Henry sat in the front room
of his new pensioners 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
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 Londons 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
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
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