The afternoons in Grey Gables with the sun in your eyes and a couple of pints of Old Badger under your belt are ideal for dreaming of Amanda Wang and the new French mum. Monique was in again today, telling me how she saw off a brown bear during her Japanese travels. Kept touching my shoulder, said we should do a language exchange. I couldn’t help encouraging her, ‘you’ve got so much vitality,’ I said and then in lumbered my new line manager unwrapping a sausage baguette and told me to weed the non-fic.
After a while the hairs bristle on your forearms when certain borrowers approach the pod. The matey guy in a bit of rush, his Maserati’s on a double yellow and he’s driving to the South of France, just needs some audio books, ‘some really grisly murders… you know old nuns getting bashed about with a copy of Who’s Who.’ Doesn’t want any trouble from a little librarian oik. But his fines and transactions are so complicated that his car will have been towed away long before it’s all resolved. What do you mean he’s got fines for a book on Croatia? He’s never been there. Oh, apart from the one time he went there ten years ago … oh right… well, can he pay when he comes back. And you look out the window. There’s no Maserati, no South of France. Just a mobility scooter and an old woman in union jack underpants swearing at pigeons
A sixth sense tells you that the surly guy in shades reading a scrunched up copy of Andy McNab is going to practice some mental karate on you when you alert him to his 25p fine. He tells a story so boring and convoluted about living in Italy and changing his Lira into Euro via passenger pigeon and a missing fax from Zagreb that even a Zen master would be soon head-butting the radiator to knock himself into a brighter reality. We’re talking 25p! I spot the signs. Anyone in a white bobble hat who’s wheeling a basket stuffed full of extra absorbent kitchen towels and a Polish surname is going to be full of cold war paranoia and secret cameras and threats to her personal data. ‘I don’t want you to know who my boyfriends are by giving you my borrower number.’ By the time I explain that’s not how a library card works she’s having a full on fit and demanding to speak to the head of Triborough.
But there are readers who you can only feel sorry for, the pathetic and mournful bunch who bring in books, unzip them from suitcases and satchels, unwrap them from damp bathroom towels like dead babies and beg in wavering voices to renew them ‘just this once..’ And you discover they have renewed them the maximum amount, 8 times and each time for a three-week period– 24 weeks in total. That is 6 months! The library is encouraging these people in bad habits of procrastination. Let’s face it they will never read the books. Only once did a lady give me a convincing explanation. She had renewed James Joyce’s Dubliners for six months because the tales stand up to rereading. Usually these women and men, quiet and well-meaning (up to a point) seem to want either Grey Gables to finance their own permanent collection of lovely art books or are so caught up in what the books represent that they can’t be parted. Take Faberge-Magic-Lucas-Delfont-Hedge-Fund-Robinson. She comes in at 5 to eight in her floral leggings and wants to renew The World’s Worst Occult Murders and How to Increase Your Fertility. Why do we let her hang on to these as well as The Victorian Art of Artificial Flowers? Who benefits? The reader tramps home to a place of safety, a basement flat with a single gas hob, touches these treasures and is unable to read them for another six months– the familiar cycle of anxiety and disappointment begins again and the teetering book tower by the bed grows larger reminding you nightly of your failings.