Today was to be the special day: I was going to 221B Baker St.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
In 2001, I got the collected works of Sherlock Holmes as published in the Strand. Over the years I’d read that compendium so much the spine would start falling apart. I then discovered the Granada TV series adaptation, and then more of the stories, and I’ve more recently enjoyed BBC’s Sherlock. But the 221B museum is very specifically, precisely, geared to canon: to Doyle’s and Sidney Paget’s Sherlock.
221B made me incredibly happy. It wasn’t just the detail-oriented approach to the stories, it was the incorporation of meta-commentary into the whole endeavor. The prime example of this was the monograph on Sherlock Holmes, as would be printed in one of the Who’s Who which he himself so frequently consults in the stories.
In Holmes’ room, one wall is covered with mugshots of infamous criminals, exactly as in canon description. Watson’s medical journals are jumbled together in a shelf on his room. A gruesome plaster reproduction of the engineer’s thumb is in a glass case.
And, of course, the V. R. pockmarked into the wall of the sitting room.
“The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when [Holmes] became a specialist in crime.” Greasepaint and other materials in Holmes’ room.
Holmes, getting a headstart on his beekeeping.
Billy, first member of the Baker Street Irregulars, stands guard.
A page from the letters sent to Watson by Holmes during the Baskerville case. I wonder if anyone consulted the handwriting expertise offered at the time (and by Holmes, in stories like The Reigate Squire) to reconstruct Holmes’ handwriting here.
I spent a couple of hours happily taking pictures of everything, and then went off to Regent’s Park.
I wish I’d had more time to see Regent’s Park. Canonically, it’s where Holmes and Watson take their evening strolls and comment on the state of humanity. But it seemed like a great little place to walk around, and I would’ve done that, except that it was time to catch up with my friends. They’d gone on to Westminster Abbey (while I’d visited St. Paul’s the day before). So got myself on a train and stepped out of the conveniently named Westminster Abbey station.
And the first thing to hit me in the eye was Big Ben.
Westminster, Big Ben, Parliament House
First, some context: when I was about half (I think?) my current age, I was a fan of 3D puzzles: foam-backed puzzle pieces that let you build something vertically as well as horizontally. And my first 3D puzzle was Big Ben. I went on to do another, bigger one, a sort of Dutch country house, but Big Ben was always going to be the seminal moment in my puzzle-building history. I never thought I would actually see it. London at that time was about as far away as Jupiter as a potential vacation spot. “Oh that’s nice,” I would think, rearranging 3D-Big-Ben on my desk shelf. “It’s good I have this, because I’m never going to Europe.”
So the sheer delight I felt when I stepped out of an Underground Station, in London! and saw the Big Ben directly in front of me, was fantastic.
Several other groups of people had been similarly blindsided, so it took a few minutes to walk up to it. The area is crowded with historic buildings and touristy spots, so I saw, in short order: Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament Houses, and Parliament Square. I almost wished I’d gone into Westminster Abbey, because it was a Gothic dream from the outside. All of us walked around outside, trying to take photos amid the frenzied selfie-ing of other tourists.
From Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace is a fairly quick walk through St. James Park. I don’t think I’m imagining the difference in attitude towards leisure here and in the Continent — it was a Tuesday, and all sorts of people had rented lawn chairs and were enjoying the terrific weather in St James Park. It’s not as though no one can do this in Central Park in New York, say, or Dolores Park in San Francisco, but I’d doubt this would happen en masse on a weekday.
Buckingham Palace was in some respects a disappointment. I was hoping for at least one picture of the famous guards, but they’d apparently been recalled for “security reasons”. There was also a long line of dressed-up, self-conscious people, attending what seemed to be the social event of the season inside the Palace. It was the kind of event where women wear dubiously fashion-conscious hats. And then the reasons for all these things began to coalesce when the flag went up.
Apparently this flag tells you when the Queen is in residence! So we almost-but-not-quite saw her get into the Palace!
At this point, having taken numerous pictures around the Palace and the fountains, we decided we had to do something about lunch and got gigantic burgers at Byron’s.
Natural History Museum
My friends had found, the day before, a place that sold fantastic French pastries and coffee called Maitre Choux. [In retrospect that translates to… Master Cabbage? That doesn’t sound right…] We picked up the eclairs and then had to find somewhere to eat them. Thankfully, the British Natural History Museum was just a few blocks away.
There are few things more satisfying than finishing coffee and eclairs in the grounds of a great museum, basking in the sun and incredible amounts of butter you have just consumed. And since the Museum was open for at least another hour or so — and was technically free — we decided to walk in.
Not only is the Natural History Museum full of dinosaurs, it is also gorgeous. Late afternoon sunlight pours through stained glass windows high up and spills over large stairways paved with multi-colored stones.
We didn’t make it through even 20% of the place, because you need a hefty amount of time to finish it and we didn’t have that time, but it was pretty great anyway. Also, I realized that one of the gift shops is devoted almost entirely to stuffed dinosaurs. I’m not sure how I walked out of there without purchasing a single one.
After this, we split up briefly: I went to find a rare books shop and my friends went to do some shopping.
The rare books shop is exactly the kind of thing a bibliophile loves: crowded with books, crammed with tiny nooks which overflowed with more books. It had a few unattainable things, like first editions which I was allowed to actually touch, and which were going for the princely sum of 8000 pounds. Only.
In the end, after some happy digging, I found a volume of the Strand, July to December of 1894.
That right there, my friends, is some of the earlier work of Doyle — in fact, at that point he had already published A Scandal in Bohemia in serial form in 1891.
I think the evening ended about here, with us getting dinner at a 1950s, Bombay-inspired Indian place called Dishoom.
No pictures, but overall: one of the best days I’ve had in a while.