Here’s a trip down memory lane … back to the early seventies and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But what could a hilarious, abusive, surreal sketch show possibly have to do with the modern construction industry?
I blame Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was the sketch about the “‘right room for an argument”’ that did it for me. After I watched it, I started going to an argument clinic. All these years later I still attend. Actually I alternate. One week it is the clinic, the next it is pilates.
It’s all to do with the Olympics. The memo on my desk today asks “‘Does TB want to apply to be on the Olympic building dispute adjudicator’s panel?”’ Hell, this is the very thing I’ve been training for all these years. I have the vest, I have the physique (thanks to the pilates) and, by heck, I am gunning for a gold medal.
I expect you’re wondering what the argument clinic is. With Michael Palin and John Cleese it was £1 for a five-minute argument. For me it was £8 for a course of 10. Couldn’t resist. Mind you, the first tutor wasn’t quite up to snuff.
Then there was an awful mix-up with the second bloke. He launched into a tirade, claiming that I was a vacuous, toffee nosed dispute-o-maniac and ever so much more besides. But all was well. Instead of the argument room, I’d walked into the room where you go to get insulted. I actually suspect that an awful lot of quantity surveyors and one or two solicitors kept going to the abuse room, but I don’t want to get into an argument with you over that.
Anyway, the Olympics is gearing up for the odd dispute or two. But what happened to all that talk of teamwork and partnering and loving each other?
Well, let me take you to one of my favourite events in the seventies. It was an international conference of architects, heaven help me. The architect Denys Hinton was going on about “the building team”. He said: “As teams go it really is rather peculiar – not at all like a cricket XI. More like a scratch bunch consisting of one batsman, one goalkeeper, a pole-vaulter and a water polo player.
As teams go, the building team is not at all like a cricket XI. More like a batsman, a goalkeeper, a pole-vaulter and a water polo player
“They are usually brought together for a single enterprise – each member has different objectives, different training and technique and different rules. The relationship is unsuitable, even unreliable, with very little cohesion and no loyalty to a common end beyond that of coming through unscathed.” Beautiful. Just as true today, too, 30 years on.
As to how many attending the clinic went on to the room where you go to get hit on the head is a fascinating conundrum. There must have been quite a few. More then went into the room where you shoot yourself in the foot. Laugh, we did … until we cried.
Anyway, the upshot was that design-and-build became oh so fashionable. The Hit on the Head and Shoot in the Foot brigade insisted on requiring the liability for design and build to be taken by sub-sub-subcontractors. The bloke doing all the choosing and designing and putteruppering is the bloke down the hole with a shovel.
Gawping down the hole are those who went to Monty Python’s abuse room. And out of the hole is supposed to rise up a great Olympic Stadium. The footings will be designed and built by the dumper driver and his mate. Do you want an argument about all that?
Let’s have Olympic medals for dispute gymnastics. It will be all too easy to award the medal for the outfit with the biggest dispute. No, no let’s have a pre-Olympic gold medel. That goes to the person who fathoms out how to run the “Let’s avoid an argument room”.
It might even be that the architects and engineers (I doff my cap to the RIBA and the Institution of Civil Engineers) to take charge of the “what shall be built” and the “how” and the “why” and the “where” and even the “who”. But please don’t bother with the “when”. Leave that to the builders.
The reason is that we adjudicators are hoping to compete for the extensions of time gold medal. Let’s just see who makes a dispute about completing the works by 13 August 2012. I am up for that appointment. Meanwhile, it’s pilates one week, the argument clinic, the next.
Let the games begin … on 27 July 2012!
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator