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!

Why was it obvious that a double amputee was the last one to exit a UK pub?

He was legless.

Frank, British war veteran and quadriplegic, was a raging alcoholic.

When he was sober, Frank was a mean bad ass mother fucker, that no-one dared cross.

But when Frank was legless he was ‘armless.

A drunk walks into a pub.

He goes up to the bar and sees a curious looking bottle bubbling away with mist emanating from the top. Slightly flummoxed he asks the landlord, “What’s this about then?”

The landlord replies, “Well, this is a mystic potion, a concoction of my very own in fact. Take a sip and it’ll magically release your full potential.”

“Bullcrap,” the drunk slurs.

“You see that man over there,” the landlord says, pointing at a dapper looking fella, “He used to be an amateur golfer. He took a sip of the magic potion and now he’s just beaten Tiger Woods to become The PGA Champion”

“That guy over there,” pointing to an extremely burly looking gentleman, “He used to be the skinny guy in the gym. He took a sip of the magic potion and now he’s the favourite to win Mr. Olympia”

“Okay,” said the drunk. He grabbed the potion, took a large swig and a puff of smoke instantly enveloped him.

As it cleared, he looked down at himself in utter shock. He had been transformed into a wheelchair bound Paraplegic.

“What the hell has your potion done to me?”

“Well, you spend half your time drunk,” said the landlord, “seems to me it’s made you permanently legless.”


  1. Ok, I could be wrong, but I remember being under the impression when I first read this passage that Robin was unaware that Strike was missing a leg, so when he asked her if she got the tired old —- joke, and asked whether or not he “told” her, he was referring to the actual surgical removal of his leg. He hadn’t told her, and that is why she did not understand the double meaning of his joke.

  2. And to clarify further, to describe someone as legless is merely a slang expression. It’s
    only a joke, a self depreciating one, when Cormorant uses it to describe himself.

  3. Good catch, Lisa A! Strike is probably referencing whether he has told Robin about his lost leg rather than if he has told her the “tired” ‘legless’ joke.

    I assume she knows about the IED and loss of leg by this time in the book, but, as with his father’s identity, the real question is whether they have discussed it at this point in Cuckoo’s Calling. I suspect not, but will have to check.

    Again, well-read and ‘Thank you!’ for the correction!

  4. Karol Jay says

    In Chapter 11 Strike tells Robin he had been in the military police. She asked why he left and he replies he’d been injured. She didn’t know his history or what the injury was at this point. The drunken bar scene was in Chapter 5.

  5. Karol Jay says

    Disregard! Forgot the way the parts and chapters are put together.

  6. The Strike Robin conversation you mention is in chapter 11, but in Part 2. The chapter 5 bar scene is in Part 4 (pages 140, 305 respectively). Cuckoo’s chapter numeration, alone in the series, restart at the beginning of each Part.

    Which doesn’t correct your conclusion from the find, if you were saying that Strike had told her he was injured but hadn’t yet spelled out the details of his injury, i.e., that he was missing a leg or “legless.” As LisaA noted, we can assume it was not before Part 4, chapter 5.

    So, the questions remaining are, “When does Robin learn about his injury?” and, if that knowledge was not first given her by Strike, “When do they talk about it at last?”

  7. And having written all that up, I see your comment to disregard. Apologies for telling you what you already knew…

    Still, the questions remain. I think we can assume they had this conversation before Strike almost kills Bristow with his prosthesis.

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