The Vine Inn was established in the year 1600 in the village of Chertsey near to the River Thames. For over four hundred years it profitably provided food and ale to the local community and to travellers going to, or returning from, London. But when the 21st century credit crunch hit the business failed, and the inn closed for business in 2009.
The site was purchased by a local developer who converted it into two houses and built a further three houses on the site. I managed to buy one of the two properties from the original building, taking possession in December 2012. The property came with both a cellar and an attic, but with the cellar providing ample and easily accessible storage, I never found a reason to visit the attic.
The summer of 2013 was hot and humid, and sleeping was difficult. At night I would lay on top of the covers, unable to sleep, and in the darkness found myself hearing noises from above. Footsteps, I imagined. But sleep deprivation is a strange thing, and I was never quite sure of what I’d heard. One night I rose from my bed and headed through the landing in search of a wet flannel to cool my brow. There was a loud bang above my head and a flurry of dust filled the air beneath the hatch to the loft space. Unnerved and lacking the courage to venture into the attic I returned to my bed and a deep sleep. In the morning it seemed as a dream, and I thought no more of it.
The hot summer ended, sleep returned, life in the former public bar returned to normal and the noises and the hatch were forgotten. But on the morning of Christmas Eve 2013 I was reminded once again, of the events of a summer, for when I awoke there was, on the floor of the landing below the hatch, a letter, which I opened and read.
Please accepts my apologies for closing the hatch door on you last summer. I meant no malice. I’m sure I was more frightened than you. I also wish to thank you for respecting my privacy, which is something I value above all else.
I should be enormously grateful if you could do something for me, as I never leave my attic. Please buy an intel co-processor, a mince pie and a christmas cracker and leave then in cardboard box in the landing before you retire for the night. I enclose one hundred pounds.
Although it was unsigned there was something about the letter that I liked. The words had a familiar feel to them; and I sensed a kindred spirit. I did as he requested, making sure to leave his change in the box, too. I slept well and in the morning found the cardboard box had been replaced by a thank you note.
Throughout 2014, the requests continued and I provided regular food, drink and electronic components. Always in a cardboard box and always followed by a thank you note.
I was keen to know more of this man, but also mindful of his need for privacy. I started to write to him. With each deliver I would include a short letter, usually enquiring about his electronic components. His thank you notes became thank you letters, as he told me in detail of the merits of each component, but never revealing the reasons why he wanted them.
I tried, through these letters, to learn something of the man, too; but he would never reveal any personal details. I once pushed a little to far by asking to meet; but this upset him so much that he reverted to a simple and terse thank you note for my next three deliveries.
Then, on New Year’s Day 2015, I was both surprised and excited to receive an invitation to interview him in his attic. I purchased a step ladder for the occasion and at the appointed time erected it on the landing and climbed nervously up to and through the hatch.
In the darkness shards of dazzling light flickered around the room. As my eyes adjusted I could see that he was wearing a cardboard box on his head; and it was from the gaps between the box and his face that the light was escaping. I could see his glove hands moving purposefully in front of him, and at last realised why my broadband speed had been so poor of late. Not wishing to disturb his concentration I waited for the movement to stop and then announced my presence with a cough.
The lights from his visor dimmed and the room fell into complete darkness. I heard him move towards me and then felt his hand on my elbow.
“Come with”, he said gently, “We can sit and talk.”
Though I could not see in the darkness I seemed to understand my surroundings and knew we were headed to two comfy chairs. He sat me down, released my elbow, and again I was unaware of my surroundings. There was just me, and his voice.
“You have some questions?”, he enquired. The interview had begun.
“How did you end up in my loft?”
“It’s strange how some things I can remember, whilst others are forgotten. I remember putting the visor on this morning, but I cannot remember the first time I did that. I have seen a sunset, but do not know when or where I saw it. I understand how the Internet works, but cannot recall how life works. And though I can’t remember how fate brought me to this place, I do know that it’s time to end my solitude.”
“Is that why you have granted this interview?”
“Yes, it is. But also because you need my help.”
“I need your help?”
“Yes. I have seen your blog.”
“I though my writing was OK?”
“Well your writing is borderline passable; and may even improve; but your site is disorganised with most of your best work hidden to the casual viewer.”
“My views per visit ratio is good.”
“Of course it is. Your viewers are fellow students and bloggers. They understand the technology and are highly motivated to seek out your posts. And as proficient WordPress users they find it easy to navigate your blog. But you’ll soon be attracting visitors who don’t even know what a blog is. They may read the post that brought them to your blog in the first place, but it’s unlikely they’ll read a second post, because you’re neither encouraging them nor helping them.”
“So how can I encourage and help them?”
“There is much to consider. You need to examine your blog from each angle that visitors, and potential visitors, may encounter. How will facebook and twitter users come to you? How intuitive is your blog’s navigation? How easy is it for them to ‘follow’ your blog? Do they even know that there will be new posts? And how easy is it for them to engage with and participate on your blog?”
“It sounds like a lot of work for every post?”
“Well, it is a lot of work, but you don’t have to do it for every post. You just need to set things up properly in the first place. And I will teach you how. I will send you emails detailing the improvements you should make and the reasons you should make them. You may follow my advice or not – it is up to you. But there is one solemn promise that you must make.”
“Of course. What must I do?”
“You must undertake to publish my emails to your fellow bloggers. The things that I teach do not belong to you but to the world.”
“This I vow, but I cannot take credit for your words.”
“Then credit them to me; and I shall go by the name, Widget Dave.”