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

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.

 

 

Gone

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Scraping softly across the top of the soil, they found it. The worm. They gazed down at it in astonishment.

Worm.

Noah, see.

Worm.

Where Pa?

Worm.

Worm. He’s in here.

No. Not.

They shuffled and dug and lost the worm. Great Grandma came out.

They said, Worm.

She said, Is there? That’s good.

They dug and pushed and piled things up. They breathed in garden, worm and disappointment.

Worm gone.

Great Grandma went past the other way.

They said, Worm gone.

She said, Oh well, there’ll be another.

They watched her go up the path and along the veranda.

Pa went past.

Max pointed downwards. Pa said, Good work!

They squatted down and inspected the soil. They put their noses down to the surface (just in case). Noah laid his head flat to the ground, ready for any possibility.

They waited.

 

 

The grandsons come for lunch

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Noah and Max are here for lunch. And now they have their own table. Away from authority. They have the table that holds shells, stones and sand, seemingly underwater.

I saw them pause and look down into it, into the bits and pieces, roundies and pretties and apparently, snakes!

I asked, but where are the snakes?

Noah said, gone! They have quick eyes, the two year olds.

There’s a tiny glass bottle, bent in a curve. As though it turned to peer at something and was caught in the furnace of its own curiosity. It melted in a curve like a fried banana, the colour of burnt sugar, yellow lights still winking through it.

Max said, lollies! But there’s no lollies.

Just cool polished agates, malachite chunks like sugarless jubes, a slab of rock layered with such precision that the praline, sandstone and bitter caramel ribbons seem preserved, a slice of glass, a piece of something to be chosen and placed in a paper bag.

The boys, pausing, holding their bowls of food, run their infant eyes over all of these ideas and thought…. what?

What data from this trading table of family and geological history downloaded itself into their galloping infant minds? We won’t know. They have found that they can roar and spit cake at each other. An unalloyed joy.

The starfish, the pieces of amber and the green light of malachite sink to a deeper level. They’ll return to it.

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Just looking out of the window.

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There is nobody here today, just me looking out of the shop window. I am side by side with Judi Dench, Clarissa Dickson Wright and The Boys of Everest, all looking out of the window at the rain and a crowd of people coming off the train, rugged up and treading through the water, angling for the bakery.

Outside two women are arguing over a small boy who looks up at both of them happily. They open my door, one wants to come in but the other argues the need for a toilet, they become exasperated, one heads crossly back across the road alone and the boy and the other woman look at each other steadily. They do not come in.

It is dark, the rain continues to fall, everybody outside is leaning forward as they walk. One man says that there is no law against the weather.

Many people run grimly through the rain and return to sit in their cars and eat lunch looking out of their windows. As they eat, they look happier.

Inside I have put on the coloured lights, the winter likes them. I need to sort Art and tidy up the Young Readers again. The steam train sounds good, the whistle causes passers-by to pause and believe the sound. They ask each other if they heard it.

The bakery is crowded and the windows are steaming up.

Inkspell, Pig Plantagenet and The Hitchhiker’s Guide are glowing under the lights, the three of them keeping the day upright.

There are two men peering through the glass, they are arguing over something. But in they come and tell me that things are slightly damp even though on the plane this morning they saw the actual sun. But never mind. They are both dressed completely in black but one is wearing the brightest red scarf I ever saw. He is immensely cheerful. As they leave, he says to me: very good!

Photography by Michael Podger