Gentlemen in the Patent Library

Hubert Growler shows his softer side as he takes new Choral gentlemen under his wing, guiding them to the mysterious male changing room...

Gentlemen in the Patent Library

Gentlemen in the Patent Library

Have you, dear reader, ever been in the council corridor of Huddersfield Town Hall about an hour before the start of a Choral concert? If so, you may well have seen a forlorn gentleman carrying a dinner jacket and music folder; he peers into the reception room, scouts around the crush area, even makes attempts at the mayor’s parlour and the kitchen. He pops open the door to the Council Chamber and immediately pops it shut again; why, you will soon appreciate. He retreats down the main staircase and re-appears two minutes later, looking, if that were possible, forlorner than before.

Take pity, dear reader, for he is lost. He is a new member of the Choral, this is his first concert, and he is attempting to follow the gnomic instruction issued by the choir secretary. It says:

Changing: Ladies in the Council Chamber, Gentlemen in the Patent Library.

The first part of this guidance is clear enough; as, by now, he realises. But where is the Patent Library? Indeed, what is the Patent Library? Does the council deal extensively in patents? Why a library of them?

But time now presses, the corridor is becoming busier, so we take him, gently, by the elbow and steer him to an anonymous door opposite the gents.

‘Up here,’ we say, opening it into what looks like a broom cupboard or the place where the meters live. We point out the light switch, thoughtfully located at a height of about 7 feet on one side of the door, and invisible unless the light is already on.

‘Up here. Good luck.’

Let us go with him. He now sees, to his left, a flight of stairs leading to a door marked ‘Viewing Gallery. 13 persons maximum’. This is where citizens may foregather and, looking down over the Council Chamber itself, witness the deliberations of our City Fathers (and Mothers, thankyou Maureen). This baker’s dozen is presumably the load-bearing limit of the structure, although in fact I do not believe there is any record of it being approached, let alone exceeded, even on wet days before the pubs open. (As a scientist I have sometimes wondered what would happen in the remote eventuality of a fourteenth person attempting entry – they would of course not realise that they were the fourteenth until they had got well in and bothered to count the others. Would this excess of public interest bring the gallery, and with it the whole fabric of our treasured local democracy, to ruinous collapse? Let us hope we will never find out.)

Our lost sheep must not, I repeat MUST NOT, enter here. I’m sure you have worked out why. The door should, I believe, carry Dante’s warning ‘Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate.’ He must steel himself against temptation and follow the stairs, which now snake upwards to his right, until he emerges into … yes, the Patent Library. No patent in sight, not a single book, let alone library shelf. Mirrors are set along one wall, benches and coat hooks line the others; a large table sits in the middle of the room. This is quite evidently a Green Room which has changed its name by deed poll.

Here the gentlemen of the choir, or at least those who have not come already changed, are in various states of undress. We should draw a veil, and we will.

Let us rejoin our friend, now he is suited and someone has checked that his Choral bow tie is straight (yes, there is indeed an official Choral bow tie, but that subject must wait for another day). Clutching his music folder he leaves the Green Room, I’m sorry, Patent Library, by a further corridor. He passes several unmarked and locked doors, takes a corner or two, and arrives, through a door marked ‘altos and basses’ – although no alto has graced it these fifty years – at a flight of stone stairs leading down. By now the tenors have peeled off, who knows whither. Peering over the banister he sees other singers (altos too, this time) climbing up from the aptly named crush area three flights below. Merging by turn, as the highway authorities say, they proceed on stage by a concealed entrance to the right of the mighty Father Willis organ.

Reflecting later on this journey, our new colleague will have no idea how the labyrinth led him here. He is not alone; it has so far defied all attempts at understanding. Now, you will know that I have a practical turn of mind, and, armed with clipboard, tape measure, and gyroscopic compass, I have researched the route, leaving chalk marks for reference on each doorway or turning. By the time I arrived behind the organ, the tape measure was in a knot, the chalk had worn down to a stub, and the compass was spinning uncontrollably. But detailed computer analysis of my notes has led me to a disturbing conclusion, which I now lay before the scientific world.

It is this: Huddersfield Town Hall is bigger on the inside than the outside. That’s right: like the Tardis. Or, to put it in purely scientific terms, there is a discontinuity in the space–time continuum somewhere in its attic. There is quite simply no other rational explanation. I fancy that if you were to be able to open one of those unmarked locked doors you would find yourself gazing, like bold Cortez, with eagle eyes upon the Pacific, or teetering on the edge of the infinite dark universe, diamond-studded with galaxies. Maybe this is where councillors without portfolio disappear. Maybe this is where basses go when they fail their re-auditions. Who can say?

I wonder … would the Arts Council be willing to fund further research?