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I spent a good portion of today carrying 70s science fiction journals through the British Library.

They’re all called things like ‘Zap’ and ‘Vector’, and have that trainspotter seriousness about them – lots of packing lists for Mars missions and the grating insistence on metaphysical and literary merit which plagues genre fiction.

There is no mistaking that these are “serious critical journals”, where “serious critical” involves photon lightbeams which can pulverise mortals quicker than you can say ‘martian’.

The illustrations, although -done by women! as is repeatedly mentioned in the acknowledgements – all err on the side of lascivious, or what passes for saucy if you’re a seventeen year old boy from the suburbs of Norwich who happens to like wanking off to a three-breasted Galgungian, wrapped in the tentacular embrace of her verdant lesbian lover.

This, but more tentacle-y and naked.

I was trying to have them scanned, a mammoth task undermined by someone who simply would not help, and, during the middle of my scanning, shut her little office for an hour for lunch.

Which is fine, of course, I would rather be outside too, than stuck in an airless room whilst a woman vigorously microfiches Medieval music, and a man with too much to scan and too little to do is achingly polite and insists in his Aussie lilt that absolutely everybody goes in front of him.

I have never met anyone so meticulous about the practice of rudeness. She was expert – from the balance of taciturnity and sudden, barking reprimands, to the way in which she simply refused to explain what I was supposed to do. Dealing with idiots all day is soul destroying  – I was a cold caller, I am very aware of how rude people can be (how rude I am being) – but she had elevated her unpleasantness to such a fine piece of performance art, that it is only a shame so few people will see it.

The upshot, however, of the registration and the fiddling around at three different desks because scanners were broken and then waiting and the hushing and the comedy of  getting lost and the being back in a library which makes me ache, is that I had a sudden spate of pain.



I like the idea that it might have made her day, had I told her. Certainly, her murderous intent as involved the Medieval music woman was clear – she kept making it steadily colder in the room as I was there, and then asking if the poor woman – who was in an outdoor coat and scarf – was warm enough.

She also had it in for a timid man who wanted to scan some pictures of soldiers – ‘ONE PICTURE ONLY!!!’ was bawled at him repeatedly, until the claim was calmly and pleasantly refuted by a manager. So she already had mental anguish and indirect methods of torture down. I hope she would have been pleased, in her role as Executive Embodiment of Evil, to know that there was one girl limping comedically around London during lunch hour because of her. I may send her a postcard.