I must begin with an apology; an apology to Kilkenny City Library to be precise. I was in there doing a bit of preparation for shows at the Cat Laughs festival. In an attempt to avoid work, I started reading Farmer’s Weekly magazine. The cover leaped out from the magazine stand. It was dominated by a photo of a tractor pulling a Gaspardo Precision Seed Drill and the tagline “Know The Drill”. With other headlines like “Cheese Wars” and “Spring Barley”, I was sucked in. Shortly afterwards, bell rang for the lunch closing. I packed up my things and left. Later that weekend I discovered I’d inadvertently swiped the Farmer’s Weekly as well. I’m disgusted with myself: To do THAT to a library. It was like I’d burgled my aunt’s house.
I haven’t always stolen from the hand that lent to me. For nearly 30 years they have been a welcome presence in my life.
My first experience of a library was the mobile one that came – and still does come – to Dripsey Cross more than 25 years ago. Every second Thursday a reimagined Leyland National bus parked in the dusty expanse near the Tavern pub and opened its doors. Its clientele were an eclectic mixture, ranging from small boys renewing Asterix Books to people of a ‘certain vintage’ hoping to get another eight large print Mills and Boons. These were located up the front. At that stage in my life, I had no interest in the infuriating behaviour of lantern-jawed doctors and the nurses who initially resisted their advances but eventually swooned. I scampered down the back to the Tintins, Roald Dahls and lots of books about kestrels, foxes and badgers who lived peacefully until developers threatened their habitat. And that was in the 1980s when no one was building anything.
Through the years, libraries have taken on different connotations. For brief periods in school and college libraries were the scene of some unhappy interludes – ferocious whispering about “WHAT DO YOU THINK IS COMING UP?” and one financially ruinous fine for the replacement of a civil engineering textbook. (Somewhere in the world is a copy of Kong & Evans’ authoritative work on Reinforced and Prestressed concrete, waiting forlornly for a renewal that will never happen).
Nowadays I can enjoy them again – whether it’s sitting at the newspaper table with the ould lads and their various slightly ‘composty’ smells or scribbling hilarious columns at the desks surrounded by people from every background and race.
And although the presence of WiFi, means that I am inevitably distracted and looking up different brands of seed drills, there’s such a sense of industriousness and concentration around me that it proves to be a productive place to work. My rib-tickling column about libraries is swiftly completed.
And the day gets better – Kilkenny have been in touch to accept my apology about the missing Farmer’s Weekly. I’m in the library and everything is fine.
This article was first published in the Irish Examiner on June 10th, 2013