The Merry Month: 10th anniversary

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. [email protected]

Stone consultant and Expert Witness Robert Merry is celebrating a ‘significant’ birthday and 10 years of writing this column. 

This column is officially 10 years old now – just over, in fact, as The Merry Month started in January 2011. I recently also passed a major age milestone. Go on, guess! I’m told it’s the new 40. One well-wisher even managed to find a card that stated it was the new 30. That was stretching a joke a bit thin, if I might say so.

So I have been kicking around in this rather marvellous industry for more than 30 years – man and old man. Still no hair. Still no cigar.

And still no nearer to distinguishing my arse from my elbow when it comes to some aspects of stone.

Stonemasonry fills me with wonder – monumental stone, thick block, rich words (quoins particularly useful for scrabble). But don’t ask me anything about how it all goes together. Leave that to the big stone boys.

Fireplaces I know a little about, having worked for the Chesney brothers back in the ’80s (I know, before some of you were even born).

I did go back to Chesney’s a few years back to project-manage a large job in Lancaster Gate – feel free to ask me the difference between a French and Georgian.

Gravestones, no. Memorial stone has passed me by up to now, although I expect I may come into contact with it at some point, hopefully without my knowledge. Aggregates for roads (‘crushers’ as they are known) is just something I drive the car on.

How stone is used in other industries, from talc to medicinal pills, glass to toothpaste, I can tell you nothing... except that stone appears in unexpected places in all our lives.

Paving and floors, internal walls and kitchen tops. These I know about. Some would say ‘not enough’, and I can only agree. One of the delights of this industry is its continuing development and change. New machinery – ‘Robolution in stone…’ this magazine last month. Who’d have thought robot arms would be seen in fabrication workshops?

A revolution in computer technology is driving automation from templating to drone surveys of buildings. Integrated CAD software for five axes machinery, cloud-based communication networks... as if I had a clue what any of this means.

New stones from new quarries, old stones from old quarries given false names to confuse old men of stone and drive them mad.

But the industry moves on and walks in step with construction.

I was at a project last month where the bathroom ‘pods’ had been built in Europe and delivered into the building more than 50 floors high before the building facade was closed. They had been wheeled into their final positions and the plumbing connected some 18 months later. Wow!

I did meet an expert on cantilevered stairs who I had the pleasure to work with on a Nash building in Regent’s Park. I say work with – I swept the stairs and accidentally stepped on and crushed one of the hard plastic numbers she uses to identify the treads on the survey. Number 22. Clumsy and old. Sorry.

And I did come across a stone magician. Known as the ‘Magic man’, he is almost an alchemist in that he can turn a ‘base’ marble disaster into a ‘golden’ marble finish. In my case his work delighted the client when I had thought all hope was lost.

To watch his skill with resins and colours to disguise and transform was something new to me... but at the same time old, in as much as there was no hi-tech involved. No drone or IT programme could have substituted for his skill and care. It was good to watch.

2021 has been a busy year so far and I have a sense it will continue at a pace. For you too, I hope. So here’s to the new 40. Or is that 30? I just can’t remember.