This was a sight to make any booklover’s blood run cold – a fire engine outside the British Library, with sprinklers in the upper storeys triggered.
The library is an oasis of civilization in a world gone mad. Obviously it is a place to go to use the books and other resources, but it is also so stimulating and calming just being there.
So when, yesterday, I was in one of the reading rooms and the fire-alarm went off, my heart sank. The staff very efficiently ushered us out on to the square in front of the library where the picture was taken.
I had visions of the great Library of Alexandria going up in flames … I said to the person next to me that I hoped it was a false alarm, particularly since my jacket and bag, complete with a ticket for that evening’s Prom Concert, was in a locker inside the building. With horror, I saw that some sprinklers high above us were showering water on to one of the roofs; it was also starting to rain …
But the gods smiled; there had been a malfunction of some sort, the fire-engine departed, and a few minutes later we were allowed back into the building.
Was it, I thought, a metaphor for what is happening to this country? I would like to think that the current situation with the government and parliament is a malfunction, which the big boys will come along and fix, assure us that everything is ok, and allow us back into the real world.
I had always thought that ‘Tosspot’ was a masturbatory term of abuse, when suddenly I came across the word in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Thomas Hardy’s novels were liberal in matters of sex, but I couldn’t see that word getting past the obscenity laws.
A little thought, and reference to that fount of all knowledge, Google, confirmed that the term refers to a habitual drinker.
I shall now have to come up with another description adequately to describe the First Lord of the Treasury …
A comment in the Sunday Times today, reminds us of another well-known, newly appointed populist European leader of recent times, who promptly closed down his parliament – one A. Hitler. He suspended the Reichstag only to see it burn down a few days later … Hmm. Isn’t the House of Westminster due to be closed shortly for major renovations?
Talk of this reminds me of an amusing incident that occurred when I was a post-graduate student at Essex University in the early 1970s. The university was a hotbed of revolutionary socialism in those days, with several strikes and sit-ins happening during my time there.
During one such sit-in, a barrier of lockers was erected – with my office and the student union TV room inside the barrier. I was obliged to crawl through a tunnel to access my desk … My soon-to-be wife was visiting at the time, and I had found out that Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) was to be shown on BBC 2 at 9 pm. This was a famous NAZI propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl that chronicled the 1934 Nürnberg rally. The film was fascinating and terrifying considering what was to come, but I could not see any politically correct reason for not watching it if challenged.
We crawled through the tunnel, and at 9 o’clock, surrounded by revolutionaries and no-one being much interested in the TV, I changed the channel to watch the film. Notwithstanding the content, it was electrifying, and we managed to see 20 minutes or so before anyone noticed all the swastika flags and recognised some of the ‘players’. Then someone did, and they commented that Albert Sloman was probably in there somewhere (he was the university Vice-Chancellor, the Antichrist and universal hate-figure among the students); we were obliged to turn it off.
Triumph of the Will should be watched by everyone. Right-wing populist political leaders are gaining power in more and more countries around the world. We need constantly to be reminded of how easy it is for apparently laudable aims – full employment, economic prosperity etc – to be subverted into misery, terror and death.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs