Tuesday, December 21, 2021

It's Christmas, Jim, But Not As We Know It.

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? Or, more to the point, what are we doing, and what are we going to do?

Last week I spent an even as a safety steward for Santa as he hauled his sleigh around the village raising money for charity. The week before I took part in the village nativity play in the local church. The tree and the decorations are up. Cards are displayed while others have been written and delivered. I've even done a bit of Christmas shopping, both in person and online.

But for every moment of Christmas normality, there is something Christmas under pandemic life. Work Christmas party was conducted online with everyone at home. There have been no Christmas drinks or catchups with friends and colleagues. And I have no reason to go into town in the evenings when the lights and displays are at their best.

As for Christmas day itself, we've been cautiously making plans. We knew the Prime Minister had announced that he wouldn't bring in any restrictions this year, but I don't think anyone can blame me if I didn't think this would stop him from reversing his decisions.

We planned for seven people, although there was the possibility of six. But then we were aware of circumstances that might bring in another three to make ten. Or even eleven. But what happens if County lines are closed, which could mean three.

So anywhere from three to ten people. What size turkey should we order for that range of guests?

In the end, the Prime Minister met with his Cabinet yesterday and made no decision. In hindsight, he was never going to make an unpopular decision for Christmas while his government is mired in a number of scandals and he's teetering on the edge of a leadership challenge anyway. Which  means Christmas should go ahead. Or will it? I have little confidence in the clarity and surety of events beyond this evening.

For now, at least, Christmas will be normal. Or as normal as it can be in the middle of a pandemic.

But whatever happens, whatever unfolds, however it is spent, enjoy your time. Relax, recharge and refresh, ready for 2022.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

It's Not Going Away Anytime Soon, Is It?

It was almost two years ago that we first heard of a new virus in China. I recall seeing it unfold in China, and while it was worrying, it wasn't something I thought would effect us too much. I mean, there had been SARS, and Ebola, and a few others. But each of these had been contained and geographically limited and controlled. And they were no longer a threat.

How wrong I was.

A few months later then world changed in ways we could never imagine. We were sent home to work, which I figured might be a month or two. Again, I was very, very wrong.

I've been back in my office about 4 times since then. All in the past few months. I saw some members of my team in real life for the first time in more than 18 months. I met the "new guy" who'd actually been with us for more than a year. The office was sterile. We'd taken all our personal items home a couple of months ago and the office was now a "hub", used by other teams as well.

On the one hand, I was happy to be around other people, and yet I didn't enjoy that as much as I should have. Is it because I'm not used to it yet, or simply that I am generally avoiding groups and gatherings anyway?

But I'm hearing whispers there may be another lockdown before Christmas. I'm hearing that we may be asked to not come into the office again, at least for a while. I'm also hearing Christmas may revert to bubbles only, limited meetings and numbers, and so on.

It's all unknown. It's constantly changing. And none of us can plan for Christmas because we're not being adequately informed. And, of course, some of us are starting to think this may still be a round next Christmas.

Lights on, trees up, masks at the ready!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

And All Went Well At The Book Club!

I wrote a while back that I would be attending my first Book Club meeting, and that I hadn't enjoyed the book we'd been set. But I survived it. More than that, I really enjoyed it. And went back for my second meeting a month later.

We met in an old pub in town, perhaps the oldest in Lincoln, as it dates back at least three centuries. I was about the fourth to arrive and sipped a fine ale as fellow members arrives gradually, including acouple of other newbies. Then there were brief introductions and it was on to the book.

As previously promised, I behaved myself and stayed fairly quiet. But I could see the leader glancing in my direction several times, and gently broke the news that I felt the book didn't live up to its promise, its reputation or its awards recognition. I also mentioned serious flaws in the narrative and editing, and that although there was a story there, it was in desperate need of a rewrite and serious editing.

And it was received well. And there was another there who also agreed with me.

The conversation was civil, people chose to differ in opinion with no snarkiness or efforts to "recruit" opposers, and at the end of the evening while most gave scores of 8 or 9 out of 10, a couple of us gave 5s, and that was fine.

Afterwards there was general conversation on a range of subjects, just "getting to know you" type chat, which was easily the most social thing I've done in the past two years, and I came home relaxed and content.

November's meeting was good too, with a broader spread of opinions on the book - I was somewhere in the middle in that I enjoyed parts of it well enough but not enough to follow on and read the sequels.

And then I made the terrible mistake of accidentally double booking for December's meeting, and much to my own dismay, was unable to attend.

But this reminds me. I need to get stuck into January's book. Now, where did I put it?

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Steeleye Span. Again!

We went to see Steeleye Span again this week.

I last saw them on their 50th anniversary tour about two and a half years ago. They were touring on the back of a new album, Estd 1969, which I think is one of their strongest recordings in many years. The lineup, too, is perhaps the best since the classic lineup(s) of the late 70s.

The show was good. The band was great, sounded wonderful, were really tight, and rocked out. It was, however, well into the tour, and Maddy's voice was patchy. 

I know Maddy doesn't have the range she once had - that happens to mature voices, but this was more than that. Either she was (or had been) ill, or her voice was tired from the tour.

When tickets were announced for a show in Lincoln, I didn't hesitate. I still wanted to see them. Again. A band which has been around since the late 60s? Who knows how long they can continue.

I was a little disappointed Benji Kirkpatrick didn't appear on stage. And then I noticed the fiddle player wasn't Jessie May Smart but another woman. The rest of the band, however, were the current lineup. And they were good. They were a precision unit. Maddy introduced the fiddle player, Violeta Vicci, but didn't explain whether she was replacing or covering for the fabulous Jessie May Smart. Alas, there was no mention of Benji Kirkpatrick at all, so I have no idea if he was unavailable or had left.

Violeta did an admiral job, on apparently her 6th gig with the band. As a multi-instrumentalist, Benji was sorely missing - especially on tracks like the January Man, where his loping banjo sets the tone and meaning of the song. Liam Genockey and Roger Carey were as solid as ever on drums and bass respectively, while Julian Littman (guitar) seemed to have an even better outing than the last time I saw them, and Andrew Sinclair (other guitar) shone yet again.

But the best part? Maddy's voice was in fine form. Sure, we weren't treated to Gaudete (although I suspect with some arrangement and a drop in key she could handle it), but they either chose songs to suit her range, or she reworked her vocal lines to suit her range.

They opened with Little Sir Hugh, which was especially meaningful as not only is it the very first song I ever heard from Steeleye (and I became an instant fan within seconds), but his remains lie less than a mile from this venue. For those unfamiliar with his tale, I have previously told his (and my) tale.

During the intermission, I grabbed their new album (a re-recording of their 1969 original release) and managed to find Maddy tucked away in the foyer. She graciously signed it for me, and I was able to apologise to her for embarrassing myself the last time I had met her in Melbourne in the early 1980s. I didn't explain, but she laughed and told me not to worry, as it was all forgotten.

But I'll save that story for another post. 

And Maddy, should you by any chance ever be reading this, thank you for all the recordings, all the shows I've seen, and for the time you took to sign an album or two for me. It is truly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Rainbows, Smiles and Leaving the Urghhh Behind.

I was sitting at work this afternoon, one of the few times I have ventured into the office since we were allowed to return, and rather enjoying the change of location after so much time at home, and the comfortable companionship that comes with the presence of others working quietly in the office. 

I was sitting in  the corner, with large windows behind me. The clouds were low, darkening, and it started to rain heavily. After a while it stopped, and the ladies facing me from across the office started pointing and laughing. Through the window, behind me, was a large, bright rainbow. I turned to look at it, and the colours were broad and clear.  The ladies informed me that from where they sat, it appeared to come down into my head.

"Ah yes", I said. "I am the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in an otherwise dark and dismal world."

I was, of course, joking. I can be grumpy along with the best of them, and I actively have to work to remember to smile at gatherings of family and friends in case they think I am bored and angry with them. But it did remind me that it is important to maintain a positive outlook in these times.

Recently, I felt slighted. A social media post I made (no surprises there) resulted in a stupid and thoughtless comment. Instead of responding, I simply deleted their comment. My wall, my rules, and I can say what stays on my wall.

For similar reasons, I left a couple of Facebook groups which I used to enjoy, but were bringing me down with their negativity. And do you know, I haven't missed them at all.

Some may have noticed that, for the most part, I try and maintain a positive attitude on social media. There is a fine line between keeping an "up" attitude online and creating a fake, happy persona. I don't want to the be the guy who makes out he has the perfect life, posting only images of holidays, meals and so on, but I do want to not be brought down by the angst and anger which pervades social media.

And so into my real life.

I started each week at work (from home) with some gentle, pleasant music. I am well aware of the emotional effect music can have on me, and so I figure choosing the right tunes early on can shape my mood for the day, if not the week. I login to my team's chat and try and say hi, offering virtual coffee, and having a laugh with anyone who happens to be around.

I get up from the desk and stretch, take time out to play with my dog, and go for walks. I also try to eat healthily and not drink too much coffee.

And that's all we can do, isn't it?  The best we can in trying times.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Clubs and Opinions.

Many years ago, I wanted to join a book club.

There was a sign in the local library advertising some, suggesting we ask the librarian about them. I did, and she shook her head.

"There are a few, but I don't think they're what you're looking for. Do you want to chat about the book for five minutes and spend an hour talking about grandchildren you obviously don't have?"

We had a laugh about that, and discussed the books these groups read. They didn't really suit my reading patterns. Now, I am very happy to read broadly, outside my usual choices and comfort zone, and I do. But I recall looking at the lists and thinking that after one or two of those books, I'd simply give up.

While I was thrilled there were book clubs which were well attended, and there were people reading, I was really disappointed there wasn't one locally that suited me. This was pre-Facebook days, and so we didn't have that avenue to explore. I kept my ears open, but nothing ever popped up in my area. And then I stopped thinking about it, stopped looking, moved to the UK and got caught up in life.

Occasionally I would watch the Book Group, a dark comedy series about, of course, a book club. Oh, how I wished I could have joined that group.

About a month ago, Lindsey mentioned she'd been told of a book club that might suit me. I looked into it, saw the broad range of books they had read in the previous twelve months, noted they met in a fine pub, and decided I'd give it a go. I also wanted to be straight in, and so with less than a week to go I bought a copy of that month's book, read it in three days, really enjoyed most aspects of it, and was ready to go and discuss.

The big day arrived and I couldn't go. That morning I was told my friend Jev had passed. I needed to stay home.

The next meeting is a couple of weeks away. The book is Shuggie Bain, which won the Booker prize and has been well received. I borrowed it, read it, and don't love it. In fact, I can't understand how it was worthy of inclusion in the shortlist.

There is a story in there, but it is flawed in many ways. Oh, and it needs a hard edit.

I'm pretty excited about my first meeting. But as the newbie I'll have to sit back and be restrained until I get a feel for the group. What if they all love the book? How do they feel about dissent?

I may just sit quietly for a few months until I feel confident I can have a different opinion that is received well. Even then I will have to be gentle.

In the meantime, that's me in the corner sipping an ale and listening with interest.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Vale Jev Telford: Colleague, Mentor and Friend.

I was told a couple of days ago that one of my closest friends had passed away suddenly. I didn't post or share anything immediately, as I didn't know who knew. Also, I was devastated, too numb to write. And I didn't have the words anyway.

When I started teaching, Jev was my manager (Head of English) and mentor, but we soon became firm friends over a shared love of music, guitars, film, art and books. And, of course teaching. We spent the next 13 years at desks alongside each other until I moved to the UK. We talked about all of the above, obviously, but also everything else, including philosophy and spirituality - both of which were a huge part of Jev's life.

We also became confidantes, seeking advice from each other - both professional and private, sharing ideas and managing student situations as a team. When I messed up, I could always talk to him and trust his advice.

We team taught, and supported each other, often falling in with the other's cues instantly when dealing with students - playing the good cop to the other's bad, the straight man to the other's comedian and so on. Often there would be pop, TV or film references inserted. I almost lost it one day when I was meant to keep a straight face while he was talking to a student. He started gesticulating wildly as he emphasised points. There were others present, but I alone knew he was imitating Gus McCrae, a character from the Lonesome Dove mini-series.

And cards. Almost every day for those 13 years, we played 500s over lunch with wild tales and stories aplenty. We laughed a lot.

Jev loved to draw. He would attend curriculum (and other) meetings and draw comics and cartoons. When he returned from these meetings, I'd ask how it had gone, and he would show me the cartoons which was his way of explaining the mood of the meeting without going into details.

He was a musician, having played in theatre and bands in his native New Zealand and in Australia. He released albums as a kids' entertainer, and then wrote and recorded an album as the Honey Eaters with Natasha-Lee on vocals. He also played on Songdance by Malcolm McNeill, a New Zealand album. I have been told this is one of the best selling foreign jazz albums in Japan.

And, just like Vince Noir and Howard Moon, I would kid him about his jazz leanings, while he told me I feared jazz and joked about my harder rock preferences.

Outside of work we ate together, watched films together, listened to music together, made music together and, most of the time, just hung out and chatted.

I have lost a great friend. An encourager, supporter, mentor, adviser and confidante.

My thoughts are with his family, his friends, and my colleagues at Moorolbark College.

And Jev. Goodbye, old friend. I have missed seeing you while I've been in the UK, but if there is a great beyond, I look forward to catching up.