For the past two days I’ve been helping out a friendwho’d been overwhelmed by DIY, or rather, having to do it. It’s a big old house in the middle of pretty much nowhere and the first day of working on my own there I knew I wasn’t. Alone, that is. It wasn’t all the time. It wasn’t in one room more than another, because I had no reason to go to the two rooms I’d been in before where I knew for a fact that I wasn’t alone. Just a sudden realisation as I was having a sit-down, tea and a think ( a vital, un-mentioned part of DIY) that the house wasn’t empty.
Some people call it ghosts, some people call it tectonic plates shifting and making sounds we can’t register as sounds, some people call it electromagnetic variation and that can very seriously mess you up in terms of what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t really think it matters what you call it. Every culture since the Romans has known and acknowledged presences. There are ghosts in the Bible and not just the Holy one. In that house I’m not the only person who looks over their shoulder in two top-floor rooms, currently un-used.
It took hours to fix that ceiling light. It was an antique, salvaged from some market (and probably not a skip, as I thought when it looked as if it just wasn’t going to go right) and this like that don’t come with instructions. Let’s just say insulated connection blocks inside plastic covers, some very thin battening and a coat hanger, along with some creative uses of a pair of pliers and at one point some very uncreative and repetitive Anglo-Saxon.
And a beaming friend’s young son telling me how much better the landing was now, and personal thanks from his teenage brother, who even looked at me while his wide-screen video game while he was doing it. Surprised didn’t cover it.
So I hope tonight will be a little easier there. It’s still a cracking good tune.
Everyone likes Krispy Kreme doughnuts, don’t they? So you probably won’t choke on this little daily economic miracle. If they make the series, Johnny Vegas should be in this.
KK are looking for staff down in Somerset. Now Ok, they’re only going to call you a Team Member, but (wink, wink) you’ll be so much more than that. The first bullet point in their job ad says you’ll manage their production line.
Obviously job ads come and go, so I’m going to put this one here, in full. Then I’ll let you into the surprise:
What will I do as a Team Member at Krispy Kreme?
To manage our production line, ensuring doughnuts are made to the specification at the right times
Measuring and mixing appropriate ingredients as per our specifications
Actively adhere to our health and safety and food safety processes
Assist the Production Manager and other Team Members with planning our stock levels and how we produce our doughnuts
Ensure that every doughnut is produced to the highest standard meeting our customers’ expectations
Planning and preparing for the next shift
Understand the production plan and what responsibilities you will have on each shift
Willing to support other areas within the factory when the business needs
Why choose Krispy Kreme?
At Krispy Kreme, you’ll find a company that thrives on the passion, energy and commitment of its people. Whatever your role, you’ll take absolute pride in a job well done, always looking to show your initiative and reach for the highest standards. And above all, you’ll love having a good time – the ingredient that makes a Krispy Kreme moment so magical.
For you it is about working as part of a team on and off the line to create our spectacular doughnuts, ensuring they are always made fresh daily and they meet our product standards every time.
Krispy Kreme takes pride in giving the best experience through great service and quality products. We seek to recognise the achievements of individuals who make this possible. To celebrate your success we have created the following awards:
Employee of the month/quarter/year
Long service award
In store incentives e.g. shopping vouchers, cinema tickets
Annual awards evening
Employee Assistance Programme – support helpline
Opportunity to have your say through engagement surveys
In addition to all of this, we encourage all of our employees to enjoy our products! During your breaks you will be entitled to hot drinks and doughnuts free of charge and if you wish to take home any doughnuts after work you can buy them for a 50% discount. Krispy Kreme also offers great career progression! We really value our people and will provide a culture that allows you to develop your own style and fulfill your potential.
What skills and experience do you need to be successful at Krispy Kreme?
Experience in operating machinery, equipment or processes within a manufacturing environment
Experience of working in a food environment
Experience of working towards and achieving targets/deadlines
Experience of working as part of a team
Good communication skills
Demonstrate a good level of Health and Safety and Food Safety awareness
Proof of right to work in the UK
Applicants must be 18 or over
Isn’t that great? And if you can fit any more doughnuts in your face after your shift then you can buy them at half price!! Just so utterly wow!
So you won’t mind this bit. The pay.
Per hour? Don’t be so utterly ridiculous. Chairmen’s bonuses don’t pay for themselves. What are you, some kind of Communist or something?
£25. Per day. And all the doughnuts you can eat. Let’s face it, you won’t be able to afford anything else.
A long, long time ago, although I can still remember how that music made me smile, that’s not what this is about. Mostly, because if you can remember the music you can remember the rest of it, the clothes you wore, the people you knew, the cold through to your bones, that thing she said and all of it, it’s about the fact there was a film called Radio On.
It was Chris Pettit’s first film. It was made deliberately in black and white and not because they couldn’t afford colour stock. It was released in 1979. And it was made in the country I knew, not just as the A4, as a choice because old cars that were all we could afford and the M4 didn’t always go that well together, not just as a deserted, abandoned garage near Silbury Hill that I used as a fairly creepy public bathroom more than once of a night time, not just as a route I wrote about in Not Your Heart Away, the road I drove up and down to get to London and interviews for university and life, but as a psychic space. There. I’ve said it now.
It was and is an odd film. An English road movie. A man has a job that’s now disappeared as a workers’ in-house radio DJ in a factory that’s now disappeared and drives a car that’s long since gone to the Great Scrapyard in the Sky and was pretty close to it then down the A4 to Bristol, trying to find out what happened to his brother who died after sending him a birthday present of some Kraftwerk and Bowie tapes. The German music was from the Kraftwerk Radioaktiv album, the one that was never, ever discounted. He picks up a half-nuts squaddy on the way and luckily gets rid of him on the road just past Silbury. This was a real issue at the time. Hitching lifts, as people did in those days, I remember a soldier exactly like this, except he was driving, who told me about things that never, ever got on the news, like cross-border fire-fights. There were plenty of them back then. Messed-up squaddies as well as things that didn’t get on the news.
The man drives on to Bristol, lets himself into his dead brother’s house and is challenged by dead brother’s girlfriend, who it turns out the flat actually belongs to. It isn’t mentioned whether it’s bought or rented but the decor was instantly recognisable. Indoor plants and Anglepoise lamps. Ashtrays on the bashed-up stripped pine kitchen table. Think Howard Kirk s/Habitat and you’ve just about got it.
The girlfriend doesn’t much like him; he doesn’t much like her so he goes for a walk in what looks now like an ancient and shattered Bristol, which in large part it was, not least thanks to the war. He meets, because half the film was financed from Germany and Wim Wenders produced it and put his wife in the film, a German girl.
German girls were edgy and cool at the time. There was the war thing, but that was for parents. More so there was the Baader-Meinhof gang, back when the idea that only Moslems are terrorists wasn’t close to government policy, name-checked by the ‘Free Astrid Proll’ graffiti sprayed under the Westway. Knowingly enough, Astrid Proll was arrested when she pulled in for petrol and the guy on the pumps recognised her. As one of the frauleins says, she thought they would sleep together, but now she knew they never would. That was a pretty darned edgy and cool thing to say at the time, especially from a girl.
Instead, Wim Wenders’ ex-wife takes him to her Mum’s in Clevedon, which is a nice period touch. I don’t know if that still happens. It did then. The Mum came over in 1939. She insists on speaking to her daughter in German in front of him, cutting him out of the conversation entirely , so he excuses himself politely enough (despite slouching in his chair – lost parent points there, I can tell you) at which Mum launches into a spiel about how selfish and self-referential and rude young people are, only interested in themselves. It’s a nice touch.
He goes for a drive having nothing much else to do, happily sipping from a can of Guinness which if not expressly recommended in the Highway Code wasn’t entirely unknown back then and ends-up parked in a quarry. There’s quite a lot of casual, low-level, part-of-life drinking in a way I remember but haven’t done for years and years, thankfully. He shares a half-bottle of Haig with the German girl on Clevedon pier. After saying goodbye to her he goes to a godawful pub where he finds out what Jarvis Cocker didn’t mention when he sang about what happens when you want to do what the common people do. If you’re actually a nice middle-class young man they kick your bar stool out from under you and call you names, whereupon you’re not allowed to do the same thing back.
In a superb piece of period detail now, which then was just how things were if you were young and had a car then, sometimes he needed to start it with a handle but he’d parked too close to the edge of the quarry to stick it in. He can’t start his car. It’s probably still there. He hasn’t found out how his brother died or why. He didn’t get to bonk either of the German girls, which seeing the film, I’d find regrettable. Almost nothign happens, all the way through. Except so much does, at the same time. Eventually our hero got on a train and rode off into the 1980s, the way we all did. Maybe it was in colour when he got there, although as I recall, a lot of it wasn’t.
This was England. It was broken and bombed and broke and messy, full of angry and numb people. Some of the buildings and most of the cars have changed. Watch it. You can make your own judgements as to what else changed.
When I was a boy I believed odd things, the same way probably most boys do, anywhere. Most of all, I believed We were right and They were wrong, just the way I was told to. It was easy. Everything I saw and read said so. We had won the war, so we were good. The IRA went around blowing people up and that was very close, because we lived near Warminster, the infantry training town where servicemen were under orders not to wear uniform off barracks in case they were targetted, so they were bad. The IRA I mean, not the army. The army came to my little town quite a lot, in the summer when they literally dropped in by helicopter onto the Nelson Haden school playing fields and piled unloaded FNs and Sterling submachine guns onto wooden trestle tables so all of us little boys could play with them, which if nothing else taught us how to keep small fingers clear of a breech and how much strength it took to cock an SLR, not least as the charging handle was on the left-hand side.
We’d watch a hotel or a department store blowing up on the news, or hear how someone in the army had got shot when he opened the door of his house. What we didn’t hear was why any of this was happening, nor where suddenly out of the blue someone who wanted to start sniping soldiers could find access to anything other than a twelve-bore to do it. Then we dimly heard of NORAID, but that was somehow respectable. Why, a Kennedy was part of it! How bad could that be? The Americans were on our side, after all. I remember once at primary school someone saying that and a teacher going ballistic, raving that the Americans were on their own side and nobody else’s, which made no sense at all and was very much not repeated. We had the evidence of Combat and an almost infinite number of war films to tell us that.
At Christmas, just in case we’d missed the point, the RAF band or the army band would visit the school and play us a selection of hits of the day, which was a pretty good feat of music if not arms. Naturally, the army came along to host a careers day once a year. I made a friend for a long time when I asked in the Any Questions part if there were any plans to bring back conscription. Apparently there weren’t. I’d wanted to ask what happened if you were told to do one thing in the army, like say, go to Northern Ireland, then a week later after an election you were told not to. I didn’t know which one was right, and doing the right thing seemed to me important at the time. When I finally did articulate this I was told that orders were orders. Which was obviously true. I didn’t know then that this hadn’t counted for much at Nuremburg. But of course, that was Them saying that. Not Us.
I thought very seriously about joining the army. More precisely I was going to an interview to be a lieutenant in the Royal Marines, but I had the chance to earn £600 for that one week and in those days that was very serious money indeed so I did that instead.
I don’t know when it changed. I stopped trusting what I was told. It was a combination of things, as life always is. It was partly the Miners Strike. I didn’t want to be a miner and nor did anyone who I ever met whose family had been in any way connected with coal mining, but it was obvious there was something deeply wrong with what I was being told. I began to wonder whether We were still right and They were still wrong. Then a friend told me about a prison officer she shared a flat with whose hobby, when some people were getting into orienteering or macrame was to put on a police uniform without any identification badges, get in a bus and go and have a fight, safe in the knowledge that so long as she was attacking striking miners absolutely nothing at all would happen to either her or her career.
Another friend was filming for the BBC at a strike when he walked past a police van full of guns. The police and his producer told him it was very much neither in his nor the public interests to film this and put it on the Nine O’Clock news. Years later I talked to him again after the Hungerford Massacre when someone whose lifetime’s work was in ballistics and practical shooting claimed to have photographic evidence that the official version of the shooting wasn’t exactly four-square with where certain bullet holes were. The Prime Minister then and now refused point blank to hold a public inquiry into what was the first mass public shooting in the UK by a civilian. The same thing happened: it’s not going to be filmed. We don’t need to look at this again. We’ve been told what happened. It’s not in the public interest to ask.
Then as now, it seemed that the public agenda was set by the tabloid press. Certainly the politics of Us and Them are exactly the same. The sinking of the Belgrano summed it up for me. Back in the Falklands War an old US Navy aircraft carrier had been flogged off to the Argentinians who claimed that the Falkland Islands belonged to them, a point which the Foreign Office had tabled for discussion with Argentina every year since 1946. Whoever the islands belonged to, a Royal Navy submarine sunk the Belgrano. Somewhere over 300 Argentinian conscript sailors died. In Downing Street Margaret Thatcher appeared on TV, asking us all to ‘rejoice.’ This isn’t a figure of speech; that is exactly what she said. The Sun ran the adult and sober headline: Gotcha.
Which was strange, because when the Argentinians attacked the Royal Navy and killed far fewer British sailors The Sun headline ran: Bastards. The same thing had happened. Young men had been killed. They were all only following orders, every last one of them, and in the Argentinians’ case, without even the choice of whether they joined up or not. But when one kind of young man died we were told that was bad and another kind of young man died we were told by the head of state on TV to rejoice.
The Conservative Party chairman got his mistress pregnant. He also got an injunction to ensure that the child’s name could never be mentioned in the press and the press loyally went along with this completely. It was OK to say in print that Freddie Starr ate someone’s hamster (he didn’t) or that Elton John raped children (he expensively didn’t), no problems for the press there. It was just the truth that was a problem. Matrix-Churchill helped more. The government was entirely happy to send a businessman to prison for doing what they knew all along he was doing. The Defence Minister Michael Heseltine got one of his staff sent to prison for telling the truth after he’d decided the electorate didn’t need to know that not only were US cruise missiles in the UK but that HMG had no say in it one way or the other. The same way as when in 1986 the US Air Force flew out of Upper Heyford in Gloucestershire to bomb the Chinese Embassy in Libya the Prime Minister was only told about this after the planes were in the air out of politeness, not that there was ever any possibility whatsoever of her being able to cancel their mission. The fact that the Chinese Embassy wasn’t supposed to be the target wasn’t the issue. We didn’t see the tabloids jumping up and down about sovereignty then.
Eventually we had a different government. They told us, with the loyal and unflinching support of the press that there were chemical weapons in Iraq. There were not and the people saying there were knew that every shred of evidence said there weren’t.
I stopped believing we were right. I stopped believing I was being told the truth. I stopped feeling any obligation whatsoever to any idea of country, or patriotism or national identity or the flag apart from being embarrassed being recognised as English abroad and finding the Union flag anything other than a piece of cloth. It baffles me how anyone can think otherwise. So this week, when nobody even bothers to deny that governments of my country in my lifetime have lied to me and every other citizen time and time again, excuse me if I don’t join in.
Islington wasn’t always Islington. Or rather, it was, but the meaning of the name changed over the years, as meanings do. Just in my own life-time it transformed from a place where there were precisely two wine bars (The Actors Retreat with its lethal wet spiral staircase outside leading down to the basement it was in and Serendipity, or Dips as it usually was for those whose office was next door, literally two doors down the corridor in the upstairs of the converted tram garage we thought was so wonderfully trendy) to a place lampooned on TV as being full of them.
Keith Waterhouse wrote about how rubbish it was when he moved in and how rubbish it still was in 1970ish. Even when I moved into Bromfield Street (formerly King Edward Street, but after that business with the Simpson woman, well, you know…) it was endearingly crap. There was a bombsite at the end of the road known as the Cats Carpark, because it was infested with feral cats that animal protection people trapped, neutered and released back to the carpark staffed by huge tough-looking blokes who seemed like extras from The Sweeney and may well have been, all of whom kept a weather-eye out for the cats and their helpers. There was a shop where you could buy second-hand gas cookers for £50, like something out of Minder. A barber which was also a tailors, Chapel Market for fruit and veg and a strange, tiny shop that sold the oddest of odd things, freshly made pasta for about £40 a plate-load. So far ahead of its time and all long before that godawful multiplex cinema was astral-projected straight into the middle of our manor. Prostetnic Vogan Jeltz would have been so pleased.
While Hotblack Desiato was a bona fide estate agent the house next door was a squat, which was a pain because they kept having loud fights until one night the police literally carted everyone away, after which it was blissfully quiet. There was a gay pub at the end of the road which regularly had its windows put in, as gay pubs did in those days, usually by the National Front according to the graffiti. Quite why a group of young men exclusively fond of each other’s company in skin-tight jeans, figure-hugging shirts and big rufty-tufty boots should have been so exercised about gay pubs was always a bit beyond me. I wasn’t that comfortable when I went there when I first moved in one winter, not knowing it was a gay pub and the warmest clothes I had were motorcycle leathers, but I never got clothes right in London anyway. It didn’t make me want to smash their windows.
Not having much money I read a lot. One of the books I read was the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which featured Islington quite a lot. Douglas Adams still lived there in those days and if you read the second book in the five-part trilogy carefully enough you could find his converted warehouse easily enough, round the back of Screen on the Green.
He and I shared the same parking garage, in a time when it seemed totally normal to drive around Central London, cutting down along the route of the 19 bus along Roseberry Avenue and Picadilly to get to the M4 and westwards. Every year Douglas Adams got a brand-new Porsche 911. Every year within weeks the inside would be even more fantastically messy than my cars get. He always had in those blissful pre-satnav days, a huge envy-making AA roadmap of the UK. I mentioned this to the Significant Other of the time, and added that if I was Douglas Adams the temptation to paste the words Don’t Panic on the cover would be simply too much. She said that was why I wasn’t Douglas Adams.
I moved, Douglas Adams died and the Hitchhikers Guide is back on the radio. I hate to say it, but it’s nowhere near as good as it was. It’s not just that the voices have got older. Maybe it’s because now we have iPads the idea of the Guide itself is so much more ho-hum than the oh-wow-wouldn’t-that-be-great thing we thought it would be, in a world where the USSR still had a huge wall around it and for any right-thinking person the EU meant cheap drinks and sunshine a zillion light-years from the rain and aggro of what became bafflingly trendy North London. Trust me, the past was a different country. They did the Hitchhikers Guide differently there.
I used to go to Salisbury a lot. A bank manager there thought I was going to shoot him, but I didn’t have a gun. To be fair, I did, but I didn’t have it with me. And I had no intention of shooting him. It was all a misunderstanding. There were a lot of them hanging out with that girl.
She wasn’t the Queen of the Silver Dollar. Salisbury didn’t run to that kind of thing. She was a perfectly ordinary lower-middle class girl who was lucky or unlucky enough to be stunningly pretty and not overly blessed with much of an education, nor much support at home, but home was warm and new and comfortable enough, with fitted carpets and a chest freezer, a boat on the drive and a car loan for the kids, her and her brother.
We used to take her Afghan hound for a walk, her in her ponyskin coat, me in my motorcyle jacket. We’d stroll down to the Old Mill Restaurant where we never went because we didn’t have any money, then the little footbridge across the river, through the watermeadows towards the cathedral. One Spring we watched the cygnets grow to be swans and when the last had shed its grey feathers her dog died. Saturday nights were 6X, Leibfraumilch and crisps and waiting for her parents to go out. She had an orange Ford Escort with a Stage Two race engine. I had a 650cc Triton. Jack and Diane as it might have been written by Thomas Hardy.
It wasn’t always sunny.
There was torential rain when I had to do the best piece of motorcyle riding I ever did. I’d turned off the A36 and blasted up the empty cold road on the last mile to her house. There was a ninety degree left at the end of the straight, then another straight for about a mile until the very last turning. What I didn’t see until I clipped it with the back wheel was the metal drain on the apex of the corner that spat the wheel sideways. I’d opened the throttle on the apex of the bend, the way we did back then. I think I was doing around 60 but I didn’t really have time to look. I got the back wheel back again but it shot out to the left. Then to the right again. Then to the left.
I thought if I braked I wouldn’t be doing much else in my life, so I did the only thing I could think of and rolled the throttle off slowly. It worked. Before long it was hot instant coffee and central heating and don’t put your wet jacket near my mum’s coat, back to normal.
It wasn’t the sort of place spies got poisoned, which probably makes it the best kind of place for spies to get poisoned.
The bank manager was mistaken. All I did was ask him what time she might be getting out of work, but I did it in the street, outside the bank, reaching into my motorcycle jacket for my wallet, wearing jeans and motorcycle boots and he thought I was reaching for a gun. “I don’t have a gun” didn’t seem to help, either. Hey ho. The past is a different country. They do things differently there.
I’ve had a ringing in one ear for the past year after a really bad cold I got from students. Thanks, kids, it makes it all worthwhile. I got so bunged up I had to have my ears syringed for the first time ever after I thought a warning buzzer on the car had packed up. Turned out it hadn’t, I just couldn’t hear it.
It got a lot louder so I went to the doc. Who reassuringly said she’d quite like to see if it wasn’t anything to do with my ear at all, but a brain tumour pushing on it. But don’t worry about brain cancer until we find it, ok? Er …..sure. OK. It’s like saying don’t think about elephants. It can’t be done.
I had my scan and waited. I phoned the doc, who told me to phone the hospital. Who wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t a doctor. Reassuring. I wondered how long it would take to do a Data Protection Act query. The doc told me the hospital wouldn’t have been arsing about like this if I actually had a brain tumour, but that wasn’t 100% reassuring.
Yesterday I went to the follow-up meeting with the Senior Registrar. No brain tumour. She stuck a camera up my nose and pressed her boobs into the back of my head. One of these sensations was much nicer than the other. She rolled her eys at the GP’s suggestion that polyps were growing on my eardrums. There aren’t any. She thought it wasn’t great that GPs do the ‘you might have a brain tumour’ spiel. I don’t.
A nurse blew in my ear to see if I had a punctured ear drum. With a machine, obviously. It’s not that sort of hospital. If you can feel the pressure increase ten you don’t. I only could in one ear. The machine was broken. We had to borrow one from the office next door.
What I do have is fluid stuck behind one ear, the aftermath of that bad cold. It should have gone away but it hasn’t due probably to some local inflamation and a tiny, tiny chance something has gone wrong there at some time which we will deal with if it hasn’t sorted itself out in three months.
I’ve got to sniff tolerable drops twice a day for two weeks and do stuff too revolting to mention, but I don’t have a brain tumour. Not today, anyway.
I was supposed to go to work today. Yesterday a one hour commute turned into two hours because of the snow. It didn’t snow overnight, so I thought it might be ok today.
As I was driving down the hill I listened to the radio telling me the A14 was blocked, the A14 was blocked, the A1120 was blocked, the road to Framlingham and the A1120 was blocked and the A12, well, the A12 was described as ‘a nightmare’ but as anyone who ever drove it knows, it just is anyway. There’s one other road out of here, precipitously steep, single track and not even a B road.
My immediate obstacle was getting down the hill safely. The problem here on the edge of this haunted airfield is that it froze last night after it snowed the day before. Then this morning we had a lot of wind that blew the snow off the fields on top of the sheet of ice that used to be the road.
I did what I was taught to do on an off-road driving course to get down any hill safely: put it in first gear and get your foot off the accelerator. Because it’s first gear your car can’t physically do more than about 15 or 20mph anyway, which is plenty fast enough on sheet ice. I tried to ignore the idiot behind me who thought two car lengths was plenty of distance between us.
I turned left at the bottom of the hill onto the bigger road that looked pretty clear. And it was for the first mile. As soon as we’d got through Hacheston the wind had piled fields full of snow onto the road making it just one lane. There were two cars stopped at the top of the hill, one of them slewed sideways and the other turning round, but there was a snowplough spreading grit up ahead so I slotted in behind that.
The lady’s not for turning
Which was a mistake. The snowplough stopped. It took a while to see why. A black Volvo XC 90 was blocking the road, coming the other way. Like lots of big, new 4×4 cars it had never been fitted with a reverse. That’s my charitable explanation.
In darker moments I just believe that the drivers think everyone who doesn’t have a big new 4×4 should just get out of the way like the forelock-tugging plebs we are. I even tried reversing (not for the Volvo. Some hope of that) but my car is front-wheel drive. Good for snow when going forward. Almost useless for snow going backwards.
Eventually it dawned on the Volvo driver that the snowplough wasn’t actually going to reverse all the way to the depot they way they’d expected it to do. I followed the snowplough through. It had taken 30 minutes to do three miles at that point. The A12 looked clear but empty when I saw it, but I remembered the radio warning.
I turned left instead of right and turned up the hill to go home at Marlsford. This hill was sheet ice too, but going up this time instead of down. I didn’t think I would have been able to get up my hill the way I’d come down. I knew something about going up hills in snow too – as soon as you hear the wheels spinning, get off the accelerator fast unless you want a quick one-way journey into the nearest hedge. With the wheels spinning you have absolutely no steering to speak of and you’re just sliding. Off the gas and your steering comes back instantly.
But go slowly. Above everything else, drive as if you’ve got a basket of eggs on the dashboard. But I sitll called it. For the first time in my whole life I emailed work and told them the weather was too bad to get in. It had taken fifty minutes to do a six mile circle around my house. And it was nice of work to write a one-word reply to my email, simply saying ‘Received.”
My life is worth more to me than a day’s pay. Obviously this isn’t a universal viewpoint, which is always nice to get clear. I spent the rest of the day applying for a job. The gig economy works two ways.
I didn’t particularly want to see this when I looked out of the window. I live miles out in the countryside, 5 miles from any town, a short walk to a haunted airfield. We’ve got a letterbox, but no pub, shop or anything else up here on the hill. They’ve got all that fancy stuff down on the main road, such as it is. Except the pub.
Because I do several different jobs, this week I chose the wrong one. The film I was working with had finished shooting and although I’m with three agencies there’s nothing around this week, so I was committed to teaching nearly fifty miles away.
On a decent day it takes just under an hour. It was obviously going to take more this morning. My old Saab was built in a snowy place, so I wasn’t worried about the car. Chiefly what bothered me was other people. When I was a stupid kid every time it snowed I went out for a drive. I can’t have been that stupid, because every time I did by the end of the drive I’d survived situations that would have resulted in me not typing any of this if I hadn’t had the practice. I remember coming back from one jaunt like that and finding a snow plough lorry across the road I’d been planning to use. I put the car sideways into a snowbank and no harm done to anyone.
I didn’t practice any handbrake turns today, not even a little one. But I saw a few people who ought to have done, or at least, their vehicles. The first one was a van half on its side in the ditch that had been trying to go up a hill and hadn’t. The last one that blocked the entire A14 was sad. A small car, not new, on the verge. To be accurate, half-way up the verge, in the trees surrounded by smashed branches. And upside down, with the roof crushed to the top of the doors. There was a police car there. I’m assuming the road had been blocked by ambulances and police crews and the fire brigade getting the people out. They weren’t there. It was hard to see how they were ever going to be again, unless they ducked down under the dashboard, the way people manage to in films. I doubt it, somehow.
It took nearly double the time it normally takes me to get to work, and the same coming home. I’m shattered from concentrating and remembering how to drive in the snow, and from remembering to pack a broom, a wooly hat, gloves, wellies, a camp stove, water, a lighter, a blanket, teabags and two packets of quick-cook porridge, along with a wind-up torch in the car. If you don’t need this stuff, you’ve won. If you do need it it’s no use in the cupboard at home.
I’d like to give special thanks to the two 4×4 owners who decided that ten feet off the back of my boot was an excellent place to drive, except I’d be lying. Total arses though they both were, are and obviously will continue to be, I hope even they get home safe tonight. That little wrecked car in the trees will stay with me.
It took four years to win the Inmarsat account. But we did win it in my other life, when I was a researcher/analyst. We did something nobody else had ever managed to do and when St Peter asks me why I should be let in, I’ll be able to say something very few people can. I helped 800,000 people make a phone call.
Way back but not so long ago that I can’t remember, someone at Inmarsat, then an NGO which owned all the satellites that let ships talk to the rest of the world, had an idea. Maybe, he thought, maybe the crew would like to make a phone call now and again. Maybe they’d like to phone their mum or their wife or their girlfriend, that kind of thing? He wondered how much they were spending on phone calls. And he accidentally got me in the FT and made me famous enough for people to recognise me at conferences in Australia, quite a long way from here. It was a suddenly different world.
I thought about it today because I was looking for some data to practice some pivot tables. We didn’t have them back then when the research was done. We put interviewers physically onto ships in Southampton and Singapore, after ruling out Baltimore and a host of other locations either because they duplicated (ie the ships at Southampton mostly went to the other port as well) or they were too complex and hostile to get into. At Baltimore for example, every single wharf was owned by a separate company; there was no way we could get onto enough ships in time.
Singapore was hostile enough. The entire interview crew managed to get themselves arrested as stowaways there, which is no mean feat for middle-aged, middle-class English ladies with clipboards. We’d trained them well. On every ship they went to they were told to get specific permission from the captain, no matter that we already had permission from the owner via the agent. They went onboard and asked where he was.
The tradition at the time and presumably still is that if the captain’s cabin door is open you can go in and if not, not. But it was open so they did. The captain was in his cabin. Sadly he was entertaining a newly-acquired friend fairly vigourously and called for the ship’s Mate who was told to get rid of the interviewers pronto. In fact, get them arrested. The Mate asked what for? The captain said the first thing that came into his head, his mind being on other things. Stowaways. The Mate went away and came back quite quickly. The interviewers weren’t reassured by the fact he was now carrying a rusty Sten gun dug up from some totally illegal hiding place in the bilges, which he prodded them in the back with all the way down the gangplank. The Docks police had had a call that something was going on, drove up and arrested the ‘stowaways.’
It all turned out alright in the end. But it’s about time I wrote it all up.