Muriel’s Musings: Being Marvellous On a Budget in 1959

  • Posted on: 24/03/2019

 Muriel, A Gloriana for Our Times

I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand I face increasing demand by the international community for my services and yet I also feel a duty to you. Like Queen Elizabeth, (I have played her in one of Lady P-F’s extravagnzas, and I was simply marvellous) I think of you as “my loving people” and constantly picture myself in full armour leading you into the Armada that is the world of interior design and fashion. At my side I have Jasper, my Sir Francis Drake, who helps me in the fight against the forces of darkness. Of course this is no longer epitomised by King Phillip of Spain but by un-ironed bed linen and dusty light bulbs.

Swimming in the Deep End

It cannot have escaped your notice that I have been away in Scandinavia, where I seemed to cause something of a sensation. Of course travel is a two way process and I learnt a great deal about contemporary design. As much of this will be over your heads I shall gradually distil it into “absorbable morsels”, in the form of my famous lecturettes and affordable publications. It’s not that I think you a pastry fork short of a canteen of flatware, but to be a good teacher one has to know the limitations of one’s students and not overwhelm them. To swim in the deep one has first to navigate the shallows. Or to put it another way the perfectly presented coffee table first requires a coffee table.

Never Dress a Window After Wine

Talking of which they had some simply marvellous ones in Stockholm where light wood and glass coffee tables are all the rage.

Jasper and I have decided to put some of these new design ideas into our shop giving people ideas on how to incorporate the bright fabrics into their homes, so that we are very much ahead of things. Of course we shall trial our more contemporary range in Glasgow, it may well be too much for Edinburgh which is not as fashionable and has never quite got over not having Charles Rennie Mackintosh or The Glasgow School of Art where I was a student for a while. So as we speak Jasper is hopefully thinking about the Spring Look at ‘Chez Nous’, our shop which should  not be considered as just an opportunity to purchase something stylish but as one more step towards gracious living.

Jasper is very good with window displays, provided he does not stop at his club first of all. I have to say we have had some rather eccentric displays such as that a few years ago following a lunch at the Royal Scottish Automobile Club. It was for Easter and featured hand printed textiles. Jasper’s use of  Easter bunnies, to “brighten things up”, (following a bottle of claret for lunch) might have gone down well in the more bohemian artistic circles of London, but was not appreciated by the Newton Mearns’ Ladies Luncheon Club. I have to say the police quite understanding.

Correspondence Full of Worries

I decided to stay at home today and look at some of my correspondence  before it becomes overwhelming. It is always a pleasure to hear from you and to be asked to share your concerns. It is an experience to be allowed inside your heads, although not I must say always a pleasure as they can be quite messy places. I suppose it is a question of spring cleaning “the heid” as much as the back bedroom. Indeed I think to some extent this is one of your many worries. A worry that does seem to come through many of your letters is how can one be marvellous this spring on a budget. Heaven knows I too know what it is like to be on reduced means, so here are some tips based on your letters. One small tip before I start – please think twice before writing on lined paper with a pencil, it just does not set the right tone, invest in some Basildon Bond and a nice fountain pen.

As If Living on the South Side Wasn’t Enough to Deal With

Dear Muriel,

I have to go to the Newton Mearns’ Ladies Luncheon Club next Wednesday for a talk entitled “Is there anybody there – Spiritualism  in Glasgow “ with a Madame Esme Travers. My husband has lost his job with the Glasgow Corporation due to a little misunderstanding in “Rent Arrears”, with a Mrs Malone from Knightswood . I cannot afford to have a demi-wave what do you suggest?

Doreen from Newton Mearns

Dear Doreen,

I am familiar with the Newton Mearns’ Ladies Luncheon Club, so you have my sympathy.

Perhaps you and your husband should look upon this whole sorry incident in rent arrears as an opportunity for pastures new. After all, as far as I can see Glasgow Corporation is full of socialists and other types who leave out unwashed milk bottles. They would only have dragged him down even further than Mrs Malone. By the way that wouldn’t be Sadie Malone who used to work at ‘Busty Betty’s’, would it?

As to the vexed question of the hair, might I suggest a turban? This is very in this spring. You can make this quite cheaply with a length of fabric, minimal sewing skills and perhaps add a nice piece of bijouterie as a talking point. You can always suggest the idea came to you through your spirit guide Aladdin.

Yours sincerely


P.S. Do you really enjoy living on the south side or are you just pretending?

Decorating versus I.T.V.

Dear Muriel,

Last year I was unable to afford wallpaper paste for my back passage so I used flour and water, which worked well with a cheap paper. Now I seem to have an infestation of what I can only describe as rather large beetles. They make a terrible noise an’ ma man says he cannae hear the ITV.

What should I do?

Senga from Shieldhall

Dear Senga,

Far be it from me to make moral judgments, but one makes choices you know and I have to ask why do you have a television when you cannot afford proper wallpaper paste? I have always suspected that commercial television would lead to moral turpitude.

Might I suggest that you return the set to the rental shop and give your husband a large slipper and he can spend his time battering beetles instead of ogling  advertising ladies washing their “whiter than whites?”

You may consider informing the sanitary people as I think you may find these are more than beetles, but never fear your secret is safe with me and I am unlikely to meet any of your neighbours as I never venture to Shieldhall.

Yours sincerely


Take Your Time

Dear Mrs Wylie,

I am a proud working class woman who votes Conservative and always have a pot of soup on the stove and a tray bake in the tin and a bun in the oven.

I love to spring clean and my ambition is to embrace gracious living and have sherry in a decanter and serve nuts with a spoon. I cannot afford all of the new products that the commercial television and women’s magazines suggest I should have. What should I do?

Yours in desperation

Mollie Maguire of Moodiesburn

Dear Mollie,

On so many fronts you are my kind of lady however, please do not run before you can walk. A decanter in Moodiesburn is a big step, perhaps you should wait until you get to Lenzie.

One does not need all the products that are advertised in the women’s magazines or on the commercial television which frankly I find quite common. There is nothing wrong with bicarbonate of soda and lemon juice for your Belfast sink in the “kitchenette” and the lavatory on the “stair heid”.  The same can be said of the tiles in your  “wally close”. A cheap white vinegar is a sensible purchase and is good for your skirting boards. It not only cleans, but it reduces the chances of the sort of problems that Senga is having with “beetles” (if you get my meaning) in her back passage.

I am also an advocate of used dried tea leaves and a good brush for the rugs and carpets. Ask your husband, he will have a stiff one in the ‘dunny’.

The communal stairs can be freshened with Spanish whiting down the sides and some cardinal red on your door step. Remember a door step says all the neighbours need to know about you.

If you have any knobs and knockers of the brass variety and cannot afford Brasso then a little brown sauce left overnight will do the trick, although remember to keep enough for the mince and dough balls.

Clean the inside of your teapot with baking soda and as an extra economy soak your dentures at the same time.

I have a leaflet on cleaning for gracious living. Please send a S.A.E. when you have some spare coppers.

Nil deperandum Mollie and I just know you are the sort of woman who washes out her milk bottles.

Kindest regards


Reduced Means

Dear Muriel,

I am a refined lady of reduced means who has suppa and has had several ancestors executed within the confines of The Tower of London, not to mention an aunt who was a mistress of King Edward VII.

Over the years my family fortune has declined due to some unwise investments such as the Darien Scheme, The City of Glasgow Bank, and a safari park with man eating lions. Then there were our ill-fated publishing ventures such as ‘The Works of Ossian’, ‘Mary Toft, the Rabbit Mother’ not to mention the ‘Cottingley Fairies’. My friends and neighbours are unaware of this and expect me to entertain in a fashion as befits my status in our small community. I frankly cannot afford to entertain what should  I do?

Dear Lady on Reduced Means,

I admire your honesty and since the last unpleasantness many have found themselves in just such a predicament as yourself. I do need to point out that suppa is no longer such a big thing to crow about as has become more widespread since the introduction of the welfare state. Added to which most Aunts were mistresses of King Edward VII. I will admit, however, that having relatives executed within the confines of The Tower of London is a trump card although you have clearly been living off this glory for too long.

The solution to your entertaining issues is to set up a charity or society of your own. Might I suggest a music society such as the Glasgow Bach Society, or the Society for the Preservation of Georgian Shop Interiors or something for the Reformation of the Heathen in Foreign Countries? These are no of interest to anyone other than those whose family have lost their heads in previous centuries.

Just in case there might be the odd rogue element from the lower orders who decides to join, you make the meetings during the hours when most people work, hold them in places inaccessible by public transport, in places where the working and middle classes feel uncomfortable and of course charge a rather steep joining fee.

Now I imagine that despite being on reduced means you probably live in a large house which is shabby, but unquestionably of good taste without a television or Formica. This is the ideal venue for your society lunches and meetings.

Entertaining on the Cheap

Now the point here is that you are providing the backdrop for the event.

As the host you are either given the money from the society’s funds to purchase food and drink or the members contribute in the form of donations of food.  You know the sort of thing, “Well I shall bring my bridge rolls, everyone happy with tongue?” ” I can do scones”. All of this will be sorted out at committee meetings by the appropriate ladies.

This is the downside as these meetings are the equivalent of a gladiatorial contest not of muscles and swords, but of handbags and verbal dexterity. There will be tests of willpower over vol au vent verses sausage roll and paper verses linen napkins. All will be designed to be delivered as cheaply as possible because one did not get to be on the highest rungs of the ladder by throwing money about willy-nilly. Wine will be ordered from a local grocer, following great negotiation, where said grocer will make no profit,  “…..but dear Mr Grierson  it’s for such a good cause and you wouldn’t want us to have to go to the Co-op would you?” Make no mistake it will be sale or return, most of the wine will be returned as the aim is to pour as little as possible.

Nevertheless when the fighting is over and all possible putdowns have been delivered your home will be the setting for a luncheon or suppa on quite a scale which has only cost you a plate of sausages on sticks, the annual membership fee and some heat and light. To all intents and purposes it is your party and you can rest on your laurels for a year or so. Just remember only one basket of logs on the fire, they will all go when it gets chilly.  You will receive phone calls and letters of thanks for days and the heathens get a few pounds into the bargain.

Now I know from that reference to man eating lions that you are none other than Lady Pentland-Firth. In which case Patience, your family history is entirely a work of fiction apart from the lions that is. I will see you next week at the Concert Committee Meeting.

Don’t waste my time


A Lack of Education is Very Hindering

Dear Muriel,

I have been invited to a Tropical Night at Lady Pentland-Firth’s. I have no money and nothing to wear and do not know what to take. We are asked to donate a plate and a bottle. It is in aid of “Saving the Grinling Gibbons’ Television Cabinet”. Help.

Angela from Annan

Dear Angela,

I take it design history is not your forte. Perhaps at the very least you should check and see if you can find out about Grinling Gibbons’ favourite television programmes.

Firstly take a large square of fabric, a table cloth will do. Hold it open, behind you, a corner in each hand. Take the corners over the opposite shoulder and knot behind your shoulder. Put a large gilt belt around your waist and some flowers in your hair. This will look simply marvellous.

To take with you for the buffet:

Make a pineapple jelly with the juice of a tin of pineapple chunks and pour over the chunks, allow to set and serve with what Mrs Travers, our daily woman what does (but not a lot) calls dissipated coconut.  Given that banana leaves are not readily available in Annan you can present it on a tin tray covered on a raffia  place mat for that tropical flavour if you so wish.

Keep it simple on the bottle front.

For the future take my advice, if an invitation arrives asking you to contribute to the restoration of the Capability Brown Tractor, ignore it.

Yours in incredulity


As you can see it is perfectly possible to continue on the trajectory of being simply marvellous even in difficult economic circumstances. All it takes is a little imagination and plenty of je ne sais quois. I realise I have this is in what seems like unfair amounts, but you can dream and you being poor have only your dreams.

“Mrs Travers are we having afternoon tea or is one of our fast days?”

“Here we are Madame –  tea with some nice coconut pyramids, freshly made and some wee pineapple tarts from the baker’s. I know Mr Wylie likes them.”

“Yes, however, he is at the shop so we will just have them ourselves. Now tell me what do you know about the spirits?”

“I only had a wee medicinal gin Madame, honest – for my lumbago, normally I don’t touch the stuff.”

No Mrs T I am not talking about your daily tipple, rather those spirits who reside on the other side.”

“Oh those spirits!”


Muriel Wylie

March 1959