Departed Artists

They Never Said Goodbye

Debussy spent his final years in agony; the chaos
Taking place down deep inside
Crushed any points of light that still remained, the
Moments when the faun gave rise to joy
Or when the sea began to swell. Down here,
Each cell does not know when to stop
His surging marathon of reckless growth.

The virus searches for its opposite
And manages to find a protein-sugar composite
Key that daintily unlocks
The metastable quantum-coloured box
Lined with a script for the genetic code
Pinned by an unknown fork to the map of a forgotten road

Alone, we seek fulfilment in the pattern of your cells
Betrayed by unrepentant infidels.
Choking in agony, adrift in Rome,
Keats dies at 25 years old and we
Admire what he left behind; the Odes,
Hyperion, Endymion, a landscape full of gleaming words
Borrowed from Milton who, we hear, went blind
But I won’t have a legacy of any kind

I’ve only paid 119 grand in rent, to help a dozen strangers
Treat their kids to cars and holidays
So many weeks of study and so many years at work
Result in half a page of scribbled lines
For someone else to find and scrutinise, before
Deciding that there’s nothing here to see…

27 Feb 2021: On radio 4 this morning, Niki Bedi and Richard Coles opened the Saturday Live show by playing ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ which might have been a nod to ‘Sheikh’ Crown Prince Mohammed who has been accused of being aware of the plans to murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Meanwhile, today the BBC has broadcast the funeral service of Sir Tom Moore which included a military tribute. Instead of the usual hymns, we heard songs by Vera Lynn, Michael Bublé, and Frank Sinatra.

When I was at Oxford Poly, one of our technicians mentioned that he had been listening (years previously) to the wireless, and at the end of the song the presenter said ‘…and that was Frank Sinatra, performing on a gramophone record…’ just in case any of the listeners were under the impression that Frankie had popped into the studio to deliver a single, flawless rendition of ‘I’ve Got You’.

In other news: Shamina Begum, the girl who ran away to Syria at the age of 15 to support ISIS, has failed in her attempt to have her British citizenship restored. We have to wonder about the mechanism that enables a teenager to board an aircraft with no supervision and travel to a notoriously unsafe part of the world.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 29.1 million cases, 523 thousand deaths
 UK: 4.16 million cases, 122 thousand deaths

Inelastic Tunnelling Absurdity

Journal Entry, 21 Feb 2021:
We are still in lockdown – nobody is allowed to go out anywhere to do anything at all on pain of detention or execution. Well, not quite; but tomorrow our Great Leader, Boris J, is due to make an announcement regarding the roadmap out of lockdown.

He wants to see all schools completely re-opened on 8 March (last time we opened the schools it caused a massive spike in Covid infections) so that ordinary citizens can return to work.

The difference now is that we have been vaccinating large parts of the vulnerable population, and so far about 15 million individuals have been given a single dose, with about 500 thousand being given two doses. It is still unclear how specific these vaccine treatments are with respect to the numerous strains of Covid-19 currently on tour.

About a year ago I bought a luxury notebook to use as a bullet journal (blue felt covers, smooth ivory-coloured pages) and began to set out my plans for the months ahead.

But the lockdown intervened, and the days ceased to roll.

Last week I went for a walk and listened to my Hitachi MP3 player – ‘Test for Echo’ and ‘Axis Bold as Love’. These carried me back to Nottingham, where I would shop for CDs back in 1999.

My partner is always teasing me that I am unable to remember the square root of 2 million, so I decided to spend the time meditating on this number. The first four digits are 1414; then we have 21 (three times seven) and 35 (five times seven) and then 623 (British Standard Air Force blue, 623 squadron) and then an infinite number of sevens…

While I was thinking about these numbers, I realised that I was just passing the Jobcentre where I went to sign on a few years back. Every fortnight I had to report to my coordinator with a list of applications, which I would head using the 12-digit gateway number. Back then, this sequence of numbers was etched on my brain, but now I would have not the faintest idea…

The Horror Channel is showing ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ which is charming in a sci-fi kind of way, but not really horror. Fortunately, everyday life in the UK provides plenty of genuine horror and distress.

A couple of weeks back, two people decided to ignore lockdown restrictions and go out for a walk in the hills. One of them became ill, and they called out the mountain rescue service. During the rescue operation, one of the Patterdale Mountain Team members fell 150 metres and sustained life-changing injuries; so much for a quiet walk in the country.

A Manchester woman has been sentenced to 2 years in jail for attacking a neighbour with a knife and splashing petrol over a group of friends at a nearby barbecue, before threatening to set them alight.

In Cornwall, a man’s body was found floating in the Drift Service Reservoir, but he had also suffered stab wounds. A 50-year old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder. In the UK it is estimated that 500,000 men have viewed online images of child pornography. In Wales, Anthony Williams strangled his wife Ruth after five days of lockdown, and was convicted of manslaughter and given a 5-year sentence.

Our Grate Leader Boris is fond of overblown civil engineering projects; a few years back he decided that London really needed a garden bridge, so he splashed forty million pounds on various planning meetings and design consultants before the idea was abandoned. And now he has decided that the UK is just dying for a tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland to improve freight movement. Unfortunately this region is made of granite and has vast amounts of dumped munitions off the coast which might explode when disturbed.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 28.7 million cases, 509.9 thousand deaths
UK: 4.1 million cases, 120.3 thousand deaths

Last night we watched the final episode of ‘It’s A Sin’ on Channel 4. As one of the characters said, ‘This story only ever ends one way’, and the tale had a completely tragic finale, with hostile parents and flying accusations. But it was neatly topped off with a recollection of the five friends enjoying Richie’s impromptu Shakespeare in the park.

Xenodelic Perforationz

Journal Entry 16 Sept 2009:
We were the xenodelic perforationz. And so, it came to pass that El-Timbo, the exiled prince of nus-nus-ville was passing along a grand highway in the centaur of Manchester being the daughter of Moab and Alexia, and while there walking was seen by Tim A, the Grand Sultan of Mazars who was very kind and mentioned how much my efforts had been appreciated by the crew during the winding-up of ECP.

He also mentioned that the office block in Hempshaw Lane had been burgled. God knows how, I thought; the place was built like a fortress.
Anyway, I then went to see ‘Dorian Gray’ at the pictures. Impressive enough in a rather vulgar way, not how I imagined the action taking place.

Yesterday bought some black netting to modify my scarlet dress for the Monster’s Ball rally. And today Andy drove me down to Holmes Chapel for my interview with Scolaquip, they spoke v highly of ECP.

25 August 2009:
In the beginning was the Quark, and the Quark was without shape, or colour, or size; for there existed no dimensions yet into which it could transfer such properties.

So the Quark was, and yet was not; and for countless billions of years it floated in perfect isolation, unchanging and yet not unchanged; every few seconds it would split into 3715681 different yet identical fragments which would swirl around in a complex pathway before abruptly colliding once more to form the original unchanging Quark.

And after countless millennia the Quark split into a different number of fragments, somewhere between 3715681 and 3715682.

The presence of the additional ephemeral virtual imaginary unreal morsel of confused totality caused an upset in the elaborate drift around the shapeless unchanging ruptured quark. Numerous versions of time and space began to exist, a thousand writhing dimensions scrambling to colonise the gleaming fragments of Quark debris.

Inside the Quark

Kochanowski hears a note that travels from another star
He likes to paint; it’s
Almost like watching dirt
Being wiped away to show what lies beyond.

He wants to cry, but can’t;
As though his hands were somehow tied
Or numb with cold; you have no eyes to lend.

Behold, the intersecting hypercubes, a careful
Nest of renegade alcoves
Ready to display the trophies
That promise to betray your latent astrophobia.

Square trenches waiting to receive angular rain
The drops will gather, they know how much
He likes to paint. Too many words
Deserve to be obscured, as paint

Creates its own oblique perspective in the air.
The painted blocks of space give rise
To walls of wood and rolling seas of dice.

I enjoy looking at Kochanowski’s pictures; these curious landscapes where rooms grow backwards into one another, a challenge to the mathematics in all of us. Some of the pieces could almost be modern orchestral scores; every one of them could sit happily on the cover of a CD to promise an intriguing musical adventure inside the box.

13 Feb 2021:
I’m watching the Horror Channel; tonight they are showing ‘Lost in the Bermuda Triangle’ a sci-fi thriller which is moderately thrilling and desperately unscientific.

Latest Covid-19 figures:
US: 28.13 million cases, 493 thousand deaths
UK: 4.03 million cases, 116.9 thousand deaths

Back in 1985 I lived in Harrow, and would travel into London 2 or 3 times a week; sometimes to hear a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall or the Wigmore Hall, or to go drinking at the King’s Arms, and sometimes to go shopping for books or records.

At the time, the King’s Arms was heavily populated by clones at weekends; at least half the men present would have neatly groomed hair and a trimmed moustache, which at the time seemed perfectly normal; but nowadays it would have the air of a fancy-dress party.

One weekend I decided to visit Foyle’s bookshop, the legendary emporium which was rumoured to have every published volume you could want to buy. I browsed for ages, reluctant to commit to buying anything too costly; in the end I decided to purchase some Tolstoy stories, and embarked on that confusing procedure of queueing to collect a purchase chit, the queueing to pay for the item, the queueing again to collect your book.

The book includes ‘The Death of Ivan Ilych’ about a successful bureaucrat who develops an illness following a minor injury, and is forced to confront his own mortality. Will we now see  a raft of TV drama shows featuring handsome young men lying in bed and wasting away, muttering feverishly about life and love and destiny?

During the series ‘It’s A Sin’, we see the young protagonists enjoying the gay nightlife of London; there are plenty of smart young things with bleached locks, but only a smattering of clones. As the drama draws to a close, Richie is languishing, pale, enfeebled in bed at his parents’ house, where he cannot resist telling his mother how much he enjoyed all the intimate encounters with so many men. She is deeply uncomfortable with this, and wants him to be contrite, craving acceptance and forgiveness; but he needs to let her know who he is.

Interview to Nowhere

Journal Entry, Tues 1 Dec 2009:
Last Tuesday down to Cornwall, nice journey. Then Friday went to Penryn for interview with Kernow Coatings who make stuff to coat textiles, paper, and plastic films. Then when we returned home (Jean and I went round Truro) found an e-mail message from Gurit, inviting me to attend an interview on the Isle of Wight.

So I booked train and ferry tickets to West Cowes.

Today went to Jobcentre to ask about travel to interview funding – they will pay for Cornwall but not for the I-o-W because ‘We only reimburse travel costs within the UK, and that’s part of the Channel Isles’.
I did send an e-mail to Gurit pointing out that my technical background is sadly lacking in some of the aspects they consider essential.

Fri 4 Dec 2009
Yesterday went down to I-o-W and stayed in the Premier Inn, ready for my interview today at Gurit.

Arrived early at factory, gave them my powerpoint of postgrad research work. Still quite puzzled as to why they invited me since my background skills don’t match the job description.
Interview lasted over 2 hours (I was advised it would be a max of 90 mins).

Sun 6 Dec 2009
Earlier this morning I went to ye laundryette and while I was there, a chap came in with a basket of washing under one arm and a toddler – complete with dummy – in the other. Reminded me of baby Maggie in The Simpsons.

It’s been a lovely mild morning, some white blossom coming out on the trees down the road.

This afternoon went to see a film called ‘2012’ at the pictures. Talk about overblown nonsense. On R3, Aled Jones has just played a heavy gospel rock version of ‘Hallelujah’.

Tues 8 Dec 2009
Yesterday went to sign on at the jobcentre and had an unpleasant encounter with the lovely Maxine. (I had called them a week ago to explain that I was due to attend a job interview on I-o-W and would not be available to sign on as usual on Friday. ‘No problem’ they said. ‘Just call in as soon as you can.)

I sat at the desk and she snapped at me ‘You should have been here to sign on last Friday. What happened?’
I told her I’d been away on Friday at an interview on the Isle of Wight, which generated absolutely no response.

‘Have you got your jobsearch?’ I handed over the sheets and she glanced over them and said, ‘These are all two weeks old’. I said that I had been busy preparing for interviews around the UK, but she ignored me and kept typing, dismissing me nonchalantly so I had to reach across the desk to retrieve my papers.

Went to interview at Louvolite.
Printed off documents (Kernow Coatings interviews 1 and 2, Louvolite interview, Gurit interview e-mails, train tickets, hotel room booking, Jobcentre print outs from St Austell) to go with my letter of complaint.

Wed 9 Dec 2009
I realised last night that when I first started signing on, my claim advisor was the lovely Maxine – and after a few weeks, for no reason, I was shifted to the afternoon signing. Wonder why? Is she a bible-basher?

This morning went along to Travel-to-interview meeting with Ayshoo (actually v friendly and helpful) and Sharon (trainee).
Sharon watched as we went through the paperwork relating to my interview appointment, and asked, ‘but why does he need a train ticket for Thursday if the interview is on Friday?’

Originally they said that you can only claim for coach fares, but the journey takes so long that I would need to have overnight accommodation for two nights in order to attend the interview – so they approved the train (hurrah!)
She also asked, ‘If they offer you this post in Cornwall, will you consider relocating?’ and I was sorely tempted to say ‘No, I will spend eight hours each way commuting form here.’

Sun 27 Dec 2009
Andy and I have known each other since March ’93, and this is the first time we have spent Xmas together. Had champagne Kir cocktails, brunch and nibbles and two humungous turkey breasts for dinner. Watched loads of rubbish TV – Girls Aloud, Harry Potter, Incredibles, Love, Actually etc. Went with Andy to midnight mass at URC (St Trinian’s in Chorlton) – their version of ‘Silent Night’ has different words.

Sat 6 Feb 2021
Earlier this week Captain Tom Moore, legendary NHS fundraiser and knight of the realm, died aged 100 after contracting pneumonia and Covid-19.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 27.4 million cases, 471 thousand deaths
UK: 3.93 million cases, 112 thousand deaths

Journal Entry, Tues 8 Sept 2009
Today went to Liverpool to meet up with Elaba and her friend Helen. Texted her to say that I would meet them in Paddy’s Wigwam at about half-past one.

Arrived at the station and decided to pop into Lewis’s department store to look for a new wallet. As I was going down the stairs, I bumped into the pair of them coming up! Of all the stores in all the towns…
So we wandered round both Cathedrals (there’s a painting of a nude male in the Anglican one) and then went shopping, cos Elaine wanted to pick up all sorts of curry-making ingredients.

Sign on Friday – take evidence of job-hunting.
Logged onto Reed Scientific and found incredibly vague Development Chemist job.

Also in the Anglican Cathedral was an exhibition of wildlife photographs – magnificent shots from all around the world. I remember thinking that Dad would have enjoyed it.
Cathedral also heavily dedicated to Armed Forces.

Thurs 10 Sept
Yesterday went with Elaine and Helen to the Old Trafford Footie ground. Had the tour, wandered round town, dinner at Giorgio’s, drinks at Via.

Had three items of post – my HB application form, Manchester Uni application form and tickets for last week’s performance of ‘Prick Up Your Ears’. (HB = housing benefit, and the play tickets had been lost in the post so we ordered replacements).

V noisy here with builders downstairs drilling and banging away. Might go to the library to fill out my paperwork.

Fri 11 Sept
Went off to the library to fill in my application forms and came back home to find a lorry and earthmover in the front garden, so I was completely unable to get near the front door. Decided to hop on a bus to Bolton, had coffee and then got train back to Manchester.

Went to Abbey National and Britannia to get my passbooks updated, went to sign on (they actually asked to see my jobsearch!) and then minced off to Sale to register for HB.
Unlike previous occasion, I had to wait barely five minutes before being seen.

Meanwhile in the news Golden Brown has issued an apology to Alan Turing for the inhumane treatment he received after the war. Of course, the letters page in the Telegraph is full of scathing comments saying that we shouldn’t apologise for upholding the law as it then stood.

18 Sept 2009
Last night rang Eileen C & we had a good long natter – she said did I fancy coming out to lunch today with her and the DCC crew? So I caught the train to Wilmslow and met them in pub, said brief hello to Tim, Conrad and Justine.

Then went to the local Barnardo’s charity shop – they have a stack of mint-condition albums, ELO, Duran Duran, Yes. I purchased the Blue Oyster Cult live LP and ‘Tonic for the Troops’.

Fri 23 Oct 2009
Went to sign on – they have changed my time to 14.25 from 6 Nov, and on 7 Nov – Saturday! – I have to attend a ‘back to work’ session where I will learn all about how to apply for jobs.

Remember – don’t eat avocado stones, or they will hatch out in your stomach and send huge tough branches thrusting from your eye-sockets!

Ignorance the Ethno-trance

Saturday morning, 30 Jan: The hrorror chnallen is shwownig ‘Andromeda’ – for the next four hours. Meanwhile, E4+1, one of the Chnallen-Four stable, is showing wall-to-wall Simpsons cartoons, and this epidose is called ‘Simpsons Treehouse of Horror’ and starts with a séance at which Ned Flanders’ late wife appears as a ghost.

I managed to live without a TV set from 1996 to 2015, and so missed out on watching this programme at the time it first appeared – along with South Park, Queer as Folk, and other classics.
Living without television gave me an insight into how treculiar a gredium it is – all the chatacters have bright red lips and orange skin, and they communicate by yelling. Not all the tibe, onviously – some breeph interdules of civilised debate.

Latest Covid-19 Figures
US:   26.5 million cases,  447 thousand deaths
UK:   3.77 million cases,  104 thousand deaths

Meanwhile, the EU and UK are in a huge row over supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, which is manufactured in various sites in the UK and on the continent. Because of production difficulties in the Belgian factory the firm was likely to miss its target for supplying EU countries and the EU then said ‘We have signed a contract with you, and we will impose a trade border between Northern Ireland and the RoI to make sure that no vaccines can be exported to the UK until we have received our share.’

So for a brief period – until the European Commission backed down – we saw N Ireland with two trade barriers, one in the middle of the Irish Sea AND one running along the land border.

Rootless Still

When growing up I didn’t know I didn’t know
That some families went on holiday abroad
A standard ritual of suncream, suitcase, taxi, airport,
Wide-eyed children, foreign banknotes, spicy food.

I didn’t know what a departure board looked like,
A brimming catalogue of distant possibilities.

I never realised I didn’t know
What it was like to hear them say ‘Come in,
Sit down, we’re really glad to have you here’.

It never once occurred to me to wonder why
From time to time the folks at work would disappear
Or make their way each Friday night
Together down the local pub, to talk about the week gone by.

A story on the radio reveals a past; the woman
Travels back to see the town in which her mother lived.
It never crossed my mind to wonder why I didn’t know
About the derelict house, the garden fences made
From wire and abandoned doors.

I never knew I hadn’t been aware
That not all schools were run the same as mine
With children who have no wish to be there
In classrooms without facilities or budgets for
Equipment that I didn’t know I didn’t know
That anybody had.

It goes without saying that only a fool
Would bother studying, or praying for good luck;
Cos everybody knows that everybody knows
Your uncle always helps you find a job on leaving school.

I don’t know where I came here from, I don’t
Know where the path of life will make me go
I never knew which questions I was scared to ask
And if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Hooked on Classics

Sunday morning, 24 Jan 2021: the Horror Channel is showing ‘Legend’, the Tom Cruise/Warwick Davis fantasy movie. Not what I would consider to be an authentic Horror movie, but the film contains many ingredients of the Gothic and macabre (candle-lit vaults, hideous goblins, and a devil with huge black horns).

Donald and Malaria Trump have left the White House, being whisked away to Mar-a-Lago to the strains of ‘My Way’. The departing FLOTUS changed into her best George and Mildred kaftan to get into holiday mood. The nation heaved a sigh of relief, and Joe Biden was sworn in as President with musical accompaniment from Lady Gaga.

Trump was fond of boasting that his inauguration had been attended by much larger crowds than any other POTUS; this was manifestly untrue, and it should have alerted us to the delusion and lies that would rule the White House over the next four years.

Because of the global Covid pandemic, Biden had asked for the ceremony to take place without public crowds, and the National Mall was instead filled with 191500 American flags to represent US victims of the coronavirus.

In the UK, we now have the Health Secretary saying that vaccine jabs can safely be administered twelve weeks apart, while Pfizer insist that the original recommended procedure (3 to 6 weeks) must be followed.
The daily death toll in the UK has started rising to over 1200, obviously due to the extensive household mingling that took place (with Government approval) over the Christmas holidays.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 25.2 million cases, 421 thousand deaths
UK: 3.62 million cases, 95.8 thousand deaths

Channel Four launched the new series from Russell T Davies, ‘It’s A Sin’, which follows a group of young men who leave their homes and move to London in 1981 to start new lives and careers. They make friends, discover the gay scene and start to find their way round this exciting new world as their lives intersect.

Then they start hearing rumours of a strange new disease that seems to affect only gay men, and we see one character ill in hospital where he eventually dies. Other scenes show a girl washing up, frantically scrubbing a mug that she saw being used by someone with (she suspects) AIDS. She puts it in the kitchen cupboard and makes her way to bed; but after lying awake for half-an-hour, she comes back downstairs, wraps the mug in a tea towel and smashes it before dropping it in the bin. 

We also see a family whose son has died from an unknown illness; they have set up a bonfire in the garden and are busy destroying all his belongings along with old photographs and videocassettes.
‘Hooked on Classics’ will never be the same again…

Rootless

I’ve lived at 23 different addresses and worked in 15 different jobs.

My Native Land, by Sir Walter Scott

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d,
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.
Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)

The Stranger’s Hymn

Leafing through collected pages, numbers, lines and diagrams
It seems I find myself delocalised. Hovering between
Adjacent orbitals, the ambiguity of spin allows my eyes
To see but not to rest upon a suite of
Cars and houses, trees and people, all lined up
To help define my whereabouts.

How would I know my native land? Is this a place
Where I should feel that I belong? The pages that I browse
Are dull, with intermittent gleams of narrative
That may as well be someone else’s life. A scattered trail
Of half-remembered functional derivatives betray
The intersecting shells of liquid personality.

I search through dusty manuscripts, to find perhaps
A swaying web of algorithms that might
In some way correspond to places, names and songs
That I recall. Does the place where I grew up
Define the person I turned out to be? Or can
I find unfinished chapters carry so much weight
They leave me now with nowhere to belong?

Erase the Data

Journal Entry, 16 Jan 2021:
It’s Saturday morning, and the Horror Channel is showing ‘Monster Island’, a high-octane remake of last week’s offering, ‘Mysterious Island’. The older film has much to admire – a drama-filled plot, Harryhausen’s giant insects, and Michael Craig’s splendid torso. The modern film, however, seems packed with library footage of aircraft carriers, violent explosions and kraken-type monsters, with a soundtrack entirely lacking in atmosphere.

State of the nation: the UK is now in lockdown again, and the government has decided to ‘suspend all travel corridors’ to prevent the spread of a new Covid variant. What this actually means is not that air travel will be banned, but that passengers will be required to have a negative Covid test result before departure, and they will have to self-isolate for ten days on arrival.

This would be a great idea, except for the fact that Covid tests are not completely reliable. And there have been hundreds of cases where travellers have declared false address details to UK customs on arrival, leaving the police unable to locate them.

Some other people may also now be able to evade detection by officers of the law, since it was disclosed yesterday that 150 thousand records (figure later revised up to 400 thousand) have been mistakenly wiped from the National Police Database during routine maintenance. This includes DNA, fingerprints, and arrest records.

Lots of angry debate around free school meals; instead of being issued with vouchers (£30) to purchase food for their children, some parents are now being issued with food parcels prepared by a private firm called Chartwell. One distraught parent posted a picture online of her ten-meal food parcel, which consisted of a loaf of sliced bread, a can of beans, some pre-sliced cheese, two bananas, two carrots, three apples, two potatoes, a tomato, two cake bars, three yoghurt drinks and a small bag of pasta. This amount of food would typically cost six pounds in a supermarket, but of course we must think of the poor shareholders in Chartwell and Compass Group.

Many children claim free school meals even though both parents are working, since the UK economy is now turning into a low-wage part-time free for all, with taxpayer subsidies helping to boost the profits of large corporations through benefits such as Universal Credit.

A few years back I was claiming Universal Credit and would dutifully turn up every second Thursday with my printed sheets of job-hunting activities on the DWP corpse-coloured paper.
My work coach would inspect the list and then print off a ‘Claimants Commitment’ which laid out all the things I had promised to do to find work, which ran to three (sometimes four) double-sided sheets. I had to sign and date both sides of each page of both copies, one of which then went to be filed. This means that I was responsible for at least 78 sheets of paper in that office; if there are about one million people claiming UC, will each of them also have to undergo this ordeal?

One of the commitments on my list was to apply for all and any suitable jobs found during an online search. This means that if the same post appeared on two different job agency websites, I would be required to apply for both vacancies. But if a company gets duplicate submissions for the same post, the HR manager will usually reject them to avoid any disputes with the agency concerned.

So if you fail to apply to both advertisements, you are breaking the terms of your claimant’s commitment and will have your UC sanctioned for up to 93 days, but if you apply for both you are almost certain to be turned down for the post and have wasted your time.

Latest Covid statistics:
US: 24.1 million cases, 401 thousand deaths
UK: 3.3 million cases, 87.3 thousand deaths

Lost in Sheffield
There were the driving instructions I typed out to help find my way to our factory, when I arranged to deliver a piece of equipment and collect a few test samples.

Turn L onto A 527 –  Second exit – keep on A 527 – Roundabout merge onto M 62 – 15 miles on M 62 – Take exit to A 57 for Denton / Sheffield – Straight on to M 67 – 4.7 miles to A 57 – Keep straight on to A 428  – 14 miles, A 613 – 1 mile, take exit onto M1 – 7 miles, junction 33, take A430 Rotherham – 3 miles on A430, slip road A182 / A527 to Ring Road / Worksop – Exit onto A 527

I asked one of my colleagues whether this was the route he would recommend, and he gave a non-committal shrug and said that yeah, it looks okay. A few weeks later I discovered that the works van had a sat-nav unit in the glove box to help with route planning, but nobody had mentioned this to me…

I wandered into the web and discovered a blog created by The Blissful Nomad, who creates elegant, atmospheric poems. One of his works is ‘Neptune: Erasure, in which the selective erosion of words from a text by Virginia Woolf (part of The Voyage Out) leaves behind a blank verse shimmering with aquatic allusion. Inspired by this, I wondered about how the outer moons of Neptune could be used in Project Management.

Five Layers of Darkness
Halimede (‘lady of the brine’), Sao (‘safe passage’), Psamathe (‘sand’), Laomedeia (‘leader of the folk’) and Neso (‘islands).

Every development project will have regions of uncertainty or ignorance, caused by a lack of information or the incorrect application of data. Some of these will be like sand, tiny aspects which are easily overlooked but which can disrupt the smooth running of a procedure. Others will be related to outlying islands; areas of research or knowledge which are remote from the main body of the project, but which represent useful resources. The principle of Halimede would be an individual who governs the ideas underlying the project, while Laomedeia is responsible for harnessing the skills and energies of the personnel working on it. And ‘Sao’ would involve charting a smooth course, anticipating hazards and finding ways to neutralise them.

Capitol Nourishment

Journal Entry, 9 Jan 2021
Ten years ago on a Saturday morning I would get up, gather some clothes into a holdall and scoop some Persil into an old margarine tub, then make my way to the laundrette about 20 minutes’ walk from the flat. The laundrette is there no more, having burned down a few years back, no more dusty net curtains or dead wasps gathered in the window or piles of elderly cheap magazines.

Five years ago on a Sunday night I would gather some clean shirts and start ironing them with Radio 6 in the background, ready for the week ahead at work. At work I would spray panels and then measure the film thickness using an incorrect (‘but that’s the way we’ve always done it’) procedure.
Five years ago I went to work on a day like this; wrapped in silent fog, the morning tried to watch itself unfold. The TV news channels announced to a stunned world that singer and actor David Bowie had died, just a day after releasing his last album, an enigmatic collection entitled ‘Blackstar’.

But it’s Saturday morning, and I’m watching the Horror Channel; they’re showing a 1961 movie called ‘Mysterious Island’, where a bunch of shipwrecked soldiers find themselves attacked by monstrous insects. Today’s commercials are busy inviting us to enjoy mail-order treatment for erectile dysfunction, or to install a luxury kitchen, or to set up a life insurance policy.

In the real world, outgoing President Donald Trump has caused outrage by holding a mass rally at which he told his supporters that the election had been stolen from them by a programme of organised fraud, and that he would always contest the outcome, and that they should take back their country by force – ‘you’ll never take back our country with weakness’.

The angry mob proceeded to storm the Capitol building, smashing windows and ransacking offices. Trump watched all this action on TV from the safety of the White House, eventually releasing a video statement in which he declared ‘we feel your pain, and we are sorry that you have seen the election stolen from you, but please make your way home in peace, and we love you very much.’

But in May, following the riots that followed the death of George Floyd, Trump told the nation: “I’m dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property“.

And in the UK, we have escaped from the clutches of the evil European Empire and are once again free to pursue trade deals with the rest of the world. Alas, we have no experience in setting up the export documents to do this, and have found freight wagons being delayed or turned away by customs officials.

Latest Covid-19 Statistics:
US: 21.3 million cases, 365 thousand deaths
UK: 2.89 million cases, 78 thousand deaths

Back in April, the government claimed that 50,000 dead would be the worst-case scenario for the Covid outbreak in the UK.

School’s Out (in-out-in yeah-but-no)

Journal Entry, 4 Jan 2021: The World Has Gone Mad

I’m sure that this idea, with numerous variants, has been uttered ever since the first cave-dweller defaced their living room wall with an ochre sketch showing Mister Ugg from number 17 being chased by an angry bison while waving a spear.

But here, at the beginning of 2021, we have political turmoil in the US. President Trump has refused to acknowledge that his opponent, Joe Biden, actually received more votes during last year’s election and has now been caught on tape demanding that Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State for Georgia, find an extra 11,000 votes which would overturn the result.

This type of coercion is obviously illegal; but Trump’s fans maintain that the election was rigged, and ballot boxes were interfered with, and counting machines were deprogrammed whenever a Republican ballot slip came in view. So their champion is perfectly entitled to disregard the law in order to obtain a level playing field.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it was recently announced that all schools would open as normal on 4 Jan, the first working day of the new year. Then it was announced that only Primary schools would open today, with staggered dates to reduce the spread of Covid. And some local authorities said that it would be madness to allow large numbers of unruly youngsters – none of whom wear PPE or practice social distancing – to mingle at school and then return to their family homes, so they refused to allow the reopening to take place.

There have been furious arguments about this decision, with some people claiming that youngsters are unable to either contract or transmit the disease, and so they should be allowed to attend school as normal.

Today sees the roll-out of the Oxford-Astra Zeneca vaccine; this material is much less fragile than the Pfizer vaccine and doesn’t need to be kept at minus 70 degrees.

However, since the government has spent hundreds of millions on elaborate testing and tracing procedures to identify those infected and their likely contacts, it seems odd that we are now having another crisis. The Nightingale emergency hospitals, opened with great fanfare last spring, were then closed down due to lack of patient demand (and staff shortages) but are now due to be reopened.

Latest Covid figures:
US: 21.1 million cases, 360 thousand deaths
UK: 2.65 million cases, 75 thousand deaths.