Perspex Zombie G2.X

Sat 14 Aug 2010:
Jean and Terry are hopefully enjoying Status Quo, Rick Wakeman and Fairport Convention at this year’s Cropredy Folk Festival.

On Thursday, Moira asked me and Danny to help her move some furniture in one of the offices. It turned out that this display cabinet -gorgeous mahogany – was due to be thrown in the skip, so Lynda snaffled it for the department office.
As I was carefully trudging down the corridor, holding one of the heavy glass doors, I remembered the bit on Carol Shields’ book’ Unless’, where she says happiness is like a pane of glass you carry round; one day it gets broken, and you can’t ever repair it.

Now I’m listening to ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ (piano suite transcribed for organ) which goes well with my CD of ‘Ad Nos…’ (organ pieces by Liszt transcribed for piano) but it’s a shame the organist appears in shirt sleeves on the cover; he should have worn 1850s Russian costume.

Perhaps I should create a fictitious history of the two pictures Brett has installed in my flat:
One is a print on faintly textured paper showing four figures (just vertical blobs) against an horizon, yellow earth, eau-de-nil grey sky.
Two is a real painting, abstract, perhaps architectural, red and yellow buildings, a scrubby ochre granite background.

As well as my Mussorgsky organ CD, I bought Paula Cole and Bach from the BHF charity shop. Brett put blue highlights in my hair after cutting it this morning.
Apparently, yesterday’s edition of ‘The Weakest Link’ featured a bevy of drag queens, of whom one looked exactly like me and was called Timbolina.

What were the items I gave away/threw away/left behind when I moved out of my rented flat in Stretford in January this year? Dressing gowns, Yes Minister, Memoirs of Montgomery, Dorian Gray, Iron, clothes rail, coffee-table book of Vienna from Rembrandtin, dozens of BSH and Fighting Arts magazines, management coursework notes, de luxe bike shampoo, dozens of compact cassettes and piles of notes about career development issues.

Perspex Zombie

A dry and poignant blues begins
To smoke a borrowed joint, and then
It tells you all about the nightmare
Into which you will tonight descend

The grand expensive shadow of a car
Sails down your B-flat minor avenue
As a lonely widow wishes on a star
Whose light conceals the superstrings from view

What could be more vivid; how extreme
Does the song of your desire need
To become before I now myself betray?
What sort of cloud indeed will set me free?


In an attempt to lose a bit of weight I have decided to start using the stairs instead of the lift. My office is up on the seventh floor; the first two flights of stairs are easy, but the next two require more effort. By the time I reach seven, my legs ache and I am completely out of breath. I pause for a few minutes to recover, so that my colleagues do not become alarmed at the sight of me wearily panting.

No-one seems to use the stairs, even for short journeys; the carpet is immaculate, and the silence is crushing. There are no pictures on the walls to admire. I remember once working at a place in Stockport where we had a huge, abstract watercolour painting (which I disliked intensely) on the stairs. No attempt had been made to create any visual context or depth or structure in this splash of random, feeble colours.

It helps if I listen to music on the journey up to floor seven; my MP3 player has an assortment of music and speech tracks to entertain me. This morning I listened to ‘Nouvelette’ by Lutoslawski. The jagged chords that open the first movement make me think of a murder scene in an old-fashioned play; The Duchess of Malfi, perhaps, or The Tragedy of Edward the Second.

The only time we all use the stairs is when there is a fire alarm, and we are not allowed to travel in the lifts. Just two months ago the alarm went off, and we thought it was a test; but no, after the warning sirens continued for over a minute, the tannoy system announced that we should all evacuate the building and assemble in the car park until the fire wardens had inspected the building.

One day I started counting the steps – one, two, three- but I grew bored with this and instead started counting backwards, or using the integers of pi as far as I could remember them. Perhaps we should have a series of framed prints at the end of each flight, like the stations of the cross, a propaganda narrative. Or one of Allington’s drawings, dissected into a series of overlapping elements each depicted separately. Or a series of LP covers running from 1972 to 1988.

I reach the top of the stairs and wait for the dizziness to pass. The walls in their uniform anonymous beige wash seem to crawl with patches of darkness like an evolving sense of texture. In a few minutes I shall be seated at my desk wearing a stereo headset through which I chat to my customers. They tell me about their home-schooled brats, teenage tearaways with names like Cadenza and Perseus.


Hair Metal Voice

It’s cold and dark on the station platform; there is a small shelter but no café, no toilets, no telephone. The dozen or so commuters stand silent, waiting to go home. A disembodied voice (female, neutral, faintly flat vowels) says ‘We are sorry that the – nineteen forty-six – to Preston is delayed by approximately – seven – minutes – Northern Rail apologise for the delay and any inconvenience caused.’
The woman’s voice is a digital recording, and the phrases have been skilfully knitted together, giving the impression that a caring, informed individual is keeping an eye out for the expectant passengers.

I wonder who she is, this woman who tells us over and over again that she is sorry for the delay and any inconvenience caused. Hyacinth, perhaps, or Dierdre. Or Pauline; yes, she does sound a bit like a Pauline.
Because it is a digital recording, the message will repeat unchanged forever without becoming distorted or degraded. If it had been an old-fashioned tape, a slender ribbon of rusty polyester, it would have gradually been stretched, the announcements taking on a languid air, the mysterious Pauline gradually changing into Paul, the gradual onset of wow and flutter making her sound like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Donald Sinden.

The woman who originally recorded these voice segments was a trained speech therapist called Vanessa Minton; she had been the Head of Art at a well-known school in the North-East for several years until a reported found out that her ‘Lozenge Tapestry’ contained a dark secret. The tapestry depicted the Periodic Table, but with the names of the elements replaced by an assortment of famous murderers, and the local press mocked her for being trite and provocative. The opening night at the gallery was a suitably dramatic occasion, with civil rights campaigners urging people to boycott the exhibition.

Vanessa was chatting to a couple of students – Swedish performance artists – who wanted her to endorse their arts council grant application for a conceptual work in which railway station announcements would include recital of scientific principles in between the actual train times and delays – and one of them asked her how she had decided which particular criminals to include in her artwork.
She peered for a moment at the red wine (her fourth glass, now almost empty) and said ‘Well, we had to find some that were household names but some who were now obscure…give it some historical perspective, that killers have always been part of the fabric (an elegant gesture invited them once more to admire her handiwork) of human society.’

‘But did you exclude certain characters because they are still alive? Or because the families of their victims might be upset?’

‘No, no’ (she noticed that the wine bottles were now almost all finished and started to experience a delicious flurry of panic) ‘They have all protested about my work, and I have assured them that it is a commentary on society at large. Do they want the press to stop reporting murders, eh?’

The young man behind her drifted over to the tables and returned with a full glass. ‘I hope you don’t mind, but you looked as if you needed a top-up.’ Her eyes lit up; ‘Most kind!’ as he walked away with her empty glass. The two students had now begun talking to someone else, so she wandered around nodding to acquaintances and ex-colleagues.
A few minutes later she noticed the young man – her impromptu wine-waiter – looking steadily at her display piece.

‘A lot of hard work.’
‘Yes.’ She glanced at her watch, ready to escape this dull creature. ‘I have a team of five assistants who provide ideas and energy. And slave labour.’ They both grinned.

‘There’s a couple of character who you would expect to find in a piece like this, but I can’t see them. I could understand not including Myra Hindley, because the families – ‘
‘Oh, but she’s there’ said Vanessa quietly. He turned back to inspect the tapestry, frowning. ‘One of the prison guard managed to get me some of her hair, so I used it to embroider the letter ‘M’ over there’ – and she pointed to a cell near the centre of the piece.
This discovery left him faintly stunned, and a few days later he rang the local paper to tell them about the latest art display, even offering to get a photo of a school party looking at the work in question.

It’s cold and dark on the station platform, and Pauline has told us eight times in the last ten minutes that that the 19:46 to Preston is delayed and that she is extremely sorry for any inconvenience caused and that we should listen for further announcements.
From the station I can see a tall hotel, expensive windows overlooking the city. Perhaps if I come here every night for the next twenty years, I will see a range of patterns made up from the rooms where the lights are on; one arrangement of lights may resemble a question mark, or a letter M, or even an upturned version of the periodic table.


Scaffold of Bigotry


First time we kissed I heard
The soft blue chord of peppermint
Along with overtones of mercury, and
Then you told me how your fist
Was the gateway to delights unknown.
You’re waving at me from the photograph,
A permanent rebuke; why did I leave you
To spend three nights alone?
Next time we met
I felt a squeal of amber-coloured pain
Across my legs and through
The great meridian, as though
A weight had been removed.
Last time we met, the radio
In the station bar played ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’
As if to say come on, it’s time to go. And I
Remembered how you said ‘Just
Focus on the unreal gift of seeing
A city in the fog’.

Journal Entry, 14 Feb 97: Went to T’ai Chi on Weds night – very crowded. Lots of newcomers. Steve explained how all weight is on one foot so that the other can move rapidly without having to rest.
Was thinking about meridians – running through the body from L foot to R hand etc – is this why we lift one foot in karate when performing shuto uke with that hand?
Opening moves of kushanku or naifanchi – is this generation of chi kung?
Training session in Ripley on Sunday?

Finished reading ‘Oscar and Lucinda’ and have started ‘Satanic Verses’. Eight years ago today the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie.
At work have found articles in JCT about hydrolysis of alkyds, popping and shear disruption of micelles, all of which might contribute to low-gloss films.

Apparently, Michael Jackson – the luminous-skinned sibling with a penchant for young men – has become a father. “Do you want me to wrap it or will you eat it now?”

16 Feb 97: Today went to Nott’m for bike lesson. Heavy wind, light rain, I wore my Bering waterproofs and they got soaked but I stayed dry.
During our emergency stops one of the students slammed on the brakes and dropped bike on his knee. Ambulance.
The sky was full of birds moving randomly around in the breeze; ran out of petrol on dual carriageway, went onto reserve, rode around and was rescued by Pete.

17 Dec 05: No, I was not draped in a furious array of bling as I travelled up to Blackpool for the MAG Xmas party. Originally I rang the Anchorage Hotel and booked a room; the manager asked me to call him if I changed my mind about going ‘so that I can re-let the room’.

It turned out that there were only about three guests in the entire place.

Train from Stockport to Blackpool, taxi to Hotel, taxi to Cricket Club. Didn’t have chance to eat en route, so I ended up having two bags of peanuts. The band was called ‘Beyond Monsoon’ which makes them sound as though they should wear kaftans and play sitar.
Rick H turned up from NABD.
After the raffle I made my excuses and fled. Taxi to hotel, went to Chinese restaurant and had duck and noodles.

Woke up with hangover; had been told that breakfast was served from nine until ten a.m.
I hung around the deserted dining room until 10.15, nobody appeared so I just left my key in the bedroom and left. Walked to town; the outer bits of Blackpool are really neglected and dirty, utterly depressing. An expensive, frustrating weekend.

6 Apr 06: This morning B- and I were woken by the flat buzzer. It was a scaffolding firm asking if we owned the yellow pick-up truck. After moving it, B- was bombarded with homophobic remarks.
At work, no news about impending redundancies. Went to dentist, had 2 x-rays.
Listening to ‘Larks Tongues in Aspic’ for the first tie in ages. Started reading ‘Undercurrents’ by Frances Fyfield.

David Tench came into my lab yesterday and seemed very surprised to see me, while Paul B gave me a huge list of forthcoming work, possibly in a vain attempt to reassure me.

10 Apr 06: Today went to work to see what was happening on the redundancy front. Last week we had been told that Alan D was going to announce his decision on the 7th. No decision yet made, he’s away on hol and Steve S at Woolwich.

Anyway, about 4.00 Darrell was called over for a meeting with Mike Woodrow.
Then we all assembled in our office at 4.30 and Mike W told us that Darrell had been disposed of and that was it. No more redundancies.
But we were all expecting two departures, and Karen was under the impression that she was for the chop. And no-one can give her firm confirmation before Thursday.

11 Apr 06: So, today we had a meeting with Steve where he went on and on about how the R and D department was losing a number of staff because they hadn’t managed to develop seven new products.
But Darrell – redundant – was part of Tech Service, not R and D. We were all baffled.

Then it turned out that Karen W may or may not have been asked to leave, but we weren’t sure if she was leaving. Today I saw Darrell looking through his redundancy papers – eight pages of stuff with a huge list of numbered items.



Bike Test Blues

Journal Entries, Sun 1 Jun 97: Yesterday had refund from Eagle Star Insurance. Paid into my savings account and arranged for my TESSA to be topped up by 50 a month.
Bought ‘Propagation’ and ‘Songs For Swingin’ Lovers’.

Lady K rang: apparently all his neighbours have decided to have a barbecue in his back garden as a chance to get to know one another.
They turned up on his doorstep and announced this. They also want to have copies of his house keys ‘in case anything happens’. Dread to think what Eagle Star would make of that!

Last night to Fred’s, Vine, and Curzon’s. Woke up with splitting headache, weird dreams about a garden full of blue gravel, escaped onto a wet beach.
Today caught bus down to Raynesway to check out where bike lessons tomorrow. Goods Vehicle Test Centre, next door to Rolls Royce Associates, huge place swathed in razor-wire fences.

Thur 5 Jun 97: listening to Frankie singing ‘You Make Me Feel…’

Have had four exhilarating days tazzing round Derby and Nott’m and bits of Leicestershire on a Kwak GPZ500.
Monday: turned up at test centre about 10 past 8. Eventually Mark (assistant instructor) turned up and explained that Rob had been injured the previous day. I went out on an old CG125, did some theory work about how to signal at junctions etc.
Tuesday: rode round playground on a big red Kawa 500, tried to come to a sudden stop and landed the thing on its side.
Weds: did ring road, slip roads, dual carriageways, freshly concrete-chipped roads. Got told off for not getting up to speed and not exploiting lane choices correctly. Went back to Mark’s place for coffee to meet his missus and Nomad, the sweetest baby dog.
Thurs: rode a Honda CB500 instead of the Kwak. Much better – superb mirrors, nicer gearbox. Did some U-turns and emergency stops. Dropped the bike.
Tomorrow: test at 2:45, get to centre for 12:30, remember licence and passport (and cancel signals). Patrick’s Wedding Reception. Sod the test, the learning has been fun.

Sun 8 Jun 97: Friday afternoon got to centre, Mark and Paul (other learner) arrived 1:00 exactly.
Went out on CB, not very good control. Car reversing towards me but with no white lights showing.
Turning round in the road – walking and riding. Tried turning on a hill and dropped the bike. Got v flustered, humid hot day.
Went to café near test centre and only then did I remember I’d left my passport and licence at the training hut. Mark raced off to get them, returned, we were about 5 mins late starting test. Almost failed the eyesight test, mistakenly reading a ‘W’ as an ‘M’.
Wobbled round roads, did emergency stop, turned bike round on foot, was about to do a U-turn when the examiner noticed that my tax disc had expired and decided to terminate the test.

Came back, shrugged off leathers, donned suit and minced off to B’ham for Patsy’s Wedding Reception. Hotel was a dump – battered furniture, peeling wallpaper, showers not working, no late drinks until non-residents gone. Riaz blew his top and the manager gave us a £15 discount. Morning after – breakfast served by Mrs Overall (two sweet white-haired grannies called Phyllis and Violet). Then the next day we went to Riaz’ place and met Les, Les M, Alison and Hayley.

9 Jun 97: Today at work told everyone about Friday’s disaster. Stu managed to hold back for a couple of hours but eventually said ‘So, it was a waste of time you taking the week off’.
Tried making blue paint using computer-predicted formulation. Hopeless!

Signed up for a three-year saving scheme with Yorkshire Building Society, put away thirty a month and get the option to buy McLeod Russell shares at today’s price, which may be above or below the price in July 2000.
[Note: share price £1.30 when I joined, 42 pence five years later]

Rang PT with the news about the bike test fiasco; apparently Carrs – sorry, DuPont industries – is worse than ever, with bad atmosphere, production down, tedious administration.

Sat 28 Oct 95: Last week went to see ‘Species’ and ‘Apollo 13’ at the flix.

Weds night went to see Simon Rattle conduct Beethoven 8 and 9 at Symphony Hall – magnifico! [Note: back in 1982 my introduction to classical music began when I recorded three pieces from Rad 3 onto an orange BASF C90 compact cassette – DSCH five, Beethoven eight and Sibelius seven]

Manda and Betty came to Route 66 on Weds night to meet me and Andy and Lady K and Peter – turns out Peter and Betty know each other, but don’t know how?
Been invited to Biker Party on Dec 16.

Work is mad – hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of stock been destroyed. [Note: twice a year we carried out stocktaking, putting dated stickers on dozens of five-litre tins of high-grade pearlescent mica metallic scarlet paint. Nobody had agreed to purchase this stuff so it just sat there under the dank arches for five years before being loaded onto pallets and dumped]

Got an interview next Thurs – Houghton Vaughan lubricants.
Last night to Antelope for Bears’ Night with Lady K – all the usual punters there.

24 Feb 95: Well, it’s all been happening at work this week: Keith from QC lab was suspended for allegedly forging acceptance notes for batches of material.
Lee was sacked for stealing clearcoat from the works.
The gatehouse man (security guard) was also sacked for letting him into the building and out again with the material.

Bob handed his notice in, panic stations in the lab.

I mentioned to Stuart that I had arranged a job interview elsewhere and he gave me a stiff talking-to in the main office. I explained that I hadn’t been given any technical guidance and I felt that I wasn’t really using my knowledge to its full potential.
He replied that they had big plans for me and wanted to provide me with tech data and eventually promote me to Chief Chemist. He also remarked; “There’s no point in you looking for work anywhere else, because people are the same everywhere and you’ll have the same problems.”
What problems, I wondered.

Remedial Hypercosmology

Job Hunting Memoirs – Part III 

I was delighted to hear about a forthcoming jobs fair in Manchester, and asked my Work Coach for advice on how to approach the event.
 She told me that there was a training forum arranged for a week before the jobs fair; if I was lucky she might be able to squeeze me in as a late entrant for this session. I assured her that I would really appreciate the chance to attend the two events, and I travelled home in a buoyant frame of mind, eager to take up this exciting opportunity.

Journal Entry, 14 Sep 2016: On 1 Sep I went to Trafford Town Hall for a training session run by Alan Bennett from the National Careers Service -this was to provide us with guidance for a forthcoming Jobs Fair at the Hotel Football.
So I went along (there were only three of us there, not the expected fifteen) and was told all about how to write a CV and when to look for jobs. We were also asked to specify the 1-hour appointment slot during which we were planning to attend the fair.
And they said, ‘Take copies of your CV, and make sure you wear a suit and tie.’

So Paul and I had a frantic tidying-up session, borrowing an iron from the next-door neighbour so that I would look crisp and professional.
When we got there, it was the usual mediocre collection of trade stands for the NHS, Army, Trafford Centre, Fire Brigade, and various social care work volunteer agencies. Most of the attendees wre casually (if not scruffily) dressed.

Anyway, yesterday went up to Middleton using my free bus pass – and forgot to take my wallet so I couldn’t even treat myself to a coffee. Then on the way home we had the mother of all thunderstorms, and the bus journey took 90 minutes instead of the usual 50.

29 Jul 2016: Yesterday went along to St James House in Salford for an assessment with the Big Life Workskills Agency. They’re part of the Manchester Growth Company and the UK Government Skills Funding Agency and the EU European Social Fund.
I went to a few sessions over the following three months and was given basic instructions and online tests covering the use of English and Maths.

22 Sep 2016: On Tuesday night had a text from Danny at The Big Life, saying that he wasn’t going to be available for my scheduled meeting on Weds. So yesterday morning I set off for the ‘Tech-and-Tea’ session in Prestwich (I had earlier told them that I couldn’t attend this because of my prior commitment to the Big Life meeting).

The journey was fraught, missed buses and wrong stops and the Prestwich care home wasn’t easily accessible. So I was in a bad mood.
But then I found a voicemail message from Antz Junction telling me that I was being offered a place on the training course at the Marriott Hotel, so I e-mailed Rob and Jim to let them know that I was not going to be able to help with the OCCA events.

I had told the Big Life people that I had landed a job and no longer needed to attend their remedial maths and English lessons; so they posted my certificates of achievement to me – a City and Guilds Certificate in Employability Skills.

Toy Run 1997

In 1997 I took my motorbike test on a cold December day. The ‘L’ plate on my front fork was cracked due to the constant flexing as I rode along; possibly this showed that I had actually spent enough time on the road, and gained sufficient experience, to pass my test. The first thing I did the next day was to remove my ‘L’ plates and take part in the Nottingham Toy Run.

Heather looked up from her skinny latte;
‘Good grief’ she said, ‘They make a lot of noise.’
Four hundred motorbikes roared past, in fancy dress
Or tinselled up, all going to deliver toys 

Past cheering crowds, along deserted roads
To the Lord Mayor’s Christmas Charity appeal
Each gift a message to convince a lonely child
For just one day that Santa Claus is real

Forty Thousand Text Messages

 ‘Well, you know what they say; no smoke without fire’. She would trot this phrase out at regular intervals, glancing smugly round the canteen table, daring anybody to challenge her. And I would cite the case of Christopher Jeffries, who was wrongly accused of killing Joanna Yeates.

A recent news story concerned a young man who had been accused of rape. The girl in question was demure, respectable and deeply traumatised by her sexual encounter with this lad. He was kept on bail for two years and eventually summoned to appear in court.
At which point, the girl’s mobile phone records – which should have been disclosed two years earlier – were passed to the defence team, who found an immense catalogue of text messages sent to her alleged rapist. The messages (sent after the date of the assault) invited him to enjoy her company again and again, taking her roughly from behind in a variety of locations including public parks-graveyards-libraries-hospital toilets, and the locker room at her local sports club where he would merely be the warm-up act before a main performance by a gang of lust-crazed sophisticates…
According to the news reports, her phone contained forty thousand text messages – this is longer than some popular novels – and we have to wonder if a career as an author (perhaps the agony aunt for Back Street Heroes) beckons…

Journal Entry, 14 Jul ’09: L’day de Bastille! Didn’t I attend a job interview at Crown Paints on this day in 1990?
Sent a finely-crafted letter and CV, gorgeously printed on shiny magazine paper, to Prisma Colours, addressed to Tim Johnson. After all, they are about to advertise for a dispersions manager.

Rang CPP to cancel my identity theft cover.

Listening to my secondhand compact cassette tape of Jon and Vangelis ‘Short Stories’ which I bought four years ago from a charity shop in Stockport. It’s almost like a song cycle by Schubert or Berlioz. [Note from 2017: ‘Yes’ are on tour next year to celebrate fifty years in music, but they are not taking Jon Anderson with them]
Today at work the police and dogs came to look at the factory – Dave E reckons there was somebody on the site when he went to look round.

15 Jul ’09: Sent a letter and CV to Keith Middleton at Eastman Chemicals, asking if they had any customers in the West Midlands who might be using PP primers as part of the AWM Thermoplastics Composites project.
And if so, would he forward my details onto them?

Coming down from the stars with a flask
Of zeta-point calibrated sand; or are you
Coming to terms with the system of seven? We
Decided that every product would be made up by blending
Just seven ingredients. An expert chemist
Descending the stairs armed with a laboratory book
About to cook the dish that drives the tyrant mad
gain. Notes fall in a chain of silver

Draped around a theme, auxiliary thoughts
Condensed like beads of wax around the face
Of the main idea. Notes composed twenty years ago still
Fascinate the casual observer; why did
He put this aspect here, and why does it make
All things perform with unexpected zeal?

The dispersing agent forms a lattice of cold light
Around the bouncing comets and drifting slates
And knuckles bright of quartz in the polyester slime
That will protect your organ pipes
From rusting in the seven years ahead. 

Commentary A: When the hotel bar reopened, they had replaced their collection of pictures with variations on a theme. Instead of the sepia pictures of half-undressed women, we now had a set of paintings and photographs, all based on Sims’ picture “What are these to me and you who deeply drink of wine”.
Most of the pictures were straightforward copies, where groups of students had dressed themselves exactly as the original characters, adopting the same staged positions, although one of them took the original image and replaced the background with Wall Street-type skyscrapers.