Muriel’s Musings: Damage Limitation

  • Posted on: 26/09/2019

Muriel and her intrepid troupe are returned to you once again with a bit of 1950’s themed marvellousness!

 Winter is Coming

Oh delicious coffee, just what I need after a hectic morning in Boots, the Chemist stocking up for winter. One never knows what lies ahead and one can never have too much in the way of Askit Pooders and Friar’s Balsam. I also picked up some Mag Sulph in case Mrs Travers, our woman what does but not a lot, takes a boil or carbuncle and some Fuller’s Earth for my face pack. I also thought I should buy a little olive oil in case wee Gayle, (Sebastian’s daughter and our ward) takes an ear-ache. This reminds me, I must look out her Pixie Hoods.

I also got some arrowroot in case of sore tums and some menthol crystals in case Jasper takes the cold. I believe in being prepared and winter is coming. Mrs Travers can pick it all up later when she goes to MacFisheries for kippers. I don’t want to risk ruining my nails which I have just had done on the ground floor at Daly’s. You now find me in their coffee shop, having slipped off a sling back under the table.

Muriel Holds Court in Daly’s

“Can I tempt you to a custard slice Mrs Wylie?”

“Well Doris you can. I shouldn’t but I will, one owes it to oneself. How is your Jim?”

“Oh as well as can be expected Mrs Wylie. The oxygen tent helps a great deal, so can’t complain. Ooh here comes Miss Drummond from Furs, she’s well connected in here. I had better shift these cups and I will bring you your slice.”

“Good Morning Mrs Wylie, you are looking simply marvellous this morning. Will we be seeing you in Coats and Mantles today?”

“You are too kind Miss Drummond. I might pop up and have a little look; my old beaver is quite done in and there is already a change in the air. We must be prepared.”

“Indeed Mrs Wylie and I have a rather nice white mink collar that might just set off one of your famous swing back coats. Look good with a light checked tweed you know.”

“I am persuaded Miss Drummond but a little later I am supposed to be meeting Professor Sir Boosey Hawkes of the Music Department and the very good varsity here in Glasgow.”

“Oh you mean the gentleman who is an expert in early music notation scratched by monks on pieces of slate and still playable today on his selection of period instruments with his ground breaking community choir, Sang School.”

“The very same.”

The Joy of the Department Store

That was Doris the waitress she has been here for a hundred years or so it seems. She lives in Shettleston with her invalid husband Jim, never complains; always keeps me a seat and a slice. You also met Miss Drummond the well past retirement head of Furs, Coats and Mantles. She is famous for her red hair worn high and her even higher high heels. Higher still are her pencilled in eyebrows which give her the appearance of constantly looking as if she has seen something nasty in cold storage. Perhaps it has something to do with the rumour that she was once the fancy piece of one of the Store’s directors. It would certainly explain why an 80 year old is still walking the floor – still, better than the street.

One sees all of life in a Department Store. When I am not here in Dalys, I frequent Copland & Lye, Pettigrew & Stevens and Trerons and of course MacDonalds down in Buchanan Street.

I imagine that they will be an institution which never goes out of fashion. Where else can one spend a day on deep pile carpets, skilfully getting samples out of the girl on the Estee Lauder counter, bumping into friends, resting while pretending to be interested in a Parker Knoll chair and having someone else pick up the heating bills. And then there are the simply marvellous window and counter displays.

Department Stores are like starched napkins, cocktail onions and Mackintosh Squares – visible signs of how far we have come in our journey towards civilisation.

Jasper’s Birthday Present

I motored up from the Rural Bolt Hole earlier in the week. It was rather exciting as my dear husband Jasper, he of the Museum in a Shed and countless useless articles on local history (Great Village Water Pumps currently in research) gave me a rather thrilling present for my birthday.

This reminds me thank you for all your cards, telephone calls, and gifts – so unnecessary. If you forgot, try not to feel guilty and pretend you have not seen me in the street. As you know I prefer to give than to receive and there is little I want for in the way of material comfort. If I might just say, do not expect an invitation to my annual and much sort after Christmas Cocktail Party with the canapé selection including mini chicken and mushroom vol-au-vents and glazed sausages on sticks, and with my latest addition to gracious living for vegetarian guests the festive swan scene made from hard boiled eggs. All simply marvellous I assure you.

The list is closed.

Oh, I am almost forgetting! Yes, my present! I am the proud owner of a tiny little car of my own. It is called a Mini and is only 10 feet long and has an “848cc four cylinder transverse engine and a top speed of 70 miles an hour” for those of you interested in such things. It can take a driver, three passengers and luggage, well hand luggage in my case. The Mini has been designed by Alec Issigonis who, like moi, has a flair for style. He also designed the Morris Minor.

Jasper is rather worried as I can go round corners on two wheels which he says is not a good idea. Sometimes he is so belt and braces. I feel it will be the spirit of the next decade and I also feel quite liberated. Of course it will need some new ensembles as some of my sticky-oot skirts threaten to inhibit the breathing of the other passengers.

A Fashion Show for Sinners!

I believe one of the greatest of the seven deadly sins is envy and is so very responsible for many of the world’s ills, but having said that sometimes it is so very satisfying. When I drove round to pick up Mrs Lottie Macaulay in my birthday present, she was so green with envy I could almost see the horns pushing their way through her felt hat which, by the way, did not go well with the rest of her outfit. Some people just cannot accessorise. They are to be pitied. I feel an autumn lecture with demonstration coming on.

Lottie was barely able to speak at the committee meeting of The Home for Fallen Women which we held in the golf club on Wednesday. As you know I am Chair of this most important of Glasgow Charities and this autumn I am planning a Fashion Show with some of the garments that are presented to the charity for the Fallen Women and the results of their falling. Well not exactly, for I must be truthful as I for one have no desire to wear someone else’s old clothes so I shall be wearing a few of my older garments and subsequently donate them to the women.

This is a particularly busy time of year for my philanthropic endeavours as September sees the peak of the falling season, the inevitable result of too many well attended Christmas and New Year parties. The moral of this story is that tinsel becomes easily tarnished and never regains its shine. So girls, remember go steady on the Babycham at the office party and under no circumstances accept an invitation to the Stationery Cupboard, even for extra carbon paper. It is just not worth it. In the event you find yourself with an unexpected addition to your in-tray, our number is in the book.

Muriel, A National Treasure

Now I am sure you are all wondering about what happened at the Flower Show. I cannot say too much because as you know I am still working in the shadows. Quite frankly at my age I should be retired but my wartime training in S.O.E. makes me one of the nation’s most effective agents. As the Handsome Stranger said to me only recently, “Muriel we need you. Who else could pick an outfit which goes so effortlessly from day into night and take out an enemy of all we hold dear with a blow of a beautifully manicured flat palm of the hand on the nose?”

This is true and one has to use one’s talents. Not that I used them in the case of the comrades who suddenly became as late as the trophies at the Flower Show, despite what the police think. No; that was quite unexpected and we had to act quickly as there was a risk to the national interest if the comrades had been discovered in an upright position at the committee table with a well fired roll and sausage in their hands, completely late. They were after all our guests on a cultural exchange, but of course they were not all they seemed. I shouldn’t be telling you this. so keep it to yourself. I know I can trust you.

A Useful Diversion At The Flower Show

There was a small window of opportunity as the prizes having been presented and the tea served, the Women’s Guild were entertaining the audience with a selection of flower themed songs and recitations. Attentions were therefore diverted away from the main tent to the performance marquee where a stage had been erected for the good ladies of the guild. As Miss Polly Wanton (bunch of pinks,second prize) was embarking on Lily of Laguna, the Handsome Stranger, the Prof, Jasper, Mrs Travers and I went into action.

We were assisted by the completely new and controversial display of cottagers who had been persuaded to take part in “A Living Border” running the whole length of one side of Judges’ Marquee. This consisted of various village worthies dressed as flowers in a tableau where they variously interacted with each other and spoke of their lives as hardy perennials or annuals. I wrote the script. The Women’s Guild had made the costumes.

The participants had taken a well earned rest to have a wee refreshment and watch the concert and they had left their flower costumes in a pile beside the gnomes and windmill at the edge of the living border. We quickly dressed the comrades as a delphinium (lovely shade of blue) and an anemone (pale pink) with headdresses made from wire and Mrs Macgilvary’s mother’s old camiknickers and placed the bodies in two attractive wooden wheelbarrows ( £1 guinea from the local nursery – just give my name). The only difficulty was prizing the half eaten well fired rolls and sausage out of the somewhat stiff hands. The late comrades were then wheeled in plain sight out of the flower show having apparently fainted during the presentation which is a most plausible alibi.

An Ice Cream Van and Its Uses

The wilted flowers were loaded onto one of the new “Mr Softee” ice cream vans, which turned out to be a mobile office for the Handsome Stranger who is not only good at counter intelligence, but also 99s, double nougats and raspberry sauce dribbling as well. Fortunately the village, being somewhat traditional, was not overly amused by the newcomer with his strange soft ice cream preferring a more traditional product from Mr Garibaldi Biscoti, the Italian confectioner who makes a famous ice cream float with cream soda.

The early disappearance of the van was largely unnoticed by the villagers already resentful of this incomer who had not “aye bin” since time immemorial and even further back. The Handsome Stranger drove the van out of the village with the tinkle playing so as to look normal and not give rise to suspicion. The comrades were placed standing upright at the open hatch, one with his hand on the ice cream machine, the other grasping the raspberry sauce container as if his life depended upon it. Which it didn’t.

The Professor Arrives

“Hello Mrs Wylie.”

“Oh good morning Professor. Care to join me for some coffee and a custard slice?”

“Don’t mind if I do, Mrs Wylie. Thank you.”

“Any news on the ice cream front?”

“Yes. I must say I am not really a fan of that Mr Whippy stuff.”

“Nor me.”

“Look I cannot say too much, but the comrades are heading back on a cargo boat, having apparently accidently died from falling into the Clyde after a particularly hospitable evening at a bagpipe workshop.”

“So no repercussions?”

“Well there are always repercussions Mrs W. This is a very cold, Cold War and it will soon be winter. Have you stocked up at the chemist by the way?”

“Yes, only this morning, I could take out the whole of Kelvinside with my Askit pooders.”

“I like a woman who plans ahead. No, there will be something mark my words. We are not entirely sure what they have been up to, but that incident on the grouse moor was odd.”

“You mean Bunty Haystack’s busted bahookie?”

“I do indeed Mrs Wylie.”

“Anyway what next, Professor?”

Queen and Country and Starched Napkins

“Well on behalf of the Handsome Stranger and all at ‘Mother’s’ can I thank you, especially for helping at the Flower Show.”

“Oh I always help at the Flower Show, Professor. One cannot ignore a 150 year old tradition. It’s what makes us the country we are, not that Jasper would agree.”

“No, I mean for coming up with the story that the disappearing flower costumes had been taken by mistake for the Fashion Show for the Fallen Women.”

“Happy to oblige Professor; only now, for the sake of continuity I will have to run up two costumes one for a blue delphinium and one for a pale pink anemone.”

“All for Queen and country Mrs Wylie and, might I say, she is very grateful.”

“That is good to know Professor, sometimes I wonder what this country will be like in sixty or so years time. Will there still be Queen and country, decency, honesty, integrity and starched napkins?

“Best not think about that too much Mrs Wylie. We will all be pushing up daisies that’s for sure. There will, I am sure, be a Flower Show. It’s ‘aye bin’ as they say since the dawn of time and even longer. Now, that coffee and by the way would you consider joining my new choir, you have a voice that is beyond description.”


“ Pure? Yes, exactly. Pure what I am not sure, it is hard to find the right words.”

“You are too kind.”

“Not at all, we must keep you on side.”

“Just so long as it is not pure murder!”

à bientôt

Muriel Wylie

September 1959