Back in early December I posted a piece about the missed blog posts of 2014. Anyhow, it’s now time to write-up another one and I have to admit that resurrecting abandoned pieces of writing is a strangely archaeological experience. Now true, I do have the photos to guide me. But having said that, I’m also aware that those pictures were taken with a common, a linking theme in mind. Put another way, I didn’t just wander out into the garden to take a series of random pictures that later I could stitch-together into a coherent story. The trouble is I’ve had to fall back on forensics to try and work out what on earth that theme might possibly have been. It has been a distinctly archaeological process and happily I have had Alan Cadbury alongside me to help. He’s a really nice chap, Alan, and although he isn’t the greatest with computers and technology, he does understand the forensic process, having taken part in that landmark Forensic Archaeology course organised, I have since discovered, by the Home Office, at Saltaire University back in 1997-8.
Alan had been staying with us recently, telling me about the final events of his second adventure, The Way, The Truth and The Dead (which is still just a third subscribed, so we need your name in it soon, please!). So it was Alan who helped me reconstruct that day last April when I took those pictures. And for what it’s worth, I get really irritated when people, doubtless well-meaning, suggest that Alan is fictional. Yes, he appears in works that are conventionally categorised as Fiction, but I can tell everyone that there is plenty of truth in them. And him. Indeed, Alan himself is far from fictional. Yes, his name has been changed, but I can assure you there is an individual behind the Twitter username @AlanCadbury – and if you doubt this, I suggest you check out his geotags, which are very, very rarely the same as mine. I’m still trying to persuade Alan (and yes, that is his real name) to ‘come out’ and face the adulation of a rapidly increasing fan-base. But he won’t. In fact he gets quite grumpy whenever I raise the matter. But then, that’s Alan all over.
Now back to that day, April 15th, 2014. It was a Tuesday. As I look back on those pictures, I’m immediately impressed by the cloudless blue sky and the wonderfully bright air. It has to be spring: at no other time of the year would conditions be so crystal clear. Now you may suppose that I simply thought: ‘What a gorgeous day. I think I’ll slip indoors, pick up my camera and take a few snaps.’ In fact, that’s what I’d have believed myself, if it wasn’t for Alan’s frowning face on the seat beside me.
‘It won’t be as simple as that, Francis.’ He paused, rubbing the short beard on his chin reflectively, ‘It never is. You, of all people should know that.’
Did I deserve that? I decided to let it pass.
‘So what do you think was going-on?’ I asked.
‘Well, look at the time and the timings.’
He flashed them up on the screen. I couldn’t see anything odd about them.
‘This picture here shows some sort of blossom, right?’
‘Yes, it’s the crab apple, Malus ‘Evereste’ . One of the best flowering crabs, I reckon.’
‘But where is it?’
‘At the bottom end of the garden, down by the summerhouse, or Tea Shed, as we prefer to call it.’
‘Well, it was taken at 16.39.’
‘Yes?’ I asked, more doubtfully even than before.
Again, I didn’t think this at all remarkable. Maybe Maisie and I had just been enjoying a cup of tea – who knows? Time has moved on.
But Alan had the bit between his teeth:
‘Now look at this one. It’s labelled the Main Border and it’s taken just two minutes later, at 16.41.’ He paused, and was staring at me intently. ‘Can’t have been a very relaxing cup of tea to get you whizzing about the garden like that, can it?’
‘I suppose not.’
I was beginning to see his point.
‘And look at the picture: the composition is good. Everything comes together at the same point. There’s lots of depth-of-field. That needs a very steady hand. So I think you’ve used a tripod.’
I nodded. Again, he could have been right. My reply was hesitant:
‘Yes, I concede, to have got to the Main Border, fitted the tripod, levelled it and fixed focus, ISO and everything else normally takes at least five minutes – or sometimes rather longer.’
‘Now look at the next one.’
I did. And if anything it was even better composed. In fact as pictures of the Small Border in springtime went, it wasn’t bad. That border only really comes into its own in the early summer when the grasses are up and the daylilies (Hemerocallis) are out. I thought the jardinière by the Compton pottery, which I discussed in March of last year, formed an excellent end-stop. Pity we haven’t yet found anything to go at the other end (behind the camera) – but that’s another story.
I wandered through to the kitchen to make a pot of tea.
From my study I could hear Alan call out from the computer:
‘So when do you think that was taken?’
‘Which one?’ My mind was on tea and cake.
‘The Small Border.’
I could hear gathering irritation in his voice. I couldn’t anticipate where this conversation was heading.
‘I don’t know, Alan,’ I replied, almost absent-mindedly, while turning off the tap and putting the kettle on the Aga. ‘I’d guess a good five to ten minutes later. Again it’s well-composed. Even better than the last one.’
Alan was now standing in the doorway. I turned round. He looked me straight in the eye. Suddenly I felt as if I’d committed some loathsome murder.
‘Well it wasn’t.’ He said this slowly, stepping forward. He was starting to sound menacing:
‘It wasn’t ten minutes…’
He paused, then continued:
‘It wasn’t even five minutes…’
He paused again to let his words sink in. Then quieter:
‘No, it wasn’t even five seconds later.’
At that, he drew breath and almost screamed in my face:
‘It was at precisely the same time as the last one! Now how do you explain that, Mister Professor?’