British Library, redux


Last week I had a curiously psychogeographical day in London. It was also curiously satisfying. First, I went to get a readers card for the British Library. When I first came to London, in 1985, I also went and got myself a readers card. Back then, the British Library was in the round room in the middle of the British Museum. It was a wonderful secret space, and my readers card gave me access to a world that seemed scarcely possible. Karl Marx had sat over there, at that very bench. The dome rose above us like a church. It was silent, scholars sat (and sometimes slept) in the radial desks. It was bureaucratic and old fashioned and very English and I loved it. I was researching a speculative book that never got written, but it was part of my introduction to London, before I knew that I would become an art student or an artist, and long before I knew the internet existed (well, not that long before, actually). Anyway, I went back to get a new readers card because I’m once again researching a speculative book. I hope this one is more likely to come to fruition. I don’t imagine at this stage in life there are so many wonderful distractions to get in the way.
In 1980 I went with two friends to Crete, to work in the tomato greehouses. One of my friends was my best friend and the brother of my partner. Life is long and complicated and wonderous sometimes. We went by the cheapest route possible, on the Magic Bus, a hangover from the groovy end of the seventies. The bus took three tortuous days to travel from London to Athens, but it was a wonderful three days during which friends were made, stories were recounted and, for all I know, babies were conceived. It was setting off on a journey in the best possible way, not knowing what you would encounter or where you would end up. The bus left from a huge walled car park, a derelict site hard up against St Pancras station. It is the site on which, eventually, they would build the new British Library to where I would, eventually, travel to pick up a readers card in order to embark on a new journey. And so I did.
After picking up my card, I travelled south, right down to New Cross and my old college, Goldsmiths’, where I joined their library. I can do this as a graduate. I took along my degree certificate (Fine Art BA, 2:1, since you ask). It was the first outing that certificate had ever had, and it was the first time I had been to Goldsmiths’ for over twenty years. The place hadn’t changed much, but the library and the computer centre had got a lot better. I worked in the old computer centre for a few years after I graduated. In those days it was housed, literally, in the old science labs, on the old science benches. There were even sinks and taps still set into the benches. So, after twenty years, I went to sign up for my library card, and the woman who did the paperwork looked at me and said, ‘Did you use to work in IT support?’ Incredible.
My third, speculative, port of call was to visit a journalist to try to find a copy of a crucial article from the eighties, for my speculative book. She invited me down to her house. I travelled into central London and tracked down the address. I was literally next door to the British Museum. Honestly, the last house, the only house, on the left of the museum fence, right up against the museum walls. So I had come full circle, right back to where I went to pick up my first British Library readers card twenty-five years ago.
I’m thinking the signs are auspicious and that this is going to be a great book.



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