From opera singer to book wumman with everything in between, the story of streetreads is also the story of me.
I was given my first library card at the age of 4. I was a shy child and often preferred the company of books to people. I could be found in the linen cupboard with my books and my red penny writing notebooks. When we went on holiday, I would find a quiet spot away from other children and read for hours. I tore through five Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books one weekend.
I went on to become a lifelong reader. Arthritic hands which make holding a book difficult and the eyesight problems of old age have been hindrances but I’m still reading.
The sensitive bookish child turned into a creative, music-loving adult. I trained as a classical singer in one of the country’s foremost conservatoires and went on to sing with a prestigious opera company as well as performing up and down the country in recitals and concerts.
But there was always a dark side. I have suffered from poor mental health all my life. This has had a profound impact on my relationships with family and friends. And it has largely destroyed my ability to maintain a stable work life. The endless self-destructive patterns that accompany mental illness are all too familiar to me. To this day, I struggle to keep my mind and soul stable.
Although it is now a long time ago, I have spent time on psychiatric wards and during one long-ish stay, I was made homeless. I was lucky in that a room was found fairly quickly for me – narrow bed, 2 ring cooker and the bathroom down the hall. And, in those more enlightened times, I found a landlord within a couple of months who would let a basic but decent flat to me. But the sensation of being outside the normal world, being *other* and the deep sense of loneliness and isolation that engendered are still vivid in my memory.
I have experienced suicidal feelings many times and have half-heartedly acted upon them on more than one occasion.
So when I talk to our homeless readers, there’s a feeling of understanding. Of course, I haven’t had to endure a tenth of what they’ve endured. But the lack of hope, the vulnerability, the despair even – these are familiar to me. I’ve been there. I still am sometimes.
Running streetreads isn’t a walk in the park for me. I feel the responsibilities very keenly. I can’t let these guys down. Depression, mood swings and anxiety aren’t the perfect bedfellows for doing this job. Maintaining a public face when the private one is falling apart. Muddling my way through admin and bureaucracy. Keeping kind and generous supporters informed on social media. And above all, making sure that the readers – our readers – get a great selection of books.
The best times are probably when I’m just the book wumman. Most of our readers have no idea what STREETREADS is. I’m just the wumman who turns up with a slew of books and that’s fine by me. We have a blether together and I know that the books are working their magic. Because books do that. And because they do, I’ll carry on being the book wumman.