Tuesday, 22nd October, 1889
It is late afternoon and Holmes has returned to 229B, a place that we know so well. It has been a frustrating day for Holmes, everything he tried seemed to go wrong. At the stationers they didn’t have the right sort of carbon paper, the chemist had no jeweller’s rouge, nor had they any shellack.
‘All that walking down to the Marylebone Road for nothing!’ he thinks to himself as he opens the door to his rooms. Immediately his senses are on the alert.
‘There is something in there,’ Holmes thinks to himself, holding the door half ajar.
He is aware of a faint clinking noise that is accompanied by an implausible noise that he can only describe as ‘sloshing’ or ‘wavery.’ There is also a strange droning grunting sort of noise that sounds remarkably like the dromedary he saw at Regent’s Park Zoo last year. Not that he’d wanted to go, but there are times one must humour one’s friends. To add to this there is the distinct waft of lemon in the air.
And lemons are very expensive at this time of year!
All in all, the entire situation is a puzzle to Holmes. Not that puzzles are inherently annoying to a mind with the alacrity of Holmes’ but even so, in his own house, where events follow a pattern of his choosing – not somebody else’s. Puzzles are what he solves for the Metropolitan Plod and are not allowed inside his own personal fiefdom.
‘Ah!’ the thought is so loud that Holmes almost speaks it out loud. ‘Is it the antimacassar that I was testing for gunpowder?’ But on reflection the smell of an antimacassar – even when charged with substantial amounts of pomade – could not be described as ‘lemony.’
Holmes inches his right foot forwards, entering the gloom of the hallway. Then he stops, his hand drops from the door handle in a way that suggests he’s had a stroke. Holmes is rooted to the spot, for the horror of the situation has just dawned on his consciousness.
He covers his eyes with both of his hands and shuddering, utters a low moan that is indicative of a deep and terrible wound.
Slowly, recovering his senses, he reasserts himself and moves towards the door of his laboratory. Nevertheless he is still in a state of shock, the air around him is still and it feels as though he is somehow within a spherical goldfish bowl. Holmes’ mind is busy taking note of all the pertinent details of his present consciousness so that he might recall them at a future crime scene that might make demand of them.
He turns the handle slowly and without the least sound, opens the door. There is a gentle squeak from the upper hinge, which brings Holmes a little closer to his earthly senses.
The strange camel-like noise Holmes increases in volume, but not in quality. For there, illuminated by the light from the sash window, is Watson. He is hunched over the sink and appears to be in a state of some discomfort, given the noise that he is making.
“Watson,” says Holmes, “are you feeling allright?”
“Oh!” says Watson in surprise, as he turns to his friend, a glass beaker still in his hand. “How nice to see you,” he continues, now that he has accustomed himself to the presence of his friend. “Did you like my singing? Shall I make some tea for us? The kettle’s boiling.”
“The kettle’s boiling?” says Holmes. “Is that all you can say for yourself?”
“I, I…” says Watson in confusion.
“What is…” but Holmes is lost for words.
“I don’t know what you mean,” says Watson.
“Was…” Holmes continues.
“It smelled truly awful in here,” says Watson.
“Oh, that would be the antimacassar.”
“Do you mean the grey slime in the enamelled pail?”
“It was just getting to the point where it was giving me some significant information.”
“What kind of information?” says Watson. “There was nothing written on it. Or on the pail for that matter.”
“No,” says Holmes, defeated. “It wasn’t written, was it. Yet it still had the signature of saltpetre.”
“I didn’t see his name written down,” says Watson. Who, on realizing he has mis-heard his friend, says, “are you suggesting that you wanted that disgusting smell?”
Holmes can only sigh, and having regained a modicum of composure, adds, “yes.”
“It was disgusting!” says Watson. “Poor Mrs Hudson was terribly upset, what with the air coming down to her through the crack in the ceiling of her kitchen.”
I must remind you that the room Holmes speaks of as his laboratory would in more ordinary circumstances, be called a kitchen. However, the closest thing to a skillet in this room would be a test tube. Or a retort filled with some unimaginably horrible potion.
“I mean,” says Watson, “even your brandy glasses had some kind of green mould growing on them.”
“Oh,” says Holmes, “did you clear up my cultures of Penicillium digitatum?”
“Penicillin?” says Watson, “what on earth is that?”
“It’s a green mould that grows in various conditions and I was trying to estimate the relative speed of growth in various alcoholic substrates.”
“Like brandy, you mean?”
“Brandy was one of them,” says Holmes mournful of the information that has been taken from him. “There was also a Glenfiddich that was doing particularly nicely. Telling the differ…”
“They looked horrid,” says Watson, cutting in. “I must admit, my doing the washing up has cleared the air, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” says Holmes, disaffected.
“The smell of lemon really does cheer up the place, doesn’t it?” says Watson.
“What is that you’re using in the sink, with all those, that foam, those bubbles?”
“Oh,” says Watson, “it was something new at the supermarket. It’s called a deterrence or something of the sort. A ‘washing deterrence’ if I remember correctly.”
“A washing detergent,” says Holmes in a secure tone of voice. “I used the stuff a year ago and…”
“A year ago?” says Watson. “Why didn’t you tell me? I could have…”
“They put optical brighteners in the wretched stuff,” says Holmes, eyeing the sparkling test-tubes and beakers that have been set on the draining board.
“Is that what makes them sparkle? It is rather lovely, don’t you think?”
“And takes six months of steam cleaning to remove every damned trace of the stuff. Can you imagine all my experiments for three whole months were contaminated due to this contaminant.”
“Still, they do look nice, don’t they?” says Watson, hopefully.
“I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what they look like just as long as they are utterly clean and free of contaminants.”
“I suppose I will have to give them an extra scrub with the scrubby bit on the sponge,” says Watson by way of adding what he intends to be a hopeful thought.
“Have you any idea just how tenacious that wretched chemical is?” says Holmes. “I’ve never met a criminal as tenacious as that, I can tell you.” Holmes pauses, and then says, “I thought I’d run out of the pan scrubbers, did you buy some new ones?”
“I did buy a new pack of them,” says Watson, pointing to the windowsill. “And then I found one on the shelf.”
“Ah,” says Holmes. “Pity that, I wanted to see how it gathered dust.”
Holmes reaches over to the new pack of sponges, and examines them carefully.
“What’s wrong?” asks Watson.
“How much did they charge you for these?”
“Threepence,” says Watson, “the usual.”
“Did you specifically ask for a pack of five of them?” asks Holmes.
“No,” says Watson. “I just asked the attendant for a pack of pan scrubbery things and he put it on the counter. Just as always.”
“Are you aware that in the past there were six pan scrubbers in a pack?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Oh, indeed,” says Holmes. “It’s called corporate theft. Because people like you take so little notice, they think they can get away with charging you the same amount of money for supplying you with sixteen percent less. That amounts to a twenty percent increase in price, do you realize that?”
“I honestly hadn’t thought about it,” says Watson. “They’re only pan scrubbers.”
“And if a company is selling ten thousand of them every day, that can amount to a significant increase in the money they take from us.”
Dear Reader, this post was inspired by the disappearance of a scrubbing sponge earlier this year. There used to be six sponges in a pack, today, there are but five. Naturally, the price remained the same. I will add that none of the shop staff had noticed the change.
Note: Any resemblance to characters, alive, dead or imaginary cannot be construed from this post. Even if the Conan-Doyle estate want to get their greedy little paws on my hard earned money. Naturally, Holmes and Watson are real people.