Saturday, May 31, 2014

Conspiracy of email silence

15-year-old son's high school has a tendency to send out emails on matters of mindless tedium. Surprising then to discover, 10 days after the fact, that it saw fit to inform parents of a recent Ofsted by the tried and not-so trusted method of sending a letter home - which I've only just found!
Anyone would think they didn't want us to talk to the inspection team...

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Myth of Beef Tomatoes

Nearly 30 years ago, I worked with Keith, a keen gardener, at a printing company in Leeds. Keith’s main interest was growing flowers, but he, like many gardeners at the time, also liked to grow tomatoes. Perhaps it was the novelty of growing something that demanded light and warmth in the wet and usually cloudy north, but he enjoyed the challenge, with the added dimension of being able to claim that he had grown tomatoes that were larger than his neighbour’s or work-mate’s efforts. Keith used to talk about another former workmate who had seen large beef tomatoes when he was on holiday in Spain. This person, whose name escapes me, if indeed, I ever knew it, had managed to dry the seeds of a large Spanish beef tomato, from which he had grown his own tomatoes in his greenhouse back at home. The story seemed plausible, more than that, it set up the challenge: would this successful gardener share his seeds? Keith asserted that the exercise had been repeated for a number of years, but, unfortunately, he had now lost touch with the grower of those wonderful Spanish-originated tomatoes. A few years later, I was working at another printing company, when a similar story reached my ears. This time, it was a machine-minder called Lewis, whose cousin – certainly not the person Keith had mentioned – who was the successful importer of the rare sun-dried seeds, even though the modus operendi sounded very similar: the tomato was eaten on holiday in warmer Spanish climes; the putative grower procured another specimen, extracted the seeds and managed to dry them on a hotel room window sill, before packing them within the family’s luggage for the return journey. In those now far-off days, when we still had a printing industry worthy of the name, printers were inveterate potterers, so this part of the story, which relied on ingenuity struck a chord. Some of my co-workers had turned pottering into an art form and spent years perfecting the skill of obsessively creating things of little apparent use, both in and out of their paid working environments; these strange ‘hobbies’ ranged from complex indoor recreational activities, such as crazy golf or indoor cricket games that could be hastily removed if the boss appeared, while others became factory-renowned experts in cacti and succulents, geneology (years before Who Do You Think You Are? graced our TV screens), and there were also renowned home brewers and winemakers. Some of this latter grouping led me to experiment for a while, until, that is, my then cellar became home to a few dozen bottles of lethally explosive cider. Sitting upstairs of an evening, my television viewing was punctuated by random subterranean detonations, followed soon afterwards by the sharp aroma of apple and the soft tinkle of broken glass falling from shelf to floor, which led me to abandon the project. And yet, thinking back over the eccentrics and the pranksters, for example, the work’s foreman who delighted in wandering into a local DIY shop at lunchtime, where he would surreptitiously set a couple of the mouse-traps that formed part of a long-standing basket display, before loitering in the adjoining paint aisle to await activation by an unsuspecting shopper, you have to mourn the passing of interests and diversions that enlivened the working day, for we were not yet enslaved to desk or screen and prevented from interaction by stress, deadlines and worry; co-workers were ‘mates’, not ‘colleagues’. Collegiality now means isolation for many, as opposed to being alongside others in the collective exercise of labour. We even tolerated those whose productivity was lower than our own. For example, my first boss would urge us to keep the noise down after lunch if one of our number was in the darkroom. It only occurred to me later that my workmate was having a short rest: a power-knapper years before his time, and that the boss, normally such a stickler, was fully cognisant of the fact. We could also cover-up for the unfortunates who suffered equipment or fitting malfunctions or transgressed health and safety norms. In this category fall the paste-up artist who joined with the mythical three old-ladies by becoming locked in the lavatory when the bolt stuck, and had to be rescued by the boss, who effected the release with the aid of a liberally applied hammer that just about drowned out our laughter. Or the camera operator who managed to slip and fall from a darkroom bench when changing a light source filter. The front of the bench was fitted with an exposure control switch that became entangled in his left trouser bottom as he rapidly descended. This caused a rent in his trouser leg that extended from ankle to crotch. The dull thud was heard by many, but he refused to open the door or a while. Indeed, he only did so when convinced that ‘Charlie’ wasn’t in the building: he had fallen so hard onto the control switch that ‘I’m surprised there aren’t two lumps on the back of my neck’ were the first words he said as he shakily emerged into the light, and ‘the last thing I needed was Charlie howling with laughter when I opened the bloody door’. The biggest beef tomatoes ever grown in the north might have been the Leeds print industry’s very own modern myth but I still want it to be true. Now that the indoor games have been packed away and graphic design software has swept away the darkrooms and cameras, even the very businesses where we worked, that the memory of those tenuous claims to fame have achieved the status of waymarkers to a past, where, sadly, we did things differently but with more style and fun than we can ever claim now.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Playing doctors at the Chemist

Routine collection of a repeat prescription was enlivened by the announcement that the pharmacist on duty wanted to review my medication. This turned out to be a short discussion in a rather cramped 'consultation room' that they've craftily hived-off from a storeroom. Working through a list of my medication, the pharmacist seemed most concerned to know whether I needed to take rabeprozal sodium every day - and what would happen if I didn't?
Now, these questions rather highlight the facile nature of the review exercise: this medication was prescribed several years ago to treat a hereditary condition that affects the duodenum's ability to prevent stomach acid entering the oesophagus. Rebeprozal is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) that stops me enduring perpetual heartburn caused by acid reflux. Asking the question means the pharmacist didn't know the obvious answer, and caused me to wonder why she'd decided to second guess my GP, who also regularly reviews my medication - the key difference being that, whereas the pharmacist dispenses, the physician prescribes. And I'm interested to know who has decided that essential and time-honoured division should now be eroded by the pill-counters.