When I was a kid I used to read a lot. I would spend most of my lunchtimes in the school library. It wasn’t that I was anti-social. I just enjoyed Enid Blyton a lot more than I liked being chased around the playground by Peter the pig-tail puller.
Just down the road from my house was the local community library. It was a small building – only about as big as a one bedroom house. Looking back I think it might have been a one bedroom house once – bought and renovated as little as possible by the local council for the good of community book borrowing. It had a front gate and a garden path that lead to the front porch, where you could sit down on a garden chair and read the latest classic at your leisure.
The librarian sat behind a big desk that was located just beyond the entrance. She would nod and smile while stamping books and filling out check out cards. Now and again she would look up and scowl at some noisy kid at the back of a book aisle, put her finger to her lips and emit a loud ‘ssshhhhh.’ I’m pretty sure that was the standard tactic of librarians in those days, and it seemed to work most of the time. The errant kid would either disappear out the front door, or scuttle off into the corner and read for a while. The power of the librarian knew no bounds!
I spent most of my afternoons after school trawling the shelves of the library for interesting fodder. I was a librarian’s dream. I was quiet and unassuming, borrowed the right amount of books, and always brought my books back before they were due. In all honesty, I had finished them all and was in a hurry to borrow some more, it had nothing to do with courtesy or the librarian code of ‘correctness.’ Even so, it was better than bringing the supposed apple to the teacher in the morning. Being a good borrower definitely paid dividends, and I was privy to all the latest releases that a kid could borrow. I was always first on the list.
This routine went on for a few years, until the local RSL club bought some land and built a swish three storey, multi-carparking, licenced poker machined venue at the other end of town. The library was relocated, with as much fanfare as possible, into the old RSL premises, which was considerably bigger than the old one bedroom house. At last, a place for the library to really be a library, with multiple aisles and an insurmountable supply of new books. They even had two new librarians on shift work as the opening hours were increased. I was in library heaven.
Not long after the grand opening of the new library, my Dad informed us that he was going to get a second job at the newly opened RSL club, so that he could ‘learn the ropes’ of bar operation and management, because he was thinking of buying a hotel. I didn’t think much of it at the time – Dad had many dreams and schemes that often didn’t come to fruition, we were all used to it. Twelve months after his ‘workplace bar training’, I was waving a sad goodbye to the new library and all my friends, as we headed north into the country, so that Dad could manage the pub of his dreams, and Mum could be a barmaid.
I’d like to say that things worked out well for us, but they didn’t. The pub management and ownership business wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Mum liked working in an office far better than she liked working behind a bar. There wasn’t a decent library to be found, and I was back to square one with another converted old house and half the supply of books that I had already read. Consequently, when I was old enough, I rebelled and left town for the big smoke, leaving Mum and Dad behind to work out their differences and get back to home ownership and debt in two different states of the country for a while. I went off books for a few years, and discovered that there was a life that didn’t involved reading, although I did learn quite a bit about how to hang ten off a surfboard and how to hang onto a motorbike.
I have now come the full circle, and have once again settled into quiet suburbia and gone through the discipline of study. I have discovered a local library in the area, many miles out of the city. A small, one bedroomed building, with a nice garden out the front, and a veranda that you can sit on to quietly read or watch the world go by.
I’ve also discovered the world of internet book buying, and can be seen quite often with my gold card at the ready, typing my details into a ‘secure’ browser, in lieu of my latest purchase. At this very moment I’m waiting in antcipation for the latest Bryce Courtenay offering, with few reference books on Stone Age history, an Artists bible and a book of quotes thrown in for good measure.
I find I’m still an avid reader of books. My tastes have changed and my subject matter has expanded, but the thrill of opening a new book and immersing myself in it’s journey never leaves me. I can expand my mind or my imagination, simply by turning a few pages every now and again. Reading has given me an education, it has cheered me up when I’m feeling down, excited me with a new discovery, and calmed me when I’ve been anxious. It’s a great form of meditation and medication for what ails me.
Have to go. The local library is only open for two hours today, and I’m running late.