Elementary

The last time I was in London with Carole, we went off to the Sherlock Holmes museum (or experience or whatever it is) on Baker Street, partly because we wanted to and partly because the queues outside Madam Tussauds were insanely massive and not moving. They may have been wax people for all we knew, but it was enough to put us off. Well, that and the entry price. For a couple of quid, I could pick up a couple of candles and carve a face into them.

So, anyway, we rocked up to the Sherlock Holmes thing and, as is the tradition with these things, spent some time in the gift shop prior to being allowed into the actual house that was actually occupied by a fictional character. I even took the trouble to overlook the fact that 221B Baker Street was, in fact, firmly wedged between the low-end numbers of the street, as though it had been placed here to be more convenient for passing tourists who were, too, put off by the huge queues for the waxwork people.

Once the policeman sees fit to let you into Holmes’ abode you’re presented with three or four floors of Holmes related things, modelled using fibreglass, paints and mannequins to reproduce some of the most famous items and scenes of Holmes’ long and varied career as a crime-fighter. I’ll be honest, I entered this building having a very, very limited knowledge of Sherlock Holmes other than he wore a hat, smoked a pipe and played a violin. Luckily, handy information cards revealed almost nothing about the items other than to say “this is the whatever it was from whichever book it was in”. One of them was a horse’s hoof on a pillow. I’m still none the wiser.

As well as these replicas and recreations there was also a faithful rendition of Holmes’ sitting room, complete with bullets in the wall. The best part of this room, apart from the opportunity to wear a hat that thousands of other people with various hair and scalp disorders have worn prior to you is that there’s an actual live man in there. Well, I say live. He was knocking on a bit when we saw him a couple of years ago. He’s one of those people who, as they get older, retreats further and further into their trousers so that, shortly before they pass away, they have to pull the fly down to talk to you or to take in foods.

Our high-waistbanded friend was there to point out the features in the room, including the bullets in the wall spelling out VR. Which, as our elderly guide pointed out was “mffkf mfskfhs shfkjskf, Queen Victoria”. That’s what he said. And he said it as soon as you entered the room, before you’d even had a chance to have a glance around and noticed the novelty hats and magnifying glasses. There may well have been a pipe as well, but you have to draw the line at other people’s spit. “Mffkf mfskfhs shfkjskf, Queen Victoria” is how we describe this particular part of our trip to London. It’s like the trip to the Lake District where we spend nearly a tenner on two drinks and a muffin. It’s one of those things that stays with you forever and, in this case, we don’t even understand it.

After the Sherlock Holmes experience what could be better than visiting the Sherlock Holmes pub in Westminster for a nice, authentic, Holmes themed meal and yet another recreation of Holmes’ sitting room – this one sealed behind a glass partition and lacking in the high-trousered mumbler department.

I’ll tell you what could be better.

Anything.

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Washday

We’ve finally got the house back into some sort of order. It’s taken a while, it has to be said, and there’s still a lot to be done but the hallway’s back as it should be and everything’s slowly coming together. If we’ve learnt nothing else from this experience it’s that we’re never decorating a hallway ever again. And certainly not starting anything the week before Christmas because that’s for crazy people. There’s still too much stuff around, though, even with the carpet back on the stairs. But we do seem to have some space, which is a little disconcerting and I’m worried that there’s a cupboard door somewhere, straining under the force of all the items it’s holding in, ready to burst and a moments notice and shower the room in all the stuff you’ve just spent ages wedging in there.

I’ve mentioned before, I think, that there’s a small bookshelf at the top of the stairs, upon which lives various Doctor Who books and a plastic David Tennant. Obviously. Well, yesterday was David Tennant’s washday. As I write this, he’s currently sitting atop some books in nothing but his shirt and tie. His shoes are beside him on the books and, if he had socks, I’m sure they’d be tucked into the shoes. He looks, if he wasn’t a small plastic action figure, like he’s about to take an impromptu dip in the sea. Which, of course, he’s not because the water would play havoc with his joints and he’d either got incredibly floppy or really stiff. At least he’s not like the Action Man I had a child who, should you ever want to change his outfit, would leave at least one of his feet behind in his boots. In a way, I think it was just a cry for help from a man who, rather than seeing the action that his name suggests, just spent a good portion of his time living in a cardboard box or doing covert ops on the garage roof.

So there he is, naked as the day he was formed from a mould, perched on a bookcase. We haven’t sadly, hung his clothes out on the washing line so that we could convince the neighbours that my best suit has shrunk. Nor has Carole tried to substitute them for something from the washing machine like in the Malteasers advert. Nope, the jacket and trousers have been washed in the sink and are now perched, rather elaborately, on a couple of wooden spoons resting in a coffee mug. When we invent some kind of makeshift drying rack we go all out with the design, you know.

We’ve also invested in a second clothes horse ourselves. This is a big thing because, prior to buying the new one, we used to move the old one round the house tutting at it because it was always in the bloody way. You want to go out of the back door? It’s in the way. You want to get in the freezer? It’s in the way. You can’t put it up in the front room. Why? It’s in the way. Why don’t we put it in the back bedroom so it’s out of the way? Ok, but there’s the hallway carpet in there now so you’ll have to put it in front of the back door. And so on. When you see washing machines with all these fancy pre-set options on, the battle with our clothes horse is one drying cycle that’s not listed but we use it quite often.

So now we have another. At the moment they’re both out of the way, standing tall on the kitchen table. The new one even has specially designed flappy bits to hook socks through. We’ve washed a load of pants and socks since we bought it and not even used this amazing feature. I’m sure it’s a fantastic addition to the drying process but, well, it just looks too fiddly to be honest. I like the ease of being able to get the socks out of the washing machine and just hanging them over a bar on the clothes horse, I don’t want to have to start pulling them through a tiny gap in the hope that they’ll be gripped and dry in a more convenient way that is somehow hidden underneath whatever you hook over that particular bar as though you’re ashamed to be seen drying socks in public.

Anyone can see we’re not ashamed – there’s a half-naked plastic man in my house.

Playtime

I spent about an hour today entertaining a small child. I should point out that this was a friend’s child and not one I had lured to the house with a trail of dolly mixtures because I was bored.

After a shaky start in which my perfectly toasted hot cross bun was shunned for reasons which were not elaborated on, and I’d drawn several birds and pig, I was selected as the designated adult who would join in with whatever games were to be had which afforded Carole and her chum some much-needed chuntering time and stretched my imagination and improvisation skills to the limits.

Our house is not immediately appealing to children – there are no toys to speak of, and only a few stuffed animals residing on the books shelves but, it turns out, all you need to keep a child amused is a cat flap and a purple ball you can put cat biscuits in. The simple act of allowing the child to throw the ball outside, through the cat flap, and then opening the back door and trying to find the ball which could have rolled anywhere is, it would appear, endlessly fascinating and, despite my insistence that I would stay outside while the ball was thrown through the cat flap as I had a feeling we’d be back in the garden I dutifully had to return to the kitchen after each hunt.

But it didn’t end there. While we were outside we heard a noise, it was a bird squawking but to young ears it sounded like a frog. And so, naturally, we had to find the frog that was causing the noise. There’s no frog in our garden at all (annoyingly not even in ornamental form) so I knew that our search would come up empty-handed but, with a small amount of imagination and a gnome on a tricycle you can immediately halt any kind of frog hunt by stopping to ask the gnome if, while riding his bike around the garden, he had seen a frog. He hadn’t, he said, and believed that the noise was a bird. Unfortunately he was branded silly and immediately refused to talk to us anymore.  We hunted for treasure but the best I could come up with was a spotty pink watering can which was “for girls” and wasn’t exactly treasure.

Luckily, though, there’s a lot of potential in the contents of a messy garden and shed. Four flexitub buckets, for example, can easily become something to throw balls into, or close to or, in my case, miles away from. Unfortunately I didn’t have a real ball and had been given a very, very small and invisible ball to play with which I then proceeded to put in the wrong bucket (apparently there were some rules to this game that I hadn’t been briefed on before we started) and had some difficultly finding. The tiny invisible ball was very similar to the tiny invisible hood I was given when the heavens opened and it started to rain. We weren’t allowed to go inside because my little cohort had a coat on, with a hood, so she was dry while I, in my shorts and t-shirt, was just a tad damp. The rain came and went, and I got wetter and wetter, then dryer, then wetter. It was only after I convinced my partner in crime to take her hood down to see if she got wet as well that we were allowed back inside the house.

But by then I was wet enough to not really care.

Out-foxed

In case you didn’t see The Sun today, there’s a fox that’s climbed all the way to the top of The Shard in London. The paper, which sees this as front pages news (continued on page 5) goes on to say that the fox “bears a striking resemblance to The Fantastic Mr Fox from the animated film of the same name.” It also lists several other famous foxes including Basil Brush, the actress Megan Fox and the film studio 20th Century Fox.

It is, without doubt, the daftest news story I have read since the breaking news that Jennifer Aniston had got a new haircut. With all that’s happening in the world at the moment – David Cameron’s off in Egypt, Nick Clegg forgeting he was in charge of the company and buggered off on a skiing trip, the unrest in Libya and an earthquake in New Zealand I hardly think that the antics of a fox that’s climbed a building is really news-worthy. Unless, of course there was a chicken and a (now empty) bag of grain at the bottom of the Shard and someone was trying to solve an age-old puzzle failing miserably.

I’m tempted, when I go to London next week, to go to the top of the Shard and plant a fox-sized parachute, a tiny fox  and harness and a “Fathers for Justice” sign written in a fox’s hand just so that someone can find it and make another news story about how this fox must have parachuted in as some kind of protest demanding more time with his cubs.

The Sun, by comparing this fox to loveable tweed wearing Mr Fox, has also taken a massive u-turn on the previously anti-fox stance that it took during those couple of weeks last summer when foxes were breaking into homes and eating children. And they’ve also set a precedent for future animal related tales as well: “The badger who bore a striking resemblance to Badger from Children’s TV show Bodger and Badger…”, “The dolphin who looked remarkably similar to TV’s Flipper…” etc.

I like foxes. I’ve seen a couple in my 33 years and during each experience they were neither eating a small child or scaling the side of the tallest building in the surrounding area. We once had one sitting out in my parent’s back garden – it sat there for ages, just chilling in the sun. We’d periodically go into the back bedroom and have a look at it doing foxy things like trying to get a glacier mint away from a polar bear, and then it vanished. One minute it was there. The next it was gone. Like a ginger ninja. Vanished is probably too strong a word. Wandered off is probably more correct. But we weren’t watching when it did it, so it may well have vanished. For all we know foxes have developed teleportation, and that’s how the one got to the top of the Shard.

The other time I saw a fox was one night in Leeds as I opened the back door of our student house to do whatever I was going outside to do. It was just there. In our yard. Doing foxy things. I opened the door, it looked up at me and I looked down at it. It was a bizarre feeling, just for a fleeting second, as our eyes met and we just stood and looked at each other. Then he moved on and I moved on and that was it.

I think I’ve missed more foxes than I’ve seen. When we used to holiday as a family in various cabins in Scotland my parents and sister would always see foxes running across the road to the cabin site whereas I, well, wouldn’t. They’d go “oo a fox”, park up, watch it and at some point during all this I’d look up and start looking in the wrong direction or something. I never saw them. Not once.

That’s what I think is so cool about the fox I saw in Leeds, when our eyes met it was like he was saying “Look, I’m letting you see me, ok?”. He was only a few feet away, he could have run off when he heard the door unlocking and the handle turning but he didn’t. He chose not to. He just stood there and waited, granting me an audience.

And he did look remarkably like the Fantastic Mr Fox from the 2009 animated film of the same name.

Badge of Honour

When I was younger I got a Blue Peter badge. I didn’t get it for entering a competition or for saving up a load of milk bottle tops which, somehow, were turned into a currency you can buy lifeboats or guide dogs with. Having said that, though, we’re saving up stamps at work for an albatross. A bloody albatross. Where are we supposed to keep that when we’ve bought it? One of us will have to talk it for walks at lunchtime, and we’ll have to buy a paddling pool or something from Argos so it thinks it’s at sea all the time. It seems a lot of hard work, to be honest, which is probably why it seems to take an inordinate amount of stamps to purchase one.

Anyway, my Blue Peter badge. I got it for writing a letter to the flagship BBC programme asking them if I could use the names of the current presenters, I can’t remember who they were at that time, in a computer game I was writing. Seriously. I’m not even making that up. That’s what I did. The game was called Petrol Panic and was a text adventure on the Spectrum. Your job, should you have chosen to spend 15 minutes loading it up, was to travel around a town filled with celebrities (in novelty houses. Michael Jackson, for instance, lived in a house shaped like a record) collecting the letters to spell out the word “Unleaded” which you then took to the petrol station, and then you won because you’d made unleaded petrol. I really wish I was making this up. This was about the time the whole leaded vs unleaded petrol thing kicked off. I was probably about 12 and was, apparently, some kind of eco-warrior.

So I wrote to Blue Peter and said that I was writing this game and that it was going to excellent and that I would really love if I could use the presenters in it because they were really well-known and inspirational. The Blue Peter people wrote back and said “no”, in a nutshell, but they sweetened the deal by including a slightly chipped Blue Peter badge and the massive list of places that I could use my Blue Peter badge as a mark of honour and get in for free or, at worst, a massively discounted price. And, I still used the presenter’s names in my game.

I wrote to the BBC for a variety of reasons in later years, for autographs mainly, never to Points of View to point out how disgusted I was by something that I’d seen. I once wrote to Charlie Dimmock having seen her shivering on an episode of Ground Force. I basically wrote to her saying that I was worried that she seemed incredibly cold during that particular episode and that she could now carry my letter around with her and, if she become cold again, burn it for heat. I got a signed picture back on which she thanked me for making her laugh and I never saw her cold again, so I like to think I helped.

Anyway, Blue Peter. Remember that, as a child, I lived in Halifax. There’s almost nothing in Halifax worth going to apart for Eureka, which is a children’s educational exhibition thing, I was at Eureka before it was built as part of a team of school children who were dragged in to draw pictures and meet the Prince of Wales. I was interviewed for a BBC Radio station where I was asked, last out of six kids, what I was doing there. I answered as honestly as I possibly could. “The same as everyone else,” is more or less what I said but I still made it onto the radio. At this same event we were all promised free entry to Eureka whenever we wanted. I went about seven years ago. I had to pay. There was no way I could prove I was there when Prince Charles put his hand in the cement, or that I remembered the room when it was just an empty train shed.

Anyway, back to when I was 12, Eureka wasn’t on the Blue Peter badge list. Nowhere I be likely to go was on the list. It wasn’t often we went to London as a family, so most of those options were out and we didn’t really go to many other places so my badge sat in a drawer and gathered dust for years. I remember once, having organised a Children in Need disco at school (in conjunction with Fast Forward magazine. Seriously. All this and I still wasn’t the cool kid at school) I managed to convince the headmaster to allow my class out to see a train full of celebrities in Leeds station. On the way to Leeds I told someone I had a Blue Peter badge and they were in awe. In awe. Actually awe. I was like a God amongst men. I didn’t tell them how I got it because even then I realised that a really crappy text adventure wasn’t worth admitting to so I made up something really vague about guide dogs. We got to Leeds and we’d missed the celebrity filled train. It was a sad day in that respect, but at least someone had the decency to be in awe of my Blue Peter badge.

I don’t know where my badge is now. I know I was probably the only person in the country who didn’t think to sell it on eBay. I kept it, through thick and thin in a drawer with the rest of my badge collection. I say a collection. There was a Rolf’s Cartoon Club badge and some badges I’d got free with a magazine. I don’t think it would really pass muster as a proper collection, like those people who used to be on TV having collected a million erasers or something. I had five badges. And one of them was a key to untold riches.

I just never got a chance to use it.