Dog Collar Of The Week

I never cease to be amazed by the contraptions that pet owners buy to ensure the wellbeing of their pride and joy. For centuries dog owners have been content to ignore the state of mind of their pooch or use their eyes and nous to determine if something is amiss. For those seeking a bit more rigour in the process Artificial Intelligence and an app is ready to step into the breach.

A South Korean company, Petpuls Lab, has just launched an AI dog collar which marketing director, Andrew Gil, claims “gives a dog a voice so humans can understand”. The collar detects five emotions and through a smartphone app the owner can determine whether their pooch is happy, relaxed, anxious, angry, or sad.

Retailing at $99 the device has been tested, independently, by Seoul National University, who proclaimed that, rather like a Covid vaccine, it is 90% effective.

I wonder if it detects that feeling that you have been ripped off?

Candle Of The Week (2)

Would you spend $75 on a candle which emits an aroma replicating the smell emanating from Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina? Very fragrant it must be as the “This Smells Like My Vagina” candle contains hints of geranium, citrusy bergamot, cedar absolutes, Damask rose, and ambrette seed.  

Well, a woman from Kilburn, Jody Thompson, did and, anxious to get a whiff of Ms Paltrow’s muff, actually lit the thing. “The candle exploded and emitted huge flames, with bits flying everywhere”, she reported. Leaving her little option but to throw it out of the front door.

Some vagina!

Cantering Through Cant (16)

There is always a degree of envy associated with those who get rich or become overnight sensations. The term that we use to describe these monied upstarts, the nouveau riche, has distinctly pejorative connotations. In Francis Grose’s time, at least according to his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, his contemporaries did not need to a French phrase. A mushroom, he reports, is used to describe “a person or family suddenly raised to riches and eminence; an allusion to that fungus that starts up in the night”.  

Alas, beggars are still with us. They were known as mumpers, defined by Grose as “originally, beggars of the genteel kind, but since used for beggars in general”. By extension, a mumpers’ hall is “an alehouse where beggars are harboured”.

I was scratching my muzzle, beard”, wondering what a nab or nab cheat was. It’s a “hat” and a penthouse nab is “a large hat”. In its verb form to nab, on the other hand, means to seize or catch unawares. However, to nab the stoop is “to stand in the pillory” and to nab the rust is a term used by jockeys to describe a horse that becomes restive. To nab the snow is to steal some linen left out to bleach or dry while a nab’s girdle is a bridle.

For those of us who may blanche at the prospect of breaking forth into blasphemy, there is always nation. Grose records that it is “an abbreviation of damnation. Perhaps it was used by natty lads, a cant expression for “young thieves or pickpockets”. It was also used in an adverbial form, in Sussex, Kent and neighbouring counties, as a substitute for “very”. Thus, nation good means “very good” and nation long way “a very long way”.

Some more nation interesting gems from Grose’s dictionary anon.

Death In Ecstasy

Death in Ecstasy – Ngaio Marsh

This fourth Inspector Alleyn novel, published in 1936, is an odd affair and I am still unsure what to make of Ngaio Marsh. For some the characterisation of two of the characters will seem overtly homophobic, capped off by the comment that they could not be the culprits because they wouldn’t have the guts for murder. Also, from a police procedural perspective, it is very odd for Alleyn to spike one of the suspect’s drinks. And then we have the problem of dear old Nigel Bathgate.

At a loose end, Bathgate looks out of the window of his flat on a wet and windy evening and espies a motley group of characters entering the door of a building nearby. His interest piqued, he goes along to see what is happening. He has stumbled upon the House of the Sacred Flame. Refused entry by the doorman, he manages to sneak in and witnesses a bizarre quasi-religious ritual involving the group standing in a circle, chanting the names of gods and passing around a chalice. Would you believe it but the very ceremony that Bathgate chooses to observe ends in tragedy, the “Chosen Vessel”, Cara Quayne, quaffing some poison from the chalice and dying. The newshound rings for Alleyn to investigate.

Bathgate seems to have a nose highly tuned for a story – disaster seems to follow him about – but once he has been used as a plot device to get the story off the ground, Marsh has the problem of what to do with him. Inevitably, he hangs around, adding little to the story and distracting us from Alleyn’s official helpers, Fox and Bailey.

The cast of suspects are a motley crew of eccentrics, all stereotypical in their own way and none of whom Marsh seems to have any sympathy for. The leader of the sect is a conman, Jasper Garnett. A leading light in the movement is an American businessman, Samuel J Ogden. There is a Frenchman, Raoul de Ravigny who was friendly with the victim, Janie Jenkins, the youngest of the group, who is in love with the addict Maurice Pringle. To complete the list of suspects there is an elderly spinster and all-time busybody, Ernestine Wade, and a jealous woman, Mrs Candour.

By fair means or foul, Alleyn tries to sort out what really happened during the ceremony. It all revolves around poison and at least Marsh did her homework, thanking in the preface to the book, Robin Page for his advice on sodium cyanide, and Robin Adamson for “his fiendish ingenuity in the matter of home-brewed poisons”. In truth, the mystery is not too hard to solve when you realise that money is the root of all evil.

It was a moderately entertaining story, but there were too many irritants along the way to make the book anything more than that.

Mystery Mile

Mystery Mile – Margery Allingham

I can’t make mind up about this book, a hugely enjoyable romp of a book, first published in 1930 and, whilst technically the second in Allingham’s Campion series, the first where her sleuth takes the leading role. My quandary is whether it should just be seen as an entertaining detective mystery or was it a send up of the lighter side of the genre, particularly Dorothy L Sayers. Campion, after all, is portrayed as an eccentric, somewhat silly individual, whose innocence and seemingly off-the-wall behaviour and questioning disarms even the coldest of criminal heart. Campion is a chip off Lord Peter Wimsey’s block, but one who is dealing with much darker forces with an international reach.

Once again, we are dealing with an international gang – a trademark feature of the Allingham novels I have read to date – who are out to kill Judge Crowdy Lobbett, who has information that could unmask Mr Big. Wherever Lobbett goes, there seems to be a trail of destruction and unfortunate accidents. His associates are killed in bizarre incidents and the fear is that one day they will get the judge. Campion is hired to protect Lobbett.

We first meet the party on board the good ship Elephantine, a liner en route to Blighty. Campion first appears when he sacrifices a mouse he has adopted in the electrified contraption used by Satsuma, a Japanese magician, in his stage act, thus saving the judge’s life. On arrival in England and after another failed attempt, Campion thinks that it is best to hide the judge to a country mansion deep in the wilds of Mystery Mile, a village on an island, probably modelled on Canvey Island.

There are crimes galore, some sinister, some less serious, enough red herrings to stock a fishmonger’s stall and a wonderful array of characters. There is the local vicar, Swithin Cush, who was not all that he seemed and whose death may or may not have been suicide. Then there is the art dealer, Ali Ferguson Barber, who was also on the Elephantine and makes his way to Mystery Mile. He also is not all that meets the eye and turns out to be a very sinister individual.

A Golden Age detective story wouldn’t be a Golden Age detective story without charming, if limited, rustics and a bit of superstitious nonsense involving The Seven Whistlers. Campion weaves in and out of the story, often his whereabouts unexplained and then he suddenly pops up, with a piece of information that keeps the story moving. If you are looking for a methodical Thorndyke or an inspired Holmes, Campion is not your man. It is often difficult to discern how he has got to a particular point in his investigation. That together with some unnecessary but highly entertaining detours do not seem to matter much because the sum of all these parts is a wonderful, page-turning read.

The denouement of the book is a life and death struggle on the edge of the coast between Campion and the Mr Big, Simister, in an echo of the tussle between Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. On the whole, I think it was intended to be a send-up.