Friday, April 25, 2008

Topping out day

One compensation for being off work this week is that I was today able to attend the topping out ceremony for the John Lewis department store building. I hadn't expected to be able to go because it clashed with the midday Eucharist.

We were invited at 10h30 to turn up at the Bovis/SD2 redevelopment offices in Harlech Court, in the lee of the Big Sleep Hotel, in order to register and obtain protective equipment - hi-viz vest, helmet, gloves and goggles, to comply with H&S site regulations. Then we were briefed and led across the road in squadrons of 20, to climb up the stair-well to what will be the fourth floor, in order to get a grandstand view of the whole site, and ten minutes to take photos. I was pleased to get a photo of St John's tower sandwiched in between lift shafts - never to be seen like that again, once it's all in-filled with apartments.

Then we climbed up on to the roof for a speech from the Chief Engineer and the MD charged with bringing the new store into being, about eighty of us. The ceremony consisted of a photo opportunity with the MD tightening the 'last nut' of the steel frame of the building, rather than cementing a brick into place. All very low key, but valued as a ritual by all those engineers present. Some of the photographs I took are posted here.

We were then entertained to a three course sit down lunch in the Western Studio down at the Millennium Centre, a mix of engineers, local government officers, and SD2 staff. One side of the studio was adorned with big SD2 banners, the other with John Lewis furnishings for a lounge and a dining room, tastefully laid out - a little goutée of the future. Splendid opportunism. The only 'outsiders' there were myself and Illtyd Lloyd representing Tabernacl. We sat together and talked with 'Lord' Eric Dutton, the founding father of city centre management in Cardiff, Paul Mannings, the City's redevelopment manager, Paul Thomas head of Highways and Warwick Armstrong of Planning.

I was interested to note, the service being a bit slow, that pudding wasn't served until after 1.45, and the working men at the table were starting to fidget. By 2.10, they'd upped and left. There were two bottles of wine on the table. Only half of one bottle was drunk - between seven people. The fact that it was Friday afternoon didn't seem to give anyone the idea that they should sit back and while away the time 'officially'. These were all bosses who take their jobs seriously. I'd like to think that they all get satisfaction from what they do, to be so keen to get back to work, rather than so scared that people would gossip if they didn't.

Although there was an official coach back to the centre, I took the Bay Car, which left earlier, with Illtyd, then made my way over to school to find out who got the job, and how everyone there feels about it. Well, more of that another day. As I was leaving school, I saw that there was a furniture van on the forecourt of St James' Church. It was the 'church clearance' people collecting pews, the lectern, altar, communion rails etc. I popped in, and found Allan in there locking up. Finally, with the clutter gone and the sanctuary completely empty, the majesty of the choir and apse is really striking. If anything it looks less inglorious than it did last week with everything still in disarray. Now is when I'd like to be able to take it over and use it as a place of prayer - prayer of simplicity, without all the pomp and pretension with which we clog our great places for worship.

Talk of 'topping out', I wonder what happened to the framed photo of the topping out of St James' spire by Mrs Canon Thompson, who ascended 150 in a rickety lift for the purpose. Well, that's what the caption beneath reports. You can't actually see who's who in the picture as it's taken from the other side of the crossroads.

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