A Hoot – Hopefully!

  • Posted on: 27/11/2021

Making the Best of Autumn 1961

Winter is on the horizon. It is frosty now in the mornings and the trees have almost completely shed their leaves. As the foliage falls off, woollies go on there is more talk is of logs and anthracite, soup, and scones.  The days are short although, with a bit of luck, crisp and bright, though,  as every Scot knows ,today maybe sunny, but “we’ll aye pay fur it the morrow”. Still there are things to look forward to like Christmas and New Year and firstly St Andrew’s Night. Celebrating the patron Saint requires planning of course, fortunately there is an earthly saint who will ensure it is a simply marvellous event in the Rural Bolthole – a real hoot, hopefully. At least that is the plan.

At the Home of Lady Pentland-Firth

“Mrs Wylie to see you m’lady.”

“Thank you, Kelso, do show her in, and bring the tea if you will.”

“Crumpet your Ladyship?”

“Yes, and some raspberry jam for hint of summer sweetness.”

Another New Butler? 

“Muriel, darling, it’s been too long. Do come in and sit by the fire, it is burning very well, cherry wood you know. I have had Kelso put up a screen to prevent the old, corned beef legs.”

“How, thoughtful, Patience  my legs like Betty Grable’s are somewhat legendary. The sling back advisor at Daly’s says my ankles are the voice of Bruno Magli. I don’t believe I have had the pleasure of Kelso before.”

“No dear, he joined the staff while you were in Washington near America. My previous butler was not up to the job. Kelso and his family have worked for the Pentland-Firths for generations. Foresters of course; you can tell. He smells like pine disinfectant. Unfortunately, he had a bit of an accident with a spruce, nearly split him down the middle and I felt it my responsibility to give him some indoor work.”

“I see, but I must say he looks in perfect working order to me.”

“He puts on a good show, but it’s all psychological.”

“Are you sure you don’t mean physiological.”

“All these P words darling, you are too amusing. I can add to the alphabet and say that he comes with the additional advantage of playing the pipes. You should hear him with his Heilan Laddie at 7 in the morning.”

“Hear him – I think I can visualise him.”

“In full highland dress, he is certainly a sight to behold. His grandfather was piper to Queen Victoria. She never began a day without his pibroch. Talking of beginning the day, it is wonderful to see you. I have missed you. Are you well?”

Too Much Hooting

“Yes, thank you, although I have not been sleeping well, it is so noisy in the country. Last night, I had just put down my Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the new book by a Muriel Spark, that I picked up at the Stirling Library, when it started.”

“What started? There is no traffic here at night and come to think of it not much in the day either. The internal combustion engine has barely made inroads into Southwest Scotland, well not much has to be honest. There hasn’t really been much excitement since Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in this house.”

“Well apart from the infernal dogs’ barking, the sheep bleating, the cows mooing and Auld Young Jock doing whatever he does with Gladys from the gift shop, there are the birds.”

“You are sounding very Daphne du Maurier, Muriel.”

“Well, first it’s the geese, as if they are on an allied bombing mission, flying directly overhead. Then the owls outside the bedroom window on the cherry tree hooting and whatever. Once they have shut up it’s the pheasants on their low-level sorties and then that heron that sits at the bend of the river just waiting until one has nodded off, before beginning his squawking. I can sympathise with Daphne Du Maurier when she – wondered how many millions of years of memory were stored in those little brains, behind the stabbing beaks, the piercing eyes… giving them this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines.

“Gosh, you do seem unusually upset. Thank goodness we don’t live near the seaside Muriel. Those gulls could drive anyone over the edge. I think you need a spot of something in your tea. It is November after all, as Thomas Hood said No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no leaves, no birds. November!”

“And he might have added, no Mrs Travers.”

“Ah!  I see the problem. Kelso.”

“Apologies madame, I have the tea and crumpets, cook was just making sure the muffin dish was warmed.”

“Not to worry Kelso, if you put the tray down here, I will pour. I wonder if you would be so kind as to bring Mrs Wylie a wee dram, she is feeling rather queer.”

“A common problem at this time of year m’lady.”

 Patience Admires Muriel’s Strategy

“Muriel do tell, when are the interviews for the position for Daily Woman what does, but not a lot.”

“Probably the week after next, providing I get a good response to the advertisement.”

“You mean the rather large one, carefully hidden in plain sight in your Glasgow Herald piece on the History of Domestic Service in Glasgow. Therefore, it must be true! How did you manage that?  I must say it is very well written I don’t know how you have the time what with running ‘Chez Nous’, The Home for Fallen Women, looking after Gayle and all your other commitments promoting gracious living in the Second City of the Empire. Jam?”

“Thank you. I must say these are very good crumpets and the raspberry jam is first class.”

“Actually Muriel, you made it. I bought it at the Church Autumn Fayre.”

“I thought it had to be me or Fortnum’s. As to the rather prominent advertisement, shall we say the acting editor and I have an understanding.”

“Don’t tell me you suggested that the coverage of your White House improvements might go to another, shall we say Edinburgh based paper?”

“Well perhaps, I might have.”

“Muriel you really are a genius. I don’t know why we women don’t run the world.”

“We just do all the behind the scenes work to make it spin Patience. As for the piece on servants in Glasgow, although it has my name on it, Jasper wrote it.”

“And he doesn’t mind?”

“No, he’s in his element, researching and writing. Mind you I did have to cut it considerably. It was threating to run into a piece on a Perthshire Ploughing Match and an advert for Ladybird pyjamas.”

“How is he?”

“Well, he is missing Mrs Travers of course and then there is the jet lag.

“But it’s weeks since you got home from the other side of the pond.”

“According to Jasper, it can last anything from 6 months to a year in men.”

Patience to the Rescue

“Now let’s get down to business. What you need is a divertissement. Kelso more hot water please.”

“At once Lady Pentland-Firth. More crumpet?”

“Later perhaps.”

“Would your Ladyship care for me to play on the Residence Organ to aid your deliberations.”

“How kind, begin with Highland Cathedral, but not too loud.”

“You mean Piano.”

“No, the organ.”

“He plays the organ as well as the pipes and cuts down trees?”

“A lad o’pairts Muriel, a lad o’pairts.”

“So, I see.”

A Touch of Marvellousness is Required

“Now Muriel what about the St Andrew’s Festival here at Pentland Firth Hall. I have so missed your organisational flair.”

“Well to begin with what charity are we supporting this year.”

“I was thinking we should do something for Forestry Folk, you know all that standing on logs floating down the river Spey, risking life and limb in wet clothes.”

“I am not sure they do that anymore Patience, you have clearly been reading Memoirs of a Highland Lady again, but I am sure we could raise funds for a social evening benefitting the forestry workers and their families in the parish. What have you got in mind?

“To tell you the truth Muriel not a lot, I need your inspirational ideas and marvellousness.”

Involve the Whole Parish

“Shall we have a weekend of activities based around the village and the estate? On Friday evening we could have a concert here of music and words inspired by Scotland, you know Mendelsohn etc.  I will see if Sandy Gibson is free to conduct. Saturday night should be a Ceildh for the cottagers in the village hall, you know Shift’n Bobbin’s, Mharie’s Wedding, it will be a hoot. And for Sunday morning I am sure the minister can do something on the theme of Fishers of Men.”

“Should we have stalls?”

“Of course, we must involve the whole village. We can use the school, and theme it around Scottish produce – tablet, shortbread, Dundee cake, spurtles, tartan products. The Pentland Firth Arms can provide a Scottish lunch menu and have a whisky tasting for the grown-ups. I will ask Lottie Macaulay to take charge of that side of things.”

Something for All Ages

“What about the children?”

“Crafts I think, stained glass windows made out of Mackintosh sweetie wrappers and then a fancy dress pageant of famous Scottish characters from history. Hairy Mary from Inveraray can organise that and involve young Gayle. There will be prizes First, Second and Third. You can be the judge.”

“A lovely idea young Gayle might even win.”

“I am sure I can rely on you to pick the most deserving entry, Patience.”

“What about something intellectual? Then we can get a grant from the Parish Council.”

“Jasper has already offered to give an illustrated lecture on St Andrew in Art and Architecture to the Historical – he can move it forward I am sure. You know Caravaggio, the Nuremberg Chronicle and Thomas Tait’s St Andrews House in Edinburgh that sort of thing.”

“I was afraid of that. I mean one can always rely on Jasper, just tell him not to make it too long. We don’t want a repeat of that Burns’ Night when the slide projector caught fire. Two hours is quite a long time before the tea interval. After all he is doing it for free and one does not want to take advantage of him. If he would like to use the library here at the Hall, he is most welcome. I will have the staff decorate it suitably and as it is quite a long walk from the village it will ensure that Jasper’s audience are only the most serious, searching for knowledge and enlightenment. Now more tea?”

“No thank you Patience, I have a great deal to do to prepare for this. I must dash. Thank you for the crumpets and the whisky, you have quite cheered me up even if you have given me so much to do. As George Eliot said Delicious Autumn! My very soul is wedded to it.”

“Kelso, Mrs Wylie’s coat and hat please.”

Sometimes even Lady Pentland Firth comes up trumps

“Very Skilfully played if I might say so.”

“Thank you, Kelso. Mrs Wylie once helped me at a very dark time when it was always November. That is another story. As for skilful playing you are something of a virtuoso on the organ, let us have a reprise.”

“Highland Cathedral?”

“I was thinking more Kurt Weill.”

November 1961