Varneyusity Leechgang

We each have distinct achievements of which we are proud and which set us apart from the common mass of ordinary mortals; one of my friends, for instance, is proudest of the fact that he has never been a passenger on a bus. ‘But it’s great!’ I explained to him; ‘You see all kinds of people and hear all sorts of weird stories.’ And I recalled an episode which occurred a few months earlier, when I was travelling from Irlam to Manchester on the number 67.

I was gazing out of the window, and so didn’t notice the two women who had sat down behind me. After a few seconds, I became aware of the conversation which had apparently been resumed after a pause.

“Well” said one “He came home after his first term. I asked him, I said you know, son, well, I said are you courting yet? And he just laughed and said no, not really, but she’s coming over tomorrow if that’s okay.  And I said, well what’s she doing tonight, and he said dunno. Dunno! I mean, my Trevor would never let me dunno with anybody once we were stepping out.”

“What were she like then, this girlfriend?” asked the other. The first woman gave a hiss. “Well, she seemed okay at first, very pleasant and polite and all that. So I asks if she wanted something to eat, and she said  yes, that would be lovely, but of course she won’t eat meat – that’s the exact phrase she used, ‘I won’t eat meat’ – so of course we had to go down Morrison’s and get some of them Quorn Goujons or whatever. And then she pulls out a small make-up bag at the table and produces her own knife and fork.”

“She did what? Cheeky cow! I’d have told her to go down to McDonalds and buy her own dinner and eat it there!”

“Well” continued the first woman, “I were a bit annoyed and asked if owt were the matter. And she looks at Paul and he’s just so obviously in love with her, cos she’s right pretty and she had a lovely skirt on – and he said that Cleo – that’s her name, can you believe it, Cleopatra – and she says that there are significant amounts of microbial flora present on clean cutlery and she had a very delicate system as a child and the doctor advised her to avoid using any cutlery that had been handled by infidels.”

“Infidels!” exclaimed the second woman, “You never told me she were Muslim!”

“No, no she isn’t, but her family belongs to some obscure American church. Very rich, apparently. They have to locate a partner using careful genetic trials, to make sure the offspring have the best chance of survival when the next coming takes place. The pair of them sat me down and gave me right lecture about how important it all was. Paul is completely smitten with her. They reckon that eighty-three percent of people in the UK are unworthy – they call us infidels – and they have a duty to track down the decent specimens and secure them for the next coming.”

“And is Paul allowed to use ordinary cutlery? Or does he have a special collection as well?”

The first woman made some vague response to this, and then suddenly began her narrative again. “But the oddest thing was bedtime. I said there were clean towels in the airing cupboard, and she said oh, that’s alright, I brought my own – “

“I suppose she can’t allow her body to be contaminated with infidel fluffy fibres.”

“More or less, yeah, She said there were special coloured towels in her church, some for your arms and legs, and others for just doing – “ and here she fell silent, and I could imagine her behind me performing an agitated mouthing and eye-rolling routine, much like a scandalised Les Dawson in drag.

This revelation – or concealment – prompted a muted ‘Oooh!’ from both of them, followed by a brief silence. Then the second woman piped up “Did I tell you our Joe had an interview the other day?”

“No, what was that for then? I didn’t know he was out of work.”

“Oh, he lost his job a few weeks back. Anyway, he was offered an interview at that place down the estate – they do paint thinners or something.  Univar, that’s it. He turned up at the factory gates, as instructed by the agency – god knows why they bother with all these agencies, they’re a bunch of idiots who just recycle each other’s job adverts – and anyway, when he got to the factory they said ‘Oh, sorry, we haven’t been informed that you were due to come today.’ Well, good job it was just down the road – imagine if he’d been three hours on a train to get there!”

“What did the agency say?”

“Oh, he rang them up and they said sorry, they sent the message through but somebody must have neglected to pass it on. Anyway, he arranged to go back a couple of days later – again, organised by the agency – and this time they let him into the factory, but the bloke who came to see him said ‘Oh, we didn’t receive notice of your interview until an hour ago’ which doesn’t really inspire confidence, does it?

“I don’t know” said her friend, “All these college degrees and he ends up working in a factory. Back in our day, you only went to a factory if you were too thick to do anything else.”

This prompted an indignant cough. “Steady on, my Trevor worked in a factory for thirty-two years! Mind you, he wasn’t all that bright, come to think of it…so anyway, our Joe gets shown round this place where they make paint thinners and he said it was alright, a bit of a dump but the people seemed quite nice, and he would have enjoyed working there. Then they asked him about his skiing holidays.”

“Your Joe? Skiing? When did he start that, then?”

“He never. Turns out, this guy doing the interview, has got Joe’s CV mixed up with some other bloke, I mean in this day and age they can put a man on the moon but they can’t organise a simple bit of paperwork. They were under the impression that he had years of experience organising student holidays, although why that should be any good for a factory job beats me.”

There was a thoughtful silence which lasted perhaps two minutes, after which the second woman remarked: “You know, that happened to me once. I mean, when I were at school, they had a letter addressed to the headmistress saying that I had done something awful. And I got really upset and said it weren’t me, and they went to see me mam about it. We found out later that there was another girl called Brenda – XXXX – living down the road. Can you believe it! We had never even heard of each other.”      

“And did he get the job?”

“No, they sent him a message two days later. He wanted to send it back saying they had got the wrong person by mistake, but they don’t sound bright enough to get the joke…”                                                           

Bus 67 Dream – Disease, Corruption and Madness


Journal Entry, 13 Aug 2016:

Agent orange and agent green and agent pink and agent blue and agent purple: perhaps we should construct a new form of rainbow flag to demonstrate our eternal pride in the art of organic chemistry which has given us such tremendously efficient plant control systems. By ‘control’ of course I mean death. Death is good for plants, and good for the animals that eat those plants, and good for the people that eat those animals.
During the Victorian era, arsenic pigments were commonly used to impart colour to household and industrial paints.

About three years ago (give-or-take 24 hours) I started work in Leeds. It was a mixed bag – some aspects of the work were delightful, others were hideous. And now I find myself unemployed, wandering the streets like a ghost. A gleaming canopy of overlapping stories, each an unfinished failure, makes up my life so far.
I look down at the thousands of yellow street lights, marking out the places where other real people live and work and talk to their families.
I left the pub on time and hurried across town to catch my bus. A crowd of other passengers was waiting; the bus was meant to arrive at nine minutes past, but it had obviously been cancelled and so we had to wait for the next one, at thirty-nine minutes past. This was delayed, and didn’t turn up until quarter-to-ten.  Various young people were gathered on the pavement, in groups of two or three. A taxi pulled up; one young man detached from a group of friends and got in. Before the driver could pull away another young lad stood in the car headlights and dropped his trousers to show his rusty bullet-hole.
Two police officers, in the chunky body-armour common to Manchester, leapt into their souped-up Hyundai and roared away to catch somebody doing something.

The bus turns a corner, and a yellow constellation skates across the windows. One chap is having a long and tedious conversation on his mobile phone, talking about a train journey and discussing the technical problems with the engine, in a detailed patient manner. Perhaps there was nobody on the other end of the line.
Two blokes got on at Eccles and resumed a drunken dialogue. This involved a lot of swearing: “So I said to her I said yer can take that fuckin’ kid out of here ‘cos I’m not fuckin’ lookin after it and she just said it was none of my business and she wouldn’t go back to ‘im cos he used to fuckin’ knock her about and I said –“
To which the other replied by interspersing an occasional flurry of “Yeah-yeah-you’re right-yeah I know-yeah-yeah-I know…”

During the conversation, one or the other would make a random comment about one of the other passengers and the pair of them would be overcome with hoarse laughter. “I said to ‘er, I said nobody’s gonna go with you now, and the cheeky bitch said that Kenny was still after her. Fuckin Kenny? I said, what’s Kenny got, I’ll tell yer what he’s got, he’s fuckin’ got piles cos I heard him tellin’ that bloke in the pub and I said to him, I said I’ll get yer a bunch of grapes but yours might be purple instead of green – “

“Yeah, yeah-yeah-I know-yeah-ha-ha-ha-you’re right, yeah-I know-ha-ha-ha-yeah-yeah-you’re right – “

Silent streets are spread out around us, long steady lines of yellow lights reflected twice from bus windows that have seen it all before.

Earlier that day I had called in at a tea shop that was used as a gallery by local artists. Hand-embroidered panels sat next to ornate photographic prints. All the work on display was for sale, each work bearing a price tag made from music manuscript and typewriter ribbon; the prices were all a random selection of numbers between four and seven hundred.
I asked: she replied – “We’ve tried to incorporate prime numbers into the pricing system, and we avoid round numbers so that they can be traced in company accounts. Financial people are quite good at smuggling the odd thousand pounds into the books when they see miscellaneous artworks listed.”

Apparently Queen Victoria paid Salford a visit in 1851, and a crowd of eighty thousand people turned out to welcome her. Would she be horrified or amused if she heard the coarse narrative being unfolded upstairs on the bus? She might have thought the world had become a vortex of disease, corruption and madness.
“An’ I tell yer another fuckin’ thing, she ain’t getting a fuckin’ penny if she walks out cos I’ve had it up to – hang on a minute, what the fuck’s this?”
One of the drunken blokes paused as he noticed an envelope pushed down the side of the seat; he pulled it out eagerly. “Might be money in here” he said to his companion, “Come on, I might be fuckin’ rich!”
I’m sure that every other passenger winced slightly on hearing this, because the normal thing to have said would be “Come on, we might be fuckin’ rich.”
He opened the envelope; as he began to unfold the sheet of paper, a small amount of white powder spilled from it. His slow sense of puzzlement gave way to fear and anger, and within seconds he was scrambling to get out of his seat, frantically brushing the front of his jeans and yelling that he had been poisoned with anthrax.
He yelled at the driver, who stopped the bus and allowed them to alight; but then, he realised that they were miles from home, and it was completely dark. A nervous young woman was driving home after an argument with a drunk man in a pub; when the figure loomed out of the darkness she panicked and swerved to avoid him, but a glancing blow threw him into a ditch at the side of the road.
Three days later, a dog-walker found the body. The police arrived in a new Hyundai; they began to take a statement from the shaken man. And the bus-driver slowed down, so that his passengers could enjoy the roadside drama.

And written on the paper they found some lines:

We think of sheep as being just like clouds, anonymous and white; bereft of personality
Red curtains the only cry of colour in a charcoal-grey façade.
No goal has ever been so easy or so hard
The unique frequency of happiness is different from the wavelength of despair
In shape and scale; she used her laugh to scrape the veil of innocence
I’m certain this could only happen to me. Do I really care?

Journal Entry, 8 Oct 2009:

Today is the first anniversary of Dad’s death, so I began the day by digging out my LP of the B-Minor Mass and listening to the Kyrie. What a long year it has been since then; work, and play, and OCCA, and the Open Uni.
On Tuesday night I went to the Inventors’ Group meeting at Central Library to hear Michael Keenan give a talk about his miracle fireproof coating. Fascinating tale of garden-shed chemistry.
e-mailed OCCA and the MIG to ask about having closer regular contact.

Last night went to visit Dave H but forgot to take the trophies & badges over. Had a v nice dinner – chicken stuffed with pesto and mozzarella, wrapt in bacon and roasted.
Birthday pressies off Brett: black and silver wing-tip collar shirt. Orange Shirt. Bike helmet mirrors.
Today’s agenda: rread up on Hume and Rousseau, laundryette, badges and trophies to DH, 3.30 at his work.
Yesterday texted Alastair M – he was in a meeting with Steve S, might pay a visit to Darley Dale on Saturday.
On Radio Two they’re playing The Charlatans – ‘Only One I Know’. When does that date from? 1991? Vaguely remember hearing it on radio when I worked as a mailing clerk. Those were the daze.

Journal Entry, 11 Oct 2009:

Friday morning went off to visit emerge – it’s tucked away in a corner of Smithfield Market. We had a long chat about their various projects. Arranged to call in on them when Peter D was in.
Went to sign on. Maxine carried out her usual security checks – what’s your date of birth? ‘Two days ago’ I said. I briefly let her see my huge lever-arch file of applications. Asked if I could carry out voluntary work & she said yeah, no problems.
The main door lock is jammed downstairs; still works, but not properly.

Went to rally, saw Otto & Tim & Lyn from Foxes, as well as usual crowd. Alas, too many people and not enough toilets. Alastair and Alastair called in and he had a go on bucking bronco.
Liz and Colin and Donna and Benny and Lynda turned up; Donna said she would get me some contacts at Du Pont. Must send CV to her via Liz.
Alastair had interview at lead-acid battery place in Darley Dale, so must send CV to them. Find out who these healthcare (biocides) people are in Chester.
Sat night bands – Exhibit A (who have really improved since I first saw them 4 years ago) and League of Mentalmen.  We overheard various people saying that they remembered this band from last year, and they were awful. I’d forgotten that their act was centred around thrash-metal versions of romantic ballads.

Journal Entry, 13 Oct 2009:

Today I went up to Eccles for an eye-test at Sime, and spent £190 (we’re not in euros yet) on the test and new pair of specs.
Met B: we popped up to Leigh and I bought a couple of CDs, a new-age pop thing called City of Tomorrow, and an album by the Lost Prophets – rather Mars Volta / Chili Peppers. Realised I hadn’t paid Liz for my ticket to Excalibur, so posted her a cheque for £12. Done about 600 words on my Mozart essay assignment.
Donna e-mailed me to say she is passing on my CV to du Pont, and also mentioned a rail axle firm in Bury that I should approach.

Journal Entry, 15 Oct 2009:

Yesterday I applied online to a job posted by an agency called Penguin Recruitment (surely they would provide waiters?) and also sent written applic to some firm in Eccles that does plastics coloration.
Then went to Leeds Art Gall for the British Surrealist Exhibition (free!)
There weren’t all that many objects on show, some of the paintings had been sent up to Manchester anyway for the ‘Angels of Anarchy’ exhibition.
One room had dozens of items in it and you couldn’t look properly at them. And they didn’t really count as ‘surreal’.
Rest of gallery good, but rather small: some Spencers and Sickerts, hung on the stairwell where couldn’t really see them at best. Saw ‘The Journey’ huge semi-abstract photo collage paintings.
Got back home, let myself in, then found the door wouldn’t close: I e-mailed SMFA about this last week and rang them on Tues. Managed to shut it, but now it can’t open and I’m trapped in the house.



Academic Disaster

Journal Entry, 24 Jul 2007:

Logged onto Wickerman website forum & found a torrent of complaints – bad site organisation, security staff who confiscated glass bottles and then got pissed on them, drug dealers hiding their stash in empty tents then attacking the occupants in order to retrieve it. Overdone corporate dependency.
Found a wasp crawling up my leg in the bathroom. They’re not all dead, then!
The Manchester Evening News has a column called ‘Celebritywatch’ where they report the public sightings of the Rich and Famous. Yesterday’s item had “Blondie superstar Deborah Harry looking for undies in Debenhams”.
How can anybody not know who Deborah Harry is?

Journal Entry, 17 Jun 2007:

Snatch MCC Rally post-mortem. Friday morning loaded bike up & set off for work – heavy rain. About 9.30 the rain eased off and by lunchtime it was sunny.
We rang Hell’s Kitchen and ordered hot roast beef and onion barms. Jemma had brought her own sarnies to work; I said ‘Surely we ought to go to the pub to celebrate her exam results?’ but the others confirmed that she was devastated at not being awarded a First.

Anyway, set off at 5.00 for rally, no traffic delays, no rain. Arrived about 6.00, bought ticket, set up tent. Fri night had one pint lager, went to bed.
Sat morn we all trooped off to Asda, bought food and wine, the off to café in Birkenhead guided by Scouse.
Sat afternoon we sat outside tents and I drank a bottle of Beaujolais. Went to have a lie down, woke up at 10.00, heard the band (Livewire) playing, went to clubhouse and had 2 pints lemonade. Then back to bed.

Journal Entry, 25 Sep 2007:

Yesterday Alan D came into my lab and said “We’ve been thinking about training.” I thought he was referring to my Open Uni courses, but it turned out he wanted me to put together presentations about paint for the benefit of the other staff. Apparently Steve S has requested this, and proposed that Dave Tench delivers the presentations.
Note: in 2005 I paid for a basic Management course with RDI, which I successfully passed. Then I approached Adrian to ask if the firm would fund my next course, a short Open Uni module on Project Management. He was very non-committal and said he’d look into it. Then, while he was away on holiday, I had a message from the Open Uni saying that the deadline for enrolment was approaching and did I want to be included? So I went to see Alan and explained the situation.

Journal Entry snippets:
And Adrian S asked me if I wanted the company to pay for my next college (OU) course.” (04 Aug ’06)
“I’ve started thinking of my PhD as a sort of indicator, like an asterisk in a paragraph of text, but one for which there is no footnote to consult. The asterisk just waits there, as if a word has learned how to wink.” (17 Aug ’06)
“Letter from the OU – why haven’t I sent in my registration documents yet?” (06 Sep ’06)
“Posted my Project Management form (Credit Card Abbey) to the OU. Although I’ve given my paperwork to Adrian and my letter reminder to Alan D, neither has come to me.” (14 Sep ’06)
“And I reminded both Alan and Adrian that my OU enrolment deadline was coming up but neither got back to me. So I paid by CC, £880.” (16 Oct ’06)

Americhem Interview Post-Mortem

Americhem Interview Post-Mortem
8 Aug 2016: So anyway, I got the bus down to Eccles, and it was just fab seeing the derelict council flats with their electricity meter boxes broken off the wall, and the disused cinema and the cars parked on double-yellows blocking the cycle lanes and the old tramps with matted hair and a holdall full of empty beer cans and a corner shop that no more than two children were allowed to enter at any time
I sauntered along to the factory and went up to the reception building. When I pressed the buzzer a metallic voice took my details and unlocked the door; I went into the reception area (which was bleak and unattended, with furniture and electric fittings showing signs of desperate neglect) to find another gentleman on the settee. Half-a-minute later the Human Resources Womanette materialised and had a brief discussion with this chap, who was apparently being interviewed for the same job as myself. And had been given the same appointment time!
So they decided that we would be processed at the same time, with one of us having a meeting while the other would complete the written assessment – and then we would change ends at half time, so to speak.
I was led away to a small meeting-room and given a few sheets of paper with printed questions to answer. One sheet of A4 had six questions, and it left enough room to write about five lines of normal script for each one. I looked around me at the fabulous array of blow-moulded bottles in different colours (or should that be ‘colors’?) lined up on shelves around the walls. There were dozens of them, opaque, translucent, pearlescent; Exorcist-vomit-green, Mister-Blobby-pink, Sunny-Delight-radioactive-yellow, and Plutonium-warhead-grey: an absolute feast of optical bounty.
I dragged my attention back to the printed questionnaire which comprised two parts: a set of technical questions and some mathematical exercises. I began looking at the maths problems: What is 15 percent of 150? How much VAT do Mr and Mrs Smith pay on their kitchen goods? No sign of political correctness here; we will not have any ethnic minority same-sex couples shopping in John Lewis, thank you very much! Our imaginary consumers are respectable suburban professionals, freshly plucked from an advert in the Radio Times.
(The Americhem website mentions ‘diversity’ in connection with the firm’s product range, but fails to acknowledge any aspects of race or sexuality in its workforce. Strange…)
After this exhausting procedure I began reading the technical questions. ‘What do you understand by Colour?’ Wow, I thought. Now there’s a question! Should I mention the four default colours used by Microsoft Excel to draw graphs in the same chart – which are the same four colours adopted by Bliss for his Colour Symphony? Or the five colours used by the US military to distinguish the defoliant mixtures used in the Vietnam war and which were later immortalised by Hamilton in his song about the rainbow: ‘…pink, and green, purple, and orange, and blue…’ but that is an urban myth which I am trying to send round the world.
One of the other questions asked about light-stabiliser compounds; give examples with chemical type and tradenames and which kinds of polymer they would be used in. Somebody not already employed in the plastic colourant industry would have very little chance of knowing these details.
I scribbled a few superficial notes in reply to these questions, and waited for Human Resources Womanette to come and rescue me. However, it was not she, but Technical Design Man who escorted me to the office where the interview was taking place. HRW and TDM interrogated me with a routine set of questions about my knowledge and experience. It is customary nowadays to check that every interviewee is really who they claim to be, and that they are correctly entitled to work in the EU or the UK; but I wasn’t asked for any proof of ID. Nor did they ask me about my previous salary levels, which suggested that they weren’t that bothered about recruiting me to the firm. And I recall that my previous interview with Americhem had included a very strict colour-vision test using an array of metameric colour chips, but on this occasion there was no mention of colour blindness.
Journal Entry, 3 Nov 2009: Phone call from Americhem asking if I was willing to attend interview – reminding me the job only pays £12000.
Journal Entry, 10 Nov 2009: Today went to Americhem for interview – they were at pains to remind me that it’s permanent shifts, paying twelve grand.