I do so enjoy our little weekly conversations and it must be such a treat for you to listen while I speak. I know you are reading my bon mots, but I am sure you hear my voice just as I sense you are hanging on my every perfectly enunciated word. Thank you for allowing me into your homes however humble they may be. Some I imagine even with little but linoleum. It is such a privilege I know, but perhaps it helps to understand that sometimes even I get something out of our encounters as I pause and think about you, as the words tumble from head and across the keyboard of my faithful Royal typewriter.
I quite imagine you imagining the sound of my manicured nails on the keys, the ping as the carriage reaches the end of yet one more perfectly phrased sentence and the rustle of carbon paper and underlying copy sheet. I do so adore carbon paper don’t you? It has something to do with the smell. Sometimes I think it would be interesting to undertake a study about the fragrance of stationery. A forward thinking perfumer might well make a small fortune if he or she were to market “notes” of foolscap and underlying “hints” of quarto and a bubble bath with the “aroma” of a bottle of Quink Blue-Black fountain pen ink. It would be heavenly. I am sure you agree. Just for interest, today I am wearing Guerlain with no added stationery.
Talking about allowing people into one’s home, wasn’t it simply marvellous to be able to watch the State Opening of Parliament on television for the first time. I am so glad it was on the B.B.C.. I find that commercial channel so déclassé with its constant interruptions to promote toothpaste or washing powder. As usual Her Majesty did not put a foot wrong, which must be difficult under the weight of the crown.
Jasper of course stayed in his shed as he is a socialist and has a chip on his shoulder and viewed the whole thing, “as yet another upholding of the pyramid of privilege.” He then went for lunch to the Western Club in Exchange Square, a well known bastion of working class agitation. Here he partook of those essential components of proletarian sustenance – consommé, lemon sole and chocolate soufflé. Honestly! At least I had Mrs Travers (my daily woman what does but not a lot) for company and even she changed “ma pinny”, put on a clean head square and refreshed her lipstick for the State Trumpeters.
The whole thing was a wonderful display of good diction and splendid sitting. As I have said, on many occasions, I cannot stress the importance of good sitting too strenuously, it is the very foundation of civilisation along with a good set of flatware, a tastefully presented chimney piece and a well fringed standard lamp.
There is much we could discuss this week in the sphere of current events and international affairs. I think for example of the current famine in China, the Coronation of Pope John XXIII and the opening of the new UNESCO building in Paris. I am, however, mindful of a bulging postbag and I do not mean just those letters from my Cousin Lulubelle.
She is in America to see my nephew, Sebastian the actor, and his roommate Dimitri, a ballet dancer. I am quite sure you will remember his grand arabesque , which has left many breathless over the years especially in Carlisle, both the right and, so I have heard, wrong sides too. Lulubelle who is my business partner flew on the first transatlantic flight of the new Boeing 707 with Pan American. Her letters are usually full of advice regarding our interior decoration business and how I must pay more attention to trends and transactions rather than lampshades and thread counts.
I can read those later, more important are your letters or rather letters containing worries which you look to me to solve. How lovely that you see me as the good fairy in the nursery tale that is modern life. Understandably many of your concerns reveal worries as to how you might deal with the forthcoming winter and yet still maintain a level of marvellousness and gracious living as the thermometer drops along with other things. Fear not I am here.
The Onset of Winter
Dear Mrs Wylie,
The onset of winter really depresses me. My husband who normally spends a lot of time out of doors playing with his onions and his curly kale is driven inside and gets on my nerves. I do take a little tonic wine but I am at my wits’ end. What should I do?
Edna from East Kilbride
P.S. We cannot afford a heated greenhouse.
Thank you for your letter, somehow I could just tell when you mentioned tonic wine, it was East Kilbride. Never mind we all have our crosses to bear and you seem to have more than most.
As with most things planning is the key to winter survival. You want to draw up ‘A Winter Emergency Plan’. Now I can hear you saying Edna, “but there is no emergency”. Exactly – so you need to create the impression that there is one. I am talking “climate of fear” here. Keep mentioning that you have heard this is going to be the worst winter since the Ice Age. Fuel and food may run out, pipes will burst with results that will make Niagara Falls look like the trickle of a bath tap needing a new washer.
Point to the obvious signs – the swallows left early, there are more berries on the trees and bushes than ever before, squirrels are burying chestnuts deep because “they know what is coming.” There is no need to worry about the accuracy of these statements. Most men will not have a clue what a swallow is, let alone when it left. If you have a “fay” friend known to have the second sight, (most of us do), invite her in. Sit her in front of the fire with a large refreshment and I guarantee in no time she will see signs of doom in blue flames and fairies going up the chimney.
Make sure that your store cupboard is running low on his favourite items. This is easily done by relocating these items elsewhere – you don’t want to make a rod for your own back. So as he forages for his favourite pickled onions or that much looked forward to bottle of pale ale, wring your hands and shrug your shoulders and simply say one or two well chosen words and phrases such as “dockworkers’ strike, they say it will last months” or “what do you expect after the lack of rain this summer.” I guarantee, Edna, that he will be so disheartened by this point you can introduce your ‘Winter Survival Plan’
Make him head of logistics with a whole range of tasks to complete to make sure you emerge in the Spring of 1959 unscathed. These should include a large number of activities to keep him out of the way in the attic, such as checking the cold water tank, wrapping strips of old curtain around pipes and setting traps for mice as they “might just attack that sack of potatoes (the one you sent him to the farm 10 miles away to buy because of the great impending King Edward Shortage) “which will see you through to February, God willing.”
There is a limit to the amount of time you can keep him in the attic, so think about an indoor space such as under the stairs. Here he can comfortably be occupied for several days cleaning it out and putting up shelves for emergency supplies such as tins and candles. Suggest white paint “in case the electricity goes off.”
There will come a time when you will need to put him outside for fresh air. He will not be happy at least initially, but a few days previously spent encouraging the thought that various tree branches are looking dicey, will pay dividends. Try “they say this winter can expect some of the strongest winds seen since 1947”, or “a hurricane is coming in from the Azores. Is a hurricane bad, Darling? ” When he comes in exhausted from sawing branches off old cherry trees, looking for a cup of tea, you should say “Does our insurance cover fences.” An unhappy evening will then be spent looking for the suitcase of “wur papers.” The question of where the stop cock in the garden is precisely located should be kept in reserve for a day following a fall of snow. This induces panic like nothing else and in no time he will be outside with a shovel and the big stop-cock-turner-thingy.
I am sure you are going to have the most marvellously peaceful winter.
Let me know how you get on
Keeping the Children Amused
My children become very badly behaved as it gets colder and they are inside all day wrecking the house, much of my furniture is on the never-never. Have you any advice I am witless?
Anne from Whithorn
Dear Witless from Whithorn,
Apart from the obvious advice to never get involved with “the never-never” start the day as you mean to go on. Sit them down in the kitchen on little footstools at a small table. Keep them warm by lighting the oven and keeping the door open. Read them Hansel and Gretel. That should do the trick.
P.S. I wouldn’t mention this to your social work department.
Dear Mrs Wylie,
My doctor says I should take up Scottish Country Dancing to take myself out of myself this winter. I have never done this before and I have no idea about the steps. Added to which I come from Newton Stewart originally where they are known for their “variations” in the matter of country dancing. I fear I may make a fool of myself. What is a girl to do?
Yours in confusion
Brian from Barrhead
On a number of levels I am worried about you, however, one step at a time if you’ll forgive the pun! Let me put your mind at rest regarding Scottish Country Dancing.
Firstly most people have never done country dancing before, they just think they have. Secondly no one knows the steps, which makes it such a good hobby. I do sympathise with you regarding your close connections with Newton Stewart. Their variations are the stuff of legend and as such I suspect are simply to gain psychological advantage over performers from other towns, who have fewer close relatives if you get my meaning.
Brian I sense you are not telling me everything. What do you intend to wear for country dancing?
Dear Mrs Wylie
I found your suggestions regarding my badly behaved children in Whithorn rather cruel and hardly in the spirit of modern child development…… “Stop that Senga, the cat does not go in the top loader, Billy come here you know your father does not like you driving the car you are only 7, watch that wall….”
Perhaps I was a little harsh, but my husband Jasper says it was the way his Granny Wylie reared him and it hasn’t done him any harm.
Try the sitting room in front of the fire and read them The Water Babies. Fear of being sent to sweep chimneys and the very sight of Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid is enough to bring any badly behaved child into line.
I am wondering where your husband is in all this?
Dear Mrs Wylie,
I thought a white dress and a tartan sash pinned on the shoulder with a fetching fall of heather in shades of mauve. What do you think?
I am not sure what to think at all, but I like mauve. It suggests a certain understated gaiety. You certainly know how to take yourself out of yourself.
Are you by any chance the same Brian who played Rosalind in my nephew Sebastian’s production of Shakespeare’s As you Like it which is a play by well known playwright William Shakespeare?
Dear Mrs Wylie
Yes it is. I wore mauve as Rosalind too; not with heather though.
Dear Mrs Wylie,
My husband has deserted us and has taken up country dancing with a floozy from Newton Stewart. You cannot fool me – imagine believing I would fall for the idea that my husband’s country dance partner is called Brian. Anyone would think I had come up the Clyde on a tea biscuit!
We need to talk
Well dear friends I hope my sharing just a few of the items that are in this week’s postbag will help you get through the beginning of winter. At least you know that whatever your troubles there are others with far worse problems. You don’t live in Newton Stewart. Anyway I must dash Jasper and I are going to see A Certain Smile with Joan Fontaine and Rossano Brazzi . It’s about a girl who falls in love with her boyfriend’s married uncle.
We are taking Lady Pentland-Firth, it’s the sort of story with which she identifies. It’s from the novel by Françoise Sagan and features a song by Jonny Mathis. I hope it is not too racy. The last thing one wants in early winter is too much raciness.