Public Library Harbour

IT WAS 1935 and I was ten. The Bushey Public Library was opened a little later, I think, but when it did come I found it great after coming out of school – Ashfield School for Boys – at 4pm to walk into Bushey Public Library. It was like bringing a storm-tossed boat into harbour. As you went in, all you heard was silence.

Not a forbidding silence. A soothing one, with a quietly-spoken, smiling, helpful young woman busying herself behind the counter. I’ve forgotten her name. You could ask her questions about where to find a book – or even the sort of book – you needed; she would lead you there. Two or three members would be sitting at the big tables at the far end, working, some writing notes, others turning the pages of books.

When I went in I knew exactly which shelves to head for. There were the entire series of Cody M Ferris’s ‘The X-Bar-X Boys’ and all of WE Johns’s ‘Biggles’ books; on each side and above and below them were books of the same kind. Further along there came ‘Three Men in a Boat’, by Jerome K Jerome, PG Wodehouse with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and The Empress of Blandings waiting to reduce me to giggles.

At home in the evenings when there was nothing interesting on the radio, I would read ‘Three Men in a Boat’ to Mum and Dad, I in an upright dining chair facing the fire and they in their armchairs on either side, exploding with laughter.

I discovered the Library as soon as we arrived at our new Ashfield Avenue house (a short road, ending at Somers Way at that time). It was my teacher, my guide to the ways of the world, to the workings of the human body. This last function came into play as soon as I cottoned-on to the fact that there was an enormous row of books called ‘The Encyclopaedia Brittanica’ and that it could enlarge upon so much of what I had heard about but didn’t understand.

They had answers to the many pressing questions that the pubescent boy asks. Sitting there, reading the answers and studying the illustrations I would become aware of a burning red face and, walking out of the place, hoping it would cool down by the time I went in at the back door of No 36.

The Library was my best, my honest, friend. I just wish I could remember that librarian’s name. Miss. . . ?