The recent transit of Venus across the sun caused a fair bit of excitement, not to mention publication of a barrel o' splendid photos underlining humanity's long fascination with various sorts of eclipses.

There have been only a few solar eclipses during our lifetimes, and strange indeed they were to experience, with that disquieting and marked drop in temperature, a deathly silence falling as birds gradually stop twittering, and strangest of all the contemplation of dancing, crescent-shaped points of light beneath trees when all around us ordinary light, albeit of a greenish hue, is as "solid" as ever.

Speaking of turning a greenish hue, readers may well do the same when they spot this latest Orphan Scrivener swim into view through the aether, its imminent arrival casting a shadow over their sunny summer day. Never mind, it doesn't arrive all that often, so ratchet up the fan, grab yourself an ice cream sandwich, and read on.


Jack Frost came a-calling on Gibson Street, leaving a bouquet of ice flowers and rime ferns traced out on the insides of our windows overnight.

Under a Wedgewood blue sky plumed with palls of smoke from countless coal fires and factories the thick snow that had fallen while we slept lent a temporary dignity to the surrounding sea of smoke-blackened bricks and slate roofs and deadened the noise of vehicles passing along Coatsworth Road.

Although it can be cold and there's usually a fairly brisk wind coming off the river, it doesn't snow all that often up north. Women living in our street improvised boots by tying plastic bags over their chunky-heeled shoes, a common though dangerous makeshift measure -- and particularly so if we guttersnipes had had time to make ice slides on half-cleared paths before adults ventured out to go to work or on a message, as running an errand was known.

Already on this particular morning a swift sorty or two to shufti around the corner revealed our traditional enemies in the next street had reached an advanced stage in the construction of a defensive wall. Raids were obviously in the offing.

The boys from our street therefore decided to build not only a wall but also a fort in the narrow back lane running between the back yards of our row of terraced houses and those belonging to the next street, Scarcely pausing long enough to toss a snowball at us girls or even shove snow down the backs of our coats or into our wellies, the lads set to work with a will, running up and down with their arms full of snow, knees blue and knobby under the short trousers boys wore then, soot speckled slush soaking into their jackets and home-knitted Fair Isle v-necked sweaters. (Rreaders have likely seen Tristan Farnon wearing the grown-up version).

Whether or not they had obtained inside information on our opponents' battle plans from eavesdropping after climbing up and lurking behind timber piled on the roof of the garage on the corner of our back lane -- a favoured spot of the boys from the next street, who routinely gathered there to plan their latest mischief and occasionally smoke cigarettes stolen from their parents -- we mere lassies did not know. However, it transpired the building of this fort was so urgent we were recruited to toil on the task, a joint effort hitherto unknown.

Looking back, I wonder why we only built one wall and not two. Obviously, if raiders from the next street circled around, crossed the foot of our back lane, ran up our street, and then turned left for a short distance they could attack us from the unprotected rear. But the decision was to build one wall, and one wall was built.

Staggering up and down, hauling lumps of snow patted into blocks with waterlogged gloves that froze to fingers and snow with equal impartiality, we soon had the lone wall built, cementing it together with more snow pounded between its blocks. The fort was a more casual affair, formed from a large amount of snow piled against a stretch of wall between two back yard doors and hollowed out igloo fashion by scooping away the inside of the pile in the time-honoured manner utilised the world over by children building sand forts.

Take that! we thought somewhat prematurely, standing back to briefly admire our handiwork before proceeding to the equally important task of making a goodly supply of snowballs to have on hand when the attack finally came. Some of these missiles (I am sorry to say) had small stone hearts. It was war, you see, and nasty indeed can be the wars of childhood.

Suddenly from the next street there came the sound of a muffled, dull, drawn-out "crrrruuuump", coupled with a low thud that shook our fillings.

Abandoning our igloo and defensive wall we rushed up the lane, turned left at the empty stable where some poor horse once lived far from fields and pastures but which was now only occupied by rats, raced along the short cross alley, and burst out into the next street.

Down the hill to our right clouds of dust were falling lazily, brown snowflakes laying a concealing blanket over a chaotic scene. A huge pile of bricks, tangled curtains, and smashed furniture had fallen into the street. It was obvious at a glance the front walls of several houses in the row had been blown out, presenting a view reminiscent of a giant doll's house with the front opened up. We could see the patterns on bedroom wallpaper, the colour of painted walls of staircases that led from landings of splintered wood and broken bannisters down into a muddle of masonry and bricks.

We stood agape as a terrible quiet fell along with dust and plaster.

Then an adult rushed by on their way to the local phone box to summon aid as neighbours began pulling bricks and splintered doors off the pile. It must have reminded them of war time.

Soon we heard ambulance bells clanging harshly from the direction of Bensham Road. One of these vehicles tried to take a short cut up our back lane but couldn't get past our snow wall, so it had to hastily reverse out, continue along the road crossing the foot of both our street and the next, and so up to the site of the explosion. We all later heard at some length from the grown ups about our handiwork and how it had blocked the way, and we also gleaned the cause of the disaster was reckoned to be an elderly lady had turned on her gas stove and then forgotten to light it. Or possibly the flame had blown out and she had not realised gas had been escaping for some time before attempting to relight it. A third theory was it was due to a gas leak from the mains.

So far as we ever found out nobody was killed although there were said to be injuries. The lesson we learnt that day was not to block narrow ways, and although the small fry's raids on each other's streets continued, we never again built a wall or an igloo in the back lane.


The ticker had only a short work day this evening, so just a couple of items to pass along this time around.


We recently learnt that Govostis Govostis Publisher S.A. of Athens (in European, not the southern US) has purchased Greek rights to Two For Joy. No further details yet, but subscribers may recall Govostis issued a Greek edition of Onefer about l8 months ago so it seems likely John's fellow countrymen are enjoying reading about his adventures.


If readers happen to have been looking for the iBook mass market paperback of Fourfer (it leapt fo(u)rth into the world earlier this month) only to be told it was "not in the system", it might be worth enquiring if it's lurking in there under nom de littérature Four And A Boy, as was reported by a reader on the east cost. The book itself has the correct name on its cover along with an interesting subtitle: A Lord Chamberlain Mystery. Class may discuss conclusions to be drawn from this.


Mid-June is as good a time as any for us to talk about snow, when the memory of the last storm has faded and the next lies too far in the future to worry about.

It isn’t so much snow I hate as the cold it needs not to melt. Snow can be beautiful -- on the other side of a window. If it covered the landscape on a hot summer day it would probably be pleasant enough to walk around in it. Snow is wasted on the winter.

Occasionally, when I was a kid, I braved the frigid elements to play, however briefly, in the snow. Building snowmen was fun, until my mittens soaked through and my hands became as numb and useless as a snowman’s stick arms. To be honest, I have about as much insulating fat as a stick, which is why I feel the cold more than most.

One winter my friends and I built a “flying saucer” run down a steep, wooded slope in our neighborhood. The banked chute wound through a threatening maze of trees. Wobbling and spinning downhill kept me a few degrees from hypothermia for an unusually long time before I had to limp home, shivering. When I pulled my slush-filled overshoes gingerly off and with some trepidation, I was happy to find that my feet were still inside even though I couldn't feel them anymore.

That fall of snow turned a hill in a patch of scrubby trees into an amusement park thrill ride. That’s what I think about when it comes to snow, its power to transform. When you wake the morning after a blizzard and peer into the whitened landscape outside, is there any doubt you have been transported to an alien world? One not quite fit for human life?

I remember the impossibly high drifts of my childhood. Suburban yards were turned into an Arctic wilderness. Our little mutt, Sandy, had to leap from footprint to footprint, or else be forced to burrow like a mole. Years later I hiked around through the unnatural, day-long twilight of a record setting snowfall. Unplowed streets ran imperceptibly into sidewalks and lawns. Street signs were capped and obscured with white. Fine, endlessly falling snow hung in the air like pale smoke. There were no sounds except the crunch and squeak of my own boots. I would not have been entirely surprised if I had returned to the house and found it gone.

It’s no accident, I think, that Santa drives a sleigh and children hope Christmas will be white. Santa and his flying reindeer seem so much more feasible in a snowy world. At this far remove from last winter's drifts, with a run of recent temperatures nudging ninety, I could almost dream of a white Christmas, rather than having a nightmare about it.

Running will keep even an assemblage of bones like me warm. I have been able to enjoy being out in the cold so long as I keep moving. At one time I used to run through the wooded park at the end of the block. One day I ventured out in the evening, immediately after a few inches of new snow had fallen. By the time I had passed the pond and jogged slowly along the paths near the far end of the park, there were no footprints. Tree trunks loomed darkly, and the undisturbed snow undulating over the uneven ground and covering every twig of every limb glowed violet in the deepening twilight.

It was then I saw my first and only albino squirrel. You would think a snowy landscape would be the worst place to see a white squirrel, but this one was circling around a black tree trunk the way squirrels always do, putting the trunk between me and it. I thought at first I was imagining things, but as I ran toward the tree, fast enough to surprise the squirrel, I got another glimpse of it and could even make out its pink eyes. Then it went claw-clicking out of sight around the far side of the trunk and vanished up into the snow laden branches.

It really is a different world when it snows, one that is even more enjoyable to contemplate in torrid mid June.


Although he might not have been talking about a June day as such, Henry James declared he considered "summer afternoon" the two most beautiful words in the English language. This sentiment is well and good when uttered in milder climes or during the warm but not overpowering days of early spring and late autumn, but already we've begun to hear the faint yapping of the steaming dog days of summer as they draw ever closer each day.

Speaking of dogs reminds us of cats and thoughts of felines lead to contemplating mice. And what has this to do with John and his world?. Well, it's our way of introducing a stop press news item. This very morning, even as we scurried about preparing to catapult this newsletter out into the world, we received a note from fellow mystery author Mark Terry. He is attending a professional conference at an Anaheim hotel about four blocks from Disneyland and had visited Downtown Disney, a shopping and restaurant area. And lo and behold, a book shop there was displaying the iBook edition of Fourfer in its mystery section.

And what's more, it was placed *face out*.

John has therefore managed to make his way into the Land of the Mouse, and we are pretty tickled about it, to say the least.

Returning to our muttons, or rather the fast approaching dog days, unfortunately for our subscribers by the time the next issue of Orphan Scrivener bounds into view the baying pack will have long since arrived at our collective doorsteps. We're off to buy a few shares in ice cream and cola manufacturers and hoping the summer heat won't be too bad, but in any event in the spirit of the well-known observation that misery loves company we'll see you all again on l5 August.

Best wishes
Mary R and Eric
who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the aether at

Therein you'll find the usual suspects, including more personal essays and an interactive game as well as an on- line jigsaw puzzle (if you have a java-enabled browser) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!