SATURDAY’S CHILD: Holmes sweet home
IN 1992, I ended up in Barbados, initially as a communications consultant and then as the Media/Communications Advisor to the World Health Organisation/Pan American Health Organisation. In 1993, I started a column in the Barbados Nation (SATURDAY SUN) called New Man In Town.
It featured a cartoon of me driving my Mini Moke pursued by a dog trying to jump into the driver’s seat. I repeated the joke that at my age, when it comes to ladies, I am like a dog chasing a car. If I catch it, I can’t drive it. But, in the case of my door-less vehicle built on the “open” plan, it would be hard to explain to a doctor or nurse how that happened. Then along came scrapie. Not a dog, but a disease affecting sheep and related to mad-cow disease. Barbados is the home of the black-bellied sheep and, despite the departure of the flying fish to Tobago, is still known as the land of that curious marine phenomenon which is the main ingredient of “cutters” in every rum shop in the country. I could think of no better way of marking the 20th of the 23 years of my “Tony Deyal was last seen . . .” columns than with this, my tribute to Holmes and Conan Doyle, and to my second home, the birthplace of my two most recent children. We lived in a house rented from the Sugar Cane Breeding Station and after two children following closely on each other, we departed hastily for less fecund climes, Trinidad and Tobago.
“I was sitting, as is my wont, in the apartment of my friend Sherlock Holmes, slumped in an armchair and bemoaning the absence of my wife, whose mother had mysteriously taken ill and on whose behalf a telegram had arrived summoning my beloved to her mother’s bedside. The fact that her bedside was in the island of Barbadoes in the West Indies and it would take my wife many days of arduous travel, tossed hither, thither and yon in a slow steamer over the perilous Atlantic Ocean, contributed immensely to my melancholy.
“Meanwhile, my friend Sherlock was equally morose, there being a dearth of crimes in London at the time as his nemesis, the nefarious Professor Moriarty, seemed suddenly to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Suddenly, his voice like the crack of a whip, he said sharply, “Dammit, Watson, why the hangdog look? Things are bad enough as they are without your behaving like a love sick dachshund.” I explained to him about my wife’s absence.
“When I had told him about Barbadoes, I saw him start momentarily. ‘Strange, Watson,’ he murmured. ‘Very strange. Is your mother in law the only one affected by a malady?’ he asked. I told him that my information, while scant, gave the impression that an epidemic, some kind of madness, was rampant in that land and that my mother-in-law was just one of many sufferers from an illness that made her want to jump up and down while being immersed in the ocean. I was told that she had to be forcibly restrained in her bed as, failing access to the ocean, she was attracted to any source of water. There was an epidemic of drownings and other disasters.
“Holmes cried enthusiastically, his eyes alight with their curious combination of concentration and enjoyment, ‘The game’s afoot, Watson. There’s something fishy going on in Barbadoes and we must get there before it is too late. I am afraid there is deviltry there that we must deal with at once. The future of the empire depends on it.’
“Weeks later, after an exhausting and anxious sea voyage in which Holmes could barely contain his impatience, we disembarked at Bridgetown, the capital, and were met at once by the Chief of Police and the head of the island’s health services, an old, heavily bearded Scot, Professor McKinney, who reminded me that we had met while I was a student at Edinburgh. I did not remember him at all but did not say so until it was too late. Holmes, too excited for casual conversation, demanded immediate transportation to the hospital where he examined several of the sufferers from the mysterious malady. Heavily restrained and sedated, they were still trying to jump up and down as if trying to fly. ‘It is just as I thought, Watson,’ he said. “Our old friend Professor Moriarty has been hard at work here.” Pointing to Professor McKinney he commanded peremptorily, ‘Apprehend him, Watson!’ But I was too late and the evil professor disappeared not to be seen again until his final meeting, much later, with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls in Germany.
“It was only after our mad vain chase through the narrow streets of Bridgetown had ended, and we had rescued the real Professor McKinney, that a triumphant Holmes explained. ‘The newspapers gave me my first clue, Watson. The price of sugar and rum are rising so rapidly that they make Barbadoes a very valuable piece of property indeed. What the professor has done is to infect the local flying fish with a mysterious chemical from the brains of the black-bellied sheep. When humans eat this they become insane and try to emulate the behaviour of the fish, a behaviour for which they are not physiologically suited. Eventually, the professor and his cronies would have bought up the entire country.’
“I was stunned by the sheer audacity of the deed and the evil mind that would come up with such a satanic stratagem. Mad fish disease. ‘It is a good thing,’ I said to Holmes, ‘that we British do not depend so much on any commodity that something of this sort could happen to us’.”
• Tony Deyal was last seen in Barbados eating at a vegetarian restaurant in Hastings.