The Later Cases of Sherlock Holmes: The Mystifying Instance of the Absent Footwear – A Slight Return

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This early post is exactly what I anticipated the blog would become. I’m a big fan of Conan Doyle’s books and I was happy that I had got the ‘feel’ of this about right. It is one of my favourite pieces from my ‘little fiction’ strand, but according to WordPress, it is the only piece I have ever published that attracted no likes and no comments. Maybe it will do so again. Never the less, I hope it might make you smile…

Sherlock Holmes… was first published on the 6th December 2018 and is 1100 words long.

The casebook of Sherlock Holmes had become somewhat less congested as he moved into his later years, but the analytical mind of my companion never ceased to amaze me. He was capable of the most extreme leaps of logic, such as those I have recorded in my own modest records, and his perspicacity remained unrivalled. Only on his idle days was his behaviour at odds with that of his former self. He no longer smoked his beloved black shag as he was unable to break up the large blocks in which it was delivered and his violin had been permanently retired, consequent upon his tendency to poke himself in the eye with the bow. His use of drugs had become limited to those prescribed by the doctor to control the more erratic habits of his prostate. The strong lens which had found its place in so many of the cases on which I have reported, lay constantly at his side, used to scour the newsprint of the many daily newspapers he still had delivered. He was much taken with the crossword puzzle which had recently become a feature of The Times, although I noted a tendency for his answers to contain a different number of letters than that intended by the compiler. It was from such a crossword, pen in hand, tongue curled up over top lip, that his cataractous eyes rose and almost met my gaze.
‘Has Mrs Hudson spilled the tea, Watson?’
‘On the contrary,’ I assured him. ‘At least an hour has passed since she was last in the room, on the occasion that she had to mop up your broth.’
‘Then is it raining outside? The window casement has, I fear, shrunk in relation to its frame.’
‘No, it is quite sunny,’ I said. ‘And the windows are quite secure.’
‘Then the chair that I now occupy has, in the recent past, been occupied by a damp animal of some kind.’ He half-grinned in his triumphant way. I shook my head slowly: he wasn’t good with sudden movement.
‘Aah, a conundrum,’ he said. ‘We must follow my well-established practice, Watson.’
‘Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,’ I ventured.
‘Indeed,’ he said, groaning gently as he raised his wiry frame from the chair. ‘If you would be so good as to guide me to the dressing room.’
I held open the door for him and he entered, already preoccupied with the business, lately much more time consuming, of button opening.
‘I would be awfully grateful if you would try not to widdle in my brogues again,’ I said.
Upon his return, Holmes picked up the long clay pipe which he smoked in periods of deepest introspection and attempted to light the wrong end. I returned to my kipper as Holmes threw down the unlighted meerschaum. His temper had deteriorated markedly since Lestrade had confiscated his cocaine. I looked upon his face, so little changed with the passage of years. The thin, aquiline features, still pale and gaunt; the hawk-like nose embellished only with a dew-drop the size of a bulls-eye. The case of the missing slippers was troubling him. He was restless and short, a condition to which I have grown well accustomed over the years.
‘Data, Watson,’ he said at last. ‘I must have data. All is mere hypothesis until I am in possession of the full facts.’
‘But what facts do you seek, Holmes?’ I asked. He looked at me a little strangely I thought.
‘Facts?’ he said.
‘You said you needed facts.’
‘Did I?’
He took up the position that I know so well: finger tips joined, his chin resting on them, eyes hooded, almost closed. I settled down to review my newspaper whilst he cogitated. Some five minutes had elapsed before I saw his chin slump to his chest. A thin trickle of saliva swelled from his mouth. His breathing became heavier and deeper, reverberating around the room and rattling the china. This happened a lot when he fell to thought these days and I had myself descended to slumber when Holmes emerged from his reverie with a coughing fit that was testament to many youthful trips to the opium den. When the paroxysm at last subsided, I discerned that Holmes had in his eye the bright spark that I had come to recognise as a mark of his genius. ‘The slippers, Watson, are in the third drawer of my desk.’
‘But how can you possibly know that?’ I asked.
‘You know well my methods, Watson,’ he said. ‘Let us start with the hard facts. They are not on my feet. They do not fit your feet which are several sizes bigger than my own and Mrs Hudson is, as we know, averse to all types of plaid footwear. We know, also, that I was wearing them yesterday evening, but not this morning. Therefore, to find the solution to this riddle, we must look for the moment when I ceased to be wearing them.’
‘You used the drawer in your desk shortly before retiring yesterday evening?’ I offered.
‘Precisely, Watson, now, open the drawer and reveal…’
‘… A leather truss I’m afraid Holmes.’
‘Ah,’ said my esteemed friend.
We called upon Mrs Hudson, but she confirmed that she had not seen the slippers since they last resided on Holmes’ feet the previous evening. The mystery was troubling Holmes and even the giant intellect of the world’s greatest detective was unable to assemble sufficient facts from which to manufacture a solution. ‘I sense the involvement of Moriarty,’ he said at last.
‘Unlikely Holmes,’ I said, reminding him, as gently as I could, that Moriarty was currently securely confined at the Bide-a-Wee’ care home, where he shared a room with Mycroft Holmes and a selection of spongeable bedroom furniture. Holmes sighed deeply and closed his eyes. Only the nervous ripples that passed spasmodically along the lids betrayed the fact that he had not, once again, fallen to slumber. And then, with the small cry of triumph that he is known to utter when a thousand impossible threads are woven within his cavernous brain into a single cloth, Holmes snapped open his eyes, took up his strongest glass and peered down at his stockinged feet. ‘At last, Watson,’ he said. ‘There is evidence to be had here. You will notice the minute thread of burgundy weave that lies across my sock. An exact match for the weft of my slippers, I vouch.’
‘It’s a rasher of your breakfast bacon, I fear Holmes,’ said I. ‘And anyway, you have changed your stockings since yesterday, have you not?’
‘By Jove,’ he said. ‘You’ve hit the nail right on the head, old boy.’
‘I have?’
‘You have what?’
‘I’m sorry, I…’
‘Don’t worry yourself, Watson. Let us devote ourselves to the matter at hand,’ he said. ‘Now…’ he paused, deep in thought, his furrowed brow almost resting upon his pouting lip, his eyes cast down to his feet. ‘Have you seen my slippers, by the way?’ he said at last…

 

Incidentally, I have just become aware that ‘Brexit Day’ is upon us.  Should you wish to know how it all looked to me in November 2018, just look here

Me and the Crossword

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There was a time when the crossword was my daily fix. When I never missed the opportunity to add to Mr Murdoch’s inestimable fortune, purchasing a small shrub’s worth of paper every day, just to get my hands on the six inch square that I wanted. By and large I’ve broken that habit now. It became crazy in the end: I often made the mistake of reading the news as well. Now I would be happy if I never read a newspaper again.

Sometimes though, when I have the time, I still reach for the crossword book and I give it a go. I do like The Times crossword. It is a challenge that, for the most part, just eludes me. Sometimes I finish it in hours rather than days and sometimes I would not finish it if you gave me an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of Scrabble tiles to chuck at it.

It is just so frustrating when I cannot see the path that the clue has led me down. When, finally having given up the ghost, I read the answers and think “What? Why didn’t I see that?” Although not as bad as when the answer is a word which I just do not know. “Obviously I was never going to solve that clue, but why didn’t I know that word?” I begin to wonder if other people have noticed the hole in my vocabulary: “Odd, isn’t it, that he never uses the word ‘squrrox*’, do you think he doesn’t know it?” I feel eyes boring into my soul. I curse the inadequacies of the state education system. I begin to search for ways to drop my newly-found phonic into conversations. It is now locked into my dictionary – and it will probably never come up in a crossword again.

And that’s a strange thing, isn’t it? Leave the crossword, walk away, and when you return to it, a solution that has eluded you for hours will pop straight into your head. How does that happen? Is there a portion of the brain that is working on the answer even as the rest of it slips into neutral? Given that most of my brain is stuck permanently in neutral, shouldn’t that make me a crossword whizz? Weird also is the way that you can sometimes know the answer without understanding the clue – or, perhaps that’s just life…

Here’s how the crossword book works for me. First thing is to turn to a new page: I never return to an unfinished grid from the previous day; it merely reminds me of the abundance of my inadequacies. Generally I read right through the clues in order before finding that I cannot answer any of them. I do it again. I decide that my future possibly lies in The Sun’s Quick Crossword. I read through the clues again, searching for key words that might alert me to an anagram. Eventually I will find an answer and then other words begin to slot into place. And then I reach the point where I am looking for words for which I have every other letter and still no idea of the whole. It is a peculiar type of word-blindness and more frustrating than I can begin to tell (particularly with the paucity of my vocabulary). Normally, I look at a stream of letters and spaces: E_E_E_T_R_ and the answer is elementary. Simple. Stick them in a grid and throw in a cryptic clue and it all goes to cock. Normal lexicographic services are abandoned. One of the ‘down’ answers must be wrong. There are no words with that letter sequence. No wonder my teachers thought I was a dunce.

And that leads me, naturally enough, to those who solve the crossword within minutes. Those who complete the grid whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change on the drive to work. Those who do not have gaps in their education; missing pages from their dictionaries; brains that function only intermittently – flashing brightly every now and then, but mostly whirring ineffectually, and I wonder what joy is there for them other than being able to tick off a new P.B. in their diary?

Frankly, I’m not sure that I care. I will continue to toil, sporadically these days, fruitlessly on. And, on the odd occasion that I succeed, I will sit back, content in the knowledge that, given the way my brain is going, I may have just done something that I just will never achieve again.

And I’ll try to work out whether that is a good or a bad thing. There must be a clue in there somewhere…

He respects Owl, because you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count. (A.A. Milne) ‘The House at Pooh Corner’

* Squrrox is the word wish granted to Dan Milligan by the author in Spike Milligan’s ‘Puckoon’.