’I get the Oxford Anthology of Business poetry off the shelf. It’s time for the big guns’
Quentin Shears, 48, is a partner at Hertfordshire quantity surveyor Fearful & Bald. He is currently undergoing anger management therapy following a heated dispute with a project architect over the cladding specification on Buntingford leisure centre. Criminal proceedings were dropped by the architect after he conceded that the inclusion of solid gold tiling in the designs was intended to “provoke a strong reaction”. As part of Quentin’s therapy, he has been encouraged to “work through” his feelings by writing a diary, which he has kindly agreed to share with Building.
For me a project doesn’t really come to life until you see it unfold on a 78-page spreadsheet. Until then, it’s just pictures really. So I was relishing the prospect of a whole day of just me at my desk quietly snipping away, like Alan Titchmarsh finessing a bonsai tree, when the local Conservative candidate strode into my office to ruin everything.
I should explain. The Tories’ man for Bishop’s Stortford East is my managing partner, Simon Fearful. Simon’s appearances in the office are, needless to say, becoming less frequent, particularly after party HQ advised him that quantity surveying wasn’t polling well. According to YouGov’s latest findings, only 22% of floating voters believe it to be a real job, and 13% think it’s a blood sport.
But Simon wasn’t here to talk about politics. He was here to offload some of his work. “It’s Dubai, Quentin,” he announced. “We can’t get a penny out of them. This is serious. Which is why I’m delegating it to you. It’s time to shake them down.”
You would be forgiven for wondering what Fearful & Bald, a QS firm with a modest, if growing, reputation in the east Hertfordshire leisure, education and residential markets, was doing in Dubai in the first place. Let me take you back to late 2006 – a time when the emirate had decided to become a world leader in sustainability. I know it’s easy to be cynical now, but even then I doubted the viability of the UAE’s first polar bear sanctuary.
But Simon felt this was our chance. It just so happened that our work on Badger World in Duxford had come to the attention of Sheikh Mohammed himself, on a toilet break on the way back from Newmarket races. From badgers to polar bears is but a small step in the world of cost consultancy so, with the Sheikh’s backing, the PolarPlex contract was secured, and Fearful & Bald was set to go global.
Alas, it was never to be. The problems started when the client stipulated that the sanctuary should be on an island built in the shape of the Arctic. As the architect kept having to rework the perimeter design, so the costs spiralled. And then, when the crash came, everything went quiet. We kept telling ourselves that maybe Abu Dhabi would step in, that polar bears were still a growth market, but, in truth, the rollercoaster ride was over. All that was left was for us to get off and be sick.
Which is why I’ve now spent most of a week getting to grips with the vagaries of the Arabian legal and begging systems. Unfortunately, the Rough Guide to Middle Eastern Etiquette does not give the appropriate form of address for someone who owes you 50,000 quid. However, it does suggest that poetry “ranks alongside falconry and horsemanship in demonstrating manliness, sensitivity and understanding of the cultural heritage”. I put the etiquette guide to one side and get the Oxford Anthology of Business Poetry off the shelf. It’s time for the big guns.
And it is then that inspiration strikes. Poetry is not the answer. Desperate times like these call for a trick I learned at the knee of Cyril Sweett himself. I open a blank email: “I work with the Union Bank of Nigeria PLC. I am the senior manager of bills and exchange at the foreign remittance department of my bank. I have an urgent and confidential business proposal for you…”
As seen by Nick Jones