An Evening In: Agatha Christie

Happy Easter! Spring it is a-cumin, loud sing cuckoo, as we all say each day here in Blighty, before heading off on the cuckoo hunts with a lovely jacket spud in our pockets. Spring puts me in the mood for that single most English institution, the village murder. Ah, the maypole, the daffy-down-dillies, the mysterious corpse in the rockery. I refer, inescapably, to her lord highness Sir Lady Agatha Christie Esq. 

I was up until three last night reading They Came to Baghdad, so I’m particularly going to focus on that one. I picked it up because, although I think I’ve read most if not all of her books, I do forget the endings, particularly of the ones that do not feature either Miss Marple or Poirot. They Came to Baghdad is an espionage thriller, still threaded around a mystery that needs solving and, of course, there is a murder, but it is set as part of the Great Game of the Cold War, shadowy figures slipping in and out of Baghdad and Basra, men speaking eight different languages, convoluted plots and passwords, and in the middle of it all is Victoria Jones, London typist and incorrigible liar.

I love the Christie’s set in the Middle East, where she spent a lot of time with her second husband, an archaeologist. They Came to Baghdad is not the only book to feature an archaeological dig, Murder in Mesopotamia for example, and Christie’s knowledge of these and of Baghdad in the 1950s is both colourful and fascinating. Death on the Nile is probably my favourite Christie, if I had to choose, for the beautiful setting as much as for the neat and ingenious murder.

She is best known, of course, for her English country house murders, however, and there is something very comforting in picking up an Agatha Christie and reading about Marple or Poirot walking past the church, going up to the manor, tracing letters at the post office, discovering that Amy Baddingham is actually none other than the lost twin sister of Cassandra Hawthorn what done in her husband ten years before or did she??? That sort of thing. A simpler time.

Grim horror.

My personal tips for solving a Christie before you get to the end are as follows:

  1. Never trust actors.
  2. If a family member is mentioned as either estranged or dead or missing for fifteen years, they are already somewhere in the house.
  3. She never wastes characters. If someone doesn’t seem to have much of a role, they did it.
  4. She is a romantic. If someone’s other half is beginning to look suspiciously innocent, they will develop another romantic intrigue before the end. The nice young people are very rarely left single. Similarly, if there is only one option for a nice girl to end up with, he’s probably innocent.
  5. Never accept someone is who they say they are until it has been corroborated by at least three separate sources, and if one of those says, ‘Oh I’d recognise her anywhere, not around the face of course, when I knew her she wore a veil at all times,’ then it doesn’t count.

That’s all the help I can give you. Her romantical leanings at the ends are one of my favourite things about Agatha Christie; I like to know justice has been done, and people are all nicely matched up with their most suitable partner.

As for a drink, you need a clear head to go with a Christie, but I could still recommend perhaps a small sherry or a glass of something light and cheerful. Muscadet is an excellent choice, associated with Easter in my mind as one of the wines I have often drunk in France around this time of year.

Even if you know the endings, as practically everyone does for Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None, the books themselves are so neatly crafted, the characters so appealing and the world so charming that rereading these is a pleasure, and the perfect activity for a rather dreary Easter day. I’m going on to Five Little Pigs, now. Bedhead out.

Book: They Came to Baghdad, Agatha Christie

Pair With: Muscadet

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Human Female: Unemployed

I’m a job seeker. It’s basically part of my identity now I’ve been doing it so long. I used to be a young, dynamic kinda gal, but now I’m the Crypt Keeper. Bearing this in mind, I have just spent two hours on a cover letter for a job I would be happy to take bets I will never hear back from, which I think deserves a wider audience.

Everyone who is unemployed and wants to scratch the eyes out of every smug employer who discards your carefully sculpted applications – this one’s for you. Peace out.

This is genuinely what I look like.

NB. David Bowie is one of my heroes, and he provided 19 quotes for this letter.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am applying for the position of copy assistant because of a great modern love for writing and a fascination  with the potential of developing my skills in an advertising role. God knows I’m good, as an adaptable and committed worker, willing to make changes and develop my style. I am a strong candidate and an excellent writer, as demonstrated in my academic career, published works and creative social media accounts. I can guarantee a consistently high standard of written material in any format and for any demographic, anyway, anyhow, anywhere.

As my CV shows, I have a first class degree from Newcastle University in History with Spanish and Latin American Studies, and a distinction in MA Transnational Studies from UCL. It’s little wonder that during those golden years at university I was able to develop excellent time management skills, organisation and attention to detail, as well as an ability to work to deadlines and independently produce well formatted, appropriate results. I also have strong research skills and the ability to isolate important details from large volumes of information and fashion them into accessible and understandable text. I have won prizes for my creative writing and had a short story published in a UCL anthology. As an old-time ambassador of sweet-talking, I also wrote flashfiction for the UCL Publishing prize Twitter account as part of the advertising campaign for the next years prize.

I currently maintain a blog pairing books and wine (bedheadblogs.wordpress.com) and have a creative Twitter account where I compose and retweet pretty things in preparation for a world to come where the books are mostly digital.

My work experience includes work as an English Language Assistant for the British Council in a secondary school in Tenerife, where I independently planned and took lessons with classes of up to thirty students, starting as absolute beginners and some subsequently developing the language skills of young Americans. This role required creativity and originality in my work, and the development of public speaking and interpersonal skills.

I have volunteered at theatres at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in Bolivia with spider monkeys and in Thailand with elephants. As a volunteer I never lost control of my team, though frequently working under pressure in new and challenging circumstances. In Edinburgh, administrative work of running a busy theatre required an organised and conscientious approach and the ability to deal quickly and methodically with any problems arising.

In my spare time I’m hooked to the silver screen or travelling, most recently spending four months travelling solo through South East Asia.

I look forward to hearing from you after today and thank you for your consideration.

 

 

It’s a god-awful small affair, but it’s made me laugh. (They’re not in bold in the actual application. That would be stupid.)

 

An Evening In: Dracula

I have been off in a corner scribbling a novel all over the wallpaper, but now that is done and I’m back to my other important duty of aiding alcoholic bibliophiles. So today, on a beautiful spring morning with blackbirds and daffodils swarming all over my garden, I’m going to be recommending that cheerful, bright tome, Dracula by Mr Bram Stoker.

The original vampire book, before the cliché switched from coffins and garlic to twinkling and moping. Dracula has no time for moping, he is too busy being a total badass and psychologically manipulating everyone around him. He is such a role model.

It’s a classic. It’s the classic when it comes to monster books. The story produces not only strong characters and a thrilling plot, but is like a travel brochure for the macabre, presenting a full range of gothic transport options and sinister holiday destinations. Creaking horse drawn carriages or boats sailed by the dead? No problem. A weird, creepy castle that everyone around is openly afraid of? Gotcha. The weather-beaten abbey at Whitby? An insane asylum next to a deserted old chapel? A sanatorium run by nuns in Budapest?  Done, done and done.

The basic plot kicks off with Jonathan Harker’s trip to Castle Dracula in Transylvania, for some duties pertaining to real estate. There, he is scared by local peasants, intimidated by the obviously dead Count and lured by the Count’s three foxy brides (remember when Keanu dealt with that and it was really tough).

A man who has seen too much

If you haven’t read the book, I won’t go into too much detail, but his visit is the prelude to Dracula leaving Transylvania and sailing to Whitby, where he wreaks havoc amongst the local gentry. Lucy Westenra is the poor beautiful innocent who falls victim to him and draws a posse of good, upright Victorian men into the fight against evil.

 

Now I know because I’ve carefully labelled the book ‘5F’ on the inside, that I read this for the first time when I was about ten. Some of the descent of the inmate Renfield into ‘a zoophagous..maniac’  went over my head, and I remember being unclear on whether Mina was in thrall to the Count or not, but the most confusing part of the book by far, and a section which still baffles me, is the incomprehensible conversations Mina has with an old man from Whitby. Stoker is not the only writer of this time, around the turn of the twentieth century, to start writing regional accents phonetically, but it’s something I don’t personally hold with. The odd word misspelt, to remind the reader that there’s an accent happening, can be effective, but whole reams of it seem much more of a hindrance to the smooth running of the story than a help to the imagination. Because, seriously: ‘I wouldn’t fash masel’ about them, miss’; ‘I must gang ageeanwards home now, miss’; ‘it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees’; ‘it’ll be a quare scowderment at the Day of Judgement’. What do any of those sentences mean??

Whitby Abbey: sheer atmosphere

 

 

I hardly need to say it, but you should obviously read this while working your way through the thickest, heaviest red wine you can get your hands on, perhaps a Shiraz or Nero D’Avola. Alternatively, a nice fullsome brandy could inject a similar heady depth to the reading experience. Go on, it’d be a quare scowderment to deny yourself. Maybe.

 

 

Book: Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Pair with: full-bodied red wine, such as Nero D’Avola