Saturday, 10 May 2008

Grit is a criminal

It's definitely that time of month again. Time to check the library cards. I have fallen into the routine of asking the librarian to scan the library cards and reveal whether we are criminals for having lost Dolphin Diaries for the fifth time running, or whether I am a good, clean, honest library user and returned all the books, including those stuffed down the back of the radiator and under the sofa.

This is a routine that had to be. Being smart home educators we borrow 40 books at a time. Anything and everything from the History of Dust to I am a Frog. Being disorganised and chaotic, we only take 20 books back. I was handing over the children's inheritance once a month in library fines. Add the cost of lost books and I could have handed over my bank cards and the pin numbers. A monthly check up is one way to avoid bankruptcy.

And I nearly am organised. Normally I take the cards to our local branch but we have a busy week and I am passing a library branch right now. I've never used this branch before. I decide to go in, and I feel good about that, because I feel organised, in a haphazard sort of way.

But something is not right. The door does not open. This is confusing to an elderly Grit who is standing outside a closed library door in the drizzle. The library says it is Open and look! The door is locked! I spy a hand written notice on the door. Buzz bottom left. Grit searches for buzzers to her left bottom and indeed finds a grimy button that she would like to spray with a sanitizer before she actually touches it. Unable to do so she wraps a tissue round her finger. Not that I am phobic about germs you understand, it's just that you never know, and it does no harm to wipe the door handles with Dettol when there are children around. I mean, would you drink the same water that a toddler has been drinking? Have you seen what they can put back in there?

Anyway, it takes some time to get in. A minute. A minute and a half. I should have taken seconds. Well, the time I have taken to get inside the open/closed library has marked me out. I am Trouble.

A ferocious-looking lady with grey hair and tight, beady eyes is standing behind a Formica desk just inside. She is The Librarian. And she is Not Happy. She picks up a mouse and bangs it up and down on a mouse pad, tutting, focusing on the screen to one side. So I stand, quietly, in what I hope is a posture that says I'm sorry for interrupting, but...

'Yes' she snaps, not looking at me. Clearly I haven't got any books to return, so I am wanting something else. I am unnerved. I may be aged 9 again and confessing that it was me who took the apple. I am used to Lindsey, our local librarian. Lindsey is lovely, and she is tolerant of us when we lounge about the children's section at 11 o'clock in the morning like it's our front room. She doesn't mind. In fact she often laughs. Sometimes a bit too long and sorrowfully when we have rearranged all the carpets, cushions and chairs and made big piles of books, and said 'Today we want to take out 60 but we're not taking the Magic Kitten out again so make that 59', but never mind. She is on Our Side.

'I'm sorry but could you check these cards to see if we have anything overdue?' I say. I'm trying to be nice. I don't want a punch in the face. Mrs Ferocity tuts, loudly, dropping the mouse, turning to take my cards. Only now I can't get them out my purse. I am clearly incompetent. They just won't come out the little holder. I don't know why. Perhaps it is a conspiracy. I've noticed that inanimate objects do that, once a month. They gang up on me. Well I'm taking too long, that's for sure. She sweeps her eyes around the room as if summoning the books to agree with her, with a look that says 'Is this woman as thick as pig shit or what?' A man browsing classic cars glances up woefully and the tips of my ears burn.

In a darting look where flowers would wither and contempt for Grit would turn her hair greyer than it already is, The Librarian raps a finger on the desk while I finally free one of the plastic cards from my purse and hand it over.

The scanner goes 'blip'. I am captured. '£2.69' she barks, and slaps the card face down on the desk. 'Diplodocus. You can't take any books until you pay.'

I am criminalised. Meekly I hand over the money. And another £1.80 for a book about castles. And a further 56p for an Eyewitness guide to armour. She takes the coins slowly, counting them up, one by one before rattling them into her cash till. I almost expect her to bite the 5 pence pieces between her teeth, because I look like that sort of library user.

When all the cards are swiped, the fines are paid, and I am prosecuted, convicted, punished and made miserable at the thought that somewhere my crimes will be forever database-stored and held against me in the event of any further convictions, at least I can heave a big sigh of relief that somewhere we are still liked and our criminal activities are not judged too harshly. At our local branch we can still take out 40 or more books again, mess up the furniture, argue about the Magic Kitten and chat with Lindsey.

I apologise, slip away, out the door, into the rain, away from the watching browser of classic cars, and back into the relative anonymity of the street. Possibly here no-one knows I have a criminal record. And although the drizzle has turned to grey studs of rain hammering into the pavement, I'm relieved to have escaped without a further tongue lashing, and I promise myself that next time I will be more organised and make sure it's Lindsey who laughs.

14 comments:

Michelle said...

The online library service if your friend.

Michelle said...

"is" your friend! Time for a cup of tea I think!

Grit said...

michelle, i did use the online libray system. i even had my own pin number. until they took it off me. i don't want to talk about it.

Michelle said...

*Michelle zips mouth*

Minnie said...

I'm barred from ours!!!

They wanted to charge me £320 in fines. OK...they were a little late...but still!! Would be cheaper to buy the books new!!

sharon said...

Our little rural libraries don't fine us for overdue books. We think they are just glad to see people on a fairly regular basis. However there is a drawback in that we have to use 3 different Shire (Aussie local authorities)libraries just to get a halfway decent selection of books. Our library trips can take some time - and organisation lol! We did acquire a parking fine on one visit though, husband parked the car facing the wrong way, $25!!

Allie said...

Oh dear, oh dear...

Re-arranging my librarian specs to the very tip of my nose I can't help but observe, Michelle,

"They wanted to charge me £320 in fines. OK...they were a little late...but still!! Would be cheaper to buy the books new!!"

Then why don't you? Sorry to say it, but libraries do require you to return the books and Amazon second-hand sellers don't. If you know you're a book loser and bad at deadlines then, maybe, erm... You do the maths!

Not that I want to discourage public library use... Without seriously 'naughty' borrowers there'd be nothing to chat about in tea breaks. ;-)

Allie said...

Ooops! Michelle, I apologise. I meant Minnie. And, erm, Minnie, I apologise, I shall just slither away to a dusty corner of the library now...

Michelle said...

This is further evidence of my life long plight of constantly getting into trouble for things I didn't do.

Grit said...

i'd just like to butt in here and comment that this reminds me of that day in 2007 when i became wildly excited by the fact that my comment score rose from 0 to 10 in five minutes ... only to discover that the comments were michelle and elibee chatting to each other. ahem. not that i bear grudges, you understand.

Grit said...

omg sharon! parking the car the wrong way round?? i thought we were bad here!!

Kelly Jene said...

I love my library. I too, love the online library. Its how I keep track... otherwise I forget everything. But they hand out these "receipts" that show what you checked out and when they are due. Handy stuff.

We check out at least 30-40 each time too. Lovely isn't it?!

Michelle said...

It was very funny when we realised we were commenting on your blog at the same time.

I miss elibee. Not seen her for ages.

Grit said...

i miss elibee as well. she has gone all quiet. let's see if we can flush her out.