Wednesday, March 15, 2006

101 facts about dinosaurs

So I’ve suddenly got a new job; it’s always a shock to walk into a new place of work and observe the staff’s little group idiosyncrasies. This lot are classic old-school librarians and therefore incredible case studies. The whole group is there.

There’s the couple of giggly girls who only talk to each other, studiously patronized by the rest of the staff in general, who enjoy the superior feeling of writing them off as air-heads. Based on the fact that they read fashion magazines at lunch while the other library workers enjoy the odd spy thriller and dipped into Jack Kerouac at university, and could even locate Kerouac for you on the library catalogue if they wanted to. Which they don’t because they don’t like the way you look and they were busy reading the TV guide before you walked into the library and started asking them stupid questions.

The only interesting thing about these two girls is that they are the only normal, sane people who still work in the library. There used to be some others, a long time ago, but they left because of the cuts. Now there’s a motley crew of misfits and obsessives that can be roughly divided into two groups; those that can’t leave as they are unemployable in the real world, and those that don’t want to leave because they are psychotic.

Next in the pecking order comes the rather sad pale, skinny lad who could be any age between seventeen and twenty-nine. He only speaks when he is spoken to, when he is gloomily polite and extremely helpful despite a complete inability to meet your eye. He cultivates a morose, worldly cynicism about everything apart from graphic novels and his passionate hatred of the council. If he ever realized what a cliché he was, he would probably kill himself. He lives with his mum.

The supervisor who irritates everyone and has an appalling sense of humour to match her appalling, hoarse, booming laugh is hated by everybody in the building. A shared loathing of this woman brings manager and dogsbody together, united for once in an unbearable urge to put their fingers to their lips and sternly say ‘shush’. For some reason, perhaps a bylaw set in stone back in the dark ages before the cuts, nobody ever stands up to her. She rolls in late every morning on her bicycle, never does a tap of work, complains constantly about being undermined and/or overworked and applies for promotion every year and never gets it. Her main topic of conversation is her son, who is 13 and has recently been suspended from his fee-paying school for sniffing glue. Her main occupation is shouting at teenagers at the top of her voice across the library to stop eating, drinking, chewing gum or, best of all, to cut out the noise.

The very tall African man who works the inquiries desk is greatly respected by the rest of the staff because he appears to have a social life, a real, proper social life of the kind you conduct outside of working hours with real friends, not just people you work with. This consists of going to places like bars and restaurants in the evenings and then complaining the next day that he feels tired. His colleagues are not overly jealous though; they know that someone who is as polite and helpful as he is to library users will never get anywhere in life. It must be something that he picked up in Africa, he can’t have learnt that kind of tolerance and patience on this continent. The other day he actually looked up a book for someone with body odour, who didn’t say please and didn’t have his library card on him! Everybody knows Andrew Carnegie never meant us to serve people like that. He also loves the archaic library computer system because it makes him nostalgic for the days before Windows.

A very serious woman comes and goes around the reference section, but it was only recently anyone realized she was a member of staff. She has very long sandy hair in a plait and a long, thin face, and is studying for a degree in Russian Literature by correspondence course. She runs the toddlers group in a very quiet manner. She doesn’t like to be touched, especially not by the toddlers. She often spends her tea breaks wandering around putting books back into exactly the right place.

The Assistant Librarian (not to be confused with Library Assistant) is well into his sixties. Actually, no one’s ever asked, but he’s been well into his sixties for so long now that he might just be well into his seventies. He’s very proud of his alpha male status in the building, not realizing he only keeps it by tacit agreement of the rest of the staff. He is the one who unlocks the big oak doors in the morning and the one who closes them at night. He also enjoys telling adolescents off and sharing trivia about the library building and the history of the area to anyone who will listen.

The Head Librarian wishes they would change her name to Library Manager, it sounds so much more modern. She’s new; has only worked in the borough for seven years and so has yet to earn the respect of other head librarians across the borough, despite frequent email communiqués. She doesn’t understand why there’s never enough money or why the staff aren’t excited about their roles. She wishes so much she could modernize the library but her hands are tied. So she mostly sits in her office where she doesn’t have to listen to her staff moaning and bitching, and reads novels which she thrusts under the desk when someone knocks. No one ever knocks. Each time a new temp. is hired to cover a desperate shortage she prays she’s found an ally who will help her get loans up and make her name as the Librarian who changed the face of libraries in the borough. Each time she is disappointed. She comforts herself with the fact that she is the only person in the building with a happy, normal home life and looks often at the framed picture of her smiling husband and their two adorable little girls on her desk. Actually she is wrong here; both the cleaners are happily married with lovely children.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Not Dead

No, I'm just hibernating for a bit in the warm cocoon of the worst local library service ever to hit a London borough. If you can guess which library service I'm referring to, let me know. There's a prize for the correct guess; if you're a member of it I'm so sorry for you that I'll waive your fines. Just joking... Had to face an awful dilemma this last week: if I'm not being paid to look at the internet (the internet had not been invented when this library bought its computers. Actually the internet had not been invented last time this library cleaned its keyboards. Sticky...) Anyway, if I'm not being paid to look at the internet all day, do I still want to blog? I've finally decided yes. After all, if I don't have the World Wide Web to grumble at, my flatmates find me much harder to live with... so expect something roughly once a week. Jesus, I'll have to type it at home in my own time!!!!! The things I do for posterity, and what has posterity ever done for me? Other news. I've taken up swimming. Right, now I really have to go and wash the grime of a million grubby fingers off my hands. And next time I post in this place, I'll wear rubber gloves.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Girls just want to have fun

You know when you hear someone's name for the first time and then you hear it three more times in the same day? I saw her in the National Portrait Gallery with a lot of cleavage showing, then when we popped into the Lord Moon of the Mall later that day to rejuvenate and play ITbox there she was on the wall; had died round the corner of 'a most wicked dis-ease' (cervical cancer). Then I was looking up the Tower of London this morning (old people club shit) and she popped up again; confessed to murder and was sentenced to death with her husband 1616, pardoned 1622. I should use the internet more often to learn history, it's such a useful tool. I guess people blog so they can spend hours on the internet without ever making contact with any other real people. Spend time with yourself: so much more rewarding than chat sites! Oh, just me then.

Friday, March 03, 2006


Sitting in IT and a woman comes up to pay for her printouts. 'How much are they?' 'How many pages have you got there?' '4.' 'That's 40p please.' 'Oh, are they 20p each? '

Look out of the window sometime...

My old people were discussing Africa today. Good grief. When they were in school they used to put a penny in the box every week to give the Africans clean water, and now guess what? They still don't all have clean water! Must be their own faults then. The problem with the black man is that he's lazy. Cue interminable reminiscences about how hard it was to run your business and look after your property in South Africa in the early nineties.

When I delicately led the conversation away, they turned to the numbers of Them living around here these days. I said brightly 'Would anyone like another cup of tea?' At this an old man stood up and addressed us all; 'All I want to say is, when was the last time you climbed to the top of a bus and saw a white face?' He then left, slamming the door behind him. The problem is, these old people don't realise that the reason they 'never see a white face' is not because there's so few of them; it's due to poverty. My old people are poor. So are a vast number of immigrants to the borough. There are 196106 people in this borough; 100799* of them are white. Many of these white people are pretty well-off. However, these well-off white people don't ride on buses. They don't shop in the market. They don't go to the library or hang out in the street during the day. They don't wait until after 9.30 to use public transport. That's because they're at work, like all the other successful, professional, middle class people of all colour and origins in this borough. The people who aren't at work, or who work night shifts and other antisocial hours, who can't afford to drive or use the tube and so sit on the 25 or the 15 bus all the way in and out of town, who are queuing at the post office at the same time as my old people; they're the ones who are predominantly non-white. Is anyone surprised? No; it suits everyone else to have this underclass doing the jobs we don't want. Everybody except very poor old Eastenders living on a pathetic pension; they alone don't benefit from these cleaners, caterers, casual labourers at all. They just see their East End has changed and their lives have got worse in the process. Can you blame them for not looking further than their next-door neighbours for the cause? I suppose they must be pretty short-sighted to completely ignore the shadow of Canary Wharf looming over the whole borough, a symbol of what’s really making all these people live in poverty.

*2001 census

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Last Known Configuration

Had my hair cut; it took four hours but was worth it. The student cutting my hair was very tall and kept complaining that he couldn't get his hand around to cut my hair from the neck upwards. If he's got problems with me at 5'11 how is he ever going to cut the hair of someone normal sized? I love the language they use at Toni and Guy. At one point teacher told Beanpole to sub-divide my hair into rotating radials. Do you need GCSE maths to study at T&G? I thought you only needed eight grand a year and some really fashionable boots. Come to think of it I have GCSE maths and I'm not sure what rotating radials are. But whatever they are they look good. Popped into Lovebird's work afterwards and met his colleague, a noted poet. Lovebird thinks he's great; I thought he was extremely rude and smelly. Sitting slumped on a low stool in the corner of the shop staring at customers from under one of those brimmed fishing hats, he looked exactly like the kind of old-school tramp who sits in bookshops to stay warm. Not particularly impressed by his poetry either.