My parents and I have an incredible ability to visit attractions only when they are closed. The Louvre was closed when we went there when I was a kid, we once drove around Barcelona for hours trying to find this fair on the top of a hill, and then that was closed, and after my Dad spent the entire Christmas break talking about an exhibition of historic book-binding at the John Rylands library, that was closed on the day we went. (I actually thought he was going to try and break in for a minute or two.)
My Dad loves the John Rylands library, primarily because he loves anywhere vaguely exclusive where he can browse ancient texts and pretend to be some kind of Professor of Old Shit. He’s a member of the British Library in London too, just because he likes being able to go through the turnstiles to the members only bit, and carry an ID card around so everyone knows how important he is. When they were still refurbishing the John Rylands, Dad booked himself onto a special tour, where he trooped around with a load of students and learnt about the sand-blasting processes that they were using on the old stonework.
Ever since then, Dad’s been on at me to go with him for a look around. He and Mum have taken to collecting old and (relatively) valuable books in the last few years, and I swear he’s just inspecting the shelving so that he can commission his own Victorian library one day when they move out of a mid-row terrace and into some country mansion in Herefordshire. Because I work half days on Tuesdays now, today was the day that I bit the bullet and humoured him, and I have to say it was great. This was for several reasons, but the fact that Dad pretended to be an underwater explorer whenever he went in or out of the front revolving doors made the trip worthwhile in itself.
To be fair, the building is pretty incredible. It’s a bit like Hogwarts from Harry Potter, minus the night sky beaming down on you. Apparently it was the first building in Manchester to get electric lights, but it’s still got this glorious dingyness about it, like you’ll turn a corner and stumble across some kind of spellcasting ceremony. They have exhibitions of the books and prints, including a fragment of second century bible that looks like it’s been used as bog paper, and and a load of old medical journals in glass cases, but the guy on the front desk (who did a marvellous job of keeping a straight face after Dad’s underwater impression in the glass doors) said that you can photograph the building, but not the books. This is a bit like saying “Yes, you are free to photograph the sky, but please avoid any clouds”, but still, I tried to comply, and here are some interesting bits of ceiling and shit:
Things to do at the John Rylands library when bored of looking at books:
Pretend you’re under Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.
Walk like you’ve been sitting on a horse for too long in order to stop the bottoms of your jeans from swishing loudly.
Look for secret passages.
Imagine all the books are in the Addams Family library and crazy stuff jumps out of the pages, such as: a pack of huskies from ‘Adventures in Sweden and Lapland’, killer ravens from ‘Birds of North America’ and a trail of slithering placentas from ‘Birthing Babies Using Modern Science’.
Ask the man in the gift shop why museums always sell jam.
Pretend the revolving doors are a portal to an underwater land/the moon/anywhere without sufficient oxygen.
When all this fun is over, try taking your Dad to the model shop across the street, where he can be disappointed by the the selection of model tractors on display.