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  • Shelley Dark

#16 on the hunt

I've been looking forward to searching the archives at Kew for so long I could hardly believe that the day had finally arrived. I was so nervous that I took a wrong turn twice and was only saved by directions from friendly natives.

​It's only a 10-15 minute stroll from the pub. Rows of terraced houses with tiny front yards, here and there a car taking up all the gravelled space between the fence and the front door.

This cute little bookshop is on my way - might have a chance to pop in here one day next week. Antiquarian books always get me. Maybe I'll be a research junkie instead.​

The archive building is fairly forbidding. Horizontal even.

You have to leave most of your stuff in the lockers on the ground floor and put the things you want to take upstairs into clear bags provided.

​The security person on each floor unpacks them to check for anything naughty (?) and then you swipe your plastic reader's card to go through the metal detector to that particular floor's reading room and swipe it again to leave. I soon learned not to change floors too often!

It helps that the staff are nice and friendly. If you accidentally take something upstairs that you can't take into the reading room (like an apple from breakfast oops) there are more (small) lockers on floors 1 and 2. But you MUST remember that locker number, because there is no number on the key. I was tempted to leave the apple there to shrivel....

I love the neat ordering system: request a specific seat and the documents you ordered are put in the red plastic locker belonging to that seat.

I'm 44B. Forever. A la Maxwell Smart. I found myself asking myself, 'Should 44B go for a walk to stretch her legs?' At 6.45pm I told myself, '44B it's time to go home.'

There is another important rule to learn. When you take the box or book out of your red plastic locker, you MUST grab the loose yellow bar-coded leaf of paper with it. If you let it float to the floor as you walk away you'll end up in the Tower of London. Luckily they gave me a second chance.

All these rules were making me feel silly and school-girlish. Until I lifted the first leather-bound volume out of the red plastic locker. It's quite sobering to hold a book centuries old, the paper index tags dry and curling .

photo courtesy National Library of Ireland, The Burning of Cork

It made me realise what the fires in Cork in 1920 really meant. All those old Irish books are gone.

Some of the documents are loose and tied with string. I was totally inappropriately dressed. A sensible outfit would be gardening clothes or at least an apron. By the end of the day I looked like a chimney sweep.

I have windows behind me in 44B - every now and then I look at the blue sky to focus on something further away than my hand. And I discovered something very helpful - the Archives wifi is lightning fast! Blog photos upload = yayyyyy!

I was a very happy little geranium on way home this afternoon.

I haven't stopped for a break either day, or wanted one - the hours have simply flown. Told you I'm a junkie!

That's what I had last night for dinner last night - rosary (?) goats cheese and cauliflower tart, English runner beans, Norfolk potatoes and pesto. I ate it in the bar - the local boys were watching football on TV so a shout went up when the team scored, or a collective groan for a penalty. I wanted to punch the referee.

Now to the 64,000 dollar question. Have I found anything? Well yes. I've found lots of really interesting and helpful background information in letters of the time. But have I found answers to any of my big questions?

YES YES YES!!!! Yesterday I suddenly found the answer to one of my big BIG questions. This changes the whole complexion of the story. It was strange to be sitting in a silent room, discovering something I've wanted to know for my whole life (I know, stop exaggerating). I couldn't jump and scream 'Eureka!'. So I settled for whispering it to the utterly gorgeous 44C, and she punched the air for me. It was a seat 44 moment. We both almost laughed out loud.

Thank you for sharing my excitement.

Until the next diary entry buddies, I wait you,

shelley dark, writer 

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