It is a Tuesday. The rain is streaming down Baker Street. Still warm horses are steaming gently, their cab drivers sheltering under rough-hewn cloaks, chewing baccy and waiting for fares. Mrs Hudson has let me in and I climb the stairs in anticipation of meeting the great Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant, Dr John Watson.
I have come to interview Sherlock as my private detective in the case of “The Missing Career Opportunity”. His is one of the keenest minds of the last century and, since I have a time traveller’s railcard, there is no other applicant so worthy of an interview to help me find the job I have in mind.
The sad wailing of the Stradivarius greets me. The great man looks me up and down with some disdain. There is a moment’s pause whilst he meditates on my somewhat bedraggled appearance.
” I see,” he says, nodding to Dr Watson to begin note-taking, “that you have recently travelled a path most dank and wearisome; your coat is cut to suit a woman of much smaller stature and there is an indescribable stain on your left collar”.
I am amazed by these revelations. “Yes,” I concede, “I have travelled via First Great Western’ Steam Service from Cardiff and purchased this garment at Ye Olde Ebay. The stain owes much to a toxic substance known as “Ribena”. Mrs Hudson winces and retreats to the kitchen to prepare a brew of good, iron coloured British tea. Sherlock has his back to me and is toasting his knees against the open fire. When he turns around, his trousers are smoking slightly. “Well, I just hope it was the tooth kind variety”, he opines.
Mrs Hudson appears with a plate of cakes. Decent sized cakes made with real ingredients (in defiance to her own arch-nemesis, the evil Mrs Kipling). “Now,” says Sherlock, “what is this case, this so urgent case that requires my deductive genius and undeniable powers of observation?”. “Sherlock,” says Dr Watson, “your knees are on fire”. After much flapping of today’s copy of The Times, Sherlock throws himself into a winged armchair and steeples his fingers. His bright blue eyes are piercing.
“It is the case”, I say, feeling the emotion welling up, “of the missing career opportunity”. “Then, tell all you must,” says Sherlock and he closes his eyes to listen to the sorry tale I have come to relate.
“Some six years ago,” I begin, haltingly, I had a job. Not just a job. I thought of it as a career. I worked in marketing for lawyers“. A frisson of mild horror vibrated around the room. I continued. “I had worked for many years to establish myself, a humble woman, as a trusty team member, a purveyor of ideas, a steady pair of hands and someone who never shirked from buying cakes”.
Sherlock snored gently. Mrs Hudson whacked him with The Times.
“Then, I… well… I”, “Go on” shouted the great man, “relay all! I am ready to hear”. “Well, I said, I had a baby. Planned. Twice. And then, I became a stay at home mother“. “This is indeed a serious case”, said Sherlock, “the wilful throwing away of cakey-fied employment but, if I may be so bold, it’s not really up to Moriarty’s standard, is it?”
“Oh ho,” I say, feeling my dander rising, “You think not? Do you know what happens to women like me trying to return to a job market awash with frisky young graduates, all with 10 A* levels? Do you know how many decently paid temporary jobs there are left for mothers? Do you know (by this point I am feeling an approaching fit of the vapours), HOW MUCH CHILDCARE COSTS????.
“Mrs Hudson, the gin“, shouts Sherlock, clearly well versed in the universal language of tear-sodden mothers at 4 pm. I am braced by the aroma of Juniper. Sherlock gets his pipe out and stuffs it full of something herbal and mysterious. After the quarter pin of gin, I can no longer feel my feet.
“Your case is simple to solve”. proclaims Sherlock. “and you yourself are the criminal here”. “What??” I say, gripping the arms of my chair since the room has started to swim slightly. “Indeed, Madam”
“Now Holmes,” says Dr Watson, “be gentle, she has to get back on that train”.
“Your crime is simply this – you have underestimated your own talent, dedication and hard work. You do a disservice, Madam, to all those for whom you worked before, who trained you, advised you, encouraged you and ate your cakes. Is it right that their investment should be cast asunder for all time? No! You must take steps to put matters right”.
By this point, I am feeling vaguely ashamed. “Take steps, Madam” shouts Holmes, “take steps to right this injustice”. “How?” I ask, “Tell me, Mr Holmes, what should I do? What can I do? My children are young and I am cruelly constrained to be free only between 10 am and 3 pm”.
Sherlock picks up his violin. Its mournful tones fill the hazy air. Ignoring the fact that the music sounds uncannily like the theme from Coronation Street, I prepare myself to receive the Holmesian wisdom needed to purchase my liberty.
“You must contact a strange and mystical organisation. They call themselves a “recruitment agency”. They are agents of employment; they help horse-mongers, philatelists, brewers and peelers, nannies and nursemaids and those whose interests are secular and scientific” says Holmes. “Slow down,” mutters Dr Watson. “How can I be expected to write that fast with a fountain pen?” Sherlock glares at him.
“You must face your fear. You must…” and here Sherlock stands and returns to toasting his charred knees in front of the fire, “stop making excuses”.
Snatching the pen from Dr Watson’s hands, he scribbles what can only be a clue of momentous importance on the back page of “The Times”. You will need this!”, he tells me, handing over a scrap of newspaper. I look at it. “Henry Ford builds an assembly line for Model T Fords” I read. Holmes snorts. “The man is clearly mad. No – look again”. I stare hard at the paper. My eyes are swimming, my head is pounding and the air is full of a miasma of herbal fumes, gin and fondant fancies (without the annoying paper cases).
And suddenly, there it is – the clue I have been looking for – in the great man’s scrawl – “The Revamp-A-Mum Recruitment Agency – We Don’t Pay a Maxi-Mum the Mini-Mum”.
It strikes me at this point that the interview I have come to conduct has not gone the way I planned. I have been roundly trounced in the questioning stakes. I have learned little about the great man but, it seems, he has learned much about me. Somehow, Sherlock has solved the mystery without my needing to employ him.
“Mr Holmes”, I stammer, “You have completed the assignment for which I required your help without us discussing fees. I will contact this recruitment agency of which you speak. I feel you should be justly rewarded for your perspicacity”.
Once again, Holmes steeples his fingers and regards me with some amusement. “There is one matter, nay one question, one confirmation of a future truth that you can give me”.
I breathe in, in anticipation at what this matter could possibly be.
“I had a dream, a vision” (at this point Mrs Hudson stares hard at the smoking green fug emanating from Holmes’ pipe), “that in the next century to come, all communication will be by means of an Apple”.
How could I disappoint him? The truth needed to be told. “It is true”. I say. Dr Watson and Mrs Hudson look at me as if I am madder than Moriarty.
“What ho!” shouts Holmes. “Mrs Hudson, pass me a Bramley”.