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Signoff: David Taylor

I'VE NEARLY taken up golf.

Well, it's what you do, isn't it? My brother in law's in marketing and when he's not running something up a f lagpole, thinking outside the box or cramming some short-term gains into his enablers he's out there on the golf cou rse in unspeakable brogues, schmoozing with clients.

It's a pointless game, but I guess it beats work. And it's the peripherals that really make it worthwhile.

Losing is of ten bet ter than winning: you can land a major contract just by letting the right fellow win.

I'm brilliant at losing at draughts, incidentally, and golf can't be that different. And even if you can't bear losing, there can even be benefits in winning.

Now, I said I've nearly taken up golf. That's because I haven't quite made my mind up. It's not just the embarrassment of having to wear Pringle sweaters in public that gives me pause. Neither is it the shame of knitting dinky bobble hats for my golf clubs. It's just that ? well, what if it's not worth it after all?

What got my juices f lowing was a very tempting invitation from Simplex Foundations, a piling contractor which is holding a golf day up in Alfreton to celebrate its centenary.

The day kicks off with a slap-up breakfast and teeing-off doesn't start until 11:30. I'd need a gentle stroll after a two-and-a-half hour full English.

That evening there's more browsing and sluicing with a jolly dinner and presentation ceremony. According to the invite, the winner gets free use of a piling rig, plus crew, worth a whacking £10,000. Now that's worth a walk in the park if you ask me.

But now I'm backtracking because I've just received an update from Simplex. Apparently there's been a bit of a mix-up. The winner doesn't get the piling rig after all; that's only for anybody who's jammy enough to hit a hole in one - and even I doubt my ability to do that on my first outing.

Worse still, I've just re-read the invite. It's not an invite, it's a press statement. I'm glad I kept the receipt for that Pringle sweater.

WHAT is it with const ruct ion ministers these days? Last week one of my colleagues was heard complaining bit terly that Nick Raynsford had spoiled us. Raynsford knew his job and earned the respect of the industry.

It's been downhill ever since, whined my colleague.

Poor chap had just returned f rom an official ministerial walkabout at Heathrow Terminal 5. Margaret Hodge, in whose capable hands Tony Blair has seen fit to place the UK's largest industry, had decided after three months in the job to actually get out and see what a construction site looks like.

My colleague wasn't impressed.

In fact he came back to the office, a little worse for wear perhaps, ranting indignantly about how dare a Government minister display such poor grasp of her portfolio.

What really got his back up was that his gentle opening question about the Government's review of the Construction Act had Mrs Hodge f loundering and asking an aide for the official line (which he duly read from a sheet of paper).

'It must have been the biggest thing in her in-tray when she took on the job, ' he sneered.

His carefully prepared follow-up question on Section 110 notices went unasked.

I humoured him a while as he enumerated the ministers' manifold other inadequacies, concluding that Mrs Hodge 'doesn't know Jack Ship'.

I just gave a low whistle and shook my head - I didn't want to admit that I'd never heard of him either.