Quietly, quietly

Reading a book by Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres

There are two people here and they don’t know each other. They both greeted me when they came in. He said, ‘Nice in here.’ She said, ‘Cold outside’. Every time they passed each other, they nodded. He had three enormous history books. She had Hans Christian Anderson, one volume: the complete collection.

In the back room there is an argument. It is three old ladies. They won’t agree on Patricia Wentworth. They each bought one small paperback and wouldn’t look at each other. One said, ‘Hold the door, Dilly.’

Dilly said, ‘I like these strong doors, they get the muscles going.’ And she stood strongly against the door, letting her friends out, and the last lady said, ‘Well, let it go now, you’re letting the weather in.’

And the quiet lady, who’d been waiting, said, Isn’t it wonderful!’

I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I agreed that it was, and the quiet man, who had lost his phone somewhere, called out that he’d found it, on top of Louis Fischer. And he said, ‘Thank God there are still bookshops.’ And then the door opened and someone came in, and backed out, calling, ‘Sorry, don’t want books, isn’t this meant to be the bakery?’ And he nearly fell over a child who had pressed in behind him, and who now said, ‘Watch out for me though’ and held up her arm to show a green watch, and he said, ‘Just let me shut the door first, it’s a good watch, a very good watch.’

And the quiet lady said again, ‘Isn’t it wonderful…’

 

Painting: Reading A Book By Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès

Paddington

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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.

Road Rage

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It’s hot this morning. Everyone is moving slowly, respecting the heat; we aren’t used to it yet.

There are some people with an elegant dog on a lead outside my shop, and they are trying to get to the bakery. But a passing car has stopped at the intersection, and as the walkers approach, two dogs in the back seat of the car look out and go stiff with rage. The back window can only fit one head, but both dogs mash themselves into the window seat. First they are motionless, eyeing the footpath dog with shock and fury. The footpath dog has reared up, ears stiff, scenting battle and possible glory. He lunges suddenly and twists his owners into a sudden plait of legs, shopping bags and disappointment. The traffic has stopped. The intersection is blocked. The car inches forward, the back window framing the dogs as they scream, strange squashed barks. The footpath dog splashes urine, (a warning?) the owners are outraged, yanking and hissing, and nobody can escape. Tensions climb. Footpath Dog is now dancing a slow mad polka on his hind legs, the owners pulling him into my doorway. The car dogs are braying their contempt at this pathetic dance. One of my hanging balloons comes down in the hot wind and Footpath Dog bounces into the air, quivering and upset, he loses ground.  But the traffic is moving, at last, at last, and the car dogs are swept around the corner, their heads blowing like flags, still shouting abuse. The Footpath Dog subsides, sighing and disappointed.  The owners go trembling toward the bakery.

Artwork Road Rage by Mike Holzer

Is Bridgewater a town or a place?

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This excellent question from a family in front of me. I am following them back to my shop. The father and three children move fast, the children hopping and pouncing and asking questions.

‘Is Bridgewater a town, or a place?’

The father explained. ‘It’s a town, like this one.’

‘I know that place, there’s a circus there.’

‘Well, maybe not.’

‘Wasn’t there a circus there?’

‘Don’t think so.’

‘But I remember it, that person did cartwheels and spins.’

‘Is Bridgewater not a town?’

‘Want me to do a cartwheel?’

The children are fast, disappearing through the sunlight, the father only just keeping up, and they were almost at the bakery.

‘Dad, when you’re at work, we sleep in your bed.’

I saw the father go still, look down at them, delighted.

And then they turned the corner, gone.

 

Artwork by Pascal Campion

 

The meeting

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There is a meeting outside the shop.

It makes steady progress, everyone is loaded with pies and coffees and cakes, but they move slowly on and on, past the window, stopping briefly, talking and talking, moving on again, then circling back to my doorway.

Winter’s over, mate.

Two men face each other, take a few more steps, stop again. They gesture with paper bags. Several others join them, backs to the cold. They look through my door, but don’t come in. A few more steps, talking and arguing, faces muffled through paper, sighing over the coffee, the coffee’s good.

Need to tie up loose ends…

I’ve zero tolerance…

120 bales..

Get your invoices in…

Worst thing ever…

There are always two people in front of each window. Some men are strolling up and down. I can’t work out where they’ve all come from. There are no vehicles parked outside.

No, mate, never heard of it!

Works really well.

Seven days a week?

I’ve a grandson back there though.

There’s no right way.

They are still coming out of the bakery, the group stretches past my shop. There are calls for more coffee.

Here, Ian. Someone tell him to get a carton of milk.

When I bought that spirit level, might have been a good ten years ago…

Everyone stops talking to stare at a truck that has stopped across the road. The driver jumps out and heads to the bakery, leaves the engine running.

He’s keen.

There was a guide, some sort of guide…wasn’t there?

No, there wasn’t.

All the shit you have to go through…I could tell you…

There’s a shout from down the street, out of my view. Everyone turns.

Is that Charlie?

There are footsteps, calling, movement, everyone preparing to leave, looking for a rubbish bin.

Weather’s coming in.

Don’t use the government guide.

Government? Is there one?

There was a turning of heads and a general, agreeable dismissive noise of contempt.

Government!

 

The little boy who looked through the window

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They were running past the window, a group, against the wind and streaming. The little boy, about six, darted at the door, bent low to look through, his face for a second right against the glass, fogging up, owl’s eyes, not blinking. He disappeared behind his own breath and then tapped the glass and flew away.

But he came back. His face, pressed to the door again, was all eyes and ideas. His family must have stopped and come back because somebody, suddenly, opened the door and in he fell.  There was a little sister with rainbow gumboots just behind. She put one finger in the air and said, Harry Potter. Her brother, breathing hard, said, book two or one. I gave them the books and they took them under a table to have a look. The parents drifted.

It was getting darker, quieter , and it began to rain.

There was a young woman here that afternoon, too, who sang while she searched for books. I remember the children gazing at her shoes, and then looking at each other. She didn’t know they were there. She sang on, they drew up their knees and hugged their hiding place, the parents drifted and outside, it rained on and on.

Artwork by Rebecca Dautremer

Trying to get across the road

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There’s a man with two children outside the shop. They’ve come from the bakery and they looked through my window briefly but they don’t come in. They want to go across the road and eat their food. There is only one place to cross here and it’s right outside my window. The father has each child by the hand but the little girl wants to walk backwards. This is so she can keep watching the wooden cat in my window.

He calls out authoritatively, stay close.

They start across. The little boy is going to hop across.

The little girl has turned around and is walking low, knees bent, swinging her legs as though on hinges. They watch each other admiringly. Dad is carrying two paper bags in his mouth. The little boy drops his cap.

They get jerkily to the other side, still hopping and rotating and dragging dad steadily downward, and then they all straighten up and turn to look at the cap lying in the middle of the road. I can’t hear what they are saying but the dad is delivering a long speech, possibly about how not to cross the road. When it’s quiet, he walks out and picks up the cap. The little boy waves, pleased with his dad, then drops both paper bags onto the grass, and the buns bounce softly out and roll into the gutter and both children look down at them in amazement.

A solid winter’s day, with sun

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Three children are passing outside, it’s the end of the afternoon, school is done. My door is slightly ajar because at the moment, it won’t shut properly. One child makes a graceful leap at one of the spinning balloons and knocks it to the ground. And stands aghast.

His friend is outraged: You put that back up! You just put that back up, now. Quick, do it. Before they see.

A third boy is looking through the glass door and is amused: Yous, she’s just sitting in there reading a book. Look, she’s just sitting there. Oh my God.

I look down quickly, not at a book, but at an electricity bill. Hopefully they will stay a little longer. But they are anxious to be gone. One child has put the balloon back very gently,  upside down.

The all regard it seriously. He explains: I can’t reach it. They nod because it’ll do.

They all turn in a single movement and leap in various angles down the street, lightly, like grasshoppers, scratching gently at the surface of life. I can still hear them, one is telling the others not to touch the posts because he once put chewing gum there.

 

Please come in

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I have a sign on the door that says, “please come in.”

People walking past read it out loud. Often my door is mistaken for the door of the bakery and they have to back out again, apologetic, disappointed, sometimes annoyed. This week one man shook the rain from his umbrella and then hurled the umbrella at the door as well. His wife was pretty mad and said, what an earth are you doing? He said, the blinking thing let go of me. She turned her back and walked off. He looked in a worried way at the water all over my door.

Children see my sign as a direct invitation addressed to them. They stop and point at it. One man read it and then came in because it was cold. Then he left again. He said, just getting warm, don’t actually read.

People read the sign out loud and then say, yeah as if! Who’d go in there? A bookshop! One man called Harold would not let his wife come in, he said, that’s where you pay new prices for useless old books. His wife, who had been in earlier, looked at him perhaps thinking that he was a useless old book. That she’d paid a new price for.

One lady sang out, pleeease come in. Her friend sang IIIIII don’t thiiink sooooo.

One old man said, thank you for the invitation. He had stood there looking at it on the door for ages. He bought a biography of Ernest Hemingway.

Passers by come fast down the street, especially if it is cold or raining. This is why they come through my door or bang up against it or look through hoping to see cream buns and cups of tea. Then they have to straighten up and keep going, their faces ovals of apology and confusion.

On the way back, no way!

Over the Moon by Jimmy Lawlor

Quiet inside, but outside the shop a commotion because there is a family crossing the road and scattering in all directions; they can’t find the bakery. There seems to be about 20 people in their group, all ages, many children, prams, a dog. The group gathers and swells and somebody unseen is calling directions and one child has seen the cat in my window and wants to come in.

He is told no, no time, no time. He says, on the way back? He is told, no way!

Another child stops directly at the door and says she needs a book about stones. So that next time they go to that beach, they can keep building. Two more children press close, leaning on, breathing on the window. The adults, the pram and the dog have moved on a little way, we can still hear them. Someone is calling, just get coffee, Brad, just get coffee. The children are silent, staring sideways, looking at the voices. The oldest child taps the widow in front of the wooden cat. She says, are you coming back next year? The boy says, yep. A smaller child says, if mum says. His brother says carelessly, I’m going anyway.

The oldest child says, quick, they’re coming. Then suddenly the children are gone. Quiet again.

 

Artwork by Jimmy Lawlor