Friday night in Falmouth, in January, is a different seaside experience to the summertime norm. I was staying overnight having accompanied Jenny back to university. Being dark and raining steadily my entertainment, it transpired, lay indoors. After a short while listening to the wind and the waves I repaired to a hotel restaurant, intent upon nourishment and warmth. Not where I was staying, which was a B&B with a very nice little room run by a couple with, incongruously in Cornwall, the broadest of Birmingham accents you'll find in Aston or Edgebaston. Cracking breakfast too, but I digress.
Most evening eateries in Falmouth are closed at this time of year, but for the same wintery reasons hotels open their dining rooms to non-residents. I must have entered a time vortex I think because I was transported back to Agatha Christie world. It was a large, nay massive room. The first thing was that a (rather attractive) young lady in green and black restaurant livery, having anxiously enquired if I had a reservation (I did not) studied her list and escorted me to one of the unoccupied tables. There were only about fifty. She apologised that there was no live entertainment. Apparently they sometimes have a little band and then there is dancing. In the background I was being treated to Billy Joel who appeared rather content with me just the way I am.
A short distance away sat Colonel Mustard. A somewhat florid gentleman in a mustard tweed jacket (naturally), matching tie, white hair and florid face underlined with a splendid Walrus moustache. His wife was a timid looking lady with a curly blue rinse do, twinset and pearls who looked and ate like a small bird. The colonel gave all impressions of being a good trencherman and would have been quite at home with a shovel.
On my other hand a rather elegant couple, he in suit and black bow tie, she in a sheer evening gown. They were eating at each other silently with hate daggers flying across the table. In the middle distance the staff were having a discrete but definitely vicious hissing argument.
Normally it is my practice to order a single course when away by myself, eat quickly and leave. But this place definitely offered people watching promise, something I truly enjoy, and so I set myself for the three course menu at my leisure. This was not a mistake.
A rather ascetic fellow in black turtle neck and grey beard, dining alone, joined. He issued a general greeting to the room, sat and took out an ancient volume. Without being indiscreet I couldn't see what it was. Next came a fellow about my own age. Somewhat academic in appearance he set up a small netbook and tapped furiously for few minutes until a young chap with what I am sure Mrs Christie would have described as a shock of red hair and a full beard arrived. He set up a full size laptop and came with two pints of grobbler, which I think was an act of anarchy.
By now I was well started and had enjoyed the discovery that one could only order drinks from the sommelier (hence my anarchy suggestion). This turned out to be a young man who's pronunciation of Cabernet Sauvignon was so entertaining that it left me determined to have more than a single glass if only to maneuver him into saying it again.
Diligently listening I learned that all of my companions so far were long term residents. The young laptop owner and the academic fellow began an earnest discussion on political history over their beer as I was delivered of a shockingly large rib eye steak. Dean Martin was explaining how he liked his eggs in the morning when a booming Mancunian voice, well, boomed, "Not this blasted music again!" The young welcoming girl appeared flustered, but escorted the blazer brass buttons and wife in flower print dress to their "usual" table next to another couple who were so unremarkable that I haven't remarked on them. The political discussion was drowned out for a while with a booming outline of plans for a trip to Italy in the spring. I haven't mentioned one other addition to the ensemble. Three young children so alike in look and age, about six or seven, that I am convinced they were triplets, with their father. They were so well behaved that I suspect the absence of mother bespoke some tragedy; but that I didn't discover.
The scene was set. A whole cast of suitable characters, including myself in the role of passing uninvolved observer, albeit underdressed, awaiting the murder. But, although I strung it out as long as I could, there was no pistol crack and character neatly slumping to the floor, no guest rising from the table choking, to grasp their throat as the poison took hold only to fall on the next table scattering knives, forks, plates and diners in all directions. No scream came from the kitchen either.
As I dawdled over my cheese and indulgently large tawny port the "daggers" pair rose to leave looking elegant in full length shimmering gown and grey worsted. Proving just how astute my judgment of character is, for the length of the walk to the door his hand rested lightly on her bottom, with which situation the lady seemed quite content.
The rather ascetic turtle necked gentleman was next to leave. I risked it and asked what the book was. He was happy to tell me that it was a collection of Georges Simenon Maigret short stories. In fact he confessed he was quite a fan and had the complete Maigret canon, which I think is rather splendid. He allowed me a quick glance at the book which I noted was in the original French.
Eventually I could last no longer and had to leave. No murder had transpired despite a perfect cast of characters. As I walked out I had to pass the Boomers. I caught the floral printed Mrs Boomer, a quiet spoken lady, in mid-sentence:- "we used to, but Henry kept falling over". Henry did not look pleased at this revelation but as I left my B&B the next morning full of bacon, eggs and tea I passed the hotel on my stroll along the front to the station at Falmouth Docks. I saw that he must have taken it in reasonably good part. At least the absence of police cars, ambulances and blue tape gave that impression.
A perfect cast, but no denouement. Oh well, I wouldn't have been any use anyway. I never figure out whodunit.