British Tits

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This is an old blog from January 2019 that I’m reposting because it was funny and it reminds me of summer:

I made a window display after Christmas and lined up the books in an amusing way by accident. Many people stopped to comment. Some leaned back and then leaned in and read the titles out loud. Some people took photos. One boy said to his friends: ‘Omg, look at this: British Tits or something. Is that what it says?’ But his friends have walked by.
One lady said: ‘Oh well, that’s a funny old set of books.’
One man stopped and pointed, he tapped the glass over and over with his laugh spilling slowly. But his friends, too  had moved on.
One lady rode her bike across the road and stopped at the window to take a photo of the display.
Some teenagers stopped and stared at the books. One boy said that his tits had thrush, and his friends looked at him politely.
One man parked his motorbike and took ages to stow his helmet, fold his jacket, haul out his bag, find his wallet. He stood packing things in and out and regarded the display impassively. Then he went to the bakery.
A child said: ‘Look at the cat.’
On man said: ‘British Tits to his wife, twice, and she looked at him and didn’t smile.’
Two old ladies together read out the titles and looked at each other and laughed like anything. One of them said: ‘What’s wrong with Australian tits.’ Her friend leaned back and laughed about sixty years of life easily up into the sky. They walked away arm in.
Some high school students, two boys and a girl walked past and one boy read out the titles. He read them again, but the other boy didn’t hear and the girl raised her shoulder against his joke.
One man roared out: ‘British Tits’ to nobody and nobody responded, and he continued on to the bakery.
Sometimes I feel as though I’m on a houseboat. And life gently gulps past the window, removing and returning, on and on, and never really stopping, not even for British tits.

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In autumn, colours change

There’s a couple outside my book shop. They are standing at the kerb looking into the boot of their car. She has lost her bag.

 ‘I’m looking. I’m looking.’

She has striped hair; pink, purple, white and silver and it is beautiful. Her shoes look like running shoes, and they are striped with pink, purple, white and silver.’

She says, ‘Give me the keys.’ He does. She disappears along the street. He comes into the shop. He says, ‘I’m retired now, and I have a shed full of engineering books where I spend all my time. There’s not enough time.’

He muzzles along the shelves for a while. ‘Very nice here. What made you do this then?’

‘Don’t know really.’ I have to put down Elizabeth Jolly to answer. Elizabeth Jolley has just said that old age is like flipping  over pages in a book at a deafening rate and not reading any of them. I am shocked because this is true.

‘Don’t really know.’

‘Well. It’s nice here.’

Suddenly his wife blooms against the door with a sacred pink purple white and silver presence.

He shouts, ‘Are you lost, lady?’

‘I’ve just been over the lady’s toilets over there. I have to tell you what I saw.’

It’s cold. Her breath frosts on the door. They leave.

Yesterday at home I noticed that the windows have changed colour. I mean, the glass in the door holds different colours because it’s autumn. Maybe the light has a different angle. Maybe the temperature of the light is different. It was morning when I looked at the glass. Hot grape becomes cool rose. Thick sage thins. Hot lemon chills to its rind. Pink fades and becomes tough. I look at these pieces of glass all the time. With Elizabeth Jolley.

I went walking. It rained a bit. There is only six minutes to the edge of town. Then it’s paddocks.

On the way back through the short streets I saw the empty wheelie bins wearing their lids like yellow capes down their backs, and they sit there, mouths open drinking in rain that lands in their bin throats with tiny fast liquidy thumps.

A  man is standing at the counter in the shop in front of me with Gail Godwin. I say, ‘Oh, she’s GREAT’. He asks me for Haruki Murakami because ‘He’s GREAT. Look what HE does with reality.’ I say, ‘Oh yes’. And decide to start reading Haruki Murakami. The man stands there beaming. There are no words to explain Haruki Murakami. This man has grey hair, worn long, and he wears a sapphire blue sweater and good boots.

In autumn where I live, the evenings are grey like steel and beautiful.

In autumn, unnecessary belongings start bothering decent spaces. We sort and prune like mad. I fill the green wheelie bin’s mouth with green stemmy food.

The grape vine is as yellow as a pair of bananas. Soft, and with conversations going on in black ink.

It’s not possible to keep up with autumn. The windows are an authority on what’s out there. Each colour has an opinion.

The child

Came in just before closing time. It’s cold. We’ve got autumn now. She is about nine. She has that child’s mouth where the teeth lead the entire face. She is picking up a set of Percy Jackson books, a huge stack, and she can’t stop grinning because they made it in time. She said, ‘We made it in time.’

Then she bellowed through the cold door, ‘DAD.’

I could see him through the glass, on the footpath and sorting through his wallet, finishing a smoke.

He came in, ‘Don’t get excited’, he said, wanting her to get excited.

She was.

‘Don’t put them in order because I already know how they go. This.’

She rearranged them slightly. ‘I’ve already read them. Dad, get them.’

He took out his wallet again and got them.

I offered a bag, but she would not part with them. They were in her arms.

‘No way,’

I understood.

Minecraft, Minecraft

A child sang ‘Minecraft, Minecraft…all the Minecraft” while standing at the window. There’s a stack of Minecraft novels there. He laid both hands palms flat against the glass and continued his interested little song. A piping song, higher than the stack of books. Higher than the window. Then his family called him away.

‘Into the car, come on Dale’

‘Here we go again…’ A older couple at the door turn their phones this way, then the other way, trying to find the right square. ‘Here we go again. Take us half an hour to get in here.’ But they persevere bravely and make it inside.  Later, she reads a children’s book to him, out loud, and he edged slowly away.

A young couple went past the cat shelf. She said, ‘Oh my God, a cat shop. It’s a little cat shop. With cat books. That’s cool. Look Evan.’

‘Yeah, it’s cool.’

‘Because of the cats.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I love cats. I need ’em.’

‘Yeah.’

Painting by Mars Black

I was here

I was here. It’s the Watsacowie Brewery in Minlaton, SA.

It’s autumn and warm. We went down an endlessly wide street in a tiny town on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, and there it was, amongst the paddocks, a brewery, and busy. The locals have brought their dogs. Families have brought their kids. The drinkers crowd an exhausted little food van next to the fence. Mexican food. There’s a band. The toilets are super clean, and children are playing everywhere.

And the work that’s been put into the place! The colours. Somebody has chalked up all the choices in pink, red, blue, green, and amethyst chalk, with the wines set out above that, and a gold light illuminating everything.

We ordered fast, wanting to get on with it. People knew each other. We sat outside in a wooden cathedral, looking out at autumn and a good weekend, with a public holiday lurking somewhere in the dust, and in front of us, the band, still setting up and talking to the locals.

Then they start, used to it, relaxed, and ready to play the favourites. There’s a child sitting in front of them playing with something in a cardboard box.

People and dogs sit together. Kelpies with serious faces, judging the music. The Mexican food van runs out of food within the first hour. But people are mellow, the band is playing John Farnham. Locals go up the road to get food from the general store and bring it back. But then there’s an altercation at the van; somebody didn’t get their nachos. The tables are a small lake of onlookers, and they look on at the argument benignly.

Near us, a young man is talking to a young woman, and an older man next to him is listening in, not looking happy. The band play Cold Chisel. The unhappy nachos lady nurses a grandchild, and sways along with Cold Chisel.

The tables, as one, break into a chorus, then just as abruptly, stop and dip back into their drinks and their lives. The band plays on. The food van is closed. The van workers are all slumped against the side, smoking.

It’s getting hotter. The tables are wine barrels. At the barrel behind us, the men, wearing farmer’s shirts, are discussing something. One man hits the table with the palm of his hand.

‘That’s what I told him. That’s exactly what I told him.’

At the toilets, a youth in black, leans into the tangled ivy and talks urgently into a phone.

The brewery staff work on into the afternoon, tireless, helpful, obliging, brilliant. When we leave, we pass all the inside tables There’s a man asleep on one, a dog asleep under another one, a family gazing at the chalkboard in astonishment, and a young girl cleaning tables; she waves madly, ‘Thank you, good bye, good bye.’

A small look at a bit of world outside

I stood outside at the fence today and ate a sandwich and watched everything go past. A grey day, warm, and some rain, and a group of tradesmen over at the picnic table drinking coke and iced coffees.

A couple came past. They looked in my windows. They don’t notice me up the street a little, at the gate of the little carpark. So they don’t lower their voices. He says, ‘Wonder why Strath has two bookstores!’

‘Yeah.’

‘Don’t reckon there’s a need for either of ’em myself, I don’t.’

‘Yeah.’

As they pass me, they join hands and lean against each other.

The thing about bookshops is that their owners are so mindlessly besotted with them that nothing can dampen our enthusiasm or distract us from our purpose. Except other bookshops. Obviously.

Chris drove up in her gopher and said a bit of rain is always useful.

We stood companionably. The traffic is smooth. Cows in trucks. Chris said, ‘Look at them, poor dears.’ She’s not that lucky herself, but never sees it that way.

Lunch people with brown paper bags. Joggers. Workers. A crooked crocodile of junior primary children going somewhere, and who shout at my wooden cat in the front window as they go past.

The rain gives a smell. The wind brings my hanging balloons down. Terry comes in for gardening books and browses without me in there. He manages the Covid app on the door skilfully, calls out to me, ‘You eat your pie. Don’t you worry about a thing.’

More wind: passers-by hold onto their hair. A little boy cries, leaning his head against a pram, the baby in the seat looks out at him. The mother places her hand on the little boy’s head and he stops crying.

A man leaning forward, walking fast with a newspaper. Two youths with a radio on a shoulder, playing rap, black caps, gum, black boots, they walked in rhythm, each looking at the other carefully, sideways. I eat my cheese sandwich. Alan stops and tells me about his problematic family.  Said that Strath is made up of all sorts, and that he’s painting again, a big scene this time, and I will love it.

There’s a meeting out in the bay

There’s a meeting out in the bay. I saw them in the water, five or six women all wearing hats, and in their midst, an esky floating. Some were sitting and some lying down, the water lapping at shoulders. What age…it is impossible to know. But all made strong outlines; the circle was a strong circle. The sun shone, and the bay was quiet and held its waters evenly so as not to annoy the speaker.

When the speaker spoke, and this could be any one of them at any time, the others listened as women who are friends do. I guess they talked of nothing less than life as women do. I guess the rummaging in the esky paused for the important bits. On the shore a fisherman stood at a stone sink and looked at the group every now and again. Another man stood in the doorway of a shack with a beer and a lightly anxious expression. In front of one of the shacks, a child, a little girl in bathers and one red sandal, scoped the group fiercely through a pair of binoculars.

Grab a sentence by its shoulder

I hear sentences spoken aloud inside the shop and outside on the footpath. Pieces of sentences that are like lengths of rope moving through the air, or a loop of thick tinsel just waiting for an answer, or twisty string with two small knots at the end. The ends of sentences whip against the window, or lace about and pause mid speech, and I listen to them all.

Some sentences are rather beautiful.

‘This is like my kind of day, like overcast, and soda like.’

‘I told the fool to stop ringing all the time, told him to leave it, leave things, leave everything, and just leave.’

Some sentences are festive, cheerful.

‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’

Some sentences are short spokes.

‘You promised. You promised.’

Often, I hear an entire story, complete with beginning, conclusion, and a small satisfying plot.

‘She says I’m always getting books and stuff. Too many. And I’m like…yeah, I do…so what.’

Action sentences:

There was too much on the back of the ute. It hit the corner and overleaned. All on the road then. Fukn idiot.’

Occasionally, sentences contain a small warning sting:

‘Do YOU have a Covid check in? Can’t see it.’

Speakers toss mixed meanings at each other, coated in slight annoyance:

‘I’ve got a lead light with Pooh hanging from a kite string.’

‘Why would you even want that?’

‘ Winnie, you idiot. Winnie the Pooh.’

‘Ok…I thought you meant an actual shit.’

The best sentences come from visitors who call them back to me just as they are leaving.

The Magical Book Store. Like it very much. Had one of these when I was a kid. Somewhere. Might have been this shop actually.

And many conversations are already knotted when the speakers come in.

‘Some idiots can’t park.’

‘That would be you. And I just cracked both knees out because of that.’

People stand in the doorway and complain loudly on phones. I receive complete responses to exactly half a conversation.

‘Then she put milk or something all over it, made it uneatable, now why would you do that to a perfectly good…..well it’s not perfect anymore is it!’

Couples discuss their adult children right in front of me. They speak sentences that give out another rich layer of excellent information.

‘She needs to slow down. I’ve said that.’

‘You have.’

The old couple trying to cross a busy road

It’s hard out there. There’s more traffic outside my shop now. There’s a bus stop, a train station, a bakery and carpark exits. Endless rushing to somewhere. This couple held hands. They wore similar bright red shorts, running shoes and white t shirts, and she carried a bottle of orange juice, and she led him. As they made their way through a gap in the traffic, she led him. They were not fast, and several cars had to slow down, one to stop altogether. The man looked at his wife, stared at her face as she led him along, and although there are horns and hurrying all day long, nobody sounded their horn at them, or otherwise insisted they hurry along.

Painting by Benjamin Bjorklund

The family on the footpath and the mystery of the keys

There’s a parked car outside my door. It’s hot out there.  The passengers of the car climb out to meet the passengers of another car parked up the road, out of my sight. They meet up outside my window and mill around, talking and shouting, and swinging bags around; then they abruptly part because there is a problem with a bunch of keys.

‘Dad’ is holding them in his open palm, standing at the back of the car. Another man, younger, moves close and looks down, and there is a discussion with their heads close together. The older man shakes his head, no, no, no. The younger man turns and raises his eyes at another man who is standing against my door. I can’t hear them. It’s too windy.

Two women approach from the other car and look closely at the keys. All the men move in again. Intense discussion, shaking of heads. One man makes a phone call, and as he lifts the phone to his ear he is shaking his head.

An old lady is helped from the front seat of their car by a teenager, and she moves close to the group, not smiling, not hurrying. Everyone realizes this at the same time, and there is a tiny movement of surprise,and then they all move apart and look down at her, kindly. She says something and nobody answers, and then she takes the keys from the older man and puts them in her cardigan pocket. The teenage girl turns away from the group with her shoulders raised, grinning, and puts one hand over her mouth, and I hear her say, ‘Yes!’

Sculpture by Will Kurtz