Thursday, 15 September 2011

Me and Agatha Christie

Today is the birthday of English mystery writer Agatha Christie, born Agatha Miller in Torquay in 1890. During the first and second World Wars, she worked at a hospital dispensary; this gave her a knowledge of pharmaceuticals and poisons that would later serve her well as the author of more than 70 murder mysteries, including Murder on the Orient Express (1933), Death on the Nile (1937), and the play The Mousetrap (1952), which has been running continuously on London's West End since 1952, the longest initial run of any play in history. Her first husband, Archie Christie, was an aviator with the Royal Flying Corps; they had a daughter, and he left her for another woman in 1926. Her second husband was archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan; she once said, "An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her." (The Writer's Almanac). My first date when we were both aged about 12, accompanied I seem to remember by one or both sets of parents, was to see The Mouse Trap with my tennis partner (later an admiral in the Royal Navy). We have a reunion set for the next couple of weeks. In student days, I used to play bridge with Agatha Christie's nephew Matthew, to whom she left the benefit of royalties in the Mouse Trap. More relevantly for Moffat, yesterday we had a meeting to progress our plans for an international conference in honour of the murdered Russian priest Alexander Men 1935-1990. The idea is to discuss themes for our lives and times arising from his life and work in a secular state. It was noted yesterday that platform discussions with several interesting participants, and a moderator or chair, or X 'in conversation with' Y have overtaken the 'chalk and talk' model for this sort of event. Two interesting book events I have attended this year were the English writers 'in conversation' about a French classic eg Will Self on Montaigne, and Edmund de Waal on Proust at the Institut Francais in South Kensington. By far the most thought-provoking 'festival', over one weekend this summer, was Books, Borders and Bikes at Traquair, combining high level topical political discussion with superb literary 'conversation' - eg James Runcie with Olivia Laing on her book To the River. Moffat Book Events has taken note.

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