Observations on Autumn

  • Posted on: 26/10/2018

A Price to Pay

The wind has blown most of the leaves from the trees. A few are still barely clothed but most are skeletal. A desiccated carpet of gold tawny brown and touches of red lies deep across lawns and paths. The needles of larch are in gutters and under slates, their acid nature already rotting roof timbers in secret. The moon is bright and full and the broad copper ring which surrounds it is, they say, a sign of snow and a hard winter to come.

They do of course say many things, prompted by the activities of squirrels and the abundance of berries on the rowans.  It is a sign of doom, or at least a sign of things unknown, yet to come. For those who remember last year, or the years before, the berries are no lesser or greater in number, but in a country where Presbyterianism runs deep optimism is seen as a character flaw. It may have been a summer like no other, but “we will pay for it the morrow,” for there is always a price to pay for enjoyment.

Preparing for Winter is Hard Work

In town and country the inhabitants of “old Caledonia stern and wild” are preparing for the clocks to go back, when the days will be short and the nights long. There is nothing to do but face it head on and telephone the coal merchant and the log man. For some this is such a serious matter that fuel sheds are full enough to employ the stokers of the Queen Mary on a transatlantic crossing. Providing that is “we’ve no’ bin short changed”. Best therefore to stand at the kitchen window and count  “sacks in and sacks oot.” If you happen to live in one of the more salubrious parts of Glasgow or Edinburgh and have adopted the official patois of these enclaves (where a piano, standard lamp and a bowl of fruit. even if no one is sick are marks of respectability) you will “count the saecks in and out.” You will however, betray your social origins by asking “the wee mannie”, to put the aforementioned saecks of coal into “the dunny.”

In between keeping an eye on refuelling, as if you are about to engage the comrades’ Arctic fleet, you are busy with a multitude of activities, designed to fend off weather related disasters. Summer curtains come down and those with a good thick interlining go up. Pipes are lagged with torn strips of old blankets and the reflector of the standby two-bar electric fire is polished to mirror finish guaranteed to heat a room and receive communications from outer space. Store cupboards are bursting with bottled fruit and fur coats have been brought out of storage. When the men are not busy trying to manage the leaf fall they are shutting up the green house, checking the wick on the paraffin heater is trimmed and that the car has a shovel and a tine box with a candle and a box of matches.

Cat in a Box

Jasper Wylie is in his shed (which is a museum) having put up a tolerable show of nailing down a bit of errant felt. Having failed he has telephoned the odd job man and has spent a more enjoyable couple of hours sorting out some objects to display at the forthcoming Hysterical, sorry, Historical Society’s Hallowe’en Night. As well as the guest speaker, folklorist  Mrs Mamie MacDougall who is giving an illustrated talk on “Witches and Warlocks in Scotland – Fun and Fancy” Jasper is going to do a spooky show and tell, with prizes for the most spine chilling story.

To stimulate discussion he has been searching through his “reserve collection”, i.e. those items not on display and kept in a range of alphabetically arranged shoes boxes. So far he has come up with a child’s boot and the skeleton of a cat found in a local chimney and both considered to be important artefacts relating to protection of premises. These and other items he has labelled and set out on a series of wooden trays covered with dried leaves, which he feels lends a pleasing and seasonal effect o his display and is now reading The Herald with a glass of the water of life.

What To Do at the Weekend

He is wondering if Muriel will let him go and see Shirley Bassey who is at the Glasgow Empire at both 6.25 pm and 8.40pm. She is, he has heard, “provocative and entertaining”, so it is highly likely he will be banned from attending, especially as Mr Macaulay, the bungalow builder, has already seen her and Muriel considers Mr Macaulay to be somewhat “common.”

There is Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer by well known playwright Oliver Goldsmith at the Citizens’ Theatre. However, this is in The Gorbals and there is insufficient time to arrange an armed guard for Muriel. Looks like it will have to be South Pacific at the Gaumont , but “we have seen that” so that leaves D’Oyly Carte and Patience at The King’s Theatre which is entirely Muriel’s sort of thing.

A Librarian Who Is Moving With the Times

The shed is warming up nicely and there is something comforting about the smell of paraffin and whisky. The same cannot be said about General De Gaulle who has declared that the War in Algeria no longer serves any purpose. “That is rather a meaningless statement” , Jasper thinks to himself, “but at least the Edinburgh City Librarian Mr Minto makes sense when he says, reporting to the Corporation’s Library and Museum Committee, that  television has had a great influence on book demand. This is a pleasing statement, which is in direct opposition to Muriel’s belief that it and particularly commercial television is “a sort of chloroform for those living in semi detached houses.”

Mr Minto gives the example of the revival of interest in the Amusing , but quite unbelievable Billy Bunter and his pals at Greyfriars School. Despite being a socialist and therefore opposed to fee paying schools Jasper quite likes Billy Bunter and his constant belief that a postal order from an aunt will solve all his problems. Jasper identifies with his sentiment. At least Muriel can take comfort from the fact that Mr Minto also records that stamp collecting and ballet are still popular, which reminds Jasper that he must to try and locate his stamp album.

Decorative But Seldom Noticed

He also should locate the most recent speaker at the Dundee and District Photographic Society. Miss L. M. Barnett gave a lecture which had everyone on the edge of their seats. “Take a look” she said with conviction “at weathercocks, they’re very decorative and seldom noticed.” Jasper had to agree they were and wondered if she might come and speak to the Hysterical in the spring. This might be just the excuse the society needed to encourage a full survey of cocks in the parish many of which are known to be decorative and seldom noticed .

“Oh”, Jasper mused to himself “being in charge of the Hysterical is something of a responsibility, especially trying to find speakers but there is always serendipity and as this article revealed, one just never knows what will pop up when one least expects it.” Apparently Miss Barnet even shows, during her talk, a weathercock embroidered on linen which is bound to go down well. “The Herald”, Jasper concludes to himself “has earned it’s keep today especially with his favourite report” which states that between the hours of 1 and 2 pm every Sunday some 30 million British people are eating custard. To Jasper this is positive evidence of the impact of the welfare state.

Dreams of Interior Decoration To Come

Meanwhile Muriel is at the hairdresser’s, where she is mulling over the recent visit of her accountant Mr Chanter who has suggested that she needs to do more than pay lip service to modern house furnishing trends if she wants to get more “goes inties” than”goes ooties” in the balance sheet. She knows these are wise words but her heart lies with tassels and deep buttoned upholstery. Still she says to herself if modular furniture that combines form and function is to be the coming thing then she should be “the queen of the unit”.

Unfortunately after Mr Chanter left Muriel had a bad dream that involved huge industrial premises selling furniture which customers had to take off shelves, transport home in their own cars and then put together  themselves. Not only that but quite a lot of the parts were missing and the assembly required householders to eat cartwheel sized Scandinavian crisp bread with very odd jam. This was so disturbing that she woke with a start and had to take two askit pooders with a cup of Horlicks to get back to sleep.

Soup Continues to Cause Rumbles

It has, muses Muriel, as the heat on the dryer is turned up to full, been a most annoying week, at least to begin with, it is almost as if the wind has blown the leaves off  and irritations in. She knows Mr Chanter is right and has her interests to heart. She must therefore change, like the wind.

However even if on modern interiors she is ambivalent, on the matter of the Soup and Pudding Lunch at the Church she is implacable in her thoughts. Change is good, even if her introduction of a non Scottish soup resulted in the minister being carted off to an institution. At least he is currently making a rather nice occasional stool in the woodwork class (sand paper is freely available but sharp tools only with supervision, and use of lathe only with written permission from Matron).

Muriel is fully aware that the blame for the failure to fill the Minister’s vacancy is being laid at her door. She has, however, pointed out at the Soup and Pudding Steering Group (S.A.P., a sub-committee of the Women’s Guild), soup and pudding lunches are thriving. There has even been some interest from younger ladies in the congregation (some of whom vote Labour) with offerings of courgette and mint or even courgette mint and pea.

An Unexpected Intervention From the Landed Gentry

The uncalled for comment by Lottie Macaulay that both of these new soups will “give one dreadful wind” resulted in the completely unexpected intervention from Lady Sanqhuar- Pattern who said “not nearly as bad as artichoke soup which is the windiest of all.” Mrs Polnakkie of Solway Fresh Fish Fame, said she never in all her days thought she would hear a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family were often executed within the Tower of London (and therefore very posh) use the word “wind” within the four walls of the Guild Committee room. To which she then added sarcastically, “Does her ladyship mean globe or Jerusalem ?” There was then a major diversion as most of the ladies required explanations as to what courgettes and artichokes were.

Lady Sanquhar-Pattern retained the upper hand by concluding that she was totally with Mrs Wylie on the new soup front and that it was only the vulgar aspiring middle classes who worried about the effects of certain soup. She and her family and tenants were quite at home with wind. It seemed she was less at home with water as her comments were followed by a coughing fit and the offer of a glass of Adam’s ale to which she replied, “Water, no thank you; my late husband said water only made one wet.” She was fortified with a little Communion wine left over from the Sunday service, before the Guild moved on to discuss the Knitting Arran Sweaters For Africa project.

Giving the People of Glasgow More Water

Someone who has not shied away from water this week, as the salon’s  copy of The Herald reports is Princess Margaret, who has opened a new waterworks at Glen Finglass. Muriel marvels at the down to earth nature of Princess Margaret as she herself turns the same royal handle which Queen Victoria used when she opened the Loch Katrine works 99 years ago. As Princess Margaret unleashed 7,000,000 additional gallons of water a day into Glasgow, Baille Richard McCutheon said “We are in receipt of a moment of history.” Princess Margaret smiled graciously as she sat on the same gilt chair her great, great, great  grandmother sat upon. This, thought Muriel, was interesting as Queen Victoria did appear to have had a bottom with quite a large surface area so it must have been a well made chair and Princess must have looked magnificent in her cherry red dress and coat. Not content with turning handles and sitting Princess Margaret proved her credentials as a modern Royal by waving at staff and patients as the car passed Killearn Hospital. Men in the fields stood to attention.

Clearly H.R.H, is at odds with Lady Sanquhar-Pattern thought Muriel as in her speech she said “water is man’s first need.”

What To Do This Weekend

Muriel wondered what she and Jasper might do to mark the clocks going back. Just so long as he does not want to see Shirley Bassey, perhaps we might get tickets for the dinner dance at the Regency Rooms in the George Hotel in Buchannan Street, it is only 17shillings and 6pence and the Louis Freeman orchestra is playing with Elizabeth Batey, formerly of the Joe Loss orchestra. She might just get tickets when she picks up Jasper’s shirt repair from The Shirt Hospital in West Regent Street, where they do “a shirt repair beyond compare.”

“Mrs Wylie that’s you finished with the dryer let me comb you out. Anything good in The Herald?”

“Just the usual Doreen, a reminder to put your time-pieces back an hour this weekend……although this is an interesting statistic, it says here in the Herald Diary that more Scotswomen , 94% – more than any other category anywhere – like something at bedtime.”


October 1958