British Asians of my generation had very little freedom growing up. We had pushy parents who wanted us to become doctors, lawyers or accountants, we were definitely NOT allowed boyfriends and girlfriends, and going out with friends involved spinning any number of yarns about studying for tests, just so we could be ‘normal’ and go to a school disco. As our lives revolved around studying, our parents saw the library as the one respectable place that we could be trusted to go to by ourselves.
Imagine, then, 22 years later, sitting with a careers adviser at one of the branch libraries today, and discovering that we both went to school in Gosport, a year apart, and spent much of our spare time in Gosport Library.
‘It was a big, smoked-glass building with a massive anchor outside’ he said, still dazed from nostalgia.
It all came back to me in an instant. I went there every Saturday, and began by laying out my books, pens and notes in one of the cubicles, so that it looked like some very serious studying was taking place. Then I’d wander off into town for a couple of hours before returning refreshed and ready to read. I used to borrow tapes of bands that I wasn’t allowed to listen to, and worked my way through all the Agatha Christie books. One afternoon, I saw a crowd of old ladies huddled around a particular set of shelves. I’d seen this phenomenon before, and had paid no notice, but this time I went over. That was my introduction to Mills and Boon.
Reading about Gosport Library now, I see that it was revamped in 2005 to become The Discovery Centre. It’s website states that it is now ‘four floors of books, reference materials, art, local history, museum exhibits, film, music, events and a coffee shop,’ and it sounds fantastic.
I remember it very much as a safe haven from parent and peer pressure. I remember it as a place to hide and to reflect, a place where I could complete my university applications in private, and a place to plan my route to freedom. I hope it continues to give its members the crucial breathing space it once gave me.