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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.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


A short stop day and very busy, 3 by 2pm, placed them all after loads of phone calls, it's the holidays and people are away or have visitors. Then late afternoon 3 more, I knew I would have to say no as I had exhausted the list, but one organisation, with 2 of them, did say they had other places of their own still to ring, so here's hoping.

I also failed to get the cooker cleaned, although I did tax the car and made a damson streusel. On the plus side I arranged to meet a good friend for lunch on Friday, she is off to Palestine soon, so we will have lots to talk about.

Will ring my friend this evening and see how the meeting with the solicitor went.

It's also grey and windy. Never mind, 2 weeks today and I will be on the train on the way to Cologne and the night sleeper to Vienna, then Bratislava and the High Tatras.

Must get myself into a 'count your blessings' mode.

please pass this on

A couple of blog readers have asked me if it's all right to pass it on, please do, even if as an example of how not to blog!

If you can link it to anything else that's fine too.

a friends' day in Leeds

First I go to my asylum seeking friend. She is incredibly busy cooking for a leaving party for one of the people who have helped her over the last year. She is blending a mix of beans, onions and tomatoes when I arrive, we laugh at how the blender is struggling, but how much quicker than a traditional pestle and mortar. She is so happy doing things to honour people who have helped her. Then minute fish bones to be removed from a very bony fish and plantain leaves to be chopped very small, I worry about her fingers so close to the sharp knife, I would never dare to chop like that.

In the middle of this activity a nun from her church calls with children's things that are about to be thrown out by another parishioner! My friend has a friend with a little girl, these are for her. I am most shocked at the box of Duplo bricks, at least £30 worth, surely they could have gone to a charity shop not landfill, but now a charity shop's loss is that little girl's gain.

The cooking continues, I am not allowed to help, so we chat about the food, my grandson having his plaster off and the party this afternoon. One low note is when we have a quick talk about her visit to a new solicitor, it will bring all the bad things back that she is trying to forget, the nightmares will start again. All because the charitable firm of solicitors she was with have gone bust, they and the government can argue about how and why this happened, the results for people like my friend are uniformly devastating.

We cheer ourselves up when, laughing, she presses some of the food on to me, I am to take it home and will have it for supper tonight. The fish dish and two portions of the bean dish. Yummy. How important sharing food is across all cultures.

Walking down to meet my other friend, the gadding one, I see an area of burnt out tarmac. There was little trouble in Leeds, but here some road bollards were burnt and a few cars mugged (so I learn later). I cannot condone the violence and thieving, but are not bankers' bonuses a form of theft? When I was young I went through the 'all property is theft' phase, now I am older and have some property ........................ but even now I do believe there should be a limit on how much any one person can earn or own, or at least a 99% tax rate above that limit.

My gadding friend and I have a lovely gad in the Lakeside Cafe in the park, and even mange a snack in between the chatting.

Home, and a Fair Trade group meeting in the evening, we are arranging a clothes show in September and need to sort out models, stalls selling things, refreshments etc. We have also decided to have a chocolate tasting and have a slightly (for us) heated debate about which varieties of chocolate to use.

I have to bike home on the footpath as I have forgotten my lights, however there are no pedestrians so I don't feel so bad.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

a yomping day

A voluntary ranger day and I had company. We cut back overhanging paths, only secateurs and a folding saw, bigger tools are too heavy and besides they could frighten other walkers! Then yomped across the moors, not much wild life, a few grouse, some swallows still here and a flock of very pretty black sheep, may be Hebridean? A couple of requests to dog owners to put their dogs on leads, PLEASE! Don't these dog owners CARE?
Then a field with three beautiful belted Galloways (they're cows!), two still slightly fluffy with fluffy ears, but huge.
Finished off the walk with lots of slashing back of bracken and nettles, our walking sticks came in very handy.
An ice cream from a Yorkshire creamery and home, quite tired, but happy.

Friday, 12 August 2011

please claim your travel expenses

Yippee, got my June travel expenses for Coasties, this time we had been warned they would be late.

Volunteeers should always claim their travel expenses, the organisation needs to know how much volunteering costs, and if you don't the idea will get around that you shouldn't and then only rich people will volunteer.

You can always give it back as a donation. In fact this can be better for a charity, because donations are unrestricted, i.e. the charity can use them in any way that their aims permit, a lot of any charity's income is restricted to a specific use by the grant giving body.

Most of my visits to Leeds are on the bus, with my trusty bus pass, but getting to remote parts of the North Yorks Moors is not so easy by bus, so the car it is. Still at 25p a mile it's not exactly making you drive if you don't need to!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

a good sort of cuts!

Today I realised that there are cuts and there are cuts and today was the good sort.

A bridleway to clear, barely room for a person, let alone a horse. The rain cleared quickly, then a bit of sun and so we cut and cut and cut. Gorse, willow, bramble, some larch where they really were blocking the way. Some especially huge gorse which needed sawing, all mixed up with brambles. Then suddenly a great view where a group of willows had been felled, over towards Saltergate where I had been on Sunday, some purple heather glowing in the sunshine with greenery around. One of the Rangers pointed out some primrose leaves, now exposed where we had cut back, the extra light will help them to spread next spring.

A most satisfying day, lots of light hearted chat, nothing serious, just what I need after a Short Stop day, that is satisfying too, but stressful as well. Coasties just tires me out!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

a short stop day and other stuff

Short Stop today, will be in, so have arranged for the digital TV to be delivered  (we have moved into 21st century) and some window measuring men to come. We also have people for a meal this evening, so I can bake (yes it's true) and prepare vegetables at the same time.

Two referrals almost immediately, the Refugee Council are effectively closed on a Wednesday so please can I try to sort out the guests for two nights. Quite quickly I find places for both of them for both nights, mainly because two lovely couples will take them for two and in one case, three nights. I worry that I might put too much pressure on, I always try not to, but all our hosts are such accommodating people that it would be very easy to pressurise them. One potential host can't as she has a family crisis, but we still have a chat about this and that.

In between, the frangipane is in and out of the oven (our own red currants), courgettes and sweet potatoes prepared. One of our guests doesn't do marrows, one of the courgettes has been a bit too long in the garden, is it a marrow? I decide not. My husband comes in with the runner beans.

I weed, for the umpteenth time this week under the dovecote, next year I have plans to pave this area. I am muddy up to my wrists when I get another referral, this time from the Crypt. Luckily one of my earlier calls has resulted in a host being available without a guest, she is still available, but please not till 8.30 as she is going away tomorrow! I check that it really is OK for her to host, of course she says.

An email from another charity in Leeds which helps my friend, they have found her a solicitor in Rotheram, yes Rotheram. If no one else can I will go with her next Tuesday, but then some one else will have to do short Stop. All these ramifications from the closure of IAS. If I do go I will blog on our visit next week, this is going to be so difficult for her, reliving the horrors all over again.

LASSN would like me to blog for them on their blog, I say  I can't as it would be too much pressure to feel I had to do a blog regularly, but  am flattered and delighted that they will link this blog to theirs.

Sorry to all my readers, (is that what you are?) this is a bit scrambled, but I wanted to do it before the food and the wine got going!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

my small society as a part of the whole

The Guardian today highlights the dreadful cuts to the voluntary sector, imposed by local government directly, but indirectly by the government, more particularly by idiot Pickles. My two voluntary efforts have been affected for some time now and it will get worse.

Here is a quote from the National Park press release:-
For future years, the amount spent on rights of way will be reduced with the aim of maintaining existing high standards rather than further improvement.
 From 2013, only the very highest priority work on the definitive map of rights of way will take place.

These rights of ways are statutory paths, walking is good for physical and mental health, but there is no choice as the money won't be there. Already none of the volunteer groups are taking on more people as there are not enough paid staff to safely supervise more of us. So, however much you feel moved to be part of The Big Society please don't try to do it with the North York Moors National Park. Don't blame them, this wasn't part of their planning.

I had hoped that a mark of a civilised society would be how we treated people like asylum seekers who flee from hardships we cannot even imagine, but not so. LASSN, like other charities trying to help asylum seekers, has lost funding this year from a variety of sources. Wonderful individual donors have rallied round, but with the cost of living increasing for how much longer?

I am not sorry that this is bit of a rant, the idea that vulnerable people and vulnerable countryside can be help together by the people equivalent of a small sticking plaster when a proper plaster cast is required is just laughable, or it would be if it wasn't so tragic. These organisations did not borrow money beyond their means, or live a life of bonuses, yet they are taking the punishment.

Monday, 1 August 2011

3 referrals, a good MOT and no Coasties

A busy referral day, 3, all in the space of an hour. All are eventually placed, but with a few regular hosts away I was getting a bit worried. It's the first time I've done Short Stop during Ramadan and with sunset still quite late it's a long day, but the relevant hosts are OK with a late night snack for their guest to break their fast. While I wait for more calls, there are none, I do some gardening and chat to neighbours.

Yippee, my car passes its MOT with no need for any work! I don't need it for LASSN, but I do for my volunteering with the Park. However, Coasties is as far away as it can be tomorrow, I also have family reasons tugging me to stay at home, so I email my absence and apologies. Easy for a volunteer to do, especially as I am not letting an individual down, if it was paid work I would have gone. I like to think the group will miss me, but that is vanity, none of us is indispensable.