Libraries are a strange thing. A throwback to a bygone age - like big moustaches, horse-drawn carriages and basic common decency. Nothing brings home the utter bleakness of unemployment like a mid-morning, mid-week visit to the local library, witnessing the undead reading magazines very slowly or harassed mothers trying to get little Timmy interested in some Enid Blyton while he'd rather unscrew some radiator parts.
I think it’s the smell which establishes this feeling. I don't really know what the particular library odour actually consists of, sort of ink mixed with tears. The only thing bleaker than a mid-morning, mid-week trip to the local library is a mid-morning, mid-week trip to a local church hall to collect a lamp which was purchased at a recent bric-a-brac sale and was now being kept under the protection of man called Ossie who was very camp and wearing a sit-com related jumper from the mid 1970s. This I also did.
To compound my misery, I visited the library, saw a local organised walk I was interested in taking part in, called the number on the flyer and found I was put through to another library. So I was standing outside one library and calling another. This was the conversation.
'I'm calling about the walk'
[Angrily] 'I'll have to go and get someone. You do realise I may be away from the phone for some time and you will just have to wait there'
[I hear her walking away and then shouting. A slow shuffle approaches the receiver and an old lady gets on the line]
'You're interested in the walk?'
[I tried to tell her that I knew about the walk as I was staring at the flyer and just wanted to book a place but she steadfastly ignored me'
'The walk. It starts at...wait I'll have to get my glasses'
'No, I just want to...'
[She shuffles away and returns momentarily]
''Ok I can see now. It starts at 11'
'And it lasts about an hour'
'Then why are you calling for information’?
'I'm trying to book a place'
'Oh you want to book a place'
'Well it starts at 11 and lasts about an hour'
'I'm aware of that'
'I'll have to get a pen'
[She was off again]
[I told her. She comically read back to me a series of letters that had nothing to do with the spelling of my name]
[I spelled my name again. A lady with a pushchair gave me an evil glance. I think she was offended by me using a mobile phone outside a library. But I was outside a library and talking to another library. Surely that’s ok?]
'Ok, I've got your name'
[I had no idea where she had written my name or, in fact, who the hell she was]
'Do you need to know what time it starts’?
'Or how long it is'
'All right then, you're all signed up. It starts at 11'
'Where does it start?'
'Oh, at the library'
This has to be some kind of cruel joke.