My first week here at Gladstone’s Library has passed by in a blur of books, great food and conversation. This library is a rare hidden gem of the type you only find in a country like Britain. It has just the right mixture of eccentricity, beauty, history and genuine friendliness.
I knew before I arrived that I would enjoy the lovely surroundings and the books but I didn’t realise just quite how much I would enjoy the company of the other residents. I can’t remember when I last had such a series of stimulating conversations. What’s wonderful here at Gladstone’s Library is the sense of inclusivity represented by guests of all denominations or those, like me, with none.
What everyone staying here has in common though is a curiosity and an appetite for learning, exploring and thinking. I am in a routine already and love waking up every morning, eating a bowl of porridge (essential brain fodder) before heading into the splendid gothic arches of the reading room for a day of writing. I have found myself a little desk on the 1st floor balcony with a glorious view of the trees opposite.
But I have grown to love the communal mealtimes here just as much. Without fail every dinner has led to a sparkling discussion about politics, religion, literature or life in general. Last night we were discussing the question posed by one guest as to whether the traditional British stiff upper lip has been replaced by, as he put it: “a national wobbly lower lip”. I do wish Gladstone were still here because I am quite sure he’d have a firm opinion on that one.
I was visited over the weekend by my three-year-old goddaughter Seren and her Mother. The magic of this place was not lost on Seren either. As a special treat she was allowed to peep inside the reading room. Her eyes lit up and she gasped with joy when she saw the towering shelves and endless rows of books.
“But why aren’t there any children’s books?” she demanded.
Once outside she declared this was where Harry Potter might live (I quite agree, I have already nicknamed the library Hogwarts for grown-ups) and declared that she could see fairies playing on the lawn. We ran around for a little while catching fairies, interrogating them for a wee while and then letting them go. Then she had a long and fairly detailed conversation with someone she said only she could see but who “lived” in the library. For all I know it could have been Gladstone himself.
It was a reminder to me that make believe and imagination is something that comes so naturally to children. But in our busy adult lives when do we really get the chance to let our imaginations run wild? Truly just to let go and allow our minds to wander into flights of fancy? Or to give ourselves the space to let pure creativity wash over us like a warm rain shower?
I think this very special month at Hogwarts for grown-ups that is exactly what I intend to do. I might even go catch some fairies on the lawn later. I bet they’ve got an opinion on the wobbly lower lip question.