Me and my library;Intervierw;Melvyn Bragg;Books

20th August 1999 at 01:00
I have fond memories of two libraries I used in my childhood in Wigton in Cumbria. We lived in a place called Council House Yard and from about the age of five I went with my mother every Friday to the library that was up some steps in the corner of the yard. It was gas-lit and was run by the town clerk, Mr Carrick, who was also the town historian.

My mother was a good reader but my father was a great reader. He liked contemporary stuff, but he would read anything that came to hand, including my comics.

I vaguely remember reading what must have been a simplified version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped quite early, and I remember a book about Robin Hood which I thought was marvellous; I read it again and again. I read all the Jennings stuff and the Biggles stuff and Enid Blyton.

You could only get out from the library two books each week, which was rather parsimonious, but I always had a book on the go from school as well.

The library was housed in quite a small room with maybe 12 rows of books. It was open only twice a week - on Tuesday and Friday evenings for about an hour and-a-half - because Mr Carrick worked during the day. I think that made it more special than if it had been open all the time.

When that library shut down the town library transferred to the Friends' Meeting House. The books were kept in long cupboards and sometimes I had to help the two Quaker ladies in charge lift off the cupboard doors. I'd have been about 11 and at Wigton Grammar School by then, and I enjoyed Wodehouse and Sixth Form at St Dominic's and adventure stories. I liked reading about these boys who seemed to me to live in their own universe. I wasn't interested in the fact that they were at public school - the thought of going to boarding school myself would have filled me with horror - I liked the fact that they played cricket and had adventures. I look back rather romantically, but I think both of the libraries from my childhood were quite bleak. You had to keep very quiet and speak only in a whisper.

When I went to university to read history, the libraries at Oxford were magical. I used to study in the Bodleian and the Radcliffe Camera.

The libraries at the House of Lords are tremendous. I have a lot of reading to do for my television and radio work and at the House of Lords I can do it without family and colleagues around. There are no phones and nobody is allowed to talk. It's bliss. If you're lucky you get a desk overlooking the river.

Melvyn Bragg's latest novel, 'The Soldier's Return', is set in Wigton. It will be published by Hodder amp; Stoughton on August 26. He was talking to Pamela Coleman.

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