Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sherlock Holmes' imaginary home

I was curious to see what a museum about an imaginary Victorian detective might be like, which is what the Sherlock Holmes Museum is really. Museums are usually about real things, not fictional characters in novels. Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, so naturally the museum should be there too. That address doesn't actually exist, so the owners of the museum made it up, but it's more or less in the right place in Baker Street.

I was a bit surprised at how many people were queuing up to go in, all tourists. All avid readers of classic detective stories, maybe?? Well, no. Some of the girls near us said they came because Sherlock Holmes was a really famous Englishman and they wanted to see where he lived.

I was slightly shocked that people thought Holmes was a real person. Maybe it's a testament to Conan Doyle's writing, but more likely because the character has slipped into some strange myth of Victorian England, where the line between fiction and history has become completely blurred. There was a display of letters sent to that address from people who also thought it was all real - the Inland Revenue wanted money from whoever lived at 221b (they should know better). Someone else wrote to warn Holmes that he'd seen Professor Moriarty (Holmes' evil nemesis) on the number 254 bus in Sutton, while others offered their help in solving mysteries, or for advice in finding out why their cat kept disappearing.

The museum is set up to look like a Victorian town house, based on details from the stories. It's a bit scruffy and dusty (it made me sneeze). It wasn't decay from authentic Victorian wear and tear, but because visitors are positively encouraged to have their photograph taken everywhere, including on the exhibits - in Holmes' study, at his desk, sitting in his chair, standing next to a 'Victorian policeman' or 'domestic maid' (both real people dressed in appropriate costume.) Some people were posing for their photos in tweed deerstalker hats, bought from the gift shop (pipes available too, if you want them). The top floor was my favourite, crowded with life-sized models of criminals or other dodgy characters from the books, such as the Man with the Twisted Lip.

I got a good book of reprints from the Illustrated Police News from the shop, sort of like a lurid, tabloid-journalism style of reporting real-life Victorian criminal court cases (you'd have to go to Colindale library to read them otherwise). I thought the plastic syringe pens filled with red 'blood' were a peculiar choice for a souvenir, were they meant to be a reference to his drug use? Or something from Dr Watson's medical kit? I got one of the pens where a horse-drawn carriage moves up and down inside it when you tip it up, I like things like that. One day I'll actually read the stories, as I've seen all the films.

In the absence of any pictures of malformed waxwork 'criminals' to illustrate this, Jeremy Brett as Holmes will do very nicely for now. I wish I'd taken my camera, but I'll go back for another visit, as it was so unexpectedly strange.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Back from another blogging gap

Another blogging gap, and another explanation I suppose, though it's funny the way you feel the need to say why you've been invisible, when you're effectively talking to yourself, as Sanddancer put it recently. It's just been work really (job and doctorate). Time-consuming and tiring, nothing very exciting.

My knee is almost completely better, thanks to good NHS doctors and a physiotherapist. It's brilliant to be walking normally again after months of hobbling around. I'm not quite a 'bubble of finesse' again yet, if I ever was and whatever it is... a student called me it at work once, still not sure what they meant, but it sounds quite elegant. So that's why I've indulged myself in wandering around museums recently.

Also met up with Hottie at the V&A, which was very nice. She thought I would be tall and blonde, which I found quite amusing, as I am neither. I tried a blonde wig on once, out of curiosity, and it looked completely vile. I suppose that's one of the strange things about the internet, you get an impression of what someone will look like in real life from their writing - I wonder how you form these pictures in your head. Interesting though.