Pelham on Parole. Some notes for Chapter 5 (b). Delve into the world of Pelham Hardimann.
Handed her cards.
To be given/handed your cards is an old-fashioned phrase and euphemism meaning to be fired, to be sacked. As with many things, the British employ euphemism for things they do not like to talk about – especially death. We are kept at a distance from death in the modern world – unlike the Victorian era where funerals were a big deal, elaborate occasions and bodies displayed in the parlour for relatives and acquaintances. A nicer phrase, for sure, would have been ‘passed away’ or ‘departed this world’ – not so witty. Other euphemisms: kick the bucket (a farmer’s favourite), cash in your chips, peg out, pop your clogs, and the bard’s immortal (excuse the pun) – shuffle off this mortal coil.
The death of Mrs. Allingham occurs moments after the death of Pelham's father. Suicide or murder; read and find out.
The Battle of the Somme stands as one of the deadliest battles in British and European history. It was launched on July 1st 1916 as an attempt to break the stalemate and lack of movement in what was to become a war of attrition. With a casualty figure of 57,470 (19,240 killed) on the first day, it is the worst battle in British army history. By the end of the battle in November, Commonwealth and French forces had advanced 6 miles into German-occupied territory – the largest gain since the battle of the Marne in 1914.
Somme. The whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word. — Friedrich Steinbrecher.
From A Brief History of the First World War, Eyewitness Accounts of the War to End All Wars, 1914-1918. Jon E. Lewis 2104.
Kant and Duty
Immanuel Kant’s ethical theory was an example of deontological moral theory, based on the belief that the rightness or wrongness of an action has no relation to the consequence of an action. Kant believed in the supreme principle of morality, referring to it as the Categorical Imperative Theory. In this way, Kant believed that all immoral acts are irrational because they violate the Categorical Imperative.
On Duty: Kant states that we do our moral duty when our motive is determined by a principle recognized by reason rather than the desire for any consequence or emotional feeling which may cause us to act the way we do.
The joke here – yes, Pelham on Parole is meant to be witty at times – is Pelham’s mishearing of Hammer’s reference to Kant.
Heady and heavy stuff, perhaps, but it is worth delving into the ideas of our philosophers. When did I first hear of Kant? As a teenager in the 1970s, and Monty Python: Bruce’s Philosphers Song: ‘Immanuel Kant was a real piss-ant who was very rarely stable…’ The song contains a good list of philosophers as a starting point should you wish further study.
Kant: not my cup of tea. As for my own philosophical leanings, I am with John Stuart Mill. ‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind’.
Saint Louis Blues
Saint Louis Blues, (the jazzman’s Hamlet) written by W. C. Handy was published in September 1914, and many will argue that it is the first ‘pop’ song. Perhaps the most well-known version is sung by Bessie Smith, with Louis Armstrong on cornet.
St. Louis Blues and Bessie Smith
I hates to see dat evnin sun go down Hates to see dat evnin sun go down Cause ma baby, she done lef dis town If I feel tomorrow lak ah feel today Feel tomorrow lak ah feel today Ill pack up my trunk, and make ma git away
Saint louis woman wid her diamon rings
Pulls dat man roun by her apron strings
Twernt for powder an her store-bought hair De man she love wouldnt gone nowhere, nowhere
Got dem saint louis blues Im as blue as ah can be Like a man done throwed that rock down into de sea Got dem saint louis blues Im as blue as ah can be
Went to de gypsy get her fortune tole To de gypsy, done got her fortune tole Cause she most wile bout her jelly roll Now dat gypsy tole her, don't you wear no black She done tole her, don't you wear no black Go to saint louis,…
The three-line verses of the song are in the standard twelve-bar blues with a 16-bar bridge in habanera rhythm, which Hardy referred to as tango and jelly Roll Morton called Spanish Tinge. Not everyone was happy: T-Bone walker stated - "You can't dress up the blues ... I'm not saying that 'Saint Louis Blues' isn't fine music you understand. But it just isn't blues"
There are thousands of versions of Saint Louis Blues available, a song that it is foremost in the repertoire of any great jazz singer or jazz musician. My own Desert Island Disc version of Saint Louis Blues is Benny Goodman’s (with Harry James and Gene Krupa) 1938 at Carnegie Hall. For the best singing – Billie Holiday, although – and let’s be honest here – nothing can compare with her heart-wrenching and haunting Strange Fruit.
Watch any WWII film – especially one involving the RAF – and your hero – invariably a Spitfire pilot – will be bopping about in an MG T-Type, the most common being the TA. The TA was an open two-seater to wow the girls. The ash-framed sportscar had a bench seat, a little bit of storage – enough for a small hamper – and was powered by a 1292 CC, capable of hitting 80mph, but no dragster: 0-60mph needed 23 seconds. The TA was replaced in 1939 by the TB Midget.
I was the proud owner of an MG Midget in the late 1970s: fire-engine red, wire wheels, and the 76bhp 1275 Cooper ‘S’ engine. No rocket, but I loved it; real driving-on-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff.
I HATE golf. Sorry, but I do. I really hate it. (Apologies to P.G. Wodehouse). A mashie is an iron used for lofting or for medium distances. Your mashie niblick, for the uninitiated or for those people with a life, is an iron head with more slope than a mashie but less slope than a pitcher. What ridiculous language – golfers can keep it. And how anyone can watch golf on TV is beyond me: just hours trying to catch sight of a tiny ball flying through the heavens (blue sky or cloud, it makes no difference) before the tiny white dot plops onto a mass of green to dribble toward a flag, nip over the lip of a bunker or disappear into woodland.
W.S. Churchill. Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.
Oscar Wilde. The best way to ruin a good walk.
Mark Twain. A good walk spoiled.
P.G. Wodehouse. Golf…is the infallible test. The man who can go into a patch of rough alone, with the knowledge that only God is watching him, and play his ball where it lies, is the man who will serve you faithfully and well. They were real golfers, for real golf is a thing of the spirit, not of mere mechanical excellence of stroke.
P.G. Wodehouse wrote many a yarn centred around golf, and be you lover or detester of the game, they are all sublime. Allow me to suggest The Clicking of Cuthbert as a primer.
A Donaldson Rangefinder Mashie Iron with Hickory shaft. (How bleedin’ fascinating!)
Gibbon’s Decline and Fall…
Volume 1 of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, with volumes 2 & 3 in 1781 and volumes 4, 5 and 6 by 1789.
These tomes cover CE 89 to 1590, of the Roman Empire. To put it succinctly, Gibbon puts the fall of Rome not so much down to invading hordes, but from rotting within and the loss of civic virtue. (Present day Western Culture, take note).
The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians. — Edward Gibbon. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38 "General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West"
Have I read it? Yes, well…volume 1. I read it as part of the ‘enlightenment’ portion of my degree. I dip into it from time to time, and would suggest you try it, but beware the copious notes, although the footnotes and citations are at times more entertaining than the main body of work.
Heavy-going stuff, but Sir Leslie Stephen, in his biography puts it well: The Decline and Fall is a literary monument and a massive step forward in historical method.
There are three books I always keep with me on my travels. E.M. Forster’s Two Cheers for Democracy, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Cooking and Household Management.
Fair enough, Mrs. Beeton’s thumping great volume is starchy and Victorian, explaining to women of the day how best to keep their husbands happy. It was published in 1861 as part of a selection of guides published by her husband, Samuel Beeton. Nearly two million copies were in print within seven years. And yes, it is still in print. Arthur Conan Doyle – he of Sherlock Holmes – puts it well with Mrs. Beeton must have been the finest housekeeper in the world, therefore Mr. Beeton must have been the happiest and most comfortable man.
The household management stuff is good for my research; I have no need to starch a collar, remove port stains from a tablecloth or charge a stove in the morning, but some of Pelham’s entourage may have need of such skills. The cookery part is still reliable and useful, and I dip into it from time to time – especially for my favourite egg custard recipe.
Let us be honest with each other here; while cookery books abound, taking up most of the space in your local bookshop, all we really need is Mrs. Beeton and Delia Smith. Anything else is just culinary flummery.
Sisyphus (or Sisyphos) is a figure from Greek mythology who, as king of Corinth, became infamous for his general trickery and twice cheating death. He ultimately got his comeuppance when Zeus dealt him the eternal punishment of forever rolling a boulder up a hill in the depths of Hades. Sisyphus teaches us to never give in to circumstantial disappointments or try to escape from the failures, rather accept failures the same way we accept our achievements.
And most importantly, no matter how much we lose in our quest, we must never back down till we fulfill our potential. He would have to push a rock up a mountain; upon reaching the top, the rock would roll down again, leaving Sisyphus to start over. Camus (he of l’Etranger) sees Sisyphus as the absurd hero who lives life to the fullest, hates death, and is condemned to a meaningless task.
I think there is more to this myth than the ‘meaningless task’ aspect. The question we must ask is about ‘purpose’. Is it that we must accept the inevitable struggle of life? And what of Sisyphus should he get to the top of the mountain with his boulder? What does he do then? Pushing a huge rock up a hill forever may be hell, but living a life with nothing to do, living a life without purpose, is its own form of hell. We just need to find a worthwhile purpose.
I don’t want to get all philosophical and intellectually arty-farty here, but perhaps Pelham Hardimann needs purpose in his life, and the suitcase is his boulder.
Chapter 5 is a bit lengthy. Notes for 5 (c) coming soon.
Carl Plummer 2020