Wednesday, June 01, 2011

At the Sign of the Unicorn:

i.m. Richard Wasley
(died 19th May, 2011)

Unicorn Bookshop (Warkworth)

I'm afraid I missed the funeral. Carli had left a message the night before, mentioning that the service would be held at Snells Beach on Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately that's one of the days I teach, so I couldn't make it. I sent a card, but I doubt even that arrived in time.

I've been going to his shop for nearly twenty years. It seems incredible, but that would appear to be the case. I remember stopping in Warkworth for a coffee sometime in the early nineties, and asking the waitress just as an afterthought if there were any nice bookshops in town.

"Oh yes," she said. "Just down that sidestreet, in the little building with the unicorn mural on the side." (That was in the days when Richard conducted his operations from a strange little wooden annex just down from the medical clinic - before shifting round the corner to the brighter, more modern premises pictured above.)

We wandered up, had a look around, bought a stack of books. Richard (I didn't really know him at all then, or for some time afterwards) seemed to have some kind of secret source of new and nearly-new literature and poetry books: there were bright Penguins, stately AUP biographies and histories, masses and masses of anthologies, slim volumes, novels ... everything except Mills & Boons or Readers Digest Condensed Books: those he would have scorned too much to give them shelf-room.

[Richard Smallfield: Richard Wasley]

Here he is in better days. The last few times I saw him, he was far more haggard than that, and terribly thin - still recognisably the same person, though. Richard could be quite a bolshie customer at times, to be perfectly honest. I remember once overhearing him denouncing some random suit who'd come in to take shelter from a rainstorm outside and who was talking loudly and inconsiderately on a cellphone in the middle of the shop:

"D'you think this is a telephone booth?"

"Excuse me?"

"You can't talk on your cellphone in here."

"I was going to buy something, but now I won't."

"Good. I don't want you in here anyway. You're barred!"

It certainly put you off haggling about the - very reasonable - prices he charged for his books, but I have to say I liked his attitude. The comfort of real booklovers always mattered far more to him than currying favour with the hoi polloi ...

In fact, the very last time I met and talked with him, he was about to walk down into town to have it out with another local bookdealer who'd put in a complaint about Richard's prices on TradeMe. The prospect obviously filled him with glee. He wasn't too steady on his feet, and his voice was going, but the idea of going downtown and having a good old barney with some interfering neighbour was clearly the kind of thing that was keeping him going, long past the predictions of his doctors. That, and the love and patience and unstinting care of Carli Clark, of course ...

[Masonic Hall (Warkworth)

It sounds like a cliche to say that going to Warkworth will never be the same again. There are other bookshops there, nice cafes, shops, but nothing could ever replace that strange metropolitan haven of a shop, the little kingdom Richard built.

The regular poetry readings he held in Matakana will be missed too (we read there together, in the little church, on one occasion a couple of years ago). Poetry was one of his principal passions, in fact: writing it and reading it aloud. He'd always intended to put out a book, he told me, but somehow in those last months it didn't get done - there was time for it at last, but somehow not the energy, the passion you need. He leaves behind a good deal of work, though, a lot of memories of those curious evenings when he held court with Henry Reed's "Naming of Parts," poems by Charles Causley, Stevie Smith ...

I'll never drive north from the Bays again without thinking of him and missing him, missing that little bookish haven he built for me and others like me, people for whom a rummage through an old bookshop has something paradisal about it, the joy of discovery, the imminent prospect of something extraordinary waiting just for you ...

Go in peace, Richard. I guess the best thing might be to adapt Dean Swift's epitaph: "He has gone where fierce indignation can lacerate his heart no more - depart, wayfarer, and imitate if you are able one who to the utmost strenuously championed liberty" - albeit the liberty Richard championed was the freedom of booklovers and poetry fans to enjoy a moment's peace in the midst of their stressful days ...

[Swift's Epitaph (St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin)


Dr Jack Ross said...

Richard Charles Wasley

WASLEY, Richard Charles Frederick. (Unicorn Books) Peacefully at home on 19 May 2011, following a courageous battle with cancer. Dearly beloved son of Edith Trew and the late Charles Wasley, and loved stepson to Dudley Trew. Dearest and treasured friend of Carli. Loved brother and brother-in-law of Jaqueline and Harry. Dearest uncle of Justine and Vickii. Respected and loved great uncle of Holly, Charlotte, Blaise, Mackenzie and Maisie-Belle. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Warkworth/Wellsford Hospice PO Box 517 Warkworth would be appreciated. A service will be held at the Mahurangi Beach Community Centre, Hamatana Road, Snells Beach on Thursday 26 May at 1:00 pm followed by private cremation. Communications to the family C/- PO Box 652 Warkworth.

Bronwyn Lloyd said...

What a beautiful tribute Jack. I'm really going to miss our Warkworth road-trips too.

Dr Jack Ross said...

There's another obituary up at Mahurangi Matters:

which gives his birthdate as 1944, and gives a lot of other information about his background and theatrical experience.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack

Thanks for posting this obituary.

It's the first I'd heard of Richard's passing.

He was a beautiful soul,
a marvelous boookman,

and his passion
for poetry was contagious.

Do you know if Carli intends to keep the store open?

Hope all is well in the north.



Giovanni Tiso said...

What a lovely tribute, Jack, thank you for this.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Michael,

Great to hear from you, buddy!

I'm afraid I don't know about the shop. Carli was undecided when we last spoke to her -- fingers crossed, though.

Everything's good up here, all well - hope the same is true where you are.

best, jack

ps Oh, and Giovanni, I've got a little present for you. I hope you like it -- look for it in the post next week sometime ...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jack I have come across this piece quite by chance, and so glad that I have. Well written with warmth and accuracy, and relflecting very much my own thoughts and memories. Before I moved to Wellsford no trip to the north was complete without stopping in at Unicorn Books. I was pleased and proud to read on several occasions at the Matakana readings he organised. Again thanks for taking the time and care to write this piece. Regards Michael Rudd...

Anonymous said...

Unicorn Bookshop has just reopened with new owners. Go in and give them a try :)

Dr Jack Ross said...

Thanks for that.

I certainly will.