This week, our espionage expert takes in the capital, uncovering some theatrics in Islington, a bloody battle in Soho and an American enclave in Mayfair
Get ova it
The Guardian's Wonders and Blunders features (no relation to the articles of the same name that it ripped off this magazine) featured architect Ron Arad on Monday. He chose as his blunder Ridgemount – a twee, turreted house in Hampstead built for himself by John Seifert. "I think Hansel and Gretel would think twice before venturing here," he sniffed.

But why did he single out this little confection for worst building ever? I seem to recall that a few years back Arad proposed a radically modern, egg-shaped house for a plot of land on the same street. It was thrown out by planners, partly because Seifert mounted a vociferous campaign against it. Now, it seems, Ron has thrown an egg of his own.

Small world
For sale: Shakespearean-style stage, as used by Gwyneth Paltrow. Some time ago, developer Fairbriar came up with the wheeze of incorporating the theatre set used for the film Shakespeare in Love into an upmarket residential scheme in London's Islington Green. This unusual mixed-use combination came about because Dame Judi Dench, who appeared in the film, arranged for the solid oak set to be donated to the theatre trust owned by Sally Greene, partner of Fairbriar director Robert Bourne.

The move went down a storm with Islington council, but sadly Fairbriar has abandoned the idea. It seems local theatre groups didn't fancy the idea of using the cramped wooden stage for their productions.

The knights of NIMBY
I hear a group of local residents has used guerrilla tactics to wring concessions out of housebuilder Barratt, which is working on a development in their back yard. Protesters in Chelmsford, Essex, got so hacked off with the lorries thundering past their homes that they used their cars to block the site entrance.

Police were called in to resolve the stand-off, after which Barratt agreed to escort lorries through the estate on foot, and pay window cleaners to wipe off the dust they leave.

Looking after your own
Rumours abound that the American Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square is to be substantially refurbished to make it terror-proof. And not before time; at the moment, the fine square is marred by the temporary fencing and concrete bollards erected in the wake of 11 September. But who might the Yanks call in for this prestige job? A reception at the embassy last week gave a clue: the guest of honour was expat Rick Mather.

Just popping to Washington
It was a delight to hear from Ken Yeang the other day. He was kind enough to let me know of an event he's speaking at in Washington on 17 January. But clearly he thinks I am a bit more of a jet-setter than is the case. He said: "Do come if you happen to be visiting the USA at around that time." Just checking the old diary … nope, looks like I'll be stuck in Canning Town.

Where are they now?
Some colleagues of mine clearly have too much time on their hands. Vital research on the old school-chums website Friends Reunited threw up some interesting names. One was inky-fingered scamp William Alsop, former alumnus of Northampton Technical College, who says he practises as an architect and lives in London and Rotterdam. Meanwhile, a certain John Gains from the King Henry VIII school in Coventry claims have a job as the chief executive for something called "John and Company", a construction and services group.

A lively discussion
Hamish McAlpine, son of construction industry magnate Malcolm, hit the headlines this week after a punch-up left him with a broken nose.

The 47-year-old, a film distributor, was set on by American director Larry Clark at a hotel in Soho after a dispute over the 11 September attacks. Clark is reported to have punched Hamish, kicked a table over at the restaurant, jumped at him and started choking him. The attack left the dazzled media man, whose firm Metro Tartan distributes art-house films, nursing a bloodied hooter. The exact nature of the argument is not known, but Hamish later said: "I was not prepared to put up with the presence of a racist man." His assailant has served time in a US maximum security jail and is now attending anger management courses.

Fit for purpose prizes
A Dublin mews terrace by architect de Blacam and Meagher scooped this year's Copper in Architecture Award last week. Fittingly, the winning architect was presented with a large copper plate. This seems a lot more appropriate than the trophy presented to last year's winners, Glas Architects: theirs was made of wood.

Egan fatigue

Has the industry had enough of Sir John Egan? The former BAA man has been offering the sector his pearls of wisdom for some years now. His last prediction was that the construction industry would be unable to cope with the public spending planned by Tony Blair for the next three years. “Poppycock,” snorts one major contractor, who is getting somewhat miffed by Egan’s pronouncements. “He’s got an opinion on everything. If he was in the same room as me, I don’t think I’d want to stay there.”