The Volunteers

The gang Christmas 2013

The gang Christmas 2013

My dad thinks that volunteering is crazy.

“Why don’t they get jobs?” he asks of the group of people who turn up week in week out in a car park in Canterbury in Kent to be ferried off around the county to do practical conservation work. “Why work for nothing?” he says, “They are fools.”

But, In this, my dad is the foolish one. Choosing to give your time voluntarily to something you believe in, working outdoors in beautiful places with your hands, making a difference is one of the most enriching things you can do.

When I first took over the running of the volunteer group I was in a dark place. I had been made redundant, my relationship had ended, I was in Kent where I knew few people and didn’t really know why I was still there. But going out every Thursday with the volunteers, I forgot my problems, I became absorbed in the work, I felt the peace of nature, I laughed and then realised it was the first time I had laughed all week.

Over the years the volunteers have become much more than a bunch of conservation workers, we have supported people through depression and probation, we have set people on new roads to new careers, we have banded together through illness and death. I know our gang has helped many people and for the opportunity to do so I am eternally grateful as, through managing this group, I have found that sense of community we are told is so lacking in modern life.

Tomorrow, after five and half years of running the volunteer group, I am leaving to go freelance and to write. Life moves on whether you want it to or not but to give up my volunteers is a big sacrifice. The volunteers are not just a bunch of people I manage because I’m paid to do so. These people are my support network, my sat nav, my diy advisors, the people I phone in a crisis. These people I happily climb out of bed for at 6.30am on a rainy morning, not wanting them to be kept waiting. This is my gang, these are my friends. And so I would be a fool indeed to give this up, from tomorrow I am no longer the group leader, I join the ranks as a volunteer.

Book Review – After London, Richard Jefferies

After London

Written in 1885, After London tells the story of a pastoral world which has evolved after a disaster has swept away the technology, cities and memories of the 19th century. The people that have survived this disaster have separated into distinct casts from the primitive bushmen, the gypsies and outcasts, to serfs and nobles who exercise supreme power and are rule with merciless violence.

The story follows the journey of Felix, a nobleman’s son who has fallen on hard times and sets out to better himself and win the hand of his beloved Aurora. This is a simple tale of adventure, quest and discovery. The basic telling was actually refreshing, devoid of the convoluted language and clever philosophy that seems necessary for writing to be considered ‘good’ in the modern world.

the book ends with Felix heading out once more into the unknown and the reader is left with the hope that Jefferies wrote a sequel.

Sadly, it seems, he never did. After a childhood on a Wiltshire Farm not unlike  the estate depicted in After London, Jefferies ran off to France with his cousin and tried to walk to Russia, when this proved unsuccessful they boarded a boat to America but were sent home when it was discovered they had no money for food.

Jefferies took to wandering the countryside with hair down to his shirt collar, dishevelled clothes and a gun over his shoulder, an appearance which made him an object of some concern in Swindon. He spent many solitary hours laying beside stone circles seeking a deep connection with nature.

After a stint as a newspaper reporter, Jefferies began submitting articles about nature and rural life to magazines. He published several books during his lifetime but a long battle with tuberculosis meant his productivity was never great and he was obliged to ask for the assistance of the Royal Literary Fund to sustain him and his family. He finally lost his battle with TB in 1887.

After London is an immensely enjoyable read and an ambitious attempt to imagine a post apocalyptic society. A book well worth tracking down through your local library or second hand book shop.