Most of you probably don’t realise that I volunteer for a charity by calling needy people. Mostly I don’t mention it because it’s so mundane. But the calls help the clients and, in a way, they keep me sane too.

Yesterday, however, I had two pretty mindblowing calls in just a single session.

Call #1, the client has just been told they have cancer. As in, they felt unwell, went to the ER, they did some tests, found traces of the cancer. It’s still early days because they don’t yet know how bad all this is. The particular cancer, I discovered from Mrs Bump, is often referred to as a silent killer because it is often not detected until too late. But on the plus side, their blood was cancer-free, so the cancer is hopefully confined so far just to one, non-vital organ

It set up a weird situation. I’m working on behalf of the charity, the client has told me but at the same time has said explicitly that they do not wish for the charity to know. So it sets up this kinda conflict of interest. First time that’s happened.

I mean, it’s a no-brainer to resolve – the client takes priority – but it’s just interesting that this never happened before.

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, Call #2, the client told me that the local council are initiating some court action to take control of their financial affairs, because they don’t think they’re competent.

My gut feel is that I’m not sure they’re fully competent, either, but my feelings aren’t particularly relevant. The client themself is very anti-, which is understandable. So I can at least feel some empathy that this is something they really don’t want.

Several of the things they said in our chat did not make sense. I picked up on this and suggested that their first conversation should be with a lawyer, so they understand exactly what is going on.

Interesting here that the client’s first reaction was to bury their head in the sand. But I think they need to have full awareness of what’s going on, because they’re going to need to fight it. It all felt very reminiscent of when our do-gooding social workers decided to accuse me of child abuse. You don’t need to push too hard and they will fold, but you do need to push some. After you scratch the surface, you usually don’t find too many brain cells.

All in all, I was glad when yesterday finished and I could relax.

Onwards and Upwards

Unfortunately I can go days without looking at my phone. This one reappeared yesterday, when OneDrive reminded me that I took this three years ago.

Introducing Mrs Bump. You can see it was her purple hair that did the trick with me.

This was a 1-mile sponsored walk organised by the Stroke Association. Then, it took me about 45 minutes to walk a mile, now it takes about 25.

Then, I needed a three-hour sleep afterwards. Now, I walk that far to my local cafe to sup coffee with my buddy, then walk the same distance home again. I feel tired afterwards, and I probably need that slice of cake just to keep my legs going, but now I just get on with my day afterwards. I figure I will always feel tired because I always push myself to improve.

15 minutes is an average mile, isn’t it? So I have a way to go but in a few years I’ll outpace you all!


I just found out that one of the people I speak to each week has died.

About October they stopped answering. I thought that was strange, because we got on well. You can always tell when there is a rapport.

The charity has a procedure: after several weeks of no answers, I notify them, and they send a letter out. The wording is flowery, but it is basically asking for confirmation that they still want the calls.

Obviously somebody has been going through the client’s mail, found this letter, and got in touch to explain.

It comes with the territory, I suppose, especially as the charity specifically works with seniors. but from the conversations I have with clients, I was quite gobsmacked because I had no inkling that they were anywhere near death. I’ve had clients die before, but usually the signs are there.

It’s weird, because I phone these people up each week to say hello, have a chat and along the way to get some kind of feel for whether they are all right. It’s a bit like on here, especially when somebody doesn’t appear for a while. And if they happen to be *not* all right, tough. There’s not much I can do about it. I struggle with that.

It felt similar during our first lockdown, although that was more direct. We were asked to make “reassurance” calls. They were mainly focussed on direct needs. Have you got enough food? are you managing your anxiety ok?and so on. Again, there was a limited amount we could do, if someone said “no”. We could signpost them to services which could offer concrete assistance, but we couldn’t actually do anything ourselves. We couldn’t put fresh food on their table, say.

It’s kind-of a weird feeling. You’re helping, but… there’s a limit to what you can do. Ultimately… you’re on your own.


As most of you know, I volunteer, just chatting to people on the phone each week.

Many of us are still isolating – have done so since February – so people cancelled any plans they nurmally make and stayed home instead. For me, while I normally have a short break I have just carried on this year. After all, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas this year, does it?

But there can sometimes be a funny side. We’re all relying on online grocery deliveries to keep us stocked up, though of course sometimes the stores can’t supply things.

So I had this one client, the supermarket couldn’t get hold of a turkey for him. So the poor chap had to go without.

They did, however, supply the jar of cranberry sauce he had ordered. And he’s, like, wtf am I supposed to do with this????

Zoomed Out

I had a “funny” with my charity this morning.

They offered courses on mental health, to volunteers. Might be useful, I thought, so I booked myself on. I made sure I asked, Is any specific software required? No response.

The meeting happened this morning. Last week, they sent out details. I learned that it was to be a Zoom meeting. I have never used Zoom, and I remember, when everybody was going Zoom-crazy at the start of lockdown, seeing an article in a reputable UK newspaper, listing issues with Zoom that were as long as your arm.

So I made a mental note to be cautious of it, to look at these issues in more detail if the time ever came.

I was a bit cheesed off last week when I received this Zoom request. Why hadn’t they responded when I had asked? To allow me some time to look into it and form an opinion? So, I backed out of the meeting.

Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to install anything, they replied. That’s funny, I thought, I had heard that you do. I request clarification. You just open up your browser and away you go. As they had obviously used Zoom before, and I hadn’t, I said that I would attend.

This morning, the day of the meeting. Fifteen minutes before, I’m on my PC, I dig out the email and hit the link. The very first thing it does is to ask me whether I want to install some software! Exactly what the charity had said wouldn’t happen.

So I hurriedly fired up the tablet. The meeting is getting close now. Guess what was the first thing it said? That’s right, install some software.

So, basically, that’s where I had to leave it. I’ve sent an email to the charity explaining that this is the reason I didn’t attend their meeting. I left out the bit about them telling me a complete pile of nonsense. Because, what’s the point?

I did do one more thing. I tried to find that Guardian link I saw all those months ago. I couldn’t, but I did find this, written just a week ago, which shows that some people, at least, still have issues with Zoom.


It’s that time at the moment. Advert after advert of pathetic scenes, please give to such-and-such a charity. The thing is, in the UK, there are about a quarter of a million registered charities. Just in the UK.

One or two have a cause we flatly disagree with. Personally, I don’t like fee-paying schools being able to identify as charities, making very little difference to their community but receiving tax breaks nonetheless. But most charities, I’d judge, fall into the “good cause” bucket. A quarter of a million of them.

So, when we decide to donate to charity, how do we decide?

We can’t just give it evenly, because none of us, personally, has enough money to go around – if we did, everyone would get nothing.

So, yes, charities are good causes. But there has to be something over and above that, which tips the balance and makes us donate. For me, and I guess for most everyone else, it is because the cause touches us personally.

So, that’s where I am this christmas. I’ll give what I usually give, to my usual charity, just like I do every other week of the year. And I won’t feel at all guilty about ignoring those adverts tugging on my heartstrings.

Wake-up Call

Here is another take on Fandango’s FPQ yesterday. If you remember, we talked about whether we’re governed by technology.

One of my regular calls for my charity is to phone somebody to remind them to take their meds.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind doing this. It is 2 seconds of my time and it helps someone, so it is a no-brainer. I’m around anyway.

My point is: think of all the mechanisms that you have for setting a daily reminder. Really obvious stuff. Set something up on your phone, on your computer. Maybe set an alarm on a good old-fashioned alarm clock? Or even just tie a knot in your hankie? I’m sure even I have a half-dozen ways. Simple, huh?

Not for this client. So, they ask someone to call them.

Governed by technology? You must be joking!

Fandango’s Provocative Question (25 March 2020)

It is Wedgesday, and time for Fandango’s Provocative Question. I’m gonna take care to answer his question meticulously, to fulfil his FOWC prompt too! Today he asks:

What activities have you cut from your life since this pandemic started that you DON’T really miss?

Just as a general thing, I have to say I am fortunate in this pandemic. A lot of my elderly clients are fortunate. I guess a lot of you are fortunate, too. All of us, just because this isolation malarkey has not changed habits much, because we were all pretty isolated anyway!

I’m glad in some respects, because my weekly voluntary session takes place with clients over the phone, which can happen anyway. So, I spent yesterday afternoon calling my clients as normal. In fact, during the pandemic, the task takes longer than usual. Clients normally ask to be called because they feel isolated, lonely, but actually, you’d be surprised how many are normally out when I call! Last week, for the first time in my eighteen months doing the work, everybody answered. This week, all except one. The result is that the session takes longer.

On top of that, the charity have asked me to call another seven people, on top of my normal ten. I did that this morning. With my regular clients, we can chat about anything – often what the cats have been up to, or what the kids have been up to. With these new people, it was specifically corona – are you getting groceries/meds okay? While my normal calls take three or four hours, I dashed these extra ones off in under an hour.

Normally, I get the bus into Age UK’s office in Salisbury, on a Tuesday afternoon. I leave the house at just before 12pm, and get home about 5pm. Five hours. Of which three are normally spent on the phone to clients. So, that’s two hours just lost in the commute. I wouldn’t mind but when I had my car, Salisbury was just a fifteen minute drive away! The bus journey itself goes through the villages and takes 30 minutes each way, the rest of the time is spent walking between home and the bus stop, or just waiting around.

Because of the virus, we agreed I would work from home. I fire up the browser, then ten seconds later I have accessed their network and can start making calls. Then, when I am finished, it is as simply as closing the tab, maybe firing off a quick email, before I can start doing personal things once again.

So, working from home versus a two hour commute? There’s something I don’t miss.

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