I bought this loaf and when I put it on the wooden chopping board, it looked so nice I had to take a picture. But my white kitchen top made too harsh a background, so I later bought another loaf of bloomer and did it again using a kitchen towel for a background.
Bread is one of the oldest man-made foods and is culturally and religiously significant. It’s also often used as a metaphor for sustenance. The Lord’s Prayer, for example, features the line “give us today our daily bread”. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre says to (that bastard) Rochester: “Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup?” Bread-winner is used to describe the member of the household who earns the largest chunk of the income.
Okay, so the previous post was stupid. Let me do it again, better.
In terms of my photography, overwhelming majority of pictures taken in 2020 were with my smartphone and always in my area. This is the first time since 2016 that I haven’t made any trip outside Manchester. None of this mattered, in the end, as I took the best picture in my life with my phone a street away from my home!
The year started with storms, I remember there were two or three and they always happened at the weekend, so that that was no going anywhere for me. After that–well, you know. At first it was, need toilet paper? Pasta? Bad luck, mate.
It seems incredible now, but I did go to a concert this year. As in, a live performance by a singer. It was Halsey in Manchester Arena and it was back in March, before the first lockdown. Probably wasn’t very responsible, but hey, nothing happened.
My most streamed song of 2020 was the suitably titled Doom Days by Bastille (my inspiration for the short story The Journal). I also listened to the two albums Taylor Swift released this year, Folklore and Evermore.
It will be a while before live shows are back again. I also had a ticket for Phantom of the Opera, which was supposed to run for two months in Manchester, but like everything else, it was cancelled. Arts have really suffered with this and it’s not like the government cares; instead of supporting them they tell people in the industry to retrain. But don’t touch sports, oh no, not our precious sports, and even more precious football. Heavens help you if you anyhow endanger our football and our obscenely-paid footballers!
So what was I saying, oh yes, the annual recap… this year we were all staying at home and our new best friend was the streaming services. I remember that Disney+ launched here in UK just at the right time for lockdown.
One of the TV shows that got much praise this year was Mandalorian. I’ve not watched it (yet), I’m not in the Star Wars fandom (they do have the hottest Latin actors though, Oscar Isaac and Pedro Pascal), however as I got myself a 12-month Disney+ subscription, I did watch the new trilogy and Rogue One. I liked Rogue One best, fabulous movie and might be one of my very favourites. As for the new trilogy, well, my first thought when I woke up the next day after seeing The Rise of Skywalker was: this should have been Finn’s story. John Boyega was right.
Star Trek premiered the Picard series and now we’re on Season 3 of Discovery, which has so far been the best. I thought the tone of Picard was a bit off, as if the writers were anxious (they probably were), but this can be easily overcome in future seasons.
This was also the first year in however-long that we had no Marvel movie released. We’ve been waiting for that Black Widow forever! But it’s good to have a bit of a break and hey, there’s still time to get into it, folks, if you haven’t done so!
I doodle sometimes, I have almost filled my little A6 sketchbook. I once had a phase where I was drawing castles, and it seems I’m back in that phase again.
Tragically, I’ve not done as much reading as I should have done. I picked up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and it took me three whole months to get through it. Such a slog, also the title is a lie–she doesn’t really steal books. Spoiler, I guess, but who cares. It tries to be interesting by having Death as a narrator but it reads just like any other third-person limited POV, with a “I collected their souls” inserted here and there to keep up the appearance. I swear I’ll never read Holocaust fiction ever again. I’d rather watch a good documentary about it.
But on the other hand I rediscovered my love for Sherlock Holmes and even dedicated a post to the famous detective, which at 2600 words is my longest.
Another thing that happened in Manchester was, the big concrete wall in Piccadilly Gardens was torn down. There is still a concrete wall, but that can’t be torn down because there is a coffee shop and a restaurant on the side of it. People hate them, I know they’re ugly, but for the purposes of my Gloomscapes series, I don’t mind a bit of brutalism. I’ve seen articles online calling the wall “Manchester’s Berlin Wall” and I’m like, can you just not. Nobody is getting shot crossing from Portland Street to Primark! Please. If there is criminal activity or drugs going on in Piccadilly Gardnes, that’s hardly the fault of the wall.
I end with one of my typical phone shot of something random or weird, Sam Call Me written by chalk on the gate to my local park. Well, there is a certain Sam that is close to my heart, so you can say that the picture is not as random as it would appear on first sight. I mean, not in real life, it’s the actor Sam Claflin, lol.
And that, my friends, concludes my second 2020 recap post.
Sign on the floor in the Arndale shopping centre in Manchester.
At the entrance to my local park where I spent so much walking this year.
Sign at the door to my launderette. It makes it very clear.
Sign on the side of Selfridges department store, a popular spot for sitting. I mean the side of the store is popular spot for sitting, not the actual store. So they put the sign there for people not to sit there.
Narrator’s voice: nevertheless, they still sat.
Sign on the Metrolink tram.
Construction site. The sign is also concealing a wheelbarrow, which was parked further up the road, after the yellow barriers in the distance. You know how I love my wheelbarrows. See what this virus is doing!
So it’s Christmas and here I give you 2020-appropriate Christmas pics.
Tree in my neighbourhood.
Lights in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. At least they still put some in there.
This year, I got myself a Christmas bouquet and put it in a vase. It’s the only kind of Christmas decoration I have in my flat, apart from a string of Christmas lights. I threw away my old Christmas tree, there’s just no space for it in my living room now (I made some changes to the decor).
Of course, you find hand sanitisers at all sorts of places these days but what’s funny about this one is that it’s installed there temporarily. As you are no doubt able to observe, these are market stalls. Markets in Piccadilly Gardens only open Wednesday to Saturday (maybe Sunday, but I have no idea, I’ve not been to town on a Sunday in years). So when the markets are not there, neither is the hand sanitiser. I just love it so much.
If you’ve ever been here, you know it’s all about Agatha Christie on Some Photoblog. In the five years I’ve run it, I’ve not made a single mention of Sherlock Holmes. He’s been lurking in the background, I guess, waiting for his time. And as I’ve just rediscovered my love for Sherlockian stories, this time is now.
There will be no spoilers in this post, apart from The Final Problem, which is widely known anyway.
Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a writer and by profession a medical doctor, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now, I feel kind of bad because I always try to promote lesser known works by authors (e.g. Agatha Christie’s books without Poirot or Marple that are not And Then There Were None and non-Anne of Green Gables works by LM Montgomery) but this time around I’m going for the most obvious choice. It’s also a well known fact that the author ended up hating his most famous creation and had wished his other writings received similar attention. (Sorry, Sir Arthur!) I have read other works by him; a couple of Professor Challenger books and a short story collection Tales of Terror and Mystery and the guy does deserve to be known for his non-Sherlock writings–he was quite prolific and wrote sci-fi, historical fiction, non-fiction. I remember a few years ago a commenter on ACD’s official Facebook page post said “I didn’t know he wrote stories other than Sherlock Holmes” and I thought, how stupid can you get? Please. And any of you bloggers reading this, if you blog about Sir Arthur and have covered his non-Sherlock work (or even Sherlock only, let’s be friends), please drop a comment and I’ll check out your posts.
Anyway… today, I’m basic.
Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt the most popular fictional detective in the world and this is unlikely to change, in our lifetimes or perhaps ever. What is it that makes him so appealing, more than a century after his first appearance?
I don’t know the answer. He just is. An eccentric character, with brilliant mind, skilled in detection, what’s not to love? (Yes, I know he took cocaine. But this was legal in his time.) Mystery is a popular genre anyway, people love their detectives. And Sherlock Holmes is a classic. I think there is certain appeal in Victorian and Edwardian era London as well.
Sherlock Holmes first came to life in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. Altogether he features in four novels (the other three being The Sign of Four, The Hound of Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear) and 56 short stories, majority of them written by his sidekick Dr John Watson. The character is inspired by Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911), a surgeon and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, for whom ACD served as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Dr Bell used observation to carry out a diagnosis and was a pioneer of what we now call forensic science. He also served as a personal surgeon to Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland.
“My friend and colleague, Dr Watson.”
I am lost without my Boswell.
Sherlock Holmes on Dr Watson (A Scandal in Bohemia)
[Note: This is a reference to James Boswell, who was a biographer of the writer Samuel Johnson.]
The lifelong partnership–or whatever else you might want to call it, I’m not going to argue–was born in A Study in Scarlet. Dr Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes by an old acquaintance Stamford as someone to potentially share a place with, as he’s in a precarious financial situation. Stamford knows Sherlock from the hospital, where he, Stamford, works as a dresser and Sherlock likes to dabble with chemicals at the lab.
“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford, introducing us.
from A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock already knows of a suitable lodgings to rent, 221b Baker Street. The next day they meet and go view the place, Watson decides it’s suitable, and they move in.
Also can we raise a glass for Mr Stamford, without whom this iconic duo would never have existed?
Watson at first has no clue about Sherlock’s profession and for some reason is afraid to ask. Because he really has nothing else to do, he studies his flatmate and even makes a list of his skills and abilities. I made a graphic of this list, which I posted on my Tumblr and which remains my most popular post of all time on that platform. Now I’m posting it here:
Watson is also shocked at Sherlock’s total ignorance of the Solar System. Of course, now it seems funny, because you’re thinking, haha he’s obsessed. He admits as such right there, in the text. He has nothing else to occupy his mind, has no close friends and his health is not in the best condition. This is what, on my recent re-read, made me come up with a theory–I think meeting Sherlock Holmes saved Dr Watson’s life. Hear me out.
So, as we know from Watson’s narrative, he qualified as medical doctor, joined the army and served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where he was wounded during the Battle of Maiwand. His injury healed, but then he contracted enteric fever (which a quick Google search informs me is the same as typhoid fever). Afterwards, his health was so poor, he was discharged and sent back to England to recuperate. Having no living relatives in England, he arrived in London and booked himself a room in a hotel. His description of the capital city is amusing: that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. (You wouldn’t think it of him, but our doctor does have some good burns.) His army pension was eleven shillings and sixpence a day (another quick Google search informs me this should have been quite a comfortable income). He describes this period of his life as a “meaningless existence” and confesses to spending too much money. Hence the aforementioned precarious financial situation. He realised that he needed to change his lifestyle and having just made the decision to look for cheaper living, he bumped into Stamford.
What I wonder about–what was he spending his money on? Drinking? Women? Gambling? It was at a bar where he came across Stamford, so draw your own conclusions. (Also in The Sign of Four, we learn that Watson had an older brother with a drink problem.) Stamford comments that Watson is very thin and very brown (suntan from Afghanistan, presumably). It’s not unreasonable to conclude that he suffered from PTSD. And the “meaningless existence”–could that be… depression? When he moved in with Sherlock, he got his life and finances in order and his mind was revived from idleness by this intriguing new friend of his. Then, when Sherlock finally reveals to Watson what his profession is–a consulting detective–he invites him to come along to view a dead body. The rest is history.
Watson is at first sceptical of Sherlock’s science of deduction, but soon learns that yes, it really does work. It seems to me that Sherlock, whether intentionally or not, pulled Watson back into life. That’s how the BBC Sherlock series pretty much plays it.
In the next book, The Sign of Four, a new client named Mary Morstan enters the scene and she and Watson fall in love and get married. I always thought it happened way too fast. They knew each other only for days. But it seems to have worked for them, so I guess that’s good. ACD needed to marry off Watson, so he did. *shrug* Sherlock remained in Baker Street, as Watson says in A Scandal in Bohemia, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. In other words, he missed his friend. (The Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey Jr showcase this well.)
Screenshot of Sherlock Holmes, The Definitive Audio Collection from my Audible app. The complete works, all for one single credit, (not bad!), read by Stephen Fry, who played Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows movie. Speaking of which:
All men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.
Sherlock Holmes on his brother Mycroft (The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)
Sherlock Holmes has a brother called Mycroft, seven years his senior. We first meet him in the story The Greek Interpreter; he also features in one of my personal favourites, The Bruce-Partington Plans. Mycroft possesses even greater ability for deduction and observation than his younger brother, only he can’t be bothered to do any actual detective work out in the field. No ambition and no energy. (I can relate.) He rarely ventures beyond his circle of home, workplace and the Diogenes Club. In The Bruce-Partington Plans Sherlock nearly falls off a chair when he receives telegram from Mycroft informing him of his upcoming visit to Baker Street. It must be something really serious to drag his brother away from his usual territory!
Mycroft’s skills enabled him to create his own position in the Government–this is what Sherlock means about omniscience. He makes himself indispensable, that’s why Sherlock says Mycroft is the Government itself. But my favourite part about the older Holmes is the Diogenes Club. A gentlemen’s club set up for those who hated company, whether it was due to shyness or misanthropy, but who still liked comfortable chairs and newspapers. Talking is not permitted, except for Stranger’s Room and three offences will get you expelled from the club. Mycroft was one of the founding members.
We don’t know what Mycroft’s politics is. From Sherlock’s description, he certainly can make any regime work for him, but I like to think he was at least somewhat progressive. There is nothing in the canon to say he wasn’t.
According to Sherlock, both of them may have inherited their talents from their grandmother, a sister to French artist Vernet. Vernet was a real artist that really existed, in fact there were three of them: grandfather, father and son:
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)
Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, known as Carle Vernet (1758-1836)
Émile Jean-Horace Vernet, known as Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
ACD doesn’t specify which one of them it was, but based on the timeline, the youngest one is the most likely one. Horace Vernet mostly painted battle scenes and enjoyed patronage from, among others, King Louis-Philippe. He also took photographs by daguerreotype process, the first publicly available photography technique.
Check out his self-portrait:
It looks very Sherlock Holmes, doesn’t it?
Aside from this, Sherlock never mentions any other family. He says his ancestors were country squires, but offers no further details. In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, after Sherlock returns from the dead, Watson moves back with him to Baker Street and sells his practice to a young doctor named Verner. Years later he finds out that this Verner was a distant relation of Sherlock and it was really Sherlock who provided the money for the practice, which was sold at the highest price. Verner, Vernet, sounds very similar, also R and T are next to each other on the keyboard. Most likely a coincidence, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
The Best and Finest Man I Have Ever Known
So, Sherlock believed his talent for observation and deduction came from his artist great uncle. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms, he says in The Greek Interpreter. Sherlock is the logical, scientific type. He also plays the violin and is fond of music. I think we can safely say that in the mind of our great detective, science and art combine.
Watson’s list of Sherlock’s skills is not entirely accurate for the rest of the series. In The Sign of Four, for example, Watson notes that “[Holmes] spoke on a quick succession of subjects,—on miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,—handling each as though he had made a special study of it.” Yet none of those subjects are mentioned on the list in A Study in Scarlet. Quite the opposite–any facts he considers irrelevant must be forgotten at once, as to not clutter his mind. When ACD came up with the character of Sherlock Holmes, he couldn’t have known he would still write about him decades later (he didn’t even want to!). With time, he developed his character more, realising that, when you work as a detective, no knowledge is useless. This can be easily explained by Watson not knowing Sherlock that well in their early days yet. There is also another inconsistency. Watson’s wound was in the shoulder in A Study in Scarlet, but in The Sign of Four, he tells us it’s in the leg. Not that it matters much, in any case he could have sustained more than one injury in the war. BBC Sherlock got round it by making Watson’s leg pain psychosomatic–quite clever, I think.
This is a popular outline of Sherlock’s profile, thanks to illustrations by Sidney Paget. It is Paget that gave Sherlock the iconic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in the actual writing. Paget’s illustrations accompanied ACD’s Sherlock stories in The Strand Magazine, where they were published. (Random fact: Agatha Christie also published her Poirot short stories in this magazine.) ACD himself requested Paget to continue illustrating in The Strand when he resurrected Sherlock. Sidney Paget definitely deserves some credit for contributing to the famous detective’s image.
The Birth of a Fandom
ACD killed off Sherlock in 1893 in The Final Problem, hoping this would help him concentrate on the more serious fiction and non-fiction he wanted to work on. Sherlock faces his ultimate antagonist, Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime as he calls him. Interestingly, Moriarty is also a man of science, a mathematical genius. During their last showdown at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, they both plunge to their deaths.
The reaction of fans to this move was like nothing else ever experienced before. Angry letters poured into ACD’s mailbox, people wore black armbands, The Strand Magazine suffered 20,000 cancellations. These days you’d shrug your shoulder, just another Tuesday in the fandom. But then, it was new. ACD eventually brought the beloved sleuth back; he needed the money and people wanted their Sherlock. Luckily the way he wrote Sherlock’s end enabled him to explain it away with “actually he didn’t fall into his death, only Moriarty did” and “he quickly realised that faking his death would help him break Moriarty’s criminal network and protect his dear Watson”. ACD though killed another character, Mrs Mary Watson, off page, so that he could reinstate Watson back into 221b Baker Street. (It’s kinda shitty if you think about it, but I understand why it had to be that way, besides, readers likely didn’t care about her. Apart from all the other qualities of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, I like that their Watson remained unmarried and Mary Morstan exited at the end of The Sign of Four episode.)
And so the adventures continued.
Sherlockians, or Holmesians if you want, were the first modern fandom. (Ahhh, fandoms, yes, fandoms, that’s a discussion I’d rather not have today.)
Aside from the books written by ACD, Sherlock appears in numerous books by other authors–this is called pastiche. Most of ACD’s works are in public domain now–and you know that means you can get them free as eBooks. Project Gutenberg is the best place for this.
I truly hope that if ACD can see from beyond how loved the character he grew to hate is, and how much Sherlock Holmes means to people, he is not too angry. After all, Sherlock, and all the related adaptations and pastiches, bring many of us joy and in the end, that is what really matters.
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
And how about you, readers? Any fans of Sherlock Holmes there? Tell me in the comments!
Note: Apart from the tiny mentions, I don’t touch on any of the adaptations, as the post was already long enough. In the future, I might dedicate a separate post for these.
I think it would go well with this quote from LM Montgomery book Emily’s Quest.
I was alone but not lonely. I was a queen in halls of fancy. I held a series of conversations with imaginary comrades and thought out so many epigrams that I was agreeably surprised at myself.
Remind you of something? Yes, LMM used this almost exact quote in in Anne of Windy Poplars. Windy Poplars was released in 1936 and Emily’s Quest in 1927, so Emily’s quote came earlier. (Note: Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside were written much later than the rest of Anne books.)
Compare the two books, though. Emily books are much darker than Anne books (there is also altogether more darkness in Montgomery’s work than people realise, but that’s another topic). Windy Poplars covers the three years in Anne’s life when she teaches school at Summerside, while Gilbert is working towards his medical degree. Large chunk of the book is comprised of her letters to Gilbert and that line is from one of them. They are apart for now, but they write to each other and look forward to the time they finally get married and start their life together. So, all is good. Emily’s Quest, on the other hand, is quite a different story. While her friends leave home to pursue their dreams, Emily stays and tries to become a writer. She and her love interest, Teddy, can’t seem to get together because they have communication issues. Emily gets ill, suffers from, what we call now, depression, agrees to marry a man she doesn’t love, and it takes years for her to finally find the happiness she deserves. It’s–bleak. Definitely not one for the children’s books section. Or even Young Adult section. Like one reviewer on Goodreads put it “Montgomery’s work is constantly under-estimated, and the way the books are marketed doesn’t help (the flowery script, the swoony illustrations).” I’ve been saying that for years.
Anne and Emily are both orphans with different journeys, but I think both of them would have loved that little bench under the trees.