The Time and Place
We find ourselves in the present or 60 years hence depending on your perspective. The scene is the Home for the Terminally Overdressed, a themed retirement facility for actors.
Living Well in the Past
This has been constructed in a corner of the Slough Trading Estate and is based on a Dutch approach to those living with dementia. Residents live in the time and place that suits them best. Many, therefore, find they spend much of their day in the Reception of the Crossroads Motel or on one of the ships of the Onedin Line.
For the most, it is a pleasant way to spend one’s twilight years and residents can pass the days in costume or make up or in rehearsal in the belief that they, despite being old, still have lives that matter. Belief is all that counts. For staff and visitors it can be counterintuitive, at least at first, for the past is indeed another country where they do things differently and not always for the better. Sometimes however, they do.
A number of contemporary performers are employed to perfect the deceit. It is possible to discuss dietary options with Carlos, the Spanish Chef at Crossroads or climb the rigging of a Victorian sailing ship, provided the appropriate risk assessment has been undertaken. Matron after all believes it is undesirable to overly protect the aged and in any case it frees up a room or two occasionally and reduces the waiting lists.
Fun with Fanny
Rather than rely on just medication there is an extensive programme of person centred activities. There are classes with a range of impersonators such as ‘Cooking with Fanny Craddock’ who is really Freddy, a “modern apprentice” in the Grammar School kitchen, but likes to pipe green mashed potatoes and wear the odd 1960’s chiffon frock. The module entitled ‘Fanny’s Fruit Flans’ has proved to be such a success, it is repeated monthly. Of course, there is little actual cooking. Convenience food has come to the aid of those formerly imprisoned by the kitchen and the fruit flan is constructed with a Lyon’s sponge base, a tin of sliced peaches and a packet of Quick Gel available in raspberry or orange. Freddy has also shown the thespians, not known for their culinary expertise, (‘due to long hours in the theatre, Darling’) how to pass off Angel Delight as a chocolate mousse of one’s own. This is achieved by adding a small carton of double cream and garnishing with a few hundreds and thousands. His savoury vol au vents “for an opening night party” made with Jus Roll pastry and a tin of Marks’s chunky chicken are a revelation. Fanny’s garnish night is already fully booked.
Worrying Times and Departing Friends
These lifelong learning classes have been a welcome diversion in a year which has introduced many forms of upset for the often fragile thespians. Brexit has been divisive and worrying particularly for those who have set their sights on cameo appearances in Scandinavian detective series and have even bought muted wardrobes and learnt to say “Tag” for the auditions. The end of The Durrells has meant that there are no possibilities of playing a batty visiting aunt and a free month in Greece.
Miriam is now so popular it is impossible to get on any programme featuring outspoken mature actors and even Celebrity Antique Hunt has a queue not seen since Morecombe and Wise and anyway one has to pretty supple to get in and out of those vintage sports’ cars they pretend to drive all over the country looking for Clarice Cliff. To top it all the news of Doris Day’s departure has been a blow, reminding one and all of their mortality and just how manageable that hairstyle with the DA was. Fortunately Freddy from the Grammar School kitchens is very versatile and he was able to pull together an impromptu memorial concert last night. This produced a rash of buckskin outfits although Fred himself went for powder blue and a matching pillbox hat for his rendition of Secret Love.
Over the Rainbow
For those more serious cases there is of course the corridor (accessible only by swipe card) known as “Over the rainbow”, where we find the Judy Garland Wing. Here lives the most famous of all residents, Sir Sebastian Wylie Fox, Shakespearean actor and Britain’s most adored theatrical. In truth Sebastian does not really need to be in the Judy Garland Wing, but it has the most luxurious suites and the best views of Windsor Castle. Anyway the old thespian finds it convenient to exaggerate his condition. Or is he exaggerating? “They are not called actors for nothing”, as one key worker said to another recently when Sebastian went into full King Lear mode, when it was suggested he was due for his prostate examination. Whatever the case, and he certainly is a case, there are moments of great lucidity.
Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper are Rediscovered
Today we find him newly returned from a television interview somewhat exhausted from all the adulation. He was accompanied by his old retainers Pearl and Dean Travers who act as his secretary and chauffeur. Both are devoted to him. Dean is the grandson of Mrs Esme Travers who in the 1950s and 1960s was the woman what did, but not a lot for Sebastian’s legendary Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper Wylie who were the trend setters of their time.It was this couple who decided what people wore and how their homes looked.
Together they put tweed, the duster coat and the sticky oot leg on the map. They were indeed the “influencers” of their time.
Renewed interest in all things vintage, the wearing of checked shirts and turning everything into table lamps has produced a revival of interest in the couple. It has now become apparent that Muriel in particular was also something of an activist long before celebrities became involved in saving the planet or making cakes you cannot through the door. Muriel, Baroness Waterside, spy, war heroine and interior decorator was also an early spokesperson for the rights of excluded people, particularly the very theatrical and those from foreign parts to whom the British had been beastly. Her work for Fallen Women was pioneering – almost on a par with her work on ‘Accessorising for the Need’.
In short she was perhaps the most stylish activist that ever emerged in the 20th century.
The Wylie legacy
Inevitably perhaps their legacy has attracted the attention of the all devouring media and in particular the nation’s leading newspaper columnist Hilary Dee Range of ‘The Sunday Slouch’.
Vivienne Valhalla, the uber curator and friend of Hilary’s, senses profit and fame in exploiting the noble lady’s heritage. Savvy as they are, they are nothing compared to Sir Sebastian who has as his motto “You cannot out fox the Wylie Fox”, only in Latin of course. Seeing the enthusiasm for their proposed blockbuster exhibition featuring his aunt and uncle, Sebastian has decided that he will create ‘Wylie World’ and control his aunt and uncle’s memory and hopefully use the profits for projects of which his family would approve. He has the major advantage over the media ladies in that he has the Wylie archive and museum in safe keeping.
Draft Plans for a Heritage Project
Sitting up in bed with a crème de menthe frappé and a plate of bourbons, Sebastian although tired cannot sleep and is looking at some draft plans for ‘Wylie World’, drawn up by Sir Norman somebody or other. It is a large and bold concept requiring considerable acreage, but if it comes to fruition it will encapsulate 1950’s Scotland on a scale comparable to the Eden Project, Disney World, Harry Potter and Dolly Wood combined. At its heart on the massive site is a glass structure based on one of Aunt Muriel’s Duster Coats, which will be The Simply Marvellous Pavilion.
From here Glasgow Corporation trams and trolley buses will take visitors to a variety of locations including “The Avenue of Sheds” which will feature Uncle Jasper’s historic collections of Broken Pottery, Coins and Tokens, Five Bar Gates and a faithful reproduction of his famous World War One exhibition with trench, in the original shed which was recently rescued from a landfill site. The ‘Chez Nous’ Shops will also be recreated as will one of Lady Pentland-Firth’s famous concerts.
Visitors will be able to experience this in immersive fashion and will be encouraged to dress in the fashions of the time.
‘Wylie World’ will feature a wide range of Gracious Living retail and refreshment opportunities. Visitors will be able to purchase everything from reproductions of Muriel’s sling backs to cushions based on floral patterns from the Mrs Travers’ Archive Collection of all encompassing aprons and a Jasper hip flask.
Several well known leather manufacturers have already expressed an interest in reproducing Cousin Lulubelle’s famous leather jacket. Other leather items used by Lady Pentland-Firth are strictly for the over 18s.
For the gentlemen, consideration is already being given to tailored items reflecting the wardrobe of Muriel’s handler, The Handsome Stranger and it will be possible to download some of the musical compositions of the famous Professor Sir Boozy Hawkes, an expert on most musical forms.
Something for Everyone
Not surprisingly perhaps, refreshment opportunities will feature a special ‘Travers Tray Bake Bar’, perhaps the first in the country and will cater for those on limited income and with limited time. Muriel’s well documented spat with the Church over the introduction of none native soups into the Soup and Pudding Fundraising Lunches will provide the inspiration for ‘Pews for Thought’ , a midrange opportunity to enjoy (or otherwise ) the experience of Presbyterian Church lunches in 1950’s Scotland.
Alongside the traditional Scottish soups will be Muriel’s Mulligatawny Soup which, with its exotic ingredients and gay garnishes, many said marked the beginning of the end of the Church in Scotland. Puddings will be of the traditional kind but will also include a wide range of fairy cakes and Muriel’s own recipe for Queen of Puddings.
For those with more upmarket tastes, the plans include a Suppa Suite, based on Jasper’s food preferences and will include a custard corner. There will be a hotel for corporate entertaining with an Amontillado Bar, all peanuts of course served with a spoon.
Sebastian examines the plans with pleasure, thinking about how his aunt and uncle would feel if they knew. Sir Norman has attached a note to one of his sketches which includes a Caribbean Island to which visitors can sail to explore the origins of Muriel’s maternal fortune and her secret family. This is sugar – and the plantations which made Scotland wealthy in the 18th century and built the MacCavity Sweet and Painless Dentistry Empire. This is the birthplace of Muriel’s cousin Grace.
The architect wonders if Sebastian approves of washing the family’s dirty linen in public. Sebastian knows that Aunt Muriel and Uncle Jasper would and annotates the sketch to that effect. The Wylies, so conservative in some respects, were way ahead of their time in others.
Also attached is a note to ‘Sebastian’s Story’, which features a candid interpretation of the thespian’s very theatrical relationships and the reason why Aunt Muriel and Cousin Lulubelle had to arrange for him to go to America. Sebastian, puts his red pen through this. Some things, for a man of his generation, are still too painful. It is still hard to feel the weight of disapproval and exclusion after all these years.
He is tired now. There will be more planning tomorrow, or the next day.