Monday, 31 May 2010

It's funny what you remember

Sorry, folks.

I've had to remove this post for the time being.

I'm leaving the picture though

Friday, 28 May 2010

Twitter - 7 Steps to Getting Started

And now, in a change to our normal blog, this is a How to Get Started in Twitter post inspired by Maria Zanini - read her post about it here. Normal service will be resumed after this messages.

I'm going to run through some basics to help other people get to grips with Twitter - if they choose to do so. 

Be aware: it can be addictive and It's Not My Fault*

Step one: Open an account.

  • Sign up at www.twitter.com. Your username will be @yourchoice (mine's @ClareKirwan) so when you see an @ symbol it's another person.
  • Only use your real name if you are saying mostly nice things, in your own time and don't mind who knows it.
  • You can have more than one identity so if you're not sure about all this Twitter nonsense, you could try a made-up name first until you're comfortable launching your real self. 

Step two: Have a look around

  • Like Facebook you have a 'profile' page where people can see anything you've 'tweeted' publicly, and a 'home' page where you can see what the people you follow have been saying.
  • From the home page you can also access your Direct Messages (private messages which can be sent between two people who follow each other) and see it you've been retweeted or mentioned. This is all in the future for now.
  • It's not cool to send plaintive messages into the ether like: 'So here I am on Twitter then' and 'Is anybody there?' but we all do it. No-one will answer.

Step three: Following

  • You can follow anyone unless they block you. They don't have to follow back.
  • Follow celebs if you must (yawn), but don't expect replies. Everyone follows @stephenfry, but spoof @mrsstephenfry is funnier. You'll soon find the popular celebs - they just follow each other.
  • Good ways to start: search for people you know, reply to people writing on trending topics, browse amongst  people your friends follow to see who you like the sound of
  • Two people who follow each other are 'friends' and can send DM's (direct messages) which aren't visible to others.
  • You can organise people you follow into lists like 'people-i-actually-know-in-real-life,' 'celebs' and 'wierdos' and select to just look at activity by people on a specific list at a time. 
  • Here are someone else's 7 ways to gain followers on Twitter

Step four: Trending topics/ hashtags/ memes

  • Bottom right on your home page are 'hot' trending topics or 'memes', but there are loads more. Click on one and you'll get a feed comprised of tweets on these topics.
  • You'll see the hashtag (#) quite a bit in tweets. These are also memes. e.g. if I had wanted to comment on the general election, I'd have tweeted: 'One Green MP, no BNP ones. People voted for the lettuce, not the slug. #GE10'  ...and anyone following GE10 (the tag for the General Election 2010) would have seen it. 
  • Hashtags can be for world events, favourite telly programmes (e.g. #cdwm when Come DIne With Me is on - i.e. all the time) or silly word games like #starwarssongs or #plantmusic 

(See an earlier post for a fine example of hashtag madness and some great people worth following imho (in my honest opinion... there's a whole language. You don't have to use it.) LOL.

Step five: But what do I tweet about?

  • Don't be boring and don't over-do it.
  • I follow people with witty, interesting, off-the-wall things to say and hope to be the same: something funny I heard, a quote I like, a response to something I'm watching or reading, banter with people I follow.
  • I've had an occasionally whinge and been cheered with support and good advice from other tweeps. It's like a virtual office complete with silly jokes, interesting facts, gossip, news snippets, tea and sympathy. Without the tea.
  • You can also tweet links to your blog, YouTube, webpages, pictures, news articles, etc. 

Step six: Manners please!

  • It's good manners to follow people back if they follow you (unless they're obviously 'selling' something) but not compulsory.
  • Other nice things you can do for your friends is to retweet them when you enjoy something they've tweeted, or 'mention' them (use their @name in a message). 
  • There's also customs like 'Follow Friday' where you mention your favourite tweeps and the tag #FF to encourage your other followers to follow them too. (Also #WritersWednesday - same thing for writers. I tried a #WirralThursday but it didn't take off. *sigh*  
  • It's also good manners to thank someone if they #FF you or retweet one of your tweets.

Step seven: Tweetdeck

  • With Twitter it gets hard to keep track of your friends quite quickly. Free, downloadable programmes like Tweetdeck enable you to view several columns (your choice of  lists, hashtags, mentions, direct messages), update Facebook status and generally Do More Stuff. There are others but I've only used Tweetdeck and it works for me in ways Twitter on it's own just didn't.

Read more: Twitter's help pages should explain the terminology, or you could check out Blogging Bits' Twitter Glossary or, for the more advanced Seed the Web's Twittonary. I'll add one here eventually, but... did someone mention tea?

Image used is from this site about Libraries using Twitter

* If you've ever used an Apple Mac (and this might just have been the old ones) an American voice used to come out of it saying this when certain errors occurred. It never said anything else. Weird huh?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Library Assistant - Week 2

In case you're wondering how my first two weeks as a library assistant went, here are some highlights and thoughts:

  1. Not in those shoes! (left)
  2. I was actually given the job of cleaning the sticky books - a job made more repellent thanks to this story on an earlier blog. 
  3. I even heard a worse story - about a lady who brought books back which had been in the same carrier bag as a dirty nappy. The lady had to clean those books herself. 
  4. When a large number of overdue Doctor Who books were returned (which would presumably never happen to a real Timelord) I failed to find a shelf bigger on the outside than the inside to put them back on.
  5. The whole 'shelves bigger on the inside than outside' spiel is best not gone into with people who have only just met me. Some fall on stony ground.
  6. The same goes for listing my previously harvested list of hysterically funny songs about librarians. They're just not ready for that yet.
  7. Everyone in my library is shorter than me. It is possible I was hired to dust the top shelves. (I'm no giant by the way - standard 5foot4)
  8. Talking of going back in time (yes we were - keep up!) it's like going back to the 1980's when I worked in a bank - days spent in protracted silences with the distant artillery of date-stamps, sorting things into alphabetical and/or numerical order. And nobody comes running at you with a health and safety manual if you try and remove staples from a wooden board with a tin opener. We even get proper tea breaks and an hour for lunch. The pay's about the same too. 
  9. There's a lady who has worked in my branch since 1974. Say it again. 1974.
  10. Oh, and...
  11. ...it is really very pleasant and we have LOTS of GREAT books! Hurray for libraries!


A thread to hang history from

Aren't quotes brilliant? They save all the effort of thinking of something original or clever to say. If only I'd started to read Wolf Hall a week or two earlier, I could have quoted the following as the political map of Britain was changing:

'The multitude... is always desirous of change. They never see a great man put up but they must pull him down - for the novelty of the thing... But what do they get by the change?... One dog sated with meat is replaced by a hungrier dog who bites nearer the bone.' (Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall) *

This quote is at the part where Cardinal Wolsey falls out of favour with the king and is forced into exile. It isn't all that clear what he has done to deserve this - perhaps he committed a cardinal sin? Interestingly, the original cardinal (ie deadly) sins included lying - now strangely absent - and 'an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations' - which would have meant hell & damnation for Moptop if she'd been born 1500 years ago. On the plus side, the list didn't originally include greed, envy, lust or gluttony, which were added in later by Pope Gregory I and other religious types - presumably so they could ensure the masses didn't eat too much, earn too much or mind when the priests were shagging their loved ones.

'History offers some consolation by reminding us that sin has flourished in every age.' (Will and Ariel Durant, Lessons of History)

There used to be an actual Cardinal Sin but he died in 2005. It's wrong to give in to temptation, but they couldn't not have promoted him to Archbishop of Manila with a name like that. I'm sure he was delighted to accept a post where the envelopes come from (see what I did there?)

I don't normally read historical novels so I'm a bit rusty on Henry VIII. Let's see - he had seven wives '...and everyone was an Henery, he wouldn't have a Willy or a Sam....' oh no, that's wrong. Six wives -Catherine the Arrogant, Anne Boleyn with the extra finger, the actress Jane Seymour, Anne of Thieves (some relation to Robin, Prince of...), and a couple more Catherines (some kind of three for two offer I suppose). Divorced, beheaded, anulled, beheaded, beheaded, bedevilled. Oh, I can't remember! That's the trouble with wives - they're so more-ish.

'The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from.' (John Still)

Also, he had gout - the chief executive of Wirral Council suffers the same complaint but without all the beheading people. Then again...

Anyway, I'm still in the early stages and I'm sure it will all become clearer. There's just one thing - Hilary Mantel clearly doesn't agonise over characters' names the way I do. There's about twenty different characters called Thomas in Wolf Hall. Lazy writing, I call it!


Click here for more great quotes on history.

Related post: Men in Capes - creating the perfect (anti)hero

* My favourite hungry dog proverb is: Hungry dogs will eat dirty puddings


Sunday, 16 May 2010

The End of the World

"It's not the end of the world." So easily said, so often true.

This time last year it was the end of the world for me.

I was in Ushuaia - the southernmost* city in the world. It's in the far south of Argentinian Patagonia on the island of Tierra del Fuego - all the place names around there are evocative, the Beagle Channel (no sightings of beagles, but plenty of seals, sealions and cormorants), the Magellan Straits, and further south again, Cape Horn.  They call it 'El Fin del Mundo.' It's quite a selling point for the tourist industry, I suppose.

It's not the first time I've dabbled with the apocalypse. 

I once explored the clammy tunnels under Har Megiddo in northern Israel. You might have heard of it as Armageddon. No sign of Gog or Magog but I did get a snog. That's a whole other story. If it was the end of the world it's kind of the way I'd want to go.

The thing about the end of the world, like so many other things, is that it seems really humungous - something you cannot even grasp the idea of, let alone the reality. It seems completely implausible that you would find yourself at it.

I mean how do you even get there? And do they have a B&B?

As it happens, you simply take the bus - 3am from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos, across the border into Chile by ferry across the Straits of Magellan, back into Argentina, arrive in time for a tea tenedore libre in Ushuaia town centre. I say 'tea.' I also say 'simply'. I mean one thing just leads to another.

It's a bit like real life. Coming events, tasks or goals can seem impossibly daunting and unattainable. But break them down into smaller steps, each one taking you nearer, and even mammoth tasks are achievable. The trick is not looking at the end point - just the next step.

Some religions - notably the Baha'i faith - believe we are already in the end of days. And the Zoroastrians must be wondering too, having prophesised, among many other abominations, that men will: "... become more deceitful and more given to vile practices."  The Mayans think it's going to happen in 2012. Pretty well everyone agrees it will feature a panoply of natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanoes, tidal waves, the sun rising in the west etc.

But it is most likely that people are generally right when they say: 'It's not the end of the world.' Mostly they say this during moments when you are in great personal distress - as if it would somehow make you feel better. It so rarely does. 

And even if it is the end of the world, it might not be as bad as you think it's going to be. As long as you have a bus ticket and the right outfit.


* Pop quiz. If Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, can you tell me without looking what the equivalent northern latitude would be? Guess which city in Europe? 

Related post: We apologise for the eruption of normal services


Sunday, 9 May 2010

Don’t touch the sticky books – and other advice for a new librarian

I will be starting my new library job bright and early on Monday afternoon, and so I’m looking for pointers, please.

(Unpleasant aside: An infamous Wirral poet recently confessed a guilty secret: he once masturbated in his local library. Only a poet would do this, I'd like to hope. He was very young at the time, and believed himself to be unobserved. Years later this turned out not to have been true – but even then he might have got away with it if he hadn’t chosen to make the surprise confession during a lull in proceedings while he compered a poetry reading. It was the first ‘filler’ he could think of – perhaps because I'd just mentioned libraries in a poem and word association in his head goes: library = masturbation. 

‘I don’t do it now,’ he said, in response to our horror-stricken expressions. ‘I’m much more discreet.’  He was running out of things to say, so went into more detail.

There weren’t many people there, and later he was concerned it may have been imprudent to have mentioned it. We promised not to tell, but he’s written a poem about it and put it on Facebook so it feels like less of a secret now. Only a poet would do this, too.)

So I’m thinking: ‘Don’t touch the sticky books’ is sound advice for starters, but what else do I need to know? To be a master librarian, to be top shelf material? 

Stamping? I am versed in the arts – ten years at the tills of a high street bank. Shushing? I have silenced whole rooms with a well-turned phrase. Stacking? Practiced at the north face of the the self-service salad bar. The ordering of things? An instinct for the alphabetical. The General Public? We’re old friends. Fines? I was a special constable. I’d still have the handcuffs, but my ex-husband got custody. What does it take to be first class and first edition? Recital of the Dewey Decimal system in Old Money?

There’ll be pitfalls too – I’ll tell someone they’re overdue and they’ll pull a fully-loaded scowl on me. I may file religion under fiction, travel under history, astrology under art. And who could argue? I may decide to do away with Dan Brown. Please God.

Advice please - hot tips and caveats!

P.S. May 17. Day three. My special job - 'Clean the sticky books.'  *sigh*

More posts about becoming a librarian:

Why are there no songs about librarians?

Why are there so many songs about librarians?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Time of the Signs

Ah to be in PR again, now that the election season's here! PR spindoctors may look down on poets as nerdy word-smiths, and poets may believe publicists to be soul-less pollsters, but the two are more alike than they think. I know - I've been both. 

For both the challenge is to cram your entire, often complex message into a sound-bite - a few words that will capture your thoughts like a perfectly-preserved creature in amber. (Oops, sorry - the poet slipped out there.)  

Political slogans and speeches sometimes  slip into the poetic. Dogberry has already gone into the whole 'Repetition, repetition, repetition' thing. (He didn't call it a 'thing' - he had a proper name for it. We (ex)PR types don't go in for the proper names of things - we never need to know.) The occasional revisiting of key phrases in speeches remind me of performance poetry. Obama could have won a slam with his 'Yes we can!'

But who wants to listen to an impassioned speech when they only have the attention span of a Hallmark card? This election campaign has resorted to the sound-bite, and, more than ever, the sight-bite. (Ooh - did I just make up a  new word? I love it when that happens!*) And thanks to the plethora of image-ma

*Alas no, sight bite is already at large, though generally used for video clips.king and info-sharing software it's been a creative campaign on the poster front.

It's already too late to see mydavidcameron.com  - an independent website which took 'that' Cameron poster

and made a template available for anyone with basic IT skills to play with. 250,000 people visited. I only just found out, but the site has closed. More about it here.  

It'll all be over by the time you read this, but here are a couple of the rallies of this poster war:!. 

Here's the original Labour poster comparing Tory leaders to X-factor's dodgy pop duo Jedwood. 

And here's the Tory response.

It works the other way. Labour's attempts to allude to the dark Thatcherite 1980's by using imagery from Ashes to Ashes back-fired dramatically when they managed to achieve the impossible: The made David Cameron look sexy. 

They had reckoned without the 'Gene Hunt effect.' The Tories practically reproduced the same poster (with a little more airbrushing perchance?).

There are more of these on the Guardian website and more about that Ashes to Ashes flip at The Times.

I've gone on long enough, much like the election night.

Let's finish with my favourite, which simply takes the much-discussed ambiguity of Labour's 'A Future Fair For All' campaign slogan and does what we all would have done with it. I would never have come up with or agreed to a slogan like that. It was ripe for plundering.









Another post about posters: Discovering de-motivational posters

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May the 4th be with you!

Yes, it's that time of year again. Happy Star Wars Day everyone!

I have a thing for Darth Vader.

There. I've said it. Lord Vader. It's the combination of the black leather, the power, the cape (more about this another time), the voice and the fact that I was at a difficult and impressionable age when the film first came out. So in honour of Star Wars Day, here's a poem.

Readers of a delicate and cultured sensibility, look away now.

Love song for Darth Vader

O Darth
I know the Jedi and the Sith
are just a movie myth
and in your current apparel you’d be
quite difficult to kith.
But your giant stride,
your pneumatic breathing,
your leather, leather, leather
gets my maiden’s chest heaving.

O Darth
When I hear your voice I know
that only you could be so bold
I am dealing with forces I don’t understand.
Give me a hand to hold.
I don’t mind that you've no hair,
your limbs are made, not grown.
I sort of like the way they stare
and you’ve a theme tune of your own

O Darth
Behind your mask I know,
you’re a bit the worse for wear,
but you can keep your helmet on,
and we’ll take things from there.

I find your lack of face disturbing,
your dark places, cushioned hide,
but cannot curb this dark yearning
to find your fragile underside


O Darth
The awful things you’ve seen
since boyhood thrills on Tattooine –
and… oh… the dark years in between,
toasted and turned to part-machine.
Then you bombed the base in rebel space,
which I really can’t endorse
But can I feel it?... Can I?... Feel it?
Can I feel the Force?

O Darth
You don’t even let George Lucas’
awful scripts demean you.
Be my saving stamps, my premium bonds
– let me redeem you!
But it was George who created you -
forged in the foundry of his mind -
and now he’s told your story,
joined the dots, what’s left behind?

Long dark years, lonely by my hearth,
devoid of Vader, with a dearth of Darth.

P.S.
O Yoda
I am sorry but
you’re far too small and shit,
and look just like my granddad
– which puts me off a bit.