Alun Michael at an industry dinner proves to be as nervous as a Dartford warbler on a Berkshire housing development (for explanation, see below)

Fifteen minutes of pain

It seems that, contrary to popular myth, construction minister Alun Michael has learned one thing about the industry during his first year in the job: he knows he's unlikely to come top of any popularity contests it may choose to hold. A nervous Michael, speaking at the centennial dinner of the British Constructional Steelwork Association last week, began: "I'd imagine I'd get more applause if I stopped now, and left it at that." You couldn't fault the minister's political judgment here - his 15-minute speech was punctuated by cries of "keep going!" and "enough!" from a crowd more interested in winning the sweepstake on the length of his speech than discovering what, if anything, he had planned for them over the next few months.

Claws out for George

George Wimpey has managed to enrage cat lovers with a plan intended to save rare birds. The developer has proposed banning homeowners from keeping feline friends in an attempt to win planning permission for a 27-apartment scheme in Berkshire. It turns out the site is next to an area where groundnesting birds are protected - clearly the concern is that nightjars, woodlarks and Dartford warblers cannot live in harmony with your average Home Counties moggy.

Could this be the start of another animal rights protest?

Lost in translation

The spirit of truth and honesty does not always prevail in companies' marketing departments, which is why I'd like to draw attention to the fine example set by Thai furniture maker, Practika. Exhibiting a range of sleek aluminium office workstations at the Thai International Building Materials and Services Fair in Bangkok last week, the firm's stall was proudly emblazoned with the slogan (handily translated for English-speaking buyers): "We are no exception. We once did something worthwhile." That's right guys, sing it from the rooftops …

Age shall not weary him

I hear that a top construction lawyer (who shall remain nameless) has made a decision never to reveal his age. He is so sensitive about the subject than when he was recently in the process of purchasing a car, he refused to give his date of birth for the paperwork.

When he was told that without this information, the purchase couldn't go ahead, he decided he would rather keep his secret and lose the car.

A little shameless bragging …

It was the industry's biggest sporting event of 2006 - so far, at least. In the dimly lit surroundings of an east London pool hall, Bucknall Austin took on the might of Building's sharpshooters in a best-of-11 showdown. By turns gracefully acrobatic and woefully inaccurate, the Bucknall team clawed back Building's early lead to level the contest at 4-4. But the smoke, beer and vodka proved too much for the brave surveyors. In the final three frames, sensational potting from Building's news and features desks finished off the hopefuls. Final score: 6-5. After a similar demolition of Gleeds and having conquered Cyril Sweett at 10-pin bowling recently, are any firms out there brave enough to meet the challenge? If so then lay down the gauntlet to play Building at pool, bowling or cricket along with promises of jugs of beer and bar snacks to

Illustration:  contractor says to the others:

Credit: Clive Wheeler

Wrecker of the realm

I hear that a new honour has been bestowed on Lord Snowdon, society photographer and former husband of the late Princess Margaret - he has become the first ever patron of the National Federation of Demolition Contractors. For those wondering why this dashing society figure has decided to associate himself with the heavy-duty end of the construction industry, NFDC president David Clarke explains: "Lord Snowdon has been a friend to the NFDC for many years. He is a vocal advocate for the need to improve safety and training standards in the demolition sector." So now you know.