James Markham did not have many hidden powers. Only quietly manifest ones. European Director of the major construction company, Contrac, he made £60 million sound like the price of an evening newspaper. ‘If I decide that something needs doing, it gets done,’ he said, matter-of-factly. Across the expanse of an executive desk, he faced a research investigator from the University of Central Wapping, Paul T—?, he couldn’t remember his second name, and it didn’t matter. He only remembered on a ‘need to remember’ basis.

‘We like your research idea, Paul. I’ve already taken it to the Board, and they like it too. We want you to do it for us. It fits our needs.’

Paul T stalled before he started. ‘How do you mean, do it for you?’ he asked, thinking that scientific objectivity was about to be violated without putting up any resistance.

‘It’s simply this. We are undertaking a strategic review of the company’s operations, and we want you to talk to our workforce. We don’t want it to appear like it’s coming from us. It’s got to look independent, completely independent. That’s why we need you. Your proposal fell on my desk at just the right time.’

Paul T was more accustomed to having to be ingratiatingly persuasive to employers. This was a new problem. He couldn’t figure out what a strategic review had to do with an obscure piece of academic research. He also couldn’t figure out what the strategy was behind the ‘strategic’, and he wasn’t about to find out.

‘You say you want to visit a couple of our sites, to interview some of our workers. We want to give you a better look, commercial, industrial, road building, plant depots, mechanical and electrical, the lot. And we want it done by the end of July, two months.’ The research project had just received a take-over bid, only there was no sign of any money coming across.

Paul T was on a short-term research contract. He’d been hired to investigate masculinity in the construction industry. His employers had the idea that the construction industry was the prime locus of masculinity in the work process, and had been from the dawn of history. They also had a theory that History was advancing inevitably to ever greater gender neutrality. Gender neutrality at the workplace was to lead to gender neutrality in society as a whole. Only something had gone badly adrift. Semi-legal, unregulated labour in the construction industry was producing a regression to a more primitive masculinity. It was a revival of caveman, brute force masculinity. Muscle-culture was obstructing the introduction of new building technology, and getting in the way of advances in productivity. As long as brawn was cheap, backward masculinity reared its ugly head.