The Honorary Secretary

Friday, 7 December 2018

It’s been a few weeks since my last update but I’ve been working hard on getting the word out. We’re now past that initial burst of pledges from early supporters. We’ve gone beyond 70 supporters so well done everyone and thanks for all the shares, likes and forwards. Keep up the good work. (Smiley face) To reward all your efforts I thought I’d post another extract for you all, so without further ado, from the Westmorland day here’s…

The Honorary Secretary

Leaving the Truck in the care of one of the world’s renowned food retailers I found my way out to the high street and to the truly impressive Carnegie Library. The Scottish born philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, built over 2500 libraries across the world as well as the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York. Kendal’s is a very fine example, built in the neoclassical style with large windows and a striking two-tone, local stone finish. These libraries, built with the intention of enabling people to educate themselves to a better life, are typically accessed up a flight of steps symbolising the aspirant’s elevation by learning. Kendal’s is representative in this very way. The other common characteristic of Carnegie Libraries is a prominently placed lamp post directly outside; and Kendal enjoys two, very fine, gloss black, cast iron examples, perhaps fifteen feet high, one on each side of the steps. The lamp post symbolised the enlightenment that was to be found therein.

Inside, the building was just as impressive as outside, light and airy and not at all dingy as libraries are often claimed to be. I made my way upstairs to find the local history department and asked the first person I could find who looked remotely like a librarian.

Wearing a badge saying Honorary Secretary, an elderly lady sat next to a table displaying some documents and photos that I didn’t really look at.

I assumed she must be important so I directed my enquiry to her. “Hello, I’m looking for information about the historic boundaries of Westmorland. I’m told you have a local studies department.”

She looked a little surprised, “Oh, try along the corridor.” She gestured to her right, past the table displaying the photos and pamphlets. She didn’t seem very confident but I didn’t think anything of it.

Walking along the corridor I passed an elderly couple, sitting in comfortable armchairs chairs reading, and I had that flash of jealousy of people who have the time to sit in libraries all day and read the books. A few steps further on I met a nice group of people working at desks who seemed to have the sort of jobs that I’d like to have, presumably doing research and dealing with books or some such. Evidently, what with the architecture, the visitors and the employees combined, Kendal Carnegie Library seems to have much to be jealous of. But what do all these local studies librarians do anyway?

I explained that I needed to visit Westmorland, and that it doesn’t really exist anymore and, surprisingly, they didn’t look at me as though I was mad. They probably thought it, but were too polite to say.

I was soon led to the maps and various resources that I needed to do my research and left to get on with it. Bear in mind the fact the Carnegie Libraries are designed for self-help so nobody was going to tell me where the old boundaries were. The librarians were able to reel off a list of the towns that were part of the historic county but In terms of familiarity they might as well have been on Mars. I thought I might be able to find an old map of the historic county but that would have been too easy.

Suddenly I had a thought. I could use my tablet to check if any of these towns have camp sites and I could use the library wifi, rather than the mobile signal that I’d come to think of as inherently unreliable. So I asked one of the local studies librarians. "Oh just ask the lady outside that you spoke to before," came the response. So I walked back along the corridor, past the elderly couple reading quietly, and approached the Honorary Secretary. She seemed important, she must know.

Unfortunately the Honorary Secretary was deep in conversation with a visitor so I waited my turn.

“You see, your pamphlet describes that yard as Fothergills Yard,” said the visitor.

“Yes,” responded the Honorary Secretary, nodding politely.

“You see I remember that, in 1957, the shop along the alley was owned by old Braithwaite.”

“Oh I see,” responded the Honorary Secretary.

“And the fishmonger, he was married to the undertaker’s daughter, he bought the house next door and I used to visit on a Thursday afternoon.”

“Oh yes,” responded the Honorary Secretary.

“Or was that Wednesday afternoon?”

The Honorary Secretary listened politely.

“No… no, it was Thursday afternoon, because the undertaker, remember his daughter married the fishmonger…”

The Honorary Secretary continued to listen politely and appeared not to have noticed me as I stood patiently waiting to ask about the WiFi.

“Well actually the undertaker’s daughter married the baker but that was later,” he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial tone, “she was a bit of a one you know.”

“Oh I see,” responded the Honorary Secretary.

“Of course this was the nineteen fifties so things were different then.”

The Honorary Secretary listened politely.

“Anyway, so before they painted the front doors, and I knew the man that sold them the paint, they had to repaint the sign for the yard and it was definitely Fotherhams Yard and not Fothergills Yard. So your pamphlet definitely contains an error.”

This went on for what seemed like another two and a half weeks… but, eventually, the Honorary Secretary, who had no defence against the barrage of historical detail and pointless nonsense, looked up and eventually noticed me.

“Can I help you?” asked the Honarary Secretary rather overcome with all the attention.

“Do you know the password for the WiFi?” I asked hopefully.

“Oh, wifi? Well I’m not sure.” She paused. “Do we have that here? I don’t know.” She stopped asking rhetorical questions but it seemed she had a series of others lined up that she didn’t vocalise such as ‘What is wifi anyway?’ ‘Have they invented something new then?’ ‘I wonder what time the shops shut?’ ‘What day is it anyway?’

Eventually she responded, “Perhaps you had better ask one of the librarians downstairs,” and she directed me back towards where I had started when I arrived.

* * *

Down on the ground floor, amid the books in the main room-awash with natural light from the massive windows, I found another librarian. I knew she was a librarian because she had books, lots of them. Surely she would be the sort of person who would help with the wifi. She was also very pretty in a middle aged, grey haired, librarian sort of way, with a petite figure and boyish hips, but we've probably had enough of that today. It must be something to do with bookish women.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to find out the password for the wifi.”

The librarian looked at me with arms full of books.

“I was told that you would know the password.”

“Oh really?” She looked at me as though to say that she didn’t but would be happy to help.

“I asked the lady upstairs, she had a badge saying Honorary Secretary, she suggested you might know.”

For a moment she looked at me puzzled when, slowly, an expression of realisation came across her face followed by a wry smile that made her all the more attractive.

"Oh her, she won’t be able to help you; she's nothing to do with the library." As she spoke there was a slight tone of disdain in her voice.

Maddeningly, the pretty, grey haired, elfin librarian led me back up the stairs, straight past the Honorary Secretary to the people in the Local Studies Department not fifteen feet from where I had first asked for the wifi password.  After some discussion about what their wifi was called, as there were many in range, including the Police Station nearby, which might have been interesting, I was facilitated with the details and I proceeded with my research.

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Thanks for reading this far. (Smiley face) If you think this might persuade a friend to pledge I’ll paste a link to this extract in the Resources for Supporters update and you can send them the link. (Smiley face)

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