Everybody Is Good At Something (or, “Can You Find This Tree?”)

Wednesday 11 March 2020 19:35

A few days ago our local canal society posted a little puzzle on their Facebook page. In the course of dredging the canal, a drone had been found, presumably having crash landed in the water some time before. Whilst the drone itself was no longer working, and was worthless, miraculously the camera card was still readable, and had footage that might be precious to someone. The challenge was on! Could the owner be found?

The society folk posted a still shot on Facebook showing an aerial view of part of the front of a house. The shot tied in with other footage and was likely to be where the owner lived, and although there was no guarantee of course, the assumption was that this property was near to where the drone crash landed; but they didn’t say where that was.

I looked at the photo and instantly something about the house rang a bell. I was sure the colour of the brickwork and roof tiles was a style used on a very large estate – a combination of housing and industrial units – where, 35-40 years ago, I worked, and where at lunchtimes I’d sometimes go for a run along the canal that passed nearby.

Over to Google Maps.

Now I must confess at this point that this is a bit of hobby of mine, trying to find exact locations based on snippets of photographs or descriptions. So from hereon I was in my element (and before you cry out, “Haven’t you got better things to do?”, I would respond by asking how many games of Solitaire or Freecell have you played in the last week?).

The first step was to ascertain which parts of the estate were nearest to the canal, then dive down into Street View and try to find the house, or at least identify the style and narrow down the location. I thought from the photo that it was a terraced house, as indeed that was what the majority of the houses were, but search though I might, I couldn’t find any with the sloping roof beside the front door; and the garage too was unusual as they were rare. What I didn’t realise was, the photo was misleading me by only showing part of the frontage!

Almost at the point of giving up, I thought I’d just try spreading the net a little wider to the fringes of the estate, and bingo, I finally found an example of the type of house, which turned out to be a very different design to the majority, being semi-detached and quite large.

Once the actual style of house was identified – though not yet the actual house in the photo – I zoomed out to the aerial view of Google Maps and studied the shape from above, then scanned around the estate as a bird would, searching for the same shape, diving down into Street View whenever one was located.

None of them matched the photo, but then I had a brainwave.

I’d been concentrating on the front door design and the driveway. But Google sometimes don’t revisit an area for many years. Front doors get replaced. Driveways get altered. I needed to focus on something else from the photo, and that’s when I realised the key to it all was the tree! Find a house of the right design, with a lamp post and silver birch tree just to the left of the driveway (on a large estate that spans both sides of about two miles of the canal). Hah! Piece of cake.

And that’s how I found it. From that point on it really was very easy. I was pretty sure I’d narrowed it down to a cul-de-sac on the opposite side of the canal from the main estate, and walking along the street in Street View it was easy to find the lamp post and make doubly sure by zooming right in to the markings on the tree. There’s about 7 years between the images (Google last visited there in 2012 apparently) but luckily tree markings may grow and stretch a bit, but they don’t change much (and lucky too, no-one chopped the tree down).

What has all this got to do with anything? Well, it comes back to the old negative voices I suppose. I submitted my findings to the canal folk, and they were overjoyed, and full of praise for the quality of my ‘detective work’. I just had fun with it, but it reminded me that it is something I’m good at – I’m sure it’s an ADHD thing, seeing the big picture and then hyper focussing down to the tiny details – and before, again, I hear the cries of, “Yes but it’s not going to earn you any money is it!”, actually. I remembered that in the past, it has.

A few years ago I made a cool fifty smackeroonies when someone asked me to find “a big house, right on the coast somewhere either Hampshire or Dorset, that was used as a hospital or convalescent home during WWII”. He’d spent a brief spell there during the war after being injured, and had glimpsed what he thought was it during a tv programme, but couldn’t remember any other details at all! (Yes, I not only found it, but I also was able to put him in touch with a local history guru nearby, and – as it, now a private house, had been recently up for sale – sent photos.)

I don’t think I’m about to set up as a Private Detective, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded that skills that might seem a bit ‘off the wall’ are skills nevertheless. You might be the only person for miles around who can balance a tomato on their nose. Be proud. And who knows, one day you might be just the person someone else is looking for.