You are here

Picture is key to Peter's card puzzle

News image

Mensans are well known for their problem-solving skills - but PETER DUFFY, from Yorkshire, went above and beyond in his quest to solve the mystery of the memory card.

One Saturday morning in early March, I was in Ilkley doing some shopping.

At the edge of a pedestrian crossing, something caught my eye - blue plastic and a glint of metal. I bent down to have a closer look, and found that it was a photocard, of the type used in Fuji cameras.

It looked a bit battered, as though it had been there for a while, and had been trodden on a few times.

I was immediately fascinated by the challenge of somehow returning the card: I wondered if there might conceivably be enough information in the photos to identify the owner.

Back home, I inserted the card in the appropriate slot on the computer's card reader: the card was immediately detected and mounted, and proved to contain about 400 photos (the first was apparently taken in 2011.)  

Looking through the snaps was a strange and not entirely comfortable experience - I felt like a peeping Tom, and this was particularly so in the case of the first few photos, which showed a woman in hospital, apparently after having given birth to a baby girl.

The main subject of the rest of the photos were the first few years of the little girl's life - playing with new toys, holidays, Christmas, etc. - ending with some shots of her sledging in the snow near the Cow and Calf rocks at Ilkley. 

Given the subject-matter of these photos, it seemed likely that  the loss of it could possibly be a major disaster for the owner, and I became more determined than ever to return the card if at all possible.

I began hunting through the photos to try to find specific information which might help me track down the owner: initially, the search was disappointing - I had been hoping for street names, house numbers, car registration plates, and similar - but there were none of these.

The best bet seemed to be half-a-dozen shots of the family watching the Tour de France last July, from a location in Ilkley which I recognised -  they were standing outside a social club called Hollygarth, situated on the main road going out of Ilkley towards Leeds.

I wondered if someone at the club might know of the family. I printed a copy of one of the photos showing the couple who were obviously the child's mother and father, drove over to the club, explained the situation to the barman and customers, and showed the photograph. 

Unfortunately, no-one recognised either of the people shown.

I put an advertisement in the local paper, the Ilkley Gazette, saying that I had found the card.  I also discovered several web sites dedicated to lost and found cameras and cards: I signed up for an account on  http://www.camerafound.com and uploaded a couple of photos showing the main couple who featured in the photos (the site is associated with a Facebook page, and photos posted are automatically copied to the site.) 

However, over a week and a half later, I had still not heard anything, and was getting deeply frustrated.

I decided to work through the photos again, in the hopes of seeing something which I had previously missed.

Some of the first ones showed the mother and father in a bistro, which featured distinctive circular mirrors with the number 166 engraved on them.

I did some googling and almost immediately identified the establishment as Bar 166 in Horsforth.  The photo was taken about five years ago, so it was unlikely that the proprietors would remember the occasion - but maybe the couple went there regularly. In any case, it seemed worth pursuing.

The next few photos on the card were of the mother in hospital after having given birth. On my earlier search, I had tended to skip these, feeling that I really was poking my nose into someone else's private life. 

This time, I forced myself to examine them in detail - and the penny suddenly dropped.  As usual, the mother had been fitted with the standard hospital wrist tag - and on the tag, clearly readable in one of the shots, were her name and address! I checked  these details with a Google search: it turned out that  the woman had been a company director, and the  details were confirmed by several web sites  (unfortunately, there was no associated phone number or email, and she didn't seem to be on LinkedIn or Facebook.)

The address was in Ilkley (only  about 100 yards from the spot where they'd watched  the Tour de France.) 

Without further ado, I got in the car and drove over to the address: it was a block of  flats, with a bank of buttons and an intercom next to the main door.

I pressed the appropriate button and listened. No reply - obviously no one was at home.  After my initial excitement at having cracked the puzzle, this was a bit of a downer. I returned home, and wrote a letter to the woman offering to return the card as soon as I heard from her. 

Another week passed, and I still had not heard anything in response to my letter.  There seemed to be only three possibilities: she was away on holiday; she didn't care that the card had been lost; or she didn't live at the address any more.

Of these, the second seemed least likely, given the subject-matter  of the photos.  The third also seemed unlikely (the latest electoral register confirmed that the woman was living at that address.) It seemed most probable that she was, or had been, on holiday.

I decided to try another visit: this time, if there was no answer, I planned to try the flats on either side.  However, this wasn't necessary: as soon as I pressed the button, a female voice came on the intercom.

I gave the name on the hospital tag. The voice replied: “She doesn't live here anymore.” On many occasions, I've read the old cliché about one's heart sinking into one's boots - but I've never felt it actually happen before then.

However, the Fates had apparently decided that I finally deserved a break. The voice continued: “But I know where she lives - I'll come down.” Presently, a woman opened the door, and explained that the previous occupant had moved only about a hundred yards down the road - she pointed out the house. 

I thanked my kind informant, went across to the house indicated and knocked on the door. Initially, there was no response, then after a few more knocks, a first-floor window opened, and a woman looked out asking what the matter was.

I saw immediately that it was unmistakably the woman in the photos.  I said that I had something which I believed belonged to her, took the card out of my pocket and showed it to her. She seemed shocked - I believe that up to that point, she had actually not realised that she had lost the card. 

She came down and opened the door - accompanied by the little girl whose life history up to that point had been the major feature of the photos - and I handed over the card to her.

She expressed bafflement that I had managed to trace it to her: I explained about the hospital tag, and she recalled having the photo taken. She commented that an important part of her life was contained on the card, and that she would have been very sorry to lose it (if she had realised that she had done so!) 

Some of the photos were of her father, who had since passed away. 

So that was that - job done. A friend at work later commented that returning the card must have notched me up some serious “karma points”.

Whatever - the feeling that I had managed to crack the puzzle and use my wits for something unequivocally constructive was deeply satisfying.

This story was originally published in the June issue of Spotlight, the regional newsletter for the North East