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  • Writer's pictureCarl Plummer

Some notes for Chapter 5(c). The world of Pelham Hardimann: Mews, Pall Mall, Chemin de Fer, and more

Macbeth – signifying nothing.

Just how educated is our hero Pelham Hardimann? He is no professor, that is for sure, but he is a master of the glib reference, the faux depth of knowledge of all things classical and scientific. Would you ever get a full recitation of Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ from Pelham – no, but the odd splash of stolen wisdom is forever ready to be fired from the hip. Pelham misquotes to some extent here when he offers up a line from Macbeth. If not misquote, he certainly mismatches in this context.

Macbeth’s lines are dark and nihilistic, the speech of a man knowing there is nothing left for him; it has all gone wrong. Can we hate Macbeth, even dislike him? I think not, and that is the tragedy as we watch a brave and heroic soldier lose his future through a sudden lust for power brought on by a wife who demands the whole kingdom of Scotland – and has no problem with murder, until she goes insane.

Worth noting here is that the marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is perhaps the most loving marriage in all Shakespeare’s plays. The play is not only a tragedy in the classic sense; it is also a thriller, a rollercoaster of promise, betrayal, and revenge – with a tragic end, but perhaps only possible one, when Macbeth has nothing more to lose.

There is a nod to Macbeth later in Pelham on Parole, aboard Queen Mary as Hammer glibly refers to the man untimely ripped from his mother’s womb after Pelham misquotes – as many of us do – the famous line lay on Macduff. Pelham’s past, his birth, the death of his mother and the scorn of his father comes rushing back for a moment, and perhaps, if only for a moment, we feel a little sorry for our hero.

Pall Mall Cigarettes.

You may be starting to think that I smoke like a chimney or at the very least have shares in British Imperial Tobacco or some such maker of fags. Yes, I do smoke, and I use a poncy cigarette holder – al la Ian Fleming – well, not as long and poncy as that.

When I was young, in the 60s and 70s (the 1900s – no need for snide comments, thank you very much) the air was clogged with cigarette smoke – even the doctor’s waiting room, restaurants and pubs. Smoke would linger in clothes, cling to curtains and wallpaper – all this reinforced by coal smoke from fireplaces.

Marlowe smoked, Bond smoked, and the great Harry Palmer smoked. Even bertie Wooster was not averse to the odd gasper. All my heroes smoked.

In my early 20s, I would treat myself to a packet of Pall Mall now and then – the red packet. Did I look cool? No. A bit of a prat, I suspect. To me, they always seemed classy, different, not the usual run-of-the-mill smoke. And believe it or not, I liked the taste, which may seem a little strange – cigarette smoke having a taste, hmm. I cannot buy pall Mall cigarettes where I live now, though I do nip across to Hong Kong from time to time and treat myself to a couple of cartons on my return to Shenzhen.

Why does Pelham smoke Pall Mall? They are American, a little exotic maybe, and yes, he wants to be different, but does not go as far as some heroes with the specially blended Balkan and Turkish with the three gold bands from Morland and Co. of Grosvenor Street (no longer there) in London.


Is it from the Hindi expression tickee babu, meaning ‘everything is fine, sir’? I like the sound of that. Some argue that the expression started in the military. It is an expression used more in Canada than anywhere else these days and was made famous in a song from Danny Kaye in Merry Andrew. I like the expression, but it is not one I would use in all company. A little pretentious and something of an affectation, no doubt, but certainly proper coming from the lips of Lord Peter Wimsey, bertie Wooster, and our hero Pelham Hardimann.

There is also Tickety Boo’s, a highly rated (as in prize-winning) pub and restaurant on the corner of Seagate and Commercial Street in Dundee city centre, should you be heading that way.

Mews House

A mews house is rather like a terraced house – just posher – built to look like former stables or former stables converted to dwellings. They are built around a yard or either side of an alley. The Royal Mews were built around 500 years ago on the former royal hawk mews where coachmen and stable servants were housed.

Pelham keeps his beloved SS100 in the garage of his mews house, where once a horse would have been ensconced. We shall meet Pelham’s SS100 later.

Some readers may have hawks springing to mind on the mention of mews. This is understandable. The famous King’s Mews at Charing Cross was where the king kept his falconry birds from 1377. This brings us to the idea of something being cooped and enclosed – even caged. William Shakespeare plays with this well in The Taming of the Shrew: What, will you mew her up, Signor Baptista and in Richard III: This day should Clarence closely be mewed up.

Feel like buying a classy mews house in London now? Check down the back of your sofa – you will need millions. Something that has always struck me: the way the simpler dwellings of farmers, fishermen, and servants of the landed gentry have become the second homes – weekend homes – of the urban wealthy.

Bruton Place (formerly Bruton Mews) near Berkeley Square, Mayfair.

Chemin de Fer

I shall leave this to the experts; I am no gambler.

The favoured game of James Bond goes back to the early 19th century, played by the French nobility, but not made legal in casinos until 1907.

Baccarat Chemin de Fer is the game played in Fleming’s 1953 Casino Royale, where we meet Le Chiffre and SMERSH. It is the game being played where we see perhaps the greatest introduction to a movie hero ever: that first sight of James Bond in Dr. No.

Ian Fleming was a gambler. One of his wartime escapades – while working for Naval Intelligence Division – was an attempt to bankrupt NAZI spies in Estoril, Portugal, in 1941. Portugal was a hub of spies during the second world war. Ian Fleming lost that time.

Portugal was a neutral country during the war, and there is something else worth mentioning: The Treaty of Windsor (1386), what must be the world’s oldest extant treaty. The document is preserved at the Portugal national Archives. It was signed between Portugal and England on 9 May 1386 at Windsor and sealed by the marriage of King John I of Portugal (House of Aviz) to Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster. After victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota, assisted by English archers, John I was recognized as the undisputed King of Portugal, putting an end to the interregnum of the 1383–1385 Crisis. The Treaty of Windsor established a pact of mutual support between the countries.

When I lived in Paris, many years ago, I rented a small apartment in Gentilly, an area just off the peripherique, and in some sense a Portuguese quarter of the city: lovely, friendly people. My favourite Europeans. Should you bop over to Europe, try Estoril. As for playing Chemin de Fer, well, should you ever get ahead – quit. And watch out for spies and suicidal women driving a 1969 Mercury Cougar XR-7.

How to Play Chemin de Fer. (Picture and ‘How to Play’ from:

Chemin de Fer is different from the other Baccarat versions – Punto Banco and Baccarat Banque – in that here, players bet against each other. A player holds the bank and sets aside a wager that covers the bets of his / her opponents. The game is played at large kidney-shaped tables that have 12 seats for players two for dealers, plus one for a banker. The banker stands between the first and the last players, facing the two dealers. The minimum number of players is 8 and the maximum – 12. The game is played with six decks of cards contained in a shoe which moves across the table in a counterclockwise manner. Presumably, this gave the name of the game – the shoe moving across the table as each player gets to deal the cards resembles the movement of a train, hence Chemin de Fer which means “railway” in French.


We go from Portugal to Spain now. The fame of Toledo steel goes back 2500 years. Weapons made in Toledo were used by Hannibal during the Punic wars, and the source of weapons for Roman legions.

Flexible and tough, Toledo steel is an alloy, a mixture of high carbon and low carbon steel. This hard and soft steel took hours, days of work, and few blacksmiths could produce more than 3 weapons a year – reciting prayers or psalms for rhythm as they hammered away before drenching their blades in water or oil.

The times of Excalibur kind of sword passed by. The Middle Ages blacksmiths exalted the office, as they relied more and more on technological progress and not only on the good quality of their steel. The Muslim armies feared the sword that had defeated them. They didn't revere only the hand of a Master - the Cid Campeador - but also the excellence of his weapon, a Toledan sword, of course! The Muslims adopted such a technics to produce their slender two-edged scimitars, transmitting their secret from one generation to the other. Then, the Toledan manufacturers would yield the famous rapiers so well popularized through d'Artagnan and his fellow Musketeers. (


Cabrioler – to jump (French). Sounds simple enough, I suppose. A cabriole leg – no, not rickets – refers to furniture legs, usually for chairs, tables, and dressing tables. This design goes as far back as the ancient Greeks and ancient Chinese, to become popular in Europe during the 18th century – very Queen Annne, favoured by the likes of Chippendale.

These legs – composed of an outward bowed upper curve and an inward bowed lower curve (think of an S) supposedly represent quadruped mammals, especially ungulates. (An ungulate is a hoofed mammal: I didn't know that - had to look it up). Many of these cabriole legs were finished with a ball and claw footing.


There is a green hill far away, without a city wall… Remember the hymn? Words by Cecil Frances Alexander and the most popular tune composed by William Horsley – first published in Hymns for Little Children in 1848. Charles Gounod, the French composer, who also composed music for the hymn in 1871, described it as the most perfect hymn in the English language.

What has this to do with Pelham Hardimann, you may ask. Well, to be honest – nothing. I just recall the days – my childhood days – when I misunderstood the word ‘without’ and wondered why we should be singing about a hill with a city that does not have a wall. Yes, we had school assembly every morning, with a bit of a prayer, a short morale-boosting or morality-boosting talk from the deputy head before the monotone grinding out of a hymn accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Yes, I know – dim as a NAAFI candle. Within – inside. Without – outside. I did learn, eventually.

Worth a mention: Five Stars for Pelham on Parole.

and a recommendation.

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