Monday, April 12, 2021

The guy Sherlock Holmes caused to retire?

 I was finishing out an article on Dr. Watson's Paddington days tonight, when a find that's definitely worthy of another article popped up as I read through the 1937 An Encyclopaedia of London, edited by William Kent.

When you're writing on Watson, and the book that's nominally not about Sherlock Holmes mentions Sherlock Holmes, alarm bells go off. And when you find that there was a private detective who lived less than a mile from 221B Baker Street who retired to Brighton in 1884 at the tender age of 56, well, those alarm bells turn into bellowing foghorns.

"Paddington" Pollaky, known as "Ritter Von Pollaky, Kriminalsrath" on the Continent, was apparently a very popular private detective, even celebrated in song by Gilbert and Sullivan because he was just that well known. "His name was frequently in the Personal column of the first page of The Times." The guy was apparently doing quite well for himself. The 1937 article on Paddington where I first encountered him said he retired in 1884, but Wikipedia says he closed his Paddington office in 1882 and gave up private investigation forever.

Sure, he was only 56, but that is definitely an age where one feels one's self slowing down, especially if there is some bright young thing nearby operating at a much higher speed. (Am I speaking from experience here? Yes, I am.) And given the year was 1882, we all know who started doing business less than a mile away from Pollaky's office at number 13 Paddington Green just the year before: a very bright young thing named Sherlock Holmes.

Never had a man a better reason to take his life's savings and retire to the beach, I think. It would be fascinating to explore Pollaky's doings circa 1880 to see if he might have encountered, or even been approached by an aspiring student of detective. Or was Pollaky just the bar that Sherlock Holmes set to raise himself above?

But I've got too many other things cooking to follow that trail at the moment. If you decide to take it up, let me know what you find . . . or if some earlier enterprising Sherlockian has followed it already. Because it certainly seems a trail too good not to follow.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The year 221B Con was in my basement, 2021

 There should be no doubt that 221B Con is one of my great Sherlockian event-loves, especially if you've ever read this blog in pre-pandemic springtime. From the never-before-seen throngs at the very first one to the . . . well, every little thing at our last time in Atlanta. After losing last year's incarnation to 2020, the monster year that took Godzilla sized bites out of every part of our lives, with 2021 not quite reliable in April . . . well, there was really only one route to go for this year's con.

It's been a year of Sherlockian Zoom meetings and symposiums. Nothing new there. And they were. . . . okay. Some nice side benefits of extending our reach, meeting new people, but as this weekend approached and my attention turned to a Zoom version of 221B Con? Well, I'll be honest, I started getting worried and a little depressed. I really didn't want this to be just another Zoom.

Without the reserved time of vacation days and a trip to Atlanta, my Friday workday wound up running later than the opening panel, and at the evening was mostly breakout rooms. And my past experience with breakout rooms, combined with all that comes from being a natural introvert (even after years of practicing pretending I'm not), I eventually wrote Friday night off. Taking vacation days, being present in the hotel where it's happening, well, you can't help but venture out, perhaps see the right person in the hotel bar, and get the social-brain going. Being at home, with all the normal routines? Not helpful.

Side note: Also just happened to be the week of the hundredth episode of the Watsonian Weekly podcast, which added another layer of duty and distraction. I should be editing that right now.

But Saturday came, all obstacles cleared, and I clicked on the Zoom link.

And there were Taylor and Crystal. Some other folks, too, just hanging out in the lobby, but those were the first two, quick to say "Hi!" and start talking about who had said what the night before and that my favorite movie came up, and . . . well, suddenly my weekend changed. Crystal explained navigating between the rooms of the Zoom, which somehow became easier than any other major Zoom event I had been to. And I went over to the "Imposter Syndrome" panel, one of the con staples. And things started to actually feel a little like 221B Con and not like a Zoom, just a little, but it was getting there.

I am a huge fan of 221B Con's five-track system, a veritable buffet of programming with something tasty every hour, usually so enticing that you sometimes can't take an hour off for actual food. And in a first attempt at a Zoom con, the 221Bee-keepers provided plenty of rooms but kept a single content thread, almost a sampler version of the con with less non-Sherlock-Holmes side dishes. A wise choice, I think, and hopefully we'll be back to a five-track live situation next year, but if we're not, I wouldn't mind seeing more tracks in not just this event's Zooms. If the rooms are available, why not use them?

But I do understand, not everyone is as wandering-brained as I. 

The panels, the return of past guests David Nellist and Ben Syder, the flash-fic writing, the watchalong of "Sherlock Holmes and Dinosaurs" . . . I could go on about the content, but when all was said and done, the content wasn't the most important part of 221B Con.

It was the Bees.

Folks have talked about the Sherlockian community and its wonderful welcoming nature for decades. Outside of a few assholes and bad policy choices, it's a warm and wonderful place. But something about the community-for-a-weekend that a single-hotel con builds in hard to match. And when one considers that same community-for-a-weekend has been built over and over for nearly a decade? Like living in any small town, you may not know all the names, but you know the faces, you know the personalities.  I don't know when we started calling the population of 221B Con "Bees," but the name has stuck.

The Bees were wonderful Zoomers. Yeah, somebody always slips up on muting their microphone, but for the most part, everybody was lovely. We weren't sitting in rooms at a hotel, but once someone mentioned that you could move the Zoom boxes to line up the panel people on top, well, that worked pretty much the same. And with a whole weekend, we didn't have to spend that mandatory first fifteen minutes of every gathering talking about vaccines, or whatever else the current state of Covid world was.

I really should have taken a couple days off on either side and just cleared everything out. Set aside a 221B Con room in the house and just immersed myself in it completely, and learned Discord and Gather. Because even though it wasn't the actual big wonderful live-and-in-person event? The spirit was there. I would never have believed that the magic would be quite the same. The Sherlock Holmes Birthday Weekend, back in January, while better than nothing, hadn't had quite the same feel as a trip to NYC. But 221B Con? It may not have been the full dose, but it sure as hell was a booster shot of the real deal.

When I say that 221B Con is one of my event true loves, a place and a people that have been an important part of my life, it's not just a pose. It's deeply heartfelt, as in, yes, something I actually feel in my chest, and has been since that first year blew my mind by going beyond any Sherlockian event that I had ever known. And next year is the tenth anniversary. 

However it winds up being held, it's going to be a helluva of a time. Because if 221B Con could work its magic over Zoom? Oh, hells yeah, getting back to Atlanta is gonna be a time.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Make-do Sherlocks: The January Man

 The year was 1989. Sherlock Holmes was history's greatest detective. History's.

In 2021, the idea of a modern day Sherlock Holmes is no surprise. Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, we know what how a Sherlock Holmes existing in the modern day world. 

Back in 1989? Very few people believed Sherlock Holmes would work in the modern day. "Soldiers don't carry handkerchieves in their sleeves any more," they would say. "You don't get mud spatters from riding in hansom cabs." Sherlock Holmes was too tied to the Victorian era. And why not? Jeremy Brett was riding high on Canonical adaptations back then.

Despite Rathbone's W.W.II modern Sherlock, then long past, was so black-and-white old movie Sherlock that he might as well have been Victorian. So what were we getting instead of a modern Sherlock Holmes?

Nick Starkey in a movie called The January Man.

Not a regular cop? Check.

Brother in the government? Check.

A Watson whose main thing is a creative skill? Check.

In 1989, Kevin Kline's detective felt as much like a modern reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes as we were going to get. Only this time, he seemed to have a certain emotional intelligence as well as logical intelligence. Alan Rickman has been proposed as a capable Sherlock Holmes many times, but in The January Man, his Watson is a very unique, yet perfect match for his Bohemian Sherlock.

"We don't need Sherlock Holmes after all," his brother states at a turning point in the movie, identifying that Nick Starkey is their Sherlock Holmes in this tale. The official force thinks they've solved it, as they always do. The villain is almost working a crime spree with a pattern that 1966 Batman would have loved. And this is far from a perfect movie.

A serial movie with a comedic climax? A modern day Sherlock who fistfights a blackface serial killer down every staircase in an apartment building. Critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the worst movies of all time." But, y'know, it has its charm. The cast is full of fabulous people. And it's best watched on Hulu or somewhere else that doesn't edit out the adult parts.

But in 1989, The January Man was as close as we got to a modern day Sherlock Holmes.

Because it was going to be nine more years until Zero Effect came out. And that's another story.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Irregulars -- Where can it go from here?

 Has it only been a week since Netflix's The Irregulars came out?

Ah, but the time does fly of late. For those of us that made it through already, the question is now, "Where could it go from here?" I was discussing this last Sunday with a savvy Holmesian who pointed to the British television model where a series told a story and often just left it at that, where in America we are very used to our shows flogging a concept until it's an unwatchable pulp of the original.

The Irregulars had a very definite story to tell, and there's going to be spoilers in the next part, so step out of the blog post if you need to.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick . . .

Okay, so with Sherlock Holmes out of the picture now, with the rift between the living and the dead sealed, and all the monsters caused by it gone, what is left to know, what story left to tell?

Well, for starters, the Bea and Watson detective partnership has just truly begun. What do they investigate?

Remember how the Linen Man mentioned he had a son? Yeah, killing his father might not set well with that ipsissimus. And you know how much trouble an ipsissimus can be.

And, yes, it seems like Leo has given up Bea to go marry another royal, but guess what? We still don't know who Bea's father is. Maybe we're going to learn that she qualifies as "another royal" in some way that might keep Leo in the picture . . . as well as add plot elements to whatever supernatural thing that royal family is into.

That said, there's more to each of these characters to lend itself to a new story, but finding that story, well, finding the story in anything is what separates the truly talented from the rest of us. There have been successful sequels. Do the storytellers behind The Irregulars have that talent? I hope so.

And a second season of The Irregulars is, curiously, the only place I'd rather not see Sherlock Holmes. If he pokes his head back out of a rift, there had better be one excellent reason.

In any case, it was good to see The Irregulars in the "Top 10 in the U.S." Today on Netflix. It didn't hit that last week, because it probably wasn't promoted enough. Hitting that rank this weekend, however, shows that the word of mouth on the show is good enough to have an effect, however much certain folks in certain Sherlockian circles have complained. (And a few of them sure are out racists.)

Sequels are always risky, but I'd like to see a little more of Spike and Jessie, Bea and Watson, and even Leo and Billy. (Those aren't all ships, but you can make your own call.) Just not Sherlock Holmes, this time. Unless it's yet another new Netflix show. In that case, go for it!