Thursday, July 3, 2014

Brad's summer reading list - #10 - Gloria Scott (GLOR) - Not a luxury cruise at all.

There are several good points worth discussing in GLOR.

The one point picked up most of all, usually, is the information that is provided about a younger Sherlock Holmes and his time before Baker St. His college years.
We learn of his studies, or lack there of.
We learn of his interest in the martial skills of boxing and fencing.
We learn that indeed Sherlock did form a friendship, again with a person very much not like himself, and seemingly very much like Watson. (Read Brad's take on this relationship at Sherlock Peoria.)
And we also learn that Sherlock was in tune with the feelings of this friend when we realize that he shorten his vacation because he felt his presences seemed to put a burden on the young master of the house.

But for me the story once again is in the surroundings and not the case.
And with most stories I like to chose some thing within the 'stage props' to focus on.

It is quite evident that Watson (Doyle) was very up on his knowledge of nautical terms and meanings.
We know Watson took at least one long sea voyage, We also know Doyle served on a ship as ships doctor.
And we know both men were astute observers and would have picked up a good deal more knowledge than most.
Several cases of Holmes involve adventures that took place aboard ship, or at least required long sea voyages at one point or another.
The one thing that jumped out for we on the re-reading of GLOR was the words 'picking my salt meat out of the harness cask'. More specifically 'harness cask'.
That's not a phrase you are going to hear on a modern cruise ship, that's for sure.
Imagine if you will, in your work environment, having each meal during your working hours being placed in a large tub in the middle of the work room floor. And it is from this tub you get your food. Most often hard biscuits and salted meat. Then imagine if you will doing this for two years or longer. And said food would not have been in a zip-lock bag. No nice igloo cooler.

The image to the left shows the ships cooper 'coopering' the harness cask.

A ships coopers job was maintaining the barrels used on a ship.

What warrants thinking about here is the conditions of sailors at this time in history. It was a very hard life, with much risk to the individual.

This cask would have been lashed down in some way to prevent it moving or spilling in rough seas.
And there would have been a very specialized knot or hitch for holding that barrel down.

Check out this wonderful book about knots and see how many are no longer used. (and rope is made out of different materials now, so many of these knots are no longer usable. Nylon and hemp do not react the same way, so can not be used in all cases the same way.)

Like the food served to the crew, water would have been obtained the same way, a mutual barrel.

Coopers, like so many other jobs casually described in the Canon are jobs that either no longer exist or are at least rare.

One interesting bit of research I did once, based on a Canonical reference, was how Holmes was able to describe peoples occupations by what they were wearing. A butcher say would wear a different type of apron than say a baker. A sail maker would wear a different type of glove compared to a press operator.

How many modern occupations now a days are recognizable by clothes or uniforms. Some still, but not as many. (Some time, when sitting in a bar at happy hour, make a game with a friend out of trying to figure out what people do by how they are dressed.)

Another interesting thing about the words 'harness-cask' is to wonder how many of our modern terms will be around in fifty or a hundred years. How many readers of our modern mysteries will know the a word, say, like eight track or CD.

Most of us Sherlockians would love to decorate a room in our homes to look like 221b Baker St. with what to us are antiques, but to Watson would have been modern conveniences and decor.

So much about the research into the Canon becomes more than just finding out facts, it becomes a history lesson. And in doing that research for ourselves, we preserve a little bit of knowledge for the next generation.

One other point I would like you to consider is; How many of the wealthy men involved in the cases of Sherlock Holmes gained there wealth after or being involved in some crime?


  1. I am thoroughly enjoying the Peoria/St. Charles synergy.

    John: Sure, I would love to be recognized by the BSI for something note worthy I do in the world of Sherlock Holmes (which is never going to be of the scholarly nature), after all, they are my more knowledgeable peers; should Oscars by important to actors? If you have followed this blog at all, you know finding a connection between Holmes and Watson and beer is important to me.

    Brad: In trying to make sense of the current state of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Academy Awards situation just wasn't working as an analogy so the best comparison I can come up with seems to be that of a micro-brewery.

    My two must-read blog posts sparking off each other. Does e-life get any better than that?

  2. Thanks. I'm having a lot of fun with Brad's reading list.