Posted by: billpurdue | April 25, 2009

52 Libraries: your choice of music?

First, a question…

When you visit a public library, what sort of atmosphere do you expect to find – or rather, what level of background noise are you comfortable with when choosing a book? Do you want complete silence? Or are you happy with conversations quietly going on as well as the usual sounds of books being stamped and people walking in and out? What about background music ? I certainly wouldn’t like it, but Gloucestershire County Libraries obviously think their readers (or as they say now, customers) would like it, according to the Daily Mail. Already four libraries now have sound systems and play background music in an attempt to attract more people through the door.

Personally I think there are too many shops these days which play background music: we don’t want libraries to follow suit. I can’t remember hearing background music in WHSmith or Waterstone’s the last time I visited. It’s all part of public libraries trying to be something they are not: I ‘m quite happy with a few computers around the place or being able to borrow DVDs (as long as they are not all “last year”), but playing music all the time is going too far.

In Sarajevo

Back in the 1970s I was lucky enough to go on holiday to what was then the old Yugoslavia. It was a tour rather than a holiday in the sun and we visited several places which were to feature heavily in news bulletins about the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s – Dubrovnik, Mostar and Sarajevo. That however wasn’t the reason I picked up one of the 2009 Richard and Judy books The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway [Atlantic Books £7.99 9781843547419]. The novel is inspired by a cellist, who saw 22 people killed by a mortar shell as they waited to buy bread near a market. The cellist decided to play Albinoni’s Adagio on his cello out in the open street once a day for 22 days afterwards.

It’s not a story which explains how the conflict came about. Instead, the book centres around the lives of three people who spend a large part of their time trying to avoid being shot at by the snipers in the surrounding hills as they go about their daily business. There’s Kenan who has to make regular journeys across the city to get water from the brewery (the only source of fresh water) for his family and their grumpy neighbour. Dragan is lucky enough to still have a job, but his wife and son have escaped to Italy to avoid the carnage. He has to cross the city to get bread from the bakery for himself, his sister and her husband. Both have to work out their routes carefully and try to judge the right moment to cross a street where they are vulnerable to the snipers’ bullets. Then there’s Arrow – not her “real” name – who is a recruit to the militia which is trying to protect the city as best it can. She is assigned to protect the cellist during his daily performances out in the open street.

This is certainly a short but powerful and graphic account of life in Sarajevo during the siege, which lasted nearly four years. I have to say that I wasn’t sorry to finish it – perhaps because this wasn’t really my kind of book. It’s not that I want to block the horrors of war from my mind, but we see similar scenes almost every day on our TV news programmes and perhaps I really wanted something completely different. However I’m glad I read it – and I’m glad I visited Sarajevo all those years ago.

As promised, more humour.

I could do with some light relief now and who better to provide it than Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden with their hilarious Radio 4 comedy The Doings of Hamish and Dougal: You’ll have had your tea? [Preface £16.99 9781848090231] I’ve always been a fan of BBC Radio 4 humour, though I have to say that the really good comedy shows currently on Radio 4 are few and far between, especially now that we no longer have “I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue”. “The Doings of Hamish and Dougal” is only a 15 minute programme, but it’s full of laughs as you would expect from  those two. It’s currently on BBC 7 and you can catch up with it on the iPlayer ( . It’s a mixture of good old fashioned humour, echoes of Monty Python and “Round the Horne” and I find it very funny.

The book is a collection of scripts. Now I don’t normally take to programme scripts but I certainly make an exception here. Just the kind of thing to cheer you up.

Next time – a bit more humour plus a certain Mr Paxman.


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