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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Hurricane – Victor of the Battle of Britain by Leo McKinstry (FP: 2010) [322pp] 

In the mid-1930's in was becoming increasing clear that war with Germany was coming. The question this posed, with Britain still only just recovering from the Great Depression, was what to do about it – and specifically where to spend the scarce resources in rearmament. Arguments raged, and nowhere more heatedly that in the RAF. The majority, the doctrine fundamentalists, where convinced by the long agreed upon argument that the bomber would ‘always get through’ which made beefing up air defences less than useless. A good defence, no matter how good, would never deter an attack. No, the only way to deter Germany was the building of an overwhelming bomber force that could crush its targets with a sheer weight of bombs. Luckily, for Britain's survival and for world history, other voices had the power to make themselves heard. Rather ironically, with the advantage of hindsight, one of those voices was Neville Chamberlain. Before he became Prime Minister in 1937, he was responsible for Britain’s finances and ensured that there was money (never enough but at least it existed) to build a proper fighter defence organisation headed by Hugh Dowding. But what of the fighters themselves? 

Like many other nations after the horrors of WW1 Britain had drastically cut its defence spending and especially during the dark Depression years. Home Defence in the mid-30's relied on out-of-date biplanes which could barely keep up with the new generation of light bombers never mind chase and kill them. Something clearly needed to be done and done it was. The Air Ministry sent out for proposals of single engine monoplane fighters and began sifting through applications. Fairly quickly it was decided that one design was the clear winner in all regards – the Supermarine Spitfire. Orders were placed and production of the first operation planes expected at least a year before war broke out. Whilst the Air Ministry and RAF waited, and waited, and waited some more it became clear that all was not well at Supermarine. But what could be done? Other designs had been rejected as unusable or simply unnecessary – like Hawker’s design. The simplicity of mass production really called for a single fighter design rather than introducing the increased logistical problems of having two. However, with the war drums getting louder and the Spitfires still not arriving a decision was made to start producing as many Hawker Hurricanes as soon as possible. A legend, and the backbone of Fighter Command during the pivotal Battle of Britain, was about to be born. 

I think, like many kids growing up post-war, I saw the Hurricane as a rather podgy and somewhat inelegant substitute for the much more iconic Spitfire. In many ways it was – it was slower and (generally) less maneuverable but could carry a much bigger offensive armament and could take a LOT of damage and still bring the pilot home. Without it in the fighting line its arguable that the Battle of Britain could have been lost with the faster Spitfires simply overwhelmed by the Luftwaffe. This was a very interesting read and alerted me to a whole host of facts I was completely unaware of – the early production difficulties with the Spitfires for one! The author didn’t shy away from the fact that the Hurricane was increasingly combat ineffective following the Battle of Britain – at least in a fighter role – but had a revived (even if only short lived) role as a ground attack fighter-bomber and very effective early tank buster. I shall definitely be looking out for the authors other works on other iconic aircraft. Definitely a must read for anyone interested in the Battle of Britain or fighter aircraft development.      

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Pre-Blog classic Classics – Part 2 

During my rather callow youth I had a mixed, somewhat ambiguous relationship with classic literature. There was a feeling that I should be reading them, that doing so was important and culturally enriching. The other, sometimes equally strong feeling, was that I shouldn’t bother and that classics, by their very nature, would be boring, difficult and honestly pointless to read. I had tried, growing up, a handful of classics (mostly prompted no doubt by movies or BBC adaptations), but had largely crashed and burned each time. As you can see from my previous listing my early forays into the classics consisted of truly classic SF, a touch of Fantasy and good old Sherlock Holmes. As many people have done over the years, I developed a real love for Conan Doyle’s prose and this, I believe, broke forever the fear of ‘difficult’ older texts. The more classics I read, the more classics I felt that I could read. So, I continued thus... 

Men Like Gods by H G Wells 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London 

Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee 

Animal Farm by George Orwell 

One, Two, Buckle my Shoe by Agatha Christie 

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie 

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie 

Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie 

The French Lieutenants Woman by John Fowles 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark 

The Natural by Bernard Malamud 

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 

On the Beach by Nevil Shute 

Looking back, I’m rather surprised by the number of classics I accumulated over time – still a vanishing small percentage of the whole (and rather ‘obvious’ ones too!) but you have to start somewhere... Part 3 next week.  

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Transcendence – How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty and Time by Gaia Vince (FP: 2019) [243pp] 

A great many events, accidents and preparation made us the global species we are today. Without them we would still be the minor hominid we were for most of our existence. Indeed, without the ‘luck’ of the asteroid impact 65 million years ago that led to the ultimate demise of the dinosaurs we, as the species we know and love/hate, wouldn’t be here at all. 

In this fascinating look at the very earliest history of our species the author looks at 4 themes that have influenced our evolution: Fire, Language, Beauty and Time. Fires seems to be the most obvious factor that made us so formidable in the survival stakes. We saw it naturally occur and clear large areas of brush and imitated it to startling effect (so much so that regular burning of scrubland led to the greater expansion of grassland that favoured vast herds of herbivores), we corralled it and used it to cook our food – making it both more edible (leading to an increase in brain size which increased our overall survivability) and greatly reducing the impact of parasites – and we used it to produce the first pottery which allowed us to store and transport food and liquids vastly more easily. Later fire allowed us to extract the first metals and produce (at first) crude weapons and cutting tools which increased our power even further. All of these advances fed into each other in positive feedback loops driving our evolution forward and forever separating us from our less able primate contemporaries. 

Fire also allowed us to protect ourselves against predators and changed the way we spent the dark dangerous nights. Rather than up in the trees away from predators we stayed on the ground, huddled around the fire, and talked to each other. Language developed as a tool for social interaction, social grooming, social bonding. We became better organised, better coordinated, able to hunt in teams with an understanding of what we hoped to achieve, powered by imagination and foresight. 

On our hunting trips we saw things of beauty and, if possible, brought these beautiful things back to the group. Shell necklaces have been found in graves and caves going back to the very dawn of mankind. Possibly worn as status symbols and certainly traded across hundreds of miles – shells with bore holes for various types of cord have been found a LONG way from any coast – things of natural or enhanced beauty were probably the foundation of trading systems. 

No doubt as we looked at the sky, we quickly saw patterns in the movement of the sun, the phases of the moon and the sweep of the night sky. We learnt to discern the days, months and seasons knowing when to plant, about tides and we began predicting events such as migrations of prey animals and much else besides. Knowledge of time led to questions about causes and speculation led to experimentation. 

The above hardly does justice to this total gem of a book. Despite its comparative shortness there’s a LOT packed in here covering millennia and the whole planet. Not only did I discover (or become reacquainted with) an updated view of humanities earliest times but the beautifully written text left me (again) fascinated with the whole subject – so brace yourself for more of this sort of thing! Definitely one of the best evolution/anthropology books I’ve read to date and definitely the science highlight of the year (so far!). A MUST read for anyone interested in humankind and the processes behind what made us the species we are today. Very highly recommended.  

Monday, May 09, 2022

Just Finished Reading: War of the Worlds – Global Dispatches edited by Kevin J Anderson (FP: 2013) [406pp] 

We all know the story of the Martian invasion of England in the late 19th century thanks in main to the sterling work of Mr. Herbert George Wells, esq. But have you ever wondered what exactly happened in the rest of the world outside that sceptered isle? Here is your chance to find out. 

In 18 stories we are given access to the experiences during that harrowing time of characters great and small (historically) ranging from Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, Percival Lowell in Egypt, the Dowager Empress in China, Pablo Picasso in Paris, Winston Churchill in South Africa, Rudyard Kipling in India, Joseph Pulitzer in St Louis, Leo Tolstoy in Imperial Russia and Mark Twain in New Orleans amongst others.  

As with all collects of short stories the quality was rather variable. Probably the worst one (for me anyway) concerned Emily Dickinson who fought the Martians with her poetry – despite being dead at the time! Close on its heels was the tale of Jules Verne in Paris who devised a devious scheme to strike back at the invader by using their apparent fascination with (if not actually sexual attraction to) the Eiffel Tower!  

Among my favourites was a tale of a sheriff and his deputies (ably assisted by the local townsfolk) in a small Texas town, “Night of the Cooters” by Howard Waldrop, where good old-fashioned grit and ingenuity defeated the men from Mars (plus the odd hail of lead from some trusty six-shooters) and taught them to think again before they’d mess with Texas. Already mentioned was the experience of Kipling, “Soldier of the Queen” by Barbara Hambley, which concentrated on the implications for colonial rule after the decimation of European Imperial forces across the world. Mark Twain’s experience, “Roughing it During the Martian Invasion” by Daniel Keys Moran and Jodi Moran, was another strong story with the great man himself, as witty as always, helping with the human resistance in New Orleans. Lastly, I also really liked the Joseph Conrad tale, “To See the World End” by M Shayne Bell, which (again) pointed to the decline of Western influence in Africa post-Martian invasion especially as many Europeans had been rescued by local Africans and hidden in the jungle that had proved impenetrable to the lumbering walking machines.  

Overall, this was a pretty good collection of stories about what was going on in the rest of the world – outside England – during the Martian invasion. What I would’ve liked in more combat SF in there (such as maybe the Prussian army facing off against some of the walkers – just think what Von Clausewitz trained troops would think/do!) and I think a follow up with the implications for global geopolitics and the Imperial dream would be pretty fascinating. Recommended to all ‘War of the Worlds’ fans.  

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Pre-Blog classic Classics – Part 1 

Now we’ve got the SF classics out of the way I can move on to my original idea of listing my pre-Blog classic Classics. Like with the SF list(s) I did struggle a bit with the question of what meets the ‘classic’ standard. For example, are the original Fleming Bond novels classics? What about Michael Crichton novels or at least some of the Alistair MacLean books? As before, if I was in any significant doubt I erred on the side of caution and the questionable books failed to make the ‘cut’. But that left a fair few to list, so here they are – in the order I read them. 

1984 by George Orwell 

The War of the Worlds by H G Wells 

I, Claudius by Robert Graves 

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien 

The Time Machine by H G Wells 

The First Men in the Moon by H G Wells 

The War in the Air by H G Wells 

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

Sherlock Holmes Investigates by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

The Invisible Man by H G Wells 

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 

The Food of the Gods by H G Wells 

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien 

 And then there were None by Agatha Christie 

I think that’ll do, for a start! Looking through my (very old) list to glean these from I was actually most impressed by the number of classics I managed to work through in my teens and 20’s. 1984, for instance, was leant to me by my English teacher who obviously saw something in my age 14-15 persona that cried out for quality literature. Looking back on my years of seeing classics as ‘difficult’ or ‘outdated’ I do regret missing out on the experience of reading great books at a young age. But I guess that books often come to you when you’re ready to receive them – which means I have some great reading still ahead of me. Part 2 next week. 

True dat........

Thursday, May 05, 2022

I keep thinking this more and more............

Just Finished Reading: The King and the Catholics – The Fight for Rights 1829 by Antonia Fraser (FP: 2018) [281pp] 

I remember, after reading the authors previous book on the Gunpowder Plot, how shocked I was at the treatment of Catholics in England after that event. Some of it I knew in passing – for example the fact that (until VERY recently) a British monarch could not marry a Catholic – but most of it came as somewhere between a surprise and a shock. The author goes into a LOT more detail in this often-fascinating book. 

Starting with the infamous Gordon Riots of 1780 (immortalised in Barnaby Rudge by Dickens) brought on by the Catholic Relief Act which incidentally caused property damage in London not surpassed till the Blitz in the 1940’s, the author follows the arguments for and the protests against the idea that Catholics in England should be treated as normal citizens rather than being automatically suspected of being (at the very least potential) traitors to the State. It was long believed (at least by some) that English Catholics had divided loyalties and when there was a conflict between State and Pope that the Pope would always prevail. No protestations of loyalty or even acts proving such counted for much – religion trumped all other interests. In the first quarter of the 19th century a Catholic could not sit in the House of Lords (despite being a Lord), could not be elected as a Member of Parliament, could not be an officer commanding men in battle [I’m not sure how low in rank this went and certainly rank and file Catholics were accepted as long as they were under English Protestant command], Catholic priests could not openly celebrate Mass nor (legally) perform marriages [Side Note: It was long the process that a Catholic marriage had to be registered officially – for a time TWO marriage services had to be performed, one Catholic and one Church of England. As far as I know my parents had to be registered separately as married AFTER they were actually married in a Catholic ceremony. I understand that in these more enlightened times a registrar attends the Catholic ceremony so that the legality of the marriage is assured without the need of anything further], nor were Catholic schools allowed and SO much more. Catholics, even high-ranking ones, were almost second-class citizens and, as far as I know, there was talk/proposals to make Catholics wear distinctive clothing or something obvious to recognise them in public (all the better to discriminate against them – naturally). Oh, and I almost forgot, religious symbols like the Cross could not be displayed or even imported into the country. 

Things were somewhat different in Ireland (not yet independent or partitioned) and there was a LONG running perception of the ‘Irish Problem’ which had strong links naturally to the ‘Catholic Problem’. It was at least technically possible to elect a Catholic MP in Ireland although it was considered highly unlikely with Protestant landowners essentially running things. But it was such an MP, in the guise of Daniel O’Connell, who finally forced the dam to break resulting in the Act of 1829. Of course, he didn’t do this himself despite being a consummate political operator. The tide was, slowly, moving in the direction of Catholic emancipation (which was believed would lead to ever growing emancipation in other areas – which it did) for a whole host of reasons – many of which hadn’t crossed my mind until the author pointed them out. It’s possible that forces within England and the rest of Europe, indeed in what could later be called the ‘West’ meant that all citizens of all religious affiliations would eventually have been treated equally but things would have moved much slower if a number of very had working and persuasive people had not made herculean efforts to make it so. 

Told with exhaustive (but not exhausting) detail this was an absorbing insight into early 19th century British politics which was in the process of modernising itself to more closely reflect the modern age into which it was moving. I really had no idea just how difficult it was being a Catholic before 1829 and it was really enlightening to discover this aspect of my nominal faith. Definitely recommended for anyone interested in British and Irish history or in the confluence of religion and politics.  

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Happy Star Wars Day - May the Fourth be With You (always). Get set for a week of (mainly) Star Wars related postings....!

Monday, May 02, 2022

We'll always have Paris.........

Just Finished Reading:  Lockdown by Peter May (FP: 2020) [398pp] 

It was going to be Detective Inspector Jack MacNeil’s last day on the job. With a failing marriage and a young child he barely saw it was a sacrifice he was prepared to make – no matter how much the department needed him right now. Anyway, one more cop on the streets could hardly make a difference now that the world was seemingly coming to an end. No one really believed that, or at least no one was saying it, but it certainly felt that way. With a dusk to dawn curfew in place, armed soldiers on the checkpoints and millions around the world already dead it was hardly surprising that people thought it was all about to crash to the ground. The riots, looting and the mad parties where the young almost invited infection were clear evidence of that. But Jack still had a job to do – at least for another 24 hours.    Giving him the case though, that felt like an act of malice or maybe just desperation with so many other officers off sick. A bag had been found on the building site of a rapid hospital expansion. The bag contained the recently flensed skeleton of a young girl. It looked like an open and shut murder case and Jack was ordered to put it to bed ASAP. But this was his last case and he wanted to do it right – both for himself and the poor victim. The bones went to forensics and Jack started digging into the miniscule evidence his team had uncovered. As the hours passed and Jack followed what clues he had, a bored lab technician trapped at work because of the curfew ran some DNA tests on a small piece of flesh left on the victim's bones. No one was surprised that she’d had the flu and it had probably killed her. What was a surprise was the DNA sequence of the flu itself. Although it was a close cousin of the flu that was ravaging the world it was different enough to ring alarm bells – but not with the police. Someone else was keeping a close eye on Jacks investigation and they had no intention of letting him solve his last job, no matter the cost in lives. 

Naturally with what was happening around us and on the news every day I just had to pick up this book. A murder mystery set in London during a global pandemic – whilst IN a global pandemic. What could possibly be more ‘meta’ except actually living in London - which I don't? Apparently written some years before publication the story of London under lockdown was considered too far-fetched by the authors publishers before it happened for real. Naturally when the Covid outbreak hit the fan the book was rushed into publication. Apart from the fact that this was a very competent crime novel it was interesting to compare the fictional pandemic to the real one. The BIG difference being that the fictional pandemic was 40x as lethal as Covid-19 which, as you can imagine, made a huge difference to government responses – for example no ‘shoot to kill’ policy regarding breaches of quarantine in the real world (or at least not in London). It was interesting that in the fictional world they stopped using cash and stopped reading newspapers (because of the fear of virus transmission rather than the rejection of ‘fake news’!) and of course all kinds of public transport stopped. The empty roads and empty streets of the early real pandemic were well represented in the fake one.  

Those who have read my reviews before know that I’m a sucker for good characterisation and we definitely had some good examples here. The main character Jack was, I thought, very well drawn and I really liked him. My other favourite character was his wheelchair bound Hong Kong Chinese girlfriend (one very good reason why his marriage was failing!) who working in the forensics team and whose main join was in facial reconstruction. Two other characters stood out for me – the ‘assassin’ known as Pinkie who was a bit too hard to kill for my liking although his background and motivation I found interesting. For me the worst character, made more so by the fact that the story could have easily done without her, was a Canadian epidemiologist who didn’t seem to understand very basic virology. That was more than a little annoying.  

Overall though this was certainly an above average crime novel with a very contemporary background which was, generally, very well done. I think part of the fact that it felt so real and so credible (probably apart from the evil corporation hovering in the background) is the reality of Covid-19 but it would’ve still ‘worked’ without that fact going for it. I know there are still those who can’t face reading about such things for entertainment but if that doesn’t overly bother you this is a decent crime novel that’ll keep you entertained for a few days. Recommended.  

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Pre-Blog Classic SF – Part 2 

Before listing my non-SF pre-Blog Classic reads, I wanted to get my SF classics out of the way first. I’ve always seen SF as a particularly ‘special’ genre as it was my ‘gateway drug’ into literature. Although I did heavily, and indeed almost exclusively, read SF in my early days (approx 14 years old plus) I eventually branched out into non-fiction and other genres of fiction – sometimes actually prompted by my SF reading. Somewhat ironically, for example, I began reading Raymond Chandler novels after discovering William Gibson as he was described as the Chandler of SF. As I LOVED his Cyberpunk novels, I had to try out Chandler too – and loved his works also! Of course, I should have been reading noir fiction because I LOVED noir movies but, hey that’d be FAR too simple. Anyway, before we move on to classic Classics here’s my final SF Classic list. 

Earth Abides by George R Stewart 

The Left-Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin 

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle 

The Midwich Cookoos by John Wyndham 

Make room, make room! By Harry Harrison 

Neuromancer by William Gibson 

Count Zero by William Gibson 

Burning Crome by William Gibson 

Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson 

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton 

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester 

My Name is Legion by Roger Zelazny 

Lest Darkness Fall by L Sprague DeCamp 

Less than last time (I think) and no doubt I missed a few, but it’ll give you some idea of the kind of SF I was reading pre-Blog. The next list (classic Classics) will probably interest people a bit more. But that’s for next time. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Just Finished Reading: Deadly Companions – How Microbes Shaped Our History by Dorothy H Crawford (FP: 2007/2018) [215pp] 

Viruses, bacteria and parasites have been around far longer than humans. But interestingly it’s only comparatively recently that we have been exposed to those microbes responsible for the great epidemic diseases that fill our history books. For most of human history the vast majority of people lived in hunter-gatherer bands of around 50-150 people. In that kind of environment there was little ‘purchase’ that any virus (for example) could take hold of. With only a few tens of possible targets to infect the early human diseases where either shrugged off, killed or debilitated their hosts enough that the group could no longer sustain them or recovered from the agent and acquired a level of immunity to further infection. Within a very short time the infectious agent had nowhere left to move to – and died out. It was only at the very dawn of human history, when people began settling in larger static communities that all of the diseases we know and, at least some of us, have coped with took hold. From that date to very recent human history humanity has had to cope with (or more often suffer through) epidemic, plague and pandemic events ever since. This, in a nutshell, is the story told in this excellent short book. 

With the advent of modern medicine and especially techniques like inoculation and vaccination, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how dangerous, deadly and frightening disease was. Before the wide acceptance of Germ Theory people had no clear idea of why people got sick and died. Even once the vector of the disease was understood it still took a long time to devise ways to combat it – especially the deadliest epidemics that swept through Europe in the Middle Ages like the infamous Black Death in the 14th century that killed over 30% of the population with deaths exceeding 60% in places. Such events could not help to be both catastrophic and life changing on an historic scale. [Side note: It’s interesting to see that the reasons for the end of the widespread plague outbreaks have yet to be definitively accounted for. They simply stopped without any apparent reason and certainly not because of human action.] Thankfully, most of the old scourges that literally plagued mankind have been eliminated – at least in countries with access to safe drinking water and with a health community of a sufficient level to tackle them. Instead, we have a growing issue with anti-biotic resistance and the distinct possibility of new diseases (or old diseases in new packages) introduced into the human population as the result of climate change, habitat destruction and a transport system seemingly designed to spread pathogens in the most effective way possible – as we saw very recently with the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve just lived through.  

I’m never one to shy away from a topic that’s exploding (or has recently exploded) on the News and I’m a firm believer that it’s far better to know stuff and be informed than to be ‘safely’ ignorant. This is very much a general introduction to human pathogens and how we’ve dealt with them over the millennia and is a very useful background read for anyone new to or refreshing their knowledge of epidemiological history. Recommended.  

Monday, April 25, 2022

Too true.........

Just Finished Reading: A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie (FP: 1950) [310pp] 

It came as a surprise to everyone in the village, including the family who was to apparently host the event. The ‘hostess’ thought it was someone’s idea of a joke but knew that there would be those in the village who would inevitably fall for it so ordered a minimum of preparations to be made – just in case the expected few did, in fact, show up. The rest of the village inhabitants didn’t quite know what to make of it suspecting that it was going to be one of those ‘murder adventure’ evenings where a ‘victim’ was randomly picked and the rest of the party had to work out exactly who ‘dunnit’? Dutifully, on the evening in question the guests arrived and waited in anticipation for something to happen – and happen it did. At the appointed hour a young stranger appeared and threatened the assembled group just as the excitement (and potential giggles) began to rise two shots rang out followed by a third. When the lights came back on the stranger was lying dead on the floor, his gun besides him. Accident? Stupidity? Suicide? What exactly had just happened? When the police arrived it looked, on first examination, all very straight forward. It was, everyone naturally agreed, a botched robbery. Luckily no one, apart from the incompetent perpetrator had been harmed. But something didn’t quite ‘feel’ right and the planned inquest was delayed. As the police began investigating further things became more complex, more confused. Was it actually an attempted robbery or something much more sinister? Where lives still at risk? The case had to be solved – and quickly. The Chief Inspector had a rather unconventional idea which might help the investigation gather the necessary speed, someone who had been of assistance in a previous case, a consulting detective as it were. Her name, Miss Marple. 

This is my 5th Miss Maple book and yet another one that confounded me to the very end. In my defence it was probably the most complex Miss Marple case that I’ve come across so far. For one thing the cast of suspects was larger than usual – or at least it felt that way – and their relationships quite convoluted. As usual, with the great gift of hindsight, all of the clues were in the text, Christie does not, in my experience, need to pull clue rabbits out of plot hats in order to bamboozle her readership. Close attention to the text and especially what people say (or don’t) points the way – as I learnt (much to my shame and embarrassment) at the end! As usual in these things, and real life, not everyone was telling the truth and not everyone was who they appeared to be (or said they were!). I managed to pick out (or at least I suspected) one such interloper but honestly that didn’t help much. I still read through Miss Marple’s explanation, over tea and cake naturally, and found myself repeating “Of course” and “Why didn’t I see THAT!” As always HIGHLY entertaining and definitely recommended for all classic murder mystery fans. 

Now the other stuff: As with all ‘older’ works, and not just the Classics, there are countless references throughout to events of the day which would have seemed completely normal (and unworthy of further comment) and often added as ‘filler’ to add a level of authenticity. Looking back 70 years such things are a mine of information if you’re interested in what was happening at the time and especially what people were thinking or focused on. Several things in particular are worth highlighting – there was much talk throughout the book about rationing (and in particular coal shortages) which didn’t fully end until 1954. Interestingly, there was also MUCH talk about people in the village operating a barter system with eggs, vegetables and chickens which was (unknown to me) apparently illegal! Another thing that jumped out at me was the number of characters who were living with friends or family out of long-term necessity. I’m guessing that this was because the housing stock in bombed cities still hadn’t recovered. [Side note: on my daily walk I stroll past a fairly large group of pre-fabricated single floor houses originally designed to cope with the post-war housing shortage and which were expected to be demolished within a year or two as people moved back into new builds. Surprisingly some people became really attached to their pre-fabs and demanded to stay in them. 70 plus years later you still see them all across the country.] 

One of the stranger characters in the book was a refugee from ‘Mittl Europa’ who served as the cook in a main character's house. There was much talk about her being ‘difficult’ and exaggerating her troubles during the war. It was never made clear exactly where she came from but she had a real fear of the police and anyone in uniform. Interestingly, despite being hired as a cook her expertise was in Economics. Something that raised an eyebrow, and a few laughs to be honest, was a brief discussion of the reluctance to own German breed dogs – like the dachshund. Personally, I both like and feel sorry for these little guys who seem to struggle on their walks because of their little legs. I do think they’re quite cute though. Of course, the implication, rather understandable a mere 5 years after the war, was a prejudice against all things German. I guess parking a VW beetle outside your cottage might get a few mumbles, sideways glances and ‘tuts’ whilst standing in the post office waiting to be served. I probably missed a few things, but you get my point – old novels are a great way of discovering (or at the very least thinking about or being prompted to investigate) elements of the past that might never cross your mind otherwise. More Miss Marple to come – of course!