Tuesday, 13 September 2016

My 'time-and-motion' job


I’m sure we’ve all had jobs in our youth or young adulthood that trigger a smile when we reminisce about them. As a na├»ve 19-year-old, I recall a temporary summer job during college vacation that instantly rendered me the most unpopular person in the whole factory.



It was 1978, during my 12-week summer recess from university. To earn beer money I needed to work, so my mother helpfully found me a job at the local textile mill where she was employed as a weaver. Initially, my efforts were directed to general labouring tasks – such as scraping grease off the weaving-shed floor – but after a couple of weeks the boss called me into his office.



‘I’d like you to become my “time and motion” man,’ he said.



I was unsure what this role involved. Was it something to do with shit? A toilet monitor, perhaps? Or would I be running errands for him, maybe nipping out to the shop to buy his cigarettes? Maybe he wanted me for his bitch, to bugger me over his work desk whenever the urge arose? Whatever the job involved, it would surely be a step up from chiselling a year’s worth of detritus from between the power looms.



‘Great,’ I said. ‘When can I start?’



The boss was engaged in a mission to boost productivity. The factory was not churning out enough cloth and he wanted to know why. My – terribly important – role required me to sit on the top of a step ladder (like a tennis umpire) in the main weaving shed with a clipboard in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. This room contained 10 looms that rattled away transforming threads of yarn into linen, each machine manned by a responsible weaver. When a loom was active, a green light flashed above the machine; when stopped, a red light flashed. My job was to record the cumulative time that each machine was dormant.



As one might imagine, my presence in the weaving shed was not generally welcomed by the weavers; if their machines were stopped for any length of time, the management would ask questions. Nevertheless, I took to my ‘spying for the bosses’ role seriously, and was soon transformed into a Gestapo-like overseer of the inmates. Each time that red light flashed, my stopwatch started and remained on until the green light was restored; the period of inactivity was then noted on my chart.



Throughout each day of employment in this lofty position, a typical interaction went something like this:



WEAVER: What stoppages have you got for loom 7 this morning?



ME: (scrutinising my chart, my lips pursed in readiness for delivering bad news) Inactive on just the one occasion between 8.14 am and 8.35 am, that’s 21 minutes in total.



WEAVER: But that shouldn’t count. It wasn’t my fault – the warehouse bloke was slow bringing me my yarn and I ran out.



ME: Sorry, pal, but there is not a column on my chart for explanations. My task is to solely record the period of inactivity.



After a few days in the role I even noticed that a couple of the workers would strategically position themselves in front of their lights, obstructing my view, thereby requiring me to descend from my stepladder and strut through the weaving shed to (invariably) discover their red bulb flashing; the subsequent dramatic flash of my pencil on chart screamed the message, ‘you can’t fool me’.



My ‘time-and-motion’ role lasted two weeks, after which I returned to removing grease and other debris from the factory floor. To their eternal credit, none of the weavers held a grudge and I received no criticism in the aftermath. Come to think of it, they didn’t say much to me at all. And, now I look back, there did seem to be a sharp increase in number of accidental spillages that required my attention. And my break-time cup of tea acquired a strange yellowy-green tinge and a whiff of ammonia … …



Has anyone else ever worked in a role that made you unpopular?







Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



       



      






Thursday, 4 August 2016

My awkard threesome with the ladies of the night



I’ve never availed myself of the services of a prostitute. In Amsterdam in the late 1970s I gawked from afar with youthful curiosity at the ladies of the night, each sitting in her individual shop window, before my trance was disturbed by the appearance of a testosterone-fuelled snarling pimp, who triggered my hasty retreat. But the prospect of entering a cavern where a multitude of semen-seeping males hitherto thrust and drooled has never appealed to me. There was, however, one occasion in 1987 – at the age of 29 – when I found myself up close and personal with a couple of working girls.



I’d opted to pursue some further vocational training that necessitated Mrs Jones and I moving home to live in the centre of Birmingham (England’s second largest city). Money was tight so the only place we could afford was a £20 ($28) per week ground-floor flat in the red-light area. The landlord, a pleasant gentleman of Asian origin, lived upstairs from us and dined on curries each evening; the unsettling smells of cinnamon, drifting down the stairs to mix with the mustiness rising from our carpets, lingers to this day.



Around 8.30 pm one dark winter’s evening I headed out for the shop on the corner of our street to buy bread, my coat collar pulled up over my ears and my head bowed to defend against the icy December gusts. Fifty metres from the grocery store, I glanced up and spotted them; standing outside the shop entrance were two women, perhaps in their early 40s – although the daily grind of their profession might have rendered this an overestimate – wearing only black stilettoes, flimsy tops and crimson skirts that scarcely covered their pubic bones.



I hesitated. My instinct was to about turn and head back home, but the two shivering ladies had spotted my approach and appeared to be anticipating a transaction, so my retreat at this point would look absurd. Trying to adopt a nonchalant, man-of-the-world, seen-it-all-before swagger, I continued my journey, avoided any eye contact, and strode past them to the entrance of the shop, keen to escape into the well-lit interior. But to my horror, the door was locked.



‘I think he’s just nipped out for a few minutes, love,’ said one of the ladies. ‘Should be back soon.’



‘He’ll have left a note on the door telling ye how long he’s gonna be,’ said her colleague.



While offering this helpful clarification, both women had approached and flanked me, each peering over my shoulder, forming a huddled trio, as we searched for the message estimating the time of the shopkeeper’s likely return. Their faces within an inch of my own, the pungent smell of excessive perfume caused my eyes to water.



Disturbing images of potential exclusives in next week’s Birmingham Post pushed into my mind, a photograph of our crouching threesome captioned by:   



TRAINEE PSYCHOLOGIST IN RED-LIGHT SCANDAL



PUNTER AND PROS DO THE BUSINESS IN SHOP DOORWAY



THERE MAY BE MORE THAN BREAD AND MILK ON SALE AT YOUR LOCAL GROCER



I was about to state my intention to come back later, when the shopkeeper appeared and unlocked the door. Muttering my thanks for their help to the two ladies of the night, I slipped inside to obtain my loaf, ensuring that my time spent browsing the shelves was sufficient for the women to vacate the doorway. As I left the shop I spotted one of the prostitutes leaning into the open window of a car that had pulled up alongside her.



‘If you want a blow job, it will cost you 40 quid, love,’ she said to the punter.



As I sped for home, I remember thinking how that was 2-weeks rent.


Photo courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net








Thursday, 21 July 2016

A bus ride, Greek style


After another afternoon in Kefalonia, lolloping by the swimming pool under the scorching Greek sun, Mrs Jones and I followed our usual holiday routine. We returned to our apartment, showered, admired our tanned skins in the mirror, plastered our flesh with generous splodges of hydrating lotion, and dressed in smart night-time attire in readiness for the evening meal in a local restaurant.

Friday, 24 June 2016

What does your smartphone notebook say about you?


I showed some reluctance to embrace the technological age, convinced that a combination of quill, parchment and carrier pigeon could fulfil all my communication needs. Alas, like almost everyone, I eventually surrendered and now own a range of devices, including a smartphone.

Nowadays I wonder how I ever survived without my Sony Xperia and devote a chunk of each day to spouting my opinions on Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. In addition, one application that I regularly use is the ‘Notes’ app, a simple tool that allows one to jot down useful information of any kind; a sort of repository for details, facts and figures I believe I may need to access in the future. Perhaps I’ve got too much time on my hands, but last week I spent an hour or so looking down my list of headings – 72 in total – that comprise my personal notes section. It made interesting reading; indeed, one might consider it a personality assessment or mid-life review.

Some of the headings were unsurprising for a 57-year-old bloke striving to earn a few extra quid as a freelance writer and trainer. Thus, my notes section included titles such as 'teaching venues', 'books to read' and 'ideas for blogposts'. However, other headers on the list were less predictable and maybe provide a neat snapshot of my life.

Below I share a few of the more curious headings on my notebook. I’ve not included any of the detail filed under each one – I’ll leave that to your imagination.


BUSH PRUNING

LASCIVIOUS

BLOOD PRESSURE

VA VA VOOM

BURNLEY LADIES

GENERIC PHARMACY

RED WINE

ROOM 1621

LLOYDS PHARMACY

TURKEY

ALOE VERA GEL

CHRONIC COUGH

PILES

VIBES


After that peep into my personal world, do you think you know me any better now? Likewise, take a look at your own device; what does your smartphone notebook say about you?






Phot courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



     




Friday, 20 May 2016

Macho madness in the front garden


I’m not a gardener. It typically requires all my self-motivational powers to hoist me out of my
armchair to mow the back lawn once a month. But a recent house move, male pomp, and a desire to impress our new neighbours, spawned some frenetic green-fingered activity that almost resulted in my hospitalisation.



The front garden comprises a sloping rockery down one side, and a gravel area in the centre with flower beds around the edges. A two-day combined onslaught by me and Mrs Jones successfully removed all the weeds. Job complete, I was anticipating a few weeks of rest until I noticed my lady gazing at the pebbly expanse with an expression that could only mean that she was forming a cunning plan.



‘We need some decorative slate for this middle section,’ she said. ‘It’s looking a bit shabby.’



I held back my sighs. There was no point arguing – her mind was made up – so off we went to the local garden centre.



‘This blue stuff would look nice,’ she said while pointing to a mound of hefty bags stacked outside the main entrance. ‘How many would we need?’



‘Four?’ I ventured, mindful that they were £4.99 ($8) each.



‘We’ll require more than that,’ she sneered.



‘OK, eight then; but let’s remember whose fault it is when we have loads left over.’



When we’d paid the lady cashier, she insisted that one of her boys load them into the back of my car. I thanked her for her kindness, while inwardly affronted that she thought that my 57-year-old frame was not up to the task.



The same afternoon I set to work, while Mrs Jones attended to indoor domestic chores. Yes, they were heavy, but I managed to unload each of the eight bags of ‘blue slate decorative aggregate’ and dispense the contents onto the gravelly stretch of my front garden.



Thirty minutes later, my sweaty brow and dusty eyebrows appeared at the open front-room window, prompting Mrs Jones to turn off her noisy vacuum cleaner.



‘We’re going to need a few more bags,’ I said.



She immediately gave me the ‘I told you so’ look. ‘How many?’



‘Thirty-five more should do it.’



This time I ordered online, and the following afternoon the garden-centre van reversed onto my drive. A muscular, gypsy-looking 30-something with a shock of black hair, wearing a flimsy white t-shirt that struggled to contain his rippled torso, opened the rear doors of his vehicle.



‘I’ll need to unload these bags next to where you’re going to spread them; they’re heavy.’



‘No, stack them over here, next to the garage,’ I replied, pointing at a spot about 20 metres away from my front garden.



‘Are you sure?’ he asked, looking me up and down as if assessing my body mass index.



‘Yes, here will be fine,’ I said, smugly.



The hulk proceeded to flip each of the bags from the van onto his shoulder and stacked them on my driveway as directed, completing the whole venture in less than five minutes.



Immediately he’d left, I set to work. How difficult could it be? I’d earlier managed to spread eight of the things, so another 35 shouldn’t be too difficult. The warm, sunny afternoon had brought a few neighbours out into their gardens. I sensed they had clocked my conversation with the delivery man. I had an audience. The challenge was on.



The first few bags caused little difficulty. I flipped each onto my thigh before raising it to chest height (like a professional weight-lifter) and strutting across to my garden for spreading. Indeed, I imagined I was in ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ competition showing those hairy Neanderthals (who, in my imagination, comprised the other contestants) how it was done. I could swear that the lady next door was almost swooning at my raw athleticism.



By the time I reached double figures, I could feel the burn of lactic acid accumulating in my arms and legs. The bags were no longer reaching chest height, instead dangling around my legs as I dragged them while clinging to two corners of the plastic packaging.



When I reached the twenties, I was panting like a Viagra-fuelled dog. One lift triggered an audible fart, and I prayed that the neighbours were out of earshot, or that the sound of my gaseous emission had been muffled by all my gasping and wheezing. I felt dizzy, and suspected that I was now swaying as I heaved each load to the garden. My vision blurred as salty perspiration stung my eyes. 



I think it was around bag number 31 that I wet myself, the energy behind my upward thrust, while barely sufficient to move the blue slate, was enough to contract my bladder. Thankfully my navy-blue tracksuit bottoms concealed the damp patch emerging around my groin.



Despite these adversities, I somehow managed to complete the job. As I staggered back indoors, feeling confused and disorientated, my clothing stained with sweat, piss and spittle, Mrs Jones was stood gazing out of the front-room window.



‘Ah, that looks much better,’ she said.



‘It wasn’t that difficult,’ I muttered, while hurrying to the bathroom to clean myself up before she turned round. ‘They weren’t that heavy.’     














Thursday, 21 April 2016

The excruciating 3rd meet


Micky Flanagan, a superb British comedian, tells a gag about the social awkwardness of unintentionally meeting someone you know on three occasions within a short period of time. I didn’t grasp what he meant until last Wednesday at the local supermarket.



Four months ago we moved into a new house and, not being the most outgoing person – OK, I accept I’m a smidgeon away from a full-time hermit – interactions with my new neighbours have been rare. There is, however, a bloke who lives opposite who, several times each day, stands in his garden smoking a cigarette; I’ve yet to discover his name but Mrs Jones and I refer to him as ‘nicotine Norman’. I like to be civil so, when leaving or entering my house, when he’s standing there puffing on his Capstan full-strength, we have exchanged nods and one-word greetings.



Anyway, last Wednesday I’m pushing my supermarket trolley along the fresh-meat aisle when there he is, nicotine Norman, lumbering towards me.



‘How you doing?’ I say.



‘Fine thanks,’ he replies.



We exchange smiles and proceed with our weekly shops. I feel pleased with my show of friendliness.



No more than a couple of minutes later, while rummaging in the men’s haircare section, I look up to find Norman bearing down on me.



‘We must stop meeting like this,’ I say, feeling a bit uncomfortable at my feeble attempt at humour.



‘Yes, people will start to talk,’ he replies.



Fast forward five minutes and the worst social scenario known to man unfolds next to the fruit and veg: the 3rd meet. I’d exited the frozen-food lane, and taken a sharp left-hander, when I spot him. He is 20 yards away but approaching fast. A kaleidoscope of questions rush through my mind: has he seen me?; can I do an about turn without him noticing?; perhaps I can look down, as if deep in thought, and pass him as if I haven’t registered his presence?; or maybe I can whip out my mobile phone and pretend to be immersed in conversation with Mrs Jones?



But it’s too late; our eyes meet.



I shrug my shoulders and emit a, ‘Gee-whiz’.



He pulls a strange face, his mouth curling on one side as if suffering a stroke.



I spread my arms, with open palms, and grunt.



He shakes his head and smiles, in that ‘would you believe it?’ way.



Excruciating!



Has anyone else endured a third meet? Or is it just a British thing?  


Photo courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



   




Monday, 4 April 2016

A review of my life - the concise version


It is often said that people's attention spans are getting shorter, particularly when reading online. With this in mind - plus the fact that I can't be arsed to string a full sentence together - today's ramblings will comprise single-word descriptors (OK pedants, a few phrases and compound words as well) of each decade of my life; a sort of concise, pocket-sized version of my time on planet earth.  

0 – 10 years: hazy, poo, magical, summery,  Procol Harum, giddy, peeping, kaleidoscope, chips, ice-cream, Santa, tooth fairy, kiss-chase, Dion, climbing-rope tingles, doctors-&-nurses & tonsils.                                                        

11 – 20 years: wanking, rejection, heartbreak, fear, fury, idealism, wanking, Chi-Lites, exploring, experimenting,groping, fingering, wanking, Eagles, dribbling, escaping, wanking, Barley Wine, preening, angst,  puking, posing, pissing & wanking.

21 – 30 years:  shagging, intoxication, studying, shagging, bingeing, all-night parties, achievement, qualifications, love, commitment, Leonard Cohen, shagging, poverty, worrying  & shagging.     

31 – 40 years: weddings, breeding, striving, promotion,  progression,  frenetic,  sleepless,  fathering, exhaustion, caring, doting, vasectomy & cask ales. 

41 – 50  yearsmirror-gazing, plucking, introspection, Merlot, fillet steak, trimming, blogging, lettuce, regretting,  reflecting & mid-life wobbles.. 

51 – 60 years: retiring, writing, publication, walking, Viagra,  haemorrhoids, greyness, drooping, sagging,  loss, funerals,  closeness, intimacy, shrivel, Port, aching, holidaying, cruising, spending kids inheritance & contentment. 

What would your life look like in single words or phrases?



Photo courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net