It’s been ten days of highs and lows since I took a new, part-time job with The Reader Organisation. Probably the lowest hours were the five and a half spent travelling up to Liverpool on three, packed, over-heated trains, last Sunday afternoon and early evening. The purpose of the journey was so I could spend time at TRO’s Head Office, meet key personnel, observe some shared reading groups in action and pick up a new laptop and phone that I’ll need for my new role.
I’d forgotten how miserable public transport can be when you can’t find an empty seat, can’t keep hold of all your luggage, don’t have a friendly shoulder to lean your head against and don’t have enough space to simply fall asleep until the tannoy announces you’ve arrived at your destination. All the clichés of homesickness came at once when I lay awake in my rigidly ironed Travelodge sheets, yearning to be ensconced in the sleepy, small, Wiltshire town of Trowbridge where I live with my husband and our two children. I promise not to take anyone, or any place, for granted, ever again.
But, of course, all bad times must come to an end and blue skies shone out once I arrived in Bute Street, Liverpool, L5, not the prettiest of locations but the current Head Office of my new employer. Who cares about pretty when every face is a friendly face and an abundance of offers to make – strong, decent, proper – cups of tea are readily forthcoming?
Inevitably, as with any new job, there’s a lot to learn. For me, the most challenging aspect, so far, is getting to grips with a new laptop and new telephone. Technology seems to come naturally to some people but, for me, it’s a case of pressing every button until one miraculously works – rather time-consuming and I often sense the cringing taking place around me by those who are more techno-gifted!
Talking of laptops, here is the set-up in my ‘office/study’ area at home:
It’s what many of you probably do already, but this is the first time that I’ve ever needed to carry two phones and work from two laptops so that I can more easily differentiate between Reader Org work and reader/writer/Mum/wife/tweeter/blogger/ “work”. (I guess it is all “work”, isn’t it? it certainly isn’t all “play”; then again, it is all “life” but I think that’s for another blogpost).
So far, I seem to be coping although there was a point, near the end of what felt like a 48 hour Monday, after the dreadful train journey (sorry to go on, but it was abysmal!) and meeting so many truly lovely but totally new people – plus the battle with two new pieces of kit – when I suddenly thought, in terrible panic, how am I ever going to write anything every again? There seemed to be no space whatsoever left in my head for even the tiniest flicker of creative thought. However, one solid night’s sleep later (Travelodges are always more homely on the second night; besides, I was worn out and slept as deeply as the proverbial log) I was amazed to wake up to a glimmer of a new poem.
And I can only say that I experienced a feeling similar to the feeling I became aware of when my second child was born. Somehow, mysteriously and gloriously, I discovered that it is possible to love two children equally and it is possible to give care and attention to different areas of your life without one of them suffering. Of course, it’s still early days and I don’t want to jinx myself by spouting on about how straightforwardly marvellous this new life of mine is going to be. But I feel thoroughly optimistic.
And talking of optimism, I’d like to end by sharing what has been the absolute highlight of my new job, so far.
In fact, it was one of the highlights of my entire year. I was privileged enough to be allowed to join a regular, weekly, shared reading group, ‘Book at Breakfast’, at Toxteth Library, run by Bev Laroc, an experienced Project Worker for The Reader Organisation and a warm, intelligent and inspiring person, to boot. The ‘Book at Breakfast’ group meets weekly in a comfortable private room upstairs in the library. Bev ensures everyone has a seat and a cup of tea, coffee or squash and provides toast or crumpets as well. (My crumpet and cup of coffee were delicious and just what I needed to make me feel completely at home in this cosy setting). Once everyone is settled with refreshments, the reading starts. The ‘Book at Breakfast’ group had recently begun A Kestrel for A Knave by Barry Hines. Bev begins by reading aloud to the group and everyone is provided with their own copy of the book.
The book choice is decided by group discussion and I thought this one was brilliant. I’ve never read the book but I’m familiar with Kes, the Ken Loach film it inspired. After Bev has read for a while, and at a suitable point in the story, there’s a pause so that what’s been read can be discussed. Then the reading is taken up by someone else from the group, although nobody is forced to read if they don’t want to, and so the two-hour session progresses.
This is the shared reading group in action. It’s what The Reading Organisation does, among other things, and is a crucial part of its mission to grow a national culture of shared reading throughout the UK – indeed, throughout the world, since TRO is also active in projects outside the UK. Barriers are quickly broken down when a book is at the centre of a conversation. I’d never met any of the eight members of the group but within minutes we were chatting about what had happened in the book, what we thought of the characters, why Billy (the main character) acted the way he did, how and if his behaviour was influenced by his background. Throughout all of this we were guided, gently, unobtrusively, encouragingly by Bev. Sometimes a group member shared a personal anecdote relating to subject matter from the reading, sometimes it was a recollection of another book or poem or other art form. But after each anecdote, the focus returned to the book, to what had happened and what would happen, to how characters were developing and to what route the action would take.
I loved being part of the ‘Book at Breakfast’ group. If I could, I’d gladly take part every day until we’d finished reading ‘Kes’ and sign up again for the next book on the list. I haven’t yet written to Bev Laroc – and I must – to thank her for inspiring me to aim to follow her example and facilitate my groups of shared reading as expertly and as compassionately as she does. If I come anywhere close to following her approach, I will be on the right tracks. And I want to pass on my very best regards to the members of the group. I feel that I made new friends in such a short space of time, over crumpets and a paperback book in an upstairs room in Toxteth Library.
I’ve ordered ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ so I can finish reading the rest of the book and I’m tempted to share it with the rest of my family.
All in all, it’s been an extremely positive start to my “new life” and long may this continue!