Thursday, January 24, 2008

In love with the library

I love the library, particularly on cold winter days when the rain slices down. It is a haven of calm and piece in a maelstrom of whirlwind shopping activity and if I had my way I would cheerfully spend three hours there while my wife tries on every jacket in the centre before deciding that there is nothing that she likes.
The best thing about the library, apart from the calm and relaxed atmosphere is the books. My Lord, have you ever seen so many books? Hundreds, nay, thousands of them, spines facing out, arranged on shelves as far as the eye can see.
The interesting thing about the books in the library – and I’m going on hearsay here, for I haven’t got around to reading them all – is that they all contain more or less the same words. If you open a book on quantum physics (the pop-up version) and compare it to Jordan’s autobiography, for example, you will be amazed to find that the same words appear in each. Of course, they are in a completely different order and, as such, totally alter the meaning of the text, which is a good thing, as it helps to maintain interest in literature.
You can find books on any subject under the sun and a few on subjects behind the sun and over its left shoulder too. And they are all arrayed with different covers, which is a great help in differentiating between them. Imagine if every book in the world had a plain brown cover, what confusion there would be!
Be warned though! If you go into the library looking for a book with a red cover, you will have to look long and carefully, for the books are not arranged by colour. There might be a couple in the poetry section, a few more in travel and maybe an oddball on the poets-who-died-of-consumption shelves.
So millions of books and you can borrow most of them (though not at the one time) and bring them home at no cost. Then when you are finished with them, simply bring them back. This is a concept unique in the retail world and it is surprising that it hasn’t caught on more. You could go into Penney’s, pick out a nice swimsuit for the summer holidays and then, when you come back, simply return the item to the store. Seems a good idea to me and would cut down on those endless queues at the tills, wondering why “yer woman” hasn’t got her purse ready if she’s been standing there for the past ten minutes.
Of course there are other things in the library apart from books. There is a music section too containing what I am told the young people of today call Compact Discs. These are a new-fangled invention, smaller in size than a 45 but capable of holding as many songs as a regular album. Be warned, though, you need a special contraption to play these Compact Discs and many don’t come cheap.
Again, the variety is breathtaking, anything from Mozart to 50 Cent (an American gentleman with a whimsical approach to lyric writing). It even contains that magical moment of music history when Lionel Ritchie broke into Bob Dylan’s set on Live Aid to announce that “Hey, America, have we got something special for you tonight?!” before launching into “We are the world.”
There are also DVDs but don’t bother with these unless you are very technically minded. They are so complicated that very few people even know what the initials stand for.
You can also take out paintings, which is another brilliant concept. Remember how that dappled picture of the whitewashed cottage on the Algarve looked so fresh and vibrant when you first hung it on the kitchen wall and now looks completely jaded? Well, the library has the answer. This week, a painting of a lake in Connemara, next week a basket of fruit with a dead pheasant by the side of it, the third week a horrendously ugly naked couple and an apple. Home decoration was never so easy. Forget those swanky and expensive home interior places – Blanchardstown Library has all the answers.
There are also computers in the library, ranged in circles and generally faced by dishevelled young people who know how to use them. Here, if you know what buttons to press, you can search the World Wide Web for any information that you require, though, if you don’t know what buttons to press, you get a paperclip man who tells you that it looks as though you are writing a letter.
A sign at the bottom of the stairs reads “Have you ventured upstairs yet?” Pretty spooky, eh? I prepared myself well. I stuffed a packed lunch, my Swiss army knife, several changes of clothing, a hairdryer and some Kendal mint cake into my haversack before slowly beginning the ascent, accompanied only by several Sherpas and a back-up team that waved me off from base camp. Slowly, I climbed, higher and higher, pausing every third step to reacclimatise myself to the more rarefied altitude. Soon my erstwhile companions were lost to view far below me and I pressed on alone. And then, suddenly, I was there, at the summit, with the broad sweeping panorama of Adult Fiction and European History spread out below me to the distant horizon.
I looked around at this brave new world. Here too were books but strangely different books to the ones I had left downstairs. These were “Reference books” and quite frankly, I wouldn’t really recommend them to those people who like a good yarn with a clever twist at the end. One book I picked up was a Government report on something, which was written in a language that seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
There were also magazines, though not many with “Britney reveals all!!!!” splashed over the front and newspapers and periodicals, which I had previously thought was some kind of flying dinosaur. Loads of luvverly things and I feasted my eyes on them like a child in a sweetshop before taking a few photographs for the scrapbook and abseiling back down the stairs.
In fact the only fault I can find with the Library is that it doesn’t stay open 24 / 7 like Tesco’s in Clearwater. How good would that be, spending an hour or two reading the latest Patricia Cornwell before heading into work or swatting up on the archaeology of the ancient Incas at three o’clock in the morning? Throw in a hammock or two and some futons and coffee and ginger nuts and it would be my idea of heaven.
Yes the library is a wondrous place and if my wife ever throws me out in favour of a toy boy, I think I could cheerfully move in. The chairs are very comfortable and they even provide you with a variety of newspapers to start your day, though the staff looks dimly upon you when you look for more toast to dip into your egg.

Friday, January 11, 2008


A recent, if somewhat unreliable, poll of Dublin 15 residents threw up the rather startling fact that most people were less concerned by transport and education issues than the parlous state of the Rich Tea biscuit. In fact the recent “Prime Time” special on the subject, using actors in graphic reconstructions, only served to underline just how bad the situation has become.
Years ago, the odd one or two biscuits at the end of a packet were occasionally found to be broken. The old joke was that manufacturers should therefore leave the end one out. No, not very funny but neither were a lot of comedians back then.
A much better joke is - who sang lead vocals on “You’re once, twice, three times a biscuit?” Lionel Rich Tea.
To get back to the main point of this mini rant, however, for the past year or so, it is quite rare to get even one unbroken biscuit in a packet, as most Rich Tea aficionados will attest. In fact the common practice has become to end up with 600 pieces all the size of an old sixpence – little bigger than crumbs.
There is of course a finger Rich Tea biscuit but these are rarer and don’t have quite such a malty taste. For the purposes of this discussion the Rich Tea is circular, designed to fit precisely into the average mug, unlike the much sweeter digestive which you can only dip an end in before turning it round to fit in the mug.
The Rich Tea has always been my favourite biscuit. Of course, there are others like Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes which are much tastier but they are more expensive and we’re only allowed to have them on special occasions like Christmas and St. Swithin’s Day. The RT, as it is affectionately known, is only 31c in Dunnes for 300g – by far the best value of all the appetising bickies in that aisle.
Naturally we buy others from time to time. Ginger nuts are great for dunking and you can only eat about two or three at a time. Bourbons and custard creams (the biscuit equivalent of ‘ebony and ivory’ living in perfect harmony) are also good value. I like Malted Milk too, mainly because of the fine bovine artwork involved, but find the Mariettas a bit bland.
So we always buy RT, though we always have to have a packet of chocolate digestives at the ready in case of visitors. Visitors would evidently be very offended to be offered a Rich Tea and it is not the biscuit of choice in social circles, though it is rumoured that the Duke of Edinburgh keeps a packet or two in the shed at Balmoral. The Rich Tea is rich in name only and should really be called a “Poor Tea,” due to its social standing.
The RT is a “base” biscuit, which doesn’t mean it has low moral values but, together with Digestives and Nice are one of the primary colours of the biscuit world. It has guided many a recuperating child back to health and, together with toast, is one of the few foodstuffs recommended by the World Health Organisation to be eaten after a stomach upset.
Peter Kay derides the Rich Tea mercilessly for its lack of dunkability but generations of Irish people have had years of pleasure dipping them in and out a “nice cup of tea.” There is an art to this of course. One dip, hold for about a half a second and retrieve. Eat immediately. If you don’t leave it in for long enough, the inside is still crunchy. If you leave it in too long it ends up as a soggy mass at the bottom of your cup and is actually quite tasty to scoop out with a teaspoon. If you don’t eat immediately, it slowly bends over on itself before dropping with a giggle into your lap.
As I mentioned though about a year ago, something happened in the manufacture of what Terry Wogan calls “The Lord of All Biscuits.” Perhaps they decided to cut down on the glue that holds the mixture together. Perhaps the man who carves the letters “Rich Tea” on each biscuit started going a bit heavy handed on the chisel. Whatever the reason, these biscuits now end up in the biscuit tub in thousands of small pieces and, despite the opinions of a certain person not a million miles away, this is not down to the way that I open the packet.
I am fully aware that there is a blue strip that you’re supposed to pull to release the wrapper but everybody knows you use the carving knife and slice through the diameter two biscuits from the top. Even if the first one seems intact, you only have to look at it sideways and it goes to pieces. It would have been no good if it had fallen into the hands of the Gestapo as it would have been broken before they even turned on the spotlight.
Perhaps, my wife goes on to suggest, it is that particular brand. Not so. I tried another brand (who shall be nameless but who bear a Scottish name that rhymes with ‘pity’) and the very same thing happened. This is not an isolated case – this is a Rich Tea pandemic which is threatening the enjoyment of the tea-dunking public on this island and as far as I can see, the Government are showing little enthusiasm in resolving the situation. Sadly there is no election coming up in the foreseeable future, so we have little leverage with the politicians at this moment in time, but in four years time I expect they’ll all be clamouring to condemn Biscuitgate, as I expect it will come to be known.
I knew a man once who used to spread butter on the backs of two Rich Teas and then stick them together like a Custard Cream. In fact it formed part of his thesis at UCD. Obviously he can’t do that now unless he has plenty of time to spare trying to reconstruct the biscuits from the myriad of pieces, like archaeologists trying to piece together a Grecian urn. His fun is gone and it is only a small crumb of comfort to him that he has been forced to take up the social art of dunking, though with pieces the size of your fingernail.