Award Of The Week (3)

Congratulations go to Emily from Glasgow, an eight-year-old girl who has just won the coveted UK’s messiest child award for 2021, a keenly fought competition organised by bed retailer, Happy Beds.   

The enterprising, or desperate, retailer launched the competition by asking parents to send in pictures of their children’s untidy bedrooms. It attracted a flood of entries including one from Emily’s father, Steve, who was frustrated that she treated it like a changing room and that it looked like a “bomb zone”.

Despite stiff competition, Emily’s bedroom was deemed to be the untidiest of them all, scooping her the top prize, a bed worth over £400.

It is a good job the prize was not a trophy as she would have lost it in all that mess.

Could your child do better or will Emily try to retain her crown next year?

Referee Of The Week

Who would be a football referee?

They are subject to enough abuse from spectators and players through the natural course of a match without unnecessarily causing the wrath of all.

Spare a thought then for Simeon Lucas, the named referee for the FA Trophy clash between Curzon Ashton and Chester City. Fifteen minutes into the first half there was a tannoy announcement requesting that the owner of a vehicle move their car, a fairly common occurrence, especially at grounds where street parking is at a premium.

The referee stopped play, dashed to the touchline, had an earnest conversation with a steward and then left the pitch. The offending car was his and play was held up as the red-faced official moved it, much to the chagrin and then amusement of the 329 hardy souls who had braved the high winds and snow to watch the match.

He should have been given a yellow ticket!

Seven Of The Gang

Bad cess to ye! is a phrase I do not normally use, but, I suppose, it has the benefit of leaving a look of bewilderment on the face of my victim as they would probably not know what I was on about. According to Passing English of the Victorian Era, it was in common use in England and meant bad luck to you. Cess, though, was Irish in origin and was used to denote board and lodging and was even used in the preamble to a piece of Irish legislation aimed at regulating the misbehaviour of Irish gentlemen who went around “cessing themselves and their followers, their horses and their greyhounds, upon the poorer inhabitants”.

A bad egg is someone who is thoroughly disreputable. What I did not know was that it was American in origin, although no longer used there, but crossed over the Atlantic to become a colloquialism in England. A bad hat is also a disreputable person, a unsatisfactory mess-mate. It owes its origin to the Irish and, in particular, to those unsavoury Hibernian characters who wore bad high hats.  

Badges and bulls’ eyes was a piece of Army slang coming out of the Boer War. The badges and medals which adorned the uniforms of officers made for an excellent target for the Boer snipers.

A bag o’ beer was a quart of beer made up of a half of fourpenny porter and a half of fourpenny ale. It was once known as a pot o’ four ‘arf and ‘arf, before being abbreviated to four ‘arf and then to bag o’ beer. It might have gone down well with a bag o’ mystery, sausages, so called because no man other than the maker knows what is in them, the lexicographer sagely notes.

Bag and baggage meant thoroughly or completely and its popularity was down to a Prime Minister whose name is synonymous with bags, William Ewart Gladstone. He recommended that the Turk should be turned out of Europe bag and baggage.

Murder Of A Martinet

A review of Murder of a Martinet by E C R Lorac

Family relationships can be fraught at the best of times. Imagine what they would be like if all the children, now adults, lived together in one house with their spouses and their parents. This is the intriguing scenario for the 1951 novel by Edith Caroline Rivett aka E C R Lorac, published in the UK as Murder of a Martinet but now to be found under its alternative American title, I Could Murder Her. The e-book version I bought bore the latter title.

Muriel Farringdon is an overbearing mother who relishes getting her own way. Her husband, Eddie, is easy-going. He had a daughter by his previous marriage, Madge, whose life is a round of unremitting drudgery, cooking, cleaning, and organising household affairs for the rest of the family. She had suffered a mental breakdown following her work as a nurse during the war. Tony is Muriel’s favourite, but his wife, Anne, despises her. The twins have had an unconventional upbringing, are close, but wild. Judith, also living with her husband in the house, avoids Muriel at all costs.

On the fateful day Muriel visits Madge in the kitchen to confirm arrangements for a dinner party to celebrate her birthday, which she expects Madge to organise and cook. There is a row during which Madge reveals her plans to take up a post in America. Muriel, who has a dodgy ticker, retires to her bed, the old family doctor, Baring, attends to her, but during the night she dies. The cause of death seems to have been a shot of insulin. Who killed her?

Baring, having one tot of whisky more than is good for him, wraps himself and his car around the lamp post. His colleague, Dr Scott, is suspicious and refuses to sign the death certificate. The police are called. Enter Chief Inspector Macdonald and his sidekick, Reeves.

This is a taut, psychological murder mystery with Lorac at her best. All the suspects have motive enough for doing away with Muriel, there had been enough toing and froing on the stairway that night to implicate most, but Macdonald’s analysis of the psychological profiles of the family members and their immediate circle leads him to the conclusion that there can only be one real suspect. The denouement is tragic but fits well with the fraught psychological drama that Lorac has penned.

In many ways the book represents an end of an era, a farewell to an England of the past. Prior to the war, the family lived in more comfortable circumstances and enjoyed a full complement of servants. After the war, straitened financial circumstances have forced the adult children to live with their parents. Muriel has never adjusted to the change and simply expects Madge, ably assisted by Mrs Pinks, to run the household as before.

The war has also opened Eddie’s eyes and he has begun to question the old order, embracing a more socialist world view, which he explores with a group of darts players whose club he has joined at the local pub. Muriel, of course, thinks he is still going to his gentlemen’s club, but the fees are such that he cannot afford them. Pressing financial concerns, a change in world view and the ratcheting up of family tensions and feuds means that something has to give.

The murder was almost perfectly planned, and perhaps the culprit would have got away with it, but for that extra dram of whisky. There is no sympathy for Muriel and the reader, ambivalent to her demise, is left wondering whether some form of natural justice has been served.

I thought it was an excellent, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read from an author whose works are well worth seeking out.

The Padded Door

A review of The Padded Door by Brian Flynn

Once more, in this his eleventh Anthony Bathurst adventure, originally published in 1932 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, Flynn tries something different. Bathurst is a more serious character, taking a more analytical and psychological approach to the case in hand and less confident of his powers and chances of success.

On the face of it he is on a hiding to nothing, called in at the last minute to find some evidence to clear Captain Hilary Frant of murdering a moneylender and blackmailer, Pearson. Frant went there to pay Pearson off in return for the return of some indiscreet letters written by his sister. Frant was the last person to go into the room and the two were overheard arguing. Frant paid £1,000, mainly in £50 notes, but the money was not in the room. Frant’s walking stick was found near the scene and his only defence, hardly convincing to modern eyes, is that he is a gentleman and would never strike another from behind.

To compound Frant’s problems, he is up before a judge with a fearsome reputation and penchant for donning the black cap. To most people’s astonishment, Frant is found not guilty, the jury following the judge’s direction to acquit. A day later, the body of the judge is found stuffed in a large trunk. Are the two cases connected?

Bathurst’s investigations are frustrating, a series of dead ends, contradictory facts and bizarre clues, including those to be found in a magazine profile of the judge, his predilection for blue veined stilton and his dislike of motor vehicles, a hunt for a trail of £50 notes, a cinema fire, light thuds, and a picaresque one-legged dancer. Flynn’s plotting is clever and the puzzle is suitably involved and intriguing and requires a sleight of hand to bring it to a resolution. Flynn is at his most audacious here and he does manage to pull it off, even if his readers are left struggling to catch up as events move at a pace at the end.

Structurally, the book is intriguing. It opens as a first-person narrative in which the reader is informed that the details of this case have recently come out of embargo. Within a few paragraphs the narrative is in the third person and the narrator only reappears at the very end. The book also falls into two very distinct parts, the first, the Pearson murder, can almost be seen as the prelude for the main fare, the mystery of the judge’s murder. There is a distinct shift in pace in the narrative once we enter the second part of the story and it crunches through the gears to reach its dramatic and somewhat bizarre conclusion.

Bathurst’s relationship with the law is a fascinating point of interest in this case. His opposite number is Detective Inspector McMorran, whom we have met before but will become a more regular character as the series progresses, and once Frant has been acquitted the two join forces to solve both murders. What I found troubling, though, was that there were different standards applied to the dispensation of justice. Pearson’s murderer danced the hemp jig, but the misdemeanours of others that led to the second murder – or is it to be viewed as a mercy killing as the victim was terminally ill? – are swept under the carpet.

There are fewer overt Holmesian references in this story than in The Triple Bite, but the sleuth acting as judge and jury with a moral compass that has met with significant turbulence is a pretty big one. Despite my concerns on this point, it is a very clever, convoluted story, enjoyable and well-written book that draws you in. It is also one of Flynn’s most challenging yet.

Books, words, gin and much more