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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


Henry sat in the front room of his new pensioner’s flat and glanced sadly at the stack of cardboard boxes that occupied half his floorspace.

His previous home was to be demolished for redevelopment, and the housing association had allocated this alternative property. Henry would have been delighted but for Waterloo.

Henry had had a lifelong passion for railways. He had spent his working life as a station announcer and all his free time developing and operating his pride and joy: A scale model of London’s Waterloo station – faithful to every detail.

The final model had been twenty feet square. No room in this flat had a dimension greater than fifteen feet and, anyway, there were no spare rooms. Waterloo had been consigned to those cardboard boxes.

Henry suddenly had an inspiration. His was a ground floor flat. He found his tools, lifted a floorboard and began to chisel at the concrete beneath.

A week of patient excavation produced an access through the concrete to earth.

Henry calculated that his new subterranean, model railway extension needed to be thirty feet square and eight feet high. This would require excavation of seven thousand two hundred cubic feet of earth. He measured the bag on his wheeled shopping trolley and reckoned it could transport one cubic foot. Five loads each day for four years, and the room would be complete.

Each evening, after tea, Henry dug his five cubic feet. Each morning, he rose at six AM, filled his shopping trolley bag and then commenced his first walk of the day. Other trips followed at mid morning, after lunch, around mid afternoon and before tea.

He visited the woods and the canal. Here he could unobtrusively press the release mechanism on the specially modified bag and let its contents quickly empty through the flap at its base.

Tree cover near the lock made this, for many months, a favoured location to dump spoil into the canal. Henry decided to diversify his fly-tipping sites, however, when a narrowboat ran aground.

The slow pace of excavation led to a similar pace of basement construction, thus Henry could scavenge required building materials when returning home with an empty bag. In particular, the poorly fenced yard of the builders’ merchant made it easy to borrow bricks and the occasional bag of cement or plaster. Buying supplies would have raised suspicions, but Henry made a note to anonymously send payment when the project was complete.

Henry announced the departure of the eleven twenty-nine to Southampton, turned the control switch and watched the model train disappear around the bend at the far end of the cavern. The basement project had been a great success but, somehow, Henry had never recaptured his former enthusiasm for model railways.

He had thoroughly enjoyed making this room. He had felt exceptionally healthy from the exercise. He had loved his walks and conversations with fellow strollers. He had savoured the excitement of a covert project of which the housing association would have disapproved.

All this had ended as the first train left Waterloo.

Henry glanced thoughtfully at the floor. He had read somewhere that the volume of the Earth in cubic feet was four followed by twenty-two zeros.

That was a lot of shopping trolley bags – certainly enough to last him out...