A machine at the library made me sad

Tilehurst Library

I love our local library.

Granted, it’s not the most attractive of buildings, but it is light and bright inside, has a great children’s section with a magnificent elephant rug, and smells glorious. You know, that smell of old books. A bit like petrol flavoured sawdust – that smell.

So, anyway, I have visited this same monument to papery loveliness since I was born, and I adore the fact that absolutely nothing has changed. Nothing. Except I think they have got a new computer, and perhaps a new easy chair, and there is now a carpet covering the crazy mosiac tiles in the entrance lobby…but otherwise time has stood still, and that is just how I like it. I like that there is a ritual to doing things, I like that that children are still made to ‘shhhh’, and that Kate reinforces this if I speak too loudly. I really like the staff at the library, that you can chat about the books you are taking back, or discuss where you have got to in the books you renew. I love the ‘stampy-stamp’ sound of the stamper, and weirdly feel a real honour when they have to glue in a new stampy page at the front of the book because the other one is full up, and you are the first person to have a stamp on this fresh white beauty.


But then ‘The Machine’ arrived.

It’s a self-service machine. You pile your books up in a little box, and it scans them, and checks them in or out, or renews them, and there is a credit card and coin slot in case you have accrued a fine, and then it prints you out a receipt to confirm all or any of the above. But there is no stampy-stamp sound, no discussion of what is a ‘great read’ if you like ‘such and such’ as an author, Kate doesn’t get a star on her children’s book card. You don’t have to interact with any human being at all now to visit the library.

And that made me sad.

Thinking about it in a greater context made me even sadder. Modern technology allows us to save money, and undoubtedly increases convenience, but it is doing away with human interaction in so many ways.

There was a tale I heard recently of an elderly person who used to visit her local supermarket every day to buy some essentials. She would wait patiently until all other customers had been served so she could then stop and have a chat with the staff with whom, over this time, she had struck up a relationship with. It was only when she died, did a relative pop in to thank the staff at the supermarket for preventing this lady from becoming isolated and lonely. They were the only human interaction she would often get in a day. Great then, that there was another option to the ‘self-checkout’ (a term which now sort of lends itself a alternative meaning).

This, and ‘that Machine’ at the library has made me reappraise how I interact with people, particularly those closest to me. I am now aware of how long I spend looking down at a screen, how I ‘follow’ people I barely know, spend a healthy amount of time looking at the pictures of their new kitchen, when I could use that time to actually talk to someone I know instead. I interact with my friends over instant messenger, which is convenient, but I can’t see their face, hear their voice, and I’m sure on many an occasion I haven’t interpreted what they are saying correctly, because we are missing inflection. I’m sure there is also a delay in actually meeting up with friends sometimes, because the assumption is that we have already ‘caught up’ via ‘Whatsapp’. But there is only so much you want to type, to relay on a daily basis, to ‘bother’ people with often. Sometimes you need to be in the company of someone, put the world to right without substantive gaps in conversation (when things could have moved on anyway), and not measure how much someone cares about you by how recent their ‘last seen’ time stamp was. When you need a hug, a yellow smiling face just doesn’t cut it.

So here I am, trying to kick (in my view) my quite unhealthy habits of creating and maintaining relationships, whilst also hopefully setting an example to my daughter that a relationship with a person is far better than a screen.

Here’s hoping that will be the way of all things, that convenience and cost savings (at what cost?) won’t keep removing actual humans from our lives, and that, one day, ‘that Machine’ at the library can go back in the box where it came from, and where it belongs.

4 May

May the 4th be with you.

Today was lovely. Kate and I attended the Christening of my friend’s daughter Savannah-Rose at our local church. The sun shone on their family, and the service was tremendous and very geared up for the children, with lots of singing, tambourine shaking and flag waving. Kate had a whale of a time, and almost clapped herself to sleep at one point, she was so worn out with enthusiasm.

At the end of each service the Minister asks the congregation to remember people in the local community, and today he asked us to think of those attending the nursery school where my Mum is a teacher. Unbeknown to the Minister our prayers are needed perhaps more now than at any other time, as there is a little girl in their care at the moment who is beautiful and vibrant, but very poorly.

So as I sat with my cuddly toddler on my knee, my heart broke for that Mummy and her baby who but don’t know how many more cuddles they will have. How incredibly and indescribably sad. I think of them often. I don’t know if any of this works, but please think of them too.

So the rest of the day sort of took on a new impetus and away from its intended course. My ironing didn’t get done. But we all had a great time playing with the brick truck in the garden.

God bless.

Halfway update and a new obsession with root vegetables

Well here I am, at the half way mark of when my dissertation needs to be written by, and needless to say half a dissertation has not yet been written. Still, this was to be expected as anything even remotely related to me always takes the most unlikely of courses, so I would be a fool to think this would be any different. Indeed it has been a somewhat turbulent time since the end of May with joys and sadness in fairly equal amounts.

At the end of May we celebrated Neil’s Mum’s birthday with another trip to Vinopolis (which is becoming a bit of a favourite haunt of ours now), where I fell in love with a £40 bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape. Needless to say we had to part company at the ‘tasting table’, but I hope one day we will meet again.

Throughout June work on the garden has been in full swing with Neil and I having finally established gound level, and are very pleased to have taken our final van’s worth of weeds and rubble to the tip. Our modest patch of earth still does rather represent ‘the Somme’ with an added hint of ‘Auschwitz’, following the discovery of a barbed wire overhang belonging to a neighbour. I am hoping a well placed clematis may help resolve this issue, although I also have my eye on some bamboo we could use for screening that, when cut and dried, can also be fashioned into the most terrific pea shooter! In a sense this will be killing two birds with one stone – although it is not birds I intend to target with my hand crafted device – but rather next doors cat that keeps peeing on my alchemilla mollis.

The middle/end of June was largely consumed by some very sad news, as my favourite uncle Phil lost his life to Lymphoma. Needless to say it has been a bit of a rubbish time for everyone, and none of us can quite believe he is no longer here as his was such a big character.  In true Godfrey style however (my Mum’s side of the family) he got (and quoting the vicar) “a bloody good send off” as the church and get together after the funeral was packed with people wanting to share their memories of Phil . My Mum in particular recalled accounts of being left up trees and locked in the chicken shed by her big brother! Be good up there Phil – I know Granny won’t think you too old to give you a good clip around the ear…..!

And now it is July, it is raining, and I can’t believe that midsummer day has passed and its all downhill again from here! Still, our holiday is booked and so I am not short of things to look forward to, including the handing in of my dissertation and the receipt of my freedom. In the meantime I am taking stock, and as recent events have taught me, I have begun appreciating the everyday as you don’t know what might happen the next. With this state of mind, food shopping has again taken on an additional amusement value, in particular the root vegetable aisle.

Now I am not sure whether this is a recent occurence, whether the EU have relaxed their rules regarding vegetation perfection, or whether for comedy value those hard working polish people trudging away in the fields of deepest darkest Norfolk have let a few slip through, but amongst the box of sweet potatoes I have recently uncovered some interesting finds:


Further proof I am not yet a grown up…


Cleavage shot….

I fear this may turn in to a weekly feature.

Goodbyes and Silliness


Today, another one is leaving us.

This time it is my very good friend Catherine who has seen me through all sorts of crises both personal and work related, and I am only just coming to terms with not being able to see her every weekday as I have for the past two years. Instead Miss Miles will be heading home to Bournemouth to pursue a career in Urban Design – something she has been working towards throughout her career, so we can only be pleased!

As we bid Catherine ‘farewell’ however, we once again have again embraced this chance for silliness. I say this sitting in an office full of professional planners going about their business wearing paper hats made out of Thursday’s edition of ‘The Times’.

I think Jim rather suits his….


 Good bye and Good Luck Miss Miles! You will be dearly missed.

Little Friends



Yesterday I had to say goodbye to my other friend.

Phoebe and Harriet pictured above were awesome rats and were very naughty. They liked nothing better than passing the time in the hood of my jumper or jacket – or would curl up in my collar and watch tv. Phoebe had a particular penchant for orange juice, peas and Neil, would dash about our living room bouncing between sofa’s, and would often wait on the top stair in the morning for a cuddle – knowing she wasn’t allowed any further. Harriet (always the lady) with her tremendously soft coat and neat socks would delicately mince about and chew her way through living room curtains to make herself a mini tent. She paid close attention to cleaning her ears and cuddled up to Phoebe when they slept.

Sadly a few months ago they both caught a respiratory infection (something unfortunately a lot of rats are prone to) which made breathing quite difficult for a time, and despite several attempts to clear this with antibiotics, their little bodies struggled with the nasty bug. Phoebe managed to hang on for a while and was with us a little longer than Harriet, but yesterday she too was just too poorly to cope anymore.

For anyone who has never met a rat before (the domestic kind), don’t be put off by of the bad press rats in general receive, or indeed their long (and quite beautiful) tails. They are wonderful beings – very friendly, very smart and very good company. They become a part of your family as much as any dog or cat would. Phoebe and Harriet were firmly established in mine and will be very much missed.

Goodbye little friends, you were lovely.