This week, a Japanese contractor offers a lesson in worst practice, Ken laughs off his early congestion charge fears and Christmas raises hellfire in the office
What would Egan say?
All right, so our industry hasn't enjoyed the best press but not many British construction firms have sparked a diplomatic incident. In Japan, however, one firm seems to have taken the concept of partnering a little too far. A court case began last week involving an Osaka-based contractor and an alleged prostitution ring in China. The company organised a trip for 288 employees to a five-star hotel in the Chinese city of Zuhai, where three days were spent with 500 Chinese "hostesses". To make matters worse, the jolly ended on the anniversary of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, seen as the start of occupation during the Second World War.

The Chinese government has called the incident "extremely odious". Suddenly our contractors look like they're fresh from Swiss finishing school.

Ken gets all charged up
London mayor Ken Livingstone was in cheeky form at the Institution of Highways & Transportation annual lunch last week. He began by praising the institution's charity, which raises money for ageing engineers. "Perhaps some of the money could be given to Jarvis to help with some of their problems," he quipped, a reference to his rival for the mayoral post (and new Jarvis chairman) Steven Norris. Ken then recalled the first day of the congestion charge earlier this year. After visiting the control room on day one, Ken returned to his office via empty roads, prompting a moment's nervousness: "I thought, 'Oh shit, we've overdone it'."

It'll be steel magnolias next
It's nice to know that even on the country's largest construction project, there's still time for a little Christmas cheer – thanks to the Terminal 5 rebar prefabrication team. Not only can its workers pre-assemble tonnes of concrete reinforcement but they also produce a nice line in steel Christmas trees. Ahh, how lovely.

Tabloid journalism at its best
Former Labour spinmeister Alastair Campbell is firmly on the post-prandial speech circuit, having given a talk at the annual CB Richard Ellis press lunch on Monday. Unsurprisingly, he laid into the press, singling out Harry Harris, a football writer with whom he worked at The Mirror, for special attention. Campbell recalls one of Harris' articles, which opened: "The England football team is today flying back from Jerusalem, birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ."

The boffin castaway
Architect Nicholas Grimshaw gave a quietly compelling performance on Desert Island Discs last week. He picked Mozart and Bach and then nodded to his 60s youth with some Beatles. So far, so predictable. But, he ended on a bombshell, declaring his luxury as the RIBA's collection of architectural drawings. I doubt the RIBA had this in mind for its "adopt a drawing" scheme.

A warm, festive glow

Thank you to all the kind readers who sent me Christmas cards – but one really stands out. The greeting from architect Feilden Clegg Bradley came in a plastic bag with a “flammable” sticker on it. The card itself has instructions that tell you to light a piece of paper. “If you choose to live dangerously, follow the instructions. If of a nervous disposition use your scissors,” it tells me. Well, being of a somewhat delicate disposition, I asked a colleague to oblige and I stood well back as the card rapidly went up in flames and melted a piece of office furniture. Gadzooks, Christmas is supposed to warm the cockles of the heart, not visit the fires of hell upon one.