Working in a university library, the first few weeks of October are always the busiest of the year. We’re meeting all the new students and showing them around the library, as well as running sessions for returning students. For students as well as staff, there are lots of highs and lows packed into the first few weeks of term.
I remember being a first year illustration student at the same university 11 years ago. I was intensely homesick, but I was meeting new people and exploring an exciting new city. I remember being set at least three different concurrent projects in the first few weeks of term, and working hard to juggle the different tasks. Things gradually settled into a more manageable rhythm after that, and it didn’t seem so overwhelming. I met lots of great people during my time at university, and created some projects I'm really proud of. It still feels strange to me that I'm now working as a librarian in the same university, getting a new perspective on the university experience.
World Mental Health Day
Wednesday 10 October was World Mental Health Day. I’ve written before about the importance of mental health awareness. Since September 2017, I’ve lost both an uncle and a friend to suicide. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been affected by mental health issues in some way.
While I think universities and workplaces in the UK have come a long way in recognising the need for mental health support for students and staff, there is still a lot that could be done. In addition to the counselling service and the employee assistance programme, my university has a network of mental health first aiders. There is currently a petition to make it a requirement that every workplace in the UK have mental health first aiders, which I think is a good start to more fully supporting everyone.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra
On Tuesday, Alexej and I went to see Penguin Café at EartH in Hackney, supporting the Greenpeace campaign to protect the Antarctic Ocean. I’ve written before about the group, and the dream that made composer Simon Jeffes start Penguin Café Orchestra in the early 70's. His son, Arthur, also a composer, created Penguin Café as a tribute to his father.
Penguin Café play a NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert in June 2017
I played cello in my school orchestra for ten years, and I’ve always loved the sound of strings and a full orchestra. There is something so special about Penguin Café Orchestra’s music. While many of their pieces aren’t so different from classical orchestral music, they also seamlessly incorporate dial tones, rubber bands, a melodica, and drum machines played with chopsticks. At the gig on Tuesday, the music was accompanied by Greenpeace footage of penguins, seals, whales, and stunning Antarctic landscapes. The group played four new pieces, one for each of the penguin varieties found in the Antarctic - Gentoo, Adelie, Bootstrap, and Emperor. It was quite an experience to hear these songs performed for the first time in public, with the backdrop of footage of Antarctic penguins in the wild.
From my illustration work, it should be no surprise how much Alexej and I love penguins. It’s heartbreaking to think that their habitat and food sources are slowly disappearing. The petition to protect the Antarctic already has more than 2.3 million signatures, but Greenpeace are trying to get as many as possible in the next few weeks.
International Sloth Day
Of course, even though my children’s book features lots of penguins, its main character is a little sloth called Tempi who marches to the beat of his own drum. There is also a badger with a balalaika, a fluffy little tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) with a shamisen, tamanduas (Central and South American anteaters) with panpipes, tap-dancing seagulls, and a spider monkey punk rock band. You wouldn't believe how much fun I've had drawing them all!
Next Saturday, 20 October, is International Sloth Day, and to celebrate, I’ll have some Tempi related prizes to give away. Watch this space!
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