I remember

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Before I had a bookshop, the idea of having one lit up the back fence like some kind of unwanted answer from the past.

I remember looking at empty shops. When I found one, I thought, well! I never expected any kind of commercial success, but I did hope to survive. What the shop was to look like was paramount. It had to look like Diagon Alley –  because this was what I liked. Thus, the shop was based on what I wanted, what I liked, what I thought was good. A good selfish start.

(I had a lot to learn.)

Once a child said, “This is like Diagon Alley’, and sealed the happiest day of my first year.

I was surrounded by thousands of oblongs, each one containing an unexpected rich fuse. I felt so wealthy that I had to lie down and cradle my head.

It was not possible to explain such an abandonment of logic.  I remember experiencing it early in life; after reading Tubby and the Lantern. This was because Tubby and Ah Mee had a bunk bed.

In Little House on the Prairie, there was snow.

In Sam and the Firefly, there were lights, gold gems stinging an emerald blue sky.

In Whispering in the Wind, Crooked Mick could sit on a horse and drink two cups of tea while it bucked.

Later, Helen Garner, John Steinbeck, Dal Sijie…. uncovering the diabolical ache of life without solutions. So much. So little time.

Then, repeated visits to Jeff’s Books to learn how to do it:

What happens if…..

What do I do when…

Who is…

What is…

How do I…

What should I….

How can I…

Finally, back to my shop to actually do it. I had to learn how people read, and why. This was different, and it was difficult, and it still is. So much to learn, so little time. Luckily,  I recorded it all.

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The visitors

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Noah and Finn visited the shop this morning. They are packed with energy, ideas, and water bottles. They picked up the pottery cat and put it down. They read the robot book, the dinosaurs book, the wildlife book, and A History of Great Australians. They moved the owls and the clay bird, and put a copy of The Complete Angler in the back room. They smudged the glass, and opened the door, moved the teddy bear, shook the gem tree, sat up at the counter. They picked up the pottery cat and put it in a different place. They are wearing good autumn jumpers. They are grandsons. They are everything.

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

A small business surviving

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Just a note to thank everyone around me who sends people my way. I can’t afford to advertise, so word of mouth it is.

Small businesses don’t survive so well anywhere these days – but everyone who drops in on a visit here, tells me it’s precisely because of the small businesses in Strathalbyn that they come.

And of course books are supposed to be “on the way out”. But books are always on the way out, or at least on the way somewhere (in people’s arms). And young writers everywhere are writing madly. And reading.

So, it’s worth staying on in a micro business that means no profit but endless joy. Not that hard to keep going!

And thank you to everyone who reads my stories. At first I was just writing them for myself – because I didn’t want to forget the people who came to the shop. But now, when there is something important to capture in writing, I am excited to tell everyone – look at this!!

Readers, and what they do – so astonishing to me. I am glad I am not alone.

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.

What people say when they see me sweeping

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Which is most days because there is always a drift of sand along the pavement outside the shop.

Sweeping is safe. It’s harmless. It’s familiar and comforting. Seeing a sweeper hard at it seems to give everyone a feeling of goodwill. They say:

‘You’re doing a good job.’

‘It’s endless, isn’t it!’

Some people, extra witty, and always male, say:

‘Come do my place next.’

Some passers by stand and watch, and offer emotional support:

‘I wouldn’t bother with that, if I were you.’

‘Just blows straight back again. It’s the wind these days does that!’

‘Well done, you.’

Some people take an elaborate detour:

‘Don’t want to interrupt your good work.’

‘We won’t get in your way.’

One man said, ‘Pretty place this. My mum had one like it. Of course that was back in the fifties. May have been this place. You won’t believe the books she read.’

Some people linger, get involved.

‘It’s the weather for it!’

‘I think there’s something wrong with your broom.’

‘My dad used to make brooms.’

‘Some places around here don’t even  sweep.’

This morning I am outside, hard at it, and taking the cobwebs off the windows. It’s raining lightly, not many people about. Then a man approaches from the Woolworths side, and slows down. This usually means there is something significant about to be said.

‘Be careful with the broom or you won’t be able to get home.’

I said, ‘ha ha ha ha ha.’  (Get fucked).

And he walked on, pleased with his quick thinking and razor sharp jocularity.

Who needs his advice! I have a spare one to get home on anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The man who had no money for his books

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A visitor to the shop had no money for his books, and he asked me to wait while he went to find the wife. As she walked through the door she was saying…and then you expect me to pay for everything…

She looked at his books on the counter. Then she said she’d have a look around. She stayed for ages, moving around slowly and finally came to the counter with My Family and Other Animals, To Kill a Mockingbird and three books about cake decorating.

When he came back in he said, struth!

She told him to mind his own business.

The ladies on the corner

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There is a commotion on the corner outside my shop. I am out emptying my bins so I can observe. And I will take my time.

There are five ladies there of a brilliant age. They have met because they were going to see something. But it is gone. It has been shut down.

I linger, cleaning my windows, taking part. Because, what has been shut down?

One lady is too close to the road. She is holding forth, outraged. Her handbag is livid. Because, it’s been shut down. She looked at each friend, until the disgust had registered on each face (which it did) and one friend said, never mind it Sandra, there’s plenty of other things to do.

One friend said, get back from the kerb, come, you girls.

One friend obeyed.

But Sandra, with the angry handbag, uses it to indicate the entire town. What’s the use of coming here then? I ask you. Strathalbyn.  It’s always been here, that place. It’s the council as has done this.

Let’s get a cake, I’ll have a tea.

I wouldn’t mind a look up High Street. What about the gallery? Is that still there?

It’s the council. It’s typical. They don’t care about people. That’s it.

Check the brochure.

But the ladies remained knitted in a tight and useful square, too close to the road and unwilling to navigate the pattern of a new plan. The traffic edges wisely to one side.

(I don’t want to go inside, it seems dull. The discussion is small but it is an opera. And their facial expressions are scorching the failed council, which, as usual, is never good enough).

One lady is called Mavis. Her shoulders are urging the bakery. She has a fabulous hat of scarlet felt. But nobody listens. She turns so magnificently that the others pause and check for offense. Then they all move away from the edge of the road and look unwillingly through the window of the bakery. They look in a critical and unforgiving way because it will not suffice.

(They do not see me, or my shop, or the traffic. They only see each other, they make eye contact with each other’s eyes because, despite the years, these are still brilliant, smoking with ideas and resources, scornful and powerful.)

But they are moving on now and I have to go inside. It’s cold. They are not interested in my shop; they haven’t even looked my way. But there they go, moving up and down as they walk and checking for handbags and outrage. I hope they find something wonderful to do to replace their plans that were so thoughtlessly ruined by the council.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Murdered by a gopher

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There are two men outside the front windows of the shop. They have stopped, are leaning over to read the titles of the books.

Now, I have read that… but what on earth was it about?

He swings his bag at the window and the Lee Child book that sits with its chin on the window, facing the rain.

Don’t know what’s wrong with me head, must be the rain.

His friend looks through the window, at Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself. He says, look at that one, that’d be good. Yeah, the rain.

Go in?

Yeah, why not.

But they don’t. They turn instead and look toward the bakery; their wives are out and approaching fast. But suddenly all four of them are pressed uncomfortably into my doorway, needing to let a gopher drive through and one of the men says that the footpaths are damn stingy in this town.

His wife has recovered, she asks if they’ve had a look at the nice little bookshop and he says they’ll have a go at some morning tea first, better get it down before the bloody gophers murder them all.