Valtris, Eccles

Turquoise, January 2005

The other day, to my surprise
I found myself believing once again
And stared with undiluted joy
Towards the setting sun where clouds
Are in a shaft and light beyond compare.

The other night, as happiness gave way
To anger and confusion
You waited for me on the corner
Of Radium Street, beneath a post-ironic
Silver moon.

I saw my life at breakneck speed
Escaping in a stolen car
In search of someone else to occupy
A journey through a Nimslo scene
Where people fade at nobody’s expense

Tues 7 Jun 05:

Yesterday at work I had two samples to test, both with the same product code, both light grey colour, and both the same dry time spec.
One dried completely in 3 hours, while the other was still tacky after 4 hours. It occurred to me that Flemo might have added all the driers to the same batch.

e-mail message from Steve S about Pride Parade float – Julian has some ideas for decoration.

All Hail Pollution

Sing, sweet muse
f the ugliness of factories. Let us rejoice
In these dens of waste
Let us call blessings on the rusted cages
The grimy windows, acrid stench
And complex Harpies dancing
Through the poison clouds.

Was it Mercury who taught us
To create a landscape
Of broken concrete, battered metal,
Spills of random chemicals and dirt?
Everywhere the angles rust beneath harsh lights
And rancid miles of futile pipework
Dream of pollution. 

Valtris Blooze 

It reassures me when I see
A shopping trolley lying there
Abandoned at the entrance to an underpass
It lets me know the world
Where I grew up is not that far away at all.

This is the Akcros factory at Eccles, on Lankro Way. There are some picturesque storage drums, rusty and forgotten, along with hundreds of empty plastic one-tonne containers, white and cold in their steel cages. Several years ago I went to an interview at this firm for a job as laboratory technician.

To ensure that I was on time for the interview, I decided to travel up to Eccles the night before and stay in a hotel. The place I chose was cheap and cheerful; they didn’t offer evening meals, so I wandered down the road to a restaurant called Smith’s where a jazz singer was performing. The place was packed, but they actually sorted out a table for me by turfing out one of the waiters who was on his lunch break in the corner.  The next morning I had breakfast in the hotel, in a basement dining-room that smelled faintly of mould.

It disappoints me when I stumble on
Mahler six on vinyl in a shop
Next to tatty paperbacks
And fat brown polyester ties. Does
No-one care about this avalanche of pain?

I remember walking along the long road where lorries waited to carry off the kegs of resin and sacks of pigment. After what seemed like twenty minutes of brisk walking I found myself at the security lodge, and ended up in an office discussing materials science with a bunch of smartly-dressed strangers. That road is now deserted, lined with concrete blocks to prevent joyriders or doggers ending up in the Manchester Ship Canal.

The interview went well; a couple of weeks later I received a note from the recruitment agency (Polyjobs) informing me that the firm had been suitably impressed by my skills and experience but alas, had decided not to proceed with my application.

And then I see a ruined factory, silent valves
And empty pumps, the canteen radiators
Cold with rust. No alchemy takes place
The way it did ten years ago, transforming
Beige slime into snow-white flakes of joy.

And then, nine years later, I did find a job in Eccles which meant that my journey to work took me past this site every day, listening to Schubert, Biffy Clyro and Liszt on my tiny Hitachi MP3 player.

Down the road from this derelict site is an office block which I have nicknamed ‘Cthulhu Mansions’ because it appears to have been designed without a single right angle anywhere. Presumably if there was an earthquake and this building was hit by subsidence, it would then settle down into a normal rectangular edifice.

Pivot of Spring

Song 4

It’s May the eighth today; how long
Do you think it will be
Before the publication of the Faber Book
Of twenty-first-century poetry?

Pet Shop Boys are dead and gone, it seems;
So artificial could it never be, two
Jokers who wrote nothing about nothing
After all. They faded from obscurity.

A Clockwork Orange will again be peeled
To entertain the zombies and their thugs;
Your DNA would stretch around the world
And liberate a freezing fantasy of drugs.

My left hand holds a tiny statue made
Of ivory, two millimetres high; my
Right hand holds a picture of 3C-236,
A sculpture on a slightly grander scale.

It’s May the eighth today; I wonder
How many years remain for us to play
At being God, going strong not going under
And watching all our dreams of love decay.

 Song 4 Revisited

It’s May the Eighth today, and
Down the road there stands
A building-shaped block of emptiness
A silent tribute to that phase
Two years and ninety miles ago

When elegant and sweeping, my ambition
Reached out towards the poverty I
Could not fear. It’s inside-out again,
And we’re heading for oblivion
Just like the future memory, it seems.

The empty lens is hanging once again
To show us how
A resurrection can take place
When we have no reason to believe.
You told me once that my friend
Senor Garcia looks a mess; tormented

By the icy sight of 3C-236, his
Looming harmonies engulf this hive of stars
And we can drink once more
The lavish wine that skins the ocean wide.

It’s May the eighth today; I think
My life moves on in ways I cannot see
We stumble on through chapters of the book
Of shadows cast by Homer’s ecstasy.

Journal Entry, 29 Feb 2000: My watch – for the first time ever – shows the wrong date, having jumped onto 1 March. [Note: I had a cheap Casio watch and it had been automatically programmed with the correct number of days in each month. But the year 2000 should not have been a leap year]

Last night went to B’ham, did a bit in the library, decided to call into Missing and who should appear in front of me but Lee from Derby! He’s moved down here.
Then went to Fountain; empty, hardly surprising, and went down to Boots. Stayed the night. Bought b’day card for Dad, this fountain pen, and some muscle-building supplement.

Felt ever so rough this morning; five pints on a very full stomach. Went into Art Gallery whilst badly hungover and saw the Bridget Riley zzowzzowww!!! picture.

The wall of the reception area is a gallery of certificates and accreditations, all smartly framed and perfectly arrayed.
I am escorted through to the boardroom, where we drink coffee. My hosts converse with each other in German, but they explain their discussions to me in English. During dinner I spilt a tiny blob of spinach puree on my shirt and it left an intensely green spot, which I feel certain my colleagues find amusing.
We hold a technical meeting, during which I explain that we want to explore the joint ventures based on tower paint and core-plate varnish. They are also working on paint for light rail carriages, and one of the Austrian delegates asks me if I have done any work on anti-gravity paints.
For a brief moment I could see a host of paisley swirls dancing in the cold skies above Vienna, as this outlandish idea took hold of my tired brain.

‘Sorry…anti-gravity paint?’

‘Yes, you know’ he carried on eagerly, ‘Gravity…when young men have their names on trains with spray can paint!’
‘Oh, you mean graffiti!’ I said, relieved and disappointed.

My mind wandered back to Truro station, where I had been waiting in the rain with a copy of the album ‘Graffiti Bridge’, looking at the pearl-grey sky made up of tessellated seagulls and profiles of American presidents.  I don’t know whether any of the other people round the table that day had listened to that album at whose core lies the song ‘We Can Funk’, a tremendous throbbing monolith of sound-engineered drama.

Perhaps we should encourage youngsters to use their spray-cans to adorn all railway bridges and canal towpaths and rail wagons; the numerous layers of tight polymer will protect against the ingress of moisture and delay the onset of rust.

01 Sep 06: Went to cinema to see ‘Children of Men’, then to f’s restaurant where we drank a bottle of Montepulciano and had some lovely food.

Film v good but departed from book – great soundtrack, some really poignant bits. Fabulous advert for oven chips based on ‘Food, Glorious Food’

Trailers for the new 007 film, and ‘The Prestige’ about a real magician in a town of illusionists – rather like Paul Gallico?

3 Oct 06: New government scheme to help key workers (nurses, teachers etc) get on the housing ladder with a 25 percent subsidy. Their typical low-paid key worker has an income of 35000. How much?

9 Oct 06: Spend spend spend! Saturday bought shoes from Clarks and a one-piece waterproof from Hunts. Ridiculous cumbersome garment.
Went to Monton, Chinese and four bottles wine. Ouch!

Last night with Joyce, Nick and Alicia to Bamford Arms for dinner.
Yesterday B- cut and blonded my hair. Went into work and startled everybody.

We had an e-mail message from Mary Lopes about their red pigment – it had lumps in it when I tested it in paint. She says they have been selling it for years without any complaints, so I e-mailed Adrian et al, saying ‘In that case why is it necessary for me to carry out evaluation tests on a successful product?’

Soft Shadows

Journal Entry, 07 Jan 04: Today rang up Whitchem and Schülke and Mayr to ask about fungicides.
And it occurred to me that we don’t use biocides in our water-borne systems. The EPD resins – alkyd and epoxy – don’t have any Acticide in them; perhaps that’s why we’ve had rheology problems.

One of our products is quoted as being Def-Stan 80-7. But that spec has been obsoleted by Def-Stans 80-114 and 80-126. Both of these contain ZP, so the original formulation is no longer compliant.
SP-88 line products don’t contain any Acticide, perhaps the sodium nitrite kills any fungi? [Note: we actually had a 20-kg bag of sodium nitrate which had been ordered by mistake instead of nitrite, and the works foreman said ‘oh, it’s close enough, it will do’. Been using this stuff for years in small amounts]

Curious incident at work: Rob was talking about the problem of noise during the shear testing of tiles. He nodded faintly at me while describing the design of lap-joints, and said ‘…don’t know what your kinds of tests were…’
He’s never before mentioned my research background.

8 Jan 04: At work: reading ‘More Tales of the City’, wonderful. Still have no idea who brought them into the canteen.

One of today’s QC batches is number Y1359, and the product itself is called SF1359. How transcendentally spooky!
New lib books: Kate Back, Assertiveness at Work, Elizabeth Harris, The Twilight Child, Sarah Passingham, Organising Local Events.

At our last local quality review meeting, one of the issues raised was the customer complaint about Blackpool Tower. Andrew F told us all that ‘Oh, this problem has been resolved by changing the application method.’ But I had identified three flaws in the formulation and no amendment had ever been issued. And Aquaform should not have advised Fairport to use a red oxide topcoat over a red oxide primer.

14 Feb 04: Last night went to the Lowry to see ‘The Woman in Black’. Chilling, funny. Birthday card to Thomas W in Germany, letter to Michael G.

What is to happen at work next week? According to the official memo, we are taking over entire European production of Epoxylite. Rumour has it that this will be sited next to paint department.
Marco Pantani, bald maniac who won the 1998 TdF has died in Rimini.

Soft Shadows

This house feel empty; perhaps
I live here, like some long-forgotten ghost
Who watches happy family games collapse
As a mother deserts the son who needs her most.

This job seems pointless; I perform
A set of tasks which anyone could do
And I betrayer or betrayed when I conform
To laws that hide the Judas Priest from view?

This wine tastes hollow; did I enjoy
The abstract grapes in any higher sense
Or invite the toxic nebules to destroy
The fleeting stars that leave us more intense?

This dream is fading, light draws near
And like a memory the sky begins to arch
As vague as Leonardo’s smile, and as sincere
The God our murmured prayers can never reach. 

17 Feb 04: Last night went with B to look at a house. Very nice, apart from the damp, and the roof struts collapsing, and the tiny lounge.

They’re making tower paint but have switched Synolac 78W for Vil 242. Without amending the formulation – now takes a lot more solvent.

Today at work; really odd – my tank sample report was typed up and was left in my pigeonhole with a standard letter for me to sign. But it said ‘From Section Leader, EPD QC’ and I took it back saying that since I’m not EPD I can’t sign it.
All the other report letters have been signed in the past by A N Other, when all along It Shoulda Been Me!



Richmond Hill the Grey Pony

Disconcerting, when you find yourself reading a story set in a different country, but which includes a mention of a familiar town or district.
From the train I can see the fields, the golf course, and the new power station with its two immense silver towers, each bearing a collar of red lights. There is a vast car park filled with lorries and concrete blocks waiting to be assembled into storage units. A long parade of strip lights, each one at a diagonal, creates a pattern of harsh overlapping shadows on the wet floor. I have passed this building two hundred times, but never observed a single person on the site.

The power station is new; the structure – towers, chimneys, pathways, warehouse – is pristine, with no dents or scars or streaks of rust. It looks like an illustration, or a scale model rather than a real building.
On the train my fellow passengers are stroking their cellular telephones, checking message, playing online games, reading the news. I have a collection of short stories which I dip into; one of the tales, ‘What if you Slept’ is centred on a train journey which includes the Canadian town Richmond Hill.

We need the new power station because we are building thousands of new homes where people will make regular and frequent use of their electrical appliances – tumble driers, PlayStations, laptop computers, dishwashers, curling tongs. And we need to build dozens of new retail supermarkets which will stay open 24 hours with lights and freezers and air-conditioning units constantly running.

I had been looking for a new fitness centre and had seen a listing for a gym in a district of Leeds called Richmond Hill. On a quiet Sunday morning, bright and cold, I set out on my bike and soon found myself among shabby houses with dirty windows and neglected gardens.
Suddenly a pony darted out from a side street and ran in front of me. As I pulled the bike to a halt and parked up, a middle-aged man ran after the pony and grabbed its harness. A few days earlier I had (reluctantly) spent a couple of hundred pounds on new brake pads and tyres, and I immediately felt happy that this was money well spent.

Around the power station we can see a small forest of pylons; there must be thirty or forty of them, squat creatures harnessed together like skeletons of the future. I wonder why they are all huddled here. Perhaps they are being fattened up before being herded away, under cover of darkness, to remote fields in Lancashire.

I recall several years ago attending a technical meeting in Vienna where we discussed the use of coatings on pylons to stop the formation of rust.
And do you paint the pylons a few years after they have been erected, I asked.
‘No’, he said; ‘we usually apply the paint in a factory, then transport the members into the field and assemble the pylons there.’ I relayed this information to my boss, who snorted with disdain. ‘No, they can’t possibly do that, you must have misheard them!’

In Richmond Hill there is a party taking place; the neighbours dare not complain, the thumping music goes on and the yelling and banging. One lady had a few to drink and proceeded to share her most intimate cuddles with a couple of blokes; her husband went looking for her, and when he discovered the three of them together in the back garden he started screaming.

Looking round, he spotted a tin of paint and decided to pour it on her; but the material had turned to jelly and instead of launching a graceful perfumed arc, it flopped out, a grey viscous mass. She tried to get up, but the fumes of MIBK and xylene scoured her eyes and throat, and in a few minutes she was unconscious.
The husband turned to run, but he tripped on a step in the dark and fell, fracturing his skull. The medics estimated that he would have been dead within three or four minutes. A few streaks of grey unsaturated polyester clung to his arm like exposed metal veins.

I’m on the train, looking at the dozens of pylons huddled together; the carriage windows have curious ripples in the glass, and the trees and rivers and power lines appear to undulate as we drift past.

The train companies are keen to increase their profits in order to deliver ever greater returns to their shareholders. However, the carriages cannot be widened to accommodate more passengers, since the tracks have a fixed gauge width. So the carriages would need to be made longer; but this would increase the weight load and put greater strain on the couplings and force the engine to operate closer to its limit. And some of the station platforms are not long enough to take the new trains, so the doors on the end carriages cannot be opened.

The train is crowded, and I ask a woman to move her handbag so that I can sit down. She looks angry, resentful, murderous at this insult. Perhaps she wants to sit in comfort, occupying a double seat, using her smartphone to watch the opening of Repo Girl which is oh my god it’s just so not a sequel but they’re all gathered for the reading of the will and it’s in the lobby of the Lady Lever Museum and oh-my-god that is the it’s actually the statue of Salammbo she’s so hot with those snakes and that Freudian lust.
The woman is wearing shiny grey polyester with a discreet chessboard pattern.  ‘I bet she’s mated with a few knights and bishops after dropping that blouse on a stranger’s floor’ I want to say, but can’t be bothered.

This morning is crisp and cold; the steam rises from the power station in two massive columns, solid white writhing limbs made from some kind of diseased fungoid plastic. Ain’t no power station left in Richmond Hill, all closed down when the roses died, faded to grey do what you have to do, take what you can, we’re not just dislocated , we’re big in Japan…

Consider the standard regulation works canteen; a bare fluorescent strip-light hums above the tired walls of eau-de-nil. A vending machine for drinks that look like coffee but taste of plastic. Four rectangular Formica tables and thirteen scruffy polypropylene chairs. A notice-board with a list of holiday dates and some advice about safety shoes and a yellowing news cutting. Some battered playing cards. They might be the ones with grisly pornographic images – you never know.

I’m sitting there with a few colleagues, eating lunch and chatting about nothing in particular.
One of the senior blokes from the workshop comes in to get a drink and strikes up a conversation with one of the others but makes it clear that he is addressing the entire room so we fall silent and try not to pay too much attention. ‘Do you remember that chap who came here a few years back? What was his name – yeah, that’s the one. Well, I mean you can’t put up with that, it’s just not right. They made his life a misery when we found out he was queer – tools got damaged, payslips ended up in the bin. I mean, you can’t afford to have them at work, can you? It’s not right.’

Journal Entry, 26 Sep 2013: Then Kevin came in and harangued me with a load of bizarre theories about HIV, and later on kept bringing the subject round to gay nightclubs and work colleagues.
And when I was in the canteen, people said things about so-and-so being barred from the room. John remarked that he didn’t mind, and someone made a comment about “being that way inclined”. As John was leaving he said to me “You’ve been very quiet today, tomorrow you’ll have to explain why”.