Who took the ‘p’ out of Happisburgh? Norfolk’s darkest mysteries solved
PUBLISHED: 16:34 15 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:34 15 March 2019
Keith Skipper explores the secrets only Norfolk people know
Miss June Mardle sipped her tea, stroked the cat and gently removed a couple of wilting daffodils from a crystal vase perched rather precariously on the window-sill of her cosy apartment on the top floor of Surelock Homes.
This get-away-from-it-all complex in rolling countryside with far more trees than people had attracted her long before estate agents burst into eulogies of “Timeless Norfolk with time for everyone” and “Nelson was much safer here”.
She knew how countless other problem-solvers, some of them from much further away than her blessed St Mary Mode, had headed in this direction to take stock, savour a month or two without stumbling over a dead body in the library, catch up with gossip from the teashop underworld and generally draw in as much civilised oxygen as possible.
Even her old friend Inspector Migraine had given up his posh pad on the Rue d ’A’Wakening in Paris for this ivy-clad rural retreat. There had been lively talk of an American contingent, including Sam Shovel, Philip Merlot, Mike Hummer, Dick Treacey, Perry Musson and Scruffy Colombo, booking in soon.
From the hard-boiled and square-jawed to the well-bred and straight-nosed, so many of Miss Mardle’s clue-sniffing contemporaries sought sanctuary in each other’s celebrated company. The only problem with that, she mused puckishly, would be an abundance of riches if it came to solving a murder in their midst.
Just for fun, she drew up a shortlist of the expendable in a place like this. Lord Peter Whimsical, Dachshund Hammett, Father Bruin, Brother Caddish … ah, and the character likely to collect most votes in a “Let’s Bump Off One Of Our Own” contest, that pompous little prig, Hercule Parrott.
There was also a distinct possibility some would be lured too easily into Norfolk adventures rather than languid days of lengthy reflection. Like Sam Shovel getting to grips with the Matlaske Falcon, Philip Merlot singing Farewell, My Bewty in a Sidestrand speakeasy and Inspector Clewso falling into a pingo while taking his bloodhound for a walk across Thompson Common.
The doorbell chimed almost apologetically as Miss Mardle prepared to plump up the cushions in her fireside chair and study letters. It was Gladys Moriarty, secretary of the Surelock Homes Residents’ Recreational Society, with a reminder of the big charity fundraiser in the lounge that evening.
“We do like to keep it topical and really exciting” she enthused with a shy twist of the string of pearls adorning a brand new mauve twinset. “The Great Iced Bun Challenge was your idea, I believe, Miss Mardle?. So pleased you don’t flinch away from putting on a few calories”
She patted her tummy theatrically, tittered and turned to continue her rousing of the troops. June Mardle promised herself to stay well away from cream cakes and jam sponge for the entire afternoon. A nice cup of tea wouldn’t do any harm … with a couple of sausage rolls delivered personally by that nice home help lady from Baker Street.
The first letters had followed predictable lines with invitations to open garden fetes and give talks (with refreshments) at various village halls and churches. She was also invited to join a number of clubs and associations or serve as an honorary vice-president “if you are not too busy helping police with their inquiries”.
Interest levels rose several notches as a missive purporting to come from “Darkest Norfolk” suggested she was the ideal person to answer important questions ignored by “those in so-called authority”.
Miss Mardle’s immediate curiosity was fed by a number of posers in green ink. Why did Norfolk people answer one question with another? She didn’t know, did she? Who took the “p” out of Happisburgh - twice? Why did so many people claiming to have seen Black Shuck or other fearsome creatures only run into them on their way home from the pub?
Where did Hethersett begin and end? Should Burnham Market declare UDI? Why had national publishers turned down at least two manuscripts for Sap Rise to Cringleford? Could Mileham go metric one day? Questions bounced off the pages like enthusiastic youngsters at a gymnastics meet.
The final line suggested a playful character was at work: “Do I need two bricks to break into a home with double-glazing?”
Miss Mardle smiled, looked out of her top-floor window and knew she had arrived in the right place at the right time.