It was my mother's birthday yesterday - an ever-youthful and enchanting 55 - and so I popped to Dingwall for the day to wish her well and to witness the ongoing ageing process. In the evening, the family went to Fortrose, where my brother now lives, and feasted in a bar/restaurant called "The Anderson". The food, and I can't overstate this, was excellent, and my starter dish of a savoury bread-and-butter "pudding" was perhaps one of the best starters I've ever had in my life. Complementing the meal was copious amounts of fine real ale, for which The Anderson is noted for its vast selection, and so you may imagine that by the end of the night nobody was entirely sober, except my poor sister who was driving - but as she's unemployed she has to do something worthwhile with her time. My mother had a couple of glasses of champagne and was all over the place.
It was earlier in the day, soon after picking me up from the train station, that my mother told me of her recent mysterious happening. And while myself and my practical and unsuperstitious family rule out supernatural explanations, we can't quite figure out the actual one. There are some possibilities, I suppose, but all seem too unlikely. But as Sherlock Holmes once said, "...when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" and so no doubt an improbable explanation lurks somewhere.
As I may have mentioned a few times in the last while, my mother this year has embarked upon some fairly significant changes in her life. Mainly, quitting her job as a teacher, after many years of suffering at the hands of children, and selling her home of 25 years and buying a smaller, cosier house, still in Dingwall. It is this new house that is the scene of our mystery. For a few months now, it has been undergoing extensive renovation by my mother's manfriend, Richard. who she's been with for about a year. Richard is extremely handy and capable with a set of handtools, and has filled both a large van and garage with them: the garage he built himself, from scratch. He has installed a new bathroom, heating system, and has basically stripped the entire house back to a shell so as to reconstruct it as a fairytale home for his princess.
And, as we know, every good princess should have a lovely kitchen. The kitchen still has a way to go and is very bare and empty, with only a sink, a makeshift cooker and just the other day an old unit/worktop for basic food preparation. Nothing else at all. It may be a complete red herring, but the old worktop was until recently in the shed, but had originally been in the house before Richard stripped the kitchen back to nothing. As my mother needed somewhere to work, it was taken back into the kitchen.
And so the other day she was at the worktop, making a sandwich or cutting something, just a couple of hours after it had been put back there. And she noticed suddenly, on the bare concrete of the floor, was a small slip of paper. She picked it up, and had to put on her glasses to make out the small print. It was a newspaper cutting, a death notice from the "births, marriages and deaths" section of the local Press & Journal.
It was the death notice of my father, from ten years ago.
Needless to say, my mother was rather startled. Not upset or anything, but a little surprised, and wondering where on earth this cutting had come from. From the reverse of it, it was clear it was from the Aberdeen edition of the Press & Journal too, not the Highland edition Dingwall sells. My mother has her own cutting of the notice, but it's in a known location, from a Highland edition, and cut neatly whereas this cutting was a little haphazard. The slip of paper was in good condition, not faded or worn.
As the only change in the kitchen had been the introduction of the worktop, it has been put under most scrutiny. But nothing from that angle makes any sense. Perhaps the cutting had been stuck in a corner of the worktop and happened to flutter out, but there was no obvious corner for it to be stuck in, and it seems more likely it would have fluttered out when the worktop was originally ripped out and taken to the shed. But assuming it had been the case, why would the previous occupant of the house - an elderly woman who died this year in a nursing home - have had a cutting of a death notice of a man she didn't or barely knew (as my father was well-known in the community she surely knew he was, but they didn't know each other per se)? Perhaps, it has been suggested, she kept lots of such cuttings, and it just happened to be my father's that got wedged in the worktop... but all this leads to quite fantastic coincidence and seems too improbable, especially given it was an Aberdeen edition it was taken from.
So the worktop might be a red herring completely, in which case somebody else has knowingly or unknowingly left the cutting there. My mother has spoken to everyone who has been in the house recently, but all deny knowledge and seem as surprised as she is. For someone to have knowingly left the cutting there would seem very strange - it would be a vaguely sinister act, and my mother is far too pleasant a woman to have enemies, least of all anybody who has been in her house. So that would mean it had been left there unknowingly. Perhaps someone had the cutting in their wallet or purse and it had fallen out onto the floor. But it's a strange thing to keep in your wallet (a photo maybe, but not the death notice) and was in too good a condition to have been carried about regularly. And as I say, nobody my mother has spoken to has any idea where it came from.
My mother laughed at the suggestion of it being a "message from the grave", saying my father would never be so cryptic. Sherlock Holmes would eliminate this impossibility, and so it's being treated as a curious mystery to be solved, but so far all real-world solutions seem very unlikely. I think the level of coincidence of it being from the previous owner of the house is simply too great, and so I have to believe it's from someone who knows my mother. But then... how, and why?
Sherlock would surely figure it out, and perhaps the wise readers of this blog too, but I've obviously a bit too much of the Dr Watson about me and am a little mystified.