The man who badly needed a cup of tea

He came in to browse and told me that his wife was Dux of Woodville High School, but three weeks ago had walked out of his life. He knelt down to examine all the bottom shelves and said that the books were wonderful. Just wonderful; especially the bird books.

Then he sang me a hymn and asked if I knew it. I didn’t. He found a book on Scotland (The History of) and told me about his Scottish parents. He began to make a pile of books while he talked.

‘I’m worried about this generation. All they do is sit on the couch and drink fat.’

He said he didn’t hold with televisions, and that he badly needed a cup of tea.

‘After my wife left me, I had to do something with my life, so I started lifting weights. I’m 77, and you probably don’t believe it.’ I said it was amazing.

‘I just got the first TV of my life the other day. It’s for my new lady, and I’ve put it in its own room. Not with the books. Young people don’t know about the war.’

He went into the other room for a while. Then he came back.

‘Everything, Honey, has a city mentality. Even the birdlife. People only think of coffee and cakes. It’s artificial. I once knew some idiot called Charlie who was like that’.

I agreed.

He sang me another hymn, which I admired. Then he paid for his books, told me that he can’t abide a show off, and said goodbye.

Himself, a flash of unique bright birdlife, gone!

Raining today, and the road is hissing

That’s all I can hear this morning: water on the road and crockery in the bakery.

The rain comes down hard all day.

Someone stopped in my doorway and booked a motel, and a dog refused to go across the road and had to be carried.

A young tradesman dropped his mask in a puddle and put it back on again, and everyone is shrugging back into warm clothing, which last week we had discarded. A lady said, ‘Who brought this weather in?’ and Alan told me to, ‘Enjoy it, mate, because it won’t last’.

I don’t mind. It’s good reading weather, as is all weather. Alan notices water. He’s going home to check the water that’s come to his place, which is somewhere outside of Alice Springs.

Sarah came in, and then backed out because she’d forgotten her mask. She roared through the door as she left that Scott Morrison was at it again.

A couple went past fast, and he was saying, ‘Don’t put the umbrella there, I get all the drips’, and she snapped it shut hard, so he really did get all the drips even though he ducked hard to the side, and then they were gone so I didn’t see any more.

An old couple went across the road, slowly treading through the water, and three cars had to slow down, but nobody tooted.

Still raining. Good reading day.

A man here browsing gave me the impression that he was looking for something specific

He was with a friend. She kept bumping his shoulder gently so he had to keep moving along. He frowned and read titles closely and bit his lip, put them back and went on to the next one. He gave each book a long fair go. He tipped his head back and narrowed his eyes to get at the reviews on the back and the dates of publication.

‘You find it?’ She asked. He shook his head. She put headphones in.

In Classics, the man rested on one knee. One elbow resting on the knee. One hand resting on the shelf right next to Steinbeck and Stevenson.

His friend took her headphones out and said they needed to go to Woolies later. He nodded. She put her headphones back in. Began to nod gently to another rhythm. He bent closer to the shelf, angling toward another vision. His feet were uncomfortable, splayed out for balance, and he soon moved back and knelt on both knees instead. He was now backed up against the leg of his friend. She had her eyes closed, and was moving, in tiny imperceptible movements, from side to side.

She reached down with her left hand took hold of his ear. She continued listening. He continued looking. Joined.

“Reading is ultimately a retreat into silence.”

Daniel Pennac, in The Rights of the Reader (2006), said that reading is ultimately a retreat into silence. I thought about why this is and then wrote the following list:

  1. Although we are not alone, we read alone.
  2. Although what happens when we read is not quiet, it makes us quiet.
  3. What we see and sense when we read happens inwardly no matter how powerful, and the more devastating the experience, the deeper the retreat.
  4. Even though reading is all about the written word, a book can leave us with no words to describe it. This is because we are not describing the book, we are describing what our self has become after reading it, and this is often too new to have any vocabulary yet.
  5. Reading draws on and makes use of what we already know and what we already are, and then somehow turns this material broadside and sends it (and us) bowling down new allies.
  6. Reading can reach our hidden and distraught places (the ones that live on piles of silence) and let in some air.
  7. Reading is private and delicate and social and diabolical.
  8. It is only in silence that we can find our troubles, and reading provides a safe balcony to look from.
  9. Reading leaves us alone to find our own face.
  10. Although we are alone, we actually don’t read alone.

Illustration by Lorena Spurio

The Unquiet Grave

“Early morning on the Mediterranean: bright air resinous with Aleppo pine, water spraying over the gleaming tarmac of the Route Nationale and darkly reflecting the spring-summer green of the planes; swifts wheeling round the oleander, waiters unpiling the wicker chairs and scrubbing the cafe tables; armfuls of carnations on casses on the fishmonger’s slab goggling among the wine-dark urchins; smell of brioches from the bakers, sound of reed curtains jingling in the barber’s shop, clang of the tin kiosk opening for Le Petit Var. Our rope-soles warm up on the cobbles by the harbour where the Jean d’Agreve prepares for a trip to the Islands and the Annamese boy scrubs her brass. Now cooks from many yachts step ashore with their market-baskets, one-eyed cats scrounge among the fish-heads, while the hot sun refracts the dancing sea-glitter on the cafe awning until the sea becomes a green fin-fizz of stillness in whose depth a quiver of sprats charges and counter-charges in the pleasure of fishes.”


Cyril Vernon Connolly: The Unquiet Grave


Painting “Running Water and Sunshine” by Michelle Courier

A solid day with nothing much happening but jammed with reading potential anyway

On the drive to work: trucks out line marking and pulling over to wave motorists past safely. Kind. Three dead pink and grey galahs. Paddocks the colour of good crisp toast. Dropped off oranges to my mum so was late to the shop. A lady parked across my driveway so I couldn’t get in, but she apologised so charmingly and so profusely that I couldn’t get mad. Also, she said she loves to read.

Status of library left at home: crushed and crowded.

Visits from tricky customers: one. A man asked why I am always late to open the door. The reason is because he was out there, but I couldn’t say that.

Visits from lovelies: three. Morgan T. inspired me find my copy of Middlemarch to start tonight.

Books sold: seven. Not inspiring. But the books themselves were.

Orders: twelve. Had to rush to find them all.

Financial status: not impressive.

Local news: Christmas decorations are appearing !!

National news: Girt Nation: The Unauthorised History of Australia Volume 3 published on November 2nd, 2021. Got to get myself a copy.

World news: Damon Galgut wins Booker Prize for The Promise.

Books I take home for myself today: only four.

Jobs to do at home: finish The Rights of the Reader and Slouching toward Bethlehem and The Bostonians and start Jerusalem the Biography, and must not forget to shave my beard.

A kissable aspect

“Architecture’s most kissable aspect is its surface. Space is hard to get a hold on. Structure has historically been inadequately pliant. Geometry—well, who really wants to kiss a square? Architecture also has more surface and more kinds of surface than anything else: outside, inside, soft and hard, there’s a surface for everyone. Finally, surfaces are where architecture gets close to turning into something else and therefore exactly where it becomes vulnerable and full of potential.”

Sylvia Lavin, Kissing Architecture

Illustration by Tom Climent