The year of the move

It’s been a busy time at Pie Towers recently. Pies Mr, Mrs and Mini have been trying to move house for some months now, which at the best of times is tricky but as it turns out our timing was… well let’s say that the timing has been deeply unhelpful.

It’s time for a barely edited ramble:

My wife and I had earmarked 2019 as the year we would leave our beloved mid-terrace just outside of York city centre and try to find something a little bigger with more separation of living spaces. We knew we couldn’t bear to leave our central location as we are utterly spoilt for schools, for the community, for the much beloved high street round the corner, and for almost car free living outside of my work. Essentially, we were looking for exactly what we already had, exactly where we already were, but… a bit bigger. So far, so simple, but also so constrained.

As luck would have it, exactly what we were looking for was in fact right on our doorstep. We found a beautiful end-terrace we could afford with loads of corridors and twists and turns just up the road. It was perfect: all we had to do was get our house sold.

And therein laid the rub.

Overshadowing our whole adventure was our country’s dalliance with unprecedented international self harm. The ‘B’ word. The Bad Thing.

We had sold our house subject to contract after just a few weeks of viewings. At the time it was interesting to watch how certain events in Brexit Calendar affected the mood of house buyers. The week leading up to the much delayed ‘meaningful’ vote depressed viewings to effectively zero. Once the drama had passed, viewings were up to a half dozen every ten days or so. If I spoke to people about The B word, respondents fell broadly into two categories: the first were just depressed about the whole thing, and subsequently couldn’t imagine buying or selling a house under such circumstances; and the other group were of the opinion that it would all come to nothing, and no tangible effect would ever be felt.

Then the Big One hit home. Three weeks before our intended move date in early April, our buyer pulled out, citing Brexit uncertainty as one of their main reasons for deciding not to buy.

What followed was two months of frantically trying to find a new buyer in time to keep our upward chain intact, despite the omnipresent B word. Mrs Pie and I would typically spend a good hour to ninety minutes preparing our house for a viewing and looking back through my calendar I can see we did this no less than thirty times over the whole period from January to today. I dread to think how much time I’ve spent on the phone to our estate agent, and that of our vendors in this time, as well as time spent conducting viewings our agent couldn’t attend (Sundays, Bank holidays, and times that just didn’t work) and writing emails to everyone involved.

Fast forward to this weekend, and for now, the worst is over. After all the effort we do have a new buyer in place, and despite the fact that nothing is stopping this new buyer from pulling out, I’m going to let myself enjoy this period of what feels like both emphatic victory in the face of insurmountable odds and also relative calm after a frankly atrocious couple of months. Our whole upward chain remained intact, in part because our vendors withheld from going back on the market for weeks to allow us as much time as they could, despite the house they were intending to buy was put back up for sale within a week of our buyer walking.

We are very grateful. Even if things do fall apart again, I’ll take the hit from allowing myself to just believe that things will go well this time. That’s my choice as an optimist. I think that’s easier than the alternative.

So tonight I look forward to a week at work where I am no longer in two mental places rather than one for the first time in what feels like six months, but in reality has only been about eight or ten weeks. And maybe in the evenings I can start to think about the fun parts of moving: getting rid of old junk, figuring out how we’re going to actually live in the space, and I can definitely see this as a great hide-and-seek house. Someone mentioned a housewarming party the other day; if this all goes through, I can tell you that there will be a hell of a party once we’re moved in.

Fingers crossed for us?


Bonus video content

Things have not gone well with our house move (thanks, Brexit), so here’s a time lapse video of me assembling the Lego Creator James Bond Aston Martin DB5.

Stick around till the end for the added bonus of seeing my contemptuous cat eyeballing the ejector seat in slow motion with his typical disregard for all human activity.

I had to film it over two nights owing to an evil stomach flu. You’ll notice a slice of my birthday cake going uneaten across the first half of the video. I also blame that for the mistake I make with the ejector seat mechanism…

An Open Letter

The below is a copy of a letter I sent to the IStructE this evening in response to a letter published in the Verulam pages in the February Issue. I reproduce it here lest it not make the cut - I expect there will be quite a few letters in response to this one.

It’s difficult to know exactly what to write in response to the letter by Cliff Billington in the February 2019 issue of The Structural Engineer, owing to my conflicting desires. I would on the one hand like my words on the matter to be printed, but not to the exclusion of any writers who have things to say on the matter, crucially those who are not men.

I should like to examine a few key passages of Mr Billington’s which I have issues with:

“A recent Viewpoint article stated that ‘One of the biggest problems in our profession is a lack of gender balance’. Since when?”

Not being an expert on the detailed history of our profession, the most specific answer I can give to this question is “since the very beginning”. The idea that any profession could possibly be somehow improved by doing nothing to reduce the exclusion of half the population is utter madness.

Then we arrive at a passage which I expect will inflame many, many people:

“Maybe young women simply do not want to be engineers - standing in mud and being cold, and wet, on site, in foul weather - and would rather embark on a different career?”

Maybe we should begin by not presuming to know the inner workings of the minds of an entire group of people? Maybe that presumption is incredibly offensive, and is fuelled by hurtful, inaccurate, lazy stereotypes of the worst kind?

Maybe we should consider the systemic barriers in all our workplaces that inhibit the career progression of women? Maybe we should start by examining our long-held prejudices, which have been left unchecked to spread like a disease over generations and are now finally being exposed across many fields, from science and academia, to the media.

With few exceptions, the smartest people I have worked with as a colleague, or worked with as part of a design team, or studied with in my university days are women. We must do everything we can to promote gender equality for the sake of all, and not be distracted by spurious arguments about failings in the “whizz-kid[s] with finite element analysis or advanced computer packages”. Such problems may be real, but they are a fixable thin end of a relatively new wedge, as opposed to a glaring, fundamental error the entire construction industry has been making en masse for decades.

I would have liked my first letter to Verulam to have been more positive, but I could not let such outdated views go unchallenged.

Martyn Pysanczyn

Bonus Content - Paper Aeroplanes!

When I was about 10 or so, my grandma once gave me a copy of a magazine; I'm fairly sure it was a Reader's Digest. Within those pages were the instructions to make a paper aeroplane - I vaguely recall it was some sort of competition winner or record holder. I committed the design to memory, and ever since it's been my go-to design for airborne paper hijinks.

I spent a futile 15 minutes this weekend trying to find some record of it online with the idea of first showing it to some family who were staying this weekend, then secondly of putting it up on Twitter. However, my Google-Fu let me down, so I decided I'd draw up a set of instructions of my own and post them here instead.

If anyone who sees this can find any proper attribution for the design, I'll happily update to include it, but for now, here we go...

Aeroplane - 01.png
Aeroplane - 02.png
  1. Fold down one of the top corners to its opposite side, make the crease sharp, then unfold.
  2. Repeat for the other corner.
  3. Fold horizontally back over, make a nice sharp crease, then unfold again.
  4. Bring the points all labelled 3 together, which should collapse all the pink area into the shape of the blue triangle.
  5. Fold up the loose flaps into the shape shown.
  6. Fold in the the corners again to create a kite shape.
  7. Step 7 I now realise (much too late to change it) is inexplicably a copy of step 6. You may safely ignore it and move onto step 8.
  8. Fold down the point as shown.
  9. This is the tricky bit. Unfold the pink parts - the top ones only - then tuck them into the pockets you find in the tip you folded over on step 8. You might need to bend them a little to get the in, but once you've got them slid in and flattened down then the whole thing will hold itself together solidly.
  10. Flip the paper over so you're now looking at the top of the plane - all the work you've done so far was on the underside - then make the folds as shown; these will be winglets. To get these folds exactly right it helps to use a ruler*.
  11. Fold the edges of the winglets back on themselves and then give them a gentle tug so they don't lie too flat to the body of the plane.
  12. Hold it by finger and thumb on the little pocket on the underside, and give a throw! It works best if you give it more of a deliberate straight push (a bit like a dart) than a throw.

Note: Don't bend it or fold it in half - the whole thing is a wing.

If you want, you can post photos your attempts to follow my hastily compiled instructions to twitter and mention me on @martynpie or you can be a crazy person and email me at

*I know, I know, rulers again. Sorry.