Saturday, May 17, 2014

Victoria Day

I love holidays! It is nice to have an extra day away from work to rest and enjoy the day. It is important to remember why we have a day off to break the workweek routine. Take for example Monday, May 19. Why are some of us here in Canada having the day off? 
Queen Victoria was queen of Great Britain from 1837 to 1901—the longest reign of any other British monarch in history.
Back in 1897, Queen Victoria (whose birthday we celebrate here in Canada in the month of May) celebrated her Diamond Jubilee—60 years on the throne.

 1897 just happens to be the year that The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is set, and I felt I had to mention the event in the chapter entitled The Weeping Madonna. An earlier chapter has Holmes and Watson in the service of none other than Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier. In The Weeping Madonna, Holmes and Watson pay a visit to Laurier after he has returned from England where he attended the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Prime Minister Laurier describes London:
"A great city," he declared. "But not as I pictured it. I went expecting to see a typically British city and found it full of strange faces from around the world. Assembled there were the troops of the colonies dressed in their native garb. They seemed so out of place in all that Englishness. The entire town did not seem itself. It was scrubbed clean and the streets were choked with traffic. Crowds stood atop unsightly and shaky scaffolds and people hung out of windows. The Jubilee was scheduled for June 22nd, and the day before I was knighted by the Queen. The morning of the Jubilee was overcast as the procession lined up along the Victoria Embankment. Fifty thousand service men lined along both sides of the six-mile route, and, as a bugle sounded at eight o'clock, the sun shone through the clouds as if by Royal command, and the procession began. The Colonial Procession was magnificent, premiers accompanied by their troops and bands from all over the world. There were the Zaptiehs of Cypress, the Dyaks of Borneo, bearded, turbaned Sikhs, pigtailed Chinese from Hong Kong, Maltese, Singhalese, and Malays. Men from the islands, deserts, and jungles. We filed up the length of the Mall in just under an hour and into a cleared square before the gates of Buckingham Palace, and filed down the length of Constitution Hill. We stopped before the entrance to St. Paul's and we premiers stepped down from our carriages and sat under a vast canopied pavilion where we observed the approach of the Royal Procession. The Queen arrived to the deafening cheers of the crowd. There was a short ceremony followed by the blast of the big guns and the procession moved on again.
    "I must confess, gentlemen, the entire experience was the proudest time in my life. To think that a Canadian of French decent offered the  principles of freedom in the parliament of Great Britain.”

The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is available on Amazon.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Shakespeare: The Elderly and Madness

The use of madness in Shakespeare’s plays is not uncommon. There seems plenty of mental illness in Hamlet. The Melancholy Dane seems at first to feign madness, then does some pretty crazy things. Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide.

Shakespeare had some memorable quotes on madness.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.

Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.

Love is merely a madness.

In Titus Andronicus an elderly Roman general who spent his entire life in service of his country finds himself and his family persecuted through the vengeful manipulation of others. Pushed to a point beyond human endurance, Titus seems to go mad. It is difficult to tell whether Titus is indeed mad or only pretending to be so he may exact revenge against those who perpetrated terrible crimes on him and his daughter. In the final scenes Titus does things that most would consider to be the actions of a madman. Perhaps he is indeed mad, driven to it by intolerable cruelties.
The Canadian Mental Health Association states: It is estimated that the prevalence of mental health problems in adults over 65 years ranges from 17 to 30 percent. This report identifies services and supports needed for older adults at risk/or living with mental health conditions.
CMHA states on their website:
The consequences of loss, sorrow and grief as a result of life events affect many older adults, causing ongoing negative mental health consequences. Anxiety, depression and perhaps substance abuse are just some of the mental health problems that arise as people navigate these transitions in later life.
In King Lear we see an elderly king aware that age is creeping up on him, so he decides to divide up his kingdom but still wishes to be king. It doesn’t help the situation that two of his three daughters are scheming, selfish ... women. 
You see how full of changes his age is, says one.

'Tis the infirmity of his age, says the other.

When Lear is not shown the due respect of his age and position by his daughter, he begins to doubt who he is.

Doth any here know me? This is not Lear:
Doth Lear walk thus? speak thus?

He strikes his own head and says:
O Lear, Lear, Lear!
Beat at this gate, that let thy folly in,

When his other daughter treats him just as unkindly, Lear says:
I have full cause of weeping; but this heart
Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws,
Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad!

Lear himself suspects he may be losing his faculties.

O! let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven;
Keep me in temper; I would not be mad!

Perhaps the turning point in King Lear is when the king stands in the middle of the heath during a terrible storm and he rails at the elements.

Blow, winds ...! rage! blow!
...You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head!

It is heart-wrenching to see Lear sink deeper into madness. He does not get his revenge like Titus. Lear’s tale is one of extreme tragedy, for as Macbeth said: 
And that which should accompany old age,    
As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,    
I must not look to have

I look forward to seeing this season's Stratford Festival production of King Lear staring Colm Feore.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sherlock Holmes in Toronto

The city of Toronto has certainly received some bad press in the past year, much of it being directed at Mayor Rob Ford who has taken a leave to seek help for his drug addition.

Toronto has long ceased to be the bastion of 19th century Victorian morality that earned it the nickname, Toronto the Good.

In my book, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, there is a chapter in which Holmes and Watson visit Toronto. Here is the beginning of the chapter entitled The Murder of John Steward. In it we see a more fledgling Toronto of 1897 with horse drawn carriages and high button boots. In other words; this isn't Rob Ford's Toronto,

The Murder of John Steward

On a beautiful September day Sherlock Holmes and I reached the city of Toronto, Ontario, where we were forced to stay overnight to catch a train the following day. Toronto is a thriving, growing city situated on the northwest corner of Lake Ontario. This fine metropolis of two hundred thousand began, as most Canadian cities, as a trading post dating back to the French regime. It was a remarkably peaceful community, but it had seen its share of conflict from the War of 1812 to the 1837 Rebellion. Toronto's strategic central location not only made it an excellent export centre to the east and west but also to the United States. The exports from Toronto were not limited to North America. In Britain we had long appreciated the Canadian pork that reached our dinner tables. Toronto was home to the largest pork-packing companies in the Empire and earned the city the distinctive name of Hogtown.

Numerous smoke stacks bespoke the city's busy industrial centre, and Toronto boasted more churches than any city I had ever seen. They were beautiful churches that reflected the city's strong Protestant influence: St. Michael's Cathedral, a Gothic structure built in 1848, and St. James Cathedral built in 1853, which had a ninety-seven_metre steeple, the tallest in Canada.

Toronto was a Tory town, settled by Loyalists who fled from the American Revolution to the north in order to remain loyal to the Crown.

On September the 22nd, Holmes and I had spent the day seeing the sights of Toronto and had stopped at a restaurant on Queen Street. No sooner had we stepped out upon the pavement and we were crossing the street, when I heard the terrified whinny of a horse. We turned in time to see the horse rear up, which was to start a chain of events that would result in my friend's crippling and in setting me off on a case without him at my side. The horse was part of a team that had been pulling a heavy wagon carrying a load of beer barrels with the name Labatt's printed on them.

The driver of the beer wagon had been arguing with the driver of another beer wagon, this one Carling, who was approaching in the opposite direction. It seemed neither driver would give the other the right of way, and an argument ensued. I do not know what had caused the horse to rear, but as the animal struggled and jerked, several barrels from the Labatt's wagon came loose and crashed to the ground. A smaller cart attempting to bypass the two feuding beer drivers turned suddenly to avoid the rolling barrels and cut off a young woman who had been coming along quickly riding a bicycle. She in turn lost control of her vehicle and headed straight for us. Sherlock Holmes, whom I might add is quite fast on his feet and possesses catlike agility, attempted to stay clear of the woman's path. Do what he would, darting this way and that, he could not avoid her as she seemed to follow his every move. Both woman and bicycle crashed into my friend. All three struck the ground, and I heard Holmes cry out in pain.   

"My dear fellow, are you hurt?" I asked, as I attempted to dig him out from under the bicycle and driver. All were now a tangled mess.

"I believe my ankle is broken," I heard Holmes reply through clenched teeth.

"Oh sir! Oh sir, I am so sorry! It was an accident, please believe me! I did not mean to run into you! Oh sir, please forgive me!"

Bending over to aid my friend, we both looked up to see the young woman cyclist standing before us, wringing her hands and pleading her innocence in a sincere and frantic voice. She was perhaps twenty years of age, of average height, and strongly built from much exercise. Indeed there was nothing delicate or demure about her. Her eyes were close and intense. She had a wide nose with marks on either side near the top, a full lipped mouth, ruddy cheeks, and chestnut hair under a tan cap. She was dressed in a practical, but plain riding apparel that matched her cap.

"Do you think you can stand, old fellow?" I asked Holmes.

"I believe so. If you would be so good to lend me a hand."

"Of course."

"Here sir, let me," said the young woman intrusively. "I'm strong, lean on me."

"Thank you," said Holmes, much perturbed. "Perhaps you best see to your vehicle."

She bent down and picked up her Massey Harris bicycle. "There seems to be no damage here," she commented giving the machine a cursory look.

"How fortunate," uttered Holmes dryly. "Watson, I would appreciate if we could return to our rooms at the hotel."

"Yes, of course, Holmes. I need to get a look at that ankle."

I hailed a cab and we drove off with the young woman proclaiming her regrets and apologies. Upon reaching our hotel I examined Holmes's ankle and found it was not broken. He had, however, sustained a nasty sprain that would not allow him to travel for several days. My diagnosis was difficult for my companion to accept, for there was nothing he loathed so much as to be forced to lounge around in a strange place with nothing to occupy his extraordinary mind. I found him absolutely miserable, and it did not help his mood when he received a visitor the following day. Answering a knock at the door I found the young woman cyclist from the previous day.

"Why, hello," I greeted her, quite surprised.

"Hello Dr. Watson, I never got the chance to tell you my name yesterday. I am Irene O'Brian. I came to see if Mr. Sherlock Holmes is doing well."

"He is better, thank you," I told her and updated her on Holmes's medical condition.

She appeared a bit relieved. "I cannot tell you, Doctor, how sorry I am about what happened."

"I'm certain you are, Miss O'Brian, but it was an accident."

"Still, litigation has sometimes followed accidents."

"I do not think you have anything to fear in that area, young lady. Tell me, how did you find us?"

"When you and Mr. Holmes drove off, I simply followed you to this hotel. At the front desk I inquired after the man with the injured ankle, and they gave me your names and room number."

"Yes, of course. Please come in."

She entered dressed in the same tan riding outfit I'd seen her in before, and I noted how well it suited her. Not that she lacked any femininity, but I could hardly picture her in a dainty hat or bonnet with feathers and satin ribbons or dressed in a bustle back with heavy lace trim. Even her voice and tone carried a certain sturdy strength. I found Irene O'Brian a simple and practical young lady, and her appearance did not lead one to believe otherwise. She carried a canvas bag that I could see contained several books and I showed her into the room where Holmes was convalescing. Upon seeing her, Holmes let out a moan of despair.

"Look who has come to see you, Holmes, our friend Miss Irene O'Brian."

"Mr. Holmes, let me just say again how sorry I - "

"Yes, Miss O'Brian, of that I'm sure. Thank you for stopping by, but, as you see, I am recovering nicely, so if you .... " Holmes began motioning to the door but the woman only moved closer.

"Oh, think nothing of it, Mr. Holmes," she replied, and pulling up a chair she sat by Holmes's side. "I could not live with myself if I did not come to see you. After all I was partly responsible for your accident."


"Well yes, don't you agree? At any rate I am so happy that it is not a serious injury and has caused you no inconvenience."

"Well, it has delayed our journey home," I remarked.

"To England?" she asked. "I thought you were British. What is it you do there?" she asked Holmes directly.

He was a trifle taken back by her forward manner, so I volunteered: "Mr. Holmes is a consulting detective."

"A detective!" she exclaimed eagerly. "Why, I have heard of you Mr. Holmes!"

"Have you?"

"Why yes, I have. I used to think you were the figment of some writer's vivid imagination. After all, how could a man possibly find clues from such obscure little things in those strange and obtuse stories?"

"Obtuse?!" I protested.

"Really, Miss O'Brian, you find the stories too fantastic to believe?" Holmes asked, smirking.

"Not to cast any doubt on your abilities, Mr. Holmes, but I must imagine it is some kind of trick, or merely an exaggeration."

"Watson, I am feeling a bit tired. Would you kindly show Miss O'Brian out?"

"I mean really, Mr. Holmes, drawing conclusions from people you meet without knowing them. What deductions can you draw regarding myself?"

"Truly, Miss O'Brian, now is not the time."

"Please, Mr. Holmes, I shan’t leave until I get a glimpse of your true ability."

"If I must," Holmes replied, impatiently. He quickly looked the woman up and down then announced, "You are a young lady of some means. You are strong minded, determined, resourceful and intelligent. You are currently studying law and are neither married nor engaged. You do not fall in the category of what society deems a proper young lady, you use a typewriter a good deal, and own a dog. You are also near-sighted, wear glasses but do not like to wear them, for if you did, I may not be sitting here in this condition."

Irene O'Brian's look was one of happiness rather than astonishment or surprise. "Oh, Mr. Holmes, you simply must tell me how you did that!"

"No, Miss O'Brian, I do not. Watson, if you please."

I rose and escorted the young woman out to the sitting room, where she swore she would not leave until I revealed to her how Sherlock Holmes made his deductions. I had little choice but to comply.

"The books in your bag are law books, and where it is not totally unheard of women entering law, in this day and age it takes a special kind of woman--intelligent and unconventional. That you can attend law school and have your own bicycle proves you are a woman of some means and resourcefulness. Those lines on your sleeves above your wrists where you rest them on the table, and the spatulate finger-end speak plainly that you do a good deal of typing. You wear no wedding or engagement ring. Those short hairs on your skirt show where a dog sat on your lap today. Those marks show on either side of your nose where glasses usually rest, but you are not wearing them now or during the accident yesterday. Hence the double deduction that you wear glasses but do not like to wear them."

I escorted her to the door where she turned and asked:

"What of Mr. Holmes's deduction that I am strong-minded and determined?" she asked.

"Perhaps a lucky guess, Miss O'Brian," I replied as I closed the door on her.

The next day was Sunday, a remarkable day in Toronto where it appeared the entire city closed for the day. Practically nothing could be purchased, and it was fortunate for Holmes and me that we had a good supply of tobacco and an excellent Canadian rye whiskey in our rooms. Miss O'Brian came back for another visit, but knowing Holmes's feelings toward her, I made up an excuse and sent her on her way.

The next day we were roused by a very loud voice and pounding at our door. When I opened it, Miss Irene O'Brian practically exploded into the room in a highly excited state.

"Oh, Dr. Watson, thank heavens!" she exclaimed and actually grabbed the lapels of my coat. "Dr. Watson I must see Mr. Holmes at once! It is a matter of utmost importance!" Before I could say another word, she rushed past me and burst into Holmes's room, from where I heard him cry out in shock and surprise. I quickly entered the room and found my poor friend upon the couch with his injured ankle resting upon a cushion. He was cringing back, attempting to keep away from the frantic young woman who pressed in on him as she spoke and gesticulated wildly.

"Watson!" Holmes called out. "This woman is obviously insane! Please remove her at once!"

I endeavoured to pull Miss O'Brian from his presence--no easy task--as she continued to talk frantically and fought to hold her position. Suddenly Holmes shouted.

"Watson, wait! Miss O'Brian, would you kindly repeat that. Did you say murder?"

I released my hold on her, and she attempted to regain some semblance of composure.

"Yes Mr. Holmes, I said murder!" she exclaimed, breathlessly.

Holmes motioned for her to sit. I pulled up a chair for Miss O'Brian so she might explain herself comfortably.

"An elderly gentleman named John Steward. He was stabbed in the street yesterday. The police have arrested a suspect running from the scene of the crime, a young man by the name of Robert Alloway. But the man is innocent, I swear it!"

"What makes you say that, Miss O'Brian?"

"Because I know Robert Alloway and have known him for many years. I know in my heart he could not harm anyone!"

"I am afraid heartfelt sentiments mean very little to the police, Miss O'Brian," said I.

"I have discovered that on my own, Doctor," she declared haughtily. "For I have been to the authorities and proclaimed Mr. Alloway's innocence, but they refused to listen."

"It has been my experience, Miss O'Brian, that most law enforcement agencies, whether they are in England, on the continent, or here in Canada, once they have arrested a suspect, they have no hinge or loop to hang a doubt on," said Holmes.

"What does that mean, Mr. Holmes?"

"It means the police do not appreciate being told they are mistaken," answered Holmes. "Even if I wished to aid you in your quest to free your friend, I am quite incapacitated, as you well know."

"But a young man is being unjustly incarcerated, while his life and reputation hang in the balance. And if you, Sherlock Holmes will not help investigate this matter, then Dr. Watson and I will do it alone!"

"I beg your pardon?" I asked, not certain I had heard her correctly.

"That would be the best and only alternative," said Holmes approvingly. "Since I am here, laid by the heels, the two of you can be my arms and legs and eyes and ears. Find out what you can. Watson, you alone will report your findings. Now off you go, the two of you. Remember Watson, he who has begun is half done. Goodbye and good luck."
The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and all of Stephen Gaspar's books can be found on Amazon