“Architects plant their imagination, weld their poems on rock, Clamp them to the skidding rim of the world and anchor them down to its core; Leave more than the painter’s or poet’s snail-bright trail on a friable leaf; Can build their chrysalis round them; stand in their sculpture’s belly.
They see through stone, they cage and partition air, they cross-rig space With footholds, planks for a dance; yet their maze, their flying trapeze Is pinned to the centre. They write their euclidean music standing With a hand on a cornice of cloud, themselves set fast, earth-square.”
I know that people who come into the shop are a little more concerned than usual, and that if they weren’t before, they will be now. There have been conflicts and difficulties in the past, and I have had to intervene. But things have changed. The biggest change is that it is so easy to get things wrong, especially in a small shop where everyone can hear everyone else.This means I have to intervene more often.
Now I have something that can help a little. When there was angst about the government, I used it. Once, during an argument about Bob Hawke, I used it. Once, after an enraged threat, ‘Well, I’ll fucking tell you something’, I soothed the participant with it. Once some travellers from Victoria in my shop were told sharply that they had no right (to something). I fired the accuser with a new issue, and luckily it worked. A man leaned over me angrily about vaccinations, (‘it’s all about profit’), and I moved him on gently to a greater issue.
This is because there are common issues. We can bend our anger and hatred upon these, and they deserve it.
The greatest of these is phone updates.
I ask, ‘Do you like your phone?’
We mostly don’t. People bend over their phone screens for me, trying to find the words for something that, while vital, provokes endless rage. If necessary, I probe the wound:
‘Do you do the updates?’ No argument can survive this question. Everyone takes out their phone and looks at it, looking for the update still sitting there like an arsehole.
‘God, updates. With this phone, I can’t update anything. Look at this.’ And they show me the source of all evil, previous argument gone.
‘Fucking hate this phone. Don’t get an Android.’
‘Samsung. Useless. Apple is better. But…’
I ask, ‘Should I do this update?’ This provokes intense anxiety (except in young people, who will fearlessly update anything) in case I am mis-advised.
‘Don’t do it mate.”
‘Na, fuck that.’
‘Do all of ‘em. Else you’ll be hacked the shit out of.’
There are other things. Printers. All people hate their printers. This includes me. They always work for the first eighteen pages… ‘
So, what printer do you recommend?’
‘God, I hate Canon. So shit. And Epsom. They’re wankers.’
“God. Don’t ask me. I got this one at home that….’
Australia Post. People look stern and severe.
‘You tell me why it takes ten days for a pack to get from here to Woodside. I mean, what are they doing with the stuff!’
‘You know what they charge? You ever been in there? You have to queue from here to the river. That’s because they’re all dickheads with fancy watches. Actually they’re ok here. But they’re shit in Mt Barker.
‘Well, they lost my stuff. Everyone knows they smash the parcels to bits and reckon they didn’t. No compensation for me.’
I only use this for emergencies. Because after this one, everybody is family, and nobody will go home.
“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.”
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.
Two men came into the shop today together, and I thought they were brothers. This is because they worked shoulder to shoulder. First they had to check in.
‘Did you get it?’
‘No not yet.’
‘Come inside. There’s another one in here. Try it. Might work better.’ They found my app printed and hung up in a different place.
‘That one out there must be on a shadow or something, generally I get it, don’t I.
The other man instructed him.
‘Come back a bit. Come back a bit.’
‘It’s been working beautiful till now.’
‘Yeah, I know mate. Come back a bit, you have to get the whole thing in.’
‘I’ve got it.’
‘No, you haven’t.’
‘Ok, I’ll have to sign the thingo. Don’t know why that is, it worked beautiful in the bakery, sorry to be a nuisance.’ He looked at me apologetically. I said, ‘Not to worry.’
I rewarded them with Melody Gardot through the speaker. They swayed.
I watched them move. Gentlemen, with hands in pockets. Silence. Leaning over the books with courtesy and interest. One men went into Art. The other man swayed, listening. They passed each other twice in the same narrow space. ‘You right?’
‘I am, mate.’
Hats on, black, coats on, blue, shoes stout helping with winter. Silence and breathing.
Suddenly their wivesentered, signing in efficiently. There are three of them. Who is the third?
‘Come on, girls.’ The see their men.
‘Oh, ello stranger, fancy meeting you here.’
One of the men responds, ‘Do I know you?’
Why are you in the children’s books?’ They don’t answer.
‘Come on Sue, let’s get Nora Roberts.’
Sue, in a beautiful red coat moves gently and slowly. ‘Did you sign the thing?’
‘We did.’ They move off, Sue with a walking stick. They ask each other.
‘How much is this?’
‘Is there a section for crime?’
‘I know what author I’m going for.’
‘Here, watch your step.’
Meanwhile, the husbands are still in art, shoulder to shoulder. They are examining their wallets. I listen to them when they pay for the art book.
‘Hans Heysen, not a bad bloke.’
‘He didn’t do too bad, did he?’
‘Now that I’ve retired I should put my finger back into the apple pie.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you what…’
Then they left, alone, and without their ladies. Outside in the cold, I could hear them still talking, still bent over the book he had open and was holding out under the afternoon cold.
‘Have they gone? Where are they?’
‘The men have left us behind, Sue.’
‘They’ve all gone, have they?’
‘They’re probably looking for us.’
‘Well, we can get back to the car. Don’t need them.’
Then they left, but I can still hear them outside the door.
‘I’ll just look round the corner.’
They moved slowly out and on and past the window. I can still here their voices…
‘…well that’s their fault for just sitting at home…’
“Even as he turned the little handle round and round , the room remained under the tenuous authority of sleep. As yet unchallenged, somnolence continued to cast its shadow over sights and sensations, over forms and formulations, over what has been said and what must be done, lending each the insubstantiality of its domain. But when the Count opened the small wooden drawer of the grinder, the world and all it contained were transformed by that envy of the alchemists – the aroma of freshly ground coffee. In that instant, darkness was separated from light, the waters from woods rustled with the movement of birds and beasts and all manner of creeping things. While closer at hand, a patient pigeon scuffed its feet on the sill.”
A little girl wearing a bike helmet is at the door. She’s still outside looking in; her helmet is knocking against the glass; she can’t get her eyes close enough to actually see anything. She jams the helmet against the glass, and this is when I look up and see here. Her eyes pierce the inside of my shop. Beams streaming in as though from a torch. As though from a lighthouse that won’t compromise. Her eyes rest on me. She makes no compromise; she won’t smile.
In she comes. Wearing pink and grey. The bike helmet still on, the straps swinging softly around her stern chin. She looks at me and does not smile. There are no adults with here. Is it Pippi Longstocking? I sit back and regard her with respect.
She goes in amongst the books. I go back to Amor Towles.
When I look up she is crouched over Horrible Histories. Then she moves to historical. Then she moves to a shelf and looks at a copy of Inkheart. Then she’s out of my sight; must in sci fi.
Suddenly she’s passing me again. Silent and stern and the straps of her helmet swinging softly, respecting her chin.
She took ages closing the door. She stood in the gap, doing up the straps of the pink bike helmet and looking at me. She stood there for ages doing this. Then she was gone.