They say (and they say many things) that the weather is getting very cold, and this might be the coldest winter since 1947. This will not be good considering that last week the smog in that London caused a number of deaths. It has not been a particularly healthy year given all the smallpox in Wales at the beginning of the year. One thinks of such diseases as things of the past. As Jasper pointed out in his recent talk at the Hysterical Society, entitled “Malodorous Metropolitan Maladies”, this is far from the case. He alluded to an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Glasgow’s Gorbals in 1900 the year he was born. Indeed, it even affected Florence Street where Granny Wylie lived. It was largely covered up at the time. According to Jasper, this was the origin of that well known Gorbals greeting to visitors coming through one’s door “pull up a rat and sit doon.”
Thankfully we now live in progressive times, and I have just read that British scientists (naturellement) have been awarded the Nobel Prize for discoveries around the molecular structure of nucleic acid which will have major importance in understanding the transfer of information in living material. Personally, I think it takes a lot to beat the telephone unless of course one is unfortunate enough to have a party line.
I have pointed out to Jasper that we need to prepare for the chill although I am not sure I trust Mrs Sloan (our daily woman what does, far more than Mrs Travers ever did) in the matter of access to stockpiles of paraffin for the bathroom heater. Incidentally, I have sent Mrs Sloan down to the rural bolt hole for a few days to prepare for a party we will be having there at New Year.
The Handsome Stranger offered to take her as he was planning to attend a philately meeting in Dumfries. It seems that they share an interest in stamps from behind the iron curtain and there is to be a special item on the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the Caribbean postal services. Jasper is quite pleased, he has never taken to Mrs Sloan, but then she does not indulge him in the way Mrs Travers did. Custard has been noticeable by its absence from the Wylie dessert menu since Mrs Sloan came. I can manage for a few days without her as we are out quite a lot in the hectic whirl, that is Glasgow’s exclusive west end before Christmas. Hairy Mary from Inveraray who looks after my ward Gayle (daughter of our thespian nephew Sebastian) has offered to step up for a small emolument.
Returning to the subject of the cold, I have pointed out to Jasper that as a precaution we should prepare to wrap up well and how fortuitous that McDonald’s is having a speciality fur week “in time for Christmas”. To stop any further colour draining from his face, I pointed out that one was not talking about a full coat or anything like that, but something more modest like a sable tie at £36 or if he was feeling a little more generous a ranch mink stole is only £120 and a squirrel bolero can be had for the same price. He tried to derail the conversation by reminding me that it was only last year that my beaver muff had received a new lining and general buff up. I did point out that this was preventative, avoiding greater expense later on especially if attacked by moth in the coming months.
I may have made my point as he has suggested that on our way to an early supper this evening before the theatre, we might look in the window. This is only after he has consulted the business pages of the Glasgow Herald. Jasper is worried about the economy. He feels Mr McMillan, our Prime Minister, is losing control of the government, signalled by the Bank of England holding on to deposits. No, I have no idea what this means either nor I suspect do the government, and certainly not Jasper either! I am , however , happy to report that when I took Jasper his coffee, he was pleased to report that, “Sterling is firm, Wall Street is harder and Rolls Royce has advanced after hours”. I do like an advance after hours, don’t you? This sounds positive and I am confident of success at McDonalds. I have also suggested that we call into John Smiths the booksellers in St Vincent Street where I would like to buy him an early Christmas present, a new book called The Great Tartan Myth by Phillips. The editor of the Glasgow Herald recommends it; therefore, it must be good. That at any rate should cement my case for warmth.
The countdown for Christmas has begun, signalled here by our church coffee morning on Saturday. As always, the ladies of the Guild did a splendid job. As well as a sales table of needlework and craft items, there was delicious coffee (as I say a pinch of salt even with Nescafé works wonders) and enough cake to build a cul-de-sac of witches’ houses for Hansel and Gretel. I took my little contribution along early and as you might have guessed there were gasps of amazement and cries of “Muriel, really! We cannot put that out with everything else; it is far too good.” There was mention of Escoffier and Philip Harbin which I shrugged off. “Oh” said Lottie Macaulay, “We must have a guess the weight of the cake competition and raise something for Muriel’s Home for Fallen Women.” Well, if you know anything about the Church of Scotland you will know that this in the past has been frowned upon as a game of chance and therefore unscriptural as all is preordained. Guessing the weight of a cake has been considered gambling.
Fortunately, and this happened over the summer, while we were parted, our church in Glasgow has had yet another new minister. I am , however, pleased to report that the Rev. and Mrs Galt are modernisers and Mr Galt , who has a motorbike, has even been known to take a wee refreshment with Jasper at Sloan’s in the Arcade, and Mrs Galt has a beehive hairdo and reportedly a copy of “Love me do”, which at first caused some sharp intakes of breath.
As you can imagine with modernisers and someone who is simply marvellous, it was most successful and money has been sent to both the Home for Fallen women and the remainder split between “Spectacles for Simla”, and “Woollens for West Africa.” I couldn’t stay to help wash up as I had to dash off to catch a train to help judge “The Festival of Poultry Feather Hats” at Olympia. Entries came from farmers’ wives all over the country and it was judged principally by Aage Thaarup (the Copenhagen based designer, who designed The Queen’s going away hat and who is partial to a feather) with me giving the odd little hint here and there. The only problem was that of the eight winners, three were from the Glasgow area so I hope I am not accused of bias. Aage did, however, agree with me that Mrs Cluness from Strathbungo was a clear winner with her bowler in black and tan hens’ feathers. As it turned out Mrs Cluness, who is not herself a farmer’s wife, only turned to feather hat making three years ago when the alternative on Tuesdays at the F.E. College was China painting. “I have never looked back” she clucked, “nor have I had to buy another hat.”
While I was in London, I had a rather special meeting at Coppins near Iver with a Mrs Green which I shouldn’t talk about, but as it’s you I know you won’t breathe a word to Bessie or indeed anyone else. Mrs Green is the alias of Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, who invited me to supper to ask for my advice about the forthcoming wedding of her daughter Princess Alexandra. She is to marry the Hon. Angus Ogilvy, who is Scottish and despite having been to Eton and Trinity Oxford can “make his own cup of tea.” He is in finance and is also Chair of the Friends of the Poor, as well as being widely read and a keen fisherman. It was all very convivial, she is very fond of hats and the colour blue and I shall tell you more later as I really should be thinking about bashing round to the school to see Gayle in her dress rehearsal for the ballet. However, someone is coming up the garden path…
“ Yes, Hairy Mary what is it?”
“ Mrs Wylie, a policeman is coming down the path to call, with bad news.”
“How do you know that ?”
“ T‘is the highland gift o’ the second-sight.”
“ Oh, I see; well better get the door then.”
“Good morning, Inspector, how may I help?”
“ Mrs Wylie, I am afraid I have bad news. Best sit down on that tasteful Queen Anne chair. I have to tell you that your woman what does is now a woman what did.”
“ What can you possibly mean?”
“I am afraid Mrs Sloan has been in a dreadful accident, she has been sucked to death in quicksand on the Solway Firth.”
“ How simply ghastly! I am so sorry. Mary, please stop screaming and get us all a whisky. Was she alone?”
“ No, Ma’am she was with a very handsome but as yet unnamed man.”
“ Oh, and he is he……?
To be continued
Muriel Wylie (Mrs)