The excitement is mounting at Bovis Lead Lease's Paternoster Square site, which is located next to St Paul's Cathedral. The Queen is due to visit the site as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations, and I'm told that the contractor is running a competition for suggestions on how to decorate the 12 tower cranes. Given the contractor's Australian parentage and Prince Philip's recent interest in aboriginal issues, my money is on the cranes being fitted with gaily painted harpoons.
On the other hand, I hear that the excavation of the site uncovered some curious artefacts. One that came to light was a 17th-century Delft drinking flask in the form of a large, erect penis – which could be used to break the ice should Her Majesty decide to stop for a cuppa.
What more do you want?
Poor old Brian Wilson. The latest barb to be aimed at our intermittent minister comes from the readers of this very magazine. In last week's poll on the Building website, only 12% of voters agreed that he is doing a good job.
The main complaint from the industry about Wilson is that, in sharp contrast to his predecessor Nick Raynsford, he doesn't devote much time to construction. Wilson, who is highly sensitive about his image in the industry, vehemently denies this. However, his case wasn't aided when John Hobson, the grade three head of the civil service's construction directorate, was succeeded last week by the grade five Elizabeth Whatmore. Yet another example, some muttered, of Britain's biggest industry being downgraded.
However, I'm told that there is some cause for hope. First, Whatmore is regarded within the DTI as punching well above her weight. And second, the industry will have a direct line to a grade three civil servant, John Alty, the new head of the department's business relations group. Part of his brief will be to preside over construction – along with about 20 other industries, alas.
Talking of John Hobson, I hear that just a week after his departure from the DTI, the unusually colourful ex-mandarin is seeking to maintain his connections with the industry he loved to cajole.
Hobson has already been mooted as a possible chairman for various industry conferences, and I also gather that he is the frontrunner to become the new chief executive of the National Specialist Contractors Council, replacing Grenville Weltch, who is retiring this summer. Apparently Hobson's CV has all but landed at Construction House.
Taking the cake
A colleague of mine bumped into Lord Falconer at the Evening Standard Homebuyer Show last week. The housing minister gamely agreed to an impromptu interview, which took place during that awkward half-hour between breakfast and lunch. Fortunately, the show's promoters laid on elevenses especially for the peer, who demonstrated his, er, well roundedness by tucking into the coffee cake with as much gusto as he tackled the subject of social justice. "I told him I baked it myself," said promotions manager Viv Young, who had clearly been well briefed.
How architecture works
To King's Cross and the office-warming party of the newly renamed Squire & Partners. Here I share a drink with senior partner Michael Squire, who tells me that by moving into premises that it designed, the firm has broken the sacred "Three Fs" rule of architecture. For the uninitiated, this is: finish it, fotograph it, and f*** off. "Now that we occupy the building, we can't f*** off," says Squire. Evidently, the principal's language isn't quite as gentrified as his practice's new name.
Zara Lamont – clients' guardian angel, Building columnist and scourge of the QS – is a glutton for punishment. Last week, she took on two dangerous industry appearances. The first was at the RICS construction faculty's annual dinner, where she approached the platform accompanied by pantomime hisses from QSs, who were still smarting from her monstering of their profession in the pages of this magazine last year. The second engagement was another speaking role at the Society of Construction Law, where she faced yet more QSs and another bête noire – lawyers. You've got to admire her chutzpah.
The naked architect
It's good to see that Paul Hyett hasn't become part of the Establishment since his election to the RIBA presidency. At an Architects for Health debate last week, the retired brigadiers at the Reform Club looked on in horror as Hyett appeared in a Mike Davies-style red suit.
His performance at the lunch itself created a stir when Hyett told a story about being woken up by a phone call at 7.45 on a Saturday morning. The president, heavily fuddled after a Friday night in the company of CABE deputy chairman Paul Finch, found himself being asked a string of questions while he lay on his bed wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. It was only some minutes into the call that he realised his answers were going out on live radio …
I used to practice at the bar …
I hear that Danny Chalkley, the chirpy director of QS firm NAP Sherwin, is about to add a string to his bow by standing as a Conservative candidate in the council elections in Westminster.
Apparently Chalkley is keen to stress that the position is not too far removed from the "boring life of your standard QS", and quite unlike his previous job as a barman in a Stockholm nightclub, where he spent a character-building 12 months.