The Nerdy One

For those who don’t know the UK, our built environment is controlled by a set of planning laws. These started in the 1930s as rules to control advertising but by 1948 they impacted all buildings, new and old, as well as mining and engineering (bridges, roads, railways) projects.

One early successful attempt to circumvent these was the construction of a new factory on the South Bank of the Thames. It produced a stock cube, OXO. The company couldn’t put a sign or hoarding to advertise their product so instead they designed the windows in the tower to spell out the name. When lit at night it could be seen for miles!

I walked past the tower yesterday which was enough of a trigger to remind me of some of the planning problems with which I had to grapple during my legal career. One such involved a a rather ghastly 1970s tower block next to Victoria Railway station where my walk started.

These days it is a glossy piece of sharp-sided architecture…

but when I came across it in the early 1980s it was tired and in need of love. It was the headquarters of a large sand and gravel quarrying operation, and I was negotiating a lease of several floors to my clients. The in-house lawyer acting for the owner showed me into a meeting room on the management floors at the top and left me to myself for a few minutes. As you do when in a tower (unless you suffer from vertigo) you wander to the windows.

It was a crisp clear day and you could see for miles across the London parks and landmarks.

‘Impressive, isn’t it?’ I hadn’t heard him come back in, clutching some fat file which was like a security blanket for lawyers in days before computers.

‘Posh neighbours,’ I proffered.

To my surprise, he winced. You see, down below laid out in all its spendour were the gardens and outside areas of Buckingham Palace, an area usually kept private from public gaze.

‘You wouldn’t believe’ he began, before stopping himself, flopping into a seat and I’m pretty sure, mopping his brow. He looked up with what might be described as a jaundiced gaze. ‘I’m not in favour of this letting, you know. It’ll be nothing but trouble.’

To say I was surprised would be something of an understatement. My client was a large American business with an impeccable back story, the sort of client most landlords bit off hands to secure. They were prompt in rental payments and would only add value to the holding.

He seemed to grasp he needed to say more. ‘Obviously it’s not your client, per se…’

I gave a knowing smile. ‘Naturally…’

‘Any tenant will have nightmares.’ Pause. ‘We have… we still do.’

‘Er, why?’

‘The neighbours. When we were dealing with the local authority on planning, one thing they were neurotic about was maintaining the privacy of the Royals. The controls were exceptional. One condition of building this tower was that they wanted the whole side to be opaque glass.’

I looked at the view. He nodded. ‘We managed to get it removed. In return we had to agree that no photos or films or similar image capture technology would be used.’

‘That must have been a relief.’

‘Until we moved in. At the end of our first week our in-house magazine had a picture of the palace and gardens with the headline ‘Look who we have as neighbours!’

‘Oh, that must have been embarrassing.’

Another wince. ‘Oh yes. Management went potty. The editor was sacked…’

I wanted to offer ‘defenestrated’ but he didn’t seem in the mood for jokes.

‘… but somehow a copy found its way into the hands of the palace. The Chief Executive and Chairman were asked to pop in for a chat…’

The silence lingered. ‘What happened,’ I eventually prompted.

‘They never said, but I’ve seen them deal with rebellious shareholders and blood sucking rivals but I’ve never seen them looking so pale and sombre as when they returned. They just said we mustn’t let it happen again.’


‘I don’t think you want to know, Mr Le Pard, but it would be good if you could emphasize the importance of compliance with these planning conditions. I really wouldn’t want your clients to go through what we went through. Now, coffee?’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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16 Responses to The Nerdy One

  1. Chel Owens says:

    Off with his head!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    Another interesting tale of work , I’d hate to have her Madge and the gang as neighbours!!


  3. Fun story. I can see a pack of Americans with telescopes and the whole nine yards. “Hey, look. I think that’s Charlie walking there.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    Fabulous story. I’m not sure I would want to be scolded by the Queen. But you know us Americans! Probably would do it just to see the Queen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I think it was the likely embarrassment. Back then that would likely end their careers. People don’t care so much about how they’re perceived these days… at least not in the same ways.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. L.K. Latham says:

    Fascinating story. Opens up a whole new world for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting information! Thank you, Geoff! I never before had heard about this, but as we can see with advertising restrictions, there always will be a way out. 😉 As i think, here in Germany we are living in the real “law and order” state, i always adore other countries for their peoples ideas of making law convenient to the life style. 🙂 xx Michael


  7. George says:

    Blimey, were they shown the rack in a secret dungeon of the Tower, or did Andrew take them to a party?

    Love the invention of the OXO building. I didn’t know about that.

    Liked by 1 person

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