There are certain borrowers that make the librarian’s task hellish. The delusional are bad. Mr Singh is convinced he is an ex-Gurkha, dines with Kate Moss at The Ivy and is kept on a monthly retainer by the Sultan of Brunei. While on active service in the ‘Nam he killed 4 Viet Kong with his bare arse.
A quick glimpse of his borrower records indicates he lives in a hostel on the Cromwell Road and never left the UK. Nothing wrong with an active fantasy life but he insists on you believing him. That’s what we all want, someone to believe in us. I am guilty too. I wanted Amanda Wang to believe I was writing a libretto. She waltzed in with her Madame Pompadour hairstyle and thigh length suede boots and gave me the usual ‘darling boy’ nonsense and I knew with her interest in the theatrical arts I had to detain her. So when she asked me what I was working on, ‘I can’t believe with all those ideas buzzing around your pretty little head you’re just simply shelving,’ I came up with Unleash The Lobster!
My opera is based on Gerard de Nerval’s crack up when he was spotted walking his pet lobster on a blue leash in the Tuileries Garden, ‘Madam, I have a deep affinity for sea creatures. Silence is so much more preferable than the yap of your miniature griffon…’ Yes, I had it all planned out. A hallucinatory chorus of man-sized crayfish and North Atlantic prawns would pop up by the flowerbeds clacking their pincers like castanets. They would explain the symbolic power of sea creatures and how we are all linked to madness and the phases of the moon and the listener would understand how pragmatic madness is and that curious displacement would have occurred: dream would have replaced reality and my job in the library with its stinging unsatisfied lusts would be my weekly bad dream.
Sadly, there is no libretto and now I am embarrassed by Amanda Wang asking if she can see a draft. I glance across to the newspaper section where Mr Singh is frightening young mothers with his gallant soldier schtick, opening doors, standing ramrod straight and unnecessarily manhandling pushchairs up flights of stairs they have no intention of climbing and realise we’re not dissimilar. Play actors spinning fantastic threads that are almost as threadbare as his trousers. I might even move into the hostel — it seems quite cheap for central London.
Are you a phoenix about to rise from the ashes? your library card reveals more than you think
One of the new roles of the modern-day librarian is to act as unpaid therapist to the general public. In Grey Gables we have a selection of plastic cards. The choice of card is a direct line to the unconscious. You can choose from traditional images of Georgian town houses, teddy bears with legs akimbo, kittens climbing trellises and graffiti stained underpasses. What about a kitten sprayed with graffiti or a soft toy abandoned on a ring road? That is too close to the wrong sort of human experience, the one that is never discussed but informs our day-to-day lives. Yes, I am talking about that army of bandaged bears with sawdust spilling from the seams of their sailor suits. You and me darling, shop-soiled soft toys!
I have grown a beard to look more like the traditional therapist. I remember visiting Dr Bozovich on Tuesday afternoons when he treated me for Groubillard’s Syndrome before declaring me untreatable. ‘Madness is a journey, a reintegration of disparate parts into a new entity. Good luck with it!’ He had a grizzled grey beard and a chilly bedside manner, he was always drifting off and, once, when he thought I wasn’t looking, he began flossing behind my back. I have adopted his manner with the general public. After listening to lots of waffle about reservation fees and delays on public transport I ask, while twisting the grey hairs on my chin, ‘what exactly do you want?’
I offer the patient a chair and tell them to relax. An Irish woman sat down and told me she had stopped menstruating and had trouble with her teenage son. I have the sort of face that elicits confidences, confidences I don’t really want but therapeutically I can turn it to my advantage. I nodded sympathetically while I tapped on the card display with my biro drawing her attention back to the imagery. ‘When did you feel you needed a new card? You say you lost it… wasn’t that more a deliberate act. A mislaying. Do you have a young man in your life at the moment?’ Continue reading
“There is no transition as in a small country town, no soft gradations of wider lawns and orchards, with houses becoming less dense, but a dead stop. I believe the people who live there mostly go into the City. I have seen once or twice a laden ‘bus bound thitherwards. But however that may be, I can’t conceive a greater loneliness in a desert at midnight than there is there at mid-day. It is like a city of the dead; the streets are glaring and desolate, and as you pass it suddenly strikes you that this too is part of London.” Arthur Machen, The Inmost Light
I wonder how many people today would recognise this description of Harlesden transformed by Machen’s horror of vacuity, the sense that the deserted high street peters out into a footpath and then perhaps a sheep-track and then nothing. Of course there are fields and public houses but this description is key to the horror of the story: the fear that we live in a pasteboard world, some feeble shops, rows of red and white houses that can be swept away in the wink of an eye. And if houses can be papered over what about their inhabitants? Dr Black’s wife, outwardly beautiful and a devoted companion to her husband, suffers another sort of nothingness, an evil vacuity that lets other things in. Continue reading