___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

library thing

I've been reminiscing lately, for all sorts of reasons, some happy, some sad, some just melancholic.

For some reason I got to thinking about the library of my boyhood, a single room of books in a terrace house owned by the local council. This was in an old village on the side of a hill in Yorkshire. I'd go there with my dad first of all, before I was old enough to go by myself, either walking down the hill and back or, if there was petrol in the car and the car was running, driving down. To get to the heavy library door you had to cross a slab of old stone, worn and weathered, and often slick and dangerous in the wet. Beneath the stone slab, was a darkness, leading to the cellar. The library door took some opening, and inside there was a narrow square of hallway with bare, painted steps leading up to a place I knew was out of bounds. Instead of going up the stairs you turned right, through another heavy door with a  circular knob that rattled for all the years I remember using the library (before it was closed and the books taken in some odd amalgamation with the newer community centre), and there was that certain smell unique to libraries, there to greet you along with the silence of dreaming books. 

There was a grill fire in an old chimney breast, and the fire smelled when it was lit. Rosemary the librarian's reception counter stood in the middle of the room. There was a microfiche reader that looked magnificently science-fictional and took up more space than was probably good for it, and there were white walls with shelves up to a boy's head, and on the shelves were books. Lots of books. More books than I'd ever seen. Many were old and grubby, but still had a shine to them because of their protective covers. They were all special to me, things to be amazed about.

Even though it was a small library, I'd be lying if I said I read everything in there, but I certainly got through everything in the small children's section. Often more than once. 

I thought I was smart back then, so figured that if I looked at an adult title or two and pretended to put them all back on the shelves but really kept one for myself, I could sneak that title into the children's corner, and then - criminal genius - make a louder show than usual of taking it out of the children's section and over to Rosemary.  I'm sure I wore a most convincing expression of innocence as I presented her with some horror novel or violent thriller.

I used to think Rosemary was a stern fearsome person, but looking back, I realise now that she was looking after me. With only the odd raised eyebrow behind her glasses, she let me take out more titles from the adult section than she might have done. I read a lot of yellowback Gollancz SF, thanks to Rosemary, long before I truly understood them. And plenty of middle books in fantasy sagas. (For some reason the library never had book one of a trilogy or series. To this day I kind of prefer reading book two of a series before book one. A hangover from those days, I suspect; though to some extent I do think the second book of a trilogy is more interesting if you haven't read the first one.) I read a lot of everything.


But there was, quite appropriately it seemed to me, more than a little bit of myth and legend about the library among us kids. I mentioned that beneath the library was an entrance to a cellar and it looked very much like a cave. The rumour went that there was a passage from the library, running underground, to the ruined old folly of the criminal Black Dick, and that his ghost walked the passage during the day, until sundown, when it haunted the ruin itself. 

One day I would dare go down there, I told myself, and see if I could find the tunnel. I would take my best friend and my brother and his friend, and we would use a torch like the posh kids in The Famous Five did, and explore, and probably find buried treasure and be chased by a ghost. Or a man disguised as a ghost, which was often what ghosts turned out to be in detective fiction and on Scooby Doo on the television. It all seemed possible, beneath the library, as if the secret worlds in the books had slipped out of the pages and been pulled down by gravity into the cellar and the secret tunnel. We would have our adventure and it would be scary and exciting.

One day we would do that.

But of course, we never did.

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