We’re going off the jetty..


There is a family here and they are on their way to the beach. To Second Valley because their Grandpa and Nan live there. The boy has a yellow bucket, a bright pineapple yellow bucket with a crack in the side. He brings me the bucket so we can both examine the crack.

His parents are looking through the cooking books. His younger brother is swinging on a table leg and slowly eating a stick of pink liquorice. Outside the shop there is a service van with a phone ringing loudly into the warm air. The smaller boy nods his head twice to each ring.

The older child is asked if he has found a book. He answers that he doesn’t want one, he wants a starfish. For his bucket.

His mother asks him if perhaps he isn’t being sensible.

He tells me that at Second Valley there is a jetty and they will go under it and find stuff. And then they will go up on it. And then bomb off of it.

His mother asks him if he would like Magpie Island by Colin Thiele.

He tells me that he doesn’t need to even bring a towel because his Nan said not to. Because she already has one there for him that’s orange.

His Nan makes tomato sauce.

When is he on the beach he is going to get a starfish.

An the best thing about this beach is the jetty, underneath is cold, on the top is hot.

His parents call him to come and find a book, but he still doesn’t want one.

They are apologetic; they tell me that all he wants to do is go to the beach. But I remember living by the sea and near a jetty. When I lived across the road from the sea that jetty was miles away. I was five. It took ages to walk there. But last year when I went back the jetty was actually very close to where I lived. It had moved.

I remember the jetty, underneath it was cold, on the top it was hot. The hot planks smelled like fish all the time. There were always sand dunes smoking in the distance. Underneath the jetty, the hot sun came through in gold bars that broke everywhere, the water was deep, it was green glass and all the sounds were deep sounds; even the wood had a deep sound. When it got too cold you could climb up on the steps and sit on the wood that was now too hot. You could shut your eyes and see the heat in gold flecks on your eyelids. And hear the water and the salt and other kids and seagulls, and very faintly you could just hear Christmas. Then we would get up and walk back to the sand and go to the deli on the foreshore for mixed lollies.

The child is still telling me that he will get a starfish off of the jetty. His dad says maybe not and they needed to go now. And then they all left, with some books, the pineapple bucket and an anxious plan for a starfish.

Artwork by Debbie Mackinnon

What do you do….


There have been very few customers this week.

But this morning there are two husbands here, moving slowly, slowly, around the shop together,  one of them knows every book there is. He tells me about every book there is.

Oh,  and Edgar Allan Poe I know about him, and look at this, Alice in Wonderland, I know about that. I see you have Shakespeare and Monash. Do you have any books by Pauline Hanson…then he laughs, I’m just pulling your leg. His friend laughs and laughs, too,  and he says there are no books by Pauline Hanson, I’m telling you.

Then the first man asks me: do you find that you can’t make a living out of selling books anymore? I mean we can just go to the op shop and get some books for 50c, what do you do about that? And all this computer rubbish, that’s ruined it as well hasn’t it really…what do you do about all of that? I said that I can’t do anything about those things and that my business is not successful.

He lists off every Wilbur Smith book he has ever read. He repeats his joke about Pauline Hanson again. He suggests that the days of reading books are over. He tells me kindly that I have a nice little hobby going here anyway.

Then suddenly their wives are at the door, looking through the glass, looking over their sunglasses, they are not smiling. One of them comes through the door; she picks up and purchases a copy of My dog Tulip by J R Ackerley and tells me that what I am doing is not little, not small, not finished.

Then she sweeps out, leaving the lights all on, and scattering husbands everywhere.

Artwork by Pascal Campion


20171120_073904 (1)

The most important exertion at the moment is packing, digging and throwing.

Max is in the garden, he has found a rectangular brick planter full of lovely earth. At the moment it is only growing some rogue basil. He grasps the earth and hurls it out. He does it again. It is physical and substantial work, and difficult, it requires coordination and regulation. He does it again and yet again.

He regards the thrown earth on the path, he is breathing hard, he dribbles but does not notice the line of saliva that falls, it represents his intense link with living, with movement, with sensation, with the smell of earth, water, basil, sunlight, gumleaf, and the ticking of the summer sprinkler. The dog lies nearby with the hopeful tennis ball, sometimes the earth scatters over her ears, she shakes her head kindly, keeping watch over the young.

Max pulls on the basil leaves, the air is poked through with basil, he grimaces against the basil, it is lovely.

He regards his warm, starfish hand, it is covered with hot soil, he frowns, dribbles, turns his hand over and back again.

Maisie the kelpie is barking through the fence, Max regards the walkers on the dirt roadway also through the palings, his mouth is open in amazement, he slants his baby head to one side, seeking the sliding voices through the hot fence.

It is a warm, gum tree evening, the birds are frantic with this evening, Max stands, covered in this evening, in warm earth, he is regarding the sky, the trees, the galahs, the basil, the breathing of the garden. He cannot close his mouth and does not swallow, this would take up valuable time.

Then there is a voice he knows; his mother, calling for bedtime, he drops to the pathway, preparing to crawl, there are basil leaves clinging to his thighs, he arrows for the door, still looking backwards at the outraged galahs, crawling toward the mothership and clinging with ecstasy to his warm, baby life.




That’s not Obi Wan..


A father is shopping here with his son and tells him that the picture on this book is actually Obi Wan Kenobi. The book is up high, balanced on the edge of the shelf. The child leans back, arching his back. He lengthens his face, expresses acute and outraged disbelief.

He says: there is no way that that is Obi Wan Kenobi because it’s not even him. His dad tells him that it actually really is. The boy laughs.

It isn’t. I can tell.

His dad looked down at him and said: may the force be with you.




There is a child here in the shop, unhappy because there are no Star Wars books left for him. But his sister has found The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the orange one, and he is also uncomfortable with her success. He says that he has read all of those books anyway.

She says: Booooom!

She has found The Search for Wondla. He says: oh that!  He needs to be dismissive. She answers: Oh Booooom!

Now she has two books and he has none. He asks me for I Am Number Four, I understand the urgency, but I don’t have it. He looks quickly at his sister but she is absorbed, kneeling on the floor with A Day in The Life of a Roman Child…he walks over and says: I know that book.

She doesn’t answer.

He is scanning the shelves and table, quickly, needing a discovery.

On the windowsill, he finds The Hobbit, facing outward, easily missed.

He lifts it off the windowsill and onto himself, against his chest, not breathing, holding it as children will when they find something of diabolical value. It is a paperback edition, a large one in poor condition, illustrated, the dragon on the front stirring in a nest of boiling jewels.

His sister has noted his silence and gazes over at him suddenly. He says: I’m getting this. He has one shoulder raised against her, protecting the dragon.

Their mother returns, she hurries them along, pleased that they have chosen, pleased with her own books, not seeing theirs, missing the acute joy, encouraging their libraries as she also builds her own.


Noah looks out of the window…


Noah is looking out at his ordinary front yard at an ordinary road in a country town.

There is much work to be done. (But there will always be work to be done. Even at the end of the last task, there is still work to be done.)

There is a smooth lawn to be planted, a shed to be built, a clothes line, some trees, a sandpit and somewhere to leave his bike out in the rain.

There might be a pathway, a cubby house, somewhere for mud and water, somewhere to hide, somewhere for sorrow and somewhere for fury.

There might be a corner, designated for nothing, tangled and of no use, immensely valuable.

There will be a place to leave toys out to rust. He will help dig holes. He might hang washing with the hoist wound down, using 18 pegs for one small shirt.

When he is growing he might say with certainty: this place is shit.

When he is grown he will puzzle over and appeal to the curious things of worth.

And when he has a child of his own he will then begin with urgency, the ordinary lawn.


Blest, who can unconcernedly find

   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,

In health of body, peace of mind,

                            Quiet by day,

Alexander Pope, Ode to Solitude



I think you are getting bored with your books…


“I have my softcovers and my hardcovers and half of them are in Dutch…I like to read a book in Dutch and then in English, possibly at the same time.”

This customer, yesterday morning, lined up two books side by side and showed me how she reads them. She said that her children thought she was magic.

Today there is an older couple, he is on the phone. He is asking somebody,  perhaps a grandchild, if she would like to read Treasure Island but the child is perhaps saying that she would prefer Harry Potter. She is asked if he might be getting bored with Harry Potter and the child insists she is not bored with Harry Potter. But the man insists that she is. He suggests that she is getting bored with all the books she chooses.

So he chooses Treasure Island. He tells me that she is 11 and that is the right age to read Treasure Island. Indeed, he himself read that book when he was 11. He tells me that their granddaughter is getting bored with Harry Potter.

A young woman is looking through the window from outside and she tells her mother that Titanic Lives looks interesting. Her mother asks her why, they continue down the street with their shopping and their talk of Titanic Lives.

I am asked for anything by Jodi Piccoult, Stephen King, Kate Forsyth and also The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

The grandparents of the child who does not really want to read Treasure Island are arguing in the front room.

Robert is here, he is reading Goethe, from the Britannica Great Books Series.

Sarah is reading The Complete Narnia.

Andrew is reading The Silmarillion.

I am reading The Journal to Stella.

Dale is reading The Spiderwick Field Guide.

I am asked if I might have a Christmas tree and when I will put it up in the shop.

Kay orders The Silver Brumby.

A young reader tells me the complete plot of Dune by Frank Herbert. This takes more than an hour.

A lady looks at a biography of Vincent van Gough and says he looks like an old fury.

The couple with the copy of Treasure Island they bought for their granddaughter who does not really want to read it are leaving. They are arguing about a copy of The Battle For Rondo – he says it does not look very good so they are not going to buy it. They move out and across the road and he is still explaining why The Battle For Rondo is not very good.

Noah keeps on growing



Noah will not stop growing. This is the way it ought to be because, once long ago, his father also did not stop growing. I can remember.

But I did not anticipate two moments, one back then, (we were sitting in a park, we were bright with pride) and one right now (grown up, growing onwards) that would provide such  echo.

We all go our own ways, as we should. But sometimes there is something like a counterpoint, playing bravely and briefly alongside us, or in front of us, or from long ago, or from somewhere, somehow…



Max throws the ball for Maisie


Max can roll a tennis ball, a monumental effort that will roll the ball about ten cm away. Maisie, the honourable kelpie is not dismayed. She will retrieve the ball from its small distance with enthusiasm, it is proper work, it will do for now. Max is just 11 months old and Maisie knows that puppies take time.

The tennis ball is no longer clean but Max is not dismayed, he has no interest in orderliness – irrelevant to the growing life. He will lean over and urge the ball away with all of his 11 months of mobility and strength. When it rolls the correct and tiny distance he and Maisie are pleased. She gently noses it back again. They are tremendous to each other. He will do it again and again. Each repeat is a repeat of life, brilliant, wealthy and exact.



The little girl who said no…


There is a little girl here at the shop,  hoping that her books – The Cat Warrior series – have arrived, but they have not.

She is impassive, stern,

I know she is a formidable reader, knowing exactly where she is reading and why. She will not be lured to something else while she waits. To every suggestion, she says: no.

I admire everything about her.

She is confident; she will not be swayed by any cheerful and generous hope. She is slightly contemptuous of my offerings.

I admire everything about her.

She can’t believe her books have not arrived, it has been ten days and this is what I said – ten days.

She eyes my benevolence and she will not agree.

I admire everything about her.

Finally she does look elsewhere; she does it for her mother and for me. It is her doing it for us, not for herself. But it is not a giving in, she remains dignified and generous.

She chooses The Maplin Bird by K M Peyton. This is an historical novel, brilliant,  but not an easy read for a ten year old. It is one of my favourite books.

I tell her I am impressed. She looks at me, entirely unimpressed.

I admire everything about her. When she leaves she is hugging the book to her chest and she begins reading before she is in the car, on the footpath, not even remembering to open the car door.

I admire everything about her.