A Gin & Tonic for the Nation: Part 3

  • Posted on: 25/04/2020

 It is April 1960.

Elvis Presley has returned from military service in Germany to film GI Blues in Hollywood. Also, in the United States this week has been French President Charles De Gaulle where a million people welcomed him with a ticker tape parade in New York. In Mississippi black protesters have been attacked on a white only beach while in Scotland, the Loch Ness Monster has been filmed with a 16 mm camera. In Muriel and Jasper Wylie’s rural bolthole, the normally smooth running household has been disrupted by a dream which Muriel has had of events 60 years hence.

An American At The Door

“Good-morning Miss Lulubelle.”

“Good morning Mrs Travers, hunny lamb. I wish y’all would a doorbell.”

“Sorry to keep yoose waitin’. I wis at a critical stage wi’ the wild garlic soup, Mrs Wylie prefers the use of the antique knocker, she believes door bells are…”

“Don’t tell me – Common. I am beginnin’ to git the hang of your ridiculous class indicators. Unfortunately, knockers are a thing of the past like the Empire and the bustle. Is she in?”

“That’s a matter of opinion; Mrs W is in the attic going through her mother’s papers for her advice leaflets.”

“Umm, advice leaflets – can we sell ʼem?”

“If you stick your head up through into the attic, you can ask her yourself. I have the stair rods to brasso.”

““Brasso! Why don’t you get ʼem made from something’ that doesn’t require cleaning.”

“I imagine, Miss Lulubelle, because this is Britain, where new is automatically suspicious. And anyway it would do me out of a job, not apparently that I do much anyway.”

A Conversation Through The Attic Hatch

“Cuzin… y’all, it’s me, Lulubelle. What y’all doin’ up here among all this junk? Throw it out I say, get new stuff.”

“Hello Lulubelle I wasn’t expecting you I thought you would have gone with your protégé, Alvin, to make that film in America, where everything is bigger and better and newer.”

“I think you mean Elvis, Hunny. Sadly he doesn’t require ma services anymore since he took up with the Colonel.”

“Is that the fried chicken man?”

“No, that is someone else from the Deep South where the cotton grows and banjo players strum all day. You seem rather distracted, child.”

“I am looking for one of my mother’s old magazines from the first Unpleasantness.”

“Ah my dear Aunt! Or as many Americans called her when we came to save you in the last Unpleasantness, as you call it, and they were on leave, ‘the furlough friend’.”

“That was just a rumour. Anyway, you can talk. Your mother, by all accounts, saw quite a few turns of the paddlewheels of the Mississippi steam boats.”

“Ok Muriel, I ain’t come to sling mud, y’all gotta move on. That’s the trouble with you Brits, stuck in the grove. I jist wanted to say that Jasper is going down a storm as the face of the wrought iron magazine rack.”

“Well I am astonished, he is no oil painting and certainly not in the first flush of youth.”

“Granted Cuz, but he does speak to the many men who we might describe as “hobby-ists”. Others might describe them as emotionally repressed, but the fact is magazines about fly fishing, stamp collecting, fretwork tools and balsa wood – who would’a thought Hunny – y’all gotta have somewhere to keep ʼem. A wrought iron magazine rack is just the thing and it looks decorative but manly. It screams shed, just like Jasper. Anyway, where is he?

“He’s doing the windows for our new Dumfries shop, it’s a blossom theme.”

“I think I will mosey on over to see him, then. Now don’t sit here all day. Attics ain’t healthy, they reek of the past. And send me a draft of your leaflet. See y’all.”

Safe to Come Out?

“Has she gone Mrs T?”

“Yes, it’s safe to come down. The pink Cadillac has left the village. I have put coffee and a cheese scone on your desk and the typewriter keys are nearly dry. I know how you like them to sparkle, especially the letter ‘I’ which is almost worn away. Is this going to be leaflet number three?

“I think so, I have found a final magazine from 1917 which I think might be useful if there are any unpleasantnesses in the future.”

“I will leave you to it; just another 36 stair rods to brasso – not that I am complaining.”

Leaflet Number 3 – Grasping Circumstances

Dear Readers of the Future.

I do hope that your leaders might sensibly see what the past has to offer for any relief from the unpleasantness you might be experiencing. In 1917 my dear Mamma looked no further than Mother and Home for her solace and inspiration I hope it may help you too. So, let’s get to it.

Helping Your Country

Sitting back and worrying is not the best way to deal with any crisis, you need to think of your country and your fellow human beings. This in turn will help you. My mother was a great fan of lady journalist Florence Stackpool. She was from what we might call the Common-sense School. She wrote a regular advice column. Florence believed that everyone had a part to play, even the simplest souls might have some hidden depth that could be plumbed at the hour of need. For example, in December 1917 she advised Peggy, to volunteer at the nearest VAD hospital as a tray setter, as she wrote, “I expect you could help to get the afternoon tea trays ready for the patients. This would be a great help. Good luck to you dear!”

Personally, I think this is a little condescending, as ‘Tray Presentation and Management Skills’ have been one of the integral parts of my lecture-ette series for many a year. And there is nothing more important to the invalid than a well presented tray. the afternoon tea tray being the piece de resistence. It is a remarkably skilful business. I of course excel at it.

Be Definite and Venturesome!

Lack of worry and a sense of purpose should be accompanied by ‘definiteness’. This applies primarily to governments but also to individuals.

Interviewed in 1917 actress Lillian Braithwaite (a great exponent of lemon scented tea) believed that a lot of people were wrongly being described as slackers. The fault as she saw it was not an unwillingness to do something for one’s country, but a failure on behalf of authorities to make a definite call. One needs she said someone to point the way and to say how certain ends – say, for instance economising on food – are to be achieved. This is an enormous help. Miss Braithwaite also said that in the Theatre nothing would be achieved without ‘definiteness.’ This is why I take a firm line with Mrs Travers and Jasper. I point the way and they understand the instruction. It is not bossiness it is definiteness and this is essential in an unpleasantness, whatever its nature.

Theatricality Helps

Being definite seems to be a characteristic of theatricals. My nephew Sebastian, a thespian who has played many Shakespearean characters often in plays by William Shakespeare, is one such theatrical. I have never known anyone with such definite views on how to wear corduroy or tie a cravat.

Actress Miss Gladys Cooper was very definite in helping the war effort by becoming an actress manager. Miss Marie Lohr and Miss Lena Ashwell similarly have taken up roles once the prerogative of men. They were seen as “very venture-some”. Venture is needed in a crisis.

Go Outside and Be Fashionable on a Farm

One does not have to be a manager to be venturesome or definite. Some are born managers, some achieve management and some have management thrust upon them. The last two categories do not work. I of course am in the former.

Management is not all Norman Hartnell suits and swing back coats, although being well dressed in a management role is very important.  It also comes with responsibilities and some people are just not suited to this. Like Dame Tatler, in Mother and Home, I recommend the outdoor life. It may be that you are required to help on a farm and this too you can make your own. For example in the First Unpleasantness , land girls were famous for “their bonny complexions, smart leggings and well cut coats.” They were generally regarded as looking splendid, but some managed to personalise the experience. For example girls in Berkshire “abandoned the becoming velour hat and took to scarlet tams for winter wear.”

The individual triumphs in adversity, especially when it is for the greater good.

Looking After Yourselves and Your Family

A national crisis is not an excuse for neglecting oneself or one’s family. The dressing table mirror should be the first port of call in the morning. A good skin cream has always been important – my mother swore by Oatine or Ven-Yusa – The Oxygen Face Cream.

Make sure everyone gets oxygen in the form of fresh air, especially the children. If you are enceinte ladies then please avoid alcohol.

Make Gifts

In troubled times a small gift can do much to cheer a lonely neighbour. What could be better than a hand decorated scarf, with your own appliqué, or a crocheted doily. One can never have too many doilies. Some ladies during the First Unpleasantness took to decorating pottery with coloured sealing wax, although I have never seen the attraction myself. I have always been a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement, but there is such a thing as going too far.

One of the nicest gifts in my humble opinion is something that reminds one of better times. Of course, the best time of all is afternoon tea and a “glorified apron” will bring hope to any woman in the land. The delicate apron is the boudoir cap of the drawing room so think of crêpe-de-chine or chiffon, beautifully gathered or embroidered just below the waistline; tack a little posy on at the waist. Serving tea is an art form and one should be dressed for the art even if one is just serving oneself. It’s these little things that make the difference and maintains standards of civilisation even when faced with impending doom.

Now having drawn upon the Mother and Home Magazine and memories of Mamma and those women who served from 1914 – 1918 I have once again asked my family and friends for their weekly top tips for surviving an unpleasantness, applicable to any time and place in the future.

“Jasper, how can one maintain a healthy diet?”

“Eat More Pastry.”

I think he means less.

“Mrs Travers, do you have a remedy for cramp in case you are hiding under the stairs or the bed?”

“Yes, wind wool or worsted material around the affected part and have a wee swally in your handbag.”

How common.

“Mrs Lottie Macaulay, do you have a money saving idea?” “Yes, never buy an umbrella with a foreign frame, it’s asking for trouble.”

How useless in a crisis, but to be expected from one who lives in a bungalow.

“Cousin Lulubelle, you experienced the Great Depression in the Deep South, how can you make money if you are down to your last dime?”

“Firstly there is a big demand for home knittin’ and second-hand false teeth are at a premium in a crisis. Buy low and sell ’em high.”


Winnie (from The Wool Shop in Auchterarder)  make do and mend is all the rage, do you have any suggestions for a simply marvellous coat made from something in the attic?”

“A Paisley Shawl makes a marvellous long coat especially when trimmed with your old beaver. And always keep a ball of wool handy.”

With that thought I leave you, with the third of my leaflets based on what my mother was reading in the First Unpleasantness, to quote the marvellous Florence Stacpoole:

The truest courage lies,

Not in unseeing eyes,

Owning no danger, blindly rushing on,

But in the eye that sees

To grasp the golden keys

Of power and circumstance, and make them one.

“Cooeee Muriel….Mrs T… I am home.  Who sent that dreadful woman to the shop and what leaflet is she on about? Hello, just in case anyone is interested, the Blossom Window at ‘Chez Nous’ looks good. Whisky anyone?”

à bientôt
Muriel Wylie 1960

With thanks to Mother and Home 1917