We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It was hell in the jungle. Couldn't get the custard.

It's been a brave cultural experiment, but I think Helminthdale's demonstrated that you can't run a local authority along the lines of the Dada Manifesto.

The first cuckoo of spring

A bloke from the Residents' Association popped into Panama Street Library this morning and told them that they're going to be closed. This is an annual event: every year the council decides it's going to close a few libraries. Every year Panama Street is in the frame. This guy's popping in to tell them is one of the signs and portents of spring, like snowdrops and singing wood pigeons.

Every year the black spot is flaunted. Every year everyone gets up in arms. The service is put into stasis — no development is allowed "because it might close this year." Senior management gets tied up in meetings with community groups, councillors, Uncle Tom Cobley and all to justify a decision that's been made on the back of an envelope by a director or a cabinet member. There'll be the usual press campaigns. Staff will be disrupted. Customers will be disrupted. Trade will be disrupted.

Then, four months later, nothing will happen.

Why put off today something that you can put off again tomorrow?

The MLA has negotiated a national offer for some key online resources, making them as affordable to us as they are desirable. We have the money. We want to buy them. Unfortunately, that particular budget, too, is controlled by Arthur Sixpence. A week to the deadline and I'm being stonewalled on this one as well:

This will be coming up in discussion next week. I'll get back to you.

At least the bugger's consistent.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Just spent half an hour dealing with a customer (it turned out I was the senior member of staff at the time). "I've told him and told him, but he won't take no for an answer," explains Vera, sotto voce. This guy lost his mobile 'phone some time last week and wanted to go through the security camera tapes to see if he dropped it in the library either on Monday when he was in for a couple of hours or else Wednesday when he was in all morning. I explain at length that he's not seeing the tape, adding that under Data Protection regulations we would be criminally liable if we were to let him see the tapes as that would be infringing the statutory rights of the other people in the library. And besides which, as a matter of principle he's not. Seth the caretaker joins me and eventually we get him to agree that Seth will check the tapes and let him know if he spots anything.

"Well, I suppose. But I don't know why you won't let me look at the tapes."

I don't tell him it's because it's a dummy camera put there by Reggie Clockwatcher.

Keep on washing those hands, folks!

Helminthdale Children's Library sends a book back to Frog because "it's faulty and needs replacing." Apparently, a customer complained because an illiterate troll who makes an appearance in the story says: "Dis am a really nice cave!" Which is not proper English so the book needs replacing...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Gallows humour

For some reason a couple of people were doing impersonations of Hutch in the staff room this lunchtime. It occurs to me that this might be a reason why our categories for pop & rock CDs are:

  • Pop Group
  • Pop Instrumental
  • Pop Singer
(If you insist on pretending you're too young to remember him, have a look at http://www.tales.ndirect.co.uk/HUTCH2.HTML but do remember to come back.)

Somebody tells me a story: T. Aldous is packing his car in Tesco's car park when he spots an old lady struggling with a pile of carrier bags.

"Can you manage?"

He shouts. She turns to him in scorn and replies:

"Sod off. You made the mess you can sort it out."

Friday, January 27, 2006

Pedestrian cross

The gas board is digging up Milkbeck Road so it's closed for the next six months. I don't know why they don't just pedestrianise it: it's been closed for six months while utilities dig holes three times in the past two years. Bit of a nuisance as this is the main road into Helminthdale. Traffic gets twenty yards away from High Street — which has the Town Hall, the bus station and the car park for the shops — and then gets funnelled down Maisie Avenue, round the back of Dishevelled Lane and thence onto the bottom of Catty Road. In order to reinforce the council's commitment to healthy living and meeting carbon targets, the council has switched off all the pedestrian crossings on Maisie Avenue so as make the traffic flow the easier.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Holy socks Batman!

There's always someone worse off than yourself. The Leisure Trust has just been renamed Sports, Parks & Leisure Action Trust. I've no evidence for this but I suspect the same fertile mind was behind the Community Unity Neighbourhood Team at Dutch Bend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Poking a stick into the pick & mix

Jim Lettuce pops round to check some numbers with me. He's doing an exercise to see what happens to key performance indicators if libraries are closed.

"Which libraries are we going to be looking at?" I ask.

"Probably be best if we have a look at all of them, to be on the safe side."

"So we're not building a business case for closing five particular libraries?"

No, we're not. Shall we look at Pottersbury Road first and get it over and done with? No, let's not, there's no point. Everything in Jim's manner points to one conclusion: somebody's already decided which five and Jim's been given the job of making the evidence fit the conclusion. "Which five, Jim?"

"If I tell you I'll have to kill you."

Whichever libraries are on the hit list, three eternal verities will apply:
  1. The choice will be irrational: there will be no service-based business case for the chosen;

  2. The process will drag on for months, raising the utmost disruption and upset; and

  3. Five libraries won't close.

Water torture

"The waste disposal van will be calling for all the discarded equipment today," T.Aldous tells me. "Are you sure we should be throwing away that screen?"

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Moving around the deckchairs on the Titanic

Jim Lettuce rings: "Can I come round a check some figures with you? Corporate Directorate have decided that we need to close five libraries and I've got to do the workings-out to show what happens to the public library standards if we take particular libraries out of commission. I asked T.Aldous what the effect would be if we closed five libraries and he said: 'We'd have to have a book sale.'"

So we're having a one-to-one meeting tomorrow. In some respects it's a shame to think of closing libraries, although most of the sound and fury you hear on the subject is focussed on the buildings, not the services. For the past twenty-five years Helminthdale has been running twenty libraries on the resources fit for twelve and it shows badly. It wouldn't be difficult to make a business case for closing five libraries: four virtually choose themselves (Pottersbury Road, for instance, wouldn't cause any ripples in issue or visitor figures and would be a huge saving on building costs, especially after the school recently raised the rent by five grand). The fifth would be any one of about five libraries. It'll be interesting to find out more.

Monday, January 23, 2006

An information professional at work

"I can't make head nor tail of this," T.Aldous tells Seth. Seth has made the mistake of giving him the lists of equipment in the throwing-out pile and in the computer room towards the end of an extremely trying day.

"That's the equipment that's being thrown out. And that's the equipment that was in the computer room that's being kept."

"But what about all these?" asks T.Aldous, referring to what appears to be the fifth or sixth generation two or three times removed arising from his orginal asset list.

"That's stuff that wasn't in the computer room."

"Well, where is it?"

"I don't know."

Seth recounts this to me and I weaken and have a look at T.Aldous' list. The original was obviously a corporate asset list not just confined to the library service. The PCs in question belong to the Environmental Health department.

The wheels fall off the cycle of life

In my lunch break (what T.Aldous calls my lunch hour and my clock card calls twenty one minutes) I nip out and buy a couple of bottles for Seth in appreciation of the work he's done on the computer room and the prolonged aggrivation he's had from T.Aldous today. I'd have killed the man, and may well yet do so.

"He's asked me about that bloody screen again," says Seth.

"Courage, mon brave," I say as I clasp his shoulder. "This cannot be forever."

We both know better. This is one of Hell's waiting rooms.

How come there's never a whacking big stick with a nail stuck in it when you really need one?

Seth is knee-deep in electronic archaeology when T.Aldous butts in.

"What's that screen?"

"I don't know."

"Why aren't we keeping that?"

"Because Kevin says it's broken and should be chucked out."

"Put it to one side, I'll check with him."

And so he toddles into my office. I'm knee-deep in the Library Service's contribution to the corporate specification for an online bookings system, in which Library Management Group is actively involved in pretty much the same way as the dead tree at the bottom of my garden is contributing to the London Olympics.

"What's that screen in the pile over there?"

"Which one? There are four."

"The black one."

"It's a black broken screen."

"If it's broken why is it here?"

"Because it's broken, I replaced it with a spare and I didn't know I was allowed to dispose of broken equipment."

"Why are we throwing it away?"

"Because it's broken."

"I think we should keep it, just in case we need to account for it."

"Isn't that why you've got Seth making a list of equipment that's being disposed of?"

"Are you sure it's broken?"

"Quite sure. If you shake it about it makes an interesting rattling noise and when you plug it into the mains it fizzes."

"So it needs to be thrown away then?"

"Yes, honestly."

Chasing rainbows

"Good news," emails Arthur Sixpence.

"We've been a bit busy lately but we're now able to do something about the software you wanted ordering. We'll be discussing it next week."

We've been "doing something about it next week" since November. It's good to see that in these turbulent times there are still some things that never change.

Rubbing salt in it

I've rescued what equipment I can from the chucking-out pile. A dozen items in all: a PC screen; an inkjet printer; a Braille embosser and some barcode scanners. Only the screen and printer are on the asset register: barcode scanners are treated as consumables by our IT section and they wouldn't know a Braille embosser from a badger's arse (I'm the local expert on them, which shows how bad things are). There might be some more "spares" that I could rescue but I can't be bothered. What's the point?

In flounces T.Aldous to ask whether I've taken the details of all the equipment in the chucking-out pile.

"No. You had Seth do that when he was clearing the place out on Saturday."

"But that was before you took some of the equipment out and put it back in the computer room."

"The stuff I'm keeping's in the computer room. There's only a screen and a printer that you need to keep on the asset register."

"So you've not made a list of all the serial numbers of the equipment that's to be thrown out?"

"No. You've already got that. You just need to cross out the screen and the printer from that list."

"So I can leave you to go through that equipment then? I'll leave the list with you."

"You can take the list away with you. I'm not going to do anything with it."

Half an hour later, Seth tells me that he's been instructed to go through the equipment in the chucking-out pile, taking the serial numbers. He suggested that he could just take a note of the kit that was being kept and cross it off Saturday's list. Not good enough. T.Aldous wants to see him checking all the numbers.

Emptying the rummage cupboard

On Friday afternoon, T.Aldous told me that he wanted the equipment in the computer room checking against the inventory. This consists of a few bits in the network cabinet; a few working spares and a load of kit that's broken but which I've not been allowed to throw away because "we may need to account for it."

"I don't know why you're holding onto equipment that's broken, what's the point?"

Says the man who I asked precisely the same question six years ago when he insisted that I find room in the computer room for twenty-seven defunct dumb terminals and three bookcases full of old Latin dictionaries.

I arranged with Seth the caretaker that we'd spend this morning clearing the room out, making a pile of the stuff that's being chucked out (having taken the details of those bits of equipment that should/would have been on the asset register at some time or another) and taking the asset details of the kit I'd be keeping.

Alas! T.Aldous was in on Saturday and decided that this wasn't good enough, insisting that Seth clear out the computer room that afternoon. So, this morning I'm rummaging through the pile trying to rescue the kit that I want to keep.

Seth's quite embarassed and upset by it. I don't know why, he's not to blame and he's made a splendid job of tidying up the computer room. T.Aldous, on the other hand, is a time-wasting prat.

Friday, January 20, 2006


Having a drink in "The Monkey's" with a council colleague to celebrate his retirement. The Leader of the Council, Councillor Oblong, enters the pub, sees Warner Baxter standing at the bar and shouts across:

"Oi you! Have you closed that fucking library yet?"

"What's that about?" I ask my friend later.

"Didn't you know?" he replied. "He's got a down on one of your libraries because the librarian there sent their kid to private school."

Rattle of pebbles in a potted meat tin

3.15pm: after eight months' of trying, the network team get the OK from the planners to put a wireless link on the back end of Grimly Library between the burglar alarm and the anti-vandal fencing

3.40pm: the planners change their mind and decide that they need planning permission and the equipment needs to be painted brick red

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A sailor's farewell to his horse

Someone here has realised we are not going to hit our targets for stock replenishment. Oh dear that bad. The action plan which was floating around last week, which I haven't seen, suggests I will confirm by last Friday the number of withdrawals from stock we have made this financial year. As I don't know I am supposed to be doing this I haven't done it.

Somehow the solution to the problem is to withdraw material like it is going out of fashion. Someone has come up with the glorious solution that if we get rid of 20,000 items before March 31st we might have a chance. Where the 20,000 has come from I don't know, as if you don't know how many you have got rid of up to now — and I know they don't as no one has asked for the figure — how do you know this action will get you where you think you ought to be?

Being the helpful sort I am I have offered alternative solution. I will buy, for the princely sum of one new penny, the entire stock of Pottersbury Road Library, total 11,510. (This figure has to be treated with a little caution as some of it was counted by the Pottersbury Road Library staff.) I will then sell my entire purchase back to the library service for 1p, thus creating a turnover of 2 x 11,510. (At this stage I am still working on the small print of purchase/sales contract, though writing into the terms and conditions a line that none of the stuff can be used for Pottersbury Road branch library seems like a very good idea to me.)

Oddly, and I don't know why as I can't see a hole in my logic, initial reaction to my proposal hasn't been well received.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Geography for the damned

email exchange between Frog and t. Aldous:

"The storysacks and the storysack racks have arrived. The latest are for Catty and Dutch Bend libraries (bought from Surestart money - so have to be housed in Surestart areas) The racks have been assembled and will be delivered shortly. "

"Where is the SureStart area in Catty Library ? "

"There isn't. I was meaning Surestart areas in the geographical sense as in Catty, Dutch Bend, Sorry & Oblivion, etc. "

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ain't it grand to be bloomin' well dead?

People's Network. This time it's the Reference Library. They wanted a scanner, so I arranged for someone to put in all the electrics, I ordered scanner, took it and box up to the Reference Library, unpacked it, installed it, went away.

"We can't have that," they screamed, "someone might pinch it."

Put scanner back in box, went away.

Customer complained about lack of scanner. I quote Reference Librarian via reliable witness: "We did have one, but the IT guy took it away".

Now it seems I have to reply to official complaint. Bless.

Life can be a dream

A couple of months ago one of the library assistants successfully applied for the job running the branch library at Oblivion. I asked her if she's got a start date yet.

"God no. I'm beginning to think it was all just a strange, exotic dream."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pathetic point scoring

Up in the reference library to sort a problem created by Reggie Clockwatcher. He tells his customers: "I've asked the technician to have a look at the problem. Here he is now."

A few minutes later a customer asks me where to find one of the directories. I point to Reggie:

"Ask the receptionist over there. I'm sure he'll be able to help."

And now a day in the farmyard...

Global corporate email:

Please be aware that some people are receiving emails that include a potential virus threat. These emails have the subject "Re:[]"

Do not open the attachment in these emails. The anti-virus software on the network should block any problems but it is sensible not to take any risks. It is best all round if you just delete emails with this subject heading without reading them.

Please make sure that colleagues without access to email see this message.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Post haste

There goes T. Aldous, running up the hill to the post office to get a statutory submission in the mail by the alloted deadline. If a thing's worth doing it's worth doing on the back of an envelope at the very last minute.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Sitting on us assets

T. Aldous is still tinkering with the asset registry entry for the libraries. Had he left it for me to do once I was back from Xmas leave on the 3rd I'd have had it done and dusted in a week (albeit with a lot of bitching and bad language). He's got three different versions on the go and, as he doesn't understand the concept of version control, he's made different notes and alterations on each in turn and made different generations of corrections on different sheets such that it is impossible to correlate the data. He then compounds it by hovering over the shoulder of Nettie the secretary as she amends the spreadsheet, gets her to print out the results and then that becomes version four to be scribbled on. Except he loses that and reverts to making corrections on version two. He's confused the hell out of every library in town and I can't find any of the "grubby spares" equipment that I keep hold of for emergency.

Keeps him out of mischief I guess.

Dressing up

For reasons we won't go into here, we've been given a couple of tiny teddy bears to help promote romantic fiction. Having a bit of time on our hands while the world goes to hell in a handcart, Frog and I set to dressing them up suitably. Mills and Boon, the Bondage Bears, have black leatherette jackets and thighboots (we cut up a bin bag), string vests (I'd just bought some satsumas) and spiked dog collars (black masking tape and drawing pins). They look very fetching, though their initial appearance on the children's librarians' bookshelf was controversial and had to be toned down for the audience.

I'm really worried that

  1. We found the time to do this; and

  2. We both turn out to be so knowledgeable about bondage gear.

Frog's now making a cat o'nine tails out of an old drinking straw. I think I should leave him to it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The equipment has the best tunes

The lift is broken (again!) Some wag sticks a note on the door:

This Otis regrets it cannot come down today

Oh yes it can!

"Ah well, at least it can't get any worse," they say. And then it bloody well does. In a bid to kill the jinx I've instituted a rule in my office that anyone saying "It can't get any worse" has to put 10p in the cocoa tin by the door. I've just checked the current state of play: since the beginning of December we've collected £3.40 for charity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


"What do you do for a living?" asks Warner Baxter.

Do you know, I had no idea either.

Life imitates art II

Note on a flipchart: I am broken. please can I be thrown away?
My colleague has given me the OK so here's the picture I referred to a while back.

Now will you stop nagging?

(The note was thrown away, but not the flipchart despite it being a risk to life and limb. I'm not aware that the note itself was broken. Probably a misunderstanding.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Oh hell. This is enough to freeze your waters... T. Aldous has just popped his head through the doorway and said:

I think we need to prioritise your workload.

This means that any attempt on my part to do absolutely anything except, perhaps, go to the lavatory will be stymied for the forseeable. "Don't do that just yet, we need to review whether or not it's a high priority," they'll say. But you can bet your bippy that I'll be held personally accountable for anything that's not done.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Boxing clever

Last Thursday, Seth the caretaker approached T. Aldous:

"I've got a pile of flattened cardboard boxes in the back there. Are you going to be needing them for Tench Lane?"

"No, I've sorted out what we're doing about moving the books away from the building work."

"So is it OK for me to chuck them then?"

"Oh yes, we need the space."

Today T. Aldous approaches Seth:

"Do we have any cardboard boxes? We need about thirty or forty of them for moving the stock at Tench Lane."

He then scoured the building looking for likely boxes. He spotted a pile in the acquisitions team's corner.

"What are these boxes?"

"They're new books that have arrived from the suppliers this morning."

"Can you unpack them now? I need the boxes."

"No. Each box includes the invoice and delivery note and we need to be able the check the boxes' contents against the paperwork."

"Can't you pile the books in the corner over there, using the invoices to separate each box?"

"Is that your 'phone ringing?"

Saturday, January 07, 2006

A mismatch of realities

T.Aldous, having been frightened by news about the council's strategy for transforming e-government, comes in for a chat.

"It's a pity that you told us to kill that project last month. That would have been our contribution to the strategy and we'd be sweet with Warner Baxter."

Me kill that project?!? http://helminthdale.blogspot.com/2005/12/sprint-finish.html

Nobody would convict me.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Mañana is a bit frenetic for some people

Time's a-wasting, we have some outstanding projects that have to be completed by the end of March and the hand at the tiller is Arthur Sixpence's. God help us. I chase him up again...

Hi Arthur,
For a couple of months I've been asking how we get to spend the money on the online services agreed in March. As you know, this project's a bit urgent now, especially after the comments by the inspection team and the Chief Exec's response to them. We need to get this moving a.s.a.p. Can we make a start soon?


I'll check what we're doing about this and I'll get back to you next week.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

An utter waste of time and effort

Email exchange...

From T. Aldous:

Is it possible to have the statistics for new borrowers collected and reported on a monthly basis?

My reply:

Yes it is possible and I've been emailing the figures to you at the beginning of each month for the past three years.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Public spat:

"Who told you to send those boxes out to Catty?" demands T. Aldous.

"You did," chorus Seth and Lemuel the caretakers.

"I did no such thing. Mary and Reginald have no right telling you to send boxes all over town. Where will it end? We won't know where anything is."

"We don't know where anything is anyway," retorts Seth, stopping short of saying the L word.

"Those boxes need to be over here so that we know where they are. I'll leave you to make the arrangements."

One day someone will open one of these boxes and find out that something important's inside. Frog's running a book on the contents. I'm a bit put off that the five favourites are all body parts.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Oopsie daisie!

Another year another directorate. Warner Baxter, our new director, comes along for a hastily-convened Management Group meeting.

Apparently, at the end he said: "that was a useful introduction, thank you. I'll come along to the next meeting so that I can get a feel as to how things are progressing. When's your next meeting? How often do you meet?"

Nobody could tell him.