St Andrew’s Night 1958

  • Posted on: 02/12/2018

Changing Times – Perhaps

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear the final months of 1958 suggest change is in the air.

The Future Beckons

Donald Campbell has just set the world speed record at 248.62 miles per hour, predicting a future in which we get nowhere going faster. At Earls Court in “That London” there has been the first ever exhibition about computers. Muriel, at Cousin Lulubelle’s suggestion, sent Jasper so that he might “keep up with developments.” Jasper exhausted himself by attending for over 2 minutes in the Great Hall and then declaring the whole thing “very tedious” went for a stroll. Feeling “drouthy”, he popped into the pub across the road for a quick half and half (a half pint of beer and a whisky chaser)  before spending the afternoon at the Imperial War Museum where he had to see a man about a trench. This was followed by an exciting evening “at the dogs” in Walthamstow stadium. Of course Muriel, who does not approve of gambling or greyhound racing, knows nothing of this believing Jasper to have been at Evensong at Westminster Abbey. The theme being reflection.

Let us hope he has not asked for a taxi receipt as Muriel inspects Jasper’s pockets regularly with skills rarely seen outside a pathology department. At least Jasper will be able to report on the new Austin FX4 taxi which has gone on sale. Just in case Jasper had to account for his movements he quickly popped into a new shop in Carnaby Street and bought an “Italian knit” in John Stephen’s new shop His Clothes, for his nephew in America.” He did, however, draw the line at a new Bri-Nylon shirt made from material just introduced by the British Nylon Spinners. He knew instinctively that Muriel would disapprove. Just as she disapproves of the Gaullists winning the French Party Elections, for “we will never get into Europe now.”

The Natural Law of Grannies

Change, like most things, is relative and in much of Scotland is still frowned upon where a favourite comment is “it’s aye bin.” This is a term of approval and oft said in the face of change, such as occasions when there are attempts to introduce sugar on top of one’s porridge , ice into whisky or replace a half tumbler of sloe gin with a proprietary bottle of cough syrup, when one has a tickle. Such things have not only “aye bin”, they have been decreed by Granny, such as “Granny always took a cow dung poultice when she had a swelling.” If aye bin is custom and practice then “Ma Granny always said or did” is natural law and is ignored at one’s peril.

Despite change on the horizon the Scottish year still revolves around the agrarian calendar and the important festivals of New Year, Burns Night and St Andrew’s Night. The Pentland-Firth St Andrews Night Ball is the stuff of legend and tickets are like gold dust. Traditionally it raises funds for ‘The Home for Fallen Women’ in Glasgow and ‘Knitting for Africa’ with the aim of providing an arran jumper for the traditional people of those parts of the continent where Scots have traditionally interfered, or rather exerted their benign influence. This is quite a large part as Scots tended to get everywhere although it is not mentioned on the grounds that it just might make them look worse than the southern neighbours. Of course falling women have long been a domestic problem, where the results have often been a burden on the parish. Still if one can sort these problems with a wee night – then so much the better.

Let us join Muriel and Jasper as they arrive at the Pentland-Firth Ball.

It’s All Jasper’s Fault

“Hurry up Jasper. I don’t know why you couldn’t get the earlier train back, from London. You knew full well we were going out tonight and now we are having to park the super snipe in a field near the ice house. If I fall down that ha-ha you are in big trouble. At least it isn’t raining; I bet Cynthia Savage’s husband is parked at the house on the gravel and not in a field of turnips.”

“I am sorry Dahling, but the Electronic Computer Exhibition was so fascinating I just couldn’t bear to tear myself away. Muriel you just would not believe the possible applications in payroll and productions, file management, public utility accounting and  linear programming; riveting.”

“Tell me more about linear programming Jasper.”

“Oh Muriel, it’s not a party conversation; we can talk about it tomorrow or the day after or whenever. Here take my hand while I help you up this grass embankment, here let me hold your evening bag.”

Googly Eyes 

“Jasper I don’t know how you expect me to do this in heels, what’s that “

“What’s what ?”

“That over there, with the big googly eyes.”

“A sheep I think.”

“I knew we would end up beneath the ha-ha.”

“Don’t worry dear, I have a torch. Look, there’s a fence we can climb over.”

“Jasper this is a 16th century reproduction with Venetian fabrics.”

“I thought it was a dress, give me your hand and step on the style.”

“Jasper my velvet and mink trimmed cape is caught on barbed wire.”

“Let me unsnag it; not to worry sheep get wool on  barbed wire all the time.”

“Jasper I am not worried about the barbed wire fence, or the wretched sheep, that’s blonde mink you know, not some scabby old ewe.”

“Look, here we are Dahling – it’s the walled garden. If just go through here it will take us to the side of the house. I said we would meet the Macaulays in the entrance hall, you know with the life sized Greek nude statues based on the late Lord Pentland-Firth.”

“Oh the stuff of nightmares and it’s hardly was his good side.”

“I don’t remember his face having a good side.”

“I wasn’t talking about his face Jasper, I was talking about having to look at 12 different views of Admiral Lord Pentland-Firth’s bottom, after all he was hardly Poseidon was he?”

“Well Patience said it was a fitting tribute to the hero of Jutland.”

“She couldn’t stand him Jasper and his death has never been fully explained. Anyway she hangs her gardening coat on his trident.”

“She doesn’t do any gardening.”

“That is hardly the point!”

Where are the Simply Marvellous Pair?

“It’s not like her to be late, honestly I am freezing standing here and Lord Pentland-Firth’s bottoms give me the willies.”

“Hello Cynthia.”

“Good Evening Lottie, gentlemen,”


“Where are Muriel and Jasper? This is so unlike Mrs Punctuality!”

“I thought I saw them going up past the ice house in the direction of the turnip field.”

“Oh it is chilly. Whose idea was it to come as famous Scots anyway, as if we didn’t know?”

“So who are you supposed to be Lottie?”

“We have come as Sir Walter and Lady Scott.”

“Well she could take a bucket so you are in danger of being typecast my dear.”

“And you?”

“St Margaret and King Malcolm, that is why I am wearing blue – for purity like the window at Edinburgh Castle.”

“A saint?  What you Cynthia? I don’t suppose you will be mentioning that weekend at Lytham St Annes with the Embroidery Club will you? I wasn’t the only one who witnessed you getting a little flamenco lesson from that Spanish waiter now was I? Don’t worry your secret is safe with me.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Depends how many raffle tickets you buy now doesn’t it? Oh here they come.”

Late but Never Out Done

“Lottie, Cynthia, Gentlemen – lovely to see you. Goodness Lottie, you are flushed. You must have been at the sherry before you came. I take it you are Lady Scott, she took a bucket too. And saintly Cynthia. Whatever possessed you? Blue was never your colour; it makes your eyes look cruel and watery.”

“Who are you supposed to be Muriel, darling, and dear Jasper?”

“Well clearly you are not very up on your Scottish history. I am the simply marvellous Marie de Guise, mother to Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Regent and all round woman of taste; a civilising influence in a sea of 16th century Caledonian   barbarity. I thought with my grasp of the French language, style, food and fashions it was the only role possible n’est pas?

“So no change there then, and what of Jasper in his coloured combinations and jingly bells?”

“He is the royal fool!”

“Yoo Hoo…. over here!”

Oh it’s Lady Macbeth, I mean Lady Pentland-Firth. Come we had better go in, the dancing is about to start. Blood on her hands – well I never!”

The Band Strikes Up

“Ladies and Gentlemen good evening and on behalf of the Ball President Lady Pentland-Firth, welcome to St Andrew’s Night. my name is Accordion Archie, this is Fiddling Fred and Drumming Donald. Sadie is on the spoons and by the look of her the sauce as well. Will you please take to the floor for the Gay Gordons.”

Betrayed for 10 shillings

“Well Jasper let us get back to the computer exhibition. How exactly do you propose we make use of this in ‘Chez Nous’?”

“Hard to say at this stage Muriel things are moving so rapidly, but I imagine it will be invaluable with keeping tabs on the goes inties and the goes ooties.”

“Now Jasper which companies did you speak to?”

“Oh Electronic Computer this, and Electronic Computer that.”

“Describe one to me.”

“Things whirl round and round.”

“A bit like greyhounds after a rabbit.”

“Oh Muriel I cannot speak when I am dancing backwards.”

“Jasper when dancing with me you always need to keep on your toes. It is all about staying one step ahead Jasper Dear, not to mention a courtier who squeals at the drop of a 10 shilling note. If this was the 16th century Jasper, Mrs Travers would have you swinging from the Tolbooth.”

“The traitor! Even Judas wouldn’t have stooped as low as 10 bob.”


“Ladies and gentlemen, please take to the floor for “Shiftin’ Bobbins” based on the Jute Mill Song from Dundee and we are grateful to Mary Brooksbank for the following words,

Oh dear me the mills gaein fast,

And the pair wee shiffters canna get nae rest:

Shiftin bobbins coorse and fine

They fairly make ye wark for your ten and nine. 

 A Peer on the Prowl

“Mrs Wylie will you join me in a twirl?”

“Lord Bellybought how nice to see you again, how is your dear wife?”

“Gone to Madeira for the winter, she paints you know/”

“Yes I have seen her work in the Art Show, naive best describes it.”

“Frankly Mrs Wylie nothing best describes it. Tend to go our own separate ways these days if you know what I mean. I should have listened to Mother, ‘Charles’ she said, one night when I was courting, ‘one should never marry a woman with an interest in metal work particularly one who wroughts her own iron and asks for a fully functioning forge as a wedding present.’

Oh your scent is intoxicating Mrs Wylie. Fancy a wee walk down to the Chinese Pagoda after this. The dragon is quite spectacular.”

“I am sure I can quite imagine Lord Bellybought – now if you would remove your hand from my farthingale, you should have shifted over there next to Clarissa Cardonald, yes don’t let the eye patch put you off. She is usually right, half the time.”

“Oh you temptress Mrs Wylie.”

The Reel of the 51st

“Ladies and Gentlemen before we break for supper in the Grinling Gibbons room will you take your place in sets on the dance floor for the Reel of the 51st Highland Division. As you know this was written by Lieutenant Jimmy Atkinson of the 7th Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, while he was held prisoner during the last Unpleasantness following Dunkirk. His genius was to devise a reel symbolising Scotland in a time if difficulty by forming the St Andrews Cross.”

A Land of Tinned Soup Fit for Heroes?

“Mrs Wylie I believe there is room in that set if you would do me the honour of accompanying me to the dance floor.”

“Certainly Rev. Kerr Mudgeon, it would be unlady like of me to refuse despite the fact that as my daily woman what does (but not a lot ) would say ‘ma feet are burnt oot wi the dancing’ particularly as you head up the vacancy committee for the new minister.”

“You are too kind Mrs Wylie, and I do so like to dance, thank goodness we no longer live in times when a dancing minister would have been the cause of a schism.”

“Quite so Rev. Mudgeon, I do so agree as it says in Ecclesiastes Chapter 3, verse 4, there is a time to dance.”

“Mrs Wylie, you should be a minister.”

“Well I could if I were a man – but I would make big changes.”

“And what changes would you make Mrs Wylie?”

“I would begin by stopping interim moderators from trying to influence simply marvellous parishioners in their choice of new minister.”

“But Mrs Wylie we have the very man for you – a guitar playing, youth orientated sociology graduate who has worked among the depraved of Glasgow, highly suitable and likely to reinvigorate the church. I also have it on good authority that he is not averse to tinned shop soup.”

“Reverend  much as I appreciated your sermon on the use of stringed instruments in worship, this is not an organisation of beatniks and quite honestly did the men of the 51st Highland Division spend all that time as POWs thinking they would come back to a land of tinned soup? Why one might as well go the whole hog and purchase shop bought millionaires shortbread! No it is the thin end if the wedge.

I favour the gentleman who has worked as a missionary among the cannibals; he will know a homemade tray bake when he sees one and will truly cherish a Victoria sponge with homemade raspberry jam and real cream. I sense it in my bones. As I said to that young chemist who is standing for Parliament ‘this lady is not for turning’. Shall we dance?”

 The Ball Suppa is Served

“Ladies and Gentlemen suppa is served in the Grinling Gibbons Garlanded Room where Boswell made some of his famous entrances. This evening we have in a brave nod to modernity a curried leek and potato soup from an original Muriel Wylie recipe, there is also poached salmon with cucumber jelly, roast mutton from the Pentland-Firth pedigree herd and bramble ice cream with lemon shortbread.

Please make sure you return your plates to the side table. Her Ladyship has asked me to remind you that the statues of the Late Lord Pentland-Firth are not an alternative plate rack. Mrs Macaulay and Mrs Savage are on hand in the Waterloo Library to sell raffle tickets. It is for two good causes remember – every few minutes another Glaswegian woman falls and an African needs an Arran Jumper. First Prize is an all expenses paid ticket to Mrs Wylie’s Masterclass ‘Good Sitting and Standing’;  this includes tea, coffee and a fork luncheon with souvenir brochure and bookmark.” 

Some Nifty Footwork Enters from the Shadows

“Mrs Wylie………”

“Good evening, it has been a little while Handsome Stranger.”

“Indeed Mrs Wylie”

“Would you be interested in some work for us?”

“It depends.”

“Do you like ballet?”

“I like all forms of dance.”

“I was hoping you might say that.”

“Might I say you look rather splendid in tartan trews”

“Thank you dear lady perhaps after suppa you might join me in a Strathspay, my pas de bas are pretty nifty?”

“Just so long as it is on the dance floor and not at the Chinese Pavillion “

“Don’t tell me! Lord Bellybought, that is so MI6.”

“You mean he’s ?”

“Oh yes he is one of our best, and the wife’s a top class poisoner, terrible artist though. As you know Mrs Wylie, some of our most experienced agents might be taken for fools but they are far from it.Talking of which is that your husband over there with a plate that looks like Ben Nevis in the snow.”

“That will be the ice cream, he loves ice cream. Now do tell me more…..”

Muriel Wylie