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    Birmingham, Home life, My Thoughts

    A little peace in moving house

    Over the last couple of months I’ve come to fully appreciate why it is they say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do.

    From our lovely Colourful House, my (now ex) housemates and I divided up 4.5 years’ worth of things and moved our separate ways.  To most people three girls moving out should be easy but we lived like a little family, so much of our stuff was shared.  In the end I devised games to make the ownership of miscellaneous items that we would probably need at some point easier.

    But some things we couldn’t justify taking.  All three of us were big readers, myself probably the most ferocious.  We were lucky in our old house to have a room almost solely dedicated to books with fantastic in-built bookcases.  But, as is whenever I move, I couldn’t take them all.  Two boxes of books went to a local school and a car boot-full or books and comics went to a local charity shop.  A box of cables and a chair went to work, anyone that came to visit in the last month went home with something.

    But my favourite story about our move was a phenomena that exists in Kings Heath, something I’d never noticed in anywhere else I lived; doorstep freecycle.  Amongst the maze of suburban streets in this suburb of Birmingham you will often find little piles of things with notes attached – “I’m free, take me” or “looking for a good home” or sometimes no note at all.  They’re always perfectly good items that are no longer needed in the house they sit outside.

    We left a few items outside; a collection of glasses, decorative plates and an uplighter.  The glasses disappeared to a new home without us knowing, but we hope the wine glasses are providing an interesting anecdote to a party.  The oversized gold plates palmed off on me by my mother, were picked up by a woman who told us that she worked for a charity which did a massive tea party for disabled people each year and they never had enough plates, these would be perfect.  And the uplighter went to a man who had been meaning to go get one for months but never had the time and was so genuinely pleased with his freebie I think we made his day.  If we didn’t, he and the charity lady certainly made ours.

    Moving house is hard; stressful, tearful and a slog of a marathon.  I had some great friends and family members whose help was invaluable – and some strangers too, who will probably never know how much.

    Birmingham, Books, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    My thoughts on Library Camp 2011

    I felt a bit of a fraud on Saturday morning turning up to Library Camp, an unconference for librarians, until I realised that I had actually spent some time looking after a library.  And I made cake, which actually seemed to be more of a prerequisite for attendance than a library career.  Thankfully everyone was so utterly delightful that I think as long as you are passionate about libraries and had cake you were greeted with welcomed arms.

    Photo of part of the timetable by smilylibrarian from flikr

    The first part of the unconference was the pitching for sessions, duly written on post-it-notes, groups and organised into sessions.  It’s a shame we could only go to five, but when the disappointing thing is too many interesting sessions you know you’re on to a good thing.  Thankfully lots of people tweeted throughout the day so it was possible to catch up on other discussion and people have subsequently blogged their thoughts on them too (like this one from Jennifer Yellin).

    It’s hard to pick favourites, but I really enjoyed the two on advertising and what libraries can learn from retail, which isn’t surprising given that I work in communications and marketing.  Bums on Seats made some really good notes on these two sessions.  The retail session seemed to focus on a lot of practical things that could be done in libraries – displays and books facing outwards, although the idea of having books in categories seemed to split opinion.  Personally I think opening times are one of the biggest barriers to people using the library – something which I mentioned on twitter and seemed to get some good responses.  The last session on advertising was the one I understood the best, having experience in public sector marketing and it seems that some of the problems the librarians found were similar, if not worse, to those I found in the NHS.  Sadly it sounded like the will to market was there, but with little support from their corporate communications teams (one team has to email tweets to the webmaster which are frequently changed and lose meaning)

    The other notable session I sat in on was one on Shared Reading  A group of about ten of us read a short story about a father and son, paused at relevant places, which provoked some really unexpected and strong emotional reactions.  I’m not entirely sure I can convey how powerful and moving this session was, but when a 45 minute session with a group of strangers nearly brings you to tears you might get the idea.  I’m determined to learn more.

    Discussions at lunch about further education libraries, children’s development and a whole raft of bookish talk were really interesting.  Plus I was given a free book by the lovely @JennySarahJones which I found out about thanks to the power of twitter!

    So what did I learn

    • Library folk are some of the nicest people ever and really like their cake.
    • Following a hashtag (#libcampuk11) on tweetdeck when its updated fairly regularly is rubbish, the twitter app was a lot more useful.
    • The cola cupcakes recipe from Hummingbird Bakery book was actually a hit – people even tweeted me to say so!
    • If the people at libcampUK11 are anything to go by, so long as the current government doesn’t completely chop the library budget to shreds, the future of libraries are in good hands.

    Initially I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find the day or how useful I’d be, but in the end I left Library Camp inspired and hopeful – and determined to use the library more.  A big thanks to those that organised the event and to those in attendance for providing me with some really interesting ideas.

    Books, My Thoughts

    Three is no longer the magic number? Rumours of the loss of 3-for-2

    The rumours of Waterstones stopping the ‘3 for 2’ deal had been floating around since the sale of the company and the appointment of James Daunt as managing director, but it looks like they may have finally come to fruition if the article today on The Bookseller today is correct.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this.  Frequently I’ve been into Waterstones wanting one or maybe two books and come out with a third because, well, it’s free isn’t it?  But more recently the ‘3 for 2’ deal has actually worked in Waterstones favour with me.

    Incident one: I wanted to try out Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series.  Looking at the prices for the first three, Amazon online and Waterstones in-store ‘3 for 2’ were about the same price.  Plus getting them from Waterstones meant I didn’t have to wait ages for them to arrive by post nor suffer the fear that they might use a courier company that I have had numerous incidents with (once I was on the phone to Amazon for an hour to try and get my books, due to some stubbornness on my part and an excellent customer services rep).  Waterstones won without a doubt.

    Incident two: I’d just finished Delirum by Lauren Oliver and was in the mood for another young adult dystopian tale.  I asked for recommendations and rather than buy one book I came out with a ‘3 for 2’ plus another one I picked up at the counter.  Waterstones got two more sales from me and I got a free book, win all round.

    These aren’t the only instances, I’ve frequently end up buying more books that I would’ve because the ‘3 for 2’ had enticed me in.  I can say without a doubt that had it not been there, Amazon would’ve been my pick for the Gallagher Girls books.

    That said, when Boarders was open in Birmingham I frequently ended up with a third book I didn’t want because trying to tell the staff that you didn’t want a free third book seemed akin to telling them you killed puppies for pleasure.  It became easier to pick up a free third book and donate it to the charity shop or just not buy more than one book.  So I guess in those circumstances the books really were devalued.

    Plus, there is, of course, always that issue that the tables of ‘3 for 2’ books were always a bit obvious.  It stopped me looking through the shelves to find something published not quite so recently and not having the buying power behind it of whatever teenager-vampire-ghost-angel-love-story was being released that week.  If the tables of ‘3 for 2’ no longer exist, then maybe other books will get a look in.

    I’m really interested to see what Waterstones do in terms of promotions next, if the ‘3 for 2’ really dies disappear.  Half price books sucker me in and I’ve been known to wander around a few stores on release day to take up this offer, so maybe that’s something that might stick around…but it’s not often than the books I tend to read (YA edging away from paranormal romance) get included in this offer.

    Aside from the promotional elements, I’m hoping that this means Waterstones will start focusing on what it can offer above and beyond online algorithms – personal service.  I’ve had mixed experiences of going in and asking for recommendations; a couple of times I’ve come out with more books than I meant to because of the enthusiasm of the bookseller, other times I’ve wondered if they even read.

    But hopefully if the tables of ‘3 for 2’ really do disappear, it’ll mean a wider range of books get a look in, with more enticing tales that might not have the publishing powerhouse behind them, but rather a bookseller with a genuine love for that tale and wants others to see it.  Still, if it’s true then I’m going to miss being able to justify coming home with lots of books because they were part of a deal, but looking forward to seeing what comes next.

    My Thoughts

    New beginnings…

    That’s it, I’ve bitten the bullet, bought a domain name and I’m giving this blogging malarkey another go. The rather silly URL hopefully conveys a sense of whimsically jumping around subjects with a kind of enthusiasm that one can only expect from someone as curious and slightly eccentric (I say slightly, this is often debated) as I.

    I’ve moved over posts from three old blogs, mainly to give myself some encouragement that I am indeed capable of blogging, but also as a reminder of things I’ve done and might want to write about again. They seem to have little in common, other than I’ve written them, but go from music reviews, to bread courses and how the Internet is a bit awesome.

    So, going forward, what to blog now? Who knows? Probably fairly similar to what I’ve blogged before, just with more regularity. I’ll blog about: the monthly book club I run and the weird and wonderful questions we discuss; interesting things I find in my home town of Birmingham UK, as well as when I wander the country visiting friends; charity projects and events; things I’ve read about that bother me; stuff I attend; probably a blog post on the stresses of trying to do an AS level when you’ve only got time to give one night a week to it; attempts at making jewellery and a raft of other things.

    Here goes…

    My Thoughts

    To card or not to card – When is a Christmas card appropriate?

    My housemate came home earlier with a festive dilemma that made wondering how many minutes to the pound to cook a turkey a doddle.  Christmas cards: who gets one and who gets listed on them.  Actually it’s more complex than that – a near half hour conversation boiled down to the following…

    When do you include a significant other – when they’re living together, when they’re married, if you’ve met them?

    When should you/your significant other be included in the sending of card – when you’re living together or if you both want to wish that person/persons happy holidays?

    Or is it household to household?  In which case, when is it appropriate to stop including family members that have flown the nest?  And if you’ve moved out, should you expect and send a separate card?

    And is the use of ‘partner’ or ‘and family’ just a bit rude, especially if they’re not married, they have no children or are just living together?  Should this be used if you’ve no idea who their significant other is and if so are you wishing random strangers happy holidays?

    If, as I am, living with friends, should we be sending and receiving cards to mutual friends as a household?

    When do you send cards to friends – when you won’t see them near the festive period, people you’re especially close to, people you see on a regular basis (work people)?

    Do facebook/text messages on the day make this whole concept redundant?

    And finally, are we overthinking this?

    I haven’t sent out Christmas cards this year, mainly because I’m only just beginning to catch up with my own life.  But given the in-depth conversation I’ve just taken part in, I think it was probably wise!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog Sisyphean Solutions*

    Birmingham, My Thoughts

    Birmingham Salon: Pursuit of modernity in China

    Thursday’s Birmingham Salon was a bit like going back to university, having forgotten to do the assigned reading. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fascinating talk from Alan Hudson, Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programmes for China, but it more importantly, it highlighted how little we know about China’s rise to economic stardom.

    Admittedly, this possibly not a subject ever featured on Mastermind and unlikely to be featured in a pub quiz, but Alan Hudson’s speech was thought provoking never the less. He spoke on the issues facing the cities of China; mass urbanization as over 300 million Chinese moved from the rural areas into cities, how Chinese officials intended to shape every aspect of city life from planned to lived spaces (i.e. the need for street vendors, but them making things cluttered) and how Chinese society suffered from a kind of managerialism which is becoming more evident in British society.

    Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no other side to form the debate, but it almost felt like it would’ve been redundant as Hudson’s talk seemed more observational and theoretical than debatable. Yet, the audience did an excellent job of challenging his points, pointing out logical flaws and challenging Hudson’s criticisms of the views from William Hutton on liberal culture and liberal economies. All in all a fascinating discussion on a lesser known topic, with a lot learned by all.

    The next Birmingham Salon will take place on Tuesday 8 June. Check the website for more information.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    My Thoughts

    What happens if a successful candidate in local elections resigns?

    A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

    My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I calledBirmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

    So I did.

    And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

    The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

    This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

    Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

    NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*