Industrial Ruins Revisited

More Industrial Ruins

Perhaps we should compile a ‘Tourism Guide’ for people wanting to visit industrial ruins. There are certain elements which contribute to good pictures of a derelict site; however, no photograph can really convey the feeling of silent emptiness that one experiences when standing in a vast, abandoned warehouse. There is something eerie about a workshop that, instead of being plunged into gloom, is filled with light from great holes in the roof. An abandoned thousand-litre storage tank, reflected in a puddle near the end of a cold day, can evoke a poignant mood…

It seems that this kind of industrial desolation has a peculiarly British character; the writer Roy Foster published a book describing the transformation of Ireland during the last thirty years of the twentieth century. Reviewing that book in The Telegraph, Leo McKinstry comments that Foster:

“… also points out, interestingly, that Ireland has gained from never having been through the process of industrialisation so, unlike in Britain, the economy has not been encumbered by the rusting burden of manufacturing decline.” (From a review of Luck and the Irish, R F Foster)

Fortunately, the rise in online journalism has provided opportunities for amateur historians to draw attention to the delights of abandoned factories. There are several websites dedicated to the study of industrial ruins; of particular interest to British readers is a forum called ‘Derelict Places – Documenting Decay’ in which individuals contribute pictures (with varying amounts of background information) of various dead factories. Two of the entries which caught my eye were those by ‘Woodsy’, who submitted a catalogue of pictures of the British Cellophane works; and the post by ‘Clebby’, whose page includes images – with some evocative captions – of the Edison Swan Cable Works.

The Cellophane factory pictures seem to be entirely mechanical: a stern regiment of girders keep watch over grey empty spaces. Occasional splashes of colour create a stark perspective – yellow handrails – but most of the images are flat and lifeless.

Magritte would have been proud of one image; a forest of galvanised metal pipes huddle together in the midst of a vast empty yard, where occasional weeds break through the forgotten concrete. This yard space was obviously designed for human activity on a grand scale, with pallets of storage drums being loaded onto wagons by stacker-trucks. The whole yearning desolate vista is crowned by a perfect sky with just the right amount of careless white froth pinned to a pale blue wash.

In contrast, the Edison Cable Works have a human feel – doorways and staircases have been carefully fashioned (in gleaming mahogany) to provide elegance and comfort to the firm’s senior executives. In one picture, a tide of dockets serves to blur the margins between the present and the past, an image vaguely reminiscent of those Serbin photos where an abandoned ballroom merges with the beach. These dockets are the cards which record the hours worked by individual members of staff, so each one represents perhaps forty hours of a person’s life. How many arguments and achievements are hidden in this flood of paper leaves?

(‘Derelict Places’, Copyright Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd)

For many students of industrial architecture, the connoisseur’s choice of author is Tim Edensor, whose 2005 book ‘Industrial Ruins: spaces, aesthetics and materiality’ gives a detailed and sympathetic analysis of disused factories.

And in the US, as one would expect, industrial decay takes place on a vast scale. A fascinating essay by Tom Vanderbilt, ‘Pleasures and Pathos of Industrial Ruins’ discusses the monstrous, sprawling relics of the Bethlehem Steel Works. The article itself triggered a flood of responses, with people eager to share their experience of visiting ruins or (their   more refined cousins) industrial museums. (Pleasures and Pathos of Industrial Ruins, Observatory: The Design Observer Group online Forum)

And in 1932, George Orwell composed a poem exploring the desolation sparked by a brand-new factory: “On a Ruined Farm near the HMV Gramophone Factory”

As I stand at the lichened gate
With warring worlds on either hand —
To left the black and budless trees,
The empty sties, the barns that stand

Like tumbling skeletons — and to right
The factory-towers, white and clear
Like distant, glittering cities seen
From a ship’s rail — as I stand here,

I feel, and with a sharper pang,
My mortal sickness; how I give
My heart to weak and stuffless ghosts,
And with the living cannot live.

The acid smoke has soured the fields,
And browned the few and windworn flowers;
But there, where steel and concrete soar
In dizzy, geometric towers —

There, where the tapering cranes sweep round,
And great wheels turn, and trains roar by
Like strong, low-headed brutes of steel —
There is my world, my home; yet why

So alien still? For I can neither
Dwell in that world, nor turn again
To scythe and spade, but only loiter
Among the trees the smoke has slain.

Yet when the trees were young, men still
Could choose their path — the winged soul,
Not cursed with double doubts, could fly,
Arrow-like to a foreseen goal;

And they who planned those soaring towers,
They too have set their spirit free;
To them their glittering world can bring
Faith, and accepted destiny;

But none to me as I stand here
Between two countries, both-ways torn,
And moveless still, like Buridan’s donkey
Between the water and the corn.

She Lies in Ruins

More Ruins:

The Costa Concordia lies on her side having hit the rocks just off the island of Giglio on the Italian coast. Among the passengers there would have been couples celebrating their wedding anniversary, youngsters full of hope for a new career, journalists preparing articles about the beautiful people and their leisure interests…so far, we know that twelve people died on board when the ship sank. Most of the other passengers lost their belongings, clothes, travel documents, money….more lives ruined.

The mangled machinery inside the vessel will now be immersed in salt water; structures of steel, brass, copper and aluminium, never meant to come into contact with each other or with water are now nothing but quickly-rotting fragments of an immense chaotic battery.

The fuel cargo oil, sternly captured within its tanks, is now crawling out through ruptured steel to join the fishes and the molluscs…a pungent darkness fills their universe, and slowly, in their hundreds, they succumb.

It is reported that the captain of this stricken vessel, Francesco Schettino, fled in a lifeboat before he had supervised the orderly rescue of the passengers. Not really a beautiful person type of behaviour.

The shoals of fish may have been destroyed by the diesel belch, but they will be replaced by swarms of reporters, insurance assessors, marine biology students, corrosion scientists, forensic investigators and salvage experts.

And all the people on board – passengers and crew – would have had life stories which might run to a hundred pages, full of remarkable achievement, but now each of them is defined by a single shared event. Few of us can ever begin to understand the terror of that day, or the shadow which it will cast over the rest of their lives.

 

WADITW

Commentary, 9 May 2013
How vain and foolish to imagine that I could have ‘invented’ WADITW (although I hadn’t previously seen that bizarre scrabble of letters). So many talented business people, medical experts and consultants – such as Kenneth Heselton, Darryl Stevens, Utah Public Safety, Kelby Ergo Design, Prevoyance Group Inc, Jim Blasingame, Deb Parsons, Navy League of Canada and Jon Walker (Excellence Institute) – have examined the origins and pitfalls of the WADITW syndrome. My only original contribution is to assemble this catalogue of technical errors which could have been fixed by reading a basic handbook of paint technology.

WADITW  (Wah – DEE –too!)
I’ve invented a new word – but probably one which is regularly used in manufacturing around the world. Apologies in advance for any unwitting plagiarism…

If you were to criticise a manager for asking a job candidate whether they were married, he would protest: “Why shouldn’t I ask them? It’s a perfectly normal question about someone’s life…we have always asked about family life…and We’ve Always Done It That Way!”

I once went into the factory production area to collect a sample for QC testing, and found the lads shovelling aluminium paste into a vat of furiously-stirring resin solution. When I protested that this wasn’t the appropriate method for preparing silver paint, they told me to sod off. So I went to see the Technical Director; armed with a printed copy of the approved blending technique (explained in detail by the producers of aluminium paste) I pointed out that our method was expensive and wasteful, since it destroyed the metal-flake structure.
He just shrugged and said. “But we’ve always done it that way…you can’t change things now.”

On another occasion, I discovered that the workers on the shop floor would routinely make pale blue paint by adding commercial tinter material to a batch of white, even though we had the equipment and pigments to make it entirely in-house.

“Yeah, well, but we tried that and it was no good ‘cos the colour fades on storage and the customers complain so we do it like this now”, one of them told me.
After looking at the formulation for a few minutes, I realised why they had a problem with colour-fade; the millbase contained so much resin that the blue pigment was unable to disperse correctly. When I made up a few small batches in the lab (at a reduced resin level), I found that the colour was completely stable and there was no need for us to purchase expensive blue tinters.

Again, the Tech Director was completely unimpressed: “Look, this is how we’ve always done it, and we’re not going to change now.”

One day, not long after starting a new job, I arrived at work to hear a high-pitched whine emanating form the lab. When I looked inside, I found a ten-litre tub of white paint being stirred at top speed; a cardboard shield had been positioned over the tub, but even so there were hundreds of tiny white spots on the wall and bench around the stirrer.
My colleagues explained they made up this white paint for carrying out the tint-reduction process by mixing together all the pigment and water in one go and stirring for several hours; the resulting blend, however, still often had lumps of titanium oxide sitting at the bottom of the tub, which meant that we didn’t actually know what the final concentration was.
I suggested that we could make the paint by dispersing the pigment into a smaller volume of water; this would be quicker and produce less splashing. However, I was told that there was nothing wrong with our established method; ‘This is how we’ve always done it.’

And at one company, I remember the lab procedure for measuring the density of pigment. This involved weighing the powder into a graduated flask, topping up with white spirit, and weighing the difference (from which one could determine the volume occupied by the pigment).
However, the method sheet specified that the specific gravity of white spirit – used in the calculation – was 0.808, when the actual value (at room temp) is 0.778. This meant that for years we had been sending out incorrect pigment density values to clients. And when I pointed this out to the Lab Manager, his response was – of course – ‘So? We’ve always done it this way.’

So, whenever anybody suggests an alteration to the existing procedures or methods, I always imagine a bunch of senior managers listening in dismayed silence before brandishing their fists and yelling “Wah-DEE-too!”

The Thunderer

Journal entry, 29 Oct 2005:

Thirty years ago, The Times was a broadsheet; the most severely highbrow paper, a bastion of uncompromising intellectual excellence.

Today’s issue is a tabloid, whose front page (in colour!) shows Prince William in a Charlton Athletic footie shirt. Then on p.3 we have ‘So Solid Crew gun killer gets 30 years’, again with a large colour picture of the Rap Group.

And then, on p.6 a fabulous B-and-W photo of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame with her husband Joseph Wilson. She’s in a headscarf and shades, and they’re sat in a convertible Jag; the whole thing looks like a still from a Bond movie.
The story so far: George W Bush, halfwit US President, has gone to war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein (good), introduce Democracy (good) and seize control of the oilfields (bad).

In order to justify this military escapade, he claimed that Iraq had huge stockpiles of nuclear and normal weapons all of which were ready to be dropped on London and Washington at short notice.
Joseph Wilson was sent to find out if Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger. This couldn’t be proven, but Dubya used the claim anyway, and when Wilson protested about this misuse of info, the lovely Valerie’s covert CIA status was revealed to the press.

Because of all this, Lewis Libby (Chief of Staff to Vice-Pres Dick Cheney) has resigned after being charged with perjury and obstructing course of justice.

Meanwhile, on p.17 of The Times, ‘Church is plunged into deeper disgrace by more sex claims’. Apparently the life of a parish priest in the Republic of Ireland is not as boring and wholesome as we are led to believe.
Lovely cuddly father Ratzinger (Il Papa Nuovo) cheerfully ignores all these claims of sexual abuse and refuses to cooperate with any attempt to bring perpetrators to justice.

Journal Entry, 2 July ’96:

Sometime last week John (the alcoholic landlord) gave us all an extra key and said that sometime soon the front door lock was going to be changed to stop Iona (the klepto who pretends to be always stoned but isn’t) from getting in.

So I left this key in my room, expecting to be given a day’s warning when the great changeover took place. Last night went to the flix to see ‘The Rock’ (James Bond meets Delta Force meets Indiana Jones) and when I got back the door wouldn’t accept my key. Aaargh!

Rang John on his mobile, arranged to meet, went to wrong pub and ended up sleeping in my car.

Journal Entry, 8 July ’16:

On Wednesday they published the Chilcot report into the Iraq conflict. Lord Chilcot and his friends have been raking it in – they get paid hundreds of pounds every day just for turning up to hear the evidence. The final report runs to thousands of pages. The war started in 2003, but even before then the Emperor Tony had written to George Bush promising to support him in any forthcoming military action.

A central plank of the invasion of Iraq was the idea that Saddam had a huge arsenal of weapons which were ready to be launched against the UK at just 45 minutes’ notice. It turns out that this was very speculative, and the ‘intelligence’ was actually based on the action-thriller movie ‘The Rock’ (pretty glass balls filled with a deadly green potion).

Journal Entry, 27 Apr ’05:

Very odd – went to pigeonhole at work after lunch and found a memo from Rob asking for my name, address, phone number and NI number, to be returned to him by 2.00 today. Why should he ask for info already held by the company?

Tested some white pigment for Kerr McGee – it’s got great opacity and clean blue undertone, but in choke paint it causes high visc, so we’d never meet our NVC targets.

Journal Entry, 29 Apr ’05:

Well!

Today at work Rob came into lab with my copy of the new Employee Handbook and the Conditions of Employment Document, which we both had to sign.
My job description now includes the word ‘manage’.

He rang me later and said that he had forgotten to explain that we would soon be getting a swipe-card clocking in system – new hours 0800 – 1645.
I said ‘Well, at present there is no record of my arrival in the morning’ and he replied ‘Yes, I know – I just look out of the window to see if you’re crossing the yard’.

Other things in handbook: the equal ops policy includes no mention of sexual orientation, even though this is Manchester.
Eating and drinking forbidden in workplace (no mention of Kevin’s bacon sandwiches, which he heats up in the oven every day).
Company car handbook – I’ve used the pool car a few times but never signed any insurance papers.

Journal Entry, 3 May ’05:

Yesterday went to cinema to see Nicole Kidman in ‘The Interpreteuse’, v good.

Went to Rembrandt and Outpost for a drink and found them swarming with bears. One guy in a check shirt and Stetson; grrrr! Where, indeed, have all the cowboys gone? The jukebox played ‘Three Times a Lady’, the most inappropriate song possible.

Today at work we’ve started our new timekeeping regime.  Both Kev and Darren had to stay til 4.45, which must come as a bit of a shock.

The production department has just made a 700-kg batch of WB stoving varnish. When I carried out the QC test on it, the NVC was very low and the stoved panel had no strength – easily scraped off. Dead matt. Tried adding a small amount of Cymel and Lo! The gloss went up and the hardness increased significantly. So they’ve obviously forgotten to include it.

Went to PC World and bought some Norton security. Got home to find that the disc had been opened, and a page of details from some customer who had viruses swept off her machine.

Journal Entry, 5 Mar ’96:

Last Thursday Alex had to go to the Dental Hospital for some root canal surgery. Kim told him he should have arranged a standard appointment, not in works time. Never mind the expense. And Alex requested a single day off, in ten days’ time, but was told ‘No, you have to give two weeks’ notice.’ Not true.

Also last Thursday, Ken Salter was down in the booths spraying some submission panels. Kim spotted him and asked what he was doing. When Ken told him, he said ‘No, no, you don’t spray subs during the working day.’
Ken informed the rest of the QC staff, who adopted this procedure, and then when Kim was confronted by the production department he denied this totally.

Five Songs

Ultrasonic Desperado

He was only eighteen
Perched on a stolen bike
The night was cold and clear
He’d enjoyed some speed and then some beer
He took a fast ride
No lights, no helmet, not insured
And then a block of steel brought
This one-man chapter to a sticky end.

But where would life have taken
This young lad
If speed and speed and alcohol
Had never intervened
To take away an energetic soul?

So he will stay eighteen
Through all the years that see
Nations perish from neglect
And subatomic particles become
The routine currency of dreams.

He will remain eighteen
While all around
The world runs dry and vehicles fade away, and
Pollution brings the planet to a halt
While somewhere else
A lad of just eighteen
Rides someone else’s bike into tomorrow
While trying hard to leave himself behind.

And…

Threw my leather belt on the floor; it
Fell in the shape of an ampersand
Perhaps I should from this event
Unfold successive meanings, or believe
That what can fall may also rise again
By telling us that we are incomplete –
Without the and, where would we be?

Giuseppe Gregory

          “He could have made a life in books
Or learned to talk with princes in the dark
Instead of which he bought and sold
The brief exciting cordials of death
And so a gun-shaped hole began to grow
There on the crazy paving of his years….”

Synchronosium

I cannot tell a dozen tales at once
We’d never hear the stories thus expressed
The tangled yelling would reflect experience
But what meanings in the tumult lurked
Would have to be guessed; for just a
Single narrative would never serve to show
The complex density of any vulgar sense.

Fowles, they tell me, is no more;
A conjurer whose letters, words and dreams
Purveyed more meaning than we dared to see.
Perhaps his books had better been
published as faux-Georgian hardbacks, with
Yellow paper, marbled rims, and all the dust
That only comes from twenty years of lingering neglect.

Perhaps one day, we shall suggest
That men like Fowles could teach us how to see
The liquid words that shimmer in the gloom.

Cornwell Mansions

The Duchess in her chair enjoys
An aquarium filled with white noise
While antiparallel doors continue to display
The weightless truth that fills another day.

Somewhere between the solid and the gas
I find a squalid shadow and a hammer made of glass
From which to drink an undiscovered wine
That lets the Duchess think herself divine.

Married with Kids?

Job Application Guidance

The June 2009 issue of ‘health and safety at work’ magazine included an article written in the form of a round-table discussion about how aspiring employees can improve their chances of being selected.

One of the contributors was Shirley Parsons, MD of Shirley Parsons Associates, a high-level talent broker in the field of industrial recruitment. During the section on CV preparation, Ms Parsons tells us that she always suggests that candidates list their hobbies. She then goes on to say:

“On the other hand I think it is quite useful to put ‘married with two children’ because then that gives the interviewer some information to ask about. If they don’t put anything at all it’s difficult to broach the subject.” [p.52]

I was under the impression that marital status, age and nationality are not considered appropriate criteria for selecting job applicants; employers are not allowed to ask about these things during interview, and we (jobhunters) are not allowed to provide the information beforehand, in case it colours their judgement.

One can understand an employer feeling that it makes sense to offer jobs to family men; having mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay makes a worker far more likely to stay put in a job. A single man, finding that the promised career avenues don’t exist, can easily uproot and find work elsewhere.

And it may be possible that single workers are seen as potentially destabilising…a married man is most unlikely to become emotionally entangled with a work colleague (stop giggling, it’s not funny) and will therefore contribute to a smooth, harmonious work environment.

Zombies and Zenith

Journal Entry, Mon 5 May 2008:

“It’s about 2.30 in the morning; I’m listening to ‘Octopus’ by the Human League, a tape I bought from HMV years ago when I was living at Clent Villas – 1995. And like all good music it carries me away.

And what else happened in the early ‘90s?

Interview with Ted Chellingsworth at Carrs Paints, after which I was called by Key Personnel and told that the job was mine – great excitement at Campbell Towers, Leon and Dave had taken frantic phone calls.

Job offer withdrawn a couple of weeks later.

Next interview at Carrs with BH – ‘We don’t really need anyone with your background, you won’t fit in.’ And then, on my first day I was taken to see BM (Chief Acc’tant) who asked which paint company I had come from. When I told him I’d never worked in paint before he shot a look of hatred and disgust at BH.

And then RS asked me how long I was with them for; he was under the impression that I was a temporary placement student.

Last Saturday we had a National Lottery draw (as every week); there were several winning tickets so the winners only got 800 grand. And each of these tickets may be a syndicate of ten, thirty or fifty persons – so each individual player could get 16 grand.

In the news: 150 Estate Agents’ offices are closing every week in the UK. Hurrah!”

 

Journal Entry, 15 May 2008:

“Last night went to town for Zombies gig. The whole of M’cr city centre was overrun by 100000 rangers fans. The huge TV screen packed in shortly after the start of the match, and the crowd went mad, hurling bottles and attacking coppers.

The coming of the event was hailed as a huge benefit to Manchester: £250 million trillion pounds to the local economy. Instead of which, all the trams and buses were cancelled, all taxis taken, bus shelters wrecked, windows of Boots destroyed.

And after gig I had to walk home, one-and-a-quarter hours. Tormented fans, beaten 2-0  by Zenit St Petersburg.