Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Red Herring

Everyone likes to be told that they’re talented. It’s the reason that sycophants exist, that the x-factor works, and that the inventor of the gold star-shaped sticker currently lives in an eight storey mansion in the Bahamas.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a child or an adult, the rule applies. It crosses nations, continents, postcodes. Whether you’re a lawyer, a cheese-maker, or a person who lists professions for a living, recognition is craved. It doesn’t necessarily have to be public (although the glut of televised award ceremonies suggests that there’s some attraction to the idea). It just has to happen. So it was no surprise, then, when the guild of detectives announced that they were to present an award of their own.

It was to be given to the sleuth who cracked the most baffling case with the greatest charm, the most cunning of guile, and the most distinctive of hats. Having a recognisable car was deemed helpful, but made tailing criminals difficult.

Congratulations are all very well, but a trophy – well, a trophy is to a word as Channel Four is to ITV. Better. It was decided that the trophy should be ambiguous. After all, detectives traded on their ability to go covert, and having a cast bronze ‘World’s Best Detective’ trophy was one way to blow your cover. After dismissing the idea of buying a pre-made trophy – something for karate, or bearing the legend ‘world’s best dad’, the committee settled upon the design of a cast bronze fish with two diamonds for eyes. This award, the Red Herring as it came to be known, was presented at a ceremony, a gathering of detectives. This meeting was always held in a hotel, under the auspices of this-or-that convention. It was thought that this would prevent any unwanted attention. A single detective may make powerful enemies. A gathering of detectives would be an appealing target for the criminal underworld. Or a hat salesman. Many a detective had been canvassed by a passing milliner. Had any hat-makers known the location of the gathering, they could have bankrupted the trade within hours.

And so the precaution was taken, and false identities assumed. It was an almost perfect system. Almost perfect because it did rather confuse the receptionists when approximately four hundred ‘John Smith’s turned up for the doorstop convention. (Plus it made picking up post or charging to a tab impossible to co-ordinate).

The next awards were to be held in Brighton, in 2016.

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