The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

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 looks back on a year of Covid in construction and what post-Covid might look like. 

A year has passed since the first lockdown. A birthday, a Christmas, nearly two Easters, a summer of staying at home… mostly.

The last time we went away was July to stay for a long weekend near my Mum, so we could visit her at home. The other was five days in Devon in September, just when we thought we were exiting the worst of the pandemic – and not long before the second lockdown, as it happened.

Haven’t been to an outdoor event for over a year. I have hardly met anyone socially in the past six months, other than immediate family and friends on zoom quiz nights.

I love my friends, but no more quizzes please. I was rubbish at them before lockdown and practice has not improved my scores. It’s just not me. A bit like physics and French at school. It didn’t matter how good the teacher was or how high quality the lesson, nothing stuck. A lost cause.  D+ on a good day. Same with quizzes. You don’t want me on your team.

I have been to several building sites, gloved, masked and covid safe.

I’ve had temperature scans using hand-held devices and been face-scanned on wall mounted screens with those head shaped outlines to position your chops. I’ve seen well-run sites with one-way systems, signs and hand washing facilities. And lately I’ve seen less well-run sites where the security guard has forgotten about the dangers of shared pens and handed me his or hers to fill in my name; signs not so prominent and one-way systems ignored. We forget too easily sometimes.

Greetings have shifted slightly too. From embarrassed nodding in March 2020 and self-conscious elbow bumps to a recent offer of a hand at the end of a meeting last week. In a moment of forgetfulness (a recurring feature of day-to-day life) I shook it. Then had to find a bathroom to wash for 20 seconds… singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’ twice under my breath. I think I read that’s the minimum?

But I’ve been glad we have kept construction sites open this time.

There was the initial pause of a few weeks in April last year, and the relative emptiness and slow progress for a while afterwards, but it’s been sort of special. Sometimes I felt we were the only ones who have kept going. Though I know that’s not true. There are plenty of other industries fighting on – not least, of course, the NHS.

Construction has been the most visual and noisy remnant of the pre-covid world, I suppose. Probably emphasising that even with all the amazing technological advancements in construction techniques, we can still create enough dust and dirt to cover any number of cars and pavements. We dress to reflect this. You can always tell someone who works in stone by the layer of dust on their sandwiches. Can’t eat them any other way. Once you’ve tried it…

I had my jab last week. I’m in that age bracket now where my number came up. Chatty medics and administrators stuck AZ in my arm. I expected to be more elated than I was. Being able to work throughout has made this milestone more routine, perhaps. No reaction, thankfully. Except in my head. Psychosomatic – imagined but not real. Just have to wait now until the end of May for the second dose.

It’s still not entirely clear for any of us how our new world will eventually look, although its slowly emerging: More concerned about the environment. More tolerant of each other. More hopeful for our future. More balanced. All of these I wish for. Perhaps a little embarrassed about how we got where we did? Definitely wanting to change and move forward.

I hope you and your loved ones have made it this far. Here’s to the future… together.