Author Topic: The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist


The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
« on: October 22, 2019 »
Almost all of us mislay our keys from time to time. Or walk into a room and don’t remember why we’re there.

Are you lost, big boy?

Or most chilling, we may with no malice aforethought forget an anniversary. However, I’m willing to bet not too many people have taken the train to London for an organised ride, only to have it dawn on them, as they’re tapping their toes at the meeting point, that their watch might not be wrong, but that doesn’t mean they’re in the right time zone. So to speak.

My wife was rendered nearly speechless when I called to relay the breaking news that I had somehow translated this

to this

Put that in your pipe and smoke it

and it still blows my mind a little that I could be 168 hours premature. On the other hand, didn’t the mastermind himself not allow certain well-known facts to misentertain him while he filled his brain with more pertinent items?

It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones." "What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”
A Study in Scarlet

My original plan had been to catch the first half of the tour, then head off for a proper meal, because a) as a 16/8er, breakfast involves more of a fast than normal, b) my favourite dining spot opens at 11.30, and I like to arrive at the food boat before it fills with starving vegans, c) I don’t get into the city so often these days; I have places to go and art to meet.

Whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the caption

This rather changed the complexion of the day ahead. “Find me Sherlock Holmes-y places to go,” I instructed Therese, for I hadn’t a clue where to go after 221B Baker Street.

I’ve read a bit of Arthur Conan Doyle, but I’ve read even more Donald J. Sobol, thanks to a dissolute childhood spent lounging in a library well stocked with his works. Who is Donald J. Sobol, you ask?

As American as baseball and cruiser bikes

Sobol (the J stands alone, which was very presidential of his parents) was a prolific writer of whodunits for kids. The first in the series, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, was published in 1953. His books haven’t been out of print since.

You could call his work derivative (who hasn’t been there); I suspect authors prefer to be thought of as inspired. I don’t suppose the stories are comparable as literature which stands the test of time. But I do recall Encyclopedia as being more fun than his spiritual forebear,

Discussing The Case of the World's Smallest Violin

doubtless because he and his friends were easier to relate to than a couple of middle aged Victorian gentlemen could ever be. Even though I'm now middle aged and, well, Elizabethan.

All of which is to say, I couldn’t remember anything about what Holmes & Watson got up to in London town.

Do you have any tickets left for Momma Mia!? It's for a friend.

This is where a guide with the knowledge might have come in handy. A search by my research assistant offered mostly movie locations, with a sprinkling of more substantial prospects. The game was afoot.

Thus I made my leave of Hyde Park Corner, not before finding an adapter on the pavement that only looked like it had been gnawed on a little

I deduce somebody needed to connect two devices

and bearing witness to the mystery of the ballet dancer in the shadow of Wellington Arch.

Dance like nobody's gawking

The crime-fighting duo’s fictional lair wasn’t difficult to locate once once I'd oriented myself.

It sits at what should apparently be 239 Baker Street, between YOGA + PILATES and another tourist mæcca.

It took the powers-that-be less than 5 minutes to emerge and request that my bike vacate its prime spot.

An employee who gave up the name Michael stood at the entrance, his main job being to appear on countless Instagrams and direct traffic through the portal. Ambassadors in blue usually serve 45 minute shifts, which doesn’t sound too arduous until you remind yourself it’s not polite to scowl after the first 50 selfies.

"I’m happy to give you my autograph, but if you’re looking for Sergeant Pepper, he’s next door."

I didn’t seriously consider going in: too crowded to be countenanced, too expensive, and now too besmirched by a certain lack of compassion for velocipedists. A few minutes of window shopping was enough.

Down the street and in front of the train station stands the beanstalk himself, a beacon for Baker Street irregulars.

Further along was evidence of cashing in on several fronts.

My next stop was the Old Bailey, which must have had seen a parade of malefactors nabbed by the sleuth, all shaking their fists and decrying ineluctable logic.

Send him down

Putting justice in reverse, I then made my way to New Scotland Yard on Victoria Embankment by way of Downing Street, where the powers-that-be didn’t ask me to move my bike.

The metropolitan police weren’t headquartered here back in the day, but it was an entirely justifiable photo op, seeing as Sherlock wasn’t a vigilante, but a “consulting detective” – an enabler of proper representatives of the state.

I didn't stage this shot guv, honest

There’s a themed pub nearby, of no interest otherwise as I’m teetotal. Just medicinal cocaine for me, thanks. (In all candor, my only snuff is sunshine.)

Then it was up to the The Langham Hotel, which while not where conception of the classic series actually happened, has been a legendary meeting place of great minds, including Conan Doyle’s and Oscar Wilde’s. A number of stories also mention it.

The Case of the Missing L

It was time for cheese: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, on Fleet Street. Wait a minute, wasn’t I just around here? Who was designing this itinerary, anyway? Don’t blame Therese. I was happy to be spinning through the city on a full-size bike for a change, so the more pedalling, the better.

This was a pub where the author liked to hang out. As far as I know, that’s it. A famously verbose and profane parrot used to live there, too.

Polly wants an uncensored dictionary

I decided The Clink south of the river [shudder] was worth a visit, because the dark cobblestone streets are suitably atmospheric, if choked with enough sightseers to deter all but the most determined cyclist.

Boris bikes don't stop

You'll know the devil by his tuba

We’ve all seen pictures of Arthur Conan Doyle, right? Still, I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Time to go to The National Portrait Gallery. This necessitated a detour through Busker’s Alley, because who doesn’t want to see a man limbo under his doom

within spitting distance of the Pokémon predator Pikachu.

That’s just cheap alliteration. I briefly met the man inside:

Open wide

and can form no judgements other than that he happily accepted my coin. I didn’t even cheat with something equally clinky, as I easily could've done, but where would my karma be then.

I gave the floating Yodas a wide berth. They breed like rabbits, but aren’t nearly as adorable.

There were only three a minute ago

Yes, you never know what sights you'll see in The Smoke.

It takes all kinds

Once inside the Portrait Gallery I was presented with a plethora of suspects.

We all look alike to you, don't we

Fortunately someone who worked there was willing to lead me to a painting of Conan Doyle with only a modicum of correction of the pronunciation of his name.

Say it again, Sam

Bernie Sanders had a gander too

Keen to capture anything else with the stamp of Sherlock on it, as well as grab another bite to eat, I went to John Lewis, which delivered with a cinnamon roll and fun for all the reasonably alert famiy.

It’s already Christmas on the third floor.

Just the kind of thing Moriarty would get up to

bonus alternate caption
Why exploding kittens? I don't understand the question.

Comes with a triggering device for cat people*

*After a serious discussion the day after posting this about emotionally distressing social media posts, I feel compelled to add this link about the death a pet to show that I am not, in fact, without feeling for small furries. If anybody came near Chompsky with an exothermic device I’d have a contract put out on them, and not the nice legal kind.

It strikes me that Chief Brody could’ve killed jaws by feeding him a rigged kitten

Watson saved the receipt in case his friend didn't like it

Last stop: the British Museum. A security guard rifled through my bag, in search of sharp objects to cut himself with for having such a pointless job. Thank goodness I hadn’t bought that gift idea sitting near the exploding kittens, or I’d be posting this from whatever the British version of Guantanamo is.

The museum has a solid connection to our subject, as he spent time researching cases in the British Library's reading room, once the core of the building but since relocated to so far north it would give me a nosebleed.

You'll go far, he told her

I touched base with the Rosetta Stone, as surely the great detective must have done from time to time, savouring what was once a magnet to mystery solvers.

Google Translate overload

The gift shop offered its usual amusements,

Mrs Hudson was forever buying him knick-knacks just so she could have the pleasure of dusting them

the Enlightenment Gallery its enlightenments,

Holmes was beginning to suspect the fair sex wasn’t Watson’s department after all

and the book shop its stock-in-trade.

"I'd better leave before they ask me to sign these."

That about wrapped it up. It was time for the train back to the kind of place where Holmes retired to look after bees

The man always was a master of disguise

and reminisce.

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman whose number he didn't get

PS. I was going to call this The Case of the Clueless Cyclist, or perhaps The Case of the Early Adopter, but it turned out there was a perfectly apt title staring me in the face.


Baker Street revisited
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2019 »
Last week:

This week:

I began the morning by running up to 221B. It was early enough for a peek inside before bustle obscured all but itself.

Do they test for drugs?

Then to the tour. Can't believe I missed this before!

Tim gave us background on Arthur Conan Doyle's writerly aspirations and disappointments, whilst Tim worried that half of us were going to be wiped out because we were standing in the street. (Note that I may be taking of bit of poetic licence in this and indeed many previous and subsequent posts.)

The birth of Holmes and Watson's friendship happened at St Bartholomew's Hospital. We went there via Islington, which surprised some by the absence of Islington. I'd visited Barts as well but forgotten to mention it, perhaps too traumatised by the casual violence in this part of town.

We were reminded that Sherlock had a brother named Mycroft who was said to be even more brilliant than he, but alas had "no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right." My hero, in other words. Mycroft brought Holmes The Adventure of the Yellow Submarine, which is a much better name than The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans. Aldgate tube station figured in the story, so there we went.

I doubt Holmes had much use for modern art. Still, the Tate Modern was a handy comfort stop on the way to Battersea Park for some business about a pagoda; my notes are unclear. Google has yielded an intriguing palimpsest, and there's this happy coincidence:

The ride had a couple more stops to go, but that's the last of my documentation of it. I also deeply regret neglecting to get a picture of George Peabody with that traffic cone on his head when we passed.

My day out wasn't finished. In search of possible illustrations for a short story about Moriarty, I visited the Science Museum's mathemathics gallery.

Slide rule to plan crimes to the nearest decimal point

Instruments of torture which can also be used to make architectural drawings

Remember when Father Ted made Mrs Doyle cry by buying her a Teasmade? This is how Watston made Holmes cry.

Babbage analytical engine built with a grant from the Moriarty Foundation

The exhibit on phrenology caused visitors to flee

The gift shop left me a little queasy, if I'm honest.

Ethically sourced?

A rare sigh of relief for discrimination

Back on the road I saw a witch rollerblading, which is what they do when there are no brooms handy.

She was on her way to a convention celebrating diversity in morbidity.

Organ donor

I'll trade you my tongue sandwich for your eye of newt yogurt. Wait – is that a brain? You've been holding out!

Thrown out of the coven for crimes of fashion / Is that a bunny in your pants or are you just hoppy to see me?

Proof that death can come as a gentle embrace

The Brexit unicorn?

Think of the beautiful children we'd make. Possibly from different parts.

A Study in Scarlet
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2019 »
They say history is written by the victors, and so it proved to be the case with Watson and his hero Holmes, the former having a certain talent with wordsmithing which set the latter on a course for sleuthing superstardom whilst I have been cast as the eternal villain. My purpose here is to set the record straight for anyone with ears to listen.

My story began, as does everybody’s, with my mother. She was, in a word, mmmonstrous. Why the surplus of the unlucky 13th letter, you may ask, gentle reader. Herein lies a tale.

Mother hated me from the first word out of my mouth, which was “m-m-m-mum”; for I had a stutter. Oh, the anguish which greeted an innocent babe! The look of horror in her eyes remains with me to this day, for memories form earlier than the scientific establishment is willing to admit. I even recall conversations she had with my father whilst I was in the womb. He was an ineffectual man, his sole accomplishment being present and accounted for at the time of my conception; he was easily dominated otherwise. He, too, lingered on initial consonants, though his condition was mysteriously acquired only after several years of m-m-matrimony.

My childhood was a series of visits to one speech therapist after another. They, too, were ineffectual. Mother persevered with various home remedies, each more gruesome and outlandish than the last. I recall, for example, an entire month spent with a fish strapped to my chin. How this was meant to correct my impediment remains a mystery.

My face became almost a permanent shade of scarlet from serial humiliations, not least of which her obvious shame at having produced me, which hardship entered her every conversation with neighbours and tradesmen.

I was to suffer under her “improvement regime” for the entirety of my time under her and father’s roof. Naturally, I effected escape as soon as I was able to provide for myself. This involved, I am ashamed to admit, criminal activities.

Everyone is embarrassed for a stutterer. Embarrassment turns to impatience. As it happens, an impatient person is an easy mark for those practiced in the art of misdirection, such as magicians… and pickpockets. In order to sustain myself I took up a career as the latter.

I was so proficient that I came to the attention of a criminal mastermind, who pulled me deep into the underworld. His name was never spoken aloud under pain of death; only written when absolutely necessary, then immediately swallowed, no matter what the medium used. A man was once forced to eat his own hand after having the misfortune to have scribbled it on his palm. I shudder to call him anything at all, but needs must. His headquarters were deep in the bloody heart of Smithfield, so Smith it shall be.

The first thing he did was pay for lessons with an expert speech therapist, so that I might master that which had heretofore mastered me. Self-control is a key which unlocks many doors. Thus did Smith earn my loyalty.

His mind was an encyclopedia of crime which I devoured, from arson to zoning violations – a backwater of criminality, but one which offered rich opportunities for blackmail lest a bit of arson be called for.

That I did not commit any of the more abominable acts can be attributed to a squeamishness which he forgave, realising that he had a keen intellect at his disposal, which was much rarer than another set of meathooks twitching to bludgeon. Not incidentally I also became his bookkeeper, as I had a love for numbers. Suffice it to say much human suffering was represented in the tidy columns I kept.

Thus did a willing and eager pawn eventually come to be heir apparent to the crown. I may well have attained my goal had Smith not decided on one final test: my long apprenticeship declared almost over, he required that I murder my own mum. Genteel poisoning wouldn’t do. He wished me very much blooded.

It was an imposing milestone, yet hadn’t this woman tormented me for years? Caused me untold blushes which all but crippled my love life, a florid complexion being less than attractive to the opposite sex at the time? Left me with scars on my psyche, not to mention a phobia of fish? Oh for some meathooks!

I procured the necessary implements and let myself into the family abode very late the next night. Father was snoring; mother was already lying still and silent as a corpse.

“Who’s there?” she croaked as I stood in contemplation of the act I was about to commit.

“It’s me, mother,” I answered. At this she drew the tattered blanket up to her chin as if a chill had entered the room.

“It can’t be,” she said. “That stuttering fool is dead in a ditch somewhere.” Yet she sounded uncertain and a little frightened, which pleased me.

“Get out of bed,” I told her. “Don’t wake father. He needn’t be a witness to this.”

She froze, prompting me to add with icy finality: “Now, mother. Don’t make me ask you again.”

Mechanically, she got up and drew a shawl around her, then preceded me into the kitchen, there to sit at the bare table. I remained standing, towering over her.

She seemed much older than her actual years. Her hair was speckled with grey, her face, creased by countless scowls. Her hands trembled slightly as she pulled her shawl closer and peered up at me. I noticed she had a cataract.

I drew the butcher’s cleaver from my cloak and laid it on the table. A hand saw followed. She looked down at them, then up at me, eyes wide.

I had no speech planned, considering her beyond enlightenment. And yet something in her good eye stopped me as my hand reached for an instrument of reckoning. Was it a hint of malice still? I grabbed the cleaver and held it over her head.

Without warning she dropped from the chair to her knees, staying my hand at the arc of its revenge. “M-m-m-my son!” she cried – it had been half a lifetime since I had heard those words, even if they had been full of derision and pity. “P-P-Please f-f-f-forgive me!”

Well, this was a turn for the books. I stared down at this wreck of a woman, who was now clinging to her would-be executioner for salvation. She wept.

What bulwark is there against a mother’s tears? And why was she suddenly stuttering? Surely it wasn’t to mock me again – was it?

She hugged my legs more tightly even as my hand couldn’t make up its mind what to do with the cleaver. Finally my grip loosened sufficiently so that it clattered to the floor.

I dropped to my knees as well, and we the both of us became converts there and then. She devoted her life to good works and in fact entered a convent, retaining her stutter to her dying day, considering it a sign from above. I repented my life of crime, and prayed I would somehow escape Smith’s considerable wrath.

There my story might have ended sooner or later, of interest to no one but my confessor, were it not for an encounter with none other than Sherlock Holmes.

Extricating oneself from a vast criminal enterprise is not made easier by suddenly being filled with the best of intentions. It might, in fact, be exponentially more difficult. Without my underworld contacts to call on, I was adrift: without income, friends, possibly a future.

My savings were mostly spent on installing my mother in a first class convent, and what plastic surgery the 19th century had available. The latter involved numerous trips to St. Bartholomew’s, then in the vanguard of such procedures. It was there, in search of relief of the pains of the scalpel, that I met Mr Holmes in a laboratory.

It was was a lofty chamber, lined and littered with countless bottles. Broad, low tables were scattered about, which bristled with retorts, test-tubes, and little Bunsen lamps, with their blue flickering flames: exactly as Watson would come to describe it.

Upon our introduction and the shaking of my proffered hand he rendered me immediately nonplussed by ascertaining that I was a former stutterer with a dark past and a head for numbers; also that I was in physical distress (which I had endeavoured to hide). The final deduction I would attribute to his carelessly strong grip rather than to any extra-natural powers of observation, but astonishment was otherwise called for. I was about to ask him how he had obtained his conclusions when he reached into a pocket and offered me a sachet of powder.

“Try this, it works wonders,” he said, then was off to his next experiment.

As I left the lab a man rudely brushed past, nearly knocking me over. One guess who that was.

The powder did, indeed, work wonders. When its effects wore off I went back to St Barts, to be told that Holmes had left for the day but might be found at his digs up at Baker Street.

A Mrs Hudson let me in, but I was blocked from further ingress by the man who I would in no way call a gentleman: Mr John H. Watson.

“He’s busy,” said Watson abruptly. “I can guess why you’re here though. You require a fresh supply to feed your dirty habit.”

Before I could offer any defence he pulled another serving of the wondrous substance out of a pocket which I ascertained was full of the stuff, and wagged it under my nose.

“The first one was gratis,” he said. “From now on it will cost you.”

Readers shocked and dismayed at my depiction of Mr Watson should remember the words at the beginning of this tale: history is written by the victors. Of what use could it possibly be to Watson to paint himself in such a dim light?

The doctor had left Afghanistan with more than wounds; he had made valuable contacts. I sighed, paid, and made to leave when Holmes appeared at the head of the stairs.

“It’s the mysterious numerate stranger!” he cried by way of invitation. “What are you waiting for, Watson? Invite him to our little sanctuary!”

At this Watson had little recourse but to extend his arm in faux hospitality, and up I went.

“This is where we go to escape the commonplace of existence,” said Holmes once I had arrived upstairs and settled myself into a chair which first had to be cleared of its electric guitar.

221B was, indeed, filled with curious objects which I could only attach a name to later, including a Nintendo; stacks of DVDs, many of them Sherlock Holmes mysteries; a lava lamp (“so retro,” said Holmes dreamily); a MacBook Air, which I learned was like an infinitely turbocharged Babbage Analytical Engine; and a microwave in the corner which Mrs Hudson seemed very fond of, as she was constantly attending to it.

Overseeing it all was a large flat screen upon which was a moving picture, so lifelike I could easily imagine walking right into the frame. “Would you like to play Fortnite?” asked Holmes, greedily reaching for a controller.

“You go ahead on your own for now,” said Watson. “Our visitor and I have important matters to discuss.”

Holmes frowned momentarily, but was henceforth quickly lost to us. Evidently the game was afoot. Watson took me aside and breezily explained all, as the prideful will often do, greedy themselves for an enraptured audience.

It seems that the pair had stumbled onto time travel quite by accident. An elaborate contraption from the imagination of HG Wells wasn’t required: merely a “hit” on a “bong”. Said bong was even produced by my once recalcitrant host, with relish. He never did explain how the pair had obtained the device or divined its wondrous properties.

“You name an era, we’ve been there,” said Watson. “Everything from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Swinging Sixties and beyond. Knowing our own era best, this is where we can best make use of our new knowledge.”

I remained quietly agog as he continued his disquisition. The “TV” in particular had me enraptured. Watson followed my gaze.

“There appears to be enough ‘future juice’, for want of a better term, to keep the various appliances operating for a period as yet to be determined. That we are able to watch television at all would seem to defy all rational explanation. And yet, we are completely up to date with EastEnders.”

Before I could ask what EastEnders was, Watson grew deadly serious.

“You are sworn to secrecy under pain of death. For you are in hiding, are you not? I have merely to disclose your existence in its new form to your previous employer and have him be done with you.”

And so was my plastic surgery, with all the anguish involved, rendered for naught.

The pair’s use of the bong had made the solving of crimes child’s play once they figured out how to aim it in the right direction. While Holmes was reasonably bright, his fabled powers of deduction were mostly fiction and wild guesswork (Watson never mentioned how much Holmes got wrong). Apparently he now spent most of his days either at the lab refining “product”, or at 221B kept in another kind of low stupor by an endless series of games supplied by his nefarious roommate, bent on fame at any price. For Watson had been to the future and seen just how popular Sherlock would become.

The time paradoxes alone were giving me a headache; I was dizzy with causal loops. I half expected the Sherlock DVDs to vanish in a puff of smoke themselves.

There was a sudden ejaculation of joy on the other side of the room as Holmes scored a victory on ‘Fortnite’, or whatever it is people do. This consumed Watson’s pained attention long enough for me to grab the bong and secret it under my cloak, an obvious plan having instantaneously formed, indeed given almost as a gift, to free me of Smith and indeed all my present cares in a harsh world.

“Could you direct me to the water closet?” I asked the still distracted Watson.

“Second door on your left,” he automatically answered, having been unwillingly pulled to Holmes’s side so that the renowned mental giant could have a closer audience for his hooting and gloating.

Once inside the WC I lit the bong, and before I knew it I was in the 21st century.

Upon my arrival it didn’t take long to learn that I have become a villain to end all villains. Truth to tell, this pleases me no end. Annoyed beyond reckoning at the theft of his magic bong, Watson had his revenge. Well, let him have it, for I have the future in the palm of my hand.

Meanwhile, the present occupies me with its myriad delights, from Excel spreadsheets to universal suffrage to Netflix to proper dental hygiene.

I still stutter from time to time, but on purpose and as a romantic lure, as some ladies find it charming that their presence robs you of the power of articulation; that which once helped pick pockets now aids in the theft of hearts. A hint of scarlet doesn’t go amiss, either.

- Her shawl must've slipped from her shoulders.
- Credit where it’s due. I've never actually smoked weed, in a bong or otherwise. I understand it can be efficacious.
- This has been a magical mystery tour for me, too.