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Friday, 23 December 2011

another reporting and probably the final post for 2011

Yesterday I went with my friend to the UKBA offices in Leeds to 'report'. This proves that she is still alive and still in Leeds, heaven forbid she should move else where. The staff individually try to be kind, but the fact is that if it is decided that you should be deported that this is where they take you from, they don't have to look for you, as you are there waiting. Never mind that it has been agreed that for what ever reason you can't be returned, your health, the state of your original country, the bottom line is that you don't, yet, have the right to stay, so the terror mounts. I have seen it in my friend, and my previous friends, and I almost feel it too, the shaking, the constricting throat, the inability to speak or think coherently, but I don't need to, I have a British passport. My passport though is almost an act of luck, my Indian father chose British citizenship the year before I was born, my British mother was always entitled to one, such are the accidents of birth and choice and place.
Actually I like the fact that my passport is firstly a European Union passport, the wording is small, but it is the top line on the cover!

Probably this is the last post of this year. My family arrives next week, so, as I have posted before, we volunteers can and do give it all up just as and when we choose. Which is why my small society can, and never should, replace quality, paid for public service.
new life in the

last year, lighting up
the shortest day


A couple of cheery photos (well I think so). This year we will first light the candles tomorrow; these doves now probably have babies of their own! May have to get another dovecote in the spring.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

re-cycling: beds in Leeds and industrial spoil on the Cleveland Way

Yesterday was my day co-ordinating Short Stop for LASSN,, so thus the re-cycling beds. Many of our hosts have a different guest on two or more consecutive nights, in one of the big shared houses if one of the hosts is away guests may even use their rooms. I had two requests yesterday and after several phone calls managed to place both of them, people are away or out and are really concerned that they can't help. One man answers his phone full of apologies, he is in Poland and has forgotten to let LASSN know, never mind I tell him, last time he was in Spain!

Before and after the calls I decorate our tree, including the candles, which this year are actually labelled as tree candles! We will have the first burn on Saturday and then see how the candles go; need to save a set for the family next week.

Today was Coasties. The Park,, is now responsible for all the Cleveland Way maintenance and that was our task for today. We were right on the coast, in fact we actually walked along the beach, at Skinningrove, not actually in the Park, but we Coasties get around. We were cleaning, repairing and re-stoning steps; thus the re-cycling, this time of industrial waste from the old ironstone mines, piled in huge heaps above the sand dunes. The waste was just the right size to re-stone the cleaned steps, much better than bringing in new material. Lunch at the local fish and chip cafe, mulled wine and mince pies completed the festive meal. (On the way home I ate my fruit and pretended to be healthy). Another feeling of satisfaction at a job well done, we slide down the dunes like kids in a playground and back to the mini-bus.

the spoil heap,
can you see my
pink gloves?

the spoil now on the
steps, much more useful

Monday, 19 December 2011

well, my secular comments are proving popular

My most recent post, 'Just because I'm secular......' has had the most page views of any of my posts so far. Interesting.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

just because I'm secular doesn't mean I don't know right from wrong!

When a 10 year old asked me how I could be good if I didn't believe in God I was prepared to explain to her, when the Prime Minister asks a similar question I really do wonder where he is coming from! This from the man who is about to preside over the largest increase in child poverty in over 60 years. I could go on, but a couple of glasses of red wine might make my arguments less than coherent. All I would say to David Cameron and his cronies is this, my small society exists because I was brought up to help people who had less than me in many ways, not just in monetary terms; and that I was expected to be kind to people. Not because a god told me to, but because my conscience told me to. As I said to that 10 year old, hell is not a burning furnace under the ground it is inside you when you have done the wrong thing.

Here endeth today's lesson.

Friday, 16 December 2011

my smallsociety goes national, well northerner

So exciting, well it is for me, once a month the online Guardian, The Northerner, is going to take an edition of my blog!    So now you can read all about it twice.

Seriously though, I am hoping that the local charities I volunteer with may get some positive spin off from the extra exposure; also that the sometimes serious comments I make about the need for paid, professional back up that all volunteers need will be noted by those mysterious powers that be. On that note many thanks to the NYMNP staff who got expenses sorted before Christmas, thanks when it's due.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

quick short stop solutions

Well, the quickest placements for Short Stop I've ever done. Three referrals, one a couple which is always harder, three phone calls for them, one for the next and then someone rings me back and can take the third one. Someone else then rings me back and says they already have a visitor tonight, but if I am desperate................... lovely people.

LASSN do the organising and one of my good (phone) friends from PAFRAS has made two of the referrals.                             

It is miserable where I live, some fifty miles east of Leeds, must be miserable there too, so I am doubly glad that four more people have a warm place for the night.

Meanwhile, multi tasking, I have written a mass of Christmas cards, tried to sort out next year's holiday and planned a menu (how grand) for the friends coming for dinner on Thursday evening.

No Coasties tomorrow, we have a flying visit to Bedford to celebrate twenty years of the Marston Vale Community Forest, we were in at the beginning of it, the planning stage, nice to see how much has happened in those years.

Monday, 12 December 2011

cold and wet at the mill, a warm welcome in Leeds

Yesterday was my Fair Trade stall at the Howsham Mill craft fair, it was wet and cold, but a few hardy souls came and bought a variety of fairly traded craft items and food. As well as starting to restore the mill building the group installed an Archimedes screw some years ago and are feeding power into the grid; when installed it was one of the first in the country. Many years ago I and a class of 10 years old made model Archimedes screws and watched as the water turned the screw, no we didn't generate any electricity!

Here is the link, please go and see it if you can, this time next year they hope the building will be restored, the water wheel already is.

the FT stall in the unrestored mill

the Archimedes screw

For new comers to the blog I only link to charities or other non-profit making organisations and I only give recommendations to social businesses like Fairer World in York, who provide us with the goods for our Fair Trade stalls.

Got off the bus this morning to a warm welcome from my gadding friend (for the uninitiated she is my Leeds friend with the maroon booklet known as a British passport). More about my other friend later. We think we set the world to rights, her husband thinks we just 'gad'! We have a good lunch and set the world to rights; then I get the bus to SOLACE, an inspiring charity that cares for traumatised people from all over the world.

I meet my other friend there, she is an asylum seeker who has had a bad time and is now doing her best to put it behind her. We chat about her college course, it's hard work, but good stress she calls it; one day she hopes to work in a caring profession to pay back the help she had had, but first she needs her status. I remind her that I will go with her to the UKBA for reporting next week. More news on what I know will be a stressful time next week.
We then have lots of laughs about my grandsons' antics, I was there last week, she especially likes the "go way Granny" when the older one is up to no good. She then goes off to have some therapy to relieve the stress she still suffers from, later a volunteer leads a poetry reading group to help her and others in the same boat to improve their English.I tell her that her English has improved in the two years we have been friends, she is delighted I think so.

We were introduced by another local charity, LASSN, Leeds Asylum Seekers Support Network.

I have a chat to the SOLACE staff about the possibility of a trip to the seaside for their clients next summer, if finance can be found for the transport we will try to organise something.

Get the bus home, my pass has been well used today. A couple of good days in very different ways, tomorrow is Short Stop, which can be very difficult, fingers crossed not too many homeless asylum seekers tomorrow.

When I get home, do I feel a little smug, yes OK I do................

Friday, 9 December 2011

selling stuff

at a Fairtrade stall at Ryedale House, the HQ of Ryedale District Council. This is the third stall we've run there, just a few tables in the canteen. The council now serves Fairtrade tea and coffee in all their vending machines and also has other Fairtrade snacks for sale.

You can never tell what is going to sell well, in previous years it has been the small Divine chocolate bars and snack bars like flapjack, not so this year! Last year people were almost fighting over the garland Christmas decorations, this year I think I sold 4!

So what were the hot items this year, well it was the bigger Divine bars, the earrings and the bangles. People in a more healthy eating mood and a present buying mood. We took twice the money we had last year, so that is good for Fairer World, in Gillygate, York, where we get all the things for the various stalls we run over the year.

What was good was the number of people buying craft items who had specifically been looking for fairly traded items, the word is spreading.

As I packed up I sorted things out for my next stall on Sunday, at Howsham Mill, OUTDOORS! yes you read that right; I have my thermals ready and also some fleece lined fingerless mittens, easier for handling money. So if you live locally come along between 11 and 4 and keep us warm by buying our wares.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

if you go down in the woods and pink gloves

Back in Yorkshire after a week being a Granny and it's a cold and strong wind on the Cleveland Way near Hayburn Wyke, one of my favourite places to be working. I have some warmish lined new gloves, my last pair went over the cliffs with some blackthorn last winter and the regular pair protect my hands, but don't keep them warm; I have to put up with some teasing as they are partly pink! First we have an old fence to remove, rusting wire and damaged posts, some of them very close to the cliff edge (and the wind is blowing from the land!). It is not only unsightly, but the rusty wire is dangerous to both walkers and wildlife, two years ago I startled two deer in this same place.

After an early lunch we move down into the shelter of the woods. Stone steps to clean, ditches to clear and culverts to clean out. All on the Cleveland Way, it's a national trail so has to be maintained to a very high standard. Coasties usually work on it once a month. When I lived in the London I walked the Thames Path, also a national trail, that was three years ago, and I'm afraid they didn't have the same high standards that we manage to maintain in much more rugged terrain. Perhaps I am biaised!

So if you go down to the woods today, the steps that you might have thought were mud are actually stone.

All in all a most satisfactory day, good work done, sunshine, some beautiful scenery and good company. Sorry if I sound smug, regular blog readers will know that some of my volunteering work is much more stressful, so this is a lovely and welcome antidote. Perhaps all volunteers should try for the sort of mix I have?
the pink gloves on some cleared steps
the old fence, now gone

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

a big bonfire and can volunteers go on strike?

It is the day of the public service strike, I was a union member all my working life and would have been on strike today had I still been working, but can a volunteer go on strike? I decide that as we are working for the National Trust today, a charity, not a public service body, that I will go, no picket line to cross, some habits die hard.

Two big tasks today, a massive step and revetment job, clearly not for me! and loads of dead wood to clear and then burn. The National Trust have to get permission from Natural England as the area is an SSSI, all is OK and the wood is sorted and piled ready for the off.

the small stuff is ready to burn first
it's going, it gets much bigger later!

The fire gets going quickly, thanks to the skill of the fire starter, much practice over the years. We pile on more and more and by lunch time there is a big blaze going. The National Trust staff have made us wonderful flapjack and mince pies, then another treat, hot mulled wine, heated with the fire's ashes. It is the last task with them of this year, so an early Christmas thank you. We struggle to go on working after such a feast, but the fire is a hungry beast and must be kept fed.

At 2 o'clock we start to let it die down, then water is fetched from the stream and the ashes well doused. The climb back up seems much steeper than on the way down, but another good day, lovely woodland, some sunshine and good company.

Over lunch it is clear that views on the strike are very mixed, sensibly we all change the subject, that is volunteering.

Another positive outcome of my blog came out in a conversation I have about the possibility of some asylum seekers coming over in the summer to have a day with the National Trust on the coast.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

two LASSN days

Yesterday I was in Leeds, luckily it was not like today, pouring with rain much of the afternoon. My friend gave me a lovely lunch of chicken and jolof rice, as usual I ate too much and as usual almost missed my bus stop as I had fallen asleep. Oh dear the trials of being a volunteer. We had had a busy afternoon, looking at her college assignments, the maths is still proving the hardest. Most weeks she goes back into college on a Saturday to work in the library all morning, she is determined to pass the courses so she can continue to work for a qualification in some kind of health care.

Today is Short Stop, very frustrating, every one's phone seems to go straight to voicemail, but then several people ring me back at once, and I struggle to switch between calls, I cut some people off, but they are very understanding and phone me back! My old phone couldn't do that, it might be better if the new one didn't either. I manage to place three people, one, another pregnant lady, for several days.
The weather is miserable, I refuse to put the heating on, so sitting in front of the computer I have to put on another layer. I cheer myself up by looking at pictures of my grandsons on Facebook and then filling in my availability for Coasties for December. I tell myself firmly that I have nothing to need cheering up about and should be grateful etc etc................... A cup of real and Fairtrade coffee will help and some cookies I bought for visitors this morning. Too early for the sloe gin!

Just before I close down for the day two more potential hosts ring me back, this week I don't need them, but another week I will, all's well.

Fill in my expenses form for Coasties this month, 5 Wednesdays and an extra task, ready to post on the way home tomorrow. 

Multi tasking while I do Short Stop, sometimes works, sometimes not.

Small things cheer one up:- find a largish slice of apple cake in the freezer, ah, a healthy sort of cake to take to Coasties.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

it's steps again, after a coincidence yesterday

Two referrals yesterday, one is someone from Palestine, a coincidence because as I am taking the call my husband is talking to a local church group about his trip to Palestine two years ago; he and others from York and North Yorkshire joined a large humanitarian convoy and drove an ambulance to Gaza. Anyone who wants more details please contact me. I find rooms for the night for both referrals very quickly and once again am touched by the kindness of strangers. ( I know I am boring on this subject, but every week I am amazed by our hosts' generosity, I know I couldn't do it).

Today there is a slight hiccup in the usual smooth running of Coasties, the person who was to have organised us is suddenly unwell, so other staff re-organise their day so that we volunteers will not be left with nothing to do. It is a mixed bag today, a bit more wall repair, but two others do that, whilst I cut back at the side of the path and then spend the afternoon clearing slippery moss off a board walk and cleaning up some very overgrown steps. One of the others helped to put in the steps several years ago, he is delighted they have lasted so well. At one stage a very noisy group of cattle come to the fence to investigate, but after a lot more noise they leave us in peace.

Thanks to the staff who stepped into the breach another section of path is cleared and a group of volunteers left feeling a job well done.

three steps cleared, lots more to go
the ambulance that went to Gaza

Saturday, 19 November 2011

the thing about volunteering (or the spread on the bread)

is that it comes in bursts, then several quiet days, when I suppose I can catch up on other things, but really life's not like that. Everything I need to do seems to be on the same days that I am involved with the volunteering. Am also reminded of the discussion that we often have, which ever groups of people that I am with. Which is that volunteering, as we see it, can never take the place of high quality, paid staff, for the very simple reason, that we volunteers come and go; we take breaks when we feel like it, we visit our families, we go on holidays, if we are a little under the weather we may stay at home, we wouldn't have done that when we were employed. So, it's not the icing on the cake, because, much as we like it, cake is not absolutely necessary. It's the spread on the bread, because as my grandson knows, if he's still hungry after a meal, "I need plain bread, Granny."

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

a missing bus on Monday, a quiet Tuesday and then dry stone walling

I usually travel to Leeds on the bus, it's free, so I save LASSN my fare; however, after a good gad and then lots of laughter over my grandsons' photos and antics, almost an hour wait for the bus, one had broken down! Had it been the train there would probably have been an announcement, but bus travellers are expected to just wait in patience.Can it be because on average bus passengers are poorer, older and more likely to be women? Well at least I had had fun with both my friends.

Yesterday was a quiet day for Short Stop, just one referral, this time an elderly lady. I managed to make two more bottles of sloe gin, these are for us, and finished typing up my journal about our journey to Istanbul and then our stay there. A grey, damp day, not good for the spirits at all (and I'm not referring to the sloe gin). At least writing about Istanbul brought back the excitement of the journey and the wonderful time we had in The City, as it used to be called.

Today, however was the big excitement, dry stone wall repairs, something new for me. Coasties have done walling before, but I have always been away. These lovely walls are a familiar part of the local scenery, several different types of stone walls even in the relatively small area of the National Park. Today we were repairing a wall for a farmer who is involved in one of the schemes which aims to preserve fauna and flora by using traditional methods of farming, one of which is retaining dry stone walls rather than replacing them with wire fences.

We worked in small groups, I was with the Park Leader who showed me how to lay the stones and then 'heart' the two sections with small pieces of rubble. Four of us kept going, there was a lot of trial and error with different size stones; at the end another colleague joined us who had a really good eye for which stone would be the right piece for our stone jigsaw puzzle. Finally we re-laid the 'coping' stones and stood back to admire our handiwork.
one repaired wall, job well done

we are about to start work

   A good day for volunteering, but before any of you get carried away, remember all the paid staff who are required to enable our voluntary efforts to take place!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

more sunshine and wish I knew about fungi

Did a ranger patrol yesterday, the warm sunshine still continuing, by midday I had discarded my fleece and was noticing the insect bites I got on Thursday. How I wish I was really confident about picking fungi, there was such a range, at least five different sorts, from tiny pale brown ones to huge ones which glowed purple (I'm not joking) at their broken edges, unfortunately the light was too poor for my camera and the flash distorted the colour. Saw a beautiful flock of milking goats and this truly wonderful front gate!

I really can't say where it is, but I was on a public footpath when I took the picture!

Cannot show you the goats, they ran away when they saw the camera!

Sadly I then spent over fifteen minutes litter picking round where I had parked my car, all the litter within a five minute walk of the car park, obviously longer distance walkers mostly don't leave litter! If you can carry a full can there it must be lighter to carry it back? No cutting back at all today, stuff has stopped growing?

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Coasties go inland

Coasties have left their normal seaside habitat for a trip to Goathland; yesterday and today, with members of other volunteer groups, we have repaired steps, cleared overhanging foliage and cut a way through woodland for a new fence. Although we mostly prefer the coastal areas that we usually work in there are times when our labour is required in inland parishes and so it has been this week.

As usual I opted out of the step repair and building work, so it was the new fence line that I worked at. A wooded hillside above a beck is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), alas some dog owners are allowing their pets to run in the wood and damage the undergrowth, so a fence is required. There was one once, so where we could we found  bits of wire and cleared a way along the old line, where we could not find anything we used our imagination; others more skilled than us will put in the new fence. The cleared wood was made into piles for insects and small mammals to nest and hibernate in. The sun shone and we ate our lunch on an old wall basking in the unseasonal warmth.

For a short while I was promoted to the carrier of the first aid kit, this could go to my head!
Looking for the old fence line

I'm sure it goes through here

Driving there I listened to the incomparable voice of Joan Baez, usually it's Radio 4, but sorry Melvyn Bragg, too early in the morning for philosophy. Some very appropriate tracks for my other voluntary activities, one on Mexican fruit pickers being deported from the USA after the harvest was in (the work that no-one else will do), and one, Jerusalem which always reduces me to tears, so I have to pause it until I can pull into a layby. I reflect again on the beauty of the autumn scenery and how lucky I am to  have the time and the health to do this sort of activity.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

the fruit cake

Although I say it myself, it is excellent, light, moist and full of fruit. One quarter left out to eat straight away and the rest in the freezer.

short stop, sloe gin, a fruit cake and a slow-cooked casserole

Another Tuesday, another Short Stop day, last Tuesday was a day to be in the garden and between calls I was; today is grey and damp so I set myself up in the kitchen. Only problem with this is that the computer on which I log the calls is three floors up, oh well it's good exercise. I make the casserole and two bottles of sloe gin before the first call. I know it's from PAFRAS even before the caller speaks, the noisy back ground gives it away, and today as well as the chatting there is a piano playing. They are based in a stone floored church, I've been with my friend and a previous friend who went to English classes there. A young man in need of a room, just one phone call to one of the regular hosts and I am able to place him, I ask the volunteer if I can link PAFRAS in, he agrees.

After lunch a second call, a young pregnant lady, not far off having the baby, needs a room. I am as appalled as I was several weeks ago when I had to place a lady with two small children. Even if she wants to go back to the country she has fled from, it is too late to fly, and enthusiastic as I am about trains, central Africa is just too far. My husband is furious and wants to phone the BBC, of course we can't, everything is confidential. But as I blogged then and it will bear repeating ' we call ourselves a civilised country'! A lovely person agrees to take her in and I stress to the referring agency that she must tell the host if she thinks the baby may be coming.

I live too far from Leeds to be a host, which is just as well, as to be honest I'm not sure that I could do what our hosts do, many of them week after week. I really appreciate them, so if they're reading this...............

In between calls, and whilst I prick the sloes, I listen to a radio 4 programme about the Church of England prompted by the Occupy camp outside St Paul's. I have no faith in a God, but many of our hosts have, and I do admire the Christian Aid moto of 'Life before Death'. When I taught in East London many of the children wondered "how you can be good, Miss, as you don't believe in God!" it did worry me how they might not be good if they ever lost their faith. Oh dear that's quite enough philosophy for today.

Two more bottles of sloe gin, that's the presents, next week will be for us. Then I go slightly mad and decide to make a fruit cake with the fruit I bought at the Fair Trade shop at the weekend. It can't just sit in the cupboard.

the cake
Yes, I know, proof of pudding in eating etc etc, will report back when eaten! or not.

Last year's sloe gin
A glass of last year's sloe gin, a reward to my self for a successful day; we shouldn't have to be placing asylum seekers or any other people like this, but as we have to at least two people have a bed for the night. Please note Palestinian bowls in the background, the small one about to be filled with Fair Trade Bombay mix, the best.

Monday, 7 November 2011

another ps, this time to our Fair Trade shop

WOW, we have taken more than last year, nearly £2100! We have very little expenses, as the Friends only ask for heating and lighting, so a bonus for the Fairer World shop in York, something to help us to spread the word locally and more people buying into Fair Trade.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Another annual Fair Trade shop in Malton

Today was the second day of what is now an annual event in the Malton and Norton Fair Trade group's calendar, THE SHOP. A transit van full of everyday and seasonal goodies, yummy food, Christmas cards, beautiful craft items, clothes and some musical instruments. We set up in the Friends' Meeting House and each morning a colleague and I tie arrows and posters around the town centre to advertise the shop.

On both days we have a steady flow of customers, many are now regulars, after shopping people have a hot drink and a piece of home made fruit cake and chat.

We all have a go at the till and one brave person uses the pricing machine.

I buy stocking fillers for my daughters and grandsons, as well as chocolate for me. I also get sugar for my sloe gin, demerara as recommended by my niece (via this blog!). I then indulge with a scarf, it's Fair Trade I tell myself, so all in a good cause, a present for my friend in Leeds completes the day's shopping.

At the end we pack up, load things into a car and walk wearily home, but a good weariness after a successful day.

Thank you to Fairer World in York who provides us with all the goods, as well as the till and the pricing machine. Do visit them to see even more lovely things, 84 Gillygate, YO31 7EG.

Anyone wanting to know more about Fair Trade please visit:-

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

thoughts from above Boggle Hole

Yes, for those of you not au fait with the North Yorkshire coast it is a real place, and very beautiful it was today too. I drove there and back by a quiet route through dales and woodlands blazing in the sunshine, and on the way back saw three fields full of flocks of black sheep. The phrase 'what do they know of England who only England know' came to mind, I would never appreciate the beauty of this part of the country if I had not seen other, beautiful and different places.

On the Cleveland Way it was the usual autumn task of cutting back the blackthorn, if only some of the plants in my garden would grow so prolifically. It was so dense in some places that for a while we had to put up with the noise of the chain saw. However most of the time it was lopping, sawing, dragging and throwing by hand, it was a year ago that I lost a new glove throwing it over the edge with the blackthorn!

A depressing conversation with other volunteers about the financial pressures on the National Park, the expenses budget for the volunteers under pressure, we only get 25p a mile as it is; and the full time staff having to take on more work, so less time to lead volunteer tasks. Once again one can only conclude that the tiny brained person who thought up the 'Big Society' (hollow laughter) had never really volunteered or worked for an organisation which depends as much on volunteers as the park does. It doesn't happen by itself. Heh hoh, back to the lopping.

it wil look better in the spring!
tidying up

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

ps from the GOL

Lovely, kind people. A third referral this time from St George's Crypt, a young woman just evicted from her accomodation can I find her somewhere? I do hope so. After four phone calls I strike gold, they are out but can pick her up from the Crypt and take her back to their home. The Crypt can give her a meal. All is not well with the world, but better for this young woman than it might have been.

the grumpy old lady in the late autumn sunshine

Yesterday I was off to Leeds, my asylum seeking friend now has courses all day on a Thursday (when I used to see her), but has none on a Monday; she still has loads of assignments to do, but told me she would welcome a break for us to chat. She was very tired, partly, she said, because she is determined to come off various medication, however the good thing is that her appetite is now coming back. I told her about my toddler grandson's latest antics and sayings and we laughed together over his bossiness to all of us. I promised her some pictures of both of them when I see her again in a fortnight.

To my relief she is giving up on the physics for the moment, a course that starts at 5pm seems too much for anyone. There is a further delay in submitting her new claim, it appears that her papers are 'lost' in the chaos surrounding the closure of her previous solicitors. Once again the stress is piling up, some of it the good stress of the college course, but too much the bad stress of the past memories.

Before we met my gadding friend and I had a lovely walk in the sunshine round the lake in Roundhay Park. What foresight Councils all over the country had when these wonderful municipal parks were laid out. I hope that trying to sell them off today would result in the same storm that arose over the incredibly ill-advised plans to sell off our forests.

When I am in Bedford with my grandsons we spend many happy times in their local park, again an inheritance from wiser, more farseeing politicians than we are 'blessed' with today.

Oh dear the grumpy old lady is here again! Still, looking out at the autumn colours takes away some of the grump. Thinking about Coasties tomorrow, by the sea, also lifts my spirits.

Short Stop today, two referrals so far, both placed with not too many calls.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

a quiet referral day, an old skill and some memories

Only two referrals by lunch time, but it takes several phone calls before I find a room for the young man from Somalia, a young woman from Zimbabwe is a little easier to place. His name reminds me of some of the many Somali children I taught in London. I find I still have the photos of the dual language book we made, and I remember my delight when I discovered that Aesop's fables are as familiar in Somalia as they are here. Here are three of the pages, the drawings are by an ex-pupil who was about 13 when she did them. We also recorded the books, in both languages, if any one out there wants more details let me know.

the beginning


the end of the race

finger puppets, the turtle and the fox

There was also a gruesome one about a lion, a zebra and that fox again!
The end of the story and of the fox
And the old skill, well all my socks get holes on the ankle bone, so this morning I have darned two, have not yet got a wooden mushroom, a step too far!

Blogging off for a week, as I am on Granny duty again, not a duty of course, a delight.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Sloe, sloe, quick pick sloe and a ps

Sorry could not resist, I have only been picking sloes for sloe gin for 5 years, but this year they were fatter and more of them than I have ever seen in those 5 years. I picked enough for 5 750 ml bottles, assuming I can squeeze 500 ml of gin on top of the sloes! Now just needs loads of sugar (Fairtrade). 

Had a lovely walk in the sunshine, round some little used paths and then along the coast and back by the old railway line, the easy way back, although I was going north and therefore slightly up hill. The solar panels and the small wind turbine on a property by the Ravenscar road were doing their bit for renewable energy, the panels catching all the sun and the wind turbine whizzing round. Lots of walkers on the old railway line, just a few on the coast.
sun and wind power
the view from the coast path

ps am not neglecting my support work for LASSN, but last week I had no referrals, and my friend is, I am pleased to tell you all, so busy with college that at present she only needs my support over the phone.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

"They shut the road through the woods..........before they planted the trees" Rudyard Kipling

Well it felt a bit like that yesterday at Coasties, we were shown on the GPS where the bridleway should go and so we cut and pulled and chopped and made a path again. Young birch, conifers which had self seeded from the ones planted as a crop in the rest of the wood, solid root balls of ferns, bilberry and heather. Huge trunks of fallen trees across the route, smaller ones rotting in the ground, everything more than a few inches high was cleared. Now we need a mass ride and walk along the bridleway to show that the path is open again and to keep it open, or else it will be all to do again in a few years, or as Kipling ended "but there is no road through the woods".
before we cleared the young growth
now there is path through the woods

Monday, 17 October 2011

Yes, the trains did connect

What a fabulous way to travel, go to sleep in Paris, wake up call and breakfast on our beds as we pull in to Munich. Then an Austrian train with the most amazing just in time information, maps, speeds etc all the way to Budapest. Another night and I awake to the sun rolling away the mist in the Carpathian hills, some quite poor villages, and at every station a smart station master standing to attention, the same in Bulgaria.

Two half days in Bucharest, masses of pavement repairs and an excellent metro, with interconnecting carriages and a guard, yes that's right, on the train. A really wonderful 'folk' museum and another one like the Ryedale museum, old vernacular buildings. An excellent meal, sitting outside, the heatwave continuing. The next day we arrive at the only station to truly disappoint, Sofia, a Soviet era, concrete edifice. However Sofia, despite more pavement re-building, enchants with very old churches, a mosque and a Presidential palace only guarded by two low keys soldiers. A wonderful lunch at an Armenian restaurant. Still the heatwave continues as we wait at Sofia station for the delayed train from Belgrade that is going to take us on to Istanbul. At every station until the border the wheels are tapped, why is it only in Bulgaria that this happens with such solemnity?

Even getting up at 3am to get our Turkish visas couldn't spoil the magic. It is light as we travel from the border through woodland and farm land, then massive new developments into the city, along the coast of the Sea of Marmara and then through the ancient, crumbling city walls and along still standing sections of the sea walls. As we pull into the station we realise that alongside the platform is The Orient Express Restaurant, the first of many cups of Turkish coffee.

Would we do it again, maybe; as long as we could have a sleeper not the final couchette, and if we could be a little more confident about being able to get a meal, not just a filled roll, at all the stations.

It was also a reminder of the past having to change money at the last few borders and having our passports checked in Europe, roll on the Euro and Schengen I say.

Istanbul? it was wonderful, a magical city to rival Venice, whose rival it was so many centuries ago.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

off on my travels, again

No blogging for a while, we are off to Istanbul by train, no not the Orient Express, via Bucharest and Sophia. Returning by budget airline though.

If the trains all work OK I will report back, so watch this space.

2 lots of stress but both with successful outcomes

It starts at 6am on Thursday morning when I get up to catch an early, very early, train to Leeds. My friend has to report to the Borders Agency, she is always convinced that this is going to lead to deportation and who am I with a British passport, a bank account and a regular, quite good, income, to imagine how she must feel. It starts off badly with both if us having mobile phone problems, but all goes OK (I can't say well,she gets too upset for that)and we stand in the sun to catch the bus back to the city centre.

Later that morning I help her with her physics homework and I enlist the help of some very confused other asylum seekers to show her my patent method of explaining the particle theory of solids, liquids and gases. (Perfected with excitable 10 year olds). This makes her laugh and several pennies drop about conduction, convection and insulation. So a successful ending as she goes off to college and as she puts it "the good stress of struggling with new topics in maths and science". I meet my gadding friend for a long lunch in the sun by the lake in Roundhay Park.

Friday, another hot and sunny day, the DAY of the Fairtrade Clothes Show; will any one come, will the models, (some one's daughter and her  friends, mothers of said friends, colleagues of group members and group members as well) all turn up, will there be enough/too much food? and so more and more questions in my mind. By chance I meet a fellow group member at lunch in the Kingfisher cafe, we probably make each other worse!

At 5pm we start setting up and those of us modelling try on the clothes, the organisation by 2 of the group is wonderful, nothing it seems has been forgotten. Stalls are set up, floats gathered, the raffle sorted and also the refreshments. Chocolate is broken up for the chocolate tasting.
Music starts, we have a rehearsal of how to walk down the catwalk and then the audience starts to arrive. Then we are off, in 2's and 3's we show off the clothes, the audience are wonderfully supportive, smiling and clapping. Amazingly no-one even trips, we even enjoy it!

Afterwards the refreshments seem just right, people seem happy, a good sized audience and a truly successful evening.

The clothes we modelled, all Fairtrade were from so many thanks to all of them, and also to Fairer World shop, who donated the chocolate for the chocolate tasting. 
84 Gillygate
YO31 7EQ

Thanks also to the pianist before the show, the arranger of the music during the show and the folk group after the show. (If you want a personal mention in this blog let your FT contact know!)

Finally we should be able to send a donation to Water Aid, who we agreed would benefit if we managed to make a profit.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

on the beach in the sun with a litter picker

Not rhododendron pulling as I had thought, but  litter picking on a beautiful little stony beach at Hayburn Wyke for the National Trust, Coasties works for the NT on their land in the National Park once a month. It was very hot and, incredibly for this bit of the coast, only a very light breeze. I am all for the National Trust at present, they are helping to lead the fight against the latest awful planning ideas from the Government.

Much of the litter probably comes from the sea, thrown overboard from boats or in the case of cotton wool buds from sewage discharges, the germs may be destroyed but the plastic of the bud lingers on, please put yours in a bin! There is some however which has been left by people picnicking on the beach, a stack of empty yogurt cartons for example. Oh dear, why can't people take it home! This beach and marine litter is not just unsightly but a real danger to all marine life, one colleague told me how she had seen the contents of a dead young porpoise's stomach, all plastic bits.
at the end of the litter pick

However the depression of the stuff we were picking up was easily balanced out by the beauty of the bay and the cliffs and the usual cheery company of the other Coasties. Some people were pulling out rhododendron and others were cutting back the bracken and long grass to make the path clearer and drier, very necessary where there are stone steps.

Over lunch we talked about the Alan Ayckbourn play I had seen last night and a couple of walkers passing by asked for details of the theatre in Scarborough where it was on, they were on holiday and thought a theatre trip would finish off their week really well.

on the beach
the view from the path

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

call ourselves a civilised society or the kindness of strangers

Short Stop today and at 3.30 the phone rang, a lovely man from the Refugee Council wondered if I could place a lady and her children, aged 5 and 6. They had been sent to Leeds from London by the relevant Government agency to make a claim and tomorrow, maybe, they would be deemed vulnerable and given some accomodation (it will be in a hard to let high rise flat). Surely the most bigotted must see that whatever you are escaping from must be really bad if you also have 2 small children with you. So we come to the kindness of strangers; of course they would take them in, when I said that there might be a need for a plastic sheet (the hosts are young people without children) that could also be arranged. I cried when I thought of what that mother and her children must be going through.

In between that call and others I gardened in the sun, cutting grass, weeding and clearing the pond of detritus. Wondering as I did so how one of the richest societies in the world could be like this. Only yesterday I was reading about the hundreds of thousands of refugees that Kenya has taken in from Somalia.

Tomorrow I will be pulling out rhodedendron on the coast, I can imagine who I would like to be pulling out!

Monday, 26 September 2011

lots of Highland cattle and some irritating cyclists

Off to be a Voluntary Ranger yesterday, the forecast had confidently promised sun, but it drizzled most of the morning and rained in the afternoon. However my new breathing waterproof breathed and kept out the rain.

A large herd of golden brown Highland cattle on Levisham Bottoms gazing at me through their fringes. Several walkers admiring them, but from a sensible distance as there were a couple of youngish ones.

Then the irritating cyclists, at huge speed down a steep footpath! I did not dare speak to them as they might have fallen off and then who would have been blamed? Even more irritating as there was a very clear sign at the top showing the bridleway quite clearly another way. Why do they do it? In Norton and Malton I ride my bike on the road, but more and more cyclists are riding on the pavement, I do my grumpy old lady bit and get in their way.

However I then had a lovely chat with a couple from the Peak District who thought that £2 for the car park was good value. Even in the drizzle the autumn colours in the valleys looking lovely. Wandered back through the Hole of Horcum to a late lunch in the car park.

After that a short walk down the quaintly named Old Wives Way and a fight against a very strong wind for the last mile back.

A wobbly stile, a missing 'dogs on leads' sign (I suspect removed by an irresponsible dog owner) and a broken finger post to report.

Agood day even in the rain, the sun came out on the way home! Walking on grass, even not all the time, was such a relief after the relentless stone of the Tatras.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

a busy Tuesday and a busier Wednesday

A first yesterday when I was Short Stop coordinating; a young man from Iran so traumatised that he could not cope with the idea of going to one of our lovely hosts, he would find someone at a drop-in or sleep again in the park. I worried a lot, but then had to stop or it would take me over and I would have to stop coordinating. Sometimes when I was teaching this would happen and I would need to remind myself that I had done all I could, and could do no more. Usually I can switch off fairly quickly, but not always.

So, sawing down trees today in the sun with a fabulous view at times was immensely cathartic. If I believed in corporal or capital punishment - which I don't!- I could have let my imagination run riot as I sawed and lopped. We were clearing a bridleway on the edge of the Dalby forest, only the oaks were spared, there weren't many and luckily they were far enough off the line of the path to be left alone. A lot of easy inconsequential chatter added to the relaxed enjoyment of the day. I came home via coffee and a delicious scone at the Kingfisher cafe in Malton (Fairtrade and Social Enterprise).

Then off to a meeting of our local Fairtrade group; we are planning a Clothes Show at the end of the month, I only have a small part to play, sourcing the chocolate for our chocolate tasting, part of the extra entertainment whilst we watch the Fairtrade clothes being modelled.

Race home to catch a phone call from a friend. A good end to a good day.

Monday, 12 September 2011

back from Slovakia and off to Leeds

Back to the routine, well sort of. Continung my public transport experiences, today it was the lovely Coastliner to Leeds, our fab local bus service; buses in Slovakia were cheap and well used, but not as shiny as our Coastliners, although out of the towns they went just as fast. Any way enough of this raving, my asylum seeking friend has been accepted on several courses at a college in Leeds, a Level 2 in health care, a maths course and a science course. They are now able to fund her, probably after a change of heart about the way funding works in FE colleges. However the fact that she has been accepted is down to all her hard work last year, she is delighted and so are all her friends. One of the courses involves 3 evenings, but this she says is good as the evenings are when she can dwell too much on her status and the bad things from the past. We are collecting letters about her activities in various communities in Leeds, to help her latest application to be allowed to stay; the list is amazing, truly she is part of the local community on so many levels. I leave her with a couple of her favourite pictures of my grandson in the puddles at his local park.

Then off for coffee and cakes with my gadding friend, we catch up on things from the last few weeks (we puzzle over why we have to pay for glasses when hearing aids are free), before I get the bus home. My bus pass is lovely, but I still feel that if we are all to share in the hard times, then we could pay something for it.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Render unto Caesar

Had not intended to blog until return, but as THE BIG SOCIETY seems to be in danger of being high-jacked by the Christian right, I thought I had better emphasise how secular my small society is; as the heading says 'render unto Caesar...........................'. I too can quote holy books, even if I don't follow them in their entirety.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

last blog for a bit

I am taking a break from My Small Society, first a Granny visit then walking in the High Tatras in Slovakia. Feeling very smug as the journey there and back is by train, actually quite a lot of trains.

gorse, gorse and more gorse and then some bramble too

A surprisingly hot day on the Cleveland Way, surprising as it had been cool and misty to start with.

The path had been reduced to well under a metre in places by huge amounts of gorse, amongst which was bramble, the nightmare scenario. Possibly only bramble and ivy in twisted blackthorn is harder to cut back. We hacked and hacked and chucked and chucked (over the edge into the undergrowth in the cliffs below), I once lost a new glove doing this so am extra careful now.

For once I welcomed the intrusive noise of the strimmer, it made the hot, backbreaking work a little easier. Several groups of walkers went by, all grateful for the clearing that we were doing. For a while as the picture below shows the path was totally blocked, we needed to cut a gap in the hedge to throw the cut stuff through.

Over lunch, on and around a bench with a wonderful view down the coast, well beyond Scarborough, we caught up with weddings, holidays and illnesses. I had brought a box of Mirabelle plums which were passed round and eventually finished.

By 2.30 even the fittest were exhausted and we did a final clear up and headed back to the van and then our cars. A final look back to admire our handiwork made it all worthwhile.

Free outdoor gym, a lovely view and some fun and laughs.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

ps something wrong with the background last time

I obviously clicked something I shouldn't have done in the previous post, so yes I know there's a funny white background, we can't all be perfect can we?

I blame the white doves, four today, sitting outside the window whilst I work.

wine, friends and good hosts

Leeds started well on Sunday afternoon, a wine tasting in the garden of my gadding friend, some new friends as well. The talk ranged far and wide, Palestine, religion (several), FGM, travelling and of course the wine. Then some good food and of course more talking; as usual I was told off for talking too much and not taking the wine seriously. Everyone there, it seemed, made their own contribution to their own version of my small society.

Monday morning on the bus to visit my other Leeds friend, she was cooking again when I arrived, just for us two this week. As I had dreaded the visit to the solicitor had brought all the past (that she had done so well to forget) flooding back. I tried to talk seriously about how things might get better, that didn't work, it rarely does; so I turned to joking and tales of my grandsons. Soon we were both laughing whilst we ate, fried plantain and omelette; she can't forget so best to talk of other things altogether.

She told me about her weekend in the Lakes, she and other friends from WAST had stayed in a guest house that belongs to the Society of Friends, amazingly I had stayed there last summer when I was doing the Coast to Coast, as a paying guest. They had had a lovely time including a cruise on Lake Windermere, thank you to the Quakers.

I had done some notes to give to friends and colleagues about supportive letters (the new solicitor's idea), talking about that also cheered her up, so many things she does in the community (her small society). We walked down in the sun to Solace together, they do so much to help traumatised asylum seekers. Talk to staff and other people there, eat some lovely plums and get the bus home. (It is the year of the plum- our Mirabelle is fruiting like never before).

Today was Short Stop again, luckily just one couple as I had to make several calls before I found them some good hosts. It is the holidays and many of our wonderful hosts are away, it makes me realise how lucky most of us are to know where we will sleep tonight. Even when I have wondered on some of our holidays whether we will find a camp site or B & B, the bank cards in our pockets mean that when, as usually we do, we can prove that we can pay for it.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

coasties and then an old caravan

Near the Mallyan Spout Hotel in Goathland is a very steep flight of steps, every year the rain washes away the stone in the steps and every year we replace it, last year it was on one of the hottest days of the year, this year it was sunny but cooler.

However, this year was to be different, a new plan that might (we can hope) prove more permanent. Sections of drain were dug, one with Herculean efforts at moving a very large stone. The steps were filled not just with small stones, but also larger pieces of local sandstone, see pictures below for steps and one of the new drainage channels.

Being of an unimaginative mind when it comes to engineering I laboured long and hard carrying the large and small stone down the steps to where it was needed; there it was carefully laid after further digging out of the steps. Along the side of the steps a sort of rockery was built and then covered with turf in the hope that the whole might bind together.

A most satisfying day, we all hope NOT to have to return next summer!
blocks of sandstone laid against the step board

part of the longest flight of steps almost finished

a newly dug drain and some of the blocks of sandstone waiting for a home

Today was one of the Park's information unit, to be found in an old caravan in the car park at Robin Hood's Bay; however the quality of the staff (myself and another voluntary ranger), the quality of the information (ours) and the quality of the leaflets and brochures is of such a high standard that the surroundings matter little.

Nearly 100 visitors came in, browsed amongst the publications, asked about local walks and cycling opportunities and chatted about the fossil display and where they could find some themselves. Fortunately my colleague is something of a fossil expert and could really help them, I would have had to bluff a little. We each had a stroll down to the beach and an ice cream as a treat. The sun came out and we sat outside for a while, admiring the view of the cliffs, sea and in the distance some purple heather.

Another satisfying day, a place I love and am proud to be able to help other people enjoy.