The Muriel & Jasper Blog: Semantics in a Gypsy Caravan

  • Posted on: 09/02/2020

For those of you following the adventures of Muriel & Jasper, set 60 years ago, this week takes us back to Brighton for some light-hearted fun.

Setting the Scene in Brighton

Mrs Travers has had a bit of a shock while visiting a fortune teller on Brighton Beach with Jasper. The Fortune-telling gypsy is none other than the missing writer, Bunty Haystack. Muriel is not with them – she has gone shopping with her friends, Gary and Edd.


“Well there you are Mrs Travers –  a nice strong cup of tea with and a wee shot of the water of life.”

“I would prefer whisky.”

“That’s what I mean. It’s what we romantics call it, or uisge beatha in the Gaelic.”

“I would prefer it in the Glaswegian if you don’t mind.”

“And what is that

“A wee dock and doris”

“Don’t you mean a wee deoch an’ doris, for surely that is Gaelic too. Isn’t that right Mr Wylie?”

“Absolutely Gypsy Cream, I mean Miss Haystack. Indeed it means ‘a drink at the door’, a bit like the Scots’ expression ‘a cup of tea in your hand’ to see you on your way. It’s for the long journey home, or one for the road.”

“Well then a wee swally. How aboot that before we go all la-de-da?

An Irritable Mrs T

“Sorry Mrs Travers, I did not mean to lecture.”

“Well that makes a change Mr Wylie.”

“I beg your pardon Mrs T. Someone is forgetting who took the blame for the cigarette burn on Mrs Wylie’s Deacon Brodie library table. And I don’t even smoke.”

“Och you know what I mean Mr Wylie – you have only has to see a lectern and you think you’re Dr Livingston in the jungle converting the natives.”

“Bush not jungle”

“I certainly am bushed. My that was a wee shock seeing you Miss Haystack dressed up as Gypsy Cream, the Clairvoyant, who was formerly Miss Bunty Haystack, the famous rural crime writer commonly believed to be deid.”

“I do apologise Mrs Travers  and Mr Wylie. I owe you an explanation.”

The Explanation

“You certainly do. We were convinced that you had been put through a turnip masher just as in one of your seriously overrated crime novels based in rural Scotland.”

“Well that is kind of you to say so Mr Wylie, that was my intention. Let me explain.”

“Please do – we are all ears at least we will be after another dram of that usky whatsit.”

“There you are, that should warm your cockles, Mr Wylie.”

“I wouldn’t let Madame hear you say that.”

“Where is Mrs Wylie?”

“Shopping in the Laines with her chums and no doubt having a good time.”

“Ah, yes I saw it in the cards.”

“So why did you ask then?”

“It’s always good to have validation of one’s gifts.”

“But you’re no’ actually a clairvoyant, Miss Gypsy Haystack. ”

“Sometimes I forget Mrs T.”

“Just get on wi’ the story. Tell us how you’re in a caravan on Brighton Pier and no’ in a squidgy mess through a turnip masher!”

The Road to Brighton Pier

“You see I am not entirely who you think I am.”

“You mean you are not really a writer of indifferent rural noir.”

“What’s that Mr Wylie?”

“It’s a literary genre, Mrs T. Noir fiction or as they say roman noir….”


“No French actually; it is really a sub-genre of crime fiction, in which right and wrong are not usually clearly defined. In most cases the leading characters are seriously and often tragically flawed.”

“That makes sense having read some o’ her books.”

“To continue, if I can get a word in, I am a writer. And if I might be so bold, of some success. After all who can forget Affa David the hardboiled secretary from Cardiff in ‘Closed for Lunch – Lust in a Country Legal Practise?”

“Who indeed?”

Dr Beetroot

“I must confess that this is a cover for my professional expertise as an agricultural scientist. I wrote my Ph.D. thesis on the beetroot.”

“ Really? You’re jokin’ me! It fair gies me wind and it turns ma…”

“I think we have no need to go into details Mrs T.”

“Sorry Mr Wylie.”

“Mrs T is correct Mr Wylie. Bloating can be an issue, but this vegetable has many useful properties.”

“I am sorry Miss, I mean Dr Haystack, but I do not understand how beetroot leads to a caravan in Brighton.”

So Very Versatile

“That I quite understand Mr Wylie, but perhaps all will become clear when I tell you that I was recruited at Agricultural College, where I was teaching a class on nitrogen improving crops to the sons of the gentry.”

“Recruited to where Bunty?”

“To a secret Department of the War Office, concerned with Food Strategy in Conflict. I was sent to the land of the comrades to study the impact of collectivisation on root crops particularly beetroot.”


“Good question, but you see it is a mainstay of the Russian kitchen. It is easy to grow, nutritious and has many health properties. It can be grown in huge fields or small dachas.”

“Small whats?”

“Country houses, Mrs T, and of course you can use it in salads, drinks, and most famously for borscht their favourite soup.”

“Och that beetroot soup! It would’nae dae in Maryhill.”

“Actually Mrs T, it is delicious especially served with sour cream and dill.”

“I’ll take your word for it Doctor, but foreign soups have’nae traditionally gone down well, have they Mr W?”

“No Mrs T, they have not. Indeed there was a schism in the church when Muriel introduced Mulligatawny at the soup and pudding lunches. It practically brought Presbyterianism to its knees.”

Marked with an Egg

“Now tell us Doctor, how did you get to work in comrade-land ? Surely one has to speak the language.”

“Actually, I do. You see I was born there. My family came out after the St Petersburg Massacre. My mother was working in the J and P Coats’ factory. She had gone over from Paisley as a supervisor and my father worked in the design department. They saw it all and fled. I was just a child, but we kept the language up and so I was sent back under the guise of being a cultural observer and food writer for the Hampstead Communist Party.”

“So you were working for the comrades?”

“Well Mr Wylie they thought I was, until they began to be suspicious.”

“Eating too much of their precious beetroot were you?”

“No not exactly; you see I fell in love with a tractor driver and we had a son. During the delivery the midwife noticed that I had a birth mark in the shape of a Faberge Egg and this was widely believed among the comrades to be a sign of royalty. There were whispers and gossip and soon I was being referred to as Anastasia, the Princess who is said to have escaped. My son’s father said I needed to leave and got me out via Stockholm.”

“And what about your son?”

“He had to stay. They would have identified us and I have never seen him since.”

Pain in the Bahookie

“What happened after that?”

“Well I was able to give our government some useful information about beetroot production and they helped me to find a new identity as a writer of what you call indifferent rural crime novels. I became Bunty Haystack.”

“I don’t understand how that leads to Brighton.”

“Well Mr Wylie, for many years I was under the radar. My books were published. Who would associate an eccentric old maid in a Scottish village with espionage.”

“Oh you’d be surprised!”

“Well in a way you are right Mrs T. You might recall last autumn’s shooting party, when the government was entertaining some comrades on the moors.”

“Yes the last time we saw you and the occasion when your bahookie was peppered with shot by some chinless wonder. And we had to organise medical help. Quite an undertaking as I recall.”

“Well you probably saved my life, but as I was being assisted on the field my bahookie was there for all to see and so was the birthmark. One of the comrades was the very individual who had been assigned to follow me before I escaped. I was a marked woman and so the Handsome Stranger arranged for me to have a new identity in Sussex by the sea.”

“So what can we do to help?”

“Well, obviously don’t tell anyone.”

“Oor lips are sealed.”

It’s an Ill Wind

“Well Doctor, Mr Wylie,  I personally could dae wi’ anither wee drop o’ the old water o’ life.”

“Me too Mrs T. Me too.”

“Well there you are, might as well finish it. I hope that explains it all and you won’t reveal my identity. Besides since I disappeared rather like Agatha Christie, my book sales have surged even ‘Sid and his Saucy Sickle’ has perked up. There is talk of ‘The Sheep Dip Deaths’ being filmed at Pinewood.”

“Well Mrs T what a lot of strange goings on.”

“ Mr Wylie – look. Here comes Mrs Wylie now, down the pier past the amusements and she looks unusually happy.”

“Cooee, Jasper, Mrs T and well- I never its Bunty as I live and breath , we thought you were dead!”

“As you will see I am very much alive. I suppose you too want to hear all.”

“Oh yes of course but first look what Edd and Garry bought me in the Laines. Isn’t is simply marvellous? Such chums!”

“Mrs Wylie guess what? Miss Haystack – she isn’t Miss Haystack. She is not even Gypsy Cream. She’s…oh I cannae  be certain an’ furthermore she fell in Comrade-land and she has a son!”

“Really, what’s his name?”

“He is called Dimitri and he had beautiful little pink legs, like a ballet dancer.”

Jasper Wylie
February 1960