It is Tuesday morning and I am writing this in the library. Not the wood-paneled, book-lined inner sanctum of my Downton Abbey dreams, but the Public Library down in the town.
I decided to give the kitchen table a break today—we’ve spent too much time together recently and could both use some space. Besides, it’s covered in sewing stuff and Moshi Monsters and breakfast. It does not feel like a Room of One’s Own, thank you very much Virginia Woolf. Instead I have thrown in my lot with the job-seekers, the local history enthusiasts and the sleepyheads in need of a safe place to roost until the Wetherspoons across the road opens for business.
It’s a while since I’ve worked in a library—and things have moved on a bit. The staff are now the noisiest people in the room, full of loud bonhomie as they stride about with their security fobs bouncing against their denim-clad librarian thighs, pouncing on computers and hammering away at the keys. A woman in killer heels walks past my desk, leaving a trail of spicy perfume. She disappears into a glass-fronted office where a power-point presentation flickers on the wall, and I hear the words, “The end of financial year figures were very impressive,” before the door closes with a hiss of suction. This is library meets small business hub, and somewhere behind one of the many blonde wood doors must be all the books because they certainly aren’t out on the shelves.
I’m not complaining; it’s airy and light and modern in here and there’s a quirky view of the Marks and Spencer café on the other side of the pedestrian precinct; I can see my future lunch from here—a toasted chicken ciabatta and a packet of Percy Pigs. Now that’s something to work towards.
I’ve only been to this library a couple of times since we moved here; once to pick up some leaflets—libraries have the monopoly on leaflets—and another time with Dexter so that I could initiate that wonderful lifelong relationship between young child and local lending library. That second visit was not a success. The blame lies squarely with whoever thought it would be a good idea to line the children’s corner with glass-fronted cabinets full of exciting-looking toys and then to padlock the doors shut so that only the part-time mobile toy librarian, who visits every fifth Monday in the month between the hours of 11.17am and 12.03pm, might gain access to them with her magic library-lady key. Needless to say we left in tears without books, and had to repair to the nearest toyshop.
Dexter has a better library of choice these days—it has a giant cuddly tiger to sprawl on while you choose your books and old-fashioned library cards you colour in yourself. Best of all, it’s in his brand new primary school and mummies aren’t allowed to interfere with book-choosing, despite their best efforts over breakfast on library day. He brought his first book home last week—a picture book about a bear’s Christmas. He’s been feeling Christmassy since about July, so I wasn’t surprised—we read it in about two minutes.
“Why didn’t you get a chapter book?” I asked him, trying not to show my disappointment.
“I wanted to look at the presents,” he replied, poring over the illustrations.
He’s grown up a lot this summer—he can do standing-up wees now, and makes up his own moves on the trampoline involving complex choreography and bits of the dead tree that overhang the safety net. I watch him from the window whilst sitting at the kitchen table in front of my laptop, surrounded by a sea of Moshi Monsters and bits of sewing and the remains of whichever meal we last ate. School is here to rescue us both supposedly; he will learn and explore and make friends, I will have all this extra time to write. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. So why am I in the library, cut off from kettle, fridge and easy to achieve toilet breaks? Well, until Christmas Dexter’s on half days which means that after the break-neck adrenalin rush to get him through the school gates by 8.45am, I have exactly two and a half hours before I need to go and collect him again, which might sound like plenty of writing time, but somehow those couple of hours seem to get swallowed up by all those essential home-running, money-generating chores that I need to perform to keep our little world ticking over. And then there’s the dash back up to school, the burst of joy at being reunited again, before the plodding afternoon ritual of saying No to everything—sweets, telly, buying more Moshis, sweets… We both desperately need more school, but we’re having to wait for it, and our afternoons revolve around chores, enforced edu-play that neither of us enjoy, but which I at least feel we ought to attempt, and finally me giving in to some or all of the requests for sweets, telly and Moshi Monsters.
Except that is for Tuesdays, when a lovely, gentle person picks Dexter up from school, takes him home, gives him his lunch and plays with him. She does not sit moodily at the kitchen table in front of a greasy laptop whilst trying to mend a broken Moshi monster, or half-heartedly reading a bland book about a grumpy bear’s Christmas come-uppance; she plays Dexter’s games his way, and when she attempts to show him how to hold a pen properly, or pronounce ‘gorilla’, he listens. So that’s why I’m at the library—to give Dexter and the child-minder the house to themselves.
Now if I can just stop myself getting distracted by the mouth-breather sitting next to me, the foghorn librarians and Marks and Sparks I might actually be able to write something.
Maggie’s story ‘Creative Writing’ is published in The Mechanics’ Institute Review Vol. 10, She will be reading it at Waterstones on Gower Street, W1 on Monday 7th October. You can follow her on twitter @maggiewomersley.