Kombucha Poetry

Nouvelette, Chapter One

Along the laboratory bench we saw a dozen or so glass flasks, each of them half-filled with some pale green liquid. The mouth of each flask was covered with silver foil, the protective collars throwing off tiny white glints as we approached.

‘And you say she had been working on these for the past fortnight?’

Doctor Keen paused before replying. ‘Yes, I think she wanted to complete the project before the end of this term.’

Peering into the flasks, we could see the silent lab equipment transformed into a mysterious, alien landscape. The liquid in some flasks was completely clear, while others showed a faint cloudiness.

Inspector Willow studied a page in his notebook. ‘There should be fourteen samples here’ He said. ‘Do you have any idea where the others have gone? Would there be any reason to move them to a different laboratory?’

Keen shook his head, lost for words. The Inspector turned to me: ‘What did you manage to find out about the hazard rating for this stuff?’

‘Well, they told me that it’s just a sort of cultivating broth, where you can grow microbes and things.’ Keen shot me a worried look. ‘Sorry’ I continued, ‘where you can generate a stable colony of bacteria, yeasts and fungal species.’

‘Yes’ said Willow, ‘but is it dangerous or not?’

‘We haven’t done any toxicology yet’ said Keen, ‘but if you drink this material it can cause liver damage and stomach cramps. We reckon it is harmless by skin contact, and the chlorine in ordinary tap water is enough to kill most of the flora.’

He led us out of the lab and down the corridor, past the drinks machine and the notice boards and the office doors, each with three or four different name signs crudely taped to the window. ‘Can you wait here a few minutes? We might get a chance to speak to Jenny’s partner.’

 Chapter Two

‘Are you sure these are the ones?’ asked Dr Transome, head librarian. He had brought a small trolley with several ancient-looking books of poetry. He placed a plastic frame on the table, explaining that the volumes were not allowed to be fully opened.

Jenny looked pleased: ‘Oh, these are great. We’re just going to recover some dust particles, like so…’ and here she produced a dainty clean paintbrush and began gently sweeping along the spine of the open book, collecting the unseen residue in a small plastic tray.

This procedure was repeated four times, and eventually she said that her work was finished. The librarian looked puzzled, and asked if she needed to read the volumes.

‘No, we are looking for material to inspire an art installation for a new hotel. They want to rename the luxury suites after famous writers, so I offered to design some customised pictures.’ She went on to explain how the dust from the books might contain mould spores which would grow in the plastic trays, and the shapes of the microbial colonies could suggest islands or continents on an imaginary map.

The resulting patches of mould would be examined under an electron microscope, to discern the basic physical structure; if this was detailed and interesting, she would create a series of embroidered collage panels to match the observed design. These could be made from felt or kombucha fabric (bacterial cellulose…)

Chapters Three onwards…

Continuation of story….Jenny has been growing kombucha tea membranes as part of a materials science project, to allow army personnel to grow tarpaulins in remote areas.

She also wanted to contribute to an art project so she obtained a Victorian printed copy of Shelley and used a paintbrush to collect dust from the pages, then added this to the kombucha broth. When the material started to form a membrane, she harvested this and pressed it to create a sheet of parchment. This was then printed with some of Shelley’s verse.

This was put on display as part of an exhibition, and one boy offered to read it out loud at a drama gathering. He did so, and was found dead in bed the next morning.

Journal Entry, 10 Oct 2002: Today at work, made some paint by mixing white and blue styrenated varnishes.

Had meeting with Caroline Scholes from Johnson Matthey.
One of the workers has been sacked for allegedly drinking meths in the solvent stores.

Sent a memo to Andrew F, asking about the new faxes and cert-of-conformity documents etc, with the new Altana logo instead of the old, prohibited Sterling logo. He didn’t reply, but then I was given a fax form which says ‘Altana-Varnish-Compounds’ rather than ‘Altana-Coatings-Sealants’ which has replaced the Rembrandtin logo.

13 Oct 2002: Friday rode down to Somercotes, got there cold and dark. On Sat morning went to Andy and Angie’s with Simon and Vicky for spag bol. Then to Nottingham, where we visited sex shops and a clothing emporium called ‘Void’, bought skirt and shoes.
The girls made me up to look like Frank N Furter in sussies and fishnets.
Got back to the Black Horse pub (after calling in at Tesco’s in full drag to buy some alcohol) and discovered that Manda had turned up earlier that day without telling me!

Drink, dance, black feather boa.
Mel should not wear light green.

14 Oct 2002:

Sex is the new drugs
Rock is the new roll
Paranoia is the new rhosis
And I’m sitting in a room full of chaos
Between one hungry night of strangers
Nudity and modesty in equal measure
I sacrifice myself to angels of pleasure
They steal my wings
To leather their nests
As I stumble through a forgotten sonata
To good, better, best
Unconcerned by any nameless danger
As I lurk in the torture chamber.

So anyway, Dave M is compiling safety sheet database of Coatings Division products but Steve Mayall has removed VA-line materials.
Something slightly interesting has happened at work. We have to remove the dipentene from our vinyl tower paint in order to evade the dead-fish hazard symbol on the label.
Rob was exasperated when I told him that there was no catalogue of sales issue numbers in my office.
Did some TGA and DSC on vinyl plus 10 percent alkyd based paint. Looks same as Becker’s.

16 Oct 2002: Last night with B- to cinema to see ‘One Hour Photo’. Elegant, restrained, disturbing. Then went to f’s Italian restaurant.

Today: buy MCN, go Cybercafe.
Tomorrow: laundryette-o-mat, German homework.

Today at work: after I was told that 51-line epoxy ester blue (for Prestolite) was made by tinting a white base, instead of co-grind listed on formulation, I asked Kev for formulation.
It turns out he has a private library of notebooks full of formulations. This particular one uses Sandosperse so it’s probably a good deal costlier than our computer-listed RM.
He’s also made a tinted varnish and ignored my instructions to provide a grind check sample.

‘The Bill’ showed two blokes kissing and attracted hundreds of complaints from irate viewers. Meanwhile, ‘Tipping the Velvet’ on BBC has attracted complaints because the lesbian sex scenes weren’t raunchy enough.

17 Oct 2002: Had call from Chemetall with a quote for pack of galvanised steel panels for testing. Asked him if it was okay to check film thickness with Elcometer Gauge. He said no, if you try to do that, the gauge will read the underlying steel and won’t be able to compensate for the surface roughness or the non-ferrous galv layer.

I said that someone in the coatings industry told me they always used this method – calibrate on smooth galv, then gritblast and apply four layers of paint – but he warned there were too many sources of error.

Left a note in Rob’s pigeonhole about 51-4685 Prestolite Blue not being made according to the batch formulation.

3 Nov 2002: Fri night MSC meeting: Graham C died recently. More debate about business cards for members. All had a good time in Paris. While waiting outside the club to get a cab home, we saw a guy being sucked off in the street. Nice.

Yesterday is another day! Today at work did spray-out and drawdown tests on my own special brew of Prestolite. Apparently the works have been secretly concocting a white epoxy ester base for tinting over.
But I discovered by accident that there is already an intermediate product (number 82) of white epoxy ester base.

21 Nov 2002: Today’s mail included fliers from Otto for his rally at Market Bosworth. However, it clashes with the MSC brunch and the GBMCC dinner, and the Derby Toy Run….

We supply some customers with isocyanate curing agents, packed into 5-litre plastic kegs by means of a pump. However, rather than fit the inlet hose into a 200-litre drum, we – or rather Andy – empties four drums into a 1000-litrre pan and then pumps material from this.
So we have a huge tub of NCO monomer sitting in the workshop, polluting the air and becoming contaminated with moisture etc.
And when the lads are filling out containers with this stuff, they drink tea.

In the news: Fire Brigades Union are planning to strike tomorrow morning. Employers have offered a 16 percent rise (actually spread out over several years and with modernisation terms attached).

5 Sep 2003: Steve M is away on hols so Hughie rang me to ask if I had a data sheet for some very old tower paint we’ve got in stock.
Anyway, I couldn’t find it so I went to see Sean M and asked if he had a copy. ‘No’ he said, ‘Go and see Rob.’
So went to see Rob who searched through his CD library for ten minutes before going to see Sean who – it turns out – had got it in his office.

Haven’t had any feedback of my Microdol memo. (There was a pallet with 49 unopened bags of Microdol extender pigment in the coatings warehouse, and I asked about working this stuff off in various products since it has been sitting there for two years at least.)

Our old friends The Rolling Stones are back on tour, proving that there is life after death. They have a marvellous back catalogue – all the newspaper reviews say their creative juices dried up in 1982.

Meanwhile, Dame David Bowie (mere stripling of 56) has a new album out.
Still making a determined effort to create new sound-worlds. He has several times tried to dump his established repertoire and move on; perhaps he should set up an academy for approved Bowie impersonators, leaving el maestro to continue his journey into the realm of undiscovered music…




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