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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Remembering the empties

It's that time of the year when we get all maudlin and restrospectacle and I really can't be arsed. I'll be mostly glad to see the back of 2010, even though I'm staring at 2011 in largely dry-mouthed terror. Whatever else this year to come will be it is going to be a ride.

Hope you all have a happy New Year. Look after yourselves and keep safe.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Back to Skool (chiz, chiz)

I'm still unseasonably cheerful. So much so that a Tribune of the Plebs is moved to approach my desk.

"You're very cheerful again today, Kevin."

"I am. I don't know what's up, it doesn't feel right at Christmas."

"Please could you pack it in? You're frightening the staff."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Qwismas Kwiz results

I've linked up the answers to The Qwismas Kwiz so you can see that you all did very well and everyone gets prizes (we'll have no crying into your lucky bags here!)

And what do you get?

Your own, your very own "Hooray For Helminthdale" calendar for the probably-forthcoming year!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Qwismas Kwiz

To keep you out of mischief while the selection boxes settle.

Here are some titles from 2005/6, what do you think the story was?
  1. Patience, fleas, the night is young

  2. All of a sudden nothing happens

  3. Graph spree

  4. JCBs in the Meadow of Consolation

  5. Like two rubber ducks that pass each other in the bath
    • There is nothing so swift as a manager avoiding their workforce
    • Leadership is a foolish consistency
    • It's usually a good idea to count the wheels on the mobile library before going out

  6. Laughing their hods off
    • Builders prop up a door lintel with fag packets
    • Having to count the bricks in the fire escape corridor
    • A caretakers' revolt

  7. Talk to the wall because the email's not listening

  8. We've a little tiny crocodile that sings like Bing

  9. Triple negatives

  10. A kick up the arts

  11. Rumour in cuneiform

  12. Florence Nightingale should live this day

  13. Three thousand burning joss sticks sing "Happy Birthday" to Queen Juliana of the Netherlands
    • The Summer Reading Game
    • Stock editing
    • An Audit Commission inspection

  14. When Alexander the Great was my age he'd been dead twelve years

  15. A mayfly dreams of eternity
    • Ordering new PCs
    • Installing the new book ordering system
    • Finding out which days the libraries will be closed over Xmas

  16. Detail of Painting by An Unknown Artist Depicting Unconditional Surrender at the Battle of Helminthdale

  17. The Order of the Lack of Vivid Imagination
    • Library management
    • Human Resources
    • The Department of Culture, Media and Sport

  18. A sailor's farewell to his horse

  19. The equipment has the best tunes

  20. Big Brother is up your nose
    • email monitoring
    • New identity badges
    • CCTV

  21. Crouching tiger, springing limpet

  22. Chimps off the old block

  23. Just like my socks, they are neglected

If you get stuck you can find the answers by searching for the titles. Good luck. And lots of cheating!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Yule stuff

What's said and done on Christmas Eve stays in Christmas Eve. (Especially that!)

I hope all of you have a good Christmas. Take care of you and yours and come back tomorrow for the Christmas Quiz.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mine smelt of musty hymn books

Frog's explaining why he isn't ginger. Sibyl pipes up:

"I used to be strawberry blonde. Collar matched cuffs too. They don't now, not unless I spend a bit more time at the hairdressers."

It was a conversation involving Daleks and turkey butties.

This has been the most lucid staff room conversation I've heard lately. It's been a peculiar couple of days.

Dial F for Murder

Frog is unimpressed.

He's just gone looking for a book that appeared to have gone missing in the children's library. In the end he found it shelved with the authors beginning with E.

The book was Aesop's Fables.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ovaltine was a blessing

Half the staff are just getting over the lurgi and the other half are knee-deep in cough drops. Even Lucy, who takes stoicism and self-denial to extreme lengths, has had to admit defeat and go home to a hot bath and industrial strength Covonia.

The effect on public service goes further than our struggling to staff the counters and presenting the service as a collection of red-cheeked shivering wrecks. A customer came into Gypsy Lane Library this afternoon and put her scarf and gloves right back on.

"Eee... It's cowd in here!" she said.

"Is it?" asked Pansy.

Pansy's been running such a high temperature that she hadn't realised that the heating had tripped off at half ten this morning.


Disappointing to need to challenge the word 'Yid' in the workplace. :(

Monday, December 20, 2010

All the wood you can eat

Posy's had to persuade an overly-amorous couple to cease and desist in the lending library.

"In the end I had to show them a medical dictionary."

Marvellous experiences in Cork and quite a lot of fun in foam rubber

One of the big problems we have with our staff is their lack of confidence in their own abilities. This is due, in no small part, to the Library Service's policy on personal and professional development: "know your place and stick to it." (Obviously, this is an elaboration of a much more concise policy document.) Today's case in point is Alice, who's worrying about a course she's doing. She's fretting about the bit dealing with decision-making skills.

"I'm going to fail that," she says.

"Bollocks," says I.

"I can't make a decision to save my life!"


"I can't."

"Of course you can. Just think of all that crap that was going on the other day. You sorted that out. You couldn't have done that if you aren't able to make decisions."

"Yeah, but I nearly chinned someone."

"You didn't, though, did you?"

"I nearly did."

"Well... It would have been a decision."

"Yeah, but a really crap one."

"So... Having established that you can evaluate a decision, find it lacking and decide to do something else...?"

"I hate you."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Festooned with apathy

I suppose a quick update is called for. It's been a busy couple of weeks, most of the details of which escape me (by design, not accident: they were that sort of detail).

  • Salome and Doreen have engineered escapes out of Helminthdale by the cunning wheeze of looking in the small ads in the Library Association Record (incorporating Whizzer and Chips).
  • Salome's job is to be done, temporarily at least, by Thelma, with Thelma's job being done by Marie and Marie's job being done by whoever's seen to have some time on their hands at any given moment. (You'll notice that we aren't recruiting new people.)
  • Doreen's job is to be divvied up between Julia, Jack Harry and Milton, with bits going to Maybelle or Bella or Thelma or Posy or Lola, depending on the wind direction on the day.
Virtually every partner organisation that we deal with is either being wound up, cut to the bone or has been told that some time next summer there will be a decision to either wind up or cut to the bone. The only reason that we don't know for sure if/how we are going to be cut any further than we already know of is the council's stated objective not to close any libraries under any circumstances whatever. This should be an unalloyed joy but we know that this support hasn't ever extended to giving us the wherewithall to staff them properly so all bets are off as to what this actually will mean in practice.

Happy days...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is your horse red in the fetlocks?

A missive or epistle from J.Arthur Blenkenstein, our esteemed Chief Executive. He thanks the poor huddled masses for their sterling work and cheery fizzogs and tells us the latest on the state of the local economy now that your man Pickles has wielded the axe. The good news is that the council's finances really are up shit creek and they're not just saying it.

The bad news is Executive Directorate have put together a Strategy For Growth.

The rest of this afternoon looks set for a discussion on the manner of tumours, hairy moles and sundry polyps.

That's three she's had since Lenny had his tonsils out

"I don't know what we'd do in this place without Tommy Handley and ITMA," says Sybil.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jingle bell rock

The fifth of our libraries' Christmas parties is now in full flow and looks like it's going to be as good a do as the others so far. Which is nice as they've all been heaving with bodies, pop and cake and have managed to raise serious amounts of money for charity by auctioning teddy bears and playing games of pin the tail on the local councillor.

To further enhance the Yuletide cheer, the annual prolonged Christmas slugfest at Windscape Library has been very low key and hasn't dragged in many innocent parties. Goodwill to all ladies of a certain age.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A graceful old single-masted ironing board

"How's the new boyfriend," I ask Sami.

"I think I might have broken him," she replies.

I daren't ask, she'd only tell me.

More kicks than ha'pence

You have to wonder at the cloistered existence of some of our librarians...

News emerges of the council-by-council grant settlement for next year. It turns out that that nice Mr. Pickles has given us a nice Christmas present of a big cut in funding (or as reelmolesworth tweets: "sontaran general eric PICKLES xecute stage 1 of invasion by cuting local govt. funding to all humans who have temerite to vote LABOUR") Essentially, urban provincial councils and Labour-controlled London boroughs get a ginormous cut in funding while some leafy shire councils actually get an increase.

"I don't understand how they can do that," says Jack Harry, literally baffled.

Noreen looks at him as if he's just arrived from the Planet Zog. Neither she nor I can understand how he doesn't know that they can, they do and they will.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Look at me! I'm in tatters!

These days I seem to be spending my time censoring or spiking entries to this blog. The stuff that would get me into really deep shit isn't the politics - large or small P. It's colleagues' behaviour. In times of stress people do irrational things. That's understandable and even when it's deeply, deeply irritating it's pardonable. Some behaviours aren't pardonable and it would be quite nice if they were to be put back in the box so that we could concentrate on trying to survive the next few months with the least possible casualties (ideally, none at all but that's looking increasingly unlikely).

It will not grow outside the lab unless it is deliberately injected or sprayed into a goat


A customer comes in to Helminthdale Central Library. It's Posy's turn to be on the reception desk.

"Good afternoon, can I help you?" asks Posy.

"Are you new here?" asks the customer.

"No, I've been working here more than a year now."

"Is that right? I wouldn't have thought: they're not big on smiling in here."

Friday, December 10, 2010

It looks like a foggy day in Barnsley

The council's PC Support Team is made up of Jim, Young Jim and Very Young Jim. Oh, and Barry. It's been a while since I've seen Very Young Jim. He's just been in to sort out a problem with the public PCs in the reference library.

It's dispiriting to see that Very Young Jim is going grey.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Never use a mobile phone while you're peeing

As part of our ongoing commitment to the healthy living agenda we're stocking a lot more information about Men's Health Issues. You know what I mean: Men's. Health. Issues. Quite so. In particular, we're stocking a few monthly magazines that explore the issues concerned in the discrete and unsensational manner fitting for The Stoic Northern English Gentleman that they can use for easy reference in the reading room upstairs in Helminthdale Central Library.

All they have to do is know that we stock them, go to the enquiry desk, ask for a copy of one of the magazines; sign a receipt; read the magazine; go back to the enquiry desk; return the magazine and receive the cancelled receipt as a receipt of return.

To read a magazine in the reading room.

"We've had people steal magazines before now," explains Eileen.

Scottish oak-smoked gravy granules

Some of you have asked about Helminthdale's Christmas light.

Let's remind ourself of its grandeur.

Xmas lights

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Shoals of placid middle-aged men dabbing it behind their ears

Frog's back from a meeting about the council's new youth offer.

"What was it like?" I ask him.

"I was the youngest one there," he said, picking at his mustard plaster.

Saving up for a portcullis

I bump into somebody who must remain nameless (Fred Nameless) in the town hall. We exchange gossip about the Council Directorate, a report We Don't Know About, some councillors and the local newspaper. Which sounds more interesting than it really is when it's written down like that, we must try that next time. We've got to that time of year when it's OK to start speculating about the next round of local elections - any earlier and we are voicing opinions in defiance of the wishes of the electorate; very much later and we are compromising our essential political neutrality.

"Still, at least we know it's unlikely that we'll be getting any fascists elected here," says my colleague. "Even the most dyed-in-the-wool local recognises that any incomer seeing Helminthdale as a taste of paradise must have had a really shit home life."

Monday, December 06, 2010

Turner the thumbscrew

Turner Prize disappointment: Helminthdale Council's epic art installation "Helminthdale Town Centre Regeneration" is passed over for Susan Philipsz' "Lowlands."

"We don't mind postmodernist irony," says a judge, "but Helminthdale's effort smacks more of sarcasm."

Vigorously cleaning his paintbrushes

It's an austerity Xmas at Helminthdale, though we're parading under the excuse of being green and recycling and that. We're being very stylish: the papers chains aren't a vulgar harlequinade this year, they're icy white, flecked with black and very nice they look, too.

It's good to know there's a use for old library business plans.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Keeping the brand new rhinoceros away from the snow

These are strange times in Helminthdale, even by its own standards. The word "Confused" has been used by many and often, with thundering understatement. The only answer any honest man could give to any question about anything, literally anything, that may or may not be happening in Helminthdale is: "I don't have the first idea." Luckily, the council is well-enough provisioned with the dishonest to enable staff to be too busy being angry to despair. There's a Fall of Empires vibe running through the whole public sector at the moment — though I personally feel it's more Congress of Vienna than Treaty of Versailles — and The Helminthdale Way Of Doing Things egregiously compounds the disorder and confusion. All we would need now is some kind of implosion amongst the political factions and the joy would be complete. Happy days.

The Library Service is at an advantage in all of this as dazed and confused is its basic waking state anyway. We suffered so many unannounced and unacknowledged cuts during 'the boom years' that there is no cost-cutting efficiency saving of any great size that could be made without frightening the horses. All the 'easy' cuts have long since been made and we don't have the capacity for making serious and sensible real efficiencies because we're spending all of our time managing the plasters over old wounds. Which doesn't mean that we're immune from any cuts — far from it! — but there is no clamour of panic: the prevailing mood is of stage hands attending a long-running and unsuccessful provincial Grand Guignol.

You would hear similar stories across the country.

For me personally this is a time of great uncertainty, though I do keep having to point out that this has always been the case in this job. I have spent all my working life reinventing jobs and rôles so none of this is new territory for me. And to be honest, part of me is being seduced by a "with one bound he was free!" fantasy that doesn't bear close practical inspection. The rest of me thinks I've got a job until someone tells me I haven't got a job and until then it's business as usual. Which is precisely where I've been all along. It isn't as easy as that for some of the other people looking to be in the firing line, unfortunately, and they're going to need help and support if things aren't going to get very unpleasant.

I know that this will sound strange but for me personally the biggest cause for concern is that I seem to be getting my own way on a whole stack of things. As I mentioned to the Major the other day, I appear to have been given yards and yards of rope. I know that, in some respects at least, I'm being played but I'm fine going along with that so long as nobody's going to get hurt; particularly if it means we may scrounge a few more positives out of the situation than appear to be currently on the table.

I've always been an optimist.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

You'll never marry that to the engine

Good news: the insurance company's engineer has braved the elements to check out that it's OK for us to be using the lift.

Bad news: he's broken the lift and doesn't know how to fix it. We'll have to get the maintenance engineer out to fix it and then charge the insurance company for the repair.

Seth has made it clear that we aren't to ask about the well-being of our no claims bonus.