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.