Thursday, October 25, 2007


Cheap as chips

I spent Monday down at Aco Towers near Hitchin, photographing the installation of their latest linear channel, a lightweight but incredibly tough PP unit capable of withstanding a 25 tonne load. This is the latest chapter in an ongoing project to create comprehensive installation guides for various Aco products. The Drive Drain Garage Pack was done back during the so-called summer, and now we're looking at Hex Drain and Brickslot.

Anticipating an early start on Monday morning, I drove down on Sunday evening and spent the night at a weird motel a few miles from the site, and it was during the 190+ mile jaunt along the nation's motorway network that I detected an almost ever-present whiff of chips.

It used to be that the smell of re-fried chips meant you were within 5 miles of Blackpool, an essential skill when judging how much longer you'd be stuck on the coach before achieving blessed freedom at Talbot Road coach depot. However, with the growing use of what is referred to as "Bio-Diesel" amongst the 4x4-driving fraternity, every motorway journey now reeks of burning chip fat, and not even good quality lard, but cheap vegetable oil that makes for inferior chips but, allegedly, works well as an alternative fuel.

But the future for chip-fat fueled motoring may not be as rosy as first seems. Given the drive (no pun intended) against obesity, it can only be a matter of time before chips and other deep-fried delicacies are banished and this relatively new source of cheap fuel is lost to humanity. What then? Will the Land Rover be re-named as the Lard Rover? Will the middle classes power their X5s with Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Will my L200 run on the residue of my once-a-month Sunday fry-up?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Where do these clowns come from??

Another in the occasional series of heart-stopping questions that come in to the website. In this case, I can't really blame the questioner as he isn't familiar with building technology, but this so-called builder? Well, he should be strung-up by his danglies!

"Had some flags done Easter 2007, big puddles, bloke had to redo a big section, now he has half covered the airbricks that are below my patio doors leading into a wooden floored room. He now claims he will move the airbricks up....I am concerned, can you advise?"

Advise? I can only advise that this clown is reported to Trading Standards before he wrecks your house!

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Step this way...

I've finally finished the page on stepping stones, a project first started back in 1999 according to my notes. Eight years: so much for instant publishing on the web, eh?

It started as a rough outline, then I had a heart attack and it got stuck in a "I'll finish this one day" folder, which has since been carried forward to two successor computers without ever actually being finished. It was a post in The Brew Cabin earlier this week that prompted me to finally complete the drawings and get the thing done, once and for all.

Only another 73 partially-complete pages left in that folder, now!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Not as green as we're cabbage-looking

By 'eck! It seems the meejah really have got it in for the hard-landscaping industry. Hot on the heels of an ongoing "investigation" of ethical issues in the importation of stone for paving and walling, the gunsights are being re-targeted, and it's the cement and concrete industry that's in the firing line this time.

Friday's Guardian carried a full-page piece about the carbon-bootprint of cement manufacturing, and while there is valid cause for concern, there's no indication of how the environmental impact of cement can be reduced. The article makes reference to the "hard time" that's been given to the aviation industry over CO2 emissions, and hints that the same sort of rough ride might be on the cards for the cement trade, but fails to acknowledge that, while trips to Prague and Riga for stag weekends are a luxury that we could manage without (Blackpool isn't all that bad for pre-nuptual shenanigans!), the prospect of us going back to wattle and daub is much more fanciful.

Yes: cement manufacture churns out millions of tonnes of CO2 and consumes vast quantities of energy, but what's the alternative? Marshalls have been working to reduce their total carbon emission from block production, while Charcon have signed up to the Carbon Trust, and I know that most, if not all, Western cement manufacturers look at how they can maximise the quantity of cement produced for the minimum energy input, if only for economic rather than environmental reasons.

All life has an impact on the environment. We're all part of the environment and even the act of breathing emits carbon dioxide. It's impossible to exist without affecting the environment. Some activities can be portrayed as exorbitant and unsustainable; construction is vital and one of the activities that makes us human. As the Builder and Engineer awards on Wednesday night sought to emphasise, the construction industry is beginning to re-assess its environmental impact and develop working methods and materials that minimise any deleterious effect, but we will never reach a point where construction, or humanity, has zero impact. If we do, it means we've become extinct!

Friday, October 12, 2007


My missus didn't recognise me with my clothes on!

I’m not the sort of bloke that’s comfortable in a suit. Weddings, funerals and the occasional exceptionally important business meeting are the only reasons for surrendering my usual outfit of casual shirt and jeans. So the odds on me dressing in what is referred to as “Evening Wear” in educated circles and a “Penguin Suit” by the son and heir would normally be slightly more generous than those offered on Nessie to be seen riding a Harley Davidson down the M6 with Elvis riding pillion and Lord Lucan in the sidecar.

However, one of the better annual award events has a “Black Tie” policy, which doesn’t actually mean “wear a tie that is black”, but “wear the most uncomfortable shirt you can find and with it a bow-shaped noose that constricts the throat”, so, if you want to take part in the fun and games, you have to wear the comedy outfit.

All of which explains why, on Wednesday night, an awkward, discomposed and self-conscious-looking ex-contractor could be seen lurking outside Manchester’s resplendent Palace Hotel, waiting for his generous hosts from Charcon to find their way to the big city so that they might confer the award for “Public Project of the Year” on a worthy recipient.

The Builder and Engineer awards recognise achievement in the commercial and public sector, and the focus this year was very much on wider environmental concerns and carbon footprints in particular. A total of 14 awards are doled out, offering varying degrees of interest to someone from a civils/hard-landscaping background, from almost-none to quite-a-lot. The full list of categories, nominees and eventual winners can be found on the Builder and Engineer website, but a couple are worth mentioning. The Charcon award (or Char-sonne, if you prefer the MC Mike Shaft pronunciation) for Public Project of the Year went to Birse Civils for the A58 Blackbrook by-pass on the outskirts of St. Helens, notable because a colleague of mine was involved in some of the kerb-laying and also for being the source of the JCB that unwittingly led my Father’s funeral cortege along the East Lancs Road last December, an incident that would have amused him greatly.

Civils Contractor of the year went to Alfred McAlpine in recognition of their work on widening the M60 Manchester orbital car park with a enviable record of having two periods covering in excess of 1 million man hours without a single notifiable accident, which, when you consider we’re talking about groundworkers, navvies, digger-drivers and blacktop gangs, is nothing short of a miracle.

Product of the year, for the second year running, overlooked a bloody clever idea from Advanced Sewer Products and went instead to some scaffolding/formwork gizmo. If you have any involvement at all with sewers or drains, I urge you to take a look at the CamStopper and CamPole products, because they will make your working life safer and easier.

Some interesting gossip, as there always is at these events.

Charcon marketing boss, the ever-genial Fraser Higgins, let me have one of the first copies of the new SUDS design manual, which I’m planning to review in more detail over the next few days. At first glance, it’s very, very impressive and is certain to become the design manual by which the others are judged. Watch the News pages for the review towards the back end of next week.

The tame CBP makers at Charcon have come up with what might be considered a spiffing wheeze. I was shown a new block a couple of weeks back, on condition that I swore a solemn vow to keep me trap shut. However, I’m fairly confident that I won’t be shot at dawn for revealing that it’s damned clever and very, very attractive. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it’s the best new CBP I’ve seen in 4 years. Latest news is that development is ploughing ahead at full speed and trial sites are being sought. If you have a 100-300m2 commercial/retail/housing site ready to be paved in the next month or so, and would like to be considered as a trial, drop me an email with details of the project and I’ll pass it on to the Charcon block boffins.

Also some surprising news from the Bradstone camp, but I’m not sure whether it’s embargoed, so I’ll say nowt until I’m told otherwise. Suffice to say it’s a disappointment, but I can understand the reasoning…sort of.

Thankfully, the rather disturbing photos of yours truly in a penguin outfit are not fit for publication, so you’re spared that horror, but I’d like to thank Fraser and everyone at Charcon for inviting me to enjoy their munificent hospitality, to offer sincere congratulations to the award winners, and thank my lucky stars that I didn’t win the Chubby Brown tickets in the “Good Cause” raffle (which raised in excess of three grand for the chosen charity, Caudwell Children).

The pleated shirt and bow-tie can now go back into hibernation…or I could put them on EBay, I suppose!

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