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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.