Libraries gave us power


In Wells-Next-The-Sea, on the north Norfolk coast, in the sunny courtyard of a cafe called Bang!, which is rather lovely and serves a decent coffee.  I am reading this week’s Big Issue, bought from the lady on the High Street in Wells rather than our usual chap on Bridlesmith Gate in Nottingham (unavoidable disloyalty).

The Big Issue has been running a big literacy campaign recently and as part of that have focused on the importance of libraries in improving access both to books and to other essential services that many people would otherwise be left without.

At the very end of 2016, Nottingham City Council approved plans to sell the site of the Nottingham Central Library to developers. To be turned into new, shiny things but almost certainly not to remain as a library or any other kind of public service. There had been a vocal campaign to save it, with many concerned about the impact the loss of such large resource of help, joy and information would have, not only on the city’s most marginalised and vulnerable people, but on all the library’s users.

This all got me thinking about my own relationship with libraries and why they are so important to me. My local library as a child was Henleaze Library in Bristol, which remains open at present. My mother would take me and my sister on a Saturday, before food shopping at the Waitrose over the road. Many of the books I remember from this age were library books borrowed from Henleaze, and some of them became life-long favourites, such as Lucy Boston’s ‘Green Knowe’ series, which, having never owned them, I have had to buy copies of as an adult. I was also rather partial to the Doctor Who spin-off novelisations, although I recall some of these being better than others!

The best part of two decades later, I found myself back amongst the bookshelves at Henleaze, although this time in the grown-up section. I had just moved back to the UK after three years in Australia, and passed a bewildering seven months trying to rebuild a life in a country which seemed no longer familiar. I worked the same part time job I had had as a student and stayed in my old bedroom in my parents’ house. A steady supply of books kept me feeling like I was moving forward, finding new experiences when the real world felt a little like it was moving backwards.

A year or so later, I found myself in Nottingham and Beeston Library became my local. Unemployed, isolated and feeling more than a little bit lost, the library became like a lifeline. It was somewhere that I could go and be a part of despite having no money, and, like Henleaze a year earlier, it gave me the chance to have experiences through reading that were otherwise closed to me. Having access to the latest books despite my sorry state made me feel like I was still living.

Libraries are also great for readers or all ages as they allow you to read outside your usual habits and comfort zone without worrying about having to enjoy it because you have paid eight or nine pounds (or more) for a book. I think carefully about the books I buy, but will borrow books from the library on the basis of cover art or a review quote on the back alone. If it turns out it’s not your thing, you can just take it back for somebody else to try. Because of this, I have had the joy of discovering a wide range of books, their different voices and perspectives, that it is otherwise unlikely I would ever have picked up.

Bromley House

I am now lucky enough to be a member of a beautiful private library in Nottingham (Bromley House, in the photo above), but I still visit my fantastic new local library in West Bridgford. It makes me feel so happy to see how busy it is, particularly with families at the weekend, and seeing children getting the same experience that I did as a child. I hope a library will always be there for them as they become adults, and for their own children, however they use it and whatever role it takes in their lives.


Our confessions will be televised

I decided I wanted some goth boots recently (read: became obsessed with buying black Dr Martens to go with my cherry reds). By way of tenuously connected research, I took to YouTube to watch a lot of old Marilyn Manson videos. Starting with my favourites from 1998’s Mechanical Animals album, which I bought in the week of its release in Bristol’s Virgin Megastore, and which was one of my first album loves. It remains one of my greatest loves frankly, it’s a glorious album and still sounds new, even almost 20 years (gosh) later. The eternal teenager in me still thinks the Dope Show video is the coolest thing ever. Twiggy’s gold catsuit, I guess…



(A couple of weeks ago the BBC screened The Man Who Fell to Earth as part of their Bowie-programming. I’d seen the film before many years ago, but never clicked until now that the opening of the Dope Show video was a homage to the opening of that film.)


From Mechanical Animals I drifted further back, back into the real raw-goth Manson days of the mid-1990s. I watched the videos for Lunchbox and Dope Hat and realised I’d actually never seen them before. This often happens when I’m scratching around on YouTube at music I first got into as a teenager. Music videos are so everywhere now, it’s easy to forget that 15-20 years ago if you didn’t have MTV (i.e if your parents didn’t pay for cable) there wasn’t really any way to see them. Even if you had internet access, it took like 9 hours to download a 4 minute mp3 off Napster, there was no way you were going to be watching videos. Sometimes, by the late 90s, CD singles included the video, which would play when you put the disc in your computer (the Dope Show CD single actually had this function), but it wasn’t very common. Occasionally, a TV show (Top of the Pops, or one of the Saturday morning magazine shows) would screen a video in lieu of a live performance, but usually only the big chart singles. And that was really it. Lots of music-fannish people my age seem to have a story of finding a rare source through which they could briefly watch MTV, on holiday in a hotel for example, and this being astonishingly mind-expanding.

I was often vaguely aware of what the videos were like. Fans who had seen them would post descriptions in online forums, sometimes someone would post some stills. This in particular made the Dope Hat video seem familiar. But I had never seen it in full. Often these days, when listening to new music, I am as familiar with a video as I am with a song (thanks, YouTube), but in those days it was just the music itself that crept into your head. By the time YouTube and its ilk came along, I’d forgotten a video would have even existed. Incredibly, this actually happened with the video for Nancy Boy by Placebo: despite this being one of my favourite songs for the best part of two decades, I only watched the video for the first time last year. So I often have these little revelations. And I love it. It’s like experiencing the joy of the discovery all over again, with an extra dimension.