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A fine day with a deep blue sky and some fleecy high level cloud. Great when you have time on your hands but having to trudge four miles to work is a rather wearing prospect. Needless to say, I was sweating. As I strode along the old canal footpath I could see a bunch of workmen ahead. Like all British workmen you spot in the wild, they were not working. They sat idly in the shade, observing my approach and long experience told me I was going to receive a comment or two. It's the British way. "He should be just like us" Said one of them, clearly not impressed with my individualism or perceived character. One of his colleagues agreed. Really? Just like you lot? The thought occurred to me as to what the world would be like if everyone conformed to their working class normality. No music, no radio, no television, no pubs or clubs, no films to dazzle us with special effects, no computer games to waste our spare time, and no-one to make the booze they might well be waiting to consume on the weekend. Nothing to look forward to but the opportunity to pass comment on passers-by. What kind of world is that to be proud of? Nature always finds strength in diversity. With good reason. I like my individuality and why on earth would I want to be merely one of a crowd of layabouts, anonymous, ordinary, just another non-entity the world is full of. Ah, some might say, and some do, but I failed. Yes. Correct. My plans for super-duper-stardom in my youngers days quickly got dashed on the rocks of reality. But hey, I tried. That makes me an also-ran, not a spectator. Which would you rather be? Music I saw a review in my local paper for a Judas Priest album. I've never really been a fan of their music but I respect their ability and longevity. Thus when I read the gushing praise I thought it might be worth catching up with where they are now. So I purchased their latest offering and lo and behold, it was as you might expect. Well performed, excellent production, a work by a band who know what they're doing. Then having finished listening, it occurred to me that I hadn't remembered any of the songs. It was nothing but an album of heavy metal wallpaper, making all the right sounds, doing all the right moves, but a production line of riffs and beats that pretty much failed to engage with my love of tracks that stand out for indefinable reasons. Sadly I doubt I'll feel the need to play it again. Compare that to another performer, Florence and the Machine. I was unaware of their existence until they featured in a televised event on the Beeb. I was impressed by the female vocalist's energy, her willingness to reach out to her fans (quite literally, it caused a near panic among the security crew), and the songs were interesting, varied, and I imagine for some, about relevant subjects. Buy her latest album? Oh yes, and I wasn't disappointed. Three tracks stood out, Ship To Wreck, What Kind of Man, and Queen of Peace. I still hum those tracks to myself regularly. That's success in music as I see it. Sorry Mr Halford, I know you're delivering what your fans want, but it's just a day job for you, isn't it? Connected I stopped at a Subway earlier for a quick snack and sat as I often do facing the outside world so I can watch people going about their irrelevant business outside. It struck me that everyone, literally everyone, in my field of view of the busy Saturday morning high street was staring down at a device in the palm of their hand. I suppose it's a sort of security blanket, making them feel that they're part of a group, that they're in on what is going on around the world, even if it amounts to videos of people falling over or endless sequences of pets caught mimicking humanity against their will. A whole crowd of spectators, going around spectating, because it seems they have nothing else in their lives. "Your phone is rubbish" one work colleague once mentioned when I checked my device for the unrealistic prospect of having received contact from the outside world. Yeah? Really? So what?
The last two weeks have been physically demanding if not quite strenuous. I've been working for a private military company, one of the commercial enterprises that service the needs of modern armed forces under contract. Although strictly speaking that makes me a mercenary, I was not dealing with arms in any way, just the logistical side of army business. Finally, with the schedule successfully completed, we were allowed out of work an hour early. A different mood had swept across the town of Swindon. I'm not sure why. I passed the beer garden of a popular drinking den on my way home, and unusually, it was full of families enjoying the afternoon. Maybe it was the weather? The sun was hot and the breeze delightfully cool. Or maybe it was just that Friday feeling? At any rate, I felt the need to just chill out, relax, and enjoy the very same afternoon. I sampled the new blackberries growing out of the hedgerow beside the road. I'm not the only one to do so of course, you find individuals occaisionally collecting berries, but a berries in the mouth as I pass by is a welcome relief on warm days. Most are young and a bit sharp, but after a while you get used to finding the larger, more mature berries, and they taste just great. They weren't enough however. I needed to stop and let the world whizz by. I found my spot at Summer Gardens. To tell the truth, it isn't exactly a garden at all, just a large patch of grass hidden between residential and business areas. It is however wonderfully sheltered. Beneath one of the oak trees I sat down, listening to that wonderful sound of wind in the leaves. I'm not really into that 'communing with nature' thing, but this once, it felt right to do so. It isn't the sort of place you see wildlife in daylight hours - too many smelly human beings - but I did spot a white butterfly moving randomly a little way off. A white one, not the dirty grey modern variety. It occurred to me how few butterflies there are now. In my childhood, you'd see loads of them, everywhere,. The outside world still intruded. Barely audible was a passing police car, then a fire engine. A lorry bleeped as it reversed into the business unit behind me. Cars passed by the multi-story parking lot the other end of the Gardens. None of it really bothered me. Eventually I needed to be somewhere else, so I gathered myself together and hobbled away on stiff legs. That's the price you pay for inactivity, but this once, I really didn't mind.
Every day at work begins with a team briefiing. Slowly at first, then in a great rush as the canteen empties, the shift personnel gather at the allotted place to discover who is on the premises, who is doing what for the next eight hours, and what will happen if certain lazy activities continue. The manager calls for silence so he can call the register. After a five second wait he calls again with a stern stare at the knot of youngsters who don't understand what 'quiet please' means. Eventually the buzz of conversation subsides to whispers and the register is called. "Gary?" The manager spoke aloud without looking up from his list. With no answer, he calls again, this time looking around in case Gary is either too busy whispering to his mates or has failed utterly to comprehend that he has to acknowledge his presence. In this case I did the decent thing and reminded him that Gary was on holiday. The manager sighed as he realised his list of work allocation was completely ruined. He had no choice but to note down the lack of Gary's in the warehouse and submit to my superior know;ledge of who was standing around in plain sight. Sometimes we have to confirm that the person is on the premises for them. There's always one or two who aren't where they're supposed to be. Punkman, our resident refugee from society, made a joke of it a few days ago. After each name he said "Yeah, he's here". Yet when his own name was called he stayed silent, failing utterly to remember that he was supposed to answer. So I said aloud "Yeah, he's here". It's as well Punkman has a sense of humour. On the day the manager decided that Punkman was to be in charge of a team he muttered "Let the facism begin...". Talking About Fascism Islamic State are back in the news again with a trip down to the local museum where objects of antiquity are being smashed with sledgehammers as 'false idols'. Fundamentalists do seem amenable to this sort of behaviour - the Taliban dynamited antiquities and vandals in Egypt swept through a museum in Cairo not so long ago. Quite apart from the loss of pricelss articles of regional interest, is Islamic State so feeble that relics whose religious significance vanished hundreds if not thousands of years ago is somehow some kind of threat to their ugly regime? I suppose that's an obvious thing to ask. It does strike me however that the non-entities who smashed statues energetically really wouldn't know a false idol if they saw one. That is after all why they've been sucked into a religious movement and told what to do. They simply obey because they don't know any better. News that Islamic State is opening schools in Syria doesn't fill me with optimism either. Talk about the blind leading the blind. Working In The Jungle The big rumour at work right now is the impending fashion choices being made for teams. Already the quality control people sport a snazzy purple high-vis. What amuses people is the assertion that those of us on the hygiene team will be allocated pink high-vis vests. Hard Hat refuses to believe this slight on his honour, manhood, self respect, his very identity, can possibly be true. Funnily enough, those of us on the bottom rank of warehouse status often find ways to gauge each other. I for instance got quite a boost when I was trained up on pallet trucks. Earlier this week a team leader started approaching me with news that complaints had been made against me. No-one had said anything to me of course, but that wasn't the point. Eventually the leader in question ordered me off the truck despite my tantrums and logical arguments, but no matter, my line manager supported me. That's how hard work affects your status. There's always a testing period between the envious and the grateful. On some days I have no choice but to get a pump truck, a sort of parcel trolley you push, pull, and swear at, and do the same job without the assistance of electrical power. It's called manual work. It's also considered by many the sign of a lowly person who does not have the influence to be authorised to drive trucks. "You got a license for that?" One wag called from the gloom of a container being unloaded, when he saw me hauling a pump truck across the warehouse floor. Funny. No matter. Give it a day or two and I'll be whizzing around on a powered truck again instead of heaving boxes out of a container. At least until those pesky pink high-vis vests get issued, at which point no-one will have any sympathy. Day Of The Week That's enough about work. Today is Sunday and there's a clear blue sky out there..... Erm.... Bye.
At the Charity life went on in a sort of organised chaos. You turned up, sat through a prayer meeting, then got told what your duties were for the day. I suppose I was lucky as I often got scheduled to work as a drivers mate on the company van, collecting and delivering secondhand furniture. A relaxing sort of job. Mostly. Okay, the driver was a bit highly stressed, often losing his temper, and of course the drawback to collecting and delivering furniture is that bulky objects are often heavy and don't always coveniently fit through the gaps provided. I had an advantage of course. Unlike many of the unemployed layabouts drafted to work at the Charity, I've long experience of getting musical equipment in and out of gigs, of long days and nights spent in a van, and even some casual multi-drop delivery work. I also had long experience of helping my father move furniture around the house. Not sure why it was ever necessary, but it gave him something to organise and so I got on with it. So it turned out to be something of a busman's holiday. The weather was glorious, we all had a good laugh in the van (except when the driver got annoyed at somebody), and trundled around the local area visiting houses we never knew existed, meeting all sorts of strange new life and new civilisations, going where vans have never been before. Sometimes you stopped by a huge expensive house to pick up donated odds and ends. All smiles and hearty farewells. Sometimes you delivered to the less salubrious hovels in town, places that haven't been cleaned since 1972, that stink of curry powder, urine, or other strange substances. Sometimes you had to take the door off to get the goods inside. Sometimes you had to disassemble the goods to get them through the door. Failure was never an option. It meant going back to base to face a manager who'd received an angry phone cal about wasted money. It's a funny thing. Life. I trained as an engineer, learned to be a musician, studied various categores of academic knowledge, became a private pilot in two countries, and yet despite all of that I still end up moving furniture around. Struggle Of The Week My fight for sanity in the jobsearching business goes on. Firstly there's Mrs Claims Advisor, who has been programmed by some secret organisation to repeat the same conversation over and over. "I don't why you're not getting anywhere. You're jobsearching is a high enough standard..." Think we might have covered this last week. And the week before that. "Why do you think you're not getting anywhere?" And this week too. So I patiently trot out the same reasons why finding gainful employment has so far eluded me. I'm not being dishonest or looking for excuses, but the reason she wants me to admit to is... Ummmh.... Errrr..... Actually I do know what she wants me to say but she's wrong. Completely. All she wants is for me to be exactly the same as every other claimant who comes before her. Variety, or indeed any form of individuality, is a difficult concept for a claims advisor. The other aspect of my fight for truth, justice, and the employable way us the Job Agency. I might have mentioned them earlier. Never in any sphere of human endeavour has a bureaucracy accumulated siuch a mammoth collection of self serving small minded pedantic pen pushers. Take this example. I look for work on an internet website. Usually you just select the vacancy that interests you, click on a few choices, add a little bit of supportive text, or perhaps answer a stuid question or two, then click on 'Apply'. You sit back and wait for the rejection in anything between two minutes and two months. Easy. However some agencies think applicants should be given more opoortunity to waste time and effort in applying for work, so they disable this easy option and get you to make a phone call instead, in which they tell you that they have a vacncy exactly the same as they advertised and could you please come and see them in their office? So why not just suggest that on the website and save me the bother of paying for a phone call? It gets worse. I asked for the name of the person the advert specified as the contact, which in this case turned out not be a person, but the agency itself. Eventually this confusion was ironed out. Who says I don't have communication skills? Then the lady said "All we have is this furniture warehouse vacancy. It will involve some heavy lifting...Is that what you want to do?" You know what? It was my childhood dream to lift heavy objects. I studied heavy weights at school, and got myself an O Level in Applied Lifting followed by a Degree in Industrial Physics. Ten years appprenticeship as a Manual Load Handler, followed by a fifteen year career of shoving and pushing. I also lift weights for a hobby. No. I'm joking. My CV doesn't say that, and neither did I. In fact I could barely resist laughing as I told her that lifting heavy objects wasn't exactly a career of choice but if it pays the bills.... You could hear her disappointment over the phone. Is she serious?