Some of the more cynical amongst you may suggest that founding such a group was really only a thin excuse for being able to sit around drinking too much red wine, talking the kind of nonsense that only groups of men can muster, and generally attempting to bring a veneer of respectability to a drinking club. My wife may have some sympathy with that cynicism, however, and there's no doubt that our monthly (or thereabouts) meetings aren’t entirely given over to the cerebral analysis of the finer points of literature; there's very much a social element too.
One of the best things about the group is that we take turns choosing the book of the month and so we’ve now read 126 books ranging from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ to Tolstoy's 'War and Peace', and including some Ken Follett, Kate Atkinson, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley's Gothic horror, ‘Frankenstein’. However, one of the things that has struck me is how biographies and autobiographies of some of the most apparently unlikely people can contain some of the most interesting and philosophical nuggets. The life of Harold Larwood, the ‘bodyline’ fast-bowler is one of them, and Chris Evans is another. Although Chris Evans’ autobiographies weren’t strictly book-group choices, I read them partly because I enjoyed ‘book-group’ autobiographies so much, partly because I used to enjoy listening to Chris Evans every morning on Radio 2, partly because I too am blessed with the same hair colour as him, and partly because in 2000 I completed a corporate transaction in London with one of the lawyers who had very recently advised Chris Evans when he sold Ginger Media Group to SMG plc for £225m. The lawyer couldn't have been more fulsome in his praise of Chris Evans, who at the time was getting much media attention for his antics away from TV and radio; the lawyer said that Chris Evans was one of the most astute, knowledgeable and fun clients he’d ever worked with, and that in spite of his public persona, the Ginger One didn't miss a trick when it came to the ins and outs of a large corporate deal. That thought has stuck with me ever since.
If you’ve never read Chris Evans’ first autobiography, ‘It’s Not What You Think’, I can highly recommend it. Each chapter starts with a list of the Top 10 of something, including ‘Top 10 Bosses I’ve Worked For’ and ‘Top 10 Schoolboy Errors’. However, one of the lists that jumped out at me was ‘Top 10 Things to Take to a Meeting if You Think You are Going to get Shafted’. At number one, is ‘A lawyer’. Some of the other 9 include ‘A walk-away figure’, ‘Self-control’, ‘A plan’ and ‘Perspective’. I couldn’t agree more. I was also interested by ‘Top 10 Things that Help Get a Deal Done’, which include ‘Timing’, ‘Groundwork’, ‘Honesty’, ‘Holding your nerve’ and ‘Money in place’. Again, those are all absolutely spot on. However, the number one piece of advice in Chris Evans’ ‘Top 10 Best Bits of Advice’ is ‘Don’t sign it’. As he says, “No matter what ‘it’ is - unless you've thought it through and you're one gazillion per cent sure 'it' is what you ‘want’ or what you ‘need’ – there is no sense in signing anything. Things can always be signed but they can never be unsigned.”
As someone who has spent the last 30 years helping clients with a wide variety of corporate and commercial transactions it seems bizarre that one of the best summaries I have read of how to run such a transaction was written by a man who many remember best for his drinking exploits with Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne, but such is life. Incidentally, another excellent autobiography is ‘Failure is Not an Option’ by Gene Kranz. Mr Kranz is perhaps best known for his role as lead Flight Director during NASA's near-fatal Apollo 13 Moon mission, but he was also a Flight Director throughout all of the Gemini and Apollo missions and is a bit of a hero of mine. I suspect neither the Ginger One nor Mr Kranz read this blog, but if they do happen to see it and would like to join a book group in Edinburgh, we’d be delighted to welcome them to the fold.
If you aren't currently a big reader but would like some encouragement to read more, I’d highly recommend joining a book group comprising a few old friends. You really won’t regret it.