My unedited house

It starts where I sit at the kitchen table looking at people across the road. There’s a small group of them, and they move the afternoon light because the light is loaded with flakes of heat, gum leaf, and dust, and every outline is livid with it.

The people are leaning over a car, bonnet up.

There are dishes and cups here, and one yellow pot at the window, level with the heads over the car outside. Inside, there is also a coffee mug, a tea towel, a phone charging.

There are books on the floor, and a wooden train set with some missing. A bottle of perfume, a set of weights, clean washing (some of it folded).

A bowl of nashi pears, heavy with yellow.

Everybody’s things.

And bookshelves.

I have a low table with a glass roof. Under the sliding panel of glass there are square cavities, each one containing something really good. Polished stone in silky chunks, fossils, a giant leaf that’s not actually that big, carved wooden spoons, pieces of shell, clay, a feather, all those things that have no value but have great value. The glass is scratched now. On top, a wooden petrol station put together and painted by hand, and inside this a plastic elephant and giraffe from a game that strayed into another game. On the top of the petrol station, copies of Hairy McClary and Asterix and the Golden Sickle.

Carpet.

The nashi pears are heavy with yellow. Someone should eat them.

Four things notable about today

Jean-Jacques Sempé

These were:

Three teenagers outside my shop on kick scooters, one wobbling, the others adroit, all watching the ground carefully and weaving in and out of passers-by, graceful in winter.

Two people pass, loud, as people usually are in the mornings. There was a flash of checked shirts and jeans, a tap on the edge of the door, that’s all. But their voices, loud, loud, floated back, hanging in the doorway:

‘I saw a wagon type one the other day.’

‘Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…’

‘It’s really good shit.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Lena visits wearing gardening gloves. Safe.

Terry, in a sapphire blue beanie, reads out loud to me from a little joke book he has just bought. He reads about twenty jokes to me, and says, ‘This is great, it’s just the one – thank you so much. Gunna give these to my grandkids.’

His face is a lit lamp.

Illustration by Jean Jacques Sempe

 

Salmon, roadworks, road workers

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Yesterday, I drove through Littlehampton. Roadworks. Everyone was driving slowly. There was a road worker leaning on a car. He was covered in dust. He looked exhausted. My car was just idling there, waiting for the signal to keep going, and I looked at the worker. The sunlight, the dust, the heat and everything still. He was leaning on the car, a helmet on the ground, hands in his pockets, one foot on the helmet, and his head to one side, even and still, and thinking.

Near him, a sign that says, “Atlantic salmon $26.50 kg”. An old lady was leaning forward, trying to read it. Another lady was nearby, searching her handbag for something. The lady called something to her friend and pointed at the sign. But the friend wouldn’t look at the sign.

Then a girl with a sign waved all the cars on. She was young, standing back, and looking for each driver to wave us on. She stooped down, trying to see into each car from across the road, shading her eyes from the sun. Finds the driver, smiles. Waves us forward, concerned for us. Every single car, every single driver.

Ebb and Flow

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There are two children in the playground here.
Two children on a metal whirler with bars for hands and bars for feet and around they go. A girl and a boy, he’s smaller. But with a hoop and a swoop that child was down and it was a beautiful down.
There he lay, stretched out soft as cotton across the bark chips.
His sister kept spinning. And singing. She swirled her spinney hair in patterns, first one way, then the other and her brother watched. Then he stood up and said, let me. She said, it’s my moon.
She swirled three more times for authority, then another and another and he waited round and round patiently round.
Then she stopped and allowed him on. They whirled together, locked eyes, orbits on, leaning back, caught in roundy rings and sibling hoopy blur.

Sculpture ‘Ebb and Flow’ by Alison Bell

Rick and Lenore

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Rick and Lenore came into the shop before I had opened for the day: they came in accidently (they said) and stepped over the vacuum cleaner and said sorry, sorry, sorry mate…and kept on going around the shelves, shedding enthusiasm and criticism and telling me that it was going to be a grey old day. Every time Lenore found something of stupendous value she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, Rick there’s more of it ‘ere.
And Rick said: Yeah, yeah, yeah, ha! Don’t rush me, mate.
And Lee stood impatiently, the air around her became impatient, the whole gray day became frustrated until Rick came to his senses, sensed the atmosphere, sensed the danger and said: …all right, all right, all right…mate! All right. Mate!
Then she looked pleased even though he had not yet looked at the pearl she had found, she moved to another shelf, she found Footrot Flats and she said: Rick, Rick, Rick, look what I got… and he kept her enthusiasm and discoveries protected in the same good way while he distributed his own fervour from shelf to shelf with narrowed eyes and a questing face. He found the Westerns, that poor, limp, worn out collection that live near the counter, and he himself became limp with delight and he whispered to himself: God, look at this lot, he brought five of them to the counter, he seemed to bow down with sheer approval.
Well, I’m goin’ in ‘ere. Lee said this loudly, winning back devotion, earning consideration and so Rick came to his senses again.
All right, all right…don’t go on…and he looked pleased.
Do you want to get this, remember we saw the movie…? Remember that movie…. I could of died.
Rick agreed with the movie. They looked at each other and drew the movie around them and they were together.
When they came to the counter to pay for the trembling westerns, Lee said to me that there is a frog shop in Goolwa and there are some real beauties in there too,
Then, like everyone else, they left, taking the Westerns, their movie, the frog shop and their rich, delicious life of they, themselves away again and they were gone.

Illustration by Korean artist, Park Dami

Heat

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Thursday is too hot to open the shop. I stay home and Max comes to visit and although the heat floats around the house in soft, ticking waves he is unconcerned, he enters the drift delighted and he will find the tap, the hose, the sand, the stones, the buckets, regardless of advice. And so we sit out in it, enfolded and silent and the garden is falling, losing its height under the staggering weight of heat. Even the galahs, normally rummaging through noise and conflict, sit in lax groups, speechless, their black eyes stare down at us in amazement.
Max has made a pond with a peg and three shells and cold water. The hose, which was a melting length of green confectionary is now cooled. The tap, its head and mouth tipped with boiling metal is now tranquil. The bricks leading to the sandpit, slabs of unconcerned strength, are now watered and calm. Max has a tiny horse, a tractor and half a tennis ball and he works on in the shadows, mixing water with his treasure, adding cold cakes of wet sand, squatting beneath the shimmering surface of the morning, blending bliss with heat and altering my definition of the day.

I can remember

childhood

A little boy asked me this morning if I remembered him coming in before with his mum and dad and getting a book called Dr Zeus and also getting a book about a cat. He reminded me with a certain joy that I took a photo of them standing there with their books, him and his brother. He reminded me that his brother does not read that many books now as he plays cricket. He is pretty good at cricket. He is a fast man.
I did remember. It was a long time ago. Those small boys lined up next to each other at the counter, their eyes were lamps, their books certain tiles of gold spread carefully in front of me so that I was aware of the incoming joy.
This time they chose different books, after all they were older now, grown up almost, they were reading about dinosaurs and cricket and Star Wars. They brought the books to the counter and their eyes were like lamps and I was aware of the incoming joy.

Noah leans back.

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It is nearly the last day of our holiday and we are having lunch, by the sea, in summer, in the heat, under cool glass and next to the blue. Morgan and I have chosen mussels, I remember these from a year ago and they made me happy so I have ordered them again, mussels in shells, a thousand of them, too many, whirling in tomato and garlic and other things with chilli, red wine maybe. I am wondering if the chilli will be real and it is because when we lift the lid, the steam comes out angrily and the chillies lie there, amongst the mussels, obscene and arrogant and not knowing their proper place, perfect.
We are elbow deep in mussels and shells and ciabatta bread and there is too much food and too much sky through the windows and the babies are hooting and eating things and Noah is at the end of the table, between his parents, supreme amongst food and family and spoons and forks and garlic bread.
He and his baby cousin Max are hurling things to the floor and gazing open mouthed at the response from family, they are filing away the satisfying response from family.
I cannot eat any more food, but there is still too much food waiting to be eaten. I can only stare at everyone else. Family, ordinary and ordinary but still defying understanding.
Morgan, is gone, lost in the mussel pot, the good cold beer and hunger, and his son, Noah, is leaning back superbly into the armchair of summer, and his parents gaze over at the floor and the scattered food and the toys and they look down at all of this with joy.

The children who found something with a metal detector in a caravan park

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There are two young children here in the caravan park, in the warm summer, on the hot grass and they have a metal detector.

They are purposeful, their backs are bent and their thin arms concentrate on the work. Every patch of patchy ground has potential…. gravel, sand, garden, asphalt, earth, kerb, grass, cement…all are tried and tried.
The detector beeps a small hoot every now and again and they stop and bob about to retrieve the treasure – a bottle top, a slip of metal, a casket of jewels. They scrape sand back reverently but there is usually nothing there. Then they push the sand back into place, gentle caretakers of this unnoticed ground.
But suddenly they have found something, and the detector makes a vast sound.
He says: it’s nothing.
She says: it’s something, look.
And they lean in, knees hopeful and noses together.
He says: it’s metal?
She says: it’s glass. It’s this. It’s this.
She picks it up, a small thing, holds it cupped and close, running eyes over the pleasing magic.
She says: it’s golden glass.
He says: it’s gold glass.
They take it to the tap and rinse the sand away from its golden value and the detector lies in the grass forgotten. The entire day, so deeply entered, is also forgotten.
The tap flashes in the sun, the stream of water flashes in the sun, their blond childhood heads blaze through the water drops, the warm, ticking scrub leaning kindly over them and the sea itself acknowledging the wisdom.

Photography by Yeshi Kangrang

When we went out for the evening somewhere and there were books behind the bar.

 

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I liked it here, wherever it was, somewhere on a mild night in the city. Because they had placed books behind the bar, in small rows and in one long row across the top, behind the ladder, dim in the yellow light, the leather ridging beautiful in the yellow light.

Perhaps not many people saw them. The books did not have much to do, just sit there superbly, which they did, above the heads of the bar staff and over the life and heat of the evening. The bar staff were making cocktails, pulping green apples, swirling ice with ice, faultless, making cocktail after cocktail, spinning lids, confident with glass and colour and audiences. And the place was filling up, the music was louder, it was getting darker, except for a glowing mezzanine floor up high and behind an iron balcony. Up there were lamps and a group of people, just their silhouettes moved to and fro. One woman danced by herself, she poured champagne from a great height, the bottles glowed emerald green, she was Aladdin in that smoky light, Aladdin or Scheherazade perhaps, belonging only to herself.

Young people enter and leave and enter and leave, following some unknown tidal rule. There is shouting at the front. The barman presents four cocktails at once and with a flourish and there is cheering. There is a surge of interest in apples and ice and whisky.

Near to us, a young man drops his glass to the floor, he is leaning on his friend, they are arguing, there are two young women sitting nearby and they draw in their legs, looking at the spilt drink, the ice and the glass and the young men. One of the young men begins to weep.The books on the shelf lean back, complacent, having seen it all and already containing it all.

Up behind the balcony, the dancer dances on, consulting nobody.