Learning some lifelong lessons

Midlothian Mobile Library Van, 1960. Photo: Scran/Midlothian Council Local Studies
Midlothian Mobile Library Van, 1960. Photo: Scran/Midlothian Council Local Studies

I used to wonder what kind of person would design such a silly place to site the heater, writes Christine Grieve in the final installment on her look at mobile library service.

I sincerely hope it was not a woman who would surely have had more sense!

I still have the fading marks of long gone chilblains on my knees as I was not allowed to wear trousers. The boss objected strongly to such garb as he thought they were very unladylike! Looking back on those days, I must confess that I did disobey his rules and was caught doing it! You can be sure your sins will find you out!

It was one very snowy day up in the Gorebridge area. The pavements had a good covering of thick snow and it was bitterly cold. That was the day that the The Boss arrived to see how I was coping. Of course he noticed the trousers straight away since I was standing in front of the heater. I did not get the expected reprimand as my keen readers hurried to praise my work and tell him how helpful I’d been – so I was “let off” lightly.

Not so in 1956, when I fell badly in Gorebridge while running to catch a bus and suffered severe concussion. As I fell on the side of my head I was off work for three whole weeks.

I was sharply told that I should always leave the van in plenty of time to get my regular bus home and how could I have let them down so badly? Due to my carelessness, the van had to be manned by people not used to coming out as far as the wilds of Mayfield and Gorebridge, where they couldn’t even get a hot cup of tea – unless they brought a thermos flask with them. Their needs were not catered for either as where would they go to use the loo? It must have felt like purgatory to those town ladies used to a warm office and tea breaks! I should feel sorry for them – so I was told!

Nobody gave me any sympathy! Everybody was expected to carry on regardless – in those days. Even my own mother thought that I should certainly be more careful in the future! That unfortunate accident did teach me a lifelong lesson though. Never look back when you are hurrying no matter what noise you can hear behind you. Always keep your eyes on the road ahead!

In spite of those drawbacks, which I can smile about now, I did spend a wonderful time in that old grey van issuing books, helping to choose books, discussing and dissecting favourite books and getting to know my faithful clientele who never failed – in the six years I worked in the van – to treat me courteously and kindly, despite my youth and inexperience.

Local people could not spend money going to the cinema every night and library books were free – except when they forgot to return them by the due date and had to pay a fine. That did not often happen so I did not need to send lots of reminder letters!

Sadly, I had to leave my “heavenly” job where I had been really happy, to get married in 1960. Married women did not work then unless it was deemed 

My successor would soon discover the drawbacks and maybe not turn a blind eye! In a few short years the van had been replaced. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all!

Apparently, there are no photographs of the van – or of me beside it! It is as if it had never existed but I know better because here it is!