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Seline at the Library






Aren’t libraries great? Have you ever been to one? You can pick up anything there, videos, newspapers, computers, adverts for streetwalkers, or rather dog walkers, and even books sometimes.

It was my friend Senga asked me to return the book she’d just finished. Twentieth Century Poisons and Poisoners, it was called.

“Not feeling too good, love. Think I’ll take a wee lie down,” she said.

But when I left she was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards and muttering to herself. It didn’t matter because I’d already had a look and decided that a book would come in handy.

We’ve got a nice new shiny library with doors that open by themselves, sometimes. It’s all glass at the front so you can see inside and look at all the people reading and doing other library type things. It’s fascinating. I stood staring in for ages at an old man in jeans sitting reading a newspaper. Eventually, he looked over and put a cheery finger in the air. I gave him a smile and a thumbs up.

I went inside and left my book on the counter where the nice looking librarian man was talking to another customer. He was bound to find it and stamp it for me with his stampy thing what puts the date on, or maybe that’s when you take it out. Well, he would know. Anyway, he had a nice face and glasses.

I decided to look around while I was there for a suitable book to use and maybe even one to read and help me get to sleep at night. Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night? I do. I never used to but now I sort of doze off thinking about Big Brother or Gordon Brown or some other programme and then I wake up all hot and can’t get back to sleep. I blame global warming. Senga says I should switch off the electric blanket but if I do that my feet get cold and you can’t sleep with cold feet, can you? Not until the globe warms a lot more.

There were a lot of computers all along one wall with people sitting staring at them. I looked over a young man’s shoulder to see what he was doing.

“Excuse me,” he said.

I think he must have made a smell. “It’s all right, love, it’s natural,” I said. “I’m a woman of the world.”

It’s never worried me. I mean everyone does it, just like drinking tea or coffee. Some people prefer coffee, you know. I suppose it comes from growing up with Mam. She did a lot of it and I don’t mean drinking tea or coffee. Actually, she never drank coffee. “It’s a foreign drink, Seline,” she’d say. “You stick with good old British Ceylon, you won’t go wrong,” and then she’d let off a ripe one.

It was my boyfriend Terry started me on coffee when I was just left school. He thought it was sofishticated, he said. He meant sophisticated, but he worked in the fishmonger’s, and I was never sure whether he was joking, so I didn’t like to say nothing.

I had a look along the bookshelves for a book. It was ages until I found one that looked just right. I took it to the counter with the nice glasses man for stamping.

“I’ll take this one,” I said, handing him my book.

“That looks interesting,” he said.

I looked at the cover, 100 ways to stuff your organic courgette. “Yes, it’s about organic courgettes and the stuffing of them,” I said.

He stamped the book. “I love healthy food. Grow your own do you?”

“Grow my own what?” I wasn’t sure what he meant. “Senga rolls her own, but I’m trying to get her to stop. Everyone says it’s very bad for you but then everything is these days isn’t it. Except that Des O’Connor. He wouldn’t be bad for you would he?”

He gave a little cough. “I think he’s dead.”

“Is he?” That was a shame. I’d always wanted his autograph.

“I meant grow your own courgettes.”

Grow my own courgettes. What on earth would I want to do that for? “I’m sure it would be lovely to do that, dear, but I don’t have a garden see, so I can’t grow nothing.  Mind Senga says I’m growing whiskers. Do you think I’m growing whiskers? Anyway, what is a courgette?”

The poor man was looking a little pale.

“What is a courgette?” he said.

At first I thought he was being cheeky, repeating what I said like that, but he looked really unwell so I made allowances.

“I don’t know, love, but you can look it up in your books and computers and things can’t you if you really want to know? Senga would know. She knows everything about everything, including stuff other people don’t know. I don’t know how she does it just sitting in that chair of hers, mind she does watch a lot of television.”

There’s a lot of education stuff on now have you noticed? There’s that Richard Attenborough manny with his birds and bats and stuff. And Richard and Judy they got things that tell you about stuff. That’s two Richards. Maybe they’re related having the same name. That would be funny. And then there’s Mastermind, that’s good and yon phone a friend programme. I know lots of the answers on that.

“Hello, excuse me,” The man was waving his hand in front of my face. “Are you sleeping?”

“There’s no need to wave your hand in front of my face, young man,” I said. “I could be your mother or maybe perhaps your aunty or other relation so you just keep your hands to yourself.”

Men are like that with their hands. They’re everywhere. Uncontrollable they are. Mam warned me. If he’s fresh, just grab his hands and don’t let go. Good advice. I remember Vernon, a boy I knew from school. He worked at the shoe shop.

Come on up tonight Seline and I’ll give you a fitting, he said. I did but he’d forgotten his measuring thing, he said, so he had to do it by hand, he said. It was OK on the feet, but then he must have thought he was measuring me for a dress because…

“There’s a queue here.”

Someone behind me had spoken quite roughly, shouted even. I ignored him. Nothing that’s shouted is worth listening to, I always say. The librarian was lying at his desk with his head in his arms. He looked like he might have been crying.

“Excuse me, but are you all right?” I asked him.

He might have nodded, but I couldn’t be sure.

“You look ill. Do you need help?” He didn’t say anything.

“I’m a first aider. I did a course. I could give you the kiss of life. I was very good with the dummy.” Well, that worked. He jumped up like he’d been jolted by one of those heart machines that make you jump up like you’ve been jolted by… something or other.

He grabbed my book and stamped it.

“Please,” he said. “There’s a queue.”

“Well I can see that,” I said. “You’re obviously understaffed here. You need to employ more stampers for the stamping.”

He said he definitely, definitely would, so I left him.

When I got home, Senga was still in the kitchen with lots of little bottles and there was something cooking on the stove. It smelt good. Perhaps she’d decided to make something for the both of us.

I took my book through to the bathroom and stuck it under the broken foot of the bath. There, a perfect fit. That would do until the man came to fix it.

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