Friday, August 31, 2018

Embracing my Sherlockian failures.

Welcome to the last day of August 2018.

I have been weighed, I have been measured, and I have been found wanting. Lunch today featured a selfie at a local bar with a tenderloin in hand, which is where my rock bottom lies, since I don't really do alcohol as most do. And why? Why have I come to this over-dramatized pose of despair and failure?

Today is the deadline day to turn in the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt. And my answer sheet is missing about a third of the answers. We're looking at about a "D+" at best on a grade school test. That score that gets you held back a year. I've got my excuses: Going it alone. (Pride fail?) World of Warcraft expansion release. (Addiction?) That St. Louis weekend and its attendant projects/duties/added efforts. ("Professional" distractions? Trying to go kind of Sherlock-y with the excuses, as you might have noticed.) But even with excuses, there is still going to be a grim acceptance that has to happen to hit the "send" button on the e-mail to the quiz-commander.

And it makes for a moment to stop and look at every other failure in my Sherlockian life. The scion society that died under my watch. The website full of data I killed. The opportunities I said "no" to that were big mistakes (and continue to do such). The friendship (or two) that I completely destroyed. Being kind of a dick about a TV show some people love. And let's not even get into my life as a Baker Street Irregular. Man, I just suck.

And yet . . .

I'm very lucky in that, with all that, I don't suffer from true depression or another of life's real issues. I can put on a good show of despair in a dark moment, but there are "humble brag" aspects to all of that whining above, and I'm actually doing okay. I can sit in a bar and compare Sherlockian "battle scars" like Quint in Jaws with the best of them. And I'm still moving. Because every failure offers an opportunity to rise up once again. Some wonderful folk have the ability and perseverance to just keep rising in life (or at least give the appearance of such), and some of us get to enjoy getting knocked down and rising up to the same height over and over again, maybe gaining a few more inches each time. Or not.

But just to be still standing, at some point, is enough. Turning in a partially finished Treasure Hunt challenge tonight is a statement that, "Yes, I'm still here, still a Sherlockian. And I'll be back again for the next thing, whether it succeeds or not."

So it's the last day of August. See you next month, when we're all having at something else.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Sherlockians! Make this our final National Bow Tie Day.

On this, our nation's National Bow Tie Day, I would like to make a heartfelt plea to my Sherlockian brethren. Or a maniacal rant, depending upon your point of view.

There has been a rise of bow tie usage among elder Sherlockians in recent years. Some would say that it has always been a part of our culture, that it's a harmless practice that does not lead to harder fashion choices, and that it has something, somehow to do with Sherlock Holmes if you wear a bow tie of the correct colors . . . . if you've ever tried to hold a bow tie intervention, you know all the excuses. But it is time, with a new generation of Sherlockians moving into leadership and a fresh chance to help our less fortunate brethren, to end this visual vice once and for all.

They say that no one hates smoking as much as an ex-smoker, and, full disclosure, I am a reformed wearer of the bow tie. It took decades of self-reflection, the concern of caring friends, and just seeing the sad outcomes of those chose the bow-tie path. Living in Illinois, one can't help but be haunted by what that bow tie cost Senator Paul Simon when he ran for governor against a future prison inmate and lost. But I'm not coming from a place of shame in my past, but holding out the hand of hope.

A flirtation with the bow tie is almost a regular part of the geek/nerd developmental arc. As said individual learns to integrate with actually good-looking fashion motifs, the bow tie will typically fall away, save in those who double-down on the practice rather than admit their mistake and moving on. Society, however, has not been helpful to those poor souls, tossing them the occasional cultural bread crumb, as in the notorious "new Doctor moment," two incarnations ago.

Early in his run, Matt Smith's Doctor Who quipped, "Bow ties are cool!" and the fans went wild. But a Sherlockian must ask themselves the following questions:

a.) Are you Doctor Who?
b.) Are you cosplaying Doctor Who?
c.) Are you confused about which fandom you are in?

If the answer to any of the above is "yes," one might be excused for wearing a bow tie on appropriate occasions. But as a life choice?

Sherlock Holmes would not wear a bow tie, lest it was the white collar-decorator of the "simple-minded Nonconformist clergyman." It's hard to imagine him tolerating a tuxedo, that single mainstream acceptable use of the accessory. And does it somehow make one look more literary when combined with eyewear? Add a fluffy-feathered quill pen, and maybe so.

Vests, watch chains, tie-pins, maybe French cuffs . . . all acceptable nods to Holmes in fashion. But that bow-tie? Seeing a friend don a purple/mouse/blue Cub Scout neck scarf might be less disheartening than seeing them fall into that bow-tie fashion spiral of doom!

Yet what can we, the concerned, do to help our poor Sherlockian brethren lift themselves up from that dark place of the throatwear?

Can we find something more visually palatable that they might be drawn to, to wean them off the Devil's bow? The cravat, perhaps? Holmes did cravats! Watson did cravats! Even Lestrade did cravats! The cravat and smoking-jacket -- or better yet, dressing gown! -- combination might have that classic suave look that could lure the most single-minded of bow tie wearers away from their addiction. Sure, it might seem more of an around-the-mansion look, but better to keep them indoors for a time whilst the general public forgets their unfortunate past fashion choices. You can tell them about the outdoor uses with ulsters and pea-jackets eventually.

Social change of this magnitude takes time, I know. But we are a hopeful people, and one day . . . yes, one day . . . one, bright and sunny day . . . you know where I'm going with this . . .

We may see the last Sherlockian to put on "his last bow."

(Cravat Day is October 18. Let's see what we can do.)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Canon of drafts.

Think that this Sherlockian blogging business produces a lot of words on Sherlock Holmes?

Doing a little online housecleaning this morning, I saw that I currently have sixty unfinished blogs in my draft folder. The dates show that they've built up over the past three years, and usually my unfinished drafts are only a line or two of an idea that didn't pan out. But, you never know, so this lazy Sunday morning seemed like a good time to see what thoughts I didn't follow up on, see if there are patterns, etc.

The first is only a title, but the title shows it was intending to review a third season episode of Elementary. Late spring of 2015 was about the time I had decided to give up on the constant Elementary reviews, so this makes sense. Two drafts later, an actually pretty well developed entry titled "The Epic Failure of Joan Watson" sitting in the bin confirms this, as it looks like I still had some thoughts on the matter, but was willing to start letting them go.

Shortly after that is the start of another piece of Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs fan fiction, a fandom within a fandom that blossomed beautifully for a time, but now has mostly gone silent. Alas.

Some blog posts get basically finished but never published, and when on comes to one where the topic is a political mixture of the Conan Doyle Estate, Steve Dixie, and Confederate monuments, it's easy to see how a reluctance to miss the mark on tone could hold up hitting that "Publish" button.

In an odd bit of synchronocity with today's headline, the next on the list was inspired by the moment Donald Trump claimed that John McCain was no hero, entitled "Was Sherlock Holmes a Hero?" I apparently got only two sentences in and never bot back, but those two sentences are enough to identify exactly what inspired it.

Hypocritcial Sherlockians, the quiet kids, Zen Sherlocking, BSI shillings, the hundred dollar sandwich, Mary Morstan versus the patriarchy, bullets in a jar, worms in apples, "Mazarin Stone," hardships of Sherlockian pioneers, personal Facebook rules, "racing engine," the chosen fans, stewards of our community, tweetalongs, words, a Sherlockian's Sherlockian, Ichneumon GO!,  whisteria . . . a lot of partial essays out there in that file.

But then, blogging has always been as much an exercise in the doing for me, rather than the response. It's basically an open diary that I throw out on the web in the hopes that it might be of use to someone else. Since it's open, however, some entries do hit a point where they seem to have no possible benefit to anyone else . . . or just lose my own interest before they reach any kind of conclusion or natural stopping point. And those are the ones that wind up in the draft file.

If you think about Sherlockiana as a whole . . . the pastiches, the researches into minutiae, the social gatherings . . . most do follow a similar pattern to my blogging habits. We enjoy Sherlock Holmes in the way that works for us, then delight when our fellow Sherlockians come along for the ride. Perhaps their company does give us some motivation, but there is a good amount of this that I suspect we'd just do anyway. Sherlock Holmes is our excuse.

And no matter what your approach to enjoying Mr. Sherlock Holmes, there is always going to be collateral wastage. Whether it's books you didn't really need, interesting facts you pick up along the way, or just a weird statue of a duck that stares at you as you type, even now . . . . yipes.

Discovering a Canon-amount of drafts out there wasn't a real surprise. Just how much thought had gone into them, then was left behind, however . . . that was a bit of a shock, even with a decent understanding of the thought behind each abandonment. Yet it's just a result of the richness of this hobby.

Sherlock and Sherlockians never fail to fascinate.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ferrell and Reilly

And here we go.

With the release of the new poster image for Holmes and Watson, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, the prejudgments and the prejudices are starting to roll out, and with all the negative connotations to those words, in this case, I have to let the haters off the hook, despite the fact that I am, quite honestly, looking forward to loving this movie!

I've been a fan of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, together and separately, long enough to know that a whole lot of people just aren't going to go for any comedy they put together. Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was the gold standard for wacky comedy, and even it has haters. Holmes and Watson, I have every confidence, will probably be more of a Bewitched of Semi-Pro. The director,  Etan Cohen, who directed Ferrell in Get Hard, is working with his own script for the first time, though, so who knows how that will go . . . and yet . . . .


Most good comedies come in around 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and when a comedy gets anywhere close to a hundred percent on that site, you know it may not be as funny as it could be. Critics like messages and relevance and the best comedy is both irrelevant and not worried about making sense, which are Will Ferrell's movie strong suits.

Yet Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlockians, tend to be about making things make sense, so this movie is going to have a hard climb with the Sherlockian fan base. (You know how "the base" can be. Chanting "LOCK THEM UP!" about Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly at a Holmes film gathering does not seem out of the realm of possibility.)

I would come out and already predict it won't have a sequel, but how many seasons has Elementary had at this point? You just never know, as it's the non-Sherlockian world that decides these things, not us. Yes, I know, some Sherlockians like Elementary, but the dead silence about it from the larger share says something. There's a kindness there that I don't think we'll be seeing applied to Holmes and Watson.

But, hey, Sherlock Gnomes made it through the big-screen mill without Sherlockian rioting and vicious web-troll attacks, so we shall see come December.

I, for one, can't wait!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An appreciative reading.

I am having the best time with our local library discussion group. Each month bring some truly fresh insights to those age-old tales of Sherlock Holmes, and after tonight's meeting, the good Carter made a very interesting observation.

"I read the stories in a different way for this group."

I had been comparing the discussion group nights to the meeting's of Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton, which met bi-monthly at member's Holmes for what was a mix of Holmes worship-service and a cocktail party. We had rituals to be followed in a pattern at every meeting like clockwork: The Clayton Ritual, the toasts, the announcements, the speaker, the quiz, Starrett's "221B" . . . I'm going to have to recreate the whole pattern exactly one of these days, as there was a bit more too it, but those things happened reliably each meeting. The key focus on the story (or two for a time) each meeting was the quiz, testing the members' knowledge of the tale . . . which meant you read each story for memorizable details.

Our groups, like the Occupants of the Empty House down south of us, forswore quizzes from the start, and looking back, I can see where they were right. Quizzes caused more friction in our ranks than any other part of Sherlockiana, and like I said, you read the stories to prepare for the quiz . . . a very different read than a read for enjoyment. It also had the side effect of members not reading the stories if they didn't plan to take the quiz, and thus were there just to socialize and talk about whatever was on their mind on that particular evening.

We had some good times, don't get me wrong. I don't want to hindsight critique a program that worked very well for its time, for many a club. But even then we often complained at the group getting off the topic of Holmes so much of the time, and I think the quiz-targeted story reads really had something to do with that.

Reading the story for the current group, with no set purpose in mind, one can light upon some little detail like the "bachelor quarters" at Watson's house and wonder at it, knowing it will make for a lively share with the group . . . and that quite often, someone will bring it up before you do! Did Henry and Nancy eventually get together for a final few years? Why was Colonel Barclay so afraid of the dark? What did the actual Biblical story of David have to do with a name whose actual purpose was theorized but never verified?

I never have time to follow all the rabbit holes I see before me walking out of the library every month these days, but that is a problem I don't mind having. After decades upon decades with these same old stories, they've become very new to me of late, and I have our local library discussion group to thank for it. It took us a little while to really get off the ground, but just over a year and a half in, we're doing well enough that I'd highly recommend starting a Holmes short story club at your own library if you have half an inkling. You might be surprise at the Sherlockians who come out of the bushes in a town you might have thought was Sherlocked out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Discovered Sherlock Holmes fragment, fresh.

Let's talk some speculative potential adventure for Sherlock Holmes, shall we?

First, Watson will narrate:

"It was the week before my marriage, when wedding plans were being made in earnest and the job of the groom was simply to stay as far away from the process as a close companion might take him. In my case, that companion was my friend Sherlock Holmes, and the place was Yorkshire, where . . . "

Now, we want to start hitting some triggers here, so let's get right to the big guns:

". . . Inspector Lestrade had recently found a calling card upon the body of an ill-fated Beowulf scholar. The name upon that calling card, which was at that time unknown to me apart from the quite familiar surname, was that of "Mr. Mycroft Holmes."

Okay, so we have Lestrade for familiarity, Mycroft for intrigue, and Beowulf for something new to the lore. But why? Why are we going through this exercise, repeated by so many writers for decades?

Why, indeed. But Holmes needs to do something detective-y now, so we'll have to ponder that later.

"Sherlock Holmes had spent a full hour in the gardener's shed of Crosswick Manor, which was notable in that no gardener had been employed at the old country house for nearly a decade. He had instructed me to go carefully over every inch of the staircase upon which Professor Melbury was found with that fatal secateurs wound having pierced his femoral artery."

Sadly, that sounds like someone was just playing Clue and reporting their game-winning theory. We need something remarkable about this case to put in the title, like some podcast waiting for the one clever line they can sell their episode with.

"When Holmes emerged from the shed, he was not alone. Wrapped in his great wool coat and protectively shepherded with one arm was what looked to be a creature of some woodland fairy tale, an unnaturally pale creature with large eyes and a crown of holly and ivy. Holmes was speaking to this curious being in a tongue I did not recognize, save for the name 'Watson' which caused the creature to nod in a seeming wise agreement."

Now we're talking. "The Adventure of the Yorkshire Faerie" or somesuch will make a great title, before Sherlock ruins it all by explaining that he/she/they are an albino from Andorra who . . . well, we can't give alway all the goods at this point, can we?

"'Watson, I trust I can commend our new friend to your care, and that you will not allow Lestrade to take this poor soul into custody in my absence,' Holmes said, and as soon as the remarkable creature under his arm seemed comfortable standing beside me, was off and down the lane toward the main road."

Yes, yes, Holmes and Watson need to interact more, but this seems to be an outline of sorts. And actually, it's just a before-bed ramble at the keyboard, so any hopes of this being solved in this blog post are pretty non-existent and a hope for another day.

So with that . . . .


Monday, August 20, 2018

The last lesson.

Viewing lines from the Sherlockian Canon in isolation is always a marvelous thought experiment, and nothing isolates lines from the text like Twitter. This morning Scott Monty dropped this classic quote from "The Adventure of the Red Circle:"

"Education never ends, Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last."

In a pawky mood of the moment, I replied with "Always sounds grander if you don't think of the last lesson as 'Whoops! Shouldn't have done that!'" But once I was set on the course of actually thinking about that line, I couldn't stop. I mean, we usually assume he means "insert your afterlife here" and take that as the greatest lesson. But is the afterlife necessarily a lesson?

My mind immediately shot to that scene from the South Park series where the director of Hell was explaining to the new arrivals, "I'm afraid it was the Mormons Yes, Mormons were the correct answer."  So in the South Park universe, the last lesson for most was that you should have been a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. But for Sherlock Holmes?

The emphasis of the quote is really on life-long learning, and not what comes after, but it does reveal something of Holmes. I like to think of "Red Circle" as occurring on Sherlock Holmes's birthday due to his other actions in the case but that line sounds like the sort of birthday contemplation one might have as the years pass and one feels mortality's full weight.

We know that Watson's literary agent, Conan Doyle, was heavily concerned with matters of the afterlife, so he would have seen death as a doorway to an existence he was very curious about. Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand? When you think about his work, and all of the death scenes he got to have a look at, Sherlock Holmes's final questions might have taken a different tack.

What did death feel like? How did the murder victim look upon his killer in those last moments? Was there an awareness, an ability to observe that which the eye did not normally see? Thinking about how much focus Sherlock Holmes put upon his profession and how he seemed to apply all lessons he learned in life toward that art of detection, might he not have see some detective purpose in in that final act?

"It is a series of lessons with the greatest for last." In Holmes's mind, we are going to learn something in passing, something greater than everything we have learned before . . . and, apparently, were to learn after. The last lesson would have to be the one where a person gained all knowledge, so no further lessons are necessary . . . plainly the greatest lesson, gaining all knowledge.

There's a concept I always like to play with that I call "God's library," where books and publications exist that contain all the unknowable facts. Want the actual statistics on how many toilet paper rolls in private homes are installed with the paper coming over the top of the roll versus under the bottom? With graphs by month and year since the invention of toilet paper? It would be there. Roger Ebert reviews of every movie ever, even the ones he never saw? It would be there. Tasteful nudes of all your high school teachers painted by Tiziano Vecello (or "Titian" as the English like to call him)? That would be there, too. A mind palace greater than the universe itself, containing all that is or ever could be . . . that would be the dream of a man like Sherlock Holmes. Maybe even his heaven, unless you consider the dark side of all knowledge. (Maybe your high school teachers didn't look as good as some of mine.)

Perhaps we should all just concentrate on the series of lessons that Holmes was really emphasizing with that quote and let the greatest one just come when it does . . . but now and then, you just have to wonder about it, as with everything Sherlock.

Which is part of what makes this such a great hobby. So many lessons.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sylvnado? Sylvius Week? Sylvius Tank?

As I'm finally getting around to seeing The Meg today, as a new Sharknado film premieres on the SyFy network this evening, it seemed time to discuss the greatest shark of the Sherlockian Canon.

If you go by the gazetteer that Sherlock Holmes pulled down from the shelf in The Sign of the Four, you'd have to go to the Andaman Islands to find an actual shark in Holmes-world. But London was not without its human sharks, as with any metropolis, and foremost among them might seem to have been Moriarty, of course. But Holmes only used that parallel to explain Porlock's relationship to Moriarty, in The Valley of Fear, also citing the lion and the jackal.

The real shark of the Sherlockian Canon, the man whom Holmes can't help but compare to that killer of the sea a full four times in one short story, is the man they call Count Negretto Sylvius.

They call him "Count Negretto Sylvius," of course, because he seems a lot like Colonel Sebastian Moran with a pseudonym. And like Moran, he's a killer that Sherlock Holmes actually appears to be afraid of. In Moran's case, Holmes seemed to stay away from London for years to avoid the Colonel's vengeance. In the matter of Silvius, Holmes is just giving Watson the Count's address so the good doctor can send the police there should Holmes get killed by Silvius . . . a route Holmes takes on no other occasion.

If Sylvius and Moran are truly one in the same, which seems likely as they look alike, share the same talents, and seem to have the same habits, this opens up several possibilities. Did Holmes encounter Moran once when the Colonel was running a scheme under a false identity, prior to seeing the whole Moriartian big picture?  Or was the name change a sign that the anonymous third-person writer of "The Mazarin Stone" still felt a great fear of Moran, even decades later? (And who was in a position to both write that tale and be very afraid of the very thought of Moran so long after? Billy the page, definitely.)

It's hard to imagine that the police grabbing Silvius/Moran at the climax of "The Mazarin Stone" went off in as civilized a manner as that recounting seems to tell, and one has to wonder if "Silvius" escaped to vex Holmes another day in another country, then returned to London when it was clear Holmes was wandering. His capture at the climax of "The Empty House" seems much more appropriate for the killer shark Holmes knew him to be.

Whoever "Count Negretto Sylvius" actually was, he was definitely the one true shark in Sherlock Holmes's rogues gallery. And one worthy of his own Asylum Films movie with Sherlock as well.

"I rather want to see my shark without his seeing me . . ."
 -- Wise words from Sherlock Holmes

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Using the Press.

"The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it," Sherlock Holmes advised in "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons."

We like to throw quotes around whenever the topic is relevant, here in Sherlock-land. Most times, the spirit of the quoting is a simple, "Hey! Sherlock said something about this topic!" Sometimes, Sherlock's words are to the point regarding the matter at hand. And then sometimes . . . well, sometimes they bear a little more consideration. Which is the case with the quote above.

The context for that line is definitely worth considering, given current trends. Sherlock Holmes spoke those words after delighting in the fact that a newspaper reported that he and Lestrade were in complete agreement that a crime was surely committed by a crazy person, because there was no other sense to it. Which wasn't true.

Sherlock Holmes purposefully let the reporter involved in the case have the wrong facts. And then delights in "using" the Press.

It's a time-honored tradition in police and detective fiction, letting the newspapers print something false in order to lure the criminals into a false sense of security. And it's really just an expansion of Sherlock Holmes not telling his friend Watson everything he's thinking about a case until he is certain of every detail . . . only this time, instead of just not telling Watson, he didn't tell a newspaper reporter.

Yet the line doesn't ring as happily virtuous in a day when both the corrupt and foolish are obviously lying to the press at every turn, just to keep their fan clubs happy.  "Using" the Press . . . or whatever social media outlet communicates with a mass audience most effectively . . .  has become a troubling hobby for trolls of all levels. The Press is a valuable institution -- that is a fact that even its current foes must privately acknowledge, or else they wouldn't be so dead-set on knocking down the segments of it they don't like.

The second part of Holmes's statement, "if you know how to use it," is not just a statement about the technique of using the Press. It also has an implied, unstated meaning . . . that Sherlock Holmes was using it in the good work of the detective in revealing the final truth of the matter at hand. Any weapon or tool doesn't just demand knowledge of how it works. It calls upon us to know what it's real purpose is.

You can hit people on the head with a wrench all day long, but head-smacking isn't what gives the wrench its greatest value. No, that is for the tightening of screwed objects. (No jokes about how we are almost all "screwed objects" these days.) And when Sherlock Holmes said "The Press, Watson, is a valuable institution," he was speaking of its proper purposes as well.

A good many Press outlets were making a public case for their importance to society this week, something that should be a real no-brainer. And yet, apparently, the example of a brain like Sherlock Holmes is something we still need in America.

And giving his words a full consideration now and then is a valuable institution as well.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A rare Sherlockianly satiated state.

There have been moments, in writing a Sherlockian blog, when no topics would come to mind.

And there have been times when so much other Sherlockian writing is going on that the blog gets a back seat and nothing gets written for a while.

This week, however, is the rare convergence of a Sherlockianly satisfied fullness, following the "Holmes in Heartland" weekend, with a deluge of non-Sherlockian occupations. Work projects, a family wedding, a big game expansion release . . . the sort of week when days can go by without a thought of Sherlock Holmes, even sitting in a room filled with books and iconograpy of the man himself.

Yes, there are always times when non-Sherlockian life gets in the way . . . but this week?

This week, all the creative output from the week before combined with all the friends seen over the last week, whatever normal inner urges that drive Sherlockian output, whether they be duty, narcissism, need for connection, or the pure love of Sherlock Holmes . . . all those urges find themselves in a rare satiated state.

Which is bad, because I still want to finish the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt, and the winners are already starting to cross the finish line for that event.

So, for the moment, I find myself obnoxiously blogging about just being satisfied with the Sherlock Holmes part of my life. Except for that one thing. But that's how the cravings always start again, with just the one thing.

Somehow, I doubt that this state will last very long.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Those great Sherlockian friendships

This weekend, "Holmes in the Heartland" brought a curious mix of pleasure and regret when it came to my interactions with other Sherlockians. But it demonstrated something to me that I also think was rather illuminating.

The pleasure: Getting to see some long-time friends and remarkable folk again, whom I hadn't seen in a while.

The regret: Not getting to talk more to some of the remarkable newer friends and fresh acquaintances that were at the event.

A much-beloved old friend has the gravity of a planet . . . you can't help but be pulled into their orbit, and you tend to stay there. This happens time and again, and even just one especially good friend, as happened to me at a Vegas convention once in non-Sherlockian life, can make you miss dozens of opportunities to chat up new acquaintances. It's a fine and happy thing while going on, but as things come to a close, I wind up going "Hey, wait a minute . . ." and realizing what I've missed.

But that's life, you can't do everything. Choices always have to be made, and few choices come without a regret or two.

What I realized this weekend though was a commonality about the best Sherlockian friends I have. And if you've wandered the Sherlockian world and made a few fast friends, you may have noticed it too. And that commonality is this: The best Sherlockian friends you'll ever have are those that travel well.

Think about this for a moment. What is one of the best measures of how good a friend someone is?

To me, it has always been "Can I go on an extended trip with this person?" If you can happily spend the long hours that travel involves with someone, if they don't irritate you or make you want to hide after days of traveling together, you've got a great friend there. And who do you find at Sherlockian weekends that aren't in the town where they live?

Sherlockians who travel well.

Sherlockian weekends have always been where I've met a goodly share of the greatest people I've ever known, and the people you meet at those weekends, again and again, are the same gypsy roadshow of Sherlockians who like to get to everything and are always looking to that next big event. The travelers of Sherlockiana. The ones who are comfortable almost anywhere and with the greatest variety of people. And those folks make some really great friends to have.

Still, I'm not saying those who don't travel as much can't be great people. Lord knows I travel a lot less than some. And fresh faces have to start somewhere. Like I said, I really hated not getting to talk as much to everyone I wanted to chat with in St. Louis this weekend -- some really bright lights down there. But I had this really good excuse . . . so I hope they'll forgive me.

So that was one of my takeaways from this weekend. The best friends are ones you can travel with, and Sherlockian events will bring you great travelers to be friends with.

The world just makes sense sometimes, if you let it.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

That last part of Holmes in the Heartland

Sometimes you just wind up with six people in a car that seats five.

Ain't none of us teenagers any more, but when you need to get from point A to point B in a town that's notoriously short on parking, you do what you have to do. Which was why my car wound up filled past capacity with out-of-towners for the Saturday night banquet at "Holmes in the Heartland."

It was a little like driving a cocktail party around St. Louis, with multiple conversations, one of which always having to be "What's my next turn?" Eventually we wound up on "the Hill" and at Favazza's, where our cocktail party on wheels found the very last possible parking space in the very last possible parking area. Apparently this restaurant is quite popular on a Saturday night, we immediately acknowledged. The door to the banquet room, however, was the first door we came to, so we didn't get to view just how popular, going inside to see the familiar faces we'd seen all day.

Four kinds of appetizers brought 'round on trays and an open wine bar set the meal off to a good start, and the entrees were in enormous portions. The lasagna choice was about the size of two bricks laid side by side, but I tried to be a little bit healthier and went with the eggplant parm and cavatini (the latter of which I had already dived into when the pic below got taken. (Yes, it's the internet, so we must have food pics, for some reason.)

And, no, the salad course didn't come second, I just threw that in after the main for no good reason, other than it was a nice salad. Dinner was followed by a lemon Italian ice and an exotic cookie assortment, which was about right since we were already stuffed. And then the game was afoot!

Literally. We just started playing games. Sherlockian games. The success of this venture, I think, depended upon having at least one game enthusiast at your table, to guide and introduce the play a bit. Our table started with a Sherlockian adaptation of "One Night Werewolf" using cards I made up just that morning.

After a little initial unforeseen confusion (for the purposes of the game, Moriarty and Baron Gruner are not criminals . . . as they weren't, to the general public, when Holmes first encounters them), night fell upon London, nefarious things happened while the players had their eyes closed, and then deductions had to be made when everyone was "awake" once more. After trying to root out criminals who hadn't done their crimes at Moriarty's behest as yet, we converted to classic "Werewolf" or "Mafia" play and started letting the criminals kill a victim each night, and things didn't go so well for Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, or Mrs. Hudson after that.

Next we tried out "Moriarty's Web" for those who have never had that pleasure, and it was literally the shortest and most remarkable game I had ever seen. When we came to our Sherlock Holmes, he was actually about to connect all of the crimes to the clues, then Mrs. Hudson connected Moriarty to the crime/clue chain and GAME OVER!!  It was amazing, and also, a happy result, as Don Hobbs was already trying to pickpocket my car keys to get himself back to the hotel at that point.

Some people just aren't gamers, but a lot were, and if Holmes at the Heartland is in a central hotel next year, rather than scattered options like this year, perhaps a Saturday night pizza and games night for those who are into those things, while the rest head out to a restaurant, might be a fun option. (Personally, I think the old banquet idea is a little played out. More on the "whys" of that in a future blog.)

But it was a fine evening over all, and I was happy when my mobile cocktail party was back in the hotel district and squeezing my car into the last tiny parking space there. Parking was the one constant issue during this whole event, and caused an ironic end to it all for this weekender.

When it came time to sign up for the tour of the Becker Medical Library and afternoon tea, the Sunday portion of the program, I took one look and went "A tour that starts at 9 A.M. on a Sunday? With me enjoying a leisurely hotel morning? No way!" But the parking issues at the Hotel Majestic were so vexing that I was in my car and leaving shortly after 6 AM, just to get my car out of parking purgatory. I wound up hitting Peoria at 9 AM . . . so maybe I could have made it up in time for that tour.

And then, I walked in the front door to find a full-grown bat flying circles in my living room.


Holmes in the Heartland Postscript:

Okay, I really want to end on that cliffhanger, but it's not really fair. The good Carter was upstairs and blissfully unaware there was a bat in the house, so instead of a Ricky Ricardo "Honey, I'm home!" she got "THERE'S A BAT IN THE LIVING ROOM!" Her reaction? Dive back in the bedroom and close the door. After some initial failed attempts at netting the creature, just to get my blood pumping, I retreated back out to the car to don my beekeeper's suit and get serious about dealing with Count Dracula. Upon my return, however, he had fortuitously flown into the sun porch, which I quickly shut him it, then slipped in from an outside door, opened up all the outside doors, and waited for him to leave. Which it took him a while to do, as bats are just not smart. But he did, Carter emerged, the cat remained uninvolved . . .  by sheerest chance . . . and all is now well.

All in all, a very memorable weekend. More words to come.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Holmes in the Heartland day afternoon.

Well, if something was going to throw the posted schedule for Holmes in the Heartland off its rails, it would have to be Mark Twain.

Speaking on his "Double-Barrelled Detective Story" and other matters Twainlockian or just Twainish, Mark Twain (or Samuel Clemens, or . . . maybe Warren Brown) gave a funny and, perhaps, educational for those of us who hadn't read every single one of his books, like Wisconsin Sherlockian Gayle Puhl.

The challenge of following Mr. Twain fell to Dr. Tassy Hayden, who, just one short year or so ago, was quite nervous about attending her first meeting of a traditional scion society. Would you believe that now, as she got up to the podium to deliver a paper on Holmes's monographs? Not at all.

A good mind like Tassy's drops so well into Sherlockian study that her paper stood well against all the learned works I heard in Dayton this spring from more experienced hands. The science of fingerprinting actually has some historical ties to St. Louis, it turns out. Since my talk is next, I'm suddenly finding its lack of ties to St. Louis or the library an excuse to get nervous, though at this point, I'm pretty sure that will pass when I've got a podium in front of me.

Singlestick has St. Louis ties as well!

At this point, my chronicling of the event falls into a "fog of war" zone, as I had to do my own talk in which I introduced a quantum theory of Sherlockian scholarship that explains Doyle's continuity by taking every detail as truth . . . but maybe not a truth on this Earth. Tuesdays on Fridays. Cocaine that makes you sleepy. Multiple versions of "A Scandal in Bohemia." The talk was pretty much all over the place, and we'll see if it gets published somewhere this fall.

But after a quick break and a few folk wanting to discuss theoretical Canon continuity science, it was time for my buddy Don Hobbs to take the podium and talk about Sherlockian collecting, which he is extremely qualified to do. As one of the many who learned at the feet of John Bennett Shaw, then took a special interest and pushed into that field beyond what the master collector ever did, Don has a LOT of collecting stories. Looking back on the day, it's fascinating how many of the talks were about personal experiences . . . tales of Sherlockian life.

That might make a theme for a Sherlockian conference all by itself: "Sherlockian Stories: The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes Fans." (Feel free to steal this idea.)

Don is revealing a few tricks for identifying Sherlock Holmes books when you can't read the language. The "2704" cab number in The Hound of the Baskervilles. The year 1895. Mistakes are definitely made in the process, of course, but with dedication and determination, foreign editions can be found. Which Don did, in many countries, and in many anecdotes.

Next on the program, "The Fighting Styles of Sherlock Holmes." This was the point a local fighting group was supposed to put on a fighting demo, but they broke up between agreeing to do it and now. What then, does a conference committee do to fill that void? Well, if they know a certain blogger who says, "Hey, I can write a fighting demo over this weekend!" they might get something they can work with to take the place of their missing fighting group. I am VERY curious to see how that turns out.

That is, if we have time . . . running a tad late and people always have questions for Don Hobbs.

Hooo boy . . . this is getting wacky. More to come.

The Holmes in the Heartland keynote and onward.

It had been a few years since I'd heard Tim Johnson, curator of the great Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota, speak solo at the podium, and he was the perfect choice for this "Holmes in the Heartland" program spinning off the new St. Louis Library collection of Sherlockiana.  While such a collection's start does not need the nods of existing public collections like Minnesota and Toronto, having him here to "bless" this latest library endeavor somehow gives it a bit of magical significance.

Tim's talk, drawn from his own experiences with seeing people, especially very young people, interact and be inspired by the collection he curates, was inspirational both in a library sense and in a general Sherlockian sense about how we treat those coming into our world. I'll admit that tears were welling up at one point during the talk, and his speaking arc brought a big laugh soon after, which was just the perfect flow for a speaker.

Bill Mason's well-researched deep dive into the origins of the pun "There's no police like Holmes," based on that so-old, so-familiar song, "Home Sweet Home." It's a marvelously inspired topic, the kind that a mind like Bill's can grab like a hellhound with Sir Hugo in its jaws and shake every drop of enlightenment out of it. He's actually collected a legion of instances of it, dug deep into who may have originated it, and he's taking us on a tour of everything about the topic. (Including full color handouts! Love me some handouts!) And he ends in song.

And it's lunchtime! Onward!

Holmes in the Heartland begins.

It was a great thrill to climb the steps to St. Louis's grand Central Library and find some excellent Sherlockians at the top waiting for the big bronze gates to open. Saying "hello" to old friends not seen in a while is always great, and the shade there was almost equally welcome, as the St. Louis sun does get hot. Getting inside, climbing the grand stair to the third floor (sadly, twenty steps per flight instead of the hoped-for seventeen), and finding a beautiful meeting room up there . . . all good. But for someone very used to an aging Sherlockian populace at the more traditional events, the greatest joy was to be found in the fact the registration and organization was being dealt with by mostly under-forty-year-olds.

Rob Nunn, one of said under-forty-year-olds, gave the opening remarks and thanked all those involved in putting it all together. Dr. Mary Schroeder came up next to talk about the reason that sparked this first event, the founding of the St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection at this very library. A lot of people and work was involved in putting something like that together, and they can all be very proud of the result. Mary had some great handouts including a colorful booklet with a 1939 portrait of Holmes reprinted on the cover. (Always love the handouts -- they're like the autographs of events.)

Bill Cochran steps up next, starting his talk with the fact that this library building was dedicated in 1895. He ties that to Vincent Starrett via the classic poem and uses Starrett's words to describe Sherlockiana itself. Bill's love of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockiana is always apparent when he's at the podium, and I've enjoyed hearing him for almost three decades now. (Damn, age sneaks up on you!) Bill covers a lot of Sherlockian life and lore, but eventually he pulls out a book.

It's a copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, one of those old hardback editions that publishers both legit and pirate turned out en masse way back when. He got it used for two bucks, and it was teh very start of his collection. His very first Holmes book, well worn, spine pretty well shot, the way most of our first Holmes books wind up. Not collectible to anyone but ourselves, but one we cherish above so many others.

And from there, well, I'm doing more listening than typing here. Bill is strolling through the stories that you live through that show you what Sherlockians are, and I don't know if it's just the wonderful nostalgia they're bringing back for me or their just wonderful stories in themselves -- I definitely can't be a fair judge. When he gets to his first John Bennett Shaw conference, where I first met Bill, I am definitely not an unbiased observer.

But he ties it all back to the one book that got him started. That one most important book in a collection.

Onward with Holmes in the Heartland!

After hours, before hours

Some of my favorite times at any Sherlock Holmes weekend are the moments that happen in the spaces between the planned events. The late evenings, the mornings, just wandering about the hotel . . . that's where the happy surprises lie.

Last night, after the initial St. Louis acclimatizing with blues and barbecue, the organized part of the evening got over by about 6:30, which meant Sherlockians left to their own devices. Luckily, I had brought podcast devices and had already set up a meeting with the three gentlemen that seemed like they'd be in the same hotel as me to do a little recording. But hotels changed for some, and we had a last minute venue change from the Hotel Majestic to the Holiday Inn (the latter having more open space, without the name that sounds like John Wick should be staying here).

We also added two more participants in the recording, Cindy Brown and Dean Clark, to the original list of Don Hobbs, Bill Mason, and Tim Johnson, and in our little corner of the expansive Holiday Inn lobby, some merriment ensued, which you can hear here. Once the podcast recording was finished, the conversation kept going with occasional comments that we should still be recording, which made us all quite thirsty and we headed to the bar.

There, over a few drinks and a little hummus, we got to telling stories and discussing all those odd bits of Sherlockian life that few ever write about, yet we are all so very familiar with . . . that one scion member that every group has, the peccadillos of . . . well, there are reasons we don't write these parts. It was especially good to catch up with my old website partner Don, who I shared a good many adventures with back in our web-prime.

But starting what is usually the later part of the evening at an earlier hour, and having different hotels to return to on streets that some had questioned the night-time safety of, we broke up a little earlier than usual and wandered our ways home for the night. I used the free time to do a little sound editing (very little, actually, as you might hear should you take a listen . . . not sure where that swimming pool was).

The lack of a late Friday night made for an early Saturday morning, so I got plenty of time to work on a Sherlock Holmes version of "One Night Werewolf," take a scouting walk down to the library where the day's events will be held, and generally prepare for the day, and then . . .

. . . just settle down to blog this bit. On to "Holmes in the Heartland" proper!

Friday, August 10, 2018

A first time for everything

Tomorrow, the first-ever "Holmes in the Heartland" Sherlockian convocation begins in St. Louis.

There's always something memorable about such events, whether they go on for years, or stand alone as a one-off, because the first time someone puts one of these together, they're always something new.

Because you just don't know what will happen at a first-time event. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy," as an old Prussian once said, and even though attendees aren't exactly "the enemy," they are always a force to be reckoned with. Things may go awry, or miracles may occur . . . you just don't know.

But the first time for anything is always when the surprise (and therefore the fun) is apt to be the greatest. And "Holmes in the Heartland" is a little different than some weekend gatherings in that the planners seem to have put some thought into showing off their city in its best light as a part of laying out the events. Personally, I'm a "give me a hotel that I never have to leave" sort of guy, but that sort of Sherlockian focus is what had me not seeing any non-Sherlockian New York sights until my fourth trip to that city, which is known for its non-Sherlockian sights.

So we'll see what St. Louis has to offer this time out.

Dubuque, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, Atlanta . . . following Holmes around has put me in many memorable cities for many memorable Sherlockian first times.

I'll let you know how it goes. The Whaling News is also promising to be reporting on the event online, so look for that reportage here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

That bare space on the wall

Tonight I looked up at my wall and saw a bare space. And I puzzled over it.

The Sherlockian library here is not a room with bare wall spaces. It made me think of that moment in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" (the moment's first run) when Holmes catches Watson looking at an empty space on the wall and deduces that he wants to put a portrait of Henry Ward Beecher there.

I was not, until that thought, considering putting a portrait of the minister who pleaded for England to help the North during the Civil War up there . . . no, this is Illinois, and if any Civil War figure is to go up there, it's going to be Honest Abe Lincoln . . . no. Unlike Watson, who had Holmes there waiting to deduce what he was thinking, I was going to have to play both roles and deduce what I was thinking when I removed whatever was on that place on the wall.

Well, let's be honest, there was not much drama on either side of my Baker Street split personality as I remembered the roofers coming a month ago and taking down a few of the framed Sherlockian society membership certificates out of the concern that the roofing vibrations might cause them to leap from the wall and damage themselves. But it did make me focus a little harder on that space on the wall at 221B Baker Street.

Think about what that space tells us. Holmes's exact words:

"You were thinking that if the portrait were framed it would just cover that bare space and correspond with Gordon's picture there."

That one framed portrait would "cover that bare space." That means that every other bit of wall is covered with something else. Well . . . or else Holmes had ripped off a chunk of wallpaper for some investigating crime reason . . . but I think in most 221B recreations, the walls do look verrrry busy.

But what else covered those walls at 221B? Oddly foreshadowing paintings of Reichenbach? Valuable heirloom paintings by one of the Vernets? More framed prints of Watson's 1800s-era heroes? Watson's medical degree? Holmes's first consulting-detective-made pound-note? Motivational needlepoint? Antiquarian manuscripts? Mirrors? Skulls of exotic bovine with earmuffs?

Or just Mrs. Hudson's favored Victorian decor?

In any case, I doubt Holmes and Watson had the same problem that I have, even after replacing those things I took down for the roofing: Too many framed pictures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson than I can fit on my walls. (At least I hope that wasn't a problem at 221B.)

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ugly cake

Spend much time as a character of the internet and you learn one important rule, unless your soul is so dark and uncaring that you're in the sociopathy ballpark, and that rule is this: Try to stay on things you're positive about.

But with this morning's reveal of the Cake Boss episode that was filmed in New York last January, I couldn't help but react with an "Ugh!" upon seeing the first pics.

I mean, "Yay! TV exposure of Sherlockians!" and "Yay! Folks we know on TV!" . . . but that cake, though . . . .

I sure hope it tasted good.

The look of the thing, unfortunately, brought up an unfortunate trend that has dogged Sherlockiana since time immemorial, the caricature of the big-nosed Sherlock.

I had hoped that our alien-yet-pretty-somehow, younger-Holmes Cumberbatch awakening had gotten us past the giant honkers of Sherlock cartoons of yore. But no!

Look at the beak on this guy! That isn't just a big nose, that's some kind of breathing-flap that would actually interfere with eating spoonfuls of soup if he held his head in a normal posture. The long-term neck strains this poor guy is going to suffer somehow makes potential morphine addiction seem like a logical choice.

Not blaming the bakers here, as they are just pawns in an ongoing cultural backlash to Sherlock Holmes's wonderful intellect, the "Yeah, he may seem smart, but he fugly and got no social skills!" crowd. "And he wears that funny hat!" I know, it's hard to be a stupid person and see a character who makes even the smart people you know look not so bright. And since Sherlock isn't overweight, which is their first go-to, they head for that nose which has been over-exaggerated by stage and screen. (Remember when Germany actually gave Christopher Lee a big fake nose to play Sherlock? It happened.)

We've seen much research and writing going into tracking the pedigree of the deerstalker cap through time, yet no one has gotten to the cartoon beak yet, probably because I don't think Sherlockians do enjoy it. Large nose fetishists out there, forgive me. You are a special breed, and you really don't have to direct me to or somesuch to demonstrate your supposed numbers.

In fact, everyone please forgive the preceding blog post. I plainly woke up in a bad mood this morning, and am now going to go stare at Benedict Cumberbatch for a while until this negative attitude goes away.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Treasure or Pleasure?

With today, the John H. Watson Society's annual Treasure Hunt has begun.

Last year, I took one look at it, got a cold chill at the memory of a previous year's time and trauma spent trying to unravel, litigate, and generally stare the text, and decided to hide for the month of August, until the Godzilla-of-quizzery had left the area. This year, however?

When the notice of the contest's start first came via e-mail, I couldn't help myself. I had to look. And when I looked, I saw something I was sure I knew the answer to. And so I looked at the next question, and the next, and the next. And when I finally forced myself to head for bed, this being a "school night" for us working class folk, I found I had completed almost a third of the quiz.

This year's John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt is actually a pleasurably enjoyable way to spend some time re-connecting with the Holmes Canon. No arcane outside knowledge needed. Questions that, if they are too mysterious, will find a clue in the question that comes after. And a path of connection through the fifty questions that let's you feel good about your answers, because you know the next one couldn't be right without the preceding one being also correct.

Two years ago, I worked with a team of four to fight our way through the Treasure Hunt, it took us the entire month, we had an ingenious librarian helping carry us along, and we still couldn't come up with solid answers to everything.

This year, I'm working it out alone and having a lovely time.

And that's important, because testing your Sherlockian knowledge isn't done to impress anyone -- we've far too many scholars in this hobby for that. Spending time finding answers that someone else already knows isn't even productive time spent. Any test of familiarity with Holmes and Watson's lives should be simply time you spend having fun.

And I think that this year, the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt has found the right mix.

At least for this old Sherlockian. Give it a try yourself and see what you think.