Thursday, April 30, 2020

An evening of Sherlockian stars and warped drives.

Well, this has been an evening. A late dinner with a little Parks & Rec reunion on the tube, then down to the basement workshop to  . . . well, lest you think me mad, I will ease into that part.

While working away, however, I listened to the fresh, new episode of The Final Podblem on "The Mazarin Stone," which I get on the Apple podcasts feed. (Also, they have a Twitter, just to get all the links in.) Now, here's a question for you: How does one listen to a podcast where one is complimented several times, and still feel like one has made a horrible failure in life? Well, let me tell you. You get to hear two solid hours of Casey and Nick bringing on Paul Thomas Miller for TWO SOLID HOURS, when your own measly podcast barely hits twenty minutes and you might get use about a fifth of that with Paul?

Yeah, yeah, I know, it's not about the size, it's about what you do with it -- don't try to make me feel better! I'm wallowing here!

Actually, I'm not wallowing, because I just enjoyed two hours of podcasting on one of the most terrible Sherlock Holmes stories in existence, with three fellows I love listening to, who can all work without a script. (Weird fact: I can work without a script when I'm not me. How does that work?) They make a great trio and I'll look forward to the next time Paul gets on.

Now that I've lulled you into a familiar sort of sympathy with my emotional roller coaster, I'm going to start the part that might sound a little crazy, starting with this: I'm going on vacation next week.

One doesn't really take a vacation during a "stay at home" pandemic, does one? But the job demanded a vacation be taken to help lower their Paid-Time-Off debits this quarter, and given what a slight sacrifice that is, I made it. And I decided to go some . . . .

Did I ever mention the time I had a buddy of mine build a time machine?

Yes, yes, fake-books-Brad-the-big-liar, I know, but that happened. We were doing Peoria history thing and my buddy Ken built a time machine with a marvelous travelling-through-time video display that we used to pull historical figures into the present day to tell us a little bit about themselves. (Yes, I completely stole that from Bill and Ted.)

Well, with a week's vacation where you can't really go somewhere, one of the remaining alternatives is to go somewhen.

So, while listening to that lovely two hours of podcasting excellence tonight, I worked feverishly on building my own time machine. Crazy, right? Except this time, I'm not stealing from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. No, this time, I'm going full-on Time After Time. I'm going to immerse myself so deeply in a particular period in history that I, with any luck, will start to see things as they were then. And maybe just come back with a record of that adventure to pass along.

Just working on putting together my means of time travel, I'm already seeing the dangers that lurk ahead of me on my little trip next week. There are good reasons we don't do time travel. There's stuff in time that'll hurt you. There's gonna be some pain in making this trip, but I have hopes that the results will be worth it. And, you'll get to hear all that when it's done.

It's been quite a Sherlockian evening, and I'm looking forward to telling you more very soon.

P.S. Here's an artifact from back in time, below the second P.S.

P.P.S. If I ever talk Nick and Casey into letting me on their podcast, I think it needs to be when they get to Elementary and need a guest. I've much improved since the day a certain podcast wanted me on just to have me battle it out with someone else about that CBS show. Do we want to test Paul's good influences on me with my conversion to the cult of Doyle's Rotary Coffin? Hrmmm. Wait a second . . . Paul's last name . . . Jonny Lee . . . OH MY GOD, IT WAS A TRAP!!!

P.P.S. It's the corona lockdown. Just wait.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The previously socially distanced Sherlockian

Do you ever put something out on the public e-waves that you don't really care if people look at or not?

My last blog post just seemed a little too . . . blah . . . to me, so I wrote it, posted it, but didn't put out any links to it on my social media because, while it seemed worth adding to the "Sherlock Peoria" historical record, to be imbedded in the layers of Google's data mines forever (or until the great data extinction event), I wasn't happy enough with it to suggest anyone actually read it.

Which brings me to the topic that will probably keep coming up in all sorts of places as we figure out our socially distanced world: Some of us, sadly, were pre-built for this crisis.

If the idea of being stranded on a dessert island with the essentials for survival and one or two choice items ever came up and you went, "Yeah, I could handle that okay," you probably know what I mean.

Whether you classify yourself with a Myers-Briggs profile, a zodiac sign, a human resources provided corporate color, or whatever, you know who you are: One of those people who makes their own fun, and has been finding ways to amuse themselves without the company of others since an early age. While others drew energy from mixing and mingling with strangers in often loud and questionable locales, you could quietly go about your own thing and occasionally start laughing at your own pawky musings. Whether wandering a woods, sitting with a keyboard and screen, or crafting away at something you wanted to see come into reality, it was really okay that you were left to do it on your own.

I wonder, at this point, how many of us who operated like that found careers that worked with that sort of persona, and, thus, were more easily transitioned to working from home with an internet connection. How many of us had our homes stocked with what we need to entertain ourselves for long periods of time without venturing out. And how many of us are now starting to settle into this pre-built nest, once the initial wave of hypochondria faded, with the comfortable wriggle of a happy cartoon character in their perfect place.

I think, if it weren't for cooking meals, which I enjoy, and doing dishes, which goes with the former even though I don't enjoy it, I would be happily spending all my non-work hours doing Sherlockian things, with the occasional evening for Netflix. Not that I don't enjoy my friends, but having learned from my most distant besties that long periods between visits do not destroy a true friendship, I don't worry about that part too much. What do I worry about?

That somehow all this is somehow wrong. That I shouldn't be adapting so easily when others are struggling so much. That all these skills, built from insecurities and social awkwardness, are something to be ashamed of. That I don't deserve to be this lucky. All those sorts of things that come with survivor's guilt.

The thing of it is, most of us didn't choose to be who we are and where we are. Life thrust circumstances and personalities upon us and we dealt with them as best we could. We adapted. We continue to adapt. And finding a little happiness, however, you find it right now, does not deplete the happiness banks of anyone else, unless you're actively stealing  from others (In which case, knock that shit off right now!) or abusing them for your own amusement (Also, stop it!) or just serial killing (Ummm, can you forget I exist? Thanks.), well, then you're probably doing okay. And, if the moment occurs when you're up to doing a little more, it might be good to step up.

Sherlockiana has always been something some of us do for our own fun, and sharing it, even if it's just saying "Hey, this book was good!" has long been our payment for those who shared with us at one point or another. The sharing part is what makes us Sherlockians and not just "a person who enjoys thinking about Sherlock Holmes."

So if you catch me oversharing during this Sherlockian nesting time, it's just because I've settled in and am enjoying the hell out of this hobby in a time which otherwise might not be too enjoyable. And I hope you're doing okay enough to be sharing as well.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A new era for Sherlockiana, or same-old, same-old?

As the pandemic changes our world, Sherlockiana rolls on.

Not entirely because of any special strength of resolve, but simply because Sherlockiana has always been a hobby to enjoy in isolation. Sure, major cities have regular social events, regular dinners, social occasions that have been curtailed, but for a large number of us, doing our Sherlockian thing week to week, this is our sweet spot. Reading is a solitary activity. Writing is a solitary activity. And, boy, are we readers and writers.

It's what always made the weekend symposiums, 221B Con, and Sherlock's birthday weekend so special -- that rare point of contact with folks who have been building up Sherlockian steam in their homes for months. The internet changed that somewhat, and the BBC Sherlock surge pushed new connectivity past the Luddites in our ranks. But as we're learning in excruciating detail from all the Zoom calls, there's really no total replacement for person-to-person contact.

Yet, one remembers that our predecessors did their Sherlockian thing with just the good old U.S. Postal Service as their line of connectivity. Sure, there were telephones, but I don't remember having long phone chats with too many Sherlockians. Maybe the experience of others was different, of course. The Sherlockian weekend gatherings outside of the New York business didn't really start until when  . . . the 1970s? Without some local interest, the hobby of Sherlockiana was a solitary pursuit, and still is for many. Something about the personality of Sherlock Holmes himself attracts the lone student, and, as a result, gives us the true value of Watson.

So where does that put us, as the world adapts itself to social change to fit the times, an uncertain economy, and who knows what else?

Simply where we've always been. Figuring out what to do next from the grand buffet of exploring and celebrating Sherlock Holmes. Collecting, researching, and creating all those things that will carry this hobby on into the future, for those coming generations of Sherlockians who look at a bunch of stories, a bookshelf, or a movie collection as an ongoing past-time worth focusing on those two fellows who started out together in the 1880s.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

My first virtual Sherlockian meeting, at last!

I've often said that our local library discussion group brings some happy new perspectives on those old favorite stories each time we meet, and it was delightful to learn that social distancing, while trimming our number by three or four, didn't hurt the content. Tonight's first Zoom-enabled discussion of A Study in Scarlet went off just as if it were at the library, with the one exception being we couldn't pass the Beeton's reproductions around, or show each other a particular footnote from a particular edition.  But let's get to what I learned tonight.

The good Carter, while being a good Carter, skipped the Mormon segment of A Study in Scarlet, as one often does in re-readings (like Billy Goldman's grandfather just reading him "the good parts version" of S. Marganstern's The Princess Bride). But when she did so, discovered that she was reading Jefferson Hope's confession just as Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson might have heard it -- without having read that whole Mormon backstory. When Hope finally mentions the name of Lucy Ferrier, it comes out of the blue, and, from that ringside point of view for the confession makes him a much less sympathetic character.

So if one takes Watson's word, and A Study in Scarlet as his personal memoir, that American part of the tale is still someone's absolute fiction, imagined based upon a name, a few facts, and an attempt to make Hope a more sympathetic figure.

Another new perspective I enjoyed was Robert's questioning of how Jefferson Hope didn't recognize the address of 221 Baker Street when he was being summoned into a trap, after he had sent a confederate to that very address earlier to retrieve the wedding ring. Holmes doesn't use his own name on that earlier ad, as he didn't want "dunderheads" meddling in his business. We took the dunderheads to mean Scotland Yard, and it seems he thought they wouldn't recognize his address either. And that brings me to yet another point, now that I consider it: Holmes had recently moved, so some members of Scotland Yard might not have had his new address yet. Lestrade is a regular visitor at 221B, before Watson even knows who he is. So one wonders who the meddlers might have been, as well as why Hope didn't recognize that address.

For some reason, I became obsessed with Lestrade's use of shorthand in the 1880s, which has served the police well over the years, but never seemed like something that Holmes's foils would be up to being proficient in. The entire thought of G. Lestrade having learned the Pitman shorthand of the day casts a new light on him, as the sort of progressive inspector who would work with a Sherlock Holmes, who was doing pioneering work his field. One even has to wonder if a Lestrade and Holmes partnership, with the Scotland Yard man taking case notes, had a failed pilot attempt, before Watson came along. (Did Watson know shorthand?)

In any case, even though we didn't seem to have the best opinion of the Jefferson Hope case as an investigation for Sherlock Holmes, we still had a pleasant time with the tale, and it was good to see Jamie, Laura, Robert, Mary, and ourselves, and hope we can lure a few more of our Peoria Sherlockians into our "web" discussions as this social distance continues. (As of today, another month has been announced for Illinois, so one more meeting this way, at the very least.)

Saturday, April 18, 2020

"Data! Data! Data!" and the nerds who crave it

It struck me this morning just what data nerds a goodly share of Sherlockians are. I don't know why this should be especially notable, having been a true thing for as long as I've been a Sherlockian, some forty-some years now, but there are plenty of things in life that exist around us every day which we take no particular note of, like those seventeen steps up to a familiar apartment.

The thought occurred after seeing the Twitter feed for the journal Canadian Holmes tweeting "Wendy Barrie, who played Beryl Stapleton in 1939 Hound the the Baskervilles was born #OTD in 1912," following yesterday's arrival of the 262 page Baker Street Almanac for 2020, and a look around the room where I'm typing these words at all the books. So much data.

Of course, it only makes sense. Sherlock Holmes was a master of data. There's even a character named "Data" who likes to pretend to be Sherlock Holmes. And what is a more classic Sherlock Holmes quote than "Data! Data! Data! I can't make bricks without clay."

I love that quote a little too much, which actually caused part of the issue I have with Jeremy Brett. The quote has such a depth to it. Data was Holmes's clay. He made bricks with it. Which is what data is there for.

Collectors may be working from a basic hunter-gatherer instinct, and collecting data can be just as much a compulsion as collecting books, though it doesn't have the obvious visual residue. But once you have the data? Time to make the bricks. Holmes used it to solve mysteries. Sherlockians use it to entertain themselves, and . . . occasionally . . . to solve a mystery, usually having to do with Sherlock Holmes.

Take the data provided by that single volume, The Complete Sherlock Holmes. How many stories have been knitted together using that yarn? (Yes, I should say "buildings have been built using those bricks" to continue the metaphor, but "yarn!") How many movies, harmlessly fun theories, games, drawings, social gatherings, and EVEN MORE DATA GATHERING have come from the data in that one book?

Data. Data. Data. (To say it with periods, like Jeremy Brett, instead of exclamation points.) Then bricks, whatever your bricks may be. And bricks pile up into the edifice of a Sherlockian life, whatever your blueprints for that life might be.

So, good on you, data nerds. You get that clay!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The medals of the Hansoms of John Clayton

Living a Sherlockian life, one sometimes forgets how quickly things can become collectable with time. Maybe not to everyone, but once a specialist in a particular area of Sherlockiana zeroes in on the fact that something exists, and wants to add it to their collection . . . VOILA! Collectable!

When a mysterious medallion turned up on the e-mail newsletter The Fourth Garrideb this morning with the heading, "Homework Assignment: The 1997 DISI Award Medals," I was immediately curious as to what a "DISI Award Medal" could be, and clicked the link to the post on it.  Once there, a picture popped up, and I was shocked to see that this DISI Award was something I myself had gotten made at a local awards shop in the 1990s, and have hanging in my library. So it seemed a good time to go back and talk about all of the medals handed out by Peoria's scion society, the Hansoms of John Clayton, over the years.

Let's start with the Downstate Illinois Sherlockian Invitational.

You'll note there is a mountain peak on that one, as the logo symbolized "a new pinnacle of Sherlockian achievement," though at least one well-known Sherlockian called us out for not having any mountains in central Illinois. Details, details.

The Downstate Illinois Sherlockian Invitational was an afternoon event, preceding the annual banquet of Peoria's own Hansoms of John Clayton, in which we invited neighboring scion societies to join us for a little friendly competition in three separate events: Canonical knowledge, parody and pastiche, and Sherlockian presentation. Each of the three events had a gold, silver, and bronze medal awarded, as well as a medal given to the Sherlock Holmes society that scored the highest in cumulative points for the three events. The first DISI, held September 28, 1996.

The 1996 tourney saw competition between the Hansoms, the Occupants of the Empty House, the Noble Bachelors, the Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn, and the One Fixed Point Society. The scholastic bowl battle of knowledge went to the Occupants team that first year, with Bill Cochran, Joe Eckrich, and Gordon Speck holding forth. The writing competition was won by Art Schroeder for the Noble Bachelors for his story "The Double-Good Fortune of Henry Baker and his Lucky Goose," which was collected with the other entries and printed in a little paperback called A Pocket Full of Sherlock Holmes and handed out at the evening's banquet where the awards were given. For presentation, Bill Cochran took home the gold for the Occupants with a talk on the history and inner workings of that society, which won that group the overall prize for 1996.

A year later, things were a little different. Barb Roscoe, who had been on the Harpooners team the year before, gathered together a team she called "the Garish Debs," (herself, Janet Bensley, Patricia King, and Shannon King). The Tankerville Club saw Paul Herbert, Ralph Hall, and Dob Hobbs bringing heavy hitters from all over the map.  And the beautiful big spinning wheel of sixty Canonical cases, a lost artifact of Hansom lore, was used for the first part of knowledge battle, with the Tankervilles getting a great lead during that phase. Part two was a nigh-impossible task of transcribing as much of a Canonical tale from memory as possible in five minutes where the Hansoms team (Bob Burr, Kathy Carter, and Nellie Brown) scored big by choosing A Study in Scarlet for their tale to remember. But in a "Final Jeopardy" upset all the leading competitors bet too many points on a question that wound up being "Who died in Lauder in 1887?" and lost out to the more cautious Garish Debs.

The literary competition saw Patricia King take the gold for the Garish Debs with her story "Going Ape." But instead of a presentation event, 1997's Downstate Illinois Sherlockian Invitational's final event was a musical competition. The Debs only made it to third in that event, as Bob Burr brought in ringers (a.k.a. his old barbershop quartet) to rule the musical part of the program for the Hansoms. The Garish Debs still took the overall prize of the gold. (Only silver pictured below, as my house only had a silver winner.)

That contest took place on September 27, 1997, which was the 20th anniversary year of the Hansoms of John Clayton, and as you can see in the above picture, a commemorative medal was given out five years later for the group's twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in November of 2002. In between another was made as a party favor for the year 2000 Hansoms banquet, because back then crossing into a new century was kind of a big deal. (Twenty years later? Not so much.)

And that is the story of the four medallions that came out of the three decades of the Peoria, Illinois Sherlock Holmes society, the Hansoms of John Clayton. And like many a local scion party favor, they are now rarities, put out in small numbers and starting to get lost to time as they fall out of Sherlockian hands and those who knew what they were about forget to write it down.  I appreciate Greg Ruby taking an interest, and getting me to put out a post on this little corner of our Sherlockian world that I had nearly forgotten.

You never know what you do today that someone might take an interest in some twenty-three years from now.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Remembering the Violets

Heather Holloway brought up an interesting problem on Facebook today, that of remembering the names and stories of all four ladies named "Violet" in the Canon Holmes.  Nobody remembers all four all of the time.

Violet Hunter is a favorite, probably the most remembered. Violet Smith has that forgetable last name. Violet DeMerville is memorable if you're into "Illustrious Client," but not everyone is a Casebook fan. And Violet Westbury? Dull role in a dull story that's only saved by a Mycroft appearance.

My first thought was to sing a song with all four in it, the way many of us learned our ABCs. My initial attempt ran, in my mind, to the tune of that restaurant birthday song, "Happy, happy birthday, on this your special day . . ." It went.

"Hunter got a haircut,
"Smith she rode a bike,
"DeMerv was caught by Gruner,
"Westbury's tale had brother Myke! Hey!"

Too many syllables in that last line, and Dayna Nuhn brought in Violet Stoner from Doyle's own adaptation of "Speckled Band" for the stage.

I always remember Violet Hunter due to all the theories that she was Sherlock Holmes's sister, after he mentioned thinking of her as such in "Copper Beeches." Holmes is a hunter, to be sure, so that one can be easy mental lock, if you're into Holmes having a nether a mastermind nor child-detective sister.

Violet Smith? That's a tough one. An earlier generation might picture cowardly Dr. Smith from the original Lost in Space fleeing an alien monster on a bicycle for a handy mnemonic. Picturing her pounding out the parts of her bicycle at a village smithy's anvil might work.

Violet DeMerville will always be Wonder Woman for me, with Baron Gruner looking a lot like Doctor Psycho, since Holmes called her a "wonder-woman in every way" and Gruner was a psycho, but that comic book reference might not work for everyone. She was the fire to Kitty Winter's ice, and maybe the thought of Adelbert Gruner's burning face might match her to "Illustrious Client" for you.

And Violet Westbury? The best way to remember her would seem to be that she had to bury her fiance, Arthur Cadogan West, in "Bruce-Partington Plans."  "West-bury" equals "Bury-West?" How could Doyle name characters in such a cheesy way, right?  He wouldn't do that, would he? Which suddenly turns me to a new theory.

Remember the thought that Violet Hunter was Sherlock Holmes's sister? What if Violet Holmes wound up meeting a young government clerk whilst visiting her eldest brother, fell in love, got engaged and than that young man was suddenly dead with his reputation in question? Wouldn't she pull in both of her brothers to deal with the matter? And wouldn't John Watson also want to disguise her name in a story he couldn't resist placing before the public? And disguising her name with "West-Bury" as he made sure the public knew Cadogan West's name as that of an innocent man?

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

So now you only have three Violets to remember. (We're not counting that renaming of poor Julia Stoner by Watson's agent.)  Life is good.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sherlock Holmes in "Modern" Times (being the 1970s)

A long, long time ago, in an evening of drinks and Sherlockian talk with my neighbor Bob, he brought out a book he had recently acquired. The title was Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times: An Anthology of Short Stories and it was by an author named Ira Bernard Dworkin.

Judge Dworkin was one of the founders of the Red-Headed League of New Jersey, when it came into being on November first of 1976, a society that is still going strong today. I'm sure many a member of that group picked up a copy when it came out in 1980, with a copyright-page price of $6.50. I'm not sure what the deal was with William-Frederick Press, the publisher of Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times, but one strongly suspects there was an element of self-publishing going on here. This is not a book that fought its way out of a slush pile.

Bob Burr and I had quite a merry evening reading passages from Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times, and it was such a memorable evening that I would later start to think I actually owned the book. Wanting to quote a particular passage from it a couple of weeks back, I realized I didn't, but even in a time of virus-spurred lockdowns, I was able to find a book dealer to gladly send it along.

When it did come and I gleefully started reading, the first page of the first story was such a dry recounting of some World War Two military business that I immediately put the book down, thinking my memories must have been off. But since the book is only a slim eighty pages end-to-end, I determined this morning to sit down with the book (and Twitter) to push on and read the whole thing.

I was not disappointed. It was just as I recalled, full of so-bad-it's-good moments, as well as some "men writing women characters" tragic moments that justify any fic "crimes" writers of other gender descriptions might pen today. Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times is layered in white male privilege. Sherlock Holmes is now the solver of not just mysteries, but all things, like a modern Solomon.

As the prologue gives warning: "Holmes' role is also modernized, casting him as an emissary of heads of state, amicus curiae to courts, social worker, as well as in his traditional role as the world's outstanding criminal investigator." And Holmes is more social worker and matchmaker than criminal investigator in the pages that follow -- as I tweeted this morning, in his most notable murder investigation for Scotland Yard, he basically goes, "Yep, you guys caught the killer. Murder is so sad."

Given that he was a veteran of World War II and a sitting judge, Ira Dworkin might be forgiven for dragging Sherlock Holmes through court case after court case involving matters that grew out of the war. But the overly beautiful teenage girls, whom Holmes and Watson both have to verbally admire even when they're pregnant, the soap opera love stories, the occasional lapses into transcription-style dialogue . . . well, one just isn't sure what to make of those. We've all written some bad Sherlock at one point or another (and if you think you haven't, either you're kidding yourself or you plainly just don't love Sherlock enough), but Sherlock Holmes in Modern Times is that rare example of fanfic making it into professional-looking print in a time when that was a very, very costly thing to pull off.

Had more folks been able to turn the same trick back then, we might have an entirely different view of what the 1970s were like in the Sherlockian world. There was as much silliness from grown folk back then as was ever attributed to any other generation of Sherlockians. I wish we had more of these books, but for the moment, I'm just glad I got to enjoy this one.

So, thanks, Judge Dworkin! I hope there are enough fiery-red-headed, disheveled angels in heaven for ya, and that they've explained a few things about writing female characters during your time there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Keep an eye out for tricksters!

Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm just a big fat liar.

To anyone who just recently realized that I'm posting photos of substantially altered books from my shelves, I'll let you in on a secret: This is a long-standing pattern of behavior.


There's a lesson here about the world, of course. The more we really want something, the more we're apt to believe (or at least hope for) what the con man is selling us to be true, whatever clothes they're wearing. In this case, I'm not a politician, salesman, or religious leader. I'm just a longtime Sherlockian who has a decent library and a tiny bit of street cred. But don't let me get too serious here, as I'm just doing this for fun.

Two of my Twitter feeds of late have been Paperback Paradise and author Richard Kadrey, both of which love to Photoshop books into bizarre creations. And loving both old books and bizarre creations, I had to try my hand. This new creative effort dates back to last year, when I caught a particular friend with Radix Pedis Diaboli, a book I then felt obliged to write. But that's just a recent bout of playing the Sherlockian trickster.

Some decades ago, when Sherlockian journals and newsletters were booming, random issues of something called Reichenbachian Cliff-Notes started appearing. They weren't all created by me, I have to say, nor even in Peoria. But they were purposefully designed to vex the obsessive by randomizing cover dates and numbering, and mention other issues that didn't exist.

Like I said, I'm just a big fat liar.

Speaking of "other issues that didn't exist," there is at least one footnote in the history of The Baker Street Journal that references something that doesn't exist. Not to hard to deduce if one follows a certain pattern of trickster behavior, but I'll leave that there. The footnote actually credits the best man at my wedding, a non-Sherlockian, with a scholarly article . . . that also doesn't exist.

So I am a lying liar who fibs and fools and sometimes fancies himself a Sherlockian Loki.

But since I came into a hobby where much of the attraction was a grand game of playing an author was really the literary agent of the narrator, and that very author was known for the occasional spritely hoax as well, I don't think that was not to be expected.

There are serious Sherlockians our there who are doing actual scholarly work, and it's a shame that somehow we all find ourselves under the same group identity. It's really a microcosm of our world right now, though, where serious people doing serious, important work seem to have their credibility hampered by fools with agendas pushing obvious lies. But at least in Sherlockiana, from Ronald Knox's original 1911 essay onward, most of us are aware of the vein of playing around that has long run through our hobby.

Doesn't hurt to stay on your toes, though. And as in the case of Radix Pedis Diaboli, just because something didn't exist, it doesn't mean it won't one day.

P.S. The Totally Phallus-Obsessed Sherlock Holmes is not one that I'm bringing forth into reality. It's all yours.

P.P.S. I'm probably not stopping in such behavior anytime soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

So which house would you choose?

Okay, so there's this little game going around the internet today, offering a choice of a bunch of houses full of people to be quarantined with. It all looked like some weird time-travel episode of Big Brother, but to me when they asked "Which house would you be quarantined in?" I immediately thought of actual houses and not the people in them. Of course, let me put a part of "actual" houses in quotes.

I mean, consider this choice of houses:

Baskerville Hall

The Cedars

Poldhu Cottage

Holdernesse Hall

The Little Ryder Street apartment of Nathan Garrideb


Okay, so they aren't all exactly "houses." But there's some variety there, the like a good rental property, we're going to say you don't have to see the owners during your stay. (Unless you really want to, or need concierge service.) Some have actual museums worth of things of interest, at least one is nice and remote, a couple have historic value . . . and that's just a sampling of what's available in terms of real estate from the Sherlock Holmes stories. You might even have a favorite of your own that's not on the list.

But don't say "Baker Street" . . . you're not kicking Holmes and Watson out for your social isolation. No Sussex Downs either -- especially not Sussex Downs. The point is social distancing, and if Holmes and Watson are around you're going to want to get in their space, and if you do that when Holmes is retired and heading toward "elderly," we're all going to be pretty mad at you. Let your mind wander the Canon a bit.

Appledore Towers would be full of interesting reading once you got that safe open. Caulfield Gardens is in a neighborhood with parties and music. Ridling Thorpe Manor has a lovely tennis lawn. Old Trevor's place in Donnithorpe has that "small but select library" that one wonders about, as well as fishing, duck hunting, and a tolerable cook. Holmes's Tripadvisor rating might count for something, but that guy also stayed in a stone hut on Dartmoor without complaint. (The stone hut on Dartmoor is probably not on anyone's list.)

So what house would you choose, from all of the Canon? There are some real choice selections there!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Watson on horseback

"It would be a rare place for a gallop."
-- John H. Watson, The Hound of the Baskervilles

We have many an image of John Watson in our minds and media. Fireside at Baker Street, riding in a railway carriage, taking a cab or a stroll through London, all of those are familiar as can be. But there is a single line in The Hound of the Baskervilles that puts Watson in a position we rarely, if ever, think of him: on horseback.

Innocently surveying the Great Grimpen Mire, Watson is asked his thoughts on the sight by Stapleton, and Watson's reaction is that the land would be a great place to ride a horse at a gallop. That's his first thought, and something it sound like he'd enjoy as a special treat.

But when was Watson enjoying horseback riding, and not just riding a horse, but racing it across the countryside at a full gallop? Is this some mere fantasy of the good doctor? Or something from his youth, left behind with city life?

As my generation and that before us transitioned from farms to cities, a lot of us have horses in our past. The smell of a stable instantly triggers a certain joy in me, of those big animals my parents rode that we occasionally got a chance at. By the time I was old enough to do any riding on my own, the horses were gone, but they always remain a touchstone of younger days I hold dear. 

John Watson gives hints of earlier days in Australia, with rumors of an American past as well, and either would have provided him with ample chances to give a horse a good run. There were horses in the British military at the same time as Watson, of course, but he wasn't with a cavalry regiment, and it seems an unlikely place to learn riding for pleasure, as his gallop comment would imply. No, John Watson was surely raised somewhere with room to ride and horsey folk to give him the chance. Added to his line about having "neither kith nor kin in England" and it seems to back up a colonial John Watson who liked to ride.

There is so much we don't know about the man that bumping into the occasional hint of something more, like that line in The Hound of the Baskervilles, is one of the joys of re-reading the Canon. You just never know what you might find.

Maybe even the idea of Watson on horseback.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The missing 221B Con blues

Damn, I can't even settle on a decent pun for the title of this piece. "221 not-to-be-con?" Yeah, Hamlet, but sounds too suicidal. "221B Con" or "221B Con't" looks way too much like the "Con't" is abbreviated "Continued." Perhaps they're all just a little too small, a little too hacky for the big bittersweet feels of tonight.

This is the night. The dead center of what was supposed to be 221B Con weekend. And it's not.

Seeing a lot of valiant efforts out their to keep the spirit up and live this weekend, and I'm so, so proud of all those heroes. And I really thought it would be cool to join in some of the online stand-ins, but when the time came, I just couldn't. It just reminded me too much of what we lost this year.

The January NYC-headed Sherlockians have never had to deal with this kind of hit thus far in their history. When they were celebrating this year, the first confirmed case of the virus in America was only occurring as they were starting to leave, and that on the other side of the country. It's sure to affect their next year somehow, but that's a ways off still. Time to accept, adjust, adapt, as we're all doing now. But have they ever had that event *YOINK*ed out from under them only the month before? Nope.

Now, I know a lot of my old school compatriots probably can't exactly see how I can compare 221B Con to the ancient New York Sherlockian tradition. Or be as heartbroken as I am about this year's missing con when I never go to their thing any more. NYC and dress-up dinners were never my style, but a solid con? That's my place and my people. When I finally got one centered on Sherlock Holmes after THIRTY-FIVE years as a Sherlockian who had been going to other fandoms' cons all that time? Aw, man, that was beautiful. Seven years ago, and if there's any truth to that old truism about the human body completely regenerating ever seven years, my current body has never lived in a world without 221B Con.

So it's a really bittersweet weekend. Bitter for no con, of course, but, damn, so sweet that the thing has existed and become a part of my life, bringing in so much content from so many Sherlockians whose work I might not have got to enjoy without the con. The writers, the artists, the personalities ... the little things -- 221B Con has always symbolized so much more than the con itself. It has represented that whole wave of Sherlockians that joined the party post-2010. All that creativity that sprang up across the internet, even from those who had nothing directly to do with the con -- creativity has been so celebrated there, that it's hard to separate the two.

I'll be missing that big jolt of inspiration that comes out of 221B Con each year, but in this crazy, crazy time, there's a lot of ideas crawling out of the lumber-room woodwork anyway. And with a year to prepare for the next Con . . . hmmm.

There's a time to feel the feels, and a time to use that lowering move as the crouch before the leap. And after many recent thoughts of Sherlock Holmes being compared to a tiger by Watson, that image is not all that unwelcome.

Onward and upwards, my friends. Onward and upwards.

The 2000 Three Garridebs Project

Among my other Sherlockian skills is one I call "bad at running a scion society." Maybe it was the timing or just my own self-absorbtion/maybe-ADD, but along the way, between the Hansoms of John Clayton losing it's founding show-runner and the final meeting, we did get in a few attempts at something different (Which may have been the real issue -- to run a society, somebody has to be into holding a routine together, and not always reinventing the thing. But I digress.) One of those events was a video production of "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" done in one-take after a single table read by the group's members. I suspect it was inspired by that very schlock-inspiring 1994 film Ed Wood, in which Johnny Depp's title character was always satisfied with the first take of everything.

What I do know for sure was that the title card was inspired by 1999's The Blair Witch Project, another adventure in video schlock. Here's the cover of the pamphlet that we handed out with copies I had made of the tape.

The production was an impromptu one, at the January 2000 meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, held in the mansion that housed the offices of Converse Marketing. It as a historic site, built in 1881 and restored by Converse, and a beautiful site for filming a Sherlockian production. Of course, had we spent any time in costuming, learning lines, etc.

"As with all great films, The Three Garrideb Project began with two producers and an idea, an idea that Peoria's oldest and most venerated Sherlockian society contained the pure thespian talent necessary to bring one of Sherlock Holmes's most dramatic cases to the video screen." This, of course, is pure puffery. The late Mike Cook, pictured at the podium above, worked at Converse Marketing and was always a wonderful resource for the Hansoms. I would almost kill to have the  wonderful spinning wheel of the 60 cases he built, with Basil Rathbone's magnifying glass focussed in on the case it stopped at. He also built that lecturn he is standing behin. I do still have that.

"From the first, they spared no expense, recruiting the musical talents of Robert C. Burr for the movie's haunting score and the artful camerawork of Jean King to give the film a lush, vivid look." More puffery, of course, but I don't think many Sherlockians appreciated Bob Burr's keyboard skills. He had a baby grand piano and an organ in his living room, and he and his girlfriend Lucy often played duets. Jean King, the video camera operator, is, of course, my mother. (Yes, I'm the sort of mama's boy who has her video his exploits. Explains a lot, doesn't it?)

Of all the actors, I think Suellen Kirkwood gives the best performance as Nathan Garrideb, though her late husband Ron's Watson has his moments, as do Bob's "Killer" Evans and Richard Laredo's Sherlock. Sue is the last of the Hansoms we're still in contact with, showing up at the library discussion group every now and again.

As I mentioned before, Converse Manor is a beautiful place. It had a Victorian elevator and pipes running water through the outer walls to cool it in summer. It also has a ballroom on it's uppermost floor.

As with any meeting of the Hansoms of John Clayton, once the official meeting was done, we always ate refreshments that were basically a late supper, and movie-filming night was no different.

It was a nice evening during the latter days of the Sherlockian society, and the video is now on YouTube which you can find here.