Helping Out? (OS022)

Pam burst into the lounge accompanied by a stranger, a habit I’m getting accustomed to. She shrieked in excitement “Oliver I’ve got an idea. You know I have been volunteering, the community health walk in. “


“Well, they’re after somebody to do the odd jobs like make  tea, litter picking and I thought of you. It will get you out of the house and meet new people. By the way, this is Connor Glomerate. You remember me talking about Con don’t you. He also volunteers for the Walk-in.”


“Con has offered to take us both along to the walk-in. You can see if you like it. I asked Con along because he’s been involved for ages and knows everything about the place. He’s a rock. If you want to know anything he’s the man.

“Flatterer“ he responded.

I was warming to Con. A man of few words, like myself, I thought.

“Good to meet you Oliver, we never refuse a volunteer. “

I was reluctant. I guess Pam predicted this and brought along the moral support for her argument. I was surprised as Pam normally manages to wear me down, single handed, until I submit. I gave in, probably too rapidly. I figured that this joint manoeuvre was Pam’s plan the make the wearing down process more efficient and economical of effort.

Pam pleased with her victory terminated the discussion saying “Good decision Oliver. Next Wednesday. Con will give us a lift” as she ushered him out of the house.

I did a few exercises and jogging to make sure I could handle the job. I was a bit concerned having largely just sat on a sofa for weeks.

Wednesday soon came round and I was ready early with my boots, rucksack and newly purchased litter picking device.

Pam asked “where are you going it’s the walk-in today. “

“I know I’m dressed for the walking. I’ve made a few cheese and pickle sandwiches and a flask.”

“No Oliver, it’s a walk-in, like a community cafe. People walk in, have a cup of tea and a cake and chat. There is also a trained counsellor available if anybody needs it.”

My mind immediately switched to whether I could return the previously mentioned premium litter picking device for a full refund.

Pam interrupted, “Really sorry guys, I’m going to have to give today a miss. Not feeling too good. You two will be fine, won’t you?”

It sounded more like an instruction than a question, so we both got in Con’s car.

Con started the usual fact-finding discussions about; What do I do? How long have I been unemployed? What sort of job am I looking for?

He seemed to be in a similar situation to me. He also gave up his job, explaining:

“I was a Geologist, employed by a museum. For five years, I travelled the country extracting fossilised crinoids, cephalopods and trilobites from Palaeozoic rocks. I was so bored, wouldn’t you be?”

I wasn’t sure what was involved in the fossil extraction process or how this compared to the political wars raging in the biscuit factory (which I left).  I replied “Not sure. I’ll look into it and come back to you on that.”

Con didn’t respond but went on to say “One day I just had enough and I threw down my rock hammer and field notebook, climbed up the cliff and walked home. The fifty-mile walk cleared my head. I rang up, quit and told them where they could pick up the company van and hammer.”

It sounded very much like when I walked out from my job: fossils, rocks, company van, equipment and long walk home.

“I was looking for a new job for ages, like yourself. I wanted something along the same lines, you know digging, but different, if you know what I mean.”

I didn’t.

“I applied for a stone masons’ job. You know, sort of the same, using a hammer in a careful sort of way.”

I got that but then he went on to say.

“In the end, I set up my own detective agency, you know digging around, leaving no stone unturned, collecting and recording evidence etc.”

That seemed a bit of a stretch. I could see no parallels with extracting fossils but who am I to judge?

“I may be able to help with your other lodger, the mysterious Mal Adjusted.”

“Mal Evolent”

“That’s him.”

“I think I’m OK. He’s just a bit odd and has a slight sinister air about him. He gives Pam the creeps. I’ll get back to you if anything crops up.”

“OK, the offers there. No problem….. About today. You will meet the cook, Amal. Used to be a successful fusion chef, you might have heard of him Amal Gamation. Don’t call him chef or anything Amal will do. Nice guy you get on with him.

We arrived at the café. Con introduced me to Amal who was very friendly. He put me on toast. Making it that is. Brain the size of a planet and all I do is make toast. As it happens the toast machine was a bit fiddly and I ended up burning a few, resulting in complaints. Amal suggested I should take a break, have a cup of tea, take thirty minutes.

Funny place really, I mean I’m not a big communicator but when I sat down a number of others started conversations with me. They told me about their life and troubles why they came into the cafe. I gave them the benefit of my logical mind and before long the half hour passed.

When I returned, Amal decided to take a break and put me in charge. My chance to show him what I can offer. It all went well. I made mainly cups of tea and coffee and only left the tea bags in a couple. I quickly realised that things were not stored efficiently on the shelves as it took some ages to find anything. During a quiet spell I re-organised things, by viscosity. This seemed the most obvious solution, for instance:

  • Milk and vinegar – liquid, therefore left of shelf.
  • Sauces, honey and jam and other viscous liquids. Middle of the shelf, with an alphabetic  second sort order i.e. Bovril, HP sauce, Marmalade, Strawberry Jam, Tomato Sauce.
  • Coffee, sugar and tea – towards the right (in that order) as these are solid but granular.
  • Buns and Cake, crockery and cutlery  – very right of the shelf.

The drinks were basic, just tea and coffee but I figured we could branch into Cappuccinos. I took some whole milk and use a hand blender to whisk it up to something that looked like a Cappuccino. You have to remember I’m quite new to mass production catering and there were a few technical hitches with the milk boiling over and using the whisker bit aggressively. It was a bit of a mess but as my Aunt Wood say “You can’t make an omelette without cracking eggs.”. By this time the demand was relentless. Customers were getting a bit irate.

Amal returned from break. For some reason, he did not appreciate my efficiency drive. Con, seeing the unwarranted commotion beckoned me over. He suggested I give the kitchen a miss for a while and help clean up the cafe. By this time the café was really busy and I couldn’t wait for people to leave tables to clean up. I don’t see it as a major inconvenience to people to ask them to move their feet while you sweep under them or swing a mop around their feet hopefully not moistening their footwear. People are so touchy these days.

Just then, the counsellor came in asking,” Who is Oliver? Apparently, some of the people I was talking to requested counselling. Con got in a discussion with the councillor. The next thing I knew, Con came over to me and suggested I wasn’t suitable for ‘volunteering in this environment’. Apparently, it wasn’t the walk-in customers who asked for counselling. It was the caretaker and some of the volunteers, the ones I’d been chatting to.

You’re not here to council Oliver. The counsellors had years of training you shouldn’t be offering advice.

I was quite happy to leave actually but it did make me think. If I’d just been left to get on with things everything will be fine. Maybe I need to be self-employed. Then, I can decide what to do and when.

I’ve was mulling over a few ideas on my trip home, Suddenly, it struck me I could do what my uncle does, run a B&B.

Pam was waiting in the house. After a period of diagnostics as to what went wrong, I announced my decision to Pam:

“Pam, I’ve got it. My next career is running a B&B. My uncle does it, in the Highlands. I’ve stayed there myself.

“Interesting. How many rooms does he have.”

“Just the one.”

“Does he have many people staying.”

“No, it’s just relatives really.”

“How much does he charge?”

“Nothing of course. It’s just relatives.”

“That doesn’t sound like a B&B. It’s more like a sleepover.”

“Well, I will charge. If you and Mal move out. I could run a B&B in the two rooms. As you don’t work, you could come back and clean the room and make the beds.”

“So you want me to move out and then work for you. No thanks. You clean the room, make the beds, cook the meals, provide the coffee and tea in the room, decorate the rooms, install en-suites, deal with bookings, provide the tourist information, put a chocolate on the pillow and host the guests.”

“Mmmm, maybe I’ll just have relatives on the pull-out sofa.”

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