On Top Of The British Library
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.