[With apologies to Dylan Thomas – I owe you a drink in the Pearly Gates Tavern, my friend.]
The silly season, so time for a silly blog…
The subject of record offices has cropped up here many times, most notably in the case of the byzantine saga of Carmarthenshire’s archives, and most recently in the rather more straightforward, if arguably even more worrying, case of Northamptonshire’s attempt to impose a daily charge for accessing its archives roughly equivalent to the cost of four premium seats at a Manchester United home match. All in all, I reckon I’ve worked in over forty local archive offices in the British Isles, and I ought to stress that what follows is based on absolutely none of them – although it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that one or more of the points made in the following is based on actual experiences I’ve had in different offices over the course of many years. However, any resemblance to any archivist, living, dead, or cryogenically preserved, is purely coincidental, because pretty well all of the archivists I know are committed, hard working people who care deeply about the heritage for which they have responsibility, and who often work wonders in spite of what can be, all too often, the sheer ignorance or even downright contempt they encounter from some of their superiors. I raise my hat to you, ladies and gentlemen, and hope that you might find a little to amuse you in what follows.
NOTES FOR VISITORS TO LLAREGGUBSHIRE COUNTY RECORD OFFICE
The chief archivist, Jasper ap Gwillim Price, BA (University of Llanddewi Brefi) welcomes you.
1/ Opening Times – (Must we open and let in these…these…people? Oh well, if we must…) The office is open for three days a week, except in months ending in R or Y (see supplementary information). Please note that in months ending in E or L, we are closed for staff training, stocktaking, the annual all-Wales archivists’ darts tournament, etc. The opening days are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning (or afternoon in alternate months), and Friday morning (or afternoon, depending on the phases of the moon, Ramadan, major sporting events, etc). The office opens at 10 and closes at 4; we close for lunch between 11.30 and 2.30 due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, as well as the hiring of a French assistant archivist called Jean-Claude, who still considers our lunch break to be unreasonably brief*. Other closures might be imposed at no notice whatsoever due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc.
(* Please note that, contrary to the lies and fake news being peddled in such scurrilous so-called ‘media’ as certain blogs, Facebook pages, the Times and the BBC, Jean-Claude was appointed to his position entirely on merit after a rigorous process of open competition, and not solely because he is engaged to Miss Chardonnay ap Gwillim Price.)
2/ Saturdays and late opening – Are you serious?
3/ Readers tickets – The office issues its own readers’ tickets. We do not accept CARN tickets (who knows what sort of undesirables those delinquents over in Myfanwyshire let in?). Readers should bring ten forms of identification, three of which should contain a photograph, three of which (not the same as the first three) should show a current address, three of which (not the same as the other two lots of three) should have a signature, plus a tenth form of identification which will be the one you’ve forgotten even if you bring the other nine. (Note: passports and driving licences are not considered sufficiently secure forms of identification). Exceptions are made for people speaking Welsh, people wearing suits and carrying clipboards, and all relatives of the archivists, who are allowed to come and go as they please, take out irreplaceable medieval parchments on indefinite loan, and eat their nice sticky buns at the tables.
4/ Document ordering – Due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, documents are collected from the strongrooms only twice a day, at 9.45 AM and 4.15 PM.
5/ Document issuing – Documents are issued one sheet at a time, in the exact opposite of the order in which you wanted to receive them. They are weighed on production and weighed on return. Any discrepancy of more than 1 microgram will lead to a fine of £50. Any suggestions that the archivists have fiddled the scales will lead to a fine of £100.
6/ Reprographics – Please note that personal digital photography by readers IS STRICTLY NOT PERMITTED, due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, and because our finances rely entirely on photocopying charges. These are currently £10 per word. Photocopying orders may only be placed on Mondays after completing a form in triplicate which requires your name, address, full medical history and three references, including one from a judge (in wig; NOT a magistrate) and one from a bishop (in mitre; NOT Catholic, Orthodox or Coptic). Orders placed on Mondays will be completed within five working years.
7/ Internet access – Many people who come to the office seem to keep referring to this word ‘internet’. Here in Llareggubshire, we do not believe in it; in the opinion of our Head of IT, Rocco ap Gwillim Price, it is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by the Devil to lead astray the weak and unwary. Please note that due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, we do not believe in computers either.
8/ Microfilm – All parish registers must be consulted on microfilm; this is because we have absolutely no idea where the originals are. Due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, there is only one microfilm reader; this tends to have more chance of working during a reasonably warm, dry autumn, especially in even-numbered years. However, please note that most of the microfilms have been snapped by previous readers, or are too deteriorated to use.
9/ Catalogues – Due to shortage of staff because of government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, no cataloguing has been undertaken since 1959. All items catalogued before that date were recatalogued in 1984 by the Reverend Caligula Hughes using a new system of his own devising. Unfortunately, the Reverend Hughes died suddenly of alcohol poisoning in 1985 before he could tell anybody what the new system was.
10/ Reader facilities – There is no car park at the record office; the forty-four parking spaces you can see in front of it are all reserved for the archivist, the archivist’s wife, the archivist’s children, the archivist’s children’s cleaners, senior members of council staff (whether in the county or not), and Very Important Shilpa, even if no-one is entirely sure what she does. Car parking for
proles researchers is available in the town centre. This is six miles away; please note there is no bus. A taxi service is operated by Ap Gwillim Price Luxury Limousines, who charge very reasonable rates; however, they do not work on Tuesday or Wednesday, and sometimes not on Thursday and Friday either. Food and drink may not be brought onto the site. Fortunately, though, the Ap Gwillim Price Café and Masonic Hall is immediately adjacent to the record office, and serves food at very reasonable rates. However, due to compulsory staff rest periods, the café is closed daily between 11.30 and 2.30. Because of government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, there is no toilet in the record office. Researchers are welcome to use the toilet at the Ap Gwillim Price Café; there is a reasonable charge for this.
11/ Access statement – The office is on the third floor. The stair is narrow. There is no lift. Wheelchair users are very welcome.
12/ Remote paid research – For those unable to get to the office, or who have spent many months trying to find it but have not yet succeeded, we recommend the professional research skills of Jasper ap Gwillim Price. Jasper is qualified in history (O-level grade 9, 1964) and charges very reasonable rates.
13/ Supplementary information – Due to government cuts, Health and Safety, etc, the office will not be open in months ending in R or Y until further notice. Thanks to our inspired colleagues in Northamptonshire (twinned with Sicily), we will also now be charging £200 an hour for accessing the records; this modest charge will pay for digitisation, whatever that may be. Any enquiries, howls of complaint, etc, should be addressed to Mrs Melania ap Gwillim Price, Chief Executive, Llareggubshire County Council, c/o Villa Bunga, Berlusconi, Tuscany.
couldn’t give a care deeply about your opinions, and couldn’t give a would welcome your feedback about your visit today. This is because every bloody organisation on the planet now issues feedback forms and Uncle Jasper thought we should have one we are always striving to improve our service to you, our pains in the valued customers. Please tick only one option per question. Your responses will be binned studied carefully.
1/ Did you find the office to be:
• A warm and welcoming environment where everyone is treated as
annoying inconvenient bastards our new friends, regardless of race, religion, colour, creed, gender, sexual preference, sexual frequency, wealth, age, disability, height, hair colour, degree of continence, degree of stupidity, football team, political persuasion, attitude to Brexit, and attitude to a female Dr Who. ( Unless you don’t want a female Dr Who, in which case you can obviously fu –)
• A veritable Nirvana upon earth
2/ Did you find the staff to be:
• Muscled like Greek gods
• Seriously underpaid [note: please tick this option. Please.]
3/ How did you find the reprographic facilities?
[Correction – question should read ‘Did you find the reprographic facilities?’ If answering ‘yes’, could you please tell us where they are?]
4/ Which of the following treasures from our collection did you work on today? Please tick all that apply.
• Your family history
o If ticking this box, did you discover that you were descended from:
Jesus [if ticking this box, please wait while we make a couple of phone calls]
Somebody very rich [if ticking this box, please enter full address]
A mass murderer [if ticking this box, please JUST GO AWAY. Yes, NOW.]
The man you vaguely knew as ‘Uncle Kevin’, but who turns out to be your real father
Nobody special at all, really, just like absolutely everybody else
• The Papers of the Duke of Earl
• The Papers of the Sultan of Swing
• The Confession of Mr J Ripper
• The Personal Archive of Professor I Jones [note: special permission is required to open the Lost Ark of the Covenant]
• The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything
• Albums of photographs:
o Mr A Hitler, Argentina, 1948;
o Mr N Armstrong, film studio in Nevada, 1969;
o Mr E Presley, Barnsley, 1980
o Group photograph containing G W Bush, T Blair, B Obama, D Trump, A Merkel, D Cameron, T May, J Corbyn and J Rees Mogg: endorsed ‘KGB training camp, Volgograd 1988. Best students EVS! You guyz have been a TOTAL HOOT! LOL! Missing you already, Vlad’
• Parish registers, just like absolutely everybody else
And so, on that note, let us take our leave of the good folk of Llareggubshire, and especially of Mr ap Gwillim Price. We all hope the forthcoming court case goes well, Jasper.