When I first started up in business I got offered a job in Manchester for Boots, the pharmaceutical company. This was very early on, when I was still working from home on the dining-room table and everything was terribly uncertain; money was tight; we had a new baby and although there was a fair bit of work in the pipeline there was nothing much coming through in the short-term. Everything was still at tender stage except Langdale, which was keeping us alive. This was a big job, as big as Langdale and we definitely could do with it; no competition, it was us they wanted. It was five storeys of animal-testing laboratories.
I think I must have then been the only person in UK construction who would have hesitated over this. In the end, I put my conscience to one side and went ahead with it; I think the profit from that one job paid the wages for the next three months but I was never happy about it. Still to this day remember it. Still, to this day feel uneasy with anything to do with animal-testing.
But I knew where I stood.
Three years later, less actually because I can remember doing the schedules on the dining-room table so although it didn’t become an actual order for three years, it was still a project; we won the Barrow Nuclear Submarine base. The new Trident missile submarines. I was then and still am today a member of CND. Easily and I mean easily the biggest job we ever had and I am including Paradise Street in that claim even though that was over £1m. In today’s money it must have been worth £3m. Didn’t hesitate because no-one else would have hesitated . . . our competitors would have sold their souls for an order like that.
As it happens, it would have been pretty difficult to turn it down; we were very quickly meshed with the construction process and possibly, probably after that very first minute when I said yes, to Neil Barker, there was never an opportunity to turn back.
What brought all this on is an article on-line about Zaha Hadid as a result of her walking out of a BBC interview over whether she should be turning away work from despotic regimes. She is working on several such schemes apparently although they all are, Fosters, Koolhaas, are all mentioned as guilty and the argument is largely about whether Zaha is being singled out because she is a woman; an Iraqi woman at that. And as the piece argues, the Olympic Committee deals with despotic regimes as indeed does the mayor of London and the Chancellor, George Osborne so why pick on a commercial firm for being commercial.
Don’t know the answer; it’s like the arms trade that provides a hundred thousand jobs in the UK or the tobacco industry [another sixty-thousand] or any of the millions of other non-ethical jobs people do to earn money now.
I really, really try not to change my ethics on a day-to-day basis and I do, I have suffered from ostracisation for being too honest for my own good.
Yesterday we killed a large swarm of wasps which had built their nest inside our loft-space. Wild creatures who got in our way.