Richard Watkins & Associates

This is my Building buys a pint debut and I’m keen to treat Richard, who was my first boss after graduation, to a drink. It’s my chance to relive – and repay – the countless Friday afternoon lager sessions Richard funded between 1998 and my departure, 18 months and several million brain cells later.

The good news is that we’re soon ensconced in Conor’s “second home”, which is over the road from the structural engineer’s office and blessedly quiet (until the Ireland football team squares up to Slovakia on the big screen). The bad news is that my decision to let them steer the conversation results in an in-depth debate on the new Eurocodes and their precursors.

Conor declares: “The thing is, there’s no obligation to actually follow any of them.” Suddenly we’re having a serious discussion of BS 5950, structural steel design and Conor’s assessment of Richard’s antipathy to recent guidelines.

Why didn’t I suggest the cricket World Cup? Last night’s TV? My cat’s recent dental treatment?

Thankfully, Jeremy manages to divert the conversation on to skiing; he’s a virtual pro. Conor counters with a boast of avant-ski frugality: on a recent holiday he “bought all the kit for *35 at the Carrefour hypermarket in Calais”.

This prompts Mike – who has remained quiet until now, save for a few snippets on cellular beams – to suggest a “lads’ ski trip”: “Are you lot be up for it?” The lads’ response is muted.

They seem more interested in a return trip to Constructionland. Jeremy laments that “80% of Imperial College engineering graduates take up roles in finance”, which he attributes to low call-out fees and perceived status. “We should be equal to doctors and lawyers,” he says.

Next we tackle the bleedin’ obviousness of much health and safety advice. Jeremy “wasn’t a fast learner but by about the age of three I’d worked out that hammers could be dangerous”.

At this point Richard, who has been absent for the first hour, finally appears. “So what have you lot been talking about?” he asks, before sharing his, let’s say, unusual take on sustainability.

“I’m not sure I agree with the principle of trying to save things just because they’re going to run out – life just becomes miserable,” he says, backing up his view with a shaky analogy about a worldwide beer shortage.

“But what about the harm we’re doing to the environment?” asks Jeremy.

“Ah, that’s a different issue,” Richard replies. And that’s the last word. He deploys a well-worn line about getting home before his wife divorces him, just as my tape recorder runs out of juice.

Chosen watering hole: The Crown & Cushion, near Waterloo station 
Ambience: Irish boozer populated by gobby market traders from Lower Marsh 
Topics: Steel design, skiing, health and safety, sustainability and divorce 
Drinks: four pints of Carling, two pints of IPA and one pint of Guinness

Richard Watkins, principal
Conor O’Boyle, senior structural engineer
Jeremy Foster, freelance structural engineer
Mike Hawes, adviser to the company, from cellular beam specialist Westok
Alistair King, Building