On Top Of The British Library

Reading & Writing


There’s a lovely cartoon by John Glashan showing cashiers waltzing through a grand old building. It’s called; ‘Few people know what goes on in banks after they shut.’ I feel like that about libraries. When I was a child I read a disturbing story about a man who lived in the book stacks. So I’ve always thought about the secret life of libraries.

Last night as part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ I was reading at the British Library, which has its own secret life. It had been given a Wonderland makeover, with tie-events of the fantastical all over the building. Two very creepy performers played Tweedledum & Tweedledee-like twin Alices doing children’s games, which was brilliant. There were singers, dancers and performers everywhere, of which I was the only non-professional.


My part involved giving a reading from a parapet at the top of the auditorium, only accessible from the outside, via headsets and mic, which was an amusing experience as I had to clamber out via a steel rung ladder in the dark. What I hadn’t allowed for was the fact that other acts would be performing at the same time, so my choice of material – a quiet, reflective library-like piece – had to be transmitted to the audience over the sound of a band that was performing some kind of stamping dance.


As there were three shows I had three chances to get this right, but the audience was lined up on the other side of the building and each time the bands got more raucous I ended up yelling my head off, so that the piece’s supposedly moving punchline was finally shouted at the top of my voice.

Did it matter if at that point I had swung over everyone’s head on a trapeze reading it? Probably not, but I’m a perfectionist and it worried me that I hadn’t given value for money. If you felt that you didn’t get the story, I’ll come round your house and read it to you. Anyway, it was a good use of a wonderful space, and thanks to everyone who came.



6 comments on “On Top Of The British Library”

  1. Ness says:

    When we close the library on a Friday night the most exotic thing we do is order a pizza. Not a mad hatter or award winning author in sight, with or without trapeze.

  2. Vincent C says:

    Thank you for the report.

    At a certain level your presentation, and the manner of your presentation, as you describe them, do seem (to me at least) singularly appropriate for a celebration of Alice in general and the Mad Hatter in particular.

  3. Jo W says:

    Glad to know you didn’t freeze out there on the roof last night,but you did look a little worried in that Twitter picture. At least you didn’t have far to get home. 😉

  4. Wayne Mook says:

    Splendid, looks like it was a wonderful thing,


  5. Andrea says:

    What a great event. Glad you did not freeze. I need to look for story about the guy living in the stacks. We had a guy do that in a library where I worked. We found his belongs stashed in the ceiling tiles after we caught on. A bit spooky not knowing how long it went on.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    The closest our library comes to after hours residents is teenagers skateboarding in the underground parking. They’ve installed a noise making machine to discourage them. It sure makes me want to get out of there as fast as I can.
    What a wonderful event this must have been. No wonder you were the only non-professional- professionals are too canny to allow themselves to get roped into climbing about on roofs and ladders in the dark.

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