It appears that this column is avidly read by one Norman Foster, who is tickled by my suggestion that he may be about to jack it all in and retire to Switzerland (17 May, page 29). Foster has written to say there is absolutely no truth in the rumour (see letters page) – although he admits, rather mysteriously, that our cartoon, showing the great man designing a cuckoo clock as his retirement project, "did produce one idea for which I am most grateful …" Expect to see a range of sleek glass-and-steel chronometers complete with pop-out comedy bird at your local Harvey Nicks.
Food's not cheap, you know
Contractors are truly a breed apart. One of the peculiar features of last week's Construction Confederation beano was the timings listed on the menu. Needless to say, the dinner was hit by delays, and by the time president John Gains stood up to speak, it was 40 minutes behind schedule. "I haven't decided which client to blame," he quipped. As often happens, however, the contractors turned things round in the end and guest speaker Sandi Toksvig departed bang on the appointed time of 11pm. Before she left, she did remind the audience of contractors' other reputation. "This is the first time I've been invited to be an after-dinner speaker but haven't been invited to dinner." She was joking, right?
The conquest of fear
Three cheers for Vincent Pitts, assistant construction manager at Bovis Lend Lease's headquarters scheme for Vodafone in Newbury. Pitts admits to being terrified of heights; however, in an effort to raise money for charity, the acrophobe is tackling his fear head on. He intends to go parachuting, bungee jumping and abseiling in aid of the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust. Don't forget your hard hat, Vince.
I could call back …
My architect friend Gus Alexander, who writes a column for this esteemed organ, has a novel solution to the problem of poor mobile phone reception, discovered by a Building colleague who called Gus on site recently. "Hold on," he said. "I'm just climbing out of a window to get a better signal." Hope you didn't forget your hard hat, Gus.
I'm a spy, me
London deputy mayor Nikki Gavron was on familiar ground last week at the summer party of space planner DEGW. Gavron spoke at the event, held at Home House, a Robert Adam building that formerly housed the Cortauld Institute of Art. "In this room, Pevsner taught me all I know about architecture," she said, referring to her salad days as an architecture history student. Among her other tutors was royal art adviser and KGB agent Anthony Blunt, and Gavron says she suspected his treachery long before MI6 caught up with him. "All his books were dedicated to Burgess and Maclean," she says.
Gavron also let slip her feelings about City Hall, the new Foster-designed headquarters for the Greater London Authority beside the Thames. Architect Ian Ritchie is designing a cluster of slim residential towers for the neighbouring site, and asked for her opinion on building skyscrapers so close to landmarks such as the Tower of London, she replied: "At least Ritchie's towers respond to their surroundings – unlike the GLA building."
Three jeers for Terry Farrell
Unlike the rest of the nation, the guests at the DEGW party seemed unaffected by World Cup fever. "It's terrible," exclaimed DEGW boss Frank Duffy. "Our computer system has crashed because everyone is logging on to football websites and emailing sweepstake entries." RIBA chief executive Richard Hastilow was also underwhelmed. "I'd be much more interested if it was rugby," he said. Sir Terry Farrell, however, said he would be glued to the television but made a gloomy prediction: "England won't win. They'll go out in the first round."
A good Read
With the World Cup under way, I hear Costain spin doctor Graham Read has become even more popular at the contractor's head office.
It has nothing to do with his easy manner but everything to do with the the fact that he has one of the two televisions in the building. What some people will do for company.
… and finally
He might not be interested in the World Cup, but Duffy – a Newcastle fan – did tell my colleague a rather good football joke. "St James's Park was packed to the rafters for every match at the start of last season – except for one solitary seat. Finally, on Boxing Day, a man turned up and occupied the seat. 'Where have you been the last few months?' asked his neighbour. To which the embarrassed man replied: 'My wife bought me a season ticket and gave it to me for Christmas'."