An Office Life 9: Intermission (images)

We rarely keep the things of our lives. Peeking through my archives I came across a little black book with some notes to my earlier blog post (An Office Life 8: Intermission) related to The Context of Life, which I reproduce without further comment.


The Context of Life a


The Context of Life b


The Context of Life c


The Context of Life d


The Context of Life e


The Context of Life f

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Memories of Doris Lessing

While I was trawling my archives for notes I’d made on Sufism in Burnley (in vain so far), an unpolished, unpublished draft post on Doris Lessing came to my attention – I was conscious I hadn’t said all I wanted to say about Ms Lessing. It is dated late 2014 – around that time I was writing the draft for an early excursion into YA (Tengrism, other nomad themes, an alternate Earth, all part of a Dark Fantasy). The following is still draft:

Memories of Doris Lessing

I’ve been meaning to tidy up my paperback collection for some time now. I have lots of things to divert me but several days ago I took the plunge.
In a long life of collecting whatever interested me, I have amassed a collection of over 1,000 books. The last time I catalogued them was some time back. Checking up on my Excel file (yup, all neatly tabulated) tells me that was in January / February 2008. Since then they’ve been in boxes, got shipped from one place to another, been repacked into more boxes, and finally, just over one year ago, unpacked to stand on new bookshelves. Unfortunately they’re in an almighty mess. When I unpacked, I did my best by placing them in a more or less, alphabetical order. Cue end of 2014 / start of 2015; time to clear them all up; see which books have gone missing and note new entries to the catalogue.
I like the look and feel of books. I’m also taken, now and again, by the urge to record whatever I can, for who knows when I may find it useful at some future point of time? I divide my books into categories; Fiction, Classics, Reference and Professional. And because my shelves have limited height, I tend to separate out hardback fiction.

What do I record?
Publisher, Cover price, Author, Title, Year of ©, Year my edition came out, Notes – the usual sort of thing.
Why bother organising? after all, I’m light-years away from being neat & tidy; honest.
Well, they can be organised, and it would be great to refresh my memories of authors.
In life, the rules change as you progress; what seemed good now seems poorly drafted; other things that seemed exotic you now know to be pointlessly effete. Little survives unscathed. As a rule I tend to not reread old favourites.

It’s been a while since I read Doris Lessing. You must understand that I am an inveterate Science Fiction reader, however, sometime in 1977 I decided to get ahold of A Briefing for a Descent into Hell. For the anal types, this was four years before her first Space Fiction appeared in paperback – hardback at that time was completely off my agenda. This was, however, at a time when I began to explore the works of Idries Shah. More on that later.

As in writing, I see a library as a whole. It is a lifetime’s endeavour in the exploration of the marvellous (or whatever play of words matches the impulse). In my case, this is clear. Though I separate my studies of classical Greece, Rome, China and Islam, as well as my reference works from the works of fiction, they are all essentially me and, to a greater or lesser extent, are a reflection of how I came to be where I am.

A Briefing for a Descent into Hell, was slightly radical; I’ve been prepared for new ways of looking at the potential of fiction by the likes of Michael Moorcock’s experiments in New Worlds, and Harlan Ellison’s thumb-nose at SF mantras in Dangerous Visions. Nevertheless, the work was challenging. 

Briefing for a Descent into Hell

Briefing for a Descent into Hell

What do we do when we read? We pass whatever is there through our frame of reference to build up a gestalt. It’s a way of getting into the mind of the author. I wasn’t entirely clear on Doris Lessing’s message, so I looked in on the Martha Quest series (better known as Children of Violence), and while I was at it, gave The Golden Notebook a go.

The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

Part of the point of those works was the critics reaction. It was, I suppose, an open secret.
I had been studying the materials (as a sceptic) provided by Idries Shah.
To be certain, I am not a Sufi, nor am I about to spout the teachings of a 1400 year old zealot. On the contrary, I am more Christian now than then, and as for Sufism, it has no function outside of Islam –and on that score I have no truck with organisations with and Islamic agenda.
There was much to admire in Doris’s tale of Martha Quest; for a start, it gave me insight into a middle-class life of made up causes and genteel radicalism; I was of course from the lowest levels of society, that that makes up the majority of British people and on whose behalf, genteel radicals purport to ‘fight’. Feel the sarcasm because most so-called radicals would do less harm (and better off) getting a proper job and helping society to function; but what the hey? These stories were of course more than this, there was a plucky young woman, well equipped to deal with the affected anarchy and the chauvinistic idealists of society. Contrast that with what I knew. Most of those I knew then were incapable of dealing with their own affairs, let alone the kids they had. Their anarchic circumstance was unaffected.
Anyway, Doris Lessing, darling of the feminists (for a while) seemed a decent starting point
Taught to aspire to that class so what were its values? Were they actually worth aspiring to? Idries Shah makes a number of observations about the English in Darkest England. These provoke more answers than they provide.
It may seem that not a great deal has been said about her. What’s also important is what I haven’t said.

It’s tempting to populate my recollection with bits from the net. Heaven knows, there’s enough of it. Like Doris, I’ve a long established disregard for convention and I ‘m capable of arriving at my own conclusions. My mother many times had said, God gave you a brain, so use it. That went along with God gave you a tongue… and Cleanliness is next to Godliness. My mother wasn’t a great preacher on Christian virtues but she knew when to craft (or reuse) a phrase.

It was open knowledge – to some I guess. How did I know. I can’t prove it but I saw the story shapes in Canopus in Argos and suspected. How can I say such a thing? It was obvious. Know what to look for. This was in the days before instant news, 24/7.

Provoke an examination of the world and how we live in it.

I always felt that Doris had more to say in her Space Fiction. Given the opportunity I would have taken her to task, after all, it said things that just weren’t conveyed in her other stuff. And as far as Science Fiction went, there were only a few serious purveyors. Philip K Dick had passed on to that great imperium sine fine rosea lux. Other writers might take up the strain but even as he succumbed to the final kiss of life, Doris pulled away too. What was one to do?

I’d a few of her short story collections to go at but the bright attraction was gone. What was worse was the pink rosy glow around my chosen genre began to pall. My collection of classical works from antiquity was well underway, I was going through the throes of professional qualification; essential if I was to survive in the coming world. By the early 90s, I put collecting books aside. Doris voice had little more to say to me through her works – perhaps for others. I put my Sufi studies aside when Idries Shah died. He smoked too much and admitted as much. But that connection stayed in my head. They do if you see a link.

Anyway, what did I learn? Apart from the obvious purpose of life and other ground shaking observations, I learned I’d committed a grievous error in my initial catalogue of works; somehow that list excluded two books


Publisher Year © Year Pub Cover price Author 1st_name Title_of_book__________ Notes
Granada 1979 1981 1.95 Lessing Doris Shikasta Canopus in Argos
Granada 1980 1981 1.95 Lessing Doris The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five Canopus in Argos


These, along with other omissions / additions are now incorporated into a new, improved catalogue 2014.

Note, as I’ve progressed, I’ll do bits on other authors. For the most part these will be SF / Fantasy. The only definites in this are Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazny. Authors conspicuous by their absence: Plato, Aristotle, Idries Shah.

Sufism in Burnley – as I recall that was a time when my Windows 10 laptop arbitrarily chose when to reboot – recreating those notes will be a pain.


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An Office Life 8: Intermission

1) Learning the work.

Work is easy – find the pattern and fit in. Do the job better, faster, more effectively and cover all the bases; create space to do more. Everything that goes without saying. There are barriers to effective performance. Firstly there’s the employee: many aren’t in the right place – work is a lark or it’s an adjunct to a busy social life or a just a stepping stone to better money a career move… or maybe they feel life owes them a living. Then there can be impediments in the circumstances of the employer – the business can be under financial pressure, commercial pressure, its ethos may suffer because of unprofessional management or poor attitudes of long term employees leading it to suffer high staff turnover… all things I’ve encountered.
But what’s it all about, work, life, everything?

2) Learning life

Night school study for a HNC (Higher National Certificate between 197/8 and 1980) in Business Studies supplied a mental map for grasping business issues but that’s as far as it goes.
Schooling doesn’t give an answer, parents with a professional background can tell you what’s essential for getting on in the world – money doesn’t make you happy but it can make life bearable… out there are pop idols, sports icons, media gurus – all kinds of people dishing out how they see the world. To make sense of the world, do you follow fashionable social groups with their pre-packaged answers? It’s easy because you let someone else do the thinking.
As a child I took the view that answers would come in their own time, all I had to do was wait. When I started at Bell Woven I was no nearer the answer – I was instinctively suspicious of crazes like: Northern Soul, Grease, Saturday Night Fever; pastimes that got in the way of answers.

3) The context of life

Call it a quest for context. This started in Colne Library during dinner break. I read up on all the greats of the past in Philosophy, History, Music, maths, Logic. It would have been easy to begin with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – near to top on my hit list, but to approach matters in that way would be disorganised – my list was alphabetical and that was how it was approached. Often there were references to follow up – intriguing but often requiring the selection of a further volume – Colne Library wasn’t the largest so at time I guess I wasn’t the most welcome of visitors, hogging research space as I did. And note there were no computers then, study was directly from individual volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

4) What did I discover?

Many things. Civilisation didn’t begin with writing but one might say that writing triggered history – i.e. recorded history. If you’ve ever played Sid Meier’s Civilisation the starting point is circa 4,000 BC. Writing comes after that point of time… the point being that writing (and literacy) can and has codified, but that isn’t everything that has been known. If a pre-literate society is destroyed, its knowledge vanishes with it. In a sense my delving looked at what we know with a view to establishing boundaries.
In the general scheme of things, Plato’s works are fairly late on in the ascent of man but they are about as early as we can get for a developed world view. Plato does form – in a sense he overdoes it. At a pragmatic level man studies patterns and gains advantage whether it’s by knowing when to harvest or when and how to make more complex decisions. Man is an opportunist. To hold up Plato’s form as a rigid template for right action and virtue is to deny what we are. This is where philosophy parts company with the real world – those who think in rigid ways will ever be disappointed. Yes it all sounds theoretical; most people want an easy answer, something they are comfortable with that doesn’t make them work too hard so they can get on living their lives. That’s pragmatic; that’s what we are. Some want an answer, maybe THE answer. Is there such a thing? That’s unlikely but… it does have a kind of Platonic form feeling. Everything answered by one ultimate concept. Except… it’s kind of simplistic; a world view that works for one person is of no interest to others. The world is messy; people are different.
Plato’s forms came from earlier concepts, eg life’s events can be considered the warp and weft that makes a pattern. That earlier thought signifies a greater harmony, implying not a little fatalism, Plato’s thought on the other hand was designed to empower the Philosopher King.
* * *
Okay! Playtime’s over. Back to the grind.

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An Office Life 7: Stock Take

When I started at Bell Woven (often contracted to Belwoven) textiles was still a significant employer in Lancashire. Although the writing was on the wall for functional specialisation and careers in it, there were still opportunities for those who looked around. Bell Woven was one of those. It was in a niche market but played correctly it was a haven from the meltdown in textiles. My boss told me that many companies had been offered an inducement to textile business wishing to get out; subsidies for selling existing plant and machinery to India. It was a common perception in the work force that government had once again sold them out. Certainly there were far more technically qualified people than jobs.
I took the opportunity to look into Hansard and it’s pretty evident that the top layers of government were hostile to the concerns of those employed in the industry – textile imports were being dumped in the UK, subsidised by foreign governments, and / or produced at slave-labour rates, in effect being sold below cost. “Bring your proof” said government officials, plainly intent on doing nothing about the matter. There was opportunity to correct this but there was always another excuse for not doing so.
A brief dip into economic history and fit the jigsaw pieces together, the British government, as part of its settlement with post Empire India, had determined that it was wise to get out of textiles. Leaving out the rights and wrongs of the matter, what it proposed was to give grants to mill owners who sent their textile machinery to India; an exit strategy was offered to owners who got an unexpected balloon payment. The workers got nothing, just high levels of unemployment in communities that often had only one employer.
Over to Jim Langley. He was the textiles buyer at Bell Woven. Life had channelled him from a much larger outfit, with no future, to a tiny place like Belwoven. One of his tasks included providing month end pricing information in order that our stock of raw materials could be valued.
Pricing: fine. Valuing stock: no one wanted to put their name to that, besides it involved going into the mill. Go inter t’ mill and you’d get ribbed by the weavers, you might not get any help in counting the stock – you might even have to count it yourself. Stock didn’t mean tiny boxes all neatly stacked in a prissy little store room, no, it meant bloody great beams full of warp – from five foot to ten foot wide, weighing in at 100kg at least. What was a warp? Think of a bobbin of thread, now make it longer, wider (particularly this), deeper – it’s have up to 6,000 individual ends (i.e. threads) securely and neatly wound around the barrel up to a length of say 3km. These were kept in a side annexe along with the boxes of weft, until they were ready to be twisted into a loom. Our two twisters were Charlie Metcalfe and Phil Terry. Twisting meant connecting each individual end to the corresponding ends already in the looms, secured at the reeds.
Then there was weft. It came on cones in boxes weighing anywhere between a couple of kg (if there was just one cone) up 50 or 60 kg. Each cone was wound with one thread possibly several km long (depending on its denier or decitex). Most weft was black or white – as an example white weft white warp would effectively set the a white background colour for a label design; but there plenty of other colours. One colour that was rarely used was Fuschia. A decimal point error at the ordering stage some years earlier, meant we received 100 times more than was required. For many years there were 174kg of weft, colour: Fuschia, fully provisioned, kept on the off-chance of future use – technical terms require context, I picked up knowledge the traditional way, by exposure and by doing.
Anyhow I was young bright and eager; I got the monthly job of counting raw material stock: beams of warp and boxes of weft, and having done this, popping over to the accounts office for a sit down chat with Jim Langley, esq, for a chat about warp and weft prices. These were to be found a set of five foot high metal filing cabinets set against the wall, holding supplier records, including invoices. Belwoven bought polyester fibres which went under names such as diolen and terylene – from business such as Bemberg (Italy) and Lawson (UK).
As this was a time of inflation (3% to 8% p,a,) and varying exchange rates, prices per kilo often varied. Volume discounts reduced the price, inflation raised it, foreign exchange rate variation played its part and it would often fall to me to select the most representative price – it goes without saying that this involved a good deal of personal judgement – was there a median price? what was the weighted mean? should each respective loom’s warp cost be reflected in an individual raw material entry – this was only significant when we had orange warp beams for a Levi tabs order – a tab was barely large enough to include the company name: no washing or care instructions, no size, just the logo.
The results of our deliberations I would take away to my humble desk in order to convert into month end value of raw material. Valuation was done by calculator:

• kg x price per kg = value
• each set of beams (2 per loom) whether in a loom or in the side annexe, and each box of yarn, adjusted for cones issued to the winding department.

I well remember converting the stock schedules into spreadsheet format some 10 years later. Supercalc. Who remembers that? I still have a working copy of Supercalc somewhere – heck I’ve even got a PC that runs it! Perhaps I’ll blog it someday.

Mock up warp beam

Mock up warp beam

Further Reading

Marks & Spencer and the Decline of the British Textile Industry, 1950-2000

Cotton Industry Bill, Second reading

Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill, Second reading

Textile Industry Lancashire, adjournment debate – Cyril Smith Rochdale MP


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My Top Ten SF Spaceships

My Top Ten SF Spaceships

Let’s make this clear, no mention of SF is complete without Frank Herbert’s majestic Dune. Right that’s sorted. Let’s begin.

1) EE ‘Doc’ Smith: Skylark – from The Skylark of Space and sequels. The Skylark of Space is one of the earliest novels of interstellar travel and the first example of space opera.

2) Arthur C. Clarke: Rama – from Rendezvous with Rama. Rama, an alien space vessel, is detected by a space study program designed to identify near-Earth objects on Earth-impact trajectories. Clarke named the program: Project Spaceguard. 40 years after Clarke’s award winning book, NASA initiated Project Safeguard, naming it after Clarke’s fictional concept.

3) Douglas Adams: Heart of Gold – from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Zaphod Beeblebrox, general con man and President of the Imperial Galactic Government, steals the Heart of Gold just in time to rescue Arthur Dent (& Ford Prefect) from the wastes of space. The Heart of Gold uses an Infinite Improbability Drive which in turn is powered by the Golden Ball of Prosperity in Douglas Adam’s implausible but highly likeable Hitchhiker’s Guide (a trilogy in four parts).

4) Robert Heinlein: Vanguard – from Orphans of the Sky. Orphans of the Sky came out in 1941 as 2 novellas: Universe and Common Sense. It depicts a vast starship in which, after a mutiny by the colonists, the descendants forget the nature and purpose of the ship. This was the first novel to depict a generation starship.

5) Larry Niven: Lying Bastard – from Ringworld. Ringworld is a conceptual structure – a ring circling a star in the Goldilocks (ie habitable) zone. It has giant sized rim walls to keep the atmosphere in and is made of another type of scrith an example of indistructiblium (and unobtanium). While investigating Ringworld, the Lying Bastard is disabled by the automated meteoroid defense system. Nebula, Hugo and Locus award winner.

6) James White: General Hospital, Sector 12 – not really a spaceship but rather a giant multi-species space station / hospital founded as a peace making project (Babylon 5 anyone?). White published twelve Sector General books between 1962 and 1999 – this was the first explicitly pacifist space opera series.

7) Brian M Stableford: The Hooded Swan – Halcyon Drift (and 5 sequels). The Hooded Swan is designed from a fusion of human and alien technologies. Grainger is hired to fly it but not captain it. Grainger is resentful but has big debts to pay off. He also has a symbiotic relationship with the wind, an alien presence in his mind. The wind wants to make Grainger a better person, to Grainger the wind is a parasite. The Hooded Swan series is notable for the use of Let Well Alone as a concept in dealing with alien species.

8) David Brin: Streaker – Startide Rising. A Terran spaceship, Streaker, makes a discovery that threatens the status quo of the Five Galaxies. The older races have a vested interest in suppressing the discovery along with the Streaker. This is part of conceptual storyline in which older species dominate the younger due to uplift. Patron species scour the galaxy for pre-sapient species, ready to be uplifted. The patron makes genetic modifications until the client species evolve sapience; this gives them status; client species are indentured to them for up to 100,000 years. The Five Galaxies are an ancient hierarchy that has lasted hundreds of millions of years: Unusually, Terrans have no patrons. Part of the 6 volume Uplift Universe.

9) Christopher Priest: The Space Machine – from the book of the same name. Edward Turnbull and Amelia Fitzgibbon take a tipsy ride in inventor, Sir William Reynolds’ machine. Actually it’s a Time and Space machine. Christopher Priest fuses together The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds in a recursive steam-punk novel – probably the first. Victorian pastiche: tick; pacey action thriller: cross.

10) By the time I got to nine I realised there were no clear nominees. Christopher Priest had just squeezed in for merging HG Well’s Time Machine with War of the Worlds, but no. ten? The Lenin (and the MacArthur) of Niven and Pournelle’s Mote in God’s Eye has to be ruled out; Niven is already in. Pohl’s Gateway fought a hard battle for token Space Station appearance and lost to peace loving Sector General. Dune is great (might as well mention that again) if only it had a spaceship with character.

Philip K Dick’s ships were rarely more than props. Would have liked a New Wave exponent but few of those works worked hard at the spaceship side of things. Anne McCaffrey’s Helva from the The Ship Who Sang would make a good no 10 (brain & brawn) as does Idries Shah’s Dermis Probe. Non-Stop was pacey (for Aldiss) but it’s similarities to Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky have been noted elsewhere. Eventually I plumped for Andre Norton’s Solar Queen. The series begins with Sargasso of Space. The Solar Queen is one of the spaceships used by the Free Traders in interstellar trade, a trader’s ship and a home in space. The series touches on topics like space pirates, forerunner species and xeno-archaeology. Andre Norton was a past favourite of mine and her American Indian heritage isn’t hard to make out in her works.

The Guardian article article on top ten spaceships puts me in mind of the many attempts over the years to reposition the genre as part of a far grander tradition. “Appropriation gentlemen. That’s my game.” Might well have served as the introduction to Brian Aldiss’ Billion Year Spree.  As far as appropriating from before Science Fiction came into being goes, the question arises: would Mary Shelley agree to her work being pigeon-holed so, or Cyrano de Bergerac?

SF begins with Hugo Gernsback’s Scientifiction; Gernsback was a greedy man who impoverished writers in order to enrich himself while, as a not unrelated consequence, nudging the genre into a literary nosedive. For his pains, fans named their SF award after him. Those who want to make SF something it isn’t first need to deal with that.

Spaceships are more than a home in space; they’d better be because if you’re going to need a whole lot of entertaining / diversion to keep you sane – space is big and the odds are you’re going to be stuck out there a long time. The idea of sentient starships is appealing. Why? To while away the boredom. Mine vary from the plodding, safety conscious Expedient in Lucky (lucky to even exist) to the outrageous Noor in The Tau Device.  Back to Andre Norton’s xeno-archaeology – the study of dead strangers. I’ve always had a soft spot for that and made it the cornerstone of my: The Tau Device.

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Revolution Day

Regime Change!

The cosy, smoke filled rooms of wannabe revolutionaries are fleshed out here to dwell on what happens after.
It’s South America; the revolution was fought and won long ago, consigning the evil dictator, Salgado, and his henchmen to the rubbish bin of history. You’ve won the revolution but what about the hearts and minds of those you purport to serve? No matter, because the country is rich in valuable resources.
Hurrah for President Carlos Almanzor (former lawyer), they shout… but time has moved on and the annual celebration in honour of those who fell in the revolution: Revolution Day, has become a magnet for protesters. New media is creeping into the lives of the citizens, painting President Almanzor’s regime in an unsavoury light. This isn’t easy to stamp out as it originates mostly from America; the regime’s biggest export market.
It’s been 37 years since the revolution and time has moved on; the president grows old. His former lover, Juanita, once a star of the revolution, has been under house arrest for the best part of two decades; the Revolutionary Council have become the Establishment, trotting out the ogre of a Salgado comeback whenever a purge is called for. His head of security, Manuel, is ambitious. Occasionally he is permitted one the perks of any self-respecting people’s revolutionary dictatorship, show trials.
Revolution Day builds a picture of how the revolution of decades ago tangled the lives of the revolutionary council, poisoning their humanity. It skips between the day to day life of the president, the dairy of Juanita, his former lover, and the head of security, Manuel. The practicalities of decision making, in a third world dictatorship are captured well, as are the less savoury aspects.
Manuel is ambitious, the president is old and regime change lies waiting.

There is an authentic feel to the day to day life of revolutionaries-come-dictators and the mechanics of power; the dynamic behind regime change is inexorable. Given the recent background of colour revolutions, may have wider interest. Age range 16+

Revolution Day by T.E. Taylor
June 2015, Crooked Cat Books
ISBN 978 1 54279 3582
Publisher site for this book:

Tim lives in Yorkshire and is a member of Holmfirth Writers. His first novel, Zeus of Ithome (ASIN:B00G7S04D2)  is set in ancient Greece.
Tim’s author site is: and he blogs at

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The Beast from the East

Due to job searching, a whingey, whiny letter to my local MP, a long drawn out struggle to revive my HTC Desire (‘optimising app’ loop anyone?), reviewing Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Thuvia, Maid of Mars, reading + giving feedback on a first draft (SF-Magic-mash-up – Words to the Wise) plus the Beast from the East, the planned blog post reminiscing on my working life: Monthly Stock Takes is on hold (primarily for  Linkedin). 

It's snow time. Let there be sniffing. (Alsation finds something interesting to sniff in the snow)

It’s snow time. Let there be sniffing.

Alsation sniffs snow 2

It’s snow time. Let there be sniffing, but where is it?

Snow doesn't last forever (ice ages apart). - a recent shot of one of the several parks nearby

Snow doesn’t last forever (ice ages apart).

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An Office Life: 6 Woven Labels


What is waste? To my teenage self it was rusty bicycle chains, damaged wheels from cars, the occasional battered pram, tangled in rotting fabric, all smeared with orange metallic spill from upstream, the River Calder. The river was a tip. A journey up it was an adventure – why would any go there? Because the recreation area was full of older teenage thugs from Stoneyholme, one of the meanest districts in town. Those without a white, middle class upbringing should recognise the kind of place – sink estates know no boundaries. So when I was asked the question: would I like to monitor waste? My response was to wonder what exactly I would be looking at. Was it going to involved checking whether the company dumped things on the tip – and maybe doing in situ observations; or could it be secret missions down to the local river – which in Colne was Colne Water – a tributary of Pendle Water which in turn feeds the River Calder, just 2 miles north of the district of Stoneyholme – Stoneyholme was of course where I’d lived – since I was 7.

North East Lancs inc main rivers

North East Lancs

Colourful but a bit far from the reality. True, the skip used by Bell Woven to deal with its waste was often full, but my level of interest was confined to the job cards – or loom cards as they were more frequently called. A loom card was a preprinted card on which went the technical particulars for each job. One loom card per job – the process began in production planning but the weaver’s part was as well as ensure good quality labels during weaving, to record the figure shown on the label clock onto the loom card, once the weaving process was complete. ¹
The next process saw the labels transferred to inspection who would: a) cut out any weaving flaws, piecing the remaining labels together into a continuous strip; these were counted by a rolling machine which converted this strip into rolls of preset quantities – usually 500 labels. This figure was recorded on the loom card. ²
The final process was a cut and fold finish. Not every job went through cut and fold but for those that did, the number of labels finished was again recorded on the loom card. ³
Loom cards were returned to me for waste calculation.
¹ Label clock figure x no. of strips on the loom = labels woven
² Labels rolled.
Deduct ² from ¹ to arrive at weaving waste.
³ Labels finished
Deduct ³ from ² to arrive at finishing waste
Waste varied for many reasons – no. of shuttles, design bias (distorting the weave), weavr inattention (eg weft running out), individual shuttles catching. As my brief expanded I changed the loom card design to better incorporate feedback on causes of waste.
There was waste I didn’t measure: warp ends when a new beam was twisted in; unused weft thrown away whether on cones or spooled, running in new designs – which involved on the loom jacquard changes – any labels produced absorbed loom time but the factory view was that it was better to take the time and get a good label rather than persist with an obviously poor label that might for example be distorted and thus likely to lead a customer to reject the entire batch! …
Happy days and occasionally frustrating days.

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An Office Life: 5 Woven Labels

Temporary Short Time Working Supplement

Who remembers that? In Bell Woven it ran from 1979 to 1982. By that time I’d been in their employment for 3 years. 3 yeas is a lifetime if it’s your first job – apart from paper rounds and spots of holiday work, this it was. Part of my daily rota included updating a splendid A0 size chart in the Managing Director’s office. I took pains to do this (a ten second operation) while he was out. Disturb the powerful at risk. His office was invariably guarded by Claire Mahoney, his Secretary. Offend her at your peril – I always checked it was okay to do my daily update with her first.

Updating this chart was a matter of some consequence – what I was doing was updating the % efficiency figure which determined the bonus; I plotted the daily efficiency as well as the cumulative to date. Now pretty early on I cottoned on to the fact that pretty much all senior management believed that this figure: the one that determined bonus payment, was plant utilisation. I knew different; I calculated the figure and they didn’t. It included all kinds of enhancements – for example oiling the looms – an allowance of 30 minutes for each loom was made for the engineering assistant to do oiling. That was a normal part of operation. If a weaver was absent or if the weaving shed was running at below capacity, an allowance was granted. These allowances ensured that weaver motivation wasn’t unnecessarily sapped by clusters of 0% efficiencies for stopped looms. In practise this was a better tool than berating weavers to work harder, a motivated workforce is a happier environment and everyone benefits.

This circles back to the point on daily efficiency; senior management had fallen into a way of thinking that treated enhanced efficiency as a measure of plant utilisation. In practise the enhanced efficiency had three components:

0 – basic efficiency (in effect plant utilisation)

1 – enhancements for allowable stoppages, such as oiling, and twisting (replacing the warp at the back of the loom)

2 – enhancements for stoppages outside the control of the weaving shed, such as no weaver (explained above), no order (a prompt for the sales office), design query… etc etc.

Senior management were under the impression that the enhanced efficiency I regularly published was 0 + 1 + a very occasional, teeny-weeny element of 2. Categorisation of stopped time was a highly political matter because it involved pointing the finger of blame. The get-around was to publish the unadorned, basic efficiency. This in itself was a challenge as I first had to convince my boss, who himself had to be convinced, that (a) redesign of the daily report was essential and (b) a substantial opportunity to kick-ass and get the business firing on all cylinders was being hidden under a comfort blanket of kludge and fudge. For example, in the table below, a significant drop in basic efficiency is largely concealed by the outcome in enhanced efficiency – as things stood this was never published and so was never noticed.

Example basic efficiency stoppages: 1 stoppages: 2 enhanced efficiency
1 78% 5% 2% 85%
2 70% 4% 10% 84%

Ongoing grumbles aside, I got this change in place before the end of 1977.

This matter became of much greater significance by 1979. The Iranian Revolution had caused a panic in the oil markets; a second oil shock was on the cards; this duly impacted on developed nations such as the UK. The run up to this was the 1978 Winter of Discontent in which the Labour government under James Callaghan attempted to control inflation by restricting pay rises of public sector workers to 5% or less. Unofficial strikes by gravedigger, strikes by refuse workers, NHS ancillary workers blocked hospital entrances an unofficial TGWU lorry drivers strike closed petrol stations all over the country… and the unions were deeply politicised. All this was the run in to the 1979 – 1984 recession.

Factory output plummeted; the enhanced efficiency remained above 80%, thus leaving open the possibility of a bonus, if Belwoven could afford it; Basic Efficiency fell like a stone – it fell from around 75% to 55%. Weavers were put on short time, as was I – I worked three days / week.

The government set up a scheme to proportionately subsidise businesses who put their staff onto short time working.

Alongside the daily efficiency chart, behind the Managing Director’s desk, another A0 chart went up, the TSTWS chart to monitor our short time working. 

Three days a week wasn’t enough to stay on top of my job; work began to pile up. In addition, I’d volunteered to help Jim Langley, the textiles buyer, in the monthly physical stock checks. Plus I’d begun evening classes at Burnley College of Design and Technology; a Higher National Certificate in Business Studies. In addition to this I had a further course of self study: great philosophers, literary figures, historians and mathematicians through history, by reference to the 30 volume edition of Encyclopedia Britannica held in Colne Library (a little light reading at lunch time – the library was 10 minutes walk).

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An Office Life 4: Woven Labels

Form Design (by hand)

One of the main issues in running a manual reporting system was form design. While at school, I’d taken price in my mathematical, logical approach to… well things. The thing is, this wasn’t adequate preparation for work, and particularly for the self-reliant aspects of office work. This, as will be seen, quickly circles back to form design. To return to pride, principle part of this lay in my ability to do not only mental arithmetic, but to set the necessary cross checks and sub-totals in such a way that I was certain my manual computations held no errors. What was less desirable was the tiny space afforded by the Foolscap¹ production reports where, inevitably, space was at a premium – after all, it had at least 11 (sometimes 12) columns, and a minimum of 50 rows.²
Then the lines weren’t exactly at right angles, so the little space you wrote in would decrease or increase, depending on how the form design had gone. Yet when my boss offered me the chance to improve things, I realised just how difficult it was to get a good design onto the wax masters. The problem was this: a touch, any touch such as an elbow, or the footprint of the industrial sized desk calculator could transfer the coloured wax from the underside onto the second copy; then hey-presto, you botched up the design. And as for drawing lines: well it was firstly necessary to clear the desk – any obstruction would mean removing pen and ruler and once you did that, it was guaranteed that recommencing that line would mean an amateurish finish Rack of the eye guesswork meant sub-par reports which wasn’t good enough. On the other hand it was essential to use as much of the paper as possible, while ensuring the forms were clear, regular in shape and lines didn’t stray outside.
Now this was an area where the General Office might help (we had one of them) run by Margaret Calvert with Denise as assistant, or even the typing pool: Julie, Gail and Pauline Wilde (who also ran the switchboard / works tannoy³). Typewriters were precision machines and delivered a much more professional result than hand-written but there were several problems here. The General Office did ad hoc typing, internal mail, post and other duties – work such as mine mustn’t interfere with the smooth running of that department – my view of smooth running was jaundiced by being aware of the amount of time spent on gossip – the Work Study office door was within 20 feet of the General Office door. The one time I once managed to get the General Office to complete the wax masters, the result was a disaster – the production report ran onto two pages – it was a mess. Typewriter spacing was the comment.
The typists’ pool was a different kettle of fish – here rank came into play – as one of the lowest paid staff with the unimpressive title of Work Study Assistant, I ranked slightly lower than a slug’s belly – and then they had a queue of several days for typing which somehow never seemed to clear – certainly not as far as I was concerned. Yet the very few times I put work through them, the result was neat and professional… but on the whole I stuck to my own designs. My powers of persuasion were little better than a gnat’s, and as far was sweet-talking went, that was just another blank in my armoury of social skills.
My technique involved a clear desk and resolving not to answer the internal phone.
Then begin by marking the line positions on the edge of the paper with a soft pencil;
Draw the borders of the table – the report was essentially a table that just fit in Foolscap – this was the most challenging as 12″ rulers didn’t fit Foolscap too well (the return of rack of eye!)
Finally draw the table innards and (usually) hand write the headings. With experience I improved the design to incorporate double lines, separate sub total boxes and the like (and as you do I acquired a book on design principles for corporate reporting)
I mocked up a sample (as you do). Pretty simple on Excel. Back then there was no Excel, or even Supercalc. Visicalc – the ancestor of Lotus 123 ran on the Mac – came out in 1979. A Mac? In Newmarket Street, Colne, Lancashire? Spreadsheets? That was a couple of recessions off, and even then, that was by Amstrad. Who remembers Amstrad PCs?

Mock up for daily production sheet (as used on three shift work, Bell Woven)

Mock up for daily production sheet (as used on three shift work, Bell Woven) – this benefits from WYSIWYG (remember that?) having said which rigid cell structure + textwrap can play hell with your design

Work process taking you from Picks + stopped time cards to production record.

Work process taking you from Picks + stopped time cards to production record.

¹ Also noting that Foolscap was slightly longer (and narrower) than A4
² Why didn’t I print one from my desktop computer onto a printer, you might ask? The answer is desktop computers were 10 years off (and when they came they set the purchasing business back the best part of at least £2,000 for a primitive tech-spec)
³ The tannoy had to be heard over the looms in the weaving shed – noise levels in spots could peak at over 90 dB so an announcement to, say the Managing Director – who could be on walkabout in the factory – that an important client was waiting on the line, needed a bit of umph to be heard over the general mechanical clatter of looms. Pauline was well up to this – she belted out tannoy announcements so fiercely, it felt like a reprimand. You made good time to the nearest internal phone. Pauline Wilde had respect.

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