Winter had unleashed some weird viruses—viruses that modified behaviour and hung in the air like microscopic snow crystals. First up the vomiting bug and then the one that made you feel immune to danger causing men and women to buy stuff they didn’t need and dangle from scaffolding in their lunch hour. I saw a young woman scaling a lamppost in broad daylight; shout at the community support officer below, before emptying her bladder over his head. Continue reading
I read an interesting piece by Mark Fisher on how depression is actually impersonal and political rather than relating to specific childhood trauma. When we hear those snide inner voices saying ‘you’re useless.. what do you expect.. your failure to achieve is squarely down to you.. ‘ we have successfully internalized the lies of a dominant political ideology and are now suffering from a form of collective depression. And that’s what those in power like: a cowed and smashed up workforce too pathetic to even care about cuts and austerity. Our failure to thrive is not the fault of a bi-polar economy but our own individual hopelessness to seize all the unlimited gifts of twenty-first century capitalism. Is it, perhaps, because we aren’t worth it after all? Even advertising plays on this inner worthlessness.
Over the last ten years I’ve witnessed the managed decline of libraries with all the cynical bullshit about ‘front facing customer service skills,’ ‘floor-walking,’ ‘community hubs’ (ironically as communities are destroyed by closures and more cuts). Budgets are slashed and the managerial watchwords are now ‘resilience’ and ‘resourcefulness.’ These are the qualities the twenty first century librarian, sorry Customer Services Assistant, no um Customer Services Officer, no actually as yet unknown job title should aspire to.
Where I work the mentally ill throng to one of the last places you can sit down without having to buy a coffee and tune out from the advertising. A place where self-service kiosks break down daily and the librarian with a post graduate qualification smacks too much of elitism for our dumbed down, cash hungry management team. The removal of the role of librarian by those idiots in charge paid huge sums to come up with creative money-saving ideas to support the service have now resorted to the age-old device of sacking people. Staffing levels are so low and some buildings are so vast that things are dangerous; children’s libraries are left unmanned, a pretend Jihadi came to the reference library when I was working, shouted some verses from the Koran and ordered everyone to leave immediately while clutching his backpack. Predictably lack of staff caused pandemonium, students rushed out barefoot into the wet wintry streets, more chaos and fear and all the PR spiel about libraries being ‘information hubs’ when in fact they are more battered old hub caps rusting by the roadside.
Record number of staff are off on stress– something I used to laugh about– being a soldier is stressful, dealing with a sick child but surely not wafting around the reserve stock looking for a rare folio– no one wants to work in this awful environment but the inner voice keeps needling: you’ve got a job… it’s winter and you’ll never reinvent yourself… it’s all down to you…
But it isn’t. After cuts and more cuts I was reinterviewed for my job by a team of people who worked in finance and knew nothing about libraries. A little boy scarcely pubic with tiny eyes and sadly resembling Jacob Rees Mogg stared stonily at me as he asked, ‘how have you adapted to change and what do you most enjoy about it?’ This to me was the final humiliation, not only do we have to eat shit but we have to tell all those in charge what a richly satisfying meal it is.
Occasionally a complaint is so obscure and ridiculous and unintentionally sheds so much light on the complainant that it is worth repeating in full. I thought I’d seen the back of Ernest Dudley Pratt Alco pops millionaire and all round bad egg but he took the trouble to write a long and thoughtful letter to the head of libraries about a weird note (seemingly from a parallel dimension) inserted in his borrower records. I love the way Mr Pratt ‘decides to become incredibly offended,’ like a second rate Hamlet he has to ratchet up his emotional response– presumably he’s bored between breakfast and dinner. Best of all he researches the obscure terminology of the borrower note– this man has time on his hands! Now my job’s on the line while he clearly doesn’t have one judging by his enthusiastic response! Continue reading
I arrive before work, walk past the bandaged faces, the consulting room where crisps and cartons of grapes are laid out on the examination bed – presumably a team building exercise— and rap twice on the door. Long gone are the moments of discomfort when I sat next to a fellow skin sufferer and slyly stole a look at their face and tried to work out how bad their condition was. Girls in headscarves, macho East European builders, nervy young men all stared hard at the Thank you cards. A young lady amazingly made up picks at her bag. She will soon learn the first rule of light therapy. No creams, no moisturizers, no perfumed products. No cover ups. It is hard to be exposed to this level of absolute reality without making some adjustments.
Is it just me or is the world that we live in so soaked in double meanings that it is hard to believe what is actually happening? I try to explain to a young Japanese student how the self-service kiosk works: ‘touch the screen here and tap your finger in that little box… you must put your finger inside the little box.’ Simple instructions are beyond me and slip out of my control into a zone of glandular disquiet. Yes, it must be me I tell myself as an elderly heiress who appears to have the hots for me (a combination of bad weather and boredom) asks me where I have been. ‘I suppose,’ she says, ‘they must move you around a fair bit…’ What is she getting at? Who is moving me around and to what ends? Continue reading
There are certain borrowers that make the librarian’s task hellish. The delusional are bad. Mr Singh is convinced he is an ex-Gurkha, dines with Kate Moss at The Ivy and is kept on a monthly retainer by the Sultan of Brunei. While on active service in the ‘Nam he killed 4 Viet Kong with his bare arse.
A quick glimpse of his borrower records indicates he lives in a hostel on the Cromwell Road and never left the UK. Nothing wrong with an active fantasy life but he insists on you believing him. That’s what we all want, someone to believe in us. I am guilty too. I wanted Amanda Wang to believe I was writing a libretto. She waltzed in with her Madame Pompadour hairstyle and thigh length suede boots and gave me the usual ‘darling boy’ nonsense and I knew with her interest in the theatrical arts I had to detain her. So when she asked me what I was working on, ‘I can’t believe with all those ideas buzzing around your pretty little head you’re just simply shelving,’ I came up with Unleash The Lobster!
My opera is based on Gerard de Nerval’s crack up when he was spotted walking his pet lobster on a blue leash in the Tuileries Garden, ‘Madam, I have a deep affinity for sea creatures. Silence is so much more preferable than the yap of your miniature griffon…’ Yes, I had it all planned out. A hallucinatory chorus of man-sized crayfish and North Atlantic prawns would pop up by the flowerbeds clacking their pincers like castanets. They would explain the symbolic power of sea creatures and how we are all linked to madness and the phases of the moon and the listener would understand how pragmatic madness is and that curious displacement would have occurred: dream would have replaced reality and my job in the library with its stinging unsatisfied lusts would be my weekly bad dream.
Sadly, there is no libretto and now I am embarrassed by Amanda Wang asking if she can see a draft. I glance across to the newspaper section where Mr Singh is frightening young mothers with his gallant soldier schtick, opening doors, standing ramrod straight and unnecessarily manhandling pushchairs up flights of stairs they have no intention of climbing and realise we’re not dissimilar. Play actors spinning fantastic threads that are almost as threadbare as his trousers. I might even move into the hostel — it seems quite cheap for central London.