13th of January, 2018: the occasion of Sophie Claire Hooper’s seventh birthday.
‘And high time for afternoon tea,’ comments Uncle Sherlock, as he takes her by the hand and leads her into Claridge’s Hotel, Mayfair.
Sophie is somewhat overwhelmed by the grandness of it all. She thinks that Claridge’s is the most beautiful place that she has ever seen. There are flowers everywhere, and really really big mirrors, and all around the mirrors there is shiny gold twirly stuff. She really wants a big mirror with shiny gold twirly-whirly stuff all around it for her birthday.
Maybe if she asks Aunt Sarah really nicely.
Mummy - no, Mum, she thinks, because she is a big girl now and they call their Mummies ‘Mum’ - has French plaited her hair, and she is wearing her every-shade-of-pink dress (as purchased by Uncle John) and a hair bobble with a big sparkly jewel on it.
In her own mind, she is the Queen Of The Whole Wide World, and there is nothing that she cannot do. Mum’s stern warning to behave herself and not to talk too loudly or drop things is unnecessary; Queen Amidala would never do such things. She does wonder if Mummy would approve of the tiny water pistol in her pocket, in case of baddies, but dismisses this as irrelevant. Mummy is not here. Uncle Sherlock is. And Uncle Sherlock won’t mind. (He finds it rather funny, if she only knew).
He spots her eyeing up the mirrors, and has a quiet word with an amenable waitress (recently divorced, desperate to prove herself attractive). Sophie is delighted when they seat her right underneath the beautiful mirrors with the twirly whirly gold bits, but accepts that it is her due as Queen Of The Whole Wide World.
Sherlock is as happy as a clam in Claridge’s. He is between cases, and famished. He and Sophie dig into the finger sandwiches and pastries with the enthusiasm of the very young and the very hungry, respectively.
They chew in companionable silence for a while, as Sophie stares around, wide-eyed, at all the people, and tries to look grown up while drinking tea.
Sherlock proceeds to deduce everyone around them in an undertone until Sophie has a giggle fit, and then pretends to look stern while she tries to control herself. She is one of his favourite audiences; she always looks amazed when he deduces the patently obvious, and she tells him that he is brilliant. But better than that, (because John does that, and does it better) she watches him do it and then tries to join in.
He is well aware that John doesn’t really approve of 'Tick, Tock, Sherlock' but regardless, Sherlock knows that it is paying off. Like all children, she notices things and remembers them. But unlike all other children, he, Sherlock Holmes, is teaching her to deduce. And she’s woefully bad at deduction, most of the time. But sometimes she is brilliant. And she is learning.
After more tea, and then scones and jam, Sherlock pays and they wander towards the exit. Once they have collected their coats and umbrella (typical January day, pouring with rain) he plucks a white rose from one of the displays, winks at the coat-check boy (who blushes: young and impressionable, sheltered background, little experience of male attention) and presents it to Sophie with a flourish. She smiles, he puts up his umbrella, and they walk out into the rain.
Queen Sophie, Ruler Of The Whole Wide World, pronounces this The Best Birthday In The Whole Wide World, and Uncle John and Uncle Sherlock The Best Uncles In The Whole Wide World as well.
When she asks him why he's mopping his eyes and nose with a handkerchief, he blames the flower.
Sophie believes him. The cabbie (wife, two children and a Yorkshire terrier) does not.