Month: August 2017

Hide & Seek – Part Fourteen

“There’s been nothing but shame brought about the walls of Somersby Hall, I tell you, Mr Poirot – nothing but shame!”

Poirot sat politely, saying nothing and waiting for Ethel Bowley to expand upon her statement. When the great detective and Chief Inspector Japp announced that they would begin their questioning, Ethel Bowley had made it quite apparent that she wished to be at the very front of the queue. Her pinched-faced twin sister Enid sat mute, as ever, at her side. Lord Bottomclutch had been good enough to arrange the use of his private study for these endeavours and loyal butler Derbyshire remained outside the door, guarding against any unwanted ears.

Beady eyes bulging, Ethel glared ferociously at Hercule Poirot, daring him to question her further. In fact, the immaculate Belgian had not yet asked a single question. To his mind, when a lady appeared so keen to have her say, it was better to let her get along with matters unimpeded.

“You realise, of course, that the girl Clara was nothing but a simpleton,” said Ethel, eventually.

An involuntary twitch from Poirot’s moustache was the only tell from his otherwise perfectly tempered visage.

“She was like it from birth,” continued Ethel, oblivious to the distaste her ignorance inspired. “They sent her away somewhere when she was younger, you know, one of those places they send the mentally defective. Couldn’t do much for her, apparently, so they neutered her like a dog and sent her home again. Always been a frightful disappointment to the Lord and Lady, as I’m sure you can imagine, Mister Poirot.”

“I assure you, mademoiselle, that Poirot can imagine nothing of the sort,” replied the detective, a forced smile his only protection against saying something that he might regret. “But please, to continue.”

“Well, I’m just saying, is all,” huffed Ethel, evidently perturbed that her revelation had not had greater effect. “And then there’s the maid, of course. I’m sure you know all about her.”

“How could we know all about her?” asked Japp, reasonably. “We’ve only just arrived.”

“Ah, but Mister Poirot and the Captain were asking after her, weren’t you, Mister Poirot?”

Oui, c’est vrai,” replied Poirot. “Mademoiselle Maggie had a friend in Cambridge who was asking after her. Captain Hastings and myself had come to pass on a message.”

“Oh, and Cambridge is another thing,” sneered Ethel, bile thick upon her breath. “Another cause of shame for Somersby Hall!”

“Do you have any information regarding either of the murders,” began Japp, banging the bowl of his pipe on the heavy wooden sideboard “Or do you mean to waste our time with idle gossip?”

Ethel spluttered a little and Enid’s eyes widened like saucers. The sour sisters were used to mixing in polite company, where good manners prevented what needed to be said, being said.

“Mademoiselle Maggie, she was pregnant, non? Is this the shame you talk so ardently about?”

“It is, Mister Poirot,” Ethel replied, her cold eyes now aflame with indignation. “One of them, anyway. Of course, talk has it that Lord Bottomclutch is the father, although they were having her married off to that ridiculous fop James Philpott. Anyone can see the boy hasn’t got it in him to make a baby – or anything else – with any woman. That’s why Harold – the prodigal son – came home, for the wedding. A wedding that kills two shameful birds with one stone.”

“Two, mademoiselle?” asked Poirot, his smooth brow furrowed just barely.

“Well, it wouldn’t do for a vicar to have a son like James, would it?” snapped Ethel. “If he marries Maggie, it stops all talk of that and Lord Bottomclutch needn’t answer any awkward questions either. That’s the truth of the matter and if those two girls died because of any of it then I would hardly be surprised.”

“Where were you hiding, during the game of hide and seek, mademoiselle Ethel?” the rictus grin on the detective’s face was straining at the edges, now. “At the time of the murder of poor Clara?”

“Oh. We were tucked behind a couple of pot plants in the conservatory, Mister Poirot,” replied Ethel. “Why, does it matter? You can’t think we have anything to do with any of this?”

“When it comes to ladies such as yourselves, mademoiselle, Hercule Poirot, he will think anything.”

Books You Should Read But Have Probably Never Heard Of

Listen, don’t tell anyone, but I’m not particularly well-read, especially not for a writer. I read a lot when I was small, but it’s something I’ve let slide as I have progressed into adulthood. Perhaps it is because of my own unwritten rule that I don’t read when I am working on my own writing – I have been doing quite a bit of that in the last few years. But when I do read, you can guarantee I find the very best of the weird and the wonderful, the very highest of brow, to tickle my literary taste buds. Here are some of my favourites.

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Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun – Neil Rushton

This is certainly not a book for the faint-hearted, nor the easily offended. It is the story of one man’s descent into madness – or possibly his return to sanity, depending on your point of view – through the controlled use of hallucinogenic and dissociative drugs. It is rather Joycean in its lack of linear narrative, but is surprisingly easy to follow, although the fruity language might be a bit off-putting for some. As might the occasional foray into very dark subject matter, although it is written with such explicit beauty and care that even some of the most unthinkable elements become pure poetry. It is weird, it is challenging and I have never read anything quite like it – and never enjoyed a book in quite the same way, either.

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The Mullet – Hairstyle Of The Gods – Mark Larson & Barney Hoskyns

Once upon a time, I would only go out with chaps who had mullets. No, really. It was a dark time in my dating history, but it did at least introduce me to this fine tome, which really does contain everything you need to know about the most controversial and enduring haircuts of all time.

We learn the history of the mullet (it goes back to prehistoric times!) and its evolution, the various types of mullet and where they can be found – there’s even a handy guide to mullet wining and dining. If you have ever been curious about the ‘shorty-longback’, this book will tell you everything you never wanted to know.

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Filthy Lucre – Simon Rose

A book about corporate corruption and insider dealing sounds neither interesting nor funny, but this unlikely book manages to be both. It was published in 1990, so bits of it come across as rather dated, but this only adds to the charm. It was, apparently, serialised as a cartoon in the Mail On Sunday at the time, which is fairly unusual. I would say this is a classic British farce, with plenty of good-humoured smut mixed with astute satire that could probably benefit from being modernised, but is hugely enjoyable as it is. There are quite a lot of rude bits in it, too.

 

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Yes Minister – The Diaries Of A Cabinet Minister – Jonathan Lynn & Antony Jay

I saw this on a friend’s bookshelf and swiped it immediately to read on the train. This is volume two, so one assumes there is a volume one also, perhaps even a volume three. Anyway. This is presented as the collected diaries of the fictional Minister for Administrative Affairs James Hacker and is basically a direct adaptation of the utterly brilliant TV programme from the 80s. It stays true to the television series and is a brilliant light read for fans of the original. While Filthy Lucre demonstrates how business and technology have moved forward in leaps and bounds, Yes Minister shows us that Whitehall hasn’t changed at all. The debates around surveillance and personal privacy are as pertinent now as they were then, not to mention their views on what was the EEC (now, of course, the much-discussed EU). I could go as far as to peg Humphrey as a Remainer and Hacker as a Brexiteer. I shall certainly be doing my best to get my hands on volume one. Hopefully, my friend has it and I can steal that too.

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Crap Taxidermy – Kat Su

Quite frankly, this is the best thing ever published. I mean, ever. It does exactly what it says on the tin and provides page after page of some the worst, the funniest and the most downright bizarre examples from the eclectic world of taxidermy.

This is the perfect book to bring out at dinner parties and hand around between courses – who couldn’t fail to love this earnest-looking bear or the dieting fox?

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This is my personal favourite. He (it’s definitely a ‘he’, isn’t it) looks so pleased with himself, doesn’t he? There is even a section at the back of the book that talks you through your own home taxidermy projects, step by step. I haven’t tried this, however, so cannot say how helpful it really is. But the main point of this delightful publication is to enjoy the efforts of other (assumed) amateur taxidermists and enjoy them you will, let me tell you.

So there we have it. I hope I have introduced you to some hitherto little-known literary gems that would otherwise have passed you by. No need to thank me, it has been my pleasure.

Hide & Seek – Part Thirteen

Despite the bounteous breakfast consumed not an hour or so since, Captain Hastings felt the beginnings of a small rumble in his stomach. It was another fine day in the Norfolk coastal town of Tunkle-on-Wyme and a salty breeze chased about the streets, gently ruffling his immaculate golden thatch. The sea air is said to be good for the appetite and Hastings was content to attribute to this his unseemly greed. It had been quite an eventful morning thus far, with the discovery of another body; poor Maggie the maid now joining the ill-fated Clara in the list of victims of a unknown rapscallion. Whilst Clara was clearly bludgeoned in the most despicable manner, Hastings and Japp had immediately taken Maggie’s hanging to be suicide. But the great Hercule Poirot had other ideas.

As he continued along steep, narrow streets made all the more treacherous by flint and cobble underfoot, Hastings began to see how obvious it was that Poirot had come to the conclusion he did. Firstly, there was no stool or chair anywhere beneath the body that would have been kicked aside in a suicide. Secondly, the keen eye of the famous detective had spied an unusual wearing of the rope along its length, suggesting that it had been dragged across the beam whilst bearing weight. Maggie was already dead when the noose was placed around her neck and then hoisted into position. Poirot was confident that on examination of the body, another cause of death would be discovered.

The rope was one thing but it gave Hastings the pip to think he hadn’t noticed the absence of a stool beneath the body. Perhaps this was why he had been despatched into town to find a mechanic, rather than assist with the investigation, which had now taken a much more urgent turn. In truth, Hastings did not mind too much. Questioning suspects had never been his strong point and it was true to say that he was slightly more concerned about the state of the car than he was the murders. Murders happened all the time in London and were usually for some good reason or other, but the vandalism of a motor vehicle was a mindless crime against common decency. Also, Derbyshire had mentioned that the mechanic was next to the bakery and Hastings was very much in the mood for a pastry.

Hastings soon found the mechanic’s workshop at the bottom of an unusually severe incline, which struck him as a most inconvenient location to be reached by vehicles of any kind, let alone ones needing the attention of a mechanic. In fact, it struck Hastings that Tunkle-on-Wyme was not at all an ideal place for motor cars. The streets, although pretty in their own way, were crowded on either side by quaint buildings fashioned from the local flint, their painted wooden doors and window frames resplendent in cheerful pastel shades. The cobbles on the roads would make any journey a bone-rattling experience, that is if one could make it more than a few feet before being stopped in one’s tracks by a marauding flock of geese, or old women carrying unfeasibly large baskets of fish or some such thing. Charming, but hardly practical.

Tempting aromas of fresh bread and sweet treats mingled with the briny breeze and Captain Hastings would have followed them directly through the door of the bakery, had the quirky rolling Norfolk lilt of the mechanic not drawn his attention.

“Mornin’, sir, its thar summit thass ah kin help yew with?”

Hastings turned to address the beaming, oil-smeared face of a man who appeared entirely comprised of grime and overalls. He stood beneath a painted sign declaring the premises to be ‘Took’s Automative Centre’ and was wiping his hands on a cloth that was filthier than he was.

“Good morning,” replied Hastings, fervently hoping the fellow didn’t offer him his hand. “My name is Hastings, I’m staying at Somersby Hall and I’m having a problem with my vehicle. You are Mr Took, I take it?”
“Yis. Everrone calls me Tooky,” replied the mechanic. “Somersby Hall, eh? Yew’re a furriner, then?”

Hastings returned a blank stare, wondering if the chap was speaking English.

“A vister to these parts?” Tooky continued. “Nivvermind. Wassisit the matter with your car?”

“All four tyres have been damaged, I’m afraid,” Hastings replied, hoping he was answering the question he thought he was. “It’s a Delage D6-11, do you think you can find me the correct tyres?”

“Thass a hoolly rare ‘un of a car, sir, yew know.”

“I’m sorry..?”

“Ah dint have the right tyres here but ah can ax about and bring them acrorst to the Hall afore too long,” Tooky pulled a grubby roll-up from his top pocket and rummaged around for a box of matches. Hastings held his breath as oil stained hands fumbled to get the roll-up lit. “Lady Bottomclutch is a primmicky maw, ent she sir? I had the vicar in here yisty axing about the wedding car and he had a raw mouth on him over her Ladyship.”

Tooky sucked the roll-up into life as Hastings tried to make sense of what he was saying.

“Wedding car? Is someone getting married?” asked Hastings.

“Yis! Ent that why yew’re visting? Yew know, it whar the vicar’s son that were putting up parts with their new maid and now they’s havvin to get spliced. Ah allus thought James Philpott ent the marrying kind, if you get my drift, all that velvet an’ lace. Still, tha mardle of the town says they done the dutty and bein’as the maw had a fat pot on ‘er it muss be true.”

“Sorry – are you saying that James Philpott is the father of Maggie’s baby?”

“Yis! Ah’d have said it was squit ’til I seen the girl meeself.”

“And you say that Mr Philpott was complaining about Lady Bottomclutch?” Hastings continued.

“Hold yew hard, ah’m not saying no one said nowt,” replied Tooky, dragging hard on the limp stub of his roll-up. “With all yews furriners about I dussent gev over to mardling!”

“There are other… furry… types… about?” said Hastings, getting a feel for the local lingo.

“Ah seen one ah em lassnight on the way back from The Cat & Compass,” replied Tooky, nodding. “But ah’s full ‘o tha sluss and ah dint see the face. It were late. He was in the telephone box on the high street. Bloody furriners. Howsomever, ah’ll bring tha tyres acrorst tha Hall, arright?”

Tooky threw the tattered remains of the roll-up to the floor, tugged at his cap and sauntered back into the gloom of his garage. Hastings felt that he had garnered some very important information here this morning, if only he knew what the devil the fellow was talking about.