Farewell Blue Snake

The blue snake was the belt I wore round my Gi after passing Fourth-Kyu grading exams in Wado-Ryu Karate. After this I moved to a new job and had to abandon training…

Journal Entry, 13 Feb ’13:
Well, it’s 2013, the Chinese Year of the Snake. About twenty years ago I briefly shared a house with a landlord who kept a pet snake (called Sid), a four-foot long Royal Python who spent all his time curled up asleep like a heap of bronze chain-mail discarded by some Medieval Princess.

Journal Entry, 22 Mar ’92:
Well, last Sunday went to Dad’s and then on Mon morning went off to Small Heath to start work at Carrs. Too late I checked my letter and realised I should have gone to West Heath instead. When I eventually arrived there I was asked for my P45, which I didn’t have.
Was introduced to the Chief Accountant; ‘Which company have you come from, then?’ he asked, under the impression that I had been poached from a rival firm. When I explained that I had been a full-time student he was very dubious…
Went to Jester and spotted an ad on the notice-board for a room to rent in Ward End, so I rang up and went to look at it. Following night went back to pay a deposit, and the landlord introduced me to Sid, his pet python.

Journal Entry, 11 Jun ’92:
Today at work had a phone call from James G inviting me to his birthday party on 25 July. Alas! I cried, no can do; I’ve been invited to Julie’s wedding that day.
Last night Sid was very restless so we took his gerbil out of the freezer and popped it in the microwave so it would be more appetising and lifelike. Unfortunately it stank the kitchen out.
Yesterday at work had great clap of thunder – I thought one of the barrels had exploded – and there was a tremendous deluge.

Journal Entry, 26 Jul ’92:
Before the service the vicar explained to us that it was a wedding, not a funeral, so could we all move up to the front and try to look happy? Anyway, in came Julie on her Father’s arm preceded and followed by bridesmaids in peach. (Or was it shrimp?)
The service went okay until Julie came to giving her vows, when she dissolved into high-pitched tears (along with one of the bridesmaids and half the congregation). It was deeply moving, and when the vicar had calmed her down he looked up at us and said ‘She’s really very happy under there’ which dispelled the tension.

Journal Entry, 3 Aug ’92:
Of course, when Mr D returned on Wednesday night sans keys, he was accompanied by Ivan the Terrible. Yesterday I was lying in bed recovering from Saturday night when Mr D came into the room with Sid, who he popped under my duvet. I remarked that he felt cold, and he lay there enjoying the warmth of my mattress until I suddenly realised that he hadn’t been fed for two weeks…
Anyway, off we went to the Fountain to meet John and Ed; Mr D turned up later with Erica and Joan, while I went off to Partners to meet Craig and give him his love-letter from Malcolm.
This morning arrived at work to be told by the doorman ‘Try not to be too jovial today’, and eventually it turned out that one of the workers had died while working at the weekend.

Journal Entry, 30 Aug ’92:
Last week had a phone call from Geoff C saying that Craig (on hols in the USA) had sent me a postcard, but unfortunately to the wrong address. So I went up the road to number 44 and asked the nice elderly couple if they had received any post for me. ‘Yes, of course’ they said, and handed over a postcard showing a line of a dozen nude men on a beach flaunting their arses.
Anyway, who is the Alien? Is it Ellen Ripley entering the all-male world of the prison planet? Or when she finds the egg colony during part 2? And is she a criminal herself when she condemns the Alien to total extinction? In part 3, all the people are ugly – bald, scarred, dirty – while the Alien is quite glamorous, being agile, shiny and black.

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Working-Class Zero

Recently, I found this quote on a blog by an American writer called Visionheiry:

“When the specific gravity of certain poems becomes too much to bear, I start spreading poems them out on the floor. I walk among them, I talk to them: “Where do you want to be? Why are you sitting out there all alone — too good to fraternize, or are you shy, do you need someone to hold your hand?” I sing to them, listen for answers.”  (Visionheiry.tumblr.com      December 2011)
And then I found this poem by legendary writer and activist Felix Dennis:

Specific Gravity

Though kith and kin may sacrifice their life,
Though loyalty be bred into the bone,
Though God may bind together man and wife —
Yet still the minds of men must quest alone.

Bequeath your children all the books you please,
Or lead a horse to water in a drought —
The doors of revelation have their keys,
Yet none may force the portal from without.

‘Aye, nowt as strange as folk,’ the Yorkies say,
And said it since Neanderthal napped stone;
Though men join hands to ease each other’s way —
Yet still the mind of man quests on…alone.

What is density? What is specific gravity? Intensive versus extensive properties? The numbers don’t mean much, in fact when taken out of context, not only do they fail to inform, they are more likely to mislead and confuse which is all very well if you aren’t really bothered. The particles are held apart by dimensions of crumpled grief.

And consider this, part of SPECIFIC GRAVITY by Andrew Kreider on The Penguin Poet website…

Upon these wooden shelves
Above my head
Stood more books than I could
Throw my arms around
Every volume with a story
Of my life
What I was doing when I bought it
Where I lived
What I hoped
What I still promised
For someday
(Kreider)

Specific gravity should be obvious, but is not; why did Jennifer keep the blue lightbulb in her bedroom for two years after Clive walked out on her? Why did she mistakenly divide by SG instead of taking the Times? It would have cracked the code and set the meaning free. She kept a copy of the Periodic Table with the various elements mixed up at random…sometimes she dreamed of being alone in the salt mines carrying a flower instead of a lamp;  a soft blue light drifted from this bloom, revealing the huge white crystals that studded the walls of the cavern. Her friend had told stories of how the mines would surrender their gleaming treasure only to brave souls willing to penetrate the darkness.
We need a certain density; a body of workers, able to travel to a factory to perform soul-crushing duties for years on end. The money they earn goes to support local traders and sports clubs and schools and medical facilities. If the density falls below a certain level, motivation and energy begin to dissipate, and the thriving football club dwindles to a sparse collection of reluctant volunteers. Likewise, British industry needs a critical mass of workers with different levels of skill, and a mechanism that encourages the transfer of that knowledge; perhaps we should adopt the ‘transfer window’ policy of the football league, with a specified period when firms can approach staff from rival companies. The sharing of talent between firms may benefit the national economy, whereas allowing that knowledge to languish in a department is a criminal waste.

Journal Entries, Mar 2010 – June 2012

In January 2010 I drove down to Cornwall to start a new job at Vilnet Coatings in Lentorn; during my time there my only main project was the development of a water-based alu-back coating. This was an opaque finish designed to prevent background shadows from affecting the appearance of display banners.
Someone had already formulated a version of this material, but the paint was unstable and showed a tendency to congeal on storage.
After inspecting the list of ingredients I realised that there was too much cosolvent in the formulation, which was causing the emulsion resin to swell. I prepared a silver version of the paint with reduced solvent levels; this material remained perfectly fluid. I also made up a system with no aluminium pigment, but with the high loading of solvent originally used; this material turned to snot after six days’ storage.
In March I bought a cheap notebook with firm card covers, finished with a dull silver coating. It seems faintly ironic that my miscellaneous jottings in the journal should have recorded the abrupt decline of my career in Cornwall.

7 March: “Where does a girl begin? How about November last year, when I was invited to an interview on the Isle of Wight.
So I went and booked a hotel room and bought train tickets, and 2 hours later had a phone call from the employment agency SCI Recruitment telling me that Vilnet Coatings had decided to offer me a job.
Let us move forward to Jan ’10; I had arranged to move all my stuff out of Flat 3 and into the Safestore Depot at Trafford Park.
Went to visit Luke and Shelley on 4th Jan, then to David H, and then home when it snowed heavily and I had to cancel my van hire.
Came down to St Austell in hire car.
Then in Feb ’10 a saga with LT, who refused to allow me to leave work an hour early to go drinking even though my 40 hours were completed.”

11 March: “And here I am living in a house with Debbie and Simon; the place is amazingly clean and tidy. My latest OU essay on John Soane is due in tomorrow, have done about 1000 words – need another 300 or so.
The bathroom is fitted with low-voltage colour-changing bulbs. V distracting if you want to have a shave.
At work they stir everything in the lab on Silverson dispersers for hours on end, whether or not it’s needed. Don’t bother cleaning flow-cup holes correctly. Don’t monitor temp for viscosity. Don’t bother checking pH or NVC.
And a few weeks back LT and I were in the QC dept when he said ‘You need to have a word with that chap’ (pointing at old Paul) ‘cos you’re going to be spending some time in here’. LT perpetual troublemaker.”

13 March: “Yesterday took laptop to work but still no wireless signal. Eventually used the office computer (after LT had cleared it with Andrew Chard) to send my John Soane assignment.
Went to Truro for drinks with Derek: Wig and Pen, Old Ale House, and the Swan. Then train back to Lentorn and had a pint in the Seven Stars.
Meanwhile at work, I was visiting QC Lab – they still haven’t told me anything about transferring over – and Paul L told LT to make an addition of one batch to another, by scrawling the two batch numbers on a Post-It note. Recipe for disaster.”

17 March: “St Patrick’s Day! Last night texted Eileen & rang Aidan. Called in at Swampdogs MCC meeting and said hello to 2 of them but their actual meeting in a private room so I left them to it & came home.
Home? Hardly. At work my silver coating is also scrunch- and water-immersion resistant. Been making up an ordinary inkjet coating.”

18 March: “Yeah, whatever. Visitors in lab. Couldn’t get any work done.”