You’ve been here a donkey’s age

073c35b75f48f3ebc0012b1c107b8daa

A couple came into the shop. He stopped at the window. He swayed back and forth, thinking and thinking. He stood in the same place. He wasn’t looking at the books. He was looking at something else, but I couldn’t see it.

His wife beamed and beamed at the shelves. She hurled her approval, but quietly, and everywhere. She said, ‘I like Fiona McIntosh.’ She came back slowly with three books. There was no hurry. There was time.  She said to her husband, ‘What else?’

He said, ‘The devil if I know!’

He swayed back and forth, looking at her. He shone his own approval all over her. She was already bent over, but she bent over some more, laughing slowly.

He said, ‘You’ve been here a donkey’s age!’

He said to me, ‘She’ll be a donkey’s age.’ He nodded silently, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

She nodded, agreeing with the end of a vast argument that was flung back over a long time, perhaps a century.

He swayed back and forth. She beamed.

 

 

Oh, no…

Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to Her Tale by Mary Alayne Thomas.jpg

I watched this reader come into the bookshop and sigh over the books, while at the same time maintain contact with friends outside the window.

There was something on the window table that was enthralling. She bent to read. She held her phone to her ear, whispering the plot to a friend perhaps. What was the book? I couldn’t see.

Her friends were clustered outside the window. They leaned into the window and made significant expressions. She stared into their faces and spoke into her phone. She stretched her face around the agony of the news.

The book, a paperback. She held it open with one elbow and signaled something diabolical though the window. I drifted close by. It was Dangerous Creatures.

There was a desperate exchange of information by phone and face.

The reader raised herself on her toes for emphasis. The watchers drew back in respect. Maybe someone in the book died. Should I offer support?

The reader knelt down to read further, calm and out of view. The watchers fogged the window in alarm. It seemed to me that the entire day paused.

Finally she rose. Replaced the book and fled the shop, one hand clasped over her mouth, keeping the the angst organised. She allowed me a brief glance. Outside the door she raised both arms and was received by fellow readers. I saw their young and tortured hands reach for her as she closed the door.

Readers.

Artwork, Even the Tiger Stopped to Listen to her Tale, by Mary Alayne Thomas

 

 

 

Birdsong for Two Voices

110dafca01250c708f1fb81842355d33 (2)

A spiral ascending the morning,
climbing by means of a song into the sun,
to be sung reciprocally by two birds at intervals
in the same tree but not quite in time.

A song that assembles the earth
out of nine notes and silence.
out of the unformed gloom before dawn
where every tree is a problem to be solved by birdsong.

Crex Crex Corcorovado,
letting their pieces fall where they may,
every dawn divides into the distinct
misgiving between alternate voices

sung repeatedly by two birds at intervals
out of nine notes and silence,
while the sun, with its fingers to the earth,
as the sun proceeds so it gathers instruments:

it gathers the yard with its echoes and scaffolding sounds,
it gathers the swerving away sound of the road,
it gathers the river shivering in a wet field,
it gathers the three small bones in the dark of the eardrum;

it gathers the big bass silence of clouds
and the mind whispering in its shell
and all trees, with their ears to the air,
seeking a steady state and singing it over till it settles.

by Alice Oswald

Paddington

73134086_425105068390152_571265598516887552_n.jpg

A little girl opened the door to my shop and wedged her face between the lock and the doorway and stared inside, pressing up and down on her toes. She said, ‘This is my dream. This is like Paddington.’
Her mum, coming up behind her said, ‘Come on, we’re going over the road.’ They crossed the road, hand in hand, the little girl still going up and down on her toes, and talking and gesturing backwards and forwards all the way. She had a knitted scarf tied around her waist and one purple sock and one white one.

Generous, joyous, wonderful

Peter de Seve.jpg

Alan came into the shop today to pick up some books. He wanted to talk about The Death and Life of the Great Lakes (which he saw on TV last night).

Alan has a book in which he copies down carefully all the books he wants to read. The list includes authors, publishers, dates, and significant quotations. He reads these out to me. When he has finished all these books, he will find more titles listed in the back of them. Then he will come back again with another list. He said he’s on an endless journey of thinking. These days though, he needs a sleep every now and again as well. Then he wakes up and is off again. He found four good books today. All history. He loves history – all that going back in time, looking at what happened. Twice he left and came back with something he forgot to tell me. Again to recommend a certain book to me. Again to lend me a book worth reading. He is generous, joyous, and wonderful.

Artwork by Peter de Seve

Loren and Adam’s kids

reader

Loren and Adam’s kids, with their astonishing names and unconfined attitudes! They love to read. Who knows what place they’ll end up in – Tibet, or Strathalbyn, doesn’t matter, it’s where your face is that counts, up keeping watch over the universe or contemplating the feet of the blue tongue lizard. They love to read. They rise and rise, an aching existence of looking a little bit further and seeing around corners, and never coming to the end of things. Always good when they visit. Always good.

 

How to play golf

72716012_2256422671314635_1198701341971578880_n (2).jpg

Find equipment. Divide and separate. Even though there is a good wide acre, every swing will shave a cousin’s ear, which neither will notice. Place hands up, hands down, hands anywhere, and aim delicately.

Ignore parental advice. The white ball is everything. Muscles, feet, dinner and yesterday, all blur.

Noah can imitate a professional stance quite well. They both like the grass. The ball, when hit successfully, makes a rich white click and causes them to stop still and swallow.

73038915_390200765197068_5972558389123743744_n (4).jpg

 

How many, maybe twelve

The Twelve Dancing Princesses

It’s not often so many readers visit me at once. But this group came in, swooping, nodding. Young people reading. Oh happy Saturday.

Swaying, hoping and asking the shelves…. ‘Have I read this?’

Stooping and thinking, shaking heads, no, no. Not that.

Magnificent sunlight conducts the outside of the shop. But is irrelevant. It can stop trying now.

One girl has piled books up, carries them around, keeping order with her chin.

There is a phone conversation. Giving directions. Head back outside (not happily), and shout to someone in the street (fool!)

The rest of the group enter.

Then more.

Diary of a Nobody, Inkheart, Treasure Island, John Steinbeck, Eoin Colfer, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Black Beauty, Kidnapped, wondering, hissing… ‘You already have that.’

‘How many teeth does an Aardvark have, who knows that?’ Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, The Lost Necklace of Amber or something like that. Someone has lost a water bottle. The light on the darkened windows of the parked cars outside the window dazzles and hurts. Sherlock Holmes. Anais Nin. D. H. Lawrence, Eric Carle.

‘I love Anais Nin. And Harry Potter.’

Somebody is called outside because they have too many books. There is a brief, respectful silence.

Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls….. ‘What’s her other name?’

Are you getting this?

Pride and Prejudice.

‘Do you have Tarka the Otter?’

‘Do you have the sequel to Sweet Thursday?’

They move and murmur, gather and turn. Read on knees, in silence. Gather up the chosen volumes, phones, a scarf, a sister, a book that will  help them read Proust, and slowly everyone is leaving. It is the end of the day and they leave, file out, eyes like jewels.

 

Illustration from The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Errol Le Cain

 

 

Getting petrol

20190929_135324.jpg

Max and Noah are getting on with things. They have their own version of work. It is very intense. Today, the trees need petrol to keep going.

There is a pipe buried at the base of the tree. They place a piece of bark over its lovely mouth and stare at it.

‘Petrol.’

‘Petrol in there.’

They squat, and stare at the piece of bark and the pipe, more thoughtfully.

Suddenly they rise up and go for the hose, drag it, grunting, panting. It is too long; it’s heavy and it knots its stomach and argues with their small feet. But they yank and wrestle it into place, refusing to give up.

Then they place the nozzle into the pipe and it fits. It is not a tree. It is a train.

‘Watch out.’

‘No’

‘Watch.’

‘Ok.’

And the water cooperates, a beautiful cold flood that darkens the ground and makes them briefly examine their feet. They check the bower, check the nozzle, check the fuel, crouch and stare, absorbed in the small heaving fountain. Noah taps the tree on its spindly shin. He says, ‘Done.’

Max agrees, ‘Turn off.’ But they can’t. The work is too important. They can’t leave it, the tap is too far away.  They remain with the train, stroking its hot roaring flank, loyal and possessive…

 

 

The antilibrary

Francesca Buchko.jpg

I have realized I still have 3500 years of reading in my library.

The Lebanese writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls this unread collection of books an antilibrary.

He writes that a library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there.

He predicts that I will accumulate more knowledge and more books. And that the number of (unread) books on my shelves will continue to grow as I realize the enormity of what I still don’t know.

“Let us call this an antischolar — someone who focuses on the unread books and makes an attempt not to treat his knowledge as a treasure, or even a possession, or even a self-esteem enhancement device — a sceptical empiricist.”

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan

Brilliant. Going out to buy more books.