Thursday, October 29, 2015

At least Pakistan was not elected to the UNHRC

On the other hand, "Venezuela, UAE, Burundi, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, and Togo easily won election at the UN yesterday to 3-year terms on the 47-nation Human Rights Council". According to this report, in 2016 the Council will have its smallest proportion of free members ever.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in 2016 will have just 18 countries rated as “free” out of a total of 47 – the lowest number in the body’s decade-old history.

For the first time since the HRC was created in 2006, the proportion of members designated “free” by the Washington-based democracy watchdog, Freedom House, will drop next year to below 40 percent.
It's not as if we do not know the truth about these countries:
Earlier, a report by three human rights groups – U.N. Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Lantos Foundation – evaluated all 21 candidates in the election, and concluded that nine were unsuitable.

Of those nine, seven were elected on Wednesday: Ethiopia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Ecuador, Burundi, Togo and Kyrgyzstan.

The remaining two, Pakistan and Laos, were unsuccessful. In part, that was because their regional group, Asia, presented a competitive slate – seven candidates for five vacancies.

The African group, by contrast, put up a closed slate – five candidates for five vacancies – thus all but assuring success for Ethiopia and Burundi (both “not free”), and Togo (“partly free”).
To a great extent the organization is funded by Western countries who have a considerably better record in freedom and human rights (the USA puts up a hefty 22% of the money) but the purpose of the organization is lost in the necessity to represent every region. The fact is that freedom is not a concept that is valued at all highly in various regions.

UNWatch gives the results of the votes if you scroll down the story, adding in particular this:
Togo won more seats that any other candidate, 189 out of 193.

Human rights abuses in Togo include:

Executive influence over the judiciary

Restrictions on freedom of press and assembly

Rape, violence, and discrimination against women

Child abuse, including female genital mutilation and sexual exploitation

Trafficking in persons.

Discrimination persisted against persons with disabilities, regional and ethnic groups, and LGBT

Child labor, including forced child labor

Togo takes limited steps to prosecute or punish officials who commit abuses. Impunity, including in the security services, is widespread.
So, what are we to expect from this wonderful institution in the future? This is Hillel Neuer's prediction:
The Council will continue to turn a blind eye to egregious abuses by violators like China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, which have never been addressed in any UN resolution.

Mechanisms meant to help victims will be hijacked by politicization and selectivity.

The core principles of individual human rights will be subverted by concepts that increase power for governments.
I bet there will be lots of resolutions about Israel, though.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

First day of Committee

For anyone interested who has not yet switched on the Parliamentlive.tv, the first day of the Committee stage of the EU Referendum Bills is going on right now. Here is all the information you might need about the state of the Bill now, including the various Amendments, mostly to do with extending the franchise and with demanding that HMG produce a detailed analysis of what they expect the renegotiations to achieve and, more to the point, how do they view Britain's existence outside the EU.

Curiously enough, there are no demands for HMG to produce a detailed analysis of what they think the EU will look like in five years' time and what Britain's role in it will be if we stay in. I seem to recall that many of the people who are now demanding the above report or analysis were horrified at the thought of a cost/benefit study of Britain's membership all the times it was asked for.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday Night Blog Murders: Archaeologists in Christie's stories

Various things have been happening, one of which is that I am on jury service this week, which is not nearly as exciting as one might think when watching old Perry Mason episodes. In fact, it is very boring with a good deal of time spent just hanging around and not being able to get wi-fi. That accounts for the fact that I have not written anything about the progress of the EU Referendum Bill but before I go on to the far more intriguing subject of Agatha Christie and archaeologists I ought to remind my readers that the Committee stage of the Bill in the House of Lords will begin tomorrow (October 28) and is scheduled to last three days with the Report stage lasting two days.

And now: back to Dame Agatha Christie Mallowan whose 125th birthday we have been celebrating by this series of blogs. First of all, let me remind everyone that the originator of this idea is Curt Evans whose blog, The Passing Tramp is indispensable to anyone who is interested in the genre. Here is his latest contribution, on the subject of Tom Adams's brilliant book covers. In all honesty, I feel that his work in collecting and posting all the links to the various Tuesday Night blogs should be acknowledged, so here they are: the first, introductory, posting; week two with a delightful picture of afternoon tea; week three and week four. This is week five and the last of the Christie blogging as a group. Another member, Noah Stewart, has suggested that we should move on to other well known Golden Age Detective writers and the first of them will be Ellery Queen. I have not yet made up my mind whether to participate because, though I have read a good many of the novels and short stories, I have little to say that even I can consider to be interesting. The plan is to go on to Ngaio Marsh about whom I have a good deal to say and then Rex Stout who created one of my favourite characters in detective fiction: Archie Goodwin.

As every school child knows, Agatha Christie's second husband was the noted archaeologist, Sir Max Mallowan, with whom she went to Syria and Iraq when he was excavating. there and where she helped by washing and classifying the finds. I recall hearing a lecture at the British Museum about Christie and archaeology. Apparently, she is highly thought of in that field. One of my co-bloggers in the group, Moira Redmond, wrote last week about Christie and digs, quoting her delightful account of her times in the Middle East, Come, Tell Me How You Live.



In it and in They Came To Baghdad, which takes place partially on an archaeological dig, Christie describes the way people's lives and even personalities can be discovered and understood through archaeological finds, which makes it a subject of particular interest to detective fiction writers: the two processes have much in common.


There have been a number of archaeologists who are also detectives: Glyn Daniel's Professor Sir Richard Cherrington (written at first under the pseudonym, Dilwyn Rees) is an obvious example. Then there was Tamara Hoyland, the heroine of Jessica Mann's early series as well as her erstwhile teacher, Professor Thea Crawford. Ellis Peters's George Felse series as well as a number of the stand-alone novels revolve round archaeological sites with archaeologists either solving the mystery or contributing to the solution. Elizabeth Peters and Elly Griffiths's heroines (and heroes) are archaeologists and Kate Ellis's novels tend to have a double strand of modern crime and archaeological study that interweave with DI Wesley Peterson as the amateur archaeologist and professional police officer and his friend Neil Watson the opposite. These are just the examples I could think of immediately.

Christie did not have a single archaeologist as an investigator though a few try their hands at it, particularly in Murder In Mesopotamia, the one novel that takes place almost entirely on a dig and the only book that is narrated by a woman. It also has possibly the most preposterous solution of any Christie detective story, which is rather a pity as so much about it is so very good and entertaining.


How can one categorize the archaeologists? Let us try to employ those little grey cells. There are the phony ones - the crooks who masquerade as an archaeologist in order to steal various artefacts or, in one case, silver from the local mansion. There is Dr Stone in Murder at the Vicarage and Father Lavigny in Murder in Mesopotamia. They both usurp the personality of a well-known practitioner in order to carry out their nefarious projects. Both manage to escape but will, almost certainly, be found in the near future and imprisoned for fraud and theft.

Then there are the criminal archaeologists. The best known of these [name withheld] is the murderer in Mesopotamia. A less well known one is Dr Carter who crops up in one of the Parker Pyne short stories, The Pearl of Price. He tries to steal an expensive pearl earring in order to finance his next expedition. Not only he fails as Parker Pyne works out what has happened but the earring is a fake so criminal success would not have given him what he wanted.


Another criminal, a far more evil one, is Dr Ames in The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb, an early Poirot short story. The collection in which it appeared, Poirot Investigates, was published in 1924 and Hastings is in all the stories. Strictly speaking Dr Ames is a medical man, who accompanies the exhibition but he is most definitely evil.



So we come to the archaeologist heroes. In two books (though it sometimes feels as if there were many more of them) the heroine forms an attachment to a charming young man who turns out to be a very bad person, indeed.

In They Came to Baghdad, he is seen as "Lucifer", the beautiful fallen angel, the man who wants to create world-wide chaos in order to take over eventually. Or something like that. This is one of those books whose parts are considerably better than the whole. The heroine, Victoria Jones, who is rather feisty one has to admit, is rescued from the emotional morass by an archaeologist. She ends the adventure by re-joining the dig and intending to work there, having become quite interested in the subject as well as in the man who explains it all to her.


The other novel in which the heroine, also quite an admirable young lady, is saved from her infatuation with a charming rotter, in this case a serial killer, by a young archaeologist whose expedition she will be accompanying as an assistant, largely though Poirot's intervention is Death in the Clouds, illustrated here.

Poor Archie Christie, clearly the man on whom those charming villains are based, was really no worse and no less sensitive than many men of his class and generation. He was certainly not a criminal. But he paid heavily for his misdemeanours in his wife's novels.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tuesday Night Blog Murders: What did the Beresfords read?

We know quite a lot about the Beresfords' taste in reading. As late as Postern in Fate when they inexplicably decide to move to the country on Tommy's supposedly final retirement from the Service (do they ever retire?) that many of the books they take with them are adventure stories from their adolescence or even later. It is Tuppence's entirely understandable desire to re-read some of her old friends that launches them on the adventure. In the much earlier and much more readable Partners in Crime, Tommy explains that he sees no problems about running a detective agency, which is, in any case, just a front for the real work and that is the catching of Soviet spies, because they have both read every single detective story that had come out in recent years. Later on, in The Ambassador's Boots, which Tuppence starts by wanting to be Roger Sheringham, Tommy is seen in the austere office, "improving his mind by reading the latest sensational thriller". Indeed, a number of the writers and characters they invoke in the various adventures are not really detectives but heroes of shockers.

According to John Curran, Agatha Christie seems to have read an enormous number of detective stories and shockers as well as serious literature. Unfortunately, she had not started making extensive notes of plans when she wrote Partners in Crime so we do not know what her real opinion was of the writers to whom she referred in the stories though there is a great deal of affection for the various characters, even Hercule Poirot, whose "little grey cells" are mentioned throughout the book almost as often as "Watson" is told that he sees but does not observe.

The last adventure, at the end of which Tuppence announces that she has something far more exciting to do in future, as she is expecting a baby, is The Man Who Was No. 16, a hilariously funny destruction of The Big Four, probably Christie's worst book (even allowing for Postern of Fate and Passenger to Frankfurt), written as a kind of Bulldog Drummond-type shocker soon after her notorious disappearance and reappearance. She never liked the book. (It should be noted that Christie's opinion about her own books was usually accurate - the ones she liked best were very good and the ones she disliked were rather poor.)

So what about the Beresfords' reading matter? They were obviously fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and kept up with his career. In the introductory chapter, A Fairy in the Flat, Tommy tries to cheer up the seriously and understandably bored Tuppence with the idea that one of the little people might be in their flat and he might have taken a photograph of it. Just to make sure that the reference is not lost, Tuppence wonders whether they should write to Conan Doyle about it. Fortunately, the Chief turns up with his proposition that they should run Blunt's Brilliant Detectives, solve whatever cases come their way and, incidentally, catch an important spy as well as his minions. When they take over the office and "solve" the first case, which involves a bit of cheating on Tuppence's part, they decide to study the classics and, indeed, model themselves on them.

In his The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie Charles Osborne lists all the authors and characters mentioned in the adventures and points out that most of them are "now" completely unknown. The book came out in 2000 and it seems a little cavalier of Mr Osborne to dismiss characters such as Dr Thorndyke, Inspector Hanaud, Roger Sheringham, Reggie Fortune, Inspector French and the Old Man in the Corner as being unknown: there had by then been a number of reprints of stories and many of them had appeared on TV.

We must assume that Charles Osborne was not dismissing Sherlock Holmes or Father Brown as being at all unknown. The Man in the Mist, the "Father Brown" adventure is the only one that is a serious copy of the original works. It is dark in external descriptions and deals with dark matters of the soul. It relies on one of Chesterton's most famous solutions and the murderer is completely unexpected. (The idea was used again by Christie in a later novel.)

As against that, the references to Sherlock Holmes are all entertaining. The first time Tommy tries to use a Holmesian technique he comes a cropper and the "Holmes" adventure is a farcical parody of The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax. At the end of it Tommy announces "with dignity":
I believe, Watson, that there is a very good concert at the Queen's Hall to-morrow. We shall be in plenty of time for it. And you will oblige me by not placing this case upon your records. It has absolutely no distinctive features. 
Not all the adventures mention "respectable" detective stories; the Beresfords quite clearly loved reading shockers as well and must have worked their way through the entire works of Edgar Wallace and Sapper as well as Conan Doyle and Chesterton. Curiously enough, given the background of espionage, there is no reference to John Buchan.

Some of the authors have, indeed, fallen into oblivion. Wallace remains well known and some of his works are periodically reprinted or dramatized for TV. I recall watching an excellent series of The Mind of J. G. Reeder though it was only when I read the book that I realized how much of the violence had been toned down. While some of Wallace's works are unlikely to see the light of day because of their racism and anti-Semitism, the thrillers about "busies" and "noses" against villains like the "Crackler" have been occasionally reprinted and may yet be again. At any rate, Wallace has not disappeared down the memory hole completely and a memorial to him can still be seen in Ludgate Circus though Fleet Street has not been the home of British journalism for many years.


The three writers whom the Beresfords seem to have read avidly but who really are unknown today except to a few cognoscenti are Valentine Williams (also here), the creator, among others, of the Okewood brothers and of the villainous German spy master, Dr Grundt alias the Clubfoot, Clinton H. Stagg, creator of Thornley Colton, the blind Problemist and, most undeservedly, Isabel Ostrander (a more complete list of her works is here), creator, again among many others, of McCarty Incog, that is Timothy McCarty, retired New York cop and his friend Dennis Riordan, still a fireman in the New York Fire Service.

It is not easy to get books by those writers but, luckily for me, London Library has some by Isabel Ostrander and Valentine Williams. I chose Clubfoot The Avenger of the Okewood series. Published in 1924 it would have been the one read by Tommy and Tuppence, who pride themselves on keeping up with detective stories and shockers, not long before the time they took over Blunt's Brilliant Detectives.



Clubfoot, for those who have not come across these books, is the man who had been in charge of the Kaiser's personal secret service before and during the First World War and has been looking for employment ever since. He is a gigantic man, described over and over again, as looking like an ape with bristling hair and eyebrows, a ferocious sneer and a huge clubfoot, which means he is always leaning on a stick. Oddly, the stick is just that, not a gun or a telescope or anything else of that kind. Dr Grundt (his real name) is a German patriot but unlike Erskine Childers and, to some extent, John Buchan, Valentine Williams did not think very highly of that, being on that subject at one with Sapper and Dornford Yates.

Clubfoot is usually very successful and his trail is littered with bodies of people who have somehow upset him or prevented him from carrying out his work, though the stories are not nearly as nasty as Sapper's. Tommy Beresford recognizes that: in The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger he tells said stranger when talk turns to vitriol and other suchlike methods of persuasion that he and Tuppence had made an error in diagnosis as the adventure is not a Clubfoot but a Bulldog Drummond one with the stranger being "the inimitable Carl Peters". The only two people who can and do best Grundt are the Okewood brothers, Desmond and Francis, both, at this stage, retired from the Secret Service but recalled because of the reappearance of Clubfoot in England. The man is out to avenge his past failures and systematically kills everyone who has seriously inconvenienced him, to use Professor Moriarty's term. Eventually, he intends to do away with the Okewoods and the Chief, which must not be allowed to happen.

The stories are well written and quite exciting though one begins to see the pattern fairly early on. However, there is a problem and that is the ability of Desmond Okewood, supposedly the best agent the British Secret Service has ever had. In the Beresford adventure Tuppence warns Tommy when the latter shows signs of not passing on information to Carter and playing a lone hand: whenever Desmond disobeys orders and plays a lone hand he gets into trouble and his brother Francis has to rush to his rescue.

As a matter of fact, that happens even when Desmond does not disobey orders. The man is plain stupid. He cannot walk past a trap without falling into it. He has to be rescued by Francis (who is not that bright himself as he does not think of checking out whether a sudden and inconvenient summons from the Chief is genuine), by the Chief and by a substantial number of police officers. In the last adventure, which allegedly ends with Clubfoot's retirement for good, the situation is saved by a young woman colleague of his, whose attitude amuses him until she turns out to be smarter than he. She it is who realizes that there is something wrong with the pilot, who then decides to take charge of the jewels and hides them and she it is who trounces verbally Clubfoot, using "a little knowledge, a little intuition, a little bluff". To be fair to Okewood and the Chief, they acknowledge her ability and her career in the Service is about to be discussed. But will she be allowed to rise above Major Desmond Okewood or his brother Francis?

There is some discussion as to who was the first blind detective in print, a debate that is made more difficult to resolve by the fact that many of the early stories in every case appeared in various journals and periodicals, which have since disappeared in the physical sense. The best known of all the early blind detectives is Max Carrados, created by Ernest Bramah (here is a fuller but rather facetious piece on Bramah and a better one here and a bibliography here). Carrados stories appeared in magazines in 1913 and the first collection came out in 1914. Isabel Ostrander (of whom more below) created a blind detective, Damon Gaunt, in the novel At One-Thirty, published in 1915 but there might have been stories in magazines before that. Stagg's Thornley Colton seems to have appeared in short stories in People's Ideal Fiction Magazine in 1913 but was not collected in a book till 1915. For some reason the Beresfords preferred the Colton stories to the Carrados ones.

Thornley Colton is a man whom everyone notices as the first paragraph of the First Problem, called The Keyboard of Silence, explains:

"Not often did mere man attract attention in the famous dining-room of the " Regal," but men and women alike, who were seated near the East Arch- way, raised their eyes to stare at the man who stood in the doorway, calmly surveying them. The smoke-glass, tortoise-shell library spectacles, which made of his eyes two great circles of dull brown, brought out the whiteness of the face strikingly. The nose, with its delicately sensitive nostrils, was thin and straight ; the lips, now curved in a smile, somehow gave one the impression that, released by the mind, they would suddenly spring back to their accustomed thin, straight line. For a smile seemed out of place on that pale, masterful face, with its lean, cleft chin. The snow-white hair of silky fineness that curled away from the part to show the pink scalp underneath contrasted sharply with the sober black of the faultless dinner-coat that fell in just the proper folds from the broad shoulders and deep chest."

His assistant is black haired and apple cheeked Sydney Thames, whom Colton had picked up on the banks of the eponymous river, a mere bundle of baby clothes and brought up. Thames worships Colton and spends several minutes in every "problem" agonizing over the fact that his idol seems to have made a mistake. Actually, he is wrong every time. When Tommy Beresford pretends to be blind in Blindman's Buff and is accosted by potential clients who turn out to be not quite what they seem, he refers to Tuppence (usually known as Miss Robinson, for reasons that are never explained) as Miss Ganges who had been found on the banks of the Indian river, a mere bundle of baby clothes. The little joke would have appealed to Clinton H. Stagg's readers. One of Sydney Thames's most difficult tasks is to gauge how many steps his master must take in which direction, when he should turn and when he should avoid someone or something. When Tuppence tries to emulate him she fails miserably. It is just as well that Tommy's blindfold is not quite what it seems either.

The other member of Colton's household is the Shrimp of the Fee, a boy with a hoarse voice and a broken nose who was the only thing Colton and Thames got out of a particularly complicated murder case. Astonishingly, they do not have a housekeeper.

The Problemist is not only a man who, having been blind since birth, not only managed to train all his other senses to a superlative level and trained his mind to understand things problems practically as soon as they are presented to him, he is also someone who can read people's moods and characters from their pulse, the famous Keyboard of Silence, that he touches while shaking hands. Again, the Beresfords have some fun with it:
"Give me your hand," said Tommy. He held it, one finger feeling for the pulse. "Ah! The Keyboard of Silence. This woman has not got heart disease."
One cannot help suspecting that of all the writers referred to in the Beresfords' adventures Clinton H. Stagg is the one Christie thought least of.

That leaves Isabel Ostrander and McCarty Incog together with his best friend Dennis Riordan. Ostrander was a prolific writer, popular on both sides of the Atlantic, though some of her books were not published in Britain till after her death. Altogether there were five McCarty and Riordan books with one actually called McCarty Incog, published in Britain in 1925, possibly the last one the Beresfords had read before their adventures. The first, The Clue in the Air, came out in 1917 in the US and 1920 in Britain.

Timothy McCarty a former cop who had been a roundsman, resigned before he could be made sergeant as he inherited money and property from his uncle. His friend, Dennis Riordan, with whom he had grown up as their parents seem to have gone to New York from the old country at the same time, has not inherited anything and has stayed in the fire department. Time hangs heavy on McCarty's or Mac's hands so when a criminal problem comes his way he becomes involved together with his buddy who is simpler and stupider than he is but who usually makes an innocent comment or two that clarify the issues in Mac's brain and lead him to the right solution. Poirot was to maintain that Hastings did the same to him and in Finessing the King and The Gentleman Dressed in Newspaper (two parts of the same adventure) Tuppence, as McCarty, solves the problem because of some idle comments of Tommy's.

Ostrander's crimes tend to be domestic, not a given in American novels of that period as these often dealt with crooks in business and politics, and the criminal, in the ones I have read, tends to be a sympathetic figure. The victim, on the other hand is not necessarily so. When Tommy tries to see the same pattern in the adventure he is disabused by Inspector Marriott. The crime was committed for money though, as in the Ostrander novels, the criminal commits suicide rather than surrender.

Partners in Crime ends with the Poirot story; published in 1929 it came a year before Murder at the Vicarage. Tuppence would have enjoyed being Miss Marple. Yes, of course, they would have read it. As soon as it came out.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The trouble with history is that it does not stay still

For better for worse, circumstances change. There is no need to quote Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's famous riposte - we all know it. The trouble is that a good part of the post-1945 structure was assumed to last for ever. Germany was always going to be down, was the thought in many a mind, particularly in France. Anyone could have told those architects of the "European structure" that this was a pipe dream. The Soviet Union was going to last for ever and the far-off conflicts in the Middle East would never seriously affect European countries. Should one laugh or snort at such ridiculous presumption?

At present, there is no Soviet Union but there is a Russia that is displaying all the dangerous signs of a rather weak bully; as to the Middle Eastern conflicts they have long ago invaded most European countries and are likely to continue to do so.

By and large I have kept out of the migrant/refugee discussion because as I have said before I have no solutions any more than the people who keep talking about it do. I need not add that much of all that discussion is based on what the latest headlines and pictures are.

All the same, a couple of items have caught my attention today. One relates to Chancellor Merkel's meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey (where there is another election due on November 1 and the general political situation is far from stable).

It seems that
Germany is ready to help drive forward Turkey's European Union accession process, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday (18 October), extending support to Ankara in exchange for Turkish help in stemming the flow of refugees to Europe.
Well, well. And how is Turkey going to do that? Are they even interested in this kind of bribery or blackmail?
A "safe zone" in northern Syria, a proposal long championed by Turkey but which has gained little international traction, is badly needed, Davutoglu said.

"Our priority is to prevent illegal immigration and reduce the number of people crossing our borders. In that respect we have had very fruitful discussions with the EU recently," he said.

But Davutoglu said while progress had been made on an EU offer to Turkey last week of an action plan including "re-energised" talks on joining the bloc, several issues remained to be resolved.

"Firstly, the sharing of the refugee burden should be fair. The amount of aid ... is secondary. What is more important is the common will to tackle this issue. Turkey has been left alone in recent years," he said.
It looks like Turkey will, understandably, start demanding various concessions.
Restarting accession talks is one of the conditions Turkey presented last week to agree to a common action plan with the EU to tackle the migrant crisis.

The action plan includes measures to strengthen the control of Turkey's border with the EU and facilitate returns of unwanted migrants to Turkey, as well as aids to help Turkey handle the 2.5 million refugees living on its territory.

Turkey also demanded a liberalisation of the visa regime in 2016 for Turks coming to the EU, a €3 billion aid package and a participation of Turkish leaders in EU summits.
Another of the EU's neighbour is becoming restive. Though smaller than Turkey, Switzerland has greater clout in the world or did have before Turkey had become vital to Europe's safety (not for the first time).

Sunday's national parliament election in Switzerland may not be quite as important as it sounds, given the country's political structure but is indicative of attitudes.
The anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in Sunday's national parliamentary election (18 October), projections showed, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union.

Success for the Swiss People's Party (SVP), coupled with gains made by the pro-business Liberal Party (FDP), led political commentators to talk of a "Rechtsrutsch" - a "slide to the right" - in Swiss politics.

Immigration was the central topic for voters amid a rush of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe.

"The vote was clear," SVP leader Toni Brunner told Swiss television. "The people are worried about mass migration to Europe."

Sunday's result cements the SVP's position as the dominant force in Swiss politics.

The SVP won 29.5% of the vote, according to projections from Swiss broadcaster SRF, up from 26.6% in the 2011 vote and far exceeding expectations.

This would translate into an extra 11 seats, bringing their total tally in the 200-member lower house to 65, the best result for any party in at least a century.

The election gains for the SVP, which was already Switzerland's biggest single party, come 20 months after the Swiss in a referendum backed limits on foreigners living in the Alpine nation. The SVP had strongly supported the restrictions.

Lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile this referendum result with an EU pact that guarantees the free movement of workers, otherwise the Swiss government must write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU.
Turkey can be bribed or blackmailed but Switzerland is a tougher proposition. EUObserver gives more details:
The centre-left social democrats came second in the election with 18.9 percent, which was only a 0.2 percentage point increase. But with the centre-right Liberal Party (FDP) in third place, a clear right-wing majority has emerged in the National Council.

Several newspapers in neighbouring Germany therefore spoke of a "Rechtsrutsch", a swing to the right.

However, Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) said it was rather a "return to normality".

In an editorial commentary, the NZZ noted that "a win of several percentage points is hardly a landslide" and that while two right-wing parties now have a majority, they are no homogeneous block but have differing views.

"[The term] 'Rechtsrutsch', like 'asylum chaos', is a part of the vocabulary of fear", the paper noted.
The NZZ is correct: hysteria does not help anyone and this result is not frightening to anyone except the Europhiliac establishment. You see, none of this was supposed to happen.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Act for the Act"

A couple of days ago I was going either up or down some escalator in some central London tube station and noticed a series of new posters. They were not advertising shows in the West End (often ones that have closed as the TfL rarely bothers to keep the advertising up to date) or the nearest McDonald's or Garfunkel's or, even, the need to have various health checks. No, these were posters summoning us all to the battle to Act for the Act - to save the Human Rights Act. Each poster had some "poster child" of different genders, races and ages whose lives were made better by the HRA. The Act, we are told, was there for them; now the Act needs us.

This intrigued me. Naturally, I do not think there is anything wrong with political advertising and though I dislike the simplification practically ad absurdum of a complex issue as well as the clear lack of historical knowledge that is behind such a campaign, I do accept that this is going to happen.

One question we do need to ask, though: exactly who is funding this campaign. As ever, I asked Mr Google and this was the reply:

From the Equality and Diversity Forum I learned that Act for the Act is " a Crowdfunder project calling for donations to fund a nationwide poster blitz to save the Human Rights Act".
The campaign organisers want to create a poster campaign across the national transport network so that ordinary, real people, can tell their stories of how the Human Rights Act helped them to RIGHT a serious WRONG in their lives. For example, bereaved parents Matt and Martina Baines used the Act after their only child, 17 year old Kesia, died, to hold the authorities to account and win changes in the law; Jan Sutton was able to force her local authority to provide her with the care she needs. Rape victims failed by the police have used the Act to hold the police to account and protect others in future.

This campaign is supported by Equally Ours and is being organised by a group of people who have seen first-hand just how important the Human Rights Act can be. We have a Steering Group of 10 people working together.
One wonders what the alternative to "ordinary, real people is" - unusual or unreal people, perhaps, or Martians.

Before we go any further, let us have a look at Equally Ours. A Human Rights campaign, that is a campaign in favour of lots of human rights organizations, that is partnered by a number of quangos and are "hosted and led by the Equality and Diversity Forum, where we started.
The Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) is a network of national organisations committed to equal opportunities, social justice, good community relations, respect for human rights and an end to discrimination based on age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.
A super quango that is a network of other quangos and whose aim is to generate as much work as possible through the human rights industry, as its Report and Financial Statement makes clear. The various grants are undoubtedly from the taxpayer through one or other layer of government and quango donors. It is no wonder that there is a little anxiety there that the HRA might be repealed or some new version of the old Bill of Rights substituted for it. Would that work as well as the HRA does for all these organizations?

Nevertheless, the poster campaign is supposed to be Crowdfunded or, in other words, it can happen only if people out there contribute various sums of money. That one cannot object to. If people are stupid enough to Crowdfund a political poster campaign, that is entirely their business; taxpayers' money wasted on a pretend information campaign would be quite different.

So here we are: ActForTheAct, a Community Crowdfunding Project.


The project, we were told, could not do anything unless £50,000 was pledged by June 12, 2015. It was, in fact, overfunded with £55,870 pledged by the date specified and by now they, presumably, honoured their pledges and the campaign has gone live, which is why the posters in question have appeared in Underground stations.

Curiously enough, an earlier version of the news about the funding had a link to a list of those who pledged money or, at least some of them and certainly not the one who pledged £10,000 or the four who pledged £5,000. As far as I can see, the link has disappeared.

The actual website tells us little more than the previous Crowdfunding ones did with the various cases quoted without any detail but, presumably, if anybody asked those would be provided. Wouldn't they? And I don't mean just the actual "poster child's" story. Why the HRA was needed to help someone who quite illegally was not looked after properly by her carers or to show the police that it was wrong to hold a child for 11 hours without any access by a qualified adult remains unclear but one can hardly argue against that. Nor can one argue against voluntary donations or time given free because people believe in something.

My own suspicion that it will not be long before the likes of Amnesty, an NGO as well as a quango, become donors and participants in the campaign. At the very least they will start using it for their own purposes. In fact, their campaign has started already though the Amnesty name is in small letters at the bottom of the page. We must all look for those small letter at the bottom of the page in various supposedly charitable but actually political campaigns whether they are to save the HRA or affirm the UK's membership of the European Union.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Shock news: this blog agrees with the Minister

The European Union Referendum Bill has had its Second Reading in the Lords and we can begin to work out what the future debates, at Committee and Report stage are likely to be about. Who is to vote in the referendum is going to figure high on the agenda. At present, as Baroness Anelay explained in her opening speech:
This is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe, so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as our starting point for this referendum, which is of vital importance to this nation’s future. This means that British citizens in the UK, British citizens who have been abroad for less than 15 years and resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens will have a vote. Noble Lords will already be aware that we have added Members of this House to the franchise, in line with our normal practice for referendums.

...

Finally, we have added British, Commonwealth and Irish citizens in Gibraltar. The Government believe it is right that Gibraltar should take part. Broadly speaking, the EU treaties apply to Gibraltar, and Gibraltar votes as part of the South West England region of the UK in European parliamentary elections.
The Labour and Lib-Dems are lining up arguments for inclusion of 16 and 17 year olds as well as EU citizens resident in this country.

The argument for EU citizens voting in a referendum that will decide the UK's role as far as the EU is concerned (for reasons mentioned in this blog too often to link to, I dislike the expression "relations with the EU" and shall have no truck with the completely inaccurate "relations with Europe") will affect their status as well as the status of British citizens living in other EU countries. Therefore, those EU citizens should have a say.

Of course, the result of the In/Out referendum will affect many other people who happen to be residing in this country, Americans who work for international firms, for instance; or people who are not EU citizens but have arrived here through another EU country; or students and academics who are here on some form of EU grant or scholarship. Should they all have a vote in the referendum.

Shock number one: this blog agrees with the Minister's argument against extending the vote to EU citizens who have not bothered to take UK citizenship (it is possible to have dual citizenship but not everyone avails himself or, for that matter, herself of that).
Many EU citizens have made the UK their home and have made significant contributions to life in this country. No one would wish to deny that. However, this is a vote about the future of the United Kingdom in Europe so it is right that we use the Westminster franchise as the basis. Using a franchise that does not include other EU nationals is entirely consistent with the practice in other EU member states and with the EU treaties themselves. I suspect that many of the British public would view the inclusion of EU citizens as a crude attempt to fix the result.
A crude attempt to fix the result? Oh surely not!

When it comes to 16 and 17 year-olds voting in the referendum because they did in the Scottish Independence one, I have already written a couple of postings on the subject.

The subject was raised on June 4 when the arguments that were repeated in the Second Reading and will, undoubtedly, be repeated again, were raised. Briefly, the arguments amount to two: 16 and 17-year-olds showed themselves to be very responsible by voting in large numbers in Scotland and the referendum is about the future of this country, which means their future and they should have some say in it.

There is a good deal of evidence that while that age group, almost all of whom live in their parental homes voted in high numbers, the next age group, many of whom have moved out, do not. No parents to march them off to the voting booths, one assumes. I quote several comments in and out of the House in the blog I have linked to.

The referendum is, indeed, about the future of this country but that will affect 14 and 15 year-olds as well as 12 and 13 year-olds. Should they not be given the vote? After all, as a society we do not think that 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to decide anything for themselves apart from the question of sexual relations. They cannot get married or join the armed forces (one argument brought up in an earlier debate) without their parents' permission. They are not allowed to purchase tobacco or alcohol with or without that permission. And, as of this year, they have no choice in whether they want to continue with their education or not, as I wrote in this posting.

The decision about compulsory education is very recent. Far from allowing that 16 and 17 year-olds are capable of making various decisions, we are taking away the few they have through legislation and reducing them to the status of children.

Let us not forget that there is a proposal (as I wrote in this posting) for giving 17 year-olds the status of children "under all the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act". 16 year-olds have that status already. In other words, and this cannot be repeated often enough, we are treating that age group as children, incapable of making any important decisions, something that is applauded by the very politicians who demand that they be given the vote. Is this another "crude attempt to fix the result"?

Once again, this blog agrees with the Minister. (When I have finished writing this I shall have to go and lie down in a dark room with a wet towel on my forehead.)
Including 16 and 17 year-olds would be a major constitutional change. We do not believe that this Bill, or any other Bill not directly addressing the franchise in general, should be the vehicle for doing this. Any such change should enjoy the support of Parliament and the country as a whole, after a full and proper debate.
Indeed so. An extension of franchise is a separate issue from the referendum. For, if 16 and 17 year-olds who are not old enough in law to make any important decision about their lives to be considered as old enough to vote in a referendum, then why not in an election?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tuesday Night Blog Murders: The Beresfords - discuss

The first thing to discuss or, at least, to admit is that it is now Wednesday but I do hope I shall be forgiven by my co-bloggers (to whom I really should link) for not being able to write this piece before.

So, the Beresfords, Thomas and Prudence, otherwise known as Tommy and Tuppence, except in the French film of By The Pricking of My Thumb, (Mon petit doigt m'a dit) in which they are Colonel BĂ©lisaire Beresford and Mme Prudence Beresford. The film is excellent, incidentally, and one of the best film versions of a Christie novel I have ever seen.

People tend to sigh when Tommy and Tuppence are mentioned, which is a little unfair as not every book about them is poor even if the latest TV dramatization was by all accounts. But then, as I have pointed out before, transposing Christie stories to another decade is never a good idea.

Tommy Beresford and Tuppence Cowley appear first in The Secret Adversary, published in 1922. They have both been demobbed and are looking for work and in Tuppence's case a way of not having to go back to the parental home after four years of exciting life away from it. They decide to form The Young Adventurers Ltd and, by a strange coincidence, they overhear a conversation that leads them to a spectacular adventure in which they save Britain, the US and the life of a girl who has been guarding some papers ever since the sinking of the Lusitania. In the process they fall in love, decide to get married and Tommy acquires a job in the Secret Service. More importantly, they learn not to trust anyone because the most respectable and highly regarded member of the Establishment can turn out to be a traitor.


The Secret Adversary was the first Christie book to be filmed, in Germany, though the action has been transposed to France. It was called Die Abenteurer G.m.b.H and is highly entertaining. It was quite a revelation to me to discover that there are amusing German silent films, having assumed in the past that they were all heavy symbolic tragedies.

Just for fun, here is a trailer:



Tommy and Tuppence's next appearance was in the real Partners in Crime, a series of adventures that make gentle fun of well known (and not so well known) fictional detectives. Some readers find them far too flimsy, as they are, but others, and I am one of them, find them amusing and even manage to see some interesting Christie themes in them. I shall return to this, the main subject of my posting in a minute.

In The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie Charles Osborne points out that "it is as well ,,, that Thomas Beresford and Prudence Cowley, known to their friends as Tommy and Tuppence [and even, as Charles Osborne does not mention, Mrs Tommy], are only in their twenties in 1922, for this enabled their creator to allow them to age naturally. In their final adventure in 1974 they are presented as an elderly married couple with three grandchildren."


That is undoubtedly true but there are problems with the Beresfords' ages as there usually are with various characters in Christie's novels. That 1974 adventure, The Postern of Fate, is seriously bad. By this time Christie's phenomenal ability to create plots had weakened considerably and her equally phenomenal inability to keep track of dates and time spans became overwhelming.

Impossible time spans crop up throughout Chistie's work and I do not mean the ages of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. That, as the author admitted, was inevitable if one starts with characters who are already elderly. But there are other problems. In Appointment with Death there is an epilogue in which Poirot meets the surviving members of the Boynton family five years after the events of the novel. The amount those people are supposed to have achieved in those five years is physically impossible.

The same is true for the Beresfords. We must assume that they marry some time in 1920 or 1921 at the latest. In Partners in Crime they have been married for six years, which puts the action in 1926 or 1927 yet in the first adventure, A Pot of Tea, Tuppence is described as being under 25, a complete impossibility, given her life and career up to that point. In another story Tommy is described as being 32 which is at least possible if unlikely. Albert, a lift boy in The Secret Adversary has become a 15 year old servant and office boy in the second book, which suggests that he must have worked in that hotel at the age of 8 or 9, an unlikely state of affairs after the First World War.


Even more unsettling is the story of the Beresfords' children. Partners in Crime ends with Tuppence joyously proclaiming that she is expecting a baby and in the third book, the spy thriller N or M?, we find out that she had twins, Derek and Deborah. These could not have been born any earlier than late 1927 yet in 1940 they are, respectively, in the RAF and some (fairly) secret work in one of the Intelligence outfits. Indeed, one of Deborah's boyfriends plays an important part in the plot. We know the novel takes place soon after Dunkirk. Was the RAF really putting boys of 12 or 13 into those planes? Makes the reference to the Few even more poignant.

What of Tommy's career? He joins the Service in 1920 (let us say) and is still there six years later when he is given six months' leave in order to run Blunt's Brilliant Detectives and to crack an important spy case. Yet by 1940 (N or M?) he seems unable to find any useful employment in the war effort. Nobody in the Secret Service had the slightest difficulty in finding employment in 1940. When Mr Carter (the Chief) decides to send Tommy to a seaside resort to investigate a nest of spies and find out who is sending out information, he mentions that they are not going to know who he is as he is unconnected with any organization. Does this mean that at some point between the two books Tommy had "left" the Service in order to do deep undercover work? This must be the explanation as by the third book, published in 1968, (By The Pricking Of My Thumbs) he is back in the Service and is high enough to be sent off to some hush-hush conference, thus making it possible for Tuppence to go off on her own adventure.

One interesting aspect of N or M is the way that book fits in with the strange preoccupation at the time with espionage networks with books and films abounding. I wrote about it some time ago on EUReferendum, my erstwhile blogging home.
Recently I re-read one Agatha Christie's war-time novels, N or M?. It is not highly regarded by the aficionados, being a Tommy and Tuppence tale but it is, as it happens, better than the last two in that series, By the pricking of my thumb and Postern of Fate. Those are really terrible, though the first of them was turned into an enchanting film by the French Pascal Thomas. Once one gets over the problem of Tommy Beresford being Colonel BĂ©lisaire Beresford, one is in for a rare treat. But I digress.

N or M? is about German spies and fifth columnists and takes place in 1940, during some of the darkest days of the war. There is a fascinating conversation between Tommy and Tuppence about a third of the way through. Tommy has been reading the news and hearing the terrible stories of bad management, inadequate equipment and complete lack of military coherence brought back by the soldiers who had been evacuated from Dunkirk.

Could it really be incompetence, he muses, or are there traitors among the highest echelons of the military command, the intelligence service and those who take political decisions. Without any hesitation Tuppence replies that it has to be treason. Clearly, she does not bother to think the implications of that statement either. Tommy agrees and the work they are engaged on becomes even more urgent.

Suddenly it all fell into place in my own mind. Of course, they were obsessed with fifth columnists. The alternative was to accept the fact that Britain, its security services, its military, its police, its politics were led by people who were incompetent, self-satisfied idiots. Alas, much of that was true. The best description of it is in another and far better novel or, rather, a trilogy of novels: Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour. Curmudgeonly, depressive and a great novelist, Waugh had no problems about accepting unpalatable truths.
And so we arrive at another conundrum: how am I going to fit all that I wanted to say about Partners in Crime into this posting? The answer is that I cannot do so and shall have to do all that next Tuesday (this time on the right day). Until then .....


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

More reports from the battlefront

The House of Lords are debating the Referendum Bill and you can watch it here but the debate will appear in Hansard tomorrow, when I shall post a link to it. You can read some of the early speeches here but the full text will not be up till early tomorrow morning. It is worth pointing out that the Lords do not divide on Second Reading so, please, no hysterics about there being no vote after today's debate. There will be Amendments at the Committee and Report stages and then there will most probably be divisions.

In the meantime, here is the Bill as it exists now and as it is being debated in the House of Lords.



Friday, October 9, 2015

Organizations are being formed

It is a good thing I have no ambitions to be a political leader, to set up a political organization or to administer one. The first and the last of those two I am incapable of doing - it is not in my DNA - and the middle one I have tried back in the days of the Anti-Federalist League and early UKIP. It was not a success from my point of view. My biggest achievement in that field was the series of Red Lion Talks that ran with success, as people can testify, for several years in the Red Lion Pub in Whitehall. But that was not a political organization, precisely, more a series of talks given by various people to reasonably sized and varied audiences on topics to do with the EU and our membership of it. Call it education or propaganda. I am prepared to continued in that role but, of course, my being female and not an MP the offer will almost certainly be ignored.

Other people can do what I cannot and do not want to. The biggest Brexit organization so far has been launched with some fanfare on the BBC and other outlets quoted by Open Europe and also in City AM.

It is called Vote Leave, subheaded Take Control, which is not the happiest of names as it does not exactly trip off the tongue but then, frankly, its great rival, UKIP's Leave.eu doesn't either. Among the various reports on the birth of Vote Leave there is a sour note on Breitbart London, written by Raheem Kassan. This is not altogether surprising, given Breitbart's self-appointed role as UKIP's propagandist and Mr Kassan's past as Nigel Farage's closest adviser.

According to Mr Kassan, the new organization is entirely Conservative (which is not true), was rushed because the UKIP one was doing so well (which is possible) and has far fewer Facebook supporters than Leave.eu does (which is irrelevant). What matters is that Leave.eu is funded by arron Banks who also funds UKIP and is, therefore, linked to one party only. I have been told (see, I can do what Mr Kassan does, as well, though I do not get paid his salary) that Mr Banks is well advanced in his negotiations with the Electoral Commission but that information comes from UKIP and ought to be taken with a certain amount of salt.

At present I have no idea how well Vote Leave will do, though Matthew Elliott does have a certain track record in running referendum campaigns. Well, one to be precise, a much easier one in many ways than this one promises to be but one in which UKIP found itself on the losing side. The people of this country voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the first past the post system, something that UKIP needs to be reminded of periodically.
Vote Leave, whose supporters include Labour's Kate Hoey and UKIP's Douglas Carswell, says it wants to negotiate a new deal based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

The group is funded by people of different party affiliations, such as the City millionaire and Tory donor Peter Cruddas, Labour's biggest private backer John Mills and former UKIP treasurer Stuart Wheeler.

Its core message is about sovereignty, with "take control" the main slogan. It is planning to spend about £20m.
So far, so reasonable.

I have seen some of Leave.eu's ads on Facebook (money is already being spent there but I assume Mr Banks can afford it) and I have not liked them particularly. They are illiterate in their use of apostrophes, which would indicate a lack of proof-readers and one of them, at least, showed a certain inability to tell the difference between MPs and MEPs. Also heavy antagonism to the TTIP and equally heavy propaganda for the NHS are not indicative of a forward looking group. To be fair, Kate Hoey of Vote Leave also tells us that if we did not have to give money to the EU we could spend it on such things as the NHS. Waste is waste is waste.

Apart from that, for the time being I am inclined to Vote Leave's summary of ideas and issues as being more interested in the future. Leave.eu's vision seems a little vague. Imagine is not a good enough basis for a campaign. Things might change, however. I feel reasonably sure that other  organizations will pop up before the Electoral Commission makes its decision.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

National Poetry Day

About an hour ago I overheard a conversation in the Members' Room of London Library between two people one or both of whom might have been a poet and a broadcaster though, sadly, I did not recognize either. The male member of the duo was holding forth about the sheer silliness of National Poetry Day, with which I mostly agree. It's like National Breast Cancer Day, he spluttered. We shall have young people with yellow buckets collecting money for National Poetry Day soon. I hid behind a book so he should not see me smiling and become even more self-satisfied. (Mind you, I am not sure what the point of a National Breast Or Any Other Cancer might be, either. Are there really people around who are not aware of those diseases?)

Still, it is good to have a few portraits of poets around and, to start with, here is one I am particularly fond of as it unites the greatest English language poet of the twentieth century with its greatest portraitist.


And that's enough National Poetry Day. Let us go on to World Poetry Day. Here is an unusual portrait of the great Anna Akhmatova (mentioned by me here, here, here and here). It is part of the mosaics created for the National Gallery by the Russian artist who lived in France but worked for and in England, Boris Anrep. Akhmatova represents Compassion. Let me note, in parenthesis, that it is very annoying to see people walk across those wonderful mosaics without giving them a glance. Not in the guide books, I suppose.


The last of the Akhmatova links in the paragraph above takes us to my translation of the introductory lines to her wonderful cycle about the Great Terror, Requiem, which I still have not translated in full. But on this day I shall re-post those introductory lines:
No, I did not live under an alien sky And was not protected by alien wings - I was then among my own people, Where my unhappy people were.


INSTEAD OF AN INTRODUCTION


In the terrible years of yezhovschina I spent seventeen months in Leningrad’s prison queues. One day somebody recognized me. The woman immediately behind me, whose lips were blue with cold, and who, presumably, had never heard of me, seemed to shake off the numbness that had overtaken us all. Leaning close to my ear she whispered (we all spoke in whispers):


- And this. Can you write about this?


I said:


- Yes I can.


Then something resembling a smile glided across what had once been her face.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tuesday Night Blog Murders: Christie and servants

Have I really not blogged since last Tuesday? It felt as if I had been working but clearly not on this blog. Memo to self: finish all those blogs you have started.

In the meantime, I return to Agatha Christie and the Tuesday Night Blog Murders. In my previous posting I explained the basis of this series so I need not repeat myself. I know Christie did occasionally but she usually managed to have an extra twist to make the repetition not exactly that. See, for example, Sleeping Murder and Nemesis. Spot the difference in the two almost identical plots.

Today I wish to discuss the treatment of servants in Christie's books. Firstly, it is worth noting that of all the Golden Age Detective writers Christie was probably the most acute observer of social changes. Her books are of the period in which they are set and all attempts to move them to a different decade (because the clothes are prettier or the scenery more easily cobbled together) have been a failure. It is not possible to imagine the circumstances of The Body in the Library, published in 1942 but clearly of the thirties in the post-war period as the BBC TV series with the superb Joan Hickson tried to do if a little half-heartedly. The Bantrys could not have afforded the staff they had in the late forties and Christie would not have written that.

The early novels and short stories have a good many servants. Large houses have large staff, smaller households have usually two servants, a cook and a maid, bachelors' establishments have men servants. Even the vicarage where the murder is committed has a servant of quite unsurpassable incompetence. In The Moving Finger, also published in 1942 but also of the thirties, a very ordinary country solicitor has a cook and a maid as well as a part-time gardener and a nanny for his young sons. Again the BBC tried to shift the action to the post-war period and again it seemed unlikely: a man like Richard Symmington would not have had that big a staff in the later forties but neither could the series dispense with any of them, as they were all essential to the plot.

Christie knew that the world had changed with the Second World War, that taxes hit middle class people (about whom she wrote mostly) very hard, that the government interfered in people's lives almost constantly (as mentioned in, among others, Mrs McGinty Is Dead) and there were no more servants for most people. The staff of maids and cooks turns into foreign refugees (A Murder Is Announced), ubiquitous daily chars (Mrs McGinty Is Dead, The Pale Horse and others) or dubious au pairs (Third Girl). Griselda Clements who appears briefly in The 4.50 From Paddington would have long ago had to learn to cook and manage with a daily woman coming in to help and bringing gossip twice a week.


In the same novel we get a wonderful character (to make up for the flimsy plot) of Lucy Eyelessbarrow, a Cambridge graduate in mathematics, who decides to make money as an all purpose domestic worker. Her understanding of economics is clearly superior to many an academic economist: she sees a gap in the market and decides to fill it. As a consequence she can get any fee she names and controls her working conditions beyond the dream of any trade unionist. (And here is a really stupid cover, according to which Lucy must have been practising golf in a very tight skirt.)


When Cedric Crackenthorpe tells his sister Emma to tell Miss Marple who is walking up the drive that she is out, Emma wants to know whether she is to go down and tell her that herself or ask Lucy (who has told them that Miss Marple was her aunt) to do so. Cedric laughs ruefully and admits that he was thinking of the old days when a house like that would have had staff. In the decades after the war even a rich Hollywood star could not give a party without employing temporary help from the new "Development" that has grown up beside St Mary Mead. (The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side)

A few of the old servants survive as in After The Funeral but they are usually kept on at some expense to the family an out of loyalty.

Poirot is, obviously, an exception in that he manages to keep on his invaluable man servant George and the equally invaluable secretary Miss Lemon who, astonishingly, has a sister in Hickory Dickory Dock. The sister runs a hostel for young people and foreign students (a post-war touch) where all sorts of strange things happen.


Secondly, there is Christie's treatment of servants as characters and she is much maligned by critics who do not seem to know her work as much as they should.

There is no question that Christie wrote about the class she knew best: the professional middle class. Her characters, are doctors, lawyers, clergymen, writers, some businessmen though she is not enamoured of the big ones (A Pocket Full Of Rye), writers and other suchlike individuals. Interestingly, given that Christie was not precisely a feminist, she has a professional woman doctor in the 1938 Appointment With Death. There is the odd appearance of members of the aristocracy but they are rarely attractive (the Bantrys are landed gentry not aristocracy) and she has the English middle class suspicion of anyone who makes too much money. At the other end of the scale, she does not venture much into the working class milieu, though Mrs McGinty Is Dead comes close with its description of the victim's life as a charwoman and her lodger, who is possibly the least attractive innocent to be accused and found guilty of murder. There is an interesting detail in the novel that shows Christie's understanding of a class she rarely wrote about: Poirot is launched on the investigation by the fact that not long before her death Mrs McGinty had bought a bottle of ink. Why should she have done that? Perhaps, her niece suggests, she had to write something to the government, a well known complaint in those years (and more recently). Mrs McGinty, unlike Poirot and people of his class, would not have had ink as a matter of course in her house. Is this a sign of Christie's supercilious attitude or of an ability to understand how other people lived? My view is that it is the latter. (But then, I would say that, wouldn't I?)

There are scattered references to servants that make us of the more sensitive age cringe. In The Incident Of The Dog's Ball that later became, with a completely different murderer, Dumb Witness, Hastings says about a housekeeper: "She entered with the gusto of her class into a description of her [late mistress] illness and death." It was, for some reason, a given in the Golden Age that servants adored talking about illness and death though why that should be so is never explained.

A number of Christie's plots hinge on that well-known fact that "nobody notices a servant". This extends to air stewards (Death In The Clouds), butlers (Three Act Tragedy), companions (After The Funeral) and governesses (The Secret of Chimneys) as well as others. Of course, the point is that in the Poirot novels he does realize the connection (as do others like the playwright, Miss Wills in The Three Act Tragedy and Helen in After The Funeral). In other words, people might dismiss servants as being of no importance but that fact is used by Christie for her own purposes as is the general English disdain for foreigners that allows people dismiss Poirot as a mountebank. They do not find out how wrong they are until it is too late.

The most delightful usage of "nobody looks at a companion" is in The Nemean Lion, the first of The Labours of Hercules in which Miss Amy Carnaby, a companion to the horrible Lady Hoggin, organizes a highly ingenious criminal conspiracy to extract money in order to help elderly single ladies who are falling on very hard times. She uses her pekingese dog, Augustus, pretends to be stupider than she is and assumes, correctly, that nobody ever looks at a companion.


In a later story Poirot tells Miss Carnaby that he remembers her as one of the most successful criminals of his career. 

And so we come to Miss Marple, whose attitude to servants is very different. She knows very well how useful conversation with maids in hotels can be if one is trying to unravel a mystery (A Murder Is Announced and At Bertram's Hotel), she knows how girls who are likely to go into service react in various situations (Body In The Library), she trains young girls out of an orphanage to be good servants when there are openings for servants in good houses and she does not lose touch with them when they leave. It is the news that one of her former maids had been murdered that brings her like an avenging fury to Yewtree Lodge in A Pocket Full Of Rye

Her ability to understand servant girls and the situations they might find themselves in as well as her compassion is demonstrated first in the very first short story she appears in, The Tuesday Night Club. In another short story The Case Of The Perfect Maid she is motivated partly, as she explains to the hapless Inspector Slack, by her indignation: 
I'm not going to have one of our village girl's character for honesty taken away like that! Gladys Holmes is as honest as the day and everybody's going to know it!
Clearly, not someone who does not notice or care about servants.

Miss Marple, too, has difficulties after the war. At first she manages to find young girls whom she can train but times change. Once she hires Lucy Eyelessbarrow (Raymond West helps again) whom she then recalls when she needs someone to do the investigating but Lucy has other plans and, anyway, Miss Marple could not afford her rates. The much referred to Faithful Florence runs her own life now and the companion (hired by the invaluable Raymond West) in The Mirror Crack'd is intolerable. Solution is provided by young Cherry Baker, the cleaner, who lives with her husband in a smart new but not very soundproof house in the "Development". She suggests that the two of them move into some spare rooms in an outhouse (not previously mentioned). Cherry can look after Miss Marple and will even learn to sweep the stairs with a pan and brush (a sacrifice about which Miss Marple is very doubtful) while Jim can act as a sort of a handyman in his spare time (when he is not laying out toy railways or listening to classical music). That the arrangement suits everyone is proved by Cherry's reappearance as a well established person in Miss Marple's home at the end of Nemesis.