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.