Three Americans walk into an English club… and this is not a joke! One of our most loyal native speaker visitor, Sara, has been stunningly eager to advertise the club ever since she first joined us. About a year ago she rushed back to her homeland after hearing Balázs using his late-night Scottish accent, but now she’s back and fully recovered. (The rest of the organizers are on the mend.) Sara has made our heart melt with one of her Facebook posts in which she explains how difficult it must be for anyone without a great support system to immigrate to Hungary. “TAKE FIVE – English Language Club has been my safety net for sanity when things seem rough…” These kind and reassuring words could be considered a present for our 6th birthday.
6:17 pm. The spotlight is gone forever, and there’s no way to replace the bulb. Only a spherical lampshade on the ceiling is scattering some light around the club room while half a dozen of lamps are timidly glowing in the background as moral support. We should already be sitting around the table introducing ourselves, but probably thanks to the unexpected deluge raging out on the streets, only a few people are wandering around bemused. What we have in common with TV series: every season begins with the appearance of interesting new characters. I am more than excited to welcome three newcomers. I’m used to hearing “oh, my friend told me about the club” from new visitors, so my heart skips a beat when Józsi tells me he just googled “English club Budapest”.
“The crowd is overwhelming,” said I to greet tonight’s guests. Balázs kindly encourages me to drop the irony. He is right.
What thoughts or feelings does fall/autumn evoke in you? We agreed this would make a good introductory question for today. The room is soon filled with laughter as most people associate this season with fairly depressive thoughts. The dramatic effect could be boosted with the pouring rain… if the place had any windows. I can’t seem to smother the urge to share my favorite quote from David Letterman: “Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.” A heartfelt giggle erupts from four people as a way of showing empathy towards the aspiring club organizer.
We have new cards for forming groups. Balázs very wisely pointed out that orange cards with only numbers on them are easy to mix up. Therefore, he created cards of different colors. We had to polish our negotiation skills to find the golden mean between practicality and enthusiasm. His original plan was to put numbers on the colored cards in order to provide a “multi-sensory experience” for the people. I suggested we should not get carried away with such luxurious dreams. Colors will be just enough. Era helps us out by joining a two-member group in one of the corners. Today’s topic is “ALL BY OURSELVES?”, an experimental topic about extraterrestrial life. We decided to try topics that rely more on our imagination than our up-to-dateness on current issues.
Balázs and I are standing at the bar. The door opens and she walks in: a lady with ginger hair and glasses. She’s no stranger, she’s our lovely colleague with whom we joined forces to organize a six-day English course a month ago. I’m wondering if she’ll spot the outline of Mark Hamilton’s dead body on the club room floor – a prop that served as an important part of our murder mystery game for the English course.
Before we go on a fifteen minute break, we announce the launch of an unprecedented TAKE FIVE contest. Whoever attends at least four sessions or sends us a topic during the fall season will be put on the list of possible winners. In the end, we are going to pick a random person who wins a TAKE FIVE T-shirt. (Something I didn’t manage to find after having washed all of my clothes.)
7:55 pm. Let the fun begin! Just to get the ball rolling, we bring back our “whacky invention” game, but this time the groups have to invent a piece of equipment that helps defend ourselves against hurricanes. To all language learners’ delight (that is, all of the non-natives), by this time there are three Americans sitting in the room. What an ironic coincidence that we are dealing with hurricanes. The selected speakers from each group take the hot seat on the podium to present their inventions. They never fail to amaze me with their creativity and exceptional sense of humor. One of the things is a ukulele which, when being played, generates a protective bubble around itself.
For the last 45 minutes we put on a storytelling show – a kind of thing we usually have mixed feelings about. The concept of one person speaking while an audience is listening does not necessarily harmonize with the concept of a conversation club. Nonetheless, this one seems to work out well as we have spiced it up with an interactive feature. The game is the following: one person takes the hot seat and begins to share a memorable summer story with the audience. At random moments, Balázs rings the bell and the storyteller freezes. Anyone from the audience can guess how the story is going to continue. We can hardly breathe as born stand-up comedian Jake presents his story of a weird girl chasing him with her love. It seems that Americans are here to bring our talk shows up to standard.
9:00 pm sharp. Let’s give a big hand to Jake! The podium is empty now. I glance at my phone and call it a day. We always take pride in being so precise. I thank them all for being here tonight, concluding my brief monologue with a modest, almost undetectable bow. Meanwhile, I’m very awkwardly trying to avoid making eye contact with them.
Where are we heading? I came to realize a while ago that running an English club requires an incredible degree of innovation and creativity. If we set out to be up-to-date with our topics, and we respond to several events as they are happening in the world, it is then inevitable that we constantly redefine ourselves as time passes. After six years of persistent (and at times painstaking) work, we have now decided to raise the club to a whole new level. From this season on, TAKE FIVE is diving headfirst into the world of charity. Not only do we want to donate money to certain organizations, but we also plan to appear at carefully selected institutes with special tailor-made club sessions.
If everything goes according to plan, the first such institute will be the Tüskevár school where I currently work. It would be a great honor to bring an extraordinary TAKE FIVE session to the school at the beginning of February.
Written by Zsombor
Ah, how soon the summer goes by. You just blink one – because the darned sweat got into your eyes – and another one (damned blinding sunlight, I can’t open my eyelids, my pupils will disappear) and it’s gone. But don’t worry, TAKE FIVE will resume soon on the 22nd of September! Don’t forget, it will be a special occasion:
our 5th birthday!
The name of the club is TAKE FIVE, so you can imagine what the fuss is about. There will be a special topic and everything. And speaking of topics: the Topic Hat is about to run out, so we look to you to help us! If you have an idea, don’t hesitate to send it to one of the organisers.
Until then, you have a choice: you can read the brief summer summary, or if you have the time, why not read the longer, creative writing approach featuring the dystopian apocalyptic future.
So, for the short summary:
The summer went pretty well. After serious consideration and evaluating several options, we chose to have the first occasion in Muzikum. We had no idea that we would like the place so much that all of the summer sessions would be there. But we did and it was a good choice. We always had a summer themed game: a whacky summertime invention, a summertime cocktail or a summertime photo album that the members had to act out. Also, the organisers got in touch with their musical side, and after rewriting the lyrics to Walk Off the Earth’s Little Boxes, they performed the new version of the song titled Little Mushrooms. Towards the end most people must have been on holiday, as there were a bit fewer people than before. But that was never a problem, and we had fun nonetheless. All in all, it was a good summer to look back on, and now it’s time to look forward to the autumn (or fall for those who prefer US English) season. See you then!
(you can read the creative writing summary below the pictures)
The FALL of mankind
The days of the scorch are gone. We get a few afterburns every now and then, but that’s about it. The long haul to the everlasting winter and soulless cold has begun. Say what you want about heat, but at least it has a soul. It lives, pulsates around you, and like most living things, it can kill you. But I’d rather die at the hands of something that at least gives the impression of life rather than just a passive destructive force, like cold. It’s not even destructive… it just forces out all life. Like darkness, it creeps up, non-threatening at first, but then you find yourself cornered into a small hole, and you know it’s gonna be over soon. Best you can do is hope, but all you can do is fend off insanity. Well, some can do it, anyway. Not all of us. But now’s not the time to reminisce. Now’s the time to try and do whatever we can. For whatever reason you can tell yourself. Tell it hard enough, you might just believe it.
We rounded up whomever we could find. As the deserts started freezing over, it became easier. Those that survived came looking our way. Of course we can’t stay long in one place – I can already feel the ground here getting colder and colder each morning. All life shrivelling up, becoming a frozen memento of what it once was. Soon that would be us. Unless we come up with something. If there is anything to come up with.
I was tasked with gathering information. Whatever information I could get my hands on: art, manuals, a kid’s drawing on a freakin’ fridge, a flyer for some club. I got some good stuff over the time. It isn’t much, but then again, my whole mission is crazy. It is meant to guide those that will come after us. The future generations, maybe the ones born during the fall, perhaps even children of the winter. You never know when you might visit for the first time. You never know how long you might stay.
This one thing I found, it’s really interesting. Reminds me of a world I used to know. Used to be home. It used to be warm there. It’s just a flyer, nothing fancy. Colourful background, mainly orange. It’s an out of focus picture of people sitting around a table, talking. Having a good time. Once there was writing in the foreground, but the powerful rays of the sun have seen to it that it become faded. All you can make out now are ‘IAK IV’. Although some say the first letter is a ‘T’. Whatever it is, it used to be a language club. During the days of the scorch it was quite popular.
I went down to the archives to find out more about this club. It was pretty much the same until, a few months ago, the name ‘Muzikum’ started popping up. Quite a few people visited the club. Their first meeting there went good enough. That place is pretty good. Dear Lord, back in those days you could go outside without protective gear. They must have enjoyed the sunlight and the warm. Letting it shine over them, heat their skin, fill them with energy. Like a loving caress. A warm hand running over you, yet untouchable. Before it became a strangling, burning grip… This club must have been doing something right. The second time they were at this new place they had even more visitors. I can’t tell much from these pictures, but it seems like they were acting out an imaginary holiday in three frames. Seems like fun. The organisers even rewrote the lyrics to a song and performed it. They also took imaginary trips to alternative universes, like a fairy tale or a superhero universe. How sweet. How innocent. Neither of those words mean much anymore.
Summer was a privilege back then, a time to rejoice and welcome the life it brought. We never thought we could have too much of it. After a while the sessions got homelier with less visitors, as if people were on holiday or something. Still, the club carried on and it looks like good fun. Sometimes they were inside, sometimes they could go outside. Their games are clearly of an era of hope. They always had something related to summer – a summertime cocktail, a summertime invention, summertime this, summertime that. I cringe from the phantom heat burning me just by reading about these.
Well, seems like this club had a good run. They say as the cold came, they moved underground. I suppose that’s as good an idea as any. Who knows, it might even make a difference. They might even carry on, keep humanity together with their English speaking and fun games.
I sometimes think that we won’t make it. More often than not, to be honest. I should be keeping hope alive, but… I don’t know. I don’t know if we can survive on the surface. It will become cold and unwelcoming. The rigid, uncompromising cold will take over, step by step, degree by degree. Those that are not frozen will have to endure for as long as they might, watching their breath billow away from them only to disappear in the chilly air. Just a puff of air, an ominous harbinger of what is to come. Of what will happen to all of us. Snuffed out by the cold, withering and alone, drained of all energy. At least in this club you wouldn’t be alone. If the cold’s about to get you, you may as well have fun and spend your time with a bunch of cool people. I guess that’s better.
I think I’ll go to this ‘IAK IV’ club or ‘TAK IV’ or whatever it was originally called. I need to have a look to see what would I find. If they are still there. Who knows, we may even see the sun again. But at least we’ll be together, no matter what.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the meeting of 23 July bears special significance. We could even go as far as to say that it is a milestone in the history of our club. At 5:45 pm Era, Balázs (wearing a kilt) and I were sitting at a table drinking and eating. Little did we know that in two hours’ time we would be surrounded by a total of 19 visitors. Era was astounded, Balázs was overwhelmed, and I was flabbergasted. (Later on we switched emotions in rotation.)
Whilst the modest crowd of people were discussing the current topic – Plugged In – we kept asking the same question deep down in our souls (and occasionally out loud): is this manageable? After a brief period of breathless deliberation, we came to the following conclusion: yes, it is. And our hearts are filled with joy and excitement. However, our heart rate tends to strike an unhealthy level whenever we remember that our presentation for the freshmen is yet to come…
Over the summer we have been experimenting with new places, but for the fifth session we plan to return to the headquarters. The reason is that the two bars we have tried are too hot and/or too small, while at CD-FŰ the climate is just perfect, and we have the possibility of booking the whole room for at least twenty people.
You will find the event on Monday. Until then, check out the latest photos!
We have gone a long way to becoming what we are today. The club that once had a hard time collecting five visitors for an ill-organized session is now expecting teachers from ELTE to join for the summer sessions and check out the fruit of our hard work. This post is here to present a few forthcoming changes and to break some delightful news to our faithful visitors.
First and foremost, we are honored to announce that a spirited young lady, Era, has joined the organizer group. We have long been in dire need of someone as, unfortunately, the two ladies who have been serving the club devotedly will no longer have the time to do so. Era began to attend club meetings a few months ago, and she fell right in love with it. We are looking forward to the refreshing collaboration.
The need for a new organizer has been reinforced by the fact that since the end of the exam period we have gained some popularity among ELTE teachers as well. One month ago Margit Szesztay, a teacher from the Department of English Language Pedagogy, paid a short visit to see what a club session looked like. Despite the noise and unpleasant climate, the genuine TAKE FIVE spirit managed to get across to her. She offered us a wondrous opportunity: the organizers are going to advertise the club in front of a huge crowd of freshmen on 17 September. What is more, we are planning to return with the fall season on that very day.
One of the most remarkable changes of this year is the newly introduced Summer Sessions series. We used to go on vacation during summers, but near the end of the last season, quite a number of people expressed their disappointment when we started to distribute goodbye kisses. We chewed on it for a few weeks and eventually decided to respond to the call. However, our definite intention was to make it look different from the regular fall and spring seasons, and for that reason we looked for new places where at least a ray of sunlight crept in through the windows.
The first place we tried was a café and bar called Kelet near Szent Gellért square, but as it turned out, they did not have air conditioning, and we could hardly breathe during the three-hour session. Apart from that, both the staff and the variety were fantastic, so we may even consider returning on a colder Thursday evening. As a plan B we booked a few tables at B-terv Café just a few steps from the corner of Király street and Nagykörút. Everyone seemed to like it. Besides the quality draft beers, they offer hot sandwiches too, which saved a few lives last week. The next session will be organized there.
On a more general note, the club is thriving and enjoying the summer. Launching the summer season has turned out to be the right choice since we are witnessing a growing number of attendees week by week. Chances are that the campaign in September will make matters “worse”, so we need to pull up our socks. Until then we will keep introducing new games, such as the “mock definitions” or the “funny superheroes” game we played last time. Please keep in mind that we would not like to use the Topic Hat until the fall season. Instead, we are bringing three new topics that you have sent us for the summer special.
As lieutenant Columbo would say, “just one more thing”: a funky idea struck us a few weeks ago and we are asking you to participate. The plan is as follows: we put down a list of questions like “What was your favorite topic?” or “What do you enjoy most about the club?”… or “What’s so strange about Balázs?”, and we make a couple of two-minute long videos with anyone who would be happy to answer them. This would serve as yet another campaign to ensure that we get flooded by an unbearable sum of new people in the upcoming season.
Stay up to date with our Facebook page. See you next Thursday!
With summer coming up and the TAKE FIVE season ending, it was clearly fate’s intervention that we ran into two of the organizers as they had just finished a class. Luckily, they had some time on their hands before the next one, so we decided to ask them a few questions about the past, present, and future of the club.
INTERVIEWER: So, how did the spring season of 2015 go? Was it any different from the previous seasons?
ZSOMBOR: It was much more than we’d expected. You know, we have a genuine formula that we use every time we gather. There is a more or less thought-provoking or amusing “warm-up question” which is there to get the ball rolling, like If you had a chance to go on a beach holiday with a famous person, who would it be and why? Afterwards, we fan out the tiny envelopes which contain all the topics with short descriptions and debate questions. For this season we introduced a “summary” part, which means that after the small groups have finished discussing the topics (two or three, depending on their popularity), one speaker is elected in each group. They sit down next to each other, give a brief summary of their discussion to the “audience”, and that usually gives rise to short debates. It depends on the topics, of course. The “What is art?” topic led us to tricky grounds…
INTERVIEWER: There is a game near the end of every meeting, is that right?
ZSOMBOR: Oh, yeah, the game. I have a feeling that everyone is looking forward to that from the moment they walk in. There is a selection of games we alternate throughout the season. If I remember correctly, the games we played in the spring were Alibi, Taboo, Last Letter, and a game we simply call “Nóra’s game” as she was the one who recommended it years ago. It always seems to work because it relies on the guests’ creativity. They all have to come up with a few words which, then, all go into a hat. And… I’m not gonna tell you more. Join us next time and see for yourself! (laughs) Oh, and I played two rounds of chess with Antal, but that’s another story. I hope I’ll have a chance in the summer to make up for that last time.
INTERVIEWER: The readers may also be interested in how the TAKE FIVE club has come to be what it is today.
ZSOMBOR: That’s quite an uninteresting story. I was walking around on Margaret Island in the summer of 2011, and I came across a sign on a post that read “conversation club”. They offered four languages. I became interested right away. For some reason, however, I couldn’t attend the weekly sessions, but as I kept thinking about it, something struck me. I posed myself the question: If you are studying to be a teacher and you already give lessons, why don’t you found your own club? I chewed on it for a while and then decided to give it a shot. Nothing to lose, I thought.
INTERVIEWER: Watching these old photos, the club looked very different. Is it just the photos?
ZSOMBOR: No, it was indeed very different. First, we started out in an empty room of an art gallery in the 5th district. The topics weren’t well organized, to say the least. Sometimes we just picked a slip of paper with “old music vs. modern music” on it, and tried to discuss it. It didn’t really work out. The topics seemed like those sloppy oral tasks from your language exam book. Although the special TAKE FIVE atmosphere came to life in the very first year, it wasn’t quite enough. I decided to raise the stakes, so to speak. I assembled a group of three organizers, including myself, and we began to work hard. We beefed up our Facebook page, created an independent website, and spent a great deal of time collecting topics. This was in 2013, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Balázs, where do you come into the picture? Were you part of that first organizer group?
BALÁZS: No, I wasn’t part of the organizers at first. I believe I started attending the club in … now let’s see, I’m always in trouble when I’m asked this because I honestly don’t remember (laughs). I think I first attended in the spring season of 2013. I was good friends with Fanni by then, and she suggested I check out the club. Needless to say, it was love at first sight, and I don’t recall that I missed many occasions. I was a regular club member at first, and then in (turns to Zsombor), yeah in the beginning of 2014 I became an organizer. Zsombor hasn’t turned me out yet (laughs), so I suppose I’ll stay on board.
INTERVIEWER: Although all of you were insistent on going on holiday, rumor has it that you have planted the seeds for a summer season. Would you mind telling us a few words about that?
BALÁZS: Yeah, we’re glad you asked. We are proud to say that the rumors are true, and special TAKE FIVE summer sessions will, most likely, be held. It seems that enough people are interested, which is always lovely to see. There will be a few changes, though. First of all, these sessions will be primarily run by me, as I can’t expect the others to take on this responsibility in the summer.
INTERVIEWER: And what about the structure of the club meetings?
BALÁZS: No major changes there. The warm-up question stays, followed by discussion in small groups, and then the game. The only thing that’s different is that we’re going to give the guests a bit more freedom in the choice of topics. They may bring articles that they find interesting, or just an idea, as long as they prepare a few thought-provoking questions as well. Or, occasionally, there won’t be any topics, but they will have to come up with something together, like a sales pitch for whacky summertime inventions. We actually tried this game once this season, and it’s a lot of fun.
ZSOMBOR (laughs): What was your crazy idea? A concrete inflatable mattress?
BALÁZS: No, mine was the palinka-based suntan lotion!
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like a hilarious game! Also, it must require quite a high level of language proficiency. What is the minimum level that you recommend for the visitors?
BALÁZS: We have guests ranging from A2 level [elementary language level] to C2, and I’ve never seen anyone snicker at another’s mistake or incorrect word use. Instead, they listen and nod encouragingly, which is fantastic to see. The most important thing for us is that the general TAKE FIVE spirit is maintained; a fun, inclusive group of people, where you only need to speak as much as you want to, and you don’t have to be afraid of people ridiculing you for your language skills.
INTERVIEWER: And what about the venue? I understand that lately you have been in a teahouse/pub, which is underground.
BALÁZS: Yeah, it’s a great place, but since it’s going to be summer, we will look for something outdoors. We haven’t actually decided on a place, but it will be all in the first event, we will keep everyone informed. So don’t forget to check our Facebook page!
Photos by Orsi Kutas