Muriel’s Musings: The Schism Widens

  • Posted on: 12/05/2019

Muriel and Jasper’s blog continues to find a home here with Artemis. This week Muriel shows her true colours in the Scotland of 1959.  

A Surprisingly Good Cup of Coffee

“Thank you Mrs Travers (my woman what does but not a lot). That is really a most delicious cup of coffee, sometimes you surprise me.”

“Sometimes, Mrs Wylie, I surprise myself and I suppose I am something of a wonder given that I am almost entirely held together by support stockings and unmentionable medical aids.”

“I don’t think we should be talking about medical aids, mentionable or otherwise, before luncheon Mrs T. This is not Paisley you know. Is that the Blue Mountain Blend?”

“No actually, it is instant. We’ve run oot o’ coffee beans and anyway Mr Wylie has been using the coffee grinder for some unknown purpose in his shed and it is as the experts say – done.”

“I am not even going to ask, but one would never know it is not Blue Mountain.”

“It’s a trick a foreign gentleman taught me, among other things  –  don’t judge, it was war time and I had weans to feed. Anyway if you make a pot of coffee strong enough and add a pinch of salt it tastes like the real thing.”

Turkish Delight and Secret Rendez Vous

“Was he Turkish perchance, I’ve always liked an Ottoman.” 

“Haven’t the foggiest, it was dark at the time, although he did leave oor Billy wi’ a fez so I thought he was a magician.  Come tae think o’ it he was in many ways. Happy days; sometimes you know I miss the last Unpleasantness Mrs W.”

“Although when the Gestapo removed my lipstick and powder, when I was interrogated, I thought my end had come. I sent them the bill afterwards  –  it was Elizabeth Arden after all.”

“Quite right Mrs W. By the way do you want a pancake and jam. I’ve just made up some batter and young Gayle is goin’ to help me as it’s Hairy Mary from Inveraray’s day aff and she’s gone to a séance in Shawlands.”

“No thank you Mrs T, delicious though they are. I am watching my waistline. In any case I have my musings to write, my readers will be wondering where I have been.”

“Are you going to tell them the truth Mrs Wylie that you have been in Panama with the Handsome Stranger getting Margot Fonteyn oot o’ prison as she was suspected of being involved in a coup against the government of Ernesto La Guadia?”

“Unfortunately Mrs T my readers are going to have to remain in the dark about my work in the shadows with the Handsome Stranger , but I have plenty to tell of a domestic nature which will keep them enthralled.”

“I don’t doubt it Mrs Wylie; and its hot Quiche Lorraine and salad for lunch followed by junket in case Mr Wylie asks.”

“I think we should keep him in the dark about that – you know how he hates mixing hot and cold food and he says junket is for the sick room.”

Gracious Living Is In High Demand

I must begin my billet-doux dear readers by apologising for my absence in your lives in recent weeks. It must have been very difficult for you, but I trust you have been clinging on to marvellouness. At the end of the day it is what counts.

Life has been very hectic. at least mine has. Yours has probably been more mundane. As you know I have been all over “the airts and pairts” since the Secretary of State decided that I must help with the modernisation of Scotland.

My embracing of the Scandinavian sticky oot leg in Scottish furniture design and my promotion of modern colour schemes and textile designs has been seen as something of a watershed. I am at the spearhead of fashion it seems so you would do best to cling to my duster coats, metaphorically speaking of course – how am I to know if you have washed hands? And satin marks so easily.

This week for example I have been in Edinburgh and St Andrews, dispensing pearls of wisdom and fabric samples. I shouldn’t really say anything as Senate has to approve but St Andrews is considering a whole new faculty with the foundation of The Muriel Wylie School of Gracious Living at its epicentre. I expect this would involve me in graduations, and golf but I have already said there will have to be changes and I consider the award of degrees using a fragment of John Knox’s trousers hidden in the Chancellor’s cap rather unsavoury, even if it does receive a thorough sapple through by Mrs Travers with “lux –  the soap of the stars”.

As to the colour of my gown I have said “think pink.” I have suggested they also think quick as Glasgow, which I have always considered a very good varsity, are hot on their heels and I look très chic against the grey of Bute Hall . Regarding golf, do I really look like a woman who likes golf? No, exactly! I see you think like me – it’s all ghastly clothes and wide bottoms. Fine for Jasper and Bunty Haystack, but not moi.

In Dispute

Talking of John Knox, you will be aware that I have been in dispute with The Church over their refusal to allow non Scottish traditional soups into the Soup and Pudding luncheons which I help to organise for fundraising purposes. My Mulligatawny soup caused furore and I have since been somewhat ostracized by the committee who consider that I have tried to usurp the old ways, that is to say replace leek and potato or lentil and bacon with concoctions that are considered “ outrageous”.

There has been much pursing of thin lips and folding of condemnatory arms and attempts to exclude me from the flower rota and the Women’s Guild. They forgot, however, that they are dealing with a woman who is S.O..E trained and also has the keys to the cupboard containing the pedestals, vases and chicken wire. Of course, unknown to most of the ladies, I also have influence with the principle supplier of garden flowers Lady Pentland-Firth who because she likes Jasper, has declared her garden off limits to the rota ladies who are normally allowed to plunder at will.

The Gay Garden

I also have a majority share holding along with Cousin Lulubelle in  a relatively new venture, ‘The Gay Garden’. Cousin Lulubelle says that as well as supplying the furnishings for the modern house we should also furnish the gardens of lScotland.  So I am forced to deal in alyssum and lobelia, gnomes, wishing wells and fairies at the bottom of the garden. The ‘Five Gnomes Go Camping’ set with wooden caravan built  to scale, “ideal for the rockery” has been a best seller, if not exactly in the best taste. As Cousin Lulubelle says, “Muriel hunny lamb, y’all cannot run a business just selling the things y’all like and garden gnomes is big bucks.” Jasper is delighted. He loves his gnome by his shed. 

Flower Market Cornered

On the positive side this has meant that I have been virtually the only lady locally with access to high quality flowers. The exception being Bunty Haystack,  the rural mystery writer, but her garden is largely composed of highly poisonous flowers and plants as she needs them for her “research.”  Many of her victims of crime meet their demise as the result of imbibing a beautiful, but toxic, salad or a deadly pre-dinner cocktail.  Few are keen to avail themselves of her borders.

This put me in something of a strong position for Sunday services and I have been able to present a weekly “festival of fragrance” and “spectacle of colour” in the church. Not only this, but I was able to triumph at the Spring Flower Festival with a veritable rainbow of colours. I swept the board in terms of prizes.  My nephew Sebastian sent some very good ideas which helped me to win. Not that I am in the least bit competitive.

Sebastian helps with the Language of Flowers

You may recall that Sebastian is a thespian who made his name in Shakespeare’s Richard III which is a very good play written by well known Shakespearean writer William Shakespeare. Following a misunderstanding he went to America (Sebastian that is not William Shakespeare; he only went to London or Anne Hathaway’s Cottage) where he know lives with some other very theatrical chaps in “the village” and is making a name for himself as a method actor.

When he was a struggling actor between jobs at The Gaiety Theatre, Ayr he often worked at a Glasgow florists and picked up many things including interesting ways with foliage and of course there was his signature arrangement for using minimal blooms to great effect  – “Hiding in the Bushes.”

It was Sebastian who not unsurprisingly suggested my entries for the Festival should be on a literary theme and he proved to be right. My green carnations and fans on a mirror represented Oscar Wilde and Lady Windermere and received the Queensberry Quaich. My ‘Calamus and Leaves of Grass’ arrangement  a tribute to Walt Whitman – was a silver medal winner, although I have to say I have never read much of his poetry (apart from the lines in Now Voyager  with Bette Davis). However, Sebastian, whose thoughts I value, says there are many messages which others will understand. Certainly ‘Ophelia Distributing Pansies’, attracted attention as did my ‘Tiara of Violets’ against a lyre background in honour of the ancient Greek Poet Sappho. Personally I worried that this might all be a bit too clever (rather like Sebastian).

Traditional v Modern Ways With Flowers

I am, however, pleased to have made a stand. Although I do wonder if perhaps I have gone a little too far with replacing the traditional Sunday arrangement with a Hogarth curve, or line of beauty. I am not sure if it was the two bent pieces of broom (soak them overnight in a basin) which caused the sharp intake of breath or the Chianti bottle used to support them. Anyway what I like about Hogarth’s idea of art, beauty and life (even if he did take some of it from the Renaissance painters)  is his idea that it is variety which counts, after all nature itself is full of shapes and colours that are different and that difference should be celebrated, don’t you think? Hogarth used to meet his friends at a coffee house, in London to discuss his ideas. I wonder if he took a pinch of salt in his coffee.

Au revoir

Muriel Wylie

May 1959