Caught by the River

The River Ure

David Stead | 10th July 2013


‘Fisher’s Hall, Hackfall Wood’.

by David Stead.

It is a morning of high wind and squally showers so instead of a damp day painting by the river I have decided to do some research for the river Ure project – I’m working on a painting of Fisher’s Hall in Hackfall Wood, an area painted by Turner on his second tour of the North in 1816 and I’d like some background information on his trip.

Instead of a day alone at the computer screen and because I have to pop into town, I decide to head to the local library for a bit of convivial bookishness. It is housed, as I suppose many are these days, in a modern red brick building charmingly conjoined to a cost cutter store, a bus station and the ‘attended’ public toilets. I say ‘modern’ building – modern meaning utterly devoid of any architectural merit. There are no design features to add interest to its bleak and utilitarian façade unless you count the blue and white plastic municipal sign stuck to the wall above the automatic doors. The now inevitable ring of hardened smokers fill the benches outside in a Bronchitic break from studying the writings of Heinz Wolff or the price of Heinz Beanz. I climb the stairs and enter through the security device which ‘tut tuts’ reminding me of the librarians of my grubby and dishevelled childhood.

I find myself in a rainbow world of primary colours reminiscent of a pre-school classroom or a fast food outlet; the lurid visual noise matched by the audial. No whispering here – it’s been banned. The librarians declaim like opera singers attempting to extinguish a candle from the other side of the Albert Hall. No wonder then that two thirds of the people in here are wearing hearing aids – they’ve been deafened by librarians.

One of the staff who according to his name badge (and I’ve no reason to disbelieve it) is called Mervyn, has a cold and sniffs loudly at 25 second intervals. It’s one of those reverberating sniffs – more of a snort really –that resonates throughout the room so that it’s impossible to be certain whether it’s the gale outside causing the windows to rattle or Mervyn. By way of an occasional counterpoint he will drag a yard or so of damp, grey cloth from his pocket and trumpet into it like a Moose calling to her young across the barren wastes of Alaska.

I spend some time perusing the cellophane covered books before realising that I am alone in this: everyone else in the room is either tapping away at computer keyboards like demented woodpeckers or joining in the North Eastern and Adjacent Areas Town Crier competition which is taking place behind the desk. The books, I realise, have been shunned in their former stronghold in much the same way as the smokers, only without the added indignity of being relegated to the bench. In the end I can take no more of the opera singing, librarian snorting, computer beeping cacophony and head back out into the street.

An hour later at lunch with my friend Mike, my ears still ringing with the scholastic equivalent of post gig tinnitus, he suggests that perhaps there should be a ‘quiet area’ within the library just as there are now on trains……

I thought libraries were quiet areas.

David is a professional artist working largely in the north of England, Scotland & Ireland. The River Ure Project will continue throughout 2013 culminating in a touring exhibition and a book.