Friday, 18 March 2016

Love From a Stranger

A review of Love From a Stranger, starring Sylvia Sidney and John Hodiak, for the Past Offences 1947 challenge. It is loosely based on Agatha Christie's story Philomel Cottage.
The 1938 version starred Basil Rathbone and was set in the present. This version is set for some reason in 1905. Cecily Harrington is a young woman living in London and sharing a flat with her aunt and a friend. They don't have much money (a small income from inheritances - in the story and the 1938 version she works in an office). Then one day she wins the Calcutta Sweepstake and the trio decide to let their flat and travel... A very charming man turns up to view the flat just as Cecily is unpacking her latest purchases - over the top hats and evening wear of the kind she's never been able to afford, and a vulgar feather fan.

In 1947, the period of this film was nearly 50 years ago, and modern people became quite fascinated by it, copying its fashions and decor. In fact, the clothes and interiors are the best thing about this film. A lot of the stuff must still have been around, as people changed their houses less (or couldn't afford to), and people in the 30s and 40s often lived surrounded by Victorian tat. We get a good look at Cecily's flat - stuffed with furniture and china and ornaments.

Of course she junks her worthy boyfriend and marries the charming "Manuel Cortez". They move to a perfect cottage in the country - more ornaments and a convincing Victorian kitchen with oil lamps and a Welsh dresser. It is in "Biddiford", Devon, where huge waves constantly crash into the rocky shore. A brief glimpse of the village reveals that Biddiford is actually in... Belgium? Amusing West Country rustics are a bore in any film, but here they are particularly tedious, and their Mummerzet accents more than usually weird. Anita Sharp-Bolster, though, is good as the rather dim maid, Ethel. (Played in the 1938 version by Joan Hickson.) Ann Richards is excellent as the best friend, and looks lovely in the Edwardian costumes, though her English accent is a bit careful.

Anyway, back to the plot...

Unfortunately we know from the start that Cortez is a serial wife killer. Cecily slowly works it out, but her discoveries are very slow and clunky. Cortez leaves evidence strewn around and jokes about being a Bluebeard and being fascinated by criminology. And he keeps disappearing down to the cellar to perform "chemical experiments"! The dialogue (not Christie's) is pedestrian and expository. But the moment when she explores the cellar and discovers her best brooch in a box of unfamiliar jewellery is quite chilling, as is their tense "last supper", with Cecily babbling nervously about cold ham and salad. There's an attempt at Christie's resolution of the plot, but then the cavalry come thundering into view.

This last scene is much more dramatic in the 1938 version, using Christie's plot device of... Read Philomel Cottage if you want to know how to escape from a serial killer.

More Agatha Christie here.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Boo and Hooray (in quotes)

Premium access solutions
"The trusted global partner for premium access solutions and services". Translation: We make doors. (Hugh Pearman)

The hit BBC series Sherlock has introduced a whole new generation of fans to Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective. In this unique collection, Sherlock co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have selected their all-time favourite Sherlock Holmes adventures, providing readers a curated masterclass in crime fiction. (Writers' top picks.)

Star: I hate this number! The staging is from the Stone Age! Oh, forget it! (storms off)
MD: She’s just tired! It’s nerves!

If you switch on the radio in LA you will hear ads for cosmetic surgery dressed up as 'indulging yourself'. (@matthaig1)

It wasn’t pressured, it was zealous! It was enthusiastic! (Talking head on BBC News defending a firm providing broadband to schools that warned heads not to be “stubbornly tempted” (boo!) to look elsewhere and compare prices.)

Make meaningful connections: There’s nothing wrong with taking stock of who you’re talking to and making a positive remark referring to something you notice about them. If someone is dressed to the 9s, tell them they’re looking sharp, or ask them what the occasion is. Chances are, something special is going on that they’d be more than happy to talk about. (

For anyone curious, "urban" in "urban myth/legend" is essentially shorthand for "modern" or "contemporary." (It's an Urban Legend ‏@ULTweets)

I've seen PD James called "cozy," which just goes to show that definitions can vary widely! (Curtis Evans Vary widely: completely miss the mark)


The urban environment, dense, sprawling and perpetually haunted by multiple histories, has long played upon the mind of its inhabitants. (Steven Pile, calling for papers for an OU conference on urban legends Dense: People living too close together, not spaced out as they are in the countryside. Sprawling: The city has escaped and is taking over bits of the countryside.)

Brian Sewell had been trotting out his allegations about Gow for years. (TLS Feb 2016-02-27)

As a rich property owner says ‘Bolsheviks’ - as an earnest Communist says ‘Capitalists!’ - as a good housewife says ‘Blackbeetles’ - so did Miss Williams say ‘Men!’ (Five Little Pigs, Agatha Christie)

Thus prepared, they trotted off to Maryland, to tie the ill-fated knot. (Daily Telegraph)

New ash cloud chaos for Australia – Australia's two major airports in Sydney and Melbourne face up to 48 hours of disruption as the ash cloud from a Chilean volcano hits again. (BBC Online Chaos: airports close for two days, privileged people are inconvenienced.)

A sampling of the lovely words and phrases Scalia uses instead of the word bullshit:
    Pure applesauce
    quite absurd
    defense of the indefensible
    maintain with a straight face
    unheard of
    implausible conclusion
    dismal failure
    somersaults of statutory interpretation
    words no longer have meaning

(He was cross about the Supreme Court and Obamacare.)

Boo or hooray? When there are two words for something, one must be the boo word...

Women’s Equality party leader Sophie Walker: “It’s complex, but not complicated.”

And of course my ideology isn't really an ideology at all, it's just plain common sense and rationality. (@WillWiles)

I view presents as things that people want and gifts as stuff that the giver doesn't want to buy and the recipient does not want to receive. (PMcD)

Metaphors for once lowly astrocytes changed from housekeepers and nursemaids to architects and masters. (@utafrith) 

When the rich rob the poor it is called business. When the poor fight back it is called violence. (Roy Hirst ‏@royx44)

Nuclear always gets "support", "guarantees" or "investment", whilst any money going into green energy is "subsidy". (Rob Greenland ‏@TheSocBiz)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Which Turned Out to Mean....

Let's work together!
More euphemisms in quotes.

"This will give you the chance to express your views on the design and layout of these schemes before we submit our applications for development consent to allow construction to start." i.e. We will go ahead, whatever you say. (Em)

When word got out that the Artist Voter Project was planning some projects, other related arts organizations began to contact us, suggesting that we work together. "Working together" turned out to mean giving them a rather sizable contribution so we could get their literature. We tried to explain that we were not a funded organization, but just a group of individuals trying to do something, and that we had no funds to contribute. It became clear that for many of these "activist" organizations, their social mission consisted of raising funds to pay for mailings that would be used to raise more money. (Eleanor Heartney I once got a similar offer that meant "you can borrow our van sometimes".)

Arisieren, “To Aryanise”, meaning to expropriate a Jewish-owned business; liquidieren, “to liquidate”, transferred from the lexicon of commerce to death... reclaiming the Slavic counties for the “Grossgermanisches Reich”. (LRB, Joshua Cohen March 2016)

When a judge calls an argument “bold” or “novel”, they really mean it’s barking mad. (LRB March 2016)

Superman needs to be "relevant" — read: brasher, angrier and angstier. (

BBC: Public overwhelmingly rejects plans to cut back broadcaster in consultation 'hijacked' by 38 Degrees//@EddieRobson I like how "hijacked" is used here to mean people were encouraged to participate in a public consultation.
I began to realize that what [my parents] had really meant all along was ‘you can marry anyone – as long as they’re exactly like us.’ (Priya Basil Her parents said “You can marry anyone as long as he’s Sikh.”)

Dstillery “demystifies consumers’ online footprints”. (It connects phone IDs with owners and spies on them.)

'It's premature to tackle this issue while the objective conditions are not historically ripe' is the translation of the Arabic 'inshallah'. (Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks)

Bojo wants to end 'over regulation' of jobs.
Paid leave
Rights for part-time workers
Limits on working hours.
(Some Bloke in a Hat ‏@toolegs)

Writers complaining about not being paid show a “lack of graciousness”. (Lisa Lucas, publisher at Guernica)

Freud was really the first psychiatrist - so, a lot of pioneering hypotheses were made (you know, deranged guesswork). (@WhoresofYore)

"Our plan going forward is to reimagine what Guardian membership means, exploring how we can evolve our membership into simple, enhanced proposition which focuses relentlessly on serving the interests of our eaders and building communities around them." (Translation: paid-for content.)

Bishop on the news saying church can't "make things up as we go along". (2016 Jan Translation: The church can’t accept new ideas, or join the 21st century.)

I hope we all realise by now that "Northern Powerhouse" were code words for "leave the North to its fate". (Christian DeFeo ‏@doctorcdf)

"I'll see how I feel" - Translation: I won't be there. (VeryBritishProblems ‏@SoVeryBritish Dec 1)

"Asking difficult questions". "Making tough decisions". = "Doing the wrong thing". (Hugh Pearman)

Any industry that still has unions has potential energy that could be released by startups. (John Pat Leary)
By "potential energy" I mean "safety, health, decent wages, job security" and by "released" I mean "stolen". (Paul Graham)

The situation in Sharm El Sheikh is alarmingly fluid. (BBC Breakfast There are few flights out and we don’t know how dangerous it is.)

The Whistles customer is over 25 and wants to be fashionable in the broader sense. (Jane Shepherdson Guardian Jan 31 08 I.e. not fashionable.)

Husband Alan was desperate to change his life around and get his priorities straight – he wanted to move the family to Australia. (Wanted Down Under)

Christ, I must've used the word "thoughtful" in approx nine of my Fringe reviews this year. Concise way of saying "not actually good". (@paulwhitelaw)

Whenever someone says "We have robust procedures in place," you have to think, OK what's just gone horribly wrong? (Hugh Pearman)

Freshen up appears to mean appeal to a younger audience. (Times Aug 2015)

The medical profession would have taken “rather a dim view” if it had known Harold Gillies was carrying out sex-change operations. (Archivist Dr Anthony Bamji. Translation: He’d have been struck off.)

“We apologize to anyone who was offended” ALWAYS means “We still don’t think we did anything wrong.” (Mike Monteiro ‏@monteiro)

When people say 'real world' what they really mean is you must do what we tell you. (@imajsaclaimant Oct 1 2015)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Neologisms 13

Downton Abski
Who needs forgotten words for redundant processes – when did you last use a swingle tree, dydle or jupp? As for slang and imported Americanisms – most fads fade fast. Hurrah for the inventive speakers and writers of the English language. And French.

chin-stroking political magazines (Libby Purves Times 29 Feb 2016)
batshiticisms (Zachary Fisher)
magnificent doolalliness

smiling car dealer unctuousness
(Nick Santa Maria on American politicians)
light-switch distinction (Scott Ratner)
egregious info-dumping (in novels) (

phantasmorganic Egypto-Atlantis PoMo with a bit of Metropolis.
(Raffael Dörig)
fridge-magnet poetry (Alex Paknadel)
tuxedo cat (black and white)

Proposed building is “shovel ready” (Adam Nathaniel Furman)
parawibble (Douglas Murphy)
L’étrange hululement de la Beetham Tower, à Manchester. (Valery Levacher)

(Tina Fey)
pretend Routemaster (John Elledge on the “new” bus)

developers’ blandeur
(Jonathan Foyle)
eco-pretence (like astroturfing and greenwashing)
side-eye (verb) (Owen Hatherley)

Viagra urbanism

deep cleanse your life

dated avant-garde whimpers
(Richard Morrison Times 2015-09-29)

overwrought blogs (Helen Lewis – but I think she means “people I disagree with”)
elitist sourpuss (for a “literary” writer)
Strunkated writing (by a misguided follower of Strunk and White)

without getting lost in the knotweed of Congressional procedure (John Sopel BBC News)
Hollywood remake hell

overpriced chichi cafés

a friend who has been trodden on by fate (PD)
iceberg basements (three storeys deep)
a “panic now” situation

Quick, Downton Abski, BBC1 (@samwollaston on War and Peace.)

Their dreams were “eroded by the sands of bitter experience”. (PMcD)

Presentism, as Helen Szamuely acutely calls it, where the attitudes of the present day are transplanted backwards into a historical context where they did not actually exist. (Noah Stewart on Father Brown)

The haggard format has worked its magic once again. (Times on You Make Me Feel Like Dancing)

I’m not keen on soccer fans in bulk shipments. (IG)

I’m within a fish-scale of graduating. (The Avengers, 60s)

Almost jaw-dropping in its well-meaning crassness. (Hugo Rifkind on Do They Know It’s Christmas?)

The clanking of skeletons decupboarding... (Martin Stockley)

Screams Kinder egg to me, to be honest. (Bargain Hunt contestant on a tacky spider brooch)

‏Every Halloween, we get another story about someone who apparently just wandered into the 21st century from a very long time ago and thinks it’s cool to conduct their own minstrel show for japes. (Independent 2015-10-31)

The forces of horrible have been hard at work at on the interior of Stansted Airport. (@WillWiles)

The highlight of the programme is not the re-enactments with hairy extras making “Aaaaargh!” noises, but the examples of Celtic jewellery that display a level of craftsman ship that beggars belief. (Times on The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice)

i love the term “partners.” are we dating? do we run a legal firm? are we robbing a bank? Who knows. (yu narukami ‏@yunacaromi)

This thinking is so shallow that it’s not even paper deep. (@101nasir)

My Twitter stream is suddenly full of Tories picking apart the detail of Corbynist economics, like astrophysicists interrogating Scientology. (Damian Counsell ‏@DamCou)

The twee, cloying version of Sunday Morning in that H&M advert makes me want to stab a rabbit. (@paulwhitelaw)

Something had gone smelly. (Rip-Off Britain on pension “liberation” scheme “Most of the money has vanished into thin air.” Angela Rippon)

This settle has more worms than Ilkley Moor baht ‘at. (Philip Serrell)

The Pope really is smashing up the right-wing treehouse. (Andrew Brown)

I've become everything I hate. I've ordered a graze box. (@Jimbobaroo)
I got sent one. Bits of stale stuff. Tiny bits of stale stuff. (Lucie Toblerone ‏@msloobylou)
It was free. But I've had one before. Little bits of balsa wood and dust. It made me want to cry. (@jimbobaroo)

The crustaceans have a big house-swap dilemma. (Murray Gold on hermit crabs)

This is the moment when you sink or swim, and I am fully for the swimming option. (Alex Polizzi, Hotel Inspector)

The machinations behind Bella’s romance are quite wince-worthy. (Goodreads review of Our Mutual Friend)

Would you like some cheese to go with that whine...? (Nat ‏@SecuLawyer) 

Sarkozy qui critique Marine Le Pen sur les réfugiés: le Camembert qui dit au Roquefort qu'il pue. (@LaFranceapeur)

A new season of super-bombastic telling-you-how-great-it-is DR WHO. Every shouty self-aggrandising trailer depresses me. (Lee Jackson @VictorianLondon )

There’s no potism like nepotism. (Danny Baker)

This case is held together with baling wire! (ex-colleague)

There is no untraining when you’ve learned how to kill. (veteran fighter pilot)

I’ve been slapped round the face by the wet haddock of reality. (Jonathan Foyle on Time Team)

Everything’s cathedral quiet. (golf commentator, BBC)

I love how the author, in 25 pages, has taken my sympathy & support & alienated them with pious condescension. (@TalkingDogGenre)

What's the point of Eurovision being in Vienna if there's not going to be an appearance from Lipizzaners doing their horse Riverdance? (‏@redskyatnight)

You plot us on the political spectrum, we're the other end of the see-saw from the kippers. (@KateVasey)

You don’t want politicians to come out with “pre-cooked lines”. (Ian Katz, BBC)

“drenching rainbursts” of criticism [that did for Multiple Personality Disorder]. (Skeptic March 2015)

McKenzie friends could drive ‘bulldozer’ through 2007 act. (Law Society Gazette It was "coach-and-horses” last time.)

Subud is a Westernised version of Sufism consisting of “slight tales and received wisdom”. (Jenny Diski)

Des gens qui se sont trompés d’étage. (They “got out at the wrong floor” and realised this wasn’t the place for them.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Labours of Hercules

This is my contribution to the Past Offences 1947 challenge – Agatha Christie's Labours of Hercules.

I love this book, especially when narrated by Hugh Fraser. No knowledge of Greek mythology needed – it’s all explained. Poirot is wondering what to do with his life when a Professorial friend puts him on the track of the Labours of Hercules.

In the first story, he meets not a Nemean Lion but a lion-dog – a Pekinese. He is contacted by a rich man who claims his wife’s Peke has been kidnapped for ransom. A lost dog! Just the kind of case he loathes. But in the process of solving the mystery he meets an interesting and clever villain who turns up later in the series.

The Lernean Hydra is not a literal many-headed monster but gossip, which is destroying the reputation of a doctor in a small village.

The Arcadian Deer is a romantic story: a young garage mechanic wants to find a lady’s maid he met once when fixing the radio in a millionaire’s mansion. She seems to have deliberately vanished.

The Erymanthian Boar is an unusual story: Poirot and other guests at a Swiss hotel are isolated in snowy mountains when the funicular railway breaks down. Nobody is what they seem – which of the holiday makers is the gangster Poirot is hunting?

The Augean Stables are represented by the sleazy side of British politics. Poirot turns scandal against itself to save a politician’s reputation.

In The Stymphalean Birds a young politician is staying at a country hotel in the Balkans. Among the guests are two strange, birdlike Polish ladies who dress all in black. He falls in with an Englishwoman and her pretty, vulnerable daughter who is taking a holiday from her abusive, alcoholic husband. The husband turns up, things turn violent, and it looks like Our Hero will be blackmailed for the rest of his life by the sinister Polish ladies who have seen and heard too much. Fortunately Poirot is staying at the same hotel...

The Cretan Bull features a feisty heroine engaged to a toff who unfortunately seems to have inherited the family lunacy along with the great house and estates. (People who don’t read Christie imagine all her stories are set among such folk.)

The Horses of Diomedes involves some hard-partying Londoners. A doctor friend of Poirot’s is worried about four young girls, sisters, who are going to the bad in a drug-taking set – particularly the youngest, Sheila. Poirot goes to see the girls’ father, who seems like the perfect type of the retired Anglo-Indian colonel. A little too perfect, perhaps?

A party of schoolgirls is travelling by train to a finishing school in France. En route one of them disappears, and so does a famous picture by Rubens: The Girdle of Hippolyta. Winnie’s shoes and hat are found by the railway line, and she turns up, dazed, in Amiens, remembering nothing of what has happened. Poirot visits headmistress Miss Pope to see if she can tell him anything. He finds something in her study that puts him on the track, but has to flee from some Amazons.

In The Flock of Geryon we move up a gear. One of the characters from the first story, the quiet Miss Carnaby, comes to Poirot with a problem. A friend of hers, Mrs Clegg, a rich widow, is living at the headquarters of a dubious-sounding sect in Devon. The leader is handsome and charismatic, and Mrs Clegg has changed her will, leaving all her money to him and his movement. The story sounds familiar to Miss Carnaby: she has heard of three well-off women who have joined the sect, and then died within the year. Poirot asks if she will infiltrate the organisation, and she does so. Its beliefs and rituals are absurd: mixing metaphors about sheep and harvests. But the drugs that are administered have a strange effect on the mind... With her usual humour, Christie shows us what she thinks of gurus who invent religions and prey on the credulous and lonely.

The Apples of Hesperides: the story takes Poirot to Ireland in search of a stolen chalice. He’s helped to recover it by a character called “Atlas”, a newspaper racing tipster he meets in a pub.

The Capture of Cerberus starts with a bang: Poirot descends to the infernal London Underground, wishing young women didn’t have a craze for knitting on public transport (ouch!). As he rises to the surface on the Up escalator he is greeted by someone most definitely on the trip down – his old friend the jewel thief “Countess” Vera Rossakoff. Her hair is dyed, her makeup careless, her figure not what it was, and her charm undiminished. “Where can I find you?” he shouts. “In Hell!” she calls back and is swept away by the rush-hour crowd. “If someone asked you to meet them in Hell,” Poirot asks his secretary Miss Lemon, “What would you do?” “I’d ring up and book a table,” answers Miss L. “Hell” is the latest fashionable nightclub – of course. Poirot visits, entering by a staircase painted with “I can give it up any time I like” or “I meant well” on every tread. The descent leads him past a fearsome black dog in a niche, and into a room painted with scenes of classical debauchery. There is his old friend the Countess, and her son (now about 25) and his rather unlikely fiancee, a social anthropologist who wears a tweed suit and horn-rimmed glasses. She loves dancing with the crooks who frequent the venue – she gets them to tell her all about their unhappy childhoods. Poirot spots an undercover policeman, and later learns that the club is the centre of a drug operation. Is the Countess involved?

How many of the stories did Tom Adams fit into his cover?

More Christie here.

Inspirational Quotes 82

Courtship rituals – bring them back.
Be yourself, don't copy other people, you can do anything at any age, live in the moment, appearance doesn't matter, you'll be stronger on your own, you can be alone but not lonely, you are responsible for everything that happens to you, yes, we know...

They had persuasive manners and great social charm, which enabled them to move at ease in the best society. (The Invention of Tradition)
I’ve always been a people pleaser. I was small for my age so I had to learn not to be too gobby. You learn the art of diplomacy. Sometimes the hard way. (Stephen Mangan)

Then it was rather déclassé to have sex with people immediately, even if you fancied them. There was still a kind of courtship ritual, which has since totally disappeared. Just as in heterosexual relationships of the time, one sent anyone to whom one was attracted a letter, arranged a meeting, went out to dinner, eyes meeting in the candlelight. (Redeeming Features, Nicky Haslam)

With other members of the management he was less charitable. He seemed to know who the safe targets were. (Corporate Bodies, Simon Brett)

What’s it like living with strangers when most people your age are settled in their own homes? (Guardian June 2015)

The end of being “married” signifies far more than the end of being “a couple”. Marriage integrates you into a broad social and familial network. (Suzie Godson, Times June 2015)

This deliberate advice may be given to those who wish to marry. Appear as though you do not; but mind you do it sweetly. Nothing is so fatal as a ticket stuck in a hat, on which is written “I want to marry; mother says I ought and must; and I myself believe I really should do so, for more reasons than one.” (Advice to Single Women by Haydn Brown, 1899)

Not having a partner - that is going to be a lack, that’s going to hurt at times. And so is not having children. (Novice nun on BBC Breakfast)

I didn’t want to be the only one in my friend group that couldn’t have children. (Times June 2015)

In her twenties she had had a series of affairs which never stood a chance of going the distance. (Star Trap, Simon Brett)

Violence towards women isn’t cultural, it’s criminal. (Hillary Clinton)

In many places... legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. (Hillary Clinton)

I had a job I loved with people I considered to be my family too, and when I got laid off, I was totally adrift and bereft. That was nearly 20 years ago... (Commenter on The Age of Uncertainty)

Offices have now been reconfigured to provide a paid mating market for the under 35s. (Another commenter)

People living in tower blocks are more fearful, more depressed, less sociable.

I wasn’t deep friends with any of them because I had to go home to see the kids rather than go out on the booze. (Jim Dale on the Carry On crowd)
This book (Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason) is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work. (A “trigger warning” on Kant’s classic)

Revealing mental health problems does “more harm than good” says academic living with depression (Times Ed. Supp.)

Poisonous relationships can alter our perception. You can spend many years thinking you’re worthless… but you’re not worthless, you’re unappreciated. (Steve Maraboli)

Lonely people think they have nothing to give. (Penelope Mortimer)

We have been treating and grooming [our son] to be “normal” and have a normal life because limitations are not allowed for by those with no difficulties. (Dyspraxia website)

The outward cordiality that politeness dictates. (Agatha Christie)

Uhtceare. Lying awake before dawn and fretting. The word is Old English but the experience is timeless. When afflicted by uhtceare it is best to roll over and remember what your shelf of self-help books says: that the future is full of endless, golden possibilities. (It is only the probabilities that are depressing.)

More here, and links to the rest.