Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Bob Ellis has

liver cancer. It is something I would not wish on anyone. I wouldn't wish cancer on anyone.
When the news of Ellis's illness appeared in the Guardian there was a vile comment from someone suggesting that people would be glad if medical science allowed Ellis to give his cancer to the Prime Minister. I wonder what Ellis thought of that. He will have read it. I don't doubt he is still reading such things. He will until he can no longer sit up and read. When that occurs  his partner, Anne Brooksbank, will no doubt go on reading things to him. 
I first met Ellis many years ago. I was in my teens the first time. Another Downunder author introduced me. Ellis ignored me. He ignored me the second time too. That was over a decade later. 
The third time - was it third time lucky or unlucky? - he was forced to have a conversation with me and several other people. Well, we had an argument. He didn't like it when two other people told him he had lost it. He didn't like losing arguments. I suspect he still doesn't. I know I said very little on that occasion. Ellis was doing his best to ignore me.
Several years later we met again. We had to endure a week in the same hall of residence. He was at a conference. I was doing some research. He appeared in the dining room and was about to sit down at a table with people who clearly admired him. He saw me and asked,
"What the hell are you doing here?"
End of conversation. Well, I thought, at least he recognised me.
At the time I was still working on the literacy project. There were several people at the same conference as Ellis who were very keen on the idea. They would bail me up to discuss it and seek me out at mealtimes. 
And then Ellis bailed me up a couple of times. Once he came and banged his tray down at the table I was sitting at. I was with two other authors and the wife of a former politician. We had been having a lively conversation about something else when he barged in with,
"This bloody silly idea you have..." 
We argued. We argued several times that week. It seemed we didn't agree on anything. If we met now I doubt we would agree on anything. Our politics are different. Our literary interests are different. I hope I am a great deal more even tempered and polite. He has been politely described as "irascible" and "rude".
I suspect he argued with me because he didn't like the attention I was getting from people he wanted to have talk to him. 
At the end of the week he didn't bother to say goodbye. I didn't expect it. I doubted I would even see him again.
But I did see him again. It was some years later at another writers' event. He wandered past, then stopped.
"You again."
I agreed it was and wondered what he would find to argue about - my letter to the editor in that day's paper perhaps? I was surprised he had even bothered to speak to me.
He didn't say any more. He just wandered on. A little later one of the visiting VIP type overseas authors came across. I thought he would want to talk to the author I was talking to and was about to make my excuses and leave them to it. But then he said to me,
"Bob Ellis told me to come and introduce myself."
It was, I suppose, a typical Ellis way of paying a compliment. I never had a chance to thank him for it - and he would not have wanted thanks.
I know now I won't see him again. I haven't seen him for years. I didn't much like him or even respect him - it is difficult to respect anyone who is deliberately rude - but he has been an influential figure. 
And, at least once, he thought enough of me to ask someone else to introduce themselves. That was a conversation I really did enjoy.

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