Frivolous Monsters

The Reading Room 02

As a local writer of no celebrity, and even less fortune, I dine at the finest joints and hang out at the trendiest of scenes. By these I refer to the lowliest possible table in Costa Coffee, right by the toilet door, where no-one ever wants to sit, and of the reading room of the town’s central library, but it was by frequenting these locations that it put me in the sphere of influence of certain local characters.


In Costa there was a new barista-in-training and whilst he steadfastly and slowly cleaned the solitary toilet he refused to lock the door and so I got to view the constant parade of people who walked in on him before getting a big surprise and having to back out again. However, there was one old gent that pitched up who turned out not to be so fussy as, despite the intimate company, he let the door slam shut behind him, before he got his own “old gent” out, and set about his business. The new barista sprang out of that cubicle, tout suite, all wide-eyed and alarmed and I imagined that he’d just learnt a valuable life lesson.

One of the problems with sitting outside the all-purpose Costa toilet is that when a second customer turns up, and finds it engaged, they have to hang around me in my little alcove, which I inhabited like a troll under a bridge, with an embarrassed silence as we both tried not to make eye contact.

I left the toilet and Costa Coffee behind and journeyed to the library, for the first time in a good while, which allowed me to get in for last orders at what I referred to as my Gentleman’s club.


The library’s late opening on a Wednesday night was special because for these few off-peak hours the reading room gained a concentrated crowd of only the most hardy of characters which gave it the notion of having a certain exclusivity.

Since an incident involving an upturned military vehicle, some flowers, and a camera, the staff in there had started viewing me with suspicion, and treating me like the rest of the whacked-out customers, but there was one girl who bucked the trend as she had a friendly welcoming manner for all and I could happily sit and accidentally overhear her conversations all day long as she spoke with a lilt of the finest local accent, and everything she said sounded like poetry. I mean, she didn’t rhyme every sentence: she was more Lancashire free verse.1

It was whilst sitting in the reading room, quite possibly with the man who wore two hats or the man who drank power drinks that were so sweet and sickly I could taste them, that I once overheard her take a bizarre phone call on the reading room desk where she pulled out a folder, of no-doubt sensitive information, and informed the caller, in her quaint Lancastrian accent: “You’ll have to ask me questions because I’m only allowed to answer yes or no.

It all sounded like an extreme game of Who Am I?, or an inverse-version of the Yes/No game where if she was caught answering a question, with any other words than yes or no, then a man from Data Protection would ring a gong in her face and give the library a massive fine. She explained it to the caller, and anyone who just happened to be listening, mostly like that.

Later, having a nosey around the library proper, I found a book which I’d been trying to buy for years and ventured to the counter where I produced my age-old library card which had corners turned up more than a Jubilee ham sandwich, the signature worn away by time like the Parthenon, and I asked the librarian with the accent if it was still good. She took one look at it, told it wasn’t, and that I’d have to join the library again; this was despite me believing I’d been a continuing member there since I was a child.2

Knowing how hard it is to join anything3, and not having come prepared with any personal documentation, I was resigned to having to return another day and so was more than a little surprised when the sound of mill towns and rolling moors told me that she’d still let me take the book out if I’d just write some details on a form; which seemed awfully trusting of her.

Now I’m not precious about the “doctor thing”, always remembering a certain individual with a PhD who’d flip his lid at the hint of a mister, but it was certainly satisfying to drop that one word on the form, and see this particular girl read it and type it out into the system, because I’d been getting treated like scum in there lately by certain individuals just because I happened to hang about with the drunks, the criminally insane, and those looking for a warm place to sleep; by that I mean that on a regular basis I frequented the reading room.

When I registered my Costa Coffee loyalty-card on-line I was delighted to see that on the dropdown title menu there existed an exciting range of choices above and beyond the usual Mister, Misses, Ms, Miss, and Doctor. For even though that’ll do ninety-nine percent of the population there was interestingly also the option of Sir, Lady, and Lord;  Honourable, Marquis, and Duke; as well as Reverend and Father, and Major and Colonel. It was good to know that Costa truly is the coffee-shop of Kings, and that they’ve obviously drawn the line and don’t allow in any riffraff below the rank of Major.4

Thinking about it, as the library girl was so trusting, I should probably have claimed to be a Marquis, although being honest the one thing that probably did raise me up in her expectations, seeing as to the company I keep, was that that I didn’t fill in the address line with “no fixed abode”.



1 – I do bemoan the lack of local Lancastrian accents and growing up I was surprised when I was told that I had more of a neutral BBC announcer voice. These were in the days, long before the fall of BBC 3, when it implied southern received pronunciation or the Queen’s English. Whilst linguistic scholars have the class touchstones of how British people pronounce “bath” and “scone” and “garage” I was also led to believe that that the town was divided by how the locals pronounced it; with either Burry or Berry.

I also once knew an Italian girl called Leda for a short time who, whilst speaking English brilliantly, I found it unbelievably funny how she pronounced the word milk – “miiilk” – which I would get her to repeat mercilessly, mainly for my own amusement. It’s true what they say about us being split by a common language. Potato, potahto.  Tomato, tomahto.


2 – I also labour under the fatuous belief that I’ve been a member of Birmingham Central Library since the late nineties when I was able to gather enough documentation together to prove that I lived there. This is despite the fact that they cleared out the books to allow the BBC’s seventies-set spy drama The Game to film there in 2013, using the classic Brutalist concrete architecture to pose as the period MI5 headquarters, and then when they’d finished they knocked the place down.


3 – As a student in Bangor it was only after a couple of years living there that I was finally allowed to join the local video rental shop when I was able to produce enough official documentation to prove that I resided on Dean Street. By that time I’d moved out to Friars Avenue, but after all the effort complying with rental store bureaucracy I appreciated the irony. Still, video shops, where are they now?


4 – I sent a version of this observational bit in to Martin Kelner, before Radio Leeds pulled his cult late night show for not being “female friendly” enough, and he read it out. Fancy that, a minute of material being performed on the radio, by a legend of broadcasting, and as a punch line I signed the comment: “Yours, His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh”.


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12 thoughts on “The Reading Room 02

  1. Ironically, and sadly, this is posted on the day that the story broke of Martin Kelner losing another show at BBC Radio Leeds for another equally spurious reason – “the station’s moving in a different direction, and you’re Martin Kelner, it wouldn’t be fair to ask you to do something different” – which was a story ‘Radio Today’ detailed with the headline: “Martin Kelner exits BBC Radio Leeds. Again.”

    Kelner detailed the events surrounding his removal – which some chose to describe with the punchy title “gone in 5 minutes” – with a cutting exposure of what’s going on in BBC local radio.

    My radio hero will rise again.

  2. Why the yes/no protocol? I guess it was to do with somebody’s account details, but if not, seriously, aren’t librarians able to give recommendations over the phone these days?? Perhaps . . .
    “Local Council Sued after Librarian Recommends Nightmare Read ‘Frankenstein'”.

    • No in the reading room area (around the other side of the wall from the librarian’s desk) it was all council info, family history, electoral roll and that sort of stuff. I’m not sure what this “behind the desk” book was but she looked up specifically what the person was after but I suppose in agreeing, or not, with what the person on the phone was asking then you can’t give secret personal information away to those who shouldn’t have it. Not sure, but it was something like that.

      I assure you it was all above board, whatever it was, and as I’ve said this person was definitely in the list of the more friendly and approachable librarians there.

      • You’re obviously blessed with some helpful librarians in Bury. Many of the folk that work in the Norfolk libraries are volunteers, nice, but not necessarily knowledgeable.

    • Volunteers? Don’t give the council that idea whatever you do or they’ll sack the lot of them if they think they can get away with it. Lately I’ve spent more time with the archivists in the basement and they do an invaluable job preserving the history we have.

      • Well, we do still have a skeleton staff of professional librarians, but faced with all the ‘cuts’, it has been a case of volunteers or library closures. ( – cos, don’t you know, ‘we’re all in this together’!!!)

  3. I was on the Liberty of London website only the other day spending money I shouldn’t have been and noticed their drop down menu had the option of every title I think I’ve ever heard of, including ‘Sheikh’. I was amused but not completely surprised as it is, after all, a landmark London store and luxury brand of ‘tourist attraction status’ and is frequented by the rich and famous as well as the hoi polloi like me. Now you’ve completely spoilt it for me with the news that Costa Coffee also have such affectations. To think that those people pushing past you to use the toilet could be Lord and Lady Whatsisname or the Duke of Eastwestshire . Maybe the brazen old gent you speak of was such a person and that’s why he didn’t mind showing the new barista his family jewels.

    • It’s been a few years since I registered my Costa Coffee loyalty card – seven I’m told – so maybe it’s all changed since then, but I guess that even they’ve been caught napping, compared to Liberty, although you don’t imagine many Sheikhs having to queue up to get at the chocolate tiffin.

      To be honest though I doubt I frequent Costa with many people that would use the more esoteric options. Although saying that there’s surely some Reverends/Fathers I’ve spotted and with the rest I guess must walk amongst us unknown somewhere.

      Let’s just say there are a number of customers that I can have a fairly good guess AREN’T a Lord/Honourable/Marquis.

  4. I’m amazed you bemoan the lack of local Lancastrian accents as they be all around. Accents fascinate me and I love to identify the difference between Bolton, Bury ( which I am definitely on the Burry side BTW) and Blackburn etc. In Bolton I can usually tell the difference between north Bolton and South Boltonians , who are slightly influenced by a Salford twang.
    I guess as Burry is officially part of ” Greater Manchester “maybe the lack of Lancastrian in Bury is influenced by the Mancs, . Although, like Boltonians do , people from Bury staunchly refuse to accept the Greater Manchester tag and still put Lancashire proudly on thier address?

    • For some reason you ended up in the spam folder. Don’t know why. Luckily I checked today.

      I am a “berry”, even though I can see it’s spelt “burry”, but I imagine someone with the better accents I bemoan would naturally lean to the latter.

      I’ve never asked this girl where she’s from, to pin down her accent, because I get in enough trouble in there and that just sounds a bit odd.

      I live in south Bury, on the way to Manchester, and I imagine the good accents are still found heading north out the other side. With you in Ramsbottom that is what I’d hope you’d find.

      Bury has a Bolton postcode (BL9 ?) and is technically part of Greater Manchester. Like you say THAT has never once appeared on my address.

  5. Yes I often like to scan through the title options and pick something different, just to test the reaction: major or reverend are amongst my favourites. My local authority has the great option of MX, which basically means ‘my gender is none of your business’. I tried using it but they still insist on calling me Mrs; even more annoying since I’m not a Mrs.

    • I don’t know if the server in the library or Costa have access to that information, every time they swipe my card, but if my title pops up on the screen they never mention it. And all that effort it took getting it.

      I have never seen a MX, but these days different terms for gender and sexuality are becoming so numerous that my head is spinning. Don’t know what all them mean, and would be perplexed if I was confronted with a MX. Is that pronounced “Mix”?

      As a slowly-aging desperately singly lonely male the Miss/Mrs mistake is, I guess, one of the problems I won’t have to counter. A benefit of being a man because even though I approve of the Master/Miss formal system for children the Master gets lost quite early on.

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