The Deluge

Journal Entries

Today, Tomorrow, To Go

The other day a mate of mine
Was playing with his mobile phone
And looking at the tiny vistas
Hovering behind the screen.

The world at large converged upon
His tiny magic notebook of delight
And from this banquet of names and faces
Came a lady with an enigmatic smile.

While I, transported back in time
By printed words on long-dead trees
Recalled the joy of Ravenswood
In a book that was hot stuff back then.

In 1898, a world away,
No mobile phones for Walter Scott, no
High-tech airborne messages to read
And I wonder which of us is truly poor.
                                         6  Aug 2002

12 May 2002

Last night Radio 3 broadcast Spontini’s opera ‘La Vestale’…and then Bob Harris concluded his show with a seven-inch vinyl record of ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ which was released exactly 35 years ago today.

In the news: Speedy (Something in the Air) Keen died, March trade deficit £3bn, Logica IT share price collapsing, Equitable Life; problems brewing with guaranteed investment return policies, BA closed final salary pension scheme.

26 May 2002

In the news: water has been found beneath the surface of Mars (‘I wanna go to Marz’, song from the film Weekend), Pakistan has launched a second nuclear test missile, UK economy stagnant – zero growth, Nigel Hawthorne autobiog to be published, Millennium Dome to be sold to developers.

In  America, a bridge has been damaged and nine cars have plunged into the Arkansas river. Have just been to cinema to see The Majestic, in which Jim Carrey’s Merc goes off a bridge into a river.

Angus Deayton snorting coke and cavorting with an ex-prostitute. As one does. Roy Keane, Man U player and R-of-I captain, stormed out of training in Japan.

New film coming out soon; a remake of The Time Machine, for which the advertising poster asks ‘Where would You go?’, instead of – logically – ‘When would you go?’

Klein Bottle Blues

          A country lane as night begins to fall
Leads nowhere, which is where I long to be.
Her face was like a drystone wall
Words drifting languid as bees from cracks
Across the honeyed space to where I lay
Thinking of summer nights like these
When no-one cared what happened next
For yours, and mine, and other lives
Suspended in a perfect moment there
Begin to slowly turn again, and hear
The bees once more condensing on their hives.

Journal Entries, May 19:

19/05/02 – Last night half bottle chardonnay and half a volume of Val McDermid, wrecked headphones. Today last year was the weekend I made an impromptu trip to Derby and a few days after that ended up in Aberdeen being ‘interviewed’ by Nick Dubbels.

19/05/2000  – went to Fountain for GBMCC meeting.

19/05/99 – popped into Newtown Paints having been formally offered job, have a look round again and meet people.

19/05/98 – no diary entries for today but was preparing for my first rally (Shipwrecked in Nottingham).

Circa 19/05/97 – Karate weekend at Brean, stripped Patrick and got him drunk.

Circa 19/05/96 – Karate weekend at Brean, my silk dressing gown caused a brawl outside the chalets.

Circa 19/05/95 – sparse diary notes, Karate weekend at Brean, bought my first CD player (Marantz 53)

19/05/94 – Alec Beevers rang to tell me my thesis was being rejected ‘cos of errata.

May 1993 – only two entries: bought my tuner-amp and speakers. At work made some WB drum paint but forgot to put the hardener in.

May 1992 – aggro with Aidan’s next-door neighbours in Chetwynd Rd, Ward End. And I met Mad Rob from Smethwick.

19/05/91 – two days ago had second interview at Biocompatibles, and Jean came up to Oxford for visit.

19/05/90 – Getting hopelessly drunk in Oxford, bought a copy of the Meat Loaf album ‘Dead Ringer’.

27/05/89 – At my dinner party JC mentioned that he would have another party so of course we all decided the time and place for him (Weds 3.00). Weds was glorious until about 2.30 when it rained (corridor flooded, rain pouring into the lecture theatres) and filled peoples’ cars with 3 inches of water. Anyway, Di drove us to Abingdon (collecting JC en route) where we drank four bottles of wine and ate Spag Bol on the patio and trudged through the mud in search of an off-licence (Steve B’s comment: “We’ll never live this down – The Men They Couldn’t Trust”) and returned empty-handed. Eventually went to sleep about 4.30 a.m.


Townsend Triumph

“I was born” snarled Pete Townsend in 1966 “With a plastic spoon in my mouth”, showing the angry eloquence that would flourish over the next few years until The Who released Quadrophenia. This hefty opus described the life of an anguished teenager suffering from fractured personality disorder in the era of Mods and Rockers.

The musical scene in 1973 was dominated by Glam Rock, sequins and androgyny, all overseen by the Grand Flamingo himself. Against this background the LP Quadrophenia must have appeared incredibly dull; the four band members were just tiny reflections in a scooter’s mirrors, while the entire cover was finished in shades of grey, an unpromising advert which gave no clue to the musical storm which lurked within.

I suspect that Townsend had some lofty literary ambitions, and would have cultivated mentors in the fashionable world of London’s arts scene. While the musical ideas of Quadrophenia were fermenting, he would have shared them with other writers, some of whom may have been closer to the Establishment; and it seems possible that the Government of the day would have been faintly alarmed that a young man of such obvious talent was about to release an album celebrating the joys of drunkenness, promiscuity and street brawls between gangs of two-wheeled hooligans.

This could be one of the factors which persuaded the home secretary to introduce – for no apparent reason – the helmet law, making it compulsory for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets at all times on the road. The various senior politicians would have heard of the film Easy Rider and the mayhem unleashed by Messrs Hopper and Fonda during their odyssey through small-town America. And the effortless segue between ‘Born to be Wild’ and ‘The Real Me’ can’t be coincidence.

The compulsory helmet law was intended to make biking seem risky and uncool; and yet it had the opposite effect. The development of new grades of polycarbonate plastic, together with lightfast pigments, enabled crash helmets to become vivid and appealing; and the widespread use of helmets meant that bike designers could now produce more powerful machines, since riding at ninety miles per hour was no longer desperately uncomfortable.

Over the next few years, we may see bold developments in the use of polymers in bike helmet and clothing design; artificial leather made from a complex cellular composite material, with hollow Kevlar strands interwoven with high-tensile polypropylene to give the perfect blend of comfort and durability. And the outer layer would (of course) be finished with IR-reflective pigments to prevent overheating on sunny days.

No doubt the senior designers at Dainese and Arai have already started work on projects of this nature; and yet, if anyone is going to launch this technology, I think it should be me – because I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth.

Supermarket Blues

Last night I listened to a programme on Radio 4 celebrating the anniversary of ‘Ways of Seeing’, a provocative and influential arts programme which appeared in four episodes back in the seventies.

The original presenter of that show, John Berger, spent some time discussing the artistic nature of advertising (to which he referred as ‘publicity’) and pointing out the difference between old master paintings and these new adverts. Paintings were commissioned to announce the status of their subject, depicting his property and family members. Adverts accuse the viewer of being deficient, and go on to promise that material and emotional fulfilment are only a shopping trip away.

Which reminded me that I tend to call in every morning to buy my lunch from a local supermarket on the way to work. There is something fascinating about these places: the brightly coloured tins and packets in regular arrays, creating a landscape of choice and opportunity. I wander through the booze aisle, and a long-forgotten conversation springs to mind: ‘Do you remember when you couldn’t buy wine in shops on a Sunday?’ My colleague replied that she remembered when you couldn’t buy ANYTHING on a Sunday!

But our splendid temples to shopping now offer too much choice. Once, we had fabric softener to use in the washing machine; now we can struggle to choose between fifteen different varieties including summer breeze, ylang-ylang and crushed emerald, or Wild Ocean. And there are dozens of different types of shampoo, or toothpaste, or dog food, or pasta sauce, or potato crisps, or household bleach, or air fresheners, or deodorant, or hair gel/mousse/wax/spray. It’s nice to have a choice; but this is ridiculous.

All this behaviour was analysed by John Naish (Hodder & Stoughton 2008) in his book ‘Enough’. Apparently our brains are still hard-wired to respond to situations as our cave-dwelling ancestors would. Theirs was a world of scarcity; when food became available, it had to be hoarded against the impending famine. And so we now have people obsessively buying items and keeping huge chest freezers full of food, when the supply of that food is just twenty minutes away. This behaviour extends to other areas; we have MP3 players which can hold thousands of songs (I bet there is nobody in the UK whose i-Pod carries Martinů’s fifth string quartet) and e-book readers which can carry hundreds of novels.

I even know one lady who has several big jars of (expensive) freeze-dried coffee in her cupboards, even though she herself doesn’t drink the stuff.

This is madness. Getting and spending, we do indeed – as Wordsworth said – lay waste our powers. We have adopted a warehouse mentality, where the value of our lives is measured by accruals and achievements. We need to find new role models, new ways of thinking ways of seeing; the defining statement of life should be ‘I am’, not ‘I have’.

Visions of St Erth

 Journal Entry, 17 May ’90:

Recent news: two IRA bombs in the past week, one of them yesterday in Wembley. Loads of schools have removed beef from the menu over Mad Cow (BSE) scares. Sammy Davis Jr and Jim Henson died.
First it was Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, then his ‘Irises’, now it’s ‘Dr Gachet’ which is the world’s most expensive painting (£49m). Tonight, Sotheby’s auction ‘Moulin de la Galette’. God knows how much that will fetch.

At work Antonio went off to play tennis and returned wearing shorts and t-shirt. Peter Phillips spotted him and shouted ‘Oi! Just ‘cos this place is run like a holiday camp doesn’t mean you have to dress the part!’

20 Sep ’88:

Thursday got 7.30 am train to Reading, then to St A. Arrived 12.45, went to Thin End, went to meet Jen, back to Thin End.
Went to Italian restaurant and had huge pile of chicken and mushroom noodles, then went to Fun Pub round corner and had a Babycham.
Went to Hoi Tin Chinese in St Ives, then to amusement arcade; ‘ooh, let’s go in!’ cried Jean who went on to win £££ with her first 10p.
Went to car boot sale – Terry bought a Sooty xylophone, saw some Peters & Lee and Bay City Rollers albums.
Went to St Erth’s Church fundraising in the grounds of Sir John Nott’s house. Terry won two coconuts at the shy and some Soccer Shields.
Went to Lanhydrock House and saw furniture and books and paintings and musical instruments and clothes and the tin bath used by Earl Clifton and so much else.

Last night went with Julie to Berni Inn. A young man bounded up to our table: “Would the lady like a red rose?” said he, proffering one.
“I don’t think so!” I snarled.

19 May ’94:

Yesterday morning had phone call from Alec B at work to tell me that my (PhD) thesis was being rejected by the Research Degrees C’ttee because the corrections had been listed in an Errata rather than being worked into the text (in this, I’d followed KWA’s instructions exactly).So anyway, I’m off to Di’s in Kiddie to collect the Sis and cover it in Tippex.
Last night my new Tape Deck swallowed up some Mendelssohn and Schubert. Good job it wasn’t Deborah Harry!

19 Feb 2012

Well, I’ve just been watching Ms Harry on Youtube and it reminded me of the time in 1980 that I bought a 12-inch single of ‘Atomic’. And then I remember seeing her on the front cover of the NME, brandishing a handgun: “Go Ahead, Punk!” screamed the headline, “Make My Day!”

I can’t help thinking that Deborah Harry had more charisma than everybody else in the Pop Charts (okay, more charisma than everybody else in the world). And then I found this journal entry:

I’d rather be Deborah Harry than Bill Gates;
I want to set the world alight
And watch the youngsters find their wings
Never want to sleep  through midnight
Instead to be the songbird who creates
Another destination, one more bright future
Like a message in a bottle, the elixir
Of everlasting rapture
Floods into my starving eyes until
I can take no more of these exalted things.
11 Dec 2000

Love Song of the LHC

Song: ‘Big Bang Day’

Where unseen fires rage with heat
The likes of which the world has never seen
We find ourselves within a ring of dreams
Just waiting for tomorrow to escape.

The first one out was symmetry; it cracked
Just like a whip, and split the earth in two
Rotation took an unexpected turn, and
Europe shrugged its buildings off like fleas.

And then a bit of strangeness, cosmic drill
Proceeded on its thousand mile rampage
A long thin tube of hollow space
Released the oil and sucked the oceans dry.

Survivors? There was of course not one. A few
In planes had nowhere left to land
And twenty minutes later, scattered crumbs
Of our bright world were all that now remained.
07 Jul 2008

(Commentary: this poem was written shortly before the first trial run of the Large Hadron Collider. Some alarmist people claimed that particle physics had never been studied at such high energy levels before, and the scientists at CERN could unwittingly destroy the earth by producing a Black Hole.)

Journal Entry, 12 Sep ‘08

Amazing sunset tonight; sky a radiant wash of pink fire.

Last night to cinema – ‘The Strangers’, a thriller about some couple being menaced in an isolated house. Only six actors – nearly all of whom had no lines – but it was a joint venture between four production companies.

Then to OUSA: Marie had a flier for Cabaret on my birfday at Ye Palace Theatre.

(Commentary:I did indeed go to see Cabaret on my birthday, after which we dined at a lovely Italian place near the Midland Hotel. Two days later I learned that my Father had died suddenly, aged 83. Normally this would be a distressing occasion, but a few weeks previously I had spent a long time chatting with my Dad on the phone, after he had mistakenly sent me a birthday card one month early. Very strange…)

Journal Entry, 16 Sep ‘08

Black Tuesday! Last night was OCCA quiz, I joined Brenda and Anne-Marie again.

This morning got to work about 8.00, Adrian turned up v shortly afterwards, and we noticed black smoke gushing from the factory chimney.

Within twenty mins the chimney was actually ablaze and collapsed – one of the locals recorded it on a cameraphone and sent it to TV. Police & fire brigade arrived & told us to take refuge in Magnet showroom.

Lab building unscathed so we were able to return to work but production is out for two months (?).

(Commentary: the company never recovered from this incident, and we went into administration. I rarely needed to visit the factory side, where on the top floor they had old-fashioned labs with huge wood-and-glass walls. These labs were disused, and full of dusty old books – including hardbound volumes of the Journal of OCCA. A few months before the fire, I had been browsing through one of these volumes and submitted a mildly witty review to the current editor of the Journal. All the old books perished in the blaze, and my published article is all that now remains.)

Song: ‘Made in Vesuvius’

I took my legs out for a walk
In search of love one Sunday morning
Down ugly streets into a hateful park
The square-faced trees turned without warning
Into a tribe of elegant ambassadors.

Here in the derelict warehouse, my
Legs no longer belong to me; instead
Gripped by a dozen eager hands, by
Silent squares of darkness. Another bed
Becomes the witness to these broken laws.

The margins of my lake insane
Are traced by all these satin ropes
While I reflect the one genetic strain
From which all square-faced ugliness erupts
Before the star upon a weary twist reclines.
26 Mar 2003


Song: ‘The Onset of Addiction’

Tomorrow night, in someone else’s dream
I feel the snakes begin to coil
Themselves around my hungry arm
An ornamental helix, red gold and green
They do not seem to care, unfathomably calm
With soft blunt noses
And bright sharp fangs as gently curved
As one of Turner’s hyperbolic skies.

The room is waiting to decide which wall
Moves in for the attack. I look around
To see if any weapons are at hand, but
The angles only fill me with despair. Perhaps
A handful of sound
Would scatter far the tyrant and his lies
Into a place where healing fire
Teaches us to die and to believe.
29 Aug 2003

Song: ‘Mr Bleaney Buys a Copy of Meddle

Once upon a time a sad grey man
Forgot his dullness by mistake
And bought an LP (those were the days!)
To which he listened in vague disbelief;
‘How can anyone enjoy this stuff?’
But all too aware he longed to break
Away from the murmurs of steady grief
Making up the life he called his own.

And after about a month he realised
This disc of his possessed two sides, not one;
And curious, he turned it round as if to see
What lay beyond the spiral of descent.
And heard, and felt, and to another realm
Exalted did this lonely man aspire; would
That we could have that moment once again.
20 Sep 2003

Journal Entry: 3 Sep ‘03

At work; was QC testing a batch of WB stoving choke paint – DW set up testing it in a DIN 4 cup rather than a BS 4 but for no reason?

Was QC testing a batch of weldable etch primer based on Mowital and Beckopox. This contains lots of xylene – not a suitable thinner – but has no zinc phos or snowcal (so how come it’s only 35% gloss?).

Had a go at doing my monthly report using Gill’s template. There’s a section for me on the server but I’ve never been issued with a password, nor have I been shown how to use the computers at work. (After being told repeatedly during my interviews that IT skills were of the utmost importance in this job.)

(Commentary: my predecessor at work had created a vast library of paint fomulations, usually with guidance from the sales department. Unfortunately, neither he nor they had any real understanding of coatings chemistry and the resulting recipes were often unstable. And it was true that, during my interviews for the post, the manager kept telling me that computer skills were absolutely vital; yet I didn’t get a PC in the office for over three years, and I was never given access to the firm’s e-mail system.)

Manchester Congestion

Some notes I prepared for the North-West Regional Reps’ Meeting of MAG, July 2007:

Early in 2007, it was announced that motorists in Manchester would be charged for travelling along certain main arterial routes. The Evening News carried a map of the roads affected together with a list of FAQs. (personal comment from Regional Secretary: I remember this appearing in the paper and am fairly certain that bikes were exempt, otherwise I would have alerted everybody).

Four days later, purely by coincidence, it was announced that Manchester was to be awarded the licence to build the first Supercasino. Local MPs and councillors gave interviews saying that this was a perfectly sensible and logical decision because Manchester’s bid had been carefully compiled and presented, and the value of the local regeneration was greater. Up to this point all the press speculation had been centred on Blackpool or London; no-one had considered any of the other candidates to have a chance.

In May or June 2007, the House of Lords rejected the culture secretary’s plans for all new large casinos.

Shortly after this, a press release appeared from Manchester council and transport authorities headlined “Bikers to face c-charge” although the text of the article makes clear that no final decision has yet been made, consultation is underway, and low-emission vehicles and bikes may have a valid case for not being subject to the charge. The system of main roads had also been replaced by a pair of boundary cordons, one at the M60 and one near the city centre.

The congestion charge is being sold to the public as part of a package which will secure government funding to the tune of 3 billion pounds to improve the public transport network in Manchester. However, a similar expansion, called the Big Bang, was proposed a few years ago. Lots of property was demolished to make way for the new tram lines (compulsory purchase, disruption of established communities etc) but no further work was carried out. Following this, nobody in Manchester is willing to trust the local authorities on transport funding issues.

So far there have been no absolute definitive statements about the proposed charge, but the council is keen to point out that Manchester could lose 30,000 jobs due to increased congestion over the next 15 years.They very reluctantly admit that more than half of the three billion pounds will be in the form of a loan – to be repaid, with interest, from the proceeds of road charging. It has also been revealed that congestion may stifle the economy, allowing only 120,000 new jobs to be created instead of 150,000 – hence the dramatic figure of thirty thousand job losses.

Because this is the blueprint for road tolls throughout the UK, MAG central is keeping tabs on the debate. The official website (to which drivers are invited to send their views) is

A massive poster campaign has been launched in Manchester, accusing the charge (“Toll Tax”, as they call it) of being designed to keep roads clear for the rich. A website has been set up to challenge the official propaganda. The decision on charging is set to be finalised on July 27th (I think…)

Eventually the council held a public ballot on the Congestion Charge, which was rejected by 70 percent of the respondents.

Violated Polyxorpylene

Violated Polyxorpylene – Cauchemars Plastiques

The material polypropylene has numerous properties which derive from its molecular structure; the absence of functional groups, the helical conformation, and the resulting crystallinity.

When PP is reacted with chlorine or chlorinating agents, some of the hydrogen atoms are randomly replaced with chlorine atoms. This disrupts the structure, changing the molecular weight and therefore all the properties of the polymer; however, the phrase ‘chlorinated polypropylene’ automatically reminds people of the unmodified material, and they assume that it retains all the unhelpful characteristics of that substance.

So, to overcome this problem, I have decided to bestow a new title on this material; in this brief summary of my research project it will be referred to as ‘violated polyxorpylene’. The letter ‘x’ denotes the halogen atom while the shuffled letters represent the branched fragments of polymer which emerge following the reaction. This unorthodox terminology will disconcert readers, forcing them to question whether I have correctly explained the topic under discussion – and hopefully alert them to any assumptions they may have unwittingly made.

Chlorinated PP (polyxorpylene) is actually an old-fashioned material (the new grades are aqueous emulsions, and carry maleic acid groups rather than chlorine).

The following text is a condensed version of the material which originally appeared in ‘Adhesion 15’, edited by Keith Allen (Elsevier Scientific Publishing, 1991) following the London City University conference on Adhesion and Adhesives the previous year. These gatherings are most enjoyable occasions; the European Adhesives community has many distinguished (and eccentric) members who meet up to discuss the chemistry and engineering aspects of their chosen field.

To begin, then: polypropylene is a widely used plastic material which enables automotive components, household goods and machine tools to be mass-produced at low cost and light weight. However, this polymer has no chemical functional groups and is generally resistant to any type of paint or adhesive – unless its surface has been specially modified by using electrical discharge or fiercely oxidising acid solutions.

During this research project I spent many hours in the library, scanning the Journal of Adhesion Technology and the Journal of Materials Science for articles related to PP bonding. However, unknown to me, numerous commercial and technical articles about PP – and its horribly deformed cousin, Violated Polyxorpylene – were being published in the field of organic coatings. If only I had accidentally picked up a copy of JOCCA, or one of the numerous research papers authored by Dr Ryntz, my research programme would have received a significant boost. But alas, I confined my search to the formal domain of structural adhesive studies, and thus missed out on a chance of academic stardom.

So, when creating Violated Polyxorpylene, it is necessary to avoid introducing too much chlorine (too much vapid) since this will impair the process of epitaxial bonding between the primer film and its substrate polymer. However, insufficient vapid will leave the modified plastic too highly crystalline, and unable to dissolve, and unable to interact with an applied film of adhesive material.

But if the correct proportions are achieved, a violated system will show a wide compatibility with several different adhesive materials – epoxy, PU, acrylic – as well as with many types of substrate PP (brittle homopolymer and toughened grades with glass- or mica- or carbon- or Kevlar- fibre reinforcements).

The primer solution can be applied to smooth PP, gritblasted PP, or a PP substrate roughened with glasspaper. Another step involves scrubbing the PP surface with glasspaper while it is wet with a film of primer, thus generating free radicals and covalent bonds between substrate and primer (this analysis could be wrong, of course; try it out and submit an alternadude explanation, man!).

Of course, there are now more precisely engineered PP grades; the self-reinforced ‘Curv’ material, or the polymer systems produced using new catalysts which allow sharply defined macromolecules, resulting in a crystal-clear plastic. I never had the chance to explore these novel materials, but am sure that they would respond – if only in a limited fashion – to the Good and Girifalco embrace of my violated primer systems.

As well as being used to enhance adhesive bonding to PP surfaces, the polyxorpylene primer system may be useful in creating reinforced composites; would glass- or carbon fibres (or indeed wood?) be more effective if a xorpyl-rich interlayer is formed between matrix and filler?

This bizarre account of a straightforward research project may strike readers as being needlessly whimsical; however, it seems to match the response I get from colleagues when trying to explain the performance of these materials.
I am regularly informed that “everybody knows that these systems don’t work, so don’t waste too much time looking at them”. On one occasion, I demonstrated that we could indeed get superior adhesion to PP by simply blending the primer with the coating system. My boss peered scornfully at the cross-hatch patterns on the plastic panels, then turned to me and said “well, you would have to pick the most expensive one…go back and carry on looking at the others” (three grades of adhesion promoter expressly designed for use on galvanised steel and which failed miserably to stick to PP) “until you find one of them that works.”

And after preparing hundreds of lap-joints using various substrate polymers and adhesive grades, and leaving them in a condensing-humidity chamber for four months, I am convinced that these neglected primer systems have great potential for use in engineering polymer bonding.

As David Bowie sang in ‘Andy Warhol’ (from the 1971 LP Hunky Dory), ‘He’ll think about paint and he’ll think about glue…What a jolly boring thing to do.’ But Dame David had never heard about Violated Polyxorpylene or the technical drama that would spring from this material just twenty years on.

Update (5 July 2016): We have just spotted a news item on the RSC website, talking about awards for scientific innovation, where a spin-off from Warwick University has started using grafted PP and PE materials to create improved adhesion. Oh, such a pity to be twenty-five years too late!