Too Much Tartan?

 Just Exhausting

Recovering from a busy weekend

I know this is going to sound ungrateful, even if one, and I mean moi, is “deserving”, but sometimes having a rural bolthole is exhausting.

Born to Cope

Country life is not for the fainthearted. Apart from the wind and the rain, even in late summer, there are all manner of activities into which one is expected to throw oneself, especially if one is a woman of the simply marvellous kind.

Last weekend for example was like a marathon with an exhibition of watercolours in the Village Hall, the Flower and Produce Show and, as ever cashing in on likely ticket sales. one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s Country House Concerts.

The prize winners revealed

Visiting city dwellers who think Scottish Country life is nothing but turnip thinning with the occasional excitement of a beetle drive are usually left reeling. “Muriel”, one of my guests said to me this weekend as she was having a between events pedicure from Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does but not a lot, “how do you do it and manage to have a chicken casserole and apple and bramble crumble in the Rayburn?” “It is” I explained “partly that je ne sais quoi which is given only to a handful in a generation; naturally good bone structure, a health and beauty regime sans pareil, good shoes and old fashioned corsetry.” Being well boned is the key to a successful day no matter what the demands on the modern woman may be.

The Coty talc – Paris

As well as this heady mixture of self help I give myself a good talking to each morning before immersing myself in a bath softened with Yardley bath cubes and powdering with Paris. “Muriel” I say to myself “something marvellous is going to happen today” and then as I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror be-duster coated and embarking on my business about town, I realise that it already has.

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall

This is not to say that daily life is not without its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and I have to say that last week I was not as successful in the Flower and Produce Show as in former years. Jasper, who is an honest soul says this is because I did not strictly speaking abide by the rules laid down during the reign of the Emperor Constantine and that some of my entries were, how shall I put it, enhanced by the help of others. Somehow even although the rustics could prove nothing, they always know. They have a sixth sense regarding these matters. I suppose it comes from lifetimes of making ends meet and the type of brain required to undertake Country dancing. You only have to try “Posties Jig” to realise the connections in the synapses one has to make would train anyone for undercover work.

So my shop bought gladioli received nothing, but the judges pointed remark that “in future years try staking with canes” and my Victoria sponge was dismissed as having “used eggs from a neighbouring and inferior Parish”. I might have got somewhere with my marmalade if Mrs Travers had not left the paper “golly” under the gingham top.

Second prize at the Flower Show – sunny days

Having said that my floral arrangement for the section, “Sunny Days”, came second and this was entirely my own work. So you see, one must look for the simply marvellous in every day.

In case you are wondering, as I know you do, I was beaten by Bunty Haystack, the crime writer who swept the board even taking the late Lady Persephone Pentland-Firth Trophy for “Suppa Table Arrangement, with Candle”. She is thrilled especially as she has never entered before and simply wants to soak up the atmosphere for her forthcoming book which is said to feature a character based on the late Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth who died in mysterious circumstances several Flower Shows ago.

Jasper’s Waterloo

Jasper, who cares not for the glittering prizes in anything, came first in the section “Pageant of History in Vegetables”. His “Waterloo On A Tea Tray” used turnips to represent the British forces and a variety of dubious foreign vegetables such as garlic and green peppers (which had to be specially ordered) for the French. An aubergine and a marrow each represented Napoleon and Wellington with the skilful addition of bits from a box of Mr Potato Head which belongs to one of Mrs Travers’ grandchildren. An accompanying piece, “The Waterloo Ball On a Tea Tray” was less successful. While Jasper’s ingenuity resulted in a tremendous backdrop of the reported “trellis wallpaper” pasted onto empty cornflake packets he found it very difficult to pin thick tartan kilts onto the carrots representing the Gordon Highlanders and the piece of sprigged muslin which came from my Great Great Grandmother’s wedding dress was ruined when Jasper tried to create a Jane Austen Empire line frock on half a cucumber, which was supposed to be the Duchess of Richmond. Cucumbers are rather wet although I have to admit the wig made from sphagnum moss and decorated with tiny flowers and broken beads were a triumph. Dried fruit, however, does not give one good eyes. Jasper’s World War One activity in the swing park centred around espionage was on the other hand highly successful and the homing pigeon and secret ink activities delighted the children and Jasper. 

Never Expected in Glasgow, Really!

All this activity meant I was delighted to get back to town at the start of the week.  I have left Jasper there with Mrs T to attend to one or two chores before the winter. Mrs T is going to attend to the lum (chimney) with a holly brush and hopefully, if it stays dry, cement some holes in the path. She can also keep an eye on Jasper who  is following the T.U.C. and their 77 resolutions at Blackpool – you can see why I left him in the country. He also plans a spot of fishing, which is a country gentleman’s code for doing nothing.

I, on the other hand, have had a very busy week which is why I am speaking to you from Daly’s which is the department store in Sauchiehall Street.

Treasured Beyond Compare?

Perhaps this was a mistake. I looked in Karter’s the fur shop on my way to Daly’s and what a wonderful advert in their window: What lovelier complement can you pay your lady… than the gift of a mink stole? This precious fur assures her that she is treasured beyond compare; we are now showing the largest selection of mink wraps and stoles. This includes Ranch Mink, wild mink, and Mutation mink in a range of colours – Diadem, Champagne, Royal Pastel, Topaz, Sapphire etc.

Oh so many, no I must not go in despite the deep pile carpets and the smell of luxury. The trouble is Jasper does not think I need any more fur coats.

Lunch Time Rendez-Vous

Rogano’s, my favourite haunt

I have just had my hair and nails done prior to meeting Sir Roger, the Handsome Stranger, for lunch. I had hoped for Rogano’s where, as there is now an R in the month, their speciality lunch is oysters. Sir Roger, however, wants to meet at “The Copacobana”, in Bath Street which is odd as it advertises itself as the place for “eves-dropping” and “the place to be seen”, and is “well beyond comparison with anything on the continent.” According to 6 captains of the “mercantile fleet” as reported in The Glasgow Herald, “we never expected this in Glasgow”. Honestly sometimes I think the world thinks we have heather growing out of our ears and spend the entire day covered in tartan, devouring entrails. Sir Roger does nothing without thought and I imagine he wants to be seen hidden in plain sight.

Taking Things Too Far

Morning coffee

Talking of matters tartan – “and yes I will have another cup of your delicious coffee and a slice of your fly cemetery if you please”, having  my hair shampooed and set always makes me hungry –  as I was saying talking of matters tartan, one of the reasons I had to come back to Glasgow is it is “Scottish Weekend”. In fact this is not about a torrent of tartan or a parade of kilts but an attempt to encourage people to buy locally produced goods. There seems to be a belief that expensive foreign goods are always better but I think in matters of food and dress and, of course, interior design Scotland can compete with the most cosmopolitan of producers.

I am not so keen on the current idea that buildings should, for the sake of “national confidence”, be awash with Saltires and Lion Rampants. I always think flags are rather divisive.  Anyway I think the Lord Lyon may have something to say about the willy-nilly use of the Lion Rampant. A witty columnist in today’s Herald suggests a more striking means of marketing our national products would be to take a leaf out of the Bank of Texas which uses a “pretty receptionist” on roller skates to greet their customers. I am not sure that this would work in our branch of The British Linen Bank as “Big Bertha”, the senior cashier, would need to be mounted on the wheels of a train carriage simply to move between ledgers and the overseas division. When Jasper sees her he usually says “she could have stayed at home”. Mind you with Jasper’s overdraft that is not surprising.

First Class Scottish Textiles

Threads from Paisley

No, I personally – and I try to reflect this in my shop “Chez Nous the destination of choice for the discerning in all matters interior – believe many of our textile products are first class. We produce or have produced table linen in Dunfermline, silk in Lochwinnoch and of course in our Paisley manufactures we have produced woven shawls and of course the thread which completes the world’s garments.

Jasper in his favourite tweed suit

Our tweed is outstanding, as frequently demonstrated by my own “man of tweed, with its natural colours and ability to withstand the weather. I notice too the Queen, who has been at Balmoral, was in an oatmeal tweed suit this week when she attended a sale of work at Crathie Church’s Women’s Guild. Of course H.M., who never puts a foot wrong, added her own personal statement with toning hat trimmed with café au lait straw and brown accessories. Incidentally her generous donations included a cake and a tea set. I wonder if she made them herself? The Queen Mother was in powder blue, like moi she favours the swing back coat. She gave a linen table cloth, a clock and a set of teaspoons. She also made several purchases including a lemon wool evening wrap, a white matinee jacket, an apron and a box of toffee. The sale raised over £300.

Viewing and Not Viewing Scottish Television in 1957

Muriel at the Gala evening

With Jasper in the country I had to undertake several engagements alone. I can well imagine how Her Majesty feels when Prince Phillip is out of the country. I attended the gala opening of Scottish Television at what used to be the Theatre Royal in Hope Street. I must confess ‘twas I who suggested to Roy Thomson the Chairman that this would be an ideal venue for independent television in Scotland. I was one of 700 invited guests at the Theatre to watch the televised performance of “This is Scotland”. I have to say theatres are always warm but I began to wonder if I had done the right thing as the addition of the television lights made the heat oppressive and fur wraps were removed very early on.

There were speeches from the Lord Provost, Mr Andrew Hood, and the Secretary of State, Mr John S. Maclay. The Provost said he hoped the new television programmes would “not be parochial and kailyard” and that while “nationalism was important, internationalism was so much more important”. Sir Kenneth Clark, who knows a thing or two, said he hoped the new service would produce more dramatists like James Barrie and James Bridie and not too many “foolish and vulgar” variety programmes. He does not believe that television should “drift on the tide of popular preference”. His anxieties may be prophetic as the opening show was and I quote The Herald critic, a “sentimental performance” involving “yards of tartan”.

I for one am not sure I like the idea of adverts. Raelbrook advertised a Poplin shirt which requires no ironing. Now there it seems to me is the beginning of the end of civilisation, I am sure Sir Kenneth Clark was not told about that. We were also informed that the washing powder OMO “adds brightness” but not in Ayr, Kilmarnock, Perth, St Andrews and Dundee who had no picture at all, only something resembling a snowstorm on their screens, although perhaps the snowstorm was quite bright. At least there was a local advert for Duncan’s chocolate which I am rather partial to. Oh I should be heading for the Copacabana, it’s not far I shall walk. “Miss the bill please.”

With the Handsome Stranger, Sir Roger, in the Hottest Spot in Bath Street

“Hello Mu, sorry I am late. Got a bit held up with the P.M. at Balmoral this morning and almost missed the flight.”

“Lovely to see you Roger, how is Harold?”

“Oh busy telling everyone they have never had it so good and trying to second guess the T.U.C, and their 77 resolutions which is a lot of second guessing. Would you care for some champagne? Flying is thirsty work. By the way I met a Steward Lee who knows you. He says to tell you the baby is doing well apart from an incident with a teapot and some bicarbonate of soda.”

James Lee, BEA Steward

“Oh yes, thank you. I know his wife too she was a marvellous stewardess but, had to leave when she became enceinte – such is the fate of women. I wonder what happened with a teapot? The child must be about the same age as Gayle our ward. Yes. champagne would be lovely, pity it is not with oysters. Still this makes a change and 6 mercantile marine captains cannot be wrong.”

“Now as to our friend the crime novelist did everything work out as planned?”

“Yes indeed in fact better she won best in show for winning so many late people’s bits of silverware and the President’s Cup.”

“Good show, I am sorry you had to lose and in such a shabby way, but she had to win and your perfection in all categories including most edible necklace stood in her way.”

“I may, of course, now and forever be branded or at least thought of as being a cheat. You have no idea Sir Roger how one’s reputation in the rural bolt hole stands or falls on the lightness of a Victoria sponge or the tastiness of a jar of pickled walnuts.”

“I know, dear lady, but such is the fate of those of us who live in the shadows, you have done it pro patria.”

“Yes I suppose so but sometimes I wonder if patriotism is enough and it would just be better to have a gleaming trophy on the chimney piece. You see in our little corner of the world an iced gingerbread counts for so much more than an unknown attempt to save the negotiations for our entry into Europe in the face of the comrades attempts to stop it going through.”

“I am aware of the sacrifices you have made and so is H.M.. Indeed she has asked me to pass on this lemon woollen shawl as a token of her appreciation, apparently her mother has piles of them. Now I need to talk to you about the next stage of the mission. A little top up?”

Later in the Wylie Bedroom

“Jasper it’s nice to have you home.”

“Nice to be home, Mrs Travers made me mix cement and trim hedges. Sometimes I wonder who employs who. I blame non iron shirts and commercial television.”

“At least Jasper there is some television coverage of the T.U.C. conference. How are they getting on with their 77 resolutions and those fascinating demarcation disputes in the shipbuilding industry?”

“Well now I am wide awake Muriel, it is not like you to be interested in the affairs of the working man. I am impressed.”

“Yes Jasper I am most interested in the struggle for effective leadership between Mr Gaitskell and his obedient lieutenant Mr Bevan. Not to mention the fascinating Mr Frank Cousins.”

What do you want Muriel?

“Muriel what do you want? By the way I forgot I ordered a whole heap of flags and upholstery grade tartan fabric for the “Chez Nous” windows.”

“Really dear? How lovely, how thoughtful, how very clever of you Jasper ….tell me Jasper, am I treasured beyond compare……?”

Muriel Wylie

September 1957

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3 Responses to Too Much Tartan?

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

    Chérie Muriel,

    Surely, my dwaaling, it is simply not possible to have too much tartan or, in fact, too much Champagne for that matter! “Jeeves!” But where ‘marvellousness’ is concerned, you have the market cornered! It is indeed not for the faint-hearted and, yet, too many who would aspire simply do not have the staying power; let alone the corsetry, Yardley bath cubes and Coty ‘Paris’ talcum powder…..

    Coty L’Aimant was a firm favourite of my dear, late Mama you know……a tradition I like to uphold myself… does my stylist extraordinaire, M. Craigy. He says it allows him to ‘think pink’ and be flamboyantly theatrical all at the same time…..!

    One wonders if you were able to twist dear Jasper’s arm in the direction of Daly’s? I, of course, have Mimi the Shih Tzu…..a dog mostly worn in the evening……

    Yours in a cloud of Coty,
    Lulu xxxx

  2. Matthew Bate says:

    Rum doings at the village show, flipping nationalism and being treasured beyond compare.

    I’m not sure I could exhibit at a Flower and Produce show. I’d have to choose between nihilism and Dadaism. Neither would go down well. I’d end-up staking someone with a cane. Muriel, trained as she is in the arts of spying and deception has clearly mastered the art.

    I demand to be represented by an aubergine.

    I understand fur is no longer fashionable among young women. This is obviously progress. I can remember many young women dealing with matted fur at rural social events. I can’t imagine what damage could be done with a teapot and some bicarbonate of soda. Steward Lee, eh?

    Actually I do have heather growing out of my ears. It’s a vegan thing. And you forgot linoleum.

    Sir Kenneth’s view are interesting. I would watch television if that were the case. None of this baking nonsense. Or the passing of poisoned chalices.


  3. Lucy Garden says:

    Poor Muriel, having to sacrifice her good reputation at the order of that ruthless Handsome Stranger. A glass of champagne and a knitted whatsit were not nearly enough compensation. So glad that the beautiful flower arrangement won a well-deserved prize. But memories at the rural bolt-hole are long, so how can she regain what has been so hard-won and then easily lost? Justice for Muriel!

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