Looks like I’ll be here for a while longer

I’m halfway through my 10th year here on Dawson Street, and nearly at the end of my lease – ten years was my ultimate plan- and I didn’t imagine I’d be able to go beyond that. However, my landlady is generous, and she wants me to stay, and so we’re planning to renew the lease after all.

There’ll will be a few long term changes, though, to help keep the shop going as best I can when trading is uncertain and not as consistent as it used to be.

From next week, I’ll be trading only four days a week from 9am to 5pm (instead of 5 days a week from 10am to 4pm). This means I’ll be here for the SAME number of hours but over longer days. This gives me 3 days away from the shop to earn a small income for myself (and for my super).

I’ll always be available by phone, email, and Facebook regardless of where I am. I’ll continue writing the blog, and I’ll still take all the new stock home first before any of you can get at them.

Thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm. It motivated me to come up with this new way of keeping things going, and I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s to R E A D I N G, no matter the circumstances, the times, or the era!

On the way to work in a bookshop

Two minutes away from the driveway, and I need to think about what I’ve left behind. I can hear books sliding across the back seat and thumping against the boot, but the one I need won’t be there.

And it’s not. I left it on the edge of the kitchen table next to a small container of peanuts, a fowlers jar preserving ring and a set of keys not mine.

So, Anne won’t get Hubert Wilkins today.

I stop at our general store and complain to Jake about Australia Post and he agrees.

I drive to Callington trying to avoid the galahs that scribble all over the roads in small groups of about 8 million.

Through Callington hoping no train comes through and holds me up for a year so that one carriage can come through at a perfect walking pace.

Through the farms, which are all perfect slabs of golden toast at this time of year.

Woodchester, stone walls and quietness and the row boat on the corner made up into a Christmas display.

Weave around the farm machinery going from paddock to paddock, one with silver tinsel tied to each door handle.

While driving, go through orders in my head not completed yet, orders not yet picked up, and wonder how to keep going with James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Into Strathalbyn and more galahs, white ones in clumps of one hundred, I can see them standing on the road and screaming in each other’s faces.

Then the ducks, quiet and always together and never knowing quite when to get out of the way of the traffic.

I watch huge trucks swerve at the last minute and somehow miss them all, and motorists swerving into the oncoming lane to avoid making ducky pancakes, and oncoming motorists nodding, fair enough, but I can see them all saying fukn ducks because I can read lips when driving this slowly.

Kids on skateboards fast and a lady with a walker slow.

The wooden Christmas trees on the corner. Ruby baubles tied to fences, a lady walking her dog with tinsel twisted through his collar.

At my shop, a caravan parked but has left just enough room for me to get to my tiny park next to the shed. A stack of bakery trays piled against the shed for some reason.

A black face mask on the ground and a small purple drink bottle.

Struggle around to the door and enter within with a good plan for the day. Decide against most of it.

Have another brief go at Ulysses.

Shelving, dusting, clean windows. Someone says, “she’s closed”, and I quickly snap the sign to open, but they are gone. More shelving, orders, book searches, message people for pickups, tidy displays, turn on the Christmas lights.

Have another go at Ulysses. Serve customers. More shelving, more orders.

A man tells me about World War 2.

I find a copy of The Incredible Journey for someone.

A young man wants a classic to read and I show him 20 possibilities, but he leaves without getting any of them. I take Grapes of Wrath, which I’d showed him, and begin reading it myself.

Someone asks me how to get to Woodchester.

Not a very lucrative day, but each day a gem.

No day is ever the same.

The 12 best questions I’ve been asked this year

  1. Is this the bakery? (No)
  2. Do young people still read do you reckon? (Yes)
  3. What sort of discount will you give me on these? (The same discount as Woolworths give you when you barter at their checkout.)
  4. Is this mask wearing territory? (Yes)
  5. Do you need Readers Digest books? (No)
  6. Have you read all the books in here? (Trying to)
  7. You still here? (I know I’m somewhere)
  8. Thought this place was called Jeff’s Books – that’s what Google says. (I am Jeff’s books. We’re magical.)
  9. Are there any pubs in Strath? (Yes)
  10. Can you have too many books? (As if!)
  11. Do you know Gavin? (Maybe)
  12.  How are you. Glad you’re surviving. (I am surviving, thanks to customers, visitors, and readers who keep on coming in and supporting tiny shops that have no hope on the real business scene, but who sell something that’s so intrinsic to survival that no day passes without a vintage sci fi or Virginia Woolf or something about painting model soldiers  leaves the store, saluting. I don’t know what reading really is, but like breathing it appears to be necessary, and with not much value in hurrying it along or wasting it for the wrong reasons. Anyway, thank you to everyone who keeps us going: good on you! )

Merry Christmas everyone: you know who you are xxxxx

Raining today, and the road is hissing

That’s all I can hear this morning: water on the road and crockery in the bakery.

The rain comes down hard all day.

Someone stopped in my doorway and booked a motel, and a dog refused to go across the road and had to be carried.

A young tradesman dropped his mask in a puddle and put it back on again, and everyone is shrugging back into warm clothing, which last week we had discarded. A lady said, ‘Who brought this weather in?’ and Alan told me to, ‘Enjoy it, mate, because it won’t last’.

I don’t mind. It’s good reading weather, as is all weather. Alan notices water. He’s going home to check the water that’s come to his place, which is somewhere outside of Alice Springs.

Sarah came in, and then backed out because she’d forgotten her mask. She roared through the door as she left that Scott Morrison was at it again.

A couple went past fast, and he was saying, ‘Don’t put the umbrella there, I get all the drips’, and she snapped it shut hard, so he really did get all the drips even though he ducked hard to the side, and then they were gone so I didn’t see any more.

An old couple went across the road, slowly treading through the water, and three cars had to slow down, but nobody tooted.

Still raining. Good reading day.

Do you think she ought to have apologised?

This conversation whipped past my shop door and was gone before I could catch the interesting tiger tail. This single question sang out clearly and steadily and remained in the air after the talkers had gone; it hung there. I saw it.

What had she done? Fault is awkward because we all have a bit. So I wanted to know. A sustaining dose of someone else’s faults will quieten mine. For half an hour.

The walkers were walking shoulder to shoulder and leaning in, as you do when sharing things delicate. As we do.
Once I found keys in our shed door that ought not to have been there. They were jammed in awkwardly and left there for three days. I said, ‘Who left those there? We could have been robbed.’
But a grandson owned up immediately. ‘Me, Nanny. I wanted to get Pa’s wire scissors and make a hole in your fence.’ He looked at me, pleased with the vision of himself making a hole in our fence. I said delicately to Pa, ‘Do we need a hole in our fence?’
The walkers who passed my shop discussing the apology were women and young. I can tell that because of the pace and strength of the walk. They don’t lean forward. They were upright. They challenged the sky: get out of our way. They frowned slightly, aware of the footpath, the kerb, and approaching traffic. They gave the apology a chance. Their shoulders were soft. They give the criminal a chance. Their eyes were considering. I saw that.

I myself gave the keys in our shed door a chance. I like those keys and their crooked hopeful insertion into the aching lock.
I wished those young women hadn’t been walking so fast. Why didn’t they hang about the doorway like men do, with time available, nothing to do, and an argument to win; a country to conquer. But they didn’t hang. They moved on.
Once a friend told me, ‘Apologise. Just fucking do it. If they’re worth it, apologise.’ She said this when we were raising kids and getting it wrong. Now I ache with the wrongness and the need to have apologised more. The keys must still be there.
Sometimes we don’t get an apology back. The same friend said, ‘So what. Get over it.’
She won me a country.

I wonder who those young women were, and who had the key in their lock, crooked.

Illustration by Ferdy Remijin

The ad

Windows are good places for ads. I use mine for advertising theatre shows and music groups, art exhibitions, Covid information, and books by local writers.

So this morning when I arrived and saw a notice sticky taped onto the outside of the window, I was intrigued. What’s the ad for? Who might be communicating? Who wants to say something?

There was a lady standing reading it as I approached, and she was kind of frowning. It hadn’t been stuck up very well. It was crooked, and the corners were not secured. Also, the writing was not neat. I always admire a good, neat notice; I like brevity, clarity and precision! These show confidence and organization. I think, always do a draft. Always edit.

But this one was careless. There were spelling mistakes. The person spelt their name without a capital letter. Also, when they advertised free head job’s, they ruined “job’s” with an apostrophe of possession. Makes you suspicious that if they can’t spell it, they also can’t do it. The drawing was not to scale. The phone number was written too many times. The lettering was uneven, and “session” was spelt wrongly.

The lady reading it tore it down. She said it was disgusting. I just think it was sloppy work. There’s no excuse for that. Always take pride.

A reader put her head in the door and said…

‘I read your blog. I read it all the time.’

Then she withdrew and began to move away. Then she moved back and put her head through the door again. ‘I do enjoy it.’

There hadn’t been much happening that day. I still remember that. I was just sitting there wondering about the value of things.

After she put her head in the door and said that, there was value in everything.

Everything’s much the same

The only difference is that people stand and read my wear a mask sign. Then they put one on and come in and look at me and smile reassuringly. Their masks move and wrinkle up as they try to smile. Then they remember the code, ‘Quick, Ruth, go back.’

‘Why? What’ve we done?’

‘Do the phone thing.’

‘Oh God, where’s me phone?’

I have so many paper signs on the door that passers-by have to peer through, moving their heads from side to side to see what’s in there.

Sarah wears her mask over her eyes as well. Can’t be too careful.

The door opens to let somebody in, but a friend pulls them back out. ‘No need to go in there. We got our books last week. Leave it Ginny.’

I am asked, ‘Can I ask how long it is between vaccinations?’

I am told to try and keep my footing.

There are not many cars going past. No horns, and hardly any trucks. And nobody is standing in my doorway and talking so I can eavesdrop and write it all down. People stop and read my door signs for ages, but in silence, and they usually don’t come in.

The traffic on the road is subdued as though thinking about something.

There’s only one person over at the bus stop.

Locals come in to make sure I am all right. Because of this, I am.

Three people pass the window, moving slowly the way older people do, and shoulder to shoulder. ‘I know what to get him… what about one of those new skateboard things. The young people like those.’

I hope they get him one.

Illustration by Brian Kershisnik

What to talk about when things get uneasy

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.’

‘Never.’

‘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.’

Developers.

I only use this for emergencies. Because after this one, everybody is family, and nobody will go home.

My covid code

Is hanging on the door. There’s five scattered about, so nobody can miss them. I don’t like them.

Everybody uses them. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t. But then I jump up and scan into my own shop. Don’t want anyone Checking the Data to think that nobody came.

Visitors are generous and careful. They stand outside in the rain and the cold, patiently fiddling.

‘Did you get it?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Try again.’ They lean over the phone, glasses on the end of cold noses.

‘It says Bunnings.’

‘That’s we were.’

‘By God. What’s this shop then?’

Young people scan the code carelessly, without looking, still talking. They text a long reply to someone as they walk in. The text takes 1.5 seconds.

Some people sign in with a pen. They fill out every piece of information carefully for me.

Some people forget. Then they come back to the counter and sign in. ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry.’

‘Better do this then, hadn’t I!’

‘Better add my name.’

‘What’s the time David?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The time. The clock. Don’t worry about it.’

David turns in a circle, confused, with two Jeffrey Deavers in his hand. His wife signs them both in. He tells me that Jeffrey Deaver has gone down in quality.

Some people show me their scanned in status. I say, ‘Great, thanks.’ And I mean it. Glad they can just do it and not get mad with me. Glad they’ll still come in and keep me going. Glad they still want to talk about To Kill a Mockingbird and Agatha Christie even though the world seems a little weird right now. Glad they still argue that they should have gone to the bakery first.

Image of an actual door at Salah Eidin Citadel, Cairo, Egypt