In Praise of Libraries

stack of books

Libraries have always been a big part of my life.

I remember the excitement of finally being old enough to join the tiny library in the village where I grew up; the responsibility of having a card to look after; the solemnity of the ritual where I would approach the counter with my chosen books and stand watching while the librarian stamped each one with a return date.

(25 years later I am still slightly ashamed that I was once careless enough to lose a book from that library. Sorry sorry sorry. I have no idea where it went.)

At primary school I was selected to be a student librarian. It was a pretty unexciting job – one for those of us who were diligent and smart, but not popular enough to be elected house captain. Still, it won me a red enamel badge with gold lettering, which I pinned to my denim jacket with pride. Continue reading

Signed GPJ


My Grandpa died almost twenty years ago. I remember the date because it was the day after my 12th birthday. Most of my primary school classmates were away on a residential trip, but I’d chosen not to go (an introvert even then) and so there were just a few of us left.

Later that week the headteacher – the perfectly named Mrs Spankie – came into the classroom, placed a gentle hand on my shoulder, and told me I’d won a national competition for my project on Robert Burns.

I have never liked Robert Burns. Continue reading

I am Beyonce, but better

Mouth organs

In my head I am Adele. I am Aloe Blacc and Eminem. I am Florence Welsh and Fiona Apple. I am Elton John and Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Michael Stipe. I am Kylie and Dolly, Janis and Dusty, Aretha and Billie, all rolled into one pitch-perfect, perky-breasted package. Give me a stage and I will strut with the best of them.

Except back in the real world, I am Ruth, and I can’t even sing Happy Birthday in tune. I am that girl who was asked to mime in school performances. Continue reading

Internships: just for the young?

spiral bound notebook

Internships are wasted on the young.

Or maybe they’re not. Maybe it’s just that mine was wasted on me.

How I look back now and wish I’d taken more advantage of the opportunity. I was 21. I applied on a whim, scrabbling together a last minute CV, and was stunned to be invited to an interview. That meant a day away from my full-time but unpaid summer job as an arts reviewer at the Edinburgh Festival. I took the 5am train down to London, the 4pm train back, arriving in Scotland just in time for my publication’s launch party.

In between train journeys I spent several hours in the offices of a national newspaper, along with a dozen other wannabe hacks. First we were just observed as we sat and chatted, not realising it was part of the screening. Next we were given a marker pen and a copy of the paper to scrawl on. ‘Tell us what you’d do differently,’ they said. I circled the headlines. ‘Too small to be effective signposts on the page,’ I wrote. Finally we were paired up and had to interview each other – ten minutes to talk, then twenty minutes to turn it into a publishable piece. That bit was easy. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. Everyone has a story.

Continue reading

Friendship and Loss

I have not written about P before.

That is partly because I’m not confident that my words can do him justice.

But it’s also because loss can do funny things to people. It can make you claim a closeness that others don’t recognise, as you grapple with your own emotions and try to make sense of them.

I don’t want to do that.

There are others who knew P better than I did, so I’ve waited, because I didn’t want to speak on their behalf.

But he was my friend too, and now the time feels right.

Continue reading