Dramatic Entrance…

Tomorrow is St George’s Day, and in honour of this Turkish missionary a parade was held through the centre of Manchester this morning (including, for some odd reason, a Scots Pipe Band). As I walked through town I glanced at the window of the HMV store, which carried a couple of huge banners for the Apple i-Tablet-Pod thingy. It occurred to me that years ago, back in the days of LP records, this window would have been filled with album sleeves to celebrate English music: Vaughan Williams, Britten, Parry, Walton, Bliss, Tallis and Bax.
But now, I suppose that HMV are tied into some elaborate contract which means that Apple (and Orange, for that matter) are allowed to dictate the contents of the store’s window display.

This weekend has been the ‘Record Store Day’ vinyl festival – a special occasion when various recording artists have released limited-edition copies of their work on black LP and single discs. At one time, it was customary for disc-jockeys to travel to venues in a Transit van, carrying hundreds of records (of which perhaps sixty would end up being played during the evening).  Many a seasoned DJ has regaled listeners with tales of how their rear axle broke under the musical burden on the way home from a gig.
Nowadays, DJs keep their collections on Minidiscs, or MP3 files; or even elsewhere, choosing to snare the musical tracks which writhe like Schlieren in the ether of the interweb. And this is sad; there is a peculiar delight in seeing a familiar LP cover being pulled out from a box of records by a Rock DJ.

As album covers go, The Alice Cooper Show is in a league of its own; a furious jumble of images from the rocker’s theatrical shows. Alice in the guillotine; Alice dancing with Yvonne; Alice spattered with blood.
The music begins in thrilling fashion, with the band delivering a rapid series of chords; suddenly the audience screams with delight – you can almost see Cooper burst onstage, just as the band launches into ‘Under My Wheels’.
One is reminded of Furtwängler, who would rush onto the podium, baton in hand, and immediately start conducting; this enabled him to avoid giving the Nazi salute which was compulsory at all concerts in Germany during the War. In 1947 he returned to the concert hall and this time was able to bow to the audience before starting the performance; the significance of this gesture was perfectly understood and drew heartfelt applause from all present.

Alice Cooper’s musical career typifies the Resource Based View of business strategy; rather than carefully exploring the needs of the marketplace, and generating products in response to client demands, he simply cultivates the particular skills and capabilities for which he is best known. After all, according to RBV theorists (Grant, Hamel et al), a firm’s core competencies are what generates its income so these should always be the main focus of attention.
If you try to adapt your business portfolio to match the market, it is likely that your firm will begin to resemble the other major companies in the field. This converging identity will enable customers to compare firms and their product range; all well and good if you happen to be the best, but a disaster if it turns out that your company is a ‘me-too’.
Alice Cooper is a unique brand which has endured for forty years (once he could sing I’m Eighteen’ and mean it) and he recognises that his value as a performer will rise and fall with successive generations of music fans.

Record Store Day: http://www.the-fly.co.uk/blog/1013190/record-store-day-the-flys-favourite-vinyl/




Schlieren: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PryL1Dud34QC&pg=PA127&lpg=PA127&dq=poetry+schlieren&source=bl&ots=dm87_PSmc-&sig=djWv5CI0u1wOah8LXC3pYotW6GY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=mDmUT7vOAciq8AP4-NDPDA&ved=0CEkQ6AEwCA#



Must be Place?

Yesterday I was browsing through my copy of The Odyssey, a hardback edition published by George Bell (Covent Garden) in 1874; I purchased this book in 1980 for 50p, and found that it had at one time belonged to Jean Harris at the University of B’ham (1944). Bet she had an interesting life.
The endpapers of this book are given over to an assortment of adverts for other popular books.
One of these is ‘Walker’s Manly Exercises’, a splendidly-named tome which conjures up pictures of the Two Ronnies in red-and-black bathing costumes wearing waxed moustaches and carrying black Styrofoam bar-bells.
It is interesting to note that almost every page of this volume has at least one footnote explaining some contextual detail of the main story. Some of the notes relate to the culture of the Greeks, others explain some of the puns or ambiguities in the text. And one of the readers of this book has even inserted corrections: the word ‘woollen’ on p.142 has been crossed out and replaced with ‘thick or substantial’ in confident black ink.

On Sunday I found myself at the Cornerhouse Cinema, where I decided to watch the new Sean Penn movie, This Must Be The Place. The title refers to a Talking Heads song – later covered by Arcade Fire, but not the Pet Shop Boys – and the film follows the adventures of a faded rock star (think Ozzy meets Alice meets Susie Sioux) as he embarks on an epic voyage to meet his dying father and redeem himself.  Apparently Penn played Valerie Plame’s husband in one film, and was a thug in Carlito’s Way, and received an Oscar for his Harvey Milk…
He was also once married to some pop star, and I think everyone imagined at the time that his career as an actor was well and truly over. Indeed, for some years he was regarded as just a footnote in the gaudy narrative of her biography….but now he has emerged as a solid, thoughtful actor-cum-crusading journalist (which some people regard as a monstrous pose).

But perhaps a pose is all one needs to succeed; the stern expression and the plastic bar-bells will inspire respect in people, just as Fred Chilton’s parade of certificates served to impress all his visitors. Like the Wizard of Oz, with his diploma for the Scarecrow; or the MoT certificate I receive once a year; nothing has been done to the workings of my bike, but it feels like a new machine because I have a piece of paper that says it’s roadworthy.

At one point in Book VII of The Odyssey, it reads: ‘But her the much-planning divine Ulysses addressed in answer…’ is this a reference to the traveller’s strategic mindset? Perhaps we are all just footnotes in each other’s tales. Perhaps only by reading Tennyson’s poem can one appreciate the true nature of The Lotus Eaters – seduced by the narcotic lotus-blooms, the sailors wallow in amnesia. And some of the footnotes look forwards, to the references in Paradise Lost where Milton evokes Homer’s narrative.

Journal Entries –  1 Nov 91: “Well, since moving into this house I’ve finished the thesis but it’s no good (according to Keith); have applied for loads of jobs – Holden’s actually interviewed me twice and had me examined by works doctor before turning me down. The new gay Centre at Northgate Hall opened last night (Ian McKellen snipping the ribbon) but I was broke so went swimming instead.
Discovered that as a student I’m not entitled to Housing Benefit so have had to leave the Poly in order to pay the rent. Next Tues have got a restart interview at the dole office.
This morning’s mail: acknowledgements from Scott-Bader and Kodak, rejections from Wallwork and 3M. Today BT announced half-year results; making £102 profit every second of every day.”

5 Nov 91: “Today Robert Maxwell ‘fell’ off his yacht and died. I had an interview at the dole office; they produced a job advert which I had already applied to, so they’re going to put me on an interview training seminar. On Thurs have interview with Countrywide for their Postal Clerk job.”

15 July 2020: Ghislaine Maxwell, Cap’n Bob’s daughter, is currently in prison awaiting trial for alleged crimes relating to sexual grooming of minors at parties hosted by Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself while in jail. Her network of associates includes Prince Andrew, Duke of York. In order to distance himself from these accusations, Andrew gave a TV interview which served only to confuse viewers.

9 Nov 91: “Last night had a ‘phone call from Peter Dawn’s secretary inviting me for an interview on Monday. She gave me his home number and asked me to call him tonight with the train times. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I had a letter this morning from Dowty Polymer – signed by Peter Dawn – telling me that I had not been selected for interview.
Also had rejection letter from Castrol Ltd.”

Meanwhile, in book IX of The Odyssey, we find Ulysses and his manly chaps scrambling over the beach to join the Lotophagi; this episode occupies a mere half-page, but in a footnote our esteemed translator (Theodore Alois Buckley) informs us that:
“…on the Lotophagi the student will find very copious and interesting information in the notes of Loewe on this passage, and of De Pinedo on Steph.Byz.”

Walker’s Manly Exercises:

Silver Heron…

Silver Heron…

Sounds quite charming, doesn’t it? The sort of thing that might have been written by Hopkins, and later set to music by Finzi. But my recollection of the silver heron is very different – for when I was unemployed in the late eighties I sent off dozens of job application letters, and received in turn dozens of rejections; one of which, from a company called BMARC, arrived on the most impressive notepaper, heavily textured and bearing a motif in the form of a long heron picked out in silver leaf across the top of the page.

‘BMARC’, as every schoolboy knows, is the trading identity of the British Manufacturing and Research Corporation, a firm which achieved notoriety for being a very effective exporter of UK technology – unfortunately the technology in question was high-octane military hardware, and the overseas purchasers were some unscrupulous dictators in Latin America.

It was even alleged in ‘Private Eye’ magazine that the UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had made special efforts to secure the contracts for these delightful pieces of machinery, which would, it appears, be used as part of the Argentine military campaign to seize by force the Falkland Islands

I was reminded of this by a recent news item in which it was claimed that Argentina had been granted a loan of several million pounds to buy all this firepower, but had so far not managed to repay their debt. The country to which they still owed this gargantuan sum? Great Britain, of course, the same nation which had sacrificed so much money and so many lives to regain control of the Falklands.

And now the Liberal Democrat Party (formed by the union of the Liberals and Social Democrats) is calling for the government (formed by the very reluctant coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) to cancel any debts owed to the UK by ‘reckless dictatorships’; apparently it has long been UK policy to lend staggering sums of money to developing countries, in order to enable them to develop their nuclear weapon programmes.

Grim Legacy

I saw a recent news item concerning pensions – the money saved by people during their working life in order to pay for a comfortable old age – and the alarming news was that life expectancy is increasing so quickly that the invested funds will not be able to meet the financial commitments promised to these people.

However, it occurred to me that the generation now enjoying their old age (and prompting the idea that life expectancy will go on rising) originally grew up in conditions of moderate food scarcity. They would have eaten a diet high in vegetables, low in refined carbohydrates; and a lot of their travel would have been on foot or by pushbike.

Nowadays, we are seeing the rise of a generation which has had ample supplies of food, often including highly-processed animal products. Many of today’s youngsters are accustomed to eating burgers and pies and sweets on a regular basis; a lot of the meat and poultry served in low-cost outlets will be stuffed with growth hormones, antibiotics, and preservatives, all of which can accumulate in the body and give rise to health problems. Even when people do consume fruit and vegetables, these staples are covered in pesticides while growing, and coated with fungicides while being transported round the world.

This generation is also reliant on motor transport, with regular use of a car for all but the shortest journeys. Sitting in traffic exposes one to exhaust fumes; and the constricted posture can cause muscular disorders, impaired circulation, and problems for the digestive system.

So it would be reasonable to expect that today’s young people will have a variety of health disorders, including obesity, diabetes and immune system malfunctions.  There will also be food shortages caused by the decline in the bee population (crop pollination depends on these humble creatures, remember). There are also vast stockpiles of waste nuclear material from disused reactors around the UK; these materials will gradually pollute air and water, causing a mysterious rise in fertility problems and genetic deformities.

These individual factors have assailed us for decades, with minimal effect; but so far no generation has had to cope with their combined impact. So it seems likely that in twenty years we will see life expectancy down to about sixty-two years in the UK, with infirmity and senile behaviour common. And the prospect of an ageing population will be the least of our worries…

Silver Heron Reprise…
But still, we can take comfort from the idea that an elegant wading bird is the emblem of a company which represented so much hope for Britain in the manufacturing renaissance of the late 1970s.

Rats and Paint

It must have caused untold anguish to parents and teachers back in 78 when the young Bob Geldof (whatever became of him, I wonder) snarled and swaggered his way onto our TV screens, proclaiming “Gonna get outta school, work in some factory!”
At the time, factories were numerous, with millions of semi-skilled workers busy producing typewriters and pencil sharpeners and slide rules and prams. The song ‘Rat Trap’ is a bile-soaked outburst against the establishment and all its stifling codes of acceptable conduct.

But the album cover for ‘Tonic for the Troops’ gives no hint of this anger and frustration; instead, it depicts a serene view with the band members lining up against a stylised backdrop of featureless brown earth and flat blue sky.

And I fell to thinking about record sleeves and their designs – particularly in the age of the download, when music has escaped from its physical medium. Surely we should be glad, at last, that music can be taken on its own terms with no cultural baggage; rather like the sixties, when some teenagers listened to Motown songs on their tiny tinny radios, unaware (and unconcerned) that the singers were black.

But the classical music industry has taken advantage of packaging, with CD covers having a gorgeous, pouting soloist (Vanessa-Mae, anyone?) in high heels and a short skirt, clutching a Strad.

My own record collection includes some delights and some howlers: Tubular Bells II and III are both lazy and obvious; Graffiti Bridge is fascinating and unhinged; and several of the Naxos budget CDs have delightful images, usually perfectly matched to the music (the Olexander Borodai picture for Lutoslawski, or Trevor Chamberlain’s watercolour of Umbrellas for Dvorak). And I can’t remember what the booklet design looks like for my Berlioz, since I printed off a copy of ‘Mort de Cleopatre’ in French (no idea what it means) and this text now fills the jewel-case.

I recently went back to the Whitworth Gallery, and found some new exhibitions installed; one of these was ‘The Devil’s Wall’, a series of black pillars with holes sunk into them (rather like a depiction of the energy well round a black hole) and carrying lines from the Koran in gold lettering. It made me think of headstones trying to turn themselves into Klein Bottles. Next time I go to this gallery, I shall wear my MP3 player and create a suitable aural landscape, perhaps something by JMJ or Robert Rich or FSOL.

Or maybe the Whitworth could arrange an exhibition of paintings by van Vliet, and have selected highlights from the Beefheart canon relayed over speakers at different points in the gallery….but first of all, we must have a new design for the cover art of ‘Bluejeans and Moonbeams’. And a new title for the album.

Journal Entries, July 2004:
Rob asked me for a 5-minute chat and said “we’ve been in the production meeting and it’s been noted that there are delays in getting batches out to customers. Wot are your thoughts?” So I pointed out that we had a 10-fold increase in Supra production this month, and later on left the QC record sheets in his pigeonhole.
Steve M launched into a tirade about how we’d all lose our effing jobs if we didn’t get this effing primer effing sorted. It was almost like being in the canteen with Andy C.
(Commentary: We had a few problems with Perkins’ primer; it turns to jelly on storage, because we use white spirit instead of xylene to thin it down. Because the WS is incompatible, it takes much more solvent to reduce the viscosity, thus bringing the raw material cost down.)

At work today Rob gave me a booklet he’s printed in which I am to record the in- and out-times of QC batches. Apparently it’s taking too long to get products out the door and it’s all my fault. So I filled in this log  and we went through it; he said ‘this is just naïve’ meaning that I should actually log the exact hours spent per job.
And then he says “How come G— manages to finish QC jobs more quickly even though she’s got her own work to do?”
(Commentary: I didn’t point out to him that G— didn’t bother carrying out any of the actual tests, but just inserted suitably convincing numbers and signed the sheets. The viscosity readings were already checked by the production dept, but they didn’t realise that there was a layer of debris in the orifice of their flow-cup, causing erroneous results.)

Last night I painted out a panel of Tony’s pedestal adhesive. This morning it still hadn’t gone dry. Turns out F— forgot to put the catalyst in. Still faffing about with the SP02 primer; Steve keeps asking what happens if we leave out the Claytone.
There is a whole raft of issues where we have gone against the recommendations of Scott Bader and DSM and VIL. Rang Tony Phillips at SB – he said we shouldn’t use white spirit or driers with that resin.
(Commentary: we had recurring problems with primers turning to snot on storage because we had used white spirit to thin them instead of xylene. “We can’t use xylene” said Steve, “it cuts the viscosity too rapidly and pushes the raw material cost up.” So to save a bit of money we add white spirit, the paint thickens up, the customer sends it back, we spend two days in the workshop opening the tins and scraping the contents into a vat, adjusting the gloss and viscosity again, and filling out into new tins generating more waste when this two-day period could have been used making a new batch of paint worth several thousand pounds.)

Like the song says: ‘Gonna get outta school, work in some factory…’ and it turns out I ended up doing just that, having spent six years at college in order to be able to pour paint into a steel cup and see how long it takes to drain out again….

Gene Therapy

Deep within my body lies a flaw;
Perhaps lacuna, or a tiny breach
Of syntax, just enough to mar
The perfect beauty of the twisted stairs that reach
On out to where the world begins to end:
To hear the song you must have ears to lend.

Or could the defect lurk within my brain?
Some ember that contaminates the gloom
And while too small to see, this bitter grain
Helps propagate a demon in the womb.
While some say Genes, and others Lucky Star
These tarnished blueprints make us what we are.
25 Jun 2004

Bad Good Friday

Good Friday, 06 Apr 2012: Got up about 7.00, listened to Cistercian monks singing ‘Vespers of St Bernard’ and some Martinu Quartets, started writing my OU Assignment…I have to produce 2000 words identifying the challenges facing an organisation with which I am familiar, using the STEP, Stakeholder and 5-Forces frameworks.
In the news: former TV presenter Samantha Brick has claimed that women hate her because she is so beautiful and that ‘ten out of ten men at a dinner party would fancy me’. Obviously not going to the right dinner parties, then! And the NIESR claimed that the UK achieved 0.1 percent growth during the first quarter of 2012, meaning that we have escaped recession. Hurrah! Get the champagne out!
Meanwhile, Alex Hope, a 23-year old currency trader, has been arrested on suspicion of fraud. He recently went for a night out with friends and decided to buy a bottle of champagne costing £125000. I, on the other hand, am a 48-year old lab technician who considers it a bit flash if I spend more than seven quid on a bottle of Rioja.
And in London, 20 Met Police officers have been questioned about racist offences against members of the public. Darling, that’s so eighties!

Journal Entry, 10 April 1998: Good Friday. Il neige! Il pleut! Downstairs the door lock is broken; can’t get key in.
Yesterday Sheila and I went to Ciba in Macclesfield to see their labs (spacious and lavishly equipped) and their canteen (clean and smart with flowers on the tables) and their workers (hunky guy with Suzuki Bandit 600).
Went to Manchester on the train, went round Arndale Centre then to Rembrandt and Clone Zone and Paddy’s Goose – a gay Irish pub where everybody was watching footie on TV.
(Commentary: I remember this trip to Manchester, and the train journey – changing at Sheffield – going through the Pennines, with all the hill tops still covered in snow. Because it was Good Friday, the pub by the station was having a ‘666’ Death-Metal music night, with about five bands performing as a charity fundraiser. And in Clone Zone I bought a copy of ‘Call Me’, about a guy who places – and answers – loads of small ads. It’s a terribly dated book, with references to CD Walkman players and handwritten letters. Still good though)

Fire Paint

If you were to take a photograph of my washing, now, here, turning in a lazy fashion on a hungover Sunday afternoon, you would be able to enlarge the image at a later date and explore the twisted landscape smeared over the chromed handle of the machine. Hopefully the image would show my paperback copy of ‘Justine’ and the names scratched in angry letters on the front of the driers.

The laundryette itself is a grim slice of bleak urban squalor; patches of rust deface the machines where the enamel has chipped away. One of the tumble driers has been ransacked, the money-tray ripped out to expose a nest of coloured wires hiding in a square black hole. A torn cardboard sign helpfully taped to the machine says ‘Out of Order’.

A few weeks ago my local laundrette burned down, so I have been forced to start visiting this establishment, slightly further away. It’s not surprising that Automats should suffer from fire damage; all that fine, downy lint stolen from hundreds of garments and tenderly deposited in the remote crevices of a tumble-drier, just waiting to be ignited.

I recall hearing a lecture a few years back about a hospital which was destroyed by fire; it turned out that the culprit was the wooden construction, which had been repainted at frequent intervals, possibly to use up the department budget so that no excuse could be found for allocating any less funding the following year. (Means-of-Escape) (WarringtonFire)

Watching paint dry is supposed to be the proverbially dull pastime, but a brief study of paint chemistry reveals some hidden drama. Typical air drying alkyds will react with oxygen to become hard and glossy, but instead of finishing, this process continues slowly throughout the life of the material.

And when there are umpteen layers of paint, all made up of organic resin and all gently decomposing to liberate flammable scission products, it becomes a distinctly hazardous environment.

I was reminded of this by Patrick Baty’s recent article in the Daily Telegraph. Baty is an ex-soldier who now works as an architectural historian, and who advises property owners on the correct choice of colour for their seventeenth-century mansions. An enthusiastic and popular speaker, he takes a small chip of paint and identifies the numerous different layers, then takes his audience on a guided tour through the past like some Victorian fossil-hunter. (Historical Paint)

But having learned about the fire hazards of paint, I was amazed to learn about an independent researcher whose investigation of paint systems had led to the development of flame-resistant coatings. Michael Keenan noticed that dirty pieces of wood, caked with paint and fly-ash, stubbornly refused to burn when thrown onto a fire. Intrigued by this observation, Keenan spent years working in his garden shed trying to perfect a coating which would be impervious to fire; and his efforts paid off in 2004 when he won five Gold Medals at the INPEX in Pennsylvania, the equivalent of being carried shoulder-high around Wembley after the FA Cup Final. (British Inventors)(INPEX)

Perhaps if my local washeteria had decided to paint their chipboard walls with some of Keenan’s marvellous creation, I would not have to trudge up here to do my laundry…and they would still be in business.