I like Thursdays because it’s wheelie bin day, and I look at them on the way to the shop, standing in wobbly rows in the hot dust and doing basically nothing. But that’s wrong.
Nothing works so hard as the wheelie bin. When I pass them, all the way to work, they’re in little groups mulling over a whole week’s story. And exhausted really. Some are skewed and crooked with broken feet and sagging bellies and some are split from chin to knee.
Sometimes, in our road, they are not straight. They are shoulders to the road and backs hunched.
I see the green bins and yellow bins leaning into each other, exchanging gaseous news about what their families are going through, mouths slightly ajar, unable to close on the morning’s breakfast. Some are rattling and chewing in the breeze and dropping careless milk cartons, and with odd things like camping chair legs protruding like a chicken bones through plastic lips.
Through Woodchester, there’s two without lids, the clasps protruding from necks, and one is bandaged heavily around the gut with silver tape. Some wear beards of food and greenery.
Some foam at the mouth. Some have fallen in the wind and are still lying broadside in the gravel when I drive back home. Some have been towed back to their seats. Some get hosed out and have to cough up that last bit of egg carton. Imagine not having them.
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.
It’s 39 degrees outside, and you should see the customers shimmering against the hot glass of the door trying to scan the app and just get in and the road hot and quiet behind them. But there are scraps of laughing and talking blowing around from the bakery.
Once they get the app scanned, they have to whoosh the door open hard to get in at the cool, and it gets them every time.
‘It’s cool in here.’
‘Oh, that’s better.’
‘That got me.’
‘God, feel that, quick shut the door.’
‘I might stay for a bit if that’s all right with you.’
‘Nice day out, but it’s heating fast.’
‘You’re in a choice spot here. And a bakery for you.’
Finally, after the app, and the brief squabble with the door, and accepting the cool, they can look at the books, and find one for themselves. Today Virginia Woolf was carried out, a trophy, and the lady read it outside standing on the footpath, dark with curiosity and perspiration, forgetting it was so hot.
“Drawing is the art of being able to leave an accurate record of the experience of what one isn’t, of what one doesn’t know. A great drawer is either confirming beautifully what is commonplace or probing authoritatively the unknown.”
And he was sitting up straight but his attention remained crouched over a book, and he didn’t respond when people went past, or when a whole lot of stuff dropped off the top of somebody’s pram near his feet, or when a child dashed sideways to escape a parent’s herding arm and ended up practically sitting at the man’s table. The child drew back, realizing a tactical error, and was swiftly collected by a mother drinking from a paper coffee cup, who didn’t look at the reading man anyway.
The reading man was really still, just staring at the page, the same page for a long time, and then he tilted his head to one side and sighed out a long breath and sank into his shoulders.
Then I had to go.
But I saw all the usual shoppers buzzing around or passing heavily with shopping bags and trolleys and masks on and him just sitting there staring at a page and his coffee cup still full.
“While we read a novel, we are insane—bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices… Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.” Ursula K. Le Guin Illustration by Giulia Rosa
I just read it again, which will make the 8th or 9th time. It was my best book when I was 9 years old. Luckily, I’ve still got it.
1. The first line is One day Polly was alone downstairs so you know where you are and what’s going to happen when the doorbell rings.
2. The third line is There was a great black wolf and he put his foot inside the door and said: “Now I’m going to eat you up!” so you know where Polly is and what she has to do.
3. Everything that happens in between is correct.
4. Polly, like Pippi Longstocking and Mrs Pepperpot, is a forerunner of some of my best female heroes: Julie (from Julie of the Wolves), Harriet (from Harriet the Spy), Ramona (from Ramona the Pest) Matilda Wormwood (from Matilda), Laura (from Little House on the Prairie), and Dolour (from Harp in the South), Currency (from One-a-Pecker, Two-a-Pecker), and Tiffany Aching (from Wintersmith).
5. Polly and the wolf fight psychological battles that a child can totally understand
6. Polly always wins
7.The wolf never stops trying
8. In the end, Polly is still winning, but the wolf is also still trying
9. It’s hilarious
10. You can enjoy it over and over for 45 years (so far)
“I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.” Anna Quindlen, “Enough Bookshelves,” New York Times, 7 August 1991