Wednesday, 19 March 2014

How can this be called work ?

"Working" in a charity shop

The regulars are wonderful. The woman who seems to buy a black handbag every week, the one looking for “treats” for her young patients, the book searchers, and  the man who eventually bought the Italian wool coat that I explained  was perfect for him. ( I think I might have worn him down, every time he came in  for a browse.... I told him, it was still on the rails and it was still perfect for him).

Being on the till is great. I’m right at the front of the shop and can greet everyone who comes in, thank people as they go out,  and chat with anyone who wants to. We have a chair near the front of the shop, used by men, who sit while their significant others check every rail, and older customers who just want a rest. We get lots in when it’s cold or raining....we should have more chairs really. I have joked about popping into the back to make some coffee. If only we had more room we could have a little cafe section.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what we could do if we had a bit more room.... the vintage section could be properly developed......clothes, jewellery and home-ware, all displayed together. What I would really love to do is develop a proper children’s section, clothes, a dressing up corner, a craft section, toys and books and bean bags for children to laze and read while parents browse for bargains.

I must have bought dozens of children's books since I have been working at the shop....some for the grandchildren, some for daughter Jessie's collection of children's books that is now huge as she prepares to reach reception and year 1 children.....and of course my own collection.

Recycling brings in nearly as much money as selling things...but the sorting of donations into stuff to sell and stuff to recycle can be hard. The “pen” where we keep the sacks of donations to be sorted is known as “the black hole” does seem to go on for eternity, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the far end of the black hole....just as we get to the last few bags, and the floor is nearly visible, a house clearance arrives, or the remains of a local jumble sale.

All donations are gratefully received. Lots of people tell us how “good“ their donation is, while others seem really nervous that perhaps we might not want it. Some tell us we mustn’t let things go they’ve checked the ebay prices. However one lady told me not to look to closely at the clothes she was donating, as they were a bit grubby and had a few holes. I did wonder if she would pay money for an item that was a bit grubby with her donation, whilst gratefully received was put into the recycle sack. We do also get the occasional bin bag of dirty socks.....some very strange underwear and other items that we judge are not  quite appropriate to be on the shelves of a respectable shop in Hebden Bridge.

It is a balancing act...... it’s a business, raising money for the charity ( in this case, the local hospice), but it is also a place for local people to find bargains, for “things” to get a second life ( some of our books are probably on their 6th or 7th life...jig-saws too ! ). It is a place where volunteers make new and important lasting friendships, with each other and with the customers. More people say hello to me now when I wander into town....some of them can’t quite place where they know me from, but they say hello anyway. 

A poster I made ( with me and Clark) for our World Book day display. For a week, childrens books were 2 for the price of 1.........we sold lots !
I also absolutely love the volunteers I work with. Everyone has so many talents and have led such interesting lives. I was working earlier this week, when one of the other volunteers popped in. We all thought she’d come to work, but she’d just came for a cup of tea before her hair appointment later in the afternoon. There’s not a lot of room, but we managed to sit her down and give her a cuppa, while we carried on sorting, pricing, recycling, working the shop floor and selling.

People are generally incredibly generous. We have had some wonderful donations in the few months I have been at the shop. Some fabulous pottery, a whole collection of Masons ironstone arrived one was priced, put in the window, and gone by the afternoon !  Beautiful hardly worn, and sometimes never worn , clothes, jewellery, cds, dvds, books, shoes......wonderfully generous donations arrive daily. Children's clothes are often hardly worn, as they have been grown out of before they have worn out. Toys and games come  in regularly. Only once have I had a father rush back to the shop saying that the particular toy he had donated in the morning, was being missed so much, he had to see if he could buy it back ! ( We returned it to him, and he made a small donation to thank us).

a doll that somehow made it home with me one evening....perfect for the toy box kept at nana and grandad's .
 Sometimes it is very sad, realising that “mum”’s clothes and jewellery have been donated because mum has died. Sometimes it is fascinating to look at book donations, recognise the downsizing syndrome. Sometimes I try to piece together people’s lives. The retired teacher’s 1970 education books........the readers digest cookery books and gardening books, its is strange finding a collection of novels, yellowing pages, some very distressed covers...but so clearly loved, that their owners could not throw them away. Giving them to the charity shop gives them another chances of being loved. And......if they really are too yellow and smelly, then someone else makes the decision about recycling by pulping rather than their previous owner.

some gorgeous jewellery that I just had to have !
We have hundreds of watches, and it is possible that they may work......but they have been donated after lying in a drawer for 10 years, battery dead, so we don’t know if they will work. We do not have a selection of different watch batteries lying around to test them.... maybe that is something we could look at.

I have so many ideas..... and so do all the other volunteers.

 I wouldn’t want to manage us lot ! I think the manager of a charity shop, relying on volunteers to keep the shop open, must be one of the hardest jobs in the world !

I don't need any crockery, in Hebden Bridge or in France, but when you get the chance to give a loving home to the exact Indian Tree plates that your grandmother used to keep for Sunday is it possible to resist ?

Friday, 7 March 2014


I hardly know where to start with this post. I have been back in the UK for nearly 2 weeks. The jet lag has passed and we have caught up with the grandchildren who have not forgotten us after our 5 week absence. I have started to wade through the 1500 plus photos that somehow managed to get taken, and I am now trying to put some thoughts together about our epic trip.

It was a "holiday" during which, every day Mark and I would look at each other and recognise how special it was. Every day was a brilliant adventure, every day involved us doing something amazing. That can be exhausting after 35 days, so in a way, I am pleased to be home, and am enjoying reflecting on all we have done.

The family bits were important and already I know that some of the lasting memories will be about the times I was able to spend with my cousins. We know we love Australia, despite misgivings about the political climate there at the moment.( I have misgivings about the UK and the French political climate not much difference really ! ). I was very sad to leave Melbourne on 7th February, as it marked the end of the Aussie section of our trip. Melbourne is a fabulous city, and we had 10 glorious days there, enjoying the wonderful weather, the tremendous museums and galleries, the out of this world coffee and cafes and restaurants, and the proximity of my cousins J &N and being able to meet "new" cousin Linda for the first time.

                  Mark walking between the bells, on the banks of the Yarra, in Melbourne.

 Linda and I, outside the house where she grew up in Mordiallac, just outside Melbourne

Anyway, we arrived in Wellington in the early  hours of 8th February, which just happened to be my 59th birthday.( That was strange......starting to celebrate my birthday nearly a whole day before it was my birthday in the UK, and receiving facebook greetings from the UK nearly a whole day after my birthday.)

                                                                        me and Bill

The NZ bit of the trip began with another cousin. I finally met Bill, who is the younger of my grandfather's grandsons, descending from his first ( and only legal ) wife. Bill left Australia many years ago and loves New Zealand with an all consuming passion.  He loves tramping, which I discovered is similar to walking/hiking, but because of the incredible topography in New Zealand tends to include tramping through chest high water, having to be helicoptered from one part of a track to another, and generally exerting oneself more than I would enjoy !

Bill and Mark at Te Papa, with a southern hemisphere emphasised map....not the way we are used to seeing the world....a bit like seeing the southern skies at night, and not recognising anything !

Bill is currently a guide at the superb Te Papa museum in Wellington, and one of the highlights of the trip was the personalised tour he gave us of the museum. It is always good to see a place with the help of eyes that know and love a place. Just as Bill helped us see Te  Papa through his eyes, we were so pleased to have his views on how we could travel around the south island, which was the next phase of our journey.

          Bill, Claire, Mark and I, at a wonderful restaurant just off Cuba St in Wellington

Bill gave us his old NZ map book, and carefully marked places we might want to stop. We easily decided that touring the south island of New Zealand via places Bill had lived, built houses, found gold, fathered children, climbed mountains, observed wildlife and eaten good food, would be a good idea. So that is what we did.

A page from Bill's 1981 map book, that was so well annotated that we never used the sat-nav....Bill's directions were perfect.

                                                    Mark and Bill, planning the route

To choose a favourite spot is impossible. Wellington was wonderful because of Bill, and his beautiful daughter Claire. ( I met up with his other two equally gorgeous daughters when I was in Melbourne ). Mt Cook was spectacular, Franz Josef was stunning ( if very wet and misty !), and the drive into Queenstown took our breath away.

However, the place I want to tell you about here, is Hokitika. It will always hold a very special place in my heart. I loved it.

( This is not one of my photos.....but an image that is used on post cards of Hokitika )

Booker prize winner Eleanor Catton's "The Luminaries" is set in Hokitika, and I had ensured that I had finished reading all 832 pages before I arrived in NZ. It is about the NZ gold rush, and a group of people who live in and around Hokitika and how they become embroiled in a mystery concerning gold, murder, theft, Maoris, colonists,  greenstone carving, ship wrecks, opium, betrayal, political ambitions, vulnerablity, name it, it's in there somewhere!

I suspect Hokitika hasn't changed much...except it is smaller now, there are only a handful of hotels/motels/backpacker places to stay, as opposed to the hundreds of hotels, bars and doss houses that existed in the 1860s. Some of the original buildings have been restored, and it is possible to find many of the places described in Catton's stunning novel. I was devastated to discover that she is going to Hokitika on 13 March to talk about the book at the Hokitika picture house. How I would love to be there then.

Again, not one of mine....but an image that is used in the front and back pages of "The Luminaries"

                                                                         Hokitika, now.

We walked around the streets, me trying to explain bits of the novel to Mark as we went. It wasn't too hard to picture it in the 1860s. The quay side was particularly interesting. It had been a very difficult port to enter due to the prevailing winds on the west coast, and the sand bar at the entrance to the harbour. Many ships were lost as they tried to arrive at Hokitika. The quay side has now been turned into a lovely walkway.....but the spirit of those times was definitely in the air.

                          The reconstructed and preserved Custom House, featured in the novel.

This is the motel we stayed was very very cheap, and very very basic.....but meant we felt we could treat ourselves to something a bit more luxurious later in the trip....and somehow, basic seemed right in Hokitika !

I could go on and on, and I realise this post is already far too long....but I have to just mention the beach, which was where we spent the longest time. Actually, I wont tell you about it, I'll just let the photos show you.

This is our small addition to the art gallery that is the beach at Hokitika.

I don't know if this link will work....but it might show you the annual competition held here .......and some beautiful sculptures.