It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down….

It’s raining. There’s a man pacing up and down outside my shop. His phone is on speaker. I can hear the phone speaking back to him, a thin stream of information, like a pilot giving air directions, and none of it making sense to anyone else.

‘The things they get away with down there is ridiculous.’

The phone answers what sounds like a long list of facts.

‘You can times that by five, mate. The problem is… the problem is… what they don’t realize is…’

The phone speaks back. Agreeing.

The man is pacing, agitated, up and down. It is still raining.

‘I contracted it all out though. It’s such a hassle. Turns out that – ‘

The phone interrupts.

‘Yes, yes, yes, yes…is it though?’

The phone delivers a short lecture, this time without interruption.  

‘All right buddy, better let you go.’ The conversation ends. The man, wearing an orange safety vest, muddy boots, and a beanie, picks up his coffee from my windowsill and strides away.

It’s quiet again. It’s dark and raining, not right for September. There are long heavy trucks outside, slow and creaking and hissing. But now they have all stopped. This is unusual, and I look out. There’s an orange indicator going somewhere out of my sight, the rain and the hot orange light flicker and flacker all over the front of the shop. K and S Freighters are stuck out there, massive and shining, then a huge carrier with cows looking out at the rain, a soft wall of eyes, then a cement mixer with its wet belly turning slowly, then a bus.

Someone walks past whistling, a bright light idea uninterested in rain.

When the sun comes out, it is warm, its light has gold edges that are told in the puddles, the puddles read it swiftly in gold lines with metal stops. The puddles are flints. People look down, then up and shade their eyes.

Everyone becomes a jogger, simply everyone. They have to cross the road. The sun has dropped abruptly, rain again. I stand at the window and look out.  People run rustily, puffing dramatically, eyes screwed up, legs lifted high to avoid the spray, laughing because there is so much water, and because we need it.  My town, thirty minutes away and always dry, lay on its back this morning drinking heavily, weighed down by liquid, the trees hanging sodden, their roots and toes alive with water and digging for more.

Customers come wheezing in, happy and unbothered, ‘Do you have book two of Tim Severin’s Viking stuff?’

The trucks drag nets of spray behind them. A child in a car parked just outside the door has his arm out of the window catching the drops. He is on his knees. He puts his head out. A drench catches him, and he shakes and shakes, alive with nourishment. Somebody inside the car speaks, and he abruptly withdraws.

Another child, on the footpath, is being a duck. I am startled because his duck sound is so real, so loud and so close.

‘He’s being a duck, Grandpa.’

There’s a whole family out there. They’ve been to the bakery and are noisy with paper bags and loaves of bread and coffee.

‘Show Grandpa how you’re being a duck.’

The child is wearing soft thick clothing, red and dark blue, and tiny stout boots protect his webbed feet, and he quacks and quaeks and hoots.’

 ‘Hey, come here duck’, says Grandpa.

But he does not want to get into the car.

Grandpa, who drops to help the youngster, gets a boot in the side, and the son, the father, takes over, stern. ‘Get in. Now. Get in. Stop it.’

Now the ducky is in, fitted into a duckling seat, the rain runs down the windows and I can see him making duck hands to himself, and there are little arrows of sun smoking down and making a sheen of warm green emeralds on the top of their lolly green car, and then another truck goes speeding past sending us all us a new version of the same water.

That place we went to on the weekend

It was hot and busy and crowded and flushed. We were outside. It was a distillery, warm with weekend, choked with visitors, and looked like this:

Waiting staff were running, running, running. Weaving and carrying triple trays, balancing, enquiring, eyes flicking from table to table reading the needs.

Families. Trooping to their tables in lines. Senior members at the front, the young people trailing, checking the exits and their phones. The correct smiles. Parents, early meetings with a son’s new partner, tense. The young woman wanting to please but already brittle.

Us. Old friends, easy.

Next to us, one long long table of a thousand women, a hundred different ages swaying toward each other.

You can tell the family groups. They all use the hand sanitizer and order drinks early. So nice to be together.

A child bounces on a chair and drops a crayon. Everyone at that table looks fondly at the child. He turns his head from side to side to side, unaware, involved with crayons, rich colours, apple green and plum purple split.

The Covid Marshal swirls in the centre of the arena and checks and counts and rotates again. He is frowning. He frowns all afternoon. His shoes are worn out.

You can tell the friends groups. They enter in hilarious clots, it’s a great day. They have many jokes. They joke about the hand sanitizer.

The family groups, the young people, have silly faces. The cousins look at each other.  Their parents are a little wooden, especially if their parents are there.   The olds have faces of resignation…what the fuck does it all matter now. The young men wear pink shirts and socks and look desperately over their shoulders and then back at their phones. The girlfriends look at each other’s dresses. Then look away again.

The waiters are puffing. The sun shines down. A long plank of icy glasses passes us at head level, the beers glowing honey, oak, ruby, wheat, sand, cream, chilled…

The recipients (on a nearby table) for the plank of beers look up, their eyes softening, their voices lifting, friendly now and liking everyone on the table.

The child bounces on his chair, colouring in. The crayon on the ground is softening.

At the table of a thousand women is a thousand colours. There are impossible heels striking the beautiful ground, jewellery swinging, hair soft, fragrant and metres long. One young woman is late and she must walk in while everyone watches, their eyes flick up and down her form as she walks in on powerful hips and meaningful heels. She is greeted by an older woman with a light frown. All the younger women pause and watch the older woman’s face, they read that face, the old face, and take in the information. The old woman and the young woman hug, they exchange cheeked kisses, five times, six times, seven times. Then everyone relaxes. They sway in and out of magnificent colours, peacock blue, gold and ruby, emerald, blood, earth, invisible shocking pink, punched silver. The long, long fragrant hair, the hot sun, the cold cups, and the phones that need to be checked. Pictures are taken. The old woman is seated. She is still, glancing here, there, slowly, not needing to know anything. She already knows. The girls totter behind her, glancing carefully.

It is hot. Hotter. We eat fabulous things. We must move our table into the shade. The waitress is anxious, she glances across the day at the Covid Marshall and he bends over his list, frowning in his worn out shoes.  

Everywhere, people in groups take photos, leaning in, drawing back, adjusting things, assessing things, frowning, showing rows of too enthusiastic teeth. Chilled white wine smiling and looking at red wine that swirls sulky and resentful in roundy glass chambers, amber ciders, gold bubbles, shouting at a table in the distance, cold water in forest brown glass jugs, a falling out on the next table, ‘Well go home then…’, and the staff sweeping bravely through the rows, the Covid Marshall frowning, and the child drawing and the blue crayon on the ground melting, a delicious soft and urgent message.

Painting by Milt Kobayashi

You got caught

The sky behind the trees is silver and bright – so bright it hurts your teeth to look at it. The wind is cold. People coming past the shop do it fast, collars up, faces prepared.

A young mum gets caught in a brief chilly shower that lasts the exact time it takes her to cross the road with a pram, a baby, a toddler, two bags of shopping, a drink bottle, and a toy white rabbit that gets dropped on the shining road half way over.

The child wails.

There’s a tradesman outside my door, waiting it out with coffee. He shouts:

‘You got caught in the rain.’

She shouts, ‘I know, it’s terrible.’

The rabbit lies there, its eye a desperate button.

He dashes and scoops.

‘Thank you, thank you so much.’

‘No worries.’

Illustration by Margaret C. Hoopes

Menopause; a pause

The four of us all met somehow at the counter in my bookshop. Me seated, my friend standing, her friend leaning, another lady, here. That word comes up: menopause

and we all make “the face”, and our shoulders move slightly in outrage. The temperature of our bones glides (again) upward, silent and inappropriate, as confused as ever, keeping pace with life and not sympathetic. But we laugh and shout and laugh. We agree triumphantly that bras never fit. We have many ideas. Nothing can defeat many ideas.

Eventually one lady leaves, trundling her groceries and things out of the door in a little trolley. Her shoes are excellent; soft, and stitched and kind, looking after her, the person that wears them.

Nathan, I’m going back to the car

A man put his head in the door of the shop and called, ‘Nathan, I’m going back to the car.’

But there was nobody in here. I didn’t get time to tell him though. He backed out and got into his car and waited in the driver’s seat. Soon he got out and rang someone on his phone. He moved against my window to talk, ‘Well, where are you then? And where’s the ladder?’

Outside, the air is gold, with splits of light and leaves moving all through it. It’s warm. Visitors say, ‘It’s glorious outside.’ I sit and look out at it.

There’s a baby in a pram in here, singing, and the mother is looking at the books, tapping a water bottle. She has brown hair and so does the baby. Can she hear her baby singing? It lays there, making soft noises all on different notes, looking at the mother, one foot hooked over the edge of the pram.

Over the road a bus driver is helping a lady in a wheelchair onto the bus, and someone has reversed has into a rubbish bin in the car park behind the bus stop. Doesn’t matter; it’s glorious out there. A young woman is crossing the road slowly, despite the traffic, and the light is all over her clothes.

Painting by Diane Leonard

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.

How to play golf

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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.

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Getting petrol

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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…

 

 

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

 

Eating lunch with Noah

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Noah is two years old and he’s like an owl. He sits on his knees, on the chair next to me, leaning his shoulder on mine, chummy and confiding. Turns his head, looks at me sideways. Hoots and sighs and drops bread. Eats fast.

Says, what Nanny? What did you say?

He notices a red dragonfly painted inside the rim of his red bowl. I’d never noticed it before.

He laughs and taps the bowl to show me.  See?

He’s like a clock. Head ticks up and down as he counts the bananas.

Says, I’m cold. Looks around urgently and says he’s not cold.

He leans on elbows, notices everything, breathes through his mouth, blows and sighs, climbs up, climbs down, knocks on the window. He offers me half of his banana, endlessly thoughtful.

Says, I’m a monkey. Calls out, what’s that noise?

He’s like a tugboat. Because when they overbalance and slide from the chair, they take the tablecloth (and everything else) with them, tow everything down in alarm, bringing the entire harbour; plates, cups, spoons, forks, bread, tomatoes and bananas, all to the floor.

Says, sorry Nanny, and patiently picks everything up again.