When I am writing an essay for my university course I will do anything not to sit down and actually do it. The television I rarely watch, my iTunes music collection, the washing-up, and even the laundry all seem more tempting than the reading and analysis which proceed the writing of several thousand words on development and gendered ageing experiences. I usually have to remove myself from my flat to work, to save myself cleaning the bathroom or baking a pie in order to do anything but get my essay written. Typically I seek peace in coffee shops, finding my university library too terrifying a place to work; it is usually wall-to-wall panicking students which does little to reassure me that I needn't be panicking too.
The other day however I made for the library to end all libraries in London - the wonderful British Library. The British Library has stood in its current position amid the train stations of Euston Road since 1997, when a striking new building complete with a sculpture-strewn piazza opened to house a significant chunk of the nation's collection of printed matter. Within this red brick edifice, which has oddly oriental elements to it with its sloping, tiered rooves, are housed literary treasures such as a handwritten manuscript of Jane Austen, Captain Cook's journal and ancient copies of religious texts. Many of these items appear in permanent exhibitions, whilst temporary displays appear to detail topics such as the changing nature of slang and the hidden propaganda of maps. Stretching up throughout the centre of the structure, spanning the floors, is a glass-housed collection, once belonging to George III. Occasionally you can see a shelf slide back and a librarian claim a tome before replacing the shelf and vanishing. Yet there are millions more books, papers, even every back issue of British Vogue, hidden away underground beneath this building and miles away in repositories in Woolwich. And these are the books that many hundreds and thousands of readers, writers and researchers come here to see.
I force my focus back to my work and type away and consult my notes and piles of photocopied articles. Surrounded by all the ancient words of notable authors whose works have illustrated history I hope desperately that some of their creative and literary genius will rub off on me. I visualise words and phrases creeping out of the yellowing pages and floating silently and invisibly in through my ear and out once again through my fingers tapping on the keyboard, populating the blank document on my laptop screen; a process of creative osmosis, if you will. And so fuelled by a lot of coffee and in the company of the world's greatest novelists, philosophers, poets and explorers I finally finish my essay.