The Knitted Umbrella

A Transatlantic Telephone Call

Our well positioned telephone for transatlantic calls

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

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

Any Other News?

Part of the Spring Display at “Chez Nous”

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

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

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

Wagner or The Old Bull and Bush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prose Like Proust

No Crystal pour moi during Lent

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

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

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

Coping with No Custard

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

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

Lady P-F remembers Berlin

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

Where Are the Pearls?

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

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

My pearls need re-strung

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

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

Posture is Everything

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

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

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

Of course posture is important

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

There is So Much More to Knitting 

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

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

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

One of Winnie’s famous knitted boys

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

A Telephone Call from the Shadows

the handsome stranger on duty

“Telephone, Mrs Wylie.”

“Who is it Mrs T?”

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

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

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

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

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


“Hello is that you”

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

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

All at Sea

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

“How so?”

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

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

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

“So what can I do?”

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

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

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

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

A Cover Up

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

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

“What about Jasper?”

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

Jasper looking British

“I will do my bit.”

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

A Man’s World – When It Suits

“A fill up Mrs Wylie?”

“Yes please Mrs T.”

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

“Anything exciting?”

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

“I imagine we are against it.”

“You imagine correctly.”

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

“Of course.”

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

“I take it we are on the move then?”

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

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

February 1958

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4 Responses to The Knitted Umbrella

  1. Louise Lewis (Lady from the right side of Carlisle) says:

    Chérie Muriel,

    Alors chérie, even if Grace is not ready for Gay Glasgow, I certainly am and the gayer the better! You know moi……gay all the way, like a true thesp! Divine to hear from dwaaling Sebastian across the pond. One always feels uplifted by his dulcet tones and……you know how one idolises his Italian vowels……if only one could feel them now……such resonance…… *comes over all unnecessary*

    Dwaaling, you cannot imagine what a time we’re having here on the right side of Carlisle – some truly shocking snowy conditions……one is knee-deep in snow and now we have freezing gales and icy blasts coming at us from all sides! Tomorrow will be our third day of being holed up……supplies are getting low (and yes, by that one means Gin)……snow is drifting……and when we we are forced to venture outside so that Mimi the Shih Tzu can do her tinkles and her whoopsie-woos, we are dressed up like Scott of the Antarctic!! Send rescue services toute de suite and knitted garments of every kind, especially umbrellas!!!

    Not only that, dwaaling, but one is also knee-deep in poetry and prose. Yes, it is that time of year encore…..the Carlisle Festival approaches…..and where is one when one’s little darlings need one?! Battling snow and ice instead of directing diction and moulding modulation! I too need Prose like Proust, posture par excellence and inspiration from Lady P-F’s bushes if I am to fill the trophy cabinet encore une fois…….one needs ‘marvellousness’, Mu dwaaling! Aidez-moi!!

    Enfin chérie, are we to discover what became of Winnie and Mr Chan? One can’t help feeling all is not well with her knitting needles…..bonne chance, chérie (nudge,nudge – wink, wink), with your knitting workshops in Geneva……

    Yours taking a break from Lent until further notice,
    Lulu xxxx

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    ‪Hands across the world, inspiration in the bushes, and a continental intrigue. ‬

    ‪Technology advances at such a rate. Conversations across the Atlantic were novel and wonderful in the fifties, and now we have international relationships at the speed of light. Pen pals are such a positive influence on the young internationalists.‬

    ‪Wagner is wise to find inspiration in Lady P-F, she’s an inspiring woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets her own spin-off series. Maybe a new opera could be forthcoming, perhaps from that nice Mr. Britten. I’m sure she could use her womanly charm on him. Perhaps she learned something in her Weimar cabaret days which would please him. ‘Nice toes, naughty toes’ perhaps. ‬

    ‪Is a leopard-skin ensemble a precursor to the onesie? A consistent theme from head-to-toe? I too am not a fan of beige but I can be persuaded into a buff.‬

    ‪We need Winnie to do workshops in the Oval Office. Even if we’re not surprised by the information we glean, it would at least keep his hands busy. ‬

    ‪A trip to continental Europe! I’m looking forward to it. ‬


  3. Moira Taylor says:

    What a wonderful instrument the telephone is – to be able to converse across the Atlantic Ocean is truly a wonder of the modern age!
    I am astounded that Jasper has given up custard for lent.He must have such strength of character, given his predilection for that sweet confection.On second thoughts it is your strength of character that diverts him!
    The Herald is indeed the organ for death announcements – I do like the lsiting of married ladies under their maiden names but where they are widowed I really do not like the term ‘relict’ to describe their state.
    So Muriel to the rescue again! Better not encourage the knitting of gamps though, have you ever smelt wet wool?Worse still, have you seen what happens to knitted swimsuits when emerging from the sea?

  4. seileasdar says:

    knits, knots, nots, nods & other whatnots.

    Only Muriel can write on knitting councils as if it was a sweet love letter, and no wonder is there that her endeavours have been required by the local Glaswegian press. After all, a doyenne in all things fashion will be able to cover the mundane hand knitting ravellings of Britain, with knitted paws, handbags and umbrellas. How very en vogue and extraordinary. But then, that’s fashion for the uninitiated.

    Knots will be important in restringing pearls that might otherwise develop a life and ambitions of their own around that tender gentle neck that has to carry so much marvellousness day in, day out. There is a special knack to setting the knots just right for the pearls to feel free, yet be restricted to where they need to be. I am sure, Muriel will be in a position to advise the jeweller when it is time.

    And Muriel gives a nod to Thelma in all her Classes of Marvellousness by emulating correct posture to add height to oneself. Especially around the middle, where there will then be more room for afters. But I shall be silent about that as it is Lent and Muriel is still persevering with her hard choice of giving up crystal.

    What not to do though is get your knits into a knot while covering clandestine and secret affairs for the motherland, as Muriel seems to be head off towards. Geneva was mentioned in passing. Seat of the UN, it’s probably the most landlocked city to discuss coastal exclusion zones. But then, Geneva is reknown for its Frenchness, which will suit Muriel down to the tea.
    Her knitting workshops and whatnots will be legendary. Will she be able to pull it off and knit&purl with all her pearls in place? And she might even unravel other mysteries while she is at it.

    A knitted brolly for every diplomat, and a chocolate tea pot to go with it? It would prove that the Brits are indeed clued up about all matters ingenious! What a plan! And even Jasper included for authenticity. The handsome stranger has indeed thought about everything.

    What is going to happen next?
    Will our intrepid travellers be influential?
    Will our Lady of Yarn yearn to yield those important details?
    Will it all end well?
    We shall see…

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