When we were at the caravan park, all this happened

It was the same as every caravan park we go to; that micro-village, micro-home-place where it’s possible to get to the end of what you need to do and then just sit and look at things. Like your feet in thongs, which are suddenly kind of interesting.

You can look at anything; even the toilet block and the bin area become interesting because they’re so busy and necessary.

You can watch all those kids running past or riding past, first singly and then in clots, and then in  teams because all the kids start to clump together and form underworld games that go all evening and then disperse as soon as the first kid gets called back for tea.

Then, after tea, the kids clang together again and the game goes on even though no one actually said anything. They just come out into the road, still chewing, and look to see if any other kids are done yet. As soon as someone rides past they just join in.

It’s good that things haven’t really changed.

When we got there it was evening:

  • People still driving in were going slowly to get their bearings, find the toilet block and look with frowning faces at all the sites in case someone is on their site by mistake. There it is. That’s ours. It’ll do.
  • Some arrivals were already setting up with tense faces in case something’s wrong with the tent or they discover something’s been left at home. Like all the beer.
  • Settlers were at the point where they could sit back in camping chairs and look at their feet in thongs and check the ice in the esky and listen to the idea of chops for tea.
  • Young people stand around their sites next to little tents and huge eskies and open cans and nod to each other, agreeing with everything because life is good.
  • Young parents look exhausted no matter what time of day it is. Their heads swing from side to side scanning every angle of the park, the road, their tent, the world. The mind of the young parent remains on high alert. They examine the air and the temperature and look for bees. They think about nutrition and air mattresses. They think they might have a drink but never actually get to it.

We are grandparents and so can set our stuff up free of all that now. Nothing goes wrong. We brought everything we needed. The grandchildren’s faces light up in amazement to see us there even though they knew we were coming. We set out all our stuff carefully and look at the sky and the sea. We examine the camp kitchen and note the recycling faculties. We compare everything to What We’ve Seen Before.

At our camp:

  • We eat whatever there is. First night doesn’t matter.
  • There is a book and a drink stuck in the side of every camp chair.
  • The sun goes down and the mossies come out.
  • The grandchildren won’t go to sleep.
  • The park kids buzz past with purposeful faces.
  • The sky is orange on the horizon and black ink up high. The stars came out. The tidal beach breathes seaweed and sand.
  • Families argue and caravan doors slam everywhere.
  • Esky lids bang up and down all evening.

When I wake up it is morning but still dark:

  • The air is one long fresh drink of water
  • Some people are already up and sitting in camping chairs looking at their relaxed crossed feet in thongs.
  • The toilets are warm and comforting.
  • A few kids are out riding bikes
  • There are already kids on the jumping pillow.
  • Magpies everywhere
  • An old couple across the little road are packing up
  • A man down the row is asleep on the ground half in and half out of a little tent.

People come out of tents and caravans slowly and stand there yawning and scratching at bites and with no need to hurry.

There are bottles and cans on the floor of the outside kitchen and a small crate of dishes and a bottle of detergent left there. There are two jumpers and a towel slung over the swimming pool gate. A little terrier is waiting outside the ladies toilets.

Three kids walk past the toilets side by side still in pyjamas and one says, ‘Wait, I’ll ask my mum.’  When I walk through the caravans to our camp, a man calls out, ‘Who left the lid off the esky?’ And someone inside the caravan says, ‘It’s busted’. And the man sits back down in his camping chair and looks down at his thongs. It’s good to be able to do these important things in good places where we are safe. From war.

After a busy Saturday, it’s gone quiet again

But that’s ok, it’s usually the way. Days like today give you time to sit and think and notice what’s actually going on. So far this morning has yielded the following:

Four old men, clearly friends, lean against a ute drinking water out of a water pig, one of those old foam ones. There is one cup, so they share it. One man wants to go to the bakery but is advised against it. They have biscuits in the cab.

When I look up again they are sharing scotch fingers around, shaking crumbs out of their sandals and saying that the town has come a long way. One man is staring into my front window.

Inside, a lady says that her library is alphabetical-  it’s A to Z, but her friends says hers is purely aesthetic. ‘Matthew Reilly is put here and Harry Potter is there. It’s about how they look.’

Her friends says, ‘That makes sense. I get that.’

‘I can’t have sets that don’t match, and I can’t have stuff without dustcovers.’

‘Mine are lined up in order of publication.’

‘You’d think that in a bookstore where we find everything alphabetically, we’d have that in our homes too.’

‘Nope.’

‘I know.’

Then they go into the back room. The old men have walked past my door toward the bakery. Guess they changed their minds.

Someone has parked in front of them and I can  hear a lady yelling, ‘You keep locking it. What are you doing? Stop locking it. Dickhead.’

And inside the shop:

‘Girl, this room will eat you alive.’

‘Is that Celtic or something?’

‘I think so. I saw it on my Tik Tok feed.’

‘The bee keeper community is strange.’

‘Maybe.’

Brenda rings for Wild at Heart for her granddaughter and I say, ‘Good to hear from you again’, and she says, ‘Oh I’ve been in hospital, not complaining though.’

A man pumps hand sanitizer all over his shoes but doesn’t notice.

Outside the old men are back with hot coffees, which they drink leaning against the ute and talk about the truck across the road – at least I think they are because they keep pointing at it and nodding.

Inside the shop, the ladies are still collecting:

‘Oh my God.’

‘Calm your farm.’

‘Look at this. The first one I got from a discount bin. It was a hard read.’

‘Russell Brand and I don’t see eye to eye.’

‘He’s a bit of a douche canoe, but I love him.’

Lorna rings me for James Herriot, second hand, please.

The ladies are leaving. The old men are climbing back into the ute.  The shouting lady has returned from the bakery with paper bags and cans of coke.  Walks quietly because she has no shoes on. The truck is gone. There’s a four wheel drive here now and the owner is walking around and around it, tapping the bumper bar with his keys.

Sarah goes past but doesn’t come in.

The man tapping the bumper bar is now talking on the phone right next to my door and saying, ‘Someone’s been at this.’ He listens for a long time to whoever’s on the phone and then hangs up without saying anything. Then he gets back in the car and drives away.

Notes on wheelie bins 2

When I pass wheelie bins on foot (rather than car), I am closer to their plastic mouths and throats and so can examine contents with a critical face. And note who put the wrong bin out. And who places things incorrectly, or, worse still, doesn’t sort at all.

When I pull my bins to the road, I hope nobody notices any of my bin discretions.

Once our bin got swapped with our neighbour’s, which is impossible. Our neighbour had just cleaned his. Ours was truly foul. And his ended up at our gate, where we later exchanged bins but not eye contact.

The truck drivers did it. Because why not; it’s a sensational way to blend citizen angst and make our recycling look doubtful, seeing as it isn’t ours.

I admire binners who cast their bins to the road broadside and trudge back inside without looking back. Disregard council instructions this side to road and spin the bin so its chest is angled wrong and its lips oily from the cracked margarine container clamped butter side up to the roof of its mouth.

I put my bins side by side so they can sit with straight ankles and thin mouths and hate all the other bins in the road who all rock and spill the weeks data at each other. Bin gossip.

‘Full of magazines and margarine lol.’

‘Busted crockery, busted bit of fireplace, bit of old rug.’

‘Got stood up.’

‘Lost out.’

‘Someone took a mask out o me and used her again.’

‘Jesus.’

‘What’s that under yr rib?’

‘Can of spew.’

‘They recying bits of tiffany lamps, they?’

‘Nope. Garry’ll ditch that.’

‘Pity.’

‘Parrently that family there’ve got a new coffee table nice one with tiles stuck on and none loose.’

‘Yet.’

‘Yeah. You’ll be eating ‘em soon. Varnish like sugar. Give us one when they come.’

‘Maybe.’

‘Here he comes that stupid truck. Get ready to spew. The barker of Barker. Seatbelts.’

But my bins only whisper together, and the ones across the road are even more sour; straight and silent until I go away and then wheel out along the kerb handing out pamphlets.

There’s one down the road that’s always on its back at the end of bin day. Can’t seem to land right and doesn’t care either. It’s always laying with slumpy square hips across a pile of gravel and other bits of household stuff the truck won’t take. Sometimes it sleeps there until the following bin day, and is then dragged back in and force fed another week’s failures.

I like walking along and seeing them all standing there in mountain pose. Mouths locked around what we believe we don’t want because we just have too much of basically everything. Bins sucking on leftover confectionary, rattling fast food pots beneath their teeth, squeezing vegemite jars between thighs, tying cardboard to their soles in summer.

Imagine if we didn’t have wheelie bins. How much of our life we’d miss.

Young people when it’s really hot outside

Slide and glide. That’s how they come in, and when I look up, there they are, pale and cool and never complaining. Young people stand humbly, looking up at the shelves, and then glance quickly and apologetically at me as if they shouldn’t be in here. Unfailingly polite.

It’s very hot this morning. But you’d never know it. Young people don’t comment on the weather; they just let it lie around outside and pile up at the door if it wants to.

A boy wanted a love book by an African writer, but I didn’t have it, and we couldn’t even order it, except from France. He looked at me sadly. And a girl swung about with a pile of 7 waiting for her grandmother who only had 2.

And another younger girl sat in the bird books just reading them as if they were novels. She was about 13, and wore a curious beanie, and she bought 3 books, one about The English Plover, because she loves birds.

Then it got hotter, and all the young people left, passing out into the heat without comment, and the bird girl carrying her three books in a pile on her head.

Just!! Something I heard word for word through the window

There’s a discussion going at one of my windows, down low, because the men speaking are kneeling on the ground. I like this window.

‘Just couldn’t believe it.’

They are tradesmen, I can see the fluorescent orange, lemon, and blue clothing.

‘He just came at me.’

One of the tradesmen is doing something with his shoelaces. They keep talking.

‘He just wasn’t making sense.’

The street is quiet and still, unusual for Christmas. Even the traffic is nonchalant. They men are still there, kneeling in the sun for what seems like ages. Then I realize they are looking at a phone.

‘So, we were like this, and he just came from nowhere.’

I heard the sound of a shoelace whipping through holes and then breaking.

‘That’s fixed it.’

‘You got it then?’

‘Yeah, mate. Anyway, it was this big. Fuckin huge. Unbelievable.’

He was still kneeling but was now holding both arms out wide. The other man nodded, still looking at his phone.

‘Came this close. Telling ya. Came this close.’

I still don’t know what it was.

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.

Pausing at the door to get the mask on properly

Visitors to the shop now have to pause and fumble about at the door before they come in because we all have equipment to manage.

‘Dale, your mask.’ This couple had to go back to the car. Then they went past me to the bakery and got coffees. Then they returned and came in, looking refreshed, and asked for good Australian political biographies and anything about breeding poodles.

‘Forgot m’mask. Gotta go back.’ This man left and came back with his mask in his top pocket, and left it there while he browsed.

‘Got yr mask?’ This man, who didn’t have his mask, was sent back to the car by his wife. I saw him reading the paper in the front seat. She browsed the shelves for another half an hour. They both looked happy.

‘Oh my god, where’s my mask?’ A young mum, who found it in the pram wrapped around half an apple.

A car went past and turned at the corner. The driver wearing a mask hanging from one ear.

A man passing the window wore a pink mask with a devil’s face, hanging sideways from his sunglasses.

A child walked by with an adult mask over his entire face, hanging onto the side of the pram so he could walk straight.

We wear them upside down and inside out, with faces drawn on, and the elastic knotted and twisted to make a snugger fit. We wear them as chin straps and wrist wraps. In pockets and wallets, in phone cases, shopping bags, shoulder bags and looped around coat buttons, thrust through belts. Clutched in one hand while the other hand manages the phone.

One girl wore an emerald green mask that was covered in gold and blue butterflies. She talked to me through the butterflies about reading and about the Divergent books, and she described her bookshelf at home.

A couple walking by paused at the window to take off masks and undo drink bottles for their small children. One child asked if you have to wear masks on the jetty.

Then he said that he’d lost his bucket on the jetty. The parents, still drinking, looked down at him. They were leaning against the window, and looking down at him, not saying anything, just looking at him with besotted faces because he is theirs.

Painting by Claire McCall

Shouting going on and on

Shouting outside goes on and on; it’s a conversation about floorboards between three men with coffees who are leaning companionably against the bakery veranda posts.

An old couple across the road are arguing over their dog who has just completed a large poo on the footpath. The man has a dustpan, but the couple can’t agree on the cleaning up. They both keep pointing at it. The dog sits and watches the traffic.

The floorboard men have moved up to my veranda posts and are discussing someone called Craig.

‘He’s in a difficult situation. Very hard to deal with. I’m going to try and smooth things over for him. Yeah. I’m going to give him some ammo, something useful to help his argument.’

‘Yeah.’ Everyone is nodding.

Another group pass; broad and heavy shouldered and dressed for motorcycling. They are all drinking from water bottles.

‘It’s 34 minutes, man.’

‘Is it?’

‘Yeah, that’s by Tailem Bend. We’re not going there. Enjoy your ride guys.’

‘No worries.’ They all part in various directions. One looks into my shop as he passes and says, ‘Spike Milligan. What a legend.’

The floorboard men, who have leaned back to let the cyclists pass, gather in again.

‘Well, if this is what I have to do.’

‘Yeah mate.’ Everyone is nodding again.

I notice that the couple with the dog have left. There is a car and caravan there now, and the couple inside it have a map spread out over the dashboard.

Suddenly the door opens and Sarah comes crashing in with four shopping bags and a newspaper and settles in to tell me about that moron Scott Morrison.

British Tits

Birds 1.png

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.

Birds 2.png

There’s a meeting out in the bay

There’s a meeting out in the bay. I saw them in the water, five or six women all wearing hats, and in their midst, an esky floating. Some were sitting and some lying down, the water lapping at shoulders. What age…it is impossible to know. But all made strong outlines; the circle was a strong circle. The sun shone, and the bay was quiet and held its waters evenly so as not to annoy the speaker.

When the speaker spoke, and this could be any one of them at any time, the others listened as women who are friends do. I guess they talked of nothing less than life as women do. I guess the rummaging in the esky paused for the important bits. On the shore a fisherman stood at a stone sink and looked at the group every now and again. Another man stood in the doorway of a shack with a beer and a lightly anxious expression. In front of one of the shacks, a child, a little girl in bathers and one red sandal, scoped the group fiercely through a pair of binoculars.