The young lass sitting next to me is dressed in deepest black, all frothy lace skirt, strappy top and pointy boots. Her nails are painted black with what looks like spider’s webs carefully fashioned on top.
She tells me she would have been wearing blue lipstick to complete the look – but she has had to come here straight from college. Makes sense. I suppose.
certainly couldn’t accuse her of not making an effort. I look down at my navy trousers and printed top and feel somehow inadequate by her side.
and I are at the Presentation Evening organised for volunteers in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. You may remember that this year’s theme was The Creepy House, hence the appropriateness of my neighbour’s outfit. She and I are but two
of 300 people who volunteered at one of West Sussex’s 36 libraries over the course of the Summer Holidays. Altogether we volunteers put in a total of 5,000 hours – which, at the minimum wage, is the equivalent of more than £30,000 in
paid time. My friend Martina managed a totally impressive 66 hours which made my 16 hours pale into insignificance. However every little helps, they say, and wasn’t it good of the library to lay on this little celebration for us?
The majority of the volunteers (OK, all of the volunteers except for me) are aged between 14 and 18. The refreshments provided for us today are therefore teenage fare –
squash, Celebration chocolates, Cadbury’s chocolate finger biscuit and popcorn. Fortunately (and Mr B would be pleased to confirm the truth of this) I am well able to behave like a teenager when the mood, or the occasion, takes me. We munch popcorn
while the Children’s Librarian feeds our curiosity with more statistics. No fewer than 11,000 West Sussex children, aged 4 – 11, signed up for this year’s Summer Reading Challenge. There were days when it seemed like I was meeting
every one of them.
We were all presented with certificates. The teenagers’ certificates all came from Outset Youth Action, the amazing local organisation
which encourages, motivates and enthuses youngsters to consider volunteering as an alternative to just hanging around. My certificate is a bit different but identifies me as a “Reading Activist.” I like that. I have never been called a Reading
Activist before but I like the sound of it. Some of us have our photographs taken amid a bit of confusion over whether people’s parents have given permission for them to be photographed. They probably don’t have to worry too much about me.
The Children’s Librarian suggests I might want to get involved in other children’s activities, like Story Time or Song Time. I wouldn’t be able to read
a story or lead the singing but I could sit next to the member of Library staff, help choose the tunes and clean the instruments after each session. I remind her that I have had plenty of experience at cleaning the instruments during slack moments at the Creepy
Desk. I always think it pays to emphasise one’s practical experience in such circumstances.
The sign at the bus stop outside the Library tells me that
my bus home is due. Mr B is cooking coq au vin for dinner so I give him a call to say I will be back soon. The bus is like an oven as the heating has been turned on, despite the fact that today is a beautifully warm, late Summer’s day. The
occupants of the bus are clearly just as mixed up. Some are wearing shorts and shirts, others are in jumpers and coats. The woman opposite me is wearing a fur hat. I kid you not.
I have taken down last year’s Summer Reading Challenge certificate from the kitchen cupboard and carefully pinned this year’s in its place. I tell Mr B, with some pride, that I am now, officially, a Reading Activist. He says he
has always known that, what with my head always in a book and my inability to engage in sensible conversation when thus occupied.
But now, you see, I
have the certificate to prove it.