Journal Entry, 17 Jan 2018:
Risham Syed exhibition at M’cr Art Gallery. A series of miniature postcard-sized paintings, simple architectural forms, semi abstract with high-contrast, almost like photographs. One of the small pictures had been hung in such a way that it cast a shadow which lined up perfectly with the edge of a building on the neighbouring picture.
For the ‘Tent of Darius’ Syed has placed five old army greatcoats on hooks below an acrylic copy of an old painting- tension between East and West.
Clive popped his head round the door of the science lab. ‘Erm, any chance I can borrow a bit of cleaning fluid?’
Angus looked up from the bench where he was arranging a microscope. ‘No chance. We can’t let anything out of here…what do you want it for, anyway?’
‘Jenny has a coat back from the dark heart’. He paused. ‘We think it’s some kind of mud from the forest floor, we’ve used hot wash and disinfectant, but this stain just won’t shift.’
‘Bring it in. I’ll see if we have anything that can help. But keep it quiet.’
A week later, Angus dropped a plastic holdall in front of Clive’s chair in the staff room.
‘Oh, you’ve done it? Great!’
The other chap shook his head and explained that the most aggressive cocktail of organic fluids had made almost no difference to the sticky patch. ‘God knows what it’s made of, but I don’t want to get any of it on me!’
Meanwhile, in the jungle, a team of Chinese researchers was collecting samples of mud and subjecting them to solvents, ultrasound and centrifuge extraction. They managed to identify a curious morphology made up of undigested strands of cellulose, which seemed to give rise to the extreme durability of the sludge.
A review magazine, printed in Antwerp three weeks later, carried an article by one of these Chinese explorers in which he explained that they were following the trail of the Lost Buddha. Some people thought the Lost Buddha was a metaphor, a warning against human vanity and greed. Other scholars believed that it was an impossibly beautiful sculpture.
The Silent Bowl
When struck, the jade bowl
Does not ring
It casts no shadow;
Too heavy for a man to move, it stands
But then when filled with wine
A slender maid can lift it with a smile.
Before embarking on the journey
Drink carefully from the jade bowl
And know that you
Walk beneath the thousand eyes of
All the brave ancestors.
Engraved around the edges of the bowl
The blossoms fall with Oriental grace;
They have their own idea of gravity…
The Chinese researchers were not looking for an abandoned statue of the Buddha after all; they had identified a crop of rare-earth ore deposits which they were using to develop new semiconductors. The statue had indeed been hidden once and covered with mud to prevent it being recognised and stolen. However, one of them noticed that the process of removing the mud took much longer than expected (at one point they feared that they had offended the Spirits by this degrading concealment) and he suggested that it might be a good material to use in preparing waterproof canvas for army use.
After years of testing, they realised that the mud contained extremely small particles of rare-earth minerals which had travelled through the apes’ digestive tract and emerged as a complex structure, with cellulose spines and ribbons of protein wrapped around them. And the synthetic version of this composite material allowed a new class of adhesives to be developed, which could provide strong bonds to the most reluctant of smooth plastic surfaces.
Journal Entry, 15 Sep 97:
Friday nite rode up to Stockport, found New Inn pub, had quick drink, asked about B and B and was given number of rather flash Hotel-Restaurant.
Really should have booked somewhere in advance.
Hotel about 2 miles from pub, pouring with rain, booked in, watched TV, had lager.
Set off to find Lytham. Still falls the rain, force 5 gales everywhere, got to Andy’s met Pat and Phil.
Sat night watched Last Night of Proms thru Andy’s new surround-sound speakers, then went out to Flamingo’s. Andy was being eyed up by some chap when they played ABBA so he had to join me on the dancefloor. Lots of clones and weirdos.
Sunday had scrumptious fry-up as Andy practicing for when he and LK start running a hotel together.
Walked to Lytham, bought glue, repaired toilet lid and hired some video films – Mars Attacks! And First Wives Club.
Today rode back – got lost about five times near Manchester, stopped near Buxton (huge meal in Devonshire Arms). Note: I was riding a 125-cc Honda with L-Plates, so I was not allowed to use motorways, but everything around M’cr tends to be diverted to the M60.
This is where it all began, a few years ago. I had asked for help to travel to an interview; the jobcentre staff were mildly curious (‘are you sure this is a real job interview?’) but eventually they agreed to supply me with a rail voucher from Tamworth to Trafford Park.
The journey involved changing at Crewe and then at Manchester and then at Deansgate, where I spent three-quarters of an hour waiting for another train to take me just one stop down the line to Trafford Park.
I had expected Trafford Park to be a large station with a gleaming concourse, banks of payphones, a smart café and a branch of Tie Rack or WH Smiths. Instead, I discovered it to be a run-down place with two bleak platforms. Next door to the station was a small taxi office. I entered the waiting room and asked if they could take me to Topaz Technology.
‘Dunno, mate’ said the bloke behind the wire grille, ‘Any idea where it is?’
There followed a series of hasty discussions – I think I even gave them the number of the company so that they could get some idea of the location – and eventually I found myself at the factory gates. The interview seemed to go well, until the boss said ‘Of course, it’s vitally important that the person who takes on this role is fully up to speed with computer technology. Everything we do uses computers. Have you made much use of computers I your previous job?’
I admitted that I had not used IT much in earlier jobs. ‘But I am currently working towards my ECDL’ I added brightly.
‘ECDL?’ He looked puzzled; ‘What’s that, then?’
I explained that the European Computer Driving Licence was a new, high-tech qualification being rolled out across the UK (we later discovered it was part of a mammoth fraud known as the Individual Learning Account scheme) and which was being advertised on TV as the only certificate you would ever need. Completely dishonest and misleading., but a good way to shovel millions of taxpayers’ money into the pockets of smartly-dressed consultants.
We chatted further; he said they would be in touch, and I was left feeling that the day had been a waste of time.
If I had been given more time to plan my route, I could have arranged to get a cab from Manchester itself instead of travelling to Deansgate and Trafford Park stations, which might have cost two pounds more but saved me an hour-and-a-half.
Then, a few weeks later, I had a frantic phone call from the recruitment agency saying that the firm wanted to interview me again. Now. Immediately.
I was baffled. ‘But I won’t have time to get to the station’ I said, ‘The only way I can get there is on my motorbike.’
So I jumped on my trusty Honda 500 and roared away to Manchester. The agency had given me a hand-drawn map of the factory location, which had been faxed to them a few days earlier. In Manchester I pulled in at a service station and asked the cashier how to find my way to Trafford Park. I produced the map I had been given; he peered at it, shook his head, and said that he didn’t recognise the district or the road layout. The map included the M63 motorway, which had been renamed five years previously as the M60.
Another hour of my life wasted as part of a journey to this firm. I was in a very bad mood (and 30 minutes late) when I eventually arrived, and I breezed into reception holding my crash-helmet as thought it was a bomb ready to be hurled into the office.
The boss was being very cautious; ‘We are quite keen to bring you on board, but there are a few workers here who feel that they deserve to be offered the post instead of it going to an external candidate…’
‘Of course’ I said cheerily, ‘It makes perfect sense to promote internally. You have a clear grasp of the individual worker and their skills and aptitudes. And they are already familiar with the product range and the manufacturing procedures. If you were to offer me the job, you run the risk of gaining access to new ideas and experience from a different industrial or academic background. I might look at your existing process methods with a new pair of eyes. Yes, it could be a big mistake to recruit someone from outside when your company already has so much expertise.’
‘We’ll be in touch sometime soon…I think’ he said as I left the building.
A few days later the postman brought a narrow DL envelope containing my contract of employment (2 copies, 3 pages each) asking me to sign and return, with a proposed start date two weeks’ hence. It also specified that I should arrange to undergo a medical examination before starting work. My local GP had a waiting list of five weeks for routine works medicals; I rang the firm and told them this, and they reluctantly agreed that I could arrange to see a doctor shortly after beginning my new job.