Dead Man’s Music

A review of Dead Man’s Music by Christopher Bush

This, the sixth outing of Christopher Bush’s amateur sleuth, Ludovic Travers, was originally published in 1931 and has been reissued for a modern readership to discover by Dean Street Press. The book starts off with a set of coincidences that stretch credulity. Travers almost has a road accident with a vehicle in which his old police chum, Inspector Wharton, is travelling. Wharton is in Sussex investigating a possible suicide. Travers tags along and not only does he know the cottage where the corpse is found but can also positively identify the victim, one Claude Rowe. I often find that with the set up of novels of this genre, it is best to suspend disbelief and take liberal pinches of salt.

Nevertheless, Travers’ arrival at the scene is his cue to give an account of his unusual encounter with Rowe, who had asked Durangos, for whom Travers works, to send someone to see him. During the course of a somewhat bewildering evening, Travers is asked to look at a collection of worthless pottery and to take particular notice of one piece, to talk about an old stock market fraud and to hear a tone poem written by Rowe, the manuscript of which Travers is told to hold in trust until the person to whom it should be given makes themselves known.    

Aficionados of early Bush – I am reading his books in order and so cannot comment on whether this trait continues in his later career – will realise that early on in the narrative there are a set of seemingly random and inexplicable events which, as the story progresses, gradually begin to make sense and hold vital clues to the mystery. Such is the case with Claude Rowe’s strange behaviour and random topics of conversation in his first meeting with Travers.

Inevitably, not everything is as it seems. Rowe did not commit suicide but was murdered. The musical score of the tone poem that so enraptured Travers when he heard it played, turns out to be gibberish, save for the first page. Bush, whose son became a composer, went to the trouble of reproducing the first page in the book. For those who can read music, I can’t, and are good at cracking codes may find that the score contains clues vital for solving the mystery. What ensues is a fast-paced, first class, clever and complicated story involving enigmatic music, disguise and recognition, a silent housekeeper, international gangs, and fraud with the odd bit of revenge and blackmail thrown in.

Wharton, Travers and John Franklin, the head of Private Investigations at Durangos, each in their own way contribute to the unravelling of the mystery. Franklin is a late arrival to the story and as seems to the norm tackles the more dangerous and international aspects of the case. Travers provides the flashes of inspiration necessary to move the case along and to sort through the shoal of red herrings that Bush has put in their way while Wharton’s major contribution comes from his phenomenal powers of recollection of previous cases and scandals. Between them they make for a formidable team and even the most sophisticated of criminals cannot elude them for long.

Readers look to Bush for a well plotted, fast moving story and he does not disappoint.      

Why Is A Banana Curved?

banana path isolated on white

For such a commonplace ingredient in our diets, there are plenty of misconceptions about bananas, not least that they grow on trees. Botanically, a distant relative of ginger, the banana fruit is a berry grown on an herb bush, albeit the world’s largest flowering herbaceous plant. All the visible parts of a banana plant come from a corm.

What looks like a trunk is really a pseudostem or “false stem”, produced when the base of the stalk of its leaves or petiole widens to form a sheath. The edges of the sheath meet when it is first produced but the pressure of new growth within the pseudostem pushes them apart. Even though the plants can reach well above five metres in height, this is all that supports them and their bunches of bananas.  

When the plant reaches maturity, it stops growing new leaves and develops a banana heart or inflorescence inside the pseudostem, which pushes its way to the top. Once there, it produces rows of banana buds, looking like big red cones, running down a long, knobbly stalk.  The buds positioned further up the stalk and closer to the leaves become female flowers which are the ones that produce the fruit. The male flowers on the lower end of the stalk are not needed for pollination and quickly drop off the plant.

The developing fruits start to grow downwards and begin to take the form of slender bananas, green in colour and looking rather like rectangular fingers jutting out in rows from the stalk. As they increase in length and weight, they begin to sink ever more alarmingly towards the ground, the natural consequence of gravity. It is at this point that negative geotropism steps in.

Geotropism is the term used to describe how the parts of plants grow in response to the force of gravity. The natural reaction of most plants’ roots is to grow downwards in line with the force of gravity, an example of positive geotropism. The banana, too, initially grows downwards but the urge to find sunlight, prompted by a plant hormone called auxin, causes it to defy the pull of gravity. In a classic exhibition of negative geotropism, it effectively folds in against itself to create the distinctive curved shape we associate with the fruit.

Why it does this is down to its original natural habitat. Banana plants grew in the middle layer of rainforests, where sunlight is hard to find. Most plants in search of sunlight would grow sideways but the structure of the banana plant, lacking a solid trunk and now laden with fruits that are growing increasingly heavier, means that it would become unstable and eventually topple over.

Typically, the hanging clusters of bananas will be made up of between three and twenty tiers, with each tier containing up to twenty fruits. These bunches or “banana stems” can weigh between thirty and fifty kilograms, with each individual banana tipping the scales at around 125 grams. Its only option in order to bear the weight and maintain stability is to force its fruit to bend and curve upwards. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies but the plant is classed as a perennial because an offshoot will have established itself at the base.

Modern cultivars, there are now over 1,000 different varieties, subdivided into fifty groups, have been selectively bred to accentuate the graceful curve, which, with its colouring, has become its distinctive feature. However, straight bananas do exist, especially in the wild. Perhaps the best-known is the Lady Finger, also known as a sugar banana, which is around five inches in length, thin skinned, and sweet.

Oath Of The Week

Bloody Nora, would you believe it? It’s an effin’ disgrace.

I’m not sure what has stunned me most, the revelation from Dr Robbie Love of Aston University in his recently published article in Text and Talk that there has been a 27% drop in swearing over the last twenty years or that the f-word and shit have replaced bloody as the nation’s favourite swearword.

Apparently, Love’s researches show that swearwords have dropped from 1,822 per million words to 1,320 and that the usage of bloody as an oath has plummeted by 80%. Men swear more than women and their usage of oaths reaches its peak in their twenties before declining.

There is no doubting the fact that fuck and shit and their derivatives are pliable enough in format to suit almost all occasions and allow for imaginative usage, whereas bloody is just an adjective. As for the decline in swearing, perhaps life is so dreadful and bewildering that what a situation that once would prompt a splenetic outburst is now greeted with a shrug of the shoulders.

O tempora, o mores.

Tattoo Of The Week (2)

Not too long ago, in the years BC (Before Covid) to get in anywhere it was down to whether you had the money, your clothing or the cut of your jib. Now you have to fumble around in your pockets to retrieve your smart phone, if you have one, and furnish a QR code that demonstrates that you have been vaccinated against Covid twice. Lose your phone and all is lost.

An Italian, though, has used some ingenuity to solve this most modern of modern-day dilemmas. He persuaded tattoo artist, Gabriele Pellerone, to tattoo on to his forearm the QR code which leads scanners to his Covid-19 vaccination certificate. As well as giving him an intriguing pattern on his arm, certainly no worse than other forms of body art I have seen, it seems to be doing the trick.

But is it an accurate representation of the fiendish pattern of the QR code and what happens, if, as it inevitably will, the method of proving Covid vaccination status changes?

It also strikes me that it will only work in warm climates. Rolling up your sleeves on a cold winter’s night will prove just as irksome as fishing around in your pockets for your phone.

Full marks for ingenuity, though.


Words come into fashion and fade into obscurity all the time in our wonderful language, some shining in the firmament longer than others. While its ability to absorb like a sponge and to loosen its grammatical structure are strengths of the language, English as she is spoken now has lost of its richness and inventiveness. Take invectives. We all use a few choice words from time to time, with the emphasis on few, but our vocabulary is not as rich or as inventive as it once was.

I came across slubberdegullion when I was searching through Samuel Butler’s 17th century mock-heroic satire on Puritanism, Hudibras. He wrote ”Quoth she, though thou has’t deserved/ base slubberdegullion, to be serv’d/ as thou did’st vow to deal with me/ if thou had’st got the victory”. Dr Samuel Johnson included it in his dictionary, defining it as a noun to describe “a paltry, dirty, sorry wretch”. The great doctor could not hazrd a guess as to its origin, placing it as an example of the rich argot of the canting classes.

It appeared in an alternative spelling, slabberdegullion, in Sir Thomas Urquhart’s 1653 translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. Some etymologists think that slubber may owe its origins to the Dutch and Low German verb, slubbern, which meant to gobble. Its similarity to the English slobber is almost too close to resist. As for the second part of the word, it is anybody’s guess. Some think that it might be derived from cullion which meant testicle and shares the same root as the French couillon and the Spanish cojones. Alternatively, it may just come from the Scots dialect word gullion which means a quagmire or pool of mud.

Wherever it came from, it was never widely used and now is languishing in obscurity. It is a shame as it is a colourful way to describe a slovenly person.