Look At It This Way - February 12, 2016

Blackpool central library.
Blackpool central library.
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I don’t make enough time for art and books in my life – apart from what’s carried in my heart and memory or via Kindle.

Indeed, I don’t remember the last time I went to my local library – and that’s a source of regret when I know many libraries face cutbacks in hours or closures altogether. Use it. Or lose it. The writing’s already on the wall.

I’ve played my part in those reduced hours locally. If more of us went in greater numbers it would be harder for councils to cut hours.

Yet time was when the library was one of the most important places in my life.

It was a school librarian who taught me to read at nine where others had failed. My library ticket became a pass to other worlds, other times, other people’s words, and escape. They filled a void in my life. The library was a sanctuary.

To this day the concept of being able to borrow books and take them away to read free delights me – thank you Andrew Carnegie and co. I just don’t avail myself of that opportunity. And I should because that would entitle me to defend that right for others –as a reality rather than an abstract.

I still read avidly – but now it’s via Kindle, and although it’s on a greater scale it’s not the pleasure of reading a proper book, watching, with regret, as pages recede towards the end, or not worrying if you get a bit of suntan oil on a cheap holiday read you’re leaving in a hotel, or querying the provenance of stains upon pages of library books, or looking at how many times the book has been taken out before.

That’s part of the reason I fell out of love with libraries – I hated the increased automation, the self-scanning. As with passports, I wanted the stamp upon the page, and people to do that for me, and a chat about the book or new authors recommended in the process. A library, for me, is still primarily about books – although handy when your computer or printer conks out, or when there’s a talk on (Blackpool CCG were at my library this week).

And if others are making use of the warmth there – does it really matter? For countless older folk they represent – much as they did for me as a child – a refuge.

We always had books in the house when I was a child, but a learning difficulty kept them at bay for me. Bar one.

Once the letters finally fell into place to form words I reached again for a book I’d always loved – the ultimate picture book, an encyclopaedia which featured a colour painting and description on every page. It gave me an enduring love of art.

To this day I remember the weight of that book in my arms as I stole it away by night to my room. The pictures told their own stories, but once I could read I was fascinated by the back stories to works such as An Emigrant’s Thoughts of Home, painted to mark Britain’s diaspora, when thousands were leaving to make new lives in the USA.

Words held the key to it all, but art unlocked my soul. So while it would be easy for me to knock the council for cutting £83k off the library budget by reducing hours while spending £203k on a seafront B&B to lease to a community interest concern set up by an arts group, I’m not going to. Both have merit and the B&B art project turns a jaded hotel into a resource with matching funding.

But more of us need to campaign for our libraries, museums, bus subsidies, children’s services, community and respite centres. We also need to find the Andrew Carnegies of today’s world. He’s the Scottish economic refugee turned American business magnate and philanthropist who wrote “a man who dies rich, dies disgraced”.

The truth about Cat and guide dogs

It took a Cat – Fleetwood MP Cat Smith – helped by a dog to highlight issues about pavement parking and other obstacles to the blind and visually impaired the other day.

Cat went walkabout, blind folded, with a guide dog to assess the hazards for herself. She’s since called for pavement parking rules to change among other things.

I took on a similar challenge on the Promenade on a dark wet windy night (left) and became so petrified by the bewildering array of sounds and sensations that I lost my grip – literally and figuratively.

I was told to reach down to find the trainee guide dog’s head and then locate the fallen lead. I grabbed the wrong end.

Outraged yelp! Sorry, pooch. The guide dog’s probably been in counselling ever since.