Where Would We Be Without Libraries and a Good Strong Pot of Tea?

Those of you unfortunate enough to read my recent musings on Death Cleaning might be interested to know one of my ways to de-clutter is I’ve stopped buying books.

As a lifelong bibliophile, this was not done without some hand-wringing. I own a Kindle but I rarely use it as, like Captain Jean-Luc Picard on the Starship Enterprise I prefer the real thing. He keeps his in a glass case in his quarters as a book is a valuable curiosity in the 24th century.

I still spend hours in bookshops. The difference now is I take a picture of the books I find, then trot off to my local library and either borrow them or, if they’re new, order them.

The fly in the ointment here is that libraries are an endangered species.  

As I write Bradford council have announced industrial action by staff has closed most of their branches this week. What their PR bunnies call “reshaping” of the district’s library services means hundreds of staff are likely to be receiving their P45’s – and they’re understandably not happy. 

The mobile library, once a regular sight on the roads of the UK, is now a rare beast and rural libraries are all but extinct. 

Libraries are not just places to borrow books but provide useful meeting spaces for local communities, internet facilities and information provision, all of which will be lost if we don’t get back in the habit of using them.

As well as government cutbacks to local council funding, the other reason libraries are closing faster than pubs is younger people don’t read books. The only time I hear of anyone under 30 in my local library is when a report of nuisance youths pops up on my police computer.

So imagine my surprise when I rocked up at my local branch in Eccleshill last week to find there was nowhere to park. It transpired I’d picked the morning when the local knitting circle were busy inside turning balls of wool into all sorts.

About 20 ladies young and mature were happily gassing away as their needles clacked. It was plain this was such a therapeutic session for all concerned and a good time was being had.

I’ve always considered knitting a dark art since having to pretend to do it onstage in the sixth form. I played the mother of the star in “Ernie’s Incredible Hallucinations” by the Scarborough playwright Alan Ayckbourn and had to wear twin-set, pearls, a tweed skirt and heels.

As the curtain went up I looked unconvincing with my needles, but the audience immediately started shrieking with laughter at something else. None of the cast could work out what they were so amused by until I looked quizzically at Broadhead, a lad I knew in the front row.

With tears in his eyes he pointed up my open legs. I looked between them to see my Union Jack underpants. It was some minutes before the audience were composed enough for us to to carry on.

Back in the library I noticed some of the ladies were knitting teddies. Trauma teddies. These I’m familiar with as they’re often donated to me over the front counter at my police station. These woollen bears are then carried by officers in their patrol cars so that when they come across young children in difficult and upsetting situations, they can give them a teddy.

The word about them is spread on social media and PC Grace Deteouf is co-ordinating this in our force area. I’m sure Grace won’t mind if I tell you she’s had some trauma of her own after her baby was stillborn a couple of years ago. So she’s keen to support mothers and children, and is a top girl.

Because I can’t knit, to chill out when faced with stress I usually reach for the teapot. West Yorkshire Police are well known for being big tea-drinkers and if you do a decent brew at the Helpdesk, you’re Mr Popular.

I’ve blathered on before about Yorkshire Tea, so it was gratifying to note recently that I’m not the only one who enjoys its strong qualities.

This year Her Majesty gave her blessing to the publication of “The Other Side of the Coin. The Queen, The Dresser and the Wardrobe” by Angela Kelly which raised eyebrows at court. Amongst the revelations in Angela’s book were Yorkshire Tea was used to dye Prince George’s new christening gown to give it a more aged look. What? We need an explanation.

Enter stage right professional Yorkshireman Alan Titchmarsh. 

In his recent Daily Telegraph article Alan tells us strong tea has many uses (search engines are wonderful things). He suggests putting them in trainers to absorb the whiff, placing cold ones under your puffy eyelids – and using them to dye your hair.

“Soak three teabags for five minutes in two cupfuls of boiling water. Allow the brew to cool and apply to the hair, working into the scalp. Leave for one hour and then rinse. To cover grey hair, add as much sage as tea. Use chamomile tea for blondes or rooibos tea for redheads. Neither sugar nor milk is necessary.” Thanks Alan.

Recently I went to see Gilbert O’Sullivan at Lancaster Grand Theatre. His sold out audience witnessed him and his wonderful Irish guitarist Bill Shanley do a stripped down performance for which I got the last ticket and drove a 120 mile round trip to experience in what is Gilbert’s 50th year as a professional musician. 

That night he sang a quirky song called “Where Would We Be Without Tea” and introduced it by explaining his Irish mother always brewed it by putting the teapot back on the gas where the kettle had come from whilst it brewed. Gilbert now likes it strong to the point you can stand your spoon up in it.

I have Gilbert’s CD but I won’t be buying Angela’s book. I’ll be joining the queue to borrow it from my local library.