Winnie Lincoln

Winnie Lincoln

Winnie is being interviewed by Mary Grover on the 8th May 2012.

[This interview was conducted in Winnie’s sitting room in the company of her two friends Jean and Joan and Winnie’s daughter, Kathryn.  You can find Joan’s interview here.]

Mary Grover: I’m interviewing Winnie Lincoln.  Winnie was born in Upperthorpe and lived in Upperthorpe until the 1950s when she moved to Wadsley, where we are now.

Thank you very much, Winnie, for letting me come.

Winnie Lincoln: Right.

MG: So first of all Winnie, you’re obviously a very big reader.  I can see that from this room which has got your books all around us.  When do you think your love of reading started?

Winnie:   Er, well.  Really in later life, you know.  I mean when we were; we didn’t have books at home.  Don’t think mother could afford them anyway, only the odd one that were prizes and that, you know.  And …, and we went to the library otherwise. In fact I’ve still got one or two of mum’s old books.

winnie--1web

MG: Have you?  What are they?

Winnie: Yeah, from her being ten years old.

MG: Really?

Winnie: Yes.  Jessica’s Prayer, gosh, some more I can’t just think of.  I don’t know whether Kathryn’s got any of them.

MG: Was that a Sunday School Prize, Jessica’s Prayer?

Winnie:  I think so, … and a Bible, one or two old ones.  Red Dave, that was my husband’s when he was a boy.

MG:  I don’t know that one.

Winnie:   And I still kept it, yeah.  But other than that, you know, it was just library books or books that people passed on to us.

MG: Yes.  So did your parents read those books to you or did you read them mostly yourself?

Winnie:  Well mother didn’t have much time to read to us only she used to sing Salvation Army hymns to us.

MG: Did she?

Winnie:  Yeah she was a Salvationist.  Yeah, she was more familiar with that.  She hadn’t time to sit down and read much.

MG: What about the Bible, did she read from that to you?

Winnie:  No, no she didn’t.  But she was always quoting things from it.  But other than that, as I say it was you know just going to the library.

MG: Which library was that Winnie?

Winnie: Upperthorpe.

MG:  Was that fun?

Winnie:  Yes I used to enjoy that, yes.  And of course when you’re schooling you’re going with your friends, meeting up with your friends and they were passing on word, oh read this, read that.  But it were mostly fairy stories and things like that that you’d go in for when you’re young aren’t they?

MG: Yes.

Winnie: You know.

MG: So what age did you leave school?

Winnie:  Fourteen.

MG:  And did you go on reading after you’d left school?

Winnie: Yes, but not so much really.  Mm, books that came into the house, comics, you know and that.  Me brothers, I were youngest of five, so no, we didn’t have a lot of books.

Dad used to belong to a Red Circle Library, do you remember that?

MG: Well I’m very interested to hear about the Red Circle Library, Winnie, because I think there were two branches and one’s on Snig Hill.

Winnie: This one was on Infirmary Road.

MG:  Infirmary Road?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: And what were they?  Because, what kind of books did they have, Winnie?

Winnie: Just fiction.

MG:  Just fiction, right.

Winnie:  I didn’t see any others.  I used to go and get Dad’s books ‘cos he were interested in sport, or mostly horse … I can’t remember the author that used to ride, er write on horse racing and things like that, and westerns, of course.

MG: Zane Grey, did he read?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.

MG:  Can’t remember but he liked westerns.

Winnie:  Yes.  And anything on horse racing.  He was a bit of a gambler.

MG:  Was this novels about horse racing?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, I didn’t know there were any.

Winnie: Yes.  Oh yes.

MG: Can you remember any authors of these horse racing books?

Winnie:  No I can’t, no.

MG: How interesting.

Winnie:  I think they used to pay probably sixpence.  It was not very much.  And it was a lending library.

MG: So for sixpence, you could get quite a few books?

Winnie: No I think you probably only get one.

MG:  That’s interesting.

Winnie:  Might have been less than that, I can’t remember.

MG: So you were sent down to collect them.

Winnie:  Yes, very often.

MG: Did you choose them for your dad?

Winnie: Yes because I knew what he wanted.

MG: Yeah.

Winnie: I’d be in trouble if I brought back what he’d already read! [Laughter]

MG:  So you had to remember what he had read and go and find a new one for him?  That’s hard!  When you were down in that Red Circle Library what did, what was it like?

Winnie: It was quite busy, actually.  Er, it was only just a little shop.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: You know, and no bigger than just one room, one small room.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But lots of people used to go and use it.  I mean in actual fact, you know, I mean I know books wouldn’t be expensive then, but there was a lot of people, they just couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No, that’s right.

Winnie: They couldn’t afford to buy them.

MG: No.  Were the books in the Red Circle Library paperbacks?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Right.

Winnie: Yeah.

MG: So were some of them a bit, falling apart?

Winnie: Yeah but they were still passable, you know.

MG: And when you were down there Winnie, did you see any that you would’ve fancied reading?

Winnie:  No.

MG: No!

Winnie: Winnie: No, they weren’t, er, no.

MG:  Right.

Winnie: But then, I, you know, just used to read whatever you could get hold of, sort of thing.

MG: Yes.  So what did you get hold of?

Winnie:  Well, not much.  Other than the library.

MG: So the library was your main source of books.

Winnie: It was, yes.  Till I got, you know, when you get older and anybody reads a book.  Oh you’d like to read this, passed around, as I said before.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: And then of course, … after, as you get older, you get more selective in what you want to read.

MG: What became your favourites?

Winnie:  Well, mm, adventure, history, anything really, now, that’s factual.

MG:   So you prefer factual now, do you, Winnie?

Winnie:  Ahem, yes.

MG:  So when you were in your twenties, what did you like?

Winnie:  I didn’t read a lot then.

MG:  You didn’t.

Winnie:  No.

MG: Why do you think that was?

Winnie:  Well I think you were at work and then in your spare time, if you weren’t busy at home, helping mum and things like that. … And then of course, my older siblings were having families so I was pretty much involved with them.  And then it was later on that I started.  I mean I’ve read, I’ve always read.  My husband used to like books on nature, so we always read things like that.  Shooting, nature, whatever.  But since then, I like, more or less, factual books.

MG: Factual books, yes.

Winnie:  Factual books.

MG: Tarka the Otter, did you ever read that one?

Winnie: No.

MG: No.

Winnie: No.

MG: Mm, that was a sort of mixture of nature and, wasn’t it?

Winnie:  It was, it was.

MG: So with your liking of history and fact, Winnie, did historical novels?  Did you enjoy those?

Winnie: Yes.

MG: Anyone stick out in your mind?

Winnie:  Oh, lots really.  Adomnan of lately, Adomnan. [A life of Columba]

MG: Oh yeah.

Winnie:  Yeah.

MG:  I tell you what we could do Winnie.  I see that you’ve got some novels out there.  Could we put them between us on the sofa and you just tell me a bit about them?

Winnie: Oh gosh.

MG: Thank you very much.

[The microphone is knocked over.]

Winnie: Look at that poor thing!

MG:  Winnie is showing me a book. What is it Winnie?  That’s a very old book.

Winnie: Well, it is.  I should probably … And these, in actual fact, I think mum used to collect so many coupons out of a paper and she’d send these off and …, I made a mess of that!  And …, send for these books and that goes, these were the only ones we had really.

MG:  It’s a beautiful book actually.  I know it’s old but it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie:  It is old yes, because it covers everything.

MG: So what’s it called, this book?

Winnie:  It’s the Southern Encyclopaedia of Knowledge.  We only got the volume one.

MG: Right, yes.

Winnie:  The front part’s missing.  So this would probably be about, er, early thirties, I should imagine.

MG: Yes, 1920s or 30s.

Winnie: This one might be better.

MG:  Yes and it’s got beautiful illustrations and it’s beautifully printed.

Winnie: They were, they were very good. ‘35, this.

MG: So did you read encyclopaedias?

Winnie: I used to read these, yes.

MG: And this second book you’ve got here, Winnie, what’s this?  Children’s Golden Treasure Book.  [A third voice says “Oh I had one of them”.  MG: Did you have that Jean?].  ‘Brimful of joy and entertainment! ‘

Winnie:  And it was!  I love ‘brimful’, yes.  [Laughter]

MG: So what’s it brimful of?  [Jean: Things come to you don’t they when other people are speaking.  Winnie: They do Jean.  Jean: Sorry.  Winnie: No.].

MG: …, I was just looking at this.  Maggie and the Gypsies, by George Elliot.

Now there’s a sort of  … very famous author.

Winnie: Yes of course he is.

MG: I wonder if it’s taken from, yes.

Winnie: I didn’t know that then!

MG:  Course!  No.

Winnie:   No.

MG: So I think that must be an extract from Mill on the Floss, perhaps.

Winnie: Yeah they were.

MG:  Aha.

Winnie: They’re all extracts.

MG: Yeah.  Do you think you ever read George Elliot, a whole novel?

Winnie:  No, never.  No.  Ewing?  Does that read “Mrs Moss by Mrs Ewing”?

MG:  And Mary Lamb, a poem by Mary Lamb.  So it’s full of good stuff, Winnie.

Winnie:  Yeah but I mean I weren’t aware of that then.

MG:  No. When you’re looking through it now, can you pick out one that you really loved?

Winnie:  Mm  I think probably Surprise for Katy, I think I like that.  That was by Coolidge, Susan Coolidge.

MG:  Ah, from What Katy Did? Lovely book.

Winnie:  It would be, yes.

MG: Yes, yes. So this book.

Winnie: Christina Rossetti?

MG: Wow.

Winnie: Summer.

Jean:  Oh I remember her, Christina Rossetti.

Winnie:  Do you Jean?

Jean: Yes.

Winnie: Yes.

Jean: It’s funny in’t it?

Winnie: Feast of the Moon Goddess.

MG: Lewis Carroll?

Winnie: Oh I mean …, these were treats.

MG: Oh yes.  So how do you think you parents bought that book, would that be with coupons do you think?

Winnie: Yes, yeah they would be.

MG: Can you remember the newspaper, Winnie, that you got those coupons from?

Winnie:   No.

MG:  No.  You don’t know what paper your parents took?

Winnie:  No I don’t.

MG:  No.

Winnie: The Thorny Path?  Ooh!

MG: Winnie’s got a third book now that is very old and it’s called The Thorny Path by Hesba Stretton.

Winnie: She’s the author of Jessica’s First Prayer, too, which I’ve got upstairs, I think.

MG: And you think Jessica’s First Prayer is a Sunday School Prize, didn’t you?

Winnie:  I’m sure it was.  It’s upstairs. Back bedroom.

MG:  That’s a heartbreaking story.  So can you remember anything about this Thorny Path book?

Winnie:  No I can’t really.  They were all tear shakers.

MG: Yes, yes!

Winnie:  Weren’t they.

MG:   Oh dear. Very, very sad pictures.

Winnie:  Very. All the books of that period were, weren’t they?

MG:  Yeah.

Winnie: They were very hard.  Like Jessica’s Prayer. In fact I only found that out a few weeks ago and I thought I’ll read this again.  She’s on her own completely and living in a garret and I think it was the verger at the local church; she’s brought it now.  Yeah, Jessica’s First Prayer.  So she’s all alone in this … Salvation Army Slum Corps.

MG:  Oh brilliant!  There’s an inscription in this, “Salvation Army Slum Corps”.

Winnie: Slum Corps.

MG:  Slum Corps?

Winnie:  Yes it was, and it’s still there.  Salvation Army on Infirmary Road.

MG: Yes.  So what was this Slum Corps?

Winnie: Well, because it was slum area.

MG:  Oh.  And it says, “Presented to Hannah Stacey.”

Winnie:  Stacey.

MG: For regular attendance, February the 2nd 1899.  So do you know who Hannah Stacey was?

Winnie: My mum.

MG: Your mum?

Winnie: She’d be ten years old then.

MG: Right.  Yes.  Jessica’s First Prayer, the book you were describing to me, with this poor little girl in the garret. So what did she pray for, I wonder?

Winnie: Oh he was a coffee stall keeper and he also looked after the local church.  Must’ve been like a verger or something there.  Yes.  And he took her under his wing and gave her shelter and ted her and took her into church and she’d never been in church before.  It’s very – a real tear jerker.

MG:  Yes, with lovely illustrations.

Winnie:  Yeah, yeah.

MG:  Yes yes.  So these Sunday School Salvation Army books of your mother’s you’ve treasured yourself.

Winnie: Oh yeah.

MG:  Yes.  Did you ever get any prizes?

Winnie:  Ooh no!  [Laughter]  Never!  Never!  I never went long enough!  No, no!

MG: And I don’t think they gave out prizes in the twentieth century like they did in the nineteenth.

Winnie: No, as I said, I used to go to the Salvation Army and St Phillip’s Church.

MG:  Oh yes!

Winnie: And St Bartholomew’s at Upperthorpe, no, not St Barts, Tabernacle.  Yeah, yeah.

MG: Ah yes, now St Phillip’s church, a very famous man worked there, Arnold Freeman.

Winnie:  Oh, I knew him!

MG: You knew Arnold Freeman?

Winnie:  I went, Arnold Freeman had the little theatre on Shipton Street, just below The Oxford at Upperthorpe.

MG:  Yes.

Winnie:  Right, and he used to put on little plays.

MG: Yes.

Winnie: We used to go there.

MG: Did you?

Winnie:  And they were just wooden forms, it were only a little place.

MG: Yes.  Can you remember any of those plays?

Winnie:  No I can’t.  But we used to go there.  I remember him.

MG: What was he like?

Winnie:  Mmm, not a tall man, quite slim, as you would expect, quite studious. He used to walk, sort of walk about in a study.  But it was nice. We used to go, because I mean, probably, I can’t remember even what we paid.  We probably got in for free. ‘Cos I was always hanging round t’door.

MG: And what else did The Settlement have at St Phillip’s?

Winnie:  I can’t remember.  Did that belong to St Phillip’s?

MG:  Yes it was connected with St Phillip’s [Winnie: was it?] but I’ve forgotten when it became independent.  They moved up to the Merlin Theatre after the war.

Winnie: Did they?

MG: Yeah, and it’s him that the Freeman College is named after.

Winnie:  Yes, yes?

MG: So he was a very amazing …

Winnie: I learned more about him since than I knew then.  Right, yes.

MG:  There wasn’t a library there, Winnie, was there?

Winnie: No, not that I know of.

MG:  No, right.

Winnie:  Just above there on Shipton Street there was Oxford Street – it was joining on.  And there used to be the nurses’ home, just above there, to the Infirmary.  Oh, right, yeah.

MG: So when you – going back to when you left school, Winnie – … did you live in Sheffield?

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: And that’s when you didn’t have much time to read is that right?

Winnie:  No I didn’t, no.

winnie-3-copy

MG: So when do you think you got back into reading?

Winnie:  Only in later years, really. Well since I’ve been married.

MG:  Hm.

Winnie: As I said we read more books on nature and wildlife and, that sort of thing.  And then I got more into local history and history in general, archaeology, anything like that I’ll enjoy and read.

MG:  So would you agree with Joan who said that really she remembers more factual than novels.

Winnie:  Yes.

MG: Ah, that’s interesting.  So we’re going to close this interview down and open up the next one for all three of you.  Cause there’s so many overlaps.  Thank you very much Winnie for that.  That’s fascinating, all three of you really, because in a way it’s coming through that fiction really wasn’t what you treasured.

Winnie: No, no.

MG: You know, looking at these encyclopaedia books, mm, it’s really factual books and poetry for you.  Okay we’re going to stop this one.

 

Recent Posts

‘Those Cheerless Cemeteries of Books’

The thrill of entering a public library. Thousands of books arranged in familiar patterns. Fiction and non-fiction. Classics and novels contemporary and historical, romances, crime stories and thrillers, sci-fi and fantasy. Books about art, science, music, history, travel, philosophy, politics. What will I find this time? Something entirely new? a much-anticipated sequel? an old friend? Each visit is a promise.

At the beginning of the 20th century, public libraries, including Sheffield’s, looked very different from our ‘open access’ model, where the books are there for us to wander through, to pick up, to choose or return. Then, while there might be a few out on display, many public libraries hid their books away behind counters, or kept them out of sight in rooms marked ‘No Entry’. Catalogues, often out-of-date, were set out in the public area, and sometimes copies could be purchased. Borrowers would seek the advice of library staff. Once a book was chosen, an assistant checked on its availability and, if it was not already on loan, retrieved it from its shelf and handed it over to the borrower.   

The Sheffield Corporation have given a good deal of attention lately to the development of the public libraries on modern lines, and evidence of the progress that has been made will be forth coming to-day when the Central Lending Library will be open for view to the public on the open access system. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

From an anonymous pamphlet, The Truth about giving Readers Free Access to the Books in a Public Lending Library (1895)

With the exception of research and specialist institutions, there must be few ‘closed access’ libraries now. Why was it the norm in the early days? Maybe librarians and library authorities had little faith that books would not be disordered, damaged or even stolen by borrowers. Controlling access was a way to safeguard books owned by local ratepayers, not all of whom were happy with their money supporting the, to them, wrongly named free libraries. Perhaps there was also some attempt to influence what people read. Librarians and councils habitually worried about borrowers preferring the light novel over the serious work. The public library was, after all, invented to help people improve themselves.

Sheffield Central Lending Library 1910, with books locked away behind the counter (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com.
Ref: s02145)

As well as keeping borrower and book apart, closed access often meant problems for library staff. Book stores generally seem to have been crammed with shelving from floor to ceiling and young assistants had to scurry up and down long ladders to find books. Here is Joseph Lamb, Sheffield’s chief librarian from 1927 to 1956, on his days as an assistant:

Birmingham Central Library in those days (1913-14) was a murderous place in which only those with sound bodies and hardened minds could survive. Most of its large stock was shelved in three tiers of iron galleries reaching to the ceiling. In a closed library with an average daily issue of 900, the amount of leg work demanded of the staff was enough to qualify them as Everest climbers. (J P Lamb, Librarian While Young, The Librarian and Book World, Vol XLV, No 3, March 1956)

Opening of the Birmingham Central Free Library. Illustrated London News. Sept 16, 1865, page 256 (public domain). The ‘cheerless cemeteries’ can be seen on the left, with ladders for the staff to climb up and down.

And Sheffield librarian Herbert Waterson, who started work in 1869, hinted at the particular problems the ladders meant for Victorian women seeking library work.

Closed access inspired a piece of Victorian technology, the ‘indicator’. This was a screen, often fixed to the wall and divided into tiny sections, each matched to a book listing in the catalogue and showing if the book was in or out. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph proudly described the locally-made model installed in the new Brightside Library in 1872:

… the handsome mahogany frames on each side of the lending counter, in which is arranged what known as the ‘Indicator System,’ whereby the reader may see at glance whether the book he wishes to borrow is available or not. The system is ingenious, yet so simple that all can understand it. … (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, Saturday 17 August 1872)

The Cotgreave model of indicator
(from A L Champneys, Public Libraries (London, Batsford, 1907))

Indicators were often very large and could be unwieldy. The ones made in 1876 for the Upperthorpe and Highfield branches had the capacity for 12,000 books each. One of the Highfield assistants claimed that the staff used to play football behind their screen when the librarian was not on duty.[i]

Open access in a public library was trialled as early as 1893 at Clerkenwell in London by James Duff Brown and seems to have aroused considerable opposition.[ii] It began slowly to be adopted, as the objections to it were proved baseless. But in conservative Sheffield closed access was the order of the day until after the First World War. In two places only could borrowers roam at will among the books. The branch library at Walkley, which opened in 1905 with a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was converted to open access in 1913-14 by its pioneering librarian, Albert Ibbotson. His superiors objected but he got away with it. ‘The [open access] Walkley Library’, said a letter from Mr A Ballard to the Sheffield Independent on Tuesday 16 August 1921, ‘has been for the past seven years a veritable university to the working people’.[iii] At the same time, two schoolteacher members of the Council’s library committee petitioned successfully for the opening up of the Reference Library.[iv]

These were among the few innovations in Sheffield Libraries in the early years of the 20th century. By 1921 the service was in decline, and there was much muttering in the press. The numbers of books borrowed were falling, book stocks inadequate, administrative practices old-fashioned, staff demotivated and buildings (especially the Central Library) in poor repair. New chief and deputy librarians – R J Gordon and J P Lamb – were recruited to put things right. Determined and modern, they wasted no time.

Converting all the libraries to open access and introducing the Dewey classification system, as funding allowed, was an early decision in July 1921. The task was huge but, by the following June, the necessary alterations had been made, the stocks of books refreshed and classified. The new open Central Lending Library was ready. Albert Ibbotson from Walkley had been appointed to run it in 1918 and was probably an ally for Gordon and Lamb. He had been described by the Sheffield Daily Telegraph on Friday 8 March 1918 as a ‘progressive librarian’. By 1919 he had already introduced a very limited form of access: ‘…two cases in which the latest books are always placed on view, and the rapid demand for these volumes shows how useful the system is’ (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Saturday 6 September 1919).

No doubt primed by Gordon and Lamb, who both knew the value of publicity, the Sheffield Telegraph was eager to explain the new system to the city:

At the Library entrance is the staff enclosure where the issue records are kept and from which the staff control the entrance and exit wickets. A borrower desiring to change a book hands it to the assistant at the entrance counter, which is to the left on entering, and receives his borrower’s ticket exchange. The assistant then releases the wicket gate and the borrower enters the stockroom to select his book. After selecting the book he wishes to borrow he returns to the assistant who completes the necessary records and releases the exit wicket for the borrower to go out. Apart from this arrangement which will be greatly appreciated by borrowers, who can wander at will among the volumes, there is a new system of classification which makes for rapid working and ease of selection. As most borrowers at Public Libraries ask for books on a particular subject rather than by the author, and because of the many advantages gained by having all the books on the same or related subjects on one shelf, the books have been classified according to the subjects they cover. The Dewey Decimal classification has been used for this purpose and seeing it in operation, one is impressed by the value of the system. The books in the Library are arranged in two parts: prose fiction and non-fiction. (Sheffield Daily Telegraph – Thursday 1 June 1922)

Sheffield’s Attercliffe Library after conversion, showing the staff enclosure, the wicket gates to control access and the open shelving (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u01383)

The degree of detail suggests how much of a change this was. The journalist goes on to say: ‘There is no doubt that the public will appreciate the new system, under which borrowers are allowed actual contact with the shelves containing the books.’ Over the next few years, Sheffield’s branch libraries were all converted, with counters and screens removed and new shelving installed.

Borrowers in later years clearly still appreciating open access (Courtesy of Sheffield Libraries and Archives – www.picturesheffield.com. Ref: u02265)

Open access libraries are so familiar to us that any other system seems impossible. But in 1956, as J P Lamb approached retirement, he saw some merit in the old ways:

It seems to have been my library lot in my younger days to be fully occupied in re-organising old type libraries. Those cheerless cemeteries of books are now thought to have no redeeming features; but reflecting on my work in them after a lifetime spent in creating ‘modern’ mass appeal libraries, I am not at all sure that the change has been wholly good. Open access has resulted in the loss of a personal contact with the reader, which no kind of readers’ advisory system can replace. … The librarian as guide, philosopher and friend was then a reality. … (J P Lamb, as above)


[i] From Kelly, James R, Oral History of Sheffield Public Libraries, 1926-1974 (unpublished MA thesis, University of Sheffield, 1983). A copy is held in Sheffield Archives.

[ii] Kelly, Thomas, History of Public Libraries in Great Britain, 1845-1965 (London, The Library Association, 1973), pp. 175-82.

[iii] Did Mr A Ballard become Alderman A Ballard CBE who chaired the Council’s Libraries Committee between 1944 and 1954? It seems very possible.

[iv] The City Libraries of Sheffield 1856-1956 (Sheffield City Council, 1956). Along with the newspapers quoted, this is the main source for this article.

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