Vexalta Blues, Hepworth

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20 Nov 2001: Vienna. Set off in cab Mon morn, plane to Amsterdam then to Vienna. Met at airport by taxi driver, had long conversation half German, half English. Got to Crowne Plaza, typical hotel, wonderful restaurant. Collected by Herr Seidler in morning, whisked off to factory for a tour and meeting with Hubert Culik. HS shakes hands with all staff on meeting them in morning.
21 Nov 2001: Rob and Steve both visited me in office to ask how it went over there. I was very positive about it all.
Rob was okay, but SP commented ‘Well, we’re not sure that water-based tower paints will work outdoors.’ Damned with faint praise indeed. I mentioned that in Austria, they apply the paint to galvanised steel members in a factory before transporting them into a field for assembly. ‘No, no’ said SP ‘You must have misheard them. They don’t do that at all.’

Journal Entry, 16 Sep 2002: Curious day at work: Rob P asked if we could have a ‘get together’ so I duly went to his office at ten-thirty.
We went through my latest monthly report – he complained that all my projects were ongoing, and I never seemed to bring any of them to a satisfactory conclusion. He remarked that I didn’t contribute any dynamic, always waiting for him or Phil to initiate projects.
‘I don’t expect that sort of performance from a paint expert, and you either are or you aren’t’, adding ‘I’d expect it from a lab assistant but I want ideas from you. I don’t need you to tell me we have problems, I want answers to them.’

I maintained an enigmatic silence; no mention of my dreadful salary, or my lack of a company logo labcoat, or no appraisal meetings, or no petrol expenses from my trip to Perkins. And no acknowledgment that the reason I have been given one of these tasks is that our firm is defrauding the customer by supplying non-conforming products.

[Note: but I did provide answers to the problems. I pointed out that you can’t use white spirit to thin certain grades of phenolic alkyd resins. SM said ‘but we need to do that, cos it keeps the cost down. It’s uneconomical to use xylene.’ And so we ended up with forty tins of paint being returned cos they had turned to jelly in storage, all having to be cut open and reworked. And I told him that Prestolite Blue showed no colour stability problems if you disperse the pigment correctly]

11 July 2002: Today gave Gill H my tank sample report to type up, and she rang back with a barrage of questions.
Apparently my job is to measure the viscosity, SG etc on the tank sample supplied, record it, then measure it again after making the required additions of styrene or whatever. Whereas I – having been given no verbal or written instructions – just followed Waring’s example and recorded the values, with some advice on styrene etc.

Wouldn’t it be a good idea, said I, if we could have all these instructions written down?
‘But they are’ said Gill, indignant; ‘You should have a copy of the Company Operating Procedures upstairs.’
[Note: when I arrived at STL I discovered that Gill was a close friend of the Production foreman, and that she had been expecting to get the job running the coatings lab after Dave Waring’s departure. My arrival provoked severe annoyance. I gradually noticed that there were nebulous channels of communication to which I wasn’t privy]

12 July 2002: Well, at 12.00 we gathered in the canteen and were addressed by SP who told us that Altana had taken the remaining shares in Sterling Technology and so become complete owners.
Lots more work from the other subsidiaries. And the chance to buy shares at a discount; unfortunate bit of timing that, what with the FTSE at a five-year low.

Typed out my progress report on Vinyl Tower Paint explaining the problems we encountered getting C-and-P visc, Rion visc and sag resistance all correct. The test spec supplied by National Grid Company says that the Rion viscosity should be 40 to 60 Poise using Spindle number 2. But the No.2 spindle has a range of 100 – 4000 Poise, going up in steps of 50 Poise.

Thu 18 July 2002: Today sent fax (ha!) to Rembrandtin asking for copies of reports on the track record of Aqua-Lac. [Note: everybody else in the company had an e-mail account, but not me, even though at my interview I was told that computer literacy was very very important.] Gave SJM a potted breakdown of drum paint technology. Paul Osman asked if we were doing much in the Tower Paint field.
‘What’, I asked ‘You mean all that stuff that’s been out in the yard since June fifth?’ [Sixteen drums, 200 litres each]

10 May 2002: During our meeting the other day, Rob said that ‘We need to talk to Rembrandtin to see if their WB tower paint is actually used out-of-doors, we need them to tell us whether or not it’s crap.’ He really doesn’t believe in this stuff.

Today had rear brake fixed at Motorcycle City. Pads not need replacing. Caliper/bearing broken.
Was in at 7.40 this morning to finish off the Perkins White Primer – in the end we never carried out our airless spray trial.
Train crash at Potters Bar. Six dead so far.

30 Dec 2002:                             Nearly There

Just one day remains, shedding fragments
As it spins out of control
Like a Spanish dancer high on drugs, or a
Tree caught in one of April’s storms, this day
Pretending to be just another day, a
Banquet of unexpected thrills.

31 Dec 2002: Posted letters to Sheila and Dave and Heather and Mark. And cheque to Cred Card.
In the news: Donald Rumsfeld (US Defense Secretary) has been outed as one of the key suppliers of plutonium, anthrax, electronics etc to some guy called Saddam Hussein. (‘Well, he seemed such a nice man…’)
Cases of syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia in Manchester up by 200 percent on last year. Halifax Bank says that house prices in the NW will show a 16 percent rise during 2003.

While tidying up and chucking out, I came across that 1990 photo of me holding my newly-acquired driving licence. A quiet night in, listening to Radio 2, white wine, chorizo, olives, fromage, salad, and reading John Brunner.
There are seventy flood warnings throughout the UK – tonight’s forecast rain and snow.

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