It was only the smell of freshly poured concrete, warm bitumen and humming construction sites that lured Mr Hamble away from his desk at Plim & Co chartered accountants each day. As soon as the clock struck one, he would take his ham and pickle sandwich (on white bread) and a packet of prunes (on Dr Cunningham’s advice) from his satchel and wander down to the Ruddle Street bridge.
The magnificent steel bridge straddled the Eugene River, whose mucky waters lapped at the stone embankment flanking its course. Beyond the bridge Mr Hamble could see the flock of cranes populating the city skyline, delivering dangling bundles of pipes and steel to the pigeon holes of skeletal skyscraper frames. His skin tingled with excitement as he hurried across the bridge.
Mr Hamble’s round shiny face tilted upwards as he surged towards his latest interest, his quivering nostrils leading the way like an excited beagle relentlessly pursuing a new scent. Ever since he was small Edward Hamble dreamed of becoming an architect, and his fascination with buildings flourished as he grew. But his father’s sturdy advice bore down on him like hard rain until Edward’s youthful passion became nothing more than a wet sludge. One day, in his final year of school, Edward succumbed to his father’s wishes and agreed to enrol in accounting college. “There’s safety in numbers”, his father used to say, and Edward Hamble reluctantly realised the truth of those words.
His latest affair involved the Paragon development, an industrious clay pit that would soon embrace the foundations of a sixty storey office tower. The Paragon building, according to the artist’s impression on the sign, looked like a colossal shard of glass piercing the sky in an otherwise innocuous street scape. Mr Hamble wondered why the people depicted in the artist’s impression didn’t have any faces. Maybe that’s what impressions were all about.
He assumed his lunchtime residence on the wooden bench in the park across the street. This provided a comfortable vantage point from which to survey the activities of the cacophonous construction site. Mr Hamble unwrapped his sandwich and expertly manoeuvred it as he chewed around the edges to avoid any pickle spillage. He watched a bulldozer gnawing at the enormous cavity in the ground, and noticed in the far corner of the site a majestic oak tree. It was imprisoned by a round of cyclone fencing, the tips of its roots visible in the cross-section of excavated earth. The ancient oak appeared resolute in its position amongst the chaos, the solemn magnificence of a hundred year’s growth holding steadfast against the encroaching bulldozers and cement trucks.
Mr Hamble suddenly felt his plump heart sink into his stomach, like a ball of donut dough dropping into a vat of hot oil. For once it wasn’t indigestion. Mr Hamble’s heart had sunk upon seeing that the bulldozer was now trundling straight towards the oak tree, and that the tree was quivering in silent terror…