Surrey Stars

I was invited along last night to something that Surrey County Council hasn’t really tried before – an awards ceremony for outstanding individuals and teams. Various nominations, including some I put forward for my team, were whittled down to a select few, and my invitation lay unnoticed until my co-chairs in the staff LGBT+ network started commenting about how the date clashed with various family plans and asked if I was going. One hasty brushing off of the spam filter later I’d got the paperwork sorted.

Hosted at Sandown Races, the traffic was… heavy as only rush hour can be in that neck of the woods, but I was there on time and headed for the very sparkly-dressed people standing at the main entrance to gain entry. I’ve not been to anything like this before, so the nerves were firmly squashed, and I stepped forward all suited and booted.

It was a good evening – partly to meet people I’ve only ever met on Teams and Zoom, and partly to make new connections with my staff network chair hat on. There was live jazz and reasonable food and drink for a corporate bash, but the people there were definitely the draw. I think setting it right at the beginning of the Christmas period was a good move as it gave people an excuse to break out the glad rags and let their hair down a little bit. The mood was light, the networking was non-stop, and I was somehow surprised still to find how many people either already knew me by sight or reputation – or who wanted to talk in my network capacity.

There were some amazing stories that came out through the awards of the amazing work done with and for people in our local communities and in the pursuit of equality, diversity and inclusion for all. I don’t say it lightly, it was inspiring and I’m determined to get more library recognition in for next year. As it was, our Young Employee of the Year award went to a Saturday Assistant based in Camberley Library – much to his complete surprise.

I was even home at a not too late time – so I was quite buzzed for work this morning and spent quite some time making sure my peers and staff knew about the awards and how we need to get nominations started for next year. Pleasant to have something nice to plan really.

Librarians at Play

After several weeks off while people had holidays and various bouts of not feeling well, we managed to get everyone together this week for the second session of Dungeons and Dragons I’m running with some colleagues from work, as well as Lady M and the boy s. We’d left them in the middle of a fight with two apprentices and their animated champions: a small shrub, and a broom. Chaos and hilarity ensued as the broom flew around the room smacking people as it passed, and people variously tried to grab and wrestle it into submission.

Lila, a thief with an extensive knife collection, was able to intercept one of the pair of miscreants and pin him to the wall. She told him to get his shrubbery under control, but at more or less the same time the cleric Wilhelm cast cause light wounds on it and it shrivelled away to dust.

The artificer, Xander, was knocked unconscious by the broom, but was stabilised by Pan before Caitriona (the other cleric) arrived and got them back on their feet. The distraction was enough for the second apprentice to flee to the other side of the chamber and say something into a rune-carved stone that he produced from his pocket. Moments later, a shadowy portal appeared in the air and a gaunt hand pulled him through. The portal promptly disappeared.

As a distraction, Xander imbued the broom with a fart-generating property – and blamed it on their concussion. Between them, in the meantime, Pan and Caitriona were able to smash the broom into several now-noisy segments.

The captured minion confessed that he and his companion had been practicing the animation spells to gain the favour of “The Maester” who had promised them power and work if they could manage it. He was offered a job in the kitchens of Wilhelm’s husband’s mansion and allowed to leave – and was last seen running as fast as he could. A few moments’ collective thought identified the portal as having been the manifestation of a dimension door spell – which meant that the Maester would have to have been at most 500 feet away. With no obvious additional ways out however, the group decided to gather up the abandoned book that they had been sent to retrieve and return it to the Morgrave University Library. They then gathered back at the inn on the campus before going their separate ways.

Wilhelm informed everyone that his husband had extended an invitation to them all to attend a black-tie event with rare book dealers who may be able to provide more information on missing books – or indeed this mysterious Maester.

We’ll be regrouping in two weeks’ time, and I’ve told the players there will be downtime activities to resolve and to think of what they might like to do with that time.

Creative Use of Library Space

We had a dance company in at one of my libraries yesterday performing a series of 10 minute pieces based around the interactions of people on the doorstep – inspired by lockdown among other things it features love blooming between a shopper and a delivery person. Fast, funny, suitable for all ages, and a great way of opening up library spaces and the way people think about them. The series is called “Doorstep Duets” and its presented by New/Adventures – they’re touring all over the place so keep an eye out for them.

Libraries are being used more and more for creative purposes, and its wonderful to see new people coming in to experience them. We did a recent survey of the sort of activities people would like to see, and a striking number wanted to see performances and music more often. Between that and a resurgent interest in local history we’ve got some good places to start in reimagining how we grab people’s imaginations. There were certainly a lot of smiles at the performances yesterday, so that’s a good start.

Haven’t Melted Yet

It has felt a bit of a close-run thing, but the feeling of living in a blast furnace has retreated somewhat – and as I write this with the door open to the balcony I have a strong breeze ebbing and flowing in. I think there may be a storm on the way – or at least some bursts of rain. It has been interesting to point out to the cub that this evening’s temperature of 23C is nearly half what it was on Tuesday and before this week he would have been complaining that it was hot. He is still trying to wrap his imagination around the fact that Monday and Tuesday are the hottest that the United Kingdom has ever been since they started recording such things. I think he’s more used to reading about history than living through significant moments of it.

The cub has been staying the last couple of days as his school term finished yesterday about lunchtime, and boy s is working. With Lady M off the other side of London for work, I’ve therefore been balancing work with having a young lad around the house. He’s not quite old enough to be home alone, but the difference just this last term has made in how he’s growing up tells me he’ll be fine. For now he’s sat in the other room eating his supper before he goes to run around the estate a bit more to burn off some energy from being cooped up.

On the work front I’ve been getting more engaged with the new co-chair role for the LGBTQ+ Staff Network and meeting a number of stakeholders in the EDI work being developed by Surrey County Council. I’ve begun work drafting some training slides for an Allyship program we hope to roll out next year – on the basis that we need a starting point and I have the capacity and expertise to create some copy to begin the conversation. What has struck me is the enthusiasm and understanding of the importance of this work by so many people. It has been heartening to have level-headed positivity mixed with the pragmatic acknowledgement that there is no simple fix and there are a lot of hard conversations that need to take place.

I’m cautiously optimistic – and I hope that the need to be kind is something that can be nurtured and brought to bloom.

Productive Day

There’s a project close to my heart that I’ve been slowly pushing forward over the last four to six months, and that started to gain traction today. I’m aiming to improve access to items helpful for people with sensory processing issues in both schools and libraries – essentially a range of tactile, audio, and visual objects that can help or ground people with Autism or Alzheimer’s. The idea is that loaning these items will enable people, their families, schools, and carers to identify what best works for them at a reasonable price.

Today we agreed a project brief, and proposed some time scales to put a pilot together with some partner groups. It feels like a very concrete first step towards something quite special.

I also dropped in to the Pride In Surrey hub in Woking to introduce myself with my co-Chair hat on, and had some brief conversations around the upcoming Pride event at Camberley. I may also have bought a new mug and a snap fan in the colours of the Progress Pride flag.

Various other operational irons were stirred in the proverbial fire, but I’m mostly glad that today actually felt like I was moving with purpose again.

Just Work Things

Back to work on a Saturday and so far there have been comments about sick on a carpet that turned out to be a water pipe leak, a query about lone working for a teenager in a quiet library, the payroll/HR system not being available, and the sun shining straight in my eyes while I’m on a call. A pretty ordinary morning so far then. I’m usually senior cover in my libraries about once a month and by far the most noticeable thing about that is that the geographical range of things that I get pinged about is more diverse. This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination as it keeps me aware of the wider state of how things are going rather than just on my patch. It’s also generally not an onerous duty as the staff are proactive and engaged and usually just need a nod to continue.

The building I work in is one of those radio shadow lattices from all the metal in its construction that plays merry havoc with mobile signals – which includes the official wifi – and so connectivity for me in this location has become a matter of hotspots via strategically positioned work mobiles and uncapped data tariffs. Never underestimate the creativity of library staff to overcome data issues.

My challenge for this evening is to not forget that I have counselling – unlike a fortnight ago where I got caught up in watching something on TV and then realised I’d missed the whole thing and saw the reminder texts from an increasingly concerned counsellor that I hadn’t seen because I normally have my phone on silent. Oops.

Quick Update

Another day closer to the procedure, and after yesterday’s ultrasound scan today was mostly about PCR tests, sorting laxative prescriptions, and going into isolation. Being a conscientious sort I have of course been keeping colleagues and staff appropriately briefed and told them I’m going to be unavailable for a couple of days. In accordance with the book of sod, this has then meant that my phone has been pinging non-stop with notifications and questions. I may have quietly growled at the last person to call me and have now put my phone on “do not disturb”.

One nice thing to have happened this week has been the introduction of a new colleague at my level, taking over the Farnham area libraries – and as it transpires I already know them a bit. They used to run the local Harris + Hoole coffee shop in the local Tesco a couple of years back. They still had the stunned expression of information overload that everyone has when being shown round and introduced to everyone, but hopefully that will ease quickly enough. I think they’ll get their feet under the table quick enough.

I’m still not sure if the twist in my stomach is illness or anxiety.

Rainy Day

Its my Saturday on duty (I get about one a month) where I’m one of the senior staff available to back up the branch managers, call in reinforcements, or provide some direction as required – and its the first time this year I’ve stepped back into one of the libraries as I’ve been partially isolating ahead of the hospital visits over the next few days. For the most part this has me sitting in my office working through a series of tasks I’ve prioritised while listening to the heavy thud of large raindrops on the window sill and roof edging next to me. It’s underlaid by the wet hisses of cars driving through standing water on the roads, and the faint clunk of doors opening and closing elsewhere in the building.

The biggest surprise for me this morning though was the anxiety that gripped me about coming in. There was a dread about getting up and getting in and being back in a public building – not because of any fear about the job but I think mostly tied in to my anxieties about the hospital and the active preparations I have to make next week for it. I may just take the next few days off as sick leave so I can focus on and deal with whatever needs to happen or that comes of it all – and I know that I’ll be supported by all in doing so. Indeed, there was some surprise by staff that I was in given they know how unwell I’ve been recently. I’m certainly not feeling chipper, as much as I wear the mask at the moment. I’m not sleeping properly, and my appetite has fled, leaving me with a hazy fog in my brain that isn’t doing any wonders for my mood.

I think its partly a legacy of working in the public sector on the frontline for so long that I want to fly the flag and be present as much as I can be. I appreciate the value of being visible on many levels, and one of those is just the reassurance that there is a more manager-y manager around on the weekend – that the wider support structure and hierarchy is up and running and so business as usual can take place. There’s also buried in there a guilt about being unwell that I just can’t shake – some kind of conflation of sickness as some kind of failing that I know is utterly false, and yet I can feel it dragging claws in my guts quite separate from the discomfort of whatever is wrong with me.

Right now, my mood seems to match the rain – a cliche, but then they all have to come from somewhere to be so widely recognised. Here’s hoping for a break in the weather in a bit.

And Now For A Break

Christmas is now going to be perpetrated – that’s about the best way I can describe it – across our various households and I have just finished wrapping a hefty chunk of the gifts I’m passing around this year. Our planned trip up north has fallen foul of – well I’d like to just wave my hands vaguely here at world events to encompass the chaos – so a smaller and more intimate gathering is planned round with boy s and the cub to welcome in their first Christmas in the new flat.

To facilitate that, I’ve spent most of this week running around patching and fixing as many little things at work as I can, and now I’ve stepped away and trust the people I manage to carry on being amazing. As is traditional at this time of trying to get away for a holiday, a massive piece of work landed in my lap around lunchtime. Fortunately, being the organised and professionally paranoid person that I am, I had everything I needed documented so was able to complete it with a minimum of growling – which was just as well as I then had a call from the school.

There had been an incident.

Fortunately nobody was hurt beyond some feelings, and the cub’s lesson has been to pay more attention to his verbal filters and to perhaps not make hand gestures when arguing with people. He’d already done all the self-flagellation by the time I got there so beyond some light teasing and a reassurance that he wasn’t in trouble, that was the end of that.

So. Hello my first holiday in a while – if we can just hold off on any seasonal colds, that would be lovely.

Tying Up Loose Ends

There’s an unseasonal warmth to the air that has been playing havoc with asthmatics locally, and that led me just now to note with bemusement that I was walking around outside in the middle of December in a tshirt. I’ve just got back from dropping some furniture round to boy s and bringing back in turn some coffee and the present of a new bottle of bramble gin. He’s really been able to start turning his flat into a home and is getting houseproud to a level that many people who have known him for years will scarcely recognise – mostly because this is actually his home, not just somewhere he’s living. It’s lovely to see – both for his pride, but also because I recognise the same behaviours from when I move in to somewhere new as well.

This week is mostly focused then on wrapping up as many loose ends as possible before the Christmas and New Year break – all while also spinning contingencies for any changes to what we can offer as a service in light of the growing prevalence of the omicron variant of covid. I have a mental list of things I need to prioritise tomorrow because they directly impact people’s pay and hours, but I also have no doubt that new and strange things will also pop up that need my input – oh, and I have a training course in the afternoon too – so that’ll keep me occupied.

I suppose I should also add into that list of things to do the need to finish wrapping people’s christmas presents. A fair portion of my family have had deliveries and hampers, but I also have a wardrobe stuffed with things and I really need to go through and double check I have got things for everyone. I’m pretty sure I have. I’m trying not to go overboard this year – so we’ll see how I do with that..! I’m now very conscious of all the people I’ve wanted to spend time with that I haven’t been able to this year – and trying to resist overcompensating with presents, and also to not torment myself given how odd and complicated the last eighteen months or so have been. Being mindful of how artificial most deadlines are goes a long way to helping with that.

On the plus side I do now have a large chunk of empty space where I can sort out some proper shelving in the living room.