched upon in any of my famous marvellous masterclasses. Now we have often spoken about “First Breakfast”, “Second Breakfast”, “10 o’clocks”, “lunch verses dinner” , “afternoon tea”, “high tea” and the difference between dinner and suppa. As many of you are now in what I consider my advanced class it is time for you to come to grips with the much feared “Bite”. This comes is in three forms – the sweet bite, the savoury bite and  the bite proper. We shall deal with the sweet bite and bite proper as they are the ones you are most likely to encounter. I cover the savoury bite in my advanced masterclass, “Beyond Gracious Living”.

The Sweet Bite – a Recruitment Tool

Now you may well have come across the “sweet bite”, and I feel sure we have mentioned it, but just in case, as I would not want you to look anymore foolish than you already may do, let us recap. As you advance in Scottish Society (and I know it seems like a dream, but trust me under my watchful eye you will, even if at this stage it seems like reaching for the stars)  you will inevitably have morning coffee or afternoon tea with your betters such as Lady Rannoch-Moor (rhymes with dour – this is not Devon). This may well take place in a Department Store, where having ordered coffee, or tea, you will be asked  “Are you going to partake of a piece of fruit cake or do you fancy a fancy?”

fruit cake

Of course you do, but having allowed for a pregnant pause and an opportunity for you to demonstrate your greed, her Ladyship, “my dear call me Rapunzel, all my friends do. Believe it or not” pointing to her hair “this was once golden”, will say, “You go ahead if you must I cannot afford the weight and I am having lunch with the Lord Lieutenant of the County, he and Mipsie do wonders for the arts, you will know them of course.”

It Is All A Game

You will follow this with, “Of course, dear Mipsie what a magical woman, (even although you have not the foggiest idea who she is) followed by “well, nor me really; let’s just have some delicious coffee.” “Are you sure?” will be her Ladyship’s  earnest and concerned reply, coupled  with a look, suggesting she strongly believes you to be a gannet.

After you have said, “Positive Rapunzel”, she will administer the coup de grace with, a smile and a wink and summoning the waitress will say conspiratorially. “Why don’t we just be utterly naughty and share a sweet bite? Can I suggest the millionaire’s shortbread or paradise slice?”

On arrival the dissection of the sweet bite will be undertaken with great ceremony, as well as a gloved hand and an indication that being of a lower social standing and therefore, a glutton, you will have “the largest half”. Rest assured you will find yourself being invited to join a committee and, naturellement, you will pay the bill.

Transactional in Nature

In short then the “sweet bite”, is a transactional and often chocolate item of a ritual nature facilitating a passage to a higher level. We can see how this develops as we examine “the bite proper.”

All is Clear to Committee Members (pronounced Membahs, so reminiscent of the Empire)

“The bite proper” will only become apparent to you once you are a committee membah. An invitation to “a wee bite” usually concerns an organisation where there are speakers such as Jasper’s Hysterical or a music or an arts society. If a speaker is coming a distance, particularly in the winter months, it is customary for one of the committee to offer “a bed for the night” and another to suggest that they “come for a wee bite at 5.30”. This might be the Chair or the Secretary or indeed the committee member who has put forward the name of the speaker. It suggests generosity especially given that the rate of remuneration is usually low or indeed non-existent and for goodness sake one does not want to deplete the funds with hotel accommodation.

Invitations to a Bite – a Study in Studied Informality

It is not necessary for the hostess to invite all the committee especially if it is large – only those particularly involved in the night in question and to provide someone interesting for the guest to talk to while the hostess is in the kitchen. No invitations are sent either in writing or by telephone. This invitation to a bite is done in passing when leaving a committee meeting or even at the fishmonger’s.

It also has to appear casual but have a slight air of desperation about it  such as, “Oh Muriel, could you and Jasper come for a bite next Wednesday before the meeting, Charles is in London and Jasper is so good with musical types”, and this will be interrupted once one moves along in the queue with “Yes Madame”, “Do you have any haddock today? Then I will have two fillets please and a boiling fowl for soup. Oh do please say yes Muriel I know nothing about Fauré.” “Of course Marjorie”, for it would be churlish to say no, and then you add, “Can I do anything, or bring anything –  a pudding perhaps? I know Wednesday is your daily woman’s day to visit the prison.” The hostess will add, “No Muriel thank you, much appreciated, everything is under control it is just going to be no fuss – a one pot affair, cheese and coffee. Perhaps if you have time you might make some of your delicious Helensburgh tablet to go with the coffee?”

Quality Not Quantity

Dusting, though mot of the damp variety

Of course I do not have time and will have to buy some and repackage it as Mrs T will be busy with damp dusting on Wednesday. Now the one pot affair is pretty standard and necessary as all the committee have to leave at 6.45pm to get to the hall, make sure the heating is on, greet guests, take the money and make sure the piano has been moved correctly. It never has been so Jasper usually is employed as a shover.

Do not, dear readers, however, be fooled into thinking the whole affair of the one pot bite is one of a casual nature. This, like most things, is highly competitive and anyway casual flair is only acquired after years of training.

Food should be warming and sustaining, but not too plentiful – no second helpings or the artiste will feel too sleepy. We once had a soprano who dozed off between Lehar numbers after a particularly good stroganoff. A bloated Merry Widow can be a disaster. It is important to serve good quality wine, but limit the quantity as there is nothing worse for the members than to arrive at the village hall, stone cold sober to find an over jolly and flushed committee and an inebriated pianist. I can recall one very bad evening with Rachmaninoff, a wobbly piano stool, a bottle of claret too many and a page turner unable to focus on anything.

Frosty Relations and Candles on the Buffet Table

All of which reminds me that last week we had our members night at The South Western Reel and Strathspey Society by way of rounding off the season. Our speaker  Lt Col. ‘Mad Mickey’  MacDonald, who was speaking about “The Role of Country Dance in Combat,” came to us for “a bite”, along with the chairman and his wife, the Minister and his wife and Lady Pentland-Firth and some old soldier she had found en route.

Lady P-F arrives for a bite

Relations between myself and the Minister are still somewhat cold after the Mulligatawny incident. I of course am of a most forgiving nature and my one pot  beef and venison casserole  with jacket potato followed by camembert and oatcakes with grapes somewhat helped to begin a defrost. The talk was excellent and the story of the Reel of the 51st written in a P.O.W. camp after capture at Dunkirk was most poignant. We went on to dance the reel with its clever interpretation of the cross of St Andrew, our patron saint, which sent out a note of defiance to the men’s’ captors.

The only tricky part of the evening was when a rather chilly Lady Pentland-Firth, (who had gone outside the hall with her friend to look at his pas-de-bas more closely) entered the side room where refreshments were laid out still wearing her coat and keeping her hands warm in her muff – lent forward for a sausage roll. She failed to see that as she removed one hand from the fur in order to reach said sausage roll in puff pastry that the other still contained in the muff was held over a candle.

A Terrible Smell and a Bucket of Sand

It all happened so quickly and the smell of a burning muff is a terrible thingl it was rather like a Hudson’s Bay Company ship going up in flames. Jasper threw a bucket of sand at her which largely did the trick although she said afterwards it was rather like being hit by a Saharan storm. Jasper said he couldn’t miss the opportunity of a lifetime.

As the part time fire brigade is based close by they were on site in no time and soon put out the inferno. Only the hall curtains were badly damaged and most of the buffet was destroyed. Lady P-F was remarkably unscathed apart from a few sand scratches. Her muff is a write-off but she seemed unperturbed more interested to converse with the firemen and flatter them with remarks about the effectiveness of their hoses and suggesting that they might like to do some emergency drill at her country house, just in case they were called out to another muff fire.

That sounds like Jasper and Mrs T back from the park, if the out of breath sounds are anything to go by.

Never Run in Corsets

“Jasper you need a bath off you go.”

“Why Mrs T you look exhausted you must really be out of condition, we cannot expect Grace from the Caribbean to do all the heavy work of the spring cleaning can we? Perhaps if you took that corset off you might not perspire so much, it really is not good for you to run and not wear the appropriate clothes; here let me unhook you.

“No thank you Madame; I am fine. I must go I have a crumble to make for suppa.”

“That can wait Mrs T; come over here. Jasper call Grace I need some help.”

“No really; I am fine Mrs Wylie.”

 A Secret Underneath the Corset

“Thank you Grace; now don’t struggle Mrs T, or it will be worse as  you are nearly fainting. Well Mrs T, no wonder you are so hot there is so much extra padding, rolled up underneath all this.  It looks as if you are concealing some sort of art work. Grace unroll it. What is it?”

“It looks like a knitted map Mrs Wylie.”

Goodness! It is the missing map from the Conference. Mrs Travers explain yourself –  where did you get this from? You must realise your life is in danger.”

Muriel Wylie

April 1958

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Muriel’s Musings: Blood Bath


The exclusive West End abode

I, for one, am glad to be home after our visit to the land of the cuckoo clock and the numbered bank account, not to mention a brief stay in that London.

Fatal Deaths and Recipes for Disaster

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

Not that our homecoming is entirely without sadness having returned with the defrosted mortal remains of Winnie (she of the bicycle and wool shop in Auchterarder, famous for her knitted boy) and her “squeeze”, Mr Chan (of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, offering dinners A to C). I say squeeze, but in all honesty having paid my last respects, he looked like an old saddle bag rather than a body.  One can never underestimate the importance of moisturiser in life. As those of you sworn to secrecy know, they have died in mysterious circumstances after an international conference on the future of the oceans in Geneva, close to Switzerland.

An important crocheted map of the coastal waters of Japan has gone missing. It is highly likely that the comrades are involved, but for reasons of diplomacy little has been said of this as they are widely believed to be going after old recipes for kedgeree and fish pies and governments do not wish to spread alarm among the grannies of the West, guardians of these traditions. As the Handsome Stranger said “Once the comrades get hold of our fish dishes it is but a short hop, skip and a jump to stealing our steak pies with puff pastry and beef links not to mention jam roly-poly with runny custard.”

A Legend in Wool 

A sombre affair

The funerals were held on Tuesday. There was a large turnout as both were popular in their communities. Winnie, who was really something of a legend in the wool world, would have been thrilled to know that her mourners included members of The Wool Growers Association, The Highland Home Industries, Harris Tweed, The Scotch Wool Shops, as well as representatives of the knitting needle trade, all anxious to make their point.

Favourites of Winnie

Inevitably music included Sheep May Safely Graze, The King of Love My Shepherd is and at the graveside her old favourite Baa Baa Black Sheep. The Minister read the lesson “All We like Sheep” and after I gave the eulogy, Winnie’s mortal remains left the Church to the sound of Hebridean waulking songs and a demonstration in the chancel of this process by the ladies of South Uist where Winnie often spent her summers.

One of my many tea cosies produced by winnie

The only problem was this is a rather wet process. It is just as well that we had to change from black into white for Mr Chan’s funeral or we too would have caught our deaths. As is the Chinese custom the wake was held before the funeral, we took iris flowers and helped Mr Chan on his way so that he would not become a “restless spirit.” It was all very sad although as Mr Chan was considerably older than Winnie it was considered appropriate that his life was celebrated, as longevity is much valued in Mr Chan’s community. This is in contrast to Britain where old people are a nuisance.

Spring Fever and Lizard Shoes

Au Printemps – spring arrangement

To the general level of personal sadness, (after all Winnie and I had been responsible for the destruction of many a bridge in occupied France) we seemed to come home to a general level of dis-satisfaction and tension. Now part of this of course may be put down to Spring Fever. The changing of the clocks and the Easter full moon seem to send people quite doolally.

First of all on the international front, we have Castro’s Revolutionary Guard attacking Havana near Cuba, but more interestingly, Cheryl Crane the daughter of glamorous actress Lana Turner stabbing to death her mother’s gangster lover Johnny Stompanato.  I cannot say I was surprised after all what would one do with a man who wears lizard shoes? If I saw Jasper in lizard shoes I would immediately smell a rat.

At home we have had the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament March from Hyde Park Corner to Aldermaston, which Jasper attended by taxi after getting lost in the Underground and ending up getting arrested at the Aldwych. I did not go. While I appreciate the sentiments, I am afraid the only way to counteract bullies is by remaining strong oneself – sad though it is. Jasper and I agree to disagree on this one.

A.G.M. Season

Not only have we had to face the ambitions of the comrades, both Jasper and I have had to face problems closer to home. For this is the season of the Annual General Meeting. These are the mainstay of all our many and varied local organisations which are the glue of society. Glue I might add which socialism seeks to undermine!

A.G.M.s are, of course,  much loathed as they are firstly very boring and secondly used to settle old scores which have mounted up over the past year or used by those with social aspirations to climb the greasy pole erected by those and such as those. This week has seen me at A.G.M.s for The Home For Fallen Women, which I chair, The Orphan Homes chaired by Lady Pentland-Firth, and of course The Women’s Guild Soup and Pudding Committee. Jasper has had the Hysterical which as it turned out was far from hysterical.

A Dip into Sherbet

The Home for Fallen Women has been in my remit for many years and my mother’s and grandmother’s before me. The finance of course was provided by my grandfatherm so ahead of his time. He decided he could not in all conscience be considered as a good employer unless he looked after his female workers, when they “gave themselves up to passion”. My Grandfather MacCavity, an Edinburgh sweet manufacturer, was particularly concerned about the girls on the Sherbet Lemon line as they seemed particularly prone to falling.

Dear Grandmamma

My grandmother realised early on the sheer humanity exhibited by her husband who spent many hours consoling the “Sherbet Lassies” , a fact demonstrated by the fact that he often had the imprint of sherbet hands on his simmit (Scots’ for vest for the uninitiated). My grandmother would listen to the girls as they would tearfully exhibit their gratitude to grandfather’s philanthropy when they would shout to grandmother “all he said was would I like to see his Sherbet fountain”. My grandmother, dispensing a penny for the tram to the home would say “I know dear, it was the invention of that fountain which has enabled me to help you today. The hollow liquorice tip was sheer genius”.

In truth the organisation runs pretty smoothly although I am reliably informed that a pill will, within the next decade, make my efforts unnecessary. I wonder what grandfather would say? I still miss him, it is often remarked that we are very similar in looks. I suppose it is our red hair. Oddly enough in the early years many of the fallen women produced offspring that had red hair. Such a coincidence, but as grandfather said many of them had experience of also being on the strawberry boiling pans as well as the sherbet. Such a wise and witty man; he was so giving like moi.

Tough Love from Patience

Patience looking enlightened

I also sit on Lady Pentland-Firth’s committee for the Orphan Homes, as of course there is an obvious connection with our two organisations. Patience as always manages to appear to do much by skilfully employing others to do her work for nothing and be grateful for the opportunity. Her policy regarding the orphans is on the other hand considered enlightened and rather than leave them in Scotland to an uncertain future, she has combined her love of travel opportunities with practical common sense and provided a unique resettlement project for “the wee waifs”.

Provided with a new set of clothes, a bible, a tin opener, some sandwiches in greaseproof paper and a signed copy of My Life in Sequins, by her Ladyship, the orphans are given a unique opportunity. This comes in the form of a one way ticket to a colony of their choice. This is selected during an intensive almost half hour session in which with the orphans gathered at her feet, Patience with the aid of a wall map of the Empire, and a cane points at the map highlighting matters of interest that will appeal to young minds on the verge of delinquency. Thus we get , Australia “sheep”,  New Zealand , “butter”, Canada “wheat”, India “silk”, “but” said one misguided, but clearly intelligent boy, “India is no longer part of the Empire.” “Well” said Lady P-F, “that’s news to me, since when?” “Since 1947, your Ladyship.” “Well” she replied, “I am sure they will take you anyway.”

I do not particularly enjoy these sessions, but one thing is for sure, she keeps the expenses down. That is more than can be said for The Home for Fallen Women where I am currently expending rather a lot of the reserves to pay for last summer’s Glasgow Fair Fortnight. Blackpool has a lot to answer for. Now come to think of it perhaps that would help matters if the government made the location of “the falling” pay for the results. Oh yes, I had almost forgotten wasn’t that called the Poor Law, but then sometimes the old ways are best. 

Jasper Gets to the End of his Tether 

Jasper who is unused to committee ways (coming from a family whose only management experience was deciding who would go where when the weans were topped and tailed in the bed), struggles with his committee, particularly since the demise of his secretary Mrs Blenheim Crawford some years ago. She may have turned out to be a traitor but my goodness she knew how to take minutes and organise speakers.

While in Geneva, which is in Switzerland, Jasper assiduously gathered material for a lecture on ‘The Influence of Calvin on Social Policy and the Treatment of the Poor’ for the autumn session, with illustrated slides and roneo duplicated notes, with bibliography to take away. Now don’t say anything to him, but this was hardly going to be a winner under any circumstances, even if he did bring back a box of Swiss milk chocolates to share at the tea afterwards.

A dry stone dyke

In Jasper’s absence the Vice Chairman, a former archaeologist Professor Thomas Trowel, with the aid of committee member Miss Rosemary Riddle, a retired cashier at the British Linen Bank, took it upon themselves to organise a syllabus around dry stone dykes and variations on the five bar gate. According to Jasper there was neither consultation nor any evidence of accompanying annotated bibliography, let alone choice of two chocolates from a box of Swiss Milk.

By all accounts it was something of a blood bath with Jasper threatening to resign and Miss Riddle bursting into tears. Jasper said he would consider his position which was unnecessary as the following day the Professor tended his resignation from the committee saying he was off to Mesopotamia.  This was followed by the resignation of Miss Riddle who said she had too much to do looking after her elderly mother and a cat with a wooden leg.

Influencing Decision Making with Swiss Chocolate

Jasper’s shed

I told Jasper he really had over-reacted and that in my view there was little in excitement terms between 16th century social policy, dry stone walls and five bar gates as both seemed designed to keep people out except those predestined to be on the inside. I shouldn’t have said anything as he has been in his shed for two days and apart from that I have no room to talk.

At the A.G.M. of the Women’s Guild Soup and Pudding Lunches Committee (including the tea towel misusers inquisition sub committee) I managed to deal with the matter of the non Scottish soup question for all time. From now on the Church will be open to all makes of Soup even mulligatawny.  The menu choice, however, can only be made by those who are fully paid up communicant members.

I did say there should be wider parish involvement, but presbytery declined on the grounds of modernisation. Still Rome wasn’t built in a day, oh sorry poor choice of metaphor, Geneva in Switzerland was not built in a day. It was at least gratifying that I had the full backing of the committee, possibly not un-entirely connected with a number of visits the previous day bearing large gift boxes of Swiss Chocolates with decorative satin ribbons.

Encouraged by a summons to the manse, Mrs Lottie McCauley, wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who is big in concrete, and Mrs Cynthia Savage, whose husband is the Pickle and Condiment King, have temporarily left the committee for a few weeks of “quiet reflection” concerning their actions and their attempt to blame me for non doctrinal foodstuffs.

A Matinee Can Provide a Host of Useful Information

That’s the soup ready now, Mrs Wylie

“Oh Hello Mrs Travers, what is it?”

“Just to tell you it is lunchtime Mrs Wylie, I have had a bit of a go at that mulligatawny soup myself.”

“Oh well done Mrs T, what about Mr Wylie?  Still sulking in his Museum in a Shed is he?”

“Well actually he seems to be a bit better and when I said there was homemade bread for lunch, his pecker perked up.”

“I suppose the two committee members resigning will have helped how he feels, it really was too much. I know his talk will be equally boring, but he has put so much work into that Society over the years and the members are used to his brand of boring. Thank goodness for Mesopotamia Mrs T.”

“Yes Mrs Wylie, but that Yorkshire is a funny place.”

“I wonder what made both Professor Trowel and Miss Riddle go at the same time?”

“Could it have been my spotting them, excavating up an alley outside the La Scala after a matinee of “Run Silent Run Deep?

“Oh Mrs Travers you didn’t did you, but who would care?”

“Mrs Trowel, perhaps?”

“Well I hope Mr Wylie is appreciative.”

“No don’t tell him Mrs Wylie; he thinks it was his committee flair and let’s keep it that way.”

“Oh Jasper there you are, ready for soup. Mrs T says you are feeling better and that your pecker is up.”

“Muriel I don’t think my pecker has been up since Mr Atlee lost the election.”

“Oh Jasper don’t let’s start on that again. I am quite sure Mr Macmillan is doing his best and at least we all have access to teeth and glasses now and you had that marvellous day out at Aldermaston about nuclear things.”

“Muriel the atomic bomb is not a thing; it is a potential catastrophe.”

“Well Jasper I have turned atoms into something positive.”


“Well do you remember that letter I had ages ago from The King of The Belgians, near Brussels, asking me for advice about his World’s Fair and what might symbolise it?”

“Vaguely, Darling.”

“Well clearly His Majesty was listening as I said “the atom” and he has written again saying he took my advice and the centre piece of the Fair will be a giant representation of the atom called the Atonium.”

“Soup everyone.”

“Yes please Mrs T.”

“I don’t know what all the fuss is about; it has got lentils in it just like Scots’ soups, just goes to prove we all have much in common as we have divides us.”

“Very true Mrs T, we are all Jock Tampson’s Bairns.”


“Yes Jasper.”

“If the Hysterical were Run Silent Run Deep, would I be Clark Gable or Burt Lancaster?”

“Umm tough one Dahling.”

Muriel Wylie

April 1958

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

Muriel’s Musings: “My Fair Lady”

That London

Our London Hotel

Jasper, my dear husband and I along with Lady Pentland-Firth, a decayed aristocrat of not very noble birth, and Mrs Travers our devoted, but largely ineffective, woman what does, but not a lot  are in “that London”. Now I imagine I do not need to tell you where London is, but we are en route to Scotland which is near Glasgow from Geneva which is in Switzerland not far from Zurich.

Not All It Seems

I know you think I lead a life of silver forks where every egg has a double yoke. Now granted this is true in many ways, but travel can be a mixed blessing despite the agonies of first class and B.E.A.’s insistence on the V.I.P. lounge. Sometimes I feel I just live with one long champagne headache. Of course we did have the privilege of sailing on Lac Leman and some skiing on the slopes as well as some very fine food and cultural experiences. However, I was also working in a diplomatic capacity for the benefit of our nation. This does take the edge of things, especially as this can mean mixing with many difficult people of the foreign sort.

I can’t help being marvellous

My advice is for those of you unsettled by the occasional glimpse into my seemingly never endingly glamorous life, rest assured all is not always what it seems. Sometimes one is just as well rubbing along just above the poverty line in a world of communal wash houses, backcourts and pawnbrokers. A life apparently without worry can be the exact opposite, so be careful what you wish for. At least you, with all your relative deprivation, have the neighbourliness of the stair-heid and the shared lavatory. Neighbourliness is something I know is something of which I am deprived especially since the great non-Scottish soup incident, or should I say treachery, which still simmers – the incident that is, not the soup.

Keeping Diplomatic Wives Interested

I certainly did not wish to be stranded for several days in the foyer of the United Nations in Geneva, in Switzerland, teaching diplomatic wives how to crotchet. Of course I was a last minute replacement for Winnie (she of the bicycle and the wool shop in Auchterarder,) who had disappeared with Mr Chan from Govan Road. Despite my heavy workload at ‘Chez Nous’, I believe in service above self and so I agreed to go and I subcontracted the crochet work to Mrs Travers (I like to provide opportunity for the less fortunate to shine) and took upon myself a supervisory role which allowed for plenty of time to shop.

The ladies appreciated my famous words of encouragement as I walked around, for at least 20 minutes a day examining their handicrafts saying “Simply marvellous” in a variety of languages, “have you come far?” and  “Are others in your country so devoid of dexterity?” As their little hooks went to and fro and up and down I could not help thinking that one of them, a rather strong looking woman, seemed familiar.

 Poisoned Crotchet Hooks, Frozen Bodies and Nice Fountain Pens

This woman was “the sort who are best stopping at home” as they say in the North of England, or somewhere else dreary. Or, come to think of it, whom one would employ for major spring cleaning or cleaning out stables. She pointedly avoided my gaze.

The daily routine of sewing, coffee, tea, eating and evening receptions at the Conference on the Seas (which the men attended, for what would we women know about the seas apart from frying fish) was interrupted by a dreadful discovery. This was of the frozen bodies of Winnie and Mr Chan in a remote mountain hut. Now not a word to Bessie, as I am subject to the Official Secrets Act, but it appears they have been done to death, murdered or in other words killed by the comrades using a poisoned crochet hook. The nature of the poison has yet to be identified, but behind the Foreign Office walls there is fury.

Winnie with her famous bicycle

This is very different from the usual Foreign Office day where languid Oxbridge types normally fill the hours from 9-5pm fitting Sobranie cocktail cigarettes into holders and gazing through the smoke and net curtains at Number 10 Downing Street awaiting telephone calls with alterations to speeches which they do with very nice fountain pens.

As crotchet has become a symbol of diplomatic discord we have been sent home by the Handsome Stranger who feared I might become a victim of an international tit-for-tat needlework outrage. “Is there a bigger outrage than crochet?” “Perhaps” said the Handsome Stranger “one might consider French knitting?” to which I replied “never in a month of Dimanches.”

Jasper Takes the Wrong Route

It is always nice to have a few days in “that London”. Jasper has gone to the British Museum. Let us hope he does not get himself in as much trouble as he did going on the C.N.D, march. He thought they said AIdwych instead of Aldermaston, and felt rather alone outside the theatre with a placard saying, “A Future without Fear at the Club”. He was only temporarily delayed at the police station and was allowed to go once I explained to the commissioner that he became disorientated whenever he left his shed and that I had recently decorated the office of the Chief Constable of Glasgow, who turned out to be an old friend from cadet days.

The Cabaret Club

Jasper’s role in the march was to follow on by taxi which was rather expensive, although at least I knew his whereabouts and a generous tip made sure he was returned in time for us to go to Murray’s ‘Cabaret Club’, where some old friends of Lady Pentland-Firth were taking part in Arabian Rhapsody “The largest and most exotic eastern spectacle ever presented including 45 of England’s loveliest showgirls”.

Her Cabaret Act in Berlin has become a legend

What we were not expecting was a cameo performance from Patience who, despite her age, has still some of the old magic that she exuded before that last Unpleasantness in Berlin. She has also been to the Palladium to catch up with some old chums and has been practising her high kicks for old time’s sake.

Taking Our Minds Off Murder

Mrs T was very taken with this show

Mrs Travers who finds Lady Pentland-Firth irritating declined to accompany us to the “lavish floor show”.  Jasper thinks she is rather upset by the murder, in particular of Mr Chan as she was very fond of his “Dinner B” lunch time option which included chips as well as noodles served on a hot plate with two little candles underneath. So Jasper got her a ticket for The World of Susie Wong” at The Prince of Wales, as he thought the advert asking “If you are in the mood for a rich and gaudy evening with lots of colour and laughter then Susie Wong is your answer”,  might just cheer her up.

I think Jasper was right as she has perked up and today she has gone to The Hong Kong Emporium where one “can obtain Oriental foods, delicacies, china wear, fancy goods silks, umbrellas, lanterns and decorative articles”. She is thinking of having “a wee night” for some of Mr Chan’s favourite customers after the funeral. Jasper has given her a couple of pounds to have her lunch there and she is looking forward to comparing the chips with those of the late Mr Chan.

Might One Need Wellies for Berkeley Square?

At the Aldwych

If Jasper does not get lost in the British Museum we are planning to go to the theatre tonight. I had wanted to see Watch it Sailor at the Aldwych Theatre but Jasper said, perhaps wisely, that he had already made something of an impression outside the theatre, having tied himself to the front door and we might not now get the best seats.

the place to be

He has, however promised me that we will have dinner in ‘Beachcomber’, Europe’s first Polynesian Restaurant, where we will “dine under a roof of bamboo cane and palm fronds to the soft sounds of Hawaiian music and surf breaking over coral sand”. Mrs Travers has thoughtfully, fearing a tidal wave in Berkley Square, got our wellies ready just in case. We are promised “….potent Pacific style drinks, served by lovely maidens dressed in the costume of the islands”. Jasper thinks it sounds most promising, however, Mrs T says it is just as well a full menu is available “for those who prefer Chinese or European food”.

Much In Demand – No Wonder!

I have filled my days doing a little shopping, for shoes and hosiery and it will not surprise you to know given my reputation as Scotland’s most stylish dresser and decorator, my presence where taste is an issue has been much in demand. Cecil Beaton, the costume designer and photographer, and Oliver Smith, the production designer, have invited me to attend some of the rehearsals for My Fair Lady which opens at the end of the month. “Muriel darling” they both said in unison “as the fairest lady of them all, can you come with your tweaking eye and searing wit and just tell us if we have missed anything?” Well you know me, I do not like to interfere, but I said, “Well Cecil if I could say one thing, black and white”. “That is two things darling” he said “but you are absolutely right, but we might leave that for the film”. I also said “Now Cecil use Sekers fabrics and never skimp on ostrich feathers they add a certain je ne sais quoi.”

Apparently the Queen of Transylvania, played by Margaret Halstan in the Embassy Ball Scene is based on well …. moi!

Rain in Spain and Exploding Custard in Scotland

Just in case you are poorly educated and I mean nothing offensive by that after all it was not your fault that your father spent all his money on the dogs, your mother drank, failed to save a bit each week and you were evacuated in the blitz at a vital point in your schooling (thank goodness for night school), let me help.

A sneak preview of the programme

My Fair Lady is a musical play which has been on in America near Broadway and on the 30th April 1958 will open at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. This is a very old theatre which Charles II liked almost as much as Nell Gwynne. It is based on Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which is a very good play by George Bernard Shaw despite his being a socialist. Like Jasper, who also claims to be a socialist, he spends a great deal of time in a shed. With music by Lerner and Loewe, this production stars the lovely Anne Rodgers, James Hayter and Charles Stapeley with Zena Dare and Hugh Paddick. It is all about a poor flower girl in Covent Garden who is used by a professor to make a point about diction or something. He makes her say “the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” a lot and this makes them fall in love. Longer term I suspect the whole thing is doomed as mixed marriages across the classes seldom work without a great deal of hard work  – just look at Jasper et moi.

At least we have proved those wrong who said that marriage between a beautiful, intelligent woman who has been finished off at the best schools (and had the pick of Edwardian Glasgow’s demi-monde) and a man whose parents died in a vulgar custard powder factory explosion, “will never work”. My Grandmamma never quite got over the discovery that people of her acquaintance actually experienced custard made from powder.

The knowledge was widely believed to have been responsible for her seventh stroke, the preceding 6 also being connected to fashionable faux pas. Let me tell you there were many who pointed the finger at Jasper for not understanding what being invited to “a bite” is or how it differs from a suppa and who had not (despite the work of genealogists) had a single relative executed on Tower Hill, let alone Tower Green.

Flirting with Other Soup and Faith Options

As to the matter of the bite verses suppa, I shall return to that as soon as possible, promise. I am quite looking forward with a little bit of luck, to returning home to Glasgow even if it means attending dear Winnie and Mr Chan’s funerals. I am also anxious to see how the matter of soup and pudding lunches has panned out in my absence Do not think I have forgotten the matter of the mulligatawny soup; oh no! Indeed while I have been here in that London I have consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury about becoming an Anglican, although he seemed to sit on the fence when it came to soup matters. I met briefly with a cardinal to talk about Roman Catholicism, but apart from agreeing that my face looks terrific when framed by a lace veil, the cardinal had to admit that his church did not believe in soup and pudding before marriage.

Well I must dash – what does one wear for a Polynesian Suppa? Fear not Muriel will think of something marvellous.

Au revoir

Muriel Wylie

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Jasper’s Jottings: The End of a Hooker

A map of Geneva in Jasper’s guide book

Alpine ascents can be tricky at the best of times, but at this time of year especially so.

The Problem with Conferences

As you will recall, if you were paying attention, while staying in Geneva which is in Switzerland we received intelligence that Winnie, she of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder, had been found after having been missing for some weeks. Winnie, along with her squeeze Mr Chan of the Govan Road Chinese Restaurant, in Glasgow had been at the U.N. Headquarters on important wool related business. She had been asked to take charge of the crochet workshops provided for the wives of delegates to the important Conference on the Seas. Conferences can be very boring for wives, there are only so many Swiss embroidered handkerchief shops one can visit and so much chocolate of the foreign kind one can eat.

Diplomatic Food

Wives are, however, very necessary in the diplomatic world as they tend to look quite nice and who else is going to pass round the plates of angels or devils on horseback? These actually are Muriel’s speciality when it comes to cocktail parties along with the Mambo and the Cha-Cha-Cha. If you are the sort of person used to sausage rolls i.e. from Shettleston or Sanquhar, let me explain.

An angel on horseback is an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled.  Muriel has never been a fan of oysters straight from the shell but can cope with them in this form. A devil is a tea soaked prune wrapped in bacon but containing a salted roasted almond. Remember to season your oysters with Tabasco sauce or cayenne pepper first.

Never a fan of oysters

Oysters are now a delicacy, but in the 18th century in Scotland they were an everyday food. Indeed parts of “Auld Reekie” are said to be built on mountains of discarded oyster shells. Sadly this passion for oysters, and oyster suppas led to overfishing in the Forth estuary. This is quite ironic given that the potential for depleting fish stocks in the future is one important aspect being discussed at this conference in Geneva which is in Switzerland. Come to think of it is quite odd considering they have no sea at all.

Diplomatic Discord over Woollen Things

My apologies dear readers – I fear I am in danger of digressing from my own digressions, but rest assured I at least am utterly fascinated by all I have to say, it can keep me entertained for hours or at least until suppa time. Anyway the sudden disappearance of Winnie, threatened to bring the whole conference tumbling down as many of the wives had nearly completed crocheting “a small blanket suitable for an invalid and invaluable as an item for church sales of work”.

It was noted that the delegation of comrades from behind the iron curtain took umbrage at the proposed competition to be held on the last day when the Secretary General would present “an award for international hooking”. It seems competition, even of the woollen sort, is regarded as “a capitalist plot by the decadent West”. Muriel has been sent out to save the day and take over the classes.

Of course Muriel has taken the view that her role is to provide inspiration and direction rather than practical help and has had Mrs Travers demonstrating the stitches as according to Muriel there is far more experience of hooking in her part of Glasgow. For Muriel and her West End lady friends the preferred form of stitching concerns quilting and embroidery work. Muriel has saved the diplomatic day by suggesting that our retail business ‘Chez Nous’ might host a display of embroidery from comrade land.

Identification of Winne

Or at least we thought she had until the dreadful news arrived about Winnie and Mr Chan. After a hastily convened meeting with The Handsome Stranger, (who works in the shadows) and Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, of the very good varsity in Glasgow (here to study yodelling in peasant cultures), we departed on skis for the mountain hut where the unfortunate couple had been found, stiff as statues by a lonely goat herd who had been hoping for a couple of hours off with a glass of gluhwein and a blow of his horn with another even lonelier goat herd who was passing in the opposite direction and was pleased he would not have to play his zither alone. Despite being heavily traumatised they managed to raise the alarm.

Poor Muriel had to identify the frozen couple, as they sat by the fireplace in the hut each with a crochet hook in their hands and an unfinished blanket in their laps. When the Swiss police asked if she was sure it was her old wartime friend and S.O.E. colleague, Muriel replied that she was, as Winnie was wearing the sort of shoes only found in illustrations of Grimm Fairy Tales and her last few rows contained her signature stitch which is normally only found in the best work by ladies from South West Scotland which is highly complex and requires great dexterity and is known as “the Hook of Urr”.

Stiff on the Slopes

Being frozen it was hard to think of a dignified way to bring Winnie and Mr Chan down from the mountain. So we put them, still sitting bolt  upright, in a sledge with Mrs Travers and attempted to make our descent in a slow and dignified manner. This was impossible given Mrs Travers sobbing. We tried to divert her by singing, in unison, the current Perry Como hit Magic Moments.  Muriel asked why was it that the working classes got so upset by death and that her grandmother always said crying in the face of death was as bad as calling it “passed over” or some other euphemism favoured by those wage earning. Mrs Travers, between blubbers, said “Perhaps it’s because I am working class” and then fully got into her stride with “…….I’ll never forget the moment we kissed the night of the hay ride… The way that we hugged to keep warm while taking the sleigh ride, Magic Moments……….”

It has to be said that no one really felt like hugging Winnie or Mr Chan who by the time we reached the pastures began to resemble melting moments rather than magic moments and had to be lashed to each other and Mrs Travers. The two goat herds were paid handsomely to keep quiet (with Swiss francs and a gift basket of Scottish cheeses and speciality oatcakes) and said “thank you” adding it had been years since they had seen anyone that stiff in their hut and blamed the cold.

The Power of Scottish Soup

Scottish soup

The Swiss pathologist said that he had never seen such remarkably well preserved specimens for their age and could only presume that Scottish soup and country dancing had reversed the aging process even in Mr Chan despite not originally being a native of Govan. He doubted that mulligatawny soup would have had the same wrinkle defying properties as “a wee bit Scotch broth made wi’ a ham shank.”  It seems Mr Chan had, since coming into contact with Winnie, taken to the Strathspey with alacrity and his perseverance with the pas-de-bas step meant he now had the knees of an 18 year old.

Alas this was not enough to fight off fiendish foreign attempts to pervert the course of good international relations and it was senior pathologist Herr Professor Dr Gutt’s considered opinion that the two had died by absorbing poison, through their skin from the ends of their crotchet hooks.

Fishy Business

It will take some time to identify the exact nature and source of the poison, but the Handsome Stranger says the Swiss police are now involved. They had also intercepted a secret note addressed to Muriel and written in pigeon you know what. This was carefully hidden between the lines of a recipe for a kedgeree, with hard boiled eggs, which the police inspector thought sounded rather tasty and might try for his tea.

The message said that she had seen the comrades’ secret knitted plan of the coastal waters of the Sea of Japan, which clearly showed expansionist tendencies and a desire to penetrate the raw fish market. Mrs Travers said they should be allowed to get on with it as raw fish would never sell at MacFisheries and was on a par with cold soup as a delicacy that would note appeal to the Scottish pallet.


Muriel said this was hardly the point as today the target might be the raw fish market in Japan, but tomorrow it might be the fruit market in Glasgow. As I pointed out to Muriel this would hardly bring about the collapse of the West as the Scots eat very little fruit unless they are sick and then only under doctors’ orders.

A withering look

Muriel gave me one of her looks.

Take Off for London

“ Mesdames et Messieurs, bienvenue à bord de ce British European Airways en provenance de Genevre qui se trouve en  uisse a Londres qui ce trouve en Angleterre. Veuillez attacher vos cientures de securite et distinguisher les cigars.” 

Muriel Reminisces about the Late Winnie

Winnie with her famous bicycle

“Well that has been a rather strange week or two, hasn’t it Jasper?”

“Yes Dahling it has; rather sad really. I am sure you will miss your old friend and her bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder.”

“Yes I will Jasper. We were involved in so much together during the last Unpleasantness with the you know whos. I owe her my life really as when we were being interrogated after we blew up that bridge and lessened the war by almost 3 hours, she did something so utterly selfless.”

“What was that Dahling?”

“Oh she gave the guards a hand knitted Fair Isle jumper for Goering with hand dyed yarns from plants gathered on highland beaches. He was so thrilled he postponed our being shot and gave us a breathing space to plan our escape, she really was simply marvellous. Of course it was my idea as you can imagine, but the yarns were all dyed from plants gathered by her. She used to spend  hours scraping them off stones and boiling them up in her three legged pot.”

“I saw them put the coffins in the hold. That was a nice touch covering them with single bed crotched blankets and her bicycle clips resting on a cushion.”


“Well Jasper she went in the service of her country and once she defrosted I can honestly say I have never seen her look happier. Just a pity she didn’t turn that last corner of the blanket as I have a feeling they may be very collectable. Folk art is very fashionable you know Jasper, in some parts of the world where people have no money or taste, indeed we might do a little promotion when we get home.”

“Yes dear it’s an ill wind and talking of ill winds I am thinking of going on this march to Aldermaston against nuclear weapons as we shall be in London for a few days.”

“You please yourself Dahling; you know what I think once you let your guard down…….”

A Treat for Mrs Travers

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. I was just wondering if a Mrs Esme Travers might be on board as she said she  might have an apple dumpling for me? If so I would like to invite her to the flight deck while we fly over France.”

“Go on Mrs T, this is a wonderful opportunity, just think you will be the star turn at the steamie in Maryhill next week. That’s it now; I would leave your brandy and ginger ale on the table it will be there when you get back and her is the apple dumpling I put it in the overhead locker.”

“That should keep her occupied for a few minutes. She really is the most awkward woman, one would think she had 500 cigarettes stuffed down that corset.”

“Actually Muriel she has. Lady Pentland Firth sewed them in and there’s a bottle of Chateau Neuf du pape down each of those wellington boots and a large bottle of Ma Grief under her hat.”

“Oh Jasper she will get us all in the most awful trouble!”

“I thought we were going through diplomatic channels.”

“That was only on the way out Jasper. If she gets stopped by Customs who is going to start the spring cleaning on Tuesday? And by the way where is Lady Pentland-Firth and the Handsome Stranger, not to mention Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes?”

Where Is Everyone?

“They are sitting 5 rows back disguised as three of the Tiller Girls.”

“Why is this? We are going home; they do not need to be in disguise.”

“Look at the seats across from them Muriel.”

“You mean Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun?”

“Yes Muriel but that is not Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun singing ‘Ave Maria’, it is that Admiral Nearenuff  dressed as  Deanna Durbin dressed as a nun singing Schubert.”

“Tricky Jasper very tricky, but he clearly has a good skin care regime. We are being followed by the comrades, I hope they are not going to hang around. I have a daffodil tea on next weekend. They must think we have something they need. However, we don’t have anything. We never even found the knitted map. Oh best stand up Jasper she is coming back, well Mrs T did you enjoy that.”

“Indeed I did Mrs Wylie. Do you know they can talk and fly at the same time?”

“Amazing Mrs T amazing, you know you could be more comfortable if you took off your coat.”

“ No thanks Mrs Wylie, there might be a draught.”

“Why Mrs T anyone might think you had something sewn into the lining?”

“Might they?”


Jasper Wylie

Happy Easter – I’m on the march to Aldermaston; staying at the Hyde Park Hotel just now prior to leaving.

March 1958

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Jasper’s jottings: Swiss Bliss

Pancakes and Electric Toothbrushes

Now please do not judge, but it is rather cold here in Geneva, which is in Switzerland. I know it is the morning, but I thought a coffee with a little plum schnapps might be just the boost that I need. They call it Kafe Luz, I call it yummy. Just in case I get the munchies I am having a rather nice pancake with a chocolate and nut filling. Swiss bliss. I have spent the morning looking for items requested by Muriel, principally a cuckoo clock and believe it or not an electric toothbrush. This has just been invented by Dr Philippe Guy Woog for a company called Broxo. It fits into the same sort of wall socket as an electric razor. Not of course that I use an electric shaver, Muriel considers them too flash and she says “they carry the suggestion of a man travelling in ladies’ underwear”.

People Have Made Geneva

A map of Geneva in Jasper’s guide book

I am rather enjoying being on the shores of Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as they call it. One needs to be wrapped up warm for the north wind, or “bise”, can be harsh. In truth its geographical position is rather challenging and therefore it owes its success to the endeavours of its people. It has been in the hands of the Burgundians and Emperor Charlemagne.

In the 14th century it had two devastating fires, but despite this in 1478 had a printing press and a Protestant revolution with an English language bible. Rousseau was born here and some of the earliest watches made. In 1828 it had one of the first Public Welfare Societies and perhaps this laid the ground for more ambitious schemes for humanity such as the Red Cross, the Conventions of War, the League of Nations, the World Health Organisation and the electric toothbrush.

Possibly Not a Good Seller in Glasgow

I am not entirely sure that the electric toothbrush is going to sell particularly well in Glasgow or even Edinburgh, where one’s own teeth are a rarity after the age of 21 in some parts. Indeed as I am sure Muriel has reminded you from time to time that the removal of teeth and the gift of a set of “wallies” (dentures) was a popular 21st birthday present for a loved one. In such a sweet toothed nation it saved a lot of time.

Muriel’s maternal family, the MacCavities, made a lot of money out of their “integrated business model” which combined plantation ownership, confectionary manufacture and painless dentistry in what they described as “a circle of consumer care”. Of course the MacCavities did not have to deal with the mass produced ceramic teeth, a by-product of the tiled close, but had the more sophisticated and exclusive “Waterloo Teeth”. This may seem rather indelicate, but the young officers who perished on the field of Waterloo had teeth as yet unsullied by honeycomb crunch and were much sought after by fashionable matrons in Georgian Britain. This is why so many maiden aunts had a strong overbite. Muriel says her family would never have taken in the teeth of anyone less than an ensign in rank, which is probably why they have always been so belligerent or, as Muriel will have it, great leaders. Napoleon incidentally did not care for Geneva he described it as “the city where they know English too well”.

The Wylies in the Steps of Byron and Shelley


We have come to this city of ancient cultures, of theology, philosophy and literature rather like Lord Byron two centuries ago with his party containing Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin, Claire Claremont and others who stayed at the Villa Diodati. They were I believe very well aware that Geneva was in Switzerland, or how else would they have found it?

It was here that Byron and Claire became more than just good friends, if you know what I mean, and he wrote The Prisoner of Chillon and two acts of Manfred as well as Canto III of Childe Harold. They cannot have found the muesli too off putting as in the following year their daughter Allegra was born.

It was of course during this visit that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein the story of a creature brought to life with dreadful consequences not unlike Cousin Lulubelle’s frequent interference in our business. Sometimes when I look at her closely she seems at once oddly familiar and yet comprised of spare parts. 

Helping Hands at the 1958 Conference on the Law of the Sea

It’s chilly here you know!

Our party consists of myself and my lady wife Muriel, Mrs Travers (our daily woman what does, but not a lot), Lady Pentland-Firth (a decayed aristocrat and former nightclub singer of our acquaintance), the Handsome Stranger, who works in the shadows and Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes who is from the very good varsity in Glasgow, and I suspect is even more shadowy.  However, as Professor of Music he has many strings to his bow and is here on Sabbatical to study the Alpine Horn.

Prof. sir Boozey Hawkes, the musical expert

The rest of us are here to support various aspects of the very important Conference on the Law of the Sea. Muriel has been asked to take charge of the programme for the wives of the delegates. She is, for example, running the crotchet workshop in the lobby of the U.N.H.Q. in the absence of her good friend Winnie (of the bicycle and the Wool Shop in Auchterarder) who has mysteriously disappeared along with her “squeeze”  Mr Chan, who owns a Chinese Restaurant in Govan. Or at least he did; they have been away so long, I would not be surprise if his sweet and sour balls were not entirely congealed.

Muriel is Cross 

We are having a couple of days off which is just as well as Muriel is very cross having discovered that she has been doubled crossed by her supposed friends Lottie Macaulay, the wife of a millionaire bungalow builder who is big in strengthened concrete, and Cynthia Savage whose husband has made a fortune in pickled red cabbage. To cut a long story short, there is something of a cold war taking place between those who want to modernise the soup and pudding lunch and those who want to keep it as it has “aye bin”. It is of course all about power and status and the strange alliances that result.

The Moderator of the Church of Scotland has been dragged into the whole affair somewhat unwillingly. This has taken his attention away from developing a new Hymn Book, with modern songs no one likes and with tunes no one has ever heard of. He is rather resentful of this as he is not in any case a soup man himself having spent several years in London where they cannot stand the slurping and prefer pork pies which he rather does too. Not that one can say this or there will be a schism.

Wandering Around

My trusty Baedeker

Yesterday I went for a hike in the mountains and admired the beautiful scenery. Today I have been pottering around the south west end of the lake, exploring the Haute Ville around the cathedral and the narrow streets of medieval and renaissance houses. There are lots of antiques and interiors’ shops here rather like the Swiss equivalent of “Chez Nous”. I am also taking one or two snaps so that I can illustrate my proposed lecture to the Historical Society on John Calvin who has had such an influence on Scotland.

Calvin’s theology was the idea of John Calvin. He really turned Geneva in Switzerland into a modern city state and led people to reformed religion. It may have been reformed but it was not always very nice. He expelled those who would not see his ways and the high point of fanaticism saw the execution of Michael Servetus. He exerted strong control over inns and taverns and believed food and drink were subjects for stern regulation. His appointment of specialised overseers to control the moral behaviour of Church members has had a lasting effect in other places including Scotland which he influenced. Here the morals of women in particular came under great scrutiny, as any glimpse into Kirk Session Records will demonstrate. Muriel says this is why Swiss women still do not have the vote.

It’s Not All Cuckoo Clocks  

Apart from Calvin and cuckoo clocks, the Swiss have splendid chocolate and cheese and also have what my nephew Sebastian calls a counter-culture in the work of Karlheinz Weinberger, a photographer who is influencing fashion with his interest in Elvis, motor bikes and denim fabric and other things which would have sent Calvin rushing for his matches or at least his smelling salts.

While Mr Weinberger’s use of padlocks and other ironmongery maybe a little outré even for the Wylie taste, both Muriel and I are very keen on the work of furniture designer Dieter Wackerlin. He is very young, being born in 1930 in Basel, and has made something of a reputation for his paired back simplicity which some say is too austere. He is both a carpenter and a designer and most of his furniture which includes sideboards and chairs are made in Basel (another town widely known to be in Switzerland) by a family owned company called Idealheim. Muriel thinks his teak units will be very big in the next decade particularly against a turquoise painted wall.

Muriel and Mrs T Head for the Slopes

Muriel and Mrs Travers have gone for a skiing lesson, which sounds like a recipe for disaster. This necessitated some major additions to the wardrobe and Muriel now has enough suitable clothing for trekking across the Antarctic let alone the nursery slopes of the mountains around Geneva. Of course Muriel did learn to ski when she was being finished off and during the last Unpleasantness found it very useful for sabotaging things. She now feels she needs to go back to basics, despite her own admission that she skis like a native.

Heidi and the alm-uncle

Mrs Travers, who was reading Heidi, was a bit uncertain about the whole thing but perked up when she found out that large dogs wander around with barrels of brandy tied at their necks for passers-by to enjoy. Now brandy is Mrs T’s favourite tipple and it has got her into many a scrape, and its promise certainly got her into that ski lift. I did point out that the St Bernard might slobber into her tipple but she said she would find a way around this.

Lady Pentland Firth Renews an Old Acquaintance of the Comrade Sort

Once upon a time….

Lady Pentland-Firth, who is staying at the Hotel Beau-Rivage (while the rest of us are renting a chalet) has gone sailing on the lake in a paddle steamer with a member of the comrades’ delegation to the Conference on the Seas, called Admiral Neareenovf. The Admiral it seems remembers meeting her ladyship many years ago in pre-war Berlin when, as a cabaret star, “unter den linden”. When he called for her at her dressing room all those years ago, she kept him waiting and uttered those famous words to her dresser which were overheard by Marlene in the next room, and subsequently used by her “zee longer you keep zem vaiting, zee better zay like it”. Only of course she said it in English.

Lady P-F in the cabaret days

He has not forgotten zis and when he picked her up at the hotel said with a smile on his thin lips, “I hope my dear the same fate does not befall you as befell the Empress Elizabeth of Austria when leaving this hotel in 1898, when hurrying to board the steamship Geneve.” “What was that?” asked Lady Pentland-Firth, whose grasp of history is limited to say the least. “Was she swept off her feet by an aristocrat from the court of the Tsar?” “No my dear, she was assassinated by an Italian anarchist.” “Indeed” said Patience Pentland-Firth, who is used to the ways of admirals having been married to the late Rear Admiral Salty Pentland-Firth. “Why don’t you sweep me on to that steamship and while I sing to you, you tell me all about your plans for extending coastal waters.” “Well my little персик, time has not changed you.” “My dear Admiral Neareenovf only in the sense that like vintage wine I have just got fruitier.” “Naughty Patience.” “You’ll see just how naughty! Now where do you stand on fishing quotas?” 


Actually in many ways Lady Pentland-Firth reminds me of the Empress Elizabeth, a woman obsessively fascinated about her own beauty and spending hours each day just combing her knee length hair, always “searching, searching, searching….”

I wouldn’t mind another coffee and one of those plum drinks and I might as well have another pancake too. It’ll see me through to lunchtime.

Muriel Arrives Unexpectedly

“Jasper, there you are. I have been looking everywhere for you.”

“Hello darling, you are back rather soon. Have you lost Mrs T down a crevice?”

“No Dahling, in fact she is doing unexpectedly well –  last seen skiing right off piste being followed by an amorous St Bernard.”

“I am feeling half-piste myself, but this plum stuff is frightfully good.”

The Handsome stranger spots something

“Jasper, listen; pay attention. The Handsome Stranger wants us all back at the chocolate box chalet, Winnie and Mr Chan have been found in an isolated mountain hut.”

“Oh that’s good Muriel; we can go home now. She can take over the crochet workshop.”

“No Jasper, you don’t understand, they have been found dead. They both have their bicycle clips on and unfinished crotched blankets in their hands.”

“Unfinished, you say that’s not like Winnie, it sounds very suspicious to me.”

“Indeed Jasper, very suspicious. She was one of my oldest friends and she hasn’t finished that Arran Jumper you wanted last Christmas, I paid for the wool in advance.”

“Oh and poor Mr Chan I was getting to quite like his Dinner B.”

“Hurry up Jasper, we must get going and find Patience.”

“Patience is on a pleasure steamer giving pleasure to one of the comrades.”

“Not Neareenovf?”

“I believe so.”

“Oh  dear, Jasper hurry.”

“Can I bring this pancake and finish it later? It is delicious, it’s got a chocolate and nut filling.”

Jasper Wylie

Geneva, Switzerland

March 1958

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“A Glasgow Lady”

“Going Through”

The historic skyline of old town Edinburgh

Lottie Macaulay, the wife of the millionaire bungalow builder who is big in strengthened concrete, and Cynthia Savage, wife of the pickle and condiment king, are on their way “through to Edinburgh” by train from Glasgow. Nota Bene dear readers, or for those of you without the benefit of a classical education – note well, that for “those and such as those”, who form the Scottish middle classes one always goes, “through to Edinburgh” and indeed vice versa. This has two purposes – firstly it provides foreigners with an indication of the geography of the two cites lying on opposite sides of the coast and secondly hints at the sheer effort required for the citizens of each to visit the other. In a nutshell it conveys a sense of ennui.

So Very Different

George Square, Glasgow

The cities are both, fundamentally, suspicious of one another – each confident of their own superiority and therefore the inferiority of the other. Glasgow is sooty and grimy, its masonry coloured by two centuries of industrialisation. However, despite a lot of “bowdy legs” due to vitamin D deficiency, the people are nice, salt of the earth types who you know would give you their last farthing. Edinburgh people on the other hand would fight to retrieve a farthing from between the paving stones in Princes Street, but their city is proud, beautiful and as cold as charity.

The people of Edinburgh “go through to Glasgow” as it makes them feel better and the Glaswegians “go through to Edinburgh” when it is a local holiday, or they have a particular mission. You see neither really marks Bank Holidays as in England, preferring the isolated bottle necks created by their own particular regional days off.

Soup, the Cultural Marker

Proper Scottish leek and potato soup

Recently, while all at their rural boltholes, they were encouraged by Muriel to persuade a newcomer to the area to make a pot of Mulligatawny for the Church soup and pudding lunch. Now in case you are from foreign parts, soup is the very soul of Scottish rural society (the English hate the slurping). It marks the great events of life, makes the best of the limited resources of the land which is both “stern, and wild” and keeps one warm, for here it is winter for half the year, despite what the weather man says.

Rural society is deeply conservative, (despite some historic wall levelling and rumours of cannibalism) and soup is limited to a few varieties such as leek and potato, Scots Broth and in its wilder moments of haute cuisine pea and ham. The recent appearance of a lightly curried soup, naturally raised eyebrows and enabled Muriel to come to the rescue with a reserve pot of something “more to our tastes” than something which if analysed might well be found to contain the Devil’s work, better known as garlic. At the same time Muriel was on hand as a guardian angel stepping forth to provide a helping hand to a new neighbour unschooled in the ways of her new community.

The Wise Seek Advice

For the rustics most conversations begin with “It’s aye bin”. This means it has always been this way. They will see Hell freeze over before they accept change and guilty individuals will be “barrowed from the village” – that is tied to the postman’s heavy parcel barrow and literally run out of town. Lucky ones are sometimes allowed back to collect belongings. The wise seek advice, the foolish make suggestions. Those with a death wish do things uninvited. The enlightened consult Muriel. “Oh Mrs Wylie”, said the unschooled Mrs Butterstone-Craig, “would you really have the time to guide me in the ways of the steeping of the pulses and the purchase of “a nice ham shank” from the butcher?”

More Reverend Than Usual

Lottie and Cynthia are neighbours and see themselves as “friends” of the famous and simply marvellous Muriel Wylie, though they are constantly upstaged and overshadowed by her. Sometimes like mice who want to roar, they are emboldened by Muriel’s absence from the social scene of Glasgow’s exclusive and much sought after West End. Today they are on a mission, hence the journey to Edinburgh.

“Well really Lottie” said Cynthia Savage “she made complete fools of us, I hardly knew where to look.”

“I couldn’t agree more Cynthia, how is we always end up doing exactly what she wants?  Mrs Butterstone-Craig looked at me with real malice aforethought. I do not imagine we will ever be invited into her Deli Durbar Sun-lounge to see her collection of ebony Indian elephants now.”

“Whereas Muriel has already been given a glimpse of her Mughal garden with water feature!”

“We have to make a stand Cynthia, which is why I have made an appointment to see the Moderator, The Right Reverend something or other.”

“What exactly is a Right Reverend?”

“I have not the foggiest idea. I suppose just a bit more reverend than the usual.”

“I expect he has degrees as long as your arm.”

“Really you are even beginning to sound like Muriel.”

“Shall we have coffee first? I was thinking Macvities, my treat.” 

The Moderator Nearly has Apoplexy

“Good afternoon ladies welcome to the headquarters of The Church of Scotland. I apologise for keeping you waiting. I am just back from Balmoral. Thank you for your letter I understand you have a matter of heresy to bring before me.”

“We certainly do your Very Right Reverendness, it is a grave matter concerning the introduction of a non-Scottish soup at a Parish Soup and Pudding lunch.”

“What ladies would the nature of that soup be?”

“Lightly curried mulligatawny sir.”

“Oh my word and I mean my word not The Word, I can feel my ridiculous 18th century breeches constricting below the knee. Tell me was there any sign, even the smallest sign of a leek or pearl barley, or perhaps a small hint of pea and ham? Redemption is always possible you know.”

“No sir, there was not.”

“This is grave ladies, this might lead to a schism or at the very least dancing, do please tell me there were no puddings of an exotic nature.”

“No we cannot say that, all very standard with a great deal of custard.”

“What about the traybakes?”

Full of sugar and condensed milk

“Full of sugar and condensed milk.”

“That at least is music to my ears, not too much though I prefer the psalms to be unaccompanied. We must get the bottom of this, who is the sinner?”

“Much though it pains us, as she is our dearest friend, a bulwark of the community and one does not want to tell tales or indeed drop someone in the soup….”

“What Mrs Savage is trying to say is that it was really Mrs Muriel Wylie who blatantly encouraged the making of the unscriptural mulligatawny.”

“Mrs Wylie, you say, not the Mrs Muriel Wylie of the West End of Glasgow and the rural bolt hole and a trial to two ministries and several generations of moderators?”

THE Muriel Wylie of Glasgow’s West End

“The very one.”

Muriel’s Web of Embroidery

“Oh dear, you do realise she rents the back shop here in Edinburgh from us and will be in here everyday if I take action. No ladies it is more than I can bear, believe you me I have tried to suggest she becomes an Episcopalian.

Honestly it is best to let sleeping dogs lie. I have a cupboard full of pulpit falls and embroidered stoles which I do not need, but somehow she always manages to persuade me to do something I don’t want to do. No ladies, if I were you I would let the mulligatawny soup issue fade away naturally. When she and I had the fall out over ‘the guess the weight of the cake’ competition, I ended up refurbishing an entire church in Port Glasgow, with the latest in ecclesiastical furnishings from ‘Chez Nous’. It looked like a nightclub, mind you offerings went through the roof, indeed they paid for the roof.”

You Cannot Win or Perhaps You Can?

her manicured fingers

“Well that was not very successful was it Lottie? She’s got him wound round her little manicured finger as well.”

“I have another little ruse up my Hardy Amies’ sleeves Cynthia. I have written to her at her hotel in Geneva, which by the way is in Switzerland, as the owner of a ladies’ magazine called ‘The Glasgow Lady’ asking if she would like to be travel editor. Just to get the flavour of her writing I have asked her a few questions.”

“I didn’t know there was such a magazine, Lottie.”

“Cynthia sometimes I think you really are the fool that Muriel takes you for. Of course there isn’t! It will just involve her in unnecessary work when she is supposed to be enjoying the scenery of Lake Geneva.”

“Lottie let’s hope she never finds out it is you – or mulligatawny soup will be the least of your worries.”

An Invitation to Muriel

Dear Mrs Wylie,

Further to our recent correspondence, I wonder if you would mind providing replies to the following letters for our mock-up for ‘The Glasgow Lady’? The theme is the new Europe in the post war era.

Yours Sincerely

Jean Plaidy (Mrs)

Sample Replies

the Old Royal

Dear Glasgow Lady,

My husband and I are thinking of going to Europe, which is near Great Britain, instead of Saltcoats, which is usually in Scotland, this year.

Which countries are nicer than Britain?

Dolly Dimple (Mrs)

Dear Mrs Dimple,

No European countries are nicer than Britain. How could you even think that? They are as different as night to day or plain to pan bread and the whole point of going is so that you are grateful when you get home. As they say “count your blessings”.

The Glasgow Lady

Dear Glasgow Lady,

Which is the better country France or Germany, we are considering a holiday in one or the other?

Bea Gott (Miss)

Dear Miss Gott,

Due to laziness we tend to have wars with Germany whom we are most like, but would rather have them with France, but cannot be bothered as they are given to moaning. What about a two centre holiday and you can make up your own mind?

The Glasgow Lady

Strathaven versus Switzerland

Dear Glasgow Lady,

We understand that you are in Geneva which is known to be part of Switzerland. We have heard that they have strange ways in Switzerland. Can you please advise as we would like to blend in?

Mr and Mrs Roberts of Strathhaven

Dear Mr and Mrs Roberts,

How anyone from Strathhaven has the nerve to describe the Swiss as strange is beyond me. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, but never mind it takes all sorts, so here are some pointers.

You will be regarded as a social pariah if you:

  • Flush the lavatory after 10pm
  • Slam a car door after 10pm
  • Cut your grass on a Sunday (mind you this is like Scotland, is it not?)
  • Hang clothes out on a Sunday on a washing line (also like Scotland)
  • Wash your car on a Sunday (also like Scotland)
  • Pets should be kept in twos.
  • The Swiss like their streets to be kept clean so do not throw litter. (This is not at all like Scotland where there is a preference for clatty streets).
  • They still have military service despite mostly making watches.

As you will see Mr and Mrs Roberts it is an ideal holiday destination provided you have no plans after 10pm or on Sundays as Switzerland is very similar to Scotland both having been invented by John Calvin. Come to think of it you may as well stay in Strathaven.

The Glasgow Lady

Are You Sure About Abroad?

la tour Eiffel en France

Dear Glasgow Lady,

Do they have Shippham’s Beef Paste in France? My husband likes to have this on his sliced white for his dinner.

Sadie from Shettleston

Dear Sadie,

I cannot believe anyone from Shettleston is travelling to France, has it occurred to you that it is further than Parkhead?

They have something called paté and their bread comes in long sticks and is baked fresh every day.

I have a feeling abroad is not for you.

The Glasgow Lady

Dear Glasgow Lady,

I am told that the British accent is very difficult for many Europeans to understand. Is this true?

Mr and Mrs Frederick Farquhar from Fochabers

Dear Mr and Mrs Farquhar from Fochabers,

What an unfortunate address you have been burdened with; it seems you have too many “F” ing things in your life, think of moving.

On your point I have to say what a ridiculous question. The British do not have an accent. Has it been a particularly long winter where you are or are you married cousins?

The Glasgow Lady

A United States of Europe?

Dear Glasgow Lady,

Overall do you consider Europe a good thing?

M. Thatcher (Mrs)

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Finchley

Dear Mrs Thatcher,

Overall yes, despite my misgivings about coffee in bowls and risotto, in general I think it is a good idea.

It would have been better if we had joined at the start and had more of a say.

I told Winston this when I suggested a United States of Europe, when I was helping him to build a wall at Chartwell. Despite my appearance and perfectly manicured nails I can mix cement with the best of them. I had many a dummy village to construct in the last Unpleasantness.

All European countries would benefit from Britain’s leadership introducing such marvellous things as International Soup and Pudding Day; reintroducing royal families as they generally look better on stamps and are of limited intelligence and therefore unlikely to cause trouble, if kept busy; imperial measurements for all; letting them use our money and having a European Parliament somewhere convenient like Stirling. Yes I believe it can work.

Are you the same lady I meet in London a few years ago who is a chemist? If so have you remembered my advice regarding the handbag as a weapon, and the pussy bow as a fashion statement?

The Glasgow Lady

All is Revealed

the Glasgow Lady

“By the way Jean Plaidy, or as I know you Lottie and Cynthia, do you think I came up the Clyde on a banana boat? I may be in Geneva near Switzerland, but I can spot treachery a mile off. ‘The Glasgow Lady’ may have been a figment of your imagination, but I have decided to produce it. Thank you for the idea. Incidentally how was the Moderator? His secretary is my second cousin from Juniper Green, always been good at keeping in touch.

Having a simply marvellous time here on the lake – the conference on the sea is going well. They love my cullen kink and Jasper’s shell collection talk.  Mrs T is learning to chop wood to music – will tell all on my return.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

The Glasgow Lady

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Flight to Geneva (which is in Switzerland)

Starlight Express

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

In the Soup

Proper Scottish soup – with bits!

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

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

Emergency traybakes

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

An Important Milestone

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

The Sleeper Where No One Sleeps

Muriel’s Vanity Case

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

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

Lady P-F

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

Taking “a Sherbert Dab”

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

Special Treatment, a Nervous Traveller and Home Comforts

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

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

Cabin baggage

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

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

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

Winnie and her knitting

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

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

In the Departure Lounge at London Airport

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

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

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

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

a rare photograph of The Handsome Stranger

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

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

“Up to date?”

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

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

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

A Legend Arrives

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

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

“What about Mrs Travers?”

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

The magnificent Tower at Blackpool

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

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

“And possibly put 2 bullets into our backs.”

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


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

“Who are they, Muriel?”

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

“Where is Lady Pentland Firth?”

“Over there Jasper, give her a call.”

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

Up the steps to Silver Wing Class for a Yodel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed they do Muriel.”

“I knew that stew would come in useful”

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

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

Distracting Mrs Travers for takeoff

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

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

The beloved custard cream

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

“Chocks away everyone.”

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

“Fire engines.”

“Oh that’s a great help Jasper!”

“Och Mrs Wylie, ma lugs feel funny.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lady P-F – the cabaret years

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

That Passenger Looks Familiar

“Excuse me madam – Mrs Wylie”


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

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

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

“Oh Mrs Wylie”

“What is it Mrs Travers”.

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

Going Down

the Elizabethan beginning its descent

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

“Oh Steward I didn’t know you cared.”

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

“Barley sugar for landing Madam?”

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

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

Happy Landings

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

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

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

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

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

Jasper Wylie

March 1958

Posted in Talk of the Town | 5 Comments

Ageing Well

Time: The Present

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

Dramatis Personae:

Sir Sebastian Wylie Foxe, Britain’s foremost theatrical knight

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

Two women of the thrusting cultural / media type

Brought to You Through the Medium of Dance

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

The one and only Baroness Wylie

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

Jasper, An old fashioned sort of fellow

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

Lemon basket garnish, just as Muriel loved

Marketing – Now and Then

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

Muriel and Jasper – Transcending Time and Place

Muriel and Jasper, transcending time

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

The essence of Muriel

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

The “very theatrical” SEbastian

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

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

Muriel on a mission

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

Keeping an eye on the comrades

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

So Many Familiar Faces

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

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

Forever on Set

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

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

The Yellow Brick Road to the Gravy Train of Memory

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


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

Hilary-Dee working on a story

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

Vivienne at work

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

There is Method Acting in the Madness

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

a rather cantankerous Sir Sebastian

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

Keeping Care Costs Down 

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

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

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

The Tricks of the Trade

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

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

Keeping up with Changes in Language

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

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

What is Next?

“Well my dears….”

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we might.”

“Was that a yes?”

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

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

Hilary-dee Ready with the note pad

“Perhaps – I do seem to remember that.”

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

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



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