A La Sherlock Holmes (223B Casebook)

By Charles Loomis

Although Holmes doesn’t appear in this story, his theory of the science of deduction does. Charles Loomis (1861-1911) was a New York humorist who wrote for Puck, Harper’s Century, Bookman and other magazines. He was a parodist who took on Henry James, early science-fiction and even Edgar Allen Poe.

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

capital-letterONES and I recently had occasion to take a drive of four or five miles in upper Connecticut. We were met at the station by Farmer Phelps, who soon had us snugly wrapped in robes and speeding over the frozen highway in a sleigh. It was bitter cold weather — the thermometer reading 30 above zero. We had come up from Philadelphia, and to us such extreme cold was a novelty, which is all we could say for it.

loomis-illoAs we rode along, Jones fell to talking about Conan Doyle’s detective stories, of which we were both great admirers—the more so as Doyle has declared Philadelphia to be the greatest American city. It turned out that Mr. Phelps was familiar with the “‘Meemoirs’ of Sherlock Holmes,” and he thought there was some “pretty slick reasonin’” in it. “My girl,” said he, “got the book out er the library an’ read it aout laoud to my woman an’ me. But of course this Doyle had it all cut an’ dried afore he writ it. He worked backwards an’ kivered up his tracks, an’ then started afresh, an’ it seems more wonderful to the reader than it reely is.”

“I don’t know,” said Jones; “I’ve done a little in the observation line since I began to read him, and it ’s astonishing how much a man can learn from inanimate objects, if he uses his eyes and his brain to good purpose. I rarely make a mistake.”

Just then we drove past an outbuilding. The door of it was shut. In front of it, in a straight row and equidistant from each other, lay seven cakes of ice, thawed out of a water-pan.

“There,” said Jones; “what do we gather from those seven cakes of ice and that closed door?”

I gave it up.

Mr. Phelps said nothing.

Jones waited impressively a moment, and then said quite glibly: “The man who lives there keeps a flock of twelve hens—not Leghorns, but probably Plymouth Rocks or some Asiatic variety. He attends to them himself, and has good success with them, although this is the seventh day of extremely cold weather.”

I gazed at him in admiration.

Mr. Phelps said nothing.

“How do you make it all out, Jones?” said I.

“Well, those cakes of ice were evidently formed in a hens’ drinking-pan. They are solid. The water froze a little all day long, and froze solid in the night. It was thawed out in the morning and left lying there, and the pan was refilled. There are seven cakes of ice; therefore there has been a week of very cold weather. They are side by side: from this we gather that it was a methodical man who attended to them; evidently no hireling, but the good man himself. Methodical in little things, methodical in greater ones; and method spells success with hens. The thickness of the ice also proves that comparatively little water was drunk; consequently he keeps a small flock. Twelve is the model number among advanced poultrymen, and he is evidently one. Then, the clearness of the ice shows that the hens are not excitable Leghorns, but fowl of a more sluggish kind, although whether Plymouth Rocks or Brahmas or Langshans, I can’t say.

Leghorns are so wild that they are apt to stampede through the water and roil it. The closed door shows he has the good sense to keep them shut up in cold weather.

“To sum up, then, this wide-awake poultryman has had wonderful success, in spite of a week of exceptionally cold weather, from his flock of a dozen hens of some large breed. How’s that, Mr. Phelps? Isn’t it almost equal to Doyle?”

“Yes; but not accordin’ to Hoyle, ez ye might say,” said he. “Your reasonin’ is good, but it ain’t quite borne aout by the fac’s. In the fust place, this is the fust reel cold day we’ve hed this winter. Secon’ly, they ain’t no boss to the place, fer she’s a woman. Thirdly, my haouse is the nex’ one to this, an’ my boy an’ hers hez be’n makin’ those ice-cakes fer fun in some old cream-pans. Don’t take long to freeze solid in this weather. An’, las’ly, it ain’t a hen-haouse, but an ice-haouse.”

The sun rode with unusual quietness through the heavens. We heard no song of bird. The winds were whist. All nature was silent.

So was Jones.

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That Pesky Time Management

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For some reason, last week’s update didn’t post when it should, so this is an extra-long edition of the Suburban Stockade!

Time management is a difficult subject. Like everyone else, I have too much to do and too little time to do it in. The moment I’m writing this, I could be working on my fiction (the adventures of Dez and Jaxim), writing one of 15 topics for Fortress Peschel, sewing fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Craft Fair (Nov. 1, 2014, at Hershey High School, if you’re interested in attending), sewing any one of the hundred other projects begging for my attention, particularly the beautiful velvet coat a la Koos van den Akker, the mountain of boring and mundane but useful mending, weeding the yard so it looks like a planned natural garden and not an unkempt, neglected wilderness, researching storm water management so I can answer questions about it at the program I am arranging, doing more cooking from scratch and less peanut butter sandwiches and canned soup for dinner, learning better food preservation of the garden harvest, maintaining close ties with family, friends, and neighbors, walking Muffy . . . the list is endless. And I don’t work outside my home!

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Everybody gets twenty four hours a day. You never get less, but you never get more, either.

Subtract 10 hours a day for sleep, eating, and basic hygiene and you are down to 14 hours a day. If you work outside your home, hopefully at a job you like rather than one you hate, subtract out the time spent at the job, including commuting back and forth and time for meals. That is, if you work an eight-hour day with a one-hour meal break and your commute is one half-hour each way, subtract out ten more hours a day (8 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/2). You have four hours a day left with which to maintain close family ties, cook slow food like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman recommend (do they really do this on a daily basis? I doubt it), exercise, garden, learn new skills, sew your own clothes, train your dog, be active and involved with your children’s school, participate in the neighborhood watch, be politically active, run some of your church groups, etc, etc, etc.

It is exhausting, overwhelming, and never ending. The only possible cure is to say no all the time and delegate whenever you can. We watch very little television (we don’t want to be educated into being dissatisfied with everything we have), I go on-line about twice a week to catch up with what is most important to me, I don’t do any social media, I don’t go to movies, I don’t go shopping; in fact, I don’t do a whole host of activities. I can’t do any of these things and still come anywhere close to doing what I think is most important for me to do.

I don’t think anyone can do all the things they want to and should do. You have to say no. If you say yes, yes, yes, you end up not sleeping enough (which eventually makes you unhealthy, overweight, psychotic and suicidal; this is certainly how it works for me) and doing all the things you want to do in a half-assed, lick-and-a-promise way.

To accomplish what you say you want to accomplish, you have to set goals. Then, look at the activity you want to do (or someone tells you what you should do). Will it help you reach your goal? Yes? Then it needs to be done. If the answer is no, then you better ask yourself why you are doing it.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently.

If your goal is to be financially independent, out of debt and owning your own home, then shopping for recreation — no matter how you do it, the thrift shop, the mall, online — has to come off of the to-do list. If you leave it on the list, then you are saying that you don’t really want to be financially independent. No matter what you tell yourself, your actions are saying differently. Time spent in recreational shopping is time not spent cooking from scratch, which will save you money. This becomes rather circular.

Want to improve your job skills? Then take classes, ask for help from people you want to emulate, find out from the boss what work is waiting to be done. Study, pay attention, focus. Learn how to do better at whatever you are working on. Drifting along aimlessly says you don’t want to do any better. Your actions demonstrate what you really want. Time spent surfing isn’t time spent working. The work still waits for you, building up, while you waste that time on things that don’t make you a better employee.

If your goal is to be an artist, then you had better be drawing or painting. All the time. That’s what artists do. If you are busy watching other people’s creativity on YouTube, or reading pirated manga online, then you aren’t serious about your own art. Hanging with your friends does not equal time in the ceramics studio working on your technique at the potter’s wheel.

Want to be a musician? Driving around in cars with boys does not equal skill at the piano or violin. Hours and hours of focused practice will get you to the stage. Music and art are both hard ways to make a living. You will need talent, drive, and ambition to compete with all the other artists and musicians out there. If they all work harder than you do and are more focused on their goals then you are, then guess who gets the prize? It won’t be you.

II. Learn to Want What You Want

That was the easy part. Don’t do the things that keep you from achieving your goals. The harder part is deciding which of the things that you need to do to achieve your goals can be done in the little time you have allotted. It helps me to write things down in a daily log. My logbook reminds me to do things, it provides me a written record of what I have actually done, and it helps me keep focused. I use it to keep the family focused on their jobs so they get their stuff done. I get, as you can imagine, a lot of resistance on their parts to this approach. Nonetheless, I persevere as my kids would do even less if I let them. My family (including the pets) are a part of my time management problem as I use some of my time to keep them efficient, focused and on the job.

Having a clear idea of my goals on a daily, weekly, monthly, lifely basis helps me to prioritize. Removing aimless behaviors and time-sinks gives me a little more time to get things done. It does not give me anywhere near enough time to accomplish what I want to do.

I like to cook. Cooking from scratch is better for our health, better for our pocketbook, better for the planet, and better for our emotional well-being. But if I am going to write Fortress Peschel plus the fiction I want to write (which may actually make some money) and edit all of Bill’s writing, then I can’t spend several hours a day cooking. I am a very skillful cook, able to walk into a kitchen cold and produce a meal for four in an hour or two. It is hard to chop that time shorter without eating out of cans or from the freezer case. You find yourself eating a lot of eggs, toast, and raw vegetable trays. The alternative is to set up stews in the crock pot at dawn. So I cut back on the finer cooking. The time I spend writing is more important to me, now, than the time cooking. That may change.

The wedding quilt. You won't believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

The wedding quilt. You won’t believe how long it takes to sew a cat in place.

I like to sew. I do all the household mending and repair and I do mending and repair for pin-money. I make quilts; the most recent being a wedding quilt for Stan and Michael. I got it done in time for their first wedding anniversary. It will be a long time before I get to make another one. I have wonderful ideas but I don’t have the time to execute them.

The other wonderful idea is to make insulated fabric bags lined with ironing board material. This is an updated haybox in that you bring your homemade soup (which you got up at dawn to make) to a boil, then put it into the heavily insulated bag so it can cook slowly with residual heat all day. At dinner time, the soup is ready, without heating up the kitchen (good in summer!) or spending precious dollars on cooking fuel. Boy does that meet some of my goals. And, it won’t cost me anything to make as I have a salvaged metallic ironing board cover, wool batting, and a lifetime supply of the fashion fabric. All it would cost me is time. Time I can’t spare now, even though this bag will, eventually, save me money and time babysitting soup or stew.

The big sewing project now is making fabric tote bags for the upcoming Winter Arts and Crafts Festival on 1NOV2014 at Hershey High School. Bill and I will be selling his books and my tote bags. I make these from heavy fabrics like upholsteries and they are sized to hold groceries. Each bag takes fifteen steps starting with cutting the fashion fabric into as many bags as I can squeeze out of the yardage. The original plan was to sew a set of bags, then work on another sewing project such as the wonderful velvet coat ala Koos van den Akker, then tote bags, then a lined jacket, then tote bags, then the mending mountain, tote bags, the haybox-insulated bag. That plan went by the wayside as I just couldn’t make up more time. Now it is all tote bags and writing. My velvet coat (a 1950s’ vintage swing coat with funnel neck) will have to wait. So will the jackets, the mending, the stylish tops, the insulated cooking bag. I can’t do it.

The garden has largely gone by the wayside. Younger son has taken over a lot of the vegetable portion but he doesn’t have the knowledge or skill set yet for the ornamental portions. Because the yard is very naturalistic and heavily planted, you have to know that the plant you are pulling is a weed and not Virginia Bluebells. You don’t want to guess and be wrong (which did happen). Weeding is very Zen for me and I like doing it. I can’t do it now as the writing and sewing have taken over.

Some activities are seasonal. Eventually, winter will come, and we won’t be doing much weeding. There may be snow shoveling, but older and younger son will be doing that. Sewing and writing can be done anytime of the year. Other seasonal jobs are painting doors and kitchen cabinets. Those are best done in spring or fall so you can paint outside without weather issues. Laying the patio is a spring or summer job. Insulating the attic is a fall, winter, spring job. You don’t want to be up there in July when the temperature is 125 degrees. Insulating all your pipes should be done right now so they are less likely to freeze this winter. Made those insulated quilts and drapes for all the windows yet? That can be done anytime but you really need them ready for the winter. Cooking, of some sort, has to be done year round as everyone has to eat. So does laundry and basic housekeeping. Laundry and cooking and housekeeping have to be done on a daily basis as if you don’t, you end up with mountains of work. Unless you can afford a housekeeper or you like living in a sty, this is work that can’t be put off for very long.

How do you choose? What is the most important thing to do? Good habits help some. I don’t shop for recreation so I don’t spend money I don’t have so I am better able to reach our family goal of financial independence. I do make time to exercise almost every day as better health and fitness means I sleep better. When I sleep better, I function much better and I am not psychotic and suicidally depressed. I say no. I say no. I say no.

I say no. That can be so hard. So many books to read, movies to see. I have seen almost nothing of all the great must-see TV out there. I don’t have time. I see the supermarket magazines and I don’t know who most of the celebrities are. It is hard to let go. I know that I’m totally out of touch with the culture. But keeping up with the Kardashians will not help me reach my goals. It is kind of horrifying to me that, even though I have never seen their TV show(s), I know who they are from seeing them on the magazine covers at the supermarket! My precious brain space being spent on Kardashians instead of hundreds of more worthwhile things.

What are your goals? Do your activities help you reach your goals or do they just get in the way? Only you know. Only you can decide what to say no to. And your nos will change. Time management is so difficult. I would like to say that practice makes it easier, but I don’t know about that either. I look around at everything I am not doing and wonder what am I missing? What is going to jump up and bite me, saying “you didn’t do me and now you’ll pay! Bwah hah hah hah.” Arrgg.

I won’t lie. It is always and will always be a challenge. Establish your goals, try to instill better habits, compare what you are doing to what you say you want to accomplish. Say no, adapt, say no again. Stay out of step with the tidal wave of media, stuff, everything, trying to come in your front door on a minute by minute basis. Reassure yourself that you are doing what you have to do, to meet your goals. Say no some more. Unless you can get someone else to do it, this is what time management is.

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Twerking with Sherlock

While posting today’s Sherlock Holmes parody, I went searching through Google Images for the appropriate art to accompany the story. Since the story was about the widow of Holmes, I naturally searched for “female Sherlock Holmes.”

I approve of this example, from GalleryHip.

I approve of this example, from GalleryHip.

There weren’t nearly as many inappropriate images as I anticipated. There were the expected ones showing Miss Irene Adler in the altogether from the “Sherlock” series. Some Halloween costumes. (Although now, as I’m searching again to write this post, I’m coming across more. There’s one of Paris Hilton in a bodice, accompanying an old, discredited story about her possibly being offered a role in a SH movie.)

But I did come across a publicity still from the Robert Downey movies that amused me. Such shoots are carefully controlled and focused on selling the fantasy, so it makes me happy to see Sherlock and Irene adopting postures never conceived by Sidney Paget.

"Even white boys got to shout. Baby got back!"

“Baby Got Back didn’t start with Sir Mix-a-Lot.”

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The Identity of Miss Angela Vespers

Today’s 1894 story from the 223B Casebook is unusual by creating a sort of female Sherlock Holmes. It was one of two that appeared in The Student, a journal for university extension students published at the home of Durham University in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, It stars the widow of “Herlock Shomes,” taking up her husband’s business after his death.

female sherlock holmes

How not to create a female Sherlock Holmes.

There were few women writing in the detective field at the time, and even fewer women acting as detectives. Those that were acted like Holmes, as “consulting detectives,” because women weren’t allowed on police forces. It’s surprising, then, that the first American crime novel was written by a woman: “The Dead Letter” (1864), by Metta Victor writing as Seeley Register.

While we don’t know if “Ka,” the author of these stories, but the presence of Mrs. Shomes adds weight to the argument.

As this story opens, Mrs. Shomes had just succeeded in solving her first case, recounted as “The Adventure of the Tomato on the Wall.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

“I wonder who will be our next visitor,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes. She was in good spirits that afternoon, and had assured me several times that our discovery about the tomato, though galling to the landlord, was quite a feather in our caps.

“We were not at all to blame, my dear,” said she, leaning back in her chair and putting her finger-tips together in a judicial manner, “except in underestimating the extreme waywardness of Human Nature. Man is perpetually full of surprises; it is that which makes him so interesting. Once let us thoroughly understand a man; and no matter how much we may admire him, the element of curiosity is lacking, and we are bored.”

“Julia,” I said, “you talk like a philosopher.”

“Who would not,” she replied, “who had been the wife of such a man as Herlock? Life with him was as interesting and as full of the most delightful unexpectedness as a sixpenny raffle. Just fancy sitting waiting for him to come into tea, and never knowing whether a visitor was he or not till he’d been in the house half an hour! I’ve several times rushed to welcome a man and kissed him, thinking it was Herlock, only to discover afterwards that the creature had committed some terrible crime.

“The life you have led together must have been most interesting,” said I, sighing, and wishing that Mr Wiggins, though a kind husband, had not been so commonplace. In considering the late Mr Shomes one felt that, as a spouse, Darby himself would have been unsupportable. Why, oh why, should the latter have been “always the same!”

“Oh, very interesting indeed,” said Mrs Shomes, shaking her head pensively; “sometimes a Rough, sometimes a Costermonger, and sometimes a Gentleman! There is not a charm peculiar to any station of life I did not occasionally find in Herlock. And now they are all gone — all.”

I thought of Macduff’s touching “What! all my pretty ones?” and sighed. Julia was certainly unfortunate in having lost such a man. But after all, was it not better to have had a Herlock Shomes and lost him, than never — “How you must miss them,” I said, suddenly recollecting my duty to Mr Wiggins, “him, I mean.”

“I do indeed,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “I don’t know which of him I miss the most! And never do I miss him more, Lucilla, than in trying to solve the questions brought before us. I seem to feel more and more at every turn the need of his almost supernatural powers of observation.

“Is there no kind of rule that one could go by in solving these mysteries?” I asked, munching a biscuit. We had decided that it would not be professional to have afternoon tea, and I felt famished.

Mrs Herlock Shomes reflected profoundly, and then said: “It seems to me that in trying to clear up a Mystery one can count upon one thing only, and that is, that what at first appears to be the most improbable solution will prove to be the true one.” She paced up and down the room as she spoke, occasionally pausing to look out of the window in the street below.

“Aha! here is someone at last,” she cried, as a thin young man wearing spectacles came round the corner. He looked up at the numbers on the doors in a short-sighted manner, and after minutely examining our nameplate, rang the bell.

“Have I the honour to address Mrs Herlock Shomes?” he asked, bowing most respectfully as I opened the door to him.

“You have not,” said I, judging it best to keep my own name of Wiggins in the background; “Mrs Shomes is upstairs, considering her cases, but might spare you a few minutes, I daresay.”

“I should be greatly obliged,” he said, bowing again, “Mrs Shomes’ success in connection with the famous ‘Tomato on the Wall’ is not unknown to me.”

I ushered him in, and Julia, after gracefully bending her head, eyed him over with the most minute and yet abstracted attention of which she was capable. “Why should you have on your elder brother’s clothes?” she asked, letting her eyelids droop over her eyes, and looking at him in rather an ill-used way. The young man started violently, and examined his clothes with misgiving. “They — they are my own, I think,” he said, looking up at her again; “but I had an elder brother who was lost in infancy. It is most remarkable that you should know anything about him.”

Mrs Shomes did not reply. She took a ruby-tipped pencil from her pocket, scribbled the following words and handed them to me.” In mercy aid me, Lucilla, and suggest, if you can, why the suit he has on is so big for him.”

Of course I made up my mind to do the best I could, but oh, for Herlock! “I should like to know, sir,” I said, looking at him with all the intelligent abstraction which I could muster, “why within the last six months you have taken to wearing corsets?”

“‘Corsets’ madam!” repeated the young man, glancing from one of us to the other, with an expression of curiosity tempered with respect; “I-I’ve seen the name in tradesmen’s bills but I’m not quite sure that I can define the term. Pray explain yourselves, ladies.”

“It is no matter, cried Mrs Herlock Shomes — rather too hastily, as it seemed to me, for he might have known the corset by some other name — “It was just a little idea of my friend’s, that is all. And now, sir, may I ask you to proceed with your story. “

The young man sighed pensively, groaned once or twice, and then began: “About seven months ago,” said he, addressing himself to my friend with an air of the most touching confidence, “I had occasion to change my lodgings. My new rooms were comfortable and the cooking good. Do I make myself clear?”

“Entirely so,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, folding her hands in her lap. “Your statement is remarkably lucid.”

“My landlady was elderly and very plain,” went on the young man in a melancholy tone, “she was also not a little mysterious. Even when she personally opened the door to the tax-collector she would sometimes insist that she was ‘not at home’ and when she went out with her husband, which she did every evening, she always put on a very thick veil. I had only been in the house three days when the servant handed me a playbill. It exhibited the portrait of a lady of remarkable beauty, stated that she was the sensational skirt-dancer, ‘Miss Angelica Vespers,’ and described in glowing terms a performance in which she had appeared the night before, and which she was to repeat that evening. Madam, I went to that performance, and was at once bewitched by the beauty and agility of the fair Angelica. Attired in a filmy cloud of lace, and seeming rather to hover in the air than dance upon the ground, she appeared to me divinely beautiful, and not above eighteen or nineteen years of age. ‘She is my affinity!’ exclaimed my heart, enraptured at her charms; ‘she shall become my wife,’ said I before Angelica had done more than poise herself, and gaily pirouette upon one toe. In all she did I seemed to follow her with my heart as well as my eyes; and when, after lightly vaulting in the air, she leant suddenly back and. three times touched the stage with the crown of her lovely head, a mist floated before my eyes, my breath came in one gasp of admiration, and I vowed that she and none but she, must sit at the head of my table.

“From this time forth I haunted the hall in the hope of seeing Angelica. I sent her bouquets, bracelets, notes, occasionally receiving a few scribbled lines in reply which set my heart aflame. In these messages she stated that she admired my presents and personal appearance; but was averse to matrimony, intended to dance till she was ninety, and could not bring herself to grant an interview. At this treatment, my excitement became intense. I tried to bribe first one attendant and then another to make them divulge by what secret exit Angelica left the hall; but without success. They informed me that my landlord and landlady were the proprietors of the place, that the two scene-shifters who slept upon the premises were their sons, and that none but these four persons were ever permitted to speak to the dancer.

“What was the appearance of the two scene-shifters?” asked Mrs Herlock Shomes. “Did you ever see them?”

“Frequently,” replied the young man; “they were dwarfs, and squinted horribly. They were not above three feet high.”

“It never occurred to you that either of them resembled Angelica?”

“It did not.”

“Pray continue,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, noting down these particulars, “you interest me extremely.”

“During the next six months I not only spent every penny I could afford on presents for Angelica, but in order to make these as handsome as possible I began to restrict myself as to diet, coming down latterly to two meals a day.”

“Ah!” said Mrs Shomes, looking thoughtfully at his suit of clothes, “I see it all now.”

That's better.

That’s better.

“Madam,” cried the young man, “your words fill me with the utmost confidence in your powers! — but I will resume. The waywardness of the fair dancer, her beauty, and the mystery that surrounded her, were driving me frantic, and I went to the hall one evening determined to bring matters to a crisis. The dance which she performed on that occasion was called ‘The Devil’s Horns.’ In it she wore a whirling robe of black and shimmering gauze, which set off her dazzling fairness to perfection. Never shall I forget her as she then appeared with her long robes coiling round and round her lovely form, enveloping her snowy arms, and rising at last to a great height on either side like two demoniac horns. Faster and faster played the music, higher and higher danced Angelica. A weird red light was suddenly flashed upon her from the side. The audience cheered; but as she danced on their faces began to blanch, and sinister whispers of ‘witch’ and ‘demon’ could be heard among them. Just as she gave her final pirouette and was about to leave the stage, she turned in my direction and blew a kiss into the auditorium. This was too much for my excited nerves. With one bound I leapt upon the stage; but was immediately followed and held back by several members of the Orchestra. ‘Let me see her!’ I panted, ‘where does she go? I insist on following her!’ There was a shriek, a slamming of a door, and all was still. Then a great hubbub arose amongst the audience, the curtain fell, and I was taken by two of the attendants and thrust into the street.

“Well?” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, as the young man looked at her and paused, “well?”

“From that day to this,” he said impressively, “Angelica Vespers has disappeared! Her name is no longer on the bills, other performers are on the stage, and all my enquiries after her have met with no response.”

“Have you asked your landlord and landlady about her?”

“Oh, repeatedly; but they profess to be as much in the dark as I am.”

“Do you happen to have a specimen of your landlady’s handwriting here?” The young man produced a bill for a week’s board and lodging. “Thank you,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “and now give me one of Angelica’s letters.” She carefully compared the documents, and put them into her pocket. “Have you anything more to tell me?” said she.

“There is only one fact more, madam, but it is a most important one. I have twice seen my landlady wearing a bracelet which I could swear was one of those I gave Angelica.”

“Ha!” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, “what sort of woman is this landlady of yours to look at?”

“Very ugly; she is slim and active, but has grey hair, small eyes, a nose to one side, and a complexion of walnut shells.”

“That will do,” said Julia, affably; “I quite see the whole thing.”

“Eh!” cried the visitor, falling back a few steps, “you can find Angelica?”

“I can put my finger upon her at any moment,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes firmly. The young man bowed with an air of stupefaction and took his leave.

“I begin to be afraid of you, Julia,” I said, when he was gone. “Where do you think she is? What are you going to do?”

For an answer she went to the bathroom tap and filling a bottle with water placed it upon the table. Then she went to the cupboard, and got out a piece of coarse flannel and a large lump of washing soda. As I looked at these preparations I felt in a state of utter collapse. My hands fell limply by my sides, and I emitted a low gurgle of amazement.

With an unpretending leather bag in our possession we went to the somewhat shabby hall that night and asked to see the proprietress, Mrs Delaware, on important business. We were taken to a small room where we found her renovating the theatrical wardrobe; and no sooner were we alone with her than Julia pounced upon the key of the door, turned it, and put it into her pocket.

“So you have locked the door have you?” said the lady, pausing in her work. “You seem to be rather an extraordinary person. Why have you come here?”

“I have come, madam,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, with perfect calmness, “to wash your face.

Mrs Delaware sat and stared at us both for several minutes. “To wash my face,” she repeated musingly, “are you a professional face-washer then?”

“I am not; but I’ve every intention of removing that mask of yours,” said Mrs Herlock Shomes, getting out the flannel.

“M-mask!” murmured Mrs Delaware.

“Yes,” said Julia firmly. “What looks like your face you know. Don’t imagine we are deceived. That hideous mask is merely a cosmetical preparation warranted to ensure all sorts of charms beneath. Your secret, Angelica, is discovered!”

Almost before my friend had finished speaking, the lady went off into violent hysterics, and I had much ado to bring her round. “There, she is better now,” said Julia. “You hold her and I will try her face with this.

She had been vigorously rubbing the flannel on the soda, and no sooner did Mrs Delaware hear the words than she sprang from her chair at a single bound and positively screamed for mercy. “Anything but that,” she cried, clasping her hands in supplication. “You terrible person, I am as wax in your hands. Anything but that awful — awful soda!”

“Well then,” said Julia, seizing her opportunity, “Are you, or are you not, the lost Miss Angelica Vespers?”

“I Miss Vespers?’ returned the lady much amazed. “I the lovely Angelica? Certainly not.” She seemed to be still much agitated; and at a sign from me Julia put down the flannel.

“Then what have you done with her?” asked my friend. “Your writing is identical with hers, which should not be. Produce her at once, or I arrest you upon the spot for forgery.”

“But Angelica had no education,” cried Mrs Delaware, “I had to write her letters.”

“No matter,” said Julia, unabashed, “Produce her at once, or I arrest you for stealing her bracelets, one of which you have on.”

“I never knew anyone like you!” said Mrs Delaware, looking from the bracelet to the face of my friend in uncontrollable agitation. “And must we suffer?” she went on, “and must our little ruse by which we hoped to gain a fortune be exposed to all the world?”

“Ha!” said my friend, looking at me in triumph; “It need not be, if you will produce the lady.”

“And will you not arrest me if I produce her?” cried the other.

“Not if she does not accuse you in any way. It all depends on how you’ve treated her.”

With this Mrs Delaware appeared to be content. “I can and will produce her, quite unharmed,” she said. Thereupon she unlocked a large press which stood in the room, and emerged from it bearing in her arms the apparently lifeless figure of a dancing girl. The face and arms were exquisitely moulded, the hair fell in a shower of golden ringlets to the waist, and the whole form was enveloped in black-bespangled gauze.

“Angelica is a perfect triumph of mechanism,” said the lady, taking one of the girl’s hands in her own, and turning the fingers about in all directions. “She can vault three feet higher than any living lady on the stage, and has danced us out of bankruptcy over and over again. No one ever suspected us,” she went on, carefully dusting the face of the figure of a dancing girl with her pocket handkerchief; “but her accomplishments are of the kind that take with men, and they were constantly pining away on her account. Three noblemen and two poets have committed suicide because of her; and as my own lodger was becoming skin-and-bone, and had begun to make things most unpleasant, we did not like the idea of an inquest at our house, and we’ve agreed to sell her.”

“Then she’s neither more nor less than a marionette!” cried I.

“And there’s our second Mystery cleared up,” said Mrs Herlock Shornes.

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The Adventure of the Two Collaborators

A failed attempt to follow in the footsteps of Gilbert and Sullivan lies behind this J.M. Barrie Sherlock parody.

Barrie Sherlock parody

Conan Doyle and Barrie

“Sir James Barrie paid his respects to Sherlock Holmes in a rollicking parody,” Doyle wrote in his “Memoirs and Adventures. “It was really a gay gesture of resignation over the failure which we had encountered with a comic opera for which he undertook to write the libretto. I collaborated with him on this, but in spite of our joint efforts, the piece fell fiat. Whereupon Barrie sent me a parody on Holmes, written on the flyleaves of one of his books.” The book, by the way, was “A Window in Thrums.”

The comic opera in question is “Jane Annie, or The Good Conduct Prize,” for which Doyle and Barrie wrote the book and Ernest Ford the music. Although it ran for seven weeks at D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy Theatre, it was considered a failure. But because it inspired this delicious parody, in which the authors appeared, it was worth it to Sherlock fans.

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

In bringing to a close the adventures of my friend Sherlock Holmes I am perforce reminded that he never, save on the occasion which, as you will now hear, brought his singular career to an end, consented to act in any mystery which was concerned with persons who made a livelihood by their pen. “I am not particular about the people I mix among for business purposes,” he would say, “but at literary characters I draw the line.”

We were in our rooms in Baker Street one evening. I was (I remember) by the centre table writing out “The Adventure of the Man without a Cork Leg” (which had so puzzled the Royal Society and all the other scientific bodies of Europe), and Holmes was amusing himself with a little revolver practice. It was his custom of a summer evening to fire round my head, just shaving my face, until he had made a photograph of me on the opposite wall, and it is a slight proof of his skill that many of these portraits in pistol shots are considered admirable likenesses.

I happened to look out of the window, and perceiving two gentlemen advancing rapidly along Baker Street asked him who they were. He immediately lit his pipe, and, twisting himself on a chair into the figure 8, replied:

“They are two collaborators in comic opera, and their play has not been a triumph.”

I sprang from my chair to the ceiling in amazement, and he then explained:

“My dear Watson, they are obviously men who follow some low calling. That much even you should be able to read in their faces. Those little pieces of blue paper which they fling angrily from them are Durrant’s Press Notices. Of these they have obviously hundreds about their person (see how their pockets bulge). They would not dance on them if they were pleasant reading.”

I again sprang to the ceiling (which is much dented), and shouted: “Amazing! But they may be mere authors.”

“No,” said Holmes, “for mere authors only get one press notice a week. Only criminals, dramatists and actors get them by the hundred.”

“Then they may be actors.”

“No, actors would come in a carriage.

“Can you tell me anything else about them?”

“A great deal. From the mud on the boots of the tall one I perceive that he comes from South Norwood. The other is as obviously a Scotch author.”

“How can you tell that?”

“He is carrying in his pocket a book called (I clearly see) Auld Licht Something. Would anyone but the author be likely to carry about a book with such a title?”

I had to confess that this was improbable.

‘I have him — at last!’

It was now evident that the two men (if such they can be called) were seeking our lodgings. I have said (often) that my friend Holmes seldom gave way to emotion of any kind, but he now turned livid with passion. Presently this gave place to a strange look of triumph.

“Watson,” he said, “that big fellow has for years taken the credit for my most remarkable doings, but at last I have him — at last!”

Up I went to the ceiling, and when I returned the strangers were in the room.

“I perceive, gentlemen,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “that you are at present afflicted by an extraordinary novelty.”

The handsomer of our visitors asked in amazement how he knew this, but the big one only scowled.

“You forget that you wear a ring on your fourth finger,” replied Mr. Holmes calmly.

I was about to jump to the ceiling when the big brute interposed.

“That tommy-rot is all very well for the public, Holmes,” said he, “but you can drop it before me. And, Watson, if you go up to the ceiling again I shall make you stay there.”

Here I observed a curious phenomenon. My friend Sherlock Holmes shrank. He became small before my eyes. I looked longingly at the ceiling, but dared not.

“Let us cut the first four pages,” said the big man, “and proceed to business. I want to know why —”

“Allow me,” said Mr. Holmes, with some of his old courage. “You want to know why the public does not go to your opera.”

“Exactly,” said the other ironically, “as you perceive by my shirt stud.” He added more gravely, “And as you can only find out in one way I must insist on your witnessing an entire performance of the piece.”

It was an anxious moment for me. I shuddered, for I knew that if Holmes went I should have to go with him. But my friend had a heart of gold.

“Never,” he cried fiercely, “I will do anything for you save that.”

“Your continued existence depends on it,” said the big man menacingly.

“I would rather melt into air,” replied Holmes, proudly taking another chair. “But I can tell you why the public don’t go to your piece without sitting the thing out myself.”


“Because,” replied Holmes calmly, “they prefer to stay away.”

A dead silence followed that extraordinary remark. For a moment the two intruders gazed with awe upon the man who had unravelled their mystery so wonderfully. Then drawing their knives —

Holmes grew less and less, until nothing was left save a ring of smoke which slowly circled to the ceiling.

The last words of great men are often noteworthy. These were the last words of Sherlock Holmes: “Fool, fool! I have kept you in luxury for years. By my help you have ridden extensively in cabs, where no author was ever seen before. Henceforth you will ride in buses!”

The brute sunk into a chair aghast.

The other author did not turn a hair.

To A. Conan Doyle.
from his friend
J. M. Barrie

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Long-Range and Long-Term Water Storage (part 3)

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Suburban stockade introduction

In the long term, the easiest, cheapest way to store water is in the ground. There are two ways to go about this. For household water, i.e. drinking, laundry, hygiene, cooking, and some irrigation, you need a cistern to catch rainwater. If you live in dryer portions of the country and you expect to be at least partially off-grid, a cistern is a must. A cistern is an enormous tank holding thousands of gallons of rain. They are usually buried, both to protect the water from contaminates and evaporation and to keep it cooler. Think of an underground swimming pool with a layer of dirt on top.

Cisterns are not normally do-it-yourself projects unless you have an army of sullen teenagers with shovels to dig the hole, brick it up, line it with tile, build the cover, and then landscape over top of it.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Cisterns can also be built above ground.

Locating the cistern can be troublesome as most, if not all, of your house gutters need to drain into it to keep it filled. It is probably easier to dig the cistern first and then build the house rather than retrofitting it into a small yard with trees, driveways, underground pipes and what have you all getting in the way. Sometimes cisterns have to be built above ground as there is no other place to put it.

Cisterns need pumps to get the water back out for use. An electric pump is easy to use but you must have a manual back up. If you lose power, and you can’t get to the water, you don’t have any water.

Do a lot of research before installing a cistern so you know how to use and maintain it. Get plenty of references from the builder and visit his installed cisterns so you can see how big they can be and how they work. Bigger is always better when it comes to water storage. If you can count on only fifteen inches of rain a year, in one or two big storms, you need to be able to catch and hold every drop.

The second way to store rainwater is in the ground itself. If you have a well, then — in a round about way — you are storing water for household use. Soil that catches and holds onto water lets you go longer between waterings when the rains are not reliable. As well as watering less often, this means watering less in terms of quantity. Less run-off and evaporation means more soaking into the soil for your thirsty vegetables. Improved soil leads to being more drought proof.

The way you improve your soil is with tons of organic material, deep rooted plants, no bare soil ever, and never turning over soil if you can avoid it. You want a deep, rich, humusy loam and you can turn that dead dirt in your yard into this gardener’s dream.

Step one is to set your lawn mower to it’s highest setting. Taller grass means deeper roots. Deeper roots let water soak down deeper, and air too. Taller grass shades the soil better, keeping it cooler. Use the mulching setting on the mower and let the clippings spread around. They will rot in place and return organic matter to the soil, improving its tilth. For optimal grass health, don’t cut off more than about 1/3 of the blade when you mow. That is, if your lawn mower is set to three inches of depth, cut when the grass is about four inches high. Aerate the lawn if it seems to need it, either with one of those mechanical things from the rental store or with a sullen teenager and a broad fork. Enhance your lawn with regular top dressings of compost, either home-made, or purchased. Spread it thin and let the rain work it into the soil. If the lawn is covered with leaves in the fall, have your sullen teenager run them over with the mulching lawnmower a few times. The leaves disintegrate into the grass.

Step two is to keep ALL of your planting areas, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, berry bushes, heavily mulched. Wooded areas mulch themselves every fall when the leaves drop. Rake them from the grassy areas back underneath the trees and let them rot in place. Collect leaves from the neighbors in the fall. Get them from landscaping services. Collect chipped and shredded branches when the power company does tree topping. Ask! The crew is usually happy to dump a load of shredded trees in your driveway. In the fall, you should not have to purchase mulch. Nature is giving it away. Collect this fertility from your wasteful, profligate neighbors. All of this organic material will rot in place, slowly building up the humus in your soil.

For this reason, don’t use plastic or landscape fabric. They do nothing to build soil and as they deteriorate, you end up with bits of plastic all over the place. Stone and gravel will allow rain penetration but they don’t build soil. Shredded rubber is terrible too. It does nothing to feed the soil, and as it degrades over decades, it breaks up into little rubber bits that will be there forever.

We are learning to do no-till. This means that we don’t spade over the soil in planting areas any more. Instead, we pull back the mulch a little, make enough of a space for the seeds, and leave the soil as undisturbed as we can. Soil is alive. It is a complex web of critters from small to microscopic. A web of funguses binds it together. Break up this complex community by spading it over and you change how well the soil functions.

We have been on our property for thirteen years. My soil has gone from hard, dead clay to a complex, humusy topsoil up to a foot deep in spots. There is never any standing water even after four inches of rain. It all soaks in. That means that every drop of rain that falls on my yard, stays in my yard. I loose very little to run off or to evaporation. Where I have grass, it is healthy and green with no feeding, amendments or spraying. My vegetable beds are better than ever. I have berry bushes, trees, some wilderness areas, ornamental flowers, hedges, shrubbery screens.

As the soil improves year by year I do less and less supplemental watering. I don’t have to! We water only when something is newly planted, vegetables when needed (from captured water in the cube) and, and, that’s kind of it. I certainly don’t water the lawn and the thicket, hedgerow, hazelnuts, and berry bushes take care of themselves. Improving the soil so it does the work is letting this happen.

You can store water this way too. The more organic material in your soil, the more water it collects from the rain. Eventually, much of this water makes it way down to the aquifer. If you have a well, then you are making sure it continues to provide water for your household. So capture all of your rain. It isn’t hard and the returns are huge.

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The Day A Newspaper Scooped Mark Twain

In 1868, Mark Twain was busy: launching his career, courting his future wife Livy, and anticipating the publication of his first travel book, “The Innocents Abroad.”

Mark Twain lectureHe was also a public lecturer, a profession which caused him a problem when he visited Washington, D.C. He discovered that a friend had booked him to give two lectures. He hastily cobbled together a lecture titled “The Frozen Truth,” about his trip to the Holy Land aboard the Quaker City.

The first night, to his relief, went well, but when the Evening Star published the article below on its front page, he was forced to cancel his second show, costing him several hundred dollars. “[O]ne never feels comfortable, afterward, repeating a lecture that has been partially printed,” he wrote, “and worse than that, people don’t care about going to hear what they can buy in a newspaper for less money.”

But if newspaper reports can hurt Twain at the box office, they can also help him. That week, Twain was a guest at the Washington Newspaper Correspondents Club. Among the dozen toasts given to round out the dinner, one of them by Twain. The toast “To Women” was printed in newspapers nationwide and helped to burnish Twain’s reputation as an after-dinner speaker. Anthologies still republish it.

Below is the story from the Evening Star, drawn from the page on the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” site, that gives us a bit of the flavor of experiencing Twain on stage.

Washington News and Gossip

The Evening Star [Washington, D.C.] Jan. 10, 1868

“Mark Twain.” — Almost everybody who fancies he knows a good thing, in the humorous way, when he sees or hears it, was on hand last night to assist at the debut of Mr. Clemens, otherwise known as “Mark Twain,” as a lecturer.

The subject announced was “Frozen Truth,” but as in the case of the well-remembered “discursive” [style] of the lamented “Artemus Ward,” upon “The Babes in the Wood,” in which the audience were favored with only a single allusion to the babes, to the effect that they were the children of poor, but respectable parents, and died young, so in this discourse of last night, the promised gelid facts never made their appearance, though anxiously looked for by literal sort of hearers.

The thread of the lecture was a running review of the renowned excursion of the New England pilgrims, per steamer Quaker City, to the Holy Land, and this trip, illustrated from the “Mark Twain” point of view, afforded matter for a most successful attack upon the rustics. His description of the sea-sick pilgrims, (the pilgrims he liked, but didn’t “dote” on;) or the aggravating doctor, who was continually making himself disagreeable by having the tooth-ache and the heart-disease, though remonstrated with; of the fellow-traveller who sat up all night, on the watch for Scylla and Charybilis; of the breakfast with the Emperor of Russia; his personal description of the Emperor, who treated him so kindly and frankly, telling him he “could leave whenever he wanted;” his rough experience in Syria, the only pleasing reminiscence of which was the time he had the cholera at Damascus; his mathematical comparison of the proportion of arable land to desert in Syria, to that of absolute lemon in the pies known as lemon pies, at his Washington hotel; his warmly expressed detestation of the villainous camels “that were always trying to bit you when you hadn’t done anything to ’em”; his unanswerable argument against matrimony, found in the fact that the Sultan “has 900 wives and isn’t happy;” his ad captandum appeal to his bachelor auditors apropos to this muchness of matrimony “How would you like your sleeping apartment lumbered up with a bed six feet long and thirteen hundred feet wide!”; his comparison of the public institutions, buildings and monuments of the U.S. to those of the Old World; his proud claim that no quarter of the Old World has such a monument as the Washington Monument; and that no officials there are more efficient and patriotic, or collect their salaries more promptly than our members of Congress ? these and a thousand other kindred touches and points, served to give piquancy to the lecture. In the didactic portions he was not so effective, his voice and style being not favorable to the expression of sentiment or pathos.

“Mark Twain” in a certain grotesque fanciful humor reminds one of “Artemus Ward,” and though not in any sense an imitator, his humorous description of the inconveniences and perplexities experienced by the Sultan with his surplusage of wives, was much in the same vein as “A. Ward’s” description of the kindred tribulations of Brigham Young. In person Mr. Clemens is not the kind of man the spectator “expected to see.” Of medium size, a cast-iron inflexibility of feature, grave face, eyes that lack expression from their neutral hue and the light color of the brows, a drawling speech, and a general air of being about half asleep, “Mark Twain” has a very unpromising look for humor. Many of the audience last night supposed that his slowness of speech and movement was stage mannerism but that was a mistake. That imperturbable drawl is habitual to him; and he is probably the laziest walker that ever stepped. In his most fluent and vivacious moods he has never been known to disgorge more than ten words per minute; and the saunter of Walt Whitman is a race-horse pace compared with his snail-like progress over the ground.

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The Adventure of the Table Foot (Victorian Sherlock parody)

Little is known of Allan Ramsay, who published the Victorian Sherlock parody “The Adventure of the Table Foot” in The Bohemian magazine (January 1894) under the pen name “Zero.” His father and mother moved from Scotland to Constantinople, where he was employed by the sultan in the naval arsenal. Ramsay was born there and lived there many years, eventually becoming director of the state tobacco company. His work apparently pleased the sultan, for in 1904 Ramsay sought permission from King Edward VII to accept several decorations from him. He put his knowledge of Turkish to good use by writing “Told in the Coffee House, Turkish Tales” (1898) with Cyrus Adler. One of the stories, “What Happened to Hadji, a Merchant of the Bezestan,” was retold by short-story writer Katherine Anne Porter as “The Adventures of Hadji: A Tale of a Turkish Coffee House.”

The complete list of stories from the 223B casebook — parodies and pastiches published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — can be found here.

Victorian Sherlock parodyI called one morning — a crisp cold wintry December day — on my friend Thinlock Bones, for the purpose of keeping him company at breakfast, and, as usual about this time of the morning, I found him running over the agony columns of the different newspapers, quietly smiling at the egotistical private-detective advertisements. He looked up and greeted me as I entered.

“Ah, Whatsoname, how d’you do? You have not had breakfast yet. And you must be hungry. I suppose that is why you drove, and in a hansom too. Yet you had time to stay and look at your barometer. You look surprised. I can easily see — any fool would see it — that you’ve not breakfasted, as your teeth and mouth are absolutely clean, not a crumb about. I noticed it as you smiled on your entry. You drove — it’s a muddy morning and your boots are quite clean. In a hansom — don’t I know what time you rise? How then could you get here so quickly without doing it in a hansom? A bus or four-wheeler couldn’t do it in the time. Oh! The barometer business. Why, it’s as plain as a pikestaff. It’s a glorious morning, yet you’ve brought an umbrella thinking that it would rain. And why should you think it would rain unless the barometer told you so? I see, too, some laborer pushed up against you as you came along. The mud on your shoulder, you know.”

“It was a lamppost that did it,” I answered.

“It was a laborer,” quietly said Bones.

At that moment a young man was shown in. He was as pale as death and trembling in every limb. Thinlock Bones settled himself for business, and, as was the usual habit with him when he was about to think, he put his two long tapered hands to his nose.

“What can I do for you, sir?” asked Bones. “Surely a young swell like you, with plenty of money, a brougham, living in the fashionable part of the West End, and the son of a Peer, can’t be in trouble.”

“Good God, you’re right, how do you know it all?” cried the youth.

“I deduct it,” said Thinlock, “you tell me it all yourself. But proceed.”

“My name is St. Timon —”

“Robert St. Timon,” put in Bones.

“Yes, that is so, but —”

“I saw it in your hat,” said Bones.

“I am Robert St. Timon, son of Lord St. Timon, of Grosvenor Square, and am —”

“Private Secretary to him,” continued Thinlock. “I see a letter marked Private and Confidential addressed to your father sticking out of your pocket.”

“Quite correct,” went on St. Timon, “thus it was that in my confidential capacity I heard one day from my father of an attachment, an infatuation that someone had for him, an elderly —”

“Lady,” said Thinlock Bones, from the depths of his chair, showing how keenly he was following the depths of the plot as it was unfolded to him by his peculiar habit of holding his bloodless hands to his nose.

“Right again,” said the young man. “Mr. Bones, you are simply marvelous. How do you manage it?”

“It is very simple,” Bones replied, “but I will not stop to explain. Whatsoname here understands my little methods quite well now. He will tell you by-and-by.”

“It was an elderly and immensely wealthy lady, then,” Robert St. Timon continued, “named the Honorable Mrs. Coran —”

“A widow,” Bones interrupted.

“Wonderful,” said St. Timon, “the Honorable Mrs. Coran, a widow. It was she who was simply head over ears in love with my father, Lord St. Timon. He, although a widower, cared little for her but —!’

“A lot for her money,” said the quick-witted detective.

“How do you divine these things? You guess my innermost thoughts, the words before they are out of my mouth. How did you know it?” St. Timon asked.

“I know the human race,” Thinlock Bones answered.

“Well, if he could manage he wanted to inherit her money without marrying her. Would she leave him her riches if he did not propose, was the question? How to find out? He was a comparatively young man and did not unnecessarily wish to tie himself to an octogenarian, although a millionairess. But he mustn’t lose her wealth. If when she died he was not her husband, would he get the money? If the worst came to the worst he must marry her sooner than let the gold slip out of his grasp. But he must not espouse the old lady needlessly. How was he to find out? A project struck him, and the means offered itself. We were both asked to a dinner party at the Countess Plein de Beer’s where we knew the Honorable Mrs. Coran would be present, and —”

“You both accepted,” interrupted Bones. “Oh,” he went on before the other could ask the reasons of his swift and accurate deductions, “oh, it’s very simple. I saw it in The Daily Telegraph’s ‘London Day by Day.’”

“Yes, we accepted,” continued St. Timon, “and this was our plan of campaign: I was to take the old doting lady down to dinner and to insinuate myself into her confidence — aided by good wine, of which she was a devoted admirer — in a subtle fashion and thus to extract the secret out of her. I was to find out — by the time she had arrived at the Countess’s old port — whether my father was her heir or not. Whether she had left him her money without being his wife. Time was short, and if she had not my father was to propose that very night after dinner. The signal agreed on between my father and me was that if he was her heir without being her husband I was to kick him under the table and he would not propose — otherwise he would. Oh! Mr. Bones,” he sobbed, turning his piteous white face to Thinlock, “this is where I want your great intellect to help me, to aid me and explain this mystery.

“The plan worked admirably,” he went on, “I gleaned every fact about the disposition of her money after her death from her when she was in her cups — or rather her wineglasses. My father was her absolute and sole heir, and I thanked the heavens with all my heart that I was spared such a stepmother. I kicked, as arranged, my father under the table, but oh! Mr. Bones, immediately after dinner my father went to her and asked her to be his wife and she has accepted him! What does it all mean, what does it all mean!!”

“That you kicked the foot of the table instead!” quietly replied the greatest detective of modern times as he unraveled the intricate plot and added another success to his brilliant career.

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Efficiency and Cutting Water Waste (part 2)

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Suburban stockade introductionThe next stage in water management is efficiency and cutting back on waste. The reason for this is the less water you use, the less water you need. This can also save you money two ways. Water is certainly cheap enough, a penny a gallon or so, but why pay for more than you actually need? And, you pay for it again with your sewage bill. Your sewage bill is based on your water usage, as the sewage company assumes that all the water that comes into the house leaves it through the plumbing. People with large swimming pools or who water their lawn religiously (!!!) often have a second water line installed so as to not pay for sewage treatment for water that goes onto the grass.

A water cube can store plenty of water to take care of your garden's needs.

A water cube can store plenty of water to take care of your garden’s needs.

The first thing to do is check for leaks in your system. Find your water meter. It will most likely be in a dark corner of your basement. Wipe off the decades of dust and you will see a meter that clicks over, counting your usage. If no water is being used, then the meter doesn’t change. The best test is to get everyone out of the house for several hours or more. Just before you leave (and after everyone has gotten that last bathroom break, hand wash, and glass of water), wait till the meter stops spinning. Write this number down. When you come back, hours later, it should be the same. If it is not, you forgot your automatic sprinkler system or your ice-maker, or, quite likely, you have a leak somewhere. A pinhole leak may take hours to register on the meter, but it does cost you some money as it never stops on its own. Tiny leaks have the bad habit of becoming big, damaging, expensive leaks so that is another reason to check the meter. The difference between the two numbers will give you an idea as to how large the leak is.

Your water meter should be co-located with the main water shut-off valve into your house. Everyone should know where this is, so if you have to, you can shut the water off, keeping it outside your house and your plumbing lines. If you need to do plumbing work, and the fixture you are working on does not have it’s own set of shut off valves, you will have to shut off the water to the entire house! Old houses often have this problem. As you upgrade and do repairs, install shut-offs to every sink, toilet, dishwasher, ice-maker line, washer, etc. Having to shut the water off to the entire house in order to do repair work is yet another reason to be prepared with some stored drinking water.

If you know you have a leak, the next step is finding it. Do any faucets drip? Does the toilet run? Is there a suspicious damp spot that keeps recurring on the basement floor? Stains in the ceiling underneath the second story bathroom?

Leaky faucets can often be fixed by a handy person with a plumbers guide from the library. If your faucets are in terminal condition, replace them with better quality ones that will hold up better. If you replace faucets, choose a single brand (see Consumer Reports for ratings) throughout your house. That way, they all work the same, and they all have the same repair parts. Ten different brands mean ten different sets of washers and other fittings.

Toilets may have very slow leaks. Test by putting a bottle of red food coloring in the toilet tank. Keep everyone away from the toilet being tested. If the water in the bowl turns red on its own, (and not with the assistance of your toddler) then there is a slow leak in the toilet tank guts. Again, many of these can be repaired or replaced by a handy person with a plumbing book.

If your toilet is in poor shape, consider replacing it with a low-flow toilet as old style toilets use a LOT of water per flush. Be very careful what you buy as some models work much better than others. A toilet that will only flush liquids will make you nuts as you flush and flush and flush in a vain attempt to get more solid items down. And, you will use up lots more clean drinking water. Toilet technology is changing rapidly so check out what is current before spending any money. When you do choose a toilet, see if you can get one installed with a four inch diameter throat as opposed to the standard three inch throat. Family members who have a larger output will spend less time plunging the toilet so that someone else can use it.

Traditionally, you cut down on water usage in old style toilets by sinking bricks or half gallon jugs of water into the tank. This seems of dubious merit as the bricks might crumble over time and mess up the works of the toilet and then you have more problems. If anything bumps around in the tank, it can mess up the guts and then they have to be replaced. Also, toilets are designed to use a certain amount of water to flush and clear the bowl. Changing the amount of water in the tank may mean the toilet doesn’t work as well.

The other standard response to cutting back on the multiple gallons of water per flush is to follow the little saying: If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down. This is a decision that needs to be agreed on by every member of the household for it to work at its best. It will be troublesome to guests, toddlers, and pets. It isn’t that sanitary. You will save a lot of water, but again, at a penny per gallon (or five cents a flush) how much are you saving? If you pay more for your water, you will of course, save more pennies, both on the water bill and the sewage bill. This option may best be reserved for water emergencies and if you really need to save every penny possible.

Leaks in the pipes will have to be repaired by a plumber. If you find leaks of this kind, do NOT put off the repair work. Tiny leaks can suddenly become catastrophic leaks that pour water into your house; far more costly in every way than the plumber will be. Leaks may show up in the dishwasher lines (a stain on the ceiling below may be your only clue) and in the ice-maker line in the fridge.

I had an ice-maker in an apartment refrigerator many years ago. It failed while I was away and flooded the apartment kitchen below. The landlord was responsible so it didn’t cost me anything. I now purchase refrigerators without the ice-maker. This is the most likely part to fail, and may cause extensive damage due to flooding. Not buying the ice-maker attachment saves money upfront and possible damage down the road. How do I make ice? Like your grandmother did, in trays that get emptied into a bin in the freezer compartment.

Once you have tracked down and repaired all the leaks you are ready to be more efficient in actual intended water usage. There are loads of ways to cut back but they are all, essentially, the same. Don’t let water run down the drain without using it.

That is, don’t run the water to get a cold glass to drink from. Use a pitcher in the fridge. Don’t run water to shave. Fill the sink and use the stored water. Don’t spend forty-five minutes in the shower. Full loads in the washer and dishwasher only. Scrape your dishes into the compost bin before you put them into the dishwasher rather than rinsing them under running water. Washing your car? Do it on the lawn or use a car wash that recycles the water. Is it absolutely necessary to wash a garment if it has been on your body for less than a day? Underwear and socks? Sure. Pants that the only physical work you did in them was sitting at a desk? Maybe not. Do you need a thirty minute shower twice a day? If you work in the bilges of a ship, then oh yes. In an air-conditioned office? Doubtful. Every single time you turn on the tap, use only what you need. Pay attention to what you are doing and be mindful of your money washing into the drain.

Next we start catching water inside the house. If you have a dehumidifier, don’t dump that water into the drain. Use it for houseplants or outside ornamentals. If you hand wash dishes, use rubber tubs to wash and rinse in. Dump the water outside on ornamentals, trees, or grass. If you are more serious (and in a worse drought), plug up the bathtub when someone showers. Bail out the water into buckets and use it outside to keep your trees alive or to flush toilets. Some people shower with a Rubber-Maid bin at their feet to catch the extra water. Is it easier to not do this? Sure. Once again, you are using your energy so as to spend less money and waste less water. Think of carrying water as part of your exercise routine if that helps. It is also good practice, because if you HAVE to cut back on water usage, having the habit of being mindful of how you use water will make it easier.

Water is considered to come in three types. Clean water is what comes out of the tap and it is drinkable, pure, free of contaminants. Our houses are set up to use this water for everything, including our toilets.

Gray water is water you don’t want to drink. You washed dishes, your body or clothes in it; it has some detergent residues, food particles, stuff you would rather not drink but your fruit trees won’t care. Black water is what comes out of your toilet. It is contaminated with urine and feces and is not reusable as is on anything.

Catching clean or gray water in Rubber-Maid bins is easy to do and doesn’t involve replumbing your house. Catching gray water from bathtubs, sinks, dishwashers, and washing machines for reuse requires much more effort. Many municipalities frown on replumbing your house to route used washing machine water onto your lawn. It doesn’t meet the building code and you have to be very careful what detergents and soaps you use as you could contaminate the ground water or poison your garden.

If you live in town in a place where it rains regularly, gray water replumbing will be complex and expensive and not hugely useful. If you live in Arizona, where every drop counts, the thousands of gallons of water your household uses every month may mean a lot to your garden. It may be the only source of irrigation water you can afford. There are books available (****see amazon ****) on the subject so study up before calling a plumber. You also have to be sure if it meets your local building code. Some places don’t care. Some places care a lot and you won’t be able to resell your house without returning it to it’s original condition.

Gray water systems do need more maintenance than just using the sewage system for all your household’s used water. They are, by definition, more complex. They dump large amounts of water all at once in one place (like when your washer finishes a cycle). Soaps, detergents, shampoos, anything that goes down the drain has to be biodegradable in a way that regular laundry soap may not be. These products may cost more and may not clean as well. Gray water systems do work and work quite well for many people. Do your homework so you can be one of them.

Once you have caught all the water inside your house for reuse, it is time to move outside. Roofs, even small ones, can collect thousands of gallons of water in a heavy rainstorm. This water can be captured and saved to water your garden between rains. There are two ways of dealing with this water to keep it from being lost to the storm drains.

Six people could easily lift this empty water cube. It can hold 250 galleons.

Six people could easily lift this empty water cube. It can hold 250 galleons.

The first way is to install rain barrels or water cubes at downspouts. The amount of water you collect will vary depending on the size of the collection unit, the amount of rain, and more subtly, the square footage of roof that is being drained. If the gutters and downspouts are draining a small roof area, you won’t collect as much rain. If you have a complex roofline with many sides, gutters, and downspouts, you can have huge variances in the amount of rain that flows through the downspouts. If you have a choice in location, put larger collection units (like 250 gallon cubes) under larger flow downspouts and smaller collection units (like 50 gallon rain barrels) under the lesser flow spouts. It doesn’t take much of a storm to fill a 50 gallon rain barrel to overflowing. Install a 250 gallon cube in the same location and you may discover that a typical rain only delivers 100 gallons to that spot.

Rain barrels and cubes only work when you use them! They are an active system and require regular management and maintenance. Therefore, a few days after each rain, you need to have a sullen teenager empty the barrel into buckets and water everything that needs to be watered. If your rains are regular in nature (and you pay close attention to weather forecasts) you can empty the barrel or cube at the midpoint of each rain/dry cycle. Or, you can water the garden with the stored rain when it needs it and hope it rains in time to refill the barrel for the next dry spell.

All rain barrels and cubes MUST have an overflow valve for when the monsoon comes. Make sure any overflows are directed away from your foundation walls. If you get huge amounts of rain at irregular intervals, use as many cubes and barrels as you can fit into your space to catch all that precious water for later use. Rain barrels and cubes can be chained together so you can catch more water.

All rain barrels and cubes should have the gutter opening screened off to keep out mosquitoes. If someone complains to you that you are running a mosquito farm, point out your screens. Then point out that mosquitoes can breed in a tea cup of water in four or five days so the real problem is standing water in sand box toys, litter, and unmaintained piles of junk. If your climate requires it, rain barrels need to be drained when the temperature goes below freezing. The screens need to be cleaned occasionally.

You can buy rain barrels ready made or convert RubberMaid trash cans using the wealth of online instructions. Make your rain barrel or cube easier to empty into a bucket by putting them up on concrete blocks. The faucet is at the very bottom of the container and if you put the barrel right on the ground, you will have about two inches of room for a hose or bucket. Don’t do this to yourself. Rain barrel water should be strained and purified before drinking (think of what the birds do on your asphalt shingles!) but, in a water emergency, it will work fine to flush toilets.

There are, apparently, some areas that get nasty about collecting rainwater that lands on your property. Check first! If it is a home-owners association (HOA), then why are you living there? Most of these places also dislike vegetable gardens, clotheslines, and compost bins; all items so necessary for fostering your resilience. Either get on the board and change the rules, or sell the house and move someplace less restrictive. If it is the local government, then you can be very discreet so the neighbors don’t rat you out, you can move, or you can run for local government office and change the laws.

The second way to easily catch rainwater from your downspouts is in the ground. This is NOT going to be drinking water. This water will keep your garden going longer between rains. Walk around your house and note where all the downspouts are. With time and a sullen teenager with a shovel, you can dig shallow, mowable swales to divert the water into your landscaping. The only active part of this method is the digging. After that, gravity does the rest. Why do this? Because rain water that drains from the downspout into the neighbor’s driveway is lost. Rainwater that drains into a swale (moving it away from your foundation) aimed at the vegetable bed or the berry bushes will have a chance to soak into the soil. Better water penetration will help your plants make it between rains more easily.

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There was a time, kids, when saying ‘motherfucker’ was edgy

That was back in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the air on college campuses were perfumed with incense, pot, patchouli and tear gas. Before George Carlin made a hit with the seven dirty words you couldn’t say on television, they were already being screamed, along with worse creations, on our college campuses.

Columbia University board game

Click on each image to embiggen them (they’re huge!)

For proof, let me show you my copy of “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker,” a Columbia University board game published in 1970 by the Columbia Daily Spectator. It’s now for sale on ebay, to finish on Sunday (8/31/14).

My version is not the original, but a reprint sold by Simulations Publications, Inc., at the Origins national wargame convention sometime in the late 1970s. It’s probably the rarest game they made, because it was sold only at that convention. Considering it consisted of a few sheets of paper, that was probably a good idea. It was intended more as a historical curiosity than a real product.

This game holds a particularly vivid memory for me. I was attending the seminar the company held every year at the convention. It was a fun gathering, because they were remarkably free with their opinions, about their boss, about the games (good and bad), and about the world in general. SPI sounded like the coolest company in the world to work for, much cooler than Apple (who wants Jobs are your bully/dictator?) or Google (spying on you? controlling your life? fuck that noise).

At the end of the seminar, they surprised the audience by announcing that they were selling copies of “Up Against the Wall” at the booth in the convention. I burned rubber, streaking down the hall, to be first in line to buy a copy.

It All Started At Columbia

2011_03_colprotHere’s the story: in 1968, Columbia was rocked by demonstrations involving the war in Vietnam, the presence of the ROTC on campus, civil rights, and other causes. The next year, a 25-year-old history major by the name of Jim Dunnigan created a simple game based on the clashes.

Dunnigan went on to found SPI, a company that published hundreds of wargames on nearly every topic possible, from ancient Greece to the science-fiction future. Then a little lizard named Dungeons and Dragons came along and swept up the fantasy crowd. The company ran into financial trouble and went out of business.

But SPI, along with other companies such as Avalon Hill, Games Design Workshop, Yaquinto, Victory Games, etc. left behind an interesting legacy. I’m not sure how many wargamers there were, but while pushing the counters around and reading the magazines, we received a hands-on seminar in military history. We learned about orders of battles, about the need for effective supply lines, about the value of training and how different cultures clashed on the battlefield. We learned about the Hittites, Vikings, Samurai, Saxons, Huns, the Old Guard, the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, the Red Army and the White Star. We could see how advances in technology played out on the battlefield, why generals hung on to the old ways of fighting. We saw how the U.S. Army would get its ass kicked time and again at the beginning of a war, but learn from their defeats, improvise new tactics, and press on to victory (when the politicians allowed them to, that is).

In short, we got a bird’s-eye view of history in a unique way.

auction 006

Administration versus Radicals

So “Up Against the Wall Motherfucker” is not just a simulation, but a story. The game is simple. On a map of the campus are several tracks, representing organized groups: trustees, black students, tenured faculty, conservative students, administration, alumni and so on. There are two players, representing the radicals and the administration. Each turn, after consulting a chart, they move counters on the tracks of their choosing in an attempt to get the various groups on their side. In the beginning, the radical student has the advantage; the chart gives them more points to play with than the administration player. But over time, the momentum will shift toward the administration (reflecting the second thoughts each group has over shutting down the university).

My favorite part of the rules is called “The Motherfucker Gambit”:

At the beginning of his turn, each player may choose to up the ante by shouting, “Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker!” You should call a UAW, MF! with feeling, as it is usually the high point of the game. For the ADMINISTRATION, it represents calling in the cops or worse; for the RADICALS, it means calling a strike, or taking another couple of buildings. After calling a UAW, MF!, the player rolls the die and consults the University Conflict Outcome Matrix, but the results apply across the board, not just in a single track.

Click to embiggen

Click to embiggen

The game also comes with “contingency cards.” They act like Chance or Community Chest cards in Monopoly, only more timely (at least for 1970):

Mayor Lindsay Sends Urban Task Force to Campus to Cool Things. Add 9 LAWs this turn.

Rap Brown Appears at Community Protest Rally. Add one RAD this turn.

Daily News Reports Demonstrations are Peking-Directed. Add 5 LAWs this turn.

Norman Mailer Appears at Strike Fund Party. Add 5 RADs this turn.

“Up Against the Wall” was not the only political game SPI published. In their magazine, Strategy and Tactics, they published “Chicago, Chicago” pitting the police against the demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Party convention. I never bought that one. Even then, there were so many games that a kid like me couldn’t buy all of them.

I’ll miss these games. But to put out the books I want to publish, the way I want to publish them, I have to let them go. Over the next couple of months, I’ll be opening my stash and selling them off, along with other kinds of weird pop culture.

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