The cladding contractor hit her brother with a tent pole. ’Children! You can’t fight. This is an NEC contract!’
Quentin Shears, 48, is a partner in Newt UK, the recently rebranded Hertfordshire subsidiary of US construction giant Gator Corp. While Quentin has been coming to terms with his new masters’ work culture, they have been deciding what to do with their new outpost in austerity Britain. Last week, Quentin managed to get away for a week’s camping in Devon with wife Alison and two children: Imogen, 10, and William, 9 …
We were making good progress. The satnav had given me an estimated journey time of five hours 13 minutes - which I took to be a challenge. After two hours on the road, I was four minutes ahead of the game. My only concern was that the batteries had run flat on everything we’d brought to plug the children into, which meant that three hours and nine minutes of inane conversation beckoned…
“Daddy …” The cry came from directly behind me. Imogen.
“Sorry, can’t hear you!” I tried. “Music’s too loud!” Using my left knee, I discreetly attempted to increase the volume, but Alison beat me to it, turning the stereo off, glaring at me and discarding the CD in a single manoeuvre.
“Daddy … what job do you do?”
This was exactly what I had feared.
This question comes up every few weeks, and always ends in tears, usually while I’m explaining the New Rules of Measurement.
This time, I decided to keep my answer as brief as possible, to avoid supplementaries. “I’m a QS.”
“But there’s no such thing! When I told Mrs Stubbs that’s what you did, she said, ’Being curious is not a job’.”
“What? Oh for goodness sake.” I was about to launch into a tirade regarding the British education system’s ignorance of construction when I was struck by a brilliant idea.
“Tell you what. When we get to the campsite, we’ll put the tent up together and it’ll be like a real-life construction project. Then you’ll understand!”
Two hours 57 minutes later, I was standing in the middle of a field with my project team around me. “Right, William, you’re in charge of the poles, which makes you the steel-frame contractor. Imogen, you’re the cladding contractor - you’re going to help me put the tent over the poles. Your mother’s going to be project managing from her deckchair over there, and I’m the cost consultant. And already I can reveal that I’ve brought this job in under the client’s £100 budget, having picked up the tent on the internet from eastern Europe for £99.93 including postage!”
After minimal groundworks, the project got under way. The frame went up on schedule and without incident, but when it came to the canvas, the thing seemed to be an entirely different shape to the structure. And I couldn’t help but notice that there was a pole left over from the first phase of the project. The steel-frame and cladding contractors scowled at each other. “Let me look at the instructions,” I said, glossing over the fact that they were in Russian. Sadly, my delaying tactic failed to break the tension and, by the time I looked up, the cladding contractor was attacking her brother with the leftover pole. “Children! You can’t fight!” I shouted. “This is an NEC contract!”
But it was clear that the spirit of collaboration was dead, and I had no choice but to send the cladder to sit in the car, leaving me to stretch the canvas into a passable imitation of a tent. Eventually, a little behind schedule and with a few minor design alterations, I was close to topping out. “Right, now to secure the structure,” I announced. “Where are the pegs?”
I looked through the box the tent came in. No pegs. I got into the car, where Imogen was still in exile. “We have to go and get some tent pegs to finish the project,” I said.
“Okay daddy, but won’t that take us over our budget?”
With my knee, I turned up the stereo.
As told to Nick Jones