Over twenty years ago I worked with a man called Dave. He was a jazz drummer doing other things to earn a crust. Dave was exceptionally good company and we spent our time dreaming of different lives and future happiness whilst doing enough work not to arouse comment. His jobs had always been boring, watching the time tick slowly to that moment of freedom when he could feed his real passion, playing the drums.
Dave told me that in his previous job he had faked illness once too often and was worried when one day when he was ‘pulling a sickie’ he received a telephone call from the Head of Human Resources. Dave had rent to pay and outstanding bills and didn’t want to lose his job.
The call began, the Manager had serious questions, real concerns, and he needed answers – unreliability, a possible occupational health appointment, a need for everyone to work hard for common company goals. Dave stuttered his replies sounding unconvincing. This was, he thought, the end of another job and the worry of unemployment.
Then he looked down, he was reading a short story by Sherlock Holmes, ‘The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual’ and there was a Victorian engraving with Sherlock searching for the murder victim and pointing at a woollen scarf tied around a stone. “Look”, Sherlock exclaimed, “its Brunton’s muffler!”
Dave interrupted the HR Manager, “I’m trying to keep upbeat about this but I now think you need to know, I have a terrible sore throat and the Doctor thinks I might have ‘Brunton’s Muffler’, although I will need more tests to confirm this”
There was a brief silence. Finally the HR Manager said “I’m so sorry, we had no idea, why didn’t you tell us earlier?” Dave was about to continue to spin the yarn about his fake illness but the HR Manager was in full flow “I think I’ve heard of this Brunton’s…..…Muffler, it’s really serious, you need to go back to bed and take it easy, let us know how you get on. Thank you for letting us know. I’m so sorry”. He hung up.
Dave said that he felt both extreme elation and deep, agonising guilt for the next few days as he sat at home nursing his imaginary illness inspired by an outdated name for a wooly scarf.
This story came back to me the other day when I was passing through Baker Street Tube station. The station walls have huge Victorian illustrations from Sherlock Holmes stories. Sadly there wasn’t picture of Brunton with or without his knitted muffler.
You might like to know that it all ended up well for Dave by the way. I did a quick Google search, he is now a lecturer in drumming at a well-respected institution and his jazz band gig list takes up several internet pages.
I doubt that his case of ‘Brunton’s Muffler’ has flared up for many, many years.
The image is Basil Rathbone one of the best interpretations of Sherlock Holmes on the screen. It says ‘copyright free’ on the search so I hope it is!