One Hit Wonder in Blackpool
“There you are Mrs Wylie, a nice cup o’ Fortnum’s Assam.”
“Thank you Mrs Travers. How was Blackpool?”
“Och, it ws puir deid brilliant Mrs Wylie. We got a taxi at Blackpool Central an’ I had a lovely room overlooking the coal yard. The room was 11 shillings an’ sixpence including bread an’ butter an’ a bath towel whether yous needed it or no’. I thought prices were up a bit this year. Fancy 3d for a pokey hat or ice cream cone as yous call it. Oor Sharon had her palm read – load o’rubbish really, an’ wee Dean went on to that Coral Island – deid scared, so he was. But best o’ all we went to the Opera House.”
“No better than that – Alma Cogan. She was wi’ Tommy Steel and Freddie Frinton. Then there was Adam Faith at the Hippodrome and on Sunday we saw Shirley Bassey.”
“Yes I like her, as does Jasper. One thing for sure she won’t be around in 60 years time, one hit wonder I imagine like so many of them. Same with that Richard Clifford or whatever his name is. Some of the songs can be a bit racy. Was the food good?”
“No’ really, but I did enjoy a hot doughnut or two and some fish and chips.”
“Yes I can see by the waistline. Now I am going to the Morning Room to draft a wee article for The Herald on moving to the countryside after a holiday.”
“Oh, are you encouraging it?”
“Certainly not! Do I look like I came up the Clyde on a Café Noir biscuit?
In “It Matters to Women”, this week the simply marvellous Mrs Muriel Wylie, doyenne of Gracious Living has some sound advice for those of you who are thinking of moving to the Scottish Countryside.
I have had some lovely letters from you about your holidays in Scotland. How thrilling it must have been for you to discover that we have shops, hotels, and that clan warfare has finally ended. Yes, the Edinburgh Festival is marvellous and the scenery in the Highlands breath-taking and indeed there is no one for miles in the Borders.
The air is clear, the water pure and the potato scones are indeed a gourmet speciality.
I can well understand that you are thinking of relocating to the Scottish Countryside and indeed Mrs Daphne Hartley-Brewer of Guilford, Jasper would welcome some new members to his Historical Society. I too would welcome the opportunity to decorate that Shepherd’s Cottage you plan to restore once the Local Authority and the landowner have agreed to build the road after 30 years or more of discussion. The earthquake was just a rumour, so don’t let that put you off. You will be most welcome, but I feel it my duty to point out that life here may not be what you expect.
Two weeks in August is one thing but a lifetime of Women’s Guild Meetings, eternal dark in November and snow drifts with a broken Aga in January is another. Not that I think you have not got the endurance or stamina or enough vests and hot bags. I am sure you have. One or two hot bags in September is usually sufficient, with five or six blankets. While you are having what we call a traffic jam and you call Bank Holiday this weekend, it is already Autumn here. I am already wearing my my tweed hat and the Rowan berries are rather too prolific, signalling a cold winter which will probably start next week. Still once you have the snow chains and six months’ worth of food in store, there is nothing to worry about.
Stopping by a dramatic loch to admire a view, taking in a castle or tea and scones in a tin hut tearoom on a warm afternoon is one thing, but leaving Guilford for good might be another matter. Now far be it from me to put you off but I thought a little guide might be helpful rather like those issued to the allied forces in the last Unpleasantness to help understand the locals.
Unless you can afford an estate, which perhaps you can, ( just ask me which ones are built over coal mines) you will most likely be in the village where you will explore the world of cottagers. Do not worry about the lack of bedrooms, it has always been the custom for children to sleep in the attic. The cold is kept out by placing old newspaper around the rafters and over your blankets. The temperature is raised with the help of the breath of mice, at least I think they are mice.
Gardening is especially important. However, this is all done out of sight in the back garden. Here prize exhibits are grown in secret, with all manner of potions many of them highly noxious. These produce blooms – mainly chrysanthemums – vegetables and fruits for F.A.F.S. (Flower and Fete Show) the highlight of the village year. Prizes are keenly sought. Is it possible for you as an incomer to win one? In a word – no.
What about the front garden? There are no front gardens. Houses are built directly on to what you call a track, but to us is a road. Being a Presbyterian country, front gardens are generally frowned upon as this theologically speaking suggests looking nice, enjoyment and showing off – in short vanity, and none of this is to be encouraged.
On the other hand, the austere front must be immaculately presented. Front steps and the roadway swept daily. While the farmers are considerate when driving through the village, manure on the front door can be an issue. Paintwork should be clean and under no circumstances coloured. Windows must sparkle and are polished with crumpled newspaper and vinegar. We do not want to waste money on shop bought. It is all good exercise and there is of course the opportunity to chat with people. Just watch you are not flattened by a runaway horse, tractor or steamroller or indeed showered with manure.
Cleanliness is next to godliness and your washing, despite being hidden ‘round the back’ will be forensically examined for signs of character flaws. The Parish Magazine is hand delivered for good reason. There is simply no escape and no aspect of washing which can escape the gaze of a ten-generation local. This applies to the style and nature of the washing poles, the rope, the pegs and the arrangement of the washing on the line. A mixed “white” and “blacks” line is a sign of clear mismanagement. A Sunday washing is a sign of a heathen and will cause palpitations and the utmost lip-pursing imaginable. You will stand no chance of the latest Jean Plaidy from the library van.
Judging the weather is crucial, a true rustic knows exactly, to the second, when it will rain or when that down pour will cease and be followed by a good drying afternoon. A horizontal bedsheet in a hurricane is the sign of a true mistress of her trade. Taking your washing in too early or indeed letting it get soaked will be met with a look of pity.
It is essential that you socialise, but there is a happy medium here. Help out when asked, but do not try to become Secretary of The Temperance Society or Country Dance Club in your first month. On moving in do not visit all the neighbours. This suggests you are socially superior. Wait for them to come to you. You will then have an excuse to call. Inevitably you will be asked in and given “a cup of tea in your hand” while you are shown the back garden with leeks over 15 feet high and a glimpse of a washing line that is so white that it looks like heaven.
Over time if you play your cards right, and beetle drives are popular, you will feel more at home. I would say a good 40 years should do it. By then you will be part of the furniture and included in the gossip and the secrets which are many.
You will know you have been accepted when you hear those words, “I know I can say this to you and it won’t go any further.” Of course, it always has gone further as everyone knows everything. Under no circumstances admit you already know, for sharing gossip is what the Americans call team-building. Does this mean you are one of us? Sadly, no but think of it as a long- term plan for your children like the landowners who plant trees they will never see.
Living in the countryside is like discovering a complex archaeological site, there are layers upon layers built up over centuries and you must explore sensitively. You will come across feuds and it is no use saying ‘for goodness sake surely this is all in the past’. There is no such thing as the past, only that which has been before and a bearing on today and indeed tomorrow – all are part of the same. The blacksmith does not speak to the postman. However, this is not because a letter was delivered two days late. It transpires that the postman’s great, great grandfather put up the notices from Bonnie Prince Charlie demanding money with menaces and the blacksmith’s ancestor refused to shoe the Young Pretenders horse. “1745 or 1945, it’s aw one tae me.”
Bake As If Your Life Depended Upon It
At the heart of every community is baking. Scones and tray bakes have almost mystical status. Upon these, shall you be judged. You must aim for full tins and any sign of shop bought is akin to being a fallen woman. Now of course as a dear friend of mine points out, you may have chosen a cottage five or six miles up a glen. There will of course be no telephone, (although the electricity has been general, but not universal since the 1920s), and you may get unexpected visitors.
Perhaps your tins are empty and there is not even a slice of gingerbread to cut four ways. There is only one recourse, settle your guests with a diversion and rush into the kitchen saying, “the children have been baking, I need to just check the oven.” Of course, from scratch you whip up a batter for pancakes as we call it in Scotland, drop scones to you, which should be ready by the time the kettle has boiled and the tea masked. If there is no home-made bramble jelly in the cupboard, you should consider emigration.
Well dear readers, I do hope that encourages you in your decision to find a rural bolt hole. It does help to know how to fit in. Anyway, next week we focus on “Common Mistakes when doing the Messages (shopping to you)”
“Hello Daphne, that’s me home, it’s not been too bad, first day back at the office after Scotland. What’s your day been like?”
“It’s been fine Charles, I played tennis this morning with Felicity and spent the afternoon in the summer house reading. It’s been so warm.”
“What were you reading darling?”
“Oh some magazines and papers I had sent down from Scotland. Do you remember that couple we met with the shop, Chez Toi or something, well I said we were thinking of relocating to their part of the world.”
“Are you still keen darling? With what we’ll get for “Mon Repos” we should be able to buy half the country. You know I could work in the Glasgow Office.”
“Well funnily enough, I am having second thoughts.”
“Why? You were so keen.”
“I have never made a drop scone in my life. I am not sure we would fit in.”
“If you say so darling. What about France?”
“Perhaps. This Mrs Wylie, who has been so helpful, has sent details of an exclusive offer to give that sense of Scotland in Surrey.”
“20% off all wool Wylie tartan travel rugs; 10 % off wrought iron magazine racks and a special offer for a subscription to ‘Glasgow Lady’ with free tray baking recipe book.”
“Sounds like a compromise. Now what’s for supper? And don’t forget there’s that talk at the Conservative Club tonight, with the new M.P. for Finchley. It’s someone I particularly want to hear.”
“A Margaret Thatcher.”
“All right, Darling. You fix us a drink and I will pop into the kitchen and tell Mrs Traverse to pop the oven on.”
“Gin and It?”
“Marvellous, simply marvellous.”
“And Daphne Darling, I think you are right; we wouldn’t fit in.”