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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Andy Griffiths Meets 8A

I'd been planning this excursion for ages. There was a choice between Andy Griffiths - the author of various books about bums and kids doing bizarre, over-the-top stuff - and Morris Gleitzman, both of whom have fans in my homeroom class. We could only manage one of them. Kayla would have liked to hear Morris Gleitzman talk about his serious novels, Once and Then, both of which she loves, but the vote went to Andy Griffiths, who was doing a panel with Danny Katz, the comic journalist who has also written a number of children's books. I sort of know Danny, whom I keep meeting at Allen and Unwin parties, and his wife, Mitch Vane, illustrated my spies book. I met her at a book signing for the Ford Street publication Trust Me!, when we sat next to each other. Mitch's art was not just decoration - it commented on the text, formed a part of it and was very, very funny.

Anyway, I set about booking the tickets. Once the excursion was approved, I did a lot of running around, collecting money and permission forms. Students in the class left. Students came back after months. Some students who had been absent a lot started to turn up for classes and had to be factored in to the numbers.

There wasn't much time to book, either. The holidays were upon us. I had to book on my card. We nearly missed out - Andy Griffiths is very, very popular. The gentleman at the Melbourne Writers' Festival booking office told me that session was booked out and I had to think of another one. But soon after, he rang back to tell me of a cancellation and the plan was back on.

Coming back, I had to finish collecting. The campus mini-bus might not be big enough for the full class, which was now slightly larger. We booked the one belonging to the nearby Australian Technical College. Bill, the teacher who had a mini-bus licence, was going to drive us.

Two weeks before the Event, Bill was told he had to go on a school camp and was replaced by Sharon, the sports teacher. Sharon had been going to the regional athletics on that day, but all the other mini-bus drivers were on camp.

On the day, two students I had thought were going to the athletics came to say the sports had been cancelled, but two more were absent, so the numbers were just right for the campus mini-bus after all.

Somehow, we managed to cram into the bus and reach Federation Square after being caught in traffic, behind a huge truck, with all the red lights against us, and back-seat-driver students telling Sharon where she should have gone instead. We had to hurry through the gardens to get from our parking spot, and we were a few minutes late, but so were other schools and the session started late, giving us time to get in and settle into the back row.

The BMW Edge is a very beautiful theatre with a view of the Yarra River through the window behind the stage.

The speakers sat there, throwing jokes back and forth. We learned a lot about how they had started out in writing and their feelings about what is funny. Andy admitted that his character Lisa was based on a real girl he'd had a crush on in fourth grade. A few years ago she had contacted him to ask if that was her in the book. They met after that, and he was relieved that both of them were happily married and the romance wasn't going to flare up again.

He never did explain - why the bum stories? - but no one asked.

Afterwards, two of the students, Michael and Stephanie, had books to get signed. I took them towards the signing tables while Sharon led the rest of the class to hear poetry read. (The poetry was pretty awful, I thought, but the students didn't complain).

The queue was a mile long, but Michael and his friend Mehmed simply pushed in while I had my back turned and no one complained, so I stood near them with Stephanie and her book and the books were soon signed. I also got to meet Sue Bobbermein, the publicity lady who sends me review copies, and put a face to a name.

We had lunch at Hungry Jack's in Swanston Street. Many of the students had huge appetites; I've never seen anything like it! Mehmed and Jessica were fasting for Ramadan, but everyone else enjoyed burgers, wraps, chips, ice cream and more ice cream and then, just for a change, ice cream...

The afternoon had turned chilly, with winds coming up and a storm on the way, but we got back to the bus and finally returned to school, not quite as slowly as on the way.

I dismissed the students and returned to the library. The trip was worth the bother, but I heaved a sigh of relief it was all over.