Ruins of Sterling

Procedure X

 Imagine, if you will, a line of words
Whirling through the double slit that separates
Reactor vessels C and D, and E. Is this the chord
You tried to play on someone else’s blue guitar?

The chambers slowly fill with hollow styrene
Or pentoxone by mistake, depending on what day it is. Deliveries
Are never guaranteed, we need to use the space we have

To keep this stuff alive. The words break up
And interfere to form a cage of glowing stripes
Which strain the fragments of reality
From all the convex moments of today. I

Dedicate the tainted space between these caves
To all the souls who spend their time
Rejoicing in the ugliness of fate. The rancid fumes
Of isophthalic dreams will guide you on

To where the lines of music intersect.


Hurrah! The Chancellor, George Osborne has managed to dig an escape tunnel under the M25 and explore the grim wilderness of ‘oop north’, where he was spotted chatting to some metal-bashers at Lucchini UK in Trafford Park.

I actually visited this firm once, and was impressed by the huge collection of Japanese Quality Systems books in the Production Manager’s office. Just think, Gideon might even have wandered half a mile down the road to see us at Sterling Technology. Or at least, he would have been able to do so if we hadn’t been closed down in 2007 following the takeover by Altana Chemie.

It wasn’t a very bright day, and my camera was fairly low quality; but still, I got a few shots of the old place before the site was completely flattened. But the saga of Cameron and Osborne would take a dramatic turn in just a few years…

July 2016, The Story So Far: smooth, chisel-jawed chief executive David Cameron has invited the workers in his widget factory to vote on whether to remain part of the local Industrial Trade Cooperative, which helps them with logistics, disaster management, and pension fund planning.

The board of Directors was split, with several of the most colourful characters advising the workers to break away. ‘You don’t need to be part of this union’, they claimed; ‘If you leave, you can keep all of your wages and everybody will still want to buy our widgets even though they haven’t been approved.’

Everybody was very confused by this and they voted to leave the union by a tiny majority. The workforce celebrated wildly, and people were seen showing off their swastika tattoos on television. Visiting contractors from other firms were subjected to verbal abuse and some of them had their garden sheds burned down by angry neighbours.

And now poor, poor David has resigned from his post; he has been replaced by gorgeous, pouting Theresa May (a bright girl, but with zero understanding of science) and Gideon George Osborne has been replaced by Philip Hammond. And the senior diplomat’s job has gone to Boris Johnson, the ultimate naughty schoolboy. It remains to be seen how provocative he can afford to be in his role as Foreign Secretary.

So I went down to see what remained

Of the factory, the offices and labs
Where I spent
Just over one thousand of my working days.

They’d knocked away a wall, exposing three grey
Storage tanks, reactor vessels, temples of exciting alchemy

Now condemned to occupy
The waiting game
Scrap metal chambers

Carry the concept of emptiness to new heights.

Journal entry, 19 May 2020: For many weeks now, we have been under lockdown, with all travel prohibited except for the bare minimum to spend one hour outdoors exercise, or to purchase essential food and medicines. Until last weekend, when Boris announced that we can now travel as far as we like to enjoy unlimited exercise.

So yesterday I went for a long walk – about two hours, down the main road, the same journey I took four years ago every week to sign on at the jobcentre. Down past the library, all the way to the petrol station by the roundabout, and then turning back on myself along the dual carriageway where the lorries used to thunder. Wandering along, admiring the bushes, flowers and electric pylons, I would occasionally find discarded food wrappers and crumpled payslips. You look at the printed figures and think ‘How can you afford to live on this?’

Young men on urgent pushbikes hurtled past.

The President of the US announced today that he is dosing himself with an anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine, in the hope of fending off Covid-19, the new virus which has (so far) killed 93000 people in America and 35000 people in the UK.

Senior medical advisors have pointed out that this drug does have side-effects and if you are not actually suffering from malaria it is pointless to start using it.

Donald Trump is also at war with the World Health Organisation, threatening to halt US funding. He has accused the WHO of ignoring valuable advice and spreading misleading info about the new coronavirus (this from someone who suggested that household disinfectants could be used for medical treatment of covid patients!)

Last year in July, we had a visit from the nPower contractor, who had arranged to install a smart meter; they originally contacted us by e-mail, advising that they had arranged to carry out this work. It was never mentioned that we had the option to decline this offer.

The nPower contractor turned up, spent three hours faffing around and decided that the system could not be made to work, then went away. A couple of days later we noticed that the fridge had stopped working and discovered that the electric socket in the kitchen was dead.

Cue a flurry of messages between me, my landlord, and nPower; I confirmed that the fridge wasn’t broken, nPower told me to pay for an electrician to inspect the fusebox, and the landlord said it was nothing to do with him. I moved into this flat four years ago; the electrics have never been given their annual inspection.

I have been working from home now for about two months; last night I decided to go for an evening walk before dinner. It reminded me of the normal journey from work to Oxford Road station, and I realised how that walk allowed my brain to settle down and relax after the intense activity of the office.

I took photographs of the street, and the jobcentre, and the pub which has now been converted to an Indian Restaurant, and the pylons and the flowers and the power station. Perhaps in fifty years’ time the station will still be there.

I dream about a manufacturing site which goes out of business due to coronavirus; their offices have cupboards full of glossy brochures and bespoke stationery. There is an immense library of hardbound notebooks filled with test results for every production batch of material; the person in charge of all this testing is actually dishonest and lazy, and he simply fills in the appropriate numbers without bothering to check the performance.

When the factory was being demolished, we could see the giant storage tanks and reactor vessels previously hidden behind a sturdy brick wall. To make sure that none of the workers could gain access to technical or commercial details, the purchasing manager allocated codenames to each raw material. Every month these names would be changed, and if the amended details were not circulated in time, you would find delivery drivers pumping solvents into an already-full tank or contaminating one resin system with another.

I have a few photos of the derelict factory; one of my friends is an art teacher, and she invited her pupils to create a series of pictures based on these images. So we now have a tremendous mural in the reception area, with a constellation of pictures, street-maps, chemical structures and quality-control ledgers depicting the history of the firm.

Sterlin1 Sterlin2 Sterlin3 Sterlin5 Sterlin6 Sterlin7 Sterlin8