Not a phone but a Library! This post was spurred by the fact that on the programme The Books We Really Read with Sue Perkins. Sue got the chance to chat some mobile library users in Devon after having visited Agatha Christie’s home Greenway near Dartmouth in search of why people read crime.
Libraries featured very early on in my childhood. In the second place we lived we were no more than 5 minutes from the main Central Library. Mum and I would go to the library and come back with a trolley full of books. Yes a trolley full. We were regularly stopped by the local beat policeman (remember them days?) who used to ask to see what we had in our trolley. He knew it was books as he was a regular visitor to where we lived which was actually a flat attached to the place where my father worked. This makes us sound like we were living a life of crime but no, we used to have a lot of break-ins and alarms would go off at a regular basis and then the police would always arrive first (remember them days?). I digress, the reason for checking was at the time of the early eighties there was a large spate of book thefts from the libraries.
The children’s section was downstairs in the basement, complete with orange carpet and you had to go downstairs to this part of the library and not the lift which only went up! There were windows but I always thought them strange because you were looking up at the world not out at it. Mum would go off to find her books and then one of use would find the other when they had chosen the books they wanted. The books my mum invariably chose were large print books and I remember vividly the books all hardback and the colours red and green. I still see them on the shelves in the library today and I had to find a picture as an example to make sure my memory was not playing tricks on me! Dick Francis was one of her reads as well.
We then moved on from this flat, which has sadly now been razed to the ground. That in itself evokes many emotions.
There was a library not 5 minutes away but a whole mile away from my new home! Now I can walk it in 15 minutes but when you are young everywhere seems so long to get to. I remember going to the library though never on a Wednesday because it was always closed and again picking the books. As I got older I was allowed to go on my own, on the bus, as it stopped opposite the library and the bus back was on the same side as the library. I also joined in the group activities during the Summer Holidays. Reading and making things!
I think I know my grandmother still has some examples of my earlier work still up in her home now despite my protestations in getting her to take it down and that they are over 25 years old. But you know how wily grandmothers can be.
So with this library seeming so far away, there was the opportunity to go to the mobile library which actually came to our little place, you could call it a village I suppose, but it is one of the places you drive through on a long main road and have travelled through about 5 different postal addresses. Just to complicate matters, the mobile library came under the county scheme, but all the other libraries in the city are under the city library as we are classed as a Unitary Authority (I think). This is still the case today, the county council run the mobile library element.
The mobile library came on a Friday, every Friday in fact and watching it back into the small space allocated for it next to the local pub was a wonder. That used to fascinate me so much! Sadly the space now has 80 retirement flats on it and the pub is going to be an Indian takeaway when the squatters move out.
The children’s books were at the far end of the bus, and whenever I had a Friday off from School whether holiday or those newly introduced Teacher- Training Days that started in the eighties (they might not have done but I can remember them being a rather new thing) I would trip up to the library. In the morning because my mum worked in the afternoon and I would have to go with her to work or stay at home and obviously read.
These were the days before computerised library tickets! I cannot remember how it worked now? I think they took something out of the book and put it in the little card with your name and address on?
So what books did I borrow? Lots! There was a book about cats and when cats have kittens which was borrowed quite frequently because at the time our cat did have kittens and we had no idea what to do! We took the book back once thinking we would be ok – but had to get it back out the following week! I was sent up to get it, whilst my mum was with the cat, the kittens were born on the Saturday whilst my mum was at work. Another memory triggered from just writing about one visit to the library.
The book I definitely can remember is H.E.Bates The Darling Buds of May, and example is below. I do not think it was the exact book but it was definitely one with a Beryl Cook illustration which I have always thought sums up Ma Larkin to a tee! It was when the programme had just come out on ITV with David Jason and a very young Catherine Zeta-Jones and being adapted from a book – I wanted to read the book. In fact books; The Darling Buds of May (1958), A Breath of French Air (1959),When the Green Woods Laugh (1960),Oh! To Be in England (1963), andA Little of What You Fancy (1970)
I devoured them all and I could only have been around 13 or 14 when I read these. They are quite bawdy in places but I really think I was not aware of it as a young teenager. I bet you would not get teenagers nowadays reading such books! No Vampires to be seen. I think I would like to revisit them and see how I feel some years later.
I would love to go back to the mobile library but times have changed. The library still visits every other Thursday between 1330 and 1530. I am never going to get the chance. I just hope someone is using it and that there are some young people getting as much enjoyment out of it as I did. A bus full of books!
Memories are funny things and I am sure they play tricks on us. But just seeing that one clip last Saturday really opened up so many and so many more as I was writing it. Perhaps I will reflect again.