Posts Tagged ‘Psychoville’

"The Library" is a planet sized book repository. Or is it? image credit BBC

“The Library” is a planet sized book repository. Or is it?
image credit BBC


As you probably already know, I work in a public library. I’ve talked about British related programs I’ve organized like the Time Lord Trivia Tournament, our British Car Day and, of course, the monthly gatherings of my support group for expats and lovers of British culture, Anglophiles United.

But when most people think of libraries, these fun, out-of-the-box activities are not what come to mind. They think of implacable librarians, drab in appearance and stern in attitude; scholarly and musty volumes, as dry in content as their fragile pages; and a vault-like atmosphere that is quiet as a tomb.

What follows are some British telly clips about libraries. I really had an enjoyable time searching for them. Some support the stereotypes above and others paint a more modern or friendly picture of libraries today.


Psychoville – Jeremy Goode (obsessive guardian of library material)


Later in this story, Jeremy actually shows up at the woman’s house hoping to recover her delinquent book. Real library staffers don’t actually fixate on things like this. People lose stuff all the time. We do send them to collections though if they misplace too many of the precious things of library and neglect to pay up of their own accord.


Mr. Bean – clumsy patron


Where I work, we don’t have such ancient and rare tomes and no gloves are required to touch anything on our shelves. That being said, we do unfortunately get items back in our book drop in less than pristine condition: food and beverage splatters, crayon scribbles, pages torn out and, yes, even sand under the plastic dust jacket of the book of the latest copy of ‘Girl on the Train’ or ‘Game of Thrones’.


Derek (and Kevin) – patrons with specific interests and tastes


We do get individuals like Derek who want to take out the same book over and over again. They are usually children, but Derek has a child-like quality about him. On the other end of the spectrum, we get blokes like Kevin in as well, but they are more likely to be using our computers to find  “adult images” than magazines.


The Old Guys – A mature, attractive librarian


We’re not all middle aged ladies in cardigans with glasses hanging on a chain around our necks.  In fact, harmless flirting has been known to happen across the circulation and reference desks. I work with women (and men) of various ages, fashion sense and style and temperaments. Some are enthusiastic and energetic while others are more reserved and timid. And believe it or not, there are some quite confident and ambitious librarians as well, rather like Barbara (Cherie Lunghi) the new librarian in the clip above.


Doc Martin – play group


Libraries don’t have to be deadly silent places, particularly in the children’s areas of the building. Young patrons are encouraged to sing, move and create. My library has a wide range of kids’ programming including infants and toddlers’ lap sit story times. You typically see mums with their little ones at events like this, but kudos to Dr. Ellingham for even showing up at a baby sing-a-long/play group.


Individual libraries, even within the same general area, can have very different amenities, rules and staffers. But universally, they are places for people who love books, stories, and learning. Besides being a full-time telly watcher, there’s no other job I’d rather have.

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As I prepare for tonight’s spattering of trick or treaters at my door (steady rain is expected in my neck of the woods) I have no feelings of dread, no inclinations to hide from the visitors to my door. I’m none too happy about the price of a giant bag of sweets, but people have given my children candy in the past so it’s only right I return the favor.

Therefore when I saw this Very British Problems quote on my Twitter feed I couldn’t really relate.

Q: Are you doing anything for Halloween?
A: Locking the door, drawing the curtains and sitting very quietly.

This seems quite extreme to me. In the Midwest if we don’t want to hand out candy, we just don’t turn our porch lights on.You don’t have to put a sign up outside you door or anything like that.


In America I think we get nostalgic about our own trick or treating memories – our favorite costumes, the house on the street that handed out the best candy, having to wear a winter coat over your costume so no one could tell who or what you’re supposed to be. So we enjoy seeing the cute little children toddling excitedly up to our door dressed as the most popular new Disney princess or some sort of ninja.

I gather in generations past, children in the UK were supposed to earn their treats somehow by telling a joke or singing a song. Whatever the history, trick or treating seems to have been assigned an American cultural identity that is seen as indulgent or commercial.


Then of course there’s the annoyance and concern when teenagers who’ve made little effort in costume department show up at your door in their dozens,threatening to trick you if you don’t treat them. I can only speak from my own experience. In my day, kids did soap windows, smash pumpkins and, on occasion,throw eggs, but on the days leading up to Halloween, not on trick or treat night itself. Since I’ve had children I find this happens much less often at least where we live. I’m just thankful young children aren’t left to their own devices to build bonfires and prove their bravery by throwing flour in their neighbor’s faces.

A good old-fashioned American Halloween courtesy of Meet Me In St. Louis  image credit MGM

A good old-fashioned American Halloween courtesy of Meet Me In St. Louis
image credit MGM


I do agree with the earlier Very British Problems sentiment I mentioned earlier in one specific situation. It might be a good idea to hide when two grown men with an electric cattle prod show up on your doorstep, no matter how elaborate their costumes are.


So whether you ignore the sugar-fueled shouts of “Trick or Treat” or welcome them, I hope your All Hallow’s Eve is a safe and happy one.

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TeaWe all know tea is the non-alcoholic beverage of choice of the British people. In the Wikipedia entry for Tea in the United Kingdom, they address the common held misconception that “much of the time in the United Kingdom, tea drinking is not the delicate, refined cultural expression that some might imagine: a cup (or commonly a mug) of tea is something drunk often.” So for those who think tea is only presented on a silver tray and served in flowery porcelain china like Downton Abbey, think again. Tea is the great British equalizer and national addiction.

My own relationship with tea is slightly complicated. When I was growing up, I associated hot tea with illness. If my sister or I got a stomach bug, my mom would make us sweet hot tea and toast. Actually, we were more of an iced tea family.  I know, it’s a travesty what Americans do to the revered leaf, but I still maintain iced tea a tasty and refreshing drink to be enjoyed especially with lunch or dinner. In my routine, coffee is a must for breakfast and hot tea is reserved for chilly evenings or when I have a cold or upset tummy.

On telly, tea paraphernalia is almost certainly the most common prop and, as my son asserts, provides situations wherein exposition can be presented to the audience. Maybe so, but why tea rather than fizzy drinks, water or milk for example?  I started to ponder about the actual frequency at which tea is consumed in the UK and, more importantly, in what circumstances. Therefore, I set a task for myself to watch a varied sampling of British TV in order to glean tea data from them. I’m practically a sociologist really…

Before I discuss my observations, one interesting non-finding was that sketch comedy shows are virtually tea-free zones. I watched one episode of Smack the Pony and one of Man Stroke Woman and while I saw plenty of beer, I didn’t detect a single mug of the other kind of brew. Are we to extrapolate from this that tea just isn’t funny? Or perhaps tea preparation is too time consuming for a sixty second sketch? Please feel free to comment on my hypotheses about the laugh potential of tea at the end of the post.

Now on to the meat of my deductions (This is an attempt at being clever but only if you are aware that some working class folks, at least at one time, referred to their evening meal as a meat tea). There appear to be a range of reasons why the British drink tea aside from hydration or something with which to wash down a dry digestive biscuit.

Tea drinking can be a part of your daily routine. The first show I watched was an episode of the sitcom Roger and Val Have Just Got In starring Alfred Molina and Dawn French as a rather quirky middle-aged married couple whom we follow around for their first half hour upon returning home. The pair are usually coming in from work, and as they prepare to settle in for the evening, Roger puts the kettle on. The making and consuming of the warm milky beverage is a component of every episode I’ve seen and is obviously part of a winding down ritual for this couple who are most definitely creatures of habit.

Roger and Val relaxing with their after work cuppa image credit BBC

Roger and Val relaxing with their after work cuppa
image credit BBC


The offer of a cup of tea is also a sign of hospitality or caring for someone. When a visitor crosses the threshold of a British person’s domicile, the kettle is immediately put on to boil, a common courtesy that everyone recognizes.

If you are a good spouse or parent as the Starlings patriarch Terry seems to be,  you bring a lovingly prepared brew to your wife or children before they rise in the morning. Notice the shiny electric kettle always at the ready in the background.


New grandparents Jan and Terry Starling taking a tea break image credit Baby Cow Productions


Now let’s say your spouse has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. When bad news has to be broken, there’s often a police officer on hand to make you a comforting hot beverage in your own home.  When you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room while your parent is undergoing a long and risky brain surgery procedure, a cup of lovely steaming tea is likely to be your only companion as you wait with your stomach in knots for news from the operating theatre.

As you may have guessed, I found police and medical dramas to be the environments were the tea flowed most generously per capita. Aside from the fact that the cup gives you something to do with your hands, a soothing mug of PG Tips (or your own favorite brand) provides a comforting, albeit wet, hug to those in stressful situations. I watched an episode of Monroe for the hospital setting and Blue Murder to represent the crime drama genre. Mugs and paper carryout cups were pervasive in most scenes and though I’m sure there was a latte or two thrown in to keep hard-working doctors and coppers alert, most cups had tea bag tags dangling from their rims.

Monroe dashing off to work with traditional tea and toast breakfast image credit ITV

Monroe dashing off to work with traditional tea and toast breakfast
image credit ITV


Speaking of hard work, you might also find yourself gasping for a cup of tea after performing a particularly strenuous murder.


I must then conclude that, for the British, tea is more than a drink. It is a conduit to personal contact and the cure for all that ails you. It’s an awful lot of pressure to put on such a small leaf, I know but tea has gained and retained its formidable reputation over many years. In fact, there’s a song that sums up pretty much everything I have just spent so much time putting into words. Perhaps you too know The Tea Song?


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