The small man entered the room, a dapper gentleman, even dandy one could say. He surveyed the sunlit room, assessing the seating options before selecting a straight backed, wooden chair that would allow him to avoid the bright light streaming through the window. He pulled a crisp, white handkerchief from his breast pocket, unfolded it with a sharp flick of his wrist and began wiping down the seat of his selected chair. He lowered himself slowly, sitting straight backed on the very edge of the seat, smoothed his already sharply pressed and crease-free, pinstriped trousers and ran a finger over his small, perfectly shaped moustache that shone with pomade. He took on an air of calm anticipation.
Next through the door was another small gentleman, not dissimilar in physical attributes to the first. He wore the long black garb of a parish priest and his eyes shone with a zest for life and just a hint of mischief. He walked towards the seated gentleman and proffered a hand, “Good morning, I’m Father Brown.”
“Good morning,” replied the first gentleman, standing and smiling with a sparkle in his eyes, as he held out his hand, “I am Hercule Poirot.”
“I detect a French accent,” commented Father Brown, “so nice to have one of our French flock joining us today.”
Poirot’s face changed with a barely discernible crease to the forehead. “I am Belgian,” he corrected the priest, kindly but emphatically.
“So sorry,” responded Father Brown, “an error on my part. I do beg your pardon.”
The two small, round gentlemen smiled at each other and took a seat, waiting to see who else might enter the room. They didn’t wait long before the door opened to admit a small, grey haired lady in sensible brown shoes, woollen skirt and cardigan, with a bright rosy face and twinkling eyes that belied the wit and intelligence that lay behind them. She smiled at the two gentleman, who had simultaneously stood to greet this small lady who looked as if she could have walked straight from a meeting of the Women’s Institute. As the three stood, she introduced herself with a smile, “Good morning gentleman, I’m Jane Marple, isn’t it a splendid day, so nice to see the sun shining again. I do so think this is the finest time of year don’t you? The gardens in St Mary Mead are looking so pretty at the moment. I was saying to Mr. Blackwell in the post office only yesterday, or was it Wednesday? Hmmm….Well, I was saying to Mr Blackwell, that the gardens had never looked so bright, in all this sunshine…”
Poirot and Father Brown waited with a twinkle in their eyes, for Miss Marple to complete her introduction, before greeting her warmly. Father Brown introduced himself with a shake of Miss Marple’s hand, “A pleasure to meet you,” he said.
Poirot took her hand and with a small bow, introduced himself, “It is a delight to meet you Madam, I am Hercule Poirot.”
“Oh, have you come all the way from France to be here,” she questioned.
The crease in Poirot’s forehead returned, a little more noticeable now. “I am Belgian,” he corrected his new acquaintance, with a calm tone that suggested he had made this correction much more frequently than these two most recent occasions.
“Oh, how delightful,” replied Miss Marple, “I do apologise for my mistake.” She took a seat and pulled a ball of wool, needles and partly completed garment from the bag she held over the crook of her arm and quietly began to knit.
The door suddenly opened at speed and a bustling, middle aged gentleman entered in a flurry, apologising for his tardiness. “I’m so sorry I’m late, an unexpected call out to a decapitated postman. They really should close the gates on Badger’s Drift, with all the murder and mayhem that goes on in that village. How can anyone be expected to take their pension when these counties keep knocking off all their residents!? I do apologise, I’m Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby.” The three already in the room, stood and greeted Barnaby with smiles and outstretched hands.
“Jane Marple, so nice to meet you Inspector.”
“Father Brown. I hope things aren’t too dire in your villages.”
“Hercule Poirot. No need to apologise, I have assisted with unexpected murders at times myself.”
“Oh, does that happen often in your part of France,” enquired Barnaby, on identification of Poirot’s accent.
Porot gave a silent sigh, but maintained the smile on his face and in his eyes. “I am Belgian,” he said again, calmly, quietly, but firmly.
“Of course, sorry,” apologised Tom Barnaby.
All four sat, chatting amiably about their lives, work, home counties and the reason for their gathering. The door opened again and a woman entered, sharply dressed and smiling. “Thank you all for coming. I feel quite in awe of the minds that are gathered together here. This is of course the first time we have presented this award, to acknowledge the outstanding contributions you have made. To be named Supreme Sleuth is quite an honour.”
Miss Jane Marple smiled with her bright, open face holding both kindness and intellect in equal measure. Father Brown sat calmly, observing the woman speaking, with an encouraging smile and twinkle in his eyes, while Hercule Poirot sat smiling warmly, straight backed and with a personal air of someone very aware of the exceptional capacity of his little grey cells.
“Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” the woman continued, “there will of course be a civic reception later this evening, but I did want to reveal the outcome of the vote to you all first. I have great pleasure in informing you, that the inaugural award for Super Sleuth is…”
…still a mystery! I shall leave you to draw your own conclusion! They did need to be recognised though, albeit by some silly made-up writing of mine, because today we were travelling in their footsteps on our Monday of Motoring Through Murder and Mystery!
First stop was Wallingford. What a lovely little town. This was another location used as Causton in Midsomer Murders, with street scenes from various episodes being filmed there and the Corn Exchange doubling as Causton’s theatre. It was very much an Inspector Barnaby kind of place.
The second reason for our visit, was to see the house of Wallingford’s most famous resident, Agatha Christie. She lived in ‘Winterbrook House’ with her second husband, Max Mallowan from 1934 until her death in 1976 and wrote many of her books there. The house is just visible behind a tall hedge, but after visiting her holiday house in Dartmouth, it was a nice addition to our literary travels to see the house where she lived and wrote. A short drive out of the village and we were in Cholsey, where we visited the small parish church of St. Mary’s where she is buried, with her husband Max. The headstone is engraved with her married name, Agatha Mallowan.
Quite special, to have more visits to lovely little villages and a brush with a favourite screen character and a real world, much enjoyed author, who has given me many smiles, laughs and brain teasers with those characters of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
We may be in our final days of our grand tour, but we are being given delightful experiences right up to the end. The charming villages and memorable moments just keep coming. Beaconsfield was our next stop and another lovely little town. I must sound like a cracked record with my endless “lovely”, “delightful”, “charming” and “quaint” labels that I apply to the towns and villages we visit, but that’s just what they are! Beaconsfield was another, with lovely old buildings, a stone church and peaceful streets. This was another location for Midsomer Murders and we even went to a place that was used by Inspector Barnaby himself. In one episode he meets another character in a tea room and we went to that very tea room and enjoyed a cuppa, in the footsteps of a favourite British TV inspector!
As with Wallingford, Beaconsfield was not only home to a TV mystery solver, it was also home to another mystery writer of note, G.K. Chesterton. He wrote many books, but the ones I’ve read are the Father Brown stories. They were also made into a TV series which I enjoyed, but I’ve also enjoyed reading the original stories, which, while nothing like Agatha Christie in style, are similar in that they are both fun mysteries to read, with a good dose of humour thrown in for a chuckle. The house where he lived and wrote is now a private home, so we could only glimpse it from the road, but we did visit his grave, in the church yard in town.
I feel like we’ve been able to visit a few places of literary note or with literary links and it’s been great to see the home towns or villages of authors or the scenery or locations that inspired their writing. As a bookworm and voracious reader of a wide variety of genres, it’s been a real treat.
How can we balance out this trail of murder and mystery that we’ve been on? Is there, perhaps, a more sedate location, less prone to crime, that we could visit? Of course there is! On we went to the tiny little hamlet of Knotty Green. This was a ‘blink and you’d miss it’ sort of place, and the one-time home to children’s author Enid Blyton. Unfortunately her house has been demolished so we couldn’t see where she lived and wrote. There is a room dedicated to her, with prints and books, in the pub that was her local, but unfortunately that didn’t open until late, so we couldn’t see that. It was nice though, just to see the little corner of the country where she lived and wrote, and what better place to counter the theme of murder and village mayhem, than the home of Noddy and Big Ears!
On we choofed, to find our final destination hotel in Hounslow, where we’re within striking distance of Heathrow. We saw the planes flying over head. I’m not looking forward to being on one of them. Thank goodness I’ve found that healthy state of denial that I can visit whenever I choose! Still some time left to explore, some time left to enjoy and discover and soak up the final experiences and collect some lasting memories. Yes, we’ll have to do some organising and preparation, but we can still make the most of every last opportunity to soak up this amazing place, this great adventure, this grand tour…small amounts of time can be filled with big moments. That’s for sure!