“Wonderful, that looks really good!”
Colin Hopkins had stopped to admire the small brick wall I was building at the front of my house. I was proud of the lovely old second-hand yellow bricks I’d found at Archie Stanhope’s restoration yard, and I’d taken endless care, setting each one correctly according to the stretched line and spirit level, and now I’d nearly completed the job and was delighted with how it looked.
“Shame about the wavy bits,” Colin said next.
“What? Where?” I asked.
“You can’t see them close up.” Colin was smiling to himself, his chubby face with its neat grey moustache a picture of smugness. “I noticed from along the road as I was coming here – you can only see it from a distance.”
Sure enough, when we’d walked a few yards away and squatted down, I could see that some of the brick courses weren’t straight, there was a definite wavy dip in a couple of them.
“Never mind,” Colin said cheerfully, still smirking, “it’s not a bad effort for an amateur. You could always knock it down and start again if it really worries you. I notice these things you see, because when I had my six-bedroomed house built I had to keep on top of the builders – what a lazy shower they were. I tell you, every single wall in my house is perfect! Oh, by the way, Jack, would you mind tidying up your garden a bit? I’m in charge of ‘Brookham in Bloom’ this year, all the other gardens in the village are looking better than yours, and I’m hoping we can win the award again.”
A couple of weeks later my friend Stuart and I were polishing the 1954 Vauxhall Wyvern car belonging to 89-year-old Charley Stevenson, who’d owned it since it was new. Charley loved the car, but his arthritis meant he couldn’t do the necessary restoration to keep it going, so two years ago Stuart and I had offered to restore it back to its original beauty. The three of us were admiring the car, which Charley was planning to take to a Classic Car rally next month.
Colin Hopkins was passing, spotlessly clean in his smart grey tracksuit, out for his morning jog.
“I say guys, what a car!” he said in genuine admiration, walking around and staring in wonder at the gleaming chrome and shining green bodywork.
We all smiled back, Charley the happiest of all.
Colin stopped walking when he was behind the car, and squatted to stare at something.
“Shame about the dent in the bumper,” he commented.
Stuart, Charley and me gathered round. Sure enough there was a tiny little dent in the gleaming chrome bumper that none of us had noticed.
“Sort of spoils the effect of your magnificent restoration job, doesn’t it?” Colin commented, getting to his feet. “Because the rest of it looks so good, your eye is drawn to that little imperfection. Mind, I’m not keen on old cars. If I had my way I’d insist that everyone drove an ecologically friendly car like my top-of-the-range hybrid. Just think of the damage these old gas guzzlers do to the planet!”
Colin Hopkins and his wife Sally had only lived in Brookham for two years, ever since sixtyish Colin had retired from his lucrative banking job in the city. During those few months he’d become chairman of the parish council, his wife had taken over the leadership of the local Women’s Institute, and he’d managed to successfully block several proposed building developments. There was even talk of him standing as a local councillor.
A few days later, Stuart, me and Robin Gargle, our local vicar, were sharing a table at the Dog and Duck, enjoying an evening pint.
“Blimey, that Colin Hopkins,” Robin said, wiping the beer foam from his mouth. “I was up there on the church roof, replacing a few tiles, and there’s Colin down below calling up that by law I’m supposed to have building insurance. I took no notice, but then I got a call from the Church Commissioners, telling me I had to stop, because that bugger had phoned them.”
When he heard about Mrs Anstruther, 93 years old and still living on her own, public-spirited Colin did his best to get her moved to an old people’s centre, despite her fervent wish to stay in her own home. Her neighbours insisted that everything was fine, she was happy there, they looked after her, and Robin often dropped in to make sure she was all right. Nevertheless, Colin had pestered social services so much that eventually they insisted that she could no longer live on her own. She died a week after moving into the retirement home that she’d never wanted to go to in the first place.
However, a month later it seemed as if she got her own back.
I first heard the crashing sound at around ten in the morning, and by the time I arrived at Colin’s house, it had, literally, disappeared into the ground.
“Apparently, he was digging in his cellar, because he was planning to have a basement room put in,” the fire brigade chief told me an hour later. “There are a lot of old mine shafts in the area, and it seems that the house must have been built directly on top of one.” He warmed to his theme, rubbing his hands together gleefully. “See, when he cut through that last section of soil there was nothing underneath, and the house foundations gave way. He must have fallen a hundred feet or so and then the whole house came crashing down on top of him. His wife was upstairs, doing yoga exercises – she managed to uncoil herself and jump out into the garden.”
“Shouldn’t we be digging?” said Robin, who was staring anxiously at the pile of rubble.
“No point mate, we’ll need heavy lifting gear to shift all those tons of rubble,” the fire chief said calmly, glaring at the scene of devastation, his mouth set in a grim line. Then, to our surprise, his face lit up with a huge smile. “Colin Hopkins is the bloke who blocked my application to build an extension to my house. My wife was dead keen on that extension and he wrecked it for us. No hurry to get him out as far as I’m concerned.”
In the evening, when everyone had gone away for the day, I stared at what was left of the mansion that had been Colin Hopkins’s pride and joy. All that remained of the great big house was one long brick wall, extending from the front to the back. I looked at it for a long time.
Several of the courses of bricks were distinctly wavy, in fact the wall had several waves running right along it.
As I turned away I couldn’t stop smiling.