The library was in Ashburton Park, round the corner from where we grew up. I went there and rode my skateboard down the small slopes, travelling further and faster than I ever had before. It was in the small gardens outside the library where me and Maryann first split up; got back together; split up again. I remember the library as foreboding. But that wasn’t a kid word. That was a word I must have picked up later.
My sister was bunking off on days she had Mr Moore. Had her first period in his class. He stopped her going to the loo. So she went to the park, hung around the library. It had dirty red brick walls and its entrance was behind gates in the children’s playground, full of mums in sportsgear with loud voices and needling movements. My sister didn’t usually go in. When it rained she stood under the bandstand, if no kids were drinking or smoking there. She took my Nan’s Catherine Cookson’s back though, if they were late. But she didn’t borrow books. She liked watching videos of Madonna.
Sitting under the horse chestnut my sister had a view of the pond and the buses to Beckenham. She also had a view of the lane that led to our house so she could see if mum came along. Mum was the reader. She got me into the library and fantasy, the Belgariad and the ones with the Ws in the title (Wizards and the War Guild the one I remember). Libraries were posh and unknown then, like kisses. I came to like both. I believed in books even if I didn’t believe in myself. The library loaned it to me.
I learnt later my sister never had a library card. It was during a dinner with her boyfriend George who buttoned his shirt to the top and ‘didn’t drink anymore’ and told us my sister was afraid of the library. Not like her smart little brother, he said, and I felt ashamed for what I’d believed in. Her little brother who was reading Hornblower and throwing his smartness in her face. I don’t remember doing that. Maybe I did. I doubt I was any less cruel than the next kid. My sister was bullied since thirteen. It turned out, I discovered later, she was dyslexic, and never learnt to read.
(First published at Writers For Libraries, a campaign to protest Newcastle City Council’s proposals to close 10 out of the city’s 18 libraries, as well as other leisure services such as swimming pools, and to cut 100% of its support for the arts.)
Image (c) Shemer