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Authors: Elizabeth Beresford

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‘The Workshop,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘and make haste. Bungo, call together all the strongest Wombles and tell them to report to the Common Room in raincoats and carrying . . . ?’ He glanced at Tobermory, who had taken a piece of paper and a pencil out of his apron pocket and was making notes.

‘Buckets and spades,’ said Tobermory.

‘Buckets and spades,’ said Bungo, who hadn’t the slightest idea what was going on, but was starting to feel excited all over again.

Great Uncle Bulgaria went hobbling off down the passage with his shawl flying out behind him, and the moment he and Tobermory reached the Workshop he went straight to a large suitcase with
MONEY

ENGLISH
written on the side, while Tobermory made for his own small office and began to sort through a large number of magazines and books.


The Woodcarver’s Friend
,’ muttered Tobermory. ‘No good. Ah,
Architect’s Review
, better.
Builders’ Merchant’s Omnibus
, even better.
Pearsons, Porridge and Pullan’s Price List
, best of all! Ah, ha!’

‘Four pounds ninety-nine pence,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria quietly to himself. He had pulled a high carpenter’s stool over to the table, and was perched up on it with the money before him, sorting it into neat little piles.

‘And carry three, multiply by six,’ said Tobermory, doing more sums as he checked the price list with one paw.

‘Bless me, a Queen Victoria shilling,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, forgetting the urgency of the moment as he gazed mistily at the old coin. ‘I remember being taken to see her when she came out to the Common for a review of the troops. I had a flag to wave and a sailor’s hat with
HMS DREADNOUGHT
on it. Happy days.’

‘It’ll come to forty-one pounds twelve pence,’ said Tobermory. ‘That’ll be enough concrete to re-do the foundations, make good the cracks, and leave me two bags over for emergencies.’

‘We mustn’t cheat,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Better make it forty-one pounds fifteen pence just to be on the right side. It’ll leave us with hardly anything, but we’ll just have to manage. Still, there’s usually plenty of money left lying about in the spring. Right, old friend, I leave the next part of the operation in your capable paws.’

‘I suppose it had better be tonight?’ Tobermory said.

‘No time like the present,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, getting down stiffly from the stool. ‘Besides, they might move on tomorrow. There’s a lot of building going on down by Tibbet’s Corner, with the road widening scheme, and that would be a far more difficult place for us . . . ahem,’ he coughed delicately behind his paw, ‘for us from a
business
point of view.’

‘Quite,’ agreed Tobermory. ‘Shall we go, then?’

Bungo had done his job well; for the Common Room was full of Wombles in oilskins, sou’westers and boots. The whispering died down as Great Uncle Bulgaria and Tobermory came in and everybody looked at them expectantly.

‘Fellow Wombles,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, who had forgotten that he had put Tobermory in charge of everything: he never could resist making a speech. ‘It has come to our ears that some concrete is available on the other side of the Common. We intend to buy it.’

‘Oh,’ said Bungo, light dawning on him. Tobermory gave him a look, and Bungo sank out of sight behind Tomsk.

‘Tobermory has worked out exactly how much it will cost and furthermore we are going to leave a present of fifty pence for any inconvenience we may cause. You will form yourselves into a line – everyone has a bucket and spade, I take it?’

A whole forest of buckets and spades were raised above the sou’westers.

‘Good. I must impress upon you all that silence, efficiency and obedience are vital. Tobermory will be in command on the site.’

Tobermory nodded gravely and led the way down the passage. Not to another living Womble would he have admitted that in his raincoat pocket he had a small booklet called
Everything A Concrete Worker Should Know
. But as he walked rapidly down the winding corridors he kept taking little looks at it, and as he was a technician at heart he felt that by the time they emerged on to the Common he would know how to work a mixer. He hoped.

The evening rush of traffic was long since over and as it was a nasty cold damp night there were few people about. With their buckets hung over one arm, their shovels over their shoulders, the Wombles squelched across the grass and then over the crossing.

Flickering red lamps had been placed round the building site by a nightwatchman and Tobermory’s eyes gleamed as he saw the stacks of timber and tools. Still, this was not the moment for idle dreams.

‘Wombles, space yourselves out,’ Tobermory said in a low whisper. ‘Tomsk, come with me, and remember to keep quiet whatever happens!’

Tomsk nodded violently, so violently that his sou’wester slid down over his eyes and he nearly walked straight into the mixer. Tobermory took a quick glance at his booklet, and then studied the fat bags of double brown paper which were stacked under a tarpaulin, each of them neatly labelled.

‘One-to-three-to-six,’ muttered Tobermory, reading one of the labels.

‘What does it mean?’ whispered Tomsk, almost treading on Tobermory’s heels.

‘One part of cement to three parts of sand and six parts of stone. It’s a mixture which is right for foundations of mass concrete and similar work where great strength is not required,’ replied Tobermory, who had learnt this bit by heart out of the booklet.

‘Oh my,’ breathed Tomsk, his admiration for Tobermory growing even greater than before.

‘One-to-two-to-four is generally appropriate for reinforced concrete building construction and one-to-one-to-two is the richest of all and suitable for marine work and for reinforced conduits to convey water under pressure,’ went on Tobermory, unable to resist the chance to air his brand new knowledge.

‘Fancy,’ said Tomsk, who hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about, but who was enormously impressed all the same.

‘Ho-hum,’ said Tobermory. ‘Well, well. We must get on with the job in hand, young Womble. One-Three-Six “Easy Mix” is the stuff we want. Give us a paw.’

They carried the bags over to the mixer one by one, and then Tobermory filled a bucket with water from a tap at one side of the site and gave it to Tomsk, with orders to pour it into the mixer slowly once he was given the signal. Then he lined up all the other Wombles with their empty buckets, took a deep breath and cranked the engine.

Nothing happened.

A line of hopeful faces shadowed by sou’westers gazed trustingly at Tobermory, who felt a shiver of doubt run all the way up his back.

He cranked again, and this time the engine rumbled into life and Tomsk, who was standing right beside it, nearly jumped out of his fur. But he held his ground as the great barrel-like mixer slowly began to revolve and Tobermory poured in the contents of the bags and then ordered Tomsk to add the water. Just enough, not a drop too little or a trickle too much.

Rumble
,
rumble
,
rumble
went the mixer, chewing its thick porridge and making a great deal of noise about it. More than one pair of Womble eyes slid sideways, wondering if the din would attract some human attention, and it says a great deal for their self-control that not one of them moved so much as a paw as the row went on and on, shattering the silence of the night.

However, the inhabitants of Wimbledon were so used to the roar and rumble of roadworks all around them, that they didn’t even bother to draw their curtains and glance out. They just turned up their televisions and their radios and left the Wombles in peace.

‘Time’s up,’ said Tobermory, whose eyes had been fastened to the enormous watch on his wrist. ‘Tip it up, Tomsk. Slowly. You there, Bungo, put your bucket by the lip of the mixer.’

Tomsk did as he was told and a great sludgy flood of white stuff went
slurp
,
slurp
,
slurp
into Bungo’s bucket.

‘Shovel it in, shovel it in,’ ordered Tobermory. ‘Gently does it. Oh lovely, glorious concrete. Next please. Now then, Bungo, back to the burrow, but carefully, don’t you dare spill a drop.’

Into the waiting buckets went the wet, slodgy concrete. It went into plastic buckets and tin pails and jam jars with handles on them. And when it came to Orinoco’s turn it slopped into a pudding basin, which had been the only thing he could find. Bungo had a very fancy tin pail with
A PRESENT FROM RAMSGATE
on the side, and Tomsk had an enormous galvanized bucket with
WBC
* on it. Tobermory himself had a red bucket with
SAND
on the side.

* Wimbledon Borough Council.

 

Great Uncle Bulgaria, with his paws clasped on his stick, watched his Wombles at work and felt proud of them. A small, elderly man who was hurrying home through the wet dark night almost walked full tilt into him.

‘So sorry,’ he said.

‘Don’t mention it, my dear sir,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria.

‘Working late, aren’t you?’ said the man timidly. He lived by himself and was often rather lonely, so he liked to exchange a few words with somebody if he got the chance.

‘Rush job,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘All this rain’s done a lot of damage.’

‘Too true,’ said the man. ‘It never rained like this when I was young.’

‘I quite agree with you,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria. ‘Well, I mustn’t detain you, sir. Good evening.’

‘Good evening to
you
, sir,’ said the elderly man, and walked on, much impressed by the quick, efficient way in which the work was being done.

‘That’s it,’ said Tobermory, switching off the mixer for the last time and shaking his paws, because his fur was full of sticky pieces of wet concrete. ‘Home, everyone, fast as you can, before it sets fast.’

But he spoke to the empty air, for the last of the Wombles was even now vanishing across the black and white path, and there was only Great Uncle Bulgaria left, and he silently handed up a large brown paper parcel which Tobermory placed carefully beneath the tarpaulin. Inside it was the money, a list of the bags used, and a short polite note explaining what had happened. It was signed,
Your respectful and obedient servant, Bulgaria Coburg Womble
and to this day the foreman on that building site hasn’t been able to make head or tail of what it was all about.

It was an extremely busy night for the Wombles, for under Tobermory’s directions they dug up the badly cracked floors to make long, shallow pits which they lined with rubble and then filled with the concrete.

‘Keep going, keep going,’ urged Tobermory, one eye constantly on his watch, for he knew that the concrete would start to set within two hours, although it wouldn’t become completely hard for forty-eight hours. The younger Wombles, including Orinoco and Bungo, were busy on the walls, filling in the cracks and smoothing them over, while Tomsk, as the tallest Womble, was given the job of dealing with cracked ceilings. To keep their strength up the kitchens were kept open all night and Alderney, with her bell ringing furiously on the trolley, was kept trotting backwards and forwards with hot drinks and snacks.

The whole burrow, in fact, was a humming, buzzing, busy hive of activity as bucketload after bucketload of concrete was used to make it strong and waterproof again. Tobermory somehow managed to be everywhere at once, directing, explaining and encouraging. And not one Womble, not even Orinoco, stopped working for a single minute, because every second was important.

The thin pale light of dawn was creeping silently across the Common by the time the last bucket had been emptied and the last shovel wiped clean and put away. As the Wombles, yawning and weary, made their way to bed, Great Uncle Bulgaria stood in his doorway, his paws clasped on his stick. He was very proud of them and for each one he had a kind word until at last only Tobermory was left.

‘Well, old friend,’ said Great Uncle Bulgaria, ‘well done. Congratulations on a job magnificently planned and carried out. And now perhaps you’ll believe me when I say it doesn’t do to meet trouble halfway.’

BOOK: The Wombles
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