There were these men

There were these men outside the shop today. All climbed out of one car. Dressed pretty nice. They wanted food though, not books. They were supposed to meet people for lunch at the pub, but they’d parked at the wrong end of town. I watched them working this out.

They checked phones.

One man looked through the window of my shop. He moved closer and looked again. I thought, that’s good. He didn’t come in though.

The others, bless them, look in and then look away. Politely. A bookshop.

‘Where’s the pub?’

‘Here, I reckon. That’s what he said.’

‘Who?’

‘Dale.’

‘God, as if he’d fuckin know. Where is it?’

I felt sorry for Dale. I was a dale. They milled around on the footpath, pulling at their shirts. They all bent over their phones. Except one man who looking in at me. He didn’t come in.

Then, when I looked up again, they were all gone.

Photography: Odd Man In, by Louis Stettner, 1922

The old couple trying to cross a busy road

It’s hard out there. There’s more traffic outside my shop now. There’s a bus stop, a train station, a bakery and carpark exits. Endless rushing to somewhere. This couple held hands. They wore similar bright red shorts, running shoes and white t shirts, and she carried a bottle of orange juice, and she led him. As they made their way through a gap in the traffic, she led him. They were not fast, and several cars had to slow down, one to stop altogether. The man looked at his wife, stared at her face as she led him along, and although there are horns and hurrying all day long, nobody sounded their horn at them, or otherwise insisted they hurry along.

Painting by Benjamin Bjorklund

Jesus, God, you’re a moron

I can sit and watch through the window the way people cross the road. The bakery and the bookshops are on this side, but the car park, the information centre, the art gallery, the grass, the trees, the seats, the toilets, and the playground are all over the other side. Sometimes the road is silent. But mostly it is busy. To cross over, one needs to be organised.

One little girl, still holding the book she just purchased, steps from side to side, lifting one foot then the other as they wait on the kerb.  ‘This is gunna be a good one.’ She held the book up to her dad, and he looked down briefly, kindly, agreeing, but keeping an eye on the road, the kerb, the cars, his child, his life. ‘Looks good. You reckon you’ll read it?’

‘Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah.’ She is confident. She is about eight. I could see her still piping up at him as they crossed over, and him nodding, still watching, watching, swinging his head from side to side and checking everything.

One lady has wild pink hair. Her partner raised his arm to indicate an opportunity to cross the road. She continued past my windows and crossed at a different place. She had purple jeans and orange shoes. She did not look back. She crossed alone, carrying a bag of apples.

One lady stayed on the kerb. She did not cross. She turned and stayed on my side, watching the ground as she walked. Every now and then she turned and checked the road, stopping and turning her whole body to see.

One young man strode out and across, checking his phone. A ute, travelling slowly sounded a horn. The young man gave the thumbs up, without looking away from his phone. He wore heavy work boots and a beanie. He had keys hanging from his belt. He laughed out loud and shook his head, not because of the ute but because of something on his phone; negotiating his way between virtual and real with ease and humour. At the kerb, he picked up something from the ground and handed it to a motorcyclist parked there and who was removing his helmet. The motorcyclist leaned back in surprise, and there was a conversation I could not hear. They shook hands.

A couple argued on the kerb right against my window. He said, ‘I’m not walking fast, I’m walking exactly the same as you. At a normal pace.’ She launched herself across the road, alone. He stayed outside my window and watched.

Children, not realizing the danger zone, hop. Their parents hang on, alert and scanning for wolves. ‘Come on. Walk properly.’

A motorbike sits alive outside my door waiting for a park, it’s throat rich and irritated. But the idling car stays. The motorbike lurches away, spitting angry stones.

It’s now quiet and rather beautiful outside. Across the road, the pine trees rise against the blue. Two young men on my side try to cross and are driven back by a cattle truck. One man thumps the other on the back.

‘Jesus, God you’re a moron.’

Once there was……

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I can’t forget Claudia because of her expertise. She has been visiting my shop for a few years now. She is a confident reader; confident in what she doesn’t want to read. This is a valuable skill because it means you spend all your time looking for what you do want to read – and reading it.

Claudia is posting instalments of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Hermitage on the front fence of her home in Strathalbyn. Passers by can read each instalment, and then consult the accompanying drawing on the footpath.

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This means that we can exercise and keep up with literature at the same time. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this. Once we are all back to normal, these priceless opportunities may fade away.

Claudia once wrote me a list of items that are necessary for all good bookshops to have. Luckily, I have followed these rules ever since, and it has paid off because I am still here.

 

The walkers on the road through Strathalbyn

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The walkers, they walk past my shop. The door is closed, it’s dark inside, but I am here, working away, listening. Nobody can come in; the door is locked. But out there, on the little path, people pass by, still breathing.

‘And that was fine.’

The friend, nodding, ‘Yes. Yes.’

‘And then, after all of that…’

‘Yeah, I know. But she still didn’t say anything…’

‘Get in, I’ll hand you your stuff.’ There is a man balancing paper bags of hot food next to the car.  She climbs into the car, sits in the front seat. Her hand reaches out, waiting for the paper bag of hot pies, waiting for too long. She’s looking at her phone, waving her hand about, waiting.  He takes too long, he is looking at a motorbike across the road. She looks up, and says, ‘My God!’

The silent prams buzz past. Swift glance in, keep going. Things to do.

One man calling back to another man. ‘I wonder if they still sell kitchener buns, and you know…mint slice.’

‘You’re not allowed to have mint slice.’

‘No, it’s alright now.’

Somebody talking loudly into their phone. ‘And even if they took your temperature….’

‘Na, he hasn’t got anything, na, no, he’s a moron anyway,’

‘Are they open?’ Faces at the window, looking in, frowning.

‘Hang on to me Dee, this perishing corner.’ People trying to cross the road. Carrying strong handbags.

‘You’re getting too close, do you need to do that? Don’t get quite so close. What are you looking at.’ A father to his young son.

‘I can’t read it. It’s too far away.’

‘Oh, Oh, yes I understand.’

A man breathing heavily. Placing paper bags in the back of his ute. Breathless, lighting a cigarette, leaning there, looking out over the apologetic world.  Looking over the road at the closed art gallery and the closed information centre.  Looks down at the road. Climbs into his car. Remembers his lunch and climbs back out again.

‘She’s closed! Yep! Fucking knew it!’ Young people, caring fiercely.

A customer, an old man, passing slowly, looks in straight at me. Nods. Yes.

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.