Books and the Bottle


When I go up to the Heritage Centre Library to help Barbara with the new consignment of library books it all comes flooding back.


Imagine a rural school in the 1960’s and the library van trundling its way up the steep hill from Kilkerran and Maybole with wooden boxes full of books from Library Headquarter in Ayr. (Nowadays the ones for Lismore come in cardboard ones)


For a child with a fairly random brain, full of nonsense and with chronic absentmindedness, I was pretty sharp at knowing when the new books were due to be delivered to my Mother’s school.


Normally after tea she’d close her eyes by the fire for half-an-four and I would be sent to the kitchen to do the dishes…or not, depending on how long I spent playing with the soap- suds (remember these plastic bottles of “Squeezy” washing-up liquid?), dancing round the kitchen floor (vinyl tiles laid by Mum with revolting fish-smelling glue) or imagining I was singing at “La Scala “ (I knew all about Maria Callas, me)


Eventually she’d open the door and exclaim,

“For Heaven’s sake, have you not got those dishes done YET?

You’d better get a move on, my lady…. there’s no homework being done in this house at ten o’clock at night!”


But it was different if the books had come…


Then the dishes were done in a flash and I’d interrupt her slumbers with

“Can I get the school keys?”

And she’d open her eyes and say dryly

“Well, you know where they are” and I’d grab them off the hook beside the back door and race over to the school.


Now it was all right going into the quiet, still-warm building with its lingering smell of school dinners, polish and absent humanity but there were demons to be confronted before I got to the books.


“Charlie”, the stag’s head was OK on a light, summer night when I just scooted past him but he was pretty scary if you went over in winter by torchlight.


Then I would turn the polished brass handle of the staffroom door and take a deep breath.


The books were in a cupboard and on top of it was a bottle containing the gruesome zoological specimen of an adder, preserved forever in formaldehyde.


Heaven knows why it was there, as I don’t think it was ever used for teaching purposes but it terrified me.


In my nightmares the bottle fell from the cupboard and broke, releasing the snake that immediately came alive and slithered menacingly between  the books and me.


But the need for them always overcame my terror and I’d open the cupboard ever so gently and  then the snake would be forgotten as I plundered the shelves.


For some odd reason, Mum never censored my reading of  these  books in any way ( although she did ban the purchase of “The Beano” “Dandy” and any trashy romantic paperback novelettes !!!  (I was horrified, having borrowed a copy of “Romeo’ from another girl  when Mum threw it into the fire !)


Mostly the books were for adults but I read them anyway and discovered pretty early on that blessed piece of paper called the  “Library Request Form”


It was WONDERFUL to be able to complete this and get all these Rosemary Sutcliffe and Malcolm Saville books to read FOR NOTHING,……although there was the unfortunate occasion when I took  a brand new copy of  Nicholas Monserrat’s  “The Nylon Pirates “with me when I went sunbathing on the coal-house roof, forgot about it and  had to forfeit a month’s pocket money  for a replacement copy  because that night it rained and the book was ruined.


I can’t understand why I didn’t ever tell Mum how the bottle with the snake frightened me , for I’m sure she would have moved it if I had asked.


Luckily the Lismore Library holds no such terrors and is a delightful place for everyone to go and in the summer Barbara has a very popular children’s afternoon with all sorts of literary fun for the wee ones.


And, guess what – they still have Library Request Forms. …. Yipee !


Freda Drysdale

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