Think ancient Greece, think heroics: the passion, the struggle, the glory. Now think London pub: designers, QSs and builders slugging it out with Building contributors for gold. Inspiring, isn’t it?
Who needs the Olympics? With the real Games mired in budget disputes and political wranglings, Building decided to head down the pub for our own version – five and a half years early and with a suitably generous drinks budget (rumours that it spiralled wildly out of control after initial estimates are unfounded).
The venue was Doggetts, a “sportsbar” over the road from Building’s office and one of the most prestigious stadiums in the field of pub sports – although even the most devoted regulars wouldn’t boast of its architectural credentials.
Taking part in a Pub Olympics is not for the faint-hearted. Our athletes weren’t going for gold in such trifling events as sprinting, swimming or judo. Instead we set a demanding test of skill and endurance in the fields of trivia, pool, table football and – most punishing of all (for competitors and spectators alike) – karaoke.
In the name of resolving inter-professional rivalries once and for all, we invited teams of designers, quantity surveyors and builders to pit their wits against one another – and challenged them all to take on the Building contributors, a motley crew of legal columnists, architecture critics and photographers.
Our Olympians were competing for bottles of champagne but, as the drinks flowed and the competitive spirit took hold, it was clear that there was much, much more at stake. Read on to find out who took home the gold …
The opening event is that ultimate test of mental agility: the pub quiz. As befits the Olympics, this event almost certainly dates back to ancient Greece, when poets and philosophers would meet on weekday evenings to test their knowledge of current affairs, sports, history, music and films. At Doggetts, it is an opportunity to find out once and for all which of the construction industry’s professions really is the cleverest. Few spectators have money riding on the Building Contributors.
The quiz provides a tense, almost hushed opening to proceedings. Teammates whisper answers behind cupped hands. Dan Thistlethwaite of the Building Contributors is convinced that the other teams are listening to their deliberations: “Keep your voices down because there are lots of big ears in here,” he hisses urgently.
Over on the Builders’ team, things are equally tense. Gerry “Oklahoma” Miller, his poker face inscrutable under the lowered brow of his Stetson, is biding his time. Like a well-honed decathlete, he is saving his energy for his strongest event, the karaoke. “The only question is whether he’s country or western,” explains teammate Nick Athienitis.
The actual business of answering questions is mostly left to Glenn Lester – the youngest team member by some decades and, it transpires, the possessor of a history A-level. His knowledge of such disparate subjects as the start date of the Second World War and Kofi Annan’s nationality suggests the Builders will put in a strong showing.
The QSs’ team get off to an equally confident, if inaccurate, start. “What was used for blood in the shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho?” asks Building. “Milk,” whispers Gardiner & Theobald partner Tony Farmiloe with certainty. They write it down.
Unfortunately, the Designers appear to be feeling the strain. Chris Liddle, chairman of HLM, is another “athlete” already focusing on the karaoke, but he seems anxious: “I was going to bring the guitar, but I wasn’t sure what the PA system was like. My voice is also a bit gone,” he adds, coughing slightly.
Their quiz performance is not going much better, despite the presence of a ringer in the form of HLM finance director John Clarke. John quickly proves his worth by insisting that Kofi Annan is Egyptian. He is Ghanaian. Steve Johns, of URS Corporation, is equally helpful when asked how many ships there were in the Spanish Armada of 1588. “It’s a trick question,” he triumphantly declares. “That probably wasn’t the year.” He writes down “none”. There were 137.
The Designers’ Olympic dream is already hanging in the balance. Chris knows it, we all know it. A lot will hinge on the karaoke …
Quiz scores (out of 45)
1st Building Contributors 34
2nd Builders 32
3rd QSs 30
4th Designers 24
Next up it’s pool, a game of skill and patience, and essentially a test of who’s spent the most time in the pub over the past few decades.
Builders vs Building Contributors
On table one, Alan Williams for the Builders takes on the Contributors’ Dan Thistlethwaite. Alan is bedecked in jewellery – he wears nine gold rings on seven fingers as well as a Mr T-number of chains. “We call him Paul Newman. He’s a real hustler,” says Gerry.
Almost from the start, things look bleak for Dan. Alan has that unerring pool player’s ability of leaving one ball hanging over the pocket, with almost all his opponent’s balls clustered forlornly behind it.
Dan’s predicament isn’t helped by a noticeable lack of support from his teammates. During the quiz, the Contributors appeared to be a close-knit unit, eagerly agreeing to meet up again in the new year to “go clubbing”. Now, however, Dominic Helps’ attention appears to have drifted.
He and Rudi Klein wander over to the table football table, and the two eminent construction lawyers ponder the thorny question of how to put £1 into the machine. After 10 minutes of lively conjecture, they decide it doesn’t work. Onlookers make a mental note not to put any money on the Contributors to win the table football either.
Meanwhile, Dan is slowly but surely homing in on defeat and finally his teammates realise he needs some support. “C’mon Phil!” Rudi and Dominic bellow. Dan doesn’t react, so they bellow it again, louder. As Alan coolly sinks the black, Gus points out that Dan’s name isn’t Phil. “That’s why I lost,” Dan says, dejectedly. “I thought you were cheering for the other guy.”
QSs vs Designers
Alan may have made light work of Dan, but the other heat, between the QSs’ Evangelos Tzazopoulos and the Designers’ Roger Matthews is a tenser and slower affair. A lot slower. Indeed, Evangelos is on the verge of breaking English Pool Association rule I.1. – failing to make a shot within 60 seconds.
He is lucky Building’s referee is in a generous mood.
But Evangelos is not alone in testing the referee’s resolve. There is little to choose between the two players, until the Designers cunningly demand a time-out, ostensibly so Chris can find his phone. It’s a dubious tactic – the momentum had been swaying towards Evangelos, but his concentration has gone and Roger goes on to take the frame.
Builders vs Designers
So, it’s the smooth technique of Alan against the master tactician Roger in the final. On the other table, Evangelos will try to salvage some pride against Dan.
Poor Dan is soon bearing down on a second defeat. The Contributors are all now gathered round the table, beaming encouragingly at Dan and sharing their opinions on the unfolding game. “Angelo’s still got to consummate the black,” declares Dominic. While spectators ponder what this could mean, Evangelos coolly completes his win.
The final goes more quickly. “Fast Eddie” Alan lives up to his billing and is soon three balls up. Roger doesn’t seem unduly worried, explaining mysteriously: “It’s a tactical game I play, rather than a potting game.”
Sadly, Alan’s potting game seems to be the more effective approach, and the photographer is already asking him to pose for the winner’s portrait while Roger misses another shot.
As Alan cruises to victory, Chris calls over: “Beaten by a contractor again, Roger …”
1st Builders 40
2nd Designers 25
3rd QSs 10
4th Building Contributors 0
1st Builders 72
2nd Designers 49
3rd QSs 40
4th Building Contributors 34
Designers vs Building Contributors
- Steve Johns, URS Corporation (defence)
- Karen Mosley, director of HLM (attack)
- Gus Alexander (defence)
- Rudi Klein (attack)
Before the game, Rudi and Gus had both claimed they used to be pretty good, and they don’t disappoint. Gus is the first to score from his defence position. “He’s playing a Beckenbauer game at the back!” screams Dominic, once again demonstrating his skills as a commentator.
When they’re 4-0 down, a despairing Karen and Steve decide to make a tactical substitution, swapping responsibility for defence and attack. The move pays immediate dividends as Steve pulls it back to 4-1.
Rudi’s constant sledging gets the Designers riled and for a moment an on-pitch brawl threatens. “I’m going to slap you in a minute,” Karen says through gritted teeth but, before she has a chance, karma steps in and Rudi scores an own goal. “I got carried away,” he shrugs innocently.
His humility is shortlived. After finally winning 7-2, Rudi gets on the floor and completes four – count ‘em – four press-ups.
Builders vs QSs
- Nick Athienitis (defence)
- Glenn Lester (attack)
- Dave Connolly (defence)
- Tony Farmiloe (attack)
Building Contributors vs QSs
As is so often the case with the season’s showcase cup finals, the game starts tentatively. Rudi is getting frustrated:
“Shite!” he exclaims during one prolonged exchange of passes, deflating the tension slightly. However, with Gus looking lively up front, the Contributors soon go 3-0 up.
“We’re still tired from our first game,” moans the QSs’ Dave, still showing disturbing signs of referring to the small plastic figures as if they were real people. “Save, the keeper,” he continues to shout every time he blocks Rudi’s speculative long shots. “And again!” he roars, as another Rudi effort is blocked on the line.
Gradually the QSs pull it back to 4-4, when – irony of ironies – Dave’s keeper scores an own goal to hand the Contributors the match. Well done, the keeper.
Table football scores
1st Building Contributors 40
2nd QSs 25
3rd Builders 10
4th Designers 0
1st Builders 82
2nd Building Contributors 74
3rd QSs 65
4th Designers 49
You’d never have predicted it, but there are at least three people in the room who claim the title of “the English Tom Jones”. The Contributors’ Dominic Helps, who knows he has to put in a truly special performance to take the Pub Olympic title away from the Builders, has already put out the word that he is going to do Delilah.
Rather than settle for one of Jones’ lesser works, Gleeds managing partner John Murray bravely chooses to tackle Ronan Keating’s When You Say Nothing At All.
As the intro kicks in, he looks every bit the professional crooner, raising a suggestive eyebrow and holding the pose before beginning in Sinatra-like tones: “It’s amazing how you can speak right to my heart …”
It is, indeed, a heart-felt performance. John taps his foot and smiles a twinkly grin, closing his eyes as he sings the soppiest lyrics. The Designers stand in the middle of the room, swaying and adding some delicate harmonies to the chorus.
Clearly emboldened, John decides to serenade female members of Building’s judging panel – but it doesn’t do him any good. When they hold up their score cards, he gets just 26 points out of a possible 40.
Next to take the stage is the Designers’ Chris Liddle, who’s got his own band. Back at their table, Roger Matthews’ spirits are high. “This round is going to sort us out,” he says.
Chris isn’t so sure. He explains he was going to sing Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits but has decided to go for some Wilson Pickett because of his cold. It is perhaps the first time in music history that anyone has implied Wilson Pickett is an inferior singer to Mark Knopfler. Chris tests the three microphones provided with the karaoke machine, pulls on his shades against the harsh November twilight and grunts, “Alriigghht.”
Within seconds the audience is clapping along to his hip-shaking version of In The Midnight Hour. Chris’ teammates, proud of their man baring his soul for architects everywhere, provide moral and vocal support by echoing “midnight hour” during each chorus. The judges are resoundingly impressed and award unanimous nines – clearly a tough act to follow.
But this holds no fears for Gerry “Oklahoma” Miller. After deliberating for most of the afternoon over what to sing, he goes for Dean Martin’s classic: Little Ole Wine Drinker Me. It soon becomes clear that the cowboy hat and checked shirt are not a costume – he means it. His performance includes much gyrating, swaying and a strange squatting manoeuvre that is sure to catch on in clubland. And even though most of the audience don’t know the song, by this point they’ve all had enough to drink to cheer and whoop along. He narrowly beats Chris’ score – Building’s judges are quite partial to a bit of country and western, and they award him two nines and two tens: 38 out of 40.
Finally, it’s time for Dominic’s much-anticipated homage to Tom Jones. Looking wild-eyed and dishevelled, he prowls the stage, bellowing the verse as Rudi, Gus and Dan try manfully to provide backing vocals. As Dominic hurls himself into the chorus, his face goes a dangerous shade of purple and his hair flops into his eyes. It’s a show-stopping, jaw-dropping performance and it’s easy to believe him as he staggers through the closing line: “I just couldn’t take any more”. The judges recognise true karaoke greatness when it screams in their faces and award him a near-perfect 39 points.
But it’s not enough. When the scores are added up, the Builders have pipped the Contributors by seven points, stealing the champagne from under their noses.
With the winning team reeling from their success, the other competitors put a brave face on defeat with a cold pint or three. Not everyone is relaxing though. Chris (who appears to have forgotten he had a cold), Gerry and Steve from URS return to the stage where they proceed to hog the karaoke machine for a good hour with a genre-busting repertoire. It’s all Building can do to wrestle the microphones out of their hands when the hire company comes to take it away.
1st Building Contributors 39
2nd Builders 38
3rd Designers 36
4th QSs 26