Monday, May 14, 2012

The Adventure of the Speckled Wall: Sherlock, You're Needed

"On glancing over my notes of the seventy odd cases in which I have during the last eight years studied the methods of my friend Sherlock Holmes, I find many tragic, some comic, a large number merely strange, but none commonplace; for, working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic. Of all these varied cases, however, I cannot recall any which presented more singular features than that which was associated with the well-known Surrey family of the Roylotts of Stoke Moran.

The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Strand Magazine, 1892. Watson. Surely the great grandfather of bloggers.

By the light of the corridor-lamp I saw my sister appear at the opening, her face blanched with terror, her hands groping for help, her whole figure swaying to and fro like that of a drunkard. She writhed as one who is in terrible pain, and her limbs were dreadfully convulsed. At first I thought that she had not recognised me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, ‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’
Such was the dreadful end of my beloved sister."

2012: The Speckled Wall
I recently experienced a frightening speckled situation, which I feared might end in ill health for myself or my kin. "Oh, my God! It's the wall! The speckled wall!"

Like its predecessor, it was also a "locked room" phenomenon, my bathroom, to be precise.

I noticed a while ago, a strange yellow substance appearing around my medicine cabinet upon my lovely sky-blue renovated wall.  I looked to see where it could be coming from, but there was no discernible source. So, with 7th Generation cleaner I tried to spray it away. It lifted a bit, but there were still very strong traces of it.

Days went by, and the yellow staining returned. Plus, there was now yellow discoloring on all the plastic bottles in the cabinet. So strange. It wasn't a film, it wasn't "wet," even though it looked like smudges. It was like a corrosion, in that the yellow staining became part of the properties (in a chemical sense) of the plastic.

The Speckling Accelerates

I sprayed away the yellowing on the wall again and again, and yet a few days later each time, the speckling was back, with a vengeance. The drip pattern was more pronounced, and the area of the speckling had increased.

It was maddening that I could find no source of this "it looks like paint dripping, but how can that be?!!" What could be causing such a chemical reaction? And was it a toxic reaction?

Finally I got my super to come look at it, to see if we needed to get the EPA involved. He thought that maybe there was water collecting behind the medicine cabinet, and that's what was causing the streaking. He asked me to empty the cabinet, and then he would remove it and see what's going on.

That is how I came to take everything off of its four shelves. And that's when I found . . .

. . .

hiding on the top shelf . . . 

. . .

. . .

. . .

. . . a tiny bottle of Iodine.

Iodine is yellow. Hmm.

When I picked it up, it was empty.

My speckling was the result of the phenomenon of "leaching," when a liquid passes through another substance, in this case, the plastic bottle. And, somehow the liquid that was in the bottle on the top shelf INSIDE THE MEDICINE CHEST became air borne and then interacted with the paint OUTSIDE THE MEDICINE CHEST. The bottom of the Iodine bottle was completely corroded (yes, right below the red skull & crossbones). Chemistry is an amazing thing.

I have no idea what the catalyst was. Iodine sits on shelves in Duane Reades across the city and they don't suddenly leach out.

No wonder Sherlock Holmes was a chemist.

Hence some of the appeal of the Conan Doyle stories: everyone runs into strange things in everyday life, and wouldn't it be great if we could all figure out what's going on.

I love the reinterpretation of the BBC Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The premise is that the original Conan Doyle character does not exist in world literature but Sherlock Holmes is living now, in London. It has great energy and wit, and it will surely lead some of new generations back to the original.


dorki said...

A very interesting post. Iodine is a very reactive element, in the same series as fluorine and chlorine. The packaging of the tincture in a plastic bottle was bound to cause trouble for the user if it was not used quickly. It was just a matter of time before its chemical attack on the plastic would penetrate the bottle.

If you ever need more, make sure the bottle is glass.

use of

- especially the medic tincture

M.A.Peel said...

Thanks dorki. I grew up with mercurochrome, which you can't buy any more. I had a bad blister on my foot that I thought would be helped by an antiseptic, and it needed to "dry" which is why I didn't want to use a cream like neosporin. I thought Iodine would be the next best thing, although I had never used it before.

There is no warning on the bottle to use soon after opening! And while I can understand liquid leaching out of a bottle, what AMAZES me is it being air borne, and then reforming on my wall outside of the medicine cabinet, in patterns that look like smudges and drips, although they are neither.