Thursday, 24 July 2014

My Five Favourite Agatha Christies

It's hard to slim down to five from a short-list.

From Blue Train, Vicarage and End House I’ll pick The Mystery of the Blue Train – because it gives hope to 33-year-old spinsters who have spent their whole lives in country villages wearing “Balbriggan” stockings. They can read this book and vicariously enjoy Katherine’s legacy and taste of life on the Riviera. Poirot is a universal agony uncle, and reveals a tendresse for a dubious gem-dealer called Zia Papopoulos.

From Death in the Clouds, Murder in Mesopotamia and Cards on the Table I’ll pick Murder in Mesopotamia. All three have young women as central characters but I particularly like Nurse Leatheran, who narrates this story. She is funny (sometimes unintentionally) and down-to-earth, and gets on well with Poirot, though she thinks the archeological dig looks like a lot of old mud. It is also a good one to wave in the faces of those who claim that all Christie’s books are set in English country houses.

From Appointment with Death, Murder is Easy and Sad Cypress I’ll pick Cypress for its suffocating atmosphere of a big, cluttered house whose owner has just died. The heroine finds herself lunching off fishpaste sandwiches and sorting old fur coats on a summer day while her fiancee falls for another girl. (It’s quite autobiographical.)

From Evil Under the Sun, Murder is Announced and Mrs McGinty’s Dead I’ll pick Mrs McGinty as it is one of Christie’s funniest. Not just the situation – Poirot is a paying guest in the house of the worst housewife in the western hemisphere – but the narration is more ironic than usual. (“An approved school had opened its doors and Lily had disappeared from the everyday scene.”) The death of a charwoman is linked to five historical murder cases involving young people – could one of them be living in the village under a new name? Poirot acquires a sidekick, a rather vulgar girl who works for an estate agent. (As they walk away from the village shop “Mrs Sweetiman, her nose glued to the pane, wondered if that old foreigner had been making suggestions of a certain character...”). And then Mrs Oliver turns up, scattering apples...

From Hickory Dickory Dock, The Pale Horse and Third Girl... It’s a hard choice. I love Hickory Dickory Dock with its hostel full of friendly students. In Third Girl Poirot and Mrs Oliver ponder the modern world in which groups of girls share flats on their own and refuse to “make something of themselves”. We even get a snapshot of a provincial high street with its frumpy dress shops.
It has to be The Pale Horse. No Poirot or Marple – the sleuths are Mrs Oliver, Mrs Dane Calthrop and an architectural historian called Mark Easterbrook. It ranges from a Chelsea coffee bar full of rich delinquents to a fashionable Soho restaurant to an upmarket flower shop to a greasy café to a half-timbered cottage with three very sinister inhabitants. They seem to be in the “removals” business, with the help of trances, a “black box” and the blood of a black cockerel. Could they be connected to a list of people who have unexpectedly turned up dead? The plot takes in market research, art restoration and plastic buckets. Read it!

The BBC Radio Drama version is very good, too.

More here, and more Christie links.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Inspirational Quotes 58

Looks don't matter
I wish common sense was more common. (@BarryNSmith79)

 I get more done by being pleasant, respecting others and candour than implementing any of the crap "management" books tell you to do. (Scarlet Wilde)

“Better-looking people really are happier. There is no question about that. As well as all the other direct effects, such as increased income and improving success in the marriage market, it also makes you happier, because you also feel better about yourself.” (Professor Hammermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful)

A young woman I know who works for a media company has just been taken to one side by her boss and told that although her work is entirely satisfactory, there is a problem. She doesn’t chat enough… If you don’t talk, people don’t like you much. My young acquaintance tells me she is now putting aside small amounts of time every day for dedicated chatter. She now treats talk as a type of work, and does it with the same conscientiousness she does everything. (ft.com Feb 2014)

It’s not just that Mormons have developed a “pioneer spirit” or that they believe that they can receive divine revelations, as Triple Package would have us believe. It’s more that the first Mormons started with enough money to buy a great deal of land in Missouri and Illinois. They then migrated to Utah, where Brigham Young and his followers essentially stole land from the Shoshone and Ute tribes, refusing to pay what the tribes demanded, and petitioning for the government to remove them. Beyond thousands of acres of free land, early political control over Utah was helpful. (Slate.com on The Triple Package by Amy Chua and Jed Rosenfeld)

A book like The Triple Package, even if it takes pains to argue in non-racial terms, is an example of this sort of ethnocentric thinking writ large. And it is only the latest in a long line of books – spanning more than a century – arguing for the superiority of this or that American group over others. The roots of alleged superiority have changed over time from race to class to IQ to religion and now to culture. (Suketu Mehta, Time, Jan 2014)


It’s not about being judged on how you look, it’s about presentation, getting a job and finding a partner.
(Presenter of My Tattoo Hell on BBC Breakfast, January 28, 2014 So it’s about being judged on how you look, then? It's a bit it like saying “we don’t have a class system any more, it has completely disappeared, but people are still terribly snobbish about what you eat, where you go on holiday and how you decorate your house.”)

Greenwich Village “became a sleazy theme park of itself.” (Maria Muldaur, Jan 2014)

I am from the 1950s. I like conversation and then I like going to bed early and then I like getting up and sitting with a family around breakfast. And I like singing and I like dancing and I like sitting in a garden and I like reading a book and – I dunno, is that old-fashioned? I think I am a product of my age and my upbringing. (Peter Mandelson July 11 10)

That’s another kind of conversation that many women engage in which baffles many men: talk about details of their daily lives, like the sweater they found on sale — details, you might say, as insignificant as those about last night’s ballgame which can baffle women when they overhear men talking. These seemingly pointless conversations are as comforting to some women as “troubles talk” conversations are to others. So maybe it’s true that talk is the reason having a sister makes you happier, but it needn’t be talk about emotions. (NYTimes)

Words of wisdom from an elder in the office: "People generally need three things in life. A mentor. A scapegoat. And someone to hate." (@CharlesCumming)

His existing dilemma is one that is rarely discussed: when do artists cut their losses and abandon their careers? (Guardian review of “failing folk singer” tale Inside Llewellyn Davies, Jan 2014)

Every age invents its own past. (Guardian Jan 2014)

Robbie Coltrane had been thumped about by his dad until the day he was big enough to thump him back. (Guardian Jan 2014 So much for “violence never solved anything”, “ignore bullies” – even “personality is more important than looks” - and even “size doesn’t matter”!)

More here, and links to the rest.