Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brad's summer reading list number 20 - CARD - I'm all ears.

It would be an interesting study in the Canon to find out how many of the villains who were sailors at one time were also alcoholics.
It seems to be a theme. But then again, what was a sailor suppose to do when in so many foreign ports.

First I would like to thank Brad for starting this summer project, it has been a fun way to re-read some of the stories and have some conversation.

And once again for me it is much of the other stuff in the story that gets my attention rather than the mystery.

The weather in London would appear to be much like the weather this year in late August here in the mid-west, very hot and in the nineties.

Within the first two paragraphs we learn a little bit about the appearance of Baker St. or at least one of it's neighbors, which may have suggested to some it's possible location. ". . . the glare of the sunlight upon the yellow brick. . ." I would imagine that most non-English Sherlockains imagining Baker St. would imagine a red brick facade.

We get the image later in the story of Lestrade being a rather dapper fellow, despite other words used to describe him, even within this story.

The images Mr. Paget gives us are of younger Holmes and Watsons, boater hats and derby's.
In the scene represented above, where the three crime stoppers are examining the ears, we learn, that awaiting Holmes arrival, the ears are inoffensively kept in an outhouse in the back of Miss. Cushing's yard.
Most of us imagine an outhouse as being something rural, at least here in America. A tiny little closet sized building with a crescent moon on the door, where one went to spend some quiet time contemplating an old sears catalog before putting it to further use.
And this image would not necessarily be inaccurate.
But in some cases the word outhouse could also suggest some other sort of building like a shed. Usually these small buildings built for other uses would more likely be called by a name suggesting there use; barn, shed, stable, well house and collectively they would be called out-buildings instead of outhouse.
What confuses the issue in this case is how it is differently referred to in this story.
Miss. Cushing first informs use that, "they are in the outhouse".
We then get Watson describing the building as a small shed.

When I first re-read this passage I was reminded of a story my mother use to share with us about her upbringing.
She grew up in a small town in Yorkshire, Selby, the the late 20's early 30's.
She had five sister and three brothers. And they all lived in a small row house of six units, each two separated by an alley.
My mom would describe how, as a young child, she would have to walk at night with just a candle back to the outhouse before bed.
Made even worse if the dirty old man next-door was out in the alley having a smoke.
The description and the way she told the story always made it should as if the small outhouse was about thirty yards away.
When I visited the home several years ago the alley-ways were yet to be boarded up so I could investigate this little outhouse.
I found the outhouse to still be standing, probably now used as a shed, built solid of brick, but no more than twenty feet from the back door. Right in the corner of the neighboring yards brick wall and the high brick wall of the church behind the house. The outhouse actually seemed to be joined to the two intersecting brick walls.
Paget's drawing shows the three crime fighters looking at the ears while up against a brick wall, suggesting that that is either the side of the outhouse/shed or a tall brick wall.
So the outhouse in this story could have either been used for relief, so to speak, or have been a shed.
Or it could have been both, with one attached to the other.

P.S. I did a little further research into my mom's outhouse experience and she said that although it was outside, it was indeed a flush toilet. Who would have thought?

Now I have used my fair share of outhouse's over the years. All in rural settings and most involved with camping. I have even built one which we use at our cabin.

But one thing we forget in our modern reading of these tales is that it was not uncommon for most houses, rural and urban to still not have indoor plumbing. It is hard for us to imagine someone like Miss. Cushing, with all her layers of clothes marching out back to an house. it wasn't until the mid to late 1800's that indoor plumbing started to become more common.
Miss Cushing probably had other methods of transport for the unpleasantness's which probably involved the under paid help.

Has anyone ever investigated the flushing systems in Baker St.?

With that in mind I would like to pass on a little outhouse wisdom . . . .


  1. Nice bit of information on Miss Cushing's outhouse.

  2. Thanks!
    I added a little P.S. to my mom's outhouse experience.