Building Magazine on why construction needs migrant workers

Gordon Brown’s announcement of a larger quota for desperately needed overseas construction workers is cue for a good piece from Building magazine about migrant workers on UK sites. The article focuses on the experience of workers on the huge Paternoster Square development, next door to St Paul’s Cathedral in The City – from Italy, Hungary, Zimbabwe and Germany. This is the kind of access only a prestige trade title like Building could get but it’s crying out for a longer treatment – five workers from four nations on one well-run site is hardly an in-depth survey.

The magazine’s coverline sums up the UK building trade’s attitude to migrant workers: “The indispensibles: why construction needs migrant workers”.

Blue collar thrills

Spot the dragster, win a prizeThe Santa Pod Easter Thunderball Pro Fuel Shootout
There’s a village in the flatlands of South Northamptonshire called Podington. Nearby is what used to be a US Airbase. In 1966, some locals decided to introduce the frankly weird and unsuitable US sport of drag racing to the abandoned runway and, in honour of its American roots, they called the track Santa Pod Raceway – borrowing some glamour from all those hot, dry Californian salt pans and desert strips, I suppose.
The school holidays are almost over so I took Olly (4) to Santa Pod’s ‘Easter Thunderball Pro Fuel Shootout’ on bank holiday Monday. A meeting like this is a kind of working class Henley Regatta, a huge family picnic with candy floss, an aerobatic display, dodgems, a Wall of Death and chip vans – all set to the utterly impenetrable howling and grinding soundtrack of the cars themselves. Whole conversations are conducted in mime. Hot dog vendors lip read.

The noise is the main thing. The only thing, really. It’s more than a noise. It’s a big shock the first time you hear it. Less like the rumble of a big engine than a huge, percussive grunt or crash with no apparent source – the gates of hell come to mind. It’s so huge and so physical (stuck for adjectives: acute? Cataclysmic? Shocking? Visceral?) that it makes you want to cry (like the opera).

Most races last 5 or 6 seconds. There’s a persistent smell of exotic substances (methanol, nitrous oxide) and burning rubber, the track is continually sprayed with an acrid degreaser (“cover your children’s eyes, ladies and gentlemen. Just a mild irritant”), a single run will use 40 litres of fuel. Crashes and engine failures are routine (although hardly anyone gets hurt).

Drag racing is the pursuit of a simple, 1940s teen pastime to its logical (but entirely unreasonable) conclusion. It’s all about prosperity, abundant free time, permissive traffic laws and cheap gas. It has to be the least environmentally-friendly pursuit on earth and it’s a total anachronism (I feel a bit dirty talking about it). The kids who raced their Chevys and Fords between traffic lights in little post-war Californian towns can have had no idea that such a rich and strange culture would result (huge in Norway, apparently). I think I’m addicted.

(tip: get some ear defenders for your kids. They sell them at the raceway).

Click on the small nine-frame pic above to confirm that I really didn’t manage to catch a dragster in a single one of those nine photos!

Some links: Some of those mind-blowing sounds from the US (although they’re a pretty pale reflection of the cacophany at the raceway). Some great and evocative pics of drag racing in the UK in the 1960s. Lots of pictures and videos of more recent UK drag racing. The Santa Pod site plays a sound when you load it and I think it might be the first one I’ve ever approved of.

Radio stars

To unlovely Shoreditch via lovely Liverpool Street Station with its disfiguring retail warts (the station concourse and train shed remain beautiful but only if you hold up your hand to block out the sediment of Sock Shops and Soup Shacks up to about first floor level) to meet Matt Hall, head of radio for Somethin’ Else and Tamsin Hughes, top radio producer, to talk about… a radio programme. What else?

Somethin’ Else is a success story of the post-independent-production-quota broadcast landscape. Despite the economic slowdown and the recent unpleasantness the firm still produces hundreds of hours of TV and radio for the Beeb and other outlets (including British Airways jets). They’re responsible, for example, for one of the BBC’s biggest external commissions, Jazz on 3 and for Channel 4’s Black Like Beckham.

Beeb to Charter renewal opponents: ‘give up now’

According to Dan Milmo and Maggie Brown in The Guardian:

“The BBC has begun a three-year battle to secure its future and retain the ?2.5bn licence fee by appointing a team of 50 to work on a new royal charter.”

Most UK businesses and many of the corporation’s most important competitors, especially online, employ fewer than 50 people in total. Forgive the crass analogy, but the Beeb is preparing the media equivalent of ‘shock and awe’ for opponents of the licence fee. Resistance is futile.

Churchillian in more ways than one

Ed Richards, former advisor to Tony Blair
Ed Richards, principle advisor on Telecoms and new media to the Prime Minister until he took a job at Ofcom last week, reveals Tony Blair’s decisiveness on Broadband Britain:

“First, I want you to tell me what this broadband thing is. Second, I want you to tell me why it’s in crisis, and third, I want you to sort it out…”

Take-up for broadband is pretty impressive now, even from a very low base. According to NOP, a quarter of UK Internet households will be on broadband by the end of 2003. Blair’s Churchillian approach might actually be working.


Mike NutleyVic KeeganNeil McIntosh
To Blacks for lunch with Mike Nutley, editor of New Media Age (forgot to take his picture!). We talked about blogging (what else?). I don’t know how he does it exactly, but he’s been in charge at New Media Age through both boom and bust and managed to keep the magazine healthy and interesting throughout.

Then on to The Guardian to meet with Vic Keegan, Guardian veteran and editor of Guardian Online. Vic’s been at The Guardian since before I was born and used to be the paper’s chief leader writer before he started the Online section. Twenty years ago he started the pioneering Computer Guardian section and was responsible for bringing near-legendary Jack Schofield to the paper. He still writes a leader ‘most days’. Also got to meet Vic’s deputy, Neil McIntosh, briefly. Neil writes Macintosh pieces and is a regular contributor to the Online blog so I always read his stuff.

Tangled web

Andy Rowell and Jonathan Matthews in The Ecologist have done some forensic Googling to uncover an unsavoury and potentially deceptive (but not surprising) pact between the former Living Marxism entryists at Spiked, the three hundred and fifty year-old Royal Society and the agri-business lobby to promote GM agriculture. The unlikely co-conspirators have set up a lobbying group called Sense in Science and, as usual, the question is ‘who’s duping whom?’

The article doesn’t seem to be on The Ecologist‘s web site so you might have to go out and buy it.