Saturday, January 28, 2023

Sherlock Holmes would play Pokemon Go

 Sherlockiana is littered with articles about Sherlock Holmes being a golfer, a foodie, or whatever interest the writer held dear, so it's only fitting we finally answer this question: Would Sherlock Holmes have played Pokemon Go?

Yes, the game on your phone where you catch imaginary creatures in magic balls. That one that was all the rage years back, but maybe isn't so hot now. But like many a fandom, it has an audience that has stuck around, and a number of them are Sherlockians. How do I know? We send each other little virtual postcards in the game.

One of the goals of Pokemon Go is motivating its players to get out and walk around the world, which is why I think Sherlock Holmes would have found it not only mildly amusing, but useful. Many a time I've been in a strange city, call up the game, and see the Pokestops lining the streets. Pokestops are little sites of an actual geographic location where you can spin a disk and get little items like said magic balls. One thing you get, specific to any location is a "gift" -- a sort of postcard showing you a picture of something notable at that location.

Back in 2017, for example, I sent an in-game Sherlockian friend or two such a postcard from a bar called "Watson's" in Champaign, Illinois. But Sherlock Holmes wouldn't just enjoy it for the reminder of his friend Watson. Since locals, or those with interest in a place, created the Pokestops on the in-game map of a place, they often reveal statues, paintings, fixtures or notable local sights worth seeing that you would not have taken the time to find had you now opened up the game. In other words, Pokemon Go is an information source, and I think one that Sherlock Holmes would have taken to in a heartbeat. He might not have been a regular daily player, but he'd surely have had it on his phone as a source of information you couldn't get anywhere else. Every town does not have a tourist brochure of their important sites, but almost all of them do have Pokemon Go maps.

Take for example, High Street in Winchester. Remember it from "Copper Beeches?" Of course you do. You might also remember the Black Swan, "an inn of repute," from that tale. My Pokemon Go "lucky friend" Paul Thomas Miller certainly does.



Were Sherlock Holmes in the neighborhood and opening up his Pokemon Go app, he would have found the place straightaway from its Pokestop, even if the inn's repute had not been as high as Watson tells us.

Even though the basic Pokemon-catching part of this little entertainment app can get a little old, getting these postcards from far off lands, like England, Japan, Canada, or Oregon is still a lot of fun. And when you go somewhere different yourself, gathering up virtual postcards to send back to those places and your Pokemon Go friends there (whom sometimes you've never met or know their name, depending upon how you collected your friends -- you can always do it in person, via email, or just picking up randos on social media when the game offers you some reward for adding a new friend. I've collected locals, Sherlockians, folks I met in Vegas on vacation, and internet folk whose virtual gifts come in languages I can't even read.

And the game does have an album feature for collecting these postcards (though mine ran out of room once, and I had to clear some out to make room for. all the ones Paul's aunt sends from Portsmouth. (Pokemon Go can connect you with all sorts of people, even if you never communicate outside of those little postcards.)  And Sherlock Holmes, who loved to gather information from unlikely sources, would have totally had plenty of them saved in his app.

Pokemon Go is all about walking around, and Sherlock Holmes did enjoy walking about London and getting as much knowledge about his city as he could. So I have no doubt he'd have picked this app up, and a few Pokemon Go lucky friends along the way -- I mean, think of the value of Porlock sending him the sites of Moriarty's coming crimes via Pokestop gifts. Anonymous, nothing Moriarty would immediately suspect were he not a Pokemon Go player himself (and of course Moriarty wouldn't be -- a college math professor would probably have been pooh-poohing his students playing it).

And Holmes could have spun the Pokestop a few times while staying at the Black Swan with Watson, I now know, thanks to Paul Thomas Miller. Because, as you know, Sherlock Holmes is everywhere, and surely has his own Pokestops in some of those places now.


Thursday, January 26, 2023

When the universe just knows a little too much

Coincidences can strike with such keen timing sometimes.

Tonight was our local library Sherlockian discussion group, and a couple of our friends there occasionally will invite us for a drink or a bite after we're done. Tonight they suggested Fox Pub, a local favorite that has trivia nights on Thursdays, which I quickly brought up.

"The last time we got there in the middle of trivia night, I kept accidentally saying answers to things. Maybe that's not the best choice," I objected.

"That night we just happened to know a lot of the answers," my friend assured me. "It will be okay."

We headed for the pub, spoke to the hostess, and were led to a table. Halfway to the table, the trivia night hostess called out:

"WHAT WAS THE FIRST NAME OF SHERLOCK HOLMES'S FRIEND WATSON?"

All four of us started laughing hysterically, baffling everyone else in the pub. There was no question that could have been asked at that moment that proved my fears correct with such perfect timing. None.

Act of God? Proof we're in a simulation? Earlier psychic foreshadowing?

I explained our laughter to the trivia hostess, who appreciated knowing why we broke up for no apparent reason. Later, I would think perhaps I should inform her that there was a second possible answer to that question besides "John," but thought perhaps I'd keep my super-Sherlock-nerd comments to myself at that point and spare her the "Accctuuuallllly . . ." that she probably gets inflicted with far too often.

But it was just damned weird.

Oh, and "The Gloria Scott" is a pretty fascinating story when you really dig into the amount of detail, curious little references, and unusual timings of the thing. But perhaps more on that later.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Fair game

 So, after reading Dan Andriacco's essay on constructing stories imitating Watson's voice, found in the collection Writing Holmes!, I decided I wanted to find a Sherlock Holmes pastiche I could tear into and pick apart its flaws without hurting anyone's feelings. So I went to a tale with at least one author whom Sherlockians have never much cared for, a little tale called "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks."

First published in Life magazine in 1952, "Seven Clocks" is a cash grab by Adrian Conan Doyle, partnering up with American writer of British mysteries, John Dickson Carr. If there are any Adrian Conan Doyle fans out there, they are surely rare eccentrics who don't bother with "that internet thingie" as they swan around some vintage yacht, permanently tethered off the coast of New Jersey -- so no worries of hurt feelings there. And ACD2 takes any heat off Carr enthusiasts who can blame the scion for anything I would get into.

So I looked into "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks." And it didn't take long to start pulling loose threads.


"I find recorded in my notebook that it was on the afternoon of Wednesday, the 16th of November, 1887," the tale begins, "when the attention of my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was first drawn to the singular affair of the man who hated clocks."

While any chronologist will salivate over that date, it's an opening sentence as cold as if Star Trek's Mr. Data had decided to write a pastiche. No points for that. And a short gap of one whole sentence leads us to this: "Indeed, I have gone so far as to state that my first post-nuptial call on Holmes was in March of the following year." When one considers that Baring-Gould, Gavin Brend, and Ernest Bloomfield Zeisler, among others, were hitting Sherlockian chronology hard in the years when "Clocks" was published, you can see why Adrian might have been trying to quash such speculations with the firmest of Watson dates. But it just is a poor start to a tale.

For three paragraphs, the tale goes on about dates and Watson's marriage, then the fourth brings up breakfast and the weather, and the fifth adds in Holmes's mouse-coloured dressing gown and his cherry-wood pipe. He soon mentions the victim from "The Resident Patient," the Beaune from The Sign of the Four, and Watson's marriage again.  A little newspaper reading on horse-racing, Nihilists, and the odd headline, and Holmes is announcing being bored for just enough time for Watson to cry out, "Hark! Surely that was the bell!"

Hark?

A young lady with a face whose beauty and sensitivity Watson has seldom seen the like of shows up and doesn't know which one is Sherlock Holmes at first. Holmes makes deductions based on all the initials and such that the young lady almost seems to have designed for such purposes, and we learn that Miss Celia Forsythe has been in the employ of Lady Mayo. (Who regularly holds a clinic on sandwich spreads? Sorry, had to go there.) She tells her story, Watson accuses Holmes of being less than sympathetic, and Holmes replies like so:

"Oh? Sets the wind in that quarter?" 

Now, does that sound like Sherlock Holmes or the author of a book called Heaven Has Claws: Big-Game Fishing Off the African Coast . . . whose name happens to be Adrian Conan Doyle. (With a cover blurb that reads, "You can't put the book down . . . all vivid hues and clashing sounds." -- John Dickson Carr. Okay, I'll say it: Carr, you kiss-ass.)

Holmes throws on his deerstalker and Invernesse cape and announces he's headed for Switzerland. (Which makes you wonder if he's realized who is writing him and is headed straight for Reichenbach to jump.) Watson smokes Ship's tobacco and plays billiards with Thurston while he waits for Holmes to come back from Switzerland, then is excited to tell his wife (mentioned by name as Mary) about the young and beautiful client Holmes had while she stares at the fire. (Adrian seems preparing to break them up as definitely as his dates, another one coming up as Holmes returns.)

Watson hears Big Ben chime and remembers he needs to go back to Baker Street, since he's pissed off his wife enough for one evening.  Back at Baker Street, he spouts an obvious clue to Holmes, the beautiful Miss Forsythe returns, along with a manservant whom Watson writes this uncharitable line about:

"I have often remarked that a stupid person is the most doggedly loyal."

Wow, Watson. Just, wow.

There's some racing around, trains, carriages, rooftoops, and an ending that reminds me more of an old TV finale of Starsky and Hutch than Holmes and Watson. Their lives are saved by a sturdy product of old British craftsmanship, so bully for that.

Why was this "The Adventure of the Seven Clocks" and not "The Man Who Hated Clocks" or the name Watson referred to it by in an actual Canonical story, as is revealed at the end? Why is the man's hatred for clocks caused by the very thing that would tend to make him not do what he did to those clocks? Who knows? And what parts did ACD2 and JDC each play in the concocting of this primeval pastichery?

I ordered John Dickson Carr's biography on the cheap (library copy) after reading this, to see if it holds any insights. But if you're ever looking for a pastiche you can rip on without hurting the feelings of any of your friends who are currently writing, might I suggest ACD2? Perhaps you'll be inspired to create an ACD2 society, which would make for some easy living as there are only four books in Adrian's bibliography. Well, except that you might be expected to read them.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

"Invested" versus "investitured"

 Okay, let's get trivial. 

On Sherlock Holmes's birthday this year, I was corrected when I said something about new members of the Baker Street Irregulars being "investitured" when given their shilling and Canonical investiture (our fancy word for nickname or title). My corrector, who shall remain nameless, stated that the correct word was "invested."

I mentioned this in a blog post, and later got an e-mail from someone whom I would deem the highest authority on Sherlockian doings, just because he's been one of the top living Sherlockians as long as I knew there were top living Sherlockians. Do I have to drop the name? Okay, it was Peter.

He cited the long history of usage of the word "investitured" from Morley to Smith to Wolff, and its appearances in letters going back to 1949 and The Baker Street Journal as far back as 1958. And even though dictionaries are thought by some to be the last word on what is a word, I've always been one of those who contends usage is the true defining factor. If you say it to someone and they understand, it has served the purpose of a word.

But once Peter brought up historical usage, I had to head to the trusty Google Ngram Viewer to dig a little deeper. And, what's this? An 1868 poem by George Lansing Raymond?


1912, 1918, 1922 . . . folks from all sorts of fields love turning "investiture" into a verb. And why not?

To say that Michael Kean "invested" Cindy Brown this year sounds like he traded her for stocks or bonds. It does have a second definition meaning to endow someone with something, but we rarely hear of that usage, at least in my circles. And while "investiture" is defined as the act of investing a person with some honor in dictionaries, and set as a noun, I think I have suffered through enough people turning other words into verbs in my lifetime to get a little payback with "investitured." And I'm plainly not alone.

The best place to find the list of honorees on the web is Sherlocktron.com which makes "investitured" their main use and demotes "invested" to a parenthetical. The BSI Trust website includes both but reverses the priority. BakerStreetIrregulars.com ONLY uses "investitured." But wait! Outside our humble Sherlockian confines? The Anglican Diocese of the Trinity, the Antelope County Clerk Magistrate's office, the new president of Albany State University, Curtis Armstrong's IMDB page . . . need I say more?

I think the "investitured" horse is out of the barn and not going back in at this point. So I'm running with it from now on.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The one thing. That one awful, awful thing.

 Browsing through pastiches a couple months ago after getting a gift card for a place that has a whole lot of such, I was reminded what a finely crafted thing a Sherlock Holmes fiction has to be for me at this point. Holmes is the exact opposite of vampires for me -- I can read a really bad vampire novel and have a great time while all the while aware that it's not top quality. But Sherlock Holmes?

That gets personal.

It didn't used to be -- in college I read pastiches that even the book's own authors later ceased to love, and had a great time. But over the years I found out where my limits were, and often those limits always tended to revolve around one bad moment, one little action that crossed a line and made me go, "NOPE! Not Sherlock!" And while I would like to use my vengeful zodiac sign and its supposed traits as my excuse, I tend to hold on to those little injustices to the character like the writer gunned down my dog. Down goes the book, into the pile to pass to other Sherlockians who may not have the same pastiche triggers as I.

And while those books did not meet the fate of a certain issue of The Amazing Spiderman or a particular adventure novel that both got walked straight to the garbage can for their unforgivable moments, I ashamedly have to admit, second chances are very hard to come by from this particular reader.

I began this blog post back during Holmes's "season of forgiveness," thinking that maybe I should start forgiving a few writers, perhaps giving them a second chance. The "friends discount," as it were, as I will always finish a short story written by a Sherlockian friend . . . ah, but novels. Why does it always have to be novels? We all know that Sherlock Holmes was at his least successful, even when written by Conan Doyle, in novel form. (The Hound of the Baskervilles is a horror novel with Sherlock Holmes stories at either end. C'mon!)

At this point, I really wish I could do back to my college years, happily reading every single Sherlock Holmes novel that came my way and enjoying them all. (Except, sadly, for The Adventure of the Peerless Peer by Philip José Farmer, which I always kept to myself, since he founded the local scion society and was a grand human whose company, and other books, I enjoyed. But that book . . .) These days, however, I approach those rare novel-length pastiches I do pick up like a bomb-disposal expert approaching a land mine. Waiting and watching for the one thing that will trigger an explosion.

Of course, leaning into that metaphor, I'm the actual powder keg, the brick of C-4, the bundle of dynamite sticks. Those un-Sherlock-y pastiche moments are just the spark. Perhaps one day, when I'm fully retired and mellowing out on edibles, I might be able to go back into the world of pastiche without reacting so strongly to a sour note in the familiar tune. But those days are still many years away.

For now, though, it seems like that one thing, whatever that one thing turns out to be in a given book, will always see me fleeing another faux 221B.  Perhaps I should take a course of short stories to desensitize myself over the course of this year.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Brad's 2023 Argument Against The Status Quo

 When you've been blogging about Sherlockiana for twenty-three years, after writing a monthly newsletter column for fifteen years on the same topic, you do wind up revisiting the same topics again and again. Sometimes, it's an accident. Sometimes, it's a new take on an old topic. And sometimes, especially upon one topic in particular, it's intentional and persistent.

Now that we've lived through another January BSI weekend, now that the big news from the annual Baker Street Irregulars dinner is over and we know who got made of member of that ancient order, and now that we've congratulated and said "It was long overdue!" to those handed their certificates . . . well it's time for THAT blog post. You know the one, if you haven't quit reading my stuff years ago due to exactly THAT blog post.

How long are we going to let one guy, no matter who that one guy is, decide who is worth Sherlockian validation in America?

When Elon Musk took over Twitter and was criticized immediately for putting the blue checkmarks on the open market, there was a worse play he could have made. He could have just decided that he, Elon Musk, was the person who got to decide who was a verified Twitter user popular enough to get the blue check mark. He could have had all of Twitter start sending him suggestions and pleading the case of any celebrity they felt should have the blue check mark, imposing arbitrary rules like "you have to tweet at least ten times a day on Twitter to be seen as a celebrity by Twitter." Yes, that probably would have been even less popular.

But here we are in American Sherlockiana with that basic system. We may pooh-pooh it until the day when we finally get our shilling of validation and feel like we have finally made it, but when that day comes, suddenly all is well and good and, hey, it must be a great system, because I got my name on the list, right? Even if the last guy didn't like me, but the new guy knew better, or one of them finally realized I wasn't whatever someone had told them about me, and I finally got in. Because getting into the Big Club is a great feeling. A wonderful feeling that we want others to have. And we sure as hell don't want to invalidate our own honors, now do we?

But, at the end of a day, ignore it or not, it's a shit system where we let one guy control who becomes a Baker Street Irregular because he manages one dinner a year. And really, since the one guy is the only person who could put a better system in place . . . well, it would take a very special person to look beyond honoring his predecessors by maintaining the same-old, same-old that they didn't deign to improve.

Now, you might say, "Why do you care, Brad? You never come to NYC for the dinner these days. You're not writing for the Journal, getting into the BSI collections, involved with their workshops, etc." Or "Aren't you actually impeding progress by pissing people off and just making them more intrenched in the status quo every time you write these?" Hmm. Well, being on the outs with certain folk accounts for a little of that. And, yes, there is the possibility that I should just shut up and allow the thing to cook without stirring the pot. But you know what? In 1989, I was invested as a Baker Street Irregular. I used to say "investitured" but I was corrected this year to say the proper term, "invested."

So I was invested in this organization, people attach the letters "BSI" to my name in bylines even though I don't put it there myself, and like many an American Sherlockian, I watch our annual awards show from a distance to see which of my friends finally gets the nod each year. The Baker Street Irregulars investiture is a part of our culture, a part of our hobby, that isn't going away. It's a tradition, an institution, a personal landmark. But none of that means it couldn't be done in a better, more meaningful fashion.

That's all I'm saying, and all I've ever said, once the one guy started letting women in, which was where I started this one-Sherlockian crusade. Did letting women in ruin the investitures of all the men who got in before 1991? Not in the slightest -- it actually made our shillings MORE meaningful. Would improving the BSI investiture system toward a more representative and transparent system without the capacity for one man's bias tilting the scale ruin the Sherlockian childhoods of any current Baker Street Irregular members? Of course not. Why not improve?

So this is my occasional blog post on the topic for early 2023. Probably enough to keep me in the bad graces of Sherlockian ultra-conservatives for another year or two. But, hey, it'll be at least another six months before I write about it yet again, so no worries if anyone missed it. I'll be back.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Red Flame still warms my heart

 In his latest "Interesting though Elementary" blog, Rob Nunn recounts his Sherlock Holmes birthday weekend experiences in New York, and as you can quickly see, it's all about the people. Sure, it's a little about buying books, but since the internet came around, the piles of books and shipments arranged from the Mysterious Bookshop are definitely not as large as they were in the 1980s. Things change, as much as we would hope they don't.

One such thing triggered my old man "You kids just don't know!" reaction, as Rob described his trip to the Red Flame Dinner just off Times Square. "It's a diner," Rob writes, sounding disappointed. Someone apparently tried to organize an eleven person group into the place, whose set-up is really made for four-person groups at max. And he's not wrong. The Red Flame is a diner. A New York diner.

Now that the Algonquin Hotel is no longer the home base of Baker Street Irregulars visiting New York on the birthday weekend, it's a little harder to see what the big deal about the Red Flame is, so I understand Rob's reaction. But back in the day, when the Algonquin's little breakfast facility was overcrowded and a bit over-priced, the Red Flame was the perfect alternative, both for a good breakfast and just to watch notable Sherlockians walk by its windows on their way to Times Square, bookstores, and everywhere else.

I had my first actual New York egg cream at the Red Flame, which is my only memory of any food or drink at the place. But crowding into those booths with Gordon Speck and Bill Cochran, sitting at a table across from Sam Gringras, the man behind Magico publishing . . . those are my real memories of the Red Flame. And after consuming and digesting all of the social media posts from the past weekend, it's easy to remember that is what it's really all about.

McSorley's may be just a pub. The BSI dinner happens in just a banquet room. The venues change throughout the weekend, and while each of us might have a food favorite at a given place, the places aren't the part that make any of it memorable. It's the people who are there with us. Take away the people, and the Mysterious Bookshop and it's gathered treasures becomes the most important part of that whole weekend. But take away the people and you don't have the capital "w" Weekend.

Sometimes our memories build up the reputations of the venues in a way that might disappoint a later arrival, as seems the case with Rob and the Red Flame. Not every place can be the Jekyll and Hyde Club, a silly sort of attraction-restaurant whose details might be better remembered than who you dragged there. Or have the Morley-level historic connections of the Algonquin or McSorley's. And there are so many Sherlockian dinners in so many cities whose restaurants I could never tell you the names of. Because the sites and the food are never the real reason they warm our hearts for years after.

Just like the ol' Red Flame does for some of us, and other sites will do for those who come after.