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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

At what speed will the tiger be travelling when he can stick his head through both holes at once?

It's taken me too long to realise what's up with me this week...

Every public library in the country provides internet access to the public via The People's Network. Which is actually a couple of hundred local solutions under the same banner. And a real pig of a project for the systems people involved (librarians + library management + corporate IT + set deadline for delivery = sheer bloody murder). It was not fun and, if I were blogging at the time, (a) I'd be down to a quarter of an hour's sleep a night and (b) this blog would be six times as congested as it is now.

I'd hoped that was history, done and dusted. But it becomes more and more apparent that history is repeating itself. Except that this time I have no idea what the IT guys are being asked to do or when and no scope whatsoever for papering over the policy holes in the whole caper. Milton's approach to project management on this one is to have lots of meetings and conversations with IT over a series of months and then every so often tell me all the things that we could be doing at some point in an uncertain future. Any questions I have about how we want to manage the new delivery model; what key resources do we want to emphasise on the user interfaces; and how we want the customer interface to work are waffled away.

It's tempting to walk away from the whole sorry mess but it's a dead certainty that it'll be my job to wave a magic wand and make everything better.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I want to see you there behind me leading the way

"Set aside next week for working on the People's Network," said Milton last week. So I did. And we have done Jack all on the People's Network. Oh, to be sure we

  • Looked at the new bookings management system that's been installed.
  • Looked at a new PC.
  • Talked a great deal about what we could do.
  • Listened to the installation engineer as he offered to help us set things up.
and have done Jack all. I couldn't work with the installation engineer to set anything up because I don't know how Milton wants us to be using the People's Network in the future.

"We'll go through the manual and see what settings we want," he says.

"We will decide what we want the system to do in practice and then find out how the system does it," I insist.

All in all a dead wasted opportunity. The installation engineer's been and gone so I'm on my own now with the sure and certain knowledge that some time in the future I'm going to be required to pull a dead rabbit out of a hat.

I think mauve has the most RAM

email from Umpty Library:

"That PC in the reference library is playing up again."

I can't even be bothered to make a guess as to which and what.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We gave articles on peculiar punishments in the fifth volume

Last summer we were told that all new staff would be receiving a Welcome Pack not dissimilar to that we give to the Poor Bloody Public. Last autumn, the staff who'd been tasked to do the job delivered the goods. At Christmas Policy Team decided that all staff starting from the new year would receive packs.

Job well done.

Maudie and Maisie have had a pile of packs printed out and they arrived today. They look very good. Unfortunately, T.Aldous spotted them and threw a wobbler.

"Why don't I know anything about these? You should check with me before doing anything like this. I am the service head and I should know about this!"

Maudie and Maisie are not impressed.
  • T.Aldous chaired the staff meeting last summer where it was announced that these would be done.
  • T.Aldous chairs Policy Team.
  • The operational minutiae that T.Aldous doesn't know would fill volumes.

Still, we can't go around having positives littering the place now, can we?

Now, Umslop, cease to be haggard!

"You've already emailed me those figures," says Mary.

Have I?

"Bloody hell," says Frog, "we're not one of the authorities who haven't submitted their reports and costings for Book Off. I don't remember doing it."

The Library Service has worked its magic: we are reduced to mere unknowing automata.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Landscapes of clouds

How long have we been rearranging the desks on this floor? It feels like forever but it's probably only been about ten months. Since Christmas, four sets of shelving units have arrived, been set up and then departed from the space across from my desk. That's the fifth table over there (and we've not even had one of this week's arrivals yet). Maybelle and her desk are now in their fourth location of the month. Bronwyn's moved over to the position agreed with Mary last summer and is waiting for a 'phone point to be installed. It could be a long wait: Nancy's been at her 'new' desk for five years and still doesn't have one. And if I hear Mary say to somebody: "We'll just put that there for now" one more time I shall scream.

This afternoon's to do is a squabble in Nancy's team about the positioning or not of a desk. Milton passes by and takes it on himself to point out that if they had the desk in the appointed place then they'd need electricity and network points installing on the nearby wall.

Ten minutes later he escapes.

"I thought you were unnaturally quiet," he tells me in passing.

Rules of cataloguing

People at Catty Library are getting a little silly. I'm making a huge effort not to go in with both feet studs first but it's a struggle. And I know I'm not the only one. Since the library re-opened they seem to have spent all their time letting other people know that they don't think they're doing their job properly. Sometimes they'll ring a library and ask: "why haven't you done...?" Sometimes they'll print screen dumps of mistakes they think other people have made on the system and then send them in to members of Policy Team with notes like:

"This is the sort of entry that ... is making. Is this what we should all be doing now?"

I'm under orders not to quality control Catty Library's throughput as it would just be throwing petrol on the fire.

Today's gem has been sent to Mary. It's an old, rather foxed, hardback novel with the note attached:

"This is on the catalogue. It needs doing properly."

Now, it's quite true that we have copies of this book in stock and on the library catalogue. It isn't true that this book is on the catalogue. It was donated to Catty Library by one of their customers and they've passed it on here in this graceful manner for it to be dealt with somehow or other.

Given the to-do the other week I'd guess they'd create a little if it were sent back to them for their shelves.

Please remember the grotto!

Catty Library's been re-opened a while now and we're still to be celebrating the New Model Library.

"Have we got any events going on at Catty yet?" asks Frog.

"They're having a book sale," I reply.

"Don't take the piss, it's not nice."

But it was true.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tables II

The boys are back with the stuff from Carbootsale and Catty. We can no longer be surprised by the boxes of rubbish they couldn't be bothered chucking out themselves, I guess. The five tables come as a surprise. Especially as two of the tables from down here were stolen earlier in the week to go over to Catty for some reason despite them saying 'No room! No room!'

"Where are they going?" I ask Alwyn.

"Two of them are replacing a table in the staff room," he replies.

I keep well out of the way.

Looking at the Rubicon and then going home just in case we've left a window open

Two senior managers are still sulking about batteries. A couple of grands' worth of stock is now into month fourteen of sitting in boxes in a back office. Thus are great empires forged.

Fog arranged tastefully in mahogany display cases

Maybelle is Not Happy. In fact, her body language says: "I'm fucking well not happy," which is notable because she can usually present as being calm and can-do. I'm a little puzzled as she's working on a set of display boards, which is something she usually takes in her stride with obscene ease. So I drift over to be nosy...

"What's the display for?"

"Next week's 'Equality Plus' day at the Town Hall. It's an opportunity for the public, particularly from minority groups, to come along and be told by councillors what a good job we do of treating everyone equally."

"So we're doing a display?"

"All the council's services are doing displays. Mary told us about it the other week and asked Nancy to take a lead on it. Nancy took a lead on it by saying to me: 'Maybelle, you're good at displays, can I leave this with you?' and then she did."

"What's the brief?"

"There isn't any brief. I was just given a box of leaflets and bits of paper her team have laminated and I've been told to put a display together."

"Err... are those the materials she's provided."

"Yes. Horrible, aren't they? I'm not going to use them. The problem is, I don't know what I should be doing with any of this."

"What's the key message?"

"The key message is: 'I don't know why I'm doing this.' Do you think I should collar Mary and Nancy again and try and get them to tell me what the working brief should be?"

"I think you need a cup of tea."

"Yes, I think that's more like it."


Seth and Alwyn have gone out with Kevin the driver to pick up some stuff from Carbootsale and Catty libraries to come back here.
  • Carbootsale is closed for redecorating and perhaps knocking a wall down (we're still not sure whether or not that's happening, though it may fall down of its own accord once the wallpaper's removed). All of its stuff is going into storage, we're told. Which is why two vanloads have already come back here with more promised.
  • Catty's only just re-opened and they've been unpacking stuff from storage and refusing to admit anything else whatsoever through the doors, so God alone knows why they're sending stuff back here.
As the boys pootle off I can't help hoping that the police don't see them. The picture of the three of them sat in the front of the van has "Armed bank robbery" written all over it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Wright stuff

Walking back to work this lunchtime something caught my eye. Was it a bird? No, it was an aeroplane. I was surprised that I was surprised, after all they're ten a penny in the skies back home. It came as quite a relief to see that it was a real Boeing thingy with jets and all (the Major will have ID'ed it immediately).

I felt disappointed that it wasn't a Vickers Vanguard. Or a Supermarine Sea Otter, come to ply the flying boat trade amongst the ratty banks of the river Helminth.

My horse will run out of hay

Last year the council upped the parking rates for staff as part of its encouraging-green-living-and-nothing-to-do-with-the-budget-deficit programme. It has been a huge success: the staff car park's been half-empty; local pubs and bingo halls have been complaining about the effects of all-day parking outside their premises; and the council's income deficit on car parking charges has gone up from £110,000 to £243,000.

Next week: how to stimulate the economy of an area of special deprivation during a recession by cutting the salaries and allowances of the largest group of people who live and work there.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Pop in the slot

Fred Anonymous writes:

Further to our earlier correspondence... (-:

We hadn't realised that when our beloved leader motioned towards our new 'visioning board' that the most visible thing on there was a photo of a naked Santa shovelling snow. We'd forgotten all about it. One of the managers said to me afterwards that it was difficult to keep a straight face:

'She was banging on about a visioning board and all we could see was this bloke's bare arse.'

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lap dancing

We're planning on buying some new laptops for staff training and public learning purposes. Officially we have to buy all our hardware from the IT Section. Also officially, Corporate Procurement advises that we may want to look in the catalogue of a well-known high street store. The reason being that it's £2,000 each cheaper to buy them that way.

If we buy the laptops from IT we're allowed to plug them into the corporate network. We have no need to do so: staff will be working with USB sticks and we wouldn't want the public on the corporate network in any case.

The clincher is that if we buy from IT, as well as being more expensive, they disable the sound card and the wireless network functionality. Not really what you want on a learning resource in buildings served by the council's new town-centre wifi hotspots.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Doing da lingo

Ah... the natural reserve of the English.

I'm away from the office attending a sequence of demos and presentations of bits of library technology. In the middle of one of them it's left to the South African in the room to point out:

"There's no such thing as UK English. That's English. By definition."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yet I am longing to share the lot

I get an email from Catty Library saying it's OK for me to put them back into the stock circulation system. And about bloody time, too. So I leave it for a week and then email Catty Library asking them if they want me to put them back into the stock circulation system.

"Oh no!!!" comes the cry. "We've no space for the stock we've got, let alone any incoming from other libraries!"

And I make sure to copy the correspondence to Julia.

Just in case.

I'd learned enough grass snake to order lunch

Today's favourite staff room riddles. The spirit of the Christmas cracker lives on.

What's brown and sticky?
A wireless nunchuck.

What's blue and wavy?
A wave.

What's brown and smokes a pipe?
Stanley Baldwin in a pan of Bisto.

May the good Lord help us.

You are the audience, I am the author, I out-rank you

I get a message from a colleague who prefers to remain anonymous

"Can I be Fred Anonymous?"

Whose blog is this? No you can't.

Our beloved leader was walking some senior managers through the homestead when she stopped in front of the staff noticeboard and said:

"I'm going to clear most of this stuff off the noticeboard and we'll turn it into a visioning board."

Unfortunately, we're all of an age now where bladders and pelvic floors aren't as strong as they used to be.

I know somebody who makes me feel seasick

Maisie passes on a message:

"Sissie says that she's rung the Helpdesk to report erratic email."

"'Erratic email'?"

"Do you want to ring her to find out what she meant?"

"I do not!"

"I didn't think so. I wasn't in the mood to ask her either."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Eating vinegar off a fork

Every year the same dance. Beginning of December I start asking Mary what she needs setting up for next year's stock-buying budgets. And every year she doesn't respond until the Acq. Team have accumulated a couple of dozen orders for titles due out in April.

And we wonder why we get the bin-end deliveries.

How to cook bacon in a Corby trouser press

Milton gets a 'phone call fom a colleague in Saltgate.

"You've got a couple of people from your Corporate Development Unit coming over to have a butcher's at Chatelaine Library. Is there anything in particular you want us to make sure that they see?"

This comes as news to Milton.

And a considerable shock to T.Aldous.

The good news is that Milton has the sense to answer the question, hopefully in a way advantageous to us.

As much existence as the City Griffin

We're a bit thin on the ground today. As per bloody usual. Today's additional strains have been caused by a pile of people getting man flu and a couple of snow casualties (a break and a sprain). We'll soldier on, like we always do.

Like we've any other option: we daren't close the doors anywhere and we've done a damned fine job of demonstrating that even if we had more staff we'd not do anything productive with them.

Sh-boom, sh-boom

Walking down Helminthdale High Street I noticed the tell-tale row of small cylindrical holes in the pavement that tells me that the Gas Board has been looking for leaks again. This is worrying. We've not had part of the town centre blow up for a few months now so we're about due and I really don't want to be on the scene when it happens.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nature abhors a vacuum

Doreen is cross. And not without reason. A couple of weeks ago she finally regained the use of the community room in Helminthdale Central Library after months of its being the repository for boxes of stuff from Catty Library, not to mention sofas and kinderboxes. And boxes of leaflets for national reading campaigns that finished half a generation ago. And broken flipchart stands. And... well you get the picture. Anyway, the room was finally emptied of crap and could be made available for public use.

Until the arrival of a pile of boxes from Catty that they "don't have room for at the moment."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An insincerity of purpose in the searching

I bump into Ken Barmy in the coffee shop of Hannigan's Truss Boutique and we get to swapping stories about our respective employers. As you do. Talk had drifted to Pay & Grading reviews: like most everyone we've found that our corporate human resources departments are proposing to make substantial cuts in the salaries of middle-ranking staff so as to simplify (polarise) the pay structures. Both "professional" and "gentleman" players have been badly affected by this and it leaves managers with a festering mess of a problem.

"Our chief's left no stone unturned in her attempt to demonstrate that we're out of kilter with the national market," says Ken. "She says she had a look at the jobs advertised in CILIP Update but 'there weren't very many jobs being advertised and they all required qualified librarians.' I can't imagine why that came as a surprise to her."

"You're kidding me!"

"OK, I can imagine why that came as a surprise to her, but let's be charitable."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The audience was sent home with the Prime Minister's apologies and a bag of chocolate buttons

To my utter amazement we have suddenly started using some of the technology for the intended purpose! Somebody in one corner of the borough had an idea, shared it with a load of other people by email and, over the course of the past two days we have bounced around a useful set of ideas to the point where it's an identifiable project with identified resources and a plan of action...
"I was thinking... There's a box of children's books in the back room at... that isn't doing very much. Could we..."

"That's an idea. How about if we also..."

"I'm going out to... Could we trial this out there while I'm at it?"

"Could we tie it in with the work... is doing at...?"

"Yes we could. This is brilliant. If I do... we could use that as an opportunity to launch it."

Needless to say...
"I'm fed up with all these emails about those children's books,"
Mary tells Frog. So we then all get the email
This is the last word on this matter.

I will be reviewing this stock shortly.

Between that and the recent complaints on a library discussion list about people using the list for discussion my despair of the English public librarian is complete for the year.

I want my Dada

Some clown has decided to empty his bowels in the hand basin in the gents on the lending floor. At least, that's the story as we first heard it. Sybil explains to the staff room:

"A group of lads went into the gents and watched each other crapping in the sink. We didn't know they were in until they came out."

"We'll have to put a CCTV camera in there."

"Have you considered that it might have been a bit of performance art? We should have a webcam in there."

"Well, whatever it is, Seth's had to clean it up."

Let's hope the Catty Examiner doesn't get to hear about it. All Hell will break loose once they find out we've been at an important art installation with a bottle of Max Strength Bleach.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I don't think the time was entirely wasted

I've spent most of the afternoon at Carbootsale Library. While I've been there it's been full of people:
  • Older folk coming in for a chat and a read of the magazines and perhaps to take out a book to read in bed.
  • A couple of young lads checking out the jobs bulletins on the PCs.
  • A young woman bringing back a book her housebound mum had just finished reading.
  • A "little mother," herself not any more than seven, overseeing a troupe of infants in the children's library: six sat at the table colouring in 'picture of the month' sheets; three over in the corner playing with the cars; and another three sat on the floor looking at picture books of tractors with big wheels.
  • Half a dozen young lads between the ages of six and ten, most of whom seem to be playing games on the Bratz website.
  • Two old chaps checking out the details of the next meeting of the parish council.
  • Somebody wanting a bus timetable.
  • A bunch of kids wanting to know if loan copies of The Guinness Book of Records are back yet.

And the laugh of it is that by any of the standard performance indicators this is Dead Quiet.

Finishing a tour of "Lilac Time"

I've spent an age listening to the discussions about "why we can't do a junior stock promotion" and I have to say that the more I listen to it all the more I think that its publication would put back the cause of gender politics by a couple of generations.

The Cecil Bs of the 16 de mille

A colleague tells me that they've been told they've got two months in which to spend £100,000 on stock for a library that's not scheduled to open until next year.

A sobering thought: there are some people out there who imagine that this is a rational way to go about business.

Too strong for light work

I keep hoping that it's all a strange, exotic dream but I'm afraid it's true...

I've just heard Julia and Doreen tell the Assistant Librarians that they can't do a junior stock promotion because "if we end up loaning out all the books then there won't be any for people to borrow."

If the private sector carried on in this way there'd be cash-flow problems all round and companies going bust left, right and centre.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dibbling in the nursery

A colleague tells me that they're having an inspection this week. Good luck to the poor beggar I say. Or perhaps envy, Inspections are always good theatre.

It then occurs to me that we've not had an inspection for more than two years. Time was, we had inspectors coming out of our ears. In fact, I'm not convinced we even had the auditors in last year. Oh we must have done, get a grip Kevin.

It also occurs to me that for the first time in more than a dozen years I can't rattle off the current statutory performance indicators off the top of my head. And what's more, I can't be arsed looking them up. It's not as if we ever work towards delivering to them.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A cold wind from the East

Odd things are happening. Staff are making suggestions about things we can do and although most of them are being dead-batted the same as usual, members of Policy Team are scurrying round explaining to anyone who's not dead yet each reason why This Thing Cannot Be Done. There are further disturbances of the natural order of things...

"Did they ask you about changing those settings on the system?" asks Maybelle.

"Yes. I said I wasn't doing them and please could they think of a better idea," I reply.

"Oooh. And what did they say to that?"

"They took it quite well and promised to have another think."

"That'll be why it's so cold then," she says. "Hell's frozen over."

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Slightly boxed

Dagmar lends Verity a hand by supplying some boxes, despite having been instructed to do so by Julia.

"When I was emptying Raccoonville so that we could have the toilets done last year I was told to go scrounging boxes from the supermarket to put the books in. When I asked if somebody could get us some more Julia told me to get some more boxes from the supermarket because they needed them for Roadkill and Catty."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The little people leading such humdrum lives

Big to do. Questions are Being Asked. Bamboo shoots under the fingernails of Assistant Librarians. Library Assistants being swabbed for DNA testing. Twenty-odd staff hours involved in investigation and interrogation.

The crime?

Two tatty books were accidentally transferred to Catty Library, which is Not Accepting Transferred Stock.

We've not done boxes for a bit, have we?

Verity's hard at work packing up stock ready for its being put into storage when Carbootsale Library closes. The boxes are a bit ropey to say the least: Verity's had to tack most of them together with umpteen layers of brown tape.

"I know the storage company provides free boxes but I'd have thought they'd be a bit better than these," I say.

"Oh, they provide brand new boxes. I've been told that I've got to use the ones they used for Carbootsale and Catty because they've nowhere else to put them."

"The bin?"

"Oh no, not when there's quality material like this for them to foist on us."

Monday, January 05, 2009

I wail as one in doleful dumps

There is a flurry of strong language from Lola's corner of the room.

"Why the dockyard blarney?" I ask.

"I've been trying to sort out these boxes of books that have been lying here for months. Some of them have been here since before I went on maternity leave. And do you know what?"


"According to the catalogue they're all on the shelves in the library. Someone's just slung them into boxes without marking them as being unavailable for loan."

Which means that last April's statutory returns were an even bigger fiction than I thought. And that next April's probably won't be much better. Damn.


There seemed to be an unconscionable time between Catty Library's being handed over to us by the builders and the library being opened. Nonetheless, we are given almost daily bulletins as to why we should not yet treat it as if it's open for business as usual:
  • Please note: do not include Catty Library in stock rotation procedures as it cannot accept any more stock. We have not yet unpacked all the old stock from the boxes.
  • The meeting room at Catty Library is not available for meetings due to the amount of stock boxed up in that room.

and so on.

Henry Irving's pissed off because the library's local studies material had been shipped off to Sheep City for safekeeping during the building and Julia's now telling him that it can't go back to Catty Library because "there isn't room." This would be OK but Julia and Catty Library were prominent amongst those sticking in the veto when he wanted to provide a borough-wide local studies service from Sheep City.

Popping in very briefly on my way to Carbootsale I notice that there's a survey form on the staff noticeboard asking people what colour they would prefer for the headers for the shelves.

"Bit late for that, isn't it?" I ask one of the Library Assistants.

"They're going to be done posh."

"You've not said what colour you'd prefer."

"There's no point. Nicki and Sandra have said what colour they want so that'll be it then."

I expect she's right.

Friday, January 02, 2009

If we can bring one smile to one little face someone will have slipped up somewhere

We start 2009 on an uncharacteristically useful note.

Sybil's spent all week trying to get hold of an audio version of Descartes' "Meditations on First Philosophy" for a visually-impaired customer. This isn't the easiest of searches, not made any easier by said customer ringing the library once a day to complain that it's non-arrival is a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act (completely unfounded: we don't discriminate against any self-important tosspot of any kind).

"It'll be just my luck for him to do a WorldCat search or something and find it first time," she says.

"He's online then?"

"I couldn't find it on Project Gutenberg."

"Have you tried LibriVox?"

She did, and lo and behold!

We can jack it in now, we've had the win for the year.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New readers start here...

An introduction to Helminthdale:

There are those who say that Helminthdale is a shy jewel of the English Pennine landscape. These people have been detained under Section One of the Mental Health Act. Helminthdale is actually one of those not-quite brick/not-quite stone towns that pepper the wet bits of the north of England. Like many others of that ilk, Helminthdale suffered as a result of the decline of the textile industries; but unlike others it enjoyed the economic misfortunes so much that it decided to make it a full-time project and holds the distinction of being the only part of the country to have been in continuous recession since 1946.

Helminthdale Council is a unitary authority, which is to say that it's big enough to be bureaucratically otiose but not big enough to have a resource base sufficient to fund its dreams. Add to this an incredibly unstable political environment where three parties with practical ideologies you couldn't separate with a cigarette paper are elected almost on rotation, each spending their time in power dismantling and discrediting the half-formed programmes of their predecessor. Helminthdale Library Service is a very small part of this council and not very highly thought of within the Town Hall.

Although there are times when it feels that we have one library for every twenty-five head of population there are really only less than a couple of dozen. These range from the mighty and majestic Helminthdale Central Library, with its rolling empty acres of carpet and groaning toilets to dinky single-staffed outliers in school playgrounds like Glass Road and Pottersbury Road libraries.

This, then is our scene.

The story so far...

Twisted genius and Chief Librarian T.Aldous Huxtable paused in the doorway to his office, his face an inscrutable mask, picked up from one of our interminable book sales. What was his intent? Would he marshall his troops into tackling one of the myriad issues raised by successive government inspectors? Would he coerce an unwilling Library Service into embracing the white hot heat of technology? Or would he go and count the teaspoons?

Meanwhile, his senior management team, this week called Policy Team but next week who knows, busy themselves in the filing away of the points of pencils so that they reach no conclusion.

Jocasta and Amanda have escaped the clutches of the white slavers and, with the assistance of Orlando The Lucky Rabbit, are trying to gain passage on the first dhow leaving the harbour at Barnoldswick. They are approached by a burly Lascar and as he speaks their blood turns cold with terror.

"I have the National Collection of Thomsons Locals for the year 1996 in my reference library."
Unbeknownst to them, Charles and Daphne have embarked on a walking tour of the Mobile Library. As they sit on the running board eating their sandwiches they witness the grisly ceremony of The Coming of the Fire Inspector and The Hiding of the Paperwork. Traumatised beyond words they lose themselves in the grip of the dreaded licorice.

Chuckles the Clown is dead.

Dressed in his flamboyant outfit of tweeds and brown fustian, Henry finds himself trapped forever in Sheep City, a land almost but not quite our own. Senses reeling from a combination of Well Known Local Characters and Doctor Sigismund Ringneck's Fiery Water he finds himself agape in mute incomprehension as he tries to make sense of the latest dispatches from Policy Team.

Everybody knows the new telephone number for Catty Library because it is pinned up behind the counter there.

Marjoribanks had a body like a Greek God, which he kept in a duffle bag under his bed at home. Did he know the secret of the boxes? Emily stifled a scream as the thought struck her that perhaps the boxes had attained a life of their own and some sinister purpose of which she was as yet unaware.

Joining hands to contact the living, Library Service staff discover (through the medium of Indian spirit guide Tiptoes-Through-Tulips) that the service does have a Communications Strategy after all; though their delight turns to ashes when they discover that Policy Team have decided that it is confidential. Fighting back salt tears of bitter disappointment, they have no recourse but to await the publication of the regular monthly staff newsletter, which appears roughly quarterly so long as there is an R in the month.

Dick Barton, with his three chums Jock and Snowy, have entered the farmhouse in pursuit of Erasmus Stradling, the well-known wart charmer, who they suspect to be behind the smuggling of nuns' bicycle saddles to Red China. Little do they know that Stradling is, in fact, the deadly Doctor Fu Manchu in a fun fur and cardboard viking helmet. Even as they enter the hallway the fiendish doctor's machinations weave a web of terror about them.

Kevin Musgrove has had a 'phone call from the reference library telling him that a customer can't log onto her Yahoo mail because she has forgotten her password and what will he do about it?

How will he escape...?