Sunday 30 November, 2014 by Uncle Spike
This is the second in my series of posts about volunteering, with a tale that goes back to the early 90s, and a time when I was out of work for a while after returning to the UK from a few years wandering about this beautiful planet of ours. Hunting for a job when you don’t tick all the expected boxes can be soul destroying, so what better cure than a spot of voluntary work for a few months to at least feel worthy of employment?
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Charity Shops – For my UK readers, you’ll be altogether familiar with the scene, but for those of you from other realms, bear with me while I try to explain. Most High Streets throughout the UK have one or more (sometimes as many as ten) charity shops, which are small retail outlets selling mostly second-hand clothing, books and general bric-a-brac. The idea is that people donate their no longer wanted clothes etc. and the shop then sells them for a small price, and the profits go to the charity (e.g. Oxfam, Heart Foundation, Save The Children etc.). Staffed exclusively by volunteers, with perhaps one permanent manager on minimum wage, they are naturally often on the look-out for people willing to donate some of their time to help out. And that is where my story is set.
The charity I happened to find in need of another pair of hands was a branch of Banardos, a charity which cares for children throughout the UK. For your information, this is an extract from their website:
What we believe
“Barnardo’s believes in children regardless of their circumstances, gender, race, disability or behaviour. Our purpose as a charity today is to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children
We believe in the abused, the most vulnerable, the forgotten and the neglected. We will support them, stand up for them and bring out the best in each and every child.”
The crew I found myself working with were utterly hilarious. Nearly all were female, with an average age of 74, probably more if their bus-passes were put under any amount of scrutiny. A sprightly bunch they were though, with most of my colleagues sporting the very latest in purple hairstyles and between them, most brands of hearing aid too. So when I toddled in there in my early 20s, it certainly put the cat among the pigeons, so to say! But they were a great bunch, an absolute delight – BUT, you should have heard the language and the jokes they’d come out with??!! And I thought I’d lived and seen the world… well I did, up until I met that bunch 🙂
My first few days working there were spent ‘out back’, sorting huge black bags full of clothing by type, ready for ironing, and eventually for display in the store. Now, 99% of what had been donated was clean and quite presentable, but we also had a pile that simply went direct for recycling too.
Anyway, you’d be amazed at just what we’d find lurking in these refuse sacks that we’d find dumped on the doorstep of the shop each morning. There were trousers, skirts, blouses, shirts, sometimes long evening dresses, shoes, boots, jackets; and even clean, boxed and new ladies undergarments (generally rather large and certainly held no secrets shared by friend Victoria)!
Our ‘boss’ was a plucky 40-something gal called Jane, who really kept the shop running to a high standard I must say. There were quite a few of us in the team, over 20 I think, working a varied rota that allowed for most of them to attend their health centre visits and of course the twice-weekly local bridge club. The shop was closed on Wednesdays, which was a good job as 95% of the staff would be at the tea dance anyway. Thankfully, my excuse of being in possession of multiple left feet from birth kept me clear of sharing the Wednesday day off with the crowd.
Boss-lady Jane had a knack of running monthly ‘themes’ in order to attract the buying public into our little store, and work well it did – her entrepreneurial approach set us aside from the competition all right. One such venture had us digging around in the back room for costumes. Err, no, nothing kinky I hasten to add, but even I have to admit we had a bit of laugh. I have done some daft things in my career, but that time was certainly a one-off.
The theme in question was a 20s fashion day!
Now, apart from actually being IN my 20s, that was about as much as I knew on the era OF the 20s, so basically, err… nuffink. But with expert help from those of my colleagues BORN in the 20s, we went through all the cupboards and found long evening gowns, even longer gloves, feather boa’s – all not for me I might add – and a rather fetching, if not very itchy, old black tux that happened to be my size, complete with shiny collar and cuffs and two missing buttons. From being dressed in black leathers (I was a biker, not some closet wannabe dominator), to being kitted out in a black tuxedo was quite some transformation, if a little scary.
But my lasting memory from that little slice of life, was standing out there in the high street, unpaid I might add, dressed in 1920’s finery, persuading passers-by to have a look in our shop that day. We took four times our regular total of donations that day, but thankfully, nobody recognised me 🙂