It was a first for me this month. That is, my first public speaking engagement as a writer. When our local paper printed an article about the publication of my second book, I received a phone call inviting me to address the Maroochydore branch of the War Widows Guild. I’m not sure what my initial feeling was – excitement, nervousness, flattered at being asked? Probably a combination of all three, but being me, I accepted first and doubted later.
Over the next couple of months I wondered what I had let myself in for, especially when I was told ‘Most of our ladies are over 80, so don’t be offended if some of them fall asleep during your talk.’ We all know that any voice droning on for half an hour or so can indeed be sleep-inducing, so first things first – some visuals needed to be assembled for a PowerPoint slide show to hopefully keep them all awake.
Their meeting room is up-to-date with the electronic equipment needed so all I needed to do was show up with a USB stick and my script. Oh how I envy those speakers who can talk without a script. I don’t have that ability ... maybe it will come with more experience? So the next few weeks were spent fine tuning my talk and getting together the most interesting among the collection of pictures from my research. (Actually it made a pleasant change from focussing on my next book which is proving to be a struggle at the moment).
Come the day. I knew most of the ladies were widows of World War II veterans so did not expect a large crowd. Let’s face it, there are few WWII veterans alive and age has to be catching up with their families. I was pleasantly surprised to find about forty nicely dressed ladies ready and waiting. As their meeting progressed it became apparent this is a very active group socially. Obviously age is not a barrier to their support for each other. Each meeting begins with the commitment to their pledge.
We all belong to each other,
We all need each other
It is in serving each other,
In sacrificing for our common good,
That we are finding our true life.
Here is a generation for which self-interest does not come first and foremost.
As I stood to begin my talk, my mind was filled with images of these women as young girls, wondering what lay ahead of them as they said goodbye to their husbands and sweethearts. And it struck me that most of those sitting before me would have very interesting stories of their own to tell.
I came away feeling very humbled to be asked to address such a special group of ladies. And, no, they did not fall asleep during my talk.
It did prompt some thoughts though. Recently I noticed the Australian Republican Movement was becoming quite active again. Their speaker made some good points and I was beginning to come around to thinking a republic would be good for this country. The War Widows Guild began their meeting acknowledging the Queen before reciting their pledge. This happens in so many organisations and Queen Elizabeth II has been the focus of toasts and tributes for over sixty years now. It made me think if we had an elected Head of State here in Australia – would it be the same? Would we toast the Governor General or the President or whatever we choose to name our appointed leader? No, I think I have gone back to my Monarchist preference. There is a certain dignity about it isn’t there? OK, now you can all jump up and down and tell me I’m an old fashioned stick-in-the-mud. But I like it!
I’ve been rereading one of my favourite books this month, NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND by BILL BRYSON
I first came to know this gem of a book by way of a set of tapes (pre CD) sent over to me from a dear relative in the United Kingdom. So I was sentimentally disposed towards it right from the beginning, so to speak. However, fifteen minutes into listening I was hooked, purely on the book’s own merit. Anyone who spends his first night in England sleeping in a sea-front shelter with a pair of underpants on his head in an effort to keep warm raises some curiosity. And when we are introduced to Mrs Smegma - that formidable English landlady - well, I was won over completely.
As I listened I had no idea who the reader was but in later years I came to suspect Bryson himself, as a soft homely American accent lured me along into his love affair with the island that was to become his home for twenty years. It is not a blinkered love affair. There are times when Bryson can scathingly berate people, towns, transport, food – pretty well anything really. But if anyone can poke fun at a nation and still convey to readers that despite everything that seems wrong, it is still a loveable country, well, Bryson can. And does – in spades.
Years later, with no tape player and being unable to play our treasured set of tapes, I went out and bought a copy of the book. It was impossible to exist without revisiting this gently amusing story at least once every couple of years.
Bryson sees and appreciates things the average tourist, in an anxiety to cover as much as this tiny island as possible in a short space of time, seldom does. He thinks further than what he sees before him.. His comments can be biting, but a paragraph later all is forgiven when his gentle humour shows through in a burst of affection for some obscure plaque or monument that catches his eye.
“By the time I had finished my coffee and returned to the streets, the rain had temporarily abated, but the streets were full of vast puddles where the drains were unable to cope with the volume of water. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you would think that if one nation ought by now to have mastered the science of drainage, Britain would be it.”
Not your usual travelogue, but how often do books of that genre have you chuckling away? Even occasionally laughing out loud? This a book to be read for its entertainment value. Do that and you will enjoy it. And, as his closing paragraph states,
“All of this came to me in the space of a lingering moment. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like it here. I like it more than I can tell you.”