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Weighing in

There is excitement in my god-daughter's household. This is the week when school's back. When you have spent months only in the company of adults, a return to having a good gossip with your peers is like having a hod of bricks taken off your shoulder.

You can learn how to carry a heavy weight but not necessarily welcome the opportunity to do so.

As a student, one of my summer jobs was as a van driver for a laundry company. I previously wrote about my visits in that role to our local GCHQ outstation. But every day was a different round. But almost every day involved heavy-lifting.

It was one of the first things I got taught before being sent out on my own with the van. For the first week, the foreman came with me while I learned the routes I would be following each day.

The pattern of the routes was straightforward. From 0900 to about 1100 hours, I called on domestic dwellings. Returning the freshly laundered items which had been given to the van-man a week ago. And collecting the money. From 1100 to about 1400 it included quite a few hotels. Thereafter it was back to houses.

I had been fortunate to get this job, reasonable pay, and a bit of overtime. The vacancy was a temporary one while the regular driver was in the hospital with severe stomach issues. The pattern of his rounds soon gave me an insight into a possible contributor to a driver's ill-health. The calls on bars and hotels coincided with opening hours. Many an offer of refreshment was made. Maybe it was not just his stomach that was in bother; could also have been his liver.

Now I was not teetotal, but driving a three-ton truck required all my sober attention. In particular, when I was dealing with laundry baskets. A full one weighed substantially more than I did. And could only be carried on my back.

So I was taught to place the basket in front of me, the short side towards me, reach to the far side with one hand, the other grabbing the closer edge. A knee was then positioned beneath the near edge. A lean backward coupled with a big heave and a 180-degree twist got the basket over one's head and held comfortably on one's back. One only had to keep leaning forwards so that the weight was above one's feet and this nine-stone student could carry a basket weighing one and a half hundredweights a fair distance.

One hotel that was my last call on a Thursday was located in Glenfarg and presented a particular challenge, however. One had to climb up an outside ladder which was steep enough to require a bit of straightening up so that one was nearly toppled backward by the weight of the basket. Genuinely scary. And when it was windy .. wow.

But that day was an early finish. I drove at some speed back to the depot, which was about 20 miles away. As soon as I arrived back, I was sworn at by one of the other drivers. Jimmy, the driver I was replacing, always needed an hour's overtime to complete Thursday's round.

I had made the mistake of returning 90 minutes before knocking off time. What he said implied that I should disappear for a couple of hours. These were not exactly the words he used. Nonetheless, I understood them and did. I carried a book to read each Thursday thereafter.

There was something about that route. On another occasion, I was belting down the long straight between Gateside and Auchtermuchty on the way back; I had gotten so engrossed in my book as to be truly late even by Jimmy's standards. As I lifted my foot off the throttle to slow down for the z-bends that now approached, nothing happened. The throttle was jammed open.

Quick thinking had me operate the engine pressure lifter that would stop the diesel engine, reaching down meant I could not now see out the front window, and I just made it round the corner. After my shaking had reduced somewhat, I was able to establish that the return spring on the throttle linkage had come adrift. I attached a piece of string to the appropriate pedal so that I could pull it up to slow the van down. I drove very cautiously until my journey was over.

Another route took me to Fife's East Neuk. In particular to Crail where I had many stops along some of their long and narrow streets. With cars parked all way down one side, I had to regularly stop and block the road while I effected by delivery and collection. Not a popular person with cars stacked up behind me.

In Falkland, there were a number of houses that presented an entirely different problem. Each day the office provided the drivers with a list of the premises which they had to visit. It included what was due in payment and, if necessary, any arrears. Some had the additional comment; "laundry not to be left without payment". Why Falkland, of all places, should have so many such annotations on my list remains a mystery to me.

A ring of the door-bell of such addresses could be met by a "nil response" while one could nonetheless hear their back door quietly closing. One door on a different round, no town's being given here in case they are still around, had a rather large gentleman whose reluctance to settle his account was accompanied by a spray of saliva directed at me. And a manner which no observer could suggest was friendly. If I suggest he was twice my size, I should be accused of understatement.

It was a summer for growing up. And banking a good wedge for the months to come and no longer having to carry heavy weights.

Just as my god-daughter will be glad to lose the psychological weight from her shoulders this week, I was glad to return to the comparative calm of my studies.

Even if that meant I was paying out money rather than raking it in.

Happy smiling faces above skipping feet, gladly racing towards school.


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