Back to School reflection: What I did on my holiday

After a good amount of time off work over the summer holidays, I am happy (if a bit nervous!) to be returning to the school library tomorrow. I had a lot of plans for when I was off, and some of them I completed, some of them I at least started, and many of them I didn’t get around to. Either way, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the summer before the new school year washes all of it into oblivion.

School’s out for the students

The students finished their school year on Friday 9th of July, but I still had a lot to complete so I spent the following two weeks in the library most days working on four main tasks.

Firstly, I shelved almost all of the books and music that had been building on the Covid quarantine shelves. That was quite a lot of work, seeing as so much music was returned last-minute, and I’m still getting used to the layout of the chamber music library (where we have shelves and shelves of parts in brown envelopes). Full disclosure, there are a couple of items that have been left so that I can ask my ever-helpful evening staff where the music should go!

I catalogued and processed a huge pile of music. We had received a fantastic donation of beautifully bound full and miniature scores from a member of the public. They are in such good condition that I have decided to add all of them to the library stock (replacing tatty copies where possible), but with probably over a hundred items in total, getting through it all is quite a task. I made a dent, but never fear, there’s still plenty of cataloguing waiting for my return tomorrow!

I also did my best to spend the remaining library budget, having been advised if I don’t spend it I lose it. The students can look forward to a few more books, some replacement music for lost copies, and eight lovely new pairs of headphones – enough for every library computer. I don’t know where the previous pairs kept disappearing to, but I think it might be worth creating a headphone sign-out sheet, to make sure these new ones are always returned.

My biggest challenge in the weeks leading up to the end of term, and the two following weeks where I was in the library on my own, was creating lists of all of the music that was still out to school leavers and would need to be tracked down. This task was particularly difficult because, despite being a music school where ensemble music is in high demand, the library system software we use cannot track multiple borrowers. This means that every set of music is only ever out on one borrower’s account (regardless of how many parts there are). Although we try to keep a manual record of who has which part, with over a thousand outstanding items at the end of term, going through every single envelope to notify students of their unreturned music was a huge job – and certainly not one I want to have to do every single summer. I only just managed to get it all completed in time to send out final warning emails to all the students before I left for Scotland, but I’m going to have to work out a better system for future years, or I might have a nervous breakdown!

Four crates full of brown envelopes
All of the empty envelopes still waiting for parts to be returned to them!

Visiting my parents!

After all that stress, I was super excited to travel back to Scotland to visit my parents for a few weeks. It was so nice to see them again, and my sister, Jenny, was there too for part of my trip. On my first night, Jenny introduced me to the anime Assassination Classroom, which is about a group of school students trying to assassinate their evil yet adorable teacher: a betentacled alien that plans to destroy the world if his students don’t kill him first. It’s surprisingly good.

The weather was gorgeous every single day of my visit, so we did a lot of outdoor activities. One day we walked along the beach for a forest/water walk in Greenock and ate ice-cream and another day we went to a market in Helensburgh where we listened to Glaswegian busker Maryjane singing ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen (in the middle of a heatwave). My dad and I went for a 50km cycle along the River Clyde, which was super fun but also extremely tiring, and at one point I fell off my bike. Although I’m pretty sure I hated everything and everyone by the end of it, it was great to cycle with my dad again and we both really enjoyed it.

On another beautiful day we visited my aunt and uncle in Stirling where we walked around the King’s Knot and learned the story of the Stirling Wolf. Apparently, during a Viking raid, one of the raiders accidentally stepped on a wolf causing it to howl out and wake the sleeping Anglo-Saxon garrison. This gave the garrison time to prepare for the invasion and force the Vikings to retreat. And now the howling wolf emblem can be seen all over Stirling. How bizarre is that?!

What is property? Property is stress!

After my visit to my parents, I still had three weeks left of summer holiday, and in this time Calum and I wanted to make some headway into buying our first home. Calum took a week off work, so we set up a meeting with a mortgage broker and started looking at properties. In total, I was able to arrange eleven viewings although five of them cancelled on me before the viewing could take place. Calum and I attended three of the remaining viewings together, and I attended three on my own because Calum had to go back to work. Although it was quite frustrating and extremely stressful, there were still some good parts. On one extremely wet day, after a viewing, Calum and I visited Worsely Village, where we walked around the Tudor-style streets and along the canal in the rain. There were even some cute metal ducks!

Even with the support of my parents (who were great at sending me suitable houses that I might have missed), and Calum (who did everything he could while also working full time) and the mortgage broker (who’s invaluable advice was fantastic help), I found the entire process really grim. I looked at house websites for hours ever morning, calling up estate agents to try to arrange viewings only to be told the houses were already under offer, or they were no longer accepting viewings. Not to mention the palaver navigating the disgustingly stupid system of Freehold vs Leasehold housing (don’t even get me started).

But eventually, less than a week ago, we got an offer accepted. Hooray! It’s a nice house, in a pretty area, and well within our budget, which is fantastic. We will probably need to do some work on the bathroom, because for some reason quite a few houses in Manchester (including this one) have a toilet with no sink next door to the bathroom with the sink in it. This feels very disgusting to us, and we’ll need to get that changed, but otherwise the house is great. It has a lovely shed for our bikes, and a nice big living room, a pretty kitchen and a utility room where we can put our washer/dryer and install our first dishwasher (such luxury!). There are also two relatively big bedrooms. Calum’s has a wee cubby area where he will be able to set up his workspace, since he is planning to work from home more often, and mine has a huge built-in wardrobe and a cosy alcove where I think I’ll be able to fit my bed.

So that’s pretty exciting, and all we need to do now is meet with our mortgage broker again, set up our solicitor, get a survey from our mortgage provider and a homebuyer’s report, exchange contracts and keys, get a new bathroom, move all our stuff across to the new house, and move in. Easy-peasy.

“For Sale: Cauldron, Broomstick. Both Charred.”

In what is now looking to be a series, I decided to create a second piece of fan-art for my friend, Calum’s, Six-Word Advertisements in the style of Ernest Hemingway’s Baby Shoes. This one depicts a witch selling her broom and cauldron, that have been burned up by her unrepentant dragon familiar.

“For sale: cauldron, broomstick. Both charred.” — Calum P. Cameron

May the Fourth be with You!

It’s the fourth of May – do you all know what that means? It’s Star Wars day! I first got into Star Wars when I started university ten years ago and, although I’ll never be as keen as most of my friends are, I enjoy it quite a lot. I’ve seen eight of the films, some of the Ewok TV show and about 15 minutes of the Star Wars Holiday special. I also own a teddy Ewok – because I found the idea of a teddy of a teddy alien delightful! And now that Calum and I have purchased a Disney+ subscription together, I think we are in store for several Mandalorian evenings! (Ooh, Star Wars themed Mandalorian evening… that is an idea I can get behind!)

Actual Facebook comment when I received the teddy ewok for Christmas: “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!!! I actually now own a teddy ewok!!! This-makes-me-happier-than-it-has-any-right-to!!!!!”

Anyway, I want to share with you a display I created while I was still working at Milngavie Library. Here’s a bit of background: Milngavie Library has a LOT of Star Wars books. Fiction, non-fiction, adult, junior – from the hard in-depth The Military Science of Star Wars to a Lego Star Wars boardbook for tiny children Stories from the Galaxy. We have trashy paperback novel spin-offs, fancy hardback novel spin-offs, graphic novels for all ages, huge art books filled with beautiful screenshots or intricate spaceship designs… I counted fifty-seven Star Wars books for adults and a quick search of the catalogue just now returned 107 titles about or relating to Star Wars. You get the idea. The point is, we had a lot of Star Wars books, and I wanted to make the readers aware of this. So I created a display. This was around Christmas time, so it lined up perfectly with the release of Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker.

And I went full out! (Well, as full out as you can get on a zero-money, limited-timescale budget.) I papered the display in black and covered it with a string of Christmas lights to look like stars. I printed and laminated a bunch of stills from the films (with maybe a slight partiality to baby Yoda memes). I also printed, cut out and laminated a few pictures of the space ships used in the show, including a Death Star, the Millennium Falcon and “some kind of Jedi Starfighter” (Calum P. Cameron, 2020) that at the time I had thought was an X-wing. I hung these from an awning that I’d created to shield the Christmas tree lights from the bright surroundings and make them show up more.

Left to right: Death Star, “Some kind of Jedi Starfighter”, Millennium Falcon, 2nd Death Star

One of my library colleague lent me his toy lightsaber (that actually lights up if you press it) for the display – which was a huge success, particularly among the children. I wrote a very corny piece of text to act as the library themed opening scroll text and one of my other colleagues showed me how to prop it up on a pair of Christmas wrapper tubes, that I’d marker-penned black, so that the text appeared to be getting further away:

A long time ago in a library far, far away…
Episode 4 May 2020
THE LIBRARY JEDI
The new Star Wars movie is about to be released in cinemas and our REBEL LIBRARIANS have compiled a display of some of the Star Wars books carried by MILNGAVIE LIBRARY.
It is up to you, the MILNGAVIE ALLIANCE, to circulate the books and bring the enjoyment of Star Wars to people across the galaxy.
But bring the books back on time, or Vader will get you…..

I also cadged some black paint from the children’s afterschool club that meets in the same community centre. With permission, I painted one of the children’s librarian’s papier-mâché golden eggs black, and once it had dried, I used her gold sharpie to make Death Star markings. (I utterly destroyed the pen, but purchased a replacement from the local Tesco before anyone noticed!) This papier-mâché Death Star was too heavy for the wool that I used to hang the laminations with, but one of my colleagues found a black pipe-cleaner that I was able to use instead – and it worked perfectly! The display now had two Death Stars, but so did the Empire, so I felt it was appropriate.

It was a really fun display to make, and plenty of my colleagues and other people who worked in the community centre got involved. Although the display had to exclusively feature the adult Star Wars books, since it was set up in the adult library, it was right across from the door, so everyone could see it when they entered. Lots of children really enjoyed it, as did parents – and even some childless adults were into it. I don’t know what it did for the Star Wars book circulation numbers, but it contributed to the library being a fun place to be in for a few months. So I’d say it worked well!

One evening after the library had closed, the Community Centre caretaker turned off all the lights so I could photograph the display with all the cool lights.

“Sale: Babby Shoe, Unweared, Not Trap”

A while ago, my friend, Calum, created a list of six-word advertisements in the style of Ernest Hemingway’s six-word Baby Shoes story. With his permission, I’ve created an illustration of my favourite of the ads, clearly written by a set of goblins and so blatantly conspicuous that it could only lure other equally-gullible goblins. I hope you like it.

Sale Babby Shoe Unweared Not Trap
“Sale: Babby Shoe. Unweared. Not trap –>” — Calum P. Cameron

Never Meet Your Heroes; You’ll Only Disappoint Them

Earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh to review Company Wayne MacGregor’s production, Autobiography, for Bachtrack. This post isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about an incident that took place earlier that day, where I, by chance, got the opportunity to meet my favourite living children’s author, Theresa Breslin, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

A little backstory. I’ve loved Theresa Breslin’s books since I was in primary school. I enjoyed the Dream Master series because it reminded me of E. Nesbit, Enid Blyton and Edgar Eager. Her book Remembrance taught me about pacifism during the First World War. I learned about how awful dyslexia was for children in the past from Whispers In the Graveyard. And, although Marcus Sedgewick is a writer I also enjoy, I’m still slightly disappointed that the Booktrust Teenage Prize opted for his book, My Swordhand Is Singing, over Breslin’s The Medici Seal…

(although, at least the Booktrust had the decency to choose a more than halfway decent book as its winner, unlike SOME competitions I could name *cough*Carnegie*cough*…seriously, Just In Case was the actual worst.)

My point is I’ve been a Theresa Breslin fan for a while, so when, a couple of years ago, I saw that she was signing books at the Edinburgh Book Festival on a day that I happened to be there, you’d have thought I’d jump at the opportunity to meet her and get a book signed. And, I almost did, I swear… but I chickened out. It felt too weird for a 20-odd year old to be standing in line alongside a bunch of kids to get a book signed by a children’s author.

And then I forever felt bad about not having met Theresa Breslin when I had the chance. I was even lamenting about it to one of my work colleagues less than a month ago.

But then, earlier this month, I was in Edinburgh for a Bachtrack review, and I had time to burn. So my best friend Calum and I went to the book festival, where Theresa Breslin, coincidentally, was signing books again. Would you hate me if I told you I almost chickened out a second time? I am, undoubtedly, my own worst enemy.

But I didn’t chicken out, because Calum was there and he convinced me to go through with it. I was still a little nervous, but I bought a copy of Spy for the Queen of Scots and waited in a fairly short line.

And, unsurprisingly, Theresa Breslin was super nice. She asked whether I’d been at the talk that she and Holly Webb had given earlier that day… which I hadn’t. I managed to babble something about just having seen she was signing books and that I’d really liked her when I was wee. I didn’t say that she was still one of my favourite authors and that the last time I read one of her books was this year. That would have been weird.

Spy For the Queen of Scots - dedicated page2 (3)
Look at the pretty title page!

The meeting was a blur. She signed and dedicated the book to me, and then it was over. I was in a slight state of shock for about fifteen minutes after the signing and I kept asking Calum whether it had gone okay and checking I hadn’t made a fool of myself. I think it’s the most fan-girly I’ve ever been in my entire life. (Oh my gosh, what would happen if I, in some weird turn of unlikely events, were to meet Julie Andrews?! Would I faint? Or cry? Or cry and then faint?!)

All things considered, although I was nervous, it could have gone a lot worse. And now I have a book signed by Theresa Breslin, which I am extremely ecstatic about! I’ve even wrapped the book in some laminate casing to keep it nice. And it was an awesome extra add-on to a fun day out with my friend and then a not-so-fun dance show in the evening. And two out of three ain’t bad – I count that as a really good day!