Waste Knot


On only one occasion do I recall seeing our main Sensei give a demonstration of Karate. Most of the time he would run the classes, taking part in all the exercise routines, supervising the sparring, guiding the junior coaches.

But one day at the end of the lesson he was explaining how fighting technique was all about distance and timing. ‘You need to make sure you don’t waste any of your energy’ he said, ‘Don’t move any further than you need to avoid being hit, don’t try to deliver a strike too soon or too late. It will take you years to understand this, but if I have done my job properly, you will all end up better than me when I was your age.’ And he invited one of the best young students up to the front of the class.

‘Go on, then – imagine you’ve got steel-toe-capped boots on, and try to kick me in the stomach. Don’t worry, I promise you won’t get hurt. If you manage to land the kick I’ll award you an honorary black belt.’
So this young lad – agile, experienced and very fit – launched himself into a straightforward kick to the teacher’s belly.

We were all watching intently, but nobody saw what actually happened; just a split-second later, the teacher was calmly holding this lad by his ankle and saying ‘If I drop him now, it would break his neck.’ He gently lowered the lad, who was now gazing at sir with renewed admiration and respect. The two of them bowed to one another and shook hands.

The fundamental concepts of minimal waste crop up in all sorts of industrial processes.

During the manufacture of industrial paint, we see huge quantities of solvent used to clean out vessels between batches. Sometimes the actual product is deemed unsatisfactory when it reaches the client, who then returns it to the factory; forty tins of material have to be emptied out into a new mixing vessel. The paint has to be modified by adding more solvents or pigments or resin, and then it has to be tested again and then the material has to be decanted into new tins ready to be sent back to the customer who is now running two days late with their own production schedule. The old tins need to be disposed of as contaminated waste.

At large conferences or trade fairs, the delegates are often issued with free bags containing various glossy booklets. In order to assemble all these goody bags, the leaflets and other printed materials are delivered in cardboard boxes and lined up on long trestle tables. A team of workers will move steadily but briskly along the table, collecting one item from each pile until they have a hefty bundle of paperwork, which they then drop into a carrier bag held open and ready by one of the other workers.

And as this process continues, a pile of discarded cardboard boxes and plastic securing ribbons begins to grow around the table. Eventually this waste packaging becomes an obstacle, so we bring in a wheeled carton to pile them all into. And so on, until at the end of the day the floor of the exhibition hall is scattered with assorted bits of waxed paper, scraps of corrugated beige card, damaged leaflets and empty rolls of masking tape.

The delegates arrive for the conference the following morning; each of them collects a filled bag from one of the smiling conference greeters and entertains a brief flicker of hope that a) the goody-bag will contain something valuable, such as a steel-bodied ballpoint pen, and b) one or more of these young ladies will be charmingly available at the hotel bar later that evening.

Likewise, in a supermarket, the goods are brought in from the warehouse in large wire cages; the tins and packets are themselves contained within card-and-plastic trays to protect them during transport. At the end of an evening shift, when the store is closed and the customers have escaped, we find the wire cages are now densely packed with waste cardboard and polythene film. The customers generally have no idea of the energy required to keep the shelves fully stocked, or the technical detail involved in designing the packaging to look neat and attractive – packaging that will be discarded later without a second thought.

Other waste: waste materials, such as the odd tins and bottles of raw materials ordered by development laboratories to craft new product ranges. These are tested, and often found to be either no better than the existing ingredients, or are much better but slightly more expensive. Even the tiniest increase in raw material costs will send the purchasing department into a whirlwind of panic.

Sometimes waste material is more than a small jar of stuff; we once had four tubs of sodium carbonate, twenty kilograms in total, left over from a test project.  I suggested that we could keep this material in reserve, so that it could be used to deal with any acid spills which occurred, but I was soundly rebuffed and told that we had to use the official (expensive) disposal procedure.

A few months later we noticed that the lock on one of our storage cabinets was becoming very stiff, and realised that the bottles of acid in this cabinet were releasing fumes, gradually corroding the bare steel mechanism. ‘Perhaps we could buy in some sodium carbonate’ I said, ‘and put a layer of it in the base of the cabinet to neutralise these vapours.’
Everybody thought this was a great idea, but of course it never came to anything, so that the corrosion problem reappeared with every new cabinet.

And at one workplace, I recall seeing a full pallet – minus one bag – of microdol, an ultra-fine mixed carbonate extender pigment. This 975-kg consignment sat there, gathering dust until the factory was eventually sold and demolished. We could easily had decanted this stuff into plastic tubs and given it away for use as an acid spill-kit.

The whole world is full of stuff we can see – goods, services, ideas – and just out of view is a tremendous mountain of ‘waste’, the time and energy and materials which have been used to construct and deliver and arrange the visible aspects of commerce. And any understanding of business needs to acknowledge the importance of this unseen environment.



Single people are worthless
Married couples are useful
Married couples with children are valuable

Single men are dangerous
Married men are trustworthy
Fathers are valuable

Corrosion is the dance of air and water
Trapped in
a lonely metal cage
I don’t care what you say, the
Reckless pollution of literature
Is better than the empty page. A man

In possession of a fortune (big or small)
Needs a wife. A man who
Has no fortune by the age of twenty-five
Does not deserve to keep
The borrowed treasure that he calls his life.

It doesn’t end here…


Now fallen brown and silent, the trumpets know
Their fanfares echo in some other place
Corrosion does not signify corruption
The onset of decay is no disgrace
Time and tiredness watch entropy
Plant silver wires on the hunter’s face. 

At first I thought they looked like drops of blood
Scattered on the station floor
Instead, at close quarters we observe
Gleaming heart-shaped confetti
Like blossoms shaken to the ground
By a sudden gasp of teenage lust. 

The daffodils are bent and brown, but no regret;
They worked their magic on the passing bees
And now can rest in quiet contemplation
A ringing triumph no-one ever sees.



Adhesion to A Mud Puddle

Journal Entry, 17 Jan 2018:
Risham Syed exhibition at M’cr Art Gallery. A series of miniature postcard-sized paintings, simple architectural forms, semi abstract with high-contrast, almost like photographs. One of the small pictures had been hung in such a way that it cast a shadow which lined up perfectly with the edge of a building on the neighbouring picture.

For the ‘Tent of Darius’ Syed has placed five old army greatcoats on hooks below an acrylic copy of an old painting- tension between East and West.


Gorilla Poo

Clive popped his head round the door of the science lab. ‘Erm, any chance I can borrow a bit of cleaning fluid?’
Angus looked up from the bench where he was arranging a microscope. ‘No chance. We can’t let anything out of here…what do you want it for, anyway?’

‘Jenny has a coat back from the dark heart’. He paused. ‘We think it’s some kind of mud from the forest floor, we’ve used hot wash and disinfectant, but this stain just won’t shift.’
‘Bring it in. I’ll see if we have anything that can help. But keep it quiet.’

A week later, Angus dropped a plastic holdall in front of Clive’s chair in the staff room.

‘Oh, you’ve done it? Great!’
The other chap shook his head and explained that the most aggressive cocktail of organic fluids had made almost no difference to the sticky patch. ‘God knows what it’s made of, but I don’t want to get any of it on me!’

Meanwhile, in the jungle, a team of Chinese researchers was collecting samples of mud and subjecting them to solvents, ultrasound and centrifuge extraction. They managed to identify a curious morphology made up of undigested strands of cellulose, which seemed to give rise to the extreme durability of the sludge.

A review magazine, printed in Antwerp three weeks later, carried an article by one of these Chinese explorers in which he explained that they were following the trail of the Lost Buddha. Some people thought the Lost Buddha was a metaphor, a warning against human vanity and greed. Other scholars believed that it was an impossibly beautiful sculpture.

The Silent Bowl

When struck, the jade bowl
Does not ring
It casts no shadow;
Too heavy for a man to move, it stands
But then when filled with wine
A slender maid can lift it with a smile.

Before embarking on the journey
To Zhang-Wu
Drink carefully from the jade bowl
And know that you
Walk beneath the thousand eyes of
All the brave ancestors.

Engraved around the edges of the bowl
The blossoms fall with Oriental grace;
They have their own idea of gravity… 

The Chinese researchers were not looking for an abandoned statue of the Buddha after all; they had identified a crop of rare-earth ore deposits which they were using to develop new semiconductors. The statue had indeed been hidden once and covered with mud to prevent it being recognised and stolen. However, one of them noticed that the process of removing the mud took much longer than expected (at one point they feared that they had offended the Spirits by this degrading concealment) and he suggested that it might be a good material to use in preparing waterproof canvas for army use.

After years of testing, they realised that the mud contained extremely small particles of rare-earth minerals which had travelled through the apes’ digestive tract and emerged as a complex structure, with cellulose spines and ribbons of protein wrapped around them. And the synthetic version of this composite material allowed a new class of adhesives to be developed, which could provide strong bonds to the most reluctant of smooth plastic surfaces.

Journal Entry, 15 Sep 97:
Friday nite rode up to Stockport, found New Inn pub, had quick drink, asked about B and B and was given number of rather flash Hotel-Restaurant.

Really should have booked somewhere in advance.
Hotel about 2 miles from pub, pouring with rain, booked in, watched TV, had lager.

Set off to find Lytham. Still falls the rain, force 5 gales everywhere, got to Andy’s met Pat and Phil.
Sat night watched Last Night of Proms thru Andy’s new surround-sound speakers, then went out to Flamingo’s. Andy was being eyed up by some chap when they played ABBA so he had to join me on the dancefloor. Lots of clones and weirdos.

Sunday had scrumptious fry-up as Andy practicing for when he and LK start running a hotel together.
Walked to Lytham, bought glue, repaired toilet lid and hired some video films – Mars Attacks! And First Wives Club.

Today rode back – got lost about five times near Manchester, stopped near Buxton (huge meal in Devonshire Arms). Note: I was riding a 125-cc Honda with L-Plates, so I was not allowed to use motorways, but everything around M’cr tends to be diverted to the M60.

This is where it all began, a few years ago. I had asked for help to travel to an interview; the jobcentre staff were mildly curious (‘are you sure this is a real job interview?’) but eventually they agreed to supply me with a rail voucher from Tamworth to Trafford Park.

The journey involved changing at Crewe and then at Manchester and then at Deansgate, where I spent three-quarters of an hour waiting for another train to take me just one stop down the line to Trafford Park.
I had expected Trafford Park to be a large station with a gleaming concourse, banks of payphones, a smart café and a branch of Tie Rack or WH Smiths. Instead, I discovered it to be a run-down place with two bleak platforms. Next door to the station was a small taxi office. I entered the waiting room and asked if they could take me to Topaz Technology.

‘Dunno, mate’ said the bloke behind the wire grille, ‘Any idea where it is?’
There followed a series of hasty discussions – I think I even gave them the number of the company so that they could get some idea of the location – and eventually I found myself at the factory gates. The interview seemed to go well, until the boss said ‘Of course, it’s vitally important that the person who takes on this role is fully up to speed with computer technology. Everything we do uses computers. Have you made much use of computers I your previous job?’

I admitted that I had not used IT much in earlier jobs. ‘But I am currently working towards my ECDL’ I added brightly.
‘ECDL?’ He looked puzzled; ‘What’s that, then?’

I explained that the European Computer Driving Licence was a new, high-tech qualification being rolled out across the UK (we later discovered it was part of a mammoth fraud known as the Individual Learning Account scheme) and which was being advertised on TV as the only certificate you would ever need. Completely dishonest and misleading., but a good way to shovel millions of taxpayers’ money into the pockets of smartly-dressed consultants.

We chatted further; he said they would be in touch, and I was left feeling that the day had been a waste of time.
If I had been given more time to plan my route, I could have arranged to get a cab from Manchester itself instead of travelling to Deansgate and Trafford Park stations, which might have cost two pounds more but saved me an hour-and-a-half.

Then, a few weeks later, I had a frantic phone call from the recruitment agency saying that the firm wanted to interview me again. Now. Immediately.
I was baffled. ‘But I won’t have time to get to the station’ I said, ‘The only way I can get there is on my motorbike.’

So I jumped on my trusty Honda 500 and roared away to Manchester. The agency had given me a hand-drawn map of the factory location, which had been faxed to them a few days earlier. In Manchester I pulled in at a service station and asked the cashier how to find my way to Trafford Park. I produced the map I had been given; he peered at it, shook his head, and said that he didn’t recognise the district or the road layout. The map included the M63 motorway, which had been renamed five years previously as the M60.

Another hour of my life wasted as part of a journey to this firm. I was in a very bad mood (and 30 minutes late) when I eventually arrived, and I breezed into reception holding my crash-helmet as thought it was a bomb ready to be hurled into the office.

The boss was being very cautious; ‘We are quite keen to bring you on board, but there are a few workers here who feel that they deserve to be offered the post instead of it going to an external candidate…’
‘Of course’ I said cheerily, ‘It makes perfect sense to promote internally. You have a clear grasp of the individual worker and their skills and aptitudes. And they are already familiar with the product range and the manufacturing procedures. If you were to offer me the job, you run the risk of gaining access to new ideas and experience from a different industrial or academic background. I might look at your existing process methods with a new pair of eyes. Yes, it could be a big mistake to recruit someone from outside when your company already has so much expertise.’
‘We’ll be in touch sometime soon…I think’ he said as I left the building.

A few days later the postman brought a narrow DL envelope containing my contract of employment (2 copies, 3 pages each) asking me to sign and return, with a proposed start date two weeks’ hence. It also specified that I should arrange to undergo a medical examination before starting work. My local GP had a waiting list of five weeks for routine works medicals; I rang the firm and told them this, and they reluctantly agreed that I could arrange to see a doctor shortly after beginning my new job.

Vilkyd 185X Aphorism

Journal Entry, 25 Mar 2018:
Went swimming; I used locker no. 91 and was horrified that I couldn’t remember which element had this atomic number. I also can’t recall whether Haydn’s symphony no. 91 has a nickname; it must have been on the three-disc box set I borrowed from B’ham library back in ’87.

I can swim a length in 42 seconds; by pushing myself I can get that down to 32 seconds but it’s a real effort.

Walking back in the weak spring sunshine, I started pondering a new Tarot deck. The suits would be Chains, Flowers, Horns and Eyes, while the major arcana would be archetypes from the world of science and engineering.

Weds 20 Feb 2013:
Yesterday had my meeting with Matt M. He asked a load of general questions – how long have I been here, what was my job title, how did my role fit in with personal skills and career background etc? At one point her remarked ‘You’re a technologist, so presumably that means you have technicians working for you?’

Did I have any problems with safety? No. Did I have any ditto with quality? Yes, said I; we have a load of ornate quality procedures which don’t contribute anything to the running of the lab.

Thur 7 Mar 2013:
Splendid day at work!
This morning I calibrated the pH meter, measured the fallout volumes, checked the ovens and looked at my e-mail inbox – about 20 messages.
When assisting Carl with the panel to freezer transfer, he asked if I had ever been to Disneyland. I glared at him and said (without thinking) ‘What sort of girl do you think I am!’

Then this afternoon the pair of us embarked on a supremely stooped and pointless task, monitoring the 20-litre graduations on a 100-litre storage reservoir (which is always used completely full). The lovely Danielle has issued a formal method to carry out this drama including a huge sprawling sentence with a Fog Index of 29.

Fri 3 May 2013:
Yesterday had my ‘skills training needs’ meeting with Larry C. He’s never read my CV and didn’t know I had an interest in bikes.
Went through a long list of standard tests – humid exposure, colorimetry, impact, Buchholz etc – to see how well I knew this and how often required.

At one point he asked, “Have you worked anywhere before you came to us?” which seemed odd. Perhaps he thinks I’m actually 26 years old, fresh out of college. So I ran through my reverse chronology.

No mention of anything to do with ash content or NVC or water vapour permeability. When he asked about the SO2 (kesternich) test I said no, that’s Danny’s baby – apparently everyone had made the same comment.
I did point out that I thought it was a horrible, dangerous, time-consuming test; ‘I don’t know how much money it brings in, but that lab space could be used for something else.’

Weds 8 May 2013:
It’s May the Eighth Today! Strange development at work.

Yesterday we had our marine meeting, and John C asked if there were any items of equipment which had to be repaired or replaced. – we mentioned the QUV machines which have collapsed with old age.
Then I sent an e-mail today pointing out that the top-pan balance in the salt-spray lab is suffering from corrosion. Copied Rawcliffe in on this.
Later on heard Jon G telling Carl that we could possibly save time by dropping our procedure for salt-spray titration, and just check the SG instead.

Then later had an e-mail from Rawcliffe asking whether I had looked at the stainless-steel option, and saying, ‘Part of the problem might be all the different things you have to weigh out on it such as the chemicals for salt-spray titration. Perhaps it would help if we changed over to hydrometer methods rather than titrations to measure salt content.’

So all my wet paint testing has been given to Dean and now the SS titrations are to be eliminated.
Not much left for me to do, then…

Thu 30 Mar 2000:
On Radio 2: ‘Lost in Space’ the song, taking me back to my trip home from the Farmyard Party two years ago. Bliss.
And at work, it was only Brian taking the piss out of Steve which led to us fortuitously locating the drum of WB blue coating.

Alan Freeman – camp, long-serving BBC DJ – is very ill, but still presenting two weekly shows, and Dale Winton has been drafted in as co-presenter. So the end is nigh.

When changing formulations from one alkyd to another, compare oil length rather than just weight – brittleness problems with drum coatings.

Prepared tape of Santana ‘Lotus’ for Anda.
At work: new batch of Pontrilas Blue (WB vertical floor paint) required with enhanced wetting properties. Also paraffin spot tests on 185X black drum paints.

According to the papers (quoting ‘Your Mortgage’ magazine) house prices in Tamworth are set to rise by forty percent over the next five years.
[Note: estate agents soon forgot the ‘5-years’ bit and slapped an overnight rise of 15-20 percent on their stock]


heart with pleasure fills…

A Bowl of Porridge

If too much force is applied to the knife, then the almonds are likely to shatter and fly across the kitchen where they could lie on the floor undiscovered for weeks on end; so I carefully use a rocking motion with the blade to carve up the dried fruit and nuts for my breakfast porridge.

Some people say that the fruit should be left as a single layer on top of the oats, to give a stronger, sweeter taste. But I prefer to blend all the components uniformly during cooking; sometimes I become distracted and forget to check the porridge, so that a creamy caramel-flavoured skin forms on top.

I recall once hearing about an additive which was used to improve the properties of wood-varnish. This finely-dispersed mineral (cerium) could give an increase in hardness and water-resistance, even when present at absurdly low levels. Somebody suggested that it was becoming concentrated at the upper surface of the varnish, to give a hard composite skin; but no, they checked this using a microscope and x-ray fluorescence. The stuff was evenly spread throughout the entire film of varnish.
Perhaps the cerium has magical magnetic properties and is somehow knotting together all the resin molecules in its vicinity, causing the overall material to become tougher and more intense.

Some people disapprove of adding dried fruit to porridge; they consider it a needless indulgence, while others even regard the use of milk and sugar as being decadent. “We were not put on earth to enjoy ourselves” they might say, adding “The pursuit of pleasure weakens the spirit, and the experience of pleasure leads only to disappointment.”

Outside my window I can see a clump of daffodils; because that side of the garden is shaded, they have bloomed later than their fellows down the road.  I photograph them at intervals, watching them change from bare green stems to bold yellow trumpets. Yesterday morning I found them all totally crushed by the previous night’s snow, and was unsure of how they would survive; but now they are back, the very emblem of cheerfulness.

Wordsworth was a master craftsman who had the entire English language at his command; and his choice of simple words:

“And then my heart with pleasure fills…”

…captures perfectly the optimism that these flowers convey.

Squeeze-esque Try Trier Denier

Just because Trier shows us an awful vision of the world, it does not mean that the world is an awful place.

A cold afternoon; I walk down to the Whitworth Gallery to look at their latest exhibition, a selection of found images created by John Stezaker, who  takes vintage photographs and carves windows in them, through which we can view other pictures (faces, people) or simply a blank white space. I am reminded of the cover art for ‘Presence’, where a sinister black object interrupts a series of ideal family gatherings. Or ‘The Next Day’ where Bowie’s elegant profile is excised from a familiar image.

Then I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Shape of Water’ and decided to take some pictures of the nearby buildings. We have a parade of retail units, large open spaces where hip young professionals can purchase exclusive and whimsical household knick-knacks.
Alas, these fashion-conscious fogeys are neither numerous nor wealthy enough to support the trendy shops which sprang up in pane-glassed splendour, and now the retail units stand forlorn and cold.

In the shapeless foyer of the cinema a small display of art work includes a group of suspended tarot cards and some directors’ notes based on a Lars von Trier film. Perhaps every big-screen film is really like a Stezaker picture, with one reality obscured or vignetted by another story that we choose to put in place.