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Younger readers may be surprised to learn that this time of year used to be illuminated by the arrival of presents in the office (not, of course, inducements of any kind) from friendly suppliers and contractors. Those elaborate gift boxes stacked up outside off-licences used to be delivered to the likes of you.

Now, they are delivered to the QSs, project managers and other leech-like intermediaries who, because they can use a calculator and look unembarrassed in pinstripes, have convinced clients and contractors alike that they are the key people in building procurement.

The most you can hope for is a calendar showcasing the partners'yachts (from a QS), a phonebook-sized leatherette diary featuring a list of Portuguese religious holidays but no motorway map (from a supplier) and, if you have been especially flaccid in a final account meeting, a bottle of Californian Zinfandel (from a contractor). Some of these gifts are intentionally ironic, the rest are depressing, particularly when you realise you are grateful for them.

The division of the spoils, when the spoils were strong liquor and not crap stationery, used to be revealing, if rather unrewarding for those at the bottom of the food chain. On his wedding day, a medieval peasant who opposed the droit de seigneur would have been pinioned by bailiffs while the squire exercised his right, and then dragged outside and flogged. Any architectural minion disputing his director's claim to the malt whisky would be treated similarly, with three months scheduling doors as the modern-day flogging equivalent. However, even the most hard-hearted partner won't rob you of the calendar or diary - but keep an eye on the Zinfandel.

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