Mrs McGillcuddy panted along the platform in the wake of her porter carrying her suitcase. Mrs McGillicuddy was short and stout, and the porter was tall and free striding. The race was therefore an uneven one and the porter turned the corner at the end of the platform whilst Mrs McGillicuddy was still coming up the straight. She was sadly out of breath.
The porter retrieved her suitcase and installed her in her coach in solitary splendour. She settled herself back on the plush cushions with a sigh. Her mind wandered to her good friend, Miss Marple. She was worried about her. She had been in her mind as she sipped her G+T at the hotel after lunch. As the Watson to her friend’s Sherlock, she saw the furtive disposal of empty bottles, the succession of rather dim and incompetent maids, the increasing vagueness.
Could her niece help? What does she do at Aquarius? She knew naked dancing was not involved but could get very little idea of what she did do.
As the train rolled through the suburbs, her eyes began to droop when she saw a book abandoned on the seat opposite. She picked it up and began to browse. ‘The culture of addiction’, she read. Who was it that released the safety on his Browning when he heard the word ‘culture’? She read on. ’The culture of addiction is a way of life, a means of organising one’s daily existence….’
She reached for her flask….
Mrs McGillicuddy had recently wondered why Miss Marple drank so much – it was a comment by her niece that made her aware of the habit. She began to realise that when they shared a sherry before dinner that this was merely topping up an afternoon of ‘tinctures’ – that Miss Marple’s unsteadiness was not just a product of the passing years.
‘The culture of addiction encompasses values, artifacts, places, rituals, relationships, symbols, music and art….’
She started to wonder if she had been asking herself the wrong question. Perhaps the main issue was not why she drank but what it was about her way of life that kept her drinking so much. What did go on in that village that seemed so English and peaceful? She realised that all the houses she had visited supplied lavish selections of alcoholic drinks, and that social events were not complete without a sherry or a gin bottle to hand. The Colonel’s red face gave him away straight away; that odd couple of middle aged women were rarely seen without a glass to hand and at the big house, the squire seemed to have an unhealthy knowledge of single malts. Even the vicar’s morning sermons seemed occasionally to acquire a kind of extravagant incoherence, and everyone knew the curate’s habit with the communion wine.
Time she thought to find out more about St Mary Mead. She just needed something to distract Miss Marple. Just then, a train ran parallel with hers – a blind flew up………
“Oh Jane”, she wailed. “I have just seen a murder.” “The best thing you can do, my dear, is to go upstairs for a wash and then we’ll talk about it over a nice drink. I prescribe a glass of my home made wine.” As she splashed her face with cold water, Mrs McGillicuddy thought about the styles of cultural involvement in addiction that were described in the book. She thought of Jane Marple as an ‘acultural addict’ – someone who hid her addiction in the confines of her own home. But then she thought how easily she had been drawn into an idea that alcohol would be a good sedative after the trauma of the journey. This reflected how the social intercourse between village residents usually went she realised. Still, she had set out on
her plan and had drawn Miss Marple into her murder story – she would continue. That night, she read about the different kinds of ‘addiction tribes’ and thought some more about the village community she knew. The St Mary Mead she had encountered must be seen as a ‘celebrated drug’ tribe – and she realised that she would face universal denial if she tried to challenge the drinking patterns in the village head on.
She needed an ally, so worked out a plan to get her niece, Lucy Eylesbarrow, involved. She could get her a domestic post at the Crackenthorpe house just outside the village – the perfect base for observing village life.
The more she thought, the more complex the picture that was forming. She thought about the widespread use of cigarettes amongst the villagers (the ‘tolerated drug tribe’), the way in which people spoke of their need for painkillers as if this was a constant preoccupation (the ‘instrumental drug tribe’).
And she was soon shaken by Lucy’s announcement after a few days in Crackenthorpe house that there was a trade in illegal drugs led by the Crackenthorpe family, and staffed by residents from the old Council house estate. Lucy was convinced that the drugs trade gave the Crackenthorpe family a continuing status in the village and provided the only substantive source of income that enabled them to maintain the large house and its estate.
Jane’s absence searching for the body on the train enabled Miss McGillicuddy to study the book more carefully. She came to the chapter on the core elements in the culture of addiction and thought she should get to grips with this before launching into actions to change Jane’s behaviour.
First of all, language – how much of Jane’s conversations were focussed on drinking alcohol? Certainly, as she had realised when she told Jane of the murder, alcohol was the chosen method for coping with any crisis or stress. You only had to stay a day or two with Jane to realise how alcohol was a kind of clock marking the stages of the day, the aperitif before lunch, the wine to aid the digestion over lunch etc.
Reference Bill White and Agatha Christie