Tuesday, May 10, 2005

No Sh*t Sherlock pt1


I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.

This is not the same thing as saying I’m a big fan of detective stories.

The attraction of the Holmes myth lies more in the character of Holmes himself than in his problem solving skills. Sherlock represents and idealised view of the British ruling class of his time; rational and unemotional, yet incorruptibly committed to basic principles of decency and fairness in a detached, aloof kind of way. Holmes represented the perfect judge, senior civil servant or colonial administrator. Deep down people liked to believe that people like Holmes were running the show and in charge of their well being.

Recently, I’ve been kicking around the idea of updating Holmes for our own times. It’s not that easy. Simply transplanting his character into the 21st century wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t fit. Crafting a revised character based on our expectations of those who rule today would invariably result in a parody. These are much more cynical times than Conan Doyle’s.

And then there’s the wee issue of Sherlock’s deductive powers.

Almost all of the short stories begin with Sherlock meeting someone for the first time and deducing that person’s full history and occupation just based on visual clues present in that person’s attire, physical condition and mannerisms. In a hand-made world populated by engineers, tailors and farmers you can see how that would work but how would it play in our times? Everything we wear is mass-produced. Nothing lasts long enough to bear the marks of our character. Most of us sit in front of a PC for a living.

That’s a problem.

But my biggest problem in resurrecting Holmes is more fundamental than that. My biggest problem is figuring out how to distinguish a deduction from a rant.

In one of the Holmes stories, Sherlock concludes that the owner of a discarded hat is obviously an intelligent man. The hat is quite large and Sherlock logically deduces that big hat equals big head equals big brain equals intelligence. This is not the Holmes-meister’s finest hour and, even as a twelve-year-old reading the stories for the first time, that deduction niggled me. Clearly, I reasoned, there’s a very fine line between being a master of forensic analysis and an opinionated old fart. Holmes and the lunatics who accost people on public transport have an awful lot in common.

‘Madam, judging by the cut of your thong, the Japanese tattoo just to one side of your all too visible bum-crack, your grating accent and the irritating ring tone emanating from your wireless telephone I can deduce that you are indeed a daft slag. I have resolved therefore to insult you loudly on the top deck of this omnibus.’

The World around us is just jam-packed with an infinite number of visual clues to causal connections. Every object, every person, every event occupy their particular point in space and time as the result of being at the end of a chain of events. This is obvious enough. However, things start to get really fun if you are male, getting on a bit and under some degree of stress. Your take on causal chains becomes quite noticeably different to everyone else’s.

I was sitting with my Dad in hospital last year. He was suffering from a blood infection he’d picked up in the hospital, on drugs, far from happy and semi-delirious. An advert for dog worming pills was playing on the television. All of a sudden, Dad sat up in his bed and started spitting and shouting about ‘f*cking people in f*cking council houses’. He ranted for a good five or ten minutes. Once he had calmed down we talked through where he was coming from. The deal was this:

  • The advert for dog worming pills featured large dogs
  • Many owners of large dogs come from low-income social groups
  • Large dogs are expensive to own
  • My Dad ran his own shop and paid tax for 50 years
  • … just so people from low-income groups could keep large dogs

Now the logic of this line of thought was pretty flawed throughout but my Dad had just had his bladder whipped out and was full of MSSA (just like MRSA but not eligible for inclusion in the official figures), so I let it go. I however did go home wondering if I would end up like that in thirty years time.

Fast forward a few months. I was in my back yard this weekend. I love this time of year. All the seeds I potted a few weeks ago are beginning to poke through the Earth. I sometimes stare closely at them for minutes on end just marvelling at the miracle of new life. These seedlings are my babies. And just like real babies, I generally lose interest in them as they get older. However, for the moment I am their guardian.

And it is for that reason I am pissed off with almost everyone on my street and generally hacked off with 21st century social trends.

Yes, I have turned into my father thirty years early. Nor do I have the excuse of major surgery or serious infection. My reasoning went like this:

  • My seedlings are being eaten by snails
  • There are lots of snails in mine and neighboroughing gardens. I’m talking bucket loads
  • The snails thrive because there are no natural predators i.e. birds
  • There are no birds because cats have eaten them all
  • There are so many cats because my street is largely occupied by people who have turned to cats as surrogate partners, friends, and children

Ergo my plants are being eaten because I am surrounded by people with empty lives. I could go even further and correlate the number of snails in my garden with the rise of consumerism and the historical collapse of the family unit. I could spin a whole thesis out of it. Graphs and all.

Sherlock would have been proud of me.



Northun Munki in Oxford Circus said...

Make a beer trap for the slugs and snails...


Fill with a few inches of supermarket own label beer/lager - and leave the lid on or you'll find your attracting other garden pests (alcoholic cats, tramps, etc.)

Stef said...

Why thank you.

Swopping gardening tips - I feel positively middle-aged ;-)