Friday, 31 January 2014
who is still hankering after revenge and has to be thrown off the scent before any Swiss trip can take place. This having been done, although disguises have been adopted (Watson's as a sea-captain falls at the first hurdle in a flash of humour), our intrepid pair set off for Switzerland. While there, Holmes is asked to look at the early life of Albert Einstein with regard to skeletons in the cupboard, particularly with reference to Einstein's daughter, Lieserl. Who was she? What happened to her? Holmes's investigations takes them from Switzerand to Serbia to a solution which is good an explanation of what happened to Einstein's daughter as any I have seen before. The wealth of detail complement the story not overwhelm it. Mr Symonds has a masterly eye for detail which fortunately is never allowed to slow down or deviate the reader from the plot. Holmes and Watson are canonical, but still have foibles that Mr Symonds has allocated them which gives them depth as characters. The novel zips along imbued with the author's care, spirit and love for his characters. It works as history, it works as fiction of the highest order. In short, it is highly recommended.
Sherlock Holmes and The Mystery of Einstein’s Daughter is available from all good bookstores including Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstones UK, Watson’s Lounge and for free shipping worldwide Book Depository . In ebook format it is in Kobo, Apple iBooks(iPad/iPhone).
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
Saturday, 25 January 2014
has asked me to contribute a small Sherlock Holmes/Lyme Regis story (The Lyme Lunge-completed). I have also been approached by an American publisher inviting me to write a story for an anthology they are preparing (also completed). I am still working on
The Abyss and A Twist of Lyme are both attempts to do something, well, I guess a need to do something different, but please be assured, Holmes and Watson are not forgotten!!!!
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
“Well, we did it,” said Michael
“And I have no doubt we’ll do it again,” replied Judy, whose radiance was a left-over from the wedding day (and night).
“I was talking about getting married, Jude.”
They were at Gatwick airport, awaiting their flight to Venice. Michael, who was an expert worrier where flights were concerned, had decreed an early start which is why they now found themselves with four hours to kill. A game of I-Spy had taken up the first thirty minutes quite comfortably. Michael unzipped his small rucksack and fumbled around.
“For God’s sake, Mike, will you stop checking the boarding passes every few minutes? Where do you think they are going to vanish to?”
“Call it excitement, Jude.”
“Is that what it is?”
“Ah, the multi-lingual Michael Hamilton speaks. Is your Italian coming along nicely?”
“I hope that isn’t the full extent of your Italian linguistic skills.”
“You’re funny. Have you actually learned anything useful or will I have to take over?”
“Of course I have. Scusi, dov'è il bagno? Capisco?”
“Yes, you’re asking where the toilet is.”
“You have to agree, it’s useful!”
“With your bladder, it’s bound to be.”
One airport is pretty much like another, the layouts conform to a blueprint thought up by someone with too much time on their hands, Functional, yes. Soulless, yes. Satan himself has probably had Hell re-designed with the information gained from observing airport layouts. Time crawled slowly. Another game of I-Spy, another bout of people watching. Michael checked the boarding passes a further three times while Judy rolled her eyes in his general direction. Not literally, that would be hideous.
The best man/woman Fay was keeping an eye on their flat while they were away. The decision had been taken to live in Judy’s Manchuria Road flat and sell Michael’s in Canford Road and save that money for a rainy day which our climate thoughtfully provided often. They had discussed starting a family. Well, half-discussed it. Well, Judy had brought it up and Michael had listened. No decision had been taken.
When the call came for their flight, they were both asleep, but fortunately a fellow traveller (David Hamilton-no relation) nudged them forcefully which had the desired effect. Hands linked, they marched off. Venice next stop, oh my.
Neither were seasoned fliers. Each pretended to the other they were not nervous. Each had sweaty palms. Each had limited leg-room which Michael decreed would play havoc with his dodgy knees. Each rejected the offers of teas, coffees, newspapers, cigarettes, jewellery, confectionery, pastries. Each assured the other they were absolutely loving the flight. Each turned chalky white at the merest hint of turbulence. Each said, ‘don’t worry’ at the same time.
“Look,” said Michael excitedly, “Venice.” He was right; he often was about these things. The course he once took on recognising famous cities from the air proving useful at last.
Judy considered her response. It was simple when it came, “Wow.”
Eternal Venice, sinking by degrees into the water that she lights, briefly illuminated in all her glory by the late afternoon sun which had chosen an opportune moment to peep out from behind the clouds. Not only would their first sight of Venice never leave them, but the city itself would never leave them, wherever they went in life, whatever they did they would feel its shimmering presence. The flattering yet suspect beauty haunted all those who came here.
Passport control negotiated. Baggage carousel negotiated. A ten minute walk and they found themselves boarding the alilaguna bound for the beckoning city.
“So, this so-called ear thing of yours stops you riding a horse, a bike and a water-bus?”
“So it seems,” replied a distinctly green-faced Michael. “Be fair though, Jude, it is a bit rough.”
“Yes I agree, but you are still a big girls-blouse about the whole thing. Just calm down and enjoy the ride, which funnily enough is what you said to me at your place after our third date.”
Michael calmed down, but did not enjoy the ride.
“Perhaps you should ask for the bagno,” laughed a largely unsympathetic Judy.
Approximately thirty-seven heads were turned towards the starboard windows as the water-bus edged closer to the city. There was a thirty-eighth head, but that was situated between Michael’s dodgy knees. (To clarify, it was Michael’s own head).
“Nearly there,” said Judy, addressing the back of Michael’s head. “Arsenale next stop.”
Fabio Ballotelli, the apartment owner was there on the quayside to greet them. He was tall and Italian looking as befits an Italian. He was holding up a sign saying, ‘Hamiltons’ on it in such a way as to make one believe he had no interest in greeting anyone. Nevertheless, charm oozed out of him. Chipping Norton would hold no fears for him. The apartment off Via Garibaldi was only a few minutes’ walk away, situated in a small campo. Small, but striking.
The first night of their honeymoon passed off without incident, any kind of incident. Judy blamed Michael’s insistence on getting up early. Michael, as usual, blamed his dodgy knees. Fortunately, in the morning his knees were very much up to it and Judy was refreshed and suitably eager. They made love to the pitter-patter of rain drops splashing onto the campo. They didn’t notice, nor did they care.
They by-passed breakfast and wandered off to play at being tourists. Michael had thoughtfully provided a detailed itinerary of where to go when, at what time and which day. His timings allowed for the odd excursion not covered by his programme of events. The whole itinerary covered ten pages of foolscap with several sections highlighted in different colours. Yellow for churches, pink for museums, green for galleries, blue for scenic viewpoints. It would be no surprise if he had called it the Rainbow Itinerary, which he hadn’t. Judy, in the spirit of spontaneity, had consigned Michael’s timetable to the bin before she did the final pack the previous morning. She left him to rummage in the baggage for fifteen minutes before she illuminated him and caused his crest to fall.
“We’re in this together, Mike, so we do it together. But you can decide where we go first.”
“Why, thank you,” said Michael, his crest now rising a little. “Right, let’s go and look at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo .”
“A fifteenth century palace with an external spiral staircase. I showed you a photo, remember?”
Judy didn’t. They strolled through St Mark’s Square, their stroll marked by swivelling heads as they attempted to take in everything. Only a few yards away now, said Michael. As indeed they still were ten minutes later and then twenty minutes later. Forty minutes later Michael assured Judy they must be almost on top of it.
“For God’ sake, Mike, ask somebody. And not for the bloody bagno either!”
“I read somewhere that getting lost in Venice is one of the great pleasures of the world.”
Michael looked at Judy’s face and instantly realised that this was not a pleasure, great or otherwise for his new wife. It was not the first time he had said something stupid to Judy, but it was the first time he had done so in such beautiful surroundings.
And suddenly, as if by magic there is was, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, looking as magical as its sudden appearance.
Judy considered her response to this sight. When it came, it was simple, “Wow.”
There were to be a lot of ‘wows’ that week for reasons not just pertaining to architecture and history.
They were overwhelmed by the buildings. They were underwhelmed by the food. They were overwhelmed by the history. They were underwhelmed by the smell. They were overwhelmed by the art. They were underwhelmed by the cost of everything. They gave the language their best shot; spoke Italian with all the right flourish and flamboyance they could muster. Pronounced words with an accent so truly authentic that even their own parents would have been convinced they were Veneta born. To no avail. They were answered in English each and every time. They were perceived as being English everywhere they went apart from one occasion where Michael was asked in hesitant Italian, “Scusi,..er….dov'è…um..il bagno?” He didn’t know.
They idly wondered how Venetian artists like Titian or Tintoretto, whose works were everywhere, ever had time to attend to the mundane aspects of life. Coming for a pint Tint? Sorry, got this painting to finish for the Doge, still got another two hundred people to put in it. How about you, Tiziano? No. you’re all right mate, I’ve got to knock off another Assumption.
The weather reserved its splendour for their final day. The skies stayed blue, the sun shone and when evening came the city was bathed in an orange glow, like a golden benediction. It was a scene so startling, so beautiful that Ascension painters could only have dreamed of it. Michael and Judy shared a bottle of Prosecco as the sun dipped over the city. As beautiful moments go it could hardly be bettered. And it would go with them, stay with them as would Venice.
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
If it’s an immutable law that all brides have to look radiant than Judy obeyed that edict perfectly. Her radiance radiated the length and breadth of the Rylston suite. Her father who was something big in the city seemed now to have shrunken to something small in Weybridge. Fay may have been the golden girl, the girl who ticked all the boxes but Tom Kennedy was as proud of Judy as he had ever been or perhaps ever would be. Their slow, measured steps reflected their shared joy and their mutual if unspoken acknowledgment that this moment was to be savoured in its entirety. Their stately progress towards the front of the room where the groom, best man/woman, sister and daughter awaited them was punctuated by oooohs and aaaahs by those who recognised radiance when they saw it.
Michael gripped the back of his chair for support in an effort to disguise his shaking. This was not wholly successful for the three empty chairs next to him on the front row began a mad dance across the superior carpet. His next move was to hold on to Fay for support, but this just looked odd and entirely inappropriate. Come on, Michael. Would Johnny Norfolk be a quivering mess if taking a penalty before a hushed crowd at Wembley Stadium? Would Johnny Stevens lose his cool when plotting his escape from a Russian firing squad? Well, quite possibly, but he was marrying the beautiful Miss Judith Kennedy, an altogether different prospect.
Half the attentive audience had their eyes on Judy and half on Michael. To him it seemed like hours before Judy arrived by his side. But arrive she did with a smile that both instantly calmed and bewitched him.
A few minutes later, a delighted and delightful Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton were standing in front of the fifty guests that the Rylston Suite could accommodate comfortably. He with a smile as wide as the M25, she out-radiating the stunning chandeliers. They were oblivious to the comments and asides that were passing back and forth between several of those fifty guests.
“It’s only been a few months you know.”
“You’re right, they can’t really know each other.”
“Perhaps they had to get married.”
“Oh come on, no-one has to get married these days”
“It’s about time our Vera.”
“What do you mean, Jack?”
“Well, she is twenty-nine.”
“Do you think it will last?”
“I’ll give it a few months.”
Oh, assorted guests of little faith, let them enjoy their moment before spreading doom and gloom like confetti (frowned on in the Rylston Suite and Rylston grounds).
The official photographer was Dave Wickham who was also the official photographer for The Big Brash Guide To London. His forte was photographing cuisine. He was a marvel with Lebanese breakfasts, Moroccan street food and Albanian pike balls. Everyone said so. No one was quite sure of his skills with wedding parties although they were tolerably confident that the cake and buffet would look superb. Dave rose to the occasion superbly. Everyone said so. After shooting eighty-seven photographs, none of which included food there was a mass exodus towards Molesey boat club and the awaiting buffet supplied by the finest caterers this side of Chessington. The procession was led by a resplendent Mercedes bedecked with ribbons, followed by a battered land-Rover Defender which not to be outdone trailed straw from under its tailgate in a celebratory although entirely accidental manner.
The band had been hired by Tom Kennedy on the strength of testimonials from Elspeth’s fellow members of the Molesey WI who had bopped the night away to the Surrey Seven on the occasion of Miss Sprigg’s eightieth birthday bash. Although Tom had difficulties imagining any of Elspeth’s (Elspeth herself was not present on that evening due to a prior engagement which consisted solely of washing her hair) friends bopping or indeed having a bash of any kind, he acted on their recommendation and duly booked the Surrey Seven. The band were already, if not in full swing, then a passable imitation of swing as the guests arrived, their numbers bolstered by those who had lost out on attendance at the ceremony itself.
Their first number, in an outbreak of gross insensitivity or a perverse sense of humour (a humour they had singularly failed to display at any time since 1965 when they were formed in a coffee bar in Hook) was a cover of Tammy Wynette’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E. No one present took it as an omen, not even those doubters who were purveyors of doom and gloom in the register office.
Dave Wickham was busy snapping happily away, catching guests both on and off-guard. Every few seconds a section of the hall was illuminated by flashes from his camera. The final count was; two hundred and sixty five photographs of bride, groom, family members and guests and three hundred and twenty-one pictures of the buffet and cake. All were superb; it was felt he had captured the very essence of the occasion. Everyone said so.
Fortunately for all concerned the food provided was delicious as well as photogenic. The vol-au-vents were generally agreed to be the tastiest this side of Chessington and the sandwiches of a standard never before seen at the Molesey boat club. The Surrey Seven continued to plough their own inimitable musical furrow with Hook’s finest vocalist (as voted for by the Hook Gazette in their 1967 poll) Eddie Fox exhorting all and sundry to take to the dance floor, an offer which no one seemed enthusiastic about taking Hook’s finest up on. The repertoire was as old hat as the old hat the drummer wore and the patter (step forward Hook’s finest once more) as dated as the rhythm guitarist’s brylcreemed hair which evoked memories of Denis Compton among the older guests.
Michael was no great shakes as a dancer, not with his dodgy knees, but when invited by Eddie Fox to take to the floor with his bride he felt unable to refuse. Michael and Judy were out of step with the band, but then, the band were out of step with themselves as they gamely re-worked ‘When I Fall In Love’ to a point where even Nat King Cole would be hard pushed to recognise it. Tom Kennedy who had never been something big on the dance floor took over from a relieved Michael and the Surrey Seven in a burst of improvisation launched into a less than spirited rendition of ‘Isn’t She Lovely’, the harmonica of Stevie Wonder’s original being replaced by erstwhile saxophonist, Richard ‘Dicky’ Ruskin on his kazoo. It didn’t quite come off. Everyone said so.
For three people, the afternoon/evening held out a terror of its own, notwithstanding the Surrey Seven’s ‘Pop goes the Sixties’ medley. The speeches. The bride’s father, the best man/woman and the groom; all of whom were unaccustomed to public speaking and would have much preferred to have remained in that particular state. The tradition of joke-telling and anecdotal episodes from the happy couple’s lives was proving to be beyond the collective imagination of our intrepid trio. Would Johnny Norfolk have been struck with fear at the thought of giving his acceptance speech at the Footballer of the Year award ceremony? Would Johnny Stevens have been tongue-tied at the Spy of the Year award ceremony? But the two normally reliable Johnny’s could do nothing to help Michael on this occasion.
Tom Kennedy knew the gist of what he wanted to say, but what was worrying him was how to go about translating that into words. Being something big in the city has never been a guarantee of skills in oration. Fay Kennedy had written down in the smallest detail what she intended to say, but her problem was the simple fact that she had lost her notes; she knew not where. For all three of them time was running out.
The time had now arrived. Tom Kennedy got to his feet and surveyed the room. He re-arranged his face so it now displayed confidence although the consensus amongst those present was that it displayed the countenance of one who has just spotted the firing-squad lined up against him. His nervousness meant people were generally kind to him when his ordeal was over. After all, it was fairly easy and therefore understandable that he should confuse his daughters, one with the other. Tom’s detractors on the other hand could quite reasonably point out that only one of these daughters was enjoying her wedding day. He knew no jokes so told none; everyone agreed that this was a relief indeed. He praised Judy’s passionate nature as evidenced by her boy-band stage, her geeks’ stage, and her teacher’s stage. He evinced the hope that Michael could cope with her passion and duly received Michael’s perhaps over-vigorous nodding in confirmation that he could and indeed had. After remembering to thank everybody he concluded by saying that Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was only ten sentences long and suggested that if anyone present wanted to know about Judy’s pea stuck in a nose incident then they should see him later. He sat down with the conflicting thought that he had both said too much and too little.
Fay gave away nothing of the sibling rivalry that had existed for so long between herself and Judy, wisely choosing to concentrate on happier times. The endless times when her little sister had bombarded her with songs from whichever boy-bands were currently the top of her charts, graded not by the quality of the songs, but rather the sex-appeal of the band members.
“Judy, place your right hand on the table please.”
“Now, Michael, put your right hand on Judy’s. You are all witness to this; Michael, this will be the last time you will ever have the upper hand!”
Cue laughs and applause.
“Judy, you look stunning…and Michael…you look stunned as well you should be. And for the record, I am not the best woman, you are, Judy and why it has taken me so long to realise it I have no idea. Join with me in toasting the happy couple. To Judy and Michael.”
Judy, with tears in her eyes, nudged Michael who suddenly found that standing up was one of the most difficult actions in life.
“Er…thank you, Fay. Are you sure you haven’t done this before? My speech today will be like a mini-skirt; long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to hold your attention. Er…if you are a man I mean although if…well…moving on. I’m sure you will agree with me that Judy looks absolutely beautiful today. It’s conceivable that some of you may be surprised, but I am not, she is beautiful every day. I’ll never forget the evening I proposed to Judy, that coffee table had cost me £45.”
He was met with a sea of blank faces.
“Ah, you don’t know that story of course. Er…anyway. Neither of us will forget it, will we Jude?”
“Forget what, Mike,” Judy said, in a stage whisper.
He kissed her. It seemed like the appropriate response. Cue oooohs and aaaahs from the assembled throng and a cheeky drum roll from Derek ‘Buddy’ Valentine (real name Brown).
“Thank you for the generous gifts that you have all contributed, I can’t tell you how much they mean to us. Of course, after I’ve been to the car boot sale tomorrow morning I’ll have a considerably better idea. Anyway, I trust that you all feel suitably fed and watered and are looking forward to a night of gay frivolity, embarrassing photos, step forward Dave, and bad dancing. I know I am.”
More toasts followed. Gifts and platitudes were handed out.
“Tradition dictates that I tell an amusing story or two about Judy. Unfortunately, Judy has dictated I do no such thing. You will have to do without the story of how she got her bottom stuck in the floor well of my father’s battered Land-Rover Defender or how she mistook my shaving gel for shampoo during a weekend in Framlingham, the shampoo sales in that fair town rocketed that particular weekend. There was the time…but, no a promise is a promise. Raise your glasses please and drink a toast to my world and my wife for they are one and the same thing, to Judy.”
“Tradition dictates,” announced Judy, “that brides do not make speeches, but bugger tradition! Anyway, it’s not a speech, but a big thank you to the practice of drinking three coffees in the morning, the railway network for the marvel that is Clapham Junction station, to dodgy shoulder straps, to Styrofoam mugs, to man-bags and to the Bread and Roses. And yes, I know many of you haven’t a clue what I am talking about. No comments please, Mike. Thank you to mum and dad, to big sister Fay who has grown into being my second-best friend behind Mike who is as special as it gets. Thank you, one and all.”
Michael was encouraged and cajoled in equal measure by friends and family to grace the dance floor once again, it was acknowledged by one and all that his rhythmic displays were one of the highlights of the night. It was unfortunate that as he reluctantly entered the fray once more that the Surrey Seven chose that moment to enter the realms of glam-rock with a manful, if not strictly accurate rendition of The Sweet’s ‘Little Willy’. Michael flashed a smile to all and sundry that he hoped would be taken as ironic. It didn’t work. Everyone said so. The rest of the evening was a resounding success. The Surrey Seven performed far beyond their expectations as indeed did Michael and Judy later.
Monday, 13 January 2014
episodes were more a triumph of style over substance, enjoyable style yes, but plots seem to have been sacrificed somewhat. The balance was redressed a little in the final episode which featured very strong performances from all the cast. Lars Mikkelson was a very creepy CAM, eerily reminiscent of Robert Hardy's mesmerising CAM in the Granada series. There were the usual nods towards the canon as there have been throughout the series. It helps in keeping the Holmes purists on board. The character of Mary Watson had a big part to play, which should not have come as any surprise to those who heard Sherlock reading out a telegram at the wedding addressed to her and signed CAM. Whatever misgivings I may have regarding the whole style/substance thing it undeniably works and is very, very entertaining. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here...if anywhere. And there I was waiting for 'an east wind coming'....and right at the death, there it was. Perhaps it's not Sherlock Holmes as many of us know him, but it is still a recognisable Holmes brought to life superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Excellent.
For my own 'take' on Sherlock Holmes feel free to check out the links below: