Sunday, 6 March 2016

Radioactive rats

Here's a little story which puts the government's reluctance to fund tidal lagoon electricity generation into perspective.

Some years ago, I became the first stone-carver in Europe to have his own website, and only the second in the world. The first was, of course, an American called Walter S Arnold.

One day, I received an email asking me if I would be interested in quoting to make a slate sign for the British Nuclear Fuels new offices in Bristol, and I said yes, so they sent me the drawings.

The sign was to be situated right outside the gleaming new office block, and was made up of four triangular pieces of dark slate which, when mounted on a pyramidical frame of stainless steel, formed an equilateral pyramid, and BNF's logo was to be carved onto the front face only.

I called up the architect, who informed me that the steel frame would be made and erected by another contractor, and all I had to do was make the panels and fix them to it.

I would buy the slate - ready cut to size and shape - and I would get a negative template made from BNF's own artwork, so that it could be stuck to the face of one piece, then get the logo sand-blasted into it. I would then get someone else to go to Bristol to install it, so I would probably end up hardly touching it, if at all. This was going to be one of the easiest jobs ever.

Because it was for British Nuclear Fuels, in which money slops about so fluidly that it often splashes over the top, I pretty much sextupled the price from what I would have quoted anyone else. I cannot remember what I quoted, but I think it was about £15,000, then I submitted it to head office.

A week or so later, I was called up by the main contractor for the whole project, and he bluntly asked me what the price was that I had submitted. I told him to mind his own business, and he told me that it was common practice for sub-contractors to tell the main one their quotations, and he would be finding out in any case, so I might as well tell him now. Foolishly, I told him.

"You realise you are the lowest bidder out of five others, and your bid is £9,000 lower than the next lowest?" He was obviously disgruntled, being on a percentage of all outside contracts, and worried that BNF would have the good sense to accept it.

"What's in it for me?" was his next question.

"Nothing," was my answer. "If you want something over and above my quote, then build it in yourself." He politely said goodbye.

A few days later, I received another phone call to make an appointment for a visit from a handful of BNF's directors, who wanted to come and look around my workshop. We fixed a date, and the four of them arrived, all wearing dark suits, shiny black shoes and expensive overcoats, then they stumbled into my tiny workshop, trying not to get stone-dust on their clothes.

They looked around incredulously whilst one of them asked me how many people I employed, to which I replied, 'none'. The thing about websites is that you just cannot tell what sort of an outfit you are dealing with just by looking at photos and reading the blurb. They did not know what to expect, but they hadn't expected a scruffy bloke, covered in dust and working entirely on his own.

They saw what they wanted to see and left, saying they would be in touch.

I didn't get the job. I wasn't big or corrupt enough.

Bear in mind that Bristol has the second highest tide in the world, and would be the supremely ideal place to fit one or two tidal lagoon generators in place of the nuclear power stations on the North Somerset coast.

David Cameron has said that British Tidal generators are too expensive for the government to fund and he would rather give much more money to foreign investors to make new nuclear ones which have an active life (not half-life) of 40 years less than tidal ones.

This week, there is an arms-fair in the Bristol area, which you can attend by invitation only. All sorts of charming regimes will be there spending loads of lovely money. Iran will not be, though. They don't even want them to have a nuclear power station. I wonder why not.


  1. The Chinese weren't interested in tidal lagoons because they can't nuke us with water.

    1. True - they don't sell water-pistols at arms fairs - not even super-soakers.

  2. All the machinations of these bigcompanies take such a lot of understanding Tom - I suppose things are exactly the same now as they were when you had your experience.

  3. OK, the rest of you miserable fuckers. You've made your point. From now on it's going to be a maximum of 2 short paragraphs, you fucking goldfish. (Using Rachel's recently outlined Blogger Etiquette now...).

    1. I haven't written it yet. I slaved over a post about friends and got two comments in an hour about a football match and one from you talking about getting bitten by snakes on my arse which scared me enough to say nothing but I agree.

    2. I don't always know how to comment, Tom. I'm ignorant in many subjects, as it is in this case. But I do like to read your blog and I read all your post entries with great interest. Greetings Maria x

    3. Fine. And I read to the end to see if radioactive rats might be a radioactive title, instead.

    4. Oh I'm only joking. As Jesus (or was it Buddha?) said, if only one person gets the message, it will still be a complete waste of time... or something like that.

  4. That website must have been quite a while ago, though maybe not if your bid of ₤15,000 was considered low. Lately I've been thinking about how we tend to judge a business on the quality of its website. I guess we're equating the money available for website design with the success of the business. The uniqueness of yours sent a rich message.

    1. The very early days of dial-up. At the back of our pub there was the first internet cafe in Britain. That's how long ago.

  5. This post was a bit on the prescient side - This morning's news is that the French electricity company which has pledged to build an £18 billion new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point, G.B. to replace the old one - EDF - has just announced that its finance director has resigned because he thinks this decision will destroy the company.

    85% of this 'investment' is from France and the rest will come from China. Although the French government will underwrite the loan, it total cost of this one power station is more than the whole of EDF is worth on paper anyway, and the new station will not begin producing power for at least 10 years.

    You know it makes sense...