Via Tolosana: A library is the right answer

Library in window sill, Avignonet-Lauragais

Community library, Avignonet-Lauragais

When I was in primary school my favourite teacher was a librarian. This may have had something to do with my mum’s twin, Teeny, also being a librarian.  I remember Mrs Dalton-Morgan, mature, yet with blonde hair that magically swept all around her head (hair spray didn’t make it into our house in the 70s so fine, full hair was a mystery to me). She dressed immaculately, spoke with an English accent and smelled florally sweet.

The playground didn’t always hold much comfort for me.  I sometimes participated in the ‘bounce’ tournaments when it was fine. I was good at it, and found some satisfaction in out-bouncing the boys.  Unfortunately never the same boys who called me a leopard tank, but I learnt the transferability of the skills of revenge at an early age.  I had few girl friends.  I didn’t ever really feel I fit in. I skipped sometimes, joining the snaking line that jumped through the long rope and around the rope twirlers to form a figure of eight “Not last night, but the night before, 24 robbers came knocking at my door”.  I had a friend for a time, Kellie, who I called my best friend.  She came one year, I can’t even remember when, but was gone again to Saudi Arabia before we had finished year 7.  I was a lonely soul.

I didn’t have time for loneliness in class. I had spelling, english, maths, and projects to keep me company. It was always a relief though when lunchtime came and after eating my devilled ham spread sandwich outside, I could retreat to the library upstairs in the eastern end of the main building.  It was here, overseeing books coming in and out, that I felt at home and at ease.  Mrs Dalton-Morgan trusted me with many library duties.  I catalogued, searched the micro-fiche, covered books with brown paper/plastic two-way covering and newly invented contact and ‘stamped out’ books for other students. I loved diving into the returns bin to reunite books with their little manila borrowers card.  I loved reading the titles. Maybe Madeline needs to be held responsible for my love affair with France – although despite the number of times I re-shelved it, I never read it. I don’t remember conversations with Mrs D-M (I’m sure they were deep and meaningful), but I do remember feeling useful and appreciated.

When it came time to graduate from primary school, Mrs Dalton-Morgan gave me a little parcel with a card to congratulate me and wish me the best for the future.  I still remember the light blue and white Callard and Bowser Dessert Nougat and Everton toffee packets that made up the gift. How divine was eating nougat treats for the first time, that white rice paper melting in my mouth? I felt grown up and proud of myself. I was grateful for the care and attention this wonderful woman had shown her lonely recruit. From that time on, both nougat and libraries have held a special place in my heart.

Now, I am glad to count among my friends and acquaintances a number of other librarians (and children of librarians – Helen). Libraries are such an important part of a vibrant and educated society and they continue to hold up even in the digital age. Neil Gaiman comments, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one”.  For me a library was the right answer.

So on my recent sojourn, I couldn’t help but catalogue a few of the doorways of these precious French and Spanish institutions as a tribute to librarians.  Enjoy Teeny, Paula, Judith and Alan.

Metal bibliothèque sign on stone wall in Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

Bibliotheque Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

Canfranc Estacion Library

Silencio Biblioteca, Canfranc Estacion

3 thoughts on “Via Tolosana: A library is the right answer

  1. I know you can still get devilled ham spread (I bought some for mum the other week) but can you still get Callard and Bowser nougat, I wonder.

    • Yes, I’ve seen it in supermarkets too – but I couldn’t find an image of it online. Maybe I should’ve just searched for ‘devilled ham’ 2015. I don’t think you can get the C&B nougat – if you follow the blue link in the post, I found someone who has blogged about it. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Library tragic at the British Library | other states, other lives, other souls

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