Living it, not just reading about it

An Auckland based BDS book group aren't just reading about overseas experiences, they're going to live one.

The 11-member group, comprising 4 men and 7 women, plan to spend 10 days together in Italy during next year’s New Zealand winter.

“The idea kind of evolved,” says Vicki Hirst, convenor of the group whose members - for the most part - live in Mt Eden and central Auckland. 

“Three of us have our big 6-0 birthdays in 2019,” she says, including herself in the reference. “I have to say we’re all foodies and we enjoy our wine! A couple of wine buffs in the group said ‘what about Italy?’ and we all said ‘yeah!’ ”

The trip will also celebrate the 15th anniversary of the book group.

Their plans to date are to spend ten days in a villa near a coastal village - probably Tuscany - where the group can savour local bread, wine and cheese and go biking and swimming. The departure date they’ve decided on is to allow everyone sufficient time to save up funds for the trip.

Vicki is a social work supervisor and has been coordinating the group for the past six years. In that time, the group have spent weekends away in the Bay of Islands and in Queenstown.

“Somebody’s parents had a bach in Kerikeri so we ended up organising a weekend away and thoroughly enjoyed it. We all pitched in and it was great,” says Vicki. “Within a couple of years, someone else said ‘we’ve got a friend with a place in Queenstown’. So we all ended up going there. Then we started talking about what we are going to do next.”

Auckland 166, as they are known, have always been a companionable group and taken an interest in each other’s children and their achievements. The group continue to hold their monthly evening meetings at each other’s homes, where they relax and chat as well as discuss that month’s book.

“It’s been such a delight to share not only our love of reading, conversation and learning but the ebb and flow of our lives over time,” says Vicki. “We’ve talked children’s graduations, engagements and weddings, the details of surgeries and ailments, house-warmings and the building of houses. We went to each other’s 50th birthday celebrations. We’ve grown our friendships through sharing those experiences.”

As the sole practitioner in her own business for the past 23 years, Vicki says the book group encourages her to socialise and to read at least one book a month for pleasure. An avid reader of work-related books, she used to struggle to find time to read for enjoyment – something that is no longer a problem. Some of her stand-out reads have been The Kite Runner and Bulibasha and her involvement has broadened her reading taste.

“The social worker in me still enjoys fully developed characters and stories and struggles of their families but there have also been other books from other genres that I’ve enjoyed,” she says.

Shared history and self-prescribed rituals help the book group to function smoothly and bind the members together. Vicki says she still follows the advice of her predecessor, Margie, the instigator of the group and its original convenor (and who unfortunately succumbed to cancer six years ago). One modus operandi is that life’s too short to read a bad book. Another is never to divulge who in the group has chosen a particular book the group is reading.

“I collate the book choices [for our booklist] but I never tell the members who has chosen which title. Every so often someone asks ‘who choose this book?’, but I don’t disclose. That way there’s no blame!” says Vicki. “Having said that, there’s only been two or three books overs the years that I’ve struggled with.”

The ratio of male to female readers has changed over the years. The group started with one lone male reader, but three husbands were enlisted as his reading ‘buddies’. Now the composition stands at four married couples plus three women.

“The boys have an occasional boys night because – I have to say – a lot of the women in the group are very confident and outspoken and the men tend to hold back at times. So we thought it would be good for the men to do their own thing now and then,” laughs Vicki.

Five of the current women members are medical GPs, something that could be very handy during their travels abroad in 2019.

See the story on  Stuff:  Click here to read the story

Auckland 166's Vicky Hirst and Nancy Wright look set for Tuscany. (Photo by Mandy Te, reporter with Stuff)

Members of Auckland 166 'in training' at their Christmas 2017 function for their Italian trip next year. Vicki is second from the left.

The Book Discussion 
Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations