The Reading Room 01
The Central Library, right by the bus station, is a large Edwardian building built after the Victorian paper manufacturer Thomas Wrigley bequeathed his sizable art collection to the people of Bury thus requiring somewhere to house it.1 It became an ever-modernising cultural centre containing, alongside the art, a museum, an expansive library, reading rooms, computer rooms, and the town’s historical archives. A treasure which undoubtedly still goes unappreciated by many.
It was in April when I entered the foyer with a camera around my neck as I’d been out taking some photos from a point of view askew; all tarmacked cobbles, interesting skylines, sculpted stone figures, and worn pub posters declaring Book now for Valentine’s Day. I walked on past the community notice board, past the recycling display, and past the librarians behind their counter before passing through into the reading room where, away from the throng of newspaper readers near the magazine shelves, I went and sat in the quiet far corner beyond the photocopier and the wall-mounted flat screen TV, which for inexplicable reasons broadcast rolling teletext, to do some writing.
You would have thought that there’s very little connection between comings and goings, especially separated by an hour and a half, but when I packed up my stuff and put my coat on I first walked over to the window a few paces away and, concealed behind a bookcase and thus drawing no attention to myself, I turned my camera on and took one photo. Talk about failing to fly under the radar because before I could even make my way out of the reading room I was pounced on by a middle-aged librarian who came bearing down on me like Himmler’s Gestapo.
She wanted to know what I was doing, concerned with the photo she somehow knew I’d just taken, as if someone had been watching me covertly for ninety minutes and the whole department was on edge just waiting for me to strike. The confrontation quickly descended into a battle of her insisting on reading me the library photography regulations whether I wanted it or not – of how I was welcome to take any photos, in any room of the library, just so long as I had asked the permission of everybody who happened to be within my sphere of influence – against me waving a digital camera in her face, displaying any offending photograph I may just have taken, with an innocent offer which descended over the unstoppable tide of library regulations:
“Do you want to see them?”
“Do ya want to see them?”
“Do ya wanna see them?”
“Do ya wanna see ‘um?”
“D’ya wanna see ‘um?”
She did not want to see them.
Throughout this stand-off what I’d presumed was supposed to be the muscle that she’d bought along with her stayed mute and just stared at me menacingly, like a hired henchman, which was both threatening and unnecessary as it wasn’t like I didn’t go in there all the time. What can I say: I’m a regular, and just the day before the same goon had engaged me in conversation, asking me if I was responsible for the bicycle outside, so it wasn’t like I was an unknown character of no consequence about to flip out and go all crazy on them.
And what was this illicit snap which I seemed to have been willing to run the gauntlet for? Of no-one I should have asked the permission of in the library, it wasn’t even in the library, but an upturned military jeep full of soil, foliage, and flowers in the memorial gardens opposite which the Council had presumably installed as a tourist attraction. I had thought, before I shared the image with potential visitors, that with the height that the vantage point from the library offered that I’d be able to get a better angle. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
It wasn’t the only camera incident I’d ever suffered as a few weeks earlier I’d already been stopped by some council official who was driving by and hurriedly stopped her car, wanting to know what I was taking pictures of, thinking I was collecting “evidence” of some complaint by taking photos of a fading anti-fouling message, sprayed on the pavement to resemble a road sign, alongside the message Bag It – Bin It, and when I explained to her I was taking photos of nothing more than artistic “stuff” to post on the internet and amuse people in other parts of the world she backed off very slowly.2
However, by far worse, I then left the library and went on to be abused across a car park and called a paedophile by some screeching harridan when I was trying to take a picture of a gargoyle on top of a pub. It was about ten meters above the head of the girl who’d tumbled out at 6 pm and not only was I clearly not taking a picture of her, but by definition she should have been above school age anyway, unless the Robert Peel were running an after-school club, which was unlikely, I’m guessing.
But then, camera aside, this is just a snapshot of the town I live in. Tourists welcome.
1 – The Wrigley collection contains ceramics, watercolours, and oil paintings which include John Constable’s Hampstead Heath, JMW Turner’s Calais Sands at Low Water: Poissards Collecting Bait, and Edwin Landseer’s A Random Shot which the former England cricketer Phil Tufnell came to visit for a slot on BBC’s The One Show. A whole load of those Victorian paintings subsequently went off on a money-making tour of China.
2 – I have enjoyed the comments from abroad about my pictures as these sort of things are what we all take for granted and it’s perhaps only when you view them presented in isolation that they become something more interesting. In a previous collection of Manchester photos the one most clicked on was the picture of the over-flowing bin! Figure that?