Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Goodbye Chris & Vicky

Remember these two? Chris McClure and Vicky Butcher were our indispensible Senior Pupil Library Assistants in 2008/09. Here they are receiving their leaving presents before they set off into the big wide world. Thanks, you two - you were a great help, and totally reliable! Good luck in whatever you do next.So far for this year, I've just got one Senior Pupil Library Assistant confirmed - Claire Harley - does anyone else want to come and help me?<

Friday, 31 July 2009

My old English teacher passes on...

I read this morning that Stanley Middleton, Booker prize winner in 1974, has died. "Mr Middleton", as we knew him at school, was my English teacher for much of my time at High Pavement Grammar School. I remember him fondly - rather like his books - as quiet, unassuming, but with plenty going on behind the calm exterior. I also remember his enthusiastic playing of the double bass - always with a slightly surprised expression on his face, as if he couldn't quite believe the noise he was making! He was a good musician, and I know both my parents spent time with him in various choirs.

Stanley was an inspirational teacher of English, as long as you wanted to listen. We used to ask him what we thought were complicated questions, and then sit back and observe his long-winded thought processes as he worked out answers. I'm sure he knew what we were doing! One I remember well was "Sir, why is there only one Monopolies Commission?"

God bless, Stanley, and thank you.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Hunt the flag!

There's a new flag of Scotland on display somewhere about the school - a prize for the first one who spots it! (Clue - it's on display along with an English one and a Union flag. Now don't moan - I'm feeling homesick!)

Friday, 15 May 2009

I've seen the future - and it prints!

What is this strange-looking machine, I hear you ask – and why has he got a picture of a 1915 poetry book?

Well, this is one of only 12 “Espresso Book Machines” in the world – I went to see it in Blackwell’s bookshop in London when I visited earlier this week.

These machines are linked to a website
www.archive.org – which holds at present over 400,000 out of print books on PDF files. Simply choose which book you want, and this machine will print, bind and cover it for you in about 5 minutes – while you watch. How brilliant is that? OK, the cost is £10 plus 2p per page, but I guess that will come down in the future….

Once they’ve got some copywrite issues sorted out, I can foresee a situation where you can wander in and just ask them to produce any book you fancy. How cool would that be? What a huge saving on printing costs, transport costs, paper – not printing thousands of books that end up being thrown away because no-one wants them?

Even better, if you have an unpublished novel tucked away somewhere – they’ll print it for you (maybe I’ll finish mine off now…)

Even though the machine was temporarily “out of order” when I visited, I was so impressed, I bought a copy of the first book they made on it – a small volume of poetry from Oxford undergraduates in 1915. Nothing too remarkable about that, I hear you say – apart from the fact that included in it are poems by Godfrey Elton (later to become a famous Historian and uncle of Ben Elton), Dorothy L Sayers (author not only of the “Lord Peter Wimsey” novels, but also the Guinness “Toucan” adverts), and JRR Tolkien – already writing about goblins, fairies and leprechauns even at that early age.

This book is now in library stock, under non-fiction 821 OXF. (Don’t ask me why poetry is always classified as non-fiction under Dewey. It just is. Always has. Always will be. Don’t try and give me a headache, now….)

For further information on the Espresso Book Machine, click on the link below and watch the video)


Thursday, 14 May 2009

Fleming honoured in the House of Commons

May 2009 sees the 80th anniversary of the presentation of Sir Alexander Fleming’s ground-breaking paper on the discovery of penicillin. We at K.A. are justly proud of our famous ex-pupil – one of two to hold a Nobel Laureate award – so when our local MP, Rt. Hon. Des Browne, contacted us to discuss this, we felt we should get involved.

That’s why the LRC was closed earlier this week – your intrepid Librarian made the long haul “down south” to meet up with Mr Browne at Westminster.

On Monday evening, Mr Browne gave a speech in the House of Commons entitled “Sir Alexander Fleming and the Discovery of Penicillin 80 years on” – and I was lucky enough to be in the Stranger’s Gallery to see the event. Mr Browne was kind enough to sign the original copy of his speech and pass it on to me – another item for the school archives! He also bought me a meal in one of the Parliamentary restaurants – maybe the receipt will appear in the newspapers one day….

As part of his speech, Mr Browne announced that the Society of General Microbiology will be sponsoring new Science Prizes at both Kilmarnock and Loudoun Academies. Fleming was elected the Society’s first President in 1945.

Earlier that day, I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Fleming’s ashes are interred near to such luminaries as Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Not bad for a lad from Darvel!

Next morning, I visited the Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum, at St. Mary’s Hospital, Paddington – the site of his famous discovery. They have his original laboratory laid out just as it was in 1928, with a copy of the culture dish that changed the world of medicine (the original now being held in the British Museum). I also obtained some interesting pictures and other mementoes of my visit – which will soon be on display in the main reception area. The curator of the Museum, Kevin Brown, has inscribed a copy of his new Fleming biography to the school, and this has been catalogued into library stock.

So what did I learn from my trip – apart from a better knowledge of the London Underground, and how much a decent pint costs nowadays? Well, I know a bit more about the workings of Parliament, a lot more about Fleming and his legacy – and I also know that it costs £11 to enter St. Paul’s Cathedral. Well worth it, though!

For more photos of my trip, please go to http://www.kilmarnockacademy.co.uk/

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Book Review - Good old fashioned heroic tales!

From time to time, I get emails from publishers highlighting new books being produced. When I heard that Neil Oliver (the long-haired Historian from the BBC TV "Coast" programme) I just had to get a copy - and I'm glad I did.
Oliver has taken the dramatic, sad and ultimately futile story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott (of the Antarctic) and woven around it other tales of good old-fashioned, mainly British "stiff upper lips" - from Trafalgar,the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of Britain, the South African Zulu Wars, and the SAS. In case he's accused of concentrating solely on the British breed of "manly men", he includes the fateful Apollo 13 story and the Demons of Camerone as well (no, I didn't know about this one either - but it sounds as it would make a good spaghetti western with Mel Gibson in the starring role, as long as his French accent is better than his Scottish one!)
Many - although not all - of Oliver's stories are based on military exploits. However, as he makes clear, "..this is not about wanting to fight or kill or die...it's about wanting to value an upright and noble way of living."
The notions of self-sacrifice and wanting to "do the right thing" might seem a world, and an age away from us now. However, I defy you to read the final extracts of Scott's journal from the Antarctic - when he knew he was dying- as he pleads with his wife to bring their son up "...interested in Natural History...keep him in the open air" without a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat. The boy, of course, grew up to be Sir Peter Scott, conservationist, wildlife painter and co-founder of the Worldwide Fund for Nature.
This book is full of little gems. In the chapter on the ancient Greeks (I know, sounds really boring, but it isn't!) Oliver tells of the message sent to the city of Sparta by the leader of an invading force: "...submit without delay, for if I bring my army into your land I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze (flatten) your city." The Spartans replied with one word which made the invaders think again: "IF"
This book is not for the faint-hearted - and it is gloriously non "PC" (it explains where the term "women and children first" came from) - but shoulders back, chest out, keep the back ramrod straight, and swash those buckles! Be a manly man!
Available from the LRC, non-fiction section, Dewey number 904.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Wot? No Harry?

The five authors who have held the title "Children's Laureate" have recently chosen their favourite children's books of all time (seven each - giving a total list of 35 books) - and - guess what - not a Harry Potter, Narnia or Dark Materials amongst them!

Instead, Quentin Blake, Anne Fine, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Rosen (the current Laureate) have each chosen, in the main, books they enjoyed reading when they were young. So given that they are all really old (even older than me!) you might not recognize too many of their choices. There are a few I've never heard of! But there are also some really good ones - including Treasure Island, Stuart Little, The Just So Stories, Sword in the Stone, and Anne Frank's Diary.

You can see the full list through this link:

So, what's your favourite book of all time? Anyone fancy making a list up? By the way, I have to choose The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as mine - every time I look at those illustrations they take me back to being 9 years old!