Friday, January 15, 2021

Puzzles and gentlemen thieves

 We haven't had a good gentleman thief in a while. Especially one with a history involving Sherlock Holmes. Or "Herlock Sholmes." That's why it was a nice little treat to discover Lupin on Netflix on the same night I broke open my new "Piecing Together the Canon" jigsaw puzzle from Baskerville Productions.


This new Lupin is inspired by the original fictional character by Maurice Leblanc from the early 1900s, who put Sherlock Holmes in his Arséne Lupin stories until Conan Doyle griped and Leblanc had to change the name. It was an ambitious goal -- putting one's main character, a criminal, up against the greatest detective. The best of the gentleman thieves pull off their elaborate heists with flawless perfection, and even when the plot is uncovered, slip off to some distant beach or other sunny shore. And Sherlock Holmes doesn't really mesh with that.

The closest thing to a gentleman thief in Sherlock Holmes is probably John Clay of "Red-Headead League." He has a truly wonderful heist planned, and could well have been off on that distant shore with a fortune to live out his days on . . . well, if not for Sherlock Holmes. Professor Moriarty is supposedly the master planner, but we never see those plans, and he distances himself far enough his crimes to lose any cool factor associated with them. (Did he plan John Clay's heist? He's certainly never getting credit for it if he did, Granada not withstanding.)

The thing is, Sherlock Holmes is closer to the gentleman thief than any of his opponents. He is the gentleman detective, who, occasionally might dabble in crime as needed. And he pulls off his solutions to cases with the panache of a gentleman thief finishing a heist, both very similar to stage magicians in their doing the seeming impossible, but without that veneer of false wizardry.

Side-topic: It's interesting to look at the place of Penn & Teller among stage magicians. While others encourage the thought that they might be performing "magic," the Las Vegas duo never leave the audience without the sure knowledge that it's merely trickery and stagecraft, on purpose. Sherlock Holmes would approve, I think, passing up so many chances to be thought of as a worker of miracles. But back to gentlemen thieves.

No, let's switch to two-sided jigsaw puzzles. Sounds ridiculously hard, the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, if one has never attempted one before. Seems like it would take a veritable genius, a wizard of jigsaws to solve one, right? Take a close look at the picture above. Notice how the pieces are, for the most part, in color? One of the sides is in color, which makes the job a little easier. Yet there are still completely black and white pieces on the color side. But given the two-sided jigsaw puzzle, one quickly notices a detail that one ignores on a standard puzzle: the cut. On the front-facing side, the cut rounds down. One can tell one side from the other simply by touch . . . at least in this case.

The benefit of the two-sided jigsaw puzzle is that it's two Sherlock Holmes puzzles in one, and that's still a pretty cool thing. And like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, not as impressive once certain facts are explained to you. Also, doing a puzzle on a topic one knows well is always good fun, as that little extra edge of going "This 'Bos' piece definitely goes with the 'comb' piece!" makes for some pleasant moments.

So it's Lupin and Sherlock Holmes puzzles for more than a few evening's entertainment for a while.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Adventure of the Disappearing Sherlock Holmes Musical

 Listening to However Improbable, usually a Sherlock Holmes read-through podcast, doing an episode about the film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, they hit a fact on the outset that I did not know: Billy Wilder originally envisioned The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes as a musical. One of the hosts exclaimed how much she would love there to be a Sherlock Holmes musical, especially this movie as a musical, and I went, "Oh, yeah, there was that one musical . . ."

And now, I'm not talking about the one fabulous musical segment of Holmes and Watson, nor any of the bits in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes's Smarter Brother. No, I'm talking about that full-on Sherlock Holmes Broadway musical Baker Street. Remember Baker Street? No?

Most of us forget about Baker Street at some point, if we ever knew of it. I have two different vinyl albums of its songs, and I constantly forget about it.

It was called “the hottest Broadway musical of 1965 on its original cast album,” getting rave reviews from the critics according to that same album.  Although it seems to have largely disappeared from the theater scene these fifty-five years later, in 1965, Baker Street was supposedly setting box office attendance records, but the fact that it closed after 311 performances before the year was out, however, makes it seem like the initial attendance dropped off after pretty quickly. 


The play is the usual mish-mash of Sherlockian elements: Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and the Baker Street Irregulars all get stage time. It starred Fritz Weaver as Sherlock Holmes, Wallace & Gromit's Peter Sallis as Dr. Watson, Inga Swenson as Irene Adler, and had the first Broadway parts for both Christopher Walken and Tommy Tune.


As I pointed our in a past Watsonian Weekly, Watson is disrespected immediately at the start of the play, where the client immediately refers to him as “Dr. Watkins or something of the sort.” It also plays with Watson’s wound giving him a live “Oh yes, I picked up a Jezail bullet in my . . .” at which point Holmes cuts him off before we find out where. 


The play does have Canonical details aplenty to delight the Sherlockian, but it also has chorus lines of dancing girls playing native Americans, which might not go over quite so well today.


Irene Adler, Professor Moriarty, and Dr. Watson all get their own songs, Watson ironically singing that all he wanted in life was to be a married man. Sherlock Holmes is getting distracted by his growing crush on Irene Adler, so the hetero-norm of Baker Street is far different from what Billy Wilder would have toyed with in his Private Life musical. (Though in the movie, as is, Holmes can still seem pretty straight, though the "However Improbable" podcasters definitely have a different opinion.)


Irene Adler seems more often Holmes’s partner in Baker Street than Watson is, and [SPOILING IT!] at the very end of the play, Sherlock Holmes leaves Watson to supposedly go look for Moriarty in America, something the Will Ferrell Holmes and Watson also seems to have paid tribute to Baker Street with, except in this case, Holmes is going alone, intimating that he’s going to hook up with Irene.


It's not a badly written play, but the staging is very ambitious, requiring a little more than a local repertory company probably would want to do. And, personally, I don't think the songs hold up at all, which doesn't give anyone the motivation to put it on in 2021. 


Baker Street made its splash in 1965 and then faded into Broadway history records. I haven't met any Sherlockians who are fans of the thing, and anyone who saw it live must be pretty old at this point and aren't talking it up. I hope we get another, one day, that we can talk up as the years move on.


Baker Street, however, didn't seem to be it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Bad jokes or Sherlockian chronology, you decide!

Vaudeville Watson:  "What's the difference between @#%&$ and a Christmas goose?"

Vaudeville Holmes:  "One of them is most unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "How is getting a loan on a beryl coronet better than #$%&@ holding a leadership position?

Vaudeville Holmes: "Because the security on the beryl coronet loan is unimpeachable!"

••••••••••••••••••

Vaudeville Watson: "Say, Holmes, when you were out chasing the Hound of the Baskervilles, it seemed to me that you were a lot like @#$*%$ $%#&#!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "Oh, really Watson, why is that?"

Vaudeville Watson: "Because you both had two tinned-peaches!"

Vaudeville Holmes: "If you go for the Ikey Sanders joke, I will kill you."

Vaudeville Watson: "But Holmes, Ikey Sanders only practiced what he peached!"

(Vaudeville Holmes starts beating Vaudeville Watson with his deerstalker.)


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The mechanism of the BSI

 As a rule, I don't congratulate those who are awarded membership in the Baker Street Irregulars each year. And there's a reason for it, beyond my personal history with that particular practice and managing to get myself un-congratulated within two months my own induction. It's because if we should congratulate anyone each January, it's the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Baker Street Irregulars began as a party by a celebrity inviting his celebrity friends to dinner. It's a great way to start any organization, because everyone who looks up to those celebrities is going to want to join the club. And even after those celebrities fall from the public eye, people can explain to their friends how and why those folks were celebrities and re-celebrate them. 

Would the Baker Street Irregulars be what it is today without the Morleys, the Queens, the Asimovs? As a Sherlock Holmes fan group of no-name fans, just happy for each other's company? A truly objective observer would have to say "no," I think, and the club might actually have been the better for it.

In earlier times, when travel to New York City was not so easily done and half the population was barred from attending in any case, the ratio of great Sherlockians in America to BSI members was pretty easy to keep balanced. You had to have a certain level of investiture in the hobby itself to want to make the trip, and it was a lot easier to get an invitation. You could practically get one BSI from every local scion society make it a bit of an unofficial congress. But with the rise of mass media, the word got out to Sherlock Holmes fans that might have never connected with the BSI before, and demand outgrew supply for membership in the club beyond all possibility of keeping up.

And the Baker Street Irregulars dinner became an awards dinner.

Without the awarding of the shillings, the BSI dinner can be a dry and lackluster event, with rituals like the "Buy-laws" and the Musgrave Ritual that have been repeated to the point of meaninglessness. One of them was even written as a joke, and suffers the flaw of any joke told annually for eighty or so years. Every year, it seems, the head of the group mentions how the awarding of new memberships is is favorite part of the evening, and he's right. It's the one part of the evening that Sherlockians always talk about the next day, without fail, often to the exclusion of anything else that happened that evening.

And at this point, with such a limited supply of memberships being doled out, those awarded are usually people that the average Sherlockian thinks already were Baker Street Irregulars. Their place in our hobby has already been so established that by bringing people like Ashley Polasek or Steve Mason into the club, the BSI is actually validating itself, not them. While maybe not celebrities to the general public, such folk are celebrities to their fellow Sherlockians, and thus the original celebrity-boosted aura of the Baker Street Irregulars still gets perpetuated.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, if it is done honestly and without pretense. Converting the BSI dinner into an annual Sherlockian awards dinner might be a refreshingly self-reflective bit of honesty. This year, there was so much pushing of BSI publications at the event that it seemed a bit like a publishing company's corporate affair, and that's not going to make anyone's night. Just going full-on awards show might raise the entertainment bar a bit, the topper of which this at year's event was that very strange appearance by Mrs. Hudson.

Separating the awards shillings from the membership would also give them a path to opening the club up a little bit. Not every member of the Academy has to attend the Academy Awards. Getting members into the group earlier in their Sherlockian careers rather than later might not be a bad thing. But I digress. And I am aware that there is a certain devoted-to-ritual element within the group that looks at any new idea as anathema, especially from the outskirts of the cult where we get a little too bored with the same-old, same-old a little too easily. But, hey, trying to be optimistic and positive here!

So let me close with this offer of congratulations, in the appropriate direction:

Congratulations to the Baker Street Irregulars for adding some new, and very nice, feathers to their cap this year. And good luck with next year, to them and to us all.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Next year's Sherlock Holmes Day weekend

 Having seen what a January Sherlock weekend looks like without a geographical center, the Sherlockian world has definitely added still more arrows to our social quiver. And we all have hopes for next year, with vaccines rolling out as we speak, and look forward to things getting back to normal. The thing is, when we go back, we now have an opportunity for "normal plus" with all that we've learned.

So, if all goes well, is next January just "Party in New York for those who can! Screw the rest of you!"?

I don't think that has to be the case.

We don't know what this year will bring, to be sure. But those of us who can say for sure that we're pretty sure we won't be in New York next January in any case can start discussing what we might have for our fellow non-travelers on that weekend. And for those who are still going to New York? Broadcasting events even though they have in-person attendees would be great for expanding knowledge of, and drawing future participants to some events as well. Things don't have to be either-or, if there are willing volunteers to run Zooms off-site.

Way back when the Friday night dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars wouldn't allow women, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes created a second event for that night so more people had something to go to, a natural evolution of the weekend, which has continued under various names ever since. After this year, is it time for a third event as a continuing part of that evolution, for those who can't get to either of those? (Admittedly, Friday evening limits it to mainly participants from the US and Canada due to time zones, of course, but one step at a time.)

Even though this is that post-weeekend time when projects abound and one doesn't want to over-commit, it might be time to start thinking about that. As a habitual non-attender of the New York weekend, I'm pretty sure I'll be in the same place next year that I was this year. I'm also going to definitely be increasing my Zoom skills even if I'm vaccinated and getting out to other weekends in other cities. So this isn't just a "someone should do that" situation. I'd be interested in having a conversation with anyone who might see this as a worthwhile endeavor to get involved in, as there are a lot of possibilities. And we've got a year.

We've seen how many strange new things that a single year can bring to our lives. Maybe in 2021, we start making sure they are strange new good things.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Calling all Sherlockian chronologists!

With all the gatherings and special purposes of Sherlockians spotlighted this weekend, I couldn't help but notice that a certain faction was not appropriately represented. Primarily because said faction has traditionally been a lone wolf subculture of Sherlockiana, a place where every member is actively trying to prove themselves right and the other members wrong. I say "members" here even though we don't yet have a club, which is why a couple of us thought it was time to put out a call once more and start such a thing.

In other words, HELLLOOOOOO Sherlockian chronologists!

We know you're out there, trying to keep a low profile so as not to attract too much attention to one of those art forms that might keep you from getting invited to the cool kids parties. And we know who the real cool kids are, don't we?

Yes, anybody can wear a bow tie, but Sherlockian chronology comes from the soul.

Now, my friend Vincent Wright of Historical Sherlock has put forth this idea before and had a few takers, yet didn't have the time to put such a thing into motion. And having decided that 2021 is my year for Sherlockian Chronology, having made my last pilgrimage through the Canon for those purposes around the turn of the millennium, the idea seemed to dovetail with what I was going to be working on anyway. And the aforementioned sage of modern chronologists is on board as well.

The thing about Sherlockian chronology is that we all have to tread over the same ground to get to the finer points, and it feels like there are certain basics which we can help smooth the road for our future chronologists on. Decades ago, first Andy Peck, and Andy with Les Klinger for a second edition, gathered the dates from previous chronologists in what today would basically be an Excel spreadsheet, because not everyone had the works those dates originated from. What that set of tables didn't give you, however, was the rationales for those dates, many of which could be summed up with a key point or two. And that was just for the works by chronologists who did the complete Canon. 

Were such a work to be gathered today, it would be out-of-date nearly immediately, as new ideas on things like Watson's marital state are occurring all the time. What Sherlockian chronology now needs is a community effort, and an ongoing watch of developing thought as the field advances. (Sounds pretty puffed up and serious, there, doesn't it? C'mon, it's still Sherlock Holmes play, with history involved as needed, calm down.) It time to see if we can gather together and have some fun with this [expletive deleted]. 

We've got some definite ideas on what that gathering of the minds will look like (not if person, or even on Zoom), but first it would be good to see who is out there and might like to admit that they've got a little chronologist in them. You can reach me at bkeefauver on gmail if you're interested, and you can also take a little time to think about it as I'm sure the topic will come up here again as things move forward. It is the end of the big January weekend, a time for rash project choices, so be careful! 

This little effort is overdue, however, so I know I'm ready for it.

"It's time for some Sherlockian chronology!" -- Potential motto for potential something.

Onward.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Back to the Gaslight Gala!

 It had been a while since I was at the Gaslight Gala, usually a Friday night favorite, a bit livelier than the more ceremonial Irregular dinner, so I love that they have the chance to pick up BSI folk this year. When the slideshow ended and David Harnois was about to start hosting, Michael McClure did a fine job of representing his home state of Illinois by sticking his tongue out at the camera. (We're just trouble here in downstate.

Since I've already fumbled a comment on toasts this weekend, I will carefully say that the trend in toasts to small papers does allow for a varied succession of speakers. It would be interesting to hold a symposium of toast-length papers and just see how many speakers one could line up on a Saturday -- though there is probably no Guinness record for Sherlockian symposiums.

A bit of reader's theater with David Harnois and Charles Prepolec doing "How Watson Learned the Trick" fit the bill for a Zoom event perfectly enough, with Charles's perfectly coiffed moustache starring centerstage.

A little musical performance from Karen Wilson to the tune of "Modern Major General," which is perfect Victorian era material, and then we get a five minute break . . . and at normal Sherlockian events I don't get a visual reminder that I need to wash dishes after the event is over.

Jessica Schilling's toast to Josiah Amberly is delivered with such liveliness that she deserves a special call-out, despite my current reticence to speak of toasts. Her microphone betrays that she's into some form of voicework, even if it's just podcasting, and it shows. Cindy Brown notes a cello or somesuch instrument in the background in the chat, deducing she's a musician. Somebody needs to get her on a podcast. 

The Groaner Quiz by Carla Coupe and Steve Mason was the best and worst thing at any Sherlockian event, and I applaud their courage and determination in putting us through FIFTY of the most awful Canonical title based puns . . . wait, is Michael McClure talking about Violet Hunter's underwear for his toast? Well, that was a good follow-up to that quiz, for sure. They're rolling now, as Mary Alcaro tosses a "beech" pun into the intro to her Canonical reading. (Side note: From what I've seen of her name in various places, I thought Mary Alcaro was a much older person. A sign of an accomplished individual, I must deduce.)

The event is winding up with the song "In Holmes and Watson's Time" which is introduced with a "I can't remember the last time I heard this sung," when it's been so long since I've been in NYC that they were singing it when I was there last.

And we get a link to the after-party, in which Monica Schmidt will be shuttling another melee into breakout rooms after the initial mass gathering. Her skill at swiftly converting people to co-hosts to move into breakout rooms has become much admired after the afternoon breakouts at "Lost in New York."

The thing about breakout rooms, unless there's some celebrated individual that you want to hear discourse, the larger ones are just not as much fun. Six or eight folks without that sort of conversation dominator one drifts away from at a live cocktail party is usually ideal, and gives you the chance to meet someone new, catch up with someone you haven't seen in a while . . . a bit like you would do at a live function. With Zoom breakouts you have to have a little luck since there isn't the potential for so many combinations of conversation groups -- you have as many as you have, and can't grow smaller or larger as needed, breaking off from a larger group with a subgroup, etc.

Tonight, though, it seemed to work out pretty well for the little group I wound up with, and at one point we even started cobbling together a Sherlock Holmes mystery involving grocery stores and long haul truckers (which might, admittedly, need converted to markets and wagon drivers of the Victorian period to not go full-on Elementary, though, now that I think about it, it is totally an Elementary pastiche waiting to happen).

In any case, the weekend just gets better and better, and we definitely have some real heroes managing our shared Zoom environments to make all these things happen. Let us not forget them when this time is over -- though somehow, I think they will still be leading an online side of our community that crosses boundaries that used to hinder us before we were forced to overcome them. 

There's a lesson there, I think.

Sherlock Holmes Day weekend continues!

 Having gotten the annual invitation-only ritual out of the way late Friday afternoon, the most festive weekend in Sherlockland rolled onward. Saturday morning brought this lovely video confection from he-who-dares-to-YouTube, Paul Thomas Miller, which truly captures family life with a Sherlockian in the house.

The Beacon Society got up and met at 9 AM Central time, which would be 7 AM on the West Coast, I guess. It's a sign of what good-hearted and dedicated individuals those Sherlockians are, and since I was just watching Paul Thomas Miller videos and pondering taking a shower at that time instead of attending, well, I just have to settle for being proud of them. They have really built and grown since their first gathering at the Algonquin Hotel so many years ago.

The gathering of the John H. Watson Society came at 11 AM CST, with our traditional toasts, and two sessions of "The Watson Game," a total "Dating Game" rip-off in which a person cast as Sherlock Holmes must choose from three Watsons based on their answers to Watson-based questions. Rob Nunn and Sandy Kozinn were our winning Watsons, although all of our Watsons were winning, because they were Watsons! We tried to keep the program tight, knowing that other Zooms were coming, and the formal program ended after 45 minutes, but I kept the meeting running for any who wanted to socialize.

The William Gillette Luncheon Zoom came an hour after the Watsonian meet-up, and many of those at our gathering moved on to attend that. I heard it was a short program followed by break-out rooms, but since the remaining John H. Watson Society crew were sort of a break-out room of our own that wasn't being dominated by a random person or persons (as happens with those, sadly), I didn't feel like I missed much. And getting my fortune told by the rare and mystical Psychic Ghost of Silver Blaze fortune-telling cards during the last part of that chat made it worth the whole loss of the Gillette event.

One of the interesting parts about this Sherlock Holmes Day Weekend Saturday is that there are so many Zooms going on, announced through so many channels, that one would only hear about some of them at the Zooms before or after. The "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians" was one that I overlooked somehow, even though I have been to one of Jerry Kegley's events of that name in NYC many, many years ago and I had good time. Trying to sign up at the last minute is always a dice roll, but thanks to Jerry, I did get in.

That event begins with a whole lot of chat until 78 people hit. It's always astounding to me that at this point in the pandemic and the weekend, there are still a few stragglers who have still not had Zoom experience and decided to finally try it out. Chrys Kegley gives a little bit of the background to "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians, which was "conceived in a hotel room." Learning they outgrew the library room at Kennedy's some time ago tells me just how long it's been since I attended -- the library room is my memory of the event. Names like John Farrell take me back as well . . . there's much nostalgia involved in the New York's Sherlockian weekend, which I think is part of what drives it forward every year. It isn't just Baker Street of 1895 being recaptured.

Sherlockians waxing nostalgic is probably the best marketing that the Sherlock Holmes Weekend has, and every year just feeds that body of work. It really comes on strong in a weekend when everyone is held back from the city. The West Coast is well represented at this event, surely because it was created as an out-of-towner event for those who had no other places to go during a certain point of the Holmes Weekend. Beth Gallego, Chuck Kovacic. . . the latter talking about his incredible 221B room, which has to be the most well-researched 221B recreation in the world. Every time I hear Chuck speak on it, there's new information, as he has learned so much in his quest to be as historically faithful to Holmes's time at Baker Street as possible.

The "Lost in New York with a Bunch of Sherlockians" was a great event, and the breakout rooms were my favorite breakout rooms thus far, even though in moving between them, Monica called me out on my previous blog post, which has been updated accordingly.

On to the Gaslight Gala, after a dinner of popcorn, peanuts, and apple pie.

Friday, January 8, 2021

A crabby barefoot Irregular with a cat attends an annual "dinner"

Going to Zoom was probably a harder turn for the Baker Street Irregulars than most local Sherlock Holmes societies, I think. But the rituals were observed, and the evening took place, getting over at 6 PM local time for me.

I was still at work when the Baker Street Irregulars dinner started this year. Never good with time zones, I put 5 PM on my calendar early on, and then never went back and reconsidered that it was EST in subsequent invitations. Apparently I missed the toast to "the woman" and dropped in during what seemed like a bunch of commercials for books published by the organization.

The reading of the "Buy-laws" followed, a boring time even if you're in New York and present, but mandatory, I suppose.

The toast to Mrs. Hudson came next -- apparently Denny Dobry in drag as a drunken Cockney Mrs. Hudson? I haven't to admit, I was not expecting to go "WHAT THE HELL?" at this event, and it made me laugh to consider if this had actually happened in a NYC clubroom. 

Regina Stinson followed that bit of crazy with a good, normal toast to Mycroft, which was very calming after that previous act.

Tim Greer's toast to Mrs. Watson went all historical on Watson's wives, citing past Sherlockians,

Monica Schmidt . . . now, is it just me, or did Sherlockian toasting used to be not all five minute papers? . . . anyway, she did a toast to Sherlock Holmes. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Monica's toast was actually only two minutes and change long and I wrote those words before it was complete. My apologies to Monica and all toasters under five minutes long.)

Coming in late has made me very crabby (well, life and age might be a part of that, too). But there's a cat on my lap now, so that's cool. 

Ira Matesky toasts Jay Finely Christ for the toast to an Old Irregular. This is, as the BSI goes, a more recent addition to the program, coming along about the time that BSI history got to be a big part of the group. Another five minute paper.

Don Hobbs read "The Musgrave Ritual," and we were asked to respond appropriately in our own homes. Probably something that works better when everyone chants together in a room. Oh, wait, I'm not drinking. I should be drinking. I get faked out by Don's photo-library that reproduces his old library which has moved on to library care.

Bonnie MacBird gives the first talk, one on Mazarin Stone. Moving between windows to look at the program for the event, I accidentally start Battle.net. Bonnie's good, and her talk's segue into a film clip is one of the slickest transitions I've seen on a Zoom call all year. She gives a lively talk, probably better from her home and not on a microphone at podium. Bonnie ends with a sip of her tea, which is a lovely little bit of punctuation that wouldn't work in a normal setting.

Henry Boote played a musical interlude on piano, to the tune that I always associate with the musical "Hamlet" done on "Gilligan's Island." (Bugs Bunny and Gilligan twisted a lot of classical music for some of us Boomers.) There's just a visual of Holmes's dressing gown colors draped like a flag, with a BSI logo and "Musical Interlude, featuring Meyers, Toronto" on the screen, but then video comes back with a live vocal performance about the "Mazarin Stone" by Shara Boote, then Henry sings his own tribute to Mike Weland.

Steve Rothman, editor of The Baker Street Journal, gives a history of The Baker Street Journal.

That gets followed by Steve Doyle talking about Mike Whelan, the former leader of the club, whose term ended last year. Being a fellow Indiana Sherlockian, Steve is more than qualified to present the history of his fellow Illustrious Client.

Les Klinger follows to talk about the book he recently collected about Mike, and Mike comes on to express his appreciation for the book.

It's "Let Us Stand Upon the Terrace" time, and Marsha Pollak goes down the roll of Irregulars who passed this year. Of all the rituals of the night, this one is sombre no matter where you are, Zoom or banquet room. It lasts for quite a while this year, and if you had a pizza delivered halfway through it during the actual dinner, it might get you removed from the room. Not that anything like that happened during this year's event . . .

The "investitures" come next and Michael Kean says he will do it again in person for these folks. It's always interesting to see how many of the people you know, and there's a few good ones from my personal experience this year. 

Sarah Montague delivers a very dignified reading of "221B," and it's done. An ad for the BSI website comes up and music plays. 

And it's 6 PM, with a whole evening ahead of me. Usually, in New York, it would be ten or after, and there was still much socializing to be done, into the wee hours. This year, I'm going "I should go see if Kathy wants to watch 'The Flight Attendant,'" which is kind of like a year where I didn't just attend the Irregulars dinner.  I don't think I've attended any other Zoom that didn't give as strong a sense of loss. 

Because the annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars isn't really about what happens in that banquet room. Rituals like the Buy-laws and Musgrave Ritual kind of lay there on a Zoom webinar, without the silence of the room full of people to give them dignity. The awarding of different prizes isn't the same without crowd appreciation for those awarded. The lack of laughter from your fellow attendees in the webinar format needed for an event with a couple hundred people attending is sorely missed. 

Hashtag #BSIWeekend was active on Twitter, but not as heavily trafficked as what I'm used to during 221B Con, where the populace is much more online-oriented, so there wasn't much entertainment to be had there. Probably a combo of non-Twitter-y Irregulars and the no-social-media strictures of past dinners.

It was a transitional year for the Baker Street Irregulars, in any case, so it was bound to be about celebrating their departing leader as the new one ran his first meeting. But, the BSI really does need to consider looking outward and not inward a little more in the future, as the constant references to its own publishing during the meeting were a bit much this time. There's a whole Sherlockian world outside BSI, Inc., and a whole year of that world going some amazing places.

As weird as it was, I think the highlight of the evening was that freaky Mrs. Hudson roleplay by Denny Dobry.  In the midst of a burlesque show, it might not have had the impact it did, but during an event giving to ritual and the expected annual things, Mrs. Hudson's act was a wild extravagance. (But despite anything Rob Nunn says, it was not better than Will Ferrell's Sherlock Holmes. Sorry, Denny.)

More thoughts to come on this evening, but for now I think I'm going to go watch "The Flight Attendent."

Sigh.


The 2021 BSI dinner change

 There are several things about 2021's annual dinner of the Baker Street Irregulars that are very, very . . . very . . . different, and it's not just that it is online. Having to go remote over the internet forces a lot of other changes on to the event, and the list is not short:

Relaxed dress code. Sure, there is no formal written dress code for the BSI dinner, but it's become more formal as the years have passed, basically becoming a Sherlockian dateless prom.

No banquet meal.

No new acquaintances or conversations that come from being assigned to a table with certain people.

No venue atmosphere.

No cocktail hour.

No big audience reactions. Virtual meetings may have silent clapping, chat comments, etc., but none of it works the same as applause or a mass vocal reaction.

The ability for members and invitees to attend without the cost of a trip to New York.

But perhaps the biggest change is the fact that the big exclusive event of American Sherlockiana is now on even footing with every other Sherlockian event that has happened during quarantine. Take away New York City, a fancy club setting, all the other things above, and it is now comparable to every other scion society function that occurred online this year. Someone could literally go, "Well, that wasn't as good as the online event held by the Finley Problems of Finley, Alabama."

Yes, there has always been the potential for comparison by the privileged few who get to attend, but the entire New York vacation aspect of it has tilted the scales for many an attendee, and the exclusive nature does the rest of the work -- if you get to be at the high-prestige event of the American Sherlockian world, you don't want to admit that maybe it wasn't quite as cool as certain things that anyone could show up for.

Going to be an interesting year, especially with a new show-runner starting up on on BSI Inc., and a real reset point for when things do go back to in-person events. We've been learning a lot from our new connectivity . . . at least those of us who have been participating. It's interesting to consider those Sherlockians one knows who never seem to show up on even the best-attended Zooms gatherings. (And I'm sure I'm not the only one scrolling through the faces to see who's at each meeting I go to.)

So, here we go. The grand old club in a brand new space today. Big change for an institution that's not fond of change. Let's see what happens.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Ah, poor Brother Morris!

 There are unloved step-children among the citizens of the land of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlockians avoid them like they're Hugh Boone in need of a bath. In fact, Hugh Boone in need of a bath would get more attention than they get. Most of us probably wouldn't even recognize them by name.

Like Brother Morris. Okay, I'll give you a moment. Brother Morris. Anything?

Yeah, he's from that Scowrers segment of The Valley of Fear. And that poor guy -- it's not only Sherlockians that aren't giving him any love. Listen to his own whiney tale.

"I found that I was under the orders of a black villain and caught in a meshwork of crime. What could I do? Every word I said to make things better was taken as treason, the same as it was last night . . . If I leave the society, I know well that it means murder to me, and God knows what to my wife and children. Oh, man, it is awful -- awful!"

Yeah, Brother Morris got in over his head.

"I had a conscience and a religion; but they made me a criminal among them . . . Maybe I'm a coward. . . . Anyhow I went. I guess it will haunt me forever."

Brother Morris is actually the guy in the story with the job of saying the title out loud: "It is the Valley of Fear, the Valley of Death. The terror is in the hearts of the people from dusk to the dawn. Wait, young man, and you will learn for yourself."

Brother Morris happens to be doing all his whining to the guy coming in to fix matters, who gives him a very Holmes-like "goodbye and . . ." adieu: "Well, so long, Brother Morris, and may you find things go better with you in the future." And after much more no-Sherlock story, that same fellow tells Morris this:

"It's him or us. I guess this man would destroy us all if we left him long in the valley."

One wonders if Brother Morris ever really figured out what was going on with the people around him, or what the full truth of his world was. His community probably didn't think too highly of him when the movement he had been a part of was done, whether or not he actually took repercussions from either side, neither of which were probably too happy with him.

Of course, maybe, I missed something in Brother Morris's story, because . . . yeah . . . Scowrers Non-Sherlock section of The Valley of Fear.  Is it because he isn't a well-written character, though?

Well, I think there might be a few current Americans that seem real similar. to Brother Morris in a lot of ways, so he's definitely not unrealistic. But he's certainly no Sherlock Holmes.

And we do like stories better with the likes of Sherlock Holmes in them. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Birthday Party

 



Happy Sherlock Holmes Day!

Next year, I think I'm going to try just going with January 6th as "Sherlock Holmes Day."

I mean, really, that's what it is -- a holiday to celebrate Sherlock Holmes.

And the whole concept of January 6, 1854 being the date Sherlock Holmes was born . . . heavy sigh. To a Sherlockian chronologist of even rookie status, putting that exact date on something with no concrete Canonical provenance just makes one shake one's head. And what's that Vincent Starrett poem that we all like so much say?

"Who never lived and so can never die."

Yeah, childbirth is something for mere mortals and really gross old-timey gods. Even the idea that someone out there could have a dried umbilical cord from Sherlock Holmes as a sacred relic in their Sherlockian trophy case . . . well . . .

But we just want to give him a birthday cake and presents, and take him to Simpson's so the wait-staff can sing him that non-legally-troublesome birthday song that was restaurant popular for a while and bring him special dessert.

All of which sounds just so not-Sherlock-Holmes, despite the fact that "The Adventure of the Furtive Festivity" exists and is very cute.

Why does it have to be his birthday?

If it's "Sherlock Holmes Day," we can actually up the level of celebration to parades and other public displays. Birthdays are a pretty limited commemoration, really, one that doesn't rise above a certain level when the birthday person isn't present, as Sherlock Holmes will most likely never be.

Unless he gets actually born somehow. Then, I guess, we can celebrate his birthday.

Approriate afterword for this January 6: Yeah, today was just not a good day to celebrate anything in America. Especially a human being known for his intelligence. On to next year.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

BBC Sherlock's greatest mistake

 Folding some laundry with my personal playlist on shuffle tonight, and up came "How It Was Done," the background music for the fake-out version of how Sherlock survived the fall off that rooftop. Very much the perfectly timed caper that answers the question in perfect detail down to a healthy kiss for Molly. The question never got an actual answer, as the writers had been served an impossible task: Coming up with something that both worked and hadn't been already invented by some fan.

Considering the rise and fall of that iconic series in Sherlockian history, one always has to wonder "How did it all go so wrong?" I mean, not for me personally . . . I was too busy trying to figure out what was going wrong with CBS's Elementary to get expectations about its older sibling. But, you know, everybody that had expectations. And here is what I decided was Sherlock's single greatest mistake:

It gave its viewers time to think.

I mean, c'mon, the BBC can accomplish a lot with short-run television, but three episodes every two years? That's a helluva lot of time to think.

While the cast and crew was enjoying all that time off, the fans were creating their own version of the show. Thousands, actually. BBC Sherlock became a hivemind creation of a whole lot of people who weren't being paid to write three scripts every two years. People who were writing a whole lot more.

As much as we deride American television's long term practice of pounding out an hour a week from September to May, you know what that didn't do?

It didn't give the fans time to think. You can't come up with an entire novel's worth of headcanon in the week between episodes. But in two freakin' years? I'd love to see what the parallel universe where Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu's characters gave their fans two years to play between three episode seasons, with the limited content of those three episodes. (As well as what Stephan Moffat and Mark Gatiss would have done to those characters . . . we'd still get Eurus, I bet.)

One can pick at details of BBC Sherlock's run all day (or all two years) long. But in the end, so much of what caused the Great Displeasure was just that they took their hands off the wheel for long periods of time and let the fans steer, even if it wasn't "Canon" proper, even if it didn't have actors or screen time. Something got created between seasons that took on a life of its own.

There are so many movies that I have enjoyed thoroughly while seated in the theater, then got to the parking lot and suddenly realized, "Oh, wait! That was crap!" But it was only because the film-maker gave me no time to think. One of the worst movies I ever saw gave me so much time to think that I wrote a better ending in my head than the one I eventually got.

And that is not something a creator should ever do. Probably Sherlock's biggest mistake, too.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Toxically masculine Sherlock

 Salon.com offered a curious little piece today on BBC Sherlock and CBS's Elementary and their lead characters' toxic masculinity.

Not a topic I'm usually disposed to discourse upon, but since Doyle's Rotary Coffin has placed an even more dangerous challenge in my path today, it seemed just a part of the day. And, actually, the two themes sort of go together -- Toxic Masculinity Holmes would fit well in the DRC's "Worst and Obtusest Man" theme.

The phrase "toxic masculinity" tends to trigger a reaction, depending upon how one heard it most in being first  introduced to it. Even if one has dwelt among the beastly denizens of a boys high school Phys Ed locker room and knows full well the monsters therein, it can evoke a bit of a cringe for the gender stereotype aspect. (Side note: "Toxic" implies poison, where the worst of masculinity has always been the blunt force trauma. Even as a full grown adult, that's still the part that concerns me most about any problematic member of the sex. But that takes us out of this parenthetical and back to Sherlock.)

In the Salon article, the writer gets into how TV Sherlocks exhibit all sorts of toxic masculine qualities, except violence. They leave Watson out of the piece, and as he seems the more violent sector of BBC Baker Street, given to physically abusing Sherlock off-puttingly much, even in the "comic" moments of Holmes's return from the dead. Watson and the blunt force trauma.

In Elementary, of course, we get a Holmes and Watson where neither of the pair spontaneously beats on people, helped by the fact that Watson is in no way masculine, toxic or otherwise. It makes for an interesting note to compare the two series. While I always felt that the CBS show was the less intellectual of the pair (Sorry, E-fans!), when looked at through that lens it seems a lot more cool and cerebral, leaving the violence to its villains.

Overall it seemed like the Salon article was taking all of Sherlock Holmes's negative qualities and assigning them to his gender, when many of them are non-gender-specific bad behaviours. Which brings me back the upcoming Doyle's Rotary Coffin collection of bad Sherlock.

How bad can Sherlock Holmes get? Well, there were the villainous Sherlocks of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street, but one always feels there was something even worse in him. Adolph Hitler loved The Hound of the Baskervilles and had his own adaptation made, but Holmes probably didn't go full-on Nazi for that, and have Stapleton be secretly Jewish or somesuch. There's toxic, and then there's TOXIC. Considering how dark things got for a work or two in the last DRC paperback, However Improbable, one wonders. (A descendent of Sherlock Holmes becomes the unlikely Trumpian President of the United States? Dark! Not writing that!)

Holmes's masculinity is definitely as aspect that might lend itself to such a collection, though, if one is thinking of heading in that direction.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

Irregulars having a little fun


I stumbled upon this picture this afternoon from a 1937 collection, and it seemed appropriate for the week ahead, as Irregulars of regular and irregular stripes hold their own celebrations of Sherlock Holmes's birthday. The kids in the picture are having their own streetlamp party, and they well could have been among the ranks of Holmes's own lot. 

The book it is from, Victorian Panorama by Peter Quennell, seems to have made it to Peoria from Glasgow, bearing the marks of "Baillie's Institution" that it seems to have been liberated from at some point. Conan Doyle's uncle gets a mention in the book, as well as Conan Doyle, but no Sherlock Holmes, just "The dense yellow fog that plays so important a part in the romances of Jules Verne and Conan Doyle had not yet lifted." Sherlock Holmes would probably give a bit "I told you so!" to Watson, were they to stumble across that line -- Romances! 

But we get to see how Irregulars might have amused themselves when not hunting up people, cabs, or boats for Sherlock Holmes. The book is full of pictures of Covent Garden flower-women, Scottish fish-wives, shooting parties, and the like, as well as the occasional celebrity.


Did Holmes pose as smugly as Blondin, after doing his impersonation of the "King of the Tightrope," as that fellow's photo shows? I wouldn't have put it past him. And if Holmes wants to strike that pose again this week as he celebrates one hundred and sixty years of life, he certainly deserves it!



 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Once more into the breech

 There's a thing about Sherlockians. Sometimes if we don't have a book of something, we make a book of something.

Since I was starting work on another run-through of the Canon to settle my little chronology issues, and maybe produce something of worth, I had to do a little gathering of the work of one of our great modern chronology experts, who had mainly published his previous work in the local club newsletter about ten years ago. Vincent W. Wright was kind enough to supply me with the missing bits I didn't have, and once I had gotten it all in order, the next step was finding a place to put it, and putting it on a bookshelf -- though it's not going to stay there long. My own gathered tome doesn't fit there nearly so nicely.


Chronology work is, at the same time, both arcane and absurdly simple. Much of it is treading over the exact same ground as every chronologist that came before. Same-old, same-old, same-old, yet perhaps it's that aspect that makes one always think there is something new to offer. And as it contains classic Canonical questions that will, as with all classic Canonical questions, never have an answer that will satisfy all of us, the challenge remains eternally open. It's the quiz beyond all quizzes. The chance to pit one's Sherlockian powers against the ancients of the cult, to put it at its most grandiose. But also a chance to connect with one's peers and see how they're doing with that same little puzzle.

It's a great solitary activity, but the fact that there are no absolute answers means there are no winners in this game. No one gets to stand above all others when it's done. Time to make this more of a group activity? And how would that even work with so many of us being particularly solitary in the sort of personality that gets draw most to such things.

Perhaps it's time to find out . . .

Sherlockian Camelot

When I was a kid, there was this musical about King Arthur. You may have heard of it . . . Camelot?

Yeah. There was a movie of it, I think, where an actor named Sir Richard Burton would sing this very mopey song at the end about how there was once this great place called "Camelot," and even though it didn't exist any more at the end of the movie, people would remember it and go, "Yeah, that place existed once and it was great."

As a kid, with my whole life ahead of me, that just did not resonate with me at all.

And when I got into Sherlock Holmes and started moving into the greater Sherlockian world, there were those who really wanted to go on about a similar sort of place that existed before any of us. In the 1930s or 1940s, something like that. These guys named Morley, Starrett, and something, having a grand moment in the past that we would never know anything like, that we could never rise to the standard of, that was gone forever and yet would be with us always.

Sherlockian Camelot.

Echoes of that old actor singing that old song from that old musical.

Standing at the start of another year, it's natural to look back, think of the really great moments in life. Live long enough, get a little lucky, and you get some of those moments. You get a Camelot, when things seem like they were as good as they could ever be. And they're yours, not some people you didn't know at some time you didn't know, doing things you don't really know. But even at that, the past isn't a place where people live. Memories of food aren't food.

Not sure why I thought of Camelot this morning, as our most recent memories are probably not a place we're going to want to hang in the years ahead. The hopes for 2021 are a little bigger than for a normal new year. It's got a real phoenix-from-the-ashes feeling. Definitely no time to be singing about the glories of a fallen Round Table.

And maybe that was the point of that memory. Time to look ahead.




Friday, January 1, 2021

The work of our avocation goes on

 The first day of a new year always seems like a good starting point, but the thing is . . . it isn't really.

Everything we begin comes from what was before, whether we're changing, enhancing, attempting. It all springs from something, some past choices or influences. The interesting part is what we choose to focus on for this holiday of rebirth, recharge, and restart.

Chosen any Sherlock Holmes yet?

Not shaming you if you have not. Some of us, I have to admit, spend far too much time here in "cloud Sherlocko land," letting some other things slide. I've had an interesting balance of Sherlocking this morning, organizing some work by a Sherlockian I respect, and also collecting some materials on a Sherlockian of ill repute. In the process, I accidentally had a chance to review the works of a third Sherlockian who has put an impressive amount of time and effort into this hobby, and even ponder how the last decade went in a Sherlockian sense.

While one might be tempted to focus upon the miseries of the last year, to look back upon the last full ten years is to see a glorious rise of Sherlockiana across a spectrum and range few would have even dared hope for in 2009.  The opportunities that lay before us now are incredible. We can go so far beyond the same-old, same old should we so desire.

That said, we don't have to do everything, go everywhere, own everything, or accomplish anything just to prove our love of Sherlock Holmes. He doesn't feed our families or fix our plumbing. But he does make the load lighter by his presence by our side. Sherlock Holmes is very rarely anyone's vocation, normally our avocation. Holmes gives us connections, anticipations, and opportunities, but he isn't going to fire us if we don't hit our quota for the year.

Sherlockiana isn't a job, it's a path of discovery. Chances are, you're already on the path you'll take for this year, whether it's the familiar part of the trail with all the signs and maps established, or some unknown area you have to wander into to see if anyone has been there yet. If they have, you can enjoy finding what they left behind, if they haven't, you can tell others and leave your own trail markers. The key to it all is thinking of those who will come after you. Those who came before are fine at this point. We can hold literary seances so new folk can see their shades, but they're not who we're doing it for now.

When I come right down to it, thinking about the year ahead, I think my main resolution has to be just trying to be a little more considerate and a little less selfish with this thing that I love called Sherlockiana. We all have to know our limits, as well as when to just say "no," but if we're really having a good time with our friends Holmes and Watson . . . and I mean a really good time, as why else are we here . . . then there's probably enough fun to pass some along.

So welcome to 2021. Take "nothing" out of that number and it's "221." That should tell you something about the kind of year we're heading into. Good luck!