the end

Never A Cross Word – Finale

Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings arrived at Whitehaven Mansions at eight o’clock precisely, as instructed by Hercule Poirot. When they reached the door of his apartment, they found it invitingly ajar. Nudging the door open with a cautious palm, Hastings led the way through to the hallway, followed by an impatient Japp. When they reached the hallway, an unusual and troublesome sight awaited them.

“What do you make of that, Hastings?” asked Japp.

Hastings scanned the scene but was able to reply only with a shrug. All alongside the far wall were stacked trunks and cases and it appeared that many of Poirot’s personal effects were wrapped and prepared for storage.

“Perhaps the old chap is off on his holidays,” said Hastings, eventually. But his words were made hollow by the growing feeling of ominous dread in the pit of his stomach.

They exchanged worried glances, before heading through to the living room, where they hoped to find their Belgian friend. Poirot was, indeed, awaiting their arrival, pocket watch in hand and a tray of sweet sherries arranged on the occasional table before him. Their punctuality evidently delighted him, as he greeted them with a cheery countenance as he replaced his pocket watch and motioned for his guests to help themselves to the refreshments on offer. Japp and Hastings duly obliged, but their concerned expressions drew a quizzical response from Poirot.

“Is the sherry not to your liking, messieurs?

“I’m sure the sherry is very good, Poirot, but what’s all this business with the cases in the hallway?” asked Hastings.

“Ah, bien sûr, the cases. Poirot, he is going away imminently, mon amie…”

Hastings and Japp simultaneously cried out in protest, but were hushed into silence by Poirot before either could remonstrate further.

“Poirot will resolve this all in good time, I promise. Mais d’abord, I have much to explain to you both.”

“Right, yes,” said Japp, taking a seat and another sherry, feeling that he would have great need of both. “Hastings told me that you have solved the Marble Murders.”

“Hastings, he is always getting carried away with himself,” replied Poirot, eyeing the Captain in mock admonishment. “I told him that I had solved one of the murders.”

“But surely if you have solved one, you’ve solved them all?” said Hastings, perplexed.

Poirot sipped at his sherry, before replacing the glass on the platter and removing a small hand mirror from his jacket pocket. He made fastidious adjustments to his eyebrows and moustache, before removing imaginary specks from his gleaming bald head. His personal preparations complete, Poirot composed himself in the time honoured fashion with which he delivered his legendary conclusions of criminal cases of all descriptions.

“Chief Inspector, you remember the morning when I first met with yourself and your experts, the morning when Inspector Catchpool, he failed to arrive in your office?”

“Of course, Poirot,” Japp replied.

“I told you that perhaps he was struggling with the statement of Miss Pip, non? And so I took my leave to go and assist him. Mais, I knew I would not find him with Miss Pip, as I had given him no such instructions. Of course, Miss Pip had already told to Poirot the story of Catchpool stealing the girlfriend of her late employer, the unfortunate Maurice Kelly – to send Catchpool to take her statement would have been folly. Instead, I went straight to the place where I expected to find him.”

“And where was that?” asked Hastings, agog at the unfolding tale. He had always enjoyed Poirot’s theatrical explanations immensely.

“Why, I went to his residence,” Poirot continued. “On numerous occasions previously I have found him there, nose-deep in his crosswords, when he was supposed to be working. It is a most infuriating thing, non? And so it was that Poirot found him there, still wrestling with the wretched four down – ‘A letter for Socrates’. Zut alors! But it made Poirot so very angry. Especially as it was not a particularly difficult clue.”

“Aha!” exclaimed Japp, realisation dawning upon him. “‘SIGMA’ – the Greek letter ’S’. It was written in large letters on the notepad found by Catchpool’s desk!”

Exacte! But even when Poirot told this to him, still he would not think about the case of the Marble Murders. Still he insisted on thinking only of his crosswords. The rage within me, it was too much. Before I knew what I was doing, I had taken the pages from The Times and I had forced them into the throat of Inspector Catchpool, with such violence that I never knew I possessed. Such violence, that, I am sad to say, killed him.”

The stunned silence from Hastings and Japp hung heavily in the air, just as their mouths hung open in unequivocal disbelief.

“Good lord,” muttered Hastings. Then, unable to think of anything else, “I say.”

“But I don’t understand it, Poirot,” remarked Japp. “You were always so protective of Catchpool. I mean, there was never a cross word between you two the entire time. How could you find it in yourself to kill him?”

“I think I know,” said Hastings, slowly nodding. “Yes, I see it all, now. Inspector Catchpool was never up to being a decent assistant to the great Hercule Poirot. And with these diabolical Marble Murders to contend with, no doubt the chap was a positive hinderance. I bet Poirot needed him out of his way – and no doubt hearing about my… difficulties in Argentina, he wanted to recruit me again and do us both a favour! I bet that’s it, isn’t it, old friend?”

Poirot smiled once more and considered his response. It would not harm the situation further for his great friend to believe that this was the truth, nor would it impair his own reputation for the facts of his furious temper to be concealed. With Hastings now looking at him with such warmth that might usually be reserved for auburn haired ladies, Poirot nodded ardently in response.

“But what about these marbles we found at Catchpool’s, then?” continued Japp. “I expect you put them there yourself, did you?”

Oui, Chief Inspector, I did. I wanted it to appear as if the Marble Murderer had claimed him also as a victim. When I was examining the scene, I slipped the marbles under his desk, as if they had fallen there in a struggle with the Marble Murderer. It became très difficle when you arrested Captain Hastings, but luckily the marbles were found before too long.”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, Poirot,” said Hastings, getting quite swept up in events. “All part of the grand plan, I’ll wager! Very clever of you, I must say.”

Mais, not clever enough,” sighed Poirot. “When I took the marbles from the scene of Monsieur Kelly’s murder, it was very late at night and so dark. I did not notice that they had tiny flecks of blood on them. I selected those marbles furthest from the body, thinking they would be untainted, but I was mistaken.”

“But why are you confessing to us now, Poirot?” asked Japp. “You probably could have got away with it. I would never have suspected you, you know.”

“This is true, Chief Inspector. But when Hastings noticed the blood on the marbles – something Poirot had not himself noticed – I felt great shame that in my attempt to perform the perfect murder, I had failed to fool even him. My only recourse – confession.”

“So I suppose the packed bags are for your midnight flit, then?” said Hastings. “Don’t worry old chap, Japp and I will see you on your way under the cover of night. I’ll not let them lock you up.”

Poirot shook his head, which was now heavy with remorse.

Mais non, Hastings. Poirot is prepared to accept his fate and will take his bags to prison with him. The remainings of my possessions must pass to you, mon amie, for whatever use you see fit.”

“Now steady on a minute, Poirot,” Japp interrupted. “I’m not sure that sending you to prison is the best idea. There’s still the Marble Murder case to solve for one thing. And no one really liked old Catchpool anyway, I can’t see as it would hurt to let everyone believe that his murder was a foil to implicate Hastings.”

Japp got to his feet and searched around casually for the sherry. He could have sworn that Poirot’s eyes were filled with tears.

“You will not send me to prison, Chief Inspector?”

“Bugger that for a game of soldiers, Poirot!” exclaimed Japp. “No, no. We’ll say no more about it. Both of you report to my office first thing tomorrow. We’ve got a murderer to catch!”

Unable to find where Poirot kept the sherry, Chief Inspector Japp took his leave and disappeared out into the night. Poirot and Hastings – reunited as the greatest crime fighting force in all of London – thought briefly that they might indulge in a celebratory manly embrace. But that would never do. A firm handshake would more than suffice.



We Will Always Have Cambridge…

Dearest chaps & chapesses, I am in a bit of a quandary. As Secret Diary Of PorterGirl approaches its third anniversary, I find myself with genuine concerns for the future of the blog. Long time readers will know that the blog started as the semi-fictional diary of Deputy Head Porter entering the strange new world of Old College for the very first time. It then continued, like a blog soap opera, with regular episodes chronicling the increasingly dramatic events among the academic elite. There were video and even musical interludes, but by and large it has been a blog dedicated to the never-evolving world of Deputy Head Porter and her unusual companions within the University bubble. We have solved murders, investigated art thefts and even embarked upon a quest for the Holy Grail (now being used by The Dean to hold paperclips).

Old College has provided the backdrop for love, laughter and untimely death and there is now a little part of the blogosphere that shall forever be a bastion of being just that little bit more British than everywhere else. But now our bowler hatted friends have made their way into print, the likelihood of this blog continuing in the manner to which we have become accustomed is starting to look inconceivable. Understandably, the publisher would prefer that brand new material not be so readily and completely available to all and sundry – which rather puts the kibosh on the next adventure that I had planned to run on this blog. Annoyingly, this means that we won’t find out what happened to Head Porter, nor will we learn the truth about the Music Professor. Well – we will, but you will have to wait for me to write the book.


So no more online PorterGirl adventures – what really is this blog without the shenanigans of our Old College heroes? Should I write sporadically about other things with occasional updates on the books? Or put the damn thing out of its misery while it still has a bit of class about it? I didn’t start blogging with the intention of sharing my thoughts and opinions, it really was just a vehicle for the Secret Diary. Also, being very much a Mr Ben-type myself (readers of a certain age will catch my drift), having accomplished my goal of becoming a published author (with at least two more books to write), I now find myself looking towards other enterprises. Perhaps even harboring a new, secret ambition… But I have grown to love blogging and writing so very much. Of course, the Who Shot Tony Blair? blog will be online very shortly, which will scratch that particular itch. But as for PorterGirl – what next?

We will always have Cambridge…



Buy this. Oh, go on.


Finnegans Wake: The Conclusion

We’ve done it! We have made it all the way through James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a work that is widely labelled an unreadable work of genius. I am woefully under-qualified in the business of declaring genius, but I can certainly say that it isn’t unreadable. I’ve just read it. It is – without doubt – incredibly difficult. It took Joyce seventeen years to write the bloody thing and one would assume that he knew what he was getting at, so for a mere mortal such as myself it was always going to be unlikely that I would gain any probing insights from just one reading. However, there are many elements that are obvious even to the most casual reader.

First off, in order to read Finnegans Wake you need to forget everything you thought you knew about literature. The hardest part of the whole process is abandoning the concepts of narrative, protagonists, plot and structure – Joyce has no truck with such things and trying to hang the text on a reliable framework is folly. This is a soundscape of noise that occasionally adopts a human voice, rather than any kind of prose. Also the notion of character is very fluid – we certainly have a key cast but they appear in many different forms, across varying timelines and displaying different behaviours. In some ways, this unreliability makes them seem more real than characters in a standard novel. So here they are, in all their demented glory:

Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker / Here Comes Everybody / HCE

Both the hero and the villain of the piece, HCE is certainly one of the most interesting literary characters I have come across. On the face of it, the story of HCE is one broadly of a fall from grace, a man who loses everything through drink and womanising. But then again we are never definitively sure exactly of his trespass, or even if it ever occurred at all. He has connections to the sea – he arrives in the book on a ship and there are several references to battles at sea and exploring. A drinker, gambler and womaniser, he has a dysfunctional relationship with his wife and family. Much is made of his downfall being related to drink and women, in particular his wife ALP. He is also representative of Adam (his downfall being similar in nature) and as an ‘every man’ character. He is both victim and offender, alive and dead, a gentleman and a monster. I suppose he really is sort of ‘everybody’.

Anna Livia Plurabelle / ALP

Like her husband HCE, ALP is an extraordinary character. Seen as both a devoted wife and a shameless harlot, ALP is as much a victim of the events in the park as anyone, if not more so. The rumours of her husband being a rapist damage her reputation and she too becomes a target for the gossiping townsfolk. There are plenty of tales of her infidelities but she is also portrayed at times as a virginal, almost goddess-like character – although she does spend most of her appearances being somewhat hysterical. ALP is often associated with rivers, to the extend that she occasionally is a river. Quite a few people get drowned in rivers, come to think of it. Long-suffering housewife driven to distraction by her drunken husband’s philandering ways, or heartless strumpet who destroyed HCE through her own selfish desires? ALP is the very best and very worst of all women. She and HCE make the perfect couple.

Shem The Penman

Son of HCE and ALP, Shem appears through the book at various stages in his life and in various guises. He is a writer and forger and it is generally thought that he wrote ALP’s famous letter. Shem is a pitiful character and often mocked by his brother Shaun and others. Towards the end of the book there is suggestion that Shem is not in fact the son of HCE and this could be the cause of Shaun’s irritation. I somehow ended up rooting for Shem, even though he appears to have no redeeming features whatsoever.

Shaun The Post

Shem’s brother Shaun is apparently a postman but we only ever hear of him delivering one letter, and even that ended up with Biddy the hen. Shaun also has two sides to his personality. His alter ego Kevin appears to represent a youthful or unsullied version of Shaun, who is otherwise brash, boastful, enormously fat and both revolting and hilarious at the same time. He is vicious to poor Shem but seems to share his father’s love of the ladies. He never gives a straight answer to anything and his rambling responses to even the most innocuous of questions are often very funny. However, like his mother ALP, Shaun also has a pious persona, even going as far as to appear as Saint Kevin in the final Book. He is the most unrepentant of sinners, unable to see his own shortcomings.

Isa / Izzy / Isobel

The younger sister of Shem and Shaun, Isa is probably the most disturbing character in the book. While her brothers appear as both young boys and also grown men, Isa seems permanently stuck in adolescence, although this does not stop her from having some very grown-up monologues. Rather than presenting as a metaphor for lost innocence, Isa comes across as never having possessed innocence in the first place, which is somehow worse. She is not a bad or unpleasant character, far from it. Her appearances are announced by the most dainty, Wonderland-esque prose but the general gist of her intentions is pretty dark. I cannot help wondering if Isa is representative of Joyce’s own daughter Lucia, a lady plagued by mental illness to whom Joyce was inordinately close.

Biddy The Hen

Far and away my favourite character in the book. This humble hen is presented in exalted terms and is held in high regard by the townsfolk. Apart from being the finder of ALP’s letter, Biddy is a symbol for one of the great, over-arching themes of the book – the circle of life. The various tales in the book go round and round, repeated and distorted throughout, with seemingly no beginning or end to any of them and characters are born, deceased and risen again on a fairly regular basis. The theme of ‘chicken and egg’ is prevalent – we are never sure what came first, what was cause and what was effect. But the greater purpose of existence itself is represented here by the mighty Biddy, at least that is my chosen interpretation, if only for the fact that at one point she considers raising a hen army. Now, you don’t get that in many books.

There are various other characters that make several appearances – the gaggle of schoolgirls, Hosty the musician, Kate Strong the barmaid and of course Finnegan himself. There are also the twelve men who are both customers in HCE’s pub and the jury in his court case, and the slightly sinister Four Masters who pop up here and there. I am absolutely convinced that the Duke of Wellington has something to do with it all, but I haven’t been able to work it out. Endless people and places are constantly discussed, and sometimes people are places and sometimes they don’t exist at all. Sometimes trying to work out who people are is simply a waste of time and it’s just better not to know.

As for the storyline, well – there isn’t a storyline. Stream of consciousness is one thing, but this is more of a four dimensional spiral of many stories seen from conflicting perspectives, interwoven with a matrix of random thoughts and ideas. Throughout much of the book there is a sort of ‘background’ commentary of absolutely everything and everything – science, history, religion, nature, politics, social ideology – it is almost as if Joyce just threw in bits of information that interested him at the time. The modern equivalent would be to have multiple browser tabs open and to click between them all, reading random bits of each. At times when people are being discussed, it is like scrolling through a social media newsfeed – unrelated snippets of people’s every day lives, often making little sense to anyone who wasn’t there at the time. Picking through all these many, seemingly random, things could distract one forever – although I dare say there are some fascinating insights behind all of them.

There is no linear narrative and we can never be sure of anything, but I will give you my best attempt at a synopsis:

ALP, a tailor’s daughter, meets HCE upon a ship after his trousers are stolen. They fall in love and get married. After sailing around for a bit, ALP tires of life at sea and demands that HCE retires from adventuring and takes her to live in a pub in Dublin. There they produce three fairly disturbed children and settle down to either marital bliss or abject misery. Eventually, rumours start to emerge about HCE. He is suspected of committing a sexual indiscretion in the the park, although the versions of what actually happened range from the vicious rape of one or more girls, to nothing more than a cruel character assassination. ALP instigates a letter to be sent to everyone in town, either defending or deriding her husband. The letter doesn’t make it to the intended audience, but is presented as evidence when HCE is tried in court. HCE is released from court, presumably being found innocent, but his friends and customers turn against him anyway. HCE then retreats from the world and maybe dies at the end. Meanwhile, everyone else drinks, gossips and fornicates, whilst gossiping about those who fornicate and drink.

Of course, I am barely able to scratch the surface of this magnificent tome. It is simultaneously a combination of all books (so many literary works are referenced I lost count – and probably missed countless more) whilst also being like no other book, ever. Words and language are both recklessly irrelevant and cunningly crafted and we have to look beyond them to appreciate what they actually represent.  There are theories about the book being a dream sequence, taking place over the course of one night as a kind of sequel to Ulysses, or of being the work of a diseased mind – something Joyce actively encouraged at the time. It could be a retelling of the fall of man, or an elaborate commentary on infinity – the last line of the book joins up to the first and no conclusions are ever reached. Joyce has certainly achieved the coveted notoriety so desired by any writer, as people are not going to give up on the secrets of Finnegans Wake any time soon.

Personally, I don’t think that this book is written about any one thing. It is more a thing about which other books are written.