Friday, 9 March 2018

Monthly Meeting Minutes - 9th March 2018

The Shingle of Southsea Holmesian Society
Monthly Meeting Minutes

Date of Meeting:
9th March 2018, 8pm

Location of Meeting:
The Sherloft, My House, Portsmouth, UK

"The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller)

"The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller) apologised, but it seems there was no need as no one had noticed until he pointed it out.

The Toast:

"The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller) gave the following toast to the true hero of A Scandal In Bohemia:

On the Twenty-First of March
In Eighteen-Eighty-Eight
Holmes was brought some simple fare
By an unfamiliar face.

Where was Mrs Hudson?
Will we ever learn her
Reason for sending, in her place,
The unknown Mrs Turner?

Where did Mrs Turner go?
She never once returned.
Her name was never heard again
After she adjourned.

Where e'er you are, God bless you,
We praise your name and sing it.
Without you fetching in the tray
Someone else would have to bring it.


1. "The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller) once again suggested that we should try to get some more members. Once again, no one seconded the motion. The rest of the Society expressed their annoyance at this being brought up in three consecutive meetings.


"The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller) presented his attempt at a pastiche about a drunk Holmes and Watson. A pissed-iche, if you will. He attempted to apologise for it but it was pointed out that the apologies had already been and gone.

The Reigate Winos

My friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes has imperiled his health in many of our adventures. Notable are those which I have titled “A Study In Claret”, “The Adventure of the Second Stein” and of course “The Adventure of The Six Napoleon Brandy Chasers”. However, I have never been more concerned than I was by the hangover caused by his immense excursions in the spring of '87. On referring to my notes I see that it was upon the 14th of April that I received a telegram from Lyons which informed me that Holmes was lying “ill” in the Hotel Dulong. Within twenty-four hours I was in his sick-room, and was upset to find that there was nothing left to drink in the mini-bar. His iron constitution had broken down under the strain of an ‘investigation’ which had extended over two months, during which period he had never been drunk less than fifteen hours a day, and had more than once, as he assured me, kept to his task for five days at a stretch.
My old friend, Colonel Hayter, who had come under my professional care in Afghanistan, had now taken a house near Reigate in Surrey, and had frequently asked me to come down to him upon a visit. It was, then, an ideal location for Holmes to rest and recuperate. When Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel's roof.
On the evening of our arrival we were sitting in the Colonel's gun-room after dinner, Holmes stretched upon the sofa, while I saw to his rehabilitation by keeping his tumbler well stocked with a brandy-based panacea. In order to instil confidence in my patient I was matching his medicinal consumption glass for glass.
Meanwhile Colonel Hayter told us of a recent theft at a neighbour’s house.
 “Old Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his house broken into last Monday. No great damage done, but the fellows are still at large.”
“Ugh?” asked Holmes, cocking his eye at the Colonel.
“The affair is a pretty one, one of our little country crimes, which must seem too small for your attention, Mr. Holmes.”
Holmes either waved away the compliment or an imaginary fly. With his usual cat-like grace he then used the momentum of this action to arrange himself heavily on the floor beside the sofa. The Colonel continued.
“The thieves ransacked the library and got very little for their pains. The whole place was turned upside down, drawers burst open, and presses ransacked, with the result that an odd volume of Pope's Homer, two plated candlesticks, an ivory letter-weight, a small oak barometer, and a ball of twine are all that have vanished.”
“How pecrulier… culi… culier!” I exclaimed, giggling.
“Oh, the fellows evidently grabbed hold of everything they could get.”
Holmes grunted from the floor.
“I could solve that.” said he; “No fuggin’ bovver—”
But I held up a warning finger.
“Yous are “ill”. An’ soam… soam… So. Am. I.”
Holmes shrugged his shoulders with a glance of glassy-eyed resignation towards the Colonel, and the talk drifted away into a mist of belches and giggles.
It was destined, however, that all my professional caution should be wasted, for next afternoon we were at breakfast when the Colonel's butler rushed in with all his propriety shaken out of him.
“Have you heard the news, sir?” he gasped. “At the Cunningham's sir! Murder! It was William the coachman. Shot through the heart, sir, and never spoke again.”
Holmes and I winced at the painfully loud voice of the butler.
“Who shot him, then?” asked the Colonel.
“A burglar, sir. He was off like a shot and got clean away. He'd just broke in at the pantry window when William came on him and met his end in saving his master's property.”
“Evidently the same villains who broke into Acton's.” said the Colonel as the butler returned to his duties.
“And stole that very singular collection,” croaked Holmes, groggily.
“Precisely. I fancy it's some local practitioner,” said the Colonel. “In that case, of course, Acton's and Cunningham's are just the places he would go for, since they are far the largest about here.”
“And richest?”
“Well, they ought to be, but they've had a lawsuit for some years which has sucked the blood out of both of them, I fancy. Old Acton has some claim on half Cunningham's estate, and the lawyers have been at it with both hands.”
“If it's a local villain there should not be much difficulty in running him down,” said Holmes with a yawn and a slight retch.
I was concerned that Holmes was involving himself in the matter and I indicated so by quietly vomiting a little into my ‘kerchief.
“All right, Watson, I don't intend to meddle.”
“Inspector Forrester, sir,” said the butler, returning.
The official, a smart, keen-faced young fellow, stepped into the room and immediately recoiled at some malodour only he could detect. “Good-morning, Colonel,” said he; “I hope I don't intrude, but we hear that Mr. Holmes of Baker Street is here.”
The Colonel waved his hand towards my friend, and the Inspector bowed.
“We thought that perhaps you would care to step across to the Cunningham estate, Mr. Holmes. There has been a most terrible murder!”
“The fates are against you, Watson,” said he, still retching.
Both Holmes and I were in need of some sort of remedy before we could be of any use to the inspector, so while Forrester acquainted Holmes with the facts of the case I saw about fixing some medicinal strength hair-of-the-dog. Having thoroughly tested the libation before returning to my patient, I discovered Forrester had taken his leave. Holmes set about the medicine himself with gusto so as to hasten our departure for the Cunningham estate.
When we arrived, Holmes set off with the inspector’s support, while I took a rest as near to the bench on the front lawn as I could manage. An hour and half had elapsed before the Inspector returned alone.
“Mr. Holmes is crawling up and down in the field outside,” said he. “He wants us to go up to the house together.”
“T’Mishter Cun…*hic*…ham's?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Wha’ for why now?”
The Inspector shrugged his shoulders. “I don't quite know, sir. Between ourselves, I think Mr. Holmes had not quite got over his ‘illness’ yet. He's been behaving very queerly, and he is very much excited.”
“S’no bovver,” said I. “I… I… usely found tha-there’s method in his madnesh.”
“Some folks might say there was madness in his method,” muttered the Inspector. “But he's… ”
“AHAHAHAHAAAA!” I interrupted, “Madnesh in ‘is meffid! AHAHAAHA! S’smashing that!”
After I had used Forrester’s trousers and then jacket to hoist myself to an angle approaching vertical, we found Holmes careening up and down in the field, his chin sunk upon his breast, and each hand clutching its own bottle of refreshment so tightly one could make out the bones of each joint of his fingers.
“The matter grows in in in… in… terest,” said he. “Watson, it’s all proper fuggin’ mental.”
 “Any sussessss…succ… Any success?”
“Well, we seen some very inter-eshing things. First, we seen the body of the coachman. At first I thought he was just a bit tipsy, so I sat with him for a chat an’ he wassss lovely he was.” Holme’s face scrunched up as he attempted to convey just how lovely the coachman was. “He was sooooo lovely. But when I offered him some Buckfast, I noticed what his head wuz all blown off by a gun an’ that.”
At this, Holmes’s eyes sprang open with surprise and bewilderment.
“Had you doubted it, then?”
Holmes, swaying, eventually focused on whoever had said that and shrugged.
Soon, I joined him in his swaying and, as it was such a pleasant afternoon, we remained swaying in silence together for five minutes or so.
Eventually, with the Inspector between us to assist our ongoing battle with gravity, we staggered up an oak-lined avenue to the fine old Queen Anne house. The Inspector led us round to the side gate, where a constable was standing at the kitchen door.
Leaning against the door to steady himself, Holmes discovered that it was open. As he rose to his feet, he took the opportunity to disgorge the contents of his stomach. His muttered oaths were unnecessary, however, as the kitchen floor had largely been saved from soiling by the clever use of the constable’s shoes.
 “Still at it, then?” said he to Holmes. “I thought you Londoners were never at fault. You don't seem to be so very quick, after all.”
“Fug off, you fuggin’ country bumpkin’ bloody arse… bastad…” said Holmes good-humouredly.
“Why, I don't see that you have any clue at all.” said young Alec Cunningham, appearing in the doorway with his father.
The Inspector introduced us to the Cunninghams and went on to explain to them, “There may be one clue. We thought that if we could only find—Good heavens, Mr. Holmes! What is the matter?”
My poor friend's face had suddenly assumed the most dreadful expression. His eyes rolled upwards, his features writhed in agony, and with a suppressed groan he dropped on his face upon the ground. Horrified at the suddenness and severity of the attack, we carried him to a large chair. I took the head end, which was only dropped four or five times, and thus was unlikely to do any real harm. He breathed heavily for some minutes. Finally, with a shamefaced apology for his weakness, he rose once more and re-fell immediately to the floor. So appalled was I at this spectacle that I did not stop laughing for a good quarter of an hour.
“Watson’ll tell you that I have only just recovered from a real proper illness,” he tittered. “I am liable to ‘suddenervous attacks’. S’true, innit Wasson? Tell ‘em. S’true y’know.”
“Shall I send you home in my trap?” asked young Cunningham.
“Naaaah. I’m here now innit. An’ there’s one point on whish I shud like to feel sure. We can very eas’ly ver’fy it.”
“What is it?”
“Well,” he whispered conspiratorially, “it seems to me that it is jusst poss’ble that the vital evidence might be in that most impressive looking tantalus over there...”
An hour or two later I awoke from a long blink to find Holmes had disappeared. I asked Alec Cunningham if he knew where Holmes had gone.
“Wait here an instant,” he said. “The fellow is off his head, in my opinion. Come with me, father, and see where he has got to!”
They rushed out of the room, leaving me staring at the Inspector  in a desperate attempt to focus.
“'Pon my word, I am inclined to agree with Master Alec,” said the Inspector. “It may be the effect of this ‘illness’, but it seems to me that—”
His words were cut short by a sudden scream of “Help! Help! Murder!” With a thrill I recognised the voice as that of my friend. I rushed clumsily to the landing. The cries, which had sunk down into a hoarse, inarticulate screaming, came from the room which we had first visited. I wobbled in, and on into the dressing-room beyond. The two Cunninghams were bending over the prostrate figure of Sherlock Holmes, the younger clutching his bottle of brandy with both hands, while the elder seemed to be stealing his hip-flask. In an instant we were upon them, but the swaying floor tipped us over time and again until we all lay in a heap, giggling like schoolgirls. Holmes staggered to his feet, very pale and evidently greatly exhausted.
“Arrest these men, Inspector,” he gasped.
“On what charge?”
“Fug knows.”
The Inspector stared about him in bewilderment. “Oh, come now, Mr. Holmes,” said he at last, “I'm sure you don't really mean to—”
“Jeezis jus’ lookit th’ faces!” cried Holmes, guffawing.
The two men were both staring at me with outraged expressions. Indeed, they were staring at my trousers. It was then that I realised I had inadvertently voided my bladder.
“Itsh veh mush the sort of fing that I ‘spected,” said Holmes weeping with mirth. “Wasssin, I thing our quiet rest in the country s’been a success… burp, and I shall certainly return much in… n… in… invigalatred to Baker Street to-morrow.”
“What about the murdered coachman?” asked Inspector Forrester.
“Fuggit.” said Holmes, shrugging, before carefully arranging himself in a sudden heap on the floor.

"The Entire Canon" (Paul Thomas Miller) presented his essay about a secret message he found hidden in The Canon.

The Da Tective Code

Being a cold, miserable February day, I had tucked myself away in The Sherloft (my small Holmesian retreat at the top of the house, packed with books, trinkets and a comfortable armchair) and lapsed into a brown study. This in turn became a violet study. The predilection for Violets in the Canon has often intrigued me. There are four in total; Violet Hunter in The Copper Beeches, Violet Smith in The Solitary Cyclist, Violet de Merville in The Illustrious Client and Violet Westbury in The Bruce-Partington Plans. Before long I was wondering if this posy was intended to indicate something. Was it a sign? A sign given by four violets? A sign of four? The Sign of Four! The four Violets clearly pointed to the second of the long stories! This was enough to set my mind awhirl. I became convinced that there was something secret to be discovered in the Canon.
As a starting point, I considered the most interesting of the Violet surnames; Merville. I looked it up in The Good Old Internet. Merville, is a commune in Northern France. This immediately brought to mind Holmes's statement of his French relations in The Greek Interpreter, " turn that way is in my veins, and may have come with my grandmother, who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist." Holmes is referring to Horace Vernet (1789-1863); a Parisian of such an artistic bent that he elected to be born in The Louvre. Further evidence that I was on the correct track was the similarity between the names Violet and Vernet; both of which fall into the pattern of V***ET.
In 1827 Horace Vernet painted The Battle of Bouvines Won, which depicts King Philippe Auguste having defeated the English and concluding the Anglo-French War in 1214. Bouvines, it should be noted is also in Northern France. Like Merville, Bouvines is found in the Hauts-de-France region. Surely, then, this painting is of particular significance.
Even at surface level the image is reminiscent of Holmes himself; King Philippe is a tall, thin, commanding figure with a beaky nose. In front of him are a multitude of vanquished foes, laying their arms at his feet. Behind him his small band of allies. They are a rag-tag bunch of varied ages and types. One might almost describe them as "irregular". However, the Holmesian symbolism runs deeper. Behind the victorious king is a table on which he displays his treasures. Prominent among them is a crown which brings to mind the fruits of The Musgrave Ritual. To his side a bright white horse draws the eye and reminds one of the goings on at Shoscombe Old Place and Kings Pyland. Behind the horse a moor with a falcon suggests Effie Munro's first husband, the African-American lawyer. (It is to be noted that in Christian symbolism, the wild falcon represents the unconverted, materialistic soul and its sinful thoughts and deeds; I can think of no better symbol for a lawyer.) Among the vanquished foes, one stands out. He is a red-headed fellow who appears to be plotting with another man. Are these Duncan Ross and John Clay? There are several representatives of the Church behind the king who bring to mind the Vatican Cameos and the murder of Cardinal Tosca. In the foreground, a boy tries to keep two dogs under control while reminding one of Billy or Wiggins. The dogs themselves are the sort of eager tracking dogs that simply must represent Toby and Pompey.
The dogs seem to take centre stage on the painting which led me to further consider their parallels in the canon. The first I thought about was Pompey. He appears in the story of The Missing Three-Quarter. Pompey, it should be explained, is not just the name of an ancient Roman statesman, it is also a nickname for the city of Portsmouth on the English South coast. Portsmouth will be well known to serious Holmesians, as it is where the first two of The Great Detective's exploits were written up. Those stories were A Study in Scarlet and, taking us back to where we began, The Sign of Four. Furthermore, the other dog; Toby, actually appears in The Sign of Four.
Other than the glaring indication that there is some great symbolic significance hidden in The Sign of Four, I had reached an impasse. So I elected to consider the next most interesting Violetine surname; Westbury. Westbury is a town in Wiltshire in England. It is well known for The Westbury White Horse, a giant horse carved into a hillside to expose the chalk below. It is an impressive image which dates from sometime before the 18th century, although no one knows quite when it first appeared. My enthusiasm was bolstered by encountering the white horse in artwork again, for the horse in Vernet's painting is also a bright pure white.
I began to wonder if the key to The Canon's hidden revelation lay in the symbolism of a white horse. At which point my thoughts turned to the capital-lettered Revelations of the Christian doctrine. When coupled with thoughts of The Sign of Four, my attention was naturally drawn to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The rider of the white horse is Conquest, or rather Pestilence. Could The Canon be trying to warn of some disease? Or tell us of one that has already come to pass?
Again, I was stumped. So I turned my attention to a third surname; Hunter. Naturally, my first thought was of the ancient Greek god Aristaeus because he was not only the god of hunting but also of bee-keeping. Hunting for Violet Hunter and bee-keeping for Holmes's own apiarist retirement. But then he also the god of cheese-making, animal husbandry and fruit trees. Hardly the most Holmesian of gods. I wondered if I was looking too far afield; what of the ancient Pagan gods of Britain? There we find Woden, leader of the Wild Hunt; essentially a version of the Norse Odin who is also god of the hunt (and a plethora of other things). The Wild Hunt of Woden, however, is quite another thing; a supernatural hunt composed of any number of supernatural beings hurtling along after some unknown prey. It's an omen of bad tidings in many British areas. Baskervillian scholars are probably already aware of the Devonshire version of The Wild Hunt which is often associated with Wistman's Wood and strongly resembles The Curse of the Baskervilles.
Of course, an even more obvious hunter to consider was The Canon's own Colonel Sebastian Moran; second in command to Professor James Moriarty and author of Heavy Game of the Western Himilayas. Moran was formerly of the 1st Bangalore Pioneers. One cannot think of Bangalore without thinking of Hinduism and so I was immediately led to consider Hayagriva, an avatar of Vishnu who is brilliant white and has a horse's head. Another white horse! This must be the right path, at last! (Especially when you consider that he is worshipped as a god of knowledge and wisdom. Now here is a Holmesian deity!) A quick search for temples dedicated to Hayagriva revealed that one of the nearest significant ones to Bangalore was to be found in Pondicherry. That's right, the place that gives its name to Pondicherry Lodge, home of Thaddeus Sholto in... The Sign of Four!
This secret message seems to have three main indicators, then: Violets, The Sign of Four and white horses. It is to be remembered that the Victorian age that this message comes from was full of secret meanings and ciphers and the Victorians had a whole secret language associated with flowers known as floriography. For example; red roses indicated desire, ivy suggested fidelity and, importantly for us, violets expressed modesty. Others of interest are that beech trees (as found in The Copper Beeches) indicated prosperity and that a solitary rose (mirrored by a certain Solitary Cyclist) meant love at first sight. One should also highlight that in Christian tradition white horses tend to indicate death. These, then are the indications to look for in the sacred text of The Sign of Four. Then we may be able to divine the hidden meaning Watson left for us to discover.
Finally, then, here is the best interpretation of these clues I have been able to create.
The Sign of Four is most notable for the appearance of Mary Morstan.
Watson fell in love with Mary at first sight (as per the solitary rose indicated by the Violet in The Solitary Cyclist).
However, her imminent prosperity (as per the beeches indicated by the Violet in The Copper Beeches) which would place her above his station coupled with Watson's modesty (as indicated by all the Violets) prevented him from the impropriety of proposal.
Fortunately, the plans (as indicated by the Violet in The Bruce-Partington Plans) to recover the Agra treasure by an illustrious (as indicated by the Violet in The Illustrious Client) detective failed.
All hopes of Mary becoming rich died (as indicated by all the white horses).
So Watson was able to propose to and subsequently marry Mary.
The hidden message then, is that Watson married Mary Morstan. It's not much of a revelation, I admit, but I can't be blamed for that.

Any Other Business:

It was noted that Watson found Irene Adler between a Hebrew rabbi and a deep sea fish loving staff-commander. Lucky old Irene.

It was noted that the notion of Watson as a gentleman is a myth. Witness this objectifying misogynist description from TWIS: "...nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night."

It was noted that Holmes often claims to have no interest in women but he has definite admiration for Mrs Barclay in CROO. He goes so far as to describe her having "a cute attack of brain-fever".

The next meeting was scheduled for 13th April 2018.

Here is a photo of The Shingle of Southsea enjoying their meeting: