Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Chick Peas, Plasterboard, Global Trade, Nicking Bikes

Yesterday saw a furious hail shower with solid ice the size of chick peas (aka Garbanzo beans, the primary ingredient of hoummous, the Middle-Eastern/Meditterranean meal accompaniment where chick peas are mushed with olive oil). Kentucky Fried Chicken might not want you to know this, but if you have ever used chick pea flour, you will recognize the primary ingredient of Colonel Sander's batter, which is not surprising since they are a common crop in the Southern States).


Plasterboard is wonderful. I may insist on understanding and experiencing the internal structure of an object, but the pleasure of rapidly covering it up with a facade is unfathomable. You may never see a piece of plasterboard in a National Trust reconstruction, but I have been painfully convinced of its genius.

I recall years ago when coming out, reading a harsh criticism in The Toronto Star, of gay men being interested only in "surfaces". Superficiality and narcissism was just as prominent in those days as it is today, perhaps even more so. Why is it that the reality of what lies underneath is terrifying, while the concealment by what can be seen on the surface is reassuring? These value judgements extend into straight society, and pander to the commercial world of illusion. Hairdressers and cosmetics companies for old ladies; opera, theatre, film, tv, and music; clothing fashion; architectural appearance; panelling on a car, fairing on a motorbike. I have long been intellectually aware of this quandary, and have persistently admired people in the farming, engineering and building trades, and have attempted to achieve their earthy acceptance of something for what it is, and not just what it looks like. Nonetheless I still cannot claim that I am liberated from the charming ease that comes from the seductive world of surfaces.


The global economy is the curse of our times. The fat princes at the Economics and MBA schools should be sent to an Outward Bound School if not into the Iraqi warfront.

There has been a ruthless imperative for decades that trade begets material wealth. There the chain of thought ends, such are the limits of the intellectual capacity of the Economists. What does abundant material wealth beget? Endless comfort? Obesity? Depression? Vicious perversion? Selfish greed? Physical idleness to the point where the lack of actual reality copulation is endangering reproduction?

When the tangible effects have already been hitting the "street" of this bubble of global economic wealth that is being exported out of China, shall we take bets on how long it takes the Economists to respond? I enjoyed 2 pints with a College acquaintance last night. A very "street" man of my own age grown up in Camden. He was a goldsmith until 6 months ago, but got made redundant. (He advises me that even in the Jewellery trade there is a two tier employment system, in this case nepotism favouring those who belong to the minority group that run the industry in London). Batches of jewellery such as are sold at Ernest Jones and H.Samuel, are nowadays insurance couriered to China, for smithing, and then returned, instead of being made in London.

Today he works in a steel yard, cutting up RSJ's (steel girders) for the building trade. What news there? Steel prices have escalated ridiculously over the last 3 months, due to growing demand from China. Of course, China now has a car industry!

Beside us, the eavesdropping Mancunian having a drink, said disgruntledly, that he was a stonemason, and that it was even happening in his trade. Batches of marble are shipped out to China, give them a month or two, and they're returned, for a fraction of what they cost to finish in Britain.

Never mind Call-centres and I.T. contracts being exported to India. Your average Telegraph/Guardian reader is living in a cocoon, cossetted by institutional employment (public/private/charity/medical sector) and institutional ideas, oblivious to the cut-and-thrust that is experienced by the "man in the street". Britain has become perhaps more economically hollow than the long-wealthy nations that it aspires to, such as Canada and the Scandinavian ones. This to me is far more scary than terrorism.

Do economists measure wealth that is being wasted? My friend told me of discovering £3,000 of 8 x 4 sheets of flooring, still palleted, that were thrown out of a job in the City, into a skip. Because the client said the shade of brown was too light. Not surprising, when TV programs like Kevin McCloud's Grand Designs force the populace to aspire to the silliest and most trivial extremes of superficiality in the built world. There is so much waste going on at the moment, I wonder when, like Ireland, we're going to be forced to face it?


Street people know things that make academics seem boring and dull-witted, which they probably are.

How to steal a bike that has one of those Krypton type locks? Apparently, get some lighter fluid, and apply it to the lock. This freezes the lock. Simultaneously insert a scissor jack (like those out of some cars) between the U bars, and the thing will snap at the frozen lock.

How to joy-ride a Bentley (presumably the older models)? This involves getting a spare wheel and ramming the front tires with it somehow (detail lost me), to give it a nasty jolt. The Bentley has an emergency safety feature where in the event of an accident, the locks automatically disengage.

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