The View from Sherlock Peoria
3 . . .
Let's be honest. I have never, ever, been a good Baker Street Irregular.
Once upon a time, "Baker Street Irregular" and "Sherlockian" were kind of synonymous, but by the time my generation really came into their own, "Baker Street Irregular" pretty much meant you had to have a shilling and a certificate from the Home Office of American Sherlockiana. I can, with confidence, admit to being a fair Sherlockian. But as Baker Street Irregulars go, I am barely on the map.
Every summer, the annual letter from Wiggins comes, reminding me that I am at least on the official records for the Baker Street Irregulars of New York. Next year, it will be a full decade since I attended their primary January function, and probably another ten years back before a previous attendance. As far as the Baker Street Irregulars of New York are concerned, I'm a bit like a Rip Van Winkle, waking up every decade to poke my head in and then disappearing again (with some sleep-addled swearing heard in the distance from time to time). But every summer, I get that letter.
And in every summer's BSI letter is the annual request for recommendations for those to be invited to the annual January dinner and/or gain membership in the club. I rarely comply, not feeling as though I've earned the privilege of recommending any more often than I attend. I think I recommended my fellow Sherlock Peoria columnist, Don Hobbs, a couple of times, which never did much good, despite his current status. Still, I find the yearly call perversely fascinating every year. This year, the asked-for requirements for a recommendation are these:
That last bit really intrigued me. A BSI organization that's more concerned with enhancing the Sherlockian future than merely honoring the Sherlockian past? The thought of brand new Sherlockians ripe with potential being chosen over worn-out warhorses being given a shilling as a lifetime achievement award? (Wasn't that what the Two Shilling Award used to be for?) I kind of like that.
Of course, pulling in fresh talent is always a risk. They could turn into angry young men with authority issues who hold a grudge and only deign to show up at the dinners every ten years, turning their energies elsewhere. They could be smitten young ladies who quietly vanish once their Benedict Cumberbatch fancy falls away or they run into one of those archaic men-only groups for the first time. (Get over it, guys!) But as any successful investor knows, the greatest rewards always come from taking the biggest risk and sticking with what you believe in. If the BSI is looking to invest in some fresh faces, now is a great time to do so.
Sherlock Holmes was a young, anti-establishment sort who bucked the traditional way of doing things when he started, and we all believe in him. Of course, that's because he had a Watson who stuck by him and recorded his adventures. Had Watson dismissed him as a loon after their first row and walked out, none of us would have even had the chance to believe.
As a part of the brouhaha that set my path as a Baker Street Irregular toward that of an outsider, back in that long ago time when allowing women in the club was an issue, I seem to remember that I used the term "Watson" as a bit of an insult at one point. (Those were still NIgel Bruce days, so I hope I can be excused for that.) These days, however, I honestly believe the Baker Street Irregulars could use more Watsons -- those who can look at a strange duck like Sherlock Holmes and see the greatness that others would surely miss.
Most organizations take all comers and let the cream rise to the top. The BSI has always been selective, picking out what looks like cream and sometimes getting disappointed by Cool Whip, sour cream, or some fluffy stuff that disappears after a moment in the sun. A solid Watson, like a good chef, can . . . oh, this metaphor is just getting silly, and if I wasn't so in love with my own words I'd hit the delete key. But hopefully I haven't gotten too off-point.
As someone whose entire experience with the Baker Street Irregulars has been, sad to say, somewhat disappointing, I look forward to seeing what splendid folk do wind up carrying the society into the future, "making it stronger than it has ever been," as Wiggins remarked in his letter. There has always been a temptation to encase the society in amber, to preserve it for all time as it was in the past. But as we've seen a new, present-day Sherlock who is stronger with modern day audiences for his updates, maybe the BSI can do so as well.
And one of these days, I might even decide to be a good Baker Street Irregular. I can hardly imagine such a thing, but these days the world is chock-full of things I could hardly have imagined. One never knows.*
Your humble correspondent,
* And yet, I somehow don't see me ever wearing that bow tie that my formerly fashionable friend Hobbs has lately adopted. What are they coating the shillings with these days?
Past 2012 Columns