Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's elementary !

Although these words so famously attributed to that erstwhile character Sherlock Holmes were never actually written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (but were introduced in the movie 'Pursuit to Algiers' with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce), they nevertheless bring the character straight to mind!

After a few days of relaxing, doing the car 'stuff' and trying to get the camera repaired, doing long yearned for home cooking with loads and loads of veges, this morning we coated up and set forth into the big smoke! Well, OK, the bigger smoke - the City proper.

We were meeting my brother Michael (who is visiting London from the US) for lunch at the Sherlock Holmes Pub which had been approved by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and who gave a number of items to their museum display. We made a booking as their website suggested and drooled over their menu even before we got there (veges with everything!).

It is wonderfully easy to travel around London thanks to the very efficient metro and overground rail system. At Stratford, we have the choice of two lines into the City with 8 stops to the centre. Today, we alight initially at Tottenham Court Road and changed for Charing Cross and then walked down Craven Passage to our rendezvous on Northumberland Street.

We arrive just before 12 to find Michael pacing around a red London postbox, unaware that we had arrived. As we are a little early for the restaurant, we take a seat in the bar downstairs where Michael and I enjoy a very refreshing Traditional Lemonade (with ginger and herb extracts) over ice and Michael has an ale.

We were offered our choice of tables as the first ones in, and so gleefully sat directly outside the study recreated behind a wall of glass. The decor of the whole pub is a shrine to the character and his exploits and in the bar downstairs, they play the old black and white movies.

There is enough choice to keep the fussiest of eaters pleased! If you click on the link above you can see the menu. And the delightful Barbara from northern Austria (near Salzberg where we will head one day in this year) waited upon us so beautifully, verbally trading jokes with the two Michael's' with ease! She even managed to get us some information on the history of the building and a small version of the menu. Of course, out came the card and an invitation to visit us back in Queensland - which she assures us she will take up in a couple of years - "don't expect me to call", she said, "I'll just turn up with a bottle or three of wine!" Hey Barbara - bring it on!!!

So, what were our choices? All are named for either Sherlock Holmes' stories. Well, some might seem foregone!
Abbey Grange (Homemade bubble and squeak with a salad garnish) Michael and Maria
A Case of Identity (Chicken Liver pate served with a salad garnish and buttered toast) brother Michael who joked with Barbara that it was because he wasn't sure yet who he was!
Mycroft's Favourite (Tender lamb shank with a hint of mint, served on a bed of mash potatoes and seasonal vegetables) for the two Michael's
The Noble Bachelor (Medallions of chicken breast with scallion, carrot, sage and onion stuffing and a creamy mushroom sauce, served with fresh vegetables and scalloped potatoes) Maria
Spotted Dick with Custard (what else!) Michael
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Ice Cream - Maria
Apple Pie with custard, custard and ice cream Michael (brother) - and no, its not a typo!

After lunch, we walked with Michael to Leister Square Station (on the Piccadilly line) via Trafalgar Square and the Church of St Martin in the Fields where an orchestral ensemble were ready to practice for a Mozart Concert tonight. This is the parish church of the Royal Family and their crest is set in the ceiling above the large leadlight window in an unusual stylised cross shape.

We parted company at the platforms - Michael heading off to the north and us to the south for Knightsbridge station and H A R R O D S. I just had to show Michael the food hall with its ornate tiled ceilings and showcases filled with delicacies from home and abroad - and not one of them bargain basement. They have further developed their food halls since my 2006 visit and there is now a Tapas Bar as well as a Dim Sum and Sushi Bar. At 3pm on a the last winter Saturday all were full as were the Oyster Bar, the Caviar Bar, the Pizza Bar and the Coffee Bar! Altogether it was extremely busy with jostling and elbowing all round. To be honest, we couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Round the block battling the anti-fur protestors who position themselves outside Harrods regularly, and back into the tube and off to Baker Street. I mean, on the day we dined with the spirit of Sherlock, how could we not go over to 221b Baker Street - the fictional (though real) address of the detective that has been purchased by the Sherlock Holmes Society and made into a museum and souvenir outlet.

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, (Sherlock Holmes: 'The Sign of Four')

To enter the museum, is to enter the world of Arthur Conan Doyle. Entry is by way of a souvenir and gift shop, and where the museum tickets are purchased. The Sherlock Holmes Society has endeavoured to maintain an Victorian atmosphere within the complex. In fact, society members are dressed in period costume, from a Commissionaire to housemaids who are actually performing cleaning duties!

The gift shop has an array of the usual memorabilia, which includes cups, plates, Deerstalker caps, curios and even Meerschaum pipes and Sherlock Holmes pipe tobacco! The shop is a curiosity in itself, and any visitor could be excused for spending as much time here as in the museum.

Ah, the museum... It is apparent, the Society has taken great care in attending to details and accuracy in designing the fictional address 221b Baker Street London NW1, as described by Doyle and the line drawings provided by Sidney Paget. The museum occupies a three storey Georgian dwelling, in Baker Street with each storey dedicated to some aspect of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. To put a finer point on the address; when Doyle invented the character 'Sherlock Holmes', the street numbers in the real Baker Street only went as high as 100. Where the museum is located, was originally gazetted as "Upper Baker Street" which Doyle used initially. However, he invented the street number '221b' purely to add credibilty to his characters' growing popularity.

One enters the museum by a dimly lit hallway leading to a flight of stairs, which takes the visitor to Holmes' sitting room and bedroom. Eerily mirroring Sidney Paget's drawings, one gets the feeling of a habitation occupied by an historical figure - right down to Dr John H Watson's desk, the tobacco slipper hanging from the mantelpiece and the initials of "VR" shot into one wall, by Holmes during an episode of boredom!

Taking the stairs to the second level, one enters the rooms of Watson and the ever suffering landlady, Mrs Hudson. Although, Doyle had never described the habitation of either of these two characters, credit must be given to the Society for providing Watson and Hudson substance based upon their descriptions gleaned from Doyle's' stories.

The third storey presents a montage of the sleuth's best known adventures. This montage consists of mannequins dressed in period costume and set in the pose of a particular situation. I suppose it is a game of testing ones knowledge of Sherlock Holmes.

'Silver Blaze', 'The Copper Beeches', 'Gloria Scott', 'The Man with the Twisted Lip', 'Abbey Grange', 'A Scandal in Bohemia'... just to name a few.

However, as in the 'Final Problem', the last exhibit is meeting Holmes' nemesis, Professor James Moriarty the architect of many of the crimes perpetrated within London.

And then we finish the day with a train trip back to Stratford and over to the local movie house to a movie - the only one showing for an hour and a half was The Unborn. A thriller / horror - if you have not yet seen it, don't bother - a few good jumps for Michael but overall very predictable and yawnworthy - absolutely nothing like a good Holmes mystery !

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