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Signoff: David Taylor

WE TAKE it for granted these days, but my God isn't the internet wonderful? I still remember the first time I downloaded a document - a Highways Agency advice note on alkali-silica reaction - I thought it was just amazing. But then alkalisilica reaction is pretty amazing, don't you find?

Well now I've had another cyberrevelation thanks to that ingenious on-site font of all knowledge, Wikipedia.

Wikipedia isn't infallible. After all, it's compiled by volunteers and you have to take it at face value. But it contains almost 1.5 million English language entries on some of the most obscure and esoteric subjects imaginable . . . which brings me neatly to my latest discovery: the definition of a quantity surveyor.

Quantity surveyors are feared and despised by all but those who employ them yet nobody, probably not even the employer, knows exactly what they do. At least we didn't know until it appeared on Wikipedia. Now it's there for all to see.

First thing to note is that there are two breeds of quant ity su rveyor: the Practising QS and the Contractor's QS. Their roles are quite different, says Wikipedia, except that they are both 'concerned with the control of cost on const ruct ion projects'. You can begin to see why they're so despised - bringing a project in within budget is a team thing, everybody knows that. Then this bloke in a suit emerges from the back office and says: 'Actually, I did it.'

Quantity surveying turns out to be a comparatively recent invention, something apparently designed to transform a busybody into a professional. Previously they were simply called 'measurers' according to Wikipedia. And that's it. There's nothing else interesting to say about it, except perhaps the role of the quantity surveyor in popular culture. Even here there is only one single reference, a book title attributed to the Monty Python team: Ethel the Aardvark Goes Quantity Surveying.

Says it all, somehow.

I SHOULDN'T have written that.

There'll be letters. Nobody actually likes having their occupation ridiculed. Except perhaps a saggermaker's bottom-knocker, in which case having people laugh at your job title is written into your CV. But then you need a sense of humour to live in the Potteries (whoops - more letters).

The construction industry gets more than its fair share of jokes at the expense of its various trades. Think of the endless builder's bum and teabreak jokes. And there's a whole subcategory of low-grade humour consisting of stories that start with the phrase: 'Paddy goes for a job interview on a building site. . .'

But construction isn't a quaint, low-tech activity inhabited by superannuated labourers with the IQ of a mollusc. In fact, construction companies don't like giving jobs to the elderly or slow of wit and that's wrong because they should, according to the Department of Work and Pensions.

Construction, it turns out, is a young person's industry and contractors run a higher than average risk of breaking age discrimination laws later this year. Job applicants over 50 are routinely overlooked in favour of younger candidates, according to research for the department.

But it's not all bad news for the wrinklies because the research found that once they're in, construction employees can often work way past retirement age.

So if you're over 50 don't despair, because the law will soon be on your side. Only next time you go for a job interview on a building site, make sure your jeans are belted up. And when the interviewer asks 'Do you have any questions, Paddy?' say 'Yes - how many sugars?'