A Sunday in Greenwich Village, 1960

  • Posted on: 08/05/2020

 This week we look back to May 8th 1960 in New York as Sebastian settles down to read his letter from his uncle, Jasper.

Brunch, Eggs Over Easy and The Joy of Corduroy

It is a Sunday the world over but in Greenwich Village, New York, Sunday is a day of peace and contemplation.

In the sidewalk cafes, the inhabitants are drinking coffee or partaking of that peculiar American institution ‘brunch.’ To the young radical residents, The New York Times offers a diet of reports on dispiriting activities. There has been an execution in St Quintain jail, (which was it would turn out almost avoided). In the febrile atmosphere of the Cold War, the U.S.S.R. has reported that pilot Gary Powers, whose plane has been downed in Soviet territory, is definitely a C.I.A. spy, as he has admitted it. “Operation Alert” has taken place, sirens have directed people to the nearest fallout shelter. At City Hall Park 500 demonstrators have refused police orders to seek shelter as they protest over the nuclear arms race. Tornados have swept through Oklahoma and Arkansas.

On the other hand, those looking for more positive news in the land of the free and the home of the brave as their eggs over easy arrive are reading that President Eisenhower has signed the Civil Rights Act 1960 into law. It seems appropriate then Harry Belafonte has been a great success at Carnegie Hall. For those interested in Show business gossip it has been revealed that Lucille Ball has been granted a divorce from Desi Arnez.

Whatever the news The Village and its residents are doing what they do best -being relaxed and carefree and “taking pleasure in the joy of just being alive”. They potter about the antique and book shops while they wait for their laundry. Some are newly revived after a gospel service, others by the purchase of a fashionable corduroy jacket. For if there is one word that sums up the village it is corduroy.

Aunt Muriel Comes To Mind Thanks to Corduroy

Sebastian Wylie Fox, the young British actor, is rather delighted with his brown corduroy jacket. There is something very satisfying about the word itself, as well as the feel.

The word reminds him of his Uncle Jasper and that he has a letter from him, as yet unopened, in the inside pocket. Uncle Jasper too is a fan of corduroy as well as tweed. He smiles as he thinks of Aunt Muriel who prefers the fabric to be restricted to garden use and woodland walks as she feels it smacks of louche-ness and crème du menthe frappé, two things which promote sharp intakes of breath in certain Presbyterian parts of Glasgow. Well three if you count corduroy itself and to be fair many would. Yes, on the road to perdition this versatile fabric would have its own store.

Here in N.Y.

Sebastian is feeling pleased with himself, despite the headache from the after-show party. For last night was the first night of a new musical The Fantasticks which opened off Broadway. He has a feeling it will be a huge success and if he had a crystal ball he would see that it will run indeed have a long run – right into the next century, and two of its songs will be recorded by many well- known artistes.

His favourite Soon It’s Going to Rain with its lyrics, Now is the time to run inside and stay, Now is the time to find a hideaway seem oddly suited to time of global tension and public uncertainty. He can just imagine one of his friends, a young woman called Barbara Streisand performing this song with her exquisite voice suiting the melody perfectly.

This and other sounds fill his head as he arrives at Washington Square. From a church there is the sound of brothers and sisters clapping to “Don’t Believe it.” From a café, a poet in black crew neck and shades holds an audience enthralled as he recites “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” In the Square itself folk singers and bongo drums occupy the circle where hangings once took place. As someone said Greenwich is “a state of mind.” Sebastian’s state of mind is all the calmer for a letter from home, no matter what it might contain. He needs to read it and finds a table in the San Remo Café. He orders French toast and coffee.

News from Home

My Dear Nephew, Sebastian,

It was a great pleasure to find your letter waiting for me when I arrived at the R.S.A.C. this morning for a quick stiffner and a bite to eat. I have one or two errands to run for your aunt including the purchase of a copy of Born Free from John Smiths in St Vincent Street. I also have some winnings to pick up from the bookie, but not a word to Bessie.

You know what your aunt thinks of gambling.

As far as I am concerned if you don’t speculate you don’t accumulate. However, it has to be said neither I nor my partner in crime Mrs Travers (who is still not doing a lot) have failed to accumulate much at all.

I am sure your aunt will be delighted to know that you are maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with hot water and lemon, nice toes naughty toes and Elizabeth Arden moisturiser; also, that you are enjoying America.

We are all fascinated to see who becomes the next President. I hope Mr Kennedy is successful. They need someone young and go ahead, mind you so do we. Mr Macmillan is still at the helm here telling people they “have never had it so good” and that “winds of change are blowing through Africa”. As they say though, ‘fine talk butters no parsnips’ and we have many social problems still to solve.

I am sorry that you did not get the part in “Psycho”. It is Mr Hitchcock’s loss and I am sure lacking concealed menace is something to be proud of. I look forward to hearing more about “The Fantasticks”. My success, it seems, is not to be on the boards, but as the Face of the Magazine Rack 1960. We certainly cannot get them made quickly enough. As you say Cousin Lulubelle knows a good thing when she sees it. Annoying though that might be.

Mrs T

Mrs Travers is well, apart from the usual, support stocking issues and the longest ‘change of life’ in human history. Your aunt has her fully occupied with the spring cleaning and they are both currently at the Rural Bolthole. Sad to say Mr Travers is back at the Sailors’ Home on the Broomielaw after a major catastrophe at the bonded warehouse where he had recently secured a job. The place caught fire and many firemen lost their lives and workers their jobs. Mrs Travers keeps an eye on him, but she has never forgiven him for taking up with Busty Betty from The Unnecessary Lingerie Shop down by the canal. Nor for that matter of his deserting her by going off on a slow boat to China, even although he did bring her a stuffed lizard from the East Indies which he had made into a table lamp and sits on her radiogram. Billy is on bail, enough said.

As For Her Ladyship

Lady Pentland-Firth continues to both enjoy and undermine the class system. She is planning a series of summer concerts. There is talk of a Greenwich Village inspired evening to raise funds for The Home For Fallen Women. The news of the contraceptive pill might of course change all that. However, I am sure that for the ladies of South West Scotland when one charitable door closes another opens. I am not sure though how the Beat Poets and folk music will go down with the ladies who are much addicted to Bach and who they believe to be the only composer. Please don’t ask which one, as far as I am concerned bach is what dogs do.

Aunt Muriel Fears Socialism Lurking Everywhere

You are correct dear boy, young Gayle will go to Westbourne in the autumn. Muriel is already in conversation with the uniform suppliers about the weft and warp of the school blazer and the headmistress about the curriculum. I am not sure if the school knows what is about to hit them. The request to have further details about Janet and John’s wider family have so far been ignored as has the suggestion that the B.B.C. programme Singing Together may contain one or two unsuitable songs. Greensleeves it seems passes muster, but your aunt is concerned that the sea shanty ‘Haul Away Joe’ might encourage too much interest in the boys at Kelvinside Academy. And the references to King Louis having his head chopped of sounds like socialist propaganda of the sort that might appeal to Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson.

Do Not Worry Too Much About Aunt Muriel

Yes, it is true Muriel has been preoccupied with a rather disturbing dream about the world, 60 years hence. This may well be the result of all the talk of Nuclear War and the bad relations between The U.S.A. and Soviet Union. Goodness knows where this thing about the pilot being shot down will end.

I am trying to reassure her that 60 years hence the world will surely have come to its senses. On the other hand, this has given her a focus for many of the things she wants to write about and to prepare for her lecturettes which are very popular. You wouldn’t believe how many people want to learn how to enter a room, pack a suitcase or get a jelly out of a mould.

Three tasteful leaflets have been prepared for the future based on our archives and a fourth on health and beauty in a time of crisis is in preparation. Muriel has written to the major publishers telling them she has a sense that these will, in the future, rival work by Albert Camus and Daniel Defoe who mention nothing, it seems, about Mackintosh Squares.

Fortunately, there have been V.E. Day celebrations to plan – 15 years since the end of the Last Unpleasantness –  to take her mind off things. And now there is further diversion ahead as Muriel has been asked, by ‘Glasgow Lady’ to cover the wedding of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong Jones at Westminster Abbey. I am sure this will take her mind off events 60 years hence, real or imagined. Added to which there is a new Minister who needs “instruction,” on matters relating to the theology of soup and tray bakes – for his own good, naturally.

Now I must go dear boy, as I have promised to have a bit of Shepherd’s Pie and some jam roly-poly with an old army chap, who might just order a dozen magazine racks for the regimental mess. Caramel wafers coming with Cousin Lulubelle and Pan Am. Keep in touch.


Uncle Jasper xx


Sebastian folds the letter, puts it back in the envelope and tucks it into the inside pocket of his corduroy jacket and smiles to himself. He orders another coffee and acknowledges Bill Burroughs who is sitting in the corner with an omelette and a notebook. Now what to do? Browse the books shops and then see if the laundry is done as he needs something to wear for the evening, whatever that might be perhaps – the Twist Emporium.