The Manton Rempville Mystery – start of Chapter 1

Detective Sergeant Rod Barnes surveyed the remains of Manton Rempville monastery with incredulity. He’d heard that a hundred thousand pounds had been spent on preserving the ruins and he couldn’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. Ruins were ruins for a reason. The natural order of things, in Barnes’ mind at least, was gradual decay – preservation only delayed the inevitable, like applying skin cream to wrinkles or a new coat of paint to a rusting car. Besides, the ruins were open to anyone and there was no entry charge, so they were never going to get their money back.

Barnes stiffened slightly as he saw Detective Inspector Colin Knowles’ Land Rover chug into the car park and lurch to a halt too close to Barnes’ Morgan sports car for his comfort. He glanced down at the body and thought that Knowles, his boss, would find this crime scene interesting indeed. Barnes had heard that Knowles was on a new diet and that his latest culinary delight was vegetable kebabs cooked on his nearly new barbecue even in the depths of autumn.

Taking care not to get his highly polished shoes muddy, Barnes walked across the uneven grass as a low, cold wind whipped across the historical site, slightly disturbing his short, brown hair. He hadn’t seen much of Knowles in the past month as they’d both been away on holiday at separate times since the murders in Goat Parva. As he came towards him, Barnes noticed that even though the Inspector had lost weight, he still wasn’t able to tuck his Marks and Spencer shirt into his trousers.

“Good morning, sir, how are you today?”

“Fair to middling, Barnesy old son, the diet’s working well, nearly fifteen pounds lost.” Knowles gripped his much reduced stomach with some pride.

“How’s the gym going?”

“Gradually doing more on the treadmill, lifting a few weights, and getting some stretching done on those large blue balls they have. That’s not easy – those balls are bouncy as hell – I almost fell off the first few times I tried to lie on the thing. Anyway, not only can I see my toes now, but I can almost touch them too.”

“That’s good to hear, sir. The trick to keeping the weight off is by committing to a lifestyle change rather than thinking you’re on a diet.”

“Good point, Sergeant, lifestyle sounds very magazine-like though, very posh Sunday newspaper, but I know what you mean. Anyway, who do we have over there?” Knowles pointed in the direction of the photographer and Forensics team, who were investigating the crime scene.

The two men started to walk over to the eastern wall of the monastery’s refectory where the body had been found an hour earlier by Bingo the retriever, out on a long walk with his owner Adelaide Hills from Goat Parva. Both dog and owner were well known to the police from a few months before when Bingo had made a habit of finding bodies in the early morning.

“According to his credit cards, his name is Edward Pritchard; we are just running some computer checks to find out where he lives. It’s how he’s been killed that you will find interesting, sir.”

With his hands in his trench coat pockets, Knowles stood on the wall and looked down at the body lying on what would have been the refectory floor. Edward Pritchard had been run through with a sword and the handle was sticking out of his back on the left-hand side. Knowles smiled at Dr. Crabtree, the forensic doctor, who was examining the body.

“Dr. Crabtree, we have a real sword being used as a murder weapon?” Knowles would have rubbed his hands with glee if they hadn’t been warming up in his pockets.

“We do indeed, Colin, a very real sword. This is a heavy cavalry sword with a straight blade with one cutting edge whereas the other side has been thickened for greater strength. The blade is around three feet in length. It directly penetrated his heart and he would have died instantly.”

“Any prints on the handle?” Knowles looked hopeful when he said this.

“We’ll check back at the lab, Colin, can we move him now?”

“Yes, that will be all I think. We’ll be back at the station in an hour or so; could you have something by then in terms of fingerprints, time of death, and any ideas on a profile of who could have done it?”

“We’ll try, Colin – no promises, but we’ll try.”

“I presume the person who murdered Edward wasn’t aware of the type of sword they were using,” said Barnes, “because that’s a sword for slashing people with, not for running them through.”

“So, you would have expected a murderer who knew what he was using to have hit Edward here in the neck with the sharp side,” replied Knowles.

“Yes, sir, that’s correct.”

“So we’re looking for an ignorant murderer then? We show the suspects the sword and ask them how they would kill someone using the sword and those who opt for the neck slash are innocent?”

“They might be bluffing, sir, so we shouldn’t just use that as a method of elimination from our enquiries,” said Barnes, playing along with Knowles’ quite acerbic sense of humour.

“OK, we’ll just confine ourselves to telling the murderer, when we catch him, that he/she murdered Edward here in the wrong way. So where could the sword have come from? It’s not the sort of weapon you can easily conceal.”

“The nearest house is Manton Rempville Hall – you can see it just poking through the trees over there. That might be the best place to start.”

“Agreed – they probably maintain an assortment of weapons to keep the staff subdued and repel invasions by the local peasants in times of crisis. We should go there after visiting our oldest friend in Goat Parva, Mrs. Adelaide Hills, and her bundle of fun, Bingo.”

“It’s just like old times, sir.”

“Indeed it is, Barnesy. I just hope that this is the only body Bingo finds in this murder investigation.”

40 Humourous British Traditions – Cat Chasing

This is an extract from my book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Barton-in-the-Beans is a village in the county of Leicestershire in the heart of England. In the Middle Ages it was believed that there were more cats in the village than in any other village or town in the country. This could only mean one thing in those times: witches. Lots of them.

There was no lake near the village. The local chalk soil drained easily so even after heavy rain no large puddles formed. Thus deprived of his best known method of determining who was a witch, the local Witchfinder-General Roger Boydell hit upon a novel method for searching out the local witches.

He determined that witches are very attached to their cats; at the equinoxes and the solstices he told his henchmen to round up all the village cats and place them into a large pen. At his signal, a man would allow three of the creatures to escape from the pen. These cats would be chased by the Witchfinder-General’s fitter cronies around the village. If any woman chased after the man chasing her cat, especially on a broomstick, she was determined to be a witch and sent off to Leicester for burning on the High Cross.

This tradition lasted for 400 years, comfortably outlasting the role of Witchfinder-General by over 300 years. In the mid-20th Century, as people became aware of diets and exercise, it was noticed that the cats of Barton-in-the-Beans were the leanest, fittest, and most athletic cats in the whole county.

This is an extract from my book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Christmas Tree Topiary from Northallerton

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

At the end of the Christmas holidays in the dark days of winter everyone needs to let off a little steam. This may explain why the Christmas Tree Topiary contest in Northallerton is so popular with people eager to reshape their Christmas trees after spending many tedious and argumentative hours with their families.

On January 5th, people come to the main street of the town with their trees and then between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. they can register for the topiary contest in one of three categories of shaping device: nail clippers (for trees under three feet high), scissors and secateurs (for trees under 10 feet high), and chainsaws (10 feet and over).

The contest started in 1862. The chainsaw category, added in 1978, replaced the kitchen knife category, which was dropped from the contest at the advice of the police after the 1977 contest ended in bitter recriminations and much bloodletting. Obviously families had been hard to deal with that Christmas.

At 10 a.m. sharp competitors are allocated a place on the main street and asked to place their trees in this area. At 10:15 the Cutting Contest Chief shouts “prepare thy implements for carving” and then one minute later he continues, “start to cut.” The contestants then have four hours to shape their trees into something recognizable and aesthetically pleasing.

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Playing Card Festival at Willoughby Waterless

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

Playing cards have played an important role in people’s lives for centuries. The Playing Card Festival has been held annually since 1682 to celebrate all the non-gambling uses that playing cards can be used for.

It all began when the wife of local gambler Ralph Meadows decided that she would remove all gambling temptation from his life. She picked up his pack of cards and threw them individually out of the window. Ralph noticed that some of the cards travelled more than 100 yards and bragged one day in the pub that his wife could throw cards further than anyone else. The challenge was inevitably taken up by his drinking friends and the contest was established, taking place on St George’s Day in a farmer’s field.

Fifty contestants each took a playing card from the Presiding Judge’s pack. The order of throwing was decided by the number of the card (aces high) – in order of importance the suits were hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades. The first thrower was the two of hearts and the final thrower was the ace of spades. Ralph’s wife, Jenny, had the eight of diamonds and hurled it 112 yards seven inches.

She used a flicking motion of her wrist that made the most of her powerful forearms strengthened by years of throwing hay bales into the upper floor of the barn. Since that time the eight of diamonds has been known as the Jenny Strongarm card. Jenny Meadows won the first six throwing contests before an accident when moving an entire haystack left her with a damaged elbow.

This is an extract from the book 40 Humourous British Traditions

DVD Golf

This is an extract from the book Sports the Olympics Forgot available here on Amazon

Not everyone can afford to buy golf clubs and balls, especially when times are hard economically. In the early 1990s the golf courses along the Algarve in Portugal weren’t receiving many visitors so the club owners decided to invent a new sport called CD Golf, which in 2004 became DVD Golf.

The idea was to allow the courses to be used between 1pm and 6pm on weekdays by DVD Golfers, who would play the course using their favourite CDs or DVDs. This would create more income for the course at the slowest time of day for ordinary golfers

The idea of the game is for the golfers to throw and/or roll their DVDs from the tee to the green. Each throw/roll that’s taken counts as one shot and the pars for each hole also apply to the DVD Golfers. It’s at the green where the scoring changes as DVDs don’t fit into the holes. For DVD Golf the top of the flags are shaped into a six-inch spike. If a player lands the hole in the centre of the DVD over the top of the flagstick then three shots are removed from his score on that hole. If the DVD hits the flagstick then 1 shot is removed from that hole’s score. The golfer can also opt to roll his DVD towards the hole and if the DVD’s hole is completely over the hole in the green then two shots are taken from his score on that hole. Once the shots are removed then the golfer has his score for that hole, which is then compared against the par for that hole just like in ordinary golf. For example, on a par four hole if the golfer takes 5 shots to hit the flag then the scoring is as follows: the golfer takes five shots to hit the flag, so 1 shot is removed from the score for hitting the flag so he finishes with a score of 4 for the hole, which is the same as the par, so his score for playing the round stays the same.

Unlike proper golf, throwing a DVD out of sand or the rough is not a great penalty but there are still out of bounds for the golfers to watch out for. The only stipulation is that players may not clean their DVDs when playing a hole, even if they are covered in sand or soil. Each player is accompanied by a stance judge who ensures that the golfer does not throw the DVD from a place in advance of where it landed. There are also two new terms to use, Thunderbird and Roc. A thunderbird is when a player plays a hole in four shots under par after deductions and a roc is when a player plays a hole in 5 under par. An example of a Thunderbird was in the 2004 Portuguese Championships at Albufeira when Darren McGinty landed his DVD on top of the flag at the par 4 15th hole with his third shot

Rocs are very rare and the only one recorded in a competitive tournament was in the 1988 Estoril Classic when Julian Davies landed his DVD on the flag at the 673-yard par 5 7th hole with his third shot. Davies admitted luck played a part: “I was just trying to get the thing close to the pin but I misjudged the wind and it went higher than I expected, but the distance turned out perfectly right and you could have knocked me down with a feather when it stayed on the flag. I sprinted to the green to make sure I took the DVD off the flag myself as is indicated in the rules. It was a special moment although I had to pay for a round of drinks at the end of the round.” Davies didn’t win the tournament as he damaged his hamstring when running to the green.

The most successful player in DVD Golf history is Billy “Tweet” Bird, who has won each tournament on the circuit at least twice; his favourite tournament is the Faro Masters, which he has won eight times including a hat-trick between 1998 – 2000. Bird commented: “I can just read the wind at that course so well, especially playing into the wind when you can really fly the DVD straight at the flag and land it close. It’s the only course where you can really roll the DVD on the downwind shots too as the grass is very dry.”

Turtle Rinsing in London

This story is from a book entitled 40 Humourous British traditions available on Amazon:

Turtle Rinsing in London
It’s a little known fact that every turtle that swims up the River Thames past Tower Bridge into the Pool of London
becomes the property and responsibility of the monarch. This rule is part of the Common Law of England and dates back to
the time of Queen Matilda in the 12th Century. The Royal Turtle Surveyor has to be notified if a turtle reaches the Pool of London so the ceremony of Turtle Rinsing can occur. This old procedure involves the Royal Turtle Surveyor, The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor, the Royal Net Bearer, The Royal Water Bagpiper, and the Master of the Hose. From the Tower of London, these five officials proceed towards the turtle in a launch bearing The Royal Standard. Once the turtle is observed by The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor using a spyglass, the Royal Net Bearer apprehends the creature in a special Turtle net that’s over two hundred years old. Once clear of the water, the turtle in the net is raised to shoulder height. Using a 500-year old hose made from Staffordshire Boar hide, the Master of the Hose sprays the creature for “one round of ye reel,” which is danced by the Royal Turtle Surveyor and The Royal Turtle Deputy-Surveyor. The Royal Water Bagpiper accompanies the dance.
Once the reel is complete, the rinsed turtle is returned to the water. In the past, the turtle was observed swimming
vigorously for the open sea; however in recent years they have mainly hung around HMS Belfast waiting for tourists to
drop food to them. Historians believe that the Turtle Rinsing was created because of Matilda’s desire to keep her supporters happy by giving them jobs in the Royal Household that were purely ceremonial in nature. Other such jobs include The Royal Wasp Counter in the Hunting Forests, The Royal Cloud Shape Describer, and the Royal Maker of Cubes from Honey.