Old Harry

“Old Harry? Yes, he was a soldier in the Great War, wasn’t he? He never said, but by his bearing and manners, I’d always had him pegged as an officer, but it was hard to tell, he being a down and out and all that.”

It turned out upon investigation, that Old Harry wasn’t quite so old after all, having died on his fortieth birthday, slumped behind the dustbins in the service alleyway between Cork and Old Burlington Streets, just on the edge of Mayfair, on the more exclusive side of London’s West End.

Harry was something of a mystery. In early middle-age he may have been, but he could easily have passed for a man twenty-five or even thirty years older, hence the nickname.

Of course, war will do that to you, especially if you have spent biggest part of four years in a variety of trenches, up to your knees in mud and corruption while you and the boys traded death and damnation with the Boches. More to the point though, no-one could quite remember when Harry first started spending his days marching determinedly up and down the Burlington Arcade, one of those covered and gated Regency thoroughfares lined with odd little shops which cater to the taste for expensive fripperies of those members of the aristocracy and nouveau-riches with more money than sense. You know the sort of place: no prices displayed, because if you have to ask, you can’t afford to shop there.

Nobody knew Harry’s surname, but if he’d died at the age of forty, then he must have been thirty when the Armistice was called ten years ago. That age, together with his bearing and general demeanour clearly suggested a man of officer class and clearly of some education and -at one time at least – money. Old Harry seemed to have been there forever, although patently he had not. Ask anyone who worked or frequented the arcade and they would tell you that Harry was a fixture, and one who seemed to belong. Despite his obvious poverty and reduced state, it never seemed to occur to anyone to object to his presence, nor to the constabulary to move him on.

No. Harry, in his scuffed boots and clean but threadbare army greatcoat, with its empty left sleeve neatly folded and pinned to his chest by a campaign medal was always let be. Harry, who marched solidly, all day, every day counting out the numbers as he did so and who was unfailingly polite when spoken to attracted so little attention as to blend into the background.

At worst he was local colour.

Old Harry was obsessed by one thing, and he would tell you his secret for three pence, the price of a cup of tea and a slice of cherry cake. Burlington Arcade is exactly one-hundred and sixty yards long. No more, no less. Old Harry had measured this precisely by borrowing a tailor’s pole from one of the shops (how he persuaded them no-one knows, it was just Harry). He had confirmed his measurement by measuring the tiles that lined the arcade floor, and counting them.

One hundred and sixty yards precisely. Not one inch more, not one inch less.

And yet it seemed that Old Harry had found a conundrum he could not answer, and it tasked him. For Harry was a tall man, and as stated, of military bearing. His marching pace involved steps of one yard. Indeed, being the thorough man he was, Old Harry had measured his pace, too to be on the safe side. He was convinced and could likewise convince anyone who cared to listen that this was the case. His marching pace was precisely one yard from heel of his one foot to toe of the other.

In and of it self this fact is nothing remarkable. What is remarkable, was Old Harry’s assertion that the arcade was precisely 160 paces long in a northerly direction, but only 158 in a southerly.

This is of course madness and he was frequently told so.

But now and then, he would find someone with both the requisite curiosity and leisure time and demonstrate. And always the result was the same, no matter how the measure was started, or with which foot the march commenced, 160 paces northwards, 158 south. One-hundred-and-sixty yards measured. Always and invariably the same.

Of course, many people dismissed it as some kind of trick, even if they paced it out themselves, and willingly gave Harry his three pence for his tea and cherry cake. Sometimes a little more, counting the entertainment a good trade for the charity.

But it was no trick and it tasked Harry, and now Harry’s dead.

“They say that when they found Harry, he was wearing a fusilier captain’s uniform, 1916 issue. They say he had a holster with his service revolver in it, and his muster whistle in his mouth. He was covered in mud and it looked as though he had just lost his left arm to a shell. They say his eyes were wide in shock. A thousand yard stare…”

There’s a mistake somewhere. Something obvious that I’m missing. I’ve walked the arcade and it is countably shorter in one direction than it is in the other. I’ll bloody crack this if it kills me.

(c) 2019 Bryan Lea

Well, THAT’s what can possibly go wrong…

Well, after a fair amount of faffing, I have managed to couple up my iPad with a monitor – in this case the office monitor.

It works well enough, everything that appears on the iPad appears on the monitor, but…

I have a keyboard and mouse attached to the monitor (we do a lot of hot desking, so carry our *Microsoft* tablets/laptops around and plug in as required), so I can work as if at a desktop. These are great with the office-supplied kit; I mean who really likes typing on a laptop keyboard, or using those shitty little trackpads unless they really have to? Unfortunately, these are just paperweights when combined with an Apple product. I’d have to get a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo to work with the iPad, and frankly, that’s too much effort and expense.
Effectively, then, I can stream TV and movies – though not necessarily via proprietary apps – on to a large monitor. But I can do that with the PC anyway. So my quest was fruitless.

Tech can be really annoying.

Into the Unknown…

I should be working, but I am distracted.

I have been poking around on my office monitor and I see that both the keyboard and the mouse connect to it directly, rather than via the Microsoft Cloud tablet/keyboard/pencil combo that I carry around and work on. The tablet connects separately via a USBc connector, and it all communicates nicely so that I can use double screens and a full-size keyboard and mouse when I’m in the office.

I own a series of cables that would, in theory at least, connect my iPad Mini to the monitor, via a USB adaptor for the Thunderbolt cable that fits in the iPad, allowing me to then connect the USB to a USB-C to USB adaptor. That’s four different plugs, and they have to be snug enough to transfer the data between devices. Ironically for a person so embedded in the Apple ecosystem, I am hoping to make apples (hah!) talk to oranges. This would be a lot simpler with an Android device, but I don’t much care for Android; there’s nothing wrong with it per se, but I prefer Apple and iOS. My days of mucking about in the innards of computers were dealt their death blow sometime around the introduction of Windows 98 and despite my efforts back then to get more involved in IT at work, opportunities kind of dried up and what little knowledge I had quickly became obsolete. These days I just like the IT to get on with it for me, so poking around under the bonnet (or hood, for my North American audience – if any) is not for me.

That is not to say that I don’t try wiring devices together in the hope that there is some degree of compatibility. I mean it’s got to be easier than making the English see eye to eye with the French, right? I mean even if the different tech doesn’t communicate, at least one device won’t get snarky with the other? Right?

Plus, given that everything works over the Cloud, and that I can download Office 365 onto the iPad (I already have Outlook on it, so I can get my office emails when I want to), it should mean that I can work off the iPad instead – provided that I have Wi-Fi access. The Cloud version of Office 365 isn’t as flexible as the actual apps downloaded and installed on the machine, but it will do in a pinch (provided I’m not trying to do something too clever on an Excel workbook). I mean, what could go wrong?

Well, I’ll be trying it a bit later today, once I have the iPad more fully charged.

Like I said, what could possibly go wrong?

 

Edited to add: Well, what could go wrong is the fact that despite the monitore routinely taking its data through the USBc, if I want to use an iPad/iPhone, I need to feed it through the HDMI input.

And I can’t be bothered to spend the money on an adapter.

Taut

I am no longer sure whether having pets is a good idea. I expect that I’ll get over it, but right now, I’m unsure.

I realised this morning as I was commuting to work, that my nerves were stretched taut. I know that we’ve been stressed since we lost Peppers last Saturday, but in some ways the initial grief is fading at least insofar as I can think about him without welling up almost immediately. It still gets me when I wander down the garden to check that the foxes haven’t got to his grave (they haven’t).

The stress and worry now, is for Moneypenny.

It’s hard to know what a cat is feeling, but it’s clear that she’s a little spooked and still baffled by the fact that her brother isn’t around. She goes outside a lot more than she used to (she hard started to go out more before he died, but it’s ramped up a lot since). We kept her in for a couple of days, but we can’t really do that forever, it wouldn’t be fair. She has also got more vocal (though they had both belatedly realised that we are more likely to react to sound than we are to distant, silent staring).

We’ve tried to keep her routine as close to the way it was before, but we have installed a cat bed in our bedroom and she is no longer confined to the kitchen at night. She can come upstairs with us if she wants company. But we get stressed when she is out of sight for any prolonged period. In recent weeks, she had taken to hiding somewhere in the house and staying there for hours. I thought I’d found that nest, but she clearly has a choice of them and I haven’t found the rest.

This morning she was clearly availing herself of one of these hidey-holes, so I didn’t see her at all between getting up and going to work. A week ago this wouldn’t have made me fret, but now it does. I don’t want (and probably couldn’t anyway) to stop her having her quiet spaces, but it does make me worry unreasonably when I don’t know where she is for an extended period of time.

The nerves have returned to normal now. I got a text telling me that she had suddenly appeared from *somewhere* upstairs about half an hour after I’d gone.

I’m sure that things will normalise over time, but for now I find myself wondering if pets are worth the stress.

Sad

We’ve had a sad few days here at the Gin Palace.

When I awoke on Saturday morning, my biggest concern was that we had to take the cats, Peploe?*, more generally known as Peppers, and his sister, Moneypenny to the vets for their annual check up and booster jab. Always placid, last year he was so nervous that he left sweaty little paw marks on the vet’s table. I wanted to keep him calm this year. That was what I was fretting about.

We picked up both cats (two from the same litter) just a fortnight shy of four years ago, so they are just under five years old. Moneypenny is small and was doing her best to make herself smaller and hide in the back of her travel case. It took her a week to become tired enough to finally zonk out and sleep properly when we got her home, and she’s always been a little nervy. Peppers, by contrast was larger, but in the rescue home, he was shaking with fear. I stuck my hand into his travel case to pet him and he came over and immediately calmed down. He just needed a bit of fuss.

I think it’s fair to say that we bonded there and then, so while we had intended to buy just one cat – preferably a middle aged lady or gentleman, who liked a bit of fuss and sitting on people’s laps, we ended up with two young adults, of about a year old. They were both lovely cats, with quite different personalities, and we’ve been very lucky. But Peppers was my special little buddy, in the same way that Moneypenny gravitates more to Elle.

At about 9.25am on Saturday, while we were still wondering how best to deal with the trip to the vet’s, Peppers was hit by a bus. There are only two consolations: it must have been immediate. The poor little soul literally would not known anything about it, and from our point of view, we *know* what happened and were able to retrieve him. There was no disappearance followed by weeks of frantic poster pinning and leafleting.

Peppers was the only cat I have ever known who loved belly rubs. He would hawk for them and berate you if you came up short. He would drop his shoulder and roll onto his back ready for a tickle. He loved having his chin tickled. His right upper fang always stuck out over his bottom lip in a rakish fashion and he could look like a slightly roguish kitten when he had a mind to. When he’d had enough fuss (for now), he’s bat your hand out of the way with his back legs, or of you were tickling his chin, he would gently push your hand away with his paw. There were never any claws involved.

Peppers

He loved to sleep on our wheely case that we keep on top of the wardrobe, where he thought no one could see him. When he went out of the cat flap, he *never* quite managed to get his back leg in properly first time. And he nearly always tried to bury his food the first time around, before relenting and having a few mouthfuls.

We have buried him in the garden, in a nice shady place behind the camelia and places some small slabs over him so that scavengers can’t dig him out.

It’s broken my heart to put down just one helping of food the past couple of nights and we’ve not let Moneypenny out while she gets used to the new normal of being an only cat. You can never quite tell with them as they are such guarded creatures, but I swear on Saturday evening she kept going outside to see if she could find her brother.

Peppers was our lovely, affectionate, daft cat.

But he was also my special little Buddy and I miss him.

*Always with the question mark. You will understand if you’ve read Alexander McCall Smith

Maker of Maps

The room was a testament to an untidy mind. The walls, covered in sturdy shelving, sprouted scrolls, books. Sheets of paper – some folded carefully, others jammed in gaps. There were quadrants of different sizes and construction – one covered in Arabic script, of a different design but of the same ancestry. There were devices the visitor recognised as magnifying glasses, cunning contrivances that made small things bigger. His father had bought one at vast expense as his eyes failed. Here there were several, some lying on the table, others arranged on an odd stand that allowed the user to line them up. Similarly, there were tubes with both concave and convex glass in them, though the visitor could not immediately fathom their use. Here and there were bottles of ink and piles of quill pens, brushes and palates, dividers and protractors: the tools of the map maker. Under the window in stark contrast to the rest of the room, there stood a surprisingly uncluttered desk, equipped with rulers and wells of ink.

The rest of the room was simply dishevelled, if such a word could be applied to a dwelling. Chairs stood with cloaks and other clothing heaped over them; a cap hung carelessly from the door handle. A collection of walking staffs and canes were propped in an untidy stack against the corner walls.

But the centre of the room was different. Roped off, but with a walkway around, lay the map. A mosaic map of the finest detail and colour, built into a tray that stood what, four inches deep? Across the map, but suspended just above so as not to touch the surface, there was a criss-cross lattice of wires and on the edges where they were attached to the frame, a sequence of letters and numbers, so that any part of the grid could be identified and catalogued without difficulty. Some of the pieces seemed to be the size of a walnut, others just grains of sand, with every variation of size between.

The visitor, a nobile was not a man who impressed easily, but it was impossible not to admire the intricacy and majesty of Europa laid out in miniature at his feet. Educated well in the histories and arts of his land, the young man recognised art and craftsmanship when he saw it and he knew that this single map, spanning the burning lands of Iberia to the wastes of Russ; Anglia in the north-west and Imperial Byzantium in the south-east with all points between, surpassed the work of any artist or craftsman of the ancients. Italia sat to the south and his eyes sought out the city of Venesia, his home.

This mosaic was an example of the craft that had attracted the young nobleman to the home of The Map Maker. Just so: The Map Maker. Not a map maker, but The Map Maker: il Cartagrafo. Master Cagliostro’s level of skill and artifice demanded no less than the recognition bestowed by the use of the definite article and capitals. His art –his science in this field – was second to none and the elite of Florence knew it and through them, so did all of Italy, or rather all those in Italy who mattered. It was said and only half jokingly, that if the map did not match the geography; it was the land that lay wrong, not the map.

And yet for all this, Master Cagliostro could hardly be said to be famous. Few people knew where he lived, much less what he looked like. If not actively secretive, The Map Maker was intensely private and it was rare that he troubled himself with matters of court or the affairs of princes, and yet he was obviously wealthy: very wealthy. Perhaps the observation was wrong; the Map Maker was clearly widely enough known in those circles that demanded his particular skills for them to reward him appropriately.

Bored with his wait, the young Nobile leant out over the mosaic to get a better look; the effect was quite remarkable, the closer he looked, the more there appeared to be to see until he found himself staring at minute detail, certain that if only he could look closer, there was more to be revealed. He fancied that this must be how God sees His creation, with the exception that from God nothing is hidden.

Suddenly he felt dizzy: the kaleidoscopic effect of his inspection of the map made his head reel. The young man swayed forward. A hand clutched at his shoulder and drew him back, guiding him to a chair where he might regain his composure.

“It is unseasonably hot, is it not?”

Master Cagliostro was a wiry man of slightly more than medium height. He wore richly appointed robes that showed signs of wear and clear neglect, though it was equally evident that this was due to a lack of concern rather than resource. It might be said and with some truth, that he resembled a Venetian trading ship under full sail.

As his head cleared, the young Nobile found it hard to match the man he saw in front of him with the reputation. He had expected someone rather older, though now he thought on the matter he had to confess that he had no idea of precisely how hold he had thought the Master to be. Certainly he was not a young man, though neither was he old, or at least he did not seem it. There was a certain sheen to the skin of his hands and face that suggested a level of vigour and youthfulness that was, for want of as better phrase, stretched, as if preposterously, Caglisotro had simply forgotten to age. Despite his observation concerning the temperature, it did not seem to trouble him unduly under the layers and weight of his vestments.

As the younger man pondered this he became uncomfortably aware of the Master’s scrutiny and he realised that some time had passed and he had spent it rudely gawping like a peasant and that he had neither introduced himself nor observed even the most basic rules of etiquette.

“You must forgive me, Master Cagliostro, my name is Cèsar d’Baroni. I am here on urgent business, on my family’s business. Our immediate neighbours dispute our property rights to the Isola di San Marco.”

He pointed with his cane at a small marking on the map, an island sitting between the water front before the Basilica San Marco and the rather larger Isola di San Giorgiao Maggiore.

“This land and the properties built thereon have belonged to us directly for generations and we have tended them and acquired additional lands over the years so as to represent a substantial holding in the city and a rising force within the Repùblica Vèneta. The family traces its origins back to the days of the Eraclian ascendance. Unfortunately, a cadet branch of the family, though of some distant remove has, through marriage and political intrigue, acquired what are indisputably documents of questionable veracity to suggest that they have the senior claim to a significant portion of our wealth.”

Monsignor el Doxe is taking the matter more seriously than common sense and propriety might suggest and we are therefore unable to dispose of this challenge to our sovereign rights in the manner that we would otherwise see fit”.

Cagliostro crossed to his work bench.

“You are of course aware, Signore, that I am a close acquaintance of His Serenity, and a personal friend to his granddaughter, the Lady Aurelia. Should the Dandolo family, as the first amongst Venetians, feel that the matter requires investigation, I am not disposed to argue or otherwise obstruct their deliberations.”

The younger man took a step back. He was used to people doing his bidding and did not take kindly to a rebuff, even if only implied. His tone and demeanour shifted.

“Perhaps I was unclear in this matter. The island is ours; this is beyond dispute and if it requires that I pay you to provide me with a map to demonstrate this, then so I shall and you shall provide it!”

In a flash of temper he stabbed his cane at the map, stamping it hard and accurately on the representation of the Venetian lagoon. There was a crack as a piece came free.

Immediately he realised that such a tactic, a display of petulant authority regularly employed with servants and commoners would not work here: he had started without thinking, but the damage was done. As he tried desperately to restate his position in more placatory terms, he watched Cagliostro pull himself up, almost unfold himself to reveal a rather taller and more impressive figure. He stepped forward and stared his visitor in the eye. The already close atmosphere suddenly seemed darker and more oppressive.

“You come into my home uninvited and spin me a tale that illustrates greed, impatience and a lack of basic civility in a manner that betrays the moral decay of your family. You proceed to insult me by suggesting that I should be willing to betray my principles and friendships for mere wealth. You then damage the very item you wish to use to your profit. Your very presence is an insult and your lack of appreciation of what constitutes my craft, my Art, evidences your lack of worth in my eyes.

“You think that I care about petty divisions of land between families? These are transitory; fleas arguing over the ownership of the dog they infest. My maps are a precise and accurate representation of the world as it is, not as it is perceived in your papers, plans and genealogies. I record and measure the sweep of the plains, the rise of the mountains and the shade of the valleys; I have no need of, or interest in mundane matters such as lines enclosing areas and assigning ownership.”

And then the moment passed and Caglisotro was suddenly just a tired man in faded robes. “You simply do not understand; it is beyond you and your kind.” He reached across to his work bench and pushed a few parchments to one side. There was a small clay jar, which he grabbed and uncorked. Cagliostro knelt over his map, took the jar and sprinkled a dull grey ash over the damaged portion of the map. He brushed it gently with his fingers and muttered something that sounded like old Latin under his breath. For the briefest of moments d’Baroni thought he saw the powdery ash glimmer, but then it was gone.

Master Cagliostro rose to his feet and held up a tiny, chipped piece of quartz. “Perhaps you believe in chance or in Providence, or perhaps there are powers at work beyond your limited comprehension.”

He held out the chip to diBaroni. “Either way, you have your wish, if not in the manner you intended. This is, was, the Isola di San Marco. The matter is resolved though not, I suspect, to your satisfaction.” He looked sadly at the young aristocrat and dropped the chip into the younger man’s hand. As he did so, he clasped him by the shoulder with his other hand and softly whispered:

“Per artem perdo et muto mentem; Absentis faciem in oculo mentis”

Three days later, after increasingly frustrating attempts to find anyone who may know of, or even have heard rumour of the reputed Master Mapmaker, the fabled Cartagrafo in the whole of Florence, Cèsar d’Baroni decided that his family had sent him on a wild goose chase. There was clearly no such man and how could there be; a man whose maps were so accurate, the world bent to them? Preposterous. He had been a fool to accept this commission, when it was clear that his family simply wished him away from under foot as they resolved matters their own way.

Tomorrow he decided, he would begin his return journey to Vèneta and make plain his dissatisfaction. He was pondering a piece of quartz in his hand, that he could not remember picking up, when his reverie was disturbed by a clamour outside his rented chambers. A man pushed into the room, dishevelled and dusty from a long journey. Seeing diBaroni he strode over “Signore, signore! It is a calamity! Two nights ago, the ground shook and the lagoon boiled. The family is in disarray, for many were in the villa when the waves took them!”

DiBaroni looked at the messenger uncomprehendingly. “What are you saying?”

“Signore: the Isola di San Marco is no more. It has gone”.

The chip of quartz rattled as it fell to the floor.


©2011, 2019 Bryan Lea

Note: I found this while rooting around in the depths of an old hard drive. I’ve been feeling the vaguest of itches to write something recently and have a couple of half-formed ideas. If anyone actually reads this and, even better, enjoys it, I’d appreciate a comment saying so. Constructive criticism is welcome. Be kind! 😉

Cthulunooga Choo Choo

This morning I started to wonder if there was a planetary alignment of which I was unaware, or perhaps some convergence of mystic forces, folding alternate dimensions into ours. Not for the first time – and I know it won’t be the last – there were service suspensions and severe delays on TFL Rail into Liverpool Street.

Luckily I’d checked before leaving the house, so I took the bus up to Gant’s Hill where the Central Line runs. This is more faff, but it does the job, and the temperature on a line that is often so hot that it feels like the tunnels have been bored close to the boundary of Hell, isn’t so bad at that point as it has only just gone underground, the more easterly portion being surface rail for long periods.

At that point luck was with me as a train came onto the platform as I got there and though I had to stand, it wasn’t uncomfortably hot or crowded. Then we got to Redbridge and stopped. We were held on the platform for about ten minutes while a train was removed to the sidings at Stratford.

This is what briefly had me wondering whether it was Friday 13th and I’d forgotten, or as I say above, planetary alignments and such. I mean, if ever the Great Old Ones are ever going to break in on our reality, the Central Line is a likely place. If you’ve ever used it, you will understand.

Had this been a one-off, I wouldn’t have thought too much about it, and just grumbled my way through the ordeal as is my wont, but there is something about public transport in East London, and interconnectedness in its very fabric that exists at some transcendental level that the Anglo-Saxons would have recognised. When one piece if the system fails, it almost inevitably starts some kind of domino effect, until all rail-based transportation is disrupted to one degree or another. It does not feel like mere happenstance. It happens regularly enough to feel like enemy action. Then, when you’ve either given up and gone home, or battled through it and arrived hot and sweaty and thoroughly disgruntled at the office, the problems resolve and ‘normal service’ resumes.

It’s not right.