Friday, 30 September 2011

Centenary Weekend - best and worst case scenarios

It's the 100th birthday of my library this weekend, with John Hegley tonight and an afternoon of delights tomorrow including Cream Tea, Wirrral Ukulele Orchestra and The Mayor.

Best case scenario:

Hegley's a sell-out sensation, we've bought enough wine and, unlike last time I have money for the tunnel fare if I give him a lift back to Liverpool.

On Saturday, the Mayor arrives at the right moment, says the right things, we've made enough scones, we can actually fit 30 Ukulele players by the counter, the glaziers have removed all the scaffolding and the plumbers have finished installing the central heating or at least made it safe. The 'great' and the 'good' of Wallasey arrive, having spontaneously decided to dress as 1911 gentry, photographers from the local paper capture our finest moments and the library is filled with LOVE which lingers through the winter like your favourite scent.

Worst case scenario:

I have horribly miscalculated dates and Hegley thinks it's next year, the wine is left unattended and 'evaporates' before everyone has arrived, as people file away disappointed one of them falls down a hole the plumbers forgot.

On Saturday the Mayor arrives early just as someone is withdrawing that book with all the penises in the inside cover and the scaffolders are re-enacting Laurel and Hardy scenarios with long poles. It is ridiculously hot. The fire alarm has gone off for no reason so we are ignoring it. The Mayor has some kind of phobia of cucumber sandwiches. The ‘ok’ and the ‘mediocre’ of Wallasey turn up in shell suits and complain about the sandwiches. They have dried out in the heat (the sandwiches, that is) so we call them 'toasted'.

It turns out you can't fit 30 sweaty Ukulele players next to the counter – so they have to use the vertical space. My boss loses her speech and has to improvise – all she can remember is the inappropriate jokes about early 20th Century facial hair that I thought of but we discarded. There are grumblings amongst facial hair present. I have inadvertently bollocksed up the certificates of the writing competition prize winners - a fight breaks out and someone is fatally stabbed with a bic 9mm.

The untested plumbing system, combined with unseasonal temperatures, begins to overheat, starting a small fire in an untrampled corridor of dried out poetry. Within minutes, Rabbie Burns is up in flames. The fire alarm has been going off all afternoon so no-one pays any attention. Anyway you can’t hear yourself think for ukuleles. I realise I have spelt Ukulele wrong on every piece of publicity and invitation. So does the Ukulele leader.

The boss of our department comes after all and chooses this moment to announce changes in staffing... 3 library assistants leave in tears. The fire spreads through Humour and Sport. A small child notices it but is told to ‘Shhhhhh’. Within minutes it has taken hold and there is a stampede to the door. The plumbers have disguised a hole with carpet, into which the Mayor falls, dislodging her coccyx and some piping which fountains water into the reading room. People only escape by surfing out on oversize books about maritime disasters. The photographer arrives in time to get a picture of the bedraggled Mayor lying in a pool of soggy Mills & Boons and scones.

The scent of roasted cucumber sandwiches lingers all winter...

Wirral library to celebrate centenary - What the Wirral Globe says... I think they're banking on the Best Case Scenario, but John looks a bit worried

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Bucket List

I've been putting some thought into a bucket list, lately. You can't put some thought into an actual bucket - it just spills over the edges and makes the idea of a mess on the floor.

I have actually done a lot of the things which might be on the average bucket list: I've performed in Vegas, done stand-up, written a novel (ok, I haven't had one published - picky, picky!). I've back-packed, flat-packed, rat-trapped. I've had several interesting jobs... and I just walked away from some of them. I've set up a charity, had an expense account, been offered food by beggars near the Alhambra. I've been on a camel, in a helicopter, lost at sea in an open boat. I've swum with dolphins, heli-hiked on a glacier, walked on a volcano... all hate me now, don't you?

The trouble is, I can't think of anything much I am burning to do. World peace? Yeah, but I'm realistic. Win a million? Yeah, but I'm not really sure what I'd do with it. (I wouldn't say 'No!' - that would be churlish - but I don't want it enough to get off my bum and go and get it.) I mean what's the point of anything?

Maybe it isn't that I don't want anything in the world, I just rationalise myself into thinking I don't. I know people who do this really well and it's certainly a strategy to avoid disappointment.

But I respect the idea of a list as an impetus to provoke action, so here it is so far:

The List

  • see the Northern Lights
  • jump out of a plane ... preferably with a parachute and someone attached to me who knows how to use one
  • fly a plane
  • drive across the USA
  • write a best-selling novel
  • go on some kind of retreat
  • get invited to the Oscars
  • win a major writing competition
  • eat at a Michelin starred restaurant
  • jump fully clothed into a swimming pool
  • get thrown out of a pub for bad behaviour (I'm not nearly bad enough)

What's on your list that I could steal for mine?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Built of Books

It's my library's Centenary this coming weekend.

We're short of money to splash out on celebs and champagne so earlier in the year I tried (unsuccessfully) to convince colleagues that we should be creative and build a sculpture out of 'withdrawn from stock' books.

Some fall on stony ground.

The task would stretch our limited capabilities at the best of times, but with having new windows put in and all the floors up to accommodate new central heating, everything's a bit up in the air and last-minutey now.

You could argue we've had 100 years to plan this, but if you did you'd probably find an oversize book on modern warfare being applied vigourously to the side of your head, or your nose stuck in Millers Guide to Antiques... and not in a good way, I'm not talking 'browsing' here.

But here are some sculptures we could have made (or better still, forced an itinerant artiste to make) - a book house, or a ring of books or this impressive book tower.

Although I suspect we'd just end up with a random pile of books like this and people pulling out ones from the bottom, asking if they're for sale.

At least we'll have Wirral Ukele Band. And hopefully the plumbers will have fixed all the holes in the floor before the Mayor arrives so she doesn't fall into the abyss like so many of us so nearly have in the last week or so... but you know what they say: 'There's no such thing as bad publicity.'

Saturday, 24 September 2011


I know they're trying to take over the world (and probably succeeding) but you gotta love Google for the logos it does on significant dates.

Today it would have been the 75th Birthday of Muppet-creating genius Jim Henson so the logo was in honour of him, and fully interactive - you select a character using the buttons under each one and random things happen occasionally - like the red one eating the green one... which I just did a screen grab of ... tee hee!

There's more about how it was created HERE and you can browse through Google's collection of previous logos (which include a 'live' lunar eclipse) HERE so you never have to miss one!

Like me, you may have missed this for Charlie Chaplin's 122nd birthday:

Friday, 23 September 2011


I've been tinkering with a short story I started where a librarian goes over the edge (I know - that would never happen!) and sorts all the books into colour order. I'm not sure why I want to write it, what it's trying to say or the precise logistics.

But here's the spooky thing about the internet... the very next thing I did after tinkering with it was browse through some pages I have open in my browser (I use Opera, which has the marvellous feature of remembering the tabs you had open last time you were online and re-opening them for you).

I'd been reading Claire Massey's blog post about the campaign to save Radio 4's afternoon short story (you can sign a petition HERE) and somehow from there I found myself at a blog that reviews short stories and came across this page about ... you guessed it... sorting books into colour order. And of course there's a link in it to Sarah Salway's 'In Good Order' - a short story about...

I don't sort that way, myself of course. My fiction is by author, my non-fiction was in a pretty close approximation of the Dewey Decimal System even before I knew it... as though I had somehow picked it up by osmosis from too many trips to the library.

But when I lived in Israel the kibbutz library was only open for half an hour a week and I found choosing very stressful. It's the only time I resorted to colour. I'd decide to only choose from books with yellow spines that week, or green. That's how I discovered Kurt Vonnegut.

... so how do you sort your books?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Random cars of Cuba

Yes, I did come back.

Struggling to get back into the groove - 472 emails, work is bonkers, next thing you know I'll be packing all this in...

Anyhoo, Cuba's a fascinating country. Didn't travel around as much as last time (about 10 years ago) so I won't give you a blow by blow account (which would mainly involve lozzing on the beach and drinking copious amounts of rum).

But I did think you might like to see some of the cars that are still gracing the crumbling streets of Havana (and, indeed Varadero).

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Out of the Blue

I've scheduled this post to be published while I'm away for the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I wanted to share this link to: 'Out of the Blue' - a poem/film written by one of my favourite poets Simon Armitage and performed her by the excellent Rufus Sewell as a British office worker in one of the twin towers. It's in four parts on YouTube and about half an hour in total but well worth sitting through, or even just dipping into.

Excerpt from '10'
We are making our calls.
They are tightropes, strung

from the end of the phone
to a place called home
so our words can escape,

our voices trapeze
for mile after mile
or in my case traverse

the width of the sea.
My beautiful wife,
sit down in the chair,

put the phone to your ear.
Let me say.
Let me hear.

We are spinning a web.
But such delicate threads,
the links so brittle,

too little, too late.
Not one can save us
or bear our weight.

© Simon Armitage

I was coming home from Greece the day it happened. The taxi driver from the airport was babbling about the end of the world but I thought he was a bit mad or something. I went to a supermarket to get bread and milk and noticed a crowd in the electronics section. I saw the image and thought it must be some new disaster movie. It takes a while to sink in.

Where were you?

Excerpt from '13'

what false alarm can be trusted again?
What case or bag can be left unclaimed?
What flight can be sure to steer its course?
What building can claim to own its form?
What future can promise to keep the faith?

Everything changed. Nothing is safe.

© Simon Armitage