Saturday afternoon in Ottery St Catchpole was mild but damp and grey. Local resident, Philip Woodbury was walking his dog, Towser. As they turned into Long Lane, Philip spotted a white van pulled into a gateway. A group of five people were stood next to it, talking animatedly. On the side of the van, it said D Thomas – Master Builder.
Not again! Sighed Philip to himself. Soon there'll be some great monstrosity of a house on that plot, totally inappropriate for the area. It'll be occupied by two off-comers who care nothing for the area, contribute nothing to the community and drive up and down the lanes at top speed in two enormous four-by-fours without any idea of how to pass on a narrow road.
On these occasions, Philip tended to forget that, whilst he and Barbara had now lived in Ottery St Catchpole for twenty years, they could hardly be called locals. And whilst they had bought an existing house, they had altered and extended it so much that it might as well have been a new-build.
He walked a little closer and could see the group a little better now. Four men and one woman, one man much older than the others – about his own age, in fact. One of the others appeared to be his son, for they were so alike and the woman might well be the latter's what did one call it nowadays? Partner. Such a clinical word for what should be such a human and beautiful thing. The other two wore the universal uniform of workmen: logoed sweatshirts and those trousers with dozens of pockets in.
What on earth is the older man wearing? It could almost be an old-fashioned teacher's gown, although those were always black, surely? He doesn't look like a teacher – certainly not the sort who would robe up at the weekend. A hippy, then? He doesn't look hippyish – too well-groomed and normal-looking, apart from the odd robes. Is he in some sort of cult? Possibly, although the others don't appear to be in it. Perhaps at weekends he just likes to dress up and call himself King Arthur. No, the younger couple must be Arthur and Guinevere, surely, jeans and fleeces notwithstanding. That would make the older man Uther.
Perhaps they were planning to build a castle, I mean house, for Young Arthur and Guinevere. His eyes went back to the van. A London phone number. Not even a local firm. Bang goes any chance of considerate builders and sympathetic architecture. Of course, being a muggle, Philip couldn't see the symbol of a chimney with Dean's floo address next to it, underneath his email address.
He was almost upon them now. Time to find out what they were up to. He donned his Chairman of the Parish Council persona and approached them:
“Good afternoon! It's quite mild for the time of year, isn't it?”
“Erm, yes! Good afternoon! It, er is! Mild I mean!” 'Uther' seemed totally flustered to be spoken to.
“I'm Philip Woodbury. I live at St Catchpole's Barton, on the Ottermouth Road.”
Not Pendragon, then.
“We live just over there.” Arthur waved his arm in a vague arc that took in most of the village. “This is my son, Ron and his wife Hermione.”
“Do you live locally, too?”
“London, mainly,” said Hermione. “We're both in the Civil Service.”
“So was I for many years, until I got out. An under-rated profession. Are those your children I can hear?”
“Yes. Rose and Hugo. They love coming down here to see their grandparents. They're lucky enough to be able to do it quite often.”
And now you want your own place so you can be here even more.
Are you having some building work done, Arthur?”
“Yes, erm - “
“Just a workshop,” said Hermione, in a reassuring voice.
Clever! Build something innocuous that doesn't need Planning Permission and Abra Cadabra! The site goes from Green Field to Brown Field and it will be easier to get PP for the house.
“Just somewhere for dad to get out from under mum's feet,” added Ron.
“We all need one of those, don't we!” joked Philip.
“Don' worry, guv'nor! By the time we've finished, you won' know it's ere,” chipped in Dean.
“That's what they all say!” retorted Philip.
“Yeah, but they don't all install secrecy charms as standard,” said Dean under his breath.
“You're working a bit far from home, aren't you?” asked Philip.
“Dean's a friend of the family,” explained Hermione.
Aren't they always.
“Got to take the work wherever we can get it these days, guv,” replied Dean.
“Really? I thought good builders were always in demand. They are down here, anyway.”
“Well, our main work is a bit niche, guv. But give us a bell if you need anything doing. Any friend of the Weasleys is a friend of ours.”
Dean produced a business card, as if by magic thought Philip. Dennis did the same.
“How big is this workshop going to be?” asked Philip.
“Er, we were just discussing that before you appeared,” said Arthur, still sounding nervous.
Just to prove the point, Dean's tape measure, which had been quietly working its way round the field, returned to him, furled itself up and jumped into his pocket.
“My word!” said a shocked Philip. “That's a handy little gadget!”
“Special trade one, guv,” explained Dean. “You won't get one of these down the DIY warehouse.”
Dennis was eyeing the telegraph pole: “What's your broadband speed like down here, mate?”
Philip laughed ruefully. “Broadband speed is a bit of an oxymoron round here. You'd be better off staying in the city.”
“But I already live here!” said Arthur, rather indignantly. “I've lived here for forty years!”
Bugger! He's lived here longer than me! “Have you really? I don't think I've seen you about.”
“We, er, haven't had much time to get involved in the village. We'd seven children to bring up.”
“Seven! My word! That must have kept you busy! They must be all grown up now, though, or do your grandchildren occupy you instead? We're always looking for fresh blood at village events, you know. The Flower and Produce Show, even the parish council. You'd be very welcome if you wanted to join in. Back to the broadband: What speeds do you get now, Arthur?”
“Er, I don't have it yet.”
“That's what this workshop is about. We're just trying to drag dad into the twenty-first century,” explained Ron.
“Bypassing the nineteenth and twentieth,” added Hermione, sotto voce.
Towser let out a bark.
“Sorry old boy, I'm ignoring you down there,” said Philip, giving the dog a pat. “Well, it's lovely to have met you all, but Towser and I had better finish our walk. I hope I might see you around, Arthur. Cheerio!”
He strode off down the road.
“Phew!” exclaimed Arthur once he was out of earshot. I thought he would never go!”
“He was only being friendly, Arthur,” assured Hermione.
“He's what's called a NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard. He just wants to check you're not planning on building an enormous palace like the one he lives in,” chuckled Dean.
“How do you know he lives in a palace?” asked Arthur.
“Just a hunch. I've met his sort before. And St Catchpole's Barton doesn't sound like a two up, two down hovel.”
“He saw me in my robes!” protested Arthur.
“I wouldn't worry, guv. You see all sorts these days. You should take a stroll through the middle of Romford some time.”
“But this isn't Romford!” protested Hermione.
“Nah, but I still wouldn't worry, Hermione. Woodbury seemed like a man of the world,” insisted Dean.
“He saw your tape measure!” squeaked Hermione.
“Special Trade One indeed!” laughed Dennis. “They'll give him a funny look when he goes into his local builder's merchants and asks for that!”
“I dunno. There's all sorts of fancy measuring tools nowadays,” ruminated Dean. “They'll probably give him something with a laser in it. My tape measure is quite mild in comparison!”
“Well? What do you think, Dean?” asked Arthur, nodding towards the field.
“It's up to you really, Guv. 'Ave a good look on the internet and see if there's anything you fancy. Oh! 'Ang on! You ain't got the internet yet. I've got some brochures in the van you can look at. ”
He walked over to his vehicle and plipped his key to open it, much to the delight of Arthur.
“Only, don't go mad!” insisted Dennis with a chuckle. “You only need somewhere basic.”
“'Ere, Arthur! You can lock it if you like!” Dean threw him his keys with a laugh. “Just press the top button – the one with a little picture of a padlock on. Gently! That's it!”
“I'd get that key off him quick, Dean!” laughed Ron. “Or he'll wear the battery out playing with it!”
Arthur handed the key back, a little regretfully.
“Here you are, guv,” said Dean, passing Arthur a handful of brochures. “I think I've left the best ones at home, though. Can I give Luna a quick floo?”
“Of course! Come back to the house. I think Molly would feel highly disappointed if she didn't have the opportunity to ply you with tea and cake at the very least!”
They walked back to the Burrow, via the orchard where Molly was supervising the children. A thestral, which had pulled Dean's van from the East End to Devon, was tethered out of sight, grazing on a chicken Arthur had provided.
They all went and sat in the Weasley's parlour.
“Now, boys,” said Mrs Weasley, looking at Dean and Dennis. “I hope you'll stay for dinner.”
“No ta, Mrs Weasley. Luna's expecting me,” declined Dean.
“You must have a cup of tea at least!” insisted Molly.
Dean and Dennis thought it wise not to protest.
“Is it alright if I borrow your fireplace, Arthur?” asked Dean.
Dean threw a handful of floo powder into the flames and knelt, putting his head into it.
“Luna! Loo! Are you there, gal? Nip into the office and grab the brochures out of my in-tray, will you sweetheart? The ones of wooden buildings. Ta.”
Dean returned to the saggy sofa and Molly reappeared with a tray of tea and cakes. She wanded the cups to everyone and then handed the cake round menacingly.
Just then, the flames glowed green again and Luna's head appeared.
“Hi everyone!” she beamed. “Are these the right ones, Dean?”
“Ta, darlin! Perfect!” he said through a mouthful of cake.
“What are you eating? You'll spoil your tea!” she scolded.
“Only being polite, darlin'.”
“Would you like a slice, Luna?” offered Molly. “It's lemon drizzle!”
“Not for me, thanks, Mrs Weasley. Don't be late, Dean!”
“Let's look at the brochures, then,” said Arthur. “Come on, Molly. Sit next to me so you can see too.”
“It's hard to imagine them in our paddock,” she said, doubtfully. “How big they'd be.”
“Why don't I leave these with you, then you can have a good look and a think,” suggested Dean. “Just give me a quick hoot when you've decided.”
He drained his cup.
“Had we better be getting back, Den?”
“What time is it?” asked Dennis, looking at his watch. “Blimey! Final whistle will have gone!”
He got his phone out: “Boggart! Can't get a signal.”
“Let me try,” said Dean, grabbing his. He swiped the relevant app, with Arthur looking on intrigued. “Oh dear!” he said, grinning. “Oh dear oh dear!”
“Go on!” said Dennis, grimacing.
“Looks like the beers are on you tonight, mate! Five-one!”
“Five-one?” asked Arthur with a puzzled tone. “That doesn't sound too bad.”
“It's football, not quidditch,” said Dean. “We slaughtered them. Away too. I reckon you'll be going down this season.”
“Don't rub it in! Don't we know it!” said Dennis. “Had we better get this hoss rigged up?”
“We'll come and watch the lane and cast a muggle-repelling charm or two,” said Hermione.
Philip was on his way back,. It was almost dark.
That van's still there. It'll be a long way back to London in that rattletrap.
As he was about to turn into the lane, he had a sudden urge to read the parish noticeboard, straining to see in the dusk, even though he had put most of the posters up himself. When he looked up, the van had gone.
Strange! I never heard it go. I wouldn't have thought a van like that would be that quiet.
He never looked up to see it rising into the air, pulled by the thestral. A moment later, it had disappeared behind a cloud.
A parish council is the lowest tier of local government in England, mainly in rural areas. They generally cover a village or small town. They have very little actual power and generally look after things like playing fields and public toilets. They are consulted on planning matters. These are civil parishes i.e. they are nothing to do with the church, despite their name (they are called Communities in Scotland and Wales).
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