Always nice to get a positive review for one of my books and even better when it comes from another 'ex-pat' Burtonian! Carol post...
Wednesday, 15 March 2017
It was our 27th Wedding Anniversary the other week! Hmm? No, I quite agree, you don't get that for murder these days and no, I haven't heard that one before. What did we do? Well, I guess what any long-time married couple does. We spent a considerable amount of the day staring down a manhole in our garden. Well, actually, staring was the easy bit. Thrusting a high pressure hose down there, with all of the attendant blow-back, was slightly more problematic. You see, my good lady wife had convinced herself that there was something seriously wrong with our drainage and, as it turned out, she was absolutely right. That which should have been flowing away, was, instead, hanging around, which I'm sure you'll agree, no-one wants.
Regrettably, repeated thrusts with the high-pressure hose had no effect, other than to stir up the evil brew and we began to contemplate writing the day off whilst we waited for an expensive specialist to come and sort it out for us. Just then, we noticed that our next-door neighbour was working in his garden and we asked him to check his manhole to see if all was well there, which unfortunately, it was. However, he is one of these handy chaps with all of the necessary gear and he asked if we would like him to pop over and give it a go with his set of rods, to which we readily agreed.
A number of rods later, it became depressingly apparent to him that any blockage was not, in fact, in our garden, but in his! Cue intense foraging which threw up a hitherto unknown manhole cunningly buried under the roots of a bush. After an intense period with a chainsaw, which meant the demise of said bush, the manhole was revealed and so was the blockage. Much strenuous thrusting with rods eventually led to a satisfying gurgling sound as days' worth of that which you would rather not have hanging around headed off to pastures new, albeit pastures you wouldn't rush to gather lilacs in.
By now, a good chunk of the day had gone, along with any ideas of having a 'posh lunch' (which had been our original plan, before the sewage got in on the act). It was too late for a lunch of any quality, so we decided to go with what we were comfortable with and headed for a little cafe in a nearby town. Now, whenever we go to this cafe, I invariably have the all-day breakfast, which is good and great value. Today, however, I thought I would show that I was not a slave to convention. I would eschew the all-day breakfast and try something else, something daring! I noticed, on the Specials Board, that they had Steak Pie, Chips and Gravy and I decided to plump for this. "I will have Steak Pie, please" I announced to the young chap taking our order, to the considerably surprise of my wife. "Ah" He responded "I'm not sure if we have any left, I'll just go and check" My heart sank. From experience, whenever a waiter comes out with this phrase, it means 'I know damn well that we haven't got any but I'll pretend to go and check so I can shift the blame onto the invisible denizens of the kitchen'. Sure enough, after a few minutes, he returned and apologised but there was no Steak Pie to be had. Predictably, I reverted to the all-day breakfast but somehow felt cheated of my Steak Pie.
When we came to pay the bill a little later, we pointed out to the cashier that the Specials Board still sported the offer of Steak Pie, despite the absence of same, and we had heard a number of other putative diners enquiring about the Pie with similar results. Surely, we suggested, it would be prudent to remove the offending item from the Board? This caused a look of consternation on her part. Clearly, she had every hope that there might, indeed, be Steak Pie tomorrow, so would such a radical step as removing it from the Specials Board now, really be warranted? We paid our bill and left, but musing on it later (because I really don't have anything better to do with my time) it occurred to me that this was a motif for our time.
You see, it seems to me that there's a huge longing in the world for something that, not only isn't there, but probably never was. A sort of global Steak Pie. This longing is for a golden past, in which everything was just dandy and which has been ruined by all of this pesky modernity and stuff. If we could only go back to (pick an era of choice, could be 1950s America or 14th Century Persia, or any other time and geographic location) then everything would be great, again. Or not. The Steak Pie might still be there, as a forlorn hope, on the Specials Board of life but, like it or not, we've got the All-Day Breakfast and we need to make the most of it.
You can find a lot more tripe of this calibre in the four books of the 'nostalgedy' series (see right hand column for details and previews)
Tuesday, 7 March 2017
Thursday, 2 March 2017
February's column never made it to their website (it can be a bit sporadic) so here it is in its scanned glory. I've put the full text below as well.
There's been a lot in the papers recently about the rise of the robots in the workplace and how these might displace jobs in the future. Yet, as I recall, from the predictions on things like 'Tomorrow's World', we should all be sunning ourselves on the beach by now whilst the machines do all the work. It seems to me that most of the things that are supposed to result in fewer people and more leisure time (remember the 'paperless office'?) actually seem to achieve the reverse, but I suppose only time will tell. However, I do think there are some jobs that really don't make the best use of the people employed to do them, and there was no better illustration of this than in Harold Wesley Ltd., in the 1970s.
You see, Wesley's was notoriously tight-fisted when it came to capital investment. Most of their machinery must have pre-dated the last unpleasantness in 1939-1945, with just a few exceptions to the rule, such as the second-hand printing press I mentioned last month. Old machinery tended to come from an era when people were cheap and machines were expensive, so fiddly labour-saving extras were few and far between.
For example, if we walk along the corridor from the Printing Dept., where we were last month, we come to a room where the wrapping paper is converted from rolls into sheets. There are three chaps here who are the mainstay of the department, Frank, Albert (who is in charge) and one other whose name escapes me. All three must be nearing retirement age and seem to have been at Wesley's man and boy. Their role here is to diligently count the sheets coming off the machine and place a cardboard tab in the pile for every 480 sheets (this being the quantity of a ream, in those pre-metric days). I'm sure there was more to it, but that activity seemed to sum up the bulk of their work. I know it must have paid the bills but can you imagine how boring it must have been? There really ought to be a better use of people than that!
Mind you, Frank and Albert's work would have seemed positively enriching compared to what Greta had to put up with, downstairs. From time to time, an ancient piece of machinery, which folded wrapping paper into neat squares, was dusted off and put to use. This machine worked perfectly well, but it had one vital element missing. It had no means of feeding the sheets into the machine, automatically. Greta seemed to be either the only one who knew how the machine worked, or was possibly the only one who was prepared to use it. Her role was to push each sheet into the machine, with her forefinger, time after time. The constant procession of a brightly coloured design making its way across her line of sight, along with the mind-crushing boredom, had a tendency to send her into something of a trance allegedly. I think it would have sent me into a padded room.
Managers have a tendency not to understand that workplaces are as much a social hub as a place of business, and that you mess around with that at your peril. You may recall the Crepe Paper Dept., where the girls wound the crepe onto a drum of a certain diameter, then cut across the swatch to give them a pile of sheets which they folded by means of something akin to a fast spinning wooden rolling pin? Waiting for your turn to wind your particular colour paper was a chance for the girls to have a natter and a break from monotonously folding sheet after sheet. At least, it was until Wesley's employed a Work Study Engineer (I was his assistant, I seem to have specialised in finding unpopular jobs for myself over the years) who redesigned the process so that one girl did all of the winding for the entire department, ensuring the others were not distracted from their task of folding the sheets. I'm sure it was more efficient, but I'll bet it wasn't anywhere near as interesting, and that would be saying something!
You can find Philip's most recent collection of stories, 'Crutches for Ducks' at http://getbook.at/crutchesforducks