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.

The boy turning rocks over

There’s a boy turning rocks over in the bay. I noticed because of the way he balanced himself on two larger rocks and then leaned to pick up smaller ones, one after another. He inspects them with his nose almost on the smooth skin of each stone. The bay he is working in is silent and hot. The child labours on. I can hear the soft click of each rock as he replaces it. Every now and again, the plop of a stone sliding into a rockpool. There’s the horizon, a bar of blue above him, the black spoky jetty to one side, and a row of shacks, oblongs of colour, holding the other side. And him right in the middle.

The unique texture of caravan parks

Caravan parks have a sizzling texture. They are warm and busy maps, put together with crayons, crayfish, late bookings, barbeques, and ice melting on the ground outside the kiosk. They are mostly pretty much the same, especially in summer.

‘Hellooo, it’s just teatime, love.’ This was called out next door to me. Next door means just three meters down, past the tap, the hose, the flapping towels, and bathers and two upturned eskies draining last night’s philosophy.

Everywhere there are kind bowls of clean water for dogs. Family pets that sleep exhausted under the edge of every second annexe. Hoses, camping chairs, fishing rods, bathers hanging in trees.

There’s a pink surfboard leaning against the shack across the track, and three children sitting at a table in bathers playing cards and eating chips. It is so quiet that we can hear the seagulls on the beach, and the  people on the jetty.

‘Beautiful.’ This is yelled out across a warm evening, along with the snap of beer caps.

‘You’re going the wrong way.’ Called out hilariously to someone backing a boat slowly down the wrong track. ‘Yeah, yeah, sorry mate.’

‘I’m going the jetty,’ Children calling back to parents.

‘Hello, how are ya?’ Called out by everybody meeting anybody.

‘Mal. Where are the frozen chips?’ This conversation shattered the stillness of the hot afternoon when most campers were slewed about in camping chairs, eyes shut, mouths open (‘Not asleep, Di, just resting’).

‘Mal – did you get the frozen chips?’

 ‘The what?’ The man was half in the car, searching frantically through the shopping.

‘The chips, the frozen chips.’

‘I dunno.’ She turned and went back inside. She banged the shack door.

‘Who left the fridge open?’ We heard this from three rows down. A gaggle of children running past in thongs and clutching streaming ice blocks looked back and kept going without answering.

‘And I said…and I said, well it’s your marriage. It’s your marriage. What’d you expect? It’s your marriage. I mean, he was like fordy. What’d he expect? I know. Yeah. I know.’ This from neighbours on a warm and still evening, sun streaking across barbeques, and the wine flowing.

At our backs, the beach, empty and clean.

It gets dark. It’s still warm. In front of us, children zig zig and dart about on bikes and scooters in and out of light and shadow like soft moths in flight.