Monday, 19 January 2009

Sirens, Deightons & Mustard Gas

Sometimes I amuse myself by making notes for a book comprised of photographs of all the buildings I've lived, learnt and worked in. And then I stop because so many are uninteresting and there are obvious gaps where stuff has been pulled down. Like one of my C of E schools, even though it was designed by the Goddards of Leicester. But the location of my very first job is still remarkably as when I cycled nervously up to it in the mid 1960's. This is the Southfields Library in Leicester, known affectionately as the Pork Pie Library. It sits on a road junction between two vast housing estates and was designed in 1939 by Symington, Prince & Pike. Looking like a London Underground station, the plans could very well have been influenced by Charles Holden's design for Arnos Grove. I like it so much I photograph it nearly every time I go by, if the light's as good as it was yesterday. So many memories are locked behind the brick and glass. Here I not only rubber-stamped books, but also discovered playwright Joe Orton's old library ticket (with 'default' stamped on it), Len Deighton books and an old man coughing his lungs up in the reading room because he'd been gassed in the First World War. I also got to work the wartime siren on the roof for practice alerts (there was a nuclear attack warning device in the cellar), ate a bar of Bournville Chocolate with my morning coffee and read the very first copy of The Sun newspaper. All this for £7 a week and the chance to chat up the girl assistants on the evening shift.

15 comments:

Diplomat said...

Bloody hell, that's where it all sarted then. Very fine brickwork by the way. I'm particularly keen on the sub-fenestral range with what looks like projecting courses - obviously inviting the yufes to climb up and peer through the windows inthe hope that they might learn something. Well done - carry on.

Diplomat said...

Actually - somewhat reminiscent of the Pascal's marshmallow tin (one of which got run over on the A30 Okehampton byepass '68'69ish.

Fred Fibonacci said...

Ooh Diplo: 'sub-fenestral range' indeed. You know how to pull 'em in, that's for sure.

Oh, sorry Peter, your post: excellent. Love all the stuff about £7.00 a week, or rather £7/0s/0d as it must have been, given that you are over 21.

I so like this confident thirties' architecture. Chiswick Park Tube still moves me whenever I drive past, and it's not in the same league as the Pork Pie library.

CarolineLD said...

Wonderful - and I'm not at all envious, honest, even though my first job was making Asda trifles on an industrial estate.

Jon Dudley said...

This is surely the library 'sans pareil'. Clearly you were overpaid for what was essentially a passport to thieve celebrity memorabilia, read when you should have been stamping, and chatting up naughty female librarians who, I suspect , wore horn-rimmed glasses and had their hair up (as in 'let me remove my spectacles and let my hair down')....sorry but it's funny how your magic descriptions of place make me want to invent fantasies with which to surround them. Shhhh!

Philip Wilkinson said...

That's a wonderful brick building on Stonesby Avenue. Philip Larkin, of course, was the man for librarian's fantasies. Some time after 1963, while quietly beavering away amongst the rubber stamps and acquisition numbers, he jotted this down:
Administration
Day by day your estimation clocks up
Who deserves a smile and who a frown,
And girls you have to tell to pull their socks up
Are those whose pants you'd most like to pull down.

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Jon and Philip. Funny how the thought of libraries brings out these secret thoughts. I suppose it's to do with the silence, only punctuated by the thump of the stamp. I wanted to take one of the assistants home, but when my father heard that she was called Bernadette O'Connor he went potty, metaphorically putting on an orange sash and a bowler.

Affer said...

After "Only Two Can Play", libraries for me became imbued with thoughts of trying to bed Mai Zetterling.

Peter Ashley said...

Oh Affer. Only Two Can Play. Oddly enough my abiding memory is not Ms Zetterling, but Peter Sellars following Kenneth Griffiths into the bathroom and pulling up that perfumed green tube that sat inside the Airwick bottle.

Ron Combo said...

Do they still have 'books' in the Pork Pie library? Or is it all DVDs and internet access and posters for counselling courses? He commented bitterly.

Thud said...

Bournville and coffee...a man of undeniable good taste...sod all that euro chocolate...real my arse.

Peter Ashley said...

Ron, all those doubtful things are in Southfields, but I'm glad to report that there was still a smattering of books. And much to my amazement the varnished interior doors still have their original cut-out metal letters on them saying things like 'Male Staff' which I think meant me.

Affer said...

Miss-spelling of Post Boy?

Peter Ashley said...

Nearly. I did have to put stamps on envelopes, but I think my official title was 'Library Assistant'. I didn't care what anybody called me, so long as they left me alone to read Deighton at lunchtimes or rummage about in the Restricted Books cabinet.

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