Mid Somerset Festival 2013 - Sylvia Atkinson-Fleming Trophy winner
The Volunteer, by Pamela Whitwam
It came as a bolt out of the blue when I was made redundant. After all I was in quite a high position at the Town Hall , and a union official on N.A.L.G.O. You know - the National Association of Local Government Officers. I’d helped some of the juniors when they first started work, and when I came back from holiday there were so many things that I had to sort out.
In fact I was so dedicated to my job that it cost me my marriage.
My husband said that it was alright being a good manager at work , but he didn’t want me to organise him! He called me sergeant-major - in fun of course. I soon stopped seeing the funny side of it.
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Anyway -no job and no husband. What should I do ?I had always bee fond of animals-more than humans perhaps, so I went to the local Cats and Dogs home and offered my services, and the manager asked me if I would like to be a cat cuddler. “No, that’s not me at all,” I said. “ Well,” she said, “We are short of dog walkers.” So that’s what I did.
I went once a week and took out a large dog called Magnus. He was labradorish, and at first he pulled at his lead, and wouldn’t stop picking up bits of rubbish, so I started going twice every week, so that I could control him better. I must say he was quite a quick learner and mended his ways.
Sometimes I met other dog walkers and I noticed that in a lot of cases they weren’t walking the dogs correctly. The dogs were taking them for walks! I gave them some tips on how to hold the lead, and also the importance of using commands like SIT and STAY, and in Magnus’s case, LEAVE IT. The walkers didn’t seem too keen to follow my instructions . In fact one man said,” Are you the Official Dog Trainer then? I’ve come to take this dog for a walk and give him some human company, not to bloody well train him for Crufts.”
After I’d been a volunteer for a few weeks the manager came up and spoke to me.
“There have been some complaints from the other dog walkers,” she said. “Not to put too fine a point on it , one man said that you had brow-beaten him.”
“Well, I’m sorry if my efforts are not appreciated,” I said.
I might have been made redundant at work, but as a volunteer I could choose whether to continue or not.
“I’m afraid that you will have to manage without my services.” I thought of taking Magnus home with me, but decided against it.
I felt a bit down after that, but took to writing letters to the local newspaper. They were mostly commenting on other letters that had been written-very badly , I thought. And then I had an idea. An elderly neighbour went to what was grandly called the Pensioners’
Luncheon Club. I don’t think that the members had ever used the word luncheon. Anyway , I called in one lunchtime after I’d been to the library. It had been refurbished , but I told one of the librarians that they ought to have left it as it was. The new heating system was an improvement though, but it meant that more unkempt men were sitting at a table pretending to read the news papers. I heard a strange noise , and do you know , one of them was sound asleep and snoring!
Well , I thought for a moment about taking library books to the housebound, but -where was I? Oh yes, I left the library and called in at Uplands Hall where the luncheon club was held. A very pleasant lady said that my help would be much appreciated. Some of the volunteers did the cooking and some ,like me, served the meal. There were about twenty or thirty pensioners, so we were kept quite busy. They usually had meat and two veg , followed by a real English pudding such as treacle sponge or spotted dick, with custard ,and then a cup of tea. I don’t think that some of them had had any breakfast the way they wolfed it down. I noticed that some of them held their knife as if it were a pen , and turned their forks over when eating peas. One man even kept putting the knife in his mouth! And that same man drank his tea from the cup not holding the handle.
“Mr.Kneeshaw , wouldn’t it be easier for you to drink your tea holding the handle of the cup?” I said.” “I’ve never used a handle”, he said sharply. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I feared that the ones who shovelled their food in would get indigestion, and I said light-heartedly “Is there a race to see who can finish first”
They looked up from their troughs- oh sorry- ther plates for a moment, and then continued in the same way. It made me feel quite sick and after a week or two I said to the organiser, Mrs Theaker, that I hadn’t been feeling too well,--a bit off my food and that I was sorry,but I thought I’d better have a break.
“That’s quite alright”, she said “a lady new to the area came in the other day and asked if we needed any help, so you won’t be leaving us in the lurch”
I hadn’t had much luck with the volunteers so far, but when I saw an advert in the papers that help was needed in the Cat’s Protection League shop, I went to see them. There were cat posters, cat cards, china cats-small-medium and large. In fact everything a cat lover could wish for.I quite enjoyed my time there, but a lot of the customers were very sentimental and mawkish. I got tired of hearing about Tibbles and Tiger. A few told me that they had had their cats buried in a cat cemetery . One woman showed me a photo of the memorial stone put in memory of her cat Jasper. Inscribed on it were the words-TILL WE MEET AGAIN.
The manageress was rather bossy , and just ignored any suggestion I made on the window displays, or the layout of the shop. The rest of the staff weren’t very friendly either, so I felt that my talents were being wasted. There I was trying to do my best for the community by offering my services as a volunteer, and I was being rebuffed time an time again. Perhaps I should try to get a part time paid job. I could do with the money anyway.
I noticed an article headed “House a Dog.” “Dog lovers prepared to put up a temporarily homeless pooch are being urged to contact John and Jane.” Evidently they ran a franchise called “Barking Mad.” This offered people leaving their dogs for holidays or Christmas, the chance to have them temporarily homed with a dog-lover instead of kennels.
My former boss at the Town Hall gave me a testimonial that said that I was very reliable , capable and trustworthy, so they took me on. I’ve looked after a number of doggy customers, and their owners have all been very satisfied with the way that I cared for their dogs.
And the pay is quite good. I feel that with my business acumen I could make some changes in the way the franchise is run, but---I’m biding my time.