Laying the Foundations

  • Posted on: 05/10/2019

Anyone brought up in the 1950s will recognise the dictates being laid down by Muriel in this week’s musings brought to you all the way from 1959. 

Tea and Sociology

“That’s the tea Mrs Wylie, with a couple of slices of the whisky flavoured fruit cake.”

“Thank you Mrs Travers, our faithful woman what does, (but not a lot). Might I say you look a little hot and bothered this afternoon? “

“Aye that’s for sure Mrs Wylie, they pickle pans give off a lot o’ heat on the fast boil. Autumn harvest’s a lot o’ work for a woman going through the change. I have fair had ma share of they sweating and swellings.”

“We don’t need to know that Mrs T, but you do seem to have had the longest change in human history. It’s a wonder you have not become a werewolf. Of course, in my dear grandmamma’s day the solution was to have a change baby.”

“Very drole Madame, but one shouldn’t make fun ‘f the afflicted, especially those who are lower down the social pyramid and who are without the advantages of a private education in a good Glasgow School and investments spread across government consolidated funds, tenement rentals and South American ranching opportunities based in Buenos Aries.”

“I take it Mrs Travers your evening class in Sociology has either commenced for the autumn or you have been on the brandy with Mr Wylie in his shed. Which reminds me, where is Mr Wylie?”

Jasper is Out and Mary is Summoned

“He has gone to the Library to prepare for the first meeting of The Hysterical Society, apparently he is giving the first lecture on The Drove Roads of Scotland and the impact of the Napoleonic Wars.”

“Did it have one?”

“It seems so.”

“Sounds riveting; remind me I am elsewhere engaged that evening, I only like cattle when they appear as Beef Wellington, if you will pardon the clever historic connection?”

“I would, if I knew what you were talking about Madame. Will there be anything else?”

“If you would just send in Mary, the Highland Nursery Nurse that will be fine.”

Very well Madame; I shall return to the beetroot chutney mines.”

A Word or Two About Gayle’s Education

“Ah Mary do come in and sit down, over there. It’s the empire style chair with the Mackintosh Square already placed on it. Do make yourself as comfortable as possible in such overwhelmingly stylish surroundings, which must be so different from your Highland earth floors, box beds, diet of oatmeal, seaweed puddings and folksy clutter.”

“Thank you Mrs Wylie I knew you were wanting to see me.”

“Goodness Mary, was it the second sight gained through generations of mystic Celtic activities around the peat fire?”

“No. I was listening at the door and anyway Mrs Travers warned me that you had a bee in your bonnet about something. I hope I am not giving cause for concern?”

“Not at all Mary, although you might tone down the ghost stories a little. Not every night needs to be Hallowe’en. No, it’s just that Mr Wylie and I are now thinking about little Gayle’s education. It is such a responsibility having a ward at our age. Naturally she will be going to a good Glasgow School with all the advantages that should bring in terms of “cultural capital” to quote my husband. Although of course he was being rather sarcastic, but we needn’t go down the socialist avenue need we? Or should I say cul-de- sac?

I want to make sure that Gayle will be at one with her little class-mates when the time comes and it has come to my attention that you have been taking her to the playpark where she has had full use of the facilities.”

Opening the Door to Anarchy?

“Yes, Mrs Wylie. I felt it was best if she got used to other children; it is after all nearly the 1960s and times are changing.”

“Not if I can help it Mary and we don’t want to open the doors to anarchy, now do we?”

“I hardly think Mrs Wylie, if you will forgive my forwardness, that allowing your ward to experience the joy of the swings in the park with other little boys and girls is opening the gates to revolution.”

“Your forwardness is to be commended Mary. I like a woman who speaks her mind even if it is one that is wrong. The swings, I agree, are a possibility, but not with a scheme child standing on the same swing shouting My friend Billy has a….. and you will forgive me if I do not continue with this rhyme as I know you had a rather sheltered upbringing yourself.”

“I do apologise Mrs Wylie, but Gayle was enjoying herself so much.”

“Life, Mary, particularly here in Scotland, is not about enjoying yourself. We wouldn’t have conquered a quarter of the world if we had been busy enjoying ourselves. Now I have prepared a little manual which I am calling ‘Miss Manners’ to help you with your work. Perhaps we might go through it together? Let me pour you some tea. No not that hand painted one, the other cup Mary, the one with the tree of life on it. If you drop it I can replace it at Woolworths. They do so much which is designed to appeal to staff.”

“Thank you, Mrs Wylie and how thoughtful. Such a deep saucer in case I should want to sup from it.”

“That’s exactly what I thought dear. Slice of whisky cake? I thought alcohol would make you feel at home. Now let’s go through this section by section.”

Section 1- Out and About

Public Parks

Swings are allowed, provided you carry with you a junior Mackintosh Square for the seat and a bottle of diluted disinfectant and some cotton wool for the chains. After all, one never knows where boys’ hands have been. In any case, gloves should be worn at all times. The see-saw is indelicate for young ladies and the ‘Witch’s Hat’ common. The slide may be experienced on a birthday but only if wearing old clothes which should be disposed of on return or placed in the pile for the Home for Fallen Women. Conversation with park keepers is not to be encouraged as they often have paraffin heaters in their huts and a disquieting look in their eyes.

Public Conveniences

Only in extremis and then the instruction “hover” should be loudly indicated. This has the advantage of preparing one for travelling abroad where such facilities border on savagery.


These are best rationed and given after meals usually in the form of a fruit boiling in a cellophane wrapper or a chocolate from a reputable company.

The following are not permitted: gobstoppers, chewing gum, bubble gum, liquorice whirls, liquorice bootlaces, liquorice pipes, sherbet fountains with liquorice straw, aniseed balls, sherbet dabs, rock, nut brittle etc., etc..

“What about ‘Lucky Bags’ Mrs Wylie?”

“They are worst of all.”

“What is wrong with these confections?”

“Common, Mary. Common!”

“But Mrs Travers told me your family made a fortune in such sweets, not to mention painless dentistry.”

“Just because one give’s birth in a stable, Mary…. And that was a long time ago.”

“What about ice cream?

“I am glad you asked – fraught with difficulty.”

Ice Cream

Naturellement I like ice cream as much as the next lady, particularly that of the Italian variety which those of us with a smattering of romantic languages call gelato. My grandmother, my heroine in all things relating to manners and etiquette, was herself an early supporter of the Italian community in Glasgow. Surprising as it may seem and despite the fact she was barely able to bend due to her belief in life limiting corsetry, she was often to be found on a Sunday afternoon having a ‘Penny Lick’ behind the counter at Mr Garibaldi’s café.

I do not, however, approve of the ‘Mr Softy’ type ice cream vans which prowl around estates with their sinister chimes purveying cones with a choice of hundreds and thousands or raspberry sauce. This can, however, be consumed in a café where in the west of Scotland the plain ice with raspberry sauce is known as a “McCallum.” As to blocks of ice cream, oysters, double nougats, floats with cream soda, these are…


“Well I was going to say beyond the pale.”

“Not common then?”

“Certainly most unacceptable. I should also have included the spearmint lolly and Cornish Mivvy. Then there is the question of the jubbly.”

“What’s that?”

Well apart from being the Devil’s work, it is a large triangular block of fruit flavoured ice in a paper which one consumes while the melted ice runs down a child’s front.”

“I take it it’s……”

“At the very top of my list. As to eating in the street, absolutely not, with the exception of a Fishermans Friend or blackcurrant pastel if a coughing fit is experienced.

Fun Fairs and The Circus

Under no circumstances, as these are full of dodgems and odd characters, candy floss which is very common, goldfish which die within two days and coconuts which no one knows what to do with. A family visit to the Kelvin Hall Carnival is permitted, but only if restricted to the merry go round with antique horses and combined with a performance of Carnival of the Animals at the St Andrews Halls.

The circus is a difficult one, as the clowns can be rather scary and the animals quite rude. However, I am no kill joy so one visit might be advisable perhaps as part of a birthday or festive outing.


This is educational and a chimp’s tea party can be a salutary lesson in how not to entertain and a photograph with a monkey or parrot makes a suitable souvenir. I tend to agree with Jasper that riding on elephants is a little demeaning for so noble an animal. Some Eau de Cologne in the handbag is advisable for such visits,

“Mrs Wylie, these are very useful, but I am wondering if you have any positive thoughts on what I might do to prepare Gayle for school and make sure her manners are perfect?”

“I thought that everything I have been outlining here is very positive! I do have some suggestions for other activities. Perhaps I might get a little ahead of ourselves and flip to page 46. Yes, Mrs Travers do come in.”

“I just thought you might be in need of a fresh pot Mrs Wylie and there’s an Askit Pooder, Mary. I thought you might be in need of it, what with the high level of concentration required for school registration preparation. Ah jis’ let ma weans run free like the wind, yoose are only a child the wance, Mr Wylie not withstanding.”

“Presumably Mrs T, that is why your Billy’s school days were followed by prison. Too much free expression led to a loss of freedom.”

“Aye Mrs Wylie, but he could entertain himself wi’ nothing but his imagination.”

“Let’s get on.”

Favoured Activities

I believe poise is everything and so I think the week might usefully have a ballet class. One never knows when one might need to be a butterfly visiting a flower.

It is never too early to learn the art of shopping and so a morning in a department store is advisable as it combines an introduction to commerce with the vacuum change systems and an early grasp of display techniques which is useful for any housewife of the future.

The Christmas visit to Santa I will want to do myself, as I feel the open question “and what would you like little girl?” is an invitation to greed. I want does not get and that is an important lesson for a child to learn.

Hosting a Party

It is never too early to become a simply marvellous hostess. There is much to be learnt from early exposure to Musical Chairs (life can be brutal), pin the tail on the donkey (how do you think I was so well equipped for S.O.E.?) It’s all about preparation and positioning.”

“Blowing dried peas with a straw from a starting position to a tea cup on its side, I guess that that would be strategic?”

“No Mary, that is common.”

“What about a magician ?”

“Now Mary, if I might say so, you are beginning to get the hang of it as this encourages the idea that things are not always what they seem. Being magical is very useful in a marriage as you will have seen by my example.”

“There’s someone at the door Madame.”

“Second sight again?”

“No; I heard the doorbell ring.”



“No, it’s a door-pull not a door bell, that would be..”


“Spot on Mary, now take these notes and digest them and we will have a little get together again next week when suitable toys will be on the menu for section two.”

“Mrs Wylie..”

“Yes, Mrs T.”

“Sorry but Inspector McRumble to see you”

“Show him in. That will be all Mary, Mrs T.”

A Visit from the Inspector

“Ah Mrs Wylie good to see you again. I wonder if I might have a word about your involvement with a Mr Softy Ice Cream Van at the Flower Show?”

“Well I never Mrs T, I thought she didn’t approve of Mr Softy – do you think I might have a glass of water for these Askit Pooders?”

“I thought you might have learnt by now that life here is like one long magician’s party, nothing is quite what it seems and no one is quite what they seem. Follow me, Mary. I am going to join you, that beetroot is nearly ready for the jars and I am sweating, I mean gently glowing like a …. oh never mind. Perhaps we’ll scrap round the Askit Pooders. I have some whisky left over from that cake.”

“Just a drop?”

“Half a bottle actually!”


Muriel Wylie

October 1959