Archive for November, 2008
I am closing down the computer and then it’s off to Amsterdam for a few days. Looking forward to it all the more because Roel has sent a link to the galleries and exhibitions this month and a last minute email from Fran directs me to Vertigo Cafe in Vondel Park. It’s near the Film Museum, also in the Park, she says. And don’t work too hard, she says. So I will take the work I have to do with me to cafe in the park, place my papers on the table then sit back and watch the world go by.
November 19th, 2008
This is London, in Edinburgh the living books wore black T shirts
How odd that none of our local press took an interest in this event, Scotland’s first Living Library. In other cities (from the first event in Copenhagen to the latest UK event in Bradford) the place has been crawling with reporters and cameras. If I hadn’t been rushing off to meet my boys and girls for a pre-birthday bonfire party I would probably have rushed home to write about it last Saturday afternoon. Becoming a living book was a really extraordinary experience.
The Lisbon event
I’m treating myself to a birthday blog (it’s three years old today!) though I could be doing some work. But, come on, it is my birthday and one of the main reasons the boys gave me this blog was so I could write (and occasionally rant) about stories that newspapers don’t cover. This time I won’t rant about the old media who don’t know a good story when it is staring them in the face. Instead I want to grab hold of the memory of the Living Library, already almost a week ago, before it fades too far into the past. Since I have no pictures of the Edinburgh event I am downloading some of the excellent images from the Living Library website (and thank you Ronni for saying I can).
Flashback to last Saturday. On the way to the Festival of Libraries I began to get cold feet. Who would want to ‘read’ the blogger? What if no-one wanted to take my book off the shelf? I decided it wouldn’t matter because there would be plenty more interesting books for me to read.
Sadly I never got time to read anyone else’s book. The Living Library brings ‘books’ (real people with a story to tell) face to face with the borrower who wants to ask questions. My first borrower was already waiting when I got into Adam House – a nice, sensitive young man who kindly abandoned technical questions early on in our 30 minute conversation but asked searching questions about the addictive nature of reading and writing blogs and how we can be sure we are dealing with the truth.
A living book in Portugal
For the next two hours people lined up to borrow books from every walk of life. I saw Sikh turbans, Muslim scarfs and big Goth boots. Between borrowings I met up with, Asia, the young librarian from Poland, Alice, the community worker from Zimbabwe, and Shaista the poet from Dubai. I already knew Ryan, the wry Reader in Residence at the poetry library, Simon, the charismatic community policeman in Leith, and Mrs Unis the almost legendary businesswoman. Each one with a terrific story to tell. Each of us different, all of us united in black T shirts with BOOK: BORROW ME in bold white lettering.
The aim of the Living Library project is to overcome prejudice, break down barriers, broaden understanding between people. It occurred to me that an event like this is to some extent self-selecting. People with narrow minds are less likely to venture into the space. And yet, and yet. I confess that I didn’t expect the Goth to be so young and look so sweet. If only I had had time I would have asked him to tell me his story.
But for two hours I was too busy engaging with questions that probed into the heart and soul of blogging. Fraser invoked Orwell to ask if blogging, like any other writing, is a form of vanity (of course!), George asked how it compares with my former newspaper writing; have I managed to find my own voice (I honestly don’t know, I find it difficult), Christina made me envious because she has just started blogging about being an American in Glasgow (ah, what discoveries) and is sometimes compelled to blog six times a day! Kathy admitted she didn’t know what blogging was and wanted to find out (how open minded can you get) and I was so sorry it was time to go when Ian turned up with a genuine interest in sharing news and views of blogging. He said he would read my blog so I hope he found it ok.
That was just my experience. According to Ewan, the Living Library organiser, there were at least 45 book loans during the day (and some were group sessions so many more people were involved). All power to Ronni Abergel, the man who started it all off at a music festival in Denmark eight years ago as a campaign against violence. After Saturday’s event he sent Ewan a text complimenting Edinburgh on the first event, “You can be proud of your efforts to get Scotland off the ground.”
I like that connection between the mobile phone and the live event. As I sat surrounded by people so engaged with one another it kept coming home to me that blogging, the mobile phone and all the networking groups on the internet, are after all simply means to the end that we were experiencing face to face in the Living Library. It is all about making contact with other human beings and ultimately there is nothing better than meeting in person. Or to pinch a quote from Ronni, “We live in a time where we need dialogue.”
I will also post pictures and a less personal report on Leith Open Space.
A living book in Berlin
November 13th, 2008
Oh dear, what have I left myself in for? I am sitting between two poets, in front of us there’s a war veteran and a man from Alcoholics Anonymous. All around me there are people with amazing stories to tell: people from Africa, China, Poland, Dubai as well as Edinburgh. We are here because we have volunteered to be Living Books – but I am wondering, with these bestsellers on offer, who on earth will want to borrow a blogger? I will soon find out as the Living Library (Scotland’s first) starts in an hour.
How did I let myself in for this? The answer I guess is that I can never walk away from a fascinating experience (aka ‘can’t say no’). The Living Library has just arrived in Scotland and it sounds an amazing way of breaking down barriers. The idea began in Denmark in 2000 as a way of overcoming prejudice and since then it has spread through Europe and now reaches Edinburgh via Bradford.
Basically, it seems, a Living Book is a person who is prepared to talk about some aspect of their life to anyone who wants to borrow them for 30 minutes face to face conversation in the safe setting of a library. Today’s selection includes a goth, a policeman and us lot from the briefing session.
I got involved because I blogged about the project on Leith Open Space website after being asked to help find some ‘books’ from minority communities. Then, somehow I find myself agreeing to take part and yesterday all the volunteers met at McDonald Road library to discover what we have let ourselves in for.
Linda, a librarian who has flown up from the south to guide Scotland’s first living books into the public arena, assures us that it is fun. And she has the T shirts to prove it.
Now I am raiding my blog in the hope of finding some interesting examples in case anyone does take my ‘book’ off the shelf. (I feel a complete fraud because there are so many other bloggers I know who would be much better qualified.) But here am I looking for those comments from Canada after I posted a story about the elk crossing the Trans-Canada highway on their own bridge at Banff, and Bill the pilot who was pleased I enjoyed his flight to Barra, and of course those amazing comments that have just arrived on the Hendrix story.
Now I have to go and get dressed. What can I wear that will go with the T shirt?
November 8th, 2008
There was a moment of disbelief. We’ve got so used to chasing grey squirrels from the bird table (there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof feeder) that I thought the sun must be playing tricks with the colour. But this squirrel really was red and, we have since discovered, possibly the first sighting of one in our area.
At first we hardly dared move in case we frightened it away. After a good half hour Ray got fed up trying to take pictures through the window so he went outside and as you can see the little thing positively posed for the camera.
Watching the squirrel was such a magical experience. For once no other thought got in the way: no work, no worries, no washing up. There was only the animal, the sunlight and our disbelief suspended over rapidly cooling coffee. This was something we never really expected to see. When we first came to Pond Cottage a neighbour told us there were red squirrels, badgers, otters and pine martens in the neighbourhood. Oh yes, pine martens? We were polite but privately sceptical.
Even in red squirrel country further north I have only ever caught a fleeting glimpse of a red tail disappearing up a pine tree. But this one seemed almost tame. In fact it seemed so undisturbed by our presence I began to wonder if someone’s pet squirrel had run away from home.
There have been other magical moments at Pond Cottage: finding two baby roe deer lying together in late afternoon sunlight in the clearing; watching a kingfisher flash sizzling blue towards me on the bank of the pond and then (incredibly) coming back repeatedly to hoover up midges on the surface of the water.
But the red squirrel has brought an added dimension of new responsibility. Life at Pond Cottage may never be quite the same again. What do we do about the grey squirrels that live among the beech trees down the lane? They are bigger and bolder and in some places we’re told they carry a pox that kills the smaller reds, though with weird timing the night before our red squirrel appeared we saw a television clip of an irascible Bill Oddy acknowledging a new theory that reds are showing signs of immunities to the grey pox.
So what do we do? Ray asked for suggestions when he emailed one of his best pictures round family and friends. Considering most of them are townies they sent some very blood thirsty answers: catch ‘em, kill ‘em, eat ‘em. That is more or less the word on the Scottish Squirrel Survey website and the Perth and Kinross Squirrel Group has promised to send us a squirrel homepack with advice on what to feed reds and (ahem) how to get in touch with the grey squirrel hit squad.
Personally, I favour Jean’s method (trap them if we must but release them elsewhere). Whatever, I promise Bobby there will be no barbecued greys at my birthday bonfire!
November 5th, 2008