Penis Of The Week

If you are prone to penis envy, imagine what it would be like to have three. Diphallia, being born with two, is a relatively rare condition, occurring once in every five to six million live births and the supernumerary organ is usually removed early in the child’s life.

My go-to journal for matters medical, the ever-popular International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, reported the first ever documented case of triphallia. According to Dr Shakir Saleem Jamali, a Kurdish baby from the Iraqi city of Duhok was born with three penises. As only one could be called a true penis since the others did not possess urethrae, the other two were snipped off. The baby suffered no after-effects, although it may rue the loss of an ice breaker at parties in later life.

Back in 2015 there was a report of an Indian boy also with triphallia, although this was never verified in an academic journal.  

No explanation has been offered as to what caused this condition to occur, just the roll of the dice, perhaps.

Cantering Through Cant (26)

The act of travelling can be rather boring. In order to while away the time I remember as a child being encouraged to play I-Spy or a form of cricket where runs and wickets were determined by what we passed. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) records a predecessor of this rather engrossing game, travelling piquet.

This he defines as “a mode of amusing themselves, practiced by two persons riding in a carriage, each reckoning towards his game the persons or animals that pass by on the side next to them”. He then gives an example of a scoring system.

Seeing a parson riding a grey horse with blue furniture or an old woman under a hedge would be sufficient to win you the game outright. Spotting a cat looking out of a window would score you sixty points and a buggy containing a man, woman, and child would net you forty. A man with a woman behind him would score thirty, but just seeing a solitary man or woman would only be worth one. A flock of sheep would score twenty, while a flock of geese warranted just ten. A post chaise was worth five points and a horseman two. Presumably, it was up to the competitors to determine what the target point score was.

Grose records another game, tray trip, which he likens to scotch hop (or hopscotch as we would know it), “played out on a pavement marked out with chalk into different compartments”. It may have been a street version of an old dice game, tray-trip, where success depended upon throwing a trey or three. The older game is referred to in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; “shall I play my freedom at trip-tray?” (Act 2, scene 5, line 205).

More anon.

The West Pier

The West Pier – Patrick Hamilton

I first came across Patrick Hamilton some years ago when I read his Hangover Square. He is another writer who has fallen out of fashion, but his legacy lives on through the modern predilection for the term gaslighting which came from his novel, Gaslight. Published in 1951, although set in the period between 1914 and 1921, The West Pier introduces us to Ernest Ralph Gorse and is now regarded as the first of the Gorse Trilogy. Hamilton intended a fourth volume, although his death from alcoholism prevented him finishing the series off.   

The West Pier in the title is the famous structure at Brighton, the town in which the book is set. At the time it had a reputation as a place where young men and women met in the prospect of some romantic attachment. Gorse is what we would now know as a psychopath, although Hamilton makes no attempt to psycho-analyse the monster that he is portraying. Gorse has no redeeming features, the classic anti-hero, a monster who draws the reader in to find out what his devious and sadistic mind will turn to next and whether his hapless victims will eventually have the sense to realise what is happening to them. Hamilton’s commentary does not attempt to rehabilitate Gorse, but to emphasise the downwards trajectory of his behaviour.

In essence, the book focuses on two short periods of Gorse’s early life. The first is when he is at school with two of his friends, Ryan and Bell. Even at an early age Gorse displays an unfeeling attitude towards others and a cruel streak exhibited, initially, in a cruel joke when he puts a boy’s prized torch into another boy’s pocket and stands by to watch the accusation of theft. The second example is more disturbing and a harbinger of what to come when he lures a young girl into a shed and ties her up.

It is tempting to see Hamilton painting the young Gore as a proto fascist. The victim of his torch trick happens to be a Jewish boy. Although far too young to serve in the First World War, he is fascinated by military uniforms and enjoys mindless army drills. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, although by the time Hamilton wrote this, the consequences of fascism were there for all to see.

The second time we see Gorse is when he returns to Brighton on holiday, again with Ryan and Bell. They wander down to the West Pier in the hopes of encountering young girls and soon pick up Esther and Gertrude. Both Ryan and Gorse fancy Esther and while she recognises that Ryan is the better catch, she falls under Gorse’s spell. Gorse engages in a two-pronged attack to break up the Ryan-Esther relationship by sending a series of anonymous notes, planting the seeds of doubt in their minds about the fitness of the other, and to relieve Esther of her life savings which she foolishly boasted about in an early encounter when he treated her to a drink in a posh hotel, the Metropole.

Gorse’s campaign is successful. While the reader is invited to express disgust at Gorse’s behaviour it is difficult to find much sympathy for Esther. How could she be so stupid? But that is the way a confidence trickster works, making their victim seem loved and valued only to destroy their self-worth with a cruel trick. In the scheme of things Gorse’s fraud is small beer, but confidence tricks of this nature are the meat and drink of the fraudster. Hamilton’s insight into the workings of a fraudster are as relevant today as they were then, even if the medium of the fraud has changed.

Easy to read and with flashes of wit, it was an enjoyable and slightly disturbing read. I shall follow Ernest Ralph Gorse into his next adventure.

The Dark Garden

The Dark Garden – E R Punshon

This is the 16th book in Ernest Punshon’s Bobby Owen series, set in June 1940 and published in 1941, and is set in Wychshire, to whose force Bobby Owen has been seconded from Scotland Yard. As there is a war on, we find him short-handed and struggling to keep up with the paperwork that the new wartime regulations bring along with them. He has little time for a local farmer, Osman Ford, who alleges that the local solicitor, Nathaniel Anderson, is refusing to hand over to him the money from his wife’s legacy and believes that it has been misappropriated. Ford gives the impression of being a hasty, intemperate man.

A little later, Anderson is found dead with a bullet lodged in the back of his head. Has Ford taken his revenge, knowing that the other partner would be more sympathetic to releasing the money? What seems, initially, a fairly simple case becomes more complex at every turn. It seems that Anderson was not a popular man, had his own dark secret (he was living in sin with a girl from the office, Anne Earle (gasp!) and there were several in his office who had a grudge against him and a credible motive for doing away with him. Owen has his work cut out to make sense of the web of intrigue and, given his staffing problems, has to do much of the leg work himself. Money, though, is the root of all evil and following it may just hold the key to the mystery.

In truth, I sensed who the killer was fairly early on in the course of the story, despite Punshon’s best efforts to throw unexpected twists into the narrative. From what seemed a fairly unpromising premise, he did manage to hold my interest as Owens investigations threw up more motives and secrets in a community that was full of characters seething with passions, obsessions, and jealousies. It read more as a thriller than a straight-forward piece of detective fiction and was none the worse for that.

There were two features in the book that rescued it from being just an OK novel. The first was the denouement which was a well-written and dramatic set piece in which all the key suspects, including the culprit, were, somewhat improbably, blundering around in the dark in a deserted garden. There were lashings of melodrama and even a little humour, whether intentional or not, as Owen finally pulls all the pieces together and makes sense of it all.

The other was the character of Anne Earle. Her lover had been killed and she was determined to bring his killer to justice, even if she had to do it herself. An intense, spirited woman who, rather like a Fury from Greek myth, will stop at nothing. Her story is more complex, though, than she realises, and its resolution is the sort of material that Sophocles and Euripides would have made a masterpiece of.

Punshon is a sadly neglected writer and his Bobby Owen stories provide the sort of escapism that appeals even to a modern readership. Dean Street Press are to be commended for plucking him out of obscurity with their reissues.

The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye – Brian Flynn

Take a pinch of Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia, stir in some of Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone, and add a murder in a dentist’s chair, and let settle before cooking. What you get is this humdinger of a book, as good a piece of detective fiction as I have read in a long while. Perhaps the crime of the 20th century is that the inestimable Brian Flynn has languished in obscurity until recently, when thanks the laudable efforts of The Puzzle Doctor and the wonderful Dean Street Press hi novels have been reissued for a modern audience. If you do not read any other of Flynn’s books, read this.

Published in 1928 it is the third novel in the series involving Flynn’s amateur sleuth, Anthony Bathurst. There are three seemingly unconnected strands running through the book; at the Hunt Ball in Westhampton Sheila Delaney dances with a stranger, Mr X, who departs mysteriously; some months later the Crown Prince of Clorania approaches Bathurst as he is being blackmailed ahead of his forthcoming marriage for an indiscretion; Chief Inspector Bannister’s holiday is interrupted as he is required to investigate the death of a young woman, killed in the consulting room after the dentist found himself locked in the storeroom – yes, identical to Thynne’s plotting four years later. Are these events connected?

Of course they are and Bathurst, who attaches himself to the investigation as the representative of the Crown Prince, and Bannister, who is soon to retire, find themselves on the hunt for a ruthless killer. To add a touch of exotica to the proceedings, there is an Indian on the scene hunting down a fabulous jewel, the Peacock’s Eye, which was looted by some young British officer out in the Raj.

Bannister and Bathurst follow separate courses as they carry out their investigations and much of the book is made up with interviews of suspects and/or witnesses. Each serves the purpose of either throwing up a red herring or adding a discreetly hidden clue to the story. This is another one of the books where the clever amateur seems to make more progress than the plodding professional, but in this case their may be more to it than intellectual gravitas.

The ending of the book serves up as big a surprise as you can imagine and it took me by so much surprise that I decided I would re-read the final few chapters to see if I had missed anything. To be fair to Flynn, I had. There was just one imperceptible hint dropped when Flynn was narrating the travel arrangements of the parties on a boat to Amsterdam. It was easy to miss it but it was vitally important. Having missed it first time round, I had the satisfaction of being floored by something that I had not seen coming but on the second reading, I could appreciate the sheer brilliance and audacity of pulling off the stunt.

The book is beautifully written and flawlessly and ingeniously plotted. It stands head and shoulders amongst anything I have read in the last year and it deserves to be known and appreciated by a much wider audience. A first-class book.

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