Thought for the Day – a rather rambling one, starting with Churchill on libraries

Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library’

– Winston Churchill

Not going to quite agree with this comment, which comes from an aside in a famous essay ol’ WSC wrote about his discovery of painting as a hobby.

I’ve loved libraries, certainly, ever since I ever discovered them when I was aged five (my first ever library book was Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg’ from the Waiuku Public Library). (one further aside: you don’t want to see me at the business end of any sort of a paint brush. Not at least unless you’ve had a safe distance installed first).

But I can certainly think of plenty of things that have made me more reverent than libraries.

Pegasus Books off Cuba Mall, one recent summer...

Mostly nature, the outdoors, and so forth (see some of the pictures which adorn this publication)… there’s reverence, awe, and a sense of ineffable wonder.

But on libraries themselves…my main emotion I think has been hunger, a ravenous, at times slightly desperate intellectual appetite.

Tinged with a touch of awe, certainly, but that awe is secondary.

Besides, to me ‘reverence’ makes you hang back a bit. You don’t want to approach the alter with too much enthusiasm in church. You can never be too sure what the Divine Ironist has in mind – except it’s bound to be something you haven’t expected and that it’s bound to be a bit of a doozie.

In the case of libraries, I just want to get at ’em. Reverence is there but it skips, hand In hand, with a wide eyed, gleeful and – let’s be honest about it –a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm.

And yes, I suppose, the ultimate ‘kids skipping hand-in-hand with a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm’ were found in the first book of the Bible, where they fairly notoriously came a bit of a cropper.

After I left the home town as a teenager – especially when I moved to big places like Wellington- about the first thing I did was join any libraries going. In the case of Wellington, two whole, massive libraries – the Polytechnic library as well as the public libraries – were on tap.

Like the beer, only much much much better. And I didn’t actually need to deepen my voice to order books at the library, somehow it just felt as though ‘The Ginger Man required a deeper voice. And perhaps some facial fair.

These city libraries were places of awe, certainly. But more, they were places of a kind of desperate and slightly bewildered, unfocused hunger than of reverence.

There was so much there: so much to discover. And they were run by these helpful, but often daunting, highly educated and sophisticated people called librarians.

I has reverence and respect for librarians, certainly. Likethat started with the librarian who, back home, introduced me to this wondrous system called Interloan.

Being able to order up books from any library in the country was a breathtaking discovery. Used to go into the Waiuku library every second Friday after school: order up some book or books I’d discovered in a footnote or bibliography I’d found recently.

Let me at ’em!

Then as the year wore on, discovering second hand books stores, these inspired awe and reverence, joy and discovery.

Stairway in the magnificent old Hard To Find Books in Onehunga, a few years before the recent move.

Cheap books you could actually own!  Repositories of the worlds’ wisdoms and follies you could return to and scrawl disagreement in the margins!I actually dream about second hand bookshops. No exaggeration. Sometimes they are stores I have known: more frequently my dreams are some sort of combination of every second hand book shop I have ever known, plus an unconscious idealisation of what a perfectly arranged (and here I use the term ‘arranged’ loosely, if not wildly inaccurately) shop would be like.

I like to think of this as a kind of premonition of a heavenly afterlife – especially one which also comes with a well-stocked shelf of single malts. A a heavenly second hand bookshop should possess, as well as an endless stock of fine whiskies a proprietor who plays a genial, intelligent wry and witty guide and host ,with a gift for intelligent conversations.
It certainly beats bell out of other theories of the afterlife I’ve heard about. 
The best second hand bookstores I’ve known are organised, so you can find what you are after – but not too organised. An air of amiable, intelligent dishevelment should always be part of the mix.
The key thing – and I’m sure this is something second hand bookshop owners are often immensely frustrated about – is that such stores are only partly about selling.
Such establishments are more about the atmosphere- the ‘vibe’ if you like.
Like the quote from Churchill hints, they are about serving as a repository of knowledge, of wisdom and of folly, frequently at the same time.
Ok – to get back to Churchill- that it ties back to reverence,of a kind.
I think it shows an irreverent form of reverence.
The best kind, I feel.
Nothing should be too formal.
So, cheers, all. Here’s a glass of Glenmorangie, raised while reading Andrew Roberts’ recent biography of Churchill.
That should serve as a chaser to WSC’s own favourite, a flute of Pol Roger.

Good old fashioned steam powered trains

Happened to come across this item about a place close to the origins.

The railway station featured, the main one for the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is about 10kms from where I grew up. It’s just down the hill from my grandfather’s farm, and across the road from another relative’s farm.

The branch line closed in the mid-1960s: I have a very vague memory of watching a small engine, without any train, chugging under the bridge by the old electricity board building on Waiuku’s Kitchener Road, probably around the time the line shut. I would have been, though, only about three or so.

Bit of a story with how the railway line came to be built in the first place: in the late 19th century, the locals agitated for a branch line to be put in.

Such decisions were made by cabinet ministers in those days, and the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, tended to award such infrastructure projects to electorates which had been farsighted enough to elect an MP which supported his government.

As the area was, at the time, part of the electorate held by the then leader of the opposition, William Massey, the locals were told to go whistle.

The government changed in 1912, Massey was PM, and he got them their railway, though not right away – World War One intervened.

I gather it never made a profit and had to be constantly subsidised by the government. According to that story linked to above, the line now manages without any such government support.

When I was a kid, after the line closed, the station premises were used by Karaka Bulk Spreaders as a fertiliser depot.

The vintage railway went in, gradually, from the early 1980s. The bit that extends into my home town, Waiuku, runs through another relative’s farm, where we used to do hay every year.

It was kind of neat – we’d be part of the show, it seemed, as the train came through.

The vintage railway is recommended, for any of you Aucklanders – or anyone in holidaying in Auckland and wanting a day trip out to the country .

I’m biased, of course, but its a great place to visit.

There was even a song about it, albeit written and recorded, oddly in 1977 – during the period between the railway being closed circa 1968; and the vintage railway opening sometime in the mid-1980s.

Warning: contains yodeling. Catchy, though.

As a bonus, here’s the Kinks, singing about trains. It’s off their masterpiece, the low-key, out-of-its-own-time, Village Green Preservation Society album, which, by a coincidence, was being recorded around the time the Waiuku branch line closed.