Pastoral, by David Rose
artwork by Sam Parr

Stuffy down here. I can breathe better. No air conditioning, see, no computers. Just the smell of ripe paper and Copydex. Way libraries should smell; the way it used to smell here, upstairs, when I started. Plus the smell of lino polish.

Smells all changed over the years. First off it was the carpet. Nylon, of course. Gave the library a bit more hush, but it upset the olfactory balance. Gradually wore off, though; all settled down.

Then it was the smell of instant coffee. Rusty sort of smell. One of those Vendomatic things, plastic cups. For the students, they said. Then ginger biscuits and crisps, another machine.

Then rotting banana skins. Started to sell fresh fruit, wean the students off the ginger biscuits and crisps. Used to hide the peel behind the shelves. Couldn't smell the books.

Then came the computers, and the air conditioning for the computers. Still couldn't smell the books, because there weren't any. Hardly any. All stuck down here in the depository, to moulder.

That's when they stopped calling it a library. Began calling it a "Bibliatech". Couldn't even spell it properly. The tech part is okay; it's a pun on -thèque. But it's biblio, boyo. Adding insult to injury. I was glad to be out of it.

Between the Vendomat and the Internet, a vacancy came up for the mobile library. I jumped at it. The open road, change of scene, no smell of coffee, just my tea in a flask. And I could do what I went into Librarianship for: help expand people's minds.

They say reading broadens the mind. But no. Some people read all their lives, still stick in their rut. No, it's serendipitous discovery, it's being steered to a book you wouldn't have considered - that's what broadens your mind, expands your horizons, enriches your life. Which is where I come in.

Built up my own little constituency, like, my little flock of regulars. Got to know them, know their tastes. Then I could advise them accordingly. Mrs Caradoc, now. Always chose Wordsworth, occasionally Shelley or a dollop of Milton. I put her onto Edward Thomas. Then Dylan Thomas. Now she's graduated to R.S. Thomas.

Then there's Miss Winthrop. Endlessly rereading Jane Austen or the Brontës. Nothing wrong with that. But there are worlds untouched there. I steered her to George Eliot - Adam Bede - then Henry James'
Washington Square
, then suggested Lawrence - The Virgin And The Gypsy. Couldn't get her beyond that, though. The blinkers go back on, the inhibitions come back. Serendipity is the only way past the mental defences.

*

Takes time, this, but I like to do a good job. And my time's my own now; no one to bother me down here. I'm Volunteer status now. With all the cutbacks, they were going to axe the mobile library. I offered to take the severance and stay on, unpaid, keep the front line services going.

Another advantage: I've got my pick of books. They're only awaiting disposal. No one's going to check them.

It's matching them up that takes the time. The rebinding's easy. Have to be both the same size of course, but also the same typeface. Can't have a signature of Minion in a book set in Caslon or Fournier. Give the game away immediately.

I've just located a copy of Mansfield Park in the Everyman Edition, so it's going to be a simple job. Take out the whole signature containing chapter fourteen of Lady Chatterley, excise the other pages, stitch the trimmed signature into the Austen, and there we are, just the ticket.

I've already found an edition of The Wings Of The Dove that will incorporate the end of Ulysses. I'll splice that into the middle of the James; no one reads past there. Now what I need is some short stories by Dylan Thomas, ideally Adventures In The Skin Trade to take The Story Of The Eye (my personal copy, that one). Then maybe an Anita Brookner, say Incidents In The Rue Laugier in hardback, as host to some Quiet Days In Clichy for Mrs Pugh.

All takes time, but as I said, my time's my own.

There. Nice neat stitching, if I do say so myself. Endpaper's lifting though. Glue it back down. Real meaning of "cut and paste".

Breathe it in.

Scent of damp paper and Copydex; it's like the tang of an aroused woman: the nostalgia of the future.




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