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

Friday, January 29, 2010

It's the end of day two and the Saxons are having a party

It's Salome's last day today. She'll be doubly missed: she's loud and raucous with a filthy sense of humour; and we're not allowed to fill any new vacancies until April, which is pretty much our usual state of affairs even when the council's swimming in money. Posy and Lola are bracing themselves for a sudden increase in workload, which is inescapable given all the programmes and projects being imposed on us from on high, on top of business as usual. There are going to be some seriously sore heads at the work place tomorrow.

T.Aldous' "end of the month" retirement turns out to be "retires at the end of next week." This should prove interesting as none of us are convinced that he realises he's actually going.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Albert Memorial doesn't match your eyes

Many of our staff are imbued with the work of Harold Pinter and N.F.Simpson
"What's that Christmas card doing on that table over there?"

"Still? Oh it's that card T.Aldous brought us."

"It's a nice picture on the card."

"Oh aye, it's a nice card but what's it doing on there still?"

"Which card?"

"The one on that table."

"Isn't that the card T.Aldous got us for Christmas?"

"That's the one. It's a nice card."

"Oh, it's a nice card right enough. He told me so every lunch time."

"He told everyone. Every time I came in here he was telling somebody that he'd bought that card and wasn't it a nice picture."

"It is a nice picture, though."

"I wonder why it's still there."


"That card."

"It's a Christmas card. What's it still doing on there?"

"That's what we were wondering."

"Nice picture."

"Why hasn't it been thrown away with all the other cards?"

"Perhaps it's a shrine to his retirement."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A boy's best friend is his bladder

Himself is traipsing to and fro to the bins in the back yard with pieces of paper. Excepting those he deposits on somebody's desk. And every piece of paper has a story. To be told. Twice. Or more. And then back into his office. It's rather sweet, really. Or would be if it weren't so very, very peculiar.

So we know that copy of the Library Association Record includes a picture of a children's library that looks like the one we had at Racconville at the time.

And we know that his heart's in the right place with that year-old cutting from the Catty Examiner about the boy with the bad leg.

Yes, I remember the work we put into the review of library membership in 1994. And what happened as a result (I'll leave that one dangling).

Oh, a Christmas card from Shagger Noakes, how nice.

And yes, let's either renew or return the 1988 Rose Grower's Annual.

I can't help it. I'm hooked. Because I know what's coming. I know it must be there. Each day brings it closer.

And today is the day.

The documentation for the People's Network project.

"You can't imagine the hard work and headaches that project caused," he tells me.

I. Can't. Imagine. The. Hard.Work. And. Headaches. That. Project. Caused.

My therapist very quickly got a handle on the hard work and headaches that project caused.

Not a jury would convict me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Excuse me, have you got your ration book?

One of our Early Years Storytellers has just come back from a session at the Little Elephlops Nursery.

"I must be showing my age. One of the kids came up to me and asked: 'Are you a granny or a teacher?'"

Goodbat Nightman

I bump into Ken Barmy in the marquetry department of Hannigan's Truss Boutique and told him about T.Aldous' forthcoming retirement and his intention to do a bit of tidying-up afterwards. He was thougtful:

"They'll name a prawn cocktail at the Ritz after that man."

I couldn't argue with that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stock management for beginners

An edict from on high dictated that we have a small satellite of Catty Library in the new clinic that's opened on Franconia Square. The library provides the books and we seem to have paid for the furniture, too, and the receptionists issue and return the books. T.Aldous and Julia did all the settings-up and then dumped it on Hettie to sort out at the last minute because the librarians who do this sort of development work were too busy doing something or other and I made it extremely plain that no project brief or service outline meant no killing myself to set everything up in the week available after they'd waffled on for over a year.

Hettie did a sterling job of it. To the profuse thanks of T.Aldous and Julia [irony alert!]. Imagine her delight, then, to discover that it's apparently her job to nip over and straighten the books on the shelves, retrieving the ones that have been left around the reception area and putting them all in the right order.

Her ecstacy knew no bounds when she walked in and was told by the bloke who runs the coffee stall:

"Buy a cup of coffee and you get a free book, love!"

Chairs XVI

"You see them chairs?" asks Seth, flourishing towards the contents of the fire escape corridor. "Them chairs were only going to be there for a day or two."

"And do we know where they're going?"

"They're replacements for the new ones that arrived damaged."

"And where are they?"

"They're at Carbootsale, Roadkill, Spadespit and Umpty."

"So they've not come back here?"


"So that's why these are not going out there yet?"

"Correct. There's not the room at them libraries. Like we've got a lot of room here."

"So... How many chairs actually were damaged on arrival?"

"We don't know."

"So how do we know how many replacements should have arrived?"

"Correct again."

"Oh shit... Are you going to run a charity sweepstake on it?"

"I might do. It depends. We might want to be having one about whether or not he actually does retire before Christmas."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I've got a mackerel in my pocket. It's portable. And waterproof.

The snow has abated for a few days, though more is promised next week (oh joy) so we have now turned to that adornment to the thaw: The Enquiry Into What Went Wrong In The Snow. This is a traditional annual gavotte played to very strict steps. The tempo may vary with the character of the dancers but the steps are religiously adhered to.
  1. There's a row in the local papers about the state of the borough's roads.
  2. The opposition of the day say it's a disgrace.
  3. The governing party of the day says that it was an unprecedented set of circumstances.
  4. A press release is sent out saying that the gritters are working all the live-long day and that a huge amount of salted grit is being deposited daily.
  5. An enquiry is set up.
  6. The opposition ask why the council was unprepared.
  7. The governing party says that all due preparations had been made, above and beyond those specified by central government.
  8. A working group is set up to learn lessons and make recommendations.
  9. The working group never meets.

It's all very traditional and lovely in its way. We ought to advertise it better, I'm sure it would draw in the tourists.

This year the press release said that they were putting out 1,000 tonnes of grit a day. Explaining the preparations that had been made, the Cabinet Member responsible told the council that there were fifteen days' worth of supplies in the Bismuth lane depot.

"The problem is that after the first week we'd used up 8,500 tonnes of grit and we were having to wait for fresh supplies from Cheshire."

Those of you who having been following the budget masterclass will be comfortable with the idea that 15 x 1,000 = 8,500.

Friday, January 22, 2010

When you look at the world, God must have been joking

I was going to ask the world what, exactly, librarians are for. I really am that annoyed. Anyone who has any dealings with librarians will tell you that anything that requires any input at all from them, let alone an actual decision, is such hard work that you might as well give the game up as a bad lot to begin with.

"The People's Network's going to be putting loads of PCs and the internet in all your libraries. What services do you want to provide with them?"

"We're setting up an new library web site. Could you let me have some information about the services you're providing?"

"There's a load of government-funded activity going on in the council to meet the e-government deadlines. We seem to be well-poised to be able to deliver quite a lot with very little extra effort, which should win us all sorts of brownie points with the councillors. How do you want to progress this?"

"We're putting together a few pages of links to web pages that our customers might find useful - children's reading sites; readers'/writers' pages; book review sites, etc. I'm sure you'll have some that you've found useful. I'd be grateful for any suggestions for entries."

All the above have one thing in common: response was there none. If selecting and describing information and reading resources for the public to use isn't the job of a librarian, what are they for? I won't go into the details of the latest disappointment: I love Frog like a brother but every so often he reminds me that he's a librarian.

Having spent most of the past two decades trying to develop and deliver public services using the interplay between librarians and the corporate IT department I suppose I should celebrate that I've managed to do anything at all. I suppose.

An then that's that Tom-fool, taking yet another bit of paper over to the bin. We've finally sort of had it confirmed a bit that he's retiring at the end of the month, which we're assuming is 31st January. We're reckless that way. He is, however, going to be coming back every so often on a voluntary basis to "tidy up a few loose ends." (Warning Doctor Smith! Warning Doctor Smith!)

Noreen asked me to go and ask Julia and Jack Harry how they wanted some stuff bought last year for a special collection cataloguing. The first part of the ensuing waffle involved two librarians wondering out loud whether they should go on the catalogue in the first place.

"After all, they weren't bought from the book fund."

It was left to me to point out that in principle all library resources should be on the catalogue so that people knew we had it and the auditors could see what we've been doing with the money. After another ten minutes of slinging peanuts down the Grand Canyon I'd had enough, pretended they'd answered the question and went away and did what I should have done in the first place.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Let us consider...

Talking to a colleague he tells me that their Chief Librarian retired recently but

"She's still coming in so that she can tidy up her office."


"We're looking forward to the row when somebody either changes the locks or asks her to hand over the keys to the building."

Like peering down the slit of a piggy bank

The snowdrops aren't out yet but we have the first hints of Spring. A customer at Spadespit Library tells us that the council's going to be closing lots of libraries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A God-awful small affair

I've cheered Noreen up, anyway...

Noreen and Betty are dead fed up. There's no orders going out and nothing coming in. There's no money about so we can't buy any books. There's stuff they could be getting on with but they're not sure if they should be doing it or whether it would be worth the effort anyway as nobody would give a monkeys. Noreen is the latest in an increasingly long line of people to say a variation on the old theme:

"I could just come in, sit around doing nothing then go home again and so long as I clocked in and clocked out at the right time nobody would care too hoots."

I had nothing useful to say to contradict this: I've come to the conclusion that I've spent the past two decades inventing pieces of work for myself to do in the futile (and ultimately failed) attempt to stop myself going mad with boredom.

We get a bit more bad news about a lot of confusion and indecision from Policy Group (they've decided to be confused but they're not sure if that's what they're doing).

"Every time I think we've reached the bottom we find a whole new pit to fall down," I complain. "My trouble is that I'm far too optimistic for this job."

"That's the good thing about working with you," Noreen replies, "you're always good for a laugh."

By the way, how is your ping-pong?

Fun at Senebene Library. A lady comes in to use the toilet (according to the district auditors this is the primary function of a public library service). Lucy explains that the light's on a sensor and comes on automatically when somebody goes in.

"Oooh! I can't be doing with that! I'll have to leave the door open just in case."

Lucy manages to persuade the lady that the door needs to be pulled to, for modesty's sake. And for everybody else's sake too, judging by the five minutes of prolonged grunting and straining that follow.

Then the lady starts screaming. Lucy rushes to the door.

"Are you OK?" she asks.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?"

"Not at all. I'm just worried that you might need help. Are you OK?"

"I am crazy, you know..."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

It's all to specification

It's the official opening of Carbootsale Library a week on Thursday. Up to yesterday no invites had been sent out because there's still some discussion about the appopriate wording. Which is to say, they've been written but T.Aldous is witholding final approval because he's not found anything he can change yet.
[Note to the micromanaged: always stick a typo somewhere between lines three and six of your text so that it can be amended. And one entirely-expendable sentence that doesn't quite fit and that you will fight almost to the death to retain before finally giving in with bad graces.]

So like I said it's the official opening of Carbootsale Library a week on Thursday and no invites had been sent out. T.Aldous has been out of the office most of the past week. Julia is in charge of Carbootsale Library and is responsible for all the arrangements and she finally plucked up the courage yesterday to get the invites printed and sent out at the half-past-the-eleventh hour.

T.Aldous found this out today and had Alwyn spending the morning whizzing round the Town Hall retrieving all the invites from the invitees.

The invites have been sent out once again. The difference this time being that the address labels for the councillors have been re-done to include the names of the wards that they represent.

The council is looking for efficiency and cost savings.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Always bring your own laughter, just in case

Oh this place...

"You know, I can't carry on getting up in the morning and coming here,"

says Bronwyn. Bronwyn is one of your no-nonsense, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-on-with-it sort of women. If it's getting to her, too, then things must be bad.

Florence comes halfway up your thigh

How to make sure you get more than your fair share of the office biscuits.

Overheard in the staff room:

"These aren't just chocolate fingers. These chocolate fingers have been hand-rolled on the thighs of dusky firemen from the Catbush Road fire station."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Young, dumb and ugly

One of "those" customers in lending today...

A lady came in with her child in tow. He's about eight years old and has every chance of never reaching his tenth. He spent most of his time running round the library shouting at his mother. He ran up to the reference library, pausing only to lean over the bannister to shout:

"Give me my fucking biscuits!"

Bronwyn and Sammi exchange glances when the lady dutifully toddles over and gives the brat his biscuits.

Top comes when she comes to the counter to get her books stamped. The lad goes steaming off on one and has to be persuaded to come back and join his mother. As she hands her books over to Sammi the child starts shaking his bottle of fleurescent fizz around.

"Ooh, you want to be careful there, you'll be spilling your drink. I've had one accident today, I don't think I want another," says Sammi.

So the child deliberately squirts her one.

"There's your books, Mrs.... Do come back soon," smiles Sammi.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: we have some very professional front-line staff.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I don't suppose you're accustomed to swimming in shark-infested waters

Lola is fizzing. Inevitably this must have something to do with Windscape Library. And so it does...

We've received the forms for the annual survey of the health and safety of our libraries. It's straightforward and common sense stuff - is there an unimpeded fire exit? is the first aid box in plain view? is there a muzzle on the tiger? - which we fill in, send back to Health & Safety and the council's insurance premiums are kept down to the merely exorbitant.

Windscape Library has sent theirs back with no effort at completion. Instead, scrawled across the top in LARGE WRITING is the message:

This is unnecessary. I shall speak to T.Aldous about it.

Lola is debating whether or not to send it back with a note saying: "Get this filled in, pronto!" She feels that this may be a little wishy-washy.

Chairs XV

Is it that time of year already? A pile of new chairs have arrived and are stacked up in the fire exit corridor.

But there's no money about.

Ah... these are replacements for the chairs that arrived in November, which are apparently faulty. The fault being that they arrived and were accepted when T.Aldous was on holiday. Seth's been given the job of retrieving the faulty chairs so that a like-for-like swap can take place once the new new chairs have been accepted.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yer brother's just killed yer kestrel; go and warm up the bees!

How budgets work:

Q: Michael has £5,000 in his furniture budget. He has secured a quarter of a million pounds in grant funding from a quango for to provide a new collection of learning and literacy resources including books and handouts for to support the books. The funding is dependent on his spending £1,000 on furniture for to house and display the new materials in a useful and attractive way, with the necessary bit of branding to acknowledge the source of the funding. What is the nett benefit to the local authority, the library service and the public?

A: None. The Finance Section refuses to let Michael spend his £1,000 from the furniture budget on this furniture as it is not essential expenditure.

Sidenote: The council has just spent £945 launching its new Literacy Strategy.


This year's Hooray For Helminthdale calendars have finally arrived. Uncannily, they're the same as last year's and the year before's....


Any poor, shivering wretch looking to come in for a warm in Helminthdale's libraries is in for a bit of a shock. The heating's off at Spadespit and Milkbeck, though the girls are keeping the service running with layers of wincyette, Red Army underwear and a fund of blue language. At Catty Library the ice in the gutter is stopping that leak in the children's library that somehow missed the snagging when the building was refitted. The school hosting Pottersbury Road Library is closed because the teachers insist on having heating (softies). Roadkill Library's closed because the children's centre that hosts it had a complete boiler failure.

Here at Ice Station Zebra the heating's full on and we're hitting a good nine degrees centigrade so long as nobody opens any doors to try to come into the library. This isn't as often as it might be as customers have to come in via the shopping centre, the entrance to which is a steep downward-sloping ramp of polished vinyl tiling. (Why? The centre was built on the side of a hill and they could have chosen any place for to put an entrance that was level with the surrounding terrain. It was probably the same dozy design pillock who removed all the rough granite setts between the tramlines in the centre of Manchester and replaced them with polished slate, just right for the pedestrian areas in our climate!)

Our senior managers' new policy of active positive engagement with the lower ranks has nothing to do with the fact that their room is five degrees colder than the open office.

"Never mind," says Seth, "it'll soon be Christmas."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Telegramme for Larceny Whipsnade!

How budgets work:

Q: John has £5. He knows that the book that he will buy in February will cost £4.50. In January he buys some apples for 50 pence. How much does John have left?

A: John has overspent by 25 pence. In December the Finance Department identified this as a budget with a projected underspend and accordingly removed £4.75 from the account without telling John that they'd done it.

Which is why Frog and Bronwyn are spending money they haven't got on an author event for World Book Day and not worrying as much as usual about how much it's going to cost.

Monday, January 11, 2010

We'll have to think of something a bit more convincing, won't we?

It isn't one of our good days. In the midst of despair I go and get myself a cup of tea. Frog's already had the same idea.


"I agree."


"It's shit, isn't it?"

Then Frog has an awful epiphany:

"We're just marking time before retirement, aren't we?"

Not a survival biscuit

Helminthdale continues to struggle in the snow. Word comes to us from the housing office on Brocklesbury Road:

"We have put a sign up telling residents that there is no nutritional value in eating snow. Even the yellow stuff."

We are cheered up enormously by this news. Thanks guys!

Friday, January 08, 2010

See me coming down the street with the winning post on my pillion seat

An email from Fred Anonymous, who claims to be snow-blind and suffering from cabin fever:

"I thought this would appeal to your sense of municipal responsibility.

"Like most everywhere, our council's getting a lot of flak about gritting the roads, or lack thereof. Unlike most everywhere, this happens even in the mildest of winters. You can always tell where the council boundaries are: whenever there's even the slightest flurry of snow neighbouring councils have roads in black or grey and we have them in white. And so it is right now, with every road and pavement ungritted.

"Except for one straight line, two feet wide, that starts at the entrance to the council offices where the directors and chief executive work and leads across the road, then across the square and across the road again to the town hall where the councillors do their business."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Famous for dropping pre-packed bacon

T.Aldous appears to be clearing his office.

Leastways, he is removing paperwork from his office and depositing it in the confidential waste bins.

One piece of paper at a time.

Seth offered to move one of the bins to his office. Oh no, it would get in the way of things.

Seth offered to give him a box to hold the paperwork in so that it could be carried en masse to the bins. Oh no, it would get too heavy.

Seth offered to bring one of the bins over, empty the very heavy box into it and then take it away, once or twice a day as necessary. Oh no, that would never do.

So T.Aldous is clearing his office one piece of paper at a time.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Time for the odd-man-out round

Half the shops in Helminthdale have got closing down sales and even the charity shops are struggling. So it's probably not a good time for one of the council's free magazines to be advertising the shopping facilities in the neighbouring boroughs of Bencup and Pardendale.

Theoretically, the people running Helminthdale market could have advertised in said publication but they, like us, have had their already minuscule marketing budget frozen.

If we ever had to go in for sponsorship the council would probably require us to take coin from The North of England Book-Burning Association.

Descriptive cataloguing

A 'phone call from Henry Irving.

"You know the Contemporary Local History Collection?"


"What type of material would you say gets added to that collection?"


"Yeah, forget what's going on at Dutch Bend and Catty."

"In that case... material that's of historical significance or else of lasting import."

"Excellent! Thanks. I knew I could count on you for just the right sort of bullshit for these bloody reports."

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Frog gave me a lift back to the library after a meeting over at Umpty. As we got in the car we noticed the temperature gauge:
26F Risk of ice

Given the very heavy snow we had to smile. Little did we realise that it was a prophesy...

The multi-story car park in wonderful downtown Helminthdale is an unlovely object: a rotting concrete skeleton of a thing that would be condemned if the Borough Engineer's Department wasn't under express orders by the owners (the council) not to even look at it. To make it easier not to look at it, all the staff in that department have been made redundant and invited to apply for half the number of jobs they started with.

Driving up the steep slope to the entrance it became very apparent that the council's depending on the traffic to do the gritting for them. Even worse, there was a queue, stretching the length of the ramp. The reason?

"Ticket machine's not working. You'll have to walk over here so that I can have a look at your ticket and let you in."

I could sit and count my hair

Bronwyn's turn to cover the Reference Library enquiry desk.

"We had four enquiries. One was: 'have you got a pencil?' Another was: 'can I borrow your pencil sharpener?'"

She is not impressed. Nor, indeed, is Posy who took her turn yesterday. They're both unhappy that they're having to sit at the enquiry desk while the reference library staff sit in the back doing things we know not what.

Especially when it turns out that one of the things they've been doing is typing out "Do not remove from the library" labels and sticking them all over the magazines that we've bought for the family literacy groups to borrow. They were only in the Reference Library temporarily for a month.

And we won't going into the items we've found that they've ordered by 'phone without an official order number; not from the authorised supplier; and to be paid from a budget they wouldn't have even if all the budgets weren't frozen...

Monday, January 04, 2010

Slinging the mince pie up the lavender passage

The spending freeze is starting to bite. For the first time in recorded history there are less than a dozen boxes in the fire escape corridor without there being a fire inspector on the premises. In fact, there are so few of them they could be stored in the dispatch room, but for the arrival this morning of a load of Confidential Waste bins.

Could it be that T.Aldous is going to clear his office before retiring?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Animal magic

Being naturally inquisitive, I asked Ken Barmy about his reference to Johnny Morris the other day.

"When did you ever see any librarians on a David Attenborough programme?" he asked. "It just doesn't happen does it?

"Oh, they had one on "Zoo Time" with George Cansdale but that was a lifetime ago. Besides they had to shoot it because it bit one of the keepers."

I had to go for my bus when he started explaining why Ann-Ann and Chi-Chi didn't get it on down because of a lack of cardigans and leather elbow patches.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Tonight we're going to party like it's 1699

Well, here it is: 2010 and he we are. Hello.

Those of you wondering what this blog is about could do worse than to have a look at this bit. For those regular readers (bless you both), perhaps this is time for a moment's reflection.

Firstly, and seriously, I'd like to mark the passage of those who didn't make it to 2010. I know I've been lucky personally in this regard, though there have been a few times latterly when I've wondered when that luck would run out. Too many of the people I know, either in real life or in cyberspace, haven't been so lucky. Best wishes and sympathy to all who are left behind.

Some of my regular contacts in the blogosphere have gone quiet lately, either here or in their own blogs. I hope that all is well with them and that they've just found better things to do that are both time-consuming and wonderful. You're always welcome back here. You can even throw buns if you want.

And that leaves you, dear reader. I'm still amazed that you keep coming back to read the deranged ramblings of a bitter old man but I have come to welcome your presence. Thank you for your patience.

Whatever happens in the fantasy world of Helminthdale, do have a good 2010, one and all.