A Ray of Fire

From Niall Gibney

For the past two months I have been attending a group at the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s drug and alcohol service at Aqua House in Chester.

The group is held every Friday morning come rain or shine, starts at 10am and runs until 12 with a short break for a quick smoke. The group is led by TRO director Jane Davis – who usually brings a nice, posh and healthy breakfast with fruit, bread, tea, coffee and cheese… you know the full works for a Friday morning.

To be fair, the group in Chester surprised me. I’d mostly assumed ‘Drug and Alcohol’ service users would not be as well read as this particular bunch turned out to be. This left me after the first session pretty blown away, and feeling like I lagged behind and had little to offer into the general discussion of the group (maybe this was more of a mental thing?). After two whole years at The Reader Organisation, twinned with a lot of life experience, I should have been a regular contributor to the group from day one. Either way, I was content to just sit back and listen for the first few weeks.

Ray Bradbury was told that Farenheit 451 was the temperature in which paper burns.

Now, of course, I am the original apprentice and, as you know, already converted to The Reader Organisation’s style of shared reading, but one thing I had never experienced in this setting is a sci-fi novel – not one which is a beaming laser, silver shell suit wearing, spaceship sci-fi book… That’s not really for me as I hate Star Trek almost as much as I hate Star Wars! I look at it like this: what complete and utter jargon (no offence Star Wars fans). Anyway, Fahrenheit 451 is less of a Sci-Fi book and more of a prediction book… Though at the time it was seen as a science fiction novel, reading it in our current state of societal affairs, however, it is clear that science fiction hath turned into science fact.

To be fair, I’m quite the conspiracy theorist and love the chance to sit there with 5, 6, or 7 people all with a vast array of experience and knowledge and listen to them say things like “The government are dumbing down society”. True. “We no longer sit around the fire and eat meals together.” True!  Or maybe the slightly more crazy, “I threw a brick through the Conservative Club window, I’ve always been a rebel.” (Well I don’t know what to say about this guy only that he reminds me of my grumpy Granddad.)

The fact is we’re sitting down safely, and the book is giving us the tools to talk to each other about the things which I think society needs to shout about. There we are, a small group huddled in a small room, about to start a political revolution, debating the very fabric of society which can be blamed for some of our group’s problems.

My best part of the book is when Montag (the main character) joins up with some like-minded people towards the end, and one of them turns to Montag and says:

“When we forget how close the wilderness is in the night, my grandpa said, “Some day it will come in and get us, for we will have forgotten how terrible and real it can be. You see?” Grandfather’s been dead all these years, but if you lifted my skull, by God, in the convolutions of my brain you’d find the big ridges of his thumbprint. He was a sculptor. “I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” he said to me. “Stuff your eyes with wonder”, “Live as if you would drop dead in 10 seconds.”‘

This quote could have gone on all day. It was 3 pages of pure truth. So why are most of us guilty of just slothfully wasting our lives? Who even cares what happens in the soaps? Why must we live in luxury and sit in an ivory tower while intelligent enough to realise that the world is changing at an alarming rate – and going downhill while we do nothing about it! Who is going to stand up for those with no power? Those that are in power aren’t. So it falls down to us and our own people. It falls down to you it falls down to me. All of these thoughts from a simple book, a couple of hundred pieces of paper with one man’s thoughts jotted upon them. For me, a 23 year old young Liverpool man living in a city with mass youth unemployment and social problems, his words are more important today than they have ever been. So RIP Ray Bradbury. I hadn’t heard of him before this reading group but hopefully, if I’m wise enough, I’ll let him have a little small thumbprint on my brain too.

I recently watched a video with Ray Bradbury in it; it was the first time I’d seen him. I like him, I trust him. A lot of times I have seen authors and come away thinking “I don’t trust them. They don’t have that ‘essence’ or they don’t care about the common man.” I believe Ray did, I believe that he cared more for life and reading than most people who claim they do actually do. Usually I can spot a lie and I see no lying with this man. I feel that absolutely anybody can learn from his quote, “Stand at the top of the cliff and jump off and build your wings on the way down.” I am in the process of jumping off and building my wings right now! In our modern world not many people believe that if they put you on the top of the cliff you can spread your wings, but you’re human, and humans are brilliant with infinite potential and the more people who are trying to teach society about this potential the better! We need people like them to undo the damage done by the world we created. I mean a world where people don’t go out, watch telly all day, don’t grow their own food, let stubbornness stand in the way of family relations, turn to drink or drugs as a form of escapism.  Bradbury says we as a human race “have only just come out of the cave”. Is this not true? To use ‘only just come out of the caves’ as a metaphor for the roughly 8,000 years of true recorded human history, how much has the society changed in just a short period of time? We need to go back to traditional values to combat the whirlwind of change we are all caught up in.

Besides, I don’t think that this blog post was here to review the book but more just to push you into reviewing it for yourself and to say that if you love books, which you do, then you will absolutely love this book and especially Guy Montag’s evil boss – the lover of literature who loved to burn literature.

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