On Sunday afternoon I went to the Cornerhouse Cinema to see ‘Contre-Toi’, an intense thriller about a gyn-obs surgeon (Kristin Scott Thomas) who gets kidnapped by a stranger…it turns out that this bloke’s wife died on the operating table and he blames the surgeon.
It’s like a grim version of ‘Dr Phibes’. Most of the action is a neat two-hander between the stars (KST and Pio Marmaï) as the details of their connection gradually emerge. One aspect of the film put me in mind of a female spider devouring her mate after nuptial congress…
It’s strange to think that fifteen years ago (give or take four days) I went to see ‘Microcosmos’ at the Metro Cinema in Derby. This film features insects and rodents in a meadow, with a varied soundtrack of soaring strings and glowing brass interspersed with spiky florets of musical drama as the spiders, bugs and snails proceed to make love and war. There is no human element in this movie apart from two brief, elegant narratives delivered by Kristin Scott Thomas at the opening and concluding scenes.
Journal entry, 2 Aug ’97:
Walking into town was approached by a couple of bikers from Scotland asking where swim baths was. Took them along to Queens Centre.
Faxed map to Carnell.
Houghton Vaughan advertising again in New Scientist.
Masons is having a new Managing Director, Chris Steele. ‘Sounds like an American porn star’, I said.
Just been to pictures: ‘Microcosmos’. Amazing, perfect!

Journal entry, 3 May ’96:
Today at work chatted to everybody about leaving, told Colin W that I had been thinking about leaving for a whole year.
Naz asked me if Bob Lander had spoken to me yet.
‘About what?’ I asked, ‘The private life of Bruckner? How to cook steak diane? Post-impressionist art exhibitions?’
Bob L and Kim and Dave Gunn were all on site today and not one of them spoke a word to me. Stu rang up, spoke to me but didn’t mention departure. Bill Davis rang up and ditto ditto.



Random Proms Review

This week at the Proms, Daniel Barenboim and the W-E-D-Orchestra are performing the complete Beethoven cycle. Last night it was Symphonies 4 and 5; number five was filled with reckless passionate drama, with the final chord being held for about three seconds (but it felt like thirty). How different from his appearance at the Albert Hall back in ’96 when he conducted the Chicago SO in Bruckner Eight – a magnificent, gleaming monolithic performance with a crisp, precision-tooled ending.

Journal Entry, 12 Sep ’96:
Last Saturday went and had puncture repaired on car, bought two paperbacks (John Saul & Richard La Plante) and two CDs (‘Older’ and ‘Bilingual’). Went to Admiral Duncan, turned up at work with bitten neck. Of course Sivvy interrogated me so I told him all.
Have just listened to Barenboim conducting Bruckner VIII on Rad 3; absolutely brill. Clear, sharp, dynamic, hysterical applause from audience.

Journal Entry, 6 Sep ’97:
Diana’s Funeral….day of high emotion, millions of people, tons of flowers, helium balloons, devastating performance of ‘Candle in the Wind’ and a eulogy from her Brother which brought the house down.
Tonight’s Prom concert replaced by a performance of Faure’s Requiem.
‘Men in Black’ (Sci-Fi comedy adventure movie) withdrawn from cinemas ‘cos of the tunnel car-crash scene.

Journal Entry, 13 Sep ’98:
Scarborough – MAG annual conference and the MAGnificent Party.
Friday night we met up at Heather’s, and me, H & Paul, Liz and Janice all set off for the Old Schoolhouse at Low Marishes…
Got to campsite fairly late, about 10.00-ish. Started putting tent up in dark, forgot to put block of wood under sidestand and the bike toppled over into the mud. Went and had burgers & cider and danced to band and disco, staggered off to bed.
Woke up 8.00, paracetamol and coffee.
Rain, rain; about 10 a.m. we set off for the Spa Centre at Scarborough, got there 20 mins late, just missed opening address.
A lot of the morning given over to Chairman’s proposal regarding patch clubs; he described how members of the HA regularly attended rallies & caused damage to bikes and people, culminating in the cancellation of Magna Carta rally.
At lunch we wandered round Scarborough, had fish & chips on t’beach, ice-cream (Michael Winner’s favourite) and went up in the hillside tram.
Back to campsite – bagels, cheese straws, Scotch eggs, olives, Danish Blue, Red wine etc. I fell ill with a cold & went to bed at 10.00.

Journal Entry, 18 Aug ’05:
David Bick asking me yet again about preparing more CPO adhesion primer for Pardal. The minimum order from Whitchem is 15 kg which will produce far too much. We can’t ask Evode to send us any ‘cos they also sell adhesives and will be able to take the business from us, and I don’t think we will even be making Semset next year anyway…

Factory Twilight

Perhaps if I tried to create
A musical collage to portray the last four years
It would start with the glorious sound
Of the sun going down
Somewhere behind that warehouse
That they threw up two years ago
Exactly placed to spoil my view
And just in case I happen to forget it’s there
The roof is grey
To match the sky on any given day
Except in Winter, four o’clock
When everything becomes an operatic sweep
Of amber, salmon, peach shot through
With lines of molten zinc that let me keep
This memory alive in spite of those
Who think that what is dull
Has more concrete reality than
Stolen moments when we stand and watch
Another angry year grow old and die.



Tacko Jacko

Journal Entry, Wed 5 Feb 2003:
Last night on TV (which I have not) Martin Bashir interviewing Michael Jackson (one-time pop singer, was in boy-band and had briefly glorious solo career before descent into madness).
Apparently he lives in a castle, fun-fair in garden, has young boys sharing his bed (!) and has had so much plastic surgery he looks like an extra from the ‘Thriller’ video. And spends vast amounts of money on absolute tat. Tacko Jacko!
It almost makes you long for those far-off days when rock star exploits involved expensive cars and swimming pools, naked groupies and dead sharks, and Marianne Faithfull wrapped in a fur rug while Mick and Keef and their friends wander round being exquisitely pharmaceutical.
And I bet M Jackson doesn’t have a second-hand silk tie with a Marinetti-type Futurist design.

Journal Entry, 7 Apr 2003:
Interview at Hunting Ind Coatings, just me and Tech Dir, their product range ties in with my experience exactly. He was v encouraging and said ‘If they (the agency) don’t contact you within a few days about a second interview, you’d better give them a push’.

Journal Entry, 10 Apr 2003:
Letter from recruitment agency – Hunting are no longer interested in pursuing my application.

Journal Entry, 16 Jun 2002:
In today’s paper:
Estate Agents Chief Exec tells first-time buyers to stay off the housing ladder until things cool down;
Aldermaston, AWE plans to build huge Nuclear Weapons facility:
Millennium dome and surrounding land have been given to Philip Anschutz, American financier who supports far-right extremists;
Arthur Anderson guilty of shredding ‘Enron’ documents;
Article about Mike Tyson, explaining how he quietly gives financial support to fellow boxers in need.

Lord have Mercy!

In Bowie’s early hit Space Oddity, Major Tom the astronaut was marooned in the unknown realms beyond the moon; this quirky song – neither serious nor novelty record – was released as a single on three occasions during the seventies. And then, at the end of that decade, we found the Flamboyant One appearing on a TV programme (The Kenny Everett Christmas Show) performing a harsh, stripped-down version of this song. He began singing, but then abruptly abandoned the song after three lines, marching off the set and reappearing (twenty silent seconds later) in a sort of Kubrickinetical kitchen filled with exploding stylised appliances, where he resumed the performance. Bold, plain synth chords surged over a solid drumbeat – the same resonant rhythm that held together Life on Mars? eight years earlier.
This curious recasting of a classic song appeared, several months later, as the B-side of Alabama Song, another instance of Bowie’s frequent dabbling with proper culture.
Perhaps there is life on Mars, and it appears as tiny dark grains of proto-organic viral stuff just like my photos of the grim black spots of death on those metal squares. We may never know…

In the news; Jon Lord, keyboard wizard with Deep Purple and lots of other UK rock bands, has died from pancreatic cancer. He maintained that the best rock songs were comparable to classical orchestral music in their detailed construction and performance.

Journal Entry, 27 Jun 2002:
Never got to Surfex; a host of crossed messages about who was due to drive to the event.
Got letter about new MAG meeting in Stockport.
Had fax from Hubert C saying ‘no alkyd’. Why do we have to ask them these stupid questions?
Phone call from Simon P: party at his place on 3 Aug. He went to Farmyard Rally but didn’t enjoy it – too scruffy.
Just heard on Radio 2 that John Entwhistle has died; immediately following the news there was a brief silence, then with no introduction the DJ played the full-length version of ‘You Better You Bet’ which took me right back to my sixth-form days.



Metal Guru Two Too

Journal Entry, 12 Mar 1996:
Last week we had some aerospace panels delivered for testing; the idea is that we expose them to a fog of 5% salt solution for two weeks and then look for evidence of corrosion, normally in the form of isolated grains of black rust.

However, as a precaution I decided to examine the panels as soon as they arrived and discovered that each of them had randomly scattered dark specks over the surface. This was awkward; if we performed the test as requested, then at the end we would be unable to decide which of the spots had materialised during the exposure and which had been present from the start.

So I photographed the panels and sent the pictures off to the client, who never replied.
The pictures themselves are fascinating, in a minimalist kind of way; if you knew they were actual corrosion spots on an aerospace panel, you could count them and say that three spots in eighty-two square centimetres equals a five-point-two-six percent probability of significant adhesion failure within a forty-year total period of flight time….
Or they could be presented as aerial pictures of a desert in the Middle East, with each of the dark specks representing the charred remains of a military vehicle following an attack in 1990.

Or we could claim that they were microscopic colonies of bacteria lurking on a sample of moon rock which has been stored in a secret location since 1972.

Don’t Worry, it’s a Genuine Fake

Co-alignment of the Meta-Fictitious Ruins

Apparently it is considered bad form to pass off the work of another as your own; the world is full of sexed-up dossiers, where mediocre individuals have produced brilliant pieces of work. Consider the report which claimed that Saddam Hussein was poised to strike the UK with weapons of mass destruction, which could be deployed at only forty-five minutes’ notice (so at least we would have time to listen to Schubert 9 before annihilation). Or the marvellous doctoral thesis composed by the lovely Elena Ceaucescu, for which she was awarded Fellowship of the RSC.
But then again, it is equally appalling to claim that a piece of work – created by oneself – is actually part of the output of another, more famous artist. Fake Vermeers; long-lost Beatles recordings; an alternative version of Hamlet’s soliloquy.
A few years ago I sent a copy of a published technical report to a potential employer. The work was succinct and accurate; it made a few reasonable claims and provided supporting evidence. However, because the authors’ names were followed by the phrase ‘Oxford Polytechnic’ the report was dismissed as being irrelevant and unreliable.
In his book The Conclave Michael Bracewell describes an exchange between the public schoolboy (having failed his exams) and the House Master:
          “His house master, telephoning the former pupil, suggested resits. ‘It’s either that or polytechnic’ (he spoke the word ‘polytechnic’ as though it was the punchline to a tasteless joke). ‘I hope you understand that?”
Recently, as a possible solution to this problem, I considered re-casting my research work, having it typed on some elderly foolscap paper using an ancient Olivetti and presenting it as a damaged document which had been ‘retrieved’ from the waste bins at a major chemical plant. With a suitable German-sounding author, and the word ‘confidential’ stamped on each page, this might appear to be a valuable piece of purloined research.
But then, some clever person might uncover the likeness between this fake vintage creation and my own published work, and conclude that my original report was in fact a masterpiece of plagiarism. And, like those urban myths about the ‘Apple’ logo or the word nylon or the development of superglue, the idea would take root and no amount of arguing would convince people that the old battered typescript was an impostor, and the real report was in fact original.
And eventually, even I would end up not quite sure which account of events was actually true….

Two good films…

Back in 1980 I remember being at Ingestre Hall, a stately home used by school groups for residential arts courses, when ‘Cars’ by Gary Numan replaced Cliff Richard at the Number One spot. The lyric to Numan’s song included the line Here in my car, I can lock all my doors,  I feel safest of all, and I was reminded of this when I went to the Cornerhouse cinema to see the new Cronenberg movie, ‘Cosmopolis’. This bleak opus depicts a wealthy financier travelling across a major US city in his stretch limousine, a monstrous vehicle seething with technology and comfort which conveys him smoothly past riot scenes towards the old barber shop.

The extreme wealth of characters such as Eric Packer, Patrick Bateman and Gordon Gekko enables writers to achieve something akin to magic; the laws of nature which govern the lives of ordinary mortals can be overcome by skilful deployment of money, with these plutocrats able to influence events thousands of miles away by pressing a few buttons…

But three days previously, I had been to the same cinema to watch a very different film; A Royal Affair. This historical costume drama covered the life of Caroline Mathilde, wife of Christian VII, her romantic liaisons with his court physician, and the spread of enlightenment ideas through 18th Century Denmark. This film was full of tenderness and drama – unlike Cosmopolis, which seemed utterly harsh and soulless. As far as Eric Packer is concerned, poverty is a plague which must be confined to the masses who inhabit the wasteland outside his car, while Dr Streuensee sees the real plague in Denmark as being a medical problem which can be treated using science.

Meanwhile, more industrial ruins: on my journey to Eccles I pass two buildings, one being the disused Colgate-Palmolive factory, the other a gleaming office block which administers benefit payments to Manchester’s vast army of unemployed adults. The abandoned factory was supposed to be reborn as a leisure complex called the ‘Soapworks’, and in a flush of enthusiasm the building was stripped of its chemical engineering pipework and mixing vessels and chillers and boilers and storage tanks. Now it stands empty and silent; in August, the broken windows watch the glorious sunsets over Salford, where church spires form an elegant parade of silhouettes against the amber-salmon serenade of dying flames.
The office block, meanwhile, is alive and busy; hundreds of civil servants in expensive suits march up and down the stairs and corridors, busy on their cellphones, approving or postponing or condemning the distribution of millions of pounds to the jobless and disabled. It is interesting to compare these two buildings, and wonder which of them is truly ruined….