Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Ray of sunshine

Last week, Ray left planet earth in a rocket bound for the great beyond.

Humans and aliens both loved Ray, who referred to his craft as 'joy'. His stories helped grown-ups retrieve their childhoods from the attic, and prevented youth from sending their imaginations out with the recycling. Plus, he just seemed like everybody's granddad.
Cult of Ray. (Alan Light, 1975)

Ray said: "Life should be touched, not strangled. You've got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it." Ray grew up in libraries, and loved paper. But he eventually said that Fahrenheit 451 could go electronic, like a fire balloon casting off into the dark unknown.

He was wise to make his home in Los Angeles, because here in London, it's summertime again. 'Summer' is an ancient Celtic word that means 'three months of rain, just like last year'.

Britain is a land of traditions. Rain or shine, a hose-pip ban must be declared each summer. Yet under no circumstances must anyone contemplate fixing the leaky Victorian sewer system under London. Rain or shine, Union Jacks will flood the streets for Jubilees, and Olympians will flex at appointed times on blinking plasma screens in terraces. Shows and showers carry on, year upon year.

Where traditions are destroyed, it is traditional for the local council to do the destroying. In May, Brent council sent the police to stand guard as they stripped the Kensal Rise Library of its books at 2am. It's not clear whether their concern was ex-military sniper-librarians, or Dan Brown books. In a move that would make Cindy Lou Who cringe, they even removed a plaque commemorating the library's opening by Mark Twain in 1900.

London's libraries are becoming an endangered species. My two local libraries were closed just this year. I'm no economist, but I can't imagine that supplying Kensal Rise with the latest Dan Brown book is anything like bailing out the Royal Bank of Scotland - even given Dan Brown's rate of publication.

Douglas Adams once wrote an excellent profile of local councils. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens as a guy called Arthur Dent wakes to find a wrecking crew in his garden, poised to tear down his house on planning orders from the council. When Arthur becomes agitated, the wrecking crew insists that planning documentation has been posted for a disused lavatory, behind a sign that says 'beware of the leopard'. Of course, only minutes later earth (excepting Aurther Dent) is vaporized by alien bureaucrats called Vogons, who are making way for an intergalactic bypass.
Don't panic. (Megan Trace, 2011)

I suspect the officials who shut down Kensal Rise Library at 2am have posted lengthy justifications for their actions somewhere - likely in a disused mental lavatory, guarded by a leopard. 

When their busy schedule of defending the universe against sniper-librarians allows, Vogons and councilors should both consider spending more rainy summer afternoons in the library. They can bring their Kindles if they like. Ray said: "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."