A story for Kate Morrison

With apologies to Agatha Christie

Inspector Judd ran his hands through his hair in exasperation and reached for the telegram forms. It was no good. He’d looked at all aspects of the case, but in every occasion, he’d run headlong into insurmountable obstacles. He was going to have to summon that insufferable Belgian detective to get to the bottom of this tangled web of mystery.

Two hours later, Poirot strode into Judd’s office, immaculately dressed from his patent leather shoes to his glorious moustaches. “So, dear Judd, once again you seek my advice”, he pronounced, unconsciously arranging the objects on Judd’s desk into orderly lines.

“That’s right, Poirot”, Judd conceded. “It’s this Arts Council business. Can’t get to the bottom of it.” Poirot nodded. “Tell me more about it. All the little details”.

“Perhaps it’d be better if you saw the crime scene for yourself.” Within minutes, Poirot and Judd were strolling through the city, weaving their way through throngs of French tourists and drunken day trippers. “Ah- they make the holiday”, noted Poirot. “Such big rucksacks! Such sunburn!”

Judd attempted to ignore Poirot’s social commentary, and they approached the shabby offices where the deed had taken place. Plaster flaked off the walls, and a stack of mugs seemed to be breeding life forms of their own. “Ah!” Poirot exclaimed, “this is clearly where the magic happens!” They turned, past teetering ring binders stuffed with press cuttings, and beheld the grim scene.

The lifeless corpse of an Arts Administrator lay slumped across a desk, blood spilling out over a 70 page application form for Arts Council Funding. Yet more coffee cups adorned the surface of the desk, and an ancient computer hummed away like a tin full of furious bees. Poirot breathed in deeply, and leant over the macabre scene. He inspected the colourful yet ragged clothes that adorned the late Arts Administrator.

“Ah, these coloured rags. This is a tragic end. And the application form. So nearly complete.” A ball-point pen was clutched in the dead hand of the victim, and he attempted to remove it without success. The ink on the page remained clear and unsmudged.

“Hmmm.” He leaned over the form and inspected the section. 16a. Please assess how your event will benefit a large cross section of the community and describe which audiences you hope to attract. “Ah,” he mused, “This is always a difficult one. I am grateful we do not need to complete these applications in the world of detection.”

His inspection complete, he turned to the hapless Inspector Judd. “I have seen all we need to see. Except for one thing. Inspector Judd, will you please assist me to move the body.”

The two men took the limp figure of the late Arts Professional by the shoulders, and with a little effort, lifted it off the seat, moved aside yet more ring binders, and placed it gently on the ground. A bullet hole in the chest left little doubt as to the cause of death.

“And yet…” Poirot wondered, “There was no-one else in the room.”

“Clearly not,” Judd agreed, “You don’t think they can afford more than one member of staff at a time? This is an Arts Organisation we’re talking about! No-one else had been in the office for days!”

“Difficult”, mused Poirot aloud. “Very well. I will need to think about this for a while. Do you suppose, Judd, you could take some of those mugs and make some attempt to clean them? It offends my idea of hygiene to have such objects around me. And if by any chance they have half-decent coffee in this establishment, I would greatly like a cup.”

Judd sighed, collected together the filthy crockery, and went off in search of hot soapy water. Poirot sat down in the chair recently vacated by the victim, and gazed at the half-finished Arts Council form.

As he pondered the issue, he leaned far back in the chair, as was his habit, and ran over the problem in his mind. Clearly someone had shot the Arts Administrator – and yet no-one else had been in the office for days. He gazed at the windows. No double glazing. He wouldn’t like to be here in the winter without his overcoat – but Poirot was fond of the greater comforts that life can contain.

Idly, he looked back at the form. He raised a single eyebrow as he looked at the final answer to question 16a. “We intend to engage with a diverse range of people across the community by presenting an eclectic range of performances from across the broad spectrum of the flourishing arts scene”. He winced. Did anyone really think the word “eclectic” actually meant anything? He reached for a pen off the desk, and went to strike it out in a moment of petty fury.

As his pen touched the paper, he heard a loud explosion, and collapsed backwards off the chair. A fiery pain burst in his knee, and he clutched at it in agony. Someone had shot him in the knee! He screamed out in pain, and could hear the advancing steps of Inspector Judd as he slipped into unconsciousness on the floor.

Two hours later, bandaged up with the office’s supply of blue plasters and emergency eye patches, he turned to Judd with a look of pained accomplishment. “Judd, I have solved the problem.”

Judd looked at him in surprise. “You see,” Poirot began, “the moment I came into this building I realised that someone was desperate for money. And then – the Arts Council application – it was clearly in someone’s great interests that this form did not get completed. And so what did they do? Well, take a look at the next page – see!”

Judd tried to lift the form off the table, and a thin metal wire stretched through a hole and beneath the desk. “Careful”, Poirot muttered, “That thing may go off again.”

Underneath the desk was a revolver, intricately connected to the metal wire. “You see, Judd, when enough pressure is placed on Question 16a – possibly the most difficult question to give a vaguely coherent or satisfactory answer to without lapsing into triteness… the weapon goes off!”

“But who would do a thing like that?” asked Judd, astonished.

“Ah, that will be easy to find. There is only, as you say, so much money in the pot. This has to be a rival arts organisation, keen to take out their competitors and make sure that they are the ones who have the arts council money, do you not see?”

“But Poirot – we can’t move for struggling arts organisations in this city! How are we going to find the one responsible?”

“But a clever murderer like this, Judd – they will strike again! One death by Arts Council application is not enough! Wherever someone is applying for funding – they are in danger. But this time, dear Judd, we shall be ready! We shall set a little trap for them!”

And with those words, Poirot produced a fresh Arts Council application form from his pocket. “What project should we apply for, then? A Moustache Parade? I have always liked the idea of a Moustache Parade…”

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Prince Philip

August 15, 2012

I don’t want Prince Philip to die. I mean, he”s a 91 year old man. He doesn’t have long for the world. He’s also a massive racist, and a member of the Royal Family. And whilst you can’t blame him for the circumstances of his birth, you can’t really excuse the racism. Except it’s the sort of racism that you might encounter from an old man leering over the bar at you and muttering about the Somalis. For the sake of an easy life, as a bartender, you can’t be bothered to make the fuss. or indeed get in an argument with a drunk old man. And that’s probably wrong, and I definately ought to challenge racism whereever it appears, but sometimes you’re really not up for another drunk-old-man-argument, and anyway you’re only two words away from finishing the crossword and there’s a chap over there hammering a pewter tankard at one of the pumps and demanding stout.

My friend Maya met Prince Philip a while ago, and he didn’t mutter any slurs at her, but perhaps he didn’t realise she was german.

I don’t want Prince Philip to die because he’s clearly the most interesting character. The royals and parliament are just as soap opera worthy as Neighbours and Eastenders, and with the most ridiculous elements of journalism furnishing us with facts which are as over-inflated as they are accurate. Philip is in the heart of every drunk old man.

And one day, I shall look up from the drip tray, reach my hand to the pump, and see Prince Philip there, demanding ale, encouraging me to get my hair cut.

The last reason why I don’t want Prince Philip to die is that I won’t be able to read Lucky Seven any more. I didn’t originally intend to include the Duke of Edinburgh in this poem, but by the time he had arrived, it was very hard to get rid of him. Here’s a recording of Lucky Seven I did in Jimmy’s basement.

PRINCE PHILIP GET WELL SOON

Lucky Seven

Beneath the crisp suit there’s cash

The iron sears and flattens fivers

in the pinstripe vanity of Saville row

 

Becloaked, you’re called to the bar

Order-papers clutched in a non-masonic shake

The ball’s in your court

There’s squash in the glass

The bird of paradise comes to pass

 

The flat leather wallet contains plastic loot

The ice cube crackles in the champagne flute

A card slides out and you’re ready to deal

As the steak knife hovers over velvety veal

 

Your phone glides across the table like a chess piece

A Sicilian opening

For frames the size of walls

Lying empty in anticipation

 

The card’s behind the bar and you’re looking for more

Whilst subtitles narrate on News 24

And off for the weekend to the cottage in Devon

In tailored top that screams Lucky Seven

You redefine the D of Q’s

For two thousand and eleven

 

Ballpark! Timeframe! Drawing board! Game plan!

The ceiling’s made of glass and you are my main man

Blue-chip! Stagflate! Shoe-horn! Tea-break!

Let’s get some proper ice cream. I’ll have three flakes.

 

And it’s “Thatcher invented Mr Whippy, you know”

And all this talk of S & M the conversation goes south

“Would have thought it was that chap who died with an orange in his mouth”

And Stuart Lubbock found dead in Barrymore’s pool

And how it was the Kurds who killed Jill Dando

And how Prince Philip can travel through time…

 

… and suddenly he’s here! Prince Philip! The husband of the Queen!

… but he’s wearing a balaclava and he’s looking pretty mean …

… and he’s holding … some kind of shotgun … and through the mask …

… he tells you to get in the car … and it’s some kind of chauffeur driven limousine …

… and you turn and there’s all these bags of salt in the boot and under the salt there’s this guy and he introduces himself as Jason and whilst you’re looking at Jason … Philip, Prince Philip (and you still can’t really believe this) blindfolds you and then you small the sickly scent of chloroform and it reminds you of almonds, no, not almonds, pear drops, pear drops which reminds you of your childhood and you try to struggle but it’s too late.

Sonne

August 10, 2012

Hello Summer. I’ve a suspicion this is going to be one of those rambling blog posts where I go on about what I’ve been up to rather than writing about anything particularly coherent, but we shall see. It’s been a while, anyway. The sun is beating through the window and I’m trying to put off riding a load of buses.

So far, summer has involved attempting to do something about my dire financial situation, going on some delightful weekends away, and trying to read every single Agatha Christie novel. July is also a month of birthdays, and I had a lovely indoor-rainy-picnic on mine, with just the right quantity of Cava and lots of friends, old and new. And then on the Monday was whisked out for cocktails, half-price sushi and fine ales. Anna actually managed to coincide her birthday with the first day of actual summer so we spent that day on the beach with more cava, sea swimming and various other delights.

Here’s a photo of me pretending to ride a bike with Rosanne

I’ve not really been writing very much since the book launch, apart from a load of scattered fragments, a bit of sarcastic political doggerel, some incoherent non-fiction ramblings, and notes for two new poems that may possibly see the light of day at some point in the future. As mentioned above, I’ve been powering my way through the complete works of Agatha Christie, but I think that deserves a blog post of its very own.

I’ve also realised that I need to sort myself out and actually earn some more money, so I’ve been on the lookout for new exciting part-time opportunities. At the moment, that mostly means tending bar, which I’d quite forgotten how much I enjoyed. I guess working in the best pub in Brighton is probably part of that, but it’s definately surprised me at how much I’m enjoying it. Ask me again in a while, though!

Bartending aside, I’m also looking out for all sorts of exciting things – so if you’re looking for a bright-eyed writer/poet/graphic designer/someone to dress up as a giant pizza slice/tapir interpretator/jack of all trades, master of none, do let me know. Similarly if you’re a wealthy patron of the arts. Drop me a line.

Hopefully that didn’t sound too desperate. My other solution is gluing a load of cogs and watches to baseball caps and selling them on Etsy as “genuine steampunk hats”.

I’ve also been building a website, which will be an actual real website about all sorts of things. I’m not sure if it’s going to incorporate the Daily Whale into it or replace it or just exist simultaneously, but considering this blog is a mix of poetry, politics, wikipedia and personal ramblings, you should be able to figure out what the new site is going to be like.

Despite the looming threat of financial crisis, we managed to head deep into rural France for a week back in June, where we were staying beside a giant lake filled with otters, coypu, herons, grebes, energetic coots, and with owls swooping overhead, all coupled with the lovely lovely bread and tinned vegetables. We visited markets, drank some fine wine, climbed around some castles, attempted to deceipher La Canarde Enchaine, failed to get any Francois Hollande propaganda, and generally had a thoroughly relaxing week.

And then last weekend we set off with Alice and Dan in their big yellow campervan and drove down to Sidmouth via Dorset. We stayed in a big campsite full of stereotypical British holidaymakers on the first evening – all screaming children on bikes and tents the size of houses, but managed to escape via some remarkable rock formations, and then drove on down to Sidmouth, where we found a much nicer field to stay in. The folk festival was on, and Sidmouth was writhing with morris dancers, violinists and people playing the Barong. We watched various folk sessions, attempted to learn how to strip the willow (which involved being shouted at by a very serious man who had no patience for amateur dancers such as ourselves flailing around all over the place), drank some very orange cider, had a slightly awkward moment in a pub draped in Union Flags with a load of morris men singing Rule Britannia and beating on the tables, saw our first two Bass Clarinets in the same room, got lost walking back to the field and made a 1½ hour detour around the edge of the town, and then had to get a guy with a 4×4 to drag the van out of the mud when we tried to leave. All in all, a delightful weekend!

Anyway, those buses won’t catch themselves (in fact, it would be a clear impossibility), so I shall sign off this protracted autobiographical ramble for now – until the next time.