Our boiler is broken.
It’s the third time it has broken in less than a year. In itself this is only a problem insofar as we can’t afford to hire someone to fix it and I’m currently a full-time student, sat at home, watching icicles grow on my nose and wondering how long I can sit still before frostbite kicks in.
Under these circumstances it seemed like a sensible idea to get myself outside (where it’s currently warmer than my house) and hit the shops. Well, when I say ‘hit the shops’ what I mean is ‘visit the local library to see if there’s an acceptable area for studying on another day and get a free hot drink at Caffe Nero’. Now, I haven’t been to this library since I was around 16 years-old, when a friend and I would bunk off double P.E at the end of the school day, go to the library where the cafe sold Flake milkshakes, and we would hang out until home time. Since that’s almost exactly half my life time ago (shit, that’s scary stuff), I figured it would have changed a little but the reality threw me.
As a child I went to this library a LOT. My parents would take me so I could hire out eleventy-million books that I would then keep for a couple of months before remembering to take them back. When I was old enough, I’d go there on the bus by myself. The last book I remember borrowing was one on ghosts, when I was around 13. My presiding memories were that there was an enormously long flight of white, marble-effect stairs, then a corridor with art-for-purchase lining the walls before another set of doors revealed the quietly thrumming hub of the library itself, split across two floors. The immediate left-hand side had been the desk for checking books in or out, then a cafe a short way across and towards the back wall, sectioned off from the many, many rows of bookshelves and study areas. Not any more. The cafe is gone, as is the desk. In fact, the entire library looks around half the size. The stairs to get up there seem smaller and less intimidating. There is no more art on the walls, as it has been replaced by dozens of tiny shelves, holding up individual books. And instead of lots of study zones, there is one large area in an alcove set into the back wall. It’s gone modern! Very odd!
Feeling a little discomfited, I stepped back out and noticed the Sports Centre next door, is now open but as another business entirely. Still feeling my sense of nostalgia, I decided to poke around. The same wooden doors (circa 1970) are still there, but the reception area has completely changed. Gone is the turnstile you had to walk through and gone are the vending machines from which I bought a Shandy every week at the roller discos in the mid-1990s. Because the sports centre is now a climbing centre. Where the main hall once held badminton courts, there are faux mountain and cliff-sides and large crash mats, all of which can be yours for just £7 (£7!!! I remember paying £1.50 to use the gym!). Upstairs, where my parents sent us for activity days during the summer holidays, there is now only a cafe. It made me wonder what happened to the squash courts and the gym, hiding towards the back of the large centre.
Of course, I’m not surprised at the changes. If you don’t go somewhere in fifteen or sixteen years it’s either going to look different or it’ll be covered in cobwebs, but in many ways it made me feel like I was a child again. I remembered catching the bus into town after school with my friends so we could race each other on the exercise bikes at the gym. I remembered trying to skate round the hall on roller blades, lights flashing and music pounding, attempting to look cool but getting cross with the blades and their tendency to slip sideways as you moved. I remembered the activity days. I remembered how the library had sparked my love of books.
It would be easy to take this train of thought down a depressing road of ‘look how much fun I was having back then’ but instead I prefer to look at how it made me the person I am now, and to keep in mind that we could all use moments like that in our lives now. I have those memories, those wonderful, happy memories, because I did something at the time. The only way we make more of them is to keep creating those moments of happiness and joy and fun and excitement and laughter. To that end, maybe I should try that wall climbing…after all, falling on my arse could be a great memory twenty years from now!