What is love?



“What is love? I have met him in the streets, a very poor young man who was in love. His hat was old, his coat was worn, the water passed through his shoes and the stars through his soul.”


Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Artwork by William Hays

Reading in Winter


Louis came back.

He wanted Marcel Proust, Alain de Botton, Jared Diamond, Karen Armstrong and Saul Bellow.

Louis walks slowly but reads fast. He has parked some way down the street and later, I help him with the books, pack the shining bundles into the back seat with the old suitcase and the eggs. He says, thanks very much, indeed, yes, for the winter reading. I love winter, it’s for reading. I’ll get that Shakespeare out you know, it’s been put to the back again.

As though his library was alive and doing things behind his back. Which they do.

When he arrived, he had stopped at the counter and breathed deeply a few times. He always does this, he says it’s to get in the stride of things. Of reading, which is active, chaotic and shattering, especially if you read like Louis.

He says I talk too fast. When I said, here are the Primo Levis you wanted, he says, wait, which ones are they? I’ll tell you why I wanted these. He tells me a story of reading and love.

When I say, here is the Botton book you wanted (about Proust), he says, oh yes, now I need Proust of course. Wait, tell me more about Botton, is he Swiss or French? He sounds French. But I heard he is British. I heard he is amazing. Remind me.

He also reminds me not to talk too fast.

He wants to read about Gandhi. He wants the best biography there is. He says that biographers are artists, artists of the world, artist of us, we MUST consider them. He lists  all the biographies of Mahatma Gandhi he has already read. It sounds like all of them to me. But it isn’t. It isn’t enough: there is another. He holds out his hands, making a cradle that rocks gently, perfection.

I agree, I will find it. He says, there is always time.

Then, finally, he turns to go, but only after an interview that detailed Karen Armstrong, Elaine Pagels, (The Gnostic Gospels), A History of Water, who wrote that? Who wrote The History of Insanity? I saw it somewhere. Tell me about Barchester Towers, I saw it as a series, had the guy from Harry Potter in it, brilliant. Is it a series? I tell him it is, thousands of pages, a commitment, and Louis straightens up, tall with joy.

He will go home, lit with passion, for reading, for history, the earth, mistakes, insanity, water, salt and sand, Gandhi, why and when, how.



You’re a liability.

Masahiro Sawada (3).jpg

My husband and I had to make a will.

This is something we had intended to do for years. I gave the details of my shop (proudly). I thought the lawyer would list it as an obvious asset. But he didn’t. He described it as a liability and I had to correct him, the idiot.

But he said (kindly) that my shop is not an asset, that as it made no profit and the outstanding lease was probably worth more than the stock and plant, it was a liability. He said it was worthless (kindly).

This means to gift or will my shop to anybody else places that person at a disadvantage. This means best not include it in a will.

I thought, well, my shop is definitely an asset for my landlord. The asset just landed in the wrong place. And, when I was teaching and wanted to do a bookshop, and kept putting it off, it became a liability NOT to do it. And a town without a bookshop has a liability.

One definition of liability is: a thing whose presence or behaviour is likely to put one at a disadvantage. But Strathalbyn has two bookshops, me and Jeff’s Books, both of which give the town an advantage (I read this on Facebook so it must be true).

This makes both of us ASSETS. This means I am an asset in the wrong place (ie behind the counter), no salary, no superannuation, no holidays, no sick pay, work for nothing and there’s never been a day in 8 years when I can’t wait to get there and be a liability.

I win.

Artwork by Masahiro Sawada





cat (2).png

Cats no less liquid than their shadows
Offer no angles to the wind.
They slip, diminished, neat through loopholes
Less than themselves; will not be pinned

To rules or routes for journeys; counter
Attack with non-resistance; twist
Enticing through the curving fingers
And leave an angered empty fist.

They wait obsequious as darkness
Quick to retire, quick to return;
Admit no aim or ethics; flatter
With reservations; will not learn

To answer to their names; are seldom
Truly owned till shot or skinned.
Cats no less liquid than their shadows
Offer no angles to the wind.

A.S.J. Tessimond (1902-1962)