• Posted on: 26/11/2018

November 1958

Muriel is on the telephone to Lady Pentland-Firth

“I couldn’t agree with you more Patience; I think a minster that has been among the cannibals would be ideal for our congregation.

Clearly, at least in my opinion, he will have a neutral position on the appropriateness of ingredients at soup and pudding fundraising lunches… What’s that? The line is not very clear….. No I have no idea if cannibals eat soup… Nor me… I could not imagine a soup where Mrs Lottie Macaulay was a key ingredient. All those gold bracelets would do nothing for one’s enamel. Yes it was in poor taste, cheese straws in the shape of fingers with almonds as nails might be just the thing for Hallowe’en, but not for a buffet lunch following the preaching of a potential new incumbent who has come all the way from somewhere that has neither Boots nor Timothy Whites. What can one expect when one’s family is in pickles and condiments many of which are on the too spicy side.  What’s that? Yes… mmm… uh ha…. I am sure tray bakes are fine he is bound to be used to coconut, they have a lot of them according the relevant pages in Jasper’s Arthur Mee’s Encyclopedia .”

Sorry Patience what’s that, oh you have a man in seeing to your downstairs plumbing; well tell him to stop banging for a few moments so we can finish this conversation I have much to do.

Yes Jasper is on the mend; well I think he is. We have both been pretty poorly but of course Jasper being a member of the working classes milks illness for all it is worth. He is still in bed aided and abetted by Mrs Travers whom he has wound round his little finger for years. I am sure she would leave me to fend for myself if I was not so strong minded and refuse to be intimidated by ill health.

In truth he has been pretty chesty; it is the years of tenement living as a child apparently. He says the walls of his box bed were so damp they ran with water and a two bar electric fire had to be placed on the mattress at night from which one could then see the steam rising. Of course as you can imagine, Patience, it is all the fault of the Conservatives. Sometimes I think he thinks he is Robert Burns!

Well exactly. He has overdone all that 40th anniversary of the end of World War I. It is such a depressing subject and he worked so hard to make his exhibition of memorabilia in his shed work, which to be fair it did.  There were times on the afternoon of the 11th that there was a constant queue of almost 6 people to see his diorama of the signing of the armistice in the railway carriage.  All I can say is thank goodness it was not British Railways or it would no doubt have been 11. 20 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. I have written to the Transport Minister on the very subject and last week when I was on the Glasgow Edinburgh train there was no shortbread and no heating. Can you imagine how the Germans would have reacted to that?  I am quite sure the French will have laid on croissants. They are always more concerned about baking than hostilities.

What’s that? He’s got an airlock, yes… I can hang on…

It really was kind of you Patience to support Jasper’s fundraising campaign for the Princess Louise Hospital, he appreciated it enormously. We both thought the concert was simply marvellous. Your home lends itself to such occasions. It was quite a daring stroke of genius to pick as your theme French Leave: The Story of our Boys 1914 -1918. Having said that I am not sure the committee entirely approved although the local commander of the British Legion looked quite animated at that piece about “Hanging out our Washing on the Siegfried Line”. Technically speaking of course that was a 1939 song, but it was sheer genius on your part to use all those unwanted items from Busty Betty’s “Unnecessary Lingerie Shop” down by the canal. Perhaps encouraging Mrs Travers to play Mademoiselle from Armentières was stretching the imagination to its limits and it really is no easy matter to attempt the can-can in elasticated support bandages. I didn’t realise that she could get her legs to that height which means she has been swinging the lead as far as refusing to change the lampshade in the spare room is concerned. Where I think you were sailing pretty close to the wind was that sketch concerning souvenirs of a night in Montmartre with Madame Mousseline. Was the white coated figure of the doctor really necessary? Anyway that story of the hot poker is entirely an old wives’ tale designed to keep young men away from people such as Madam Mousseline and the Sisters of Internal Combustion. Anyway I must go I am due at the hairdresser’s at 10.30.”

From Jasper’s Sick Bed

“Thank you Mrs Travers, our faithful woman what does, but not a lot. Sometimes I think you are the only one who cares. That is better, you are quite right a nice new set of jim-jams makes all the difference, although I still think I am sitting on a piece of bourbon biscuit.”

“ Jist yous raise yersel’ up a bit Mr Wylie; there I’ve got it. Now whit aboot a fresh hot water bottle and some new pillow cases?”

“If you think it’s for the best Mrs T, that Vick steam Inhalation has done me the world of good, although I think it meant a teaspoon not a tablespoon/ I think I must have lost half my body weight in sweat.”

“Don’t let Mrs Wylie hear yous using that sweat word Mr Wylie, even if you are dyin’ as you seem to think you are. There’ll be no excuse for sloppy diction or working class expressions even if they mean what they say. Remember and repeat after me, “Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies gently glow.

I’ll bring you up some waater to replace essential fluids; anyway a bit o’ weight loss will do yous good. I’ve jist had to replace another button on one o’ yer waistcoats, which reminds me she knows full well your lunch the other day was nae a Puff Cracknell and an apple but a Macaroni Cheese pie in a well fired roll.”

“How does she know?”

“I think Phyllis, who works in the Baker’s, is one of her top agents, she probably has a decade of records on your carbohydrate intake. By the way Mr W were you pleased wi’ the way everything went for the 40th anniversary of the last Unpleasantness but one ?”

“Yes Mrs T, I was. It was very gratifying to have my Museum in a Shed filled with some of the the men who were there. Of course they do not want to talk about it much; it is still too painful. They just want to know that people have not forgotten what they did. I expect in years to come when we are all gone historians will be able to analyse it all more clearly.”

“Oh I wouldn’t be so sure about that Mr Wylie, I doubt they will be able to agree on the causes let alone the course or the consequences. Still there’ll be opportunities for the publishing industry and I have a feeling poppies will be made o’ more than just paper. I fear the whole thing may well be sentimentalised.”

“Sometimes Mrs Travers you seem extraordinarily wise for a woman, whose husband has done a bunk, whose children are on the criminal spectrum and who has been a boon to rubberised medical aids and embrocating fluids.”

“One should nae judge a book by its cover Mr Wylie. Jist because ma world is one o’ bleaching other people’s lavatories does nae mean I have no lavatory of my own. Well strictly speaking I share it with four other  families, but yous get the gist o’ what I’m saying? Now sit forward and take two teaspoons of this”

“Indeed Mrs T. Oh that is horrible, yuck! What did you think of the concert? I must say I was amazed by you in that can-can routine although strictly speaking public dancing was banned in Paris in the war. Lady Pentland-Firth does not let the historic facts get in the way of a good performance.”

“True perhaps Mr Wylie but the purpose of the night was not to get a leaving certificate in History, it was to raise money for the war wounded and she certainly broke all records. I am not sure some of the audience entirely approved though.”

“No perhaps not;  and that routine with the specialist doctor and the ‘Souvenirs of your visit to Paris’ was a bit racy.”

“If I had been on the front line Mr W, I think I would expect a bit of ‘racy’ in Paris. Now then I must get some lunch for you. Hopefully she will be off the phone to Lady P-F by now and we can get a decision – bread and milk with brown sugar or junket.”

“Oh no! How am I to rebuild my strength after this debilitating influenza if there is not a little something better than that?”

“Are yous thinkin’ perhaps a nice bowl of lentil soup and a wee grilled spam sandwich with cheese between two slices of white toasted bread?”

“Oh I am, I am!”

“Well let’s see if we can get her oot to the hairdressers and I will see what I can do and I might even be able to put something on the gee-gees if you want to peruse the racing pages of the paper.”

Sixty Years Later – November 2018

Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, the nation’s greatest just living actor and nephew of the late Baroness Muriel Wylie of Waterside and Jasper Wylie, is looking at some of his uncle’s memorabilia with a  Dr Sleet from the television who is head of all things war.

“Sir Sebastian would you say that back in the day your aunt and uncle were at the beginning of a new zeitgeist about how we remember  the First World War?”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“What you wouldn’t say your aunt and uncle, two of the 20th century’s cultural icons, were not part of the watershed regarding the wa?.”

“No. I just wouldn’t use a stupid meaningless phrase like “back in the day”. Back in what day exactly. We are the nation of Shakespeare and Milton, just imagine Mr Frost.”


“Exactly Mr Icy. Imagine the difference if Antonio had said in Act II Scene I of Shakespeare’s The Tempest  which is a play by William Shakespeare the well known Shakespearean writer, What’s back in the day is before things started instead of What’s past is prologue.  Hardly setting the stage now is it Mr Chill?”

“I take your point Sir. If I might move on, I wonder if in this the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of 1918 you might have some thoughts about how your aunt and uncle saw that war?”

“Well Mr Glacier, my uncle really saw very little of it in reality as he was born in the year when  he was too young for the first unpleasantness and too old for the second unpleasantness. I think this was really part of his problem and perhaps the source of his obsession for his ‘Museum in a Shed’. He knew he was lucky to have avoided fighting but felt guilty because of it.

Being something of a lemon sole socialist he tended to view the whole thing as a failure of capitalism. On the other hand he did raise an awful lot of money for causes. He was always disappointed that his memorial to Homing Pigeons was turned down. Uncle jasper thought pigeons had done more than their fair share in the war, not only did they carry messages, in extremis one could use their droppings as secret ink and if all else failed one could eat them. Uncle Jasper was always fond of a bit of Pigeon Pie with cabbage and creamed mashed potato. Indeed he was fond of anything in a pie.”

“And what of your aunt, Sir Sebastian do you think she would have agreed with the view that the blame for causing the war might be laid at the feet of half a dozen men?”

“Indeed my aunt saw men as the cause of most of the world’s difficulties particularly those who had moustache issues.”

“And is it true that the play and subsequently the satirical film Oh! What A Lovely War  would take its inspiration from the 1958 production at Pentland Firth House, French Leave  in which I believe there was a most extraordinarily outrageous musical number set in what I can only call a Parisian clap clinic.”

“Indeed there was much clapping, although Brown Owl and the Scout Leader were annoyed; can’t quite remember why, but then I was in America then.  There were apparently flimsies on washing lines as far as the eye could see. Lady Pentland-Firth’s arrival as Britannia strapped to the wings of a Sopwith Camel really stole the show and a large part of a topiary cockerel. The local landed set were appalled, but the “old contemptibles” loved it. Her trench supper and bath of beer at the interval were very clever. Say what you like about Patience Charity Pentand-Firth, she knew what ordinary men liked and always knew how to deal with a soldier on leave or a plumber’s blockage.

She would have regarded modern remembrance as sentimental. She always preferred practical helpful solutions. She was not a crocheted poppy sort of woman, but we all have our own way of dealing with what was, and still is, something we cannot come to terms with. We are told we must remember what happened to prevent it happening again; on the other hand will that stop the past from being our prologue?”

“Are you trying to suggest Sir Sebastian that we are living in dangerous times?”

“Mr Snow, we are always living in dangerous times. Now do you have time to look at Uncle Jasper’s model of The Peace Conference at Versailles  made from a shoe box and Aunt Muriel’s unwanted handbag mirrors? I am sure it would make a terrific opportunity for a piece to camera which features mostly the presenter and then we could have a spot of lunch. We could have a trench lunch which is on offer in the Memory Bank, but  I have ordered  a macaroni cheese pie in a well fired roll with a bottle of cider. You will love it the pastry is so thick and crispy.


Muriel Wylie et al November 1958 and Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox 2018