Holmes and WatsonThe Game's Afoot!

Wild West Yorkshire, Wednesday 6 October 2010

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IT'S DIFFICULT to settle to writing my new book after today's mum appointment (a visit from a physiotherapist) so in the short time I have left this afternoon I decide to try and get a feel for the subject in the best way I know how, by drawing. Turning to traditional dip pen with a fresh 'F Collins & Co Tower Nib' manufactured in Manchester perhaps as long ago as the Sherlock Holmes period, I start a copy of Sidney Paget's illustration for The Strand Magazine of Holmes and Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles spotting a mysterious bearded figure in a hansom cab in Regent Street

Notice that, for the city, it's a top hat and frock coat, not a deerstalker and hunting cape. I like the little vignette of the city in the background. Paget conjures up the bustle with those overlapping shapes. That's a passing horse-drawn omnibus behind Holmes. The setting - London in the 1880s or 1890s - is a compelling element in the tales. The city is almost a character in itself and Conan Doyle can capture its moods throughout the year in a sentence or two.

I feel that I know those streets well. Doyle is quite precise about their chase across London and I'd like get back to there to follow the Sherlock Holmes trail. I still haven't visited the 'Northumberland Hotel', now 'The Sherlock Holmes' pub on Northumberland Street, which features in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

I'm now considering adding more drawings to my book. My usual approach to any subject, I guess.

This week, in a documentary on the television series Edward Hardwicke (who in the later episodes played Watson) was saying how keen Jeremy Brett had been to stick to Holmes as he was portrayed in the original stories. He'd refuse to say things like 'Elementary, my dear Watson!', a line which never occurs. He definitely said 'The game's afoot!', when setting out with Watson on one of his adventures, although, as with so many quotations, it's originally from Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1).

I like the opening passage of the story that the quote comes from:

"It was on a bitterly cold night and frosty morning, towards the end of the winter of '97, that I was awakened by a tugging at my shoulder. It was Holmes. The candle in his hand shone upon his eager, stooping face, and told me at a glance that something was amiss.

"Come, Watson, come!" he cried. The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!"

Ten minutes later we were both in a cab, and rattling through the silent streets on our way to Charing Cross Station. The first faint winter's dawn was beginning to appear, and we could dimly see the occasional figure of an early workman as he passed us, blurred and indistinct in the opalescent London reek."

The Adventure of the Abbey Grange

sparrowhawkDoyle is very good at putting in enough precise references to make you feel you're in the real world but without getting so involved with atmosphere that the story loses its pace. I can't wait to read what happens next (even though I've read it before!).


As I walk up Quarry Hill, I disturb a sparrowhawk on the path by the railway bridge. It flies off up over the embankment and over the road. The railway soon connects with the hedges, river, fields and patchy woodland of Addingford in the Calder valey below Horbury. When I was writing about the sparrows yesterday I thought 'would sparrowhawks really hunt right next to the busy A642?' Evidently they do, although this one didn't leave a kill on the path as it flew off.

The sparrows didn't look so much at ease in their hedge-top stronghold today. Only one female was visible, perching higher in the hedge as if on the look-out.

Richard Bell, illustrator


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