Sitting in the local library – getting ready for being retired – reading Siegfreid Sassoon’s war poems and looking around.
The building used to be an office for Council services – quickly and cheaply converted. It is not plush or state of the art like the one in the Civic Centre or Willesden, the partitions are lightweight, water stains run down the walls, the movement sensitive lighting in the toilets is alarmingly hit and miss, the book selection well used and not quite up to date, the computers fat and slow, a photocopier that clunks; but it is packed out, there are books, activities for the children, meetings with local councillors, displays of local history, information about how to get help, books in many languages and newspapers in more than one and it suits the people who come to it – just as worn and struggling as the building but all busily engaged in enriching life.
On the same table two old geezers with very short, iron grey hair, heads poking out of their anoraks like turtles – looking at the world through the lenses provided by the copies of the Daily Express they are reading, confirming everything they think is going wrong. they look like displaced members of the DUP.
Around them are younger people from all over the world. A young man talks to the librarian in English – a second language for both of them. A child at the bank of chunky old computers – kept going because they still work – just – chatters a bit too loudly and is shushed by her mum. The old turtles grimace. The librarians are not the fierce old termagants of old, but almost everyone is quiet – the rules enforced by mutual consent. A child in a push chair breaks them chattering happily. One of the old turtles starts to grimace. I catch his eye and smile and his face softens. Life finds a way.