Thursday, 30 December 2010

Nut screws washers and bolts...

I'm taking a few days R and R to indulge my passion for making things, and you'll never believe what's going to be next. As usual, a story goes with it...

Several years ago, I worked for a Scottish industrial building company. They were a hard bunch of guys - and gals as well, and it would have been easy to be intimidated by the business environment they all worked in. Scottish engineers are still alive and kicking, and the chaps I worked with were a great bunch of innovative, design-proud, commercial characters, and we all got on pretty well, despite the fact that I came from near Tunbridge Wells, which is a bit of a downer in certain company...

We concentrated on packages of work for prisons, universities, hospitals, and, best of all, retail sheds. It was during the big boom in out-of-town shopping, and huge stores were cropping up everywhere. They all looked very much as they do today, but the building obstructorenti were nervous of the Italian materials we used, (until UK Inc's dead-handed regulators eventually let us make them here), and each scheme was always a slow starter.

On one particular job, which I cannot of course identify, (Homebase in Hendon), we were having a hard time; a very hard time. In fact it was rapidly becoming a Ken Disaster! Writs were forming by the minute and lawyers were dribbling at the prospect of a dishevelled Scrobs, crawling stark naked through the trenches...

The conversation between Glasgow and London went something like this: -

Scots Business Director (God):- "Scrooobs; yiew down there? Can ye hear me? Wha's happening a' Haindon eh? Tell me wha's goin' on!"

Scrobs:- "Er, morning Dairek, er - the subbies didn't turn up today; or yesterday... in fact they weren't here last week either..."

Scots Business Director (God):- "Aye. Aye! (long agonising pause) Well; wha' you goin' ta do aboot it then Scrooobs?"

Scrobs:- "Er, well, (gulps), we're chasing them hourly, but the fax machine is broken, so all the new details are somewhere between here and the Isle of Dogs; ha ha ha; (gulp)..."?

Scots Business Director (God):- (softly, in the most terrifying voice imaginable) "Scrooobs, will ya listen to me! I wan' you thaire every waking hour, to supervise an' make sure our money is safe. D'ya unnerstand...?"

Scrobs:- "Er, yes of course, Dairek!" (lapsing into the accent was a secret weapon, and occasionally defused any further commercial banter/libel/violence)

Scots Business Director (God):- "Good man Scrooobs! Aye; ya'll be reporting to us early each day, eh?"

Scrobs:- "Er, fine, er I'll, er, do that..."(wondering how on earth he'll swing all this...)

Scots Business Director (God):- "Aye Scrooobs, you will!"

Sound of telephone handset being gently replaced on Bakelite receiver somewhere near Paisley...

So Scrobs was set a target of completing the job in two weeks, which meant leaving home in the dark, and also getting home way after bedtime. The subbies did return, slowly, rather like that scene in 'The charge of the Light Brigade' when they all trudge back with limbs hanging off, and we began to see daylight, or, rather the reverse, as we were in fact fitting the roof then...

On one occasion, I had my usual daily arse-wrenching meeting with the Main Contractor, explaining how much over the contract time we might be. Luckily he was a kindly man, and always stopped at physical abuse, (although the mental scars are still prevalent in the occasional nightmare), and we got on pretty well under the circumstances.

My Uncle Jack (the Builder), had told me once that he personally used to sweep up his building sites every evening. It may have been just a house, or maybe a factory, but he did it himself, as he was on a salary, and the men were paid hourly. When a Director from the firm visited the site once, he asked Uncle Jack, "Why spend your time cleaning up now - you're in charge"!

Uncle Jack replied "Well, it's so the men have a clean place to start work tomorrow, and they'll do much more if they don't have to work with muck everywhere'" There's no argument to that, and his site was always spotless at the end of the day, and the job was much better organised.

So, Scrobs, on the long drive to Hendon, decided to take a leaf from all this, and one evening, swept the whole site, which was after all, a DIY superstore and not exactly miniscule! There was an urban myth around about that time, where the MD of a roofing firm had gone round the site one evening, and collected all the bolts, screws, etc, which had been dropped during construction and had not been used. He piled them all on a table, costed them, and deducted the value of all these fittings from everyone's wages. That really stopped the waste!

I finished up with a huge cardboard box full of hundreds of these fixings! They were all unsorted, and I could just imagine the problem of getting them back in their boxes, as I really did want to get home some time that night...

So they went into the boot of the Scrobmobile.

This was back in 1982, and after all these years, I still have a hundred or so of these expensive bits of kit, which cost a fortune at B and Q, (perhaps Homebase as well...), and I've used them on almost every job I've ever done since that fateful day!

And if anyone recognises the kid's lunch box which keeps them safe, it's because there are also some other things I can never throw away...

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas carol...

Back in the early 1990s, computers were still hit-and-miss affairs, and words like '286', and 'floppy disk' were still spoken with some embarrassment, because they were almost a foreign language. I remember someone pointing at a '386' and drawing gasps of envy from a geek who dribbled for ages at the new machine lurking in the corner of one of the offices!

YD was in her last year at school, and I used to pick her up from the music rooms, where she would always stay late for prep and extra piano practice. One evening, I found her at an electronic keyboard, with a computer screen in front of her, and several wires leading off to a new computer. She sat me down next to her and told me to make a chord, which I did. Then she pointed to the screen and there were the notes displayed on the staves! Then we played a few more notes and the harmony was created and also showed up on the screen. It also played back exactly as we'd played it!

I was utterly hooked, and totally blown away by the possibilities of all this expensive equipment. After a few more forays on the keys, we went home and for the rest of the evening, I badgered Mrs S about getting something similar, and because times were good back then, we started the research. We were within a whisker of buying a Yamaha 1200 series Synthesiser, because it nearly did the same things as all that kit at the school, but after several visits to the shops, it became clear that what we really needed was a proper PC, because the music bolt-ons could come along later.

And it was ever thus. We bought the best PC we could afford and tentatively joined the human race! Because it was near Christmas, I was in party mode, and in London for various business tinctures. On one of these occasions, I was early for a function, and spent a happy hour wandering around Regent Street looking in shop windows. Chappells had their shop down there back then, and peering in the window, I spotted the advert at the top, which shone out from a box of equipment which was exactly what we (I) wanted! It really was a magic moment!

After long discussions with the guys in the shop, a lot of money changed hands, and I nursed the box all the way home to 'The Turrets', (having of course, partaken of the various afore-said tinctures - no need to spoil a good evening)!

It worked like a dream, and once connected to a keyboard, was the epitome of composition, and for years, I was hooked into all sorts of masterpieces where I could overlay sounds and rhythms, and listen to these through earphones to my heart's content. The software was all contained on just two floppy disks, which seems amazing these days, when now you need about eight CDs just to get a letter printed!

Of course, it's all been superceded now, and the Cubase has been replaced by Cakewalk, which is too old even for Vista, and so there are new apps like Tuxguitar, and Wavosaur, which do more or less the same thing, and for free!

So, this time of year, I can always relate to hearing some good sounds, remembering some good days, enjoying the company of good friends and family, and listening to this, by the bloke who started it all for me!

Have a happy Christmas one and all; next year will be a cracker!


Wellington's Mum has reminded me of a classic piece of Mike Oldfield, and linked me to the piece below!

Many's the time I heard that theme, and there is one part of the piece which I will always remember. Simon Groom asked him why he played the theme at half speed, and Mike Oldfield quite candidly said it was because he couldn't play that fast! (Been there and bought the twelve string...)

The comments also show several people who liked that bit too...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Real estate of play...

I'm sure that the occasional reader in the building business - and other work of course - will recognise these symptoms.

It requires an awful lot of good will and 'spec' time to get a development started; a sketch scheme, a few costs applied, a realistic view of planning, a nod from the investors,and all this happens after me and my two BPs have undertaken a seriously hard look at the Excel figures on an ageing computer, and applied forty years of knowledge...

But we refuse to waste anybody's time if the chances are anything less than 'pretty-damn-sure'.

(This could be a post all by itself, and may be one for the New Year, because things will pick up in next spring, and somehow, all those firms which haven't taken risk recently, will lose out immeasurably. We have a lot of markers to repay, and also a few scores to settle - you know who you are)! Did I say banks?

But this blog post and others on his links, had me rolling in the aisles! It was sent to me by a kindred spirit and really sums up the issue!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas competition - all prizes gratefully received...

As was kindly pointed out by Nick Drew, the 'Scrobs' site is going through a 'low anticipation sitemeter non-spike situation' (i.e., not getting to the people), so as is often the case, I can only regrope, (or perhaps regroup) and while I'm doing that, how about a competition?

As BT (until I got rid of them), and others were continually sending me new mobile phones to use at my expense, the issue of ringtones became more pressing. I once mentioned to Lils that I had the opening bars of 'Dirt Farmer' on my phone for several months, and it usually turned a few heads on the train. She offered a few other suggestions which are great of course (well, she and Elbers have enough tracks by 'The Grateful Dead' to last until Easter Sunday, 2067, so she does have some serious knowledge in that department), but yet another new phone demanded a further change.

So I went for the start of a record which has always been a favourite, and lately, I still feel that it is an iconic reminder of earlier days in the sixties, when the world was one's oyster (see Scrobs passim). I just love these few bars!

If anyone hears this on a train, then by all means come over and say something like "You are Scrobs, and I claim my five splonders"! (It might not be me of course, in which case any embarrassment must be borne by the perpetrator, but if it is, then expect a huge hug, especially if you are a lady, when you might get two or more)!

So, back to the competition. It has several categories, and a complicated scoring procedure will ensure that only one person will win, rather like FIFA run their competitions for the Whirl Carp. Take your time, write on both sides of the reply box, and make sure you bring a pencil sharpener and a rubber (or even just a 'sharpener' if after the witching hour).

1) Most memorable opening bars of any piece of music. (my ringtone is my best example for the time being).

2) The earliest moment in any performance either live, or studio, in a piece of music, when the congregation realise what they're going to get. (Echoes - David Gilmour in Gdansk for me; it takes a nanosecond after Rick Wright's 'plink').

3) The biggest cheer at the end of a live performance, when everyone is ecstatic ('Fool's Overture'; Supertramp, 'Live in Paris', or 'Cinema show'; Genesis on 'Second's out').

(Editor's note - Sorry Nick, this is all I can do for the moment. I will try harder next time, but what with the snow, and the economic depression and bastard troughing politicians getting uppity, and students chucking bricks at everyone, the world is in some turmoil, so, best to just quieten things down a bit, and ask the other two readers what they think...)

pps - What do you think of the economy poster at the top; rather dapper don't you think?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Nick Drew's challenge - glove accepted, the 'spike' rears it's head...

A few years ago, The Grafas Fruning Graplecard (for it may have been he), awoke early one morning alone in the bedroom of his stately home.

Things were different, and a pleasurable warmth permeated the bedchamber.

He had surprised himself...!

The Grafas rang for his butler immediately, "Lickbottom", he called excitedly, "I find I have an erection"!

"Oh congratulations Your Grafasness, shall I fetch the Lady Grafess"?

"Good God no - dammit man, fetch a blanket and bring round the Rolls immediately, this is a London job"!

(With sincere apologies to all family and friends, and any other ladies (maybe chaps of a groaning disposition) who may have heard this before. It was told to me by one of my oldest friends, on several occasions back in the 'sixties... many times in fact, on most Fridays, Saturdays, occasionally Sundays and the odd week when we were water skiing in Spain or Italy, or playing rugby in Bexhill. Ron, you were a star then, and this yarn is dedicated to you, wherever you are...)

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bollock naked in snowdrift...

Sorry about that, no pictures, no script!

I'm just figuring out how 'Sitemeter' works, and see if there's a 'spike' today!