Monday, 28 February 2011

From the library

I usually join the library wherever I stay for a few days, and was recently chatting to another boating friend about our large collection of library cards from around the country! As well as computer use, you can take out a book from one library and return it to a 'sister' library further along the canal.
I'm writing this in Paddington library because I don't have much laptop power (forgot to charge up on solar and now it's raining) and I also want to print out some pages. Today, I've brought my own laptop along to plug in and use in warmth, light and comfort. What else do I use the library for? Reading the paper, reading expensive canal magazines that won't get binned after one read, checking out the local events I could go along to or getting info about doctor's surgeries, bus timetables. I have, on rare occasions, borrowed CDs or DVDs and often bought second-hand library books.
Looking around me, I see mums and dads with kids just starting to read or looking at the pictures while parents grab a chance to choose books or check e-mails in peace. No need to keep a watch-out for traffic here. A free place to take the children when school or nursery is shut. I was in here last week and they were running free health-checks in one corner of the library, offering blood-pressure checks, etc and dietary advice. I've seen story-book readings for groups of pre-school kids in some libraries, computer classes for retired people in others, coffee-shops in a couple.
I've listened in to a computer lesson given to an excluded pupil by a teacher or key-worker.
Today, I see older people, having a sit down with the paper, one frail lady with her shopping looks like she's just come in to sit down because there's no-where else you can sit out of the rain, without spending money.
There are students here, I think, judging from the books and files open around their computers. People at the study tables, writing furiously in what may be the only quiet place they have. There's a man with the jobs paper open, pen and notebook beside him. There are people reading the arabic newspapers, others talking very quietly in a language I don't understand.
I remember blogging a while ago about trying to get back from Rugby to my boat on a bus-free day. I found the library open and was able to photocopy part of an ordnance survey map that helped me find my way home across footpaths and disused railway.

I think of all this, knowing that the government aims to close one fifth of the libraries in the country. I found this site that shows a map of the libraries under threat of closure. I see from one comment underneath that 9 out of the 11 libraries on the Isle of Wight are to close!
There have been protests that get very little media coverage, perhaps because they tend to be quiet protests like read-ins and because the people most affected by the closures are disenfranchised and feel powerless. Many library users are tired single parents, retired people, people with disabilities whose day-centres have closed, job-seekers, asylum-seekers, homeless people and travellers like myself. I don't suppose the wealthy have much use for libraries as they order books online and don't need the social, free aspect of a library. If it's raining outside, you can sit in the car or a cafe/restaurant or go to the cinema etc.

My daughter, studying part-time for an MA, has the use of the Bodleian library in Oxford. That elitist establishment will never close. The one she passed in a run-down, impoverished street in Deptford recently, had already shut.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Toy story

I've brought Blackbird into London, exchanging tall trees for high buildings. It's exciting exploring! One of my first outings was to the Museum of Childhood (pic from their website) where I particularly wanted to look out for puppets and early mechanical toys, being slightly dotty about carved painted wood. I also love simple tin forms, cardboard figures etc - things that aren't plastic I guess.
It reminds me that there is a lovely museum of childhood to be found in Edinburgh too - smaller and in a higgledy-piggledy warren of rooms over 2 or 3 floors. This museum is in a big open building and the noise can be deafening!

Here are some things that caught my eye..
The most basic design for a moving toy, I love its simplicity.

Isn't this great. You press down on the tail and the little bellows make it chirp. There's also plenty of nostalgia here - spot the Snoopy toy behind?

These puppets are called Pebble puppets as they have a pebble inside for weight, perhaps it's so the limbs can move freely from the weighted main body.

These little 'spirit boats' or putt-putt boats sent me scurrying to find out how they're made. I'd seen some at a fair once and always thought I'd love to try to make one. Here's an interesting site showing different options.

The candles are lit, the heat turns the windmill at the top, which in turn, rotates the tiers below.

Not a great photo, sorry, but this toy has a figure that dances on the end of a wire. It's a sand-driven device, whereby you turn the box upside down, sand goes to fill the 'shute' at the top and as can be seen in the photo below, it turns a wheel, that flicks the wire. Ingenious and no batteries needed ;-)

There's also a wonderful display of doll's houses I never had (oh the world of the miniature!). There are the toys and games my brothers and I played together, like the 'Merit' chemistry set that filled us with excited awe and which I'm now amazed we were let loose with. And there are the toys that my own children played with when small, which bring floods of happy memories as well as memories of hoovering up vital pieces of lego, puzzle and dolly's shoe. Oh well!
Probably a combination of seeing all the toys, chatting about childrens' books with the Herbies, some cider and a discussion about Flash Gordon & Ming the Merciless, but last night I dreamed of flying in a silver tin spaceship with red stars.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

what lies beneath..

I had a lovely few days away, visiting friends of Simon and exploring part of the Grantham canal. Simon's blogged about that, and he had a camera, so I won't! But what struck me most was the quiet emptiness of the canal, almost entirely boatless and, in the long stretch away from houses and people, free of rubbish. I like the bustle of boaty places and canalside communities, but the crap that comes with large concentrations of people is an awful blight. I don't think it has to be this way. People can live together without wrecking the environment, if we stop buying plastic and packaging everything.
I shouldn't rant so much, I know, but I'm on the Slough arm at the moment and saddened by the amount of dumped rubbish that's in and around the canal. I had a quick clear-up just around my boat and filled a (plastic) bin-bag easily.
Just off the towpath, a nest of colourful wires:

The lakes where anglers hang out (you can maybe spot the tent just over the fence), and useful dumping ditch behind them:

Oh well, there was probably nothing good on anyway...

In the canal itself, there's a fascinating underworld of tyres and containers. It's quite beautiful in it's way! And doesn't this motorbike look romantic in its murky home, although I don't think it would have done my boat's hull any good if I'd tried to moor here.

It's a shame because there's nowt wrong with the canal itself (though i know the summer reeds are a big problem). There are lots of trees and undergrowth and walks around lakes. It needs a lot of people to care enough and give time to cleaning it up, putting pressure on the anglers, getting bins built, etc. The problem is that most of us, including me, are either just passing through or feel no connection or 'ownership' of the canal.