Defection Of The Week

It is a frustrating time to be an athlete. One North Korean gymnast, though, put his skills to good use.

South Korean security officials received reports of “unidentified personnel” in the heavily fortified border area in Goeseng and after an extensive manhunt arrested the man in his 20s, who immediately asked for asylum.

They were intrigued as to how he had got through the extensive barrier that separates the two countries without triggering any of the sensors. The man told them that he had used his gymnastic acumen to swing himself over the three-metre fence. Taken aback, they asked him to demonstrate the feat which he did, not once but twice. The officials had no option but to believe his story and grant him his wish to remain south of the border.

What are the odds he will be competing for South Korea in the next Olympics. He would be a force to reckon with in the pole vault.

Book Corner – November 2020 (8)

Sweet Danger – Margery Allingham

This is the fifth crime novel by Margery Allingham to feature Albert Campion and in many ways marks a turning point in the development of her principal character. Published in 1933, in the States it went under the titles of Kingdom of Death and then The Fear Sign, it is the last where Campion is portrayed as a rather vacuous ass, albeit one with considerable underlying intelligence and steely determination well, an obvious parody of Dorothy L Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey. Subsequently, he becomes a more cerebral character, an effective sleuth. In this book his character betwixt and between. This is also the first book in which he forms a working partnership, later to be consummated in marriage, with Lady Amanda Fitton.

Frankly, this is a rather ludicrous book with a fantastical storyline, stocked full of bizarre and eccentric characters, which betrays its age, but nonetheless is hugely entertaining if you are looking for a light and escapist read. Campion, aided and abetted by his man, the wonderfully named Magersfontein Lugg, and his friend, Guffy Randall, is called upon to establish that a small but oil-rich principality on the Adriatic coast by the name of Averna is British and, principally, belongs to a now defunct aristocratic family in Suffolk. The proof that Campion is searching for is a crown, a drum and a receipt signed by Metternich, confirming the sale of the land. If that was not difficult enough, an unscrupulous financier, Brett Savanake, and his gang of thugs are also after the same prize.

The trail leads to a pretty village in Suffolk, Pontisbright, the home of the Fittons. Amanda is the belle of the family, described as being “at a stage of physical perfection seldom attained at any age’ and possessor of hair of a ‘blazing, flaming, and yet subtle colour which is as rare a it is beautiful”. It is inevitable that Campion will fall for her. Mind you, she is a game lass and more than plays her part in thwarting the evil plans of Savanake and his pals.

The characters, for the most part, are well-written, Savanake a monstrous, loathsome man straight out of central casting, and Dr Galley delightfully over the top as a medic who has lost his marbles. The plot has many ludicrous moments, characters climbing in and out of windows, some not advancing the storyline a jot, giving the sense of being padding, and Campion jumps into a cupboard and switches identity in a way that is so obvious it is a miracle that none of the other characters caught on. The tone of the book veers between tongue-in-cheek humour, almost a parody of the genre, and a high-class thriller, as if Allingham could not quite make up her mind which way to take the story.

The showdown at the Mill is a tense, taut piece of writing, Allingham at her best, and keeps her reader gripped and anxious to know what happens. The resolution of the mystery, though, is a little disappointing, a bit rushed with Allingham giving the sense that she had had enough of the story and wanted to put it to bed as quickly as possible. She only agreed to write the book under pressure from her American publishers, after disappointing sales of Police at the Funeral and at the time she was working on what was to become the sixth in the series, Death of a Ghost.

Many consider this to be her best Campion novel. I found it a little too rushed and silly to give it that accolade, but it was an enjoyable few hours spent.

Apostrophe Of The Week

The Apostrophe Protection Society may have thrown in the towel in their attempt to halt the misuse of the apostrophe, but here’s an example when knowing when and when not to use one can make all the difference.

An Indian takeaway restaurant in East London thought it would overhaul its publicity in order to attract more custom and to enhance its presence on on-line food delivery sites. A good idea, at least in theory.    

The name of the gaff is Anu’s Kitchen. In what can only be called a lamentable piece of proofreading, the oh so vital apostrophe was omitted and so the advert proclaimed the virtues of a restaurant known as Anus Kitchen. It was even listed as such on Foodhub, where you can get a 15% discount.

Still, look on the bright side. After the error went viral, they probably got more publicity than they would otherwise have done. Who needs apostrophes anyway?

Shiitake mushrooms anyone?

Dish Of The Week (2)

I like a nice steak, but I think I will give the Ouroboros steak a miss. If you don’t know the symbolism of the Gnostic philosophers, a pretty niche subject I have to admit, the ouroboros portrayed a snake engaging in autophagy by eating its own tail, a symbol that was initially used a millennium or so earlier by the Egyptians.

Said to be a critique of laboratory-grown food, the Ouroboros steak kit would allow users to grow miniature steaks from their own cells. The idea of a scientist, Andrew Pelling, an artist, Orkan Telhan, and an industrial designer, Grace Knight, it has created sufficient interest to be nominated for the Design of the Year award by London’s Design Museum.

Two things to clear up: the kit is little more than a twinkle in the fevered minds of the trio and autophagy or eating yourself does not technically class as cannibalism. The latter may be a fine line many of us would not want to cross.

In a year which has taught us to pay closer attention to the provenance of our foodstuffs, they make a fair point, but I do not see it replacing a nice rump steak anytime soon.

Cantering Through Cant (10)

Sleeping with someone who is not your partner may not necessarily be down to loose morals but rather to a shortage of beds. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) describes a custom called bundling which he defines as “a man and woman sleeping in the same bed, he with his small clothes, and she with her petticoats on; an expedient practiced in America on a scarcity of beds, where, on such an occasion, husbands and parents frequently permitted travellers to bundle with their wives and daughters”.  

One of the drawbacks of celebrating a birthday when I was a boy was that so-called friends would seize you by the arms and legs and throw you up and down for as many times as the years you were celebrating. We called this getting or giving the bumps. Grose gives a possible etymology for the custom of bumping which, no doubt due to ‘Elf and Safety considerations, is no longer performed in the nation’s school grounds. Grosse described it as “a ceremony performed on boys perambulating the bounds of the parish on Whit-Monday; when they have their posteriors bumped against the stones marking the boundaries, in order to fix them in their memory”.  

We may be the poorer for the loss of these customs.

Books, words, gin and much more