When I was a young boy, my family used to go holidaying in Devon, south-west England, each summer. These were perhaps the happiest moments of my childhood. We used to stay on a holiday farm that is, without any shadow of a doubt, the greatest place on the entire planet. When I have my own family in the future I will insist on taking them there. My sisters and I would spend all year looking forward to going back; the stunning coastline, the steam train railway, the rock pools, the model village, the abandoned windmill where the Green Giant lived and of course the beaches. We loved the beaches.
There was one beach in particular – Broadsands – that was especially magical. There was a railway that ran around the top of the cliff and the steam trains were magnificent to behold. The rock pools were the source of many an adventure as my sisters and I would look for shells. The sand was soft, the buckets and spades were colourful, the plastic windmills spun majestically in the breeze and the sea was as clear as the sky. Dad used to tow us around in an inflatable dingy and we would pretend to be pirates. But one day, it all changed.
At some point during the early nineties I opted to walk downstairs in my Rambo pyjamas to investigate what my Dad was watching on TV. Back in those days, kids, we didn’t have remote controls so Dad couldn’t just flick the channel over. It was a film about a giant fish who was in a very bad mood and who had some very pointy teeth as well. Obviously, something had got its back up and in retaliation he decided to swim around local waters and eat people. He began with a nude woman, then a young boy and then Robert Shaw. To this day I have never returned to the sea. Boats are no problem, but to have nothing between the sea and my flesh than my own leg hair? Nah, you’re alright.
It was that one simple moment when the boy on the inflatable lounger went for a burton that traumatised me and completely changed the way I saw the world and the risks that really existed. So here, 22 years later, I find myself in the same position. Once more my perception of the world and its risks is altered and I am to go through the rest of my life with one eyebrow raised.
Today it was announced that a new set of building regulations are to be introduced to ensure that everything built from 2014 complies with a new code. It is reported that until now, the Abu Dhabi International Building Code was an amalgamation of German, French, British and American rules that, apparently, are deeply confusing and no longer suitable.
Is it, then, being implied that every single building in the UAE, including famous landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab, The Coin and the tallest building in the entire world – Burj Khalifa – are unsafe?! This is a genuine major concern. If the building code that gives directives on how the bricks and mortar should be stapled together has been updated, that suggests that there is a problem with existing buildings.
Come to think of it, I am beginning to understand what they might be on about. I live in a new complex and every night am awoken by some alarming creaking noises. Cracks have appeared in some odd places, I know that new buildings obviously need time to settle, but I sometimes feel that the living room wall is about to fall off. When I walk down the stairwell to the car park and look out the window into the impenetrable hollowing, I see cracks the size of the St. Andreas fault line.
There’s more, too. Obviously skyscrapers need to flex, this is so they don’t fracture, but did you know that the top of Burj Khalifa can sway up to 10 feet each way in high winds? That is a massive distance. What if it snapped in half? And what about the Burj Al Arab? It is shaped like a sail and it is on the beach. What if the wind picks up and it blows out to sea?
I like architecture very much. I enjoy looking at buildings and trying to fathom what the inspirational desk object was. The UAE is an architect’s playground and there is no shortage of interesting buildings to peruse. But the new building code is a game changer. Is everything that you see towering the sky today about to come crashing down? Was that courtyard in Abu Dhabi that collapsed just the beginning of the end?
It is too late for the new building codes. All the good stuff has already been constructed. This is just like the Great British/Romanian Horse Meat scandal of 2013. You thought you were safe with your once-mooing bovine; happily chomping away on what you thought was a prime beef quarter-pounder. You were blissfully unaware that you were, in actual fact, chomping on the remains of a former Grand National winner. Ignorance is bliss and I bet you couldn’t tell the difference; until you were told that Daisy had been replaced by Red Rum.
As far as the buildings are concerned, I can never enter one again. Before, I didn’t give it a second thought but now, knowing that the safety regulations have been changed because the preceding ones were unsuitable, I will never stop imagining Burj Khalifa’s top falling off or the Burj Al Arab being blown out to sea.
It is Jaws all over again.