Sandy Mitchell continues the confessional diary from his building site – Part Seven of ‘What I wish I had known’

—6th April 2020

In the latest instalment of his project diary, Sandy gets the news that the builders are downing tools.

The new wing: months from completion and now shut down

The doorbell went just now. Our site manager was standing in the driveway, having retreated a careful 6ft from our door after pressing the bell. He was wearing his high-viz jacket and a long face. ‘We are shutting down the site,’ he said sombrely. ‘I don’t know when we will return.’

I was braced for this news. It was inevitable and necessary, of course, given the country’s anti-virus lockdown.

And thus just months away from its completion by our builders, and abandoned within an hour by all the workmen climbing over it, the new wing of our house has become a ghost ship all of a sudden, stranded in our garden. The scaffolding poles around the structure stand like bare masts against the afternoon sky, I fancy.

So near and yet so far: the master-suite dressing room almost has a floor

So, adjusting briskly to this new reality and very aware that our setback is utterly trivial in the wider context, I am planning to continue writing this blog over coming months in the hope it will give you a little entertainment now and then; also, for the entirely selfish reason that I enjoy writing it.

And in the spirit of self-improvement buoying up many of us around Britain while normal life is on hold, I have put together a short quiz on builders’ jargon for this week’s blog. Hopefully, you can learn some lingo that will impress the heck out of your own builders if you ever start a project.

If you don’t know any of the answers, feel no shame—I was just as ignorant of these strange idioms before we started our project, even though I spend a fair bit of time on building sites in an average month.

So which is the correct definition for each of the terms below?

1. Tiger loop
a) A fit of rage: ‘I dropped my hammer on his toe and he did a complete tiger loop’
b) Ornate wallpaper decoration, originally from 18th-century Hokkaido
c) A kind of valve on a heating-oil pipe

2. Muck work
a) Any job that makes a builder sweat, such as shifting a pallet of bricks or working out whether he was meant to use centimetres rather than inches for the basement he just dug
b) A technique for pre-ageing new brick walls, involving the smearing of horse manure on to the surface to encourage lichen growth
c) Applying mortar by hand to roof tiles and the like

3. Stars and rails
a) What you see when lying in bed and looking up through a badly built ceiling or an old one needing urgent repair
b) A banner, similar to the USA’s ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag, hoisted by builders to celebrate making a new roof watertight
c) The vertical and horizontal wooden bars on a glazed door (also known as ‘stairs and rails’)

4. Welfare
a) What considerate building contractors think about when managing their staff
b) The dole
c) A euphemism for lavatory

You probably don’t need me to tell you that the correct answer is ‘c’ in each case. I admit I was especially puzzled the first time I heard the last one in the quiz: there I was back in April last year, with the builders due to arrive on site any day, when a couple of blokes in workmen’s overalls wandered into our garden and put the question to me: ‘Where do you want the welfare?’

Once I had worked out what they were talking about, I chortled quietly to myself. The construction industry, once notorious for wolf-whistling at passing women and flashing flabby ‘builders’ bums’, has become so ‘woke’ it can’t bring itself to call a loo a loo—or a toilet or a bog for that matter—for fear of causing offence.

The view from our kitchen now and for coming months: not quite what we expected

Well, some builders anyway. Others still cling to the old ways, according to a client of RedBook who was telling me a story last week about one of the ‘brickies’ working on his Grade II-listed house in the South.

The brickie is in his 70s and apparently superbly skilled at his job, but each morning he starts his day on site with the same slow ritual. He walks into the client’s kitchen, makes himself a cup of tea, pulls up a chair and settles down for a full 10 minutes with his newspaper. Its appeal is not so much literary as pictorial: this is The Mirror not The Times. ‘It is girlie pics from cover to cover,’ reports our client wryly. ‘He ‘’reads’’ it cover to cover with a big smile on his face and gets up at the end and says, ‘’Nothing but good news today.’’’

With all the serious news in the world just now, it is hard to begrudge anyone finding a pleasurable escape, however Neanderthal.

And searching for some good news of my own to report, I can share that the roof on our new wing is fully tiled, and the exterior walls are almost complete—albeit covered in a layer of reflective silver insulation that makes the new wing look from certain angles like a weird installation by Christo, the artist who wrapped Berlin’s Reichstag in a shiny overcoat.

Christo was here: wrapped in a silver coat like Berlin’s Reichstag

Best of all, the stairs are in. They look magnificent. Made of oak, rising three floors from the new basement to the new master bedroom, elegant and sinuous in design, they give me a glow like the first warmth from the rising sun: the surest promise that, one day, when our project is finished it will be all that we hoped.


Sandy has been advising clients on their property projects since he founded the RedBook Agency nearly ten years ago.




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