When I was a child, my family hired a local builder to do a small renovation. The work looked good. Here and there the new walls sounded a tad, well, sonorous when we knocked on them, almost as if they were hollow; but perhaps walls usually sounded like that. We were happy. Until we pulled a plug out of a socket and the whole socket came away with it, along with a not inconsiderable chunk of wall. Out of the hole there trickled dry, white sand.

The builder, we realised, had charged for plaster and then painted over a wall covered only in diaphanous strands of chutzpah. (In his defence, he did do one thing right: seconds after receiving payment he declared bankruptcy and vanished. Nicely done, that man.)

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