Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Voluntary Life

I started this a while ago because people kept asking me what I was doing with my time.  As  I have been doing a fair amount of volunteering since being made redundant I thought I would let people know that, much as I would like it to be, my life isn't all chutney and biscuits.  Volunteering isn't a new thing to me, I have been doing it since I was a teenager.

After we had been living in  'the village' a year or so I got myself a best friend.  There weren't that  many other thirteen year olds around so we became joined at the hip and did most things together for many a year.  One day my BF developed a crush on an 'older man' which was quite exciting.  She had seen him in the street one day, was smitten and so followed him to find out who he was.  He happened to be the deacon of the village church and one of his duties was being part of the bell ringing group.  This information resulted in my embryonic stalker BF joining said group as a novice bell ringer so that she could gaze at him in a hormonal teenage sort of way.

Unfortunately, this also meant that I, as the supportive BF, also had to join the bell ringing group because she 'couldn't possibly go on my own and you are my best friend!'  So, hating every moment because I dislike the sound of bells intensely, I dutifully turned up every Wednesday evening to indulge in a bit of cacophony and watch my BF practise her fledgling flirting skills with the deacon who was a very nice and very married man and who dealt with the situation with great aplomb. 

This fortunately extremely short lived infatuation somehow put my BF on the radar of the vicar who must have felt the best way to deal with budding hormonal female teenagers was to keep them occupied.  To this end he somehow managed to keep bumping into BF and engaged in conversation she would find she had agreed to volunteer for all manner of village related endeavours.  This was all very nice and fine but whilst she was agreeing to do these good works she also managed to volunteer me  as well.

Thus I found myself, over a period of a couple of years or so, cooking sausages and onions in the hot dog stand, a sort of enclosed metal caravan affair, at the village fete on the hottest day of the year.  We made tea for the old folks whist drive every other Friday, a Friday for goodness sake, we were teenagers supposed to be out having fun on a weekend evening.  But then, we lived in a village, miles from anywhere with a barely there bus service that didn't run at night. The only thing to do on a Friday night was the whist drive so I suppose you could say we were at the centre of village life.  I have lost count of the number of stalls I  manned at countless jumble sales although I can still remember that dusty, musty smell that accompanies the emptying of peoples cupboards of stuff they have been hoarding for years.  We walked miles, knocking at doors trying to sell tickets for various events so we also kept fit. 

One  day 'we'  agreed to join the village 'entertainments soiciety' in a bid to encourage other young people to join in.  And so one Christmas on the second night of the 'Winter Review' one of my ambitions went crashing to the ground as  I found myself in front of many people on an empty stage. Empty that is apart from me.  I wasn't supposed to be there.  Moments before I had been part of a musical ensemble that had skipped off stage merrily singing a medley of tunes from the Sound of Music. Being tall I was at the back and being tall and at the back I was to be the last to smilingly skip off.   Unfortunately I was unable to skip anywhere as my hair had become  tangled up in the scenery of real tree branches.  Every time I moved, the scenery moved with me.  I had to stand there, smiling, until someone had the sense to shut the curtains and frantic efforts were made to release me without resorting to cutting my hair - I was most adamant  about that!   I would mention here that I  was  miming as I wasn't allowed to sing because people said my singing was dreadful so I was actually only there to make up the numbers and so I shouldn't have been in that scene anyway!!!  The reason for my predicament being that just before I went on for the dreaded Sound of Music scene  my hair had been partially backcombed in readiness for my next scene which was directly after. As part of an intergalactic beauty contest (it was the 70s ok),  my hair was styled into a 'tower'  and wearing  someones furry hearth rug   I was to walk down a few stairs and seductively invite the  compare to 'come up and see me some time'.  Because of my incident with the scenery there wasn't time to finish my hair  properly  and so as I walked down the stairs it all fell forward completely covering my face.  I couldn't see where I was going so my poised, sexy glide turned into a myopic stumble as I tried to part my hair so I could see through it while at the same time clutching my rug to me as the string holding it together (no expense spared with this production) broke just as I stepped on to the stage. I wasn't wearing a great deal under the rug so I really didn't want to lose it in front of half the village.  Having managed to negotiate my way down the stairs with as much dignity as I could muster I stood in front of the compare, opened my mouth and - nothing came out.  I had forgotten my line.   I had seven words to speak and I couldn't remember a single one of them.  After standing there for what seemed like ages with my hair falling over my face, my arms rigid at my side and my mouth open I shut my mouth and in a bid to remember my line I decided to strut my stuff round the stage for a while.  This decision served to highlight the compares  inability to ad lib.  His voice  continued to rise in pitch with each utterance of 'oh she's off for  a walk', 'where's she going' 'oh I think she's coming back' 'no, no she isn't'.  The more he talked in a high pitched panicky voice the more nervous I became. I actually couldn't remember  I was supposed to leave until eventually I noticed people waving at me from the wings and I gratefully ran towards them.  This was the end of my my involvement with the entertainments society and I crossed 'become a famous actress' off the list of possible future occupations I might consider.  To this day I have not seen the Sound of Music, I hate the songs and I can't abide that smug Julie Andrews.

One of the most worthwhile and enjoyable things BF and I did was to visit a girl slightly older than ourselves who had sustained a brain injury and was somewhat incapacitated because of it. Sometimes we took her out in her wheelchair but mainly we were required to visit her on a Thursday evening and help her dance to Top of the Pops, something she loved doing.  Not having much in the way of balance or co-ordination this required both of us holding on to her while she boogied away in her own fashion.  It made her very happy and we spent a lot of time laughing. 

Then important school exams started to feature in our lives as did boys, disco's and dancing and the volunteering came to an end.

Until I was in my twenties. When I was twenty I moved into a huge house full of lovely people one of whom, GH, helped in the local Cheshire Home taking the residents out for trips in a bus.  They were always looking for volunteers to help out so, under my own steam this time, I volunteered and off we went, the residents, GH and me.  Our trips were mainly to the seaside where we had a lot of fun. 

GH later married my friend PB.  Their son, F, was born with muscular dystrophy and my volunteering began in earnest when he was no longer able to get around on his own any more.   I held raffles at work to raise money to help buy him a computer for his school work and an electric wheel chair.

I have manned stalls at fairs, fetes and jumble sales for muscular dystrophy and other organisations. I did a sponsored walk for Brittle Bones in a heatwave, wearing a jumper and the most unsuitable pair of shoes ever (it's a long story).  I've gardened for the elderly and mentored the young.  I've baked cakes and made buckets of tea.

We lost F when he was 17, I went to uni as a mature student that year and then after graduating began working for 'that place' and because of  the studying I had to do on top of working I didn't have the time or later the energy to volunteer anymore.

Once I had recovered from the shock of being made redundant there followed the realisation that I wasn't going to be able to just walk into a job as not  only were they were a bit scarce but there was an awful lot of competition, most of it from people much younger than me. So I decided to return to volunteering for a variety of reasons.  I had enjoyed most of the volunteering I had previously been involved in, I needed to keep myself busy, it would look good on my CV and it might lead to an opportunity into the work place.  Also I had just come from working in the third sector and I wanted to remain in it.

Sorted I thought.  I thought wrong.  It took me a long time to get the voluntary positions I now have.  I couldn't believe how difficult it was.  I emailed people, rang them,  wrote to them and they rarely contacted me back.  Of those that did get back to me some had their quota of female volunteers, quite a few didn't pay for bus fares and I couldn't afford to pay for my own fares on job seekers allowance, some required a level of physical fitness I don't have and some had the strangest requests for information before they would even consider talking to me.  I didn't reply to the place that wanted to know my National Insurance number and the colour of my eyes!!!!

Anyway, I now spend one morning a week volunteering for the British Red Cross in the ITMS section.  I spend another morning volunteering at Seeds for Africa.  I sometimes do research for the local library and I am currently involved in historical research for an exhibition one of my old uni tutors is helping to put on.   I have been at Seeds for Africa for over a year now with the other positions coming along later.  None of it has led to any paid employment and I can't see any future openings in either organisation occurring, although ironically the people I work for got their got their salaried positions by firstly being volunteers, but unfortunately the current economic climate is stopping even charities taking on staff.  But I enjoy it.  I keep busy.  I feel I am helping and making a difference which is what I wanted to do.  And I have loads of fun at SFA.  Apart from general office work we quite often take stalls at charitable events to raise the profile of the charity and sell African jewellery which is something I particularly enjoy. 

In one of those  quirks of fate I work at SFA with LH who was made redundant from 'that place' eighteen months before me.  Isn't life strange.

Monday, 2 January 2012

2012 - the outing of the ostritch

I really wasn't going to do a 'review of the last year' and a 'look forward to the coming year' thing.  I really wasn't.  And I especially wasn't going to blog about it.  But I looked back to my first ever blog last January and noted that the optimism thing has taken a bit of a battering over the past few  months and my mojo has been lost and found so many times it's quite giddy. Also I spent the best part of yesterday evening in tears after speaking to a friend I hadn't spoken to for a couple of years and hadn't seen for even longer.  And I felt certain things needed to be looked at.

Said friend and I  exchange Christmas cards every year with many promises of meeting up which never happens for a variety of reasons.  In her card this year she mentioned she had had  a few lengthy stays in hospital during the year so yesterday I rang  to see how she was.  I am glad to say she has recovered from her ill health and although she still has an operation to come it is corrective and she is quite well.  She then asked after me. 

I hadn't mentioned I had been made redundant.  I tend not to give people I don't see regularly this information but I have had nearly two years of unemployment and it is becoming difficult to keep it out of conversations.  So, somewhat reluctantly on my part and despite my attempts to change the direction of the conversation,  we had a  discussion about my current state, my prospects and my economic situation.  My friend is a few years older than me,  a kindly woman who is generally one of the first to help out any of her friends in need.  She is also an unsentimental woman of opinions and  after twenty minutes of her views on my prospects I felt absolutely awful.  After the call I was almost devoid of any hope for the coming year.  I just sat in tears of despair faced with so many things I was unable to change  - my age for one. 

Fortunately I had the good sense to then phone my very dear friends PH and PR,  one after the other, who have known me 37 and 22 years respectively, know me very well and who were able to persuade me that there was hope and you didn't know what was going to be around the corner and every day is a new day and thus an opportunity.  So I went to bed feeling a little better thanks to them.

The past two years have made me realise how very blessed I am with my friends and family.  I wouldn't have got through without their support, kindness and generosity.  I try to remember to let them know how much I love and value them. 

However, in the early hours of this morning the bad feelings began to creep back and  after looking to my favourite blogs to cheer me up (making phone calls at that hour not really being an option) and seeing all the yearly reviews, I realised that there are things in my life that need to change in some way. 

Although it hasn't been successful - yet (see the optimism is creeping back), I am doing all I can to find employment (along with millions of others - which is the root of the problem). I also do some voluntary work which helps keep my skills base going, looks good on the CV and gets me out. So that is the outer me dealt with - apart from the need for money  that is.  But I need to address the inner me. 

Unfortunately the inner me is an ostrich.  I think I may have been one in more than one previous life so strong is my inclination to bury my head in the sand when faced with any perceived attack to my emotional equilibrium.  The last few years have been so very challenging emotionally that this particular ostrich has buried herself head first up to her knees. Which is very, very  uncomfortable.  So the time has come to drag myself out and  face a few things.

Firstly my health.  I am not taking care of my physical well being and that needs to change this year.  First and foremost exercise, fresh air and a healthy diet and not necessarily in that order. It is going to be difficult because over the past several months I have become reclusive and have taken to eating all the cakes and biscuits I have been busy baking whilst sitting in my comfy chair  gazing unseeingly out of the window and it's a very safe place to be. I am not a lazy person by any means.  I have many faults but laziness isn't one of them.   I have worked and studied hard all my life but the past few years both in and out of work have taken a huge toll on my emotional resources in different ways and thus enabled my ostrich to grow in strength. 

Secondly a change of mindset, attitude, outlook or whatever you  care to call it is called for.   I can easily sit here behind my keyboard and be very optimistic about what I want in my life  but it's quite another thing to actually put it into practise and push myself forward to possible rejection with regards to my hopes, dreams and desires for a different kind of life.  This bit I need to reflect on more.   I need to work out how to strengthen my emotional resources again so that I can go forward without damaging myself emotionally because although being reclusive is safe, it is not a happy state.   My inner ostrich is quaking - does this mean I might actually manage to do it???  

Life is scary but it is time to find the point of it all again.  To have faith that the universe will be kind to me and help me do it.  Am posting this now.  Before I get scared again and change my mind. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

in the interests of optimism

Sometime in October, about the middle of the  third week I think, I had a very strange  feeling.  I felt I wasn't going to like November.  It was quite a strong feeling and the desire to go to bed and stay there for the duration came upon me fiercely.  Although not very practical to do so, I do wish I had gone with my desire. 

At the end of October I hurt my back to the extent of being incapacitated for over  a week.  I have no idea how it happened.  One moment I was walking across the room and the next I could barely move.  My back was still a bit fragile when I then had a problem with my hip.  Further incapacitation resulted.  Then I went for an interview for a job I didn't get which I was quite upset about.  Then my right hand became inflamed and very, very painful (and of course I am right handed) I couldn't even press the button on my camera let alone do any cooking.  There was another health issue which is best not to go into here.  There were a couple of other upsetting moments too.  All in all - I think it fair to say - I  didn't like November.

However, in the interests of optimism, for of course this is the person I am striving to be, November has gone.  Done.  It is now December.  Time to carry on.   Time to find my mojo again.

And although sadly my hand is not recovered,  I have had blood tests and am going for an x-ray next week, I have found learning to use my left hand more a lot easier than I thought it would be.  So in the interests of optimism I thought I would see what I could do in the way of my favourite occupations.  And, although I  need to get a left handed tin opener and chopping vegetables is challenging,  I can still make biscuits.

Last week I made Rum and Raisin Oaty Cookies (my take on a Rachel Allen recipe), Ginger and Honey Snaps and Chocolate and Coconut Bars.  Once I started I couldn't stop.  I was giving cookies away left, right and centre.  And  happily, thanks to giant pink painkillers, I can use my camera again although I'm afraid I forgot to photograph my frenzied  cookie sessions. But now I've found my mojo again I expect I will make more especially as I am going away for Christmas and need to take gifts with me.

I may have to change my name to Lady Cookie.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Book 7 Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe

Not a lot has been happening recently as I have hurt my back.  I am no longer at the hanging onto the furniture and walls in order to walk from room to room stage. I do have a hot water bottle permanently attached to my back but it is getting better (pause for much wood to be touched here). I can just about get my tights and shoes on provided I have taken enough painkillers beforehand.  And I can sit at the computer for short periods of time.   I am however feeling very sorry for myself so on Saturday afternoon  I went over to the A's for a bit of company and to sit with MG while TJ and AJ went to a quiz in the evening.  I thought I might as well sit on their hard chairs with my cushion and hot water bottle as sit on mine and it meant MG and I got a chance to watch Strictly Come Dancing together which was fun. MG favours Jason and Kristina to win while my choice is the lovely Harry.  And isn't Russell Grant so much fun.  He is enjoying himself so much, it's quite infectious. 

So to take my mind off my sorrows while waiting to be collected I decided to make a Sticky Ginger Cake to give them.  Why, you might well be asking, would I attempt cake making considering getting dressed is a little on the challenging side but from the recipe it seemed so easy as it could all be done in stages in the food processor.   However, it's amazing how heavy a 500g bag of flour weighs with a bad back and just how much bending and stretching is involved  getting the ingredients out of cupboards and the fridge, actions I never really thought about before.   I had to keep sitting down inbetween ingredient whizzes and the fact I would have to bend to get the cake in and out of  the oven hadn't even occurred to me!!   Mental note - need to work on forward planning.  So it took me ages.  However, eventually a slightly burnt cake was taken from the oven and I had time to lay down in a darkened room before collection by TJ.   The cake was well received and quite delicious, once the burnt bits had been cut off.  However I'm not going to attempt any more baking until I am as mobile as I can be considering I'm me, so that just leaves lots of reading to do which brings me nicely to book 7.

On the face of it Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan is classic chick lit fare.  Thirty-one year old Issy gets made redundant and uses her redundancy package and baking skills to start her own cafe selling cupcakes and coffee.  Along the way she loses cretin of a  boyfriend and finds Mr Right, brings together disparate groups of people (especially the women who work for her who also find love along the way), sees off a takeover bid from nasty grasping people  and cafe becomes a roaring success.  A few tears along the way but smiley happy ending with all loose ends tied up.  Not my sort of thing at all. 

So, why did I love it so much and not want it to end.  It could be the identification with Issy and the redundancy. Having been there, done that, (actually still doing it)  I know how it feels however,  apart from that,  our circumstances are very different. Or, it could well be the cake.  After all I bought it purely because of the title and there is much, much cake in this book.  There are lots of cake recipes and I want to try them all.  I love cake.  I love making cakes.  I love eating cakes almost as much as I like making them.  I love giving people cakes and seeing them smile and I believe most things seem better after tea and cake (or alcohol and cake) and this is the essence of the book - cake, whether it was sold in the cafe or given as a gift, made everything better for everyone (except the cretin who got his just desserts in a wonderful way).   And nobody got fat. 

aaand   The Caked Crusader is given an honourable mention and has some pages of her own at the back - that excited me - I read her blog and she has made a comment on mine - fame at last. Cake and fame.  Glorious.  I highly recommend it to all persons who understand the value of cake.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Project Spectrum - September

I was looking forward to September and it's yellowness. 

Again I started off with the card to MG.  Yellow is her favourite colour and she was looking forward to the yellow month

Her reply to my 'are you going to do something yellow'  was ' I might do'.

This lovely yellow fellow was being used by the fishmonger at Whitstable Harbour to draw people in.  LC and I had a wander around the harbour and did indeed go in to look at the fish.  So it worked.

Golden flowers, again from MO's garden where I think she must have flowers for every colour of the rainbow.

And then I decided to be artistic.  This is the result of a whole afternoon of me arranging and re-arranging bits of yellow fruit and photographing them from every angle.  If I had one I would be telling myself  'don't give up the day job'.

AJ and MG made the final photographic decision.
And thanks to our lovely, short but lovely, indian summer there were still a few remaining sunflowers in MO's garden

October Project Spectrum is Aqua/Cyan but I might not do that one.  I seem to have lost interest a bit.  November is black and white, I'll see how I feel when November arrives.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Book 6 - The Tent, The Bucket and Me

This was my antidote to One Day.  I bought The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy last year but somehow it got into the wrong pile of books and I didn't realise I hadn't read it.  After I had read One Day and was putting it into the bookcase this book  caught my eye and I picked it up.  It's occasions like that which make me wonder if there is a benevolent universe looking out for me after all because this is the funniest book I have read in a while.  I laughed out loud. Real giggling, body shaking laughter which is an interesting experience when reading a hardback in bed at night.  At first I thought it wasn't perhaps a good idea to read something so funny before going to sleep but I only read a few pages at a time and I had some of the best nights sleep afterwards.

Emma has written about a period in the 70s when her parents bought a tent and decided camping was the way to go holidaywise.  She chronicles the disastrous  holidays they had in such an expressive  way that it was like watching a film.  I could just see it happening.  She says in her introduction that she has frequently been asked if she had made any of it up and her reply is 'Sadly not.  In fact, I wish I had.'

Emma was conceived on her parent's honeymoon in a badly erected rain lashed tent.  Her first family holiday aged three was in 1970 and consisted of collecting a doom laden Welsh granny whilst driving an extremely dodgy bargain car on the way to a strangely deserted  campsite set on the edge of a cliff in Wales.  A tale of gale force ten winds and rain, dead sheep, a bucket of wee,   a caravan with seaweed in the toilet and near death unfolds which is hilarious.  It is a foretaste of each holiday the family takes, whether in a tent or in a gite,  throughout the seventies, minus the Welsh granny who decides one trip into hell is more than enough.  These tales include a school camping trip which is just as eventful as her parents holidays and nicely  illustrates the confusing biological information a seven year old can hold as being true and the innocence with which they will pass this information onto a gobsmacked adult.

I love the theatre and film as much as I love books but I am not at all keen on farce, to the degree that I generally avoid anything remotely farcical.  What stops this book being pure farce is the quality of the writing and the fact it is a first person narrative.  It has the same biting humour that a good episode of Frasier has.  It is observant and being written in the first person the reader is party to Emma's thoughts and feelings about each and every holiday disaster and this gives it a certain depth and of course, it's personal. It's a book I will keep on hand for when life is being unkind and I am in need of a good laugh because I could easily read it again and still find it funny. 

And I am so, so  glad I have never been camping and I never, ever intend to start.

Friday, 7 October 2011


In need of some therapy I settled down the other evening to make Beetroot Chutney with the beautiful beetroot I bought at a farm shop during a rare excursion into the countryside. Except, after I had added to my preserving pan 1.1 litres of vinegar, 900g sugar, 450g onions and 700g of apples all nicely chopped where necessary, I found I didn't have the 1kg beetroot I asked and paid for, I had a mere 600g.  Ooooer I thought, oh well I will have to make it up with more apples and onions and see what happens.  So that is what I did.

Eight jars of 'jamney' and a veryveryveryveryveryvery burnt preserving pan is what happened.

I quite like the taste of the jamney, but then as I have said before, I like the taste of my cooking usually, so my dear friends L and B H have agreed to be Beetroot Jamney testers for me and give me their honest opinion.  I think I'm looking forward to that.

However, I am more concerned about my burnt preserving pan.  I  have no idea how to rescue it.  So far I have tried soaking it in warm soapy water overnight, heating it gently on the cooker for a short while, scrubbing with a brillo pad and three days and nights soaking it in vinegar. All to no avail.  The significant ex has informed me that I need to heat it at a high temperature and then when it's hot enough add a few drops of water.  Hmmm.  He does know about these sorts of things having gained a combined degree in chemistry and maths but I am a little anxious about putting an empty (apart from burnt bottom) pan on  a cooking ring and turning it up full.  And how hot is 'enough'.  I would have to stay in the kitchen the whole time in case it explodes and if it explodes what about me!  So before I attempt that piece of advice  I am going to go and get some coke - that would be cola by the way - I don't where to go for the other kind - and try soaking it in that.  I believe genuine coca-cola, as in fat not thin and not a copy, has remarkable stripping qualities.

My sanity is at risk if I can't get back to the theraputic effects of making chutney so if anyone out there has a foolproof tip for  rescuing burnt preserving pans I would be very grateful if you would let me know.