Troubled Blood: Three Stray ‘Ted’ Notes

I have been reading and listening to Rowling-Galbraith’s Troubled Blood semi-continuously since its release last September. That sounds pretty boring and I suppose you’d be justified in the charitable suggestion that I “get a life.” I do it, though, because every trip through the seventy-some chapters reveals something I missed on all the previous journeys. There is, as Rowling once said, by design “always one more treat, undiscovered, at the bottom of the bag” to reward the re-reader.

That is not to say that the zealot re-reader may not wind up imagining connections and suggestive clues that are not there.

As an example of the sort of imaginary or great findings I’m talking about, I offer in this post three treats I found on my most recent odyssey down Glenister Audio Book Boulevard, all of which involve Strike’s beloved Uncle Ted Nancarrow.

We have recently been exploring the possibility that Ted killed Cormoran’s mother Leda; in Who Killed Leda Strike? Uncle Ted Did It, I argue that he did the dirty deed and in Who Killed Leda Strike, Suicide Victim? Leda, Rokeby, Whittaker, Ted, or Dave? I explain why he probably didn’t. Yesterday we discussed a theory that Leda killed herself to set-up Whittaker to go down for murder. I was struck this week by three strange notes Rowling-Galbraith sounds in Troubled Blood, all about Uncle Ted, all more than a little weird, and all consequently of some interest.

Join me after the jump for a closer look at Uncle Ted’s chocolate problem, his experience as a Red Cap in the Falklands War, and at the folks who sent flowers to Aunt Joan’s funeral.

(1) Chocolate has been the subject of two posts already this month and I pledge that this will be the last (see Poisoned Chocolates and The Secret of Rowntree for the others). We learn in an aside during the most meaningful of Strike’s conversations with his dying Aunt Joan in Troubled Blood, that the old man has a sweet tooth:

“What’s the matter?” said Joan. She’d followed him into the kitchen, shuffling, slightly stooped.

“What are you doing? I can fetch anything you want—”

I was going to show you where I hide the chocolate biscuits. If Ted knows, he scoffs the lot, and the doctor’s worried about his blood pressure. What were you reading? I know that look. You were angry.”

He didn’t know whether her new appreciation for honesty would stretch as far as his father, but somehow, with the wind and rain whipping around them, an air of the confessional had descended upon the house. He told her about the text.

“Oh,” said Joan. She pointed at a Tupperware box on a top shelf. “The biscuits are in there.”

To the first time reader, this not an especially difficult passage or one that invites much thought. We get a nice picture of an old woman’s care for her husband and the desire that those who will take care of him when she’s gone know what they need to. As in “where the chocolate biscuits are hidden.” In a book that is awash in chocolate boxes, poisoned chocolates, Coco Pops, and ubiquitous biscuits (‘cookies’ to Americans), that Uncle Ted cannot eat just one doesn’t make much of an impression.

Maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe, though, Rowling-Galbraith is leaving a biscuit-crumb trail of clues to what we might expect in the coming books.

Ted’s doctor, we’re told casually, is “worried about Ted’s blood pressure” and has recommended obviously that he watch his weight and intake of sweets and junk food. Ted Nancarrow is a train wreck after his wife’s death. There is no greater strain on the health of a human being than the death of a spouse. “On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, loss of a spouse is rated as the most stressful event.” Knowing that Ted has cardio-vascular issues should set us up to expect his death in Strike6, despite Strike’s friends all saying they’re going to have the old man over and keep an eye on him.

Just as interesting to me was learning that Ted has little self-control with respect to his eating. The only other character in Troubled Blood that has a chocolate biscuit issue is Samhain Athorn, the mentally handicapped man-child whose older mother must constantly be after him not to eat the whole box of Penguins or chocolate cookies.

That Ted and Samhain have this in common suggests that Ted may not be as psychologically stable as Strike believes. Or, of course, it may mean nothing at all. The marker is there for your reflection on re-reading. I would not be surprised if an empty chocolate biscuit box in the coming books is not a pointer to Uncle Ted’s ‘having been there.’

(2) Then there is the weird story Strike tells Robin after their first meeting with Irene Hickson and Janice Beattie. How does our learning about the ‘Still Bennies’ on the Falkland Islands advance the story of Troubled Blood in any way?

“I always forget how much younger you are,” Strike said. “[Crossroads] was a daytime soap opera and it had a character in it called Benny. He was —well, these days you’d call him special needs. Simple. He wore a wooly hat. Iconic character, in his way.”

“You were thinking of him?” said Robin. It didn’t seem particularly amusing.

“No, but you need to know about him to understand the next bit. I assume you know about the Falklands War.”

“I’m younger than you, Strike. I’m not pig-ignorant.”

“OK, right. So, the British troops who went over there—Ted was there, 1982—nicknamed the locals ‘Bennies,’ after the character on Crossroads. Command gets wind of this, and the order comes down
the line, ‘Stop calling these people we’ve just liberated Bennies.’ So,” said Strike, grinning, “They started calling them ‘Stills.’”

“‘Stills’? What does ‘Stills’ mean?”

“‘Still Bennies,’” said Strike, and he let out a great roar of laughter. Robin laughed, too, but mostly at Strike’s amusement.

It’s not an especially funny story, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Troubled Blood plot or the murder suspects, and it doesn’t tell us anything new about Cormoran and his relationship with Robin. The only other time Robin notes the story is when Strike mentions Benzedrine tablets later in the book she notices that he doesn’t smile.

So why is the story there?

The only new piece of information we get is that Ted Nancarrow, presumably as a Red Cap, was part of the British Army 1982 recapture of the Falklands after the islands had been invaded and captured by Argentina.

What does that tell us? Well, take a look back at Louise Freeman’s invaluable post, Piecing Together Cormoran Strike’s Childhood, and you’ll learn that Lucy and Cormoran’s stay in the “quasi-mystical” “worst nightmare” Norfolk commune was, as close as the dates given in the books allow, sometime between November 1982 and February 1983. The Falklands War combat operations took place from April to June 1982, but Ted, if a Red Cap, would probably not have deployed with these troops. The Royal Military Police has five wings in addition to the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) with which unit Strike was assigned, none of which wings have infantry or combat arms billets. It is more likely that he would have arrived post bellum to police the military garrison posted in the Falklands which is there to this day.

Which means he might have been overseas when Leda took her two children to the Norfolk Commune, one reason that the police rather than Uncle Ted rode to the rescue in this case (and why he was more than ready to jump in to extricate niece and nephew from Shumba).

That’s one possibility for why the Bennie joke was included. Another is that Ted was SIB and in 1982 he was investigating a murder or a drug case off the coast of Argentina, a case that somehow plays out in future Strike books.

Last note: the preferred nickname for the island inhabitants was ‘Kelpers‘ at the time, though ‘Bennies‘ is still in use, supposedly because the wooly hats they wear rather than their simplicity.

(3) The last thing that struck me as a hint of future activity involving Uncle Ted was something Lucy says after Aunt Joan’s funeral.

The mourners, many of whom had had to stand at the back of the packed church, or else listen as best they could from outside, formed a respectful circle around the hearse outside as the shining oak box was loaded onto it. Barely a murmur was heard as the rear doors slammed shut on Joan’s earthly remains.

As the straight-backed undertaker in his thick black overcoat climbed back into the driver’s seat, Strike put an arm around Ted’s shoulders. Together, they watched the hearse drive out of sight. Strike could feel Ted trembling.

“Look at all these flowers, Ted,” said Lucy, whose eyes were swollen shut, and the three of them turned back to the church to examine the dense bank of sprays, wreaths and bunches that created a jubilant blaze against the exterior wall of the tiny church.

Beautiful lilies, Ted, look… from Marion and Gary, all the way from Canada…

The congregation was still spilling out of the church to join those outside. All kept a distance from the family while they moved crabwise along the wall of the church. Joan would surely have delighted in the mass of floral tributes and Strike drew unexpected consolation from messages that Lucy was reading aloud to Ted, whose eyes, like hers, were puffy and red.

“Ian and Judy,” she told her uncle. “Terry and Olive…”

“Loads, aren’t there?” said Ted, marveling.

Lucy says “Ian and Judy” and “Terry and Olive” in a way that makes me think these couples are old friends of the family, local or locals who moved away and want to be present through the floral arrangements sent. Strike doesn’t say anything, which may mean he knows them, too, or that he doesn’t; no doubt he is les familiar with all his Aunt and Uncle’s friends than is Lucy. He does draw “unexpected consolation from [the] messages that Lucy was reading aloud to Ted” which suggests he does know many if not all those who sent flowers.

Which brings me to “Marion and Gary, all the way from Canada.” They are unique among the couples mentioned in having a place mentioned with their names. Lucy says what she does as if no explanation is needed; these are old and dear friends of the Nancarrows. I think we can assume Strike knows them from his childhood time in St Mawes.

This aside at Aunt Joan’s funeral gave me the feeling that seeing Sirius Black’s name in the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone yields on re-reading. “Hey, she dropped mention of him here and he doesn’t become important or show himself for two more books!” I’m convinced for whatever reason that we’re going to Meet Marion and Gary or Strike will be contacting them in Strike6. I even have a $50 bet with my youngest son that this mention was not a throw-away or tribute akin to the Sorting Hat’s naming a Hogwarts first year student ‘Natalie MacDonald.’

It could be something they say to Cormoran at Uncle Ted’s funeral.

Or maybe Rokeby, also dying of cancer, encourages Strike to investigate his uncle’s friendships and family history on one of their Pensieve trips a la Harry and Dumbledore’s in Half Blood Prince. So Strike gives them a call.

Or Lucy recalls a ‘Marion and Gary’ story that causes Strike to connect the dots between something Ted once told him about his mother. It probably isn’t an accident that ‘Marion’ is a gender-neutral name, that is, it is commonly used for both men and women (cf., Marion Motley if you doubt that).

Do these three non-events strike you as pointers, suggestions, story-markers, and possibilities the way they strike me? Let me know in the comment boxes below, especially if you have Troubled Blood moments in mind that don’t make sense but seem like Easter Eggs ready to pop open.

Comments

  1. Nick Jeffery says

    What Ted might have been doing in the Falkland Islands, an eye witness account:
    https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/1432176.the-horrors-of-the-falklands-war/

  2. The question that came to my mind concerning the Falklands reference was how was that possible? If he served at the time of the Falkland’s War, where was he during the 1970s when Strike and then Strike and Lucy were left there? Did the children stay with Joan, and not Ted, until Ted left the army? My impression had been that Ted was always there, but that might not be correct. Strike was Ted’s helper while sailing, he crawled into bed with Ted and Joan and traced the wallpaper pattern when he was a boy. Ted and Joan moved into the house when Ted left the army. Were these memories from after 1982? So what was the situation in the 1970s? I think it was Joan who enrolled Strike in school when he was four. I don’t know if Ted was mentioned. It’s all very murky.

  3. I think Karol Jay has located another continuity error, but this one, unlike the legendary mistake of Donny Laing being arrested by Strike four years before they met in a boxing ring, can be explained away if you’re so moved.

    Cormoran Strike is conceived and born in Calendar year 1974.

    He begins school at St Mawes in 1978; the text says Uncle Ted tells Cormoran he has to go despite Leda’s saying he was to be home-schooled.

    The suggestion is made that Strike as a very young boy lived in the same house that Joan and Ted Nancarrow live in at the time of Troubled Blood, 2013-2014, which would have to have been the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

    If Ted saw active duty in 1982 in the Falklands War as a Red Cap, then, he was not yet ‘out of harness’ and had not moved into the house on the hill in St Mawes. That looks like another Rowling gaffe and one more reason for her to find a better continuity editor.

    There are at least three ways out of this seeming mistake, though.

    (1) “Ted was there in 1982” doesn’t say he was still in the Army on active duty. I know Marines who have done twenty plus years and are retired are also considered to be on ‘active reserve,’ that is, able to be recalled to duty in time of war.

    I don’t think we’ve been told if Ted “did twenty” or whatever the UK standard is for retirement. As Leda was born in 1952 (headstone; teevee adaptation), unless Ted was much older than his little sister, it is unlikely that he could have enlisted, done twenty years, and retired to St Mawes before Strike begins school in 1978. He would have had to have signed up in 1958 for that to be true.

    (2) Perhaps he was in the Royal Army reserves that were called up for active duty in 1982. (I hope Nick Jeffery is reading this and will let me know if the Royal Army has the equivalent of reserve units or National Guard troops.) I know I enlisted on an eight years contract when I joined the Marine Corps, six of which was active duty and two of which were “inactive reserve” during which time I was told to stand-by with my uniforms, etc., in my sea bag ready to ship out. Ted could have been in the “inactive reserves” if he was not in the real reserve units.

    (3) And Ted could have been in the Falklands in 1982 because he just happened to be sailing by? The passage doesn’t say he was there in a Red Cap billet in 1982, though the story is an Army tale. Ted might have been called in by an SIB friend or officer to investigate or solve a problem that needed someone not constrained by Army regulations or the rules of war.

    The ‘Still Bennies’ story is a weird one that does nothing for the story-line of Troubled Blood and that 1982 marker of Ted being in the Falklands during the war just compounds the mystery of its placement. Either it is a Rowling gaffe or it’s a narrative slow release place holder of something we are going to learn in coming books about the military career of Uncle Ted, swashbuckling Special Agent of the SIB.

  4. Bonni Crawford says

    This doesn’t address the potential continuity error, but maybe Ted was involved in the investigation into the suspicious disappearance of Alan Addis. According to the Wikipedia article, an SIB officer was dispatched sometime during or after November 1981, so that fits. Maybe this is when Ted became disenchanted with the army/SIB – e.g. if records were deliberately destroyed – and it’s what caused him to leave? And maybe he has suspicions or secret records that he will pass to Strike as a deathbed request for Strike to try and solve the mystery…? That last part might be going a bit far, but I think the idea that he was involved in this case and it was the cause of him leaving the redcaps holds water.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Royal_Marine_Alan_Addis

  5. Bonni Crawford says

    P.S. Of course, if Rowling does have a story in mind that is based on Alan Addis’ she would quite likely have her fictional soldier disappear at a different point in time, so the point about an SIB officer being dispatched during or after Nov 1981 is not necessarily relevant.

  6. Karol Jay says

    In Chap 31 it’s written that the lives of Ted and Joan had been shaped by the sea “except during that strange interlude where Ted, in revolt against his own father, had disappeared for several years into the military police.” So not for twenty. The why and when is a mystery right now.

    I had forgotten Ted had insisted Strike go to school in St. Mawes that first time circa 1978. And when Dave Polworth championed Strike he said Ted was a member of the local lifeguard. It’s highly unlikely the “strange interlude” would have happened after this point. Getting called up from the Reserve makes a lot of sense.

    What this all means, I won’t guess, just getting things straight for myself.

    Btw, the Addis story sounds interesting.

  7. The “several years” in the military police note is important. We’d pretty much ruled out his having done 20 years and retired because it would make him much older than his sister and not in Cornwall in 1978, but “several years” is a brief enlistment, especially if he was guaranteed a ‘Military Occupational Specialty’ (MOS or job) at sign-up.

    Let’s assume he is two years older than his sister Leda and that he leaves home the same time she does and for the same reason, i.e., their father was forcing himself on her (see ‘Who Killed Leda Strike, Suicide Victim?‘ for that bit of credible incest fan fiction). That would have him out the door of his father’s house in 1968 at age 18, I’m guessing the youngest age at which you can enlist in the UK as an adult without parental blessing.

    If “several years” is four years, then Ted is back in Cornwall, married to Joan, and living in their new old-house on the hill by 1972 or 1973, plenty of time before Cormoran’s birth in Truro in late 1974 and to act in loco parentis for “little Dave Polworth, de facto orphan.

    The problem is Cormoran’s statement that Ted was in the Falklands in 1982. According to my guesstimate time line, he was demob’ed ten years prior and, with only “several years” as a Red Cap long before the shooting begins in the Malvinas, it’s extremely unlikely that he would have been called up. He wouldn’t have achieved much rank and what experience he had would have been outdated.

    So… this is another dating gaffe on Team Galbraith’s part or we have a real mystery. Why was Ted Nancarrow just north of Penguin Land in 1982 learning ‘Benny’ jokes?

  8. Nick Jeffery says

    There are reserve forces in the British Army (It’s never Royal Army) of two types: the Regular Reserve made up of retired officers and other ranks (enlisted people) who serve a further period after leaving the army with a training commitment, and if they volunteer for an extension can serve up to the age of 55. The other reserve is the Volunteer Reserve made up of part time soldiers. In 1982 the Volunteer Reserve was called the Territorial Army (TA), and it was quite common people to join this when leaving the regular forces. One reason for doing this is despite the increased training commitment is that all time on TA duty was paid, and there was opportunity for promotion. In 1982 the TA could not be called for active duty outside of the UK without the use of the Royal Prerogative, so no TA units were called up for duty in the Falklands conflict. I agree with John, anyone called up from the reserve in 1982 must have had some vital skill set needed for the success of the mission, very unlikely for a Military Policeman.

  9. Thank you, Nick; invaluable information as always!

    You are loathe to offer hasty opinions and I hesitate to draw conclusions from your measured presentation of the facts.

    But am I right in thinking that what you have told us about the British Army reserves confirms my conclusion that Strike’s mysterious comment about Ted in the Falklands in 1982 is either a bizarre if not unprecedented gaffe with respect to dates or a mystery whose explanation will be forthcoming, i.e., the odd appearance of the Still Bennies story is actually a marker of things to work out about Ted Nancarrow?

  10. Nick Jeffery says

    I think this will need explanation, but there are ways around this. Entry to the RMP can be made between 17 years 6 months and 35 years 6 months, and enlisting at a later age might explain why he joined the Red Caps, rather than the Light Infantry which recruits in Cornwall or the Royal Marines with their base in Plymouth.
    I do think it very unlikely that he was in the Falklands as a reservist, unless it definitely was post bellum. The earliest mention I can find for the “Still Bennies” is on the ARSSE forum, a website that is mentioned in Cuckoo’s Calling, and a gossip site for serving and ex members of the army. *Warning* this website is very ‘salty’ and NSFW so I haven’t linked it. My guess is JKR turned this up while researching for future plot, as her close contacts Deeby and Sobe don’t have experience of the Falkland conflict.

  11. Noted! It’s just that Ted’s “enlisting at a later age” makes his presence in Cornwall in 1974 for Strike’s birth (assumed) and in 1978 for his nephew’s entry to school (documented) much more difficult.

  12. “On the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, loss of a spouse is rated as the most stressful event.”

    It is? Considering how many (mostly men) inflict this event on themselves willingly, and how many people (mostly women) cope rather well with it happening to them in old age, I would have thought it was at least just the second stressful event after losing a child. And indeed, in Troubled Blood, Roy seems to be pretty okay decades after Margot’s disappearance, while the father of the murdered girl cannot let go.

    Of course, since Ted has no children, and presumably does truly love his wife, the loss of his wife is actually the worst thing that could happen to him. (I hereby propose the theory that Ted will marry before a year of mourning is over, and this will cause conflict, simply because this is so common in real life. The only thing that speaks against it is that Rowling seems to have a rather dim view on men who do this and Ted is a positive character … or is he?)

    Okay, this was just something I noticed, the main comment I wanted to make was on the chocolate topic.

    It is true, Samhain and Ted are the only two men who cannot resist chocolate cookies, but there is also Margot who cannot resist sweets in general. (And died because of that, although in her case that had nothing to do with high blood pressure.)

    Now, not being able to resist chocolate cookies might be a hint to lack of self-control, but most people show self-restraint when it seems important to them, and might not make the same effort when something seems insignificant. Eating chocolate cookies isn’t morally wrong, after all. Indeed, death by too much (unpoisoned) chocolate could be seen as metaphor for dying for a noble cause, considering the extremely positive connotations chocolate has in most of Rowling’s work.

    Of course, Samhain, the other chocolate-cookie fanatic who has a woman in his life who doesn’t want him to eat so much chocolate, is a rather less likeable person. I always got a slightly misogynist vibe from him, even though the insults he uses for women are rather harmless. (I read the German translation, and German is a very gendered language, so perhaps that’s why I get the impression he especially insulted women when it was actually meant to just show his childlike nature)

    Perhaps his weakness for chocolate was a hint at his innocence with regard to the murder?

    I do not think we can equate a lack of self-control when it comes to eating sweets with a lack of mental stability or even with a general lack of self-control. Again, Margot. You don’t study medicine without a healthy dose of self-control, especially not if you have to pay for it yourself.

    Margot had no health issues that would have made it wiser for her to not eat chocolate, but then, the same is presumably true for Samhain. (I do not recall if he was described as obese, and no health reason is mentioned in dialogue).

    Speaking of self-control, it stands out that most positive characters do not seem to have a lot of it. Both Robin and Strike need to watch their weight (I don’t know if Robin really needs to, but she seems to feel a need), but often fail in doing so.

    The heroic behaviour of Rowling’s main characters, it seems to me, is usually not a result of self-denial, but the opposite of it: Both Harry Potter and Robin Ellacott have a tendency to foolishly run into danger with no thought to the risks. They do not need self-control to be heroic, because running into danger is what they naturally want to do.

    It is possible Ted simply follows that same pattern. This might hint to a heroic death for him in a future novel. (Of course, going to prison for a murder he thinks noble could also be the result of his being that personality type)

    Margot, too, endangered her own life for a noble cause, but she didn’t recklessly run into a dangerous situation. When she agreed to accompany Gloria to the abortion clinic, she probably didn’t know just how dangerous the Ricci clan is.
    So she might actually be the type of person who has to overcome her fears to do something dangerous. (Of course, she is not a point of view character, so we do not know how afraid she was, exactly – but we do know she was very cautious and didn’t confront Janice outright.)

    But really, I am the most interested in what the chocolate theme might mean for Samhain, because it’s not just the cookies, it is also the hot chocolate, and it is combined (I think) with misogyny, which consistently serves as a hint for the “dark side” so to speak.

  13. Rosie, you’re not wrong; in the English version Samhain often calls her “silly woman” or “stupid woman”, in that way that doesn’t just mean that someone is a woman who happens to be stupid, but in the way that suggests that stupidity is inherent to womanhood. I suspect he picked those up from his father or uncle.

  14. Thanks Andrea, that’s very interesting, as in the German version, it is translated to just the female form of stupid, with the word “woman” nowhere to be seen – the translator actually watered down the misogyny!
    The gendering of the word is noticeable as German does have some gender-neutral insults which would feel more natural for a child to use, but it is not recognizeable as picked up from a misogynist man because an adult would very likely use the word “Weib” – which was once the equivalent of “woman” but took on a slightly insulting meaning when replaced by “Frau” which until then had meant “lady” but is now the only acceptable word to talk about adults of the female sex.
    I would have translated “stupid woman” to “dummes Weib”, and I wonder why the translator decided to do otherwise. It feels like an attempt at censoring the misogyny, which in a murder mystery written by a feminist leaning female author is really nonsensical, as misogyny is a really important clue here, not something the author put in without noticing.
    (Not that I am in favour of censoring the misogyny of male authors – C. S. Lewis’ questionable attitude to women is so tightly woven into the Narnia books that trying to remove all traces of it would mean butchering the books and promote a wrong idea of who the author was. It’s just that, in case of Rowling, the translator should have known that, since the author is not a misogynist, she clearly meant to portray Samhain as misogynist/simpleton who picked up misogyny from the men around him and changing his speech changes the character in a way not intended by the author. )

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