Today, I am in the University library.
I had to park in the street on a public road, so it’s a bit of a trek through campus to get to the library. At least I don’t have to run the gauntlet of homeless people, and the parking is free. I like this campus, it is asthetically pleasing. There’s lots of greenery: sports fields edged with trees and foliage. I did my undergraduate degree here. Then, any Tom, Dick or Harry could walk in the library, if they wanted. Now, there’s a turnstile at the entrance and you have to swipe a card to get in. I flash my alumni card at the librarian and I’m in, ready for some brain action. The place is virtually empty. She says they had their exams last week, so they’re all probably still in bed with a hangover. I think this is good. You literally can’t get a seat just before exams, so basically I have a choice of where to sit. I go for my favourite spot on the ground floor next to the windows. My view is grassy knoll and shrubs. I plug in all my appliances and get out my pack of snacking dates. It looks like I’m settled for the day. To get acclimatised I start reading a book about the rise of socialist fiction. This is what I like doing. I toy with the idea of becoming a Professor. People who know me will know I collect stuff. Maybe I should collect letters. There are the same study booths. Maybe I should have carved my name and the date into the woodwork. You know left my mark. I browse the library catalogue. I find my PhD. I did leave my mark.
I regularly go to the public library. It can be a bit of a trial.
To get to the library I have to park-up in the multi-storey and walk through the shopping centre. Today I took a diversion. This is mainly so I won’t see the girl who sells The Big Issue in the market place. She’s some kind of foreign person. She wears a black scarf and colouful clothing. She’s very outgoing and loud. She’ll wave to you from across the way and shout, ‘How are you today?’ First time, I gave her £3.00 for the paper, and a hot sausage roll I’d just bought from Greggs. She showered me with thanks and God bless yous. Second time, I gave her £3.00 but didn’t take a paper as it was the same edition. Next time, I did likewise. It’s like becoming a regular thing. So today I took different route to the library, through the park. I feel bad about this.
One day I sat on a park bench with my subway and cappachino, and an elderly scruffy bewhiskered man approached me and jokingly admonished me for sitting on ‘his’ bench. He asked me if I minded if he also sat on the bench. I said, ‘no, it’s okay. I’m going now anyway.’ He apologised profusely before asking me if I could let him have £1.15. I said, ‘that’s a very specific amount. It won’t get you much. What do you want it for?’ He said he wouldn’t tell me a load of bull-shit but the truth of the matter is that he is an alcoholic, and he wanted to buy a can of beer. After further interrogation, he revealed that he was living in the park in the bushes, the rangers knew about it, and he was quite cosy thank you. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘You’ve put me in a moral predicament. If I give you the money I won’t be doing you any favours, I’d just be feeding your addiction.’ (I’d been told before not to give beggars money as they just piss it up the wall) ‘Well, hark at me!’ I thought. Anyway, I just gave him a fiver from my purse to do with what he liked.
And then there’s the homeless youth that possesses the alley way that runs from the car park to the shopping precinct. He sits wrapped in a sleeping bag with a cup hopefully placed near his feet. Today he had an older colleague for company. While I was passing he asked me in a gruff voice if I had any spare change ‘love’. I looked into his grey haggard face and said, ‘no, sorry, I haven’t.’ He gave a shrug and sincerely thanked me for talking to him. That’s all I said though, and I momentarily thought he was being sarcastic. But then I thought, most of the time people probably don’t even see him, never mind talk to him. Most of the time, neither do I.
I don’t go to the public library for the peace and quiet or to utilise their literary resources (although, to be fair I did find Margaret Powell’s autobiography here. And they have some good dvds). I mainly go for the free internet. I have my own portable wifi, but it’s limited capacity and it costs, so I am careful. Tramps, drug addicts, and delinquents on bail or facing imminent incarceration frequent the IT suite in the library. I know this because I hear them talking. It stinks in here today. A skeletal spaced-out white-as-a ghost faced youth dangles across a chair, stale alcohol fumes exhude from his pores. His partner in crime is erratically pacing the room, looking out of the window every few seconds. He mutters something about someone ‘tekking their time’ and looking like ‘they ain’t coming’. They’re waiting for a special delivery, I think. The pacing one keeps glancing at me suspiciously. I try to look uninterested and chavvy. I cough like I have TB. I don’t want no trouble. I’m having a problem logging on to the computer. I get up and approach the help desk in the main part of the library. I’m chewing on an apple (conspicuously). The librarian says to me, ‘It’s against the law to eat in the library.’ I (chameleon-like) want to tell her ‘fuck off!’ I don’t. I quickly stuff the rest of the apple, core and all, into my mouth and garble, ‘oh, well I don’t want to get arrested do I.’ I don’t mention the poor old smelly lady huddled next to the heater scoffing a hot potato.
Tomorrow, I’m going to the university library instead.
I recommend anyone who is studying autobiographies to have a go at writing their own. The inherent issues in recording one’s life life immediately become apparent: ‘why?’, ‘right?’, ‘really?’, ‘when?’, ‘joke?’, ‘funny?’, ‘appropropriate?’, ‘libellous?’, ‘sued?’, ‘arrested?’ Other things: ‘my story’, ‘my words’, ‘my identity’, ‘pick the bones’.
I also recommend anyone who is not studying autobiographies to have a go at writing their own, particularly, if you are a working-class woman.
When I have finished, I will try to get it published. If I can’t, I will stick it in the loft.
Thus far, I have two titles to my autobiography. The first is Memoirs of a Coalminer’s Daughter. I think this carries some gravitas and fits in with the idea of the continuation of the tradition of working-class women’s autobiography. The other title, ‘Why it was a bad idea to get me Les Miserables dvd for Christmas’, is utilised in a postmodern sense, and its significance will become evident as my autobiography progresses.
Chapter One: ‘April Fool’. This is intended as a reference to my birthday, albeit when looking back at some of the things I have done and said, I cringe and think, ‘What a fucking idiot!’ On these occassions ‘April Fool’ seems wholly appropriate as a pre-text. It also affords me some comfort in knowing that I’m not entirely to blame for my own foolishness: I can’t help it, it’s in the stars.
Case in point: I remember when I was doing A-level psychology, on one occasion the teacher said she thought that it was a good idea if we all wore (what I heard as) mouse suits. ‘Well, yeah,’ I said, ‘it could be interesting and fun, although perhaps we would get a bit hot and the long tails might be a health and safety issue.’ She gave me a strange look of incomprehension (the sort I have now grown accustomed to). ‘Mao suits,’ she said, ‘MAO SUITS!.. M.A.O. Do you not know what a Mao suit is?’ Well, quite frankly I did not. (Let’s get this straight from the start, nobody told me anything.) ‘Oh,’ I giggled nervously, ‘I thought you said mouse suits.’ (Psychologists and mice, you know…long tradition and all that.) Needless to say, the rest of the class found this episode quite amusing. The teacher did not…she gave me a look of disdain, muttered something about me being ‘a silly girl’ and turned away. My heart sank. Henceforth, she would look on me as a moron and they would probably have a good laugh about it in the staff room. She didn’t bother explaining to me what a mao suit is, or why she thought it would be a good idea if we all wore one. But I was intrigued, and after the lesson I made a point of finding out for myself. This was probably my impromtu introduction to communist ideaology. I didn’t think much on it at the time. Now I’ve had time to reflect on the significance of what she was talking about, I would probably agree.
Last Tuesday morning I ran into the Quorn hunt while out for my morning constitutional. Wait, I’m not going to launch into a diatribe about the ethics of hunting, but it did
unexpectedly remind me of my horsey days and prompted this:
Chapter Two: Tally-oh no!
I remember going hunting with the Quorn. This happened. Twice.
After leaving school I went to work as a working-pupil at a riding school in the Vale of Belvoir. I lived-in which meant I got food and lodgings, a very small monetary allowance and free riding lessons. In return I had to look after some horses and give riding lessons. There were more or less six of us working-pupils. We all lived together in what was called the bunk house. It was really a (not very) glorified large shed. There was a living room, a small kitchen area, and a bedroom that was partitioned into six small spaces with wardrobes and chests of draws, just big enough to hold a single bed. It was really cold in the winter. Once, we had to be temporarily transferred to the guest rooms in the main house, in case we died of hypothermia while sleeping. At night, we had company. There were rats or mice running about, I daren’t look! (On reflection, it was a really big health and safety issue to have our living quarters situated so close to the muck heap!) We were always busy. There was always something that had to be done: horses fed and watered, mucked-out, groomed, excercised, and tacked-up. In addition we had to give and have riding lessons; clean bridles and saddles; sweep the yard; rake the indoor school and outdoor menage; and collect the horse poo from the fields. We used to hack out in the woods around Belvoir Castle. Such a lovely place! On one occasion, I was having a riding lesson in the indoor school when someone unexpectedly opened the massive metal sliding doors, and the horse I was on (the inconsiderate beast) seeing daylight, decided to call it a day and bolted for freedom. My face caught the edge of one of the doors and I was deposited on the unforgiving concrete ground. I looked like the elephant man for about six weeks after. We worked really hard. There just wasn’t time to watch the telly, and the internet hadn’t been invented. I got one day off a week. I went home and slept all day. I know what people mean when they say they were poor but happy. We were our own little community. A few years ago, when I felt sad, I went back to visit the riding school. I couldn’t find it. I remembered it was down a hill and on the left-hand side, just after the bend. I drove up and down the road a few times thinking my memory had got it wrong. Then I realised. There was a new housing development where the riding school used to be. It was all gone.
To cut a long story short: