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Saturday, June 21, 2003

Telephone Spam.

Over the last two weeks, I swear, I have half a dozen unsolicited phone calls from 'holiday' companies using the same tragically transparent on-screen script. Now when it comes to other telephone tea time spam, like the 'We are working in the area and have this amazing offer on replacement windows', (the commonest UK unsolicited phone spam intrusion) I have a well rehearsed script." Let me stop you there," I lie, "We have already got double glazing and I'm not interested.

That deters all but the strongest hearts and , in a sympathetic and altruistic way I have in these matters, shows my caring side in allowing them to spot a non-starter immediately, save their breath and move on to the next potential mug in the telephone list they are working through. God if only these people would get together , look at their sales and compile a directory of people who haven't got PVC windows yet. That would save a lot of wasted time on both sides of the commercial divide.

What is totally bizarre is that the registered householder here is partner Angela, A.K.A. Mrs Hanson. Angela divorced Steve (Mr.Hanson yonks ago and he has never actually lived at this address.) But, every cold call that we get starts with the sexist , " Can I speak to Mr Hanson" opening gambit. "Mr Hanson doesn't live here , never has," I tell them, "but if you really want him he's in Basra at the moment and it would be a trifle inconvenient to bother him. If you trying to sell something I never buy from unsolicited phone callers who are working through a directory" I'm never interested. I am Mrs Hanson's significant other, partner," I tell them , "How can I help ? ", I kindly add.

Now working in a call centre is a tragic waste of life and working those cold sell scripts must be mind numbing. You know that back at the call centre there is probably an aggressive young boss, giving pep motivating talks to underpaid people and wanting sales targets met or you are out. I instinctively feel that the owners of such businesses have more in common with the organised criminal fraternity. Good business is about decent ethics that pay off in the long run. These scripted call centre based organisations are short term, 'screw what you can to get rich quick wide boys' and they'll never make it long term.

You also know, as I know from a salesman friend, that 'cold calling' has a high failure rate and only about 30r less give the result the person needs to stay on target and earn a living.

I am irritated by the double glazing fraternity and abhor the ones that use the discount "but only if you sign up now routine." Kitchen forms do that too, even realtively famous name ones do this agressive unethical pitch thing. Moben is one of them in my personal experience. (Sue me if you dare .) But the holiday scammers are the scum of the earth and I would pass a law to permanently ban their grotty tactics. As I said, I've had six similar calls in the space of just two weeks recently. Each time I hear the script, I just say, "Hold it there. This is a 'bout holidays right? I am just not interested." Three of the cold callers have asked why? I simply said, "I've heard this script from companies over and over again and I am just not interested." They usually then hang up. How gullible do they think people are? The practice has been exposed several times on consumer TV programmes but these aggressive fraudulent firms carry on with their dodgy tactics and don't deserve to succeed in business. They don't deserve to be in business in my view.

The sting, if you are interested, works like this. Once we are over the , "I am not Mr Hanson" hurdle but I am Angela's partner, we suddenly learn, what a surprise!, that caller, Wasim, Michelle, take your pick, ( all people that were probably disaffected at school, didn't get any GCSEs and couldn't get a proper job) is ringing to congratulate me. Have they read my Blog, seen my Fotolog ? No. Their company (Thinly disguised Rip Off holidays, PLC, GBH computer has , surprise, surprise, picked me out as a lucky winner of a free holiday. ( Actually, the caller is working their way through postcodes and, scripted, is working through the individual households, but let's humour them for a tad longer. )

Now at this point I would normally say p**** off or more politely "not interested" whatsoever but lets go on to see what would happen as one of our friends took this to its logical conclusion. The way the scam runs is that , to claim you prize, you have to travel to Birmingham or somewhere to a reception and presentation. This is about tempting the gullible with the promise of something for nothing. Typically if you fall for the scam and arrive at the reception, you are treated gently like royalty, fed and given drinks and asked to sit through presentations, say for a 'condo' on some Spanish resort , a villa , a fitness centre or a time share condo in the Lake District. Now Cath, someone I work with went nearly all the way with this , eyes wide open, and well just going for fun. She is an intelligent, assertive , well, Northern person but told me that, after the drinks, the food and the presentations, when she then declined to sign up, the sales team, I mean the bad boys playing good boys up to now, suddenly got really aggressive and launched into moral blackmail and real hard sell for some two hours. It is appalling that they do this.They really are the whores of the business world. "I bought you a couple of drinks, made you an offer you can't refuse and you have." routine. These are sinister people and you wonder just how many people they have intimidated at these bogus prize winner functions, into signing expensive binding contracts for things they don't actually want. The really sinister side of this fraudulent marketing strategy is that we mostly know it is a scam; there has been lot of publicity about it, but there are still a lot of gullible and vulnerable people out there and the cold callers job is to root them out. It clearly must be worth it to base a business on this sad bunch of bullsit. I have only given in to a cold call just the once.

I was the local St. Anne's Hospice. This is a place that looks after terminally ill people, a regsistred charity and doing wonderful work filling in a void in government provision. They called me because I had visited my good friend Denis Simons whom they looked after for the brief period he successfully fought cancer, before he suddenly broke my heart on died. I gladly went along with a request for a small monthly direct, from the charming and genuine caller, and singed up to the charity. I told the woman how refreshing it was to have a genuine call and to have the opportunity to make a choice rather than someone trying every trick in the book to sell me something I had no use for or interest in.

E mail spam is another story and regularly I am offered, principallfrom the United Sates, loans I don't need, on line drugs , things to increase my sexual potency and the duration of my erection and help me lose weight. I have partial double glazing, make my own holiday arrangements, am solvent, have two off-licences within a minutes walk, am well blessed and have no need for Viagra because I am in love and well, that is somehing we shall pass over in silence. Modesty forbid ! I really hate getting phone calls from these phone spammers.

johncoxon 1:00 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Thursday, June 19, 2003

Our home is in the shadow of a fine example of a Lancashire cotton spinning mill, Newtown Mil , built 1883, with its popular lovely, council owned and maintained bowling green in the foreground. The mill and green feature in one of celebrated local painter L.S. Lowry's sketches and of course he lived within a few strides of the actual mill on Station Road next to where actor Ben Kingsley grew up . From that sketch, it seems clear that the bowling green, in former times, was much larger. That sketch also featured a tall isolated mill chimney stack that was demolished in the sixties. ( Members of the local bowling club say that the green is one of the best playing surfaces in the area.)

One of my elderly neighbours bowls at the green and he tells me what may be one of those local urban legends. The story goes that the mill was bought at the turn of the century by an American and , because he was homesick, he imported a silk cotton tree to remind him of home. Today there is a hundred foot high silk cotton tree that annually fills the air with cottony white fluff . It is visible from our back garden as is the back of the mill.

It is a native of central and tropical America and its close relative, the flox tree, gave off huge fluffy wads when the seed pods split that were collected and used to fill pillows and life jackets in the days before synthetic fibres. ( Silk cotton wood was used to make coffins, cricket bats, and much earlier, canoes. One of the Spanish names for the tree is "ceiba" from the Spanish for canoe. The latin name of the tree is Ceiba pentandra )Here is a shot of the trunk of the tree with some of the white fluffy stuff adhering to it

There is, historically a very strong link between the now defunct Lancashire Cotton industry and the United States. It appears that our ancestors who emigrated to the southern States in the 17th century developed cotton plantations, sadly with black slave labour, and thus, provided the county of Lancashire with its vital raw material at the cheapest price enabling the vast number of Lancashire mills to produce materials so cheaply that even poorer countries could buy their products. Those ancestors and those links are mirrored today in place names in the United (Southern ) States like Bolton, Manchester and so forth.

It appears that the Lancashire cotton industry was so lucrative in former times it was the most significant national industry here and was essential in terms of the wealth it generated helping to maintain the huge Empire Britain developed especially during the Victorian era . Conversely, the American Civil War had had a devastating effect on the regional economy with what is called the 'Cotton famine' or panic. The resulting shortage of cotton imports led to widespread unemployment and deprivation and the closing of a lot of mills. The industry was, however , still thriving during the Second World War when a government slogan of 1945 ran "England's bread hangs by Lancashire's thread".

There's a coincidence and link. During the Second World war an extension was built onto the fa├žade of Newtown mill to provide more adequate toilets for the hugely expanded work force over the war years. Up till then there was only a single toilet on each floor of the vast mill ! The cotton industry in Lancashire was virtually dead by the 70's and the prolific numbers of mills that land marked virtually every town in the region were either pulled down or put to other uses. A stone's throw from our house there was another big mill called Bridgewater Mill, long since demolished and remembered only in the name given to the housing estate built on the site.

Now I intend to write more on another occasion about this old mill, having made contact with a neighbour called Malcolm who has worked at the mill for thirty years and gleaned a great deal in his early years from the men who he worked with but remembered the old days, when for example, twelve year old boys stoked the boilers. Also , he tells me, the current owners, the Dorma bed linen manufacturing and marketing company are compiling a detailed archive of their companies advertising literature and also photographic and other archival material which should shed more light on the way things were in the mill. The millused to belong to the wealthy textile owning family, the astons's of Bolton. Angeal worked in one of their mills in former days !

Newtown Mill is not a listed building and is not only not protected as a heritage building, but , up to now, there has been little or no research done on it.

As well as the bowling green, there is also at the back of the mill what are known locally as the lodge. Lodges were water reservoirs or ponds that fed the mills' huge thirst for water, for power, heating and manufacturing processes. Stroll around the old building and notice the copious number of drain pipes of exaggerated dimensions.

All the rain water pipes carried the rain directly into the two tiered lodges at the back of the mill and all the mill and miner's terraced houses had rain pipes that fed into the system that went directly to top up the mill ponds. So the mill got one of its most vital resources free. You might like to know that these lodges are at two different levels with a sluice system for regulating supply and that, whilst still owned by Dorma, they are let out to a local private angling club free of charge. The lodges are surrounded by a brick wall topped with barbed wire and yet, when I climbed onto a telephone junction box and looked over the wall, I saw this idyllic secret garden of a place, a veritable fishing paradise in the centre of an urban industrial settlement.

finally, you might like to know why the cotton industry thrived in our area. Partly it was climatic. Nearby Manchester, for example is quite often ridiculed as a place where it always rains. Not true , but the region's air is generally damp and that was good for the cotton threads not breaking in the spinning and weaving processes.

Salford and Manchester were the source of their own demise in terms of that formerly potent textile industry. A grand ship canal was built in Victorian times enabling Manchester and Salford to have a direct link to Liverpool , saving fortunes in import/ export costs and docking fees. But along the great canal grew many engineering works and the area was famous for many innovations that revolutionised the production of textiles from cotton. Those engineering firms began to export their innovative textile machinery enabling countries to begin production, at cheaper rates, often in the countries of origin of the raw materials. The thriving dockland of Salford Quays once a thriving major port, though restored now to its former glory in terms of development , is now simply a centre of enterprise, new accommodation and a blossoming tourist trade.

The current owners of the huge Newtown Mill do not, as I thought, mass produce bedding items in the mill. The majority of the floors are devoted to display and storage and what production there is , is that of sample making for major buyers. Much of their product range is actually produced in places like China. However, only this year, the company have changed direction a little and are training up some thirty machinists and will go into the production of sheets and pillow cases in the autumn on site. The reason? Some customers, who don't want particularly huge volumes may not be happy to endure the long wait times for goods to be shipped in from, say China, and thus, the company intends to meet that demand on site in the future. It is reassuring that we are seeing local , a little growth in an industry that had in the past been quite literally kicked to death by foreign competition.

johncoxon 1:32 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Now I could never call myself an engineer, I'm not good at working with metal like my dad was, but I am a craftsman when it comes to making anything out of low-tech wood , my favourite material. I have am internationally published book to my name, when a good few years back, I designed original , easy to make, wooden learning toys and wrote a 'How to book' on the subject. It was the first big money I ever earned from writing. It led to my first ever radio appearance and had me doing woodworking workshops in bookstores, but I got disillusioned , when asked to write a follow up, because the New York publishers made all the profit in the end and the percentage I got didn't justify doing a second, even though I'd designed and made a new range of original toys.

Wood is my very favourite material . I have an innate understanding of it, it's properties and what you can do with it and how to finish it. I know that steel wool is the woodworker's best friend, for example. When you glass paper the surface of wood, under a microscope , you'd still see individual hair-like fibres standing up, and that's why, when amatuers sand and then varnish wooden things, it can still feel rough. All they need to do is rub down again, with steel wool, ( get it from a plumber's merchant in big rolls, the coarser the better) clean off with white spirit and then revarnish. What has happened is that glass paper ( or sand paper ) is a crude tool, and leaves a lot of surface dust and fibres sticking up that you can't actually see but the varnish hardens them to high points that are rough to the touch. But if you rub with steel wool, all those fibres are cut away and you get a perfect finish.

Wood has 'grain' ( the ribbing caused by harder veins that give the wood a pattern) and end grain (under a microscope a basic bundle of straw like fibres you cut through.) If you are prepared to put in the time, that rough sawn edge, across the grain of saw cut, can be transformed to a shiny, polished surface if you are prepared to rub down with diffrerent grades of glass paper till it shines with smootheness and feels right in the hand. Then attack with steel wool if you seek perfection.

The harder veins in woods ( like pine ) create amazing patterns and so do the knots, where a branch grew out and was sliced across when the wood was cut and then planed into planks. I often saw the knots as eyes, and combined with the patterns of horizontal graining, made a range of animals and birds, using the knot as an 'eye' and the grain to suggest fur or feathers. I would seek out old timbers and check out the graining and the knots. I'd buy new timber with interesting graining and knotting. I'd associate the knot with an eye, pencil a body shape that matched, cut out and then shape the wood to make a bird or animal.

Try this at home. Find a piece of thin pine with a horizontal grain and a knot. Imagine the knot is the eye of a fish. Pencilover a proportionate fish outline based on the position of the knot eye. Cut out the fish shape. Take a blow lamp to the wood. Trust me on this . Scorch the wood big time. Get some steel wool and rub away. The softer wood between the veins will be scoured out as you rub, and the harder veins will stand out in relief and remain darker . You'll get a contoured surface.

Wood is also three dimensional and when you sculpt it, it is almost as if there is a hidden beauty that you cut away the chaff and reveal when creating something.

Recently, I came across an amazing collection of wooden rough plywood boards on a building site. Builders use a range of materials for shuttering and security fencing and here were huge, rough plywood boards with combinations of graining and double knots that just took my breath away. It was like a population of alien mutants. I posted one image over at Fotolog and another with my monster poem on my previous blog entry . Nature, for sure has the best patterns.

johncoxon 1:12 AM - [Link] - Comments ()
Monday, June 16, 2003
Well the arrival of our children was, for me , so fulfilling and stimulating.

Whilst my kids grew I found myself reflecting on the ways parents so influence their kiddies and that influence can be constructive or destructive, even when no harm is intended.

I had that feeling that our kids, even when so young they couldn't speak, had an innate wisdom that we could learn from and I got very tied up in a number of poetic writings about that, imagining what they'd say.

I was reading stuff by Janov,( The Primal Scream ) who just destroys Freud for the complicated degenerate I actually think he was, and turns his theories of personality completely on their head! The Primal Scream is one of the most stimulating books I've ever read, and I don't think a parent could ever look at their children in the same way having read Professor Janov's book

Here are three poems , from a number I wrote at that time in the eighties. Click on the three thumbnails to take you to three things I wrote then.

This is about the Janov theory that, there is a crisis point in a child's memory when they yearned for adult support and it was not forthcoming. The psychotherapy involves finding the point at which this emotional injury occured, going back to it as an adult and starting again with the grown up knowledge that enables you know how to put old ghosts aside. Janov's theory is that , a young child gets security from a parental hold at a point of crisis, but parents offer a substitute in the form of a dummy ( US. "comforter") or a surrogate parent (cuddly toy)and thus kids learn to have a symbolic second hand version of what they really need. Emotionally, some people grow up with a consciousness of something remote, second hand, in the place of what they really need, and in fact, later in life, do the same as they enter into unsuccessful relationships and are temporarily content with the substitute rather than the real thing. All their lives, in so many cases, such people have a neurotic need, impossible to satisfy and never realise where the root of their quest lies. This poem covers that area.

I also wrote a short parody of a favourite children's song, the "Teddy Bear's Picnic" and even though, the reality today is that, whilst we still mess up our environment with polution and all that, and people ( well not real people actually, mainly English rich toffs ) terrorise and destroy our fox population, for example, just for kicks and pretend it is about pest control, things aren't quite as bad as my little verse implied.

Finally I had these thoughts about some parents who are not honest with their kids and thus do not pass on, at the appropriate time, when their kids enquire, the knowledge they had acquired. It was as if they sat on the treasure chest of what they knew and would not share it with them. Kids know when they are being cheated and put off. So I wrote this way back then

johncoxon 2:08 AM -
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john/Male/51-55. Lives in United Kingdom/Engalnd/Salford, speaks English and French. Eye color is brown. I am what my mother calls unique. I am also creative. My interests are photgraphy/local history.
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United Kingdom, Engalnd, Salford, English, French, john, Male, 51-55, photgraphy, local history.