Happy Anniversary To Me

Tomorrow – 4th April – is the anniversary of what I consider the best day ever. Well…perhaps not the best day ever, but the first day of what I consider the very best period of my life. My first day as an international volunteer.

assduJoy of joys! I will be working tomorrow. But when I come home, I am going to break into the Lindt chocolate my manager gave me and perhaps pour myself a glass of wine. Only because, I want to mark one of the most miraculous things that happened in my life. To be one of a handful of single women, out of many tens of thousands of applicants invited to be an international volunteer – it felt like a miracle had occurred.

I had already been a full-time volunteer since the age of sixteen. I had put in at least one thousand volunteer hours each year and additionally worked to support myself on a part-time wage. But now at the age of twenty-nine, I was assigned as an international volunteer. My life was to be wherever they sent me from then on. I would no longer earn any money at all.

I don’t really get these people who go on TV and say they have always dreamed of being a popstar. Being an international volunteer is the best! The best ever ever! There is no other career like it!

I have no idea how this world economic system is planning to crawl out of the current blow it has been dealt. But if you want to get involved in volunteering – there is a huge amount of work to do. Best place to start is on your doorstep. There is a lot of work ahead!

A Rose Tinted 2020 Vision

2020 vision1.jpgWhat will next year bring for “Jack” and me?

This post I am writing before I go away to spend some time with my family during the holidays. Both he and I are going to tell our close family members that we have been “dating” and plan to continue doing so.

I am going to tell my family something they may find hard to grasp, because they didn’t want to hear me say it in the past. I am in love with him. Despite everything that went terribly wrong, I never stopped loving him.

By the time this post is published, they will know and will have had time to question me at length and understand what is going on. I have given it a lot of thought. I have been writing things down to tell my family. I may even take the opportunity to finally introduce them to my posts on CRUSHED CARAMEL.

lovely viewJack has an event early in January, at which I will be making my first “public” appearance alongside him. Sick with nerves? Oh yes! But I am keeping my focus on how much I love Jack. It am anxious about the challenges that will come. It’s not pleasant to be at the mercy of opinionated comments from strangers. My main strategy to deal with it is going to be simply not to look. I am just going to keep my rose-tinted loving outlook.

How will our relationship develop? I don’t know. The past few months have been so wonderful. I can only hope things will be equally as wonderful despite possible challenges. The big question mark in my mind is…what about our lives? He is still immersed in the lifestyle I led before I was victim to a crime. He is involved in all sorts of projects for various charities. He has events and projects (some abroad) planned throughout 2020. He has been asking me to reserve certain dates so I can attend charity functions and social occasions with him.

long road.jpg

But what about us? There is a long road ahead. Is it going to be even possible to merge our lives together completely? I don’t think I can re-qualify for international volunteer status. My head is still a problem. They can’t use me the same way. So if we were to merge our lives…he would have to give up international assignments, because they won’t split couples up (well, married couples). So…if he wants to stay in his purposeful life…we will have to continue to live separately. Or if he wants to put me first, he will have to be content with UK assignments only, which is all I qualify for at the moment.

2020 together.jpgIt’s going to be hard for him to make that kind of decision. I don’t want to pressure him in any way. In fact, I don’t want him to have to give up that life. It hurts to think of having to slow him down in doing something we both passionately care about. Maybe that means that it would be better just to carry on the way we are, so that he can live the life of an international volunteer. He already has an assignment in the Middle East and one in Central Africa in the next few months. I am going to have to get used to him being away for weeks at a time.

This is hard because if you love someone to the extent that you want to go where they go and always be close to them…the thought of having to live separately until the person you love is ready to give up the life they love for you – it is hard. So so hard.

I am just going to be content with what we have now. I am his caramel blonde girlfriend. I am his lover. Come 2020, the whole world can know about it. He is my lover!


Queen Of The Cleaners

Imagine being assigned the task of training thousands of young single men everything that they some how did not seem to learn at home. To be fair, some of the young single men were already proficient with domestic tasks, but an embarrassingly large number had not the faintest clue of what to do to in the clean and tidy department.

Now who could take on a task like that?  A very special lady affectionately called Auntie Margo by those thousands of young men!  She was the undisputed Queen of The Cleaners for decades!

For almost sixty years Margaret’s assignment as a full-time volunteer was training young people to be fully domesticated and useful so that they can be sent anywhere in the world and will know how to look after the accommodation they are provided. (Her first assignment had been in the kitchen where she cooked and baked for the volunteers). She trained them in all the tasks that were required of them if they wanted to remain in their career as full-time international volunteers.

Auntie Margo was strict.  She made sure those boys took their responsibilities seriously. Notes would be left to remind a young man if he had not done something.  If a young man was careless and neglectful on a regular basis, they would be reported to the accommodation manager.  He might have “a word” with them. If the young man still did not improve their habits, then the accommodation manager might have to ring the supervisor of the young man while he is at work (for example the young man might have a volunteer assignment as an electrician or a carpenter/joiner or a job in accounts or in the huge kitchens or in the garage as a mechanic) and explain that the young man should be asked to leave his work assignment and return to his accommodation immediately where Aunty Margo would meet him and give him a refresher training session in the domestic tasks required of him and the state to leave his room in when departing for work!

I think it was a fantastic arrangement!  Can you imagine if that was practised universally?  Being at work and having your boss approach you with the order that you need to go straight home and make your bed and empty the bin and pick your clothes up off the floor and then return to work at once!

Tasks included:

  • Making their own bed in the morning
  • Emptying their bins/recycling
  • Wiping their bathroom sink clean after washing or brushing their teeth
  • Using squeegee/cloth to wipe down their shower screen and tiles after showering
  • Washing their dishes, drying them and putting them away
  • Wiping down and drying their kitchen sink after using
  • Keeping their room tidy, free of clutter
  • Folding/hanging their clothes and putting them in drawers or in their closet
  • Cleaning/dusting/polishing/hoovering/mopping…all the basics of house-keeping!

Now some of the young single men had left their family home and were struggling to get used to life in London so far away from their family and friends. They may have been shy or lonely.  But there was always at least one person looking out for them and making sure that if they needed to talk, she always had the door to her house-keeping cupboard (which was an office and storage area) wide open.

I know many men now in their forties and fifties who say that when they first moved to London, it was Aunty Margo who made them feel welcome.  They made frequent trips to visit her and gobbled slices of fruit cake and guzzled tea while she listened to their challenges and gave them encouragement.

When I moved to London to become a full-time international volunteer, Aunty Margo was still working as a volunteer despite being in her nineties!  She no longer trained new volunteers, but she was one of a team of sixty house-keepers who she had been involved in training.  Each new volunteer is still trained by a house-keeper so that they know what is expected of them and they still have to take those responsibilities seriously.

In my third year as a volunteer working in an infirmary, we started to receive phone-calls from night security to say they were worried about Aunty Margo. Sometimes we would go down to the reception area at one o’clock in the morning and Aunty Margo would be working away with her feather duster and microfiber cloths polishing the glass tables.  Or she would be in the dining room at three o’clock in the morning waiting for hundreds of other volunteers to arrive for breakfast.  We kindly and tactfully helped her to realize the time and suggested she might want to rest.

Aunty Margo was showing the first signs of Alzheimer’s. Over the next two years it became obvious that it would be helpful for Aunty Margo to have more support. She moved into the infirmary and was assigned a team of carers to make sure she was safe 24-hours a day.  She is very energetic and powerful.  She loves people and conversation.  She loves singing and dancing.  She loves baking and knitting and drawing.

We had lots of visitors coming to check up on the incredibly popular Aunty Margo.  Even more memorable were the trips out of the infirmary (which were almost daily).  In nicer weather we often went out for a drive and went to animal parks, shops, garden centers, cafes or we took Aunt Margo to visit the house-keepers she adored.  But we took her to other locations.  She went to visit all the maintenance team (electricians, plumbers, joiners), she went to visit the gardeners, she went to visit the accounts department, the legal department, the garage full of mechanics.  She always caused a riot!

What a woman!  She brought all work to a stand-still as everyone wanted to come out and see dear Aunt Margo.  She loves people! She has the most fantastic sense of humour and it was gorgeous to see her laughing and joking with a big group of men, she would throw her head back and let out huge guffaws of laughter! And she would sing, and then everyone would sing!  The entire finance department would be swaying while they sang along with Aunty Margo!

This was her favourite song!  We have produced a video with hundreds of volunteers singing “Your Are My Sunshine” to play for Aunty Margo whenever we wanted to remind her of how much she was loved!

But Aunty Margo doesn’t seem to become down-hearted.  She is still going strong, a bundle of energy and fun, who loves people and loves life!  We like to take a feather duster when we go out, because she still wants to feel she is useful.  So whenever she can she will start dusting and polishing.

All of her efforts and hard work over the years are very much appreciated.  But more than anything it is her bubbly, vivacious, fun-loving, musical, warm-hearted, generous character that along with her dynamic energy has made her one of the most popular and loved volunteers.  I could share many many stories about her…I am sure I will share more (just keeping an eye on the length of this post) for almost every day with Aunty Margo was memorable!








Victorious Volunteers

One evening I had a phone-call.  It was rather out-of-the-blue.  Someone I had never met called me and asked a huge favour.  He sounded rather desperate on the telephone.

There had been a complete misunderstanding and miscommunication in a voluntary project he had been managing.  He was now very anxious because he had a charity event for hundreds of people scheduled and someone had let him down and pulled out of the pledge to decorate the venue literally at the very last minute.

The decorator who had made a pledge and then pulled out had referred the project manager to our main coordinator.  He had a huge team of volunteers who were skilled decorators.  However, he was not able to give any of his own time at such short notice because he already had other commitments.  Normally, projects are scheduled weeks, months or even years in advance.  His only suggestion was that the project manager ring some of the decorators and ask if any were available at short notice.

I was one of the decorators he contacted.  By the sound of things, he had not had much success!  Nobody was available at such short notice.  I was thoughtful.  Much as I have the volunteer spirit, I did have to hesitate for a moment.  I was about to move.  I was in the middle of packing all my belongings into one suitcase and one plastic box of lever arch files.  I had just been to visit my family to say goodbye to them as I was not sure how many months it would be until I would see them again.  I was due to return to the county I had been living in and then after a couple of shifts in a local nursing home I had promised to do, I would be moving to London.  I had a lot to do.  Lots of projects and commitments I had been involved in, now I was having to train others to take over.

constructionSo, in all honesty, the desperate plea from the project manager was something I did hesitate about.  I explained even if I could be available, it was not a one-person job.  It was a huge venue.  I could not do it alone in one day.  I said we need more help.  As he and I continued to discuss the task at hand, thoughts flooded my mind of how I first felt when I became a volunteer.  The excitement, the thrill, the satisfaction of learning completely new skills and achieving results I never imagined I was capable of.  The enjoyment of being part of a wonderful, willing team of volunteers who had such a joyful good humour.  It was not like any paid work I had ever been involved with.  I knew that if the project manager could muster a group of unskilled but willing enthusiastic volunteers then there was a definite possibility we could accomplish something.  I only had my own decorating tools.

On the day, I set off with three friends from the town I had been living in.  We drove a couple of hours and arrived at the venue at 6.15am.  One of our car party had volunteered to be a first-aider for the day because I was convinced that with a group of unskilled volunteers we would be needing a first-aider and first aid equipment.  My other two friends had been on voluntary projects but had never done any decorating.

When we arrived, we were thrilled to find a group of different ages, male and female. There were even three boys who had come on holiday for the weekend to visit some friends and who had been roped into helping.  One major help to maintaining the enthusiasm of the volunteers was the volunteer team who supplied breakfast, lunch, an evening snack, and rounds of hot and cold drinks and cake throughout the day.  Amazing!  Feed the workers!!!  Essential to the success of any voluntary project!

I knew there was only one way we could do this with one set of tools.  After a health and safety briefing, I explained each person would be given a task and as a team we would be like a production line.  I set a few straight to work with sandpaper in their hands, checking the walls to make sure they were ready for wall-papering.  Then two volunteers were given the task of the cutting table.  I gave them a training session to explain how the industrial wall-paper we were using worked, the need for precision, reverse hanging, how after the larger pieces were hung I would be asking them to cut precise measurements, wetting the back of the paper to the right level.  I gave them tape measures, pencils, cutting scissors.

Then I had a couple of pasters.  They had to paste the walls.  Then we had a couple of teams who would hang the large lengths of paper.  Each team was made of two.  One person would have to stand on the stepladder bearing the weight of the length of wall-paper, the other would have a spirit level to make sure everything was straight.  They had special spatula boards for smoothing the paper onto the wall.  One task I did not train anyone else in at first was cutting the seams in between each piece.  I decided until I knew how each person I worked I had better do that to myself to begin with (later on in the day I was able to assign someone that task and he did a fantastic job).  I also had some volunteers doing some painting and varnishing.

The process of wall-papering was started.  I trained others to paper smaller areas such as below windows, where we did not need any stepladders.  I asked one volunteer to make sure with very clean water she wiped off any excess paste that was showing.  A couple of volunteers picked up all the waste offcuts and rubbish and kept the whole area tidy and hazard free.  The team also helped out with cleaning all the equipment and removing everything from the venue so that it was ready for public use.

Sarah-Pattern-Matching (3)

Here is an idea of what the team were working on.  Personally, I was immensely pleased with all of them.  I knew there were some itching to learn another task than the one I had originally given them, so I did give them the chance to have a go later in the day when I knew we were steaming ahead.

Well…we did it!  With a team who had never used industrial wall-paper, some of whom had never even lifted a paintbrush or attempted any kind of decorating.  With just one set of tools and a lot of cake and cups of tea, an incredibly willing attitude and a lot of beautiful qualities like humility, patience and willingness to be trained and corrected, that marvellous team achieved what at one stage had seemed impossible.

Thank you thank you thank you to all of those amazing volunteers.

The project manager was beaming with delight.  He sent me photos of the event that had been scheduled.  A few years later I bumped into him in London.  I did not recognize him at first, but he remembered me.  He was still brimming over with gratitude and enthusiastically told the party he was with what had been accomplished on that special day.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole world was a team of volunteers who were going to work together to clean up this planet.  Everyone willing and eager to take on any task given to them.  All happy to learn new skills and humble enough to learn and be corrected.  We would not stop until the whole planet was clean and there was a satisfactory home for each person – nothing ostentatious, just something that was comfortable and suitable for the environment where it was situated.  I am sure there would be some volunteers given the task of the catering, key members of the work force…food fuels the volunteers.

All volunteers, no glory hunters, nobody accruing huge financial commercial assets, a huge wonderful team accomplishing what people once thought was impossible!  Do you have any idea how large the smiles of the volunteers would be once they were able to stand back and realize the results?  What a victory for the human family that would be!





Lucy… Showed What She Would Do If Only Things Were Different

cyclist.jpgLucy… I am sad to say I did not know her anywhere near as much as I would have liked to.  I met Lucy on a voluntary project many years ago.  Only she was too young to be on the construction site. Insurance would only allow us to use volunteers who were aged 16 and over. However, Lucy was part of a team who baked cakes to feed the volunteers on site.  We saw her every day.  I remember how much she wished she was old enough to be on the construction site.  Lucy was a teenager full of life, she was active and loved sports and dancing and being active.

runnerI have to take you forward now a few years.  I found out that Lucy had been through an ordeal with her health. I heard that Lucy had cancer.  I don’t know where it started, but it had spread into her bones.  Lucy was a teenager.  So many of us are effected by cancer.  It seems to have touched every family on the planet. Maybe you can imagine the mix of emotions that both Lucy and her family went through.

I heard that Lucy had eventually been told they would have to remove one of her legs.  It was after that when I saw Lucy again.  I worked with her on another voluntary project.  This time Lucy was old enough to be on the construction site.  Only there were so many tasks it was not safe for Lucy to be involved with.  Yet she did what she could.  She was asked to join the purchasing team.  She threw herself into her assigned role.  I am certain she would have loved to have been climbing up scaffolding and taking wheel-barrows from one end of the site to another.  But she was happy to be involved in any way she could.

ClimberLucy said that she had always been encouraged by the phrase:  “I can run, I can skip, I can hop…but I cannot fly”.

Ironically for Luc,y she was at that time not able to do some of those things with the ease she had before her operation.  She explained that it is better to make the most of what you can do and not to become bitter about what you can’t do.  Better not bitter.

I am sure Lucy may have had her tearful moments, but she lit up the room when she arrived with her effervescent smiles and laughter.  Lucy had a very giving nature.  She had a hope in her heart that convinced her that her situation was temporary.  She had many family and friends who loved her dearly.

But my outstanding memory of Lucy was a couple of years before I became a full-time volunteer.  I went to a training session where they had invited those already involved in voluntary projects to consider if they could give up their homes and jobs to make themselves fully available.  They made it very clear that this would not be for the faint-hearted  or the half-hearted.  The lifestyle would be demanding and tough.  Idancert meant a lot of personal sacrifice and endurance, both physically and emotionally.  The qualifications were very particular and included a pretty much perfect bill of health.

I was very interested in being a full-time volunteer.  They made it clear that it is mostly strong, healthy young men that are selected because of the nature of the work as well as the difficult living conditions.  I had applied for seven years in a row but had never been selected.  I just knew though, that having it as a goal was shaping my life, my mindset, influencing all of my decisions.  Even if I never made it… I was convinced that it was the best goal possible and was having a wonderful effect on my life.

At that training session something moved me to my core though.  Lucy walked into the meeting.  With her crutches, and her one remaining leg, she made her way towards the seating area and as soon as she saw me, she headed my way.  She sat beside me and we chatted.  Lucy told me how much she had loved all of the projects she had been involved with.  She told me that if things were different, her dream was to be a full-time volunteer being able to be sent on any assignment anywhere in the world she was needed.

I held her hand throughout the training session.  I had a few tears brimming over my eye-lids because I was so deeply touched by what Lucy had said to me.  I have often thought about what Lucy said.  “If things were different….”  Sigh!

constructionThat wonderful girl showed what was in her heart. She did everything she could to support voluntary projects in her area.  She would have loved to have been a full-time volunteer able to be sent to any area of need in the world.  Imagine at the age of 14, having one of your legs removed.  There may have been many other things she would have liked to have done… but her dream was a life of full-time giving.

Lucy…. aaaah… it breaks my heart to tell you this.  Lucy went to sleep in death about three months after I sat there in that training session holding her hand.  She was around 18 years of age.

I often remembered her expressing to me that it was her dream to be a full-time volunteer.  She gave me another reason to reach out to that goal myself.  I had many reasons, but now one was reason was to do it for Lucy.

roofersOne day, I would love to work with Lucy again.  Only this time I would like to see her up on the roof where I know she would have loved to have worked.  She would have loved to be part of a roofing team.

I can see her now in my mind’s eye.  She would help build houses for those who needed them.  I am sure Lucy would be willing to go anywhere she was needed, to any corner of the world.

Next time, I am able to work with Lucy, things will be very different.  I am sure there will be tears brimming over my eye-lids again.  But very different tears.  Tears of joy that at last Lucy has her dream.

Aaaaaaw Lucy Lucy … we truly love our Lucy!