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sanctuary May 15, 2020


One of the things I’m missing most in the midst of this isolation is the library. I like everything about it. The whole kit and caboodle. From popping the library bag Finn brought me back from Paris into my handbag before I go, to practically running to the NEW IN stand as I arrive, in case some curmudgeonly old man sets his sights on the latest housekeeping tome and whacks me out of the way with his walking stick.

The library I like best is in an arts centre with a shop full of local crafts, a theatre, a gallery and a tiny little cafe that serves the bestest goats cheese and pesto paninis in the land. It is a place alive with eccentric old people. An ancient lady who regularly stops me to tell me about the paintings she once saw in Florence, and a man I have twice seen muttering about the very state of this immaculate library as he rummages through the oversized print books, looking like a geriatric Al Pacino.

I like to make a day of it. A journal and pencil case in my bag ready to sit on the terribly uncomfortable leather sofas and make notes from the books I will not bring home, closely guarding those I have chosen take with me. For in the library I am bizarrely territorial: perched ready to pounce in case anyone dares to pull a book from the little piles I stack around me. Convinced that the sniffly teenage boy sitting next to me has a keen interest in the health of the menopausal woman and will grab the books I have chosen to shore against my own hormonal ruin should I even consider nipping to the loo.

When I have spent an hour or three enjoying my own company, I find a cozy corner in the cafe and order my panini, a pot of tea and the most scrumptious of elderflower and rose cordials and then I dip in and out of the books I have chosen for the week, trying to hold in a bookish grin as I wonder at the sheer privilege of being able to read books I do not own.

It is a routine and ritual I adore: the mainstay of my week. Time alone away from the house. Time that is all mine. The something I chose five years ago to replace shopping Fridays with my Mum and the thing I miss most now we are denied the pleasure of shared books and the freedom to roam. I’m worried we won’t get it back for ever such a long time. The very idea of books travelling from house to house an anathema to us all now that germ phobia is both so rife and necessary. The worry of grubby hands and the necessity to protect our old people. I’m worried in fact that we won’t get it back at all. Not in the way we have known it. But I suppose, like everything else affected by this horrible virus, we will simply have to wait and see…

So instead I am working on creating my Home Library. For a long time now I have kept only those physical books that really do speak to me and so on the three bookcases in the house that are all mine, I have only those books I have not yet read, or those that have earned a place in my life. The many books I chuck into my basket in the supermarket or buy in armfuls in the cheap bookshops are given away as soon as I have read them, very few destined to stay for always.

But my Kindle is a different story. Through the bliss that is endless galleys sent to bloggers, the joy of Kindle Unlimited, the access my local library gives to their E-Books and of course, Gutenberg, (the gift that keeps on giving), my huge, cherry red Kindle is positively stuffed with more books than I am sure I could read in a lifetime and so I have decided to start exploring my very own home library, making a project out of organising all that is in there into collections instead of the endless muddle of an unorganised list, and celebrating my efforts with my own homemade goats cheese sandwiches!

There is so very much I am starting to really miss now that that the novelty of the stay home instruction is wearing off: the trips to the deli on the way home from the library and afternoons in Starbucks with Kath. Saturdays sitting in the Wharf sipping a tea-time gin and tonic with Ste and walking through the Fairie Glen on damp Sunday mornings with all my boys. Visits from my Dad. Car-boot sales now the weather is looking up. The morning drives I would take to the retail park to treat myself to a little something from Homesense. And the cinema! Heavens I miss the cinema…

But I think the answer lies in mourning not what we cannot do, but in finding new ways to do enjoy what we can. Re-purposing money we may have spent beyond the home, in it instead. Spending time creating new spaces in the house: for reading, or solitary film watching. Becoming more purposeful about internet shopping and declaring 5.30 on a Saturday evening to be cocktail hour! Organising a home library and becoming dedicated to truly enjoying it. Discovering all the nooks and crannies of the villages on your doorstep on your daily health-walks and establishing new ways of exercising at home…

This isn’t going to go away in a hurry and the time is now right to consider all that we can do and create the routines and rituals that will sustain us going forward. Working out how to fill the gaps in our lives with tiny homemade joys and truly believing that there might just be a rainbow (or a library!) hiding behind these gloomy clouds…


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