Job Film Trauma

Well, apparently it is possible to secure a well-paid job if one has a degree; there is a desperate shortage of skilled engineers (according to the Birmingham Post, JLR is hoovering up all the technical talent from other firms in the region).

Journal Entry, 2 Dec ’98:
Today at work Mike called a group meeting to explain R&D job evaluation structures (based on the RSC responsibility score system).
Then we were given individual talks – apparently my own score is minus 40(!) and so I would normally be on a lower salary (I’m overpaid) but they won’t impose this change.
Poor management, lack of involvement; I alternate between v good and hopeless behaviour. Mike said ‘I don’t understand what makes you tick’. Hardly surprising, since (so I’m told) he can’t stand me.

Journal Entry, 22 Dec ’98:
I called hello to Tony Jenkins across the yard and fell into step with him. ‘Is it true then, this rumour?’ he said.
‘Which ru-, no, which of the many fabulous rumours do you refer to?’ I asked.
Apparently everyone has heard that the entire R&D Dept has been given huge pay increases – 2 to 3 grand per head.
‘Talk is cheap’, I replied ‘and these careless remarks are intended to satisfy their audience’, before adding that Mike had told me I was being overpaid but not to worry, he wouldn’t actually reduce my salary.

Journal Entry, 8 Nov 2000:
Hurrah! Another memo from Martin Bollom, this time to announce that all the depot except Coventry and Beckenham are to be closed on 15 Dec. And also to say ‘I understand what a shock it is’, and how deeply sorry he was, and how much he loved all his loyal workers.
The furtive mister Green was leafing through our ‘Beetle’ catalogue and asked about a powder grade melamine. This is someone who carefully returns solvent cans to the cupboard before we can catch sight of them. Young master Green is really secretive (7 Nov 2000); keeps his raw mat samples in containers labelled ‘resin 1’, ‘latex 1’ etc. Spends hours painting H-shaped steel blocks, recording results in the notebook which never leaves his pocket. Has his own office, own furnace, own Brookfield, own computer etc. Doesn’t report to PG, and never discusses work with anyone.

Journal Entry, 5 Nov ’11:
Tonight on the BBC they’re showing ‘V for Vendetta’ – an amazing remake of 1984.
Meanwhile, I went to the Cornerhouse to see ‘Weekend’, a brilliant movie about a couple of perfectly ordinary gay guys who just have a one-night stand. And then…
Everything about the film was superb – the acting, the actors, the sex, the music (there wasn’t any).

Journal Entry, 3 Feb ’12:
Last night went to see ‘Haywire’, a disappointing thriller from Soderbergh – not quite Salt, not quite Bourne, faintly Lara Croft.
Fight scenes but no blood.
There was only me and one other couple in the cinema. Then went to Rice for dinner and Paddy’s for one pint.
At work, during lunch in the canteen, they were all talking about prostate cancer.  Moira asked if I had ever had my prostate examined. ‘Not by a doctor, no’ I replied.


Paradox Faust

So here we are; or rather, here I am – a helpless victim of the Crystal Age. Voices and faces and vices are all but a button’s press away, I suffocate beneath a scented towel of luxury. It is Tuesday night the eighteenth; I listen to an old recording of Berlioz’ reworking of Faust, made over forty years ago, and to help me understand the drama I browse online through a libretto (Ditson, Boston MA) printed in 1898. Although I speak no French, some essence of delight has obviously managed to escape translation, since the publisher has given in parallel texts:

“Let us forth! Come and taste life and pleasure, while every sense shall glow with a joy beyond measure”, alongside “Partons donc pour connaitre la vie, et laisse le fatras de ta philosophie.”

Perhaps there are multiple nuances of meaning which the anonymous translator employed by Oliver Ditson thought best left unsaid…indeed, the French version is a joint effort between Nerval, Gandonnière and Berlioz to capture the stunning grandeur of Goethe’s original German.
And I myself grow weary of this endless round of learning, desperately trying to condense the furious fractal dreams of colour chemistry into a tidy set of rules that I can happily forget.

My CD of Berlioz’ Faust is a reissue of the Gedda/Baker/Prêtre 1970 recording; a year later, the book ‘Production Planning’ was published by Heinemann. I wonder if Prof Burbidge listened to this music while he sat at his desk, puffing thoughtfully at his pipe and crafting the tidy constellations of ideas that make up this daunting opus?
As a business student I am intrigued by the index to this book, in particular the missing entries; no reference appears for Project, or Statistics, or Teamwork, or Efficiency, or even Excellence. Perhaps in the early ‘70s it was taken for granted that personnel would work as a team and that workers would deliberately pursue an efficient method of performing their duties. Not that this was actually the case, of course; but it would be absurd to acknowledge that British Industry was not the envy of the Western World.

Trying to match song lyrics in two languages is rather like trying to function normally in the real world; each of us has a flawed, partial understanding of what people mean when they talk to us, along with a flawed idea of what we expect others to understand by what we say to them. And so on, in gracefully descending layers of concentric self-deception and grand pulsating parody.

Then again, perhaps John Burbidge was a connoisseur of Folk Music; in the early seventies he may have enjoyed listening to Fairport Convention (who went on to spend over thirty years touring the UK, Europe and the rest of the World) on his elderly Thorens record deck.

Journal Entry, Tue 26 Nov ’02:
Andy (works manager in the office next to my lab) has changed his listening from Rod Stewart to Billy Connolly and his office now resonates to roars of audience laughter and the comedian’s routine (lots of screaming in helpless rage) at full blast.
Margaret joined him in the office and giggled wildly as she listened to this onslaught; I was reminded of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady who enjoyed listening to their victims being tortured on tape.

Journal Entry, Sat 10 Aug ’02:
Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman have vanished after spending time playing on a computer. John Powley, the local councillor, said: ‘We have been trying to bring Soham into the modern world. Agriculture continues to decline and we need to replace it with modern industries such as Information Technology….these things don’t happen in a nice market town like this.’

Journal Entry, Sun 10 Aug ’03:
Went to Cropredy Folk Festival – spent a fortune, lived like a king! Entry ticket: £60, had beer, crepes and coffee, pizza and tempura, breakfast in Village Hall, breakfast in Canoe Club, wine from M&S, potato wedges & blue cheese dip, noodle soup and falafel salad…line-up included Blue Tapestry, Procol Harum, Lindisfarne, Dennis Locorriere, Equation, The Trevor Burton Band and of course Fairport.
The Saturday afternoon was blazing, glorious summer weather; I wandered round the site, reeling from the heat and trying to see if I could spot Robert Plant in the crowd. One of the afternoon bands was Al Hodge and the Mechanics, from Cornwall, playing a rock set which concluded with ‘Hey Joe’. The festival runs to a firm timetable and bands are never allowed to perform encores; however, this lot were brilliant, and the crowd carried on yelling and cheering until compere Richard Digance was forced to invite them back on stage, where they delivered an unforgettable performance of ‘Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me’. Magic!

Journal Entry, Tue 12 Aug ’97:
Went down to Cornwall last Thurs – train delayed at B’ham (rail crash) & re-routed past Artillery St. Then delayed again at Bristol (suicide on line).
Last night went to pictures to see ‘Men in Black’. Superb – some kids in audience dressed up in black suits, ties and ray-ban shades.
At work was told that new MD been going round to be introduced and shake claws with everybody; he made some comment to Dave about ‘They’re not working you hard enough’.
In Chemistry in Britain, article about paint firms in B’ham being fined for operating an illegal cartel. Guess who included? Carrs, har har!
Phone call from Riaz; six new Black Belts awarded at Sparkhill so they’re going out to dinner on 21st – I’m secretly invited.

Andy Reina Yogi Bear….

Hi Andy and Reina and Yogi Bear,
Thanks for your text – I had (honest!) been planning to send you a Xmas card next week. It’s Monday night and I’ve just returned from the OCCA meeting at Prestwich (lovely fishcakes and chicken pie) and am about to collapse into bed with a mug of white chocolate Options. I know how to live….
A few weeks back I set off for Cornwall by train to spend Xmas with Jean (big sis) and then I had the joyful news that my bike is running again! So I’ve been tazzing round Salford in the rain to and from work – still don’t feel confident about doing long journeys on it.
I’ve actually used up my entire holiday allowance for this year, so I’m planning to go in to work over the Xmas/New Year gap, in order to let somebody else in the lab have those two days off.
In October I went for a job interview in Leeds; the work was interesting and the money was good, but I realised that they really wanted someone with lots of research experience (rather that 12 years of boring routine testing) so I turned down their offer of a second interview.
And I think I remembered what it was like to move house in the middle of winter – not nice!
Have been to the pictures a few times lately – Searching for Sugar Man (Rodriguez, who actually played Manchester on Sunday night), Skyfall (great), Argo (great), Cosmopolis, Holy Motors and Rust & Bone (all weird) and the new PT Anderson movie ‘The Master’ which I thought was dire. Perhaps I’m too dim to understand the subtle drama of this film, but I just felt disappointed.
Meanwhile at work we’ve been moving offices – three sets of people have been relocated into each other’s rooms for no apparent reason. My new office used to accommodate four people but now it holds seven of us (the magnificent seven, one of my colleagues said) and doesn’t even have a phone in it.
Today at work one of my senior colleagues issued a test method for VOC measurement. He was really annoyed when I pointed out that the ‘C’ stands for ‘compound’, not (as he had put) ‘content’ in the relevant EN ISO and ASTM standards.
Sorry haven’t been over to visit you during the year; now that I’m mobile once more, I can get to some rallies and stuff. Of course this morning the bike was gorgeously decorated with big clear beads of ice, so I decided to walk to work.
I’ve just seen a news item about the Chancellor’s autumn budget, in which he promises to reduce corporation tax. Does this mean that Starbucks and Amazon will be given a rebate next year? Just think how much first rate kit could be provided for the squaddies in Afghanistan if only these giant firms coughed up the appropriate level of tax…
Anyway, had some good news last night; my OU course results are out, and I’ve got a grade 3 pass (60%) in this module. To obtain a grade 1 you need to score over 85% on both coursework and exam…don’t ever let anybody say that the Open Uni is an easy ride! Love to the rest of the gang, Sian, Terry, Gaz and Carol, Ruth and Tango, Pikey and poor, poor Lou-Lou!

Have a great Xmas, see ya soon,



The September ’95 issue of JCT includes an article by Milton Glaser entitled ‘The Role of Intuition in Innovative R&D’, a topic which he had earlier discussed in the same journal twenty years previously. In general, Glaser found that technical managers were deeply sceptical about the existence (let alone the merits) of such a thing as ‘intuition’.
Surely it is obvious that technical research depends entirely on clear understanding of established principles and the logical application of these ideas? I recall once that one of my colleagues had been given approval to apply for a PhD course, with some financial support from the company. ‘Of course’ said the senior manager ‘you do realise that we expect your project to deliver something which we can patent and which will generate commercial advantage for this firm’.

My workmate was disturbed by this announcement; I pointed out that she could reasonably promise not to produce anything of commercial significance, since doctoral research programmes are designed to create novel contributions to knowledge. ‘Anything that you do which is remotely capable of being exploited in product development is probably already being studied by other firms with better labs and bigger budgets’.

Glaser’s article cites research by Agor, who identified intuition as being a significant factor in the decision making processes of highly successful executives. However, the world of technical research does not tend to produce ‘highly successful’ profiles. A sales rep can meet up with a client and secure business worth thousands of pounds, while the corresponding laboratory work takes place in the background, over a period of months or years, with numerous false starts and dead ends before eventually arriving at a (partially) triumphant outcome.

The opposite of innovation is stagnation; the old, established procedures. ‘We’ve always done things this way, and they’ve always worked’ is a common refrain in the world of British manufacturing. The following quote appears in a HERO (Higher Education & Research Opportunities) report on the demise of MG Rover in 2005:

          “If by some sad geographical slip the American Air Force (it is too late now to hope for much from the enemy) were to destroy every factory on the North-East coast and in Lancashire (at an hour when the Directors were sitting there and no-one else) we should have nothing to fear. How else we are to regain the exuberant inexperience which is necessary, it seems, for success, I cannot surmise.”

Harsh words from our friend Keynes; but he had probably recognised that the war effort in the US had sparked off a dynamic new business culture where young, enthusiastic engineers and designers were encouraged to share ideas rather than allowing a sedate hierarchy to stifle their progress.

Although innovation is not the preserve of the physically young, just those who think young; today’s Observer newspaper includes an interview with five of the leading writers on science – James Gleick, Lone Frank, Steven Pinker, Joshua Foer and Brian Greene – ahead of the Royal Society’s Book Prize (the Winton) award. At one point Greene is quoted as saying ‘It’s imperative kids recognise that science involves as much creativity as any other so-called creative discipline’.
Consider the case of Harry Coover (1917-2011), who was researching the use of a cyano-modified acrylic monomer for use as lens-building materials. To measure the refractive index of this material, he placed a drop between the plates of a refractometer and pressed them together. After taking the measurement, he tried to pull the plates apart ready for the next sample. However, it turned out that the cyanoacrylate liquid had swiftly polymerised. In terms of the standard testing of lens materials, this was a disaster; but Coover had sufficient imagination to realise that he had stumbled upon a new type of adhesive material, one which we now call ‘superglue’. Every experiment is designed to reveal information; even the biggest failure is a useful source of future wisdom.

M A Glaser, The Role of Intuition in Innovative R&D, Journal of Coatings Technology, v67, n848, Sept 1995, pp 109-111


Driving Away from Home…

Many people learn to drive with their parents; they grow up in a world where personal private transport is normal, where daily life routinely involves activities facilitated by access to the automobile.
My own experience of driving began in my late twenties; I took numerous lessons in a weary 1-litre Metro, and eventually passed my test in late 1990.

Journal Entries, 22 Nov to 6 Dec 1990:
This morning, just before my driving lesson, Tom came into the lab & announced that Mrs T had resigned. Hurd and Major both standing for election. Comment on Major’s school report: ‘Rather cheeky, lacks enthusiasm.’

On Friday went to London by coach & got to Kensington half-hour late. Jean and Tel already waiting but had only just arrived.
Went immediately to Sticky Fingers and gorged on burgers and ice-cream while admiring the gold discs and pictures.
Then to HyperHyper and Ken High St Market and Tower Records, bought JR a copy of ‘Transverse City’. Made quick unannounced visit to Simpson’s where Chris was in action.
Then went to Liverpool St to go to Great Yarmouth to meet up with James and Patsy and William and Mary.

Had a good driving lesson thanks to Boots Paracetamol, flu subsiding but not 100% yet. Tonight we have a new PM – John Major, Mrs T’s glove puppet. Kenneth Baker appeared on TV wreathed in smiles saying that he thought JM was perfect (after last week declaring that Mrs T would remain in office until the End of Time).

Today passed my driving test at the fourth attempt. Di was interviewed for the composites job. Phoned the Hallidays; Pete leaves for India tomorrow to spend a year flitting around the globe.

Today J&C arrived and drove me to Abingdon where we had dinner with Mick and Bet at the Upper Reaches. Friday night went to the Apollo, saw Mike N, Peter, R and Jamie. As I was leaving R’s house Sat morning who should cycle back but Graham Barrett.
Di phoned to say she’s passed her Viva, I spent Sat night curled up reading The Exorcist.

Today in the papers: the Conservative party in Cheltenham have selected a black candidate to replace their outgoing MP. One of the local worthies has appeared on Radio Bristol referring to that person as a ‘bloody nigger’ and is unrepentant.
Also today, Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine invited the opposition parties to collaborate with him on finding an alternative to the Poll Tax.
Tomorrow must buy Private Eye and Current Vacancies.

Last night went to JC’s for a dinner party. We had dolmades, chicken curry, pitta bread and four bottles of wine. I rode home at midnight and fell off my bike cos I was so drunk.
Went to bed, woke at 6.30 and was violently sick. Went to get newspaper and found my gloves on the floor covered in snow (it’s a blizzard out there) and one of them was torn open, probably during my crash.
Yesterday I was admiring Jean’s office decorations and she asked why we hadn’t put any up in the lab, so I mentioned about my proscenium arch and curtains on the Nene tensile tester.

Journal Entries, 15 Mar to 5 Apr 2004:
At work last week reformulated about ten MoD paints to remove lead driers to avoid skull-and-crossbones labelling. Gave to Fleming to sign but not returned.
Golden yellow fiasco – Kev has tinted the batch using lead chromate strainers and ended up with huge amounts of overmake.
Glanced at 470-line formulations; many of these have only a 1 percent addition of china clay as matting agent but the gloss is usually 20 units. Have the works been adding silica without recording it?

At work in canteen they were saying that Rob is to issue everyone with a new computer. Sent an e-mail (from GW machine) to Johnson Matthey asking for advice on NATO green pigment levels, and had phone call from Joe Hanrath at Twinstar; did I receive his e-mail last week? ‘No’, I said ‘I don’t have a computer here’.
Bomb blast at hotel in Baghdad – 27 dead, 40 injured. It’s about a year since the Allies marched into Iraq, and several months since George Bush declared that the war had been won.

I wandered (lonely as a…) up to the QC lab to check their wall-chart planner and make sure our holidays didn’t clash. Sean was in there signing off a works batch, while Rob was seated at Gill’s computer reading something – perhaps CVs, personal stories, or dozens of Man United screensavers.

Send memo to Rob and Steve with details of my e-mail exchanges with Johnson Matthey. On Radio 2 they’re playing ‘Careless Whisper’ as the finale of the George Michael story. Reminds me of the time I travelled to Leicester by train to meet Robert, sat in Turk’s Head pub and heard that song for the first time. Went to R-‘s house and sat on the doorstep until midnight when he and neighbours returned from pub.

A few years back The Stereophonics released a version of ‘Handbags and Gladrags’ which is very lyrical and gets played on a regular basis all over the radio (not to mention pounding from Andy’s office on auto-repeat for hours on end).
Song opens ‘Ever seen a blind man cross the road…’ and only today did I realise that yes, I have seen just that. Each morning I would ride up the A56 to Trafford Park, and at quarter-to-eight would see a bloke holding a white stick – marked with red bands – striding purposefully across the main road.

Today went to G-Mex hall for the ‘Erotica’ trade show. Stage cabaret included fetish routine from Torture Garden (like an X-rated Hot Gossip dance performance) and an old-fashioned fan-dance and trapeze act to the song Girls! Girls! Girls!
Last night watched ‘The Cell’ (Jennifer Lopez), a nasty, stylish hybrid of Dreamscape and Silence of the Lambs.

A few weeks ago we had a new Eiger Torrance mixer installed at work; Andy and Andy and Kev and Joe were all stood looking at this thing while it was supported on a fork-lift truck. I sidled up to Andrew Foll and said ‘Yes, but is it art?’

Nothing happened at work today. I got told off by Rob for putting my breakfast apple on the canteen table – “Those guys put their overalls on that table, it could be maleic or anything.”
More rumours: Paul W is to go to Germany to check the Rhenatech QC procedures. Mark J is to move into Rob’s old office cos Rob is moving next-door into the spare office.
New library books: How to write business letters, The Seven-Day Weekend, Richard Branson by Mick Brown. Went to Monton last night and watched ‘Ice Age’ on video, then today went to cinema to see ‘Lost in Translation’…moving but not sentimental.