Is there a greater joy than the act of doing anything other than the thing that you’re supposed to be doing?
Last week I was supposed to be writing. But instead I was on the open road, tootling along country lanes around regional Victoria in the bottom right-hand corner of Australia. I was on tour, with all the glamour that the term ‘on tour’ implies. That is, not much. But a week of tootling about in a small Hyundai sedan and getting to meet a bunch of enthusiastic young readers was a joy.
When it comes to Victoria, I haven’t been much outside the capital city of Melbourne, so I was quite looking forward to seeing a bit of new territory. I quickly realised that regional Victoria is much the same as regional anywhere in Australia — the streets are broad, the locals are friendly and school kids are essentially identical regardless of location. That is, they’re glad of any disruption to maths lessons caused by a visiting author. And they’re always up for a laugh.
I spent a very enjoyable hour or so with the kids of Bairnsdale Primary School 754. Apparently in Victoria they number their schools according to the order in which they were founded. Sort of like how they number members of the Australian cricket team. And German prisoner of war camps. Anyway, Bairnsdale celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2014 and what a great little school it is. And this is in no small part to the fact that it has a school dog. His name is Ralph, he has his photo on the notice board alongside that of the principal and the teachers, and he is an important member of the school community.
Ralph is a golden retriever, Labrador, something undetermined cross. And that is about the only cross thing about him. A more placid pooch I am yet to encounter.
Ralph attends classes, mostly those of his owner and teacher from year 6, and is a big help when kids need a circuit breaker. When someone is getting a bit frustrated or on edge with some issue or another at school, they take Ralph for a walk around the oval. They tell him their secrets, talk through their problems and by the time they get back, everyone has calmed down. It’s a brilliant idea.
Ralph sat in on my presentation to the year 5 and 6 kids, and he behaved pretty much the same way most kids do in my sessions. He fell asleep under a desk.
He did come to life when I called for volunteers for a mind reading experiment. But it was no use choosing Ralph for that. He knows how to keep a secret.