After high  school finished there was a clear message from the parental end of the dinner table that the young scion was not to be lazing around all summer relaxing and recovering from the stresses of exams, but in fact stepping into the brave new world of pulling-one’s-weight. In other words, getting a job. To guard against any possibility of complacency regarding this new direction, an appropriate sum was decided for the young man to contribute to the family coffers by way of board.

Not that I was a stranger to the idea of making a quid. I’d scrounged and accumulated empty beer bottles around the locality on bin night, earning the ire of the garbos but steadily building a long brown-glass wall down the short side of our house until sufficient hundreds had been accumulated to make a call to the glass recycler. This little earner was nixed after a couple of rounds due to a certain discomfort on the part of my parents in having the recycler witnessed carting fifty dozen beer bottles out our front gate. It was one thing for me to scrounge late at night or in the misty dawn, but quite another to have a chinking chorus samba its way out of the property. My offer to make a sign saying ‘It’s OK – We didn’t drink them’ was not met with amusement.

Along similar lines, I’d washed and returned pharmaceutical containers to the local chemist, unfolded and flattened broadsheet newspapers for sale to a local Fish & Chip shop and even had a crack at collecting scrap metal. (Not very successful; it was a much later generation who hit upon the more lucrative idea of stripping copper wire out of railway junction boxes.)

But none of those hunter gatherer initiatives had much appeal for the long summer break. Too slow, too uncertain, too Steptoe and Son. What was needed was a salaried job and the most obvious option was working in a shop. So after constructing a resume that favoured academia over employment, I took a single page life summary out into the exciting world of retail. To my astonishment, within a couple of weeks I had landed two jobs; one up until Christmas at Max Rose Electronics, the other a short-term position with an educational bookseller, beginning in the New Year.

W&R School Supplies, a seasonally busy purveyor of school books, stationary, and assorted educational accoutrements to both families and the local secondary schools, was located on East Boundary Road just opposite the Municipal outdoor swimming pool and a fifteen minute bicycle ride from home. The owner, Mr W, hired students from my school annually, usually based on whether the applicant had received any prizes at the end of their final academic year. As it happened —and in contrast to the actual exam performance which followed (as described in Primitive Love)— your correspondent had somehow picked up a gong for English and this was enough to land a position at W&R.

My performance in this first wage-paying job was, to put the best spin on it, uneven. When not attending to customer orders, a tendency to entertain my peers by singing long sections of Jesus Christ Superstar yielded their admiration but little applause from the grown-up permanent staff.

I was moved to the ‘Buying’ section, where families brought in their used texts to trade for store credit against the dauntingly long and expensive booklist for the coming year.

My job was to assess the offering, starting with relevance. Was the book on the current list? If so, was this the correct edition? It was like a simple flow chart, really. The next box to tick was condition. The business only accepted books in good condition. Correction; excellent condition. Sometimes the looks parents speared toward their forlorn child as I pushed a pile of dog-eared, scrawled-upon refugees back across the counter made me cringe inside. I noticed that in certain cases I was being a tad more generous with the credit than in others. Mr W noticed too. I was moved out the back to Dispatch.

Paul, the storeman, was a cheerful bloke in his mid-20s who valued his job filling the orders from schools, packing the boxes, then escaping the stifling atmosphere of W&R to cruise the surrounding suburbs in the company transit van. My new role was to pack the boxes for him. There was a certain 3-D puzzle aspect to this task that was engrossing for a while, but soon leaked into a puddle of tedium. So when Paul asked me along to make some deliveries—on the pretext of the orders being large and time pressure great—I jumped at the chance.

That was the best part of my time at W&R. Zooming round Bentleigh, McKinnon and Murrumbeena in Paul’s van with the radio blaring Matt Taylor’s “I remember when I was young” out the windows into the Melbourne summer heat. I even brought my own transistor into the storeroom, so the music could continue when we were back in the W&R back room.

The very transistor

The very transistor, now a non-functioning museum piece

Perhaps it was the pop sounds of 3XY AM radio that was too much for the Brahms-loving owner, or maybe he decided that there was really no need for two able-bodied people to escape the premises on such a regular basis. The result was that the transistor was banished and I was re-incarcerated in the storeroom, wrapping smaller parcels for postage, and feeling an isolation much louder than silence.

One afternoon, unpacking a carton of incoming stock, a paperback of obvious non-academic status caught my eye. The huge red letters of the title floated over a picture of a green and alluring landscape. What was concealed in those small copses? And where were those shadowy figures going as they surveyed the valley before them? What about the creepy figures lurking at the borders of the picture, what were they about? I turned it over. Another scene, this time less bucolic; a castle with lance-like turrets, a flame-peaked mountain. And the author’s name: J.R.R. Tolkien.


I wanted to know more. I needed this book. The invoice said the price in pounds translated to $6.95 retail.

There are several scenarios to explain how the volume ended up on my bookshelf at home. You can decide which one you favour; no use asking me, it’s too long ago.

  1. Bought the book.
  2. Purchased using Paul’s staff discount (permanent staff only).
  3. Having legitimately purchased a book of much lesser value, I swapped them over.
  4. I stole it.

That more-or-less wraps up my time at W&R School Supplies. The summer casuals were slowly drifting away, mostly towards holidays, and I departed too.

The book sat on my shelf for the remainder of the summer, its bright yellow spine un-creased, its thousand pages unturned. It sat there like a gold ring hidden under a mountain, until the onset of Autumn—a time of change and restlessness—when I began a significant and miserable journey.

I went to uni.





  1. Lord of the rings was required reading for much of my life. There may even be a drunken amateur dramatic version floating around on a C90 cassette that me and my friends enthusiastically recored one Saturday night Sunday morning after watching a cartoon version of the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember Ralph Bakshi’s animated LotR. Just checked: it was released in late 1978.

      How brilliant that you were inspired to create your own dramatised version. There has to be a post in there somewhere!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed there is, I remember it took a long time to get the line “These mountains have strong bones…” down clear enough for some reason.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was great, especially the parental embarrassment of your budding recycling business. Somehow it reminded me of the summer when the movie “Mrs. Robinson” came out, and the Simon and Garfunkel title cut from it was omnipresent on radio. I remember going to the grocery store with my mother and humming the song, and my mother asking me to stop because she didn’t want the other shoppers — all potentially neighbors — to hear me singing such “racy” song.

    You’ve inspired me to maybe write about my high school and post-high school jobs, especially since someone I used to work with at one is a fellow WordPress blogger.

    I choose to believe that you paid for the book. Let others go negative. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that your humming may well have been heard as an endorsement of the loose morals portrayed in that scandalous film. Those Simon and Garfunkel lads were so saucy.

      Look forward to some late adolescent work-songs. Sorry, stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love this, and am looking forward to The Two Libraries. Had never heard of Matt Taylor, and enjoyed the jauntiness of “I Remember When I Was Young”, as well as the fungal nature of the label pictured in the YouTube video. The Lord of The Rings was a talisman of sorts in my youth. My parents had a 3-volume paperback edition, housed in a hard case, that sat on our den bookshelves. The illustrations on the covers were unusual enough that I was led to assume I wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of the story within, so I never took the plunge. Perhaps this series of posts will inspire me do so. (If so, it will be with a different edition, as the one of the childhood is lost to history…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Delighted that you enjoyed the read, JDB. Matt Taylor’s range did not really extend outside Oz; he was part of a lively Australian blues-rock scene in the early-mid 70s, and I believe is still playing the occasional gig today. The album (played recently) had a certain rough charm, with songs about going home to Brisbane (!) and the importance of protecting the environment (not bad for ’73). Possibly more the domain of colleague VotF (below).

      I wonder how many copies of the blessed book reside untouched on shelves. And I wonder how a reader would find it well into a new century?


  4. Enjoying the story very much and look forward to following along as it continues. I much appreciated your allowance for mystery in the description of how you came to own the trilogy. My folks bought me a four volume paperback set in a hard case as a Christmas present when I was 14; a 1978 printing of of a 1973 Ballantine edition. I was lost in my sports stories, Louis L’Amour westerns, and Mack Bolan/Executioner novels at the time and proceeded to ignore the gifted Tolkein completely.

    I finally read The Hobbit in my 20s, and am ashamed to admit that I then failed to get around to the Lord of the Rings until my 40s. I had not thought until tonight about the fact that I ended up reading other editions vice the ones given me by my folks. I just now pulled down the ’78 volumes from the shelf and realized that this may have only been the second or third time they have ever left the hard case in the four decades since I received them. They are pristine, un-creased and pages unturned. While I find myself nurturing a growing desire to re-experience the written Middle Earth, I’m thinking maybe I’ll revisit the other editions and maintain these copies as they are, awaiting some future 14-year-old grandchild.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes books – or even albums – can lurk on shelves for many many years before their quiet call is detected, just as sometimes thoughtful, welcome comments on a post can somehow escape responses for days and days and days. (Blush)

      Intrigued by that ‘growing desire’; hope you can nurture it suitably. Surely it can be fulfilled by any edition of the book, thus preserving the ’78 iteration for a suitable descendent to prize.


  5. Man, I loved the story from top to bottom but particularly liked the bottlo story.


    1. Thank you very much DD. I’m right chuffed you enjoyed it.
      As you might imagine, the idea of making a joke (the sign bit) to my Father was a later addition to the tale. Poetic licence, don’t you know.


  6. Great stuff. I learned more from early jobs than most of my years in school.

    I had it easy, I was read the Hobbit when I was little and knew the reverence which my dad had for LOTR. My own real lasting experience of it was the BBC Radio version of it – they did the music so well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think I once saw a 256 CD set of the BBC recordings. Looked fascinating but (unusually for me) I decided I didn’t need it. Perhaps because I’d just bought the complete Hitchhiker’s Guide radio series boxed set.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My dad recorded them off the radio in 1/2hr episodes, I remember them being brilliant. I heard them before I read the books. I have always loved (and still do love) radio drama.

        Liked by 1 person



  8. […] This post should be considered Appendix A in the Lord of the Rings […]




  10. […] these are tone poems rather than literal interpretations of the story. But for someone besotted by JRR Tolkien’s book, this was an excellent selling point. Funnily enough, although I enjoyed Goose, it never excited […]


  11. […] After the bookshop adventure, a more satisfactory and long-lasting relationship was established with Max Rose and his small […]




  13. […] [Matt also featured in a much earlier memoir post.] […]


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