We`ve all seen Sherlock Holmes drive a car – but can anyone imagine him actually
passing his test?
“Until you have learnt how to drive, you have never really learnt how to swear.”
“Well that was tedious.” Sherlock Holmes enters 221B. With a whaling harpoon. Drenched in blood. Mrs Hudson will never get the bloodstains out of the hall carpet. Again.
“You went on the Tube like that?” John Watson looks over his newspaper. Turnball & Asser shirt. Glad to see Sherlock has dressed down to harpoon the corpse of a pig.
“None of the cabs would take me.” Sherlock pouts huffily as he throws the harpoon to the floor and sweeps back the blood stained curls from his forehead. “People were most unhelpful. No-one would reach into my pocket for the right change when the harpoon became stuck in the turnstile at St. Paul`s.”
John could see he was about to throw himself onto the leather couch and judiciously sacrificed his newspaper under Sherlock`s bloodied backside.
“Everything in life is somewhere else,” scowls Sherlock Holmes. “And you get there in a CAR. I need a one. Get me one.”
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After Henry Knight (and a few others) had faced his fear and laid the Hounds of Baskerville to rest, Sherlock was further enamoured of owning an internal combustion engine for his own, personal needs. His specialised travel needs. Truth be told, John had loved eating up the wide open and desolate miles of the Dartmoor landscapes in the Land Rover. Sherlock was the King of the Driving Seat – changing direction with the deft turn of a wheel; the climate with a casual flick of a dial; the music (Nick Cave and the Lightning Seeds?) with the touch of a button. John`s flatmate had seemed confident and supremely capable as a driver.
“Is there anything you are – you know – rubbish at, Sherlock?”
Sherlock lay on his single bed in the “boutique” en-suite (twin room – not double) in the Crossed Keys, near Grimpen Mire. He had calmed down considerably since dinner.
“I had felt doubt. I've always been able to trust my own sense, the evidence of my own eyes, until last night.”
“So, we`re back to the `hound`?”
Sherlock Holmes sat up, much in the manner of an ancient vampire, rising from his crypt.
“The car, John; the CAR! I assumed there was something odd going on with the power steering. As I turned the wheel, it seems to "stick" through certain areas, and gave considerable resistance. It was pretty much like steering a car that didn`t have power steering at all. Also, no fluid appears to be leaving the reservoir while the engine is running. Does this seem like a failed power steering pump? Something else? It just doesn't seem consistent enough, as I would expect a failure of the pump to make the wheel difficult to turn at all. I just don`t know…”
And he steeples his fingers beneath his chin, resuming his vampiric pose.
John Watson resumes shaking his head and switches off the light.
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“Now!” Sherlock drops his chips to the floor and takes the stairs to the street, two at a time. Mary Morstan is barely keeping up.
“Where are we going?” Her heart is pounding in her chest; panic and fear slowing her thought processes.
“St James the Less. It’s a church. Twenty minutes by car.” Sherlock frantically looks around a relatively empty Baker Street on that cold, wet November night. “Did you drive here?”
Thoughts, swirling around her head – John is in danger – help him! She makes a supreme effort to focus.
“ Er, yes.” Pointing down to the end of the road.
Sherlock is pacing in the middle of the road – John is in danger – help him! A car swerves around him, blasting its horn.
“It’s too slow. It’s too slow.”
Mary is literally, wringing her hands – why isn`t he doing something? Why isn’t she?
“Sherlock, what are we waiting for?”
In an instant, Sherlock has become the man of action. He turns into the path of an approaching single headlight (mercifully obeying the speed limit) and holds forth an imperious hand, which broaches no alternative but a skid and stop.
Getting warmer Mr Holmes
You have about ten minutes
Mary reads the text over Sherlock`s shoulder from the back of the hijacked motorbike. Never before has she had cause to thank the Lord that Sherlock Holmes has an exact and encyclopaedic knowledge of the streets of London. He would have made an excellent cabbie, without the necessity of a Sat Nav, or even A to Z. New developments and changes to London`s highways and by-ways just adds to his brain attic, or Mind Palace. Thanks to Sherlock, Mrs Hudson knew the whereabouts of the best scratch cards in London; John could find the nearest sushi restaurant; cash point or tattoo parlour or – church – should it be required.
Racing, jarringly, down a set of steps by a road block; up onto the pavement through two buildings and down a long flight of stairs onto the Mall, Sherlock and Mary reach John Watson, all bonfired-up, in time - thus saving his life. And Mary knows she will never be able to repay her…driver.
“You really drive like you mean it Sherlock. I wouldn’t have had a clue about all those rat runs and short cuts.”
Sherlock shrugs, outwardly casual, internally thrilled John is back in Baker Street. He idly flicks through a glossy brochure. John gets up, coughing slightly, and looks over his shoulder.
“Standard equipment on the DB5 included reclining seats, wool pile carpets, electric windows, twin fuel tanks, chrome wire wheels, oil cooler, magnesium-alloy body built to superleggera patent technique, full leather trim in the cabin and even a fire extinguisher…Sherlock, you do not need an Aston Martin – You are not James Bond!”
Sherlock huffily shuts the magazine.
“Why would I want to be an overly sensationalised womaniser? But the car, John, would make city driving quite agreeable, don`t you think?”
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As can be quite usual in dealings with Sherlock Holmes, it isn’t until many months later that John Watson discovers the actual truth about his driving.
Molly Hooper and Mary Watson have been to a mother and baby group in Marylebone Village. For the babies, yes, but also so they could go for coffee afterwards and laugh about the horrifically competitive Boden Mummies at the group who constantly affect outrageous one-upmanship regarding the development of their off-spring. Benedict Holmes, in particular, is often the subject of thinly veiled jealousy. Molly has lost count of the number of times she had been called out over Ben`s age by near strangers.
“Nine months old, Molly, and so tall? He was holding a book this morning – the right way up!” Accusatory eyebrow raise. “And turning pages!”
Mary was openly laughing as the two women dissected the morning over café au lait.
“May as well have called you a big, fat, kid-falsifying liar, and had done with it!” Biting into an almond croissant.
Molly shrugs, good-humouredly, adding, “bitches.” Mary splutters crumbs all over the table.
Molly Hooper remembers, in painfully clear detail, the date and circumstances of Benedict`s birth. He is just a Holmes boy, after all. She knows the elements of genius are already there. Advanced comes with the territory.
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Södersjukhuset has one of the largest obstetric clinics in the country. Almost 6,000 women give birth here every year. Here you find the full chain of care, from prenatal through childbirth to post-natal care. This care is provided in close collaboration with Sachs’ Chidren’s Hospital, which has a large department for newborns. The Maternity Clinic offers resources such as the Special Prenatal Care/Ultrasound Unit, Special-BB (Maternity Unit), Psychosocial Unit and Breast-Feeding Centre, to provide support for the new mother and baby.
Molly Hooper grits her teeth as her shaking hands hold the brochure. A horrifyingly sudden rictus spasm grasps her belly into a vice – then releases it. Beads of sweat have broken onto her brow as she consults the brochure again. This is the twentieth contraction of her uterus and she is currently 20 km away from Southern Stockholm`s finest Maternity unit.
Building up again...Oh. My. God.
She curls – a foetus herself – on the hard bench, bracing. Where in God`s name was Sherlock with the CAAAARRR?!!!
Teeth grinding together and folding over, like an amonite, Molly feels a warm hand on her shoulder and a soft voice in her ear.
”Molly, I can`t do it.”
”Sherlock – this is a very bad time to renege on your parental duties...”
Suddenly, a face – his lovely face – is beneath hers. He is on his knees next to her chair. Looking fearful.
Molly grits her teeth – God, she has the strength of ten when she needs it (this is one of those times) as the pain twists in – pulsing through her abdomen and taking away any power she ever had over her own body.
”Sherlock...car...I need one...get me...ONE!”
Sherlock Holmes` Icelandic grey eyes are brimming with unshed tears as his hands grip her hands. If she wasn`t a bit – diverted – she would hold him so tight...but...ahhggghhh....
”Molly, I can`t.”
”Drive. Me. Baby traversing down birth canal...comprendez?”
”Ambulance on its way. ETA eight minutes. Traffic is light; weather, good ...”
”Molly – I just can`t...not this time.”
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“So…never actually had a licence then?” John Watson has that wide-eyed faux calmness he only saves for special occasions.
Sherlock Holmes is staring intently into the microscope lens. Iron filings had never been so appealing.
“Ever sat a test?”
“Sherlock, have you ever had a single driving lesson? Or owned a provisional licence?”
“I can drive.”
“Not actually my question.”
Sherlock gives up on the faux-microscoping and gives John his full on attention. Pretty rare.
“Anyone can learn to drive…just haven’t actually sat next to an idiot with a clip-board, telling me when to go forwards and backwards. Boring.”
“And, yet, you have driven me; my wife and probably all the king`s horses and their men – illegally – for quite some time, without a worry. Until – “
A sharp glance and Sherlock interjects:
“Molly…” Sigh. Rakes hand through hair. “… and Ben. I – just … couldn`t…”
John softens immediately – “Of course you couldn’t. Some risks are just not worth taking.”
“I just couldn’t remember the route to Södersjukhuset...”
”Yeah, yeah...course you couldn`t.” And he smiles a little smile.
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Lesson The First:
A man with a clipboard greets Sherlock Holmes at the door of the car and proffers a hand.
Chocolate stain below right thumb and – glancing up – in left corner of mouth. Glasses, repaired with sellotape ; hand-knitted jumper; corpulent; slight sheen of sweat on upper lip – poor levels of cardio fitness.
That took care of the first ten seconds of meeting Mr Fitzroy Simpson; owner of “Q&E Driving School”. Sherlock could scarcely wait for the next one hour, fifty nine minutes and fifty seconds of his very first driving lesson to commence. GOD! Living with a conscience was surely just like driving a car with the brakes on. Benedict owed him. Big time.
“Mr Holmes, welcome to the wonderful world of driving.” Patronising smile. “A whole new world is, literally, at your fingertips. May I first see your Provisional Licence?”
God, this was turgid. Thirty whole minutes in and he was still being lectured on `The Cockpit Drill – D.S.S.S.M`. They had yet to move the car a single centimetre.
“Doors,” intones Fitzroy. Sherlock lets his mind pleasantly wander, recalling how he had slammed a car door into the middle portion of the escaping Jack Prendergast, the Crystal Palace Murderer; allowing Sally Donovan to catch up and arrest him. Come to think of it, she has never actually thanked him for that…
“Seat…”Fitzroy was off again; droning, in great detail, about various adjustments to seats, steering wheels, back supports; headrests…Ah, that reminded Sherlock of the occasion of the Red-Headed League, when a strand of ginger hair collected from a headrest had sent down Grant Munro for a stretch. Or two.
“Seabelt adjustments…” Fondly recalling The Case of the Yellow Neck and the seatbelt strangler, Sherlock has never been more grateful for the escapist provisions of his Mind Palace.
“Mirrors…” Remembering John`s most recent warnings of “play nice”, Sherlock`s beleaguered eyes glance up to the mirror, in an attempt to show willing. Would this slow, interminable grinding down of his life force go on forever?
Forty-five minutes in and Sherlock Holmes has had enough. Forty five minutes without even pulling away from the curb side. It was like `Les Mis` all over again…
He sits up straight in his (passenger) seat and, for the first time since getting into the car, gives Fitzroy Simpson his full attention.
“So, Mr Holmes, just to check you are on tip-top driving form – before we attempt to find `the biting point` with our clutch – what have we learnt so far?” Quizzical head tilt and criminally patronising grin.
“In your door pocket, I observed a discarded packed lunch; lovingly made and barely touched; several half eaten packets of strong mints; a comb; disabled badge; Weight Watchers membership card; three empty cola bottles and at least seven empty chocolate wrappers.”
Fitzroy is currently a goldfish…mouth open.
“From this, I can deduce you live with your disabled mother, who makes you a healthy lunch daily. She has signed you up for Weight Watchers, yet you prefer the quick fix sugar of the cola and chocolate. Ironically, the mints you crunch all day, every day, are for the benefit of your lady passengers (since you didn’t bother with me); as is the comb. Clearly, single. Although you are wearing tracksuit bottoms (for comfort?), I notice that your polo shirt is freshly washed and ironed – lovingly laundered by a lady who wants the best for you. Mum again. As I entered your car, I could see you have very recently taken it through the car wash and valeted the inside windows. However, blue-tac residue is evident on the left hand inner windscreen where the disabled badge has been stuck. Clearly, to facilitate you, not having to park too far away – from anything. Not going to help with the weight loss, I suspect – or the ensnaring of a girlfriend. This badge is not currently for your mother`s benefit, since, when this lesson was booked, I was told you had solid bookings for the whole day. No time to take her shopping, I would imagine.”
Just before Fitzroy drives off, banning Sherlock from ever booking him again; the latter just has time to add:
“…and even though there are at least four post boxes between your offices and Baker Street, the parcel I observed on the back parcel shelf (using my mirrors) has been forgotten again, and just missed the last post.”
Perhaps Fitzroy Simpson had actually found his biting point.
And Sherlock is left standing at the curb side, wondering what he was going to say to John.
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Lesson The Second:
“Advanced driving is the ability to control the position and speed of the vehicle safely, systematically and smoothly, using road and traffic conditions to progress unobtrusively with skill and responsibility. This skill requires a positive but courteous attitude and a high standard of driving competence based on concentration, effective all round observation, anticipation, and planning. This must be co-ordinated with good handling skills. The vehicle will always be at the right speed with the correct gear engaged and can always be stopped safely on its own side of the road in the distance that can be seen to be clear." - DSA, RoADAR, IAM, 1997
Captain Charles (Charlie) Milverton is a decorated war hero (Distinguished Service Order) and a friend and ex-colleague of Dr John H Watson. After leaving the army on completion of his service in the Afghan war, Charlie qualified as a Police Advanced Driver (class 1), with Full Tactical Pursuit and Containment Authority. Advanced manoeuvres were second nature – he had even completed the notoriously difficult Anti-Hijack Protection Driving Course. And passed. With honours.
Charlie is to be Sherlock`s new driving instructor.
John reasons that a man (and driver) of this calibre would take a tough-line, no nonsense approach to his ex-flatmate and get him through his test. God, he hopes Sherlock can, just for once, not be a precocious savant (git?), and just listen!
The allotted hour drags so interminably slowly, John is reminded of the time Sherlock insisted on teaching him how to waltz for his wedding. Tedium mixed with fear. Oh, I`ve really missed this!
Eventually, the footfall on the stair. At least the lesson didn’t finish too early…surely a good sign?
Sherlock Holmes breezes into the room, looking both thrilled and exhilarated. John`s suspicions are immediately alerted.
“Truly, an excellent experience, John. I can`t thank you – and Captain Milverton – enough.” He throws himself happily across the armchair, and a hair-raising dart at the recently installed dartboard.
“Went well, then?”
“Couldn’t have gone better. As I was undertaking a three-point turn on Waldover Street, I saw, in my mirror, none other than Jonah Carrow – the trainer who thought he could play swap around with Silver Lace…”
“The Derby winning race horse?”
“The very one. He had, as you painfully described in your blog, absconded and disappeared, like a …”
“Snowball in a furnace.” John had been quite proud of that one.
“Hmmph…like – that. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to see him emerging from Spend and Save, rubbing his scratch card and getting into his car…”
John was beginning to get a very nasty feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Naturally, I abandoned the three point turn, favouring instead, the Scandinavian Flick, which seemed to surprise the Captain. Once facing the right way, I managed to chase him successfully along Waldover and straight across the Altrincham bypass…”
“Sherlock – “
“Ah, it was amazing, John. You would have been proud. My tail-braking was top class and I managed to successfully increase the Yaw-angle on the turn. Mid-course correctionals are my speciality, I feel. Using the throttle steer technique, I could have some oversteering fun…”
“Carrow was doing his best, but he was no match for my driving on the limit. I managed to find the magical limit of adhesion taking that corner into South Molton Avenue…more speed through a corner than I would have thought possible.”
“For God`s sake – you could have been kil - arrested!”
“It was Jonah Carrow who was arrested, when I cornered him at the back of the Blazing Saddles Massage Parlour. Nowhere else to go. I think Lestrade was more than happy when I texted. Sally even gave me a ride back to Baker Street.”
John, by now, was in a cold sweat. How could this have happened with such a qualified man in the car with Sherlock?
“Where, Sherlock, is my friend, Charlie? What did you do to his – car?”
Sherlock pouts, throwing another dart. “Not a scratch on it. He seemed to be in a hurry to leave. Said he couldn’t teach me anything else. I took that to be a compliment.”
Yeah, thought John Watson, mentally waving goodbye to yet another army buddy – you would.
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Lesson The Third:
Forty minutes in and John cannot believe how well things are going. He and Sherlock Holmes are driving, appropriately and seamlessly, through mid-morning London traffic. No melt downs; no stunt driving; no Scandinavian Flicks.
“Take the next left, Sherlock.” Sherlock obeys. John can scarcely believe his compliance. He must love Molly Hooper very much.
“After the next roundabout, take another left and we can open out onto St. Fargo`s Boulevard.”
Sherlock, again, follows instruction and eases serenely onto the Boulevard and into … gridlock.
Looking out of the passenger window and into the distance, John sees a lorry carrying scaffolding has turned onto its side and is blocking a whole lane of the road. Vehicles are bumper to bumper as far as the eye can see; horns are being sporadically and impotently sounded in a pale imitation of a busy New York street scene. People are getting out of cars and looking increasingly scandalised at the interruption of their busy lives. Being very British, no-one is actually shaking fists and yelling “whatyatalkinabout?” in Bronx accents, but – eyebrows are more than raised.
Turning back to his driver, John notes Sherlock is far from attending to the current inconvenient situation, as he is texting rapidly and expertly. No hands-free here, then.
Sherlock suddenly stops texting, pockets his phone and looks at his friend. His face says…
“Sherlock, you had better NOT…!”
In an instant, John is facing an empty driver`s seat; cheek by jowl with an open car door and a – parting shot…
“Lestrade has a case – man presumed dead has escaped a private nursing home…a reluctant patient? See you back at Baker Stre – “ and he was gone.
As John Watson straddles the gear stick (not as much fun as it sounds) to occupy the waiting in indeterminable traffic-seat, vacated by his `friend`, he considers which words might best express his discontent.
“You – cock.” Is the best he can do.
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Six weeks later…
Mary simply cannot believe the behaviour that passes for common decency in the city these days. Three heavy bags of shopping; a baby strapped to her back and that – idiot – has just stolen the black cab right from under her nose. And it`s bloody raining. God, if she just had one piece of her armoury with her right now…
Then, as if a guardian angel had been watching over her and Sholto that day, a bright set of headlights cuts through the gloom, wind and rain and pulls up, immaculately, next to her piece of curb. They are the headlights of a very cute and immaculate red mini-cooper convertible – driven by none other than Molly Hooper!
“Get in you two – it`s pouring down!”
“Molly! You are (a) an angel and (b) a driver! I am totally thrilled to see you – but how?”
After bags, baby and all are loaded, Molly pulls expertly from the curb and eases effortlessly into the London evening traffic. It was like she had been doing it all her life.
“I passed last week. On Tuesday. I never thought I`d be any good at all, but seems I was a natural. Fitzroy was so pleased with me. He`s even forgiven Sherlock; especially since I fixed him up with Sarah, an Anatomic Pathologist Tech at work. She`s nice.”
Mary sat back, luxuriating in the leather seats and very effective heater. “Nice wheels, my friend…wow…” Mary sniggers. “Molly Hooper with her Mini Cooper…how fabulous is that?”
Molly smiles. A Mini John Cooper Works Convertible; Fuel consumption (combined): 38.7 mpg; CO2 emissions: 169 g/km; Output: 211 hp; Acceleration (0-62 mph): 6.9 s; Top speed: 146 mph. Best of all – cherry red, inside and out.
“Isn`t it just the best! I love it so much!”
Mary is extravagantly pleased for her friend, but wonders how she has afforded a £25,000 vehicle (maternity pay is a bitch to recover from). As if reading her mind, Molly adds:
“Sherlock bought it for me.”
Double-Wow. Once Sherlock Holmes has decided he likes you, that really is IT.
“I know, awfully extravagant. He still feels bad about Benedict nearly being born in a Swedish ambulance, and – you know – making a mess of his driving lessons. Also, I bought him a present too.”
“A Lamborghini? John mentioned he was quite interested in an Aston Martin.”
Molly Hooper laughs as she turns, serenely into Northumberland Street. “Neither… I bought him an Oyster Card. He just won`t play nice with other drivers and insists that life is too short for traffic…so sorry about John the other day, Mary…”
“Oh dear – I think we both learnt some new swear words that day. Sherlock actually came round to apologise – “
Molly smiles to herself. She knew that.
“John, I am very sorry for leaving you in a central London traffic jam, whilst I ran away to solve crimes with Giles. I didn`t see any point in both of us waiting for half an hour…”
“Almost ninety minutes, you git.”
“A waste of time for both of us would have been so wrong.”
“Two wrongs do not make a right!”
Pause. “But three lefts do.”
“There`s something else too.” Molly Hooper leans across and turns on the volume of the built-in Sat Nav.
`At the next junction, take a left turn. Proceed for 500 metres…` The beautiful baritone of Sherlock Holmes speaks calmly from the machine. Molly squeaks excitedly.
Mary smiles, loving how she loves him. “Has he recorded the whole damn thing?”
Molly nods. “This way, he`s never very far away.”
Sigh. “I know.”