A series of interviews with people about the work they do.

Fay Far is well known in the Island Bay community in Wellington. Along with her husband, Bill, she has owned and managed the Island Bay Stationers since 1973.

Fay is 83 and Bill is 90 years old. In October this year they plan to retire and close their shop.


“I couldn’t hold myself back because I do love the children’s books.”

–Fay Far

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Bill and Fay Far, April 2016

 


Interviewer

I saw the poet, Anne Kennedy last night and she said to say hello.

Mrs Far

Oh! I know Anne, she’s a local girl, Anne Kennedy. Knew her when she was a little girl and they used to live in Eden Street, then they moved down to 104 The Parade. Her father used to work in the gas company, and her mother was a lovely, lovely lady.

Interviewer

She told me you were the most beautiful woman in Island Bay.

Mrs Far

Well, that’s a bit outrageous.

Interviewer

Do you call yourself a stationer or a bookshop owner?

Mrs Far

I say, I’ve got a bookshop.

Interviewer

When did you set the shop up?

Mrs Far

The 28th May 1973. My youngest daughter’s eighth birthday. So we know how old we are each year – she’s 53 and we’re [the shop] 45.


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Original paisley wallpaper, Island Bay Stationers


Interviewer

Had you ever worked in a shop before?

Mrs Far

Oh, yes. You always helped all the uncles and aunties in the fruit shops.

Interviewer

Did you grow up working in a fruit shop?

Mrs Far

No, my father was a laundryman, in the days when the old chaps had their starched collars. I was born in Palmerston North and in Palmerston North there were a lot of Joes. I was a Joe. So it’s almost like a tribe. In Chinese you’re Wongs, or Youngs, or Yings or Yangs. You’re not related by blood, but you’re related by generations and the groups of names. A lot of them might have the same great, great, great grandfather way back. We’re very respectful of family. I had lots of older people who called me Aunty because my father’s generation was older than their father’s generation.

Interviewer

So did all the Joes work in laundry?

Mrs Far

No. I don’t have any other family. Just my father worked there. I’m an only child. But in the centre of Palmerston North town there was a fruit shop on every side of the square and they were all Joes.

Interviewer

Would people mix up where they’d shop or would they always go to the same place?

Mrs Far

Mostly they tend to go to the same place. I remember the jockey, Billy Broughton, and his wife, they wouldn’t come until about ten o’clock on a Friday night [she laughs], I don’t know why. People tend to do that. In the bookshop here, we’ll have people who come in and out all week, but they won’t take the books til Friday because they want to read them at the weekend.

Interviewer

Can you describe to me what each day’s work entails?

Mrs Far

The shop opens at 8.30am. Bill opens while I’m finishing up in the house, then he takes his papers out to the few boys that he delivers to, and then comes back. So we’re in the shop from 8.30am to 5.30pm.

Interviewer

Do you take a break?

Mrs Far

Oh yes, we have morning tea and lunch. Afternoon tea.

Interviewer

Do you shut the shop while you do this?

Mrs Far

No, we take turns.

Interviewer

Through the day what are you doing?

Mrs Far

Mondays and Thursdays are magazine day, so you have to unwrap all the magazines and price them, get them up on the shelves. Well, Bill does that. And I do the orders and I serve the customers of course. General tidying up. Cards, birthday cards and that. There’s a good business in birthday cards, hundreds of people buy cards. I sell a lot of cards. I swap things around. I generally tidy and serve. Oh, and of course I do all the paper work. That’s what kills you. Paper work. And it’s worse now.

Interviewer

Do you use a computer for your paperwork?

Mrs Far

No! I’m old fashioned. I hate the computer. That’s what’s killing me, that’s why I’m getting rid of the shop because I just can’t keep up with it.

Interviewer

How old were you when you started working?

Mrs Far

Oh, I was a little kid. We always had little jobs to do, that’s the way we all grew up.

Interviewer

So you’ve been working for a good 75 years?

Mrs Far

Oh, I should think so. Yes. I have. I’ve worked hard too.

Interviewer

What made you decide to open your own shop?

Mrs Far

Four children [she laughs]. Money. We had to make some money. My husband just worked for his father, and he’s one of eight. They came to Island Bay in 1951 and then we got married in 1955 and we lived up on the hill, but he still worked for his father. Then we moved down to Clyde St, that’s when we decided we just had to do something. We’d always wanted the bookshop.


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Interviewer

You wanted to open a bookshop?

Mrs Far

No, we wanted this bookshop. It belonged to Mr, oh, I forget his name… Dallow! And on top of the building next door that’s where he originally was, that was Dallow’s Building, but they’ve taken the name off when they did some alterations.

Well, we leased the building with the shop, then this building came up for sale. And the man who owned this place, a very nice man said, come to my shop. And you couldn’t do alterations next door because there was a big step. So we came here and we’ve been here ever since. We put the concrete down, right through. It’s too big probably, because I’ve let it get away from me. I love the children’s books.

Interviewer

You’ve got a lot of children’s books.

Mrs Far

And I’ve got a couple of rooms full out the back [she laughs]. So I’ve just let it run away from me. I couldn’t hold myself back because I do love the children’s books.

Interviewer

You introduced me to Anthony Browne.

Mrs Far

Oh, I love Anthony Browne! I love the artists, the illustrators.

Interviewer

You’re a Shirley Hughes fan too, aren’t you?

Mrs Far

Oh, yes, Shirley Hughes! The children in her pictures look like kiwi children.

Sarah Garland, she’s wonderful. And her daughter lives in Island Bay. A very clever lady, an artist.

Interviewer

What is that you love about children’s books?

Mrs Far

I think the good authors can really express themselves at a children’s level. They don’t talk down to them, but they make it interesting for the kids. I really like the illustrations and I love books without words because you can make your own story and that’s what I like to see the children do. I find it very hard to choose a favourite book because there’s so many that I love.

Oh, here’s Daisy [a small dog runs up to us] and this is my brother-in-law. Daisy comes to visit a lot. She’s lovely. Eddie’s my youngest brother in law. He’s the baby brother.

Interviewer

Do you ever take holidays?

[Eddie laughs loudly.] ‘I’ll answer that,’ he says. ‘No!’

Mrs Far

We don’t. I did go away for five days at Christmas, but my husband doesn’t like holidays. So he looked after the shop and I went to see my daughter in Australia. But soon I’ll be able to have a holiday all the time. We don’t get much time for holidays. My kids always say stop working all the time, but it’s not hard work, it’s enjoyable, it’s just gone on too long.

My husband says why do you talk so much? Well, I say, you do too, he talks when his friends come in. I told him, I could be the only person that they’ve seen today, the only person that they’ve said hello to. There’s a lot of lonely people, living on their own. Some of them just come to pass the time of day. My brother in law, he was just like that in the fruit shop, he’s very much a people person too.

Interviewer

Do you need to be a people person to run a shop?

Mrs Far

Oh definitely, you need to like people. I mean, you may hate them but you still have to like them. You shouldn’t be in this sort of business with the public unless you can have a rapport with them.

Interviewer

Do you get paid for doing this work?

Mrs Far

Of course. We’re partners. I don’t get paid enough [laughs]. But it’s our business, it’s our partnership and we’ve done alright out of it. Well, we’ve worked hard at it.

My husband he’s only done retail work since he come to New Zealand. He came in 1939 from Canton and he’s been here ever since.


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Painting of the shop done by Michael McCormick, gifted to Bill Far for his 90th birthday


Interviewer

Do you feel you can be your true self here?

Mrs Far

Yes, I’m just me.

Interviewer

Do you have favourite customers?

Mrs Far

Oh, lots!  I have some dear old ladies and lots of people we get on with so well. I know nearly every kid’s name in the suburb. We have watched families grow up here, know the parents, the children, and now the children’s children.

Interviewer

What sort of things do the customers say?

Mrs Far

The worst one is when they start a sentence with ‘You don’t have…?’ I say, ‘Well, that’s a very inappropriate question, you haven’t asked me yet.’

Some people always say the same thing when they come in, it’s a habit.


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Interviewer

What’s the worst type of customer?

Mrs Far

People with aggressive behavior, and surly, there are not many like that but you will get some. Mostly they’re all lovely.

Interviewer

Are you good at maths?

Mrs Far

I am not good at maths, I could never understand what that silly little letter was in algebra. But I know my tables and I can add in my head very well.

Interviewer

What do you like the most and the least about your job?

Mrs Far

I just love to see the children enjoying the books and I love the enthusiasm of some parents. I’ve got one lady who comes from Christchurch and she always comes in when she’s in town and tells her children, ‘Come and see Fay.’ We’re very, very lucky. We have excellent customers. You get the odd one, but you don’t let it ruffle your feathers [lowers voice], unless you’re my husband. But we’re very lucky, as people have known us for so long.

There’s not much I don’t enjoy. I don’t like the paperwork, that kills me.

Interviewer

What sort of clothes and shoes do you wear at work?

Mrs Far

Comfortable clothes, I don’t get flash. Sneakers, because I get sore feet when I wear my heels. I used to dress up nicely. Bill used to wear a collar and tie. But not now. You’ve got to be comfortable. If you’ve got sore feet you can’t do anything.

Interviewer

What’s your star sign?

Mrs Far

Aries.

Interviewer

If you didn’t have to work for money what would you do with your time?

Mrs Far

I don’t have to work for money. But what would I do – I’d garden, like any other person. I’d like to do some of the things I’ve never been able to do.

 


April 2016, interview by The Invisible Writer.

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