The Old Lady Who Brought me Some Peaches


An old lady brought me two bags of peaches to the shop. It was very hot and she was very hot but the peaches she struggled in were small and red and yellow and confident and healthy. The ones I normally buy are large and cool and empty. She has just two fruit trees in her backyard, a plum and a peach and she picks all the fruit herself because she can’t abide waste.

I always get a bagful and so does her doctor. But somewhere there is a hairdresser who Does Not Get Any. She said that at her age she cannot waste time reading a book that she doesn’t like and she doesn’t like the ones they talk about on TV because they are a load of rubbish. Like the peaches one buys from those supermarkets. Once I found her a book she very much wanted and now I get the gift of all this glorious fruit.

Photography by Ian Baldwin



Yvonne put her head in the door this morning to tell me that there was a small earth tremor on Tuesday, and she knows this because her dog told her. She comes past every morning and always asks me about my baby grandson. She says: How’s that grandson of yours? I bet he’s thriving, the lamb!

If I am busy she looks through the window and mouths the enquiry through the glass. I give the thumbs up. Once I did not respond, and she opened the door to say: your grandson’s fractious isn’t he, the pet. Tell that mother of his that all babies become fractious, and then they grow out of it.

Yvonne is British and lives with her Chihuahua Foxy Terrier Cross. She beams benevolence as she strolls. She said she is always up for a good Clive Cussler.

Once she encountered a couple talking to me in the shop doorway. They were displaying for me a printed list of their Agatha Christie collection. They complimented her on Marco’s fine looks. She told them that he can predict earth tremors.

They leaned back, impressed. Their dog Pippa is also a Chihuahua, and the vet has just told them she is too fat.

Yvonne said: What a load of rubbish. She said that vets think they know everything about animals.

The husband raised himself upwards and forwards to agree on the arrogance of vets (in Geelong).

Yvonne reminded them that her dog Marco knows when there is going to be an earth tremor. The couple nodded agreeance. Of course they can, they know.

Then everyone parted, pleased with Chihuahuas, but not with vets.

Why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer?


Today is grey, warm and quiet. The cars driving past are all headed for Christmas. A few visitors come in, looking idly for books; one man was looking for Milang. Albert dropped in to say Merry Christmas and that once, when he drove trucks, he took a load of books to Melbourne, thousands of them, all packed into crates. He said: I had a look in the back when they were unloading because they said it was an urgent load and I had to drive all night, books by some bird called Joan Collins. She was in Melbourne signing them or something. Do you think I should have read one of em? Who is she anyway?

I was asked for The Silver Brumby.

An older man spent a long time looking at a Geronimo Stilton. He looked puzzled.

A lady bought a complete Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. She said I love these, so much more than the Grimm Brothers. They were just so….grim! I just want to read them, I don’t need to study or know everything about them. I have a husband who thinks he knows everything. She looked grim.

There are two ladies in the front room and one tells her friend that her grandson said last Christmas: why did you get me a book? Why didn’t you get me a Transformer? And so now she is getting him another book. They both laugh toward each other and laugh until one begins to wheeze and wheeze. She gasps out: if he doesn’t like it he gets nothing. But my daughter told me I should get him what he wants.

Her friend says OH FOR GOD’S SAKE!

And they both laugh and laugh again. They are silver and elegant and one has a small tattoo. Then they discussed their adult daughters for a long time, they did not look at any books.

Then it is quiet for a long time. I read The Historian… and it is very good. In this book it is mid-winter in England. And everything is freezing, including Dracula. Here it is hot, but the snow and dust mingle nicely and logically.

I am asked for The History of Tom Jones and then Rumpole of the Bailey.

Outside passers-by comment: this is a nice shop! But they do not come in.

An old man buys some books for his granddaughter in England. He is worried that the family won’t approve. He said: this might put me in the bad books again.

Some children paused outside to eat an enormous bag of chips. There is an argument. One child says they must eat them all NOW because he is not allowed to buy this many chips at once or he will be killed by his mum.

I see Robert hurrying past but he does not come in.

I wonder what else should be happening because it is Christmas…

Then a man came in and asked for a map book but I didn’t have one. He said he’s at the caravan park here, and leaving soon. He and his wife had travelled to South Australia, their last trip, she died of cancer soon after they arrived here which was four days ago. And he just wanted a map book; he thought he might drive a little further; he did not want to go home right now.

But I didn’t have one. He said not to worry, and he went to the bakery. I saw him there through the window, eating at a table all by himself. He had said they had 18 years on the road traveling together before she got cancer.


Photography by Markus Spiske











She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?


Peggy has a new t shirt: it is milkshake pink and says: Dance with the Fairies, Ride with the Unicorns, Swim with the Mermaids and Fly to the Moon. She said to me: Here I am, 84 and shifting house again!

I said: well at least you aren’t moving interstate anymore. And why don’t you move up here to Strathalbyn anyway? She said: God!! Imagine it! It’s too quiet here. I need action in my life. I said well, when you get old you will feel differently. She said: I’m twice your age and she shrieked laughing and made her little dog jump in alarm. She always brings him into the shop even though she isn’t allowed to.

Joe was waiting patiently to talk more about the Nullarbor. He said the best way to see it is in a truck. He reminded me that he needed some more books about seeing the Nullarbor from a truck.

Peggy listening in said: Strewth! That would be pretty boring reading wouldn’t it?! She told me how when she lived at Woomera, her wretched first husband burnt all her books in the back yard to get his own back.

A small girl in the front room told her dad that if he didn’t make thirty runs at cricket today he would be dropped back to the B grade. He looked glum. He had a small selection of science fiction which he put back on the shelf. Best spend his time at the stumps…

Yvonne was in a mess with her chocolate rum balls – she rang to say she would come on the weekend to pick up the Uncle Remus.

I was asked for anything by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung. And then for Pride and Prejudice.

Dick, who is 94, came by to pick up a tennis biography and would not use his gift voucher. He said he would use proper money thank you very much…

One morning a young reader told me that it upsets her that people do not know about Swallows and Amazons.

On another morning a very young couple bought some art history books and Robert peered over at their selection and later said that he had wanted some of those books. I told him that he had to look around more carefully and he was aghast. Then I triumphantly produced his volumes two and three of The Journey to the West (translated by Professor Anthony Wu) from under the counter and he was ecstatic. He added that he can now play most of Fur Elise on the piano and it is good enough to make a recording.

I am asked for The Mayan Trilogy. A young father told me that his son, who is twelve, is devouring the Ancient Greeks.

When I went to the bakery, three old ladies were scolding their friend for reading the road signs wrongly and getting them to the wrong town. They told her: if you won’t wear your glasses you’ll have us on the moon next. But she was eating an enormous iced bun and did not look sorry. I wondered if they would visit me next door but they didn’t.

Instead there was Sharon waiting at the door and looking stricken because there was a volume with an olive green and silver cover she could see through the glass but could not get at it. She said to me that heaven better be a library or something or when she gets there she will say: What the hell?

She always talks and talks, taking flight into a new idea with each volume she handles. She examines every book with reverence. She wants to own every book there is. I understand her completely. She tells me that she gave her Moby Dick away and then suddenly wanted it back. But she had to buy it back because they would not give it to her. She says: oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh….

She murmurs half stories and quarter lines but no complete stories. She says: I read Bonjour Tristesse in college and it was so sexual….

…my sister has all of the Wizards of Oz but she’s not going to read them, she’s such a bitch like that…oh my gosh this is The Pepys….do you remember….Alison Uttley…I will get this Blake…I will get this Dante….I might get…this…do you have The Good Earth….I want to read Hemingway….do you have Virginia Woolf still….do you like my shoes? I just got them for an interview this morning…..maybe I will get this Poe…do you have Han Suyin……












The Vampire Books

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John is back from Tasmania, and he came to tell me about his bike trip of 1400km, taken through rain, sun and good cheer. He told me about the best thing of all.

“ …this is the best thing of all: I rode up to the Mt Wellington car park – right up the top of that place, it was like heaven to ride around the top of that car park, it was flat and it was heaven. I am an old man you know! And a lady and her husband were up there and they clapped me when I got there…because I am old I suppose. But then she said, do you know what she said? She said: Someone ought to write a story about you in the Southern Argus…”

John paused and looked at me. I said: Our Southern Argus? He said: YES!! And then he leaned back with both arms up in the air. YES!! He laughed and laughed. “Somebody knows me! SHE knows me but who was she? I’ve never seen her before and she lives here in Strathalbyn. Up the top of that mountain we were. I tell you that life is an incredible thing!”

“Then I rode out of Devonport and 3/4 of an hour up I went, up another hill and at the top there is a sign: road closed due to landslides. Why the dickens couldn’t they have put that sign at the bottom. The air was like cold crystals up there…. “

“I said hello to my horses as soon as I got back. And THEN I had squatters!!!! Bees, thousands of them, in my own house, moved there when I was away. I tell you that you can never know what will happen next! I moved those bees back out and myself right back in! Now I need something to read until the sunshine comes back.”

Finally, John wishes me a good day and advises me that good weather is coming. A little boy, patiently waiting asks John: but where is your bike? And John tells him that the bees took it.

The little boy returns to his mother in the front room to tell her this worrying piece of news but she is exclaiming over a Hunger Games trilogy, bound in pink, orange and lime green and she tells him that the books are just so cool and funky. Aren’t they just totally rhythmic! He says: don’t worry mum, we’ll figure it out.

A young person asks me why Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was not written properly.

I read some more of Djuna Barnes and I am aware that these smoky stories are symbolic and too difficult for me but I am bravely reading on. I am thinking that she is funky and cool and rhythmic! I hope I can figure her out but it is doubtful. Luckily, this does not matter.

Dion returned to say hello and make sure that the shop is still ok. I said that all is going well and he said: except the weather.

Alex told me about the Persian Army and also about his Toyota Corolla. Then he recommended that I pursue a fabulous historian called E. J. Hobsbawm who wrote The Age of Revolution: Europe from 1789 to 1848. He said that this was riveting history.

I am asked for Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to change Your Life, Wolf Hall and Lark Rise to Candleford and any books on ants.

Matt told me that it is getting harder and harder for him to find the books he wants to read. He said that he only likes books about paddocks.

I commented on the new five dollar note and the customer said: yes but it’s still only worth $5.

In the other room there are three older ladies, they have come in from a bus tour and are busy amongst the detectives and crime and I can hear them. There is a raised voice: “…it’s just a suggestion…it’s JUST a suggestion…for God’s sake…”

At the end of the day there is a woman here. She stood for a long while. She stood twisting and twisting her hands. Then she turned to me and said she didn’t have time to read but she read a vampire book the other day. She even turned the telly off and read the vampire book and it was so good. It was such a relief to read about vampires and be on another planet where her parents did not have cancer. Then she thanked me and left even though I did not do anything for her.

A customer tells me that his is moving from history books to gardening books. He is doing this because it is time for a change.

I think about the vampire books.

Photography by Joshua Hibbert




“Yes, indeed!”

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A child found a library card in the back of a copy of A Wrinkle in Time and said: What’s this? His grandma looked at the card for a long time.

It is nearly noon and a man told me that his north England accent caused him a lot of problems. Then he asked me if I knew George Orwell’s real name. He asked it twice so that I would not have trouble with his accent. He did not come to buy a book, just to take the air as he was a guest at his brother’s house and needed to get out of the place. I said that I understood the situation.

Two adult brothers returned three times, troubled over a book of trains in the children’s section. Eventually they purchased a DK Atlas and left, still troubled. But I was on the phone to Robert who had rung to see if his Tantric Yoga has arrived (it hasn’t) so I ask him might he let Mick  know that his Penguin History of Greece is here. Robert says that he always battles mental health in the winter and it is only books that get him through.

I understand because I am reading more of Dorothy Parker and I am still impressed that she wrote of her own darkness with no apology. It makes me think of that my own small clear stream of sadness and how I can keep it flowing and flushing.

A lady spends a long time looking at the cat books until her husband asked her anxiously to come along now. But she said that there was a book called Cats of Cornwall there and she must look at it more.

I was advised that the weather was lovely apart from the wind and the cold. I was told that the sky could use some more light.

One man was delighted with A Home Handyman by Readers Digest but he didn’t buy it as he thought his wife would be at him even more if he did. While he was telling me this, another man looked through the window and said:  here comes the train, full of damned tourists as usual.

A lady whispered to me that Anna Funder’s All That I Am was a great book.

I was asked for Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon and this customer said that the most important part of a shop is the windows and did I know that Belloc in The Path to Rome said that he worshipped windows. I said that I actually did know that and that he wrote about tunnels too, and light.

Meanwhile the rain keeps drumming the asphalt and visitors try to force the door shut as quickly as possible. Andrew was disappointed that his Knight of the Seven Kingdoms had not arrived. A man sung a Frank Sinatra song as he browsed until his wife told him to stop it.

Some new visitors bought some old and very attractive travelogues; he was planning to actually read them and not shelve them for decorative purposes and I was impressed. He told me a long story about Sir Ernest Shackleton, starting at chapter one which was titled Into the Weddell Sea and then he asked me if I read the vintage travel volumes and I said I looked for travel books written by women. He nodded politely but Jo, his wife,  came forward and said “yes indeed.” She bought a copy of Daisy Bates in the Desert.

I was advised to read Ray Bradbury, Jack Kerouac and to try David Malouf. I promised to see to it but am still tangled up with Dorothy Parker and Samuel Pepys and intend to be for some time yet.