Who Killed Cock Robin. A Grumbling Appendix.
T.S. Eliot’s explanatory notes to his Wasteland achieved the difficult task of making the work even more elusive and complicated than it already was. I have every sympathy. The Notes were imposed on Eliot after the fact by a publisher and having packed every syllable of his masterpiece with myriad meanings and possibilities, he wasn’t about to close down any of them just to make up the page numbers. However, given the average reader’s postmodern attention-span, here are a couple of non-prescriptive pointers in the least-wrong direction.
Little England in the Styx is a fictional Norfolk village, locked down during the Corona epidemic. It has a local stately home, Cock Hall, the seat of Lord and Lady Peacock, where the murders occur. Cock Hall is an homage to Christie’s Styles with nods to her Chimneys (the espionage) and Cluedo’s Tudor Hall. It was built using the materials and on the site of an ancient Saxon Hall and the late Squire Peacock was keenly aware of his prestige as “one of England’s oldest Saxon families.” He invited scholars to explore his belief that six decades into each millennium, the village resists a new epoch – in AD61 the British resistance to the Roman Empire by Boudicca; in AD1066 the English resistance to the Norman Conquest led by Hereward – on his land. Hall and As a result of this, Little England in the Styx also has a long-running archaeological dig tracing the development of ‘Little England’ from its beginnings in the Bronze and Iron Ages to the First World War. (The Welsh visitors in Scene 1 are a reminder of a Britain older than England.) All its pasts haunt the present; time frames blur and the Saxon boneyard gains a modern corpse.
The Cock Robin of the title (from a nursery rhyme whose hero has been claimed to represent Robin Hood, Robert Walpole and Christ) is the recently murdered Squire Peacock. The Brown Lady is a West Norfolk ghost who haunts Houghton Hall, Raynham Hall and adjacent country lanes. After Walpole’s splendid domicile, the palatial and splendid Houghton Hall stood dark for a century in its isolated Norfolk backwoods. Something of that casts a shadow over my Cock Hall. In her real 18C life, the Brown Lady was Dorothy Walpole, sister of Robert (the country’s first Prime Minister) and wife of ‘Turnip’ Townshend. Mrs Wight assumes she is Indian and therefore ‘not part of the culture’ and even when an intoxicated Dr Blak explained that under Walpole’s colonial Whigs, the East India Company’s shareholders and the British governing party were largely the same people, she merely asked him did he want another change of towels for his room.
This is a Murder Game in a Haunted Hall and with stock characters moving around a ‘Clued-Ouija’ board. Visitors come in search of their various versions of our Norfolk Paradise up “The Boudicca Trail” but because of their own demons and the spirit of our age are drawn instead down the wrong road to (Dante’s) Dis and fetch up at Cock Hall. Taking a postmodern liberty Christie herself never took, both the Queen of Crime’s ‘Eyes’ (Poirot and Marple) work the case together and along with maverick local DI Ken Hill battle against petty village tyrant and xenophobe Colonel Mustard to find who is spreading this global virus through their little world.