Tactful Human Touches


I place great store by honesty, it is always the best policy. Exceptions of course can be made in cases of dire emergency such as during the last Unpleasantness with the you-know-whos, when our backs were against the wall. It is then that dishonesty becomes a matter of national interest and security.

I was often very dishonest in S.O.E. when behind enemy lines. Indeed my cover story was something of a fabrication, but one does what one has to do when under interrogation by powers of darkness, especially when one has been deprived of the basic necessities of human existence and I am talking cold cream, astringent lotion and lipstick here. Somehow – and it can only have been my simply marvellous acting skills – the Gestapo believed I was a simple boulanger’s daughter, despite my near perfect bone structure and a pair of knickers printed with a map of the Paris Underground on them.

My silver cocktail sticks

I am, therefore, going to confess that during Lent I transgressed – only once –  and used my silver cocktail sticks with the carnelian tops. You will understand my reason. I went to Paisley where I was expected to eat a sausage without a stick. Fortunately I had my set of silver cocktail sticks in my handbag as I had popped them in to take to the Rural Bolthole for Mrs T to wile away her leisure hours cleaning them for their post-Lent re-emergence. Paisley, however, is the sort of the town where, to quote Jasper, “the pigeons bring their own pieces” (sandwiches for the common).

Mrs T, our daily woman what does but not a lot

Talking of dishonesty I hear Mrs Travers (our woman what does but not a lot) coming from the kitchen. I am sure you too are aware of her heavy breathing and the sound of the rubbing of her support stockings against the crepe bandage.

A Supplicant with Coffee and Buns

Delicious Hot Cross Buns

“Good morning Mrs Wylie your Grace, there’s a letter from Master Sebastian in America so  I thought you might like your coffee a little early and I have pressed the Glasgow Herald with a damp cloth sprinkled with lavender water as you think the paper boy never washes his fish and chip infused hands. I have also toasted some hot cross buns and there’s a little bramble jelly. I didn’t think you would want a colourful jam as it is Good Friday. There are also no flowers in the house as requested.”

“Thank you Mrs Travers, nothing like a cup of coffee at this hour with a little sweet bite. I hope the brasses are gleaming and the stair rods are an example to the entire neighbourhood?”

“Oh indeed your excellency and when I have damp dusted the stair carpet I will make a start on the fish pie, although Mr Wylie will not be pleased. Can I plump your cushion ma’am?”

“No thank you Mrs T, I am still capable of cushion plumping and heaven knows one needs to be around here. Might I add there is no point in trying to curry favour with me by overegging the pudding or in this case the buns. I am still very cross with you regarding the séance. It was dishonest on so many fronts. You know how I feel about meddling with the spirit world. I have spoken to the Minister and let me tell you given the strange noises in this house since Madame what’s her name was here, I have half a mind to organise an exorcism, although the Minister has suggested this is a touch exotic for the Church of Scotland.”

“I am so sorry your madamship, whose simply marvellous smile shines upon every West End inhabitant even south of Anniesland Cross and transforms the rural bolthole into a place of radiance. It won’t happen again.”

“You are right; it won’t. Now concerning suppa, Mr Wylie will just have to put up with fish pie, I know the ingredients are from MacFisheries and not the Sea of Galilee, but one has to show willing.”

“I could do some chips.”

“No; chipped potatoes would be an indulgence in Holy Week. Mashed potatoes and peas will suffice. Where is Mr Wylie?”

The Easter Tableau Vivant

“He is in his study writing about his ‘Top 10 Inherently Funny Things’ for the parish newsletter. According to the editor, he writes with such imagination.”

The shed

“That makes a change; he generally does most things without imagination. You might as well take his coffee and the bottom half of a bun to the shed, where I imagine he really is, with my copy of The Spectator. He does not deserve the top – Good Friday is not about fun, Mrs T. Remind him he is playing James the Less in the Last Suppa Tableau which I am narrating at 4 o’clock and tell him to look out his sandals. You had better get him a linen sheet from the press.”

“Certainly, and who is playing Mary Magdalene?”

“Cynthia Savage, she of ‘Savage’s Pickle’s and Condiments’, red cabbage being their speciality.”

“Will she be penitent?”

“Mrs Travers, we will be lucky if she is sober. She has not been quite herself since Mr Savage was discovered in the North British Hotel after a New Year party with the supervisor on the piccalilli line who was covered in bought mayonnaise, toying with a dill pickle.”

“Yes I heard about that from Mrs Macaulay’s woman what does far more than I do and she said it was all over the West End of Glasgow.”.

“The being discovered in flagrante delicto?”

“No, using bought mayonnaise.”

“Indeed Mrs T; letter opener please.”

Sebastian is Enjoying America

Dear Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper,

Sorry not to have written sooner, but there is so much to do in America; it is even bigger than Dumfriesshire.

Cousin Lulubelle

I have been with Cousin Lulubelle, once removed, to help her young friend Elvis look for a new home. We went by Greyhound bus as Cousin Lulubelle thought this would be character building. Elvis has bought an old mansion house in Memphis, Tennessee, for $102,000. When I say old, being America, it dates to 1939 and was built in colonial revival style by Ruth Moore, a southern socialite. I imagine her to be much like yourself Aunt. I have a feeling that Cousin Lulubelle and Elvis’s manager do not get on. She keeps muttering something about hot chicken feet, whatever that means.

Memphis is in what they call the Deep South on the Mississippi river. It is not like the South side of Glasgow at all. They are very keen on music and eating outside using what they call barbecues. Like Glasgow much of its success was based on cotton produced by people who would rather have been elsewhere, but that is another story.

They talk very differently in the South from New York, indeed everyone sounds like Cousin Lulubelle, once removed. They speak slowly, drop their g’s like cockneys drop their h’s and draw out vowels. They are very polite, but I think “bless your heart”, may be more critical than it sounds. Strangely I can understand them better than I can of people from Aberdeen, but perhaps that’s because I am so used to Cousin Lulubelle.

I am settling in well to life in “the village” and the daily routine at the Actors’ Studio. Lee Strasberg is simply marvellous as Artistic Director, he understands everything about the Stanislavski System and I feel I am really learning my craft. We do preparation, character development and performance. There are some really interesting people here. I have been working with some of the other young actors – Natalie Wood, Dennis Hopper and even Marilyn Monroe is here learning “the method”. We have to think emotional rather than intellectual. They would love Mrs Travers here, she is method down to her bunions.

When we are not working at the Actors Studio we “hang out” at interesting places like Old Colony at 43 West 8th Street, and drink apricot brandy and vodka and listen to music on what is called a Juke Box, where you put money in and select a record of your choice.

Must dash now – am rehearsing the part of Tom in Tea and Sympathy, you might have seen Deborah Kerr in the film last year directed by Vincente Minnelli. It is very daring I know but very tasteful. Deborah is never anything else of course.

Cousin Lullubelle says she hopes that you are taking care of business and that sales of three piece suites are going through the roof of the new town in East Kilbride.

As Deborah Kerr said, “be kind” and Happy Easter to you both and to Mrs T.

Lots of Love

Sebastian xx


Madame Alexander’s doll

Have sent Gayle a doll by Madame Alexander.

A Spot of Sherry

a little pre-lunch sherry

Well it’s nice to know he is getting on so well. That calls for a little pre-lunch Amontillado. Now what else is in the post? An Easter card from Dimitri. That’s nice; the Russians do Easter so well, or at least they did. I am sure that Mr Khrushchev does not do Easter at all.

Now what’s this? Dear Mrs Wylie would you like to give someone a rest cure in Saltcoats for 2 guineas? No I am not made of money. I do my best for those on straightened circumstances, but who would look after moi I wonder? And another advert, Dear Mrs Wylie, would you like to be ready for Spring? Try the slimming bath foam from the Tao Clinic opposite the King’s Theatre. Well yes I could pop in next week and in that case I could eat the other half of Jasper’s hot cross bun.

No Mean City

Tomorrow is looking rather busy already. We will be returning to Glasgow early in the morning as I have been invited to the Cathedral, (no doubt because I always look magnificent floating down a long aisle) by the Provost for a service of thanksgiving marking the end of the campaign for Mass X-ray in Glasgow against the evil that is tuberculosis. In case you are unaware Glasgow has the worse rate for infectious diseases in Europe.  I am ashamed to say we have some dire poverty and horrific housing. During this campaign 708,461 have been X- rayed, Jasper being one of them. The results exceed even those of the record breaking campaign in Los Angeles. Our citizens have responded magnificently in a desire as The Herald has said “to eradicate the stain of the reputation of their city, which is even more menacing than the exaggerated tales of gang warfare.” 

Dashing About

After the service I have to dash across town to Copland & Lye on Sauchiehall Street where in addition to having “a visiting Lancôme specialist” who will give advice and beauty treatments in the Perfumery Department there is an Exhibition of the Battle of Britain in Lace in the furnishing department. This is in aid of the R.A.F. Appeal on behalf of the St Clement Danes Church. I am always happy to do my bit for The Brylcreem Boys. Though I am not sure I would like such a scene on a tablecloth. Then it will be back home, an early suppa and if she is good we are going to drop Mrs T off at  The Pavilion to see Denny Willis in “Hey Denny”. We are taking Hairy Mary, our nursery nurse from Inveraray to see Petula Clark at the Glasgow Empire with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. It’s not quite my scene but one does what one must.

Uneasy Bedfellows

Might as well have another sherry; I know full well Jasper has refreshments in his shed when he is doing what he calls working and time for a quick peek at The Herald. I see the Prime Minister is in Arran and gave a speech about “trying to do his best for Britain”, but it’s “not easy”. I am not sure I feel happy about a Prime Minister who finds governing not easy, but I won’t mention it to Jasper, you know what he’s like. The P.M. has said that policy making in the Middle East is difficult, which is the sort of comment I would expect from Madame Voyant and her crystal ball and tarot cards. He has also said that his watchword at home is “opportunity”, well that’s the same as Mrs Travers’ son Billy which is why he so often ends up in Barlinnie!  Macmillan says power and transport are the keys to our economic future, which is rather like saying getting out of bed is a major part of going to work.

Mind you while on the subject of bed I agree with him on one thing and that is that “wisdom and extreme nationalism make uneasy bedfellows. I wonder if the Conservatives will ever recover from Suez and will Britain, having lost its Empire, ever find its role again? I must say while I am all for standing up against bullies I do wonder where the new American missiles for NATO will get us. They have names like “Honest John” and “Nike” and can carry atomic warheads. 

The Queen in Paris

Perhaps Europe will provide the focus of our future. Talking of which I see the Queen has been a huge success on her state visit to Paris arriving on a B.E.A. Viscount. As The Spectator (currently on loan to the shed) has said, it has been “more of a triumphant success than anyone dared hope”. This comes after our joint political defeat in the Middle East. Perhaps it will repair the Entente Cordiale at long last.

At any rate it seems to have brought pleasure all round and the Queen looked magnificent in the two strap ivory duchesse satin gown designed by Norman Hartnell. Reportedly it took a whole team of embroiderers weeks to bring the details to life with pearls, topaz, brilliants and gold thread. Hartnell very cleverly adopted as his design themes the emblems of France – poppies, fleurs- de-lis, wheat sheaves and the bee. C’est magnifique if you ask moi. The bee was a symbol of Napoleon and a symbol of hard work. It should be the symbol of our Queen she never puts a foot wrong. There were gasps when she arrived at L’Opéra and yet as dear Richard Dimbleby said of her at another event there were also those tactful and human touches such as the Queen “buttoning her silk coat as she walked…” I notice our fur coats are very similar.

Back From the Shed

“Hello darling, ooh sherry, is it lunch time?”

How are your ‘ten inherently funny things’ getting on?”

“Bit slow Dahling, something to with Spring I fear. It confuses me.”

“Yes I can see that, well what amuses you so far?”


“Well, Scottish country dancing as you know – that is very funny, with all that do-si-do and dizziness; jelly (and blancmange), due to the wobbling; serving hatches in bungalows, so pretentious; condensed milk, it underpins the rural economy as a key ingredient in traybakes; cucumbers because they do and Freemasons because secrets are always funny not to mention the outfits. So that leaves four to find. I was thinking about sycophants who describe members of the royal family doing up their buttons as if it were splitting the atom, but I will have half the village against me.”

“Not to mention Jasper dear the other half who are in the brotherhood and our friends who live in bungalows.”

“Do we have any?”

“Jasper I may be many things but I am not a snob.”

“Yes of course dear. Oh is that airmail from Sebastian?”

“It is but, you can read it later, you need to put your Last Suppa outfit on.”

“Oh really Muriel why can’t Mr Macaulay be James the Last? He looks more biblical than I do.”

“You know why Jasper. Anyway stop being so fussy; he really is a minor character, in fact no one really knows who he was or what he did so you will be perfect.”

“I hope we are not going on anywhere. If I have to sit still for three hours my knees will ache and I will want to come home for a bath and a wee refreshment and by the way what is for suppa? Not that we have even had lunch, but one needs hope.”

“That’s why we are going to Church Jasper. And for your information suppa is fish pie.”.

“Oh no –  will there be chips?

“No chipped potatoes Jasper. However, on Easter Sunday you can have roast potatoes and pudding with custard.”

crumble with custard, a favourite of Jasper’s

“You are too kind Muriel”.

“Well it is an instruction from Deborah Kerr among others. I will explain later, come on – sandals and cloak adorned with scallop shells for you now.”

Happy Easter, dear readers and be kind to one another.

à bientôt


April 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 8 Comments

Moved By The Spirits

I am marvellous

Moving Forward but Maintaining Standards

Like you dear reader, wherever you may be, I have my faults, although sometimes I have to agree with Jasper that it requires a microscope to see them. I do, however, like to pride myself on my broad mindedness as well as my simply marvellous attitude to life and excellent posture. This is after all 1957, just in case you have been in a coma or happen to live in the Hebrides – if that is at all possible.

Sad to see it go

I have come to terms with the demise of the tassel in soft furnishings, accepted that our nephew Sebastian is on the very theatrical spectrum and strongly believe that the British Empire is going ‘down the Swanny’, or should that be the Limpopo or the Ganges? I have even been known to appear in public without gloves (although only on the South Side of Glasgow) and my American Cousin Lulubelle has sent Jasper and I a copy of Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up”, although I am a bit of a Pat Boone fan myself. There are , however, somethings I cannot and will not condone, including the disgraceful rushing from the cinema when the National Anthem is played, serving peanuts without a spoon

The correct way to serve peanuts

(men’s’ hands have been a constant annoyance in my life) and dabbling with the occult.

So Typical of the Gentry

Last week I was due at Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a Country House Concert Committee Meeting. When I arrived, having rushed suppa and missed “What’s My Line”, I was greeted by what remains of the domestic staff, the Butler, and told that her ladyship was unavailable as her ladyship had to interview a Russian musician at short notice.

Lady P-F

Well it did not look like short notice to moi and I knew full well that the noted soviet percussionist had been picked up by young auld Jock from the midday train from Edinburgh. Young auld Jock is noted for his strength and ability to eat a block of ice cream and put a fence post at the same time so his lack of ingenuity was required to transport various items of the percussion family to the Pentland-Firth pile.

When I asked the Butler why he required to be interviewed, having already been engaged to play, he replied in a clearly rehearsed speech, “because it takes a lot of practice to hit an instrument with the right amount of strength, in the right place at the right time”. Furthermore it appeared she was “interested in the possibilities of combining maracas, gongs and celesta,” as a means of interpreting “the sounds of a country house”. I was not best pleased, especially as I was missing Katie Boyle, David Nixon and Lady Isobel Barnett. Using people is, however, so typical of the so-called gentry, even if she is a parvenu. I returned home to my rustic retreat in something of what Jasper calls a “cream puff”.

Goings on in Muriel’s Kitchen

I settled down with a crème du menthe and began making notes for my fashion piece on “The Return of The Cape”, (more of that in due course) when I heard the strangest banging coming from the kitchen and feeling slightly alarmed I armed myself with a letter opener and spray perfume of Ma Griffe and went downstairs to the kitchen. I flung open the door to find Mrs Travers and what seemed like half the village in Hallowe’en costumes sitting around the table holding hands with a turbaned figure hands stretching heavenwards and eyes rolling like Al Jolson.

Church flowers

I knew immediately I had stumbled into a séance, something I do not approve of. I am after all a fully paid up member of the Women’s Guild, (my embroidered supper cloth is in constant use), I have a permanent spot in the July flower rota, (not to mention my famous Easter cascade in the transcept)  and my iced gingerbread is the high point of coffee following Sunday Service (but not during Lent) and as the Minister said only recently quoting Leviticus 19.31 “Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits”. As he says (usually glaring at Lady P-F who winks back) this is the work of “fallen angels”. Well I could see a whole collection of fallen angels tucking into the food for my backgammon evening and a certain Mrs Travers making very free with the brandy I keep for ‘Steak Diane.’

Muriel is NOT Amused

“Stop this at once” I said as the be-turbaned one fell from her trance into a plate in front of her nose, spearing a sausage roll. “Mrs Travers? What is going on here?’ “Oh sorry Madam, I thought you were out.” “Clearly” I replied, “well I am now in and demand to know what you are doing and who this person in the turban is?” The medium was too exhausted to speak and so our neighbour, the rural crime writer, Bunty Haystack (author of “Sheep May Not Safely Graze”) spoke for her. “I am very much afraid this is all my fault Mrs Wylie; you see I am researching the spirit world for my new novel and Mrs Travers kindly offered to oblige. May I present Madame Claire Voyant,” pointing to the heap in the sausage roll, “international expert on the ‘other side’ and I think you may already know Polly Wanton, Vera Veil and Crystal Clear, local ladies with advanced minds.” “That” I said frostily, “is a matter of opinion.

a simple soul

Really Miss Haystack I am surprised at you taking advantage, of a woman like Mrs Travers, a simple soul, barely held together with support stockings, who is after all, originally from Warrington which is half way between Manchester and Liverpool – surely enough of a burden, without filling her head with nonsense and making her even more domestically incapable than she already is.” “I am so sorry Mrs Wylie” responded Bunty, “it is just that Madame Voyant says Mrs T has an aura that appeals to the spirit world.”

Mrs T displaying her aura

“She also, as you can see, finds the spirits appealing and has access to vast supplies of Border Tart and savoury snacks”, I added somewhat petulantly.

In Trouble and in Limbo

I turned to the three younger women and reminded them that I sing with their mothers in the choir and that we would be meeting up on Thursday evening to rehearse Bach’s St Matthew Passion. “Why Bach?” asked Polly, “it’s only ever Bach.” “You have answered your own question Miss Wanton. It is only ever Bach because he is clearly the  composer who most approaches perfection, even if it is two and a half hours long without the sermon.”  “Please Mrs Wylie, don’t mention this to our mothers, they think we are at Miss Treadle’s, ‘Sewing for the Needy’ circle, putting finishing touches to a matching tray cloth and serviette for use on a guest breakfast tray.” “Do you honestly think” I said, “that the needy, find themselves much occupied with either guests or breakfast trays?” “No probably not”, they replied in sheepish unison. At which point the heap in the dark, or at least the light limited to the flickering candles, began to move and shake and draw itself back up to an upright position revealing a woman who looked strangely out of time and place with her costume more attuned to the 1920’s, with its beads and tasselled shawls.

Making the Connection

“Oh my, oh my” she gasped, “the spirits have been busy tonight.  I am fatigued in a most exhilarating fashion. I am somewhat afraid that Mr Patel has been rather rough with me.” Who is Mr Patel?” I asked. “Oh my dear Mrs Wylie” replied Madame Voyant, “he is my spirit guide; if you look closely you may see him on my shoulder. I have a photograph of him in my bag.” At which she proceeded to rummage in her capacious hand luggage, without success, “Oh never mind” she added, “I will show you later, suffice to say he connects me with those who have gone before and wish to make contact with those who have yet to make the journey beyond and he gave me the most marvellous recipe for Mulligatawny Soup. In his own life he ran a spice export business from Bombay and was even to presented King George and Queen Mary at the Delhi Durbar. He is in Limbo.” “I thought” said Mrs T you said he was in Bombay.”

What No Soup?

Jasper smells curry!

“Oh, really” I said, “this is too much”, at which point Jasper came in. Apparently he had been home all the time as his lecture was cancelled and had heard nothing but said he could smell Mulligatawny soup and feeling rather famished, as suppa had been early, he decided to follow his nose. “Evening all, anything to eat or is this one of our fast nights? Oh I say! Sausage rolls and border tart, hand me over that plate Mrs T and I wouldn’t mind a beaker of soup, providing Dahling” he said looking at me, “you are happy with me drinking from a beaker and providing, of course, one can drink rather than eat soup?” “Here you are Mr Wylie” said Mrs T proffering a plate with a couple of sausage rolls one of which had a serious dent. “I am afraid there is no soup, you must have been dreaming.” “Definitely a smell of curry, Mrs T; my nose never lies.” This is true, Jasper has a very sensitive nose especially when it comes to cooking smells, once he gets a trail he is a veritable bloodhound.

Between the Worlds

“Mr Wylie is correct Mrs Wylie, Mr Patel is a wonder with turmeric, even from beyond, but one must think of his soup as a taste of things to come rather than the reality of here and now.” “That’s a no to Mulligatawny, Mr Wylie” said Mrs Travers “but I have a spot of leek and potato I can heat up later when they have gone.” “Oh this is ridiculous, I said “and time you were all getting on your broomsticks and going home. Anyway Madame whatever your name is, how do you know what my name is?” “Oh Mrs Wylie, surely you must know that your simply marvellous lifestyle and programme for gracious living is not something confined to earth and the here and now. Why you are famous in the spirit world. Many follow your example as a means of existence while they linger between life and eternal rest.” “Do you mean….?” “Yes I mean the Mackintosh Square has a life beyond death and

Muriel demonstrates the art of the Mackintosh Square

let me tell you sling backs are a must for the fashion conscious spectre.”

Too Much!

Perhaps – I thought, well at least for a fleeting moment there might be something in all of this, but as I could not work out on the spur of the moment how to link the afterlife with monthly sales figures of Scandinavian inspired furnishings from “Chez Nous”, Glasgow’s finest Interior Decoration Shop, I came back to my senses. “Oh really this is too much and tell me which one of you simple minded souls were the spirits wanting to contact?”  “Actually Mrs Wylie”, said Bunty Haystack “they want to contact you.” “Yes, it is true” interjected an enthusiastic and almost recovered medium, “for you are the most spiritual and receptive of us all even although you have difficulty acknowledging it.” “Well wouldn’t you know it” muttered Mrs Travers pouring herself a sneaky whisky and gulping it back, handing the bottle to Jasper, who did likewise.

“Tell me who wants me – Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great?” “Or Genghis Khan or Machiavelli” said Mrs Travers not so very under her breath “or indeed Mr Patel?” “No; none of these kindred spirits Mrs Wylie, nor for that matter Mr Patel, for he is merely the conduit to me through which the departed communicate, although Queen Elizabeth was fond of a bit of spice as she has often told me.”  Taking a deep breath and adjusting her many bracelets, Madame Voyant looked at me and said, “Mrs Wylie it is the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth, hero of Jutland, you know his mother was a Minch, who wants to speak with you. Do you recall him?”

Lady P-F descends into the abyss

“Of course I do, he died at a Flower Show Lunch  of unexplained causes  several years ago, leading to a whole set of complications including Lady Pentland-Firth, losing her estate, her descent into an Amontillado ‘drinky-poohs’ problem and all sorts of people being run over by Glasgow trams or eaten by lions.” “That’s just it Mrs Wylie. Lord Pentland-Firth’s death was no accident, he wants you to know his own wife murdered him.”

There’s a Book In It?

“Oh, how wonderful” shouted Bunty Haystack, “what a plot, I must telephone my publishers in the morning. I shall outsell Agatha Christie at this rate.” “You will do nothing of the sort Miss Haystack, this is slander. Patience may be many things but she is not a murderess and it would be so very vulgar to murder someone before the presentation of the late awards.”

Lady Pentland-Firth is no murderess

“What do you mean late awards? asked the curious medium. “ Oh” said Jasper, “all the cups presented by the committee are on behalf of people who have died in the village since 1870.” “Yep” said an inebriated Mrs Travers, “it takes hours and hours and hours. So many people have died since 1870, it is quite selfish.” “Yes” chorused the rest, “so rude so very rude.”

Later in bed

“Well Muriel thank goodness they have all gone, so annoying I missed Panorama which was about the spaghetti harvest in the Ticino Valley and there was barely enough soup to go round.”

“Jasper, do you never think of anything else but your stomach?”

“I think of you my Dahling; you are the centre of my world.”

“Oh Jasper how sweet, big kiss… but no you are not having custard or anything else for that matter, you need to lose some weight and I have a punishing day tomorrow beginning with a demi-perm before my tour de force on the return of the cape. Honestly Jasper what a lot of rubbish that woman talked and the rest are so gullible. And another thing Jasper, spaghetti is not harvested, even if Richard Dimbleby on Panorama says so.”

Muriel slumbers

But, Jasper was already snoring and dreaming of swimming in custard. Muriel closed her eyes, but could not sleep and lay as was her custom, effigy like ready for the Abbey, neatly under the counterpane, white gloves on her hands.

She was almost sure she could smell Mulligatawny soup and outside the moon, if she wasn’t mistaken, had become a smiling face; a smiling face with a turban on and  leading from the face two lines of stars, the stars looked like arms and hands. In one hand was a jar and on it said “Mr Patel’s Spicy Moments, Satisfaction Guaranteed” In the other hand was an image of an old sailor, in his hand one star glowed brighter, flickering on and off like semaphore and it said, “She did it”.

Muriel Wylie

April 2017

Posted in Talk of the Town | 4 Comments

Séance on a Driech Scottish Evening

Short Day’s Journey into Night

spring in the rural idyll

It has been a beautiful spring day in the Rural Bolthole.

The rustics have had a joyful day with the warmth of the sun on their backs after months of cold and damp and the never ending darkness of a Scottish winter. By nature they are of course stoics and with a heads down and best foot forward attitude they have coped with nights that seem to begin about 2.30 in the afternoon, following a day which begins about 10.00 in the morning.

Delicious home made soup à la Muriel

Of course the process has been helped by a good supply of fire wood, vats of nourishing soup, endless knitting and dancing and of course the odd medicinal dram to keep the cold at bay. Social intercourse has taken place in a variety of warm surroundings including the church, The Pentland Firth Arms, the village shop or at the doctors. Favoured subjects include various medical conditions or ailments, which are highly competitive in nature, the more chronic the better. The past is always popular for conversation as it is always a much better place.

New residents are much discussed too as for example the city incomer who  is being castigated behind her back at the cold meats’ counter as a “floozy” for hanging out washing on a Sunday. The price of a gigot chop in the Pentland Firth Arms is compared with the price of lambs at the market, farmers it seems have “never had it so bad”. There is excitement about an upcoming Beetle Drive “in aid of our missionary partners in somewhere or other” where it’s hot and they make the most wonderful baskets, which are just the ticket for that morning visit to the shop as they comfortably take The Glasgow Herald, half a dozen potato scones, and a bottle of “Scotch” in a brown paper bag.

Everyone is Moved

Hard at work

The sudden appearance of the sun does tend to send everyone a little “doolally”. There is a sudden rush to wipe window sills, sweep paths and wash blankets . Indeed there is so much to do it is almost dizzying. Such is the pressure of conformity in a rural community that even those with the most disabling of conditions such as being “pure dead bone idle” are moved to leave their firesides and begin the vinegar and newspaper onslaught on grimy windows.

Moved by the spring

The alternative is to be at the receiving end of chilling stares, tightly folded arms and impossibly dramatic eye rolling from the villages M.A.D.S. (Most Advanced Domestic Specialists) These women with mean thin lips, threatening bosoms and years of experience of cupboard bottoming, blanket trammelling and pest control have the power to make or break a local reputation. They strike fear into the newlywed or the plain useless and one can sense them coming before they are seen in that they are preceded by a strong odour of bleach, naphtha and self righteousness. They are, however, the glue that binds the community together. Understandably there are many that greet the late afternoons “clouding over from the west” with relief as it might happily mean an April shower and a respite from such activities as putting “Cardinal Red Polish” on the front step.

Changeable Weather- Irritable Reactions

This very thing has happened in the village where Muriel and Jasper Wylie, along with many of Glasgow’s middle class, have their weekend homes. Jasper is delighted to have his lawn raking interrupted by a shower of rain and a sudden temperature drop.

Dans le jardin

Muriel who had been enjoying a cup of tea (clad in tweeds, naturally for the time of year)  picks up her note book and calls to Mrs Travers, her daily woman what does but oh so very little, to come and help clear away the tea things, before she collects the washing on the line.

They are having fish pie this evening. Jasper hates fish pie or indeed as he says anything that “smells like a harbour”, but Muriel has discovered his betting slips relating to activity at the Cheltenham Races. The punishment must fit the crime. Muriel does not approve of gambling anymore than she approves of sloppy speech, eating in the street, the Labour Party or women in slacks. The latter she has been known to describe as “targets for harpoon practice” and any with an elasticated waistband as requiring an “Askit pooder” and a Dubonnet chaser.

Change of Plans

It is “kitchen suppa” tonight, that is to say suppa with the minimum of formality and place mats and the napkin kept in the silver ring, rather than a tablecloth and fresh linen at the Georgian mahogany dining table which had belonged to Muriel’s grandmother. Despite being in the bad books, Jasper decides to push his luck and produces half a bottle of white wine as he says he can’t get fish pie over his delicate thrapple without “a wee swally”. Muriel ignores this and anyway has her coup de grâce already planned with a tin of

What a treat

fruit cocktail and some Carnation milk rather than the treacle tart and custard which as far as Jasper is concerned was the only light at the end of the harbour wall.

The lack of formality is typical of suppa during the week for those who are simply marvellous, as they have many social and charitable activities to fill their evenings. Muriel is due to be at Lady Pentland-Firth’s for a discussion about the next Country House Concert while Jasper is off to the monthly meeting of “the Hysterical”, as Muriel calls his History Society, where the treat is an illustrated lecture on the History of Pulpit Falls with Dr Timothy Twist, lecturer in contemporary embroidery from the Art School.

“The best laid schemes”, however, as Burns said can go wrong.  When Muriel arrives at the Pentland-Firth pile she is told that her ladyship has cancelled due to an emergency involving an in depth interview with a Russian percussionist. With similar bad fortune Jasper has arrived at the village hall to be told that Dr Twist has taken a queer turn at Central Station and cancelled. Apparently his secretary was very apologetic and said he had been overdoing things with a new reel of purple embroidery thread and would reschedule the meeting for the autumn.

Everyone Thinks They Are Home Alone

A dry stane dyke

Jasper arrives home first and has gone into the dining room where he is working on an article for the Parish Magazine on the History of Dry Stane Dykes in the Glen, which the editor said will amaze many of the readers, with his forensic dissection of construction

A different dry stane dyke

methods and materials.

Back again, looking none to pleased

Muriel meanwhile drives home feeling she has been somewhat used, having seen a light on in Patience Pentland-Firth’s boudoir with two shadows in close proximity behind the toile de jouy blind over the window. She is not best pleased and after changing into her housecoat and fluffy mules, pours herself a wee crème du menthe and sits down in the drawing room to write a lecture on this Spring’s fashion news which is “The return of the Cape”, for an afternoon presentation at Dalys.

At the Back of the House

In the kitchen Mrs Travers is unaware that her employers, having come through the front door, are home. Had she known she would have cancelled the evening’s activity which is a séance, exactly the sort of thing of which Mrs Wylie disapproves. To some extent Mrs Travers has been persuaded to host the evening against her better judgement by Bunty Haystack, prolific author of rural murder mysteries such as “Turnip Terror”, “Revenge of the Three Little Pigs” and “One Man Went to Mow and Didn’t Return”. Bunty, however, is one of these modern women who always gets their way and Mrs Travers is fond of “a reading” herself.

So it is with some excitement that she answers the chap at the door to find Bunty waiting with her acolytes – Polly Wanton, part-time barmaid at the Pentland Firth Arms, Vera Veil, bridal ware specialist and Crystal Clear, secretary to the owner of a local glaziers. “Good evening Mrs Travers, what a dreich night” said Bunty shaking her umbrella and removing her headscarf. The acolytes follow and do the same. They are enthralled by their famous friend and copy her every move as well as reading her books, where they are sure they recognise themselves. They also feel an author in the village is good for business.

In Great Spirits

The Border tart

While Mrs Travers fills the kettle the visitors busy themselves preparing the room by placing the round kitchen table in the centre of the room, dimming the lighting and turning off the radio. From her basket, Bunty produces a brass candlestick, a bunch of artificial white roses and a vase as “the spirits are drawn to the flickering light and to white flowers”.  Being drawn to warmth, they also like food and so Bunty is delighted when Mrs Travers stokes the Rayburn and then from the warming oven produces plates of sausage rolls, fruit scones and a border tart. Apart from anything else Bunty did not have time for suppa as she was putting the finishing touches to a particularly grizzly body in a barrel story, so Mrs T’s fare is most welcome.

There is another knock at the door announcing the arrival of the famous medium Madame Claire Voyant be-turbaned and dressed in a cape which when removed reveals a mass of shawls and fringes, bangles and beads – she looks as if she has just walked out of a silent picture starring Rudolph Valentino.

An Aura

A woman with a noticeable aura

“One has arrived” she announces dramatically handing Mrs Travers her umbrella and Gladstone bag. “The night is well disposed to communication with the other side; and you” she says looking at Mrs Travers through a lorgnette retrieved from the jumble of amber beads resting on her chest “have an aura, I can see it from here. You are a woman who has suffered pains and agonies, pains and agonies, torment and tumult. I see support stockings; I see a man, a slow boat to China and a knocking shop down by the canal.” “Would you like Earl Grey or Assam Madame?” asked Mrs T hoisting up her elasticated knee supports. “Assam, if you please; my spirit guide is Indian. I can feel him coming, coming, coming….

A delicious scone

but a scone and jam would be rather nice first.”

Madame Sees All

After refreshments, Mrs T removes the cups and saucers and crumb filled plates and the assembled company gather at the table. Madame produces a “speaking trumpet” from her bag which she places on the table. “Sometimes” she announces sonorously, “they like to come through the trumpet, especially if they are hard of hearing.” Polly Wanton gives a little giggle and receives an icy stare. “Now this is good; our number is divisible by three” she says “and we can begin. I want you to visualise a white light surrounding this perfect country kitchen. The spirits already know you are here. I want you to take a deep breath with me.” The assembled group take a deep breath as one and as they exhale the full force of a lunchtime pickled onion is released by Mrs Travers. Vera and Crystal look disapproving and Mrs T just shrugs her shoulders and whispers “better out than in”.

Madame is, by this point, oblivious as she announces she is “raising my consciousness to the alpha state and reaching down into the molecular level”. The assembled company realise that they are obviously in the presence of a great scientist as well as a medium. Suddenly they all feel a rush of cold air and a tinkling sound. Each think they can smell something. Is it perfume, cigars or possibly pickled onions?

The Spirits Move Them

The perfect scent to move anyone

Madame lurches violently to the left and then to the right and then she begins to incant, “Oh beloved Mr Patel, we bring you gifts from life unto death – perfume, cigars, sausage rolls and indeed pickled onions; commune with us Mr Patel and move among us.” There is nothing, but Madame repeats her lines, adding, “Spirit we are waiting for a response”. Suddenly the table begins to shake and to levitate, seeming to hover above the tiled floor before resting one of its legs on Mrs Travers bunion, but she stifles a cry.

There is a rap on the table and Madame says “Can we ask you a question? One rap for yes; two for no. A single rap follows. “Sprit do you have a message for anyone here?” A rap is followed by a strange sound which appears to come from the trumpet, it is like barking. “Does anyone know Bouncer?” asks Madame. “Bouncer was my spaniel”, replies Bunty Haystack, “he was a champion ratter, he went under the wheels of W.R.V.S. tea van during the Blitz. Is he well?” “He is quite well and wants you to know he does not hold you responsible for letting him off the lead.” Once again Madame begins to sway and then says, “Crystal it is mother here, I want you to know I am all right, but you must be careful of someone whose name begins with Mac in management. ” “Goodness me” exclaims Crystal, “that’s Mr Macauley, the millionaire bungalow builder, who has a 25% interest in “See Through Glaziers”, and far too much interest in my stocktaking in the stationary cupboard! Ooh I have come over all peculiar. Mother what other advice have you? I rather fancy Mr Sill in framing, but he never notices me.” “I have to go my child but try a touch of Blue Grass behind the knees.”

Spirit of the Sea

“Is there anyone else who wants to come through from the other side? Are you there spirits?” asks an anguished Madame who begins to cough. There is the sound of violins and as Madame begins to sway backwards moving her turbaned head in a circular motion she asks “Is it you Mozart who is  trying to come through?”  There is the sound of a fog horn and a sailor’s hornpipe to which she says “perhaps it is you Lord Nelson? I can smell the sea”, at which point seaweed seems to float about the table. There is another bang and she asks once again who is trying to come through.

An Unexpected Guest

The late Lord “Salty” Pentland-Firth

“I am trying to come through” announces Muriel, “what on earth is going on here? Mrs Travers is this what I think it is?” At which point Madame lets out a howl and says “I have a message for the simply marvellous one, it is me Salty Pentland-Firth, I cannot cross over….” “Be quick spirit” says Madame, “the veil is lifting.” “I was killed by my own wife; she poisoned me. Patience Charity Pentland-Firth is a murderess.”

….to be continued.

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Gushing river at the rural bolthole

Somewhere in deepest Southwest Scotland, those who lead simply marvellous but hectic lives within the honey coloured sandstone of the villas in Glasgow’s exclusive West End, have their weekend retreats. Here among the tumbling burns, gushing rivers and larch clad hills they can be themselves and frolic with their dogs in the beech woods and pass the time of day with amusing rustics among the iced gingerbread loaded plates of countless fundraising teas and coffee mornings.


The Pentland Firth Arms

In the words of a local artist well versed in the techniques of “en plein air”, Spring is “long awaited”. There are, however, signs that something is stirring, indeed some might argue that after last night’s Country Dance Spectacular in the function suite of The Pentland Firth Arms Hotel, there has been rather too much stirring. John Knox, who has done more than most to shape the mindset of the Scottish nation, realised the dangers of dancing, which he thought betrayed a certain tendency to madness. Worst of all was the sort of close dancing which enabled the transmission of gossip, scandal and heaven forefend stirrings!

Simple circle dancing might just be permissible, provided one does not forget the scriptures. Even then the jigging and birling promotes a dizzy forgetfulness which might well lead to… well you know what dancing leads to! The results will be all too clear come December, if – and there is always an if -“God spares us”. For the Presbyterians who inhabit this land firmly believe, even if they do not “believe”, that a day of pleasure is always paid for with a day of pain. There is, on the other hand, a fatalism that the future is always mapped out and there is little one can do to change it, as the people are fond of saying  “what’s for you won’t go past you”. This is not entirely pessimistic because at the end of the day one might just as well dance.

A Crack Shot

Dancing appears to be the favoured occupation of the hares in the fields at the moment and indeed of the birds in their courtship rituals. Red squirrels chase one another among the branches of the alder trees with their strange purple luminescence, a feature which vanishes as the leaves appear. On riverbanks weasels play on a carpet of emerging wild garlic soon to be harvested for soup and salads and rabbits begin their cheeky assault on emerging garden shoots unaware that a woman in a floral apron and support stockings has a rifle following their every move.

Just Like Chicken

“Gotcha” said Mrs Travers, (the daily woman what does, but not a lot) who has accompanied her employers to their rural retreat. “That will do nicely for a pie for Wednesday if I get it skinned and soaking in bicarbonate of soda, which will remove the gammy taste and Mr Wylie will believe it is chicken. The skin will make a nice pair of mittens for young Gayle, for next winter, provided I have some alum to preserve it.”

Mrs Travers retrieves the furry intruder and takes it to the cold room leaving it on a marble slab before washing her hands and picking up the wicker basket of “whites” a miscellaneous collection of sheets, pillow cases, a couple of Mr Wylie’s  shirts and some of her own necessaries –  a collection of garments more familiar in the 19th century but were bought at a sale in “Busty Betty’s” many years ago, and still show no signs of wear, only requiring an occasional purchase of a card of elastic for the legs. On the washing line they blow magnificently and given their size might easily be taken for the sails of a returning tea clipper from the South China seas.

Mrs Travers lacks the inhibitions felt by many of those women who would never display such items in public view, preferring them to dry more discreetly on winter dykes in front of Rayburns or at night in front of the fire after males have retired up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire and the smooring of peats (as the gaels say) has taken place.

Lady P-F – always rather forward

Mrs Wylie’s foundation garments would never be seen in public blowing in the wind and on the odd occasion when lack of a fire has made drying outside necessary, they are covered on both sides by “modesty cloths”, or old pillow cases pegged to the line, furthest from view. There are of course some forward ladies like Mrs Wylie’s cousin, Lulubelle, and her neighbour Lady Pentland-Firth who flout this convention by preserving sets of racy underwear which are never worn but kept solely for washing line display. Of course not even these are displayed on a Sunday for that would be crossing the Rubicon or at the very least suggesting that one might be turning continental.

A Murderous Mind on a Bicycle

Crows on the riverbank

Stepping back to admire the blueness of her whites, the reverie of the washerwoman was broken by the aerial bombardment of a squadron of crows which alighted on the trees along the riverbank. “That happened to me yesterday”, said the voice from a bicycle which had just come up the garden path carrying the well known local writer of detective novels Bunty Haystack who specialises in murder and mayhem in the country side.

“Oh Miss Haystack, you startled me, I shall have to wash Mr Wylie’s combinations again.”

“I do apologise Mrs Travers, this bicycle is a very silent model, and indeed I used it in my best seller, ‘The Cycle Slayer’.”

“Yes I know; I have read it. That bit with the tyre levers gave me nightmares for weeks.”

“Oh good; did it really? How splendid!  I did wonder if I was overdoing it with the headmistress and the poisoned rain cape. Combinations you say?” said Bunty in a most lascivious sort of way, which was not surprising considering her reputation with men. “I would have thought Mr Wylie was a far more modern sort of gentleman in that department.”

Local News

“Well, indeed Miss Haystack, but Mrs Wylie does not like him spending too long in his shed without suitable layers, especially as he is not only very chesty, but also very busy with his papier-mâché scale model of the Western Front 1914-18 using my old Daily Record newspapers.”

“ Why the Daily Record, pray tell?”

“ Oh Mrs Wylie does not think it decent to use The Glasgow Herald or The Daily Telegraph and not even The Record if it has pictures of the Royal Family as it would never do to cover Princess Margaret with flour and water and lay her on a chicken wire base. Although I do happen to know that under Hill 60, there is a picture of The Queen Mother at Royal Ascot, not that she can ever know. Anyway how may I help you?”

“I am just delivering the local magazine.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Just the usual, although there is a bit of a telling off by the Minister about gossip after the man who drives the mobile drapery store ran off with her from “ that London” who bought “Druid’s Knowe” for a painting school. They say she is a naturist and he had plenty of free tuition in artistic matters.”

“Really you don’t say? Gossip is very destructive. Was he interested in oil or watercolour?”

“Mixed media according to Molly Moss who went there for a bit of help with her perspective. She said he was very forward in the ‘Life Classes’ and his line of beauty was all over the place.”

“Well the Spring Exhibition should be worth seeing. Anything else?”

“There’s a Sausage and Mash Supper in aid of the “Orphans To Oz Scheme”, so that the poor mites each get a Bible and a penknife to help them in the outback. The Women’s Guild has a ‘Prettiest Invalid Tray Competition and Mr Wilson has a new preparation against aphids which can also be used in jungle warfare if necessary – take your own lemonade bottle. And it’s Mrs Wylie’s turn on the flower rota, the theme is redemption. There is, however, something else you could do for me.”

The Spiritual Mrs T

A woman moved by Spirits

“Yes and what would that be? I hope it’s nothing like the time you suggested I dive into the curling rink in January to test your theories for “Death in the Duck Pond”?”

“No nothing so visceral, I am working on a new book about the world of the supernatural and I need first hand experience of a séance. You seem like a very spiritual woman to me Mrs Travers and if I might say so a woman prepared to push against the boundaries of understanding.”

A very spiritual woman

“Well I was married to Mr Travers for many years until he ran away only returning with a stuffed lizard from the East Indies which was made into an occasional table lamp. Now that tested the boundaries of most peoples’ understanding.”

“Well exactly one can always tell those who are that not afraid of the other side. Might we assemble here later? I have invited the noted spiritualist Madame Claire Voyant and some kindred spirits such as Polly Wanton, Vera Veil and Crystal Clear and one or two others.”

“No sorry Mrs Wylie does not approve of such things, she would not be at all happy. Mind you she is going out and he is at the Hysterical where they have a talk on the History of Pulpit Falls which will take hours.”

Muriel is about and Mr Wylie is in the bath with a headache of his own making

“Who is taking my name in vain?”  asked Mrs Wylie

“Good morning Mrs Wylie” said Mrs Travers and Bunty in unison.

“Good morning Mrs Travers, Miss Haystack. Good drying day by the looks of things. And what is going on here in Shangri-La today might I ask?”

“Oh as I was just saying to Mrs Travers that all is revealed here in the Parish Magazine. The Minister is a bit cross but that is not unusual. I must push on, there are quite a few of these to deliver and I want to pop in to The Tramps’ Refuge Table-top Sale. I have my eye on a rather nice tweed cape.  Nothing like an hour on a hard saddle I always say, except two hours, followed by a bit of machining on the old Singer!  See you on the other side, Mrs T.”

“On the other side what on earth is she talking about? No wonder those novels are so awful, any one would think she was interested in spiritualism. Honestly Mrs T have you read ‘A Rubber of Bridge too Far’? Simply ghastly.  Now I was wondering do we have any Wintergreen left my knee is a bit sore from all those reels and Strathspeys.

A sip of coffee to restore the soul

Then I thought we might have coffee in the morning room. Mr Wylie is in the bath gazing at the trees along the river bank. He has something of a hangover, so he will be worse than useless today, so no change there. Make sure he is subject to maximum noise and inconvenience. He has the History Society this evening and I have a committee meeting with Lady Pentland-Firth regarding our next Country House Concert.  I am thinking of taking the pastoral as our theme.”

“Do mean madam, taking the countryside and the village as symbols of stability, security and order through the eyes of shepherds and shepherdesses, using the symbolic to explain the complex?”

“I suppose so  Mrs T. I thought we might start with something Shakespearean. Teasing out the pastoral elements in As You like it and The Winter’s Tale, which are plays by that writer William Shakespeare.”

“Sounds like a good starting point Mrs Wylie and then you might select themes expressed by Ramsay in The Gentle Shepherd, Monteverdi in L’Orfeo, John Gay’s satire on the pastoral in The Beggars Opera, perhaps picking up on Tristan and Isolde  or even Stravinsky and Le Sacre du Printemps which always makes for a good finale especially if there is a sunset – very earthy and abandoned.”

“Umm yes and I was also thinking of an afternoon lecture on painting and the pastoral.”

“Oh you must Mrs Wylie, and don’t forget Poussin , Watteau and Claude. You might call it Fêtes Gallants.”

“Indeed I might Mrs Travers – have you been reading my notes perchance? Now before you have visions of yourself on a swing in a forest glade  have you done all the washing and thought about suppa. Mr Wylie says he’s thinking fish pie tonight.”

“He must have been reading my mind Mrs Wylie.”

“Now what about your evening Mrs T, why not do something a little different. We will both be out and Hairy Mary from Inveraray and Gayle will not be down until the afternoon train tomorrow.”

“Thank you Mrs Wylie I might just sit down with a slice of that fish pie if Mr Wylie leaves any and attend to my spiritualist, I mean spiritual, needs.”


March 1957

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Jasper’s Jottings: “That London”

Feeling a Bit Woolly

feeling a bit woolly

“Good morning Mr Wylie, are you ready for your breakfast?”

“I certainly am Mrs Travers, feeling a bit woolly this morning. That London is quite exhausting.”

“I wouldn’t give it the time of day myself Mr Wylie. All that smog and smut and millions of people breathing the same air and rushing around underground like ants. I don’t know how you and Mrs Wylie can be bothered at your time of life.”

“Better not let Mrs Wylie catch you referring to her time of life, she’s very sensitive about her age.”

“She’s very sensitive about most things.”

“Really Mrs T that’s a bit below the hand stitched, vegetable tanned, Italian leather belt.”

An Agitated Muriel

“Well she was not very pleased this morning when I had forgotten  to put out a bar of Morny French Fern soap and she had to make use of the Wright’s Coal Tar stuff she leaves out for myself and zee German voman vat does zee heavy vork. Anyway here are your winnings from the Cheltenham Gold Cup, I picked them up from the corner man when I was paying the TV rental and buying our Billy’s Capstan full strength.”

“Not now, Mrs T she will find out, she has ears like a bat and I am sure she was the prototype for radar, she knows my every move.”

“Don’t worry she went out, quite early in a bit of a “cream puff”, dressed to kill, singing “The March of the Women”, rattling a tin mug against the railings (in case she is arrested and sent to Holloway) and muttering about “Tory Traitors” prepared to shoot their own supporters in the back.”

Muriel has a Cause

“Apart from the fact that sounds like music to my ears and the usual sort of thing that happens when they unexpectedly get a new leader, like Harold Macmillan replacing Tony Eden, dare one ask what, and why?”

“She said you would say that, so I have to tell you that in the spirit of her grandmother she has taken up the cause of Women of Slender Means through the mechanism of the Soroptomist Clubs and the patronage of Lady Colquhoun of Luss.”

“What is the nature of this cause?”

The source of Muriel’s irritation

“Well it seems that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has abolished cheap night trunk telephone calls, increasing the charge from one and sixpence to three shillings minimum.”

“And why is Mrs Wylie so up in arms about this? Surely if people can afford a telephone they can afford the charges, or why have one in the first place?”

The Need to Phone Home

“Apparently the cheap rate is the means by which lady business people, teachers, nurses, midwives and students keep in touch with home and are, therefore, a life line for those with families in the Hebrides or Orkney and Shetland.  Mr Thorneycroft, the Chancellor has thus, according to Mrs Wylie, ‘undermined Scottish family life by making the Sunday telephone call home prohibitive. It is in effect a tax on the middle class working woman.’

Lady Colquhoun of Luss is up in arms and organising a meeting at the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street and ergo Mrs Wylie is also up in arms. There is also a sale of monogrammed towels at Trerons, next door, so the trip will not be wasted. According to Mrs Wylie’s placard, ties have been broken and there must be recriminations and agitations, the women of slender means are under fire.”

“Well who would have thought that, Mrs T! The Conservatives undermining their own support by raising the price of a trunk telephone call to Stromness. Mr Macmillan must have taken leave of his senses!”

Gloating Jasper

“She said you would gloat. Now what about some Ayrshire bacon, Lorne flat sausage and a fried egg?”

“Mrs T you are an angel in support stockings.”

“Flattery Mr Wylie will get you nowhere and indeed you are going nowhere today but the Mass X-ray in George Square, you don’t want a dose of that consumption. I have seen it take away better men than you.”

“I have a tip for the 2.30; are you interested?”

“I am – and you are still going, she wants proof as well.”

“Well in that case… Will I tell you about that London while you cook my breakfast?”

“If you must. Anyway she has only just been there, why again? Fancy a toasted grapefruit to start with a wee sprinkle of rum and demerara sugar?”

A Call from the Palace

a call from the Palace

“Well Muriel, it seems, had an important summons from the Royal Household and so needed to dash down pretty  quick; something about the Royal Yacht and some new quilted bedspreads. She also felt I needed a break what with the ingress of rain into the shed soaking some of my World War I exhibition having taken its toll. Mu also told me that there was a meeting of The Metropolitan Chapter of the Capodimonte Collectors’ Club in  Pall Mall which I might like to attend. We went on the Sleeper which, according to Muriel, gets one in early enough for a full day in London. I am never sure that this works as one is too tired on arrival having not slept a wink – well for me anyway. Muriel snored all the way. There is something very odd about lying sideways, while the train goes forward.

Our London Hotel

Fortunately as Muriel knows the Manager of “The Imperial Hotel” in Russell Square, we were able to get into our room early, have a quick Turkish bath to freshen up, breakfast and potter around Bloomsbury before elevenses in Fortnum’s which apparently is the Mecca of the simply marvellous. Their coffee, tea in Muriel’s case, and toasted crumpets are, it is true, pretty top notch. Though Muriel was rather appalled to discover they have gone that new trendy way and dispensed with tablecloths at coffee time.

a slight look of displeasure

We popped into St James, Piccadilly, which while not Presbyterian has some rather splendid Grinling Gibbons carvings although Muriel declared them to be dust traps, which are no longer suitable for a post servant nation. I spotted a rather natty dressing gown in Jermyn Street which Muriel said she might buy me if she gets the contract for some of the new John Lawrence houses.

The Red Lion

We had a quick snorter in the “Red Lion” and then lunch at “Simpsons”.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea was simply marvellous

I did not have pudding as Muriel was glaring at me in that Presbyterian way she has which suggests self denial might be the best course of action. Probably just as well, as we had arranged to meet dear friends Gary and Edward for afternoon tea at their Club. This was a splendid tea of the freshest bread and the most exquisite cakes and pastries.

Eyeing up the treats!

The jam for the scones was most delicate and the cream flavoured with a hint of lemon. Muriel was very taken with the  cake decorations using tiny edible flowers and gold leaf and is determined to introduce this manner of presentation to Glasgow’s exclusive West End.

Despite living in genteel Rye, which is a sort of English rural bolthole by the sea, Gary is very well known in the London theatre and musical world and can sometimes be seen presenting programmes on the television, introducing singers even of the modern boggie-woogie type.

Edwardo et moi

Edward, like Mr Chanter, is an accountant with a firm grasp of double entry book keeping, which means he gets to write in red and black ink. 

So Much in Common (Without Being Common of Course)

A kindred spirit

Muriel and I have never visited Rye although it turns out that one or two residents are, or have been, mutual family friends (well friends of Muriel’s family of course, the Wylies had creditors rather than friends) like Henry James, the refined novelist, who wrote quite well about Americans which is never easy and dear E. F. Benson who was a bit theatrical and even roller skated and wrote about some ridiculously snobbish and improbable women. Then there is our good friend Rumer Godden who writes about India – you will have seen Black Narcissus directed by other good friends Powell and Pressburger, who happen to reside near our own dear rural Bolthole.

So there was much to talk about and a general feeling that Muriel would find a ready audience for her classes on Gracious Living and a certain market for Mackintosh Squares as it is very damp by the sea. The afternoon flew by and it was with great sadness that we said farewell to our chums who had to return to Kent-shire as they have a pussy that spends the day in “Mouse Wood” and would be desirous of a more substantial meal.

As we left we noticed that the Club had some decorative sculptural features that suggested an appeal to the very theatrical market and would in the future be somewhere to take our nephew Sebastian, (when he returns from the United States) and his friend Dimitri.

New Talent

Fortunately we had an occupation for the evening and that was to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank where, out of patriotism, we went to see the young Scottish conductor Alexander Gibson with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a performance of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale which was “an outstanding success”, as all the critics agreed. Muriel went backstage to see  young Sandy and suggested his career might receive a massive boost were he to consider an appearance at one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts which are fast becoming the Aldeburgh of south west Scotland.

The Reason for Our Visit

Summoned to the Palace

After a restless night, due to the never ending sound of traffic in Russell Square we are, like Samuel Pepys, “up betimes”. Muriel took a taxi to Buckingham Palace where the Queen it seems had literally put out the red carpet and arranged to have the Horse Guards parade. The Queen said she had heard so much about Muriel from Princess Margaret and her new young friend a Mr Dimitri who had escaped from the Bolshoi Ballet and had a remarkable allongé.

The Duke of Edinburgh, who has little interest in allongés large or small, outlined some of his ideas for modernising Britain in a sort of Prince Albert way beginning with a focus on design. He wants to give royal residences an updated image with sleek lines and less clutter, starting with the Royal Yacht. He has heard that Muriel has a firm grasp of Scandinavian design principles and really rather fancies some sticky out beech legs himself. Muriel said she was quite sure that she could come up with some simply marvellous ideas before going on to swap duster coat stories with Her Majesty, who was looking radiant in spring yellow. The royal couple said they would have a bit of a catch up when they came North and would be interested in seeing one of Muriel’s interiors and perhaps even attending a Country House Concert.

Left to my Own Devices

For my part I attended my Cappodimonte Collectors’ Club meeting in the surroundings of a gentleman’s club before a rather splendid lunch of mulligatawny soup, steak and kidney pudding and steamed syrup pudding with custard. As I am weight watching I said no to the offer of cream. There were some splendid types there including a few from the Foreign Office who said they were sorry to have missed Muriel as she was one of the most splendid honorary chaps of the last Unpleasantness and furthermore they had heard that she continued to do her bit for the old Queens and Country.

Our suppliers of brown paper

Feeling rather full I took myself off for a walk around the East End, much of it still showing signs of bomb damage. I paid some calls to some of our fabric suppliers and to Mr C.H. Katz in Brick Lane, Spitalfields, from whom I ordered some much needed items for our shop “Chez Nous” including brown paper, tissue paper, twine and string for our parcels.

Cousin Lulubelle on the Stage?

Muriel and I met up at an Italian restaurant for an early supper. This spaghetti stuff is becoming all the rage, rather tricky to manage at first but tasty. It’s just a pity that the Italians do not serve their food a little hotter, but I suppose that is not necessary in their climate.  Service was a little chaotic, again a result of the sun I suppose but it did mean abandoning our pudding as we had tickets for the theatre. I treated Muriel to The Crystal Heart, a musical starring Gladys Cooper. The songs sounded promising including, I would like to see the world, How strange the silence, Handsome husbands, D.O.G. spells dog, and It’s so British.  The plot involved Dame Phoebe Ricketts, a rich widow, sent to live on a desolate island under the terms of her husband’s will. Her only companions were a posse of “just women”. An unlikely term if ever there was one!  One day a handsome boat-load of men are washed up. A jolly good idea one would have thought, the only problem is that not only is Miss Cooper the romantic heroine over 70, she plays the role as one critic said ‘like a cross between …. a Tennesse Williams’ Southern Belle and The Madwoman of Chaillot.’

As Muriel said, no harm to the splendid Miss Cooper, who has done such marvellous work in her younger days, but Cousin Lullubelle might have made a better stab at it, as the critic might well have been describing her, only she does it for real.

Rather Too Theatrical

We might have been better going to see a new film about Vincent Van Gogh called Lust for Life with Kirk Douglas, actually playing something other than “a dreary He man”. Still we can catch that in Glasgow later and there is nothing like live theatre. Muriel had really wanted to see Olivier as Archie Rice in The Entertainer, but I could not quite bring myself to go and see the play which was said to have been Sebastian’s for the taking had he not had to leave the country, what with him being rather too theatrical.

Renaissance Marvellousness

Talking of art and artists our final hours in “that London” were spent in the National Gallery as Muriel wanted to see the first painting acquired by the gallery in lieu of Death Duties, a provison of the 1956 Finance Act (section 34). This is the “Pieta with St Jerome and St Dominic” by the 15th century Dutch artist Rogier Van der Weyden. It comes from the estae of the Earl of Powys. It is a small panel less than 18 inches by 14 inches, but “colour and composition are invested with a power of pictorial emotion out of all proportion to its size”. Muriel said it was simply marvellous as are her favourite renaissance pictures like “The Tailor”, which captures an ordinary profession so unusual in these times.

Dear Canaletto

We also had a quick look at  Canelletto’s paintings of Venice as Muriel has a hankering to go there later this year.

Talking on the Tube

While one cannot but agree with Samuel Pepys that when a man is “tired of that London he is tired of life”, there comes a point when one’s feet are tired and one’s brain entirely scrambled by the onslaught of culture. The down side too is that no one really wants to know you or cares and Muriel has to constantly tell me off for talking to people on the Tube as apparently they think I have escaped from an asaylum. I proved her wrong by pointing out that I had a perfectly decent conversation with a woman between Leicester Square and  King’s Cross. Muriel said that was because she was a working lady looking for business and it was just as well that I only had a single.”

Stand By Your Beds!

“More toast Mr Wylie, then you need to go for that X-ray; sounds as if you had a good time. Oh, stand by your beds here she comes.”

“It’s me Mrs T; any coffee?  Has Jasper gone to George Square? Oh you are still here Jasper, now net your coat on; you know you have always been a bit chesty”

“Hello Dahling. How are the revolting women and did you manage to get the charges reversed?”

Toddle pip

Jasper Wylie

March 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Trying to Improve Things

Keeping an eye on you

I would be the first to admit that I have, from time to time, a tendency to look back at the past through rose coloured spectacles. 

The Past Can Be Unforgiving

There is much about modern society that appals me like the abandonment of third class rail travel, suede shoes for men and commercial television. On the other hand I know that the past can be a cruel and unforgiving place where more kindness might have gone a long way to create a better society.

Now before you think I have started to turn pink around the edges, let me stop you there. For the devil does not have all the best tunes although generally speaking I find Socialists fall down very badly in terms of accessorising and colour coordination. Perhaps I will develop a course on “Dressing and Deportment for the left wing lady” if that isn’t too much of a contradiction in terms.

If one is going to turn the country into a Soviet satellite state then one needs good foundation garments, we have only to remember the film “Ninotchka” with the divine Greta Garbo, to see what we would be up against. We will, however, cross that bridge when we come to it.  The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, is currently doing a splendid job and making some good progress in the matter of housing which can only be good news for my interior decoration business “Chez Nous”.

Not Totally Blinkered

The exclusive West End abode

Please do not think that those of us who live in Glasgow’s exclusive West End, particularly those of us fortunate to occupy a full Victorian villa, are indifferent to the plight of the less fortunate. I am fully aware that there are large areas of Glasgow that only have fruit when someone is sick.

If I want to know something about tenement life then I only have to ask my darling Jasper, who can go on for hours about one gas ring feeding a family of ten and how much the cockroaches enjoyed the flour and water paste which fixed the wallpaper. There is nothing he likes better than to mention his Granny Wylie’s oft quoted greeting when someone “chapped at the door” to ask for the “lavvie key”. With a smile and barely a care for her dickey heart, the result of childhood rheumatic fever, she would say “come away in, pull up a rat and sit down”.

The sainted Granny Wylie

Being Glasgow she would always have a pot of tar like tea on “the peep” and freshly baked pancakes cooling on an old linen sheet kept for that purpose on the box bed. Of course had this been Edinburgh there would be no tea and no “sweet bites” and the rats would have long gone west and  reached Falkirk. Granny of course was, as we hear ad nauseam, a  heroine of the famous Clydeside rent strikes and her caste iron black frying pan made many a dent in the head of a would-be collector or sheriff’s officer. Granny boasted that despite all her hardships there was never a day without a roaring fire in the grate and she had the best “corned beef legs” in the Close to prove it.

A Good Hostess

In defence of the pan bread and piano owning classes of which I confess I am one, we do care. It is not my fault I had a hand embroidered fire screen, a governess, and knew many families with ancestors executed within the confines of the Tower of London and maiden aunts who knew only the music of Bach. Many of my friends and that does include Lottie Macaulay the wife of a pre-cast concrete millionaire and Cynthia Savage, the pickle and condiment Queen, do a great deal for charity. We also try to keep pace with the latest developments. Earlier this week for example I was at the Annual Dinner of the Glasgow Central Business and Professional Women’s Club – for all us Glasgow Gals who mean business. We usually meet from 5.30 until 9.30 pm, frequently in a format we call “Tea and Talk”, where a hostess sits at every table to make sure everyone knows each other.  As you can imagine there is a virtual stampede to my table.

Goodbye to Bowdy Legs

The dinner was a more formal affair and the speaker this year the excellent Dr Norah Wattie, principal Medical Officer for maternity and child welfare in Glasgow. Her devotion to duty was obvious as was the sense of urgency she felt was needed in terms of Glasgow’s health problems. She spoke candidly about Glasgow’s “low grade housing” and the terrible congestion that is the plight of many. Too many people still live in one room, with shared toilets and no hot running water, let alone an imaginative collection of lace doilies.

Not all was doom and gloom from Norah and she was happy to report that there had been a decline in deaths from diphtheria. Rickets (or bowdy legs as we know it in Glasgow) were barely reported and whooping cough had been considerably restricted. There was one black spot still and this concerns the prevalence of TB – there are still some 200 cases a year. Indeed Glasgow has the worst record where this awful illness is concerned.  Medication has helped and she is about to begin a programme of mass X-ray in the city.

The Dangers of Dancing

As you know I have never been one to shy away from the realities of life. Beauty and health have been my watchwords. Neither have I shied away from what some might consider the more delicate aspects of “the hygiene of life.” I have long taken an interest in “The Orphans Home”, a charity chaired by Lady Pentland-Firth, who once famous as a cabaret artiste, is

Lady P-F, no stranger to sensational behaviour

no stranger to sensational human activity. In my own right I have spearheaded, sometimes in the face of opposition my own charitable undertaking, “The Home for Fallen Women”.

The women of Glasgow have for many years, particularly since the advent of steam locomotion, fallen prey to falling. This traditionally happens around New Year and Glasgow Fair Fortnight when Scottish Country Dancing is at its most energetic. Many young women having partaken of refreshment to which they are unaccustomed are birled to an insensible state in dances such as “The Lovers Knot” and readily tumble into a bale of freshly cut hay. As they say you know what dancing leads to!

Muriel Crosses a Boundary

One has to be realistic and understand that dancing is here to stay and so I have given much thought to ways of mitigating unforeseen circumstances arising from an “Orcadian” or indeed any other kind of “Strip the Willow”. You are going to have to steel yourselves now, for I am I am going to have to mention two words you may find unsavoury, so I will give you a moment to pour a glass of sherry, I recommend something sweet –  Gonzalez would be an excellent choice.

A sherry like nectar

I would suggest too that you turn your grandmamma’s portrait to the wall, steady yourself against a sideboard or in my case walnut chiffonier and take a deep breath.  The two words are “family planning”. Are you still with me or do you need a few moments to run your fingers over the harpsichord with a J. S. Bach Goldberg variation or alternatively stick your head between your knees?

No Apologies

As I say deep breaths and focus on something tranquil. I make no apologies for saying those words – it has to be said if we are to make Glasgow a healthier place as we approach the 1960s. Now I know what you are thinking, what does Muriel know about this as she has no children of her own and never had the temptation of falling because of her incarceration in a remote boarding school and an intense programme of holiday activities not to mention father’s shotgun.

Married later in life

It is true the stork has never visited moi which is a sadness I have to bare. You see Jasper and I married later in life and if truth be told Jasper had a very bad war. Nevertheless I am a woman of the world and am aware of more than you think.

Indeed I first became aware of “family planning” when my Mother,  who could change her clothes under a dressing gown and always bathed in a swimsuit if Father was around, suggested they would never be tempted to highland schottische again if they had separate beds in separate rooms in separate homes. Thus Mama lived in town and dear Papa in the country. He did have an account at Busty Betty’s which occasionally brought him to town, when  Mamma would speak to him at a safe distance through a megaphone in Kelvingrove Park, with her coat fully buttoned even in summer.

The Lack of an Empire

I was telling this story to Lady Rowallen and the other ladies of the Family Planning Association who had similar experiences indeed, as one said, it was really the purpose of the Empire. Long spells in India for men in the stewing heat with debilitating tropical diseases while one stayed in Dumfriesshire or Banffshire – a most effective form of family planning for those members of society who knew how to use consonants and were very keen on kedgeree and cold houses.

The new Commonwealth is likely to put pay to all this and other barriers to dancing will have to be considered for the young. Meanwhile her ladyship suggested I should visit their premises in Glasgow which I did on Wednesday with a few to help fundraise for improved premises. I had the taxi drop me in George Square and walked up the steep incline that is Montrose Street (near the famous Royal College, where the railway engineers came from, and the Maternity Hospital. Coincidence? I rather think not!)

It rather occurred to me that the onset of labour might be a result of any climb up Montrose Street. Eventually there, I pushed open the door and  found myself in a maelstrom of mothers and children and white coated medical volunteers.

I am pleased to report it is well staffed. There are about ten women altogether who attend to the mothers – three doctors, four trained nurses and a couple of administrators. One of the doctors told me that their aim is “to prevent misery, even tragedy”. She was anxious to explain to me that they were not there to limit families but to “allow married couples to have the children they wanted, when they wanted them”. She told me that there were many mothers of 5 or 6 children who said “if there’s another I’ll throw myself in the Clyde.”

There is clearly a desperate need for more accessible premises but Glasgow Corporation has shown little by way of response. I most certainly admire their work and it appears to moi that where women are concerned it does seem to be a lack of concern for appropriate premises.

The Reality of Ignoring Reality

I came away with mixed feelings – happy that they were able to do something about the lot of some married women yet concerned that one of the real issues was being ignored. Women do not dance alone but all too often they are left alone when the dancing stops and the clearing up begins. I have known of several young women cast out of family homes, left to find lodgings and only communicating once a week with their families in the ladies cloakroom at Central Station for a change of clothes so the neighbours do not see. My “Home for Fallen Women” has its uses.

The lucky ones, with a man who will marry them, hasten to Rothesay, Millport and other seaside resorts where the sea air will bring on a baby by at least three months. Amazing what a sea breeze can do!

All Right for Others

Well I must go. Mrs Stark-Botham is organising a Scottish Country Dance night to raise funds for the new premises for the Family Planning Association  and I must get Jasper’s kilt out. A moderate Strathspey is permissible by a certain age with minimal birling.

I do hope I can remember “The Duke of Perth” or was it Atholl; anyway some Duke or other and one the Royal Family dances. Until next week…

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

March 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 3 Comments

Out and About on Your Behalf

 Being simply marvellous is not a destination but a work in progress even for little moi!

Bringing the Essential into your Humdrum Lives

What a lovely plane

I am aware that you need me to keep up to date with developments on the front line that is home and fashion. Quite frankly it is a bit of a battlefield out there and I do my best to protect you from all that is unnecessary trivia and yet to bring into your humdrum lives the new and the essential.

For this reason I was up at dawn yesterday and while Jasper was still dreaming and fighting with his teddy bear threw myself into a taxi for Renfrew Aerodrome and the early flight to London. I don’t know about you but I adore the sound of engines on a BEA Viscount. The only disconcerting thing about Renfrew is the cemetery at the side of the runway, but an Askit powder and a glass of champagne works wonders and in no time one has left “the surly bonds of earth and climbed on laughter’s silver wings”, making a left

Threads from Paisley

turn over Paisley (where the thread comes from) and heading south.

Muriel Travels Well

It being early March and feeling, not only the wind but the icy blasts of necessity for winter economy, I opted for the bus to the terminus at Victoria and took the Underground the Earl’s Court. I know what you are thinking, “Muriel, public transport and foreigners from abroad, such possibilities for distress, but such a brave woman.” Well fear not timorous traveller, for I, like a good wine, travel well and as ever was prepared with my Mackintosh Square, travelling antimacassar and a large lace handkerchief soaked in Schiaparelli’s Shocking, just in case one’s fellow travellers have fallen short in applying the Oderono or have eaten something a little spicy.

My Mission

My mission on your behalf was to attend the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition. It can be exhausting work, but while at times feeling like Stanley in search of Livingstone I am acutely aware that having taken the vows of Gracious Living I must press on to the Victoria Falls of homeware – the  American kitchen exhibits.

what lies in store in the cooking department

I can promise you ladies if you live for another couple of decades and your husband finds a career in differencing engines you are in for a treat! The Harrods stall, featuring American and Canadian electric cookers, was simply breathtaking. They were, quite honestly, as large as cinema organs with all manner of time dials and coloured lights. Some of them cost upwards of £170. I know Jasper, whose wallet was last opened when Ramsay MacDonald became Prime Minister, would never countenance such expenditure. For that

our trusty “rayburn”

matter I would not want to ruin the simple pleasure Mrs Travers (our daily woman what, does but not a lot) gets from cleaning the flue of the faithful Rayburn.

Not Just Yet!

Something else you might keep your eyes on for the future is another American invention and I don’t mean the rissole in a roll with onions and tomato sauce – that is going nowhere. No I mean the garbage disposal unit. For £50 you can grind up all your kitchen peelings, egg shells etc and wash them away. This saves one having to make that constant trip back and forth to the waste bucket with (as we were taught in my very good school) eggshells on a plate. The only problem is ladies that this technological development is designed for metal sinks and as you well know most of our sinks here in Scotland are made of earthenware. So this new kitchen gadget will have to wait.

Always Thinking of Others

Now I am a believer in sharing good fortune and I like people to know that when I am away on my travels I am thinking of them.  Thus from a novelty display I bought Mrs Travers a rubber top attachment for the kitchen tap. This has a combined spray and vegetable scraper which is guaranteed to make soup preparation a task one looks forward to. When I say one I don’t of course mean moi. Mrs T scrapes and I pop in and out of the kitchen to stir and season as required. An unsophisticated palette might result in a badly seasoned broth which in Scotland is almost a public declaration of insanity. For 9s 11d one cannot go wrong and I confidently suggest that women all over the country might benefit from a variety of rubber attachments.

Searching for Cosy kitchen equipment

I have to say, well I don’t but I intend to, all of these technological advances are a tad perplexing and one can leave one a tad bamboozled. However, after a sample or two from the Kenya Coffee House stand I was suitably re-juvenated and headed off to the Greek Street emporium of Madame Cadoc. This is a hardware shop and I adore a piece of fine hardware especially if it is French. Here one can find all manner of copper pans and coffee pots from France and the most wonderful salad bowls in mahogany or elm. There is something rather beautiful and cosy about this sort of kitchenware.

There were some wonderful knives of blue stainless steel, but I am not sure if I can trust Mrs Travers with these. They unfortunately look like the sort of thing brought up in courtroom dramas as “Exhibit A”. What I did like and I must confess purchased for my own interior decoration shop is a “best seller” a simple, wooden tool with a blade called a mandolin. They retail at 18s. 6d each, but I can promote them as essential party aids. Apparently in France they are never washed. I am speechless although hardly surprised and I can assure you in all the “airts and pairts” radiating off Great Western Road they will be scrubbed mercilessly.

Back to Glasgow

My cosy hat

I arrived back in Glasgow at lunchtime. The landing was a touch bumpy and when I came down the aircraft steps the wind nearly mandolined moi. Fortunately I was wearing one of my minks and matching hat which was just as well as there was a Glasgow Herald photographer and reporter waiting on the tarmac having received an anonymous tip off that a Glasgow celebrity of the marvellous kind would be arriving back from London.  I didn’t want to look too enthusiastic so I waved nonchalantly and said to the reporter ““Fear not – I bring glad tidings or at least wooden mandolins and rubber goods for the women of the West End.”

Repairing Wind Damage

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

On the aircraft I managed to secure a copy of The Herald and noticed that M. Daniel Pediani of 14 Fitzroy Place and winner of the Grand Prix in the Hairdressing World, who sometimes cuts my hair, had placed an advertisement in the paper saying “March winds play havoc with your hair” and suggested that he might “ensure that you look immaculate in spite of the weather”. If there is one thing I like it is immaculate and so I asked the taxi driver to drop me off there. This suited me fine as Daniel agreed he could squeeze me in at 3.30pm, which meant I had time for the half lobster and glass of Chablis at The Rogano as well as pick up tickets for the Heather Ball (Convenor Lady Colquhoun of Luss) and Daly’s Spring Fashion Parade and buy a couple of yards of Pettigrew and Stephen’s “Californian Cotton” which will make some summer dresses for young Gayle, our ward who is almost two.

Just Too Exciting for Words

Although I am well known as a decorative needlewoman, my cushions and chair seats having been in their time something of a sensation, I draw the line at home dressmaking. Fortunately our nursery nurse Hairy Highland Mary from Inveraray is very skilled with the needle and thread and the sewing machine. I have managed to resurrect the old Singer sewing machine which my grandmother banished to an outhouse on learning of its existence.

Dear Grandmamma

Dear Grandmamma had very distinct ideas about the behaviour of young ladies and constantly worried that if they showed any interest in excitement they might ruin their marriage prospects as she believed no Glaswegian man of substance wanted an exciting wife. This presumably is why “Busty Betty’s” down by the canal, was such a prosperous business during the years when Glasgow was “the Second City of Empire. Grandmama also regarded bicycling as too exciting for girls and the sewing machine, well that was a sensation approaching depravity.

It was a mercy that she did not live long enough to witness the full introduction of the telephonist’s switchboard and shorthand and typing courses. I fear the site of a typewriter might have brought on a stroke. When a distant cousin was once caught syncopating on the piano one New Year, Grandmamma was under the doctor for a month and my cousin was sent to “a clinic” in Lochgilphead.

Music for the piano

I suspect that the use of the syllable “syn” at the beginning of the word combined with the rather forward young woman on the front of the music was the giddy limit for my dear grandmother.

A Hot Bath, a Glass of Sherry and Something Fishy

enjoying a light supper in my housecoat

Oh, my feet are sore; I must just slip into my slippers and housecoat. It is nice to be a leader of fashion and interior decoration, but it is always nice to come home.

“Mrs T is that you? I rather fancy a wee sherry and then I might have a bath and a light supper. Where, incidentally, is Jasper?”

“Certainly madam, indeed I have already placed the decanter and some peanuts and before you say anything yes there is a doily and a silver teaspoon. Might I say Mrs Wylie how nice your hair is looking.”

“Thank you, well anticipated. I would like to say the same to you but actually your hair looks like the proverbial burst cushion, what have you been doing?”

“Actually ma’am I got Mr Wylie and Hilda, the German vuman vat does zee heavy vork” to help me get the sewing machine out of the scullery so that I might oil the working parts.”

Our elderly sewing machine

“Well done and is it vorking, I mean working?”

“Oh it’s vorking very vell. Hilda and I tested it and found it so exciting we had to have a glass of ginger wine. Hilda became rather tearful as she said it took her back to her youth in the Black Forest, to the days before the Fuhrer banded excitement and they were left with cuckoo clocks and that cake which is far too rich. “

“By the way, while we are talking cuckoo – where is Mr Wylie?”

“Oh he said the moving of the sewing machine had hurt his back so he would rest it at the Club before going on to a lecture at The Royal Scottish Geographical Society where a George Brand “of the successful Everest Expedition” is giving a talk with coloured slides on The Land Of The Incas”.

Jasper’s beloved club

“That’s a long way from Everest, sounds fishy to me. You know Mrs T when I was reading The Herald today there was an interview with Mrs Walter Eliot about women like myself – women  in public life – and she said there is one thing men have that women don’t and that is the “gift of idleness”; men have a greater grasp of it.”

“Shall I run your bath and bring you up a sherry? I think there are some Yardley bathcubes.”

“Too spoiling, but yes and before I forget I bought you this; it’s a wonderful rubber attachment, it might even lead to more excitement.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

March 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 7 Comments

Letter from America – February 1957

I am really too busy to stop but since you are here, as they say in certain parts of Scotland, “come away in”.

Doing The Flowers

You find me in the cold room, which if you do not live in a spacious well appointed Glasgow home is located between the butler’s pantry and the lavatory for the gardener and other outside help. I am as they say “doing the flowers”. We are having a few people in this evening for drinks, which in case you are socially awkward is from 6 until 8 unless you have been asked on the QT to stay for “kitchen suppa”.

To be able to do the flowers is a very important female attribute, like being able to make bread and butter pudding or sew worn sheets sides to middle. Although I admit that some gentlemen like Jasper and dear Beverley Nichols handle blooms and secateurs with aplomb.

Jasper’s prize winning floral arrangement of Easter ’56

I normally work very closely with Constance Spry as you know; indeed she often refers to me as her muse in matters floral. This week, however, I have been a bit of a traitor for on a business trip to Inverness I purchased a book Flower Decoration for the Home by Violet Stevenson who like me appears to be a bit of an artiste when it comes to chicken wire and pussy willow.

A New Inspiration on the Floral Front

Violet  has been winning prizes for flower arrangement since the age of ten which is of course a little precocious like those children who insist on reciting the list of the monarchs of Britain or the periodic table, while handing out nibbles or sweet bites at their parents’ parties. Of course a genius has to begin somewhere and I imagine in my own way I must have been just as irritating coming home from finishing school to Glasgow with my recipes for Coquilles Saint-Jacques, Banquette de Veau and Crêpes Suzette, when dear Papa, who despite being very wealthy was a plain Scotsman in matters culinary and would have preferred, broth, steak pie and apple and bramble crumble.

Apple and bramble crumble

He did, however indulge moi and it was only many years later that Mama discovered he was happy to do this, as he was also getting his plain Scots fare at Busty Betty’s down by the canal, where he had an expense account. This he often shared with Peggy a French Polisher from Port Dundas who was well known for her novelty ways with gravy and had an impressive party trick with raspberries (in season of course) Chantilly cream and paper drinking straws. It is said her artistry was very much in demand during the annual meeting of The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, when the coaches for outings to Glasgow were often oversubscribed.

Overcoming the Last Unpleasantness

As I was saying, if you will forgive me while I snip these woody stems – don’t you just adore catkins? – I am working with Violet who appeals to moi because we have something in common a developing interest for things American. Admittedly, we diverge a little on her love of Japanese influences, which she says influence the American flower arranger greatly but, given the last Unpleasantness I have to steel myself a little when rendezvous-ing with a flat dish, three flowers and a glass of rice wine but for the sake of art I am prepared to overcome my own prejudice. However, when I think about it I am ahead of the game for did I not win the Coronation Cup in 1953 for my inspired Japanese presentation? Indeed I did!

The award winning floral art piece by Muriel in 1953

That has made me think – a Japanese flower arranging afternoon at my tasteful interiors shop “Chez Nous” might be a nice little income generator. There will of course be 10% off all merchandise for those booking the package which includes the tea ceremony. I am quite sure I can get Mrs Travers into a kimono from our old Women’s Guild production of The Mikado. I have always thought she could pass for the Katisha of Kelvinside.

What I like about Violet is that she does not resort to “stunts” she believes that the path of flower arranging is dictated by one’s own personality and that above all she loves flowers like children she explains as “they respond to love.”

This is very different from men who respond to food and simple commands like “wash car”, “dig pond”, “buy jam doughnuts”, and most notably “fetch gin and tonic”.

A Corset, Queen Mary’s Bosom and a Male Mannequin

Which reminds me Jasper has gone down to his shed. There has been an incident.

Jasper’s Fort better known as the shed

According to Jasper the West End has been hit by a hurricane and he has lost a strip of felt from his roof. Now it was quite windy and indeed Mrs Travers lost a corset which she had left out overnight to be touched by Jack Frost. Hilda “zee German vuman vat does zee heavy vork” rather unkindly said that was just as well as it was unlikely to be touched by anyone else.  Yesterday a student brought it back as it was found flying from the spire of the varsity and fortunately could be traced due to the Cashes’ name tape. I slept through it all – the sleep of the just I know, but Jasper often suffers from wind and he was up and down stairs all night frightened the windows were going to come in.

In normal circumstances a leak in a shed roof is nothing to worry about, there are worse things happening in the world, but as you know Jasper has his Museum in the Shed and the current exhibition is on the First World War. In case you want to visit, he is open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2-5, entry is 6d with a cup of Bovril and a trench piece,(a corned beef sandwich) if Mrs Travers is not otherwise engaged. There is also a sales table. All proceeds to the War Widows. I would, however, leave it a couple of days as “water ingress”, to quote the roofer, which sounds to me like a more expensive repair than “a leak” has given a very realistic look to Jasper’s papier mache model of the western front. There has also been some slight damage to the illustrative material and while King George V looks only slightly foxed Queen Mary’s bosom has almost completely dissolved and that, if I might say so, was no mean task.

He is however, particularly upset over the condition of the exhibit “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”, which is in fact a well padded male mannequin discarded by the  gentlemen’s outfitters, Henry Burton, in Buchanan Street, wearing one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s old cabaret costumes. I must say the moustache is something of a clue to why she has “never been kissed in 20 years”.

In Conversation

Now I could do with some more golden privet, but I will need to put my gum boots on first and my gardening fur. If I might pass on a little tip , never discard your old beaver, threadbare and shabby though it might be; it’s ideal when gathering the first flowers and foliage of the year. “Oh Mrs T, I was just about to go outside. Have you finished polishing the cocktail cabinet ready for this evening?”

Mrs T polishing the cocktail cabinet

“Yes your Imperial Highness, I mean Mam, I mean yes and I’ve made a  treacle tart for this evening for Mr Travers to take his mind of the war, the leaks and his wind problem.”

“Very thoughtful of you Mrs T.”

“And I thought you might like to have this which came in the second post; it’s a letter from America, from Master Sebastian I imagine. It’s certainly got some very theatrical writing on it.”

“Oh that’s nice Mrs T; thank you that will cheer up Mr Wylie. He is missing his nephew. Did you bring my letter opener?”

“Of course – on the silver salver under the letter. I’m away back to the kitchen, going to do a nice shepherds’ pie for the kitchen suppa and ma Billy bought me a couple of new records to play on that old Dansette, Master Sebastian left me, along with some of his very theatrical things.”

“Oh very good; what are the records?”

“Frankie Vaughn’s The Garden of Eden and Tab Hunter’s Young Love , I like that Frankie , he’s a snappy dresser.”

The Letter

My Dear Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper,

Well here I am in New York. I can hardly believe it. It is just like in the films, everything is so tall, I have a permanent crick in my neck from looking upwards.

It was good of you to see me off at Renfrew Airport. The Viscount is a lovely aircraft. The steward was that friend of yours Aunt, the one who has just had the little boy. He sends his regards and says there is always a glass of champagne ready for you in his pantry.

shipped from the States by Cousin Lulubelle

Cousin Lulubelle met me in her cadillac at London Airport and we drove into the city and stayed the night at The Cumberland Hotel at Marble Arch. We had dinner with some of Cousin Lulubelle’s friends who are in property such as Peter Rachman  who owns more than a hundred mansion blocks and several night clubs, and helps people from the West Indies to find homes in the city.

Cunard’s Queen Mary

Next day we took the boat train from Waterloo to Southampton and boarded the Queen Mary. What a wonderful ship! Cousin Lulubelle seems to know a lot of people including The Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The Duchess is most elegant almost as marvellous as you Aunt, but not quite. Just like you, the Duchess never wears diamonds before 6 in the evening.

The food and service were excellent and the crossing not too rough. I was lucky to be invited below deck to some of the crew parties, even although it is not strictly speaking allowed. Down there we had a wonderful Fancy Dress Film Night, where one had to go as a film star. I represented Dark Victory, you remember Aunt, no not the Ronald Reagan role but Bette Davis as Judith Traherne, “she’s everything a woman can be; dare to be!” I came 2nd to the tourist class’s pastry chef who won first prize for his portrayal of Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola in The Blue Angel.  Had to leave pretty sharpish when I suggested I had seen it done better by Lady Pentland-Firth.

Lady P-F does her cabaret routine a la Marlene

On arrival at New York, the customs and passport people were a little tricky, but let me in after I did the “give me your huddled masses routine in the style of John Gielgud or was it Hermione Gingold? I forget. Anyway whatever it was, most successful. We are currently putting up at The Albert Hotel in Greenwich Village. You might like to know Uncle that Robert Louis Stevenson stayed here as did Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. Cousin Lulubelle says she will help me look for an apartment in “the village”, which she says is very suited to the very theatrical. It’s in Midtown West and is quite close to the Hudson River. It is less ordered than other parts of Manhattan which stick to the grid pattern of the early 19th century. I suppose this is because it really was a village once. The streets have names and not numbers,which makes me feel more at home. The buildings are not quite as tall as some other parts and we are looking at “mid-rise apartments”.

I think Aunt you would love it here, it is very colourful and artistic and has been home to so many people like Isadora Duncan, William Faulkner and Eugene O’Neil. Do you remember that film you liked with Grace Kelly and James Stewart, Rear Window? That was set in a Greenwich Village apartment. It is all very handy for “The Actors Studio” where I have enrolled. This is situated in “Hell’s Kitchen” which is home to a lot of Irish American poor, a bit like The Gorbals in Glasgow, I imagine Uncle Jasper.

Cousin Lulubelle is going to introduce me to some people at the Cherry Lane Theatre. This is one of the city’s oldest and is where they do what is called “off Broadway” which is where plays get a chance to try out before finally going to Broadway. It was originally a warehouse and a factory and it is now a popular venue for the Theatre of The Absurd.  You might remember that Samuel Beckett play I took you too – which Uncle you called “Waiting for The Goddam Interval”. Well that’s the Theatre of the Absurd. It’s about life with no meaning and purpose and the breakdown of communication, a bit like a New Year’s Day that lasts forever.

I really should get some shut eye as they say out here. Tomorrow we are going to the Whitney Museum, then having lunch with a young writer called Gore Vidal whose book The City and The Pillar has been banned despite being about tennis and he has to write under an assumed name. Cousin Lulubelle says just loves anything that’s banned. Then we are going in search of beatniks and beat poets. Please tell Mrs Travers they have the most enormous breakfasts here and eat bacon with marmalade, but the tea is awful and there is no dumpling.

Hope you are both well.

Love to Gayle, Mrs T, Hilda, Hairy Mary from Inverrary, and Lady Pentland-Firth

Your ever loving nephew

Sebastian xx

Emergency Snorter

Much needed

“Hello precious have you finished doing your Mrs Dalloway stuff”

“Hello Jasper yes I have almost finished doing the flowers

“Is that a tear Muriel”.

“Just a little one, I have a letter from America.”

“An emergency snorter?”

“I think so Dahling.”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1957

Posted in Talk of the Town | 2 Comments

Ga Ga Land

Sebastian is thinking

 Sebastian is Thinking

In the basement of a ground breaking retirement facility for actors somewhere deep within the Slough Trading Estate, “so handy for Pinewood and the set of EastEnders,” Sebastian is sitting in contemplative mood.

New York 1957

Contemplation was something he came to grips with in the late 1950s when he left Britain for New York and The Actors Studio. Here he came under the influence of Konstantin Stanislavski, Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg and the legendary tours of the Moscow Art Theatre which made such a major impact in the 1920s and 1930s and helped to create “a new kind of acting”.

Sebastian, like Goethe. came to believe “that the actor’s career develops in public, but his art develops in private”.  The deep and lengthy practical experiments undertaken at the studio would provide “the method” by which Sebastian would approach so many of his roles including a patient with a strangulated hernia on Emergency Ward 10, a sleeping Tory peer in The Pallisers (Susan Hampshire said she had never heard snoring like it) and notably, “Death of an Antique Dealer”.

Antique Tevelations

In this “wooden sink drama” (so necessary for the washing of good crystal) Sebastian played Edinburgh antiques dealer, Orlando Ormolu, in a darkly comic play written by his own Uncle the late Jasper Wylie and first performed at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre in 1970s. The real Orlando was once the toast of Edinburgh’s New Town but disgraced himself by “French framing” a painting by Glasgow Boy, James Paterson, to suggest its provenance included a spell in the Louvre before the painting was apparently appropriated by Goering during the last Unpleasantness, with it subsequently turning up in the cellar of a house in Partick, Glasgow.

The stretching methods employed on the canvas led to a series of shocking articles in The Connoisseur and revelations of further dire doings by Orlando in The Sunday Post, such as Marks and Spencer slippers passed off as the footwear worn by Marie Antoinette en route to the scaffold and a pair of double gusset directories which were proved to have belonged to a Mrs Travers of Maryhill and not a Mrs Saxe-Coburg & Gotha of Windsor Castle. In a rare demonstration of emotion (and there being no wind from the Firth of Forth) the citizens of Auld Reeckie’s tweed and twinset  belt were “shocked” and many indeed “outraged”, despite it being a Sunday.

Gritty Scottish Characters

Orlando descended into a binge fuelled world of depravity with a number of growing addictions including Ovaltine made with “the top of the milk”, (a sign of total indulgence on either side of Princes Street), caramel wafers, snowballs and double nougat Italian ice cream wafers, with (can you believe it?) added sprinkles!  It was not long before he began to associate with members of the underworld, producing plaster of Paris busts of Greek deities, including a very competent Aphrodite based on the legendary Lady Pentland-Firthwhose bust was said to have had many of the attributes of the Mona Lisa’s eyes, i.e. all over the place, or to misquote a more recent film “Every which way and loose”.

Lady Pentland-Firth & those eyes!

It was not long before a cynical, Leith born redheaded “polisman”  Alexander “Sandy” Beach was on his trail. Sandy, a man so hard he was known locally as “Tumshie” (Scottish for a swede – have you tried to peel one?) who had his own axe to grind, his mother having fallen prey to Orlando’s silver tongue and purchased a Dansette record player, “as used by Flora MacDonald while imprisoned in London, including free Kenneth McKellar long playing record of “Scottish Favourites”. 

Getting Into Role

To prepare for the role Sebastian actually lived in Edinburgh for a while on his return from the United States at The North British Hotel, even taking a taxi to Leith and back again. The play is now studied as part of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence. This is a revival of methods used in schools before the 1970’s which have been long forgotten, so are now considered new. Students are encouraged to watch rare film footage of the desperate Orlando played so movingly by Sebastian climbing out of the Edinburgh to Inverness Train on the Forth Rail Bridge (a marvel of stage craft) hotly pursued by the possessed Sandy. It being February the metal of Sir William Arrol’s famous bridge was somewhat icy and as Orlando shouted those now famous lines, ‘‘ma heid is up ma jumper ya big Tumshie” he falls on to the ferry below which was moving between South and North Queensferry, where he surprised the driver of an MG sports car who had foolishly left his top down. Orlando was found dead sitting bolt upright, holding a map of the East Neuk of Fife in one hand and a thermos of coffee in the other. Sebastian brought the house down.

Behind the deceased Orlando a film is projected of the building of the new Forth Road Bridge and fake antiques tumble from the gantry above into the water, symbolising the death not only of a dodgy antique dealer, but a dodgy past and hope for a new technological Britain in the 1960’s.

 A Night at the BAFTAs

Remembering old acting chums

Well that was then and now in 2017. The ageing and increasingly forgetful Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox is thoughtful and perhaps a little down. It is late and he is tired having been at The BAFTAs in The Royal Albert Hall, where  he has been pleased to see the recognition of a current favourite Manchester by The Sea and also of I, Daniel Blake, a reflection of a Britain that many would rather ignore and one which is being left behind by another technological revolution. He reflects on how his uncle would have been pleased about films showing the lives of ordinary people for Uncle Jasper lost his parents in a custard powder factory explosion. He was brought up by his granny in a Gorbals tenement, and knew all about those who were left behind while others flourished, under the banners of progress.

Uncle Jasper – the Literary Years

Uncle Jasper and his beloved shed

Sebastian pays for extra storage space in the home for his vast archive and indeed that of his celebrated aunt the late great Muriel Wylie, Baroness Waterside, interior decorator, cross bench peer and simply marvellous human being whose guides to Gracious Living have never been out of print. In his mature years Uncle Jasper had gained some acclaim for his writing. The manuscripts are here. These include his historical works particularly “Embodied Embroidery – A Study of Needlework and Convalescent World War One Soldiers” and its companion volume “Handicrafts for Heroes”. Both were originally published under the imprint “Making the Most of Conflict”.

More to Uncle Jasper than one would expect

One cannot forget his works for the stage, particularly The Mrs Travers Farces including “Support Stockings” – a musical and “Of Course it’s Corsets” – a light operetta. Then of course there were his more serious literary works, such as the autobiographical “Hospital Street” and “Tram Spotting” not to mention “Librarian”, a Nordic inspired tale of a public service worker “on the edge” in a portakabin during a refurbishment of adult non-fiction, with a brown issue card system, an ink pad that is running dry and a bottle of vodka in her handbag.

Awards Are so Unsettling

There is something about the award season that unsettles the residents of the Home for the Terminally Overdressed. Their years in the spotlight are largely over, although many earn a nice little sum as accident victims in Casualty or purchasers of fruit and vegetables in Albert Square and one or two have managed a free lunch as the older love interest in First Dates, with that dishy man who is so French he must be from Falkirk. On the whole, however, the luvvies have been replaced be newer, younger models mainly from private schools, with no student debt, good genes, classic bone structure and from what Aunt Muriel would have called “the better varsities”.

The coach to Kensington is, therefore, bitter sweet for it is both a treat to be able to walk up the red carpet and meet old friends but also a reminder of the applause that has gone before and is unlikely to return until the BBC presents “In a change of programmes we present a tribute to…….”. It can be a confusing time for those with shaky legs and even shakier memories and Matron who begrudges the administrative burden that is the ordering of the coach, notifications to catering, emails to insurance, not to mention drawing up a comfort stop strategy (roughly every six miles) was heard by Sebastian to mutter to Sister D’eath, head of the Judy Garland locked ward, “I don’t know about La La Land; this lot belong to Ga Ga Land.”

Matron’s view seemed to be supported by Emily Terry who used to be in charge of Crackerjack pencils asking if she could have a ride on Hercules, who was the horse on Steptoe and Son. Sebastian made a mental note that Matron would pay for her crass indifference to those she was paid to care for and the betrayal of her calling. Remembering that he would forget this on the bus he took out his phone and quoting Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing , sent her an email saying her management reminded him of “the parish where a stupid old man was set to be schoolmaster because he was past keeping the pigs”.

A Good Night Out

The journey home along the M4 from the Albert Hall had been fun with at least 6 Ethel Merman impressionists (one of whom was actually a woman) leading the company in “There’s no business like show business”. The supper that followed was also enjoyable but Sebastian drew the line at team games including the popular, “Who was married to who” based on Pointless which Sebastian has never understood anyway.

A glass of something pink

So armed with a glass of something pink, Sebastian has made his way down to the storage area of the basement below the old sets of Margot’s sitting room from The Good Life and Alf Garnet’s home from ‘Till death Do us Part. These are used by key workers for reminiscence therapy, depending on whether or not the clients are from middle or working class backgrounds. For the few who require an upper class setting the Home rents Lady Marjorie’s drawing room from Upstairs Downstairs or for Scots such as Sebastian and any other “minorities ethnic” it is always possible to hire an amusing backdrop from The Good Old Days or It ain’t Half Hot, Mum, there being relatively few depictions of sober Scots or meaningful minority ethnic roles and the Showboat is very expensive.

The Basement

A cushion in one of the new 50s fabrics that Muriel learned to love

Sebastian has, with some effort, managed to put up an Ercol table and a chair which are left over from his aunt’s Scandinavian period. Aunt Muriel was a pioneer in such modern designs in 1950’s Glasgow. She and her husband, Uncle Jasper, owned a chain of interior design shops long before Habitat or Laura Ashley or that other one with the flat pack book cases. They successfully tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment and indeed “Chez Nous” did a roaring trade in Scandinavian chunky glass ornaments and abstract textiles as well as furniture for the 1950’s home.

Swedish glass

Sebastian surveys shelf after shelf of acid free boxes containing the Wylie archives. In a box marked 1957 he finds his aunt’s diary and realises for the first time that it was Muriel and those two remarkable larger than life figures, Lady Pentland-Firth and Cousin Lulubelle (who was an American from the very, very Deep South) who prevented his prosecution after the incident in the Necropolis and paid for him to go to New York, while Muriel looked after his daughter Gayle. Only of course she never really was his daughter, but everyone kept up the pretence for the sake of the little girl.

He also finds an uncirculated and fuller version of the Wolfenden Report and sees his aunt’s name as one of the secret authors. So, he thought to himself, good old Aunty Mu was one of those responsible for liberating the “very theatrical” from a very unpleasant past.


Aunt Muriel, The embodiment of marvellousness

Sipping his drink he thought what amazing people he had been so lucky to have in his life. Aunt Muriel was politically, in her thoughts, such a conservative and yet in her actions often so radical and Uncle Jasper such a radical and yet in so many ways so conservative, it would after all be 1977 when he finally filled in the air raid shelter and took down the blackout shutters. Oh dear he thought I remember all that fuss about Uncle’s duffle coat. Aunt Muriel hated it; she said it made him look like a Labour voter, which of course he was, but after he had gone she kept it hanging in the wardrobe.

A Might Pair

They were he mused, looking through an album of photographs, such fun and unpredictable people to be with, ahead of the game in so many ways. Aunt Muriel could be such a tartar in many ways and yet underlying her bossiness was a humanity that one finds in Glaswegians even of the poshest sort. She believed in fairness. They both liked interesting people, different sorts of people from all classes and backgrounds, provided of course they were well accessorised. I wonder what she would think of the things that are going on today in Britain, Europe and America?

Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper

Not a lot I fear, for they loathed vulgarity and revelled in difference despite often appearing to be to the contrary. They showed kindness to strangers and of course Aunt Muriel would always be the first to remember that the unknown person at the door just might be an angel in disguise and worthy of a pot of tea and a slice of gingerbread or a traybake prepared of course by Mrs Travers, the daily woman what did but not a lot.

Mrs Travers busy in the kitchen

If on the other hand she discovered you were being unfair or unkind, a threat to family friends or country, that country being divided between Glasgow’s West End and the Rural Bolthole, she would put on her whole armour of God – one of her body armour duster coats, fix her hat firmly to her head with an intercontinental ballistic hat pin, put her sling backs on and pick up her handbag and tell you  Prime Minister, President or Pauper that if you did not behave she would fill your pockets full of stones and sew them up – a few other home truths too.

Jasper’s beloved car

She would then send for the armed car, the Humber Super Snipe with Jasper at the wheel and Lady Pentland-Firth and Cousin Lulubelle in the backseats hurling bon mots from open windows and Mrs Travers riding shotgun (metaphorically speaking) on the  bumper conducting a war of nerves by giving passers by a glimpse of her support stockings. From her megaphone Aunt Muriel would preach the gospel of marvellousness and if division at home and abroad failed to heal she would produce her Trump card – how to eat a banana with a knife and fork.

Well thought Sebastian to himself, it is getting chilly down here and I seem to remember we were having milky drinks and hot buttered toast before bed. Then if I remember, which I might not, I will send emails to world leaders quoting Florence Nightingale from Notes on Nursing where she also suggested that those in positions of power and authority should “do no harm”.

Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox

The Home for the Terminally Overdressed




February 2017


Posted in Talk of the Town | 1 Comment

Duffle Coats, Dior and Being Decisive

 Prepare Yourselves for Difficult News

From your fashion guru

I have grave news from the front.

No not news from Jasper’s World War I exhibition in his shed, although that is disturbing enough, but from the Fashion Front. You may wish to make yourselves a cup of hot sweet tea, locate an “Askit Pooder” and find a comfy chair or even place your head between your knees. I have it on the best authority from the battlefield that is “ready to wear” and the correspondent for Women’s Viewpoint in The Glasgow Herald that “the duffle coat is more firmly established than ever”. I know! As a man would say – breathe deeply and stay calm. Now we are not just talking North Sea trawler-men here, but the arbiters of all that is style (apart from moi) – the French. The French singer Marie-Josée Neuville for example (you may remember her singing Jonny Boy) has declared “a passion for Duffle Coats” and has been appearing in them in grey or beige with and – brace yourselves…. flat shoes.

And What is a Duffle Coat?

It is said that the word duffle is a reference to the heavy woollen cloth once woven in the town of Duffle in Antwerp. In all probability the coat was never made there, nor indeed made from the rough black cloth made in the province of Antwerp, but the name sticks. In more recent times it has been the description applied to a woollen coat with a hood held together with toggles, made from wood or horn, with leather loops. Designed originally by John Partridge, it may well be that his inspiration for the style was adapted from the traditional Polish military frock coat. The British Navy took a liking to this garment in the 1890s as it was ideal for sailors on watch against the wind and rain. Think of Jack Hawkins here. The hoods could be worn over peaked caps and the toggles fastened and unfastened with gloves.

Field Marshall Montgomery was a famous wearer of the Duffle Coat, so that he was instantly recognisable to his men. Indeed some call it the “Monty”. So too was Colonel David Sterling. You may also have seen Trevor Howard as Major Calloway in the 1949 film The Third Man, in which he wears a Duffle coat in nearly every scene. Recently Jean Cocteau has even been seen wearing one in white. Mothers are now buying them in cut down versions for their children.

Small children wearing duffle coats

The popular lining material for this garment is tartan, which is something I suppose.

The Meaning of the Duffle Coat

Now I understand that these garments are often military surplus and therefore inexpensive and popular with students at the varsity in Glasgow and other cities, but that is where they should stay. I know it can be pretty chilly in Buchanan Street and there is always a chill in Edinburgh, but we are not in post war Vienna, in the North African Campaign or on the Bridge of the “Compass Rose”. Frankly if I am going to be pushed on this, the Duffle coat says one thing, Labour Party! If you care to add in flat shoes that’s two things.

Fashion Statements Need to be Decisive

Perhaps this says something about Phyllis Jenkins’ writing in The Herald. I don’t know her but will make it my business to find out. She is certainly out to confuse the women of Glasgow this year as she says There is “no agreement on the silhouette”, although she does say skirts are slightly longer and jackets a little shorter, with “a general commitment” to front draping.

A general commitment to something is one thing but more definite commitment would be helpful especially in the matter of draping – front or back as it might make the difference between a woman lacking in confidence either deciding to go out or staying in bed. I cannot bare indecision.

Now Dior is decisive. For him day skirts are slightly longer, but and this is crucial ladies, evening dresses are shorter  utilising sheath shapes to the calves and creating femininity with trains to the floor, from the waist or shoulders . I adore trains.

On the matter of coats Dior is again decisive they are “straight but roomy”. Not that this will divert me from the duster coat, surely one of humankind’s greatest achievements.

I adore the duster coat

Interestingly Dior has chosen Normandy and the sea as the inspiration for his collection and there is much emphasis on navy blue, sky blue, and cloud grey. The detail comes with maritime themes, middy tops (a new term to moi to describe that which reaches the waist and no more), sailor boy vests, sailor collars and little hats “like cockleshells” tilted to one side.  One commentator says “you may think you know what sailors are, but when Dior is at the helm things are apt to take a twist”. I couldn’t agree more, but on one matter I would like to take issue with the great man and that is his choice of fastening this year, “the toggle”, let us hope this not a signal for the Dior Duffle next season or I shall be back  at Norman Hartnell. At least he has committed to his favourite floral theme lily of the valley and who could argue with that.

Irritation Everywhere

There seems to be a lot of arguing going on at the moment. Jasper says there was some pretty lively conversation at his meeting in London to help raise money for those poor South Africans accused of treason and he is also worried about the proposed power station at Hunterston on the Ayrshire Coast and is writing strongly worded letters.

There are the inevitable arguments about proposed transport improvements.  Currently an issue is a proposal for a tunnel under the Clyde between Whiteinch and Linthouse, which pleases some and not others.

It’s All about Staying Calm, Apparently

I have, meanwhile, put my name to a petition opposing the appointment of male consultants to the Bruntsfield and Elsie Inglis Hospitals, saying “we stress the necessity of having available for the women and children of Edinburgh a woman consultant in these hospitals”. This has been signed by politicians, church leaders, varsity professors, headmasters and headmistresses of the best schools. I am sure you know, but these hospitals are closely connected with two of Edinburgh’s pioneering medical women, Sophia Jex Blake and Elsie Inglis. They were set up specifically to care for women and to support female doctors in their training. Elsie Inglis did simply marvellous work in Russia and Serbia during the first Unpleasantness despite being told by the military, after her offer of help, to go home sit down and remain calm. Why is it that women need to be told by men to keep calm?

Half the Human Race

Now not all is doom and gloom on the female front, there has been an historic decision for the higher education of women with a ruling to abolish the quota of undergraduates allowed into the womens’ colleges of Oxford which is a very important varsity in England. Hitherto in a bizarre calculation the total number of women students’ enrolled there had to be 160 fewer than a quarter of the total number of men. Perhaps there has now been evidence of calmness where formerly there may have been hysteria, a condition commonly considered to be the preserve of the female of the species.

Now I am never one to miss an opportunity to extol the virtues and superiority of a Scottish education, and in these matters the Scottish varsity has been largely free of such restrictions, except one has to say, in the case of the medical faculty in Glasgow; for here women account for slightly more than a quarter of total students, despite making up half the population. The reasons given are not greater incidents of hysteria over calmness, but the more subtle “men get preference on the grounds that the majority of women leave the profession to get married and have children.” Perhaps they have no choice, but might like one? How ladies did we manage to do all of these things in wartime?I strongly suspect the policy of our leaders is to get women back into the home, how else do you explain tupperware?

Meanwhile the Glasgow Marriage Guidance Council Service is running “yet another course for the engaged and newly married”, in conjunction with a second course on Furnishing the Home which is organised by the Council for Industrial Design. I wonder how many female doctors are going? It’s on Tuesday evening if you are interested, but I can probably help you with a more personal service at “Chez Nous”, Glasgow’s first stop for all matters concerning interior decoration, with a 10% reduction for any lady doctor willing to take a look at Mrs Travers’ bunions and varicose veins. Mrs Travers is our daily woman what does, but increasingly less and frankly I need her in tip top condition. Her legs currently resemble those of Tutankhamun, although it is surprising what can be done with a mid calf frock and front and rear (and side come to think of it) draping, even if we are talking rayon.

Avoiding Dullness

What a treat

Mrs Travers is currently engaged in preparing suppa, we are having ham baked in the oven with pineapple, duchesse potatoes and leeks in a white sauce. I have been trying to cut down on the old puddings, but you know what Jasper is like – he thinks steamed treacle pudding and custard are necessary like oxygen and “no custard evenings” result in a face that would not be out of place on a spoilt 3 year old.

Still one must do what one can and I have responded to an advertisement I saw in The Herald in “Shopping by Post” section which said “Abandon Dull Meals – order white peaches, with a rare and exotic bouquet – medium to large unblemished halves in delicious syrup”. I have a terror of dull meals so I bought 24 tins for 76 shillings. They will be rather nice with some Carnation Milk and if he makes too much fuss I can always get Mrs T to whip up some meringues for a peach melba.

New prints and New Plays

The Italian dinner fabric – rather fun

I should be working. I have some Josef Frank modernist designs arriving in “Chez Nous”. I think they will appeal to the Glasgow clientele. His philosophy of design is one in which the best interiors look as if they are a result of an accident, much like Glasgow itself. Of course accidental interior decoration takes a great deal of planning. Frank is originally from Austria but he is now a Swedish citizen. His linen prints are beautiful yet colourful and homely but closer inspection shows them to be quirky, exotic and containing elements of fantasy. I love his print “Italian Dinner”. I think I might do one myself  – Scottish Dinner, my designs are “something else” as the magazine “Castle and Estate” says.

It’s just the sort of thing I like to discuss with our nephew Sebastian, the thespian who played the definitive role of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Ayr Gaiety Theatre as the King in the play by well known playwright William Shakespeare. Unfortunately he has been in a bit of bother recently over being what is termed “too theatrical” and is thinking of going abroad for a while“till the heat dies down”. Don’t say anything of this to Jasper who thinks Sebastian is in trouble for undertaking historical research in Glasgow’s famous cemetery the necropolis after dark. Sebastian has gone to London to audition for the part of Archie Rice’s son Frank in John Osborne’s new play The Entertainer which will have Larry Olivier as the fading vaudevillian. I have a feeling this play may be a metaphor for a fading Britain, a Britain worried about its future world role and fearful of foreigners and immigrants in the wake of Suez.

Talking Helps

Talking of Suez, and who isn’t especially with the inconvenience of the petrol rationing, I think things may be calming down a little. The canal itself is being cleared and in terms of our relations with the United States somewhat strained over the matter, “clouds have begun to lift”. Mr Nixon, the Vice President, a man I do not trust, now says he favours “a better solution” to the crisis. What is certain is as the new Prime Minister Harold Macmillan has said is that the life of the free world “depends on a partnership of Britain and America”. The American ambassador has spoken eloquently about the dangers of isolationism.

Jasper  Has Been Shopping

Well not much point in starting anything now is there? I might as well read a couple of chapters of my new book, Rebecca West’s The Fountain Overflows, which John Bayley says is “beautifully written. if less brilliant and more mute in tone than we might expect from a novel by Miss Rebecca West”. On the other hand I could start Rowena Farres Seal Morning which was a Christmas present. Oh that’s the door, no peace for the wicked.

“Muriel, Darling, cooee! I am home. Don’t worry all is well at “Chez Nous”. Final reductions flying off the shelves. What’s for suppa? I just fancy something with custard, it’s raw out there. Guess, what Mu?  You  will be so pleased – I have got something new to wear. Now sit still, close your eyes, remain calm. I stopped off at the Army Surplus and bought myself a…. Duffle Coat!

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1957

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