Conversation with Miss Marbles
An interview with Miss Marbles 31 March 2021 by Jules Journo
I have had the absolute privilege to meet the world renowned Miss Marbles at her country home today. As expected her home was a pretty chocolate box cottage, quintessentially English, smelling of roses, lemon verbena and moth balls. Inside, her sitting room is filled with chintz, cut flowers and balls of wool. Whilst she prepares tea for us, I survey my surroundings.
Through the windows there lies a beautiful cottage garden, daffodils nodding in the morning sunshine, clambering roses coming into leaf, blue tits and goldfinches flitting from tree to bird-feeder and onward to hedge, busy building their nests and claiming their territory. At the bottom of the garden I spy an empty dog bowl which, I later learn, is the bowl she uses to feed her three-legged nightly visitor, Badger McBadgeFace.
Miss Marbles returns with tea-tray in hand, her Royal Crown Derby Old Imari tea service arranged beautifully, with silver tongs to transfer the cubes of sugar. Dainty lace napkins cover the side plates, awaiting the Co-op Digestives she has neatly arranged into a symmetrical pattern on a serving platter. With the essential ceremony of pouring the tea and passing the biscuits over, she perches elegantly on the edge of a comfortable blue wingback chair, eyes forever alert, watching every move, every breath, every step I take, with a sting ready in her tail should I speak out of turn. I am left in no doubt that I am in a room with a giant of observation who has an understanding of human nature second to none. Painfully aware that nothing that I think or feel will escape this formidable lady, and despite my many years in journalism, I find my hands getting slightly clammy as nervous energy floods my system.
Miss Marbles is wearing her usual grey tweed suit, a beige cashmere cardigan with decorative buttons carved into the shapes of carrots, an exquisite three strands natural pearls necklace, connected by an emerald and diamond clasp just visible to the right hand side of her neck. It reminds me of the one auctioned in New York via Christie’s for $1.4 million, but no, it can’t be. Strangely, a pair of oversized moccasins envelops her tiny feet which, upon seeing me frown, she explains were a present from Wild Bill Hickok. Upon her head sits a lace doily, held in place by a bejewelled hatpin in the shape of an aubergine, slightly alarming but somewhat appropriate. As we talk she knits constantly, the clickety-clack of the needles reassuringly present and calming, but she leaves me in no doubt as to my position, insisting that I call her Miss Marbles and not Losta, ensuring no lapse into familiarity.
From the broadsheets we all know that Miss Marbles was recently involved in the infamous Rotten Egg affair, where she was crucial in solving the horrendous murder case revolving around the Middlespring Chocolate Box and the missing Golden Egg. I asked the world renowned amateur detective for her opinion of the interrogation sessions in this case, and what advice she would give to new detectives. “They were such wonderful sleuths”, she replied, “insightful, persistent and observant, I’m not sure what advice I could offer. I suppose that the three main aspects to keep in mind are motive, means and opportunity. When studying the clues, I often find those that seem to create more questions than answers are usually the most important. And remember”, she continues, “when in doubt, pour yourself a tea or Sherry, pick up your knitting and ponder! It works for me every time!” Her modesty and generosity of character shine brightly as she watches me, with a glint in her eye and a smile pausing briefly upon her lips.
Clickety-clack! The needles flash, and as I look up from my notepad I spy for the first time the eleven bottles of sherry sitting on the top shelf of her bookcase, which is otherwise filled with well read and obviously much-loved books and a few bone china ornamental potatoes and Brussels Sprouts. It is abundantly clear that sherry is a favourite tipple, as I notice a half-empty glass just visible behind the garden gnome sitting at her feet, the top of the pint glass just peeping out from behind the giant red hat that perches precariously above the enormous ears on her strange little friend.
Miss Marbles notices me (of course) looking at the half-drunk pint of sherry and gives a polite little cough to focus my attention on the matter in hand. I wonder how she became involved in solving murders, so she obliges me with a tiny glimpse into her background, declaring forcefully that she has always had a strong interest in crime and puzzles. “Apparently I was a curious child, an inquisitive teen and now I’m a nosey old lady!” She peers at me over her glasses, awaiting a comment in response. I say nothing and look down at my notepad. “I’ve enjoyed reading thrillers since I was just three years old. The case of ‘the Hungry Caterpillar and the Jar of Marmite’ enthralled me and was one of the first cases that I solved.
As I moved into Prep School family then friends called on my services to find missing objects and solve mysteries – from broken toys to missing chamber maids! I loved helping father with his cryptic crosswords and number puzzles on exeat weekends and during the school holidays. A dear uncle, who worked for the government, noticed my curious mind and, before I could blink, I found myself working to break codes during a few wars – a fascinating time.” Later, back at the office, I do a little research and discover that Miss Marbles was in fact one of the unsung heroines from Bletchley Park, working alongside the great Alan Turing. I remind myself never to underestimate sweet little old ladies, even those with aubergines on their heads!
Miss Marbles fervently supports the Knitter’s cause, her work for the charity “Knitters acKnowledged”TM and her belief that Knitting deserves to be recognised through, at least, GCSE and A level qualifications, is well known. She champions and fights for all those timid closet knitters, those afraid to come out and knit in public, ashamed that they won’t be accepted or valued. A lady of strong character she proudly informs me that knitting is her passion and she insists that I inform the world that she is currently knitting, “a cat sofa for her friend Maud”. I have no doubt that Miss Marbles would never be discovered knitting in a cupboard!
Whilst it is well known that Miss Marbles considers knitting an extremely important skill for any detective, she remains open-minded: “I’ve always found knitting not only therapeutic but an essential aid for mystery solving. It both concentrates the mind whilst freeing it to explore! I find a good ‘stocking stitch’ most useful when I need to think! But any skill that both concentrates and frees the mind would suffice, I suspect. My dear friend Sherlock loved playing his violin, and Poirot found that food fed his mind, so who knows, even spoon whittling may work for would-be sleuths!” So whilst she would champion knitting as the go-to tool for detectives, she accepts that spoon whittling or origami may be an alternative weapon in the fight against crime.
As I ponder this, I think of Morse and Lewis and wonder whether they knit or whittle spoons? Is it possible that Kojak employed origami in his bid to catch the killers? He seems the type. Miss Marbles coughs again and we turn our thoughts to literature. “I would have to say that I have become a huge fan of Agatha Christie”, she informs me, and strangely this makes sense almost as though it was meant to be. This little old lady with her aubergine hatpin, lace doily and sherry-drinking gnome could almost be a character in one of Miss Christie’s novels. I wonder if they ever met. “My favourite is ‘The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side’”, she continues, “dramas about actors are endlessly fascinating!” This is surprising, as it had never occurred to me that an amateur detective would have any empathy, interest or concern for actors, the world of make-believe being so alien to that of murder and crime.
I decide that it is time to take a risk and see whether Miss Marbles will expand upon her comment during the latest interrogations about the fact that she has never married. I suspected that she had never been able to find someone who could love her, her knitting habit and her apparent love of vegetables. However it seems that I was wrong, “some things are too personal to share”, she says. “All I will say is that I was engaged to a wonderful man who gave his life fighting for his country”. Immediately I am ashamed at my probing, being a professional that respects personal boundaries and abhors invasive journalism, I decide to move to a safer topic and one close to the heart of all British citizens: tea. Across the globe it is well known that the British always travel with teabags and when meeting a Brit it is advisable to talk about the weather or about tea, thus putting the prickly Brit at ease and tempting them out of their impenetrable shell.
“Tea – my stimulant and my solace!” I love a good strong Assam in the morning to wake me up, an Earl Grey in the afternoon, and I like to spend the evening with a fine Darjeeling, the champagne of teas” declares Miss Marbles. “Always warm the teapot first, a porcelain teapot preferably Royal Crown Derby of course. You need two heaped teaspoons of loose leaf tea per person. Allow it to brew for exactly 5 minutes, not a second longer or a second less, or it will spoil. I am a milk-before-tea person”, she says. Wrestling my eyebrows off the ceiling at this, I am thankful that Miss Marbles chooses to ignore my indiscretion. “I always turn the cup three times clockwise before pouring in the tea to ensure a perfect mix. And used loose-leaf tea is wonderful for the roses!” she exclaims. This would explain the abundant rose bushes rambling and clambering with gay abandon in her glorious garden, and I pause to imagine what it must look like in the summer.
I take a deep breath before asking my final question, aware that the world waits for this morsel of truth. “Are you a dunker?” I say with embarrassment, shifting my gaze rapidly to my feet. “Well of course dear! How else could you get those adorable soggy bits of Co-op digestive biscuits at the bottom of the cup!” I breathe once more and realise that Miss Marbles has deigned that I might live for another day, despite my audacity at asking for such an intimate detail. I smile at her and ask if she has any message for her legion of fans. She utters words that will go down in history alongside the inspirational speeches of Churchill, Martin Luther King, and Homer Simpson – “to all of those wonderful sleuths out there I would say keep your minds curious, your tea strong and your knitting neat!”