At A Time Of Debate; Summer Readaround – 13 July 2022

There were five left on the screen, each ready, prepared, and scripted, and about to share their ideas and their vision.

And fortunately, there wasn’t a leadership contender in sight.

Instead, the group had been whittled down by family, commitments and varied distractions, rather than a series of take-the-hindmost votes. Creativity and imagination bubbled away before being subjected to the crucible of scrutiny, at a time when thoughts of searing temperatures and a heatwave were merely rumours.

But, looking back, maybe there were parallels after all.

Marion shared her memoir piece, It’s a Dog’s Life, during which she feared the reactions of those gathered to listen. Like a true politician, she trod a fine line to avoid trampling on the sensitivities of her audience while sharing her own particular truth. She withdrew at a squishy bone experience with a tiny black collie puppy. She was unnerved by the growling unpredictability of a red setter and was the visitor from hell for a lively boxer and a normally placid poodle. She simply didn’t like dogs, or other fluffy or furry things if truth be told. She knew that, in some quarters of the screen this discomfort could be interpreted as heresy.  But writing can be about laying ourselves bare, and maybe a recently met 18-year-old cairn terrier had just got under this veneer.

Then Jeanette heaped promise on promise and worked hard to persuade others of her intentions: to get something written. Like another true politician, she’d jumped ship and done an about-turn on the choice of book to review. Then she told of swingeing cuts of an austerity-like severity she’d made to a short story, all to achieve the objective of election, no, sorry that should read publication. Slashing from 1350 words to a mere 800 for submission to Woman’s Weekly she learned two valuable lessons. Firstly, you cut what doesn’t move the story forward, and secondly, if you cut too much you run the danger of losing your voice, which we all agreed is an essential part of Jeanette’s writing, a conundrum only she can resolve.

Not that she was being cynical, but Damaris touched the heartstrings. Not that she was on the opposition benches faced with Marion’s earlier contribution, but in Dog Miniatures she presented short poems about individual dogs that had been (and still are) part of her life. In writing, as in politics, we revere eloquence and oratory. In each, Damaris tailored the language and tone to reflect each canine character, their mannerisms, their enthusiasms, and the heartache sometimes inflicted by life.

My own contribution dangled the ultimate prize, amidst the need to be organised and supported by a plethora of plans. Yes, predictably, it featured the allure of mountain tracks, the need for time to pause and reflect, the achievement of summits and engaging effectively with those we meet on the way. But that goal wasn’t a summit cairn or an expansive view of the horizon or the future but enjoying an ice-cold Magnum at the end of the day. Our favours are secured by the most basic of instincts.

Finally, Maggie B introduced us to The Chronicles of Ger, which even had a political phrase I think I’ve heard before: “I had a dream,” well, something close. In building a picture of mystery, an old man was intent on his task, someone, or something, was making bad smells and we were told that the land had seen many changes. However, we were left with a dire warning, “never enter the book alone or you might never find the way out,” which sounds a bit like our politics at the moment.

And so, we withdrew to await whatever emerges in life, politics or our own creativity before the next Readaround. No doubt somebody will already be scribbling away because, as they say, “you just couldn’t make it up.”

Nigel Ward

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