My nursing home reading group is the best

Monday afternoons are a true joy. Come to think of it, every afternoon is, but Mondays seem special because that’s

Monday afternoons are a true joy. Come to think of it, every afternoon is, but Mondays seem special because that’s when I spend time running a reading group in a nursing home. My group is comprised of the elderly (placing me well and truly among my peers!)

The term ‘reading group’ is loose. One of the thoughts behind it, initially, was for me to read short stories or passages from longer books and then discuss what had been read. Not so easy, actually, when that fleeting perception called memory is involved – and it has long fled some of those in the group. Not that I could or ever would disparage anyone because I’m cognisant of an ever- developing problem with mine. I wrote on an earlier occasion that I’ve got 20:20 memory: If something happened more than 20 minutes ago or less than 20 years, I have trouble remembering it!

Great patience is an essential. I don’t read for any longer than an hour. Attention span within the group varies greatly and, even with breaks for comment and discussion, there are those who show signs of an urgent appointment elsewhere. Moreover, to paraphrase John Denver, some books are diamonds, some books are stones. A problem exists here, in that I have no idea what will appeal and what not. As examples, I recently read Frederick Forsyth’s The Shepherd (a diamond) and, over the next two weeks, Alan Bennett’s Lady In The Van (a stone). I thought both, written 40 years apart, brilliant. Not so the group; they thought Lady monotonous.

I made earlier mention of the adjective ‘loose’ and this is where it comes into play. I take my Macbook along, using an HDMI cable to hook up to a large-screen television in our day lounge. Some weeks, I play a pertinent piece I’ve Googled. On others, I assemble a series of my photographs for them, mainly pictures of places seen on holiday or pretty local scenes. These I show either during or after a reading. I think the diamond/stone analogy might fit here, too, although thankfully with very few of the latter. One photograph today fell very much into the category of beautiful gemstones.

My wife and I lived in Bendigo a few years before coming home to Tassie in 1982. The beautiful 1890 house we renovated was close by Lake Weeroona. On long hot summer nights, we’d take a picnic tea to eat beside the lake. In later years, whenever touring, we always paid it a visit. I stopped to check it out last August, at which time I took a photo that provided a great discussion point today.

On that day, I photographed three ducks (and far different to those that flew up loungeroom walls in the 1960s). These swam together, turned out into deeper water, returned, got onto the bank and preened together, then re-entered the water. Everywhere they went, everything they did, they did together. I kept my eyes on them for an hour or so, intent on getting the shot I wanted. Three birds together like that intrigued me. They were an obvious male-female pair, accompanied by a third adult bird, something I found most unusual. Standing by the lake for so long getting my shot, a local couple saw me and approached me, telling me the story. The third duck is blind; over the past two years, the pair seem to have adopted it. It follows them everywhere. I found it a lovely parable, and poignant.

The group thought it a great story of compassion and everyone joined in general discussion, even old ‘Nell’ who rarely has anything to say. ‘Nell’ told us about a Border Leicester ewe who’d lost her lamb who accepted a triplet spurned by another ewe, then ‘Alice’ told of their Kelpie bitch accepting an orphaned kitten among her litter of six pups. Everyone had some level of input and we had a good old chat.

As I said at the beginning, all Mondays are good but today was extra special. The only concern I have now is snapping another ‘three ducks’ equivalent. Proverbs 26:3 teaches us, A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. ‘Three ducks’ may have become my rod!

Tell us, do you have a book club? Do you volunteer at a nursing home?

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