who goes there?

boot print in light snow

The news tells me that “The Beast from the East” is returning to England. So although there has been no snow in this area for a fortnight, I’ve decided to go back to the photographs I took earlier in the year and find something to write about there.

The day after the last snowfall, I went for a walk in the park very early. It may have been foolish, as what little snow we had had, had turned to ice.

And that sentence is a wonderful excuse for a digression to remember my father, who would have been delighted to see the sequence “had had had”. His favourite word puzzles were the punctuation of “There’s too much room between pig and and and and and whistle” and “John whereas Jack had had had had had had had had had had had the examiner’s approval.”

Moving swiftly on…

In fact, moving swiftly on was a bad approach, given the icy conditions, and I slipped and landed with a bump. With a bump where? With a bump in the park carpark.

Once I got across to the grass, it was quite possible to walk without danger. I could point out that I wasn’t the only one to come a cropper. I saw a young men slip right over, too, and was quite impressed that his mates didn’t reach for their phones to take pictures and make light of it, but helped him up and brushed him down. And then, as I approached, they warned me to take care.

I didn’t walk for long, and took my time to choose the safest route to walk back across the carpark. Which of course meant that I was looking at the ground ahead of me and paying attention to the tracks of others. Having seen the number of dog walkers who were already out and about, I was unsurprised at the number of paw print trails that there were.

paw prints in light snow

But there were other tracks, too. I was particularly taken by this busy intersection and was trying to work out who had passed by and in what order.

mixed tracks in light snow

I’m sure that if I’d been a real modern day Sherlock Holmes, I’d have known which cars had tyres that would leave the different treadmarks. It would also probably not have taken me quite as long to deduce that the narrow double tracks were not two cyclists riding perilously close to each other, but the double wheels of a pushchair.

I think I can safely say that the pushchair and pedestrians (two different boot styles) passed after the cars. But I am a mere beginner in “the art of tracing footsteps” and will leave it to Holmes himself to add some enlightenment about the techniques involved:

“I then walked slowly down the garden path, which happened to be composed of a clay soil, peculiarly suitable for taking impressions. No doubt it appeared to you to be a mere trampled line of slush, but to my trained eyes every mark upon its surface had a meaning. There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected as the art of tracing footsteps. Happily, I have always laid great stress upon it, and much practice has made it second nature to me. I saw the heavy footmarks of the constables, but I saw also the track of the two men who had first passed through the garden. It was easy to tell that they had been before the others, because in places their marks had been entirely obliterated by the others coming upon the top of them. In this way my second link was formed, which told me that the nocturnal visitors were two in number, one remarkable for his height (as I calculated from the length of his stride), and the other fashionably dressed, to judge from the small and elegant impression left by his boots.”

Since that quote comes from A Study in Scarlet, it seems appropriate to post a final picture with a flash of red (more vermillion than scarlet, I fear) taken as I limped home from my walk. (It’s two weeks since I slipped and the bruises have only just gone.) I thought The Blue Door was relevant, too, but I find that that’s not by Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s actually a novelette by Vincent Starrett who wrote The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

snowy rose hips

Finally, for anyone who hasn’t solved the punctuation problems, these are the solutions and explanations:

The publican complaining about the new sign for The Pig & Whistle pub: “There’s too much room between ‘Pig’ and ‘And’ and ‘And’ and ‘Whistle’.”

On the subject of a grammatical exam where the choice was between putting the verb in the simple past ‘had’, or past perfect ‘had had’: John, whereas Jack had had ‘had’, had had ‘had had’. ‘Had had’ had had the examiner’s approval. In other words, John got a better grade.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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