The observatory on the summit of the Pic du Midi, 60k to the west of Montréjeau, is clearly silhouetted against a clear blue sky. It’s going to be a great day for skiing. Sunshine, snow, faux filet and frites for lunch, a pichet of vin rouge and may be a chocolat chaud or two (adding a shot of quelque choses from a hip flask when the waiter isn’t looking)
I’m dreaming. Something heavy lands on my ankles and I open my eyes to find a 6kg tabby pressing his nose into my face, demanding breakfast. It’s 6.45am. The sun is streaming through a chink in the curtains, but we’re not in the Pyrenees. The cat is now stomping about on John’s legs. His brother is wailing by the bedroom door. John shows no sign of wanting to greet the day. He turns over and the cat lands on the floor with an unceremonious thud. Resistance is futile. I drag on my dressing gown and go and find them some food before they wake my mother.
My cousin and my great-aunt are coming to lunch today and I need to get up anyway. It’s John’s birthday and lunch is as close as he will get to a birthday party. If I had asked him in advance who he would most have liked to invite, I doubt he would have thought of Leslie. It doesn’t matter. Leslie and Roz have, of course, come to see Mum, not John, but they have the great advantages of being good company and enjoying their food.
Leslie is my mother’s accountant. He is also a member of the British Long Distance Swimming Association and the (rather eccentric) Serpentine Swimming Club in Hyde Park. Readers in the UK may have seen Leslie in a recent advertising campaign by The Times: a swimmer in Speedo trunks and a black swimming cap, diving into the Serpentine on a cold winter’s day. You can’t see Leslie’s face in the photo, but knowing his reputation as a trencherman, there was no mistaking the slightly rotund midriff. John and Leslie get on well. Indeed, they had, very nearly, been business partners.
When John retired from the Met Police in 2001, he had the idea of setting up an IT consultancy. It didn’t seem such a bad idea. We both had backgrounds in computing. Hell, we met on a computer course, after all! John spent the last few years of his service rolling out a London-wide crime reporting system and was pretty handy when it came to pulling computers apart. I built databases. My first lesson in hands-on computer maintenance came in 1994, when John took the lid off our brand new desktop and stuck the end of the vacuum cleaner in it. We nearly had a “domestic”! But two days later, when our receptionist’s computer packed up, I won a lot of Brownie points by whipping off the lid and swapping her hard drive with another from a similar machine. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. By 2001, I was working as a Network Administrator for a medical communications company.
Anyway, all this is by the by. Where was I? Ah yes, our brief foray into IT consultancy
Our first potential client was referred to us by a friend. Mr Prakash was a plastic surgeon. He was interested in installing a network in his office and, specifically, needed a database to store digital photographs. We needed someone with an expert knowledge of computer networks. And that’s where Leslie fits in.
John and Leslie duly agreed to meet Mr Prakash at his very swish Harley Street consulting rooms. The door was answered by an extremely shapely pair of bristols, the owner of which promptly announced that she was one of Mr Prakash’s most grateful patients. In case you hadn’t guessed, Mr Prakash specialised in breast enhancement.
Having admired the secretary’s assets, our dynamic duo went on to view the offices and discuss the relative merits of Novell and Windows NT. Mr Prakash then came to the subject of the storage of his photos and choice of a digital camera, and pulled out a large album of “before and after” photos of his work. Reading between the lines, things went steadily downhill from there
Sadly, “Rynne Associates” never did get that contract and, as it happened, we were both offered other jobs shortly after. Nevertheless, as far as John and Leslie were concerned, the abortive venture served to cement a lasting friendship.