Friday, 31 July 2015

The payback from volunteering.

In recent weeks, the York Press has featured articles on volunteering. Maxine Gordon wrote about opportunities in Pickering and Malton. York Cares was featured in the business pages.

I read a small item about York Hospital Trust asking for volunteers. I thought it was only the WRVS who had volunteers in hospitals, but not so. There are three hundred volunteers spread around YHT hospitals, doing a variety of work. Experiencing a personal ‘lightbulb’ moment, an application form was submitted.

This reminded me of a train journey in Spring 2011. I was returning to York from Gateshead, after attending an interview to be a London 2012 Games Maker.  The Games Makers initiative was not widely known at that stage and the couple sitting next to me were not aware of the volunteer army planned for London 2012. A goodie bag attracted their interest.

The man’s reaction was a surprise. It was one of incredulity. He was a business man in his forties and could not believe that there were people who were willing to work at London 2012, without being paid. He thought it was some sort of Government scam. I explained that having been impressed with the volunteers at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, I wanted to volunteer at London 2012 and didn’t mind what I did or where. 

As it turned out, my time was spent at Eton Dorney Rowing Lake, where I enjoyed four of the most extraordinary weeks of my life. By the end of London 2012, most people had heard of the Games Makers and were aware of our purple and pink uniform. People were asking to how to become one. Too late. 

After The Games, I thought about that man on the train and wondered if he remembered our conversation. Did he now understood the nature of volunteering?  Did he visit an event and see the Games Makers working? Though he wasn’t alone, there were many sceptical people. A GP told me that one his colleagues couldn’t understand why he wanted to work for no pay in his holidays. This was until the second week and then he’d been in touch. The penny had dropped.

My personal motivation is to give something back to the hospital that saved my husband’s life. While not having everything I want, I am fortunate to have everything I need and believe that most of us can help in the community in some way and not ask for a monetary reward.

There are numerous opportunities for volunteering, if you look for them.  Age is no limit. Working in historical houses, in gardens, the countryside, in transport, sport, cooking, sewing, reading, writing, helping people of all ages or working with animals. It’s limitless. Visit the library, read the local papers, look at cards in shop windows. This is a good place to start: 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill


Monday, 6 July 2015

Two consecutive, contrasting days: Memories of 07/07/05

I’ve often wanted to write the memories down, but never have. It’s not only the 10th anniversary that has bought the memories to the forefront, but the events in Tunisia.

Two consecutive days. The juxtaposition of such joy and elation with such misery and despair. The holidaymakers in Tunisia may well feel the same. July 6th and 7th 2005. Was there ever such a time in the national consciousness, especially in London and the South-East, when there were two such consecutive days? It’s that contrast that I mostly remember.

Those two days I wasn’t in London or anywhere near. Adrian and I were looking after two grandsons from Belfast, aged 6 and 3. We were staying in a favourite holiday location. Self-catering on a farm in Dumfries and Galloway, just outside Kircudbright.

Tuesday, July 6th had seen us at the excellent visitor attraction, Cream O’Galloway. The announcement was due to be made about the Olympics 2012 and I was hoping for a London vote. Not only did I want to take the boys, but to be a volunteer too. I listened on the small radio I’d taken with me and heard the news when it was announced. I have film of the boys in the adventure playground and I’m saying that I’ve just heard the news that the vote came for London and that they would go to some of the events. (They did attend and I was a Games Maker.)

Back in the farmhouse, we watched scenes of joy from London on TV. Such happiness. 

Wednesday, July 7th and it was another beautiful day. A day for the beach. The tiny village of Rockcliffe provides a delightful beach, bay and tea shop. A little off the beaten track, so not over populated. It was a perfect bucket and spades day and with the Olympic news, it felt a ‘good to be alive day’. A happy day.  A perfect day. There was no mobile signal. We didn't put the car radio on.

We returned to the house about 5pm. There was a text message from my daughter.

“I have spoken to Grandpop and he says Joe is okay.”

What did that mean? Why wouldn’t my son, Joe, be okay? And why would Katie in Belfast be in contact with my father who lived in London? What had it got to do with them?

I immediately realised that there must have been an incident of some sort and that it would be national news.  They thought I would have heard the news, whatever it was. Perhaps around where Joe could have been? On his way from Hammersmith to the BBC. With trepidation, I immediately went into the sitting room and put on the TV. 

I wanted to watch everything, but it wasn’t fair on the two small boys, so had to wait until after their bedtime. The next day, I tried to watch minimal TV, but even then the six-year old said, “Are those people still sad?”. I turned the TV off.

Joe had been on an, maybe the, Edgware Road train, but, unusually, had got off at an earlier stop to pay a bill. I’ve met several people who were almost involved. Missed the train, in the third taxi behind the bus, had just turned the corner…

But the images and feelings that remain are of enjoying a perfect day of pure innocence in one part of the UK, while death and evil visited another.

24 hours after most of London was celebrating, the joyous mood and lives had been smashed to pieces. 

My thoughts return to Tunisia.


I wrote the above yesterday. Today, at 11.15am I was in a car and when I put on the radio, it was BBC 5 Live coming from St Paul's Cathedral. I stopped and listened to the rest of the service and the chat afterwards. I cried.

I felt so sad, but my memory matches to the emotions felt and subsequent thoughts were numerous.

1. I am proud to be a Londoner. The attack was on my city and its people. A wonderful, cosmopolitan city. 
2. I travel through Kings Cross and Edgware Road nearly every month. I know those streets and tube lines.
3. I am a news junkie and yet hearing so much from ten years ago, made me realise how much I missed by just not being aware of what was going on.
4. I walked through Tavistock Square last week. It was a sunny, hot afternoon. The small park was full of happy people and innocent children running through the fountains.
5. I had forgotten until last night, that five years ago today was my father's funeral, whose life was complex and intrusive into my own for over 60 years. 

But mainly and overwhelmingly, I feel almost haunted by that beautiful, happy, perfect day on the beach in Rockcliffe. I am grieving. Grieving for the loss of innocence and the loss of ten more years of life. 

But at least I've had a life in those ten years.