When he joined the Water Board, Uncle Henry was issued with a set of dowsing rods. I’m not sure if he had much luck with them in detecting leaks, but they seem to have given him a taste for systems of divination. Cartomancy, as the name suggests, uses a deck of cards - tarot or sometimes ordinary playing cards - while bibliomancy uses a book as the oracle to be consulted. A passage is chosen at random and the seeker attempts to apply the words to his or her quest. Historically, the texts consulted have been the Bible, the Quran, and the Aenid. In Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano the hapless Consul starts with Shakespeare and winds up using Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus. Uncle Henry constructed his oracle as a deck of cards inscribed with quotations culled from Heart of Darkness and Three Men in a Boat. Curiously, if you didn’t know the provenance of a quote, it was surprisingly easy to confuse the two sources. The last time he was sighted, Uncle Henry had boarded a river taxi at Embankment pier and travelled downstream. It was a misty day. Today it is bright and clear and cold. Consulting my reconstruction of Henry’s oracle, I draw the following cards: “Ever any madness in your family?”; “I authorise you to take all the risks”; “Go ashore for a howl and a dance.” A good omen, I feel as I take a belt from Henry’s hip-flask and cast off.
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