Touch My Books

Germaine Greer thinks the UL is now a “beacon of naffness”. DAVID DRAKE encourages her to embrace her inner child.

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The University Library, the most “magnificent erection to the Cambridge skyline”, has always been shrouded in rumour and intrigue. I can’t sleep for the thought of the pornographic collection of epic proportions stashed at the tip of its tower. I am consumed with the desire to master the flirting etiquette in the West room to facilitate a cheeky encounter in the stacks (244:2.c.95.254 is apparently where it’s at). I dream of relieving my bowels on its steps like those posh boys did last term.

But no, Germaine Greer does not mention any of these potentially interesting topics in her rabid attack on the aesthetics of the UL. Instead, the focus is on the new bollards you probably didn’t notice the last time you went there. They spin around. It’s crazy. According to Greer, this instalment is “naff” (Polari slang for ‘not available for fucking’. If only they were; that would be worth writing about). Naff is a useless word, which means nothing except to closet homosexuals of the 60’s. Far from being ‘naff’, these bollards relate to the context of the library on a simple formal level as well as on a more intellectual level.

Greer does actually deign to allow the artist to explain this intellectual slant to his work in her article (before rubbishing it by dubbing it as free advertising for some lamer un-heard of version of JSTOR); the books, when aligned, reveal an inscription which the artist hopes will undermine the intimidating esoteric ‘boldness’ of the library by encouraging public interaction. Considering that the vast majority of tourists to Cambridge are probably unaware of this monolith’s existence, the small opportunity for ‘real interaction with Cambridge University’ which the bollards provide can surely be nothing but beneficial for the status of the library. Who wouldn’t enjoy lining up pieces of a bronze sculpture on a quest to reveal a secret inscription? All of this as well as providing the practical function of preventing vehicular congestion around the principle ingression point to the library building itself. It’s a perfect example of the marriage of style and substance.

Sorry, did I genuinely just say “vehicular congestion”? Almost on the same level of pretension as Greer, who seems to think these bollards are just another example of “endless rather ordinary accretions” that “vitiate” the library’s “boldness”.  Sure the library’s bold; it’s a huge red phallus in the centre of Cambridge. This is apparently Greer’s idea of “heaven on earth”. Freudian?

These are no ordinary bollards. They’re the cat’s pyjamas. The best thing since sliced bread. The antidote to the worst thing since Swine Flu, Norovirus, or Baldness: UL Mania.

I’m not talking about the mania that encouraged Greer to become enraged over sponsorship (which will only make her darling library better, surely?) or bollards, or the mania that means the Tea room often resembles the canteen from a Lord of the Rings film set, but a type of mania anyone who has ever gone to the brick shit house that is that University Library, in an attempt to work, will have experienced.

You’ve spent the afternoon in the Reading room. 2pm-3pm was spent looking for the books. Three of which were off the shelf (that keen bitch probably got there at 9am this morning and is hiding with them in some corner, preventing young lovers from expressing themselves), and the other four were conveniently hidden on overflow stacks on opposite sides of the building. If there even are sides to the world’s most confusing and exhausting building.  After an hour of looking around to see if there is anyone who might see you working, for fear of betraying that new slick socialite image you are still doing your best to uphold, finally the books are opened. They don’t make any sense so you go and have a cup of tea in the Tea room, or a sandwich and cigarette in the courtyard or stone benches outside the main doors (come on Germaine, that’s where you munch and puff).A few hours later, nothing achieved, brain swimming, you stagger outside.

“Piles of rejected books”? No: this is the thinking man’s Duplo! Sick! Remember that slide in the Tate Modern? Same thing! THIS is the kind of art I can appreciate. DJ-ing with books? Can you keep the first one spinning by the time you get to the last one? Can you get two bollards spinning in sync? The opportunities for fun are endless. I can get on my bike having regained my sanity, library madness appeased, safe in the knowledge that even if I didn’t get any work done, at least I had a great time spinning some bronze on the way home. So, Germaine, All in favour of a book themed playground…