Monday, 18 April 2016

In Praise Of Filton Library

Filton Library has been part of my life all of my life. When I was small, it was one of my favourite places in the world.  Even now, if I close my eyes, I can smell the strong scent of floor polish that assailed my nostrils the instant we opened the entrance door into the tiny vestibule, and picture the 1950s formica reception desk which wouldn't have disgraced the Tardis or Starship Enterprise.

My father would take me and my sister there every fortnight.  When I was very small, I would pick out books for my mother to read to me at bedtime.  I remember my father encouraging me to choose several squat Thomas the Tank Engine books every week because they were quite long and my mother hated reading them.  (I dutifully did as I was told even though I didn't like them much either, apart from Henry the Green Engine - and years later, fate had its revenge as Thomas was to feature heavily in my own autistic son's predilections.)  Marmaduke the Lorry was another early choice.

Later, I had custody of eight treasured brown cardboard library tickets that constituted my quota of books.  Stories for Six Year Olds was one of the earliest I chose to read myself. I read it when I was five but it was a struggle, as it was a hefty book of not always very exciting tales, and it had an orange cover.  (I didn't like orange then and I don't much now either.)  I remember my parents joking that if I didn't get a move on, I'd be seven before I finished it.

From then on, it was a point of honour always to have read all of the books by the time the two weeks were up, unless the book was a particular favourite in which case I would renew it and renew it for as long as I was allowed.  Books I discovered there included The Adventure series of novels by Willard Price; Monica Edwards' stories set on Romney Marsh; Ruby Ferguson's novels about Jill Crewe who had two ponies AND a mother who wrote novels (even though Jill thought they were rubbish);  and Pat Smythe's oh-so-sophisticated tales of the Cotswolds horsey set, which mentioned things I knew even then would never be for the likes of me, like sports cars, off-the-shoulder dresses and daiquiris.

And then there was The Red Pony, which I took out when I was about seven or eight, thinking it would be about gymkhanas and rosettes and fictional heroines living my pony dream.  I got as far as Gabilan dying and that buzzard dipping its beak into his eye and marched straight back to the library with it, outraged. It was the only book I recall not finishing.  Later, as part of my coming of age, I read the major Steinbeck novels and short stories but never glanced to the bottom of the list of published works – or if I did, I didn’t twig.  I think I was in my 30s before the penny dropped and I read it to the end and cried and cried for the boy and the old stable hand and the child whose life was to be so haunted by a half-read book.

Giving a poetry reading at the library with Hazel Hammond in March 2012

Years later, in 1999, the library moved to a purpose-built home in the new Shield Retail Centre. I remember my first visit.  I was quite impressed by the building, but disappointed when I reached my favourite sections - poetry and local history - to discover that there were no new books on the brand new shelving at all.  Still, it was a much needed focus for Filton in a shopping complex that included specialist shops such as Snow and Rock and a bathroom fittings outlet, a KFC, an estate agents and Farm Foods - hardly meeting points for a community. 

And it has proved to be the hub of the town, hosting many events, cafes and meetings, as well as providing its core services of lending books and computer/printing access.  It is a particularly important resource for the elderly, the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, all groups which have suffered the most from government cuts, including the closure of day centres, massive redcutions to Direct Payment budgets, etc - and this is why the proposal to cut our library's opening hours to two days a week, or even close it altogether, is so distressing.

At a well-attended demonstration outside the library on Saturday, we learnt that a majority of Tory-controlled South Gloucestershire 
councillors voted to reduce the green bin charge by £6 per year (from £36 to £30), instead of saving libraries and youth services, thus proving, yet again, that they are prepared to keep penalising the same groups of people without the least remorse; also, that they have proposed increasing the number of volunteers in a library with already the highest number in the area, rather than staff it with trained library staff.

The library was all-important to me as a child and I doubt I would have grown up to become a writer myself without exposure to all those books at such a young age.  I urge you please to sign the petition to keep the library open. 

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