Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Re-inventing wood

It is the start of my third and final term at University. Things are looking good - I am cruising towards a First, pummelled the opposition (ie other students) in my Innovation module last year and have been approached by a Department vis-a-vis a funded PhD.

Admittedly, there are a few things found the house I would have preferred to have completed (I have photographs of the progress we have made, but will only publish them at the start of November) such as my office and the second bathroom BUT last week we were hit by disaster. I was working on my deck. I should explain - previously outside our rear door was a sheet of chipboard resting on a pile of rubble. Not a design affection from the Brutalist school, its just that we didnt have the money to buy a deck. Quotes revealed a price of approximately 350 pounds for a simple 2metre x 5 metre affair. Wood is expensive in the UK, but I guess that's the price of deforesting your country in the name of building an Imperial navy. Anywood, recently, in the yard of the company I occasionally work for (most of September slogging the highways of UK} was a whole bunch of decking. Discrete enquiries revealed that this nearly pristine material - which is actually the most expensive kind being treated, thicker and wider than the normal stuff - was destined for the skip. I took advantage of the fact that as part of the job I was working on a truck was in my possession, and paid for by the company, and loaded the truck until it groaned with decking. With the exhaust pipe scraping the floor (I had overloaded the truck by about 50%) we made it the sixty miles to Hull.

THe end result, and all a visitor will see is a shed, a deck and a pagoda type thingy in our back yard, that were otherwise all destined for the skip. Obviously, I'm delighted I got all this stuff for free, and it did take a lot of effort, but to me getting the stuff was a no-brainer. I just did what my father (and most Dads of the time) would have done. I'm not inclined to see the past with rose coloured spectacles, but my father's generation re-used things as a habit. I can clearly remember, as a wee pup, spending a whole afternoon hammering used nails straight so they could be re-re-used. String would be saved. PLastic was valuable - especially large plastic sheets - and my Dad's shed is still waterproofed using the wrapping from a new sofa they got in the Seventies.

I was telling a neighbour, who was observing my deck-work-in-progress how I had acquired the materials, and if she and her husband wanted some of the surplus, they were very welcome. This same neighbour asked me if I had ridden the length of Hadrian's Wall in aide of Charity and was surprised when I replied negatively. As I completed my explanation my neighbour droooled:

"Oh, I love Freeganism. I love it. You should make some street art with what's left over"

At this point I curtailed the conversation, curtly. I dont really mind that she's fallen victim to the phenomenon of branding and therefore has to re-label a pattern of activity that humans have engaged in for two hundred thousand years, but at Street Art, I draw a great big line. Art, if it is to be conducted at all, should be done for a purpose, thoughtfully and conducted by a skilled artisan. In respect of much street art, the fact that this doesnt happen and is instead a community activity conducted by amateurs, or an assembly of old junk or conducted just because a street thinks it should have some street art means that the Street Art is, more often than not, actually vandalism.

None of this is the disaster reported in the opening paragraphs. The disaster is that as I was trundling towards a completed deck, revelling in the fact that in this house I am finally building stuff for pleasure and not just structural necessity, I discovered that we had a leak in the water pipes below our ground floor. I used the word 'disaster' but in truth it was nothing of the sort - it was merely very inconvenient. A disaster is being trapped in a Chilean mine. The result of our inconvenience though is that when the next visitors come, they may be sitting on a half built deck, with half a floor under their feet, not to mention an uncompleted fireplace.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Business as Unusual

"Oft/frequently/often/consistently" I declare/say/announce/whisper/express, (most usually when acolytes/students/pupils/learners/neophytes are struggling with the ridiculous/preposterous/astonishing fact that the words "knight" and "night" sound exactly the same) ".........this........" - I gesture wildly, often at an offensively difficult word to teach (and concept to understand) such as 'since' ' ".....this happens in English. But despair ye not! For, that very difficulty you are experiencing is what makes English such a flexible, and ultimately (I hope you will find) beautiful language." The discussion that follows is one full of praise for the learners' persistence in mastering what can be a difficult language and for the language itself, which is flexible enough to allow sentences such as 'I go bad' to be understood in at least three different ways.

At this point, digress I should for a paragraph or two, permission? I do have a massive admiration for the English language - it allows us to talk to cats, it allows Sal to swear at my fireplace without bothering to give it a gender, RHB to excoriate things and Grasshopper to be "gosh darned knackered", and yours truly to write nonsense. (In her defence, and before a protracted law suit is launched I should rush to add that I've never heard Grasshopper use 'knackered' right next to 'gosh darned' in a sentence, but she has the potential). However, even my massive admiration for English, and my affection for League Tables, cannot allow me to claim that English is the "the best [language] in the World", which is what the UK's new Education Minister recently did at a party rally.

I was watching the new Education Minister's speech at his party's rally with a degree of interest. Not, I should add, that I have (anymore) a particular interest in the Conservatives, as my current view is a minor variance on the Churchillian position that our (current) formulation of democracy is the worst form of Government apart from every other. The variance I would suggest in that statement is that the sentence should stop at the word "apart". For yours truly, minor ideological differences between UK political parties are about as significant as a disagreement at a child's party whether to have jelly or trifle for desert. Thus whether a Party calls itself Labour or Conservative matters to me not a jot - they are equally unwelcome. So normally watching any of them on television is a waste of time better spent watching 'Survivor', 'Celebrity WifeSwap' or perhaps 'Masterchef'.

However, the recently elected Government have caught the eye, because it has promised to embark on a system of power, wealth and equity redistribution whose scope is breathtakingly impressive. The scale of the planned changes to the UK's economy as a whole, social life at every level and Government support for the ill, the old, the weak and the poor is massive, unprecedented, revolutionary.Unfortunately perhaps, the re-distribution seems to be in the un-preferred direction - namely upwards (demographically speaking) and Southwards (where their power base is). All the talk is of cuts - benefit cuts, heating support for elderly people cuts, job cuts, wage cuts and, crucially for my interests, education cuts. So my interest in this person's speech was twofold:

a. How stupid was it of me to decide to get involved in Education (you get blamed for every ill of society, told you are living in an Ivory Tower and get paid neither overtime or a salary that reflects the additional work you actually do) when I should have chosen banking (you can ruin a countries economy, get paid for it, rapidly forgiven and then carry on as you where)?

b.From a wider perspective, should I wait until riots engulf the country before fleeing back to Canada or wait until the removal of the Harpon tyranny and restoration of democracy there?

Predictably perhaps, the speech revealed nothing of substance, unless you count a deep feeling of unease substantial. It was a typical party conference speech - playing to the prejudices of his audience and absent of content. However, he did make the claim that "English Literature is the best in the world". Naturally, as the UK's (joint) second best academic, and lifelong Celtic FC fan I am interested in rankings. So, in an intensive five minute search of Google and Wikipedia, I decided to research the claim as I was interested in what evidence might support it. A list of Nobels (I am still waiting for the letter re: Civilization: Why???? trilogy) by nationality seemed the best place to find the answer. Unfortunately, for the Minister, the Nobels dont help his argument - the Germans (8) and the French (14) far outstrip the UK's number of Nobel prizes for Literature (5 or 6 depending on whether George Bernard Shaw is counted as English or Irish). So I tried searching for the best selling books of all time. Again, our minister has no support there, as the Bible, Words of Mao T'se Tung and the Quran all outstrip the next best sellers - the Harry Potter series. Potter is by far the best selling fiction phenomenon, and perhaps, I thought, after some reflection, the Minister is referring to this, and perhaps he meant "English Literature is the one I like the best". Whether Harry Potter is something a nation should be particularly proud of or not is surely a matter of subjectivity, and in deciding what to read, there is absolutely nothing wrong with subjectivity, nor with Harry Potter. But if an Education Minister for the eight richest (I looked up a list) country in the World cannot tell the difference between "my favourite" and "the best" then what chance do my learners have in the revolution that is coming??

May you live in interesting times

Watch this

Read this

Today I have little time to explain this to my friends not acquainted with football as I have just, finally, completed my summer's programme of work, having returned from LOndon last night at 1.30am. But these links provide a back story for a series of events that have interrupted sleep, caused worry and endless discussion for the last three years. Although YWNA is named (sort of) after our club's most well known song, these pages infrequently refer to the sport - as I've mentioned before, there are many other websites that "do" football better.

As tiredness is a major factor at the moment I will write no more for now, except to say what has happened to LFC are a perfect example of why the common business practise of "leveraged buy-outs' should be illegal.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Creative Anarchy

"WAKE UP AND GIVE ME THE SAT-YOU F***** M**** T***. WAKE UP!!!!" I shout, then repeat the exercise. Futilely, if there is such a word. I should rush to assure family members that the 'F**** M***T***" in question is not RHB, and this is not a retelling of the incident that occurred merely a week ago when, en route to a family party, we managed to get lost with a sat nav AND a map because she disagreed with the sat-nav. Alas, humourous as RHB's ability to get lost is, and as taleworthy as her ability to cause an argument in an otherwise unoccupied elevator might be, today's F******** etc etc is Icksy, my erstwhile work supervisor, who has not made an appearance in these pages for a while.

For those who dont know, I worked with Icksy for a period some time ago. He is small, with an appearance that, as a youth, would have been called 'urchin-like'. As an adult, a diet of pie, chips and beans, poor dental hygiene and stress levels through the roof mean that he looks more 'goblin-like' than 'urchin like'. His facial colouring travels through a palette of reds in the course of a day - from 'raw beetroot', through 'indigo sunrise' and 'sierra rocks' and back again. His dental hygiene is wanting, to say the least and his mood throughout the day(s) ranges between 'angry', 'belligerent', 'unhelpful', 'sulky' and 'unpleasant'. His digestive system appears non-functioning and he is apparently sick throughout the whole weekend with 'food-poisoning' (apparently a sandwich in the hotel), 'bad water' (apparently London's water is 'bad'), a bad cold (apparently different germs in London caused by immigrants)and a massive migraine (apparently a bad nights sleep and elevated noise levels in London). On top of all of this, and perhaps worse of all, he mumbles in his strong Yorkshire dialect, so not only can I not hear what he is saying, but I would'nt understand it even if I could. The whole effect, from my perspective, is that I have to spend 48 hours in the company of a dying Klingon with ill-fitting false teeth, the only difference being that where Klingons are (rightly) famed for their ruthless efficiency, Icksy is a walking definition of the word 'hapless'.

Why, you ask yourselves, would the joint second best academic in UK, (coincidentally Hull's leading scenic carpenter) be working with this specimen? Mostly, its because the company I work for has once again been re-structured. The trickle down effect of this is that instead of another freelance colleague being employed to travel to London on a mission essential to the company, regular workshop staff have been drafted in because they dont get paid overtime. I assume this seems a more efficient use of resources to the company (where people = resources. This notion is a misreading of human society so acute it deserves another post of its own about modern day project management) so at the end of a forty hour week, Icksy is informed that he is travelling with me to London to work the weekend. The results of this efficiency have been that I have had to work with a miserable, inefficient, error prone, bad tempered small person for almost 24 hours straight.

We are en route to yet another emergency pick-up of supplies (caused by him), this time a full hour's drive away across London, to a location neither of us have ever been before, Icksy has fallen asleep in the passenger seat of our 7.5 truck cradling the sat nav like a teddy bear. The visual display cannot be seen from the driving seat (my location)and because this is a big truck, and he is very little, he is too far away for me to reach over and slap repeatedly until conciousness returns, as this would result in an alarming loss of control of the vehicle. And, the stupid midget has disabled the volume, because, he said later, it was "distracting" him. We are on a motorway, approaching a junction where several options present themselves and I have no idea which junction to take. (Note: Our overseas readers should be aware that in the UK it is not permissable to stop on motorways, even with the stated aim of pummelling one's companion). The wrong choice, could add another hour onto our journey and we have a deadline to be back onsite which is already tight.

I guess recklessly, take the ramp and head in a new direction. Ten miles down the road there are services, so I swing in. Once in the car park, I line the truck up precisely with a row of trees and press the accelerator pedal. The resultant necessary hard braking nearly catapults Icksy out of his seat and through the cab window.

"Prick" I say, jerk the sat nav from his hands, and accelerate out the car-park. Icksy, fully awake now, looks confused, but that is the natural set of his face and I'm in no mood for explanations. Rejoining the motorway, the sat nav tells me that through sheer luck, I took the correct exit, so I continue en route. Five minutes later Icksy informs me, as he has at approximately fifteen minute intervals throughout the previous twenty four hours, that he has "bad guts" and needs a washroom. "We've just been to a services, why didnt you go then?" I ask him maliciously, and carry on. He starts moaning, holding his stomach, interspersing his groans, farts and burps with "Sorry".

The only redeeming feature of the whole weekend is that during it, Icksy actually has to try to install objects at the exhibition hall he has personally built. This is redeeming because my job is to try to install, at various venues, the objects Icksy has built in his workshop. Despite numerous debriefs, friendly hints and advice, he has consistently failed to consider my 'onsite' world in his construction techniques leading to every install being much more difficult than it should be. Naturally, one hates the sitcom phrase "Welcome to my world" but for once it seems appropriate as he rebuilds yet another desk.