I was in the library on Tuesday last week, pouring over various books in the history section. During school, I adored the subject, it was my best friend at times. The wars (one and two), the Egyptians, the cold war and the Space Race. I used to spend hours reading and researching niche points for essays and projects that I would then proudly turn over to my despairing teachers. Enthusiam
it seems, has a limit. But leaving school, working, settling down, divorcing, giving up and all the rest of life soon took over. I had no time for history - my own present state of being was hectic enough for me. I did miss what I learnt terribly and tried my best to keep up with the latest big finds and debates, but as good as the documentaries on BBC Four are, nothing compares to trying to tease out the meaning of a 'primary
source' yourself. There were times when I would abstain entirely - go completely cold turkey and ignore even the poppiest of pop-history. I remember when 'Saving Private Ryan' won accolades from the critiques and public alike, but it took me months to watch it myself. In truth, I never quite understood the film's cult following, but then, no one asked for my opinion.
But you know what they say about your first love, you never can quite shake them. I would always give in and dip my toe into the murky waters of time. And then, just like that, it was all over. I had retired after years of working in the city and did what every office-worker thinks is an original idea and moved out into the country. Devon to be precise. I had found a small cottage in a tiny
hamlet just outside of a moderately civilised village (well, it had a Tesco), and relocated there within a month of handing in my notice. The hamlet consisted of one street, a war memorial (with five names carved stoutly into its base), a post office that doubled as a convenience store, and a library, which was, as I said, where I was this last Tuesday. In the history section.
The library itself is so small and out of the way that it did not manage to entirely convert to the ubiquitous and thoroughly sensible Dewy Decimal System. Books were instead organised in the same way as charity shops line their shelves. If the book was brightly coloured with an amusing title it was assumed to be a children's novel, if it had a place on the front then it was in the travel section, which was also the
geography and languages section. The 'English' section was the Encyclopedia Britannica and the not-quite-completed Completed Works of Shakespeare. Propping up King Lear was a battered old copy of a Yellow Pages, and Love's Labours Lost was padded with an Almanac, which would probably make any performance marginally more interesting.
The history section was the worst, however. There was Margret Thatcher beaming down between Julius Ceasar and a Victorian cookery book. Next to a manual on how to defend your yurt was an idiot's guide to driving a Panzer Tank (imagine if a yurt dweller attempted to defend against a Nazi force!), and for some reason 'Look Who's Back' had been considered historically accurate enough to be on par
with Martin Gilbert's 'The Routledge Atlas of Arab-Israeli Conflict'. But in all, I did not mind one bit. It was quaint, funny even - that the entire world sought to categorise and order things and in my new little bubble, none of that really mattered. History was, well, history. One could be lead from the U.S.S.R. to Chinese pottery from the Yuan Dynasty in one short swipe of the hand. The dust that settled on Napoleon
settled just as thickly on Harald Hardrada and Emmeline Pankhurst. I had been gifted a syllabus with everything on it, and all the time I could possibly wish for to study diligently. And so, I did. Every week I would visit the muddled library with my plastic card and take out a selection of books. Some I chose out of interest, some out of disinterest, and some at
complete random. Once I had to return a book to a young Master Righton, who attended the local school. It had transpired that his classmates had stuffed it on the shelves as a cruel joke during an outing to the library. When questioned, they had 'forgotten' where they had hidden the unfortunate boy's book, and so it had sat there for a number of weeks. For my
troubles, which were not troubles at all really - walking to the school took all of a quarter of an hour - Mrs Righton gave me a jar of her finest onion chutney, which I used to make the most wonderful sandwiches for further trips to the library. The recipe is as follows, two slices from a whole wheat bloomer, between which should be placed a nice wedge of cheddar cheese, Mrs Righton's famous
onion chutney. The sandwich should then be cut in half, wrapped in yesterday's newspaper, and accompanied with a bag of crisps of your choice. Currently, I am home in my favourite chair, with a fire in the hearth and wrapped in several blankets that I have stolen off aeroplanes over the years. I have five books ranging from the religious practises of
Neanderthals, to 'Revelation', a murder mystery novel set in Henry VIII's time by C.J. Sansom. I confess, the nights are colder here, and the warm glow of the city has given way to a great expanse of empty and lonely sky. But I am not alone. I have the post-master, I have the newts in the pond. The librarian, and Mrs. Righton's thanks. I have my books, and
my memories. What I miss is merely material. Next Tuesday I am going to take a break from my routine (I have already told the librarian so she does not worry about me). I am going to visit a farm a few miles away, whose bitch has just had puppies. Perhaps I should have visited the 'animal' shelves in the library rather than the history section last time around. Over there, there
is a guide to choosing the right dog, 'Dog Body Language Phrasebook: 100 Ways To Read Their Signals', by Trevor Warner, and Lassie - the DVD Movie rental.