Strange but true: the head of the legal team at Costain's oil and gas division, Cogap, is none other than top crime writer Jim Williams. According to the contractor's in-house magazine, Blueprint, Williams has written eight books, one of which, Scherzo, won a Booker Prize nomination in 1998, while The Strange Death of a Romantic was described by London's Evening Standard as the most interesting crime novel of the year. He says he spends his lunchtimes working on his books but hasn't based any of his characters on Costain colleagues. Well, if you say so …
On a role
Fresh from a stint in the City, the Treasury's former procurement chief Sir Steve Robson is apparently favourite for chairman of the strategic forum when Sir John Egan steps down this summer. DTI officials had previously been touting the name of Sir John Fairclough, who has just completed a government review of research in construction. But as he revealed in Building last week, he politely declined, suggesting that the department plump for a powerful individual from within the industry.
Robson doesn't exactly fit that description, but he is certainly high profile. Within PFI circles, he is credited with convincing the Treasury to back this off-balance-sheet form of procurement, as well as cajoling Whitehall to take its role as client seriously. Not everyone is convinced, though. Some members of the Confederation of Construction Clients are thought to favour one of their own for the role, and have been putting forward alternative names to derail the Robson bandwagon.
A bit of a non-event
I gather that about 200 senior managers of the newly merged Laing O'Rourke held their first bonding session at the Intercontinental Hotel in London's West End a couple of weeks ago.
The highly convivial event was attended by new Laing Construction chief Andy White, who joins shortly from Alfred McAlpine, but the highlight was apparently an inspirational speech by Ray O'Rourke outlining how Laing will be restored to its former glory. There was even talk that the contractor may eventually be able to capture one-quarter of the UK market.
However, I am a little mystified to hear that when a colleague asked O'Rourke about the event – which was held annually before the Laing deal – he was coy about whether it had even taken place. What can this mean?
The twilight phone
My technophobic editor Adrian Barrick had an unfortunate experience with his mobile phone last week. It suddenly started to shudder under the weight of a bombardment of empty text messages. Every time a non-existent message was deleted, another appeared. The unwitting phone stalker turned out to be Nigel Keen, John Lewis' director of building and services. But here the mystery deepens, because he swears that he'd left it behind, turned off, while he went skiing in France. I don't want to be alarmist, but it sounds like a case of demonic possession to me.
Man is the measure of all things
I was sent a press release by Alpha Marketing, the PR agency for floor maker Trima, inviting me to applaud its client's super-long (2.7 m!) floorboard.
To remind us just how long that is, a photo of one of the upended floorboards was included, alongside a human yardstick. However, it seems that in a desperate, yet successful, bid to get a little cheap publicity, it asked the model to pose in nothing more than a light coating of olive oil.
Counting his spring chickens
If a knighthood is taken by many as a prelude to old bufferdom, then architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, 62, is energetically heading in the opposite direction. At a recent celebration, the architect, knighted in the last new year's honours, attributed the success of his practice to the incredibly long hours and young age of the staff. The average age of the CAD jockeys at his practice is, he said, just 33 – and that includes old Nick himself.
Cut above the others
I was intrigued by an item in our new sister magazine Housing Today about HouseMark, an internet-based benchmarking service for social landlords. To get the service moving, members of the National Housing Federation have agreed to pay an extra 15% levy on their membership fees to fund the £750,000 venture. All of which rather puts to shame construction's parsimony when it comes to pan-industry ventures.
The power of the press
A couple of weeks ago, Building reported that WS Atkins is in talks to acquire the US-based quantity surveyor Hanscomb. I sincerely hope this item had nothing to do with the sudden fall in Atkins' share price on the day it was published. I would be horrified if the City thought the takeover of a QS was a poor investment.