WE’VE had lots of reports of new-build houses across the Swindon area letting in water during the recent foul weather.

Some of the builders of the homes seem to have been blaming the weather itself, with one suggesting that fine flakes of snow are the problem. I thought I’d do a bit of research on the subject.

I asked people I know what sort of places they grew up in and lived in now, and what kinds of weather conditions those homes had been through. It turned out that they’d lived in everything from 400-year-old cottages to early 2000s starter homes, from maisonettes to two-up-two-down terraces, and from tenement buildings to static caravans. Those properties had been through weather conditions including hail, sleet, snow of all flake sizes, strong winds, mild drizzle and violent thunderstorms.

In all of those places and all of that time - a cumulative hundreds of properties and hundreds of years - roofs had only leaked when they were defective in some way.

Indeed, letting in the weather is usually a pretty strong clue that something has gone wrong. As far as I’m aware, that has been common knowledge among house builders ever since the days when all they had to work with was twigs and mud.

Perhaps some of our modern-day housebuilders, some of whom pay directors’ bonuses big enough to solve vast chunks of the housing crisis at a stroke, should have a word with their teams. Perhaps they should test every new design by building an example in a big hangar and dropping water and simulated snow on it using some sort of sprinkler system. Oh, and perhaps councils should have the right to factor such matters into planning decisions.


AS I’ve mentioned before, people sometimes ask me questions about things they’ve heard on the news.
Lately they’ve been asking me about the word ‘robust’ because it’s been popping up ever more frequently in the pronouncements of the great and the good.
Some people are a bit confused because most dictionaries define the word as denoting strength and resilience, but it seems to appear in other contexts.
The best way of answering the question is to look at what the word tends to mean when it’s spoken by an important person.
For example, you may have heard various senior figures talk about the disgraceful poisoning in Salisbury.
They say things such as: “If it is proven that agents of a certain country were involved, our response will be very robust.”
What this means is: “If it is proven that agents of a certain country were involved, we shall send a sternly-worded letter to the despotic, murderous leader of that country, which he will probably use to line the bottom of his budgie’s cage.
“We might even launch an inquiry which will last about a decade and tell nobody anything they didn’t know already.
“Nobody will be brought to justice for trying to kill two people under our protection, not to mention nearly killing a member of the emergency services and endangering the lives of countless civilians.
“The people who tried to kill this former spy and his daughter have about as much to fear as the killers of Alexander Litvinenko.”
The word ‘robust’ appears in other contexts, of course.
Headteachers sometimes say: “Our school has a very robust anti-bullying policy and we take the issue very seriously.” 
What this tends to mean in practice is: “Bullying in our school is so completely out of control that desperate pupils and parents have decided their only remaining option is to go to the media.
“Things are so bad that even the teachers have to go around in pairs for fear of being ambushed by roving gangs of bullies and having their dinner money stolen.

“And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to lock the door of my office because the first years have threatened to flush my head down the lavvy.”
We also sometimes hear the word ‘robust’ used by large companies, often in sentences along the lines of: “We have a very robust whistleblowing policy and encourage our staff to raise concerns through the proper channels.”
This usually means: “We’ve just sacked somebody for truthfully revealing that we sacrifice cats in the boardroom/regularly remove the wrong organs from patients/store nuclear waste in a sandwich box in the office fridge/something else along those lines.
“We regard our workers as little better than indentured servants, and anybody who dares reveal what we get up to can be expected to be out of a job, blacklisted and living under a railway arch.”
Sometimes you’ll hear a VIP with connections to the judicial system say: “We have a robust approach to this kind of offence and won’t tolerate it.”
What this means is: “The people who commit this kind of offence cheerfully post videos of themselves doing so on social media, so unafraid are they.”
What are we to conclude, therefore, about the use of ‘robust’ in official statements?
Perhaps it is best to add an extra definition to the dictionaries.
I suggest something along the lines of: “I am an important person and my mission is to tell you a load of nonsense.
“I do so blatantly because I believe ordinary people like you have the mentality of children and believe in magic words.”