At dinner after Christmas when Christmas is past, but summer is pouring in, and the chocolates for dessert melt as we unwrap them.

The grandsons come for dinner and show me important injuries. Noah demonstrates what he can’t do with a hurt leg by doing it with his hurt leg.  

Finn has a splinter, but now it’s gone.

At dinner we have chicken curry, and they are confident with it because there are also pappadams. They crunch pappadums with closed eyes, needing to block sight so as not to be overwhelmed by the sheer strength of the fragrant splintering.

Finn removes one lentil from his rice, holding it on his fingernail so I can see its worrying profile. I agree that is should go to the compost.

I mention dessert, chocolates, which were a gift from a young Aunt.

‘I know her. Emmy’s mine.’

Did she give his chocolates to you?

Finn holds his bitten white chocolate dome close to my eyeball so I can see the magic inside it.

‘I’ve got jam.’

‘Look inside in mine.’ Noah shows me the creamy bottom of his Roses oval chocolate, already melting delicately around his fingertips. He chews and swallows and is eyes flicker because he is briefly within chocolate as only children can be. There is rice all over the floor and they walk through it in their socks.

‘Arny Emmy lives at Nannas. But did Nanna give you those chocolates?

I agree that I might be mixed up.

‘Emmy has Boots and she lives with Nanna, but her house is a long way away. It’s in  Queensland.’

‘It’s her chocolates.’

‘I know Emmy. She’s mine.’

‘No she’s not. She’s not yours.’

‘She is, she’s in our family, Finn.’ Noah bends a look of rebuke on Finn, who stares back swallowing difficult rice.

‘Lookat my chicken.’

‘Nanny, are you old or not?’

I agree that I am.

‘Why are you old?’

I admit that I don’t really know.

Noah tells my face does funny things, and I concur that I’ve always struggled with it. They look at me approvingly, and Finn shows me another chicken bone.

They both remind me that they are sleeping over.

It’s bed time, and Noah has read his books. He trudges over to the library area for more. He says there’s none left, and I leap up, horrified.

He says there’s thousands, and we are relieved together.

A book is

“A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.”
Carl Sagan

Illustration by Achrav Basnan

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.

Ubi Ubi Ubi

“Do you know who ’twas that first knew our Lord had caused Himself to be born?

‘Twas the cock; he saw the star, and so he said – all the beasts could talk Latin in those days; he cried: ‘Christus natus est!’ “

He crowed these words so like a cock that Kristin fell to laughing heartily. And it did her good to laugh, for all the strange things Brother Edvin had just been saying had laid a burden of awe on her heart.

The monk laughed himself:
“Ay, and when the ox heard that, he began to low: ‘Ubi, ubi, ubi.’
“But the goat bleated, and said: ‘Betlem, Betlem, Betlem.’
“And the sheep so longed to see Our Lady and her Son that she baa-ed out at once: ‘Eamus, eamus!’
“And the new-born calf that lay in the straw, raised itself and stood upon its feet. ‘Volo, volo, volo!’ it said.”

Sigrid Undset, (Danish novelist 1882-1949) Kristin Lavransdatter
Illustration by Sven Nordqvist

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.

The 12 best questions I’ve been asked this year

  1. Is this the bakery? (No)
  2. Do young people still read do you reckon? (Yes)
  3. What sort of discount will you give me on these? (The same discount as Woolworths give you when you barter at their checkout.)
  4. Is this mask wearing territory? (Yes)
  5. Do you need Readers Digest books? (No)
  6. Have you read all the books in here? (Trying to)
  7. You still here? (I know I’m somewhere)
  8. Thought this place was called Jeff’s Books – that’s what Google says. (I am Jeff’s books. We’re magical.)
  9. Are there any pubs in Strath? (Yes)
  10. Can you have too many books? (As if!)
  11. Do you know Gavin? (Maybe)
  12.  How are you. Glad you’re surviving. (I am surviving, thanks to customers, visitors, and readers who keep on coming in and supporting tiny shops that have no hope on the real business scene, but who sell something that’s so intrinsic to survival that no day passes without a vintage sci fi or Virginia Woolf or something about painting model soldiers  leaves the store, saluting. I don’t know what reading really is, but like breathing it appears to be necessary, and with not much value in hurrying it along or wasting it for the wrong reasons. Anyway, thank you to everyone who keeps us going: good on you! )

Merry Christmas everyone: you know who you are xxxxx

It’s beginning to feel Christmassy

It always begins when people come in looking for Christmas presents.

‘I need something for an 8 year old girl who has read everything.’

‘I need something for my brother. But he probably won’t get here anyway.’

‘What do you have for the train lover?’

Customers talk out loud to each other and phone home to consult family about gifts.

‘Does she have this?’

‘Just go and check if he’s got this on his shelf.’

‘Would he have that?’

‘Can you ask Taylor if she’s got any of the Divergent books.’

‘Does he like these? These’ll take him ages to get through.’

‘Can you get me this for Christmas?’

Readers throw in a few titles for themselves or buy books for others and then keep them, and why not!

‘Who is that for?’

‘Jack. Maybe. And this is for me.’

People know we like reading but often won’t buy us a book.

‘Don’t get that for Hilda, she’s got thousands already.’

‘I’m not getting you that. Tony, you’ve got too much shit at home already.’

Books make the best gifts. To choose a book for someone, you have to think closely about them and everything they are. Just this alone makes it special.