Cormoran Strike’s “Legless” Joke in Cuckoo: His Kairos Moment with Robin

In perhaps the funniest and most tear-inducing scene in Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike gets the news from Robin that Charlotte Campbell has called the office to say she is engaged to marry Jago Ross. It’s been three weeks since Strike broke it off with his fiancee and he’s still in a fragile state. He leaves the office, heads for his favorite pub, and proceeds to drown his grief and anger in Doom Bar Lager.

He is twelve pints in — a guess of how much he could drink in a determined hour — when Robin finds him. She’d searched every pub close to the office and The Tottenham was her last stop before giving up and heading home to her fiancee, Matt Cunliffe. She helps the pathetic bear of a broken man out of the bar — he’s about to be asked to leave because he starts to light a cigarette — and they wind up in a kebob shop.

Robin learns the Charlotte Campbell back-story: the lost baby, the dates that didn’t work, and the kairos moment in the Army hospital. Strike also shares with the temporary secretary that she is a nice person. He tells her this five times in fact and apologizes twice for saying “fuckin” which he does indeed say, a total of six times. But who’s counting? Their farewell brings us to the point of this post because it includes two Brit terms Americans do not know or use:

‘Let me just make sure you get upstairs OK.’

‘No. No. ‘M fine now. An’ I might chunder. ‘M legless. An’,’ said Strike, ‘you don’ get that tired old fuckin’ joke. Or do you? Know most of it now. Did I tell you?’

‘I don’t know what you mean.’ (p 305 in the US edition, 328 in the UK).

I’m with Robin here. What do the words “chunder” and “legless” mean? And what “tired old fuckin’ joke” is Strike going on about?
First stop, Nick Jeffery. He provided the answer to the “legless” mystery with a dictionary definition.
My surface reading is the joke references legless, I’m not sure how common the second definition is in US (very common in UK): legless: /ˈlɛɡləs/ adjective
  1.  having no legs. “caecilians are legless amphibians that resemble worms”
  2.  INFORMAL•BRITISH extremely drunk. “he was legless after his booze-up at a nightclub”

“Chunder” was easy to find in an online slang dictionary:

Chunder means to be sick, it originates from old seafareing days when sailers would get seasick and stick their head out of the porthole in their cabin. As they did this they would shout “Watch Under” to warn people in lower cabins of the forthcoming puke. Over the years this has evolved into ‘Chunder.

And the “old fuckin’ joke”? Nick is almost certainly right that it turns on Strike’s only having one leg, being drunk, and the word “legless” in the UK being a euphemism for being so drunk that you cannot walk. Strike asks Robin if she gets the joke, explains that he’s already told her “most of it,” meaning I suppose the ‘punchline,’ and then asks her if he’s told her the joke before. Robin responds to that stream with a blanket, “I don’t know what you mean.”

So to what “old fuckin’ joke” is Strike referring, assuming it isn’t about sex with a one-legged man?

I went online in search of a joke along the lines of, “How did the one-legged pirate become legless? He drank too much!” It turns out there are websites dedicated to one-legged man jokes (who knew?) and even to double amputee humor of the zero-pedal variety. You have to scroll down that latter page pretty far to find “legless” jokes that play on the British meaning of the term (they’re all tasteless, of course — and you can find three of them after the jump if you’re interested). There aren’t any on the one-legged comedy page.

If you know the joke Strike is thinking of here, please share it in the comment boxes below.

Why devote a whole post to this subject? Easy.

Believe it or don’t, the meeting in The Tottenham and a kebob shop in which one-legged legless Cormoran shares his Charlotte history with the “very nice” Robin who has searched for her distraught boss to make sure he is all right is the Strike-Ellacott kairos moment or a foreshadowing of it. We revisit the scene in Career of Evil‘s mirrored reflection the night Robin gets plastered after discovering her fiancee had been unfaithful. We see it once again in the Troubled Blood pub in which Strike the Boxer flattens Robin in the American Bar (“Robin, didjer know I wuzza boxer?” Cuckoo, 303) and then they both go back to the office to do their serious drinking. Except for Barclay entering ex machina, the partners were each thinking about, if not becoming legless per se, at least putting both feet off the floor.

Charlotte’s kairos moment with Strike was finding him helpless in a hospital, short a leg, and her kissing him without saying a word, reigniting their failed relationship on her terms. Robin’s kairos moment with Strike in parallel and strong contrast is her finding Strike ‘legless,’ perhaps even more vulnerable than he had been in the hospital, and her being sympathetic, a good listener, and an even better friend. She is determined not to take advantage of his condition or prompt inappropriate intimacies. The temp, as he observes repeatedly, really is a nice person — a much better person than the vicious ex-fiancee.

Though Robin says to herself, when Strike asks her if she knows what a kairos moment is, “Oh please, please don’t tell me we’re having one,” italics in original for emphasis, that is exactly what was happening, something the twosome will almost certainly revisit and discuss in Strike 7, as they have in Strike 1, 3, and 5 thus far.

This makes finding the joke that Strike wants to tell as they part important enough to merit a post. Rowling-Galbraith may just be saving it up for the finale Bar Scene in which Robin and Cormoran at last go legless together.

 Thanks in advance for sharing your best guess about Strike’s “legless” joke below!

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Strike-Potter Parallels: Cuckoo & Stone

In my second post about The Silkworm post-publication in 2014, I launched the idea that Rowling-Galbraith was writing her Cormoran Strike series in parallel with the seven Harry Potter novels. I wrote:

Reading The Silkworm, consequently, it’s only natural that we serious readers of the Hogwarts Saga be sensitive to what we hear or experience in this detective novel that seem to be echoes from the Boy Who Lived’s magical adventures.  I want to make three observations for your comment and correction here, thoughts that will not include a list of fun correspondences (did you flinch when you read that you can “hear the rumbling of the traffic on Charing Cross Road’ from Strike’s flat? Me, too), but all of which, I think, put the Cormoran Strike novels in a new light.

First, as noted in my ‘first thoughts’ post that I put up after reaching the half-way point of Silkworm, there are several rather jarring correspondences between this mystery and the second novel of the Harry Potter series, Chamber of Secrets. The key to the case, as Strike observes more than the once, is the book within the book, namely Bombyx Mori, and its transparent depictions in story of the suspects in the murder of the book’s author.

Along the way to discovering whodunnit, we are given a short course in the difficulties and inevitable mistakes to be made in drawing dot-to-dot correspondences that seem obvious and are not. Readers of Chamber of Secrets, perhaps the best stand-alone Potter novel, will recall a similar book-within-a-book experience there with Riddle’s diary and how we are to understand what we learn from reading or entering into it. Hagrid is sent to Azkaban because of what is misunderstood about the events depicted — and the woman whose “purity of desire” makes Strike sure she is not guilty, an echo of Harry’s surety about the Gameskeeper, is also jailed unjustly and then liberated.

My first idea for your consideration is this: Ms Rowling is writing this seven book series in parallel with her previous seven book series. {emphasis in original}

My second and third points in that post were that she was doing this so “this parallel series can act as the key to a right understanding of the first series, the Hogwarts adventures” and, that in doing this, she “invites her readers to understand her fiction as a psychological distillation of her experiences, which is to say, we are to read them through the filter of her biography if we are to get at the heart of their meaning.” The second point, like the first, has been confirmed by each new book, and the third, which seemed a stretch even to me at the time, has been supported by the author in her remarkable contribution of “inspiration” to the Museum of Curiosity in 2019.

The idea of a Parallel Series has become something of a touchstone or premise here at HogwartsProfessor. Louise Freeman predicted years before Strike4 was published, for instance, that Lethal White would take place against the background of the 2012 London Olympics just as Goblet of Fire used the TriWizard Tournament even though this seemed unlikely given the time spacings between the books, Cuckoo to Career. Beatrice Groves, similarly, guessed that the ‘Trelawney’ song would be sung in Troubled Blood because of the important place of Professor Trelawney’s prophecy in Order of the Phoenix. The Parallel Series idea (hereafter ‘PSI’), in other words, not only has interpretative value but can be and has been used to predict future book plot points.

Here’s the problem, or, as the self-help gurus and positive thinking savants like to say, the challenge.

We have an excellent collection of the Goblet of Fire and Lethal White parallels. In fact, there are two PSI posts about this pair: Does Lethal White Echo Goblet of Fire? and Lethal White: Every Goblet of Fire Link. Be sure to read the comment threads on those posts because some of the best parallels are reported by readers there. We haven’t been as thorough about Troubled Blood and the Order of the Phoenix echoes embedded in Strike 5, but Louise Freeman posted her first finds the day of publication and invited Serious Strikers to write up their catches at her Parallel Placeholder Post. As recently as last week, we had a major parallel discovery put up on that thread by Michelle about Harry and Cormoran’s respective daddy issues in Phoenix and Troubled Blood, a subject I wrote about at length yesterday.

What we don’t have are collections of the parallels for the first, second, and third books of each series: Cuckoo’s Calling to Philosopher’s Stone, The Silkworm to Chamber of Secrets, and Career of Evil to Prisoner of Azkaban. I think PSI as a hypothesis is on pretty strong footing already based on the extensive work and findings for the Book4 and Book5 pairs that has been done. I’m curious, though, whether the first books are as laden with references to the Hogwarts Saga as are the most recent.

Today, then, beginning with this post, I want to put up three placeholders where Serious Strikers can list their PSI finds for the first three book sets. When each of those is up, I will create a PSI Pillar Post where all will be collected in one place for ease in searching and for reference purposes. Join me after the jump for my list of seven parallels between Cuckoo’s Calling and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and invitation to you to share the echoes you heard on your repeated trips through each of those books! [Read more…]

Real World Echoes of Cuckoo’s Calling: Celebrity Suicide Sad, Familiar, and True

This week, I was teaching my students Edwin Arlington Robinson’s classic 1897 poem, “Richard Cory.” I asked, as I always do, if the story seemed familiar. Of course, my students know plenty of stories of people like Richard Cory, beautiful, affluent, charming people whononetheless end their own lives, either directly, as he does, or with drugs, alcohol, or other destructive choices. Some of those are stories of famous people, and others concern less-well-known people who nonetheless seemed to have everything any of us could want. It may seem surprising that someone who has it all should throw it all away, but it happens with terrifying frequency.

This week also saw headlines that were both sad and hauntingly familiar to Strike readers as beautiful pageant winner and television host Chelsie Kryst died under circumstances painfully reminiscent of those surrounding the death of Lula Landry. While Lula is merely a literary construction, Ms. Kryst was a very real person, with friends and family who are devastated by her death. The world appears shocked, as it always does, when someone beautiful and famous dies this way. Ms. Kryst was the 2019 Miss USA, advancing from North Carolina, and went on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. She was a college athlete, an attorney, and a correspondent for Extra! She was clearly loved and admired. Yet, like so many people, she wrestled with her own challenges behind a beautiful image.

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Does Anyone “Really” Die in Stories?

As one year dies and another begins, and, at least in my part of the world, most outdoor growing things are dead or wisely biding their time to emerge in a few months, it is a fitting time to think about how stories, like those we analyze and discuss here, address the idea of death. Perhaps this is a rather glum subject, but it does not have to be. I sometimes joke with my literature and mythology students that no one ever “really” dies in mythology, that characters morph from one myth into another, that the stories themselves sustain thecharacters. In literature, characters can continue to live, as we revisit them, even if they “die” within the structure of the narrative. Rowling, like all the good storytellers and myth-makers who create the tales that teach and entertain us, works with the idea that those who die don’t really leave, whether they are family members or cuddly pigs; but perhaps it is a bit of stretch to assume no one “really” dies in these stories. Let’s ponder that further and see.

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Strike’s SIB 1: Hatherill of the Yard

At the start of The Cuckoo’s Calling, as Cormoran and Robin are still recovering from their collision of a meeting, Strike gives Robin the password to the office computer: Hatherill23. Any password needs to be memorable, so who or what is Hatherill? were the first (I think) to identify Detective Chief Inspector George Hatherill of Scotland Yard, so join me after the jump to find out more of his remarkable career, and why he may be so important to Strike.

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