Gwenda gets off the boat at Plymouth, hires a car, looks for village to live in. And finds one: a perfectly charming cottage with aga, a kitchen garden and flowered wallpaper. Gwenda moves in with her rosewood, her mahogany, her papermache, her chintz and all the fabrics of domesticity. She feels from the start that the house and the garden are familiar; she knows in advance where the doors are and where they ought to be, she imagines the wallpaper of a room and then discovers the very same wallpaper in a boarded up cupboard. There is something uncannily familiar about the house from the start.
By the end of the first week she has had one or two hallucinations, and thinks perhaps that she is going mad. She meets Miss Marple who suggests that there may be another way to explain her familiarity with the house. Perhaps she has lived in the house before. Which is of course a perfectly sensible English alternative to Freud: “You are not mad; your house is old, your ancestors are ugly, your hallucinations are memories and best avoided.” But this is impossible. Gwenda is from New Zealand, and she is curious.
What she finds unsurprisingly is murder.
How fun to be a stubborn, sensible English widow who takes up decorating or hotelkeeping or moves to Brighton. The kind of fun that takes time: not like those television garden shows that demonstrate
“how to transform an entire garden in a matter of five hours while the lady of the house [goes to] visit her mother in the next town. …A team would move in. They would spend an inordinate amount of money on mature plants, containers, garden furniture, trellising and ceramic slabs… Towards the end there would be moments of panic because the wife was due to walk in the door in precisely seven minutes time…”
No, Caroline has fun slowly. She sells her old house at Bath slowly, she moves to Brighton slowly, she fixes her old house slowly, and then converts a new house into flats, slowly. Meanwhile she discovers that she’s “…got a wonderful eye for fabrics, window treatments, lighting, decorating, color schemes and so on … even furniture.” Then, very slowly, she turns her builder into her friend and her friend into her partner, slowly, sensibly, with a happy division of labour:
I’m asking you to design while I carry out the practical part.
As good as reading a short history of the rise and rise of the garden variety jihadist.
A retired SAS agent is mending the roof of his medieval barn when he is summoned to a final counter-terrorist mission. The medieval political system also needs mending. So begins a story about the “new cold war”:
The end of the cold war in 1991 led to the asinine presumption among politicians on both sides of the Atlantic that peace had come at last and come to stay. That was precisely the moment that the new cold war, silent and hidden in the depths of Islam, was experiencing birth pangs.
On one side there are computers; on the other are fanatics, and somewhere in between are a handful of men navigating oceans of terror. Occasionally a Predator drops in like Athena. Occasionally, a god loses his agent. It is never the other way around.
What a wonderful Upper West Side between Broadway and Central Park West in the 70s voice to listen to …. when you’re on a boat to Kabul or Talibaq. Close your eyes and you can see the doormen, the yellow taxis, the short, balding, murderous psychoanalysts, walking their dogs between appointments with depressive middle aged lawyers suffering from garden variety impotence.
It must be comforting for the patient, I said, to have a shrink who
can pull a gun on you if you start acting out…You’re on the verge of
this major breakthrough, really getting in touch with your anger, or remembering
what really happened when your uncle came into your bedroom that night,
and you look up from the couch, and there’s Dr. Nadler, and he’s pointing
a gun at you….
Nope. Theres nothing as insidious as a bald jewish shrink on the Upper West Side — except a bald Jewish shrink with an aphorism: What do you get? You get what you get.