Industrial Landscapes

Each morning I walk to work past a huge manufacturing plant; the horizon is completely filled with soaring chimneys, immense concrete silos and elaborate metal gantries. Perhaps there are rules about how to fully appreciate this scenery, much as William Gilpin (back in 1772) explained the picturesque delights of the English countryside.

He suggested ideal vantage points from which a viewer could enjoy a landscape containing a mixture of elements; the smooth and rugged (lakes, trees, fields) the natural and man-made (valleys, ruined abbeys), the bare hills and busy fields at harvest-time.

Sometimes the manufacturing site looks crisp and clear, for instance on a spring morning when the early sunshine picks out one side of every structure and makes the steelwork gleam. On autumn evenings, vast plumes of steam catch the setting sun, and at times it looks as though the whole world is ablaze. And now, as we change from British Summer Time, the sky is dark by six o’clock, and the factory is completely lit by small harsh spotlights.

When this factory was first designed and built, there were no laptop computers or cellphones. Copiers and printers were expensive and found only in the workplace, never in the home. The people who created this manufacturing plant had to predict future demand for their products; every pipe, and tank, and valve represents an intersection of choice. Numerous possibilities – material, capacity, location – had to be considered, balanced and rejected before finally arriving at the present functioning design. And when looking at the factory – through the mist, or on a summer night (the sky becomes a bronze-and-turquoise fantasy) our knowledge of these technical aspects can only enhance the splendid view ahead.

After this galling experience (dismissed after 3 months) I sent a number of e-mails to friends, including the following to Andy and Robbie:

This message is being sent as a kind of insurance policy in case I end
up taking my boss to court for unfair dismissal. Can you print it off
and send it to me at my Manchester address? There’s an automatic
redirection order, so it should be sealed and dated when it gets to me
down here. (Don’t use any funny comments on the envelope or it won’t be
recognised) No hurry – next two weeks will do.
Anyway –
On Monday afternoon (29 March) my boss Craig called me into the office
and said ‘we’re halfway through your trial period and I thought it
would be an idea to take stock of how things are going’. He then said
that they weren’t sure that I was really happy (‘you seem to get the
work done but with a heavy heart’) and was I having problems?
Other remarks involved the idea that I was supposed to be gearing up
to take over from one of the senior chemists when he retires next year,
and that I hadn’t shown any aptitude to do this.
Did I have any suggestions on how to improve the situation? (Craig’s
family owned the firm – when he says ‘any questions?’ it actually means
‘now get out there and do some work’). So I said no. And the rest you
Anyway, today I had a call from one of my colleagues: “What’s going
on?” he asked.
Me: “I’ve no idea….why, what have they told you?”
Colleague: “We were told that you felt that you couldn’t really cope
and you decided to leave since your three months trial period was up.”
(I didn’t point out that it was actually six months)
Me: “Weeellll, that sort of came out during the discussion…”
Colleague: “And there were some comments made that you had been rude
to the sales department and refused to take a sample of material for
them to inspect”.
Well – actually that’s sort of true. I had prepared a silver-coloured
coating called alu-back, as requested by James G, our sales director.
It was good stuff – hard, glossy, scratch resistant, didn’t turn to
jelly on storage, and you could laser print on it. I’d done a couple of
colour laser prints on this stuff – double-sided, no less – and when
the boss was in the lab, I said ‘Do you want to give these to James
when he comes in?’ and handed them over.
Don’t you want to? asked he; I thought that if I held onto them, then
JG would come in, meet the boss, then disappear again without even
seeing them. By handing them to Craig, it was fairly certain that they
would at least be discussed. And also there’s an element of vanity
here…the stuff is so good that I don’t need to hold its hand, or be
there to make excuses for poor performance.
If he’d come into the lab and said ‘Wow, Tim, these coatings are
really good’ I like to think I would have shrugged and said “Yeah,
that’s what I’m here for.” Like ten-pin bowling: when you let go of the
ball, just turn and walk away….if it’s a strike, you don’t need to
stand and watch it.
Among the other personal flaws that made me such a liability to the
department are the fact that I went for a 10-minute tea break before
we’d finished cleaning one of the coating machines (which no-one else
was due to use for at least two weeks anyway).
And today I had a letter from the MD, with my P45 and a cheque for one
month’s wages….but the letter gives no reason for my dismissal, nor
does it mention my trial period. The DHSS (or whatever they call
themselves these days) might look on this as me making myself
voluntarily redundant.
Never mind…at least the firm doesn’t have to look far for my
replacement. They have a young man called Steph working in QC, who
started work on the same day as me. He lives about three miles down the
road in Falmouth and his family are close personal friends of the chief
chemist. Handy, that, innit? At a guess, I think the firm will invite
about five candidates for interview before saying that none of them is
really suitable, but we could always try young Steph.
As far as I’m concerned I was doing a first-rate job in the lab,
solving problems that had defeated the other workers. (I even got told
off by LT for using the internet to look up data sheet info for acrylic
emulsions; ‘Don’t look online, said he…you should ask me first’.
But anyway, at no time had anybody said to me that they were unhappy
with my performance at work, or that I wasn’t meeting targets. Indeed,
Craig seemed to avoid talking to me a lot of the time.

Here’s to the next 20 years in paint!
And this to various former colleagues:

Well, as I mentioned I had finally landed on my feet in a pretty little town called Lentorn, doing a job which seemed to have great prospects. Anyway, last Friday we had a department meeting where we all briefly explained to the boss what we’d been working on. At the end of the session he said ‘Right, I need to tell you that we’ve got a full order book and a bit of a backlog, so I can’t accept any holiday requests for April…it’s going to be seriously busy.’
Fine, I thought…I’m living over the road from work; I can easily put in extra hours when needed.
Yesterday afternoon, I was called into his office and told that the team wasn’t making the right sort of progress, and that “…we’re not sure if you’re the right person for us, or whether we’re the right firm for you…” so I’m now back on the dole (good title for my memoirs, methinks) with all my goods in a Safestore warehouse in Trafford Park while I rent a single room (believe me, it’s very single) in Lentorn.



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