Leaves on a Winter Tree
I dropped into the Reading Room of our Library the other day; which I often do when it's raining or when I'm tired after carrying a heavy bag of messages along the street.
In that peaceful oasis you can spend a pleasant hour, with the large variety of newspapers and magazines on display -- all tastes catered for, from Weekend to The Guardian and The Spectator.
The racks, on the day I looked in, had been swept bare as if by a hurricane! Of daily newspapers two had survived, frail leaves on a wintry tree -- The Scotsman and The Press and Journal. (The Orcadian was there still, and without disrespect to The Orcadian I wondered why, since presumably every household in Stromness and environs gets The Orcadian, until it was pointed out that The Orcadian file must be kept up to date. And apart from that, there are visitors and tourists who, presumably, will go for The Orcadian before anything else.)
The slaughter among the magazines had been equally frightful. If you want to know what the intelligentsia of the world is saying and thinking, from now on you will have to buy your own Spectator and New Statesman.
One sits in the Reading Room now with a feeling of desolation -- a few dry bones in a desert place. It is no longer an oasis where you can spend a pleasant afternoon.
And this cactus of austerity has blossomed from one of the best-off communities in Britain.
The Reading Room, since the Library building was completely reconstructed inside, is a pleasant little place. If you get tired of reading, you can rest your eyes on the street outside, that goes past Melvin Place and Gray's Noust, and then surges up, a stone wave, to the top of Hutchison's Brae.
Before that, the Reading Room was a vast dark chamber -- far too big for its purposes. On the shelf mouldered an ancient set of Harmsworths Encyclopedia; and a box for donations with knife-marks on it. There was the strangest collection of magazines -- that, I imagine, was not a reflection of Stromnessians' tastes, but they were simply there because they cost nothing. I remember The Vegetarian News; and one article in particular from the thirties -- the author wrote scornfully about those who advocated meat-eating and instanced the ox (that powerful animal) that ate only grass... And there were The Anti-Vivisectionist, The Elim Evangel, and many another...
Even so, the tree of knowledge in that other era of austerity -- the 1930s -- had richer foliage than today.