Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Saturday, 5 April 2014
Everything you ever wanted to know about mystery...
...which is pretty much nothing.
I heard a writer the other day saying that we in the civilised West love settling down to a good Agatha Christie murder mystery, because murder is comparatively rare in our society and we can derive a vicarious pleasure from watching other people commit it, from the comfort and safety of our own homes. Murder mysteries are not so popular in places like Mexico, where - in some parts - you can leave your front door not knowing whether or not you will return later in the day.
As far as I understand, Mexicans and Columbians love nothing better than trashy soaps featuring torrid love affairs, but they do have that fantastic festival of the dead - a cross-over from the old indian culture and old-fashioned Catholicism.
For the fourth time now, H.I. and me have listened to all 15 episodes of the reading of Geoffrey Household's 'Rogue Male' on 4 Extra, and we never tire of it. Michael Jayston has the perfect voice for the narrator - it just wouldn't be the same if someone like Martin Jarvis had got the job.
In it, the hero - or anti-hero - suffers the most appalling hardships, and only escapes being buried alive by skinning his dead pet cat which has been stuffed down the air-vent of his burrow, and making a cross-bow out of it with which he kills his captor by putting a bolt clean through his forehead. Yummy.
I love watching old films about mountaineers who get into trouble on the side of a 20,000 foot, -50 degree, frozen and perpendicular rock-face, but all it does for H.I. is make her feel cold. I remember watching a film called 'The Glass Mountain' when I was a kid, and much of the action took place in a mountainside chalet where observers watched the climbers suffering through binoculars in comfort. The music was good too.
The only film I have watched that utterly exhausted me and left me feeling frozen by the time it finished was 'The March of the Penguins'. I have no desire to see that more than once.
But back to mystery. Why do we love unanswered questions so much? I know I do, and maybe because the suspension of disbelief results in a huge choice of closed doors about which we can fantasise about what's on the other side.
To a certain extent (but not enough) I have financially benefitted from the arcane, allowing the age-old and underserved respect for anyone who can shape stone to be perpetuated by those who can't. You can either blame or thank King Solomon for this.
I saw a collection of books in a charity shop window yesterday, and they were all hand-books for witches. Some of them were compilations of spells and hexes, etc. and others looked like they were chronicles about the shameful era when old women were burnt at the stake for simply being a burden to their small society. Others were just someone's made-up theories about the old cult of Wicca, and probably included most of the half-baked ideas about Druids as put out by various 17th century antiquaries, most which are still being perpetuated by blokes in bedsheets with long beards today.
I have had an idea recently, and that is to write a book which uses 40 year's worth of experience in the world of stone to hang more interesting or amusing tangential stories from - and you know that I have an unlimited supply of them. In the unlikely event of them running out after 1500 pages, I would simply make some more up.
I am only aware of one book which has sort of done this, and it is called 'Stone Mad', by an Irishman called Seamus Murphy. I can thoroughly recommend this book, but I think that maybe you have to have been involved in the boring world of stonemasonry to find it as funny as I did.
A group of Irish, itinerant masons (they travelled with five or six choice chisels in the jacket pocket of their Sunday suits) sit in a pub, discussing the worrying and growing trend of building new cathedrals from concrete, as they did with Coventry after it was bombed.
"Imagine it," one of them says between sips of Porter, "Building a house of God with MUD!"
Of course, I would quickly have to disabuse civilian readers of their more gullible, inherited misconceptions which I have been exploiting all my career, but I am not getting any younger so I won't be losing myself any money by queering the recent apprentice's pitches, especially if it sells.