Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Today is a day of action for the libraries. People are emptying shelves, having a shh-in (I love that one), and in Cambridge, of course, staging a flashmob reading. I'm not sure how flash reading works, and I rather hope they do a little dance as well, but it makes me laugh that is happening in old East Anglia.
When Liam Byrne left the Treasury, he wrote a note for his successor. It said: Sorry, there is no money left.
This is not a joke. I rather envy those opponents of the government who can say, to cheap applause, oh well, if we just taxed the bankers (cue rhyming slang alert) everything would be fine. How lovely it must be to see the world in such simple terms. I used to see it that way myself. But the fact is that as everyone gets hysterical over the million pound bonuses, no one points out that five hundred thousand of that goes straight to the Inland Revenue, and even more than that if you factor in VAT, fuel duty, and other indirect taxes. The top rate of tax remains, under a Conservative prime minister, at 50%. I do not see how it could go much higher without people starting to run away to Liechtenstein.
I wish that the damn bankers and hedge fund managers and those idiot credit default swap cowboys could be the solution to our problems, but someone once calculated that even if you confiscated every single bonus wholesale it would not put a dent into the deficit. That's before one even contemplates the trillion pound national debt. There really is no money left, and we are rolling along on three wheels and some baling twine.
So, much as I believe in government and public spending, much as I am an instinctive Keynsian, I do see that the cuts are not some dilettante whim, but hard financial necessity. But I also know that to govern is to choose, and choosing the libraries seems to be bad policy. They are not just dusty places that lend Catherine Cookson novels to old ladies. They do incredible work with children. My friend the Man of Letters is always going off to some library or other to do a children's event. The National Literacy Trust found that children who used libraries were more than twice as likely to be above average readers. I know I rail against reductive simplicity the whole time, but I do really believe that if the children cannot read then this country has a bleak future. For the relatively small amount of money saved by closing libraries, a price beyond rubies will be paid in the long run.
It's hard for me to talk about this with any objectivity. I love my local library with a deep, beating love. It is a miracle of public service. I get piles of books for free, which I use for my work, and for sheer pleasure. My local librarians are miraculous literary detectives. I often need books for research which are so obscure and out of print that they hardly even exist any more. I take in a list, and a few days later I get a call: the precious objects have been found, and delivered, and all I have to do is go and pick them up.
A couple of years ago there was a particularly vital book I needed for which I had almost no hope. I could only find one extant copy on ABE books, and that was in Minnesota, and it cost over a hundred dollars. In a vain last hope, I went to see Audrey the librarian. I did not think there was any chance, but she calmly wrote down the name and said she would see what she could do. Three weeks later, she called in triumph. She had tracked down a copy in Southampton, and it had come all the way to Scotland, scuffed and old and worn and held together with sellotape. I could hardly believe it. Now I rather think that Audrey has some kind of mystical powers. (She always laughs at me when I tell her this.)
Luckily for me, my library is safe. I am not certain I could do my work without it. But if yours is in any danger at all, please do not take it for granted. Use it. The more people go back to the libraries, the more they will thrive. I am not sure what can be done, but there must be petitions to be signed, letters to the council to be written (these are local rather than central government decisions), even flashmobs to join. A world without the public libraries would be a sadder, thinner place.
And that's my rant for the day. Now I shall climb down off my hobby horse and have a nice soothing cup of coffee.
Here are your pictures of the day.
Up the avenue we went:
To see Virginia the Pig:
She came hurtling out of the woods when she heard me call, and gladly ate up a handful of pig nuts:
Before her old boyfriend could snaffle them all:
The boyfriend is the most posh and rare of rare breeds, but I still think he looks like one of those old rockers for whom the seventies never quite went away.
(These pictures are especially for my friend Amber, who loves nothing more than a pig, and yearns for one of her very own.)
I love this old tree stump. For some reason it makes me think of the Giant's Causeway:
A magnificently gnarled beech:
Delicate little tree fern:
This marking looks like some kind of abstruse sign. In fact, it is a patch of desiccated moss:
One of the ancient yews:
Lichen and conifers:
Almost nothing I like more than a really good pile of wood:
The glory of the beeches:
I love how this one has come out pale and slightly washed-out:
The Duchess, very duchessy today, looking to the south:
And to the north:
The Pigeon, serious:
The view, serene and still:
And and AND, as I walked back to the garden, I suddenly saw - THE FIRST SNOWDROPS:
I actually said the words Ooh ooh ooh out loud, I was so excited. The battery on my camera was flashing red, which is why this shot is a little blurred. I was in such a panic to catch it before the battery went I could not focus. But there they are, the darlings, the very first sign of spring.
Then the battery died stone dead, and it takes so long to recharge that there is no hill today. This feels like the most shocking dereliction of duty, and I shall be fretting about it for the next hour. You shall have to imagine the hill in your mind, elegant and sloping and faintly purple in the fading light.
Have a lovely weekend.