Thursday, February 5, 2009

The right man for the job

A few years ago my sister Pam and I were stuck in England wondering what to do. I was in a 12 step program and always thinking I was not good enough in my sponsor's eyes. She told me I was self obsessed and suggested I do some volunteer work. In an effort to please her I turned to Pam who was helping out at a homeless centre. Pam kindly arranged for me to go with her. We pulled up in a car park in dreary Stockport. The centre was located in a grey shopping precinct. I marvelled at Pam's matter-of-factness as we walked into a little hut of a building. I helped her and two mumsy women to set up. I was quite perky and rather intrigued by this world. I noticed that the food was cheap and not very nutritious. The actress in me was taking everything in. Pam was pretty laid back just quietly getting on with things. She had nowhere near the heightened intensity with which her actress sister was diving in. Perhaps she might have been a little wary if she'd known what was to come.

The homeless people started to arrive and Jane's eyes were glued. Looking to the ladies and Pam for the correct mode of behaviour she was given the job of serving tea. Men and women rough and ready, quite lively she noted, started to form a line. Jane went into big smiley, friendly, helpful mode perhaps with just a tad too much spring in her step. At least for the liking of one man in particular. This man was short, sleight, in his fifties, grey long hair and very grouchy. Jane poured the tea and asked if he would like sugar. '3 sugars' he said and Jane noted that everybody took 3 sugars in their tea. 'Shall I stir it for you?' she asked cheerfully. Gesturing that his hands were full he said, 'Well I'd do it myself but I can't get my flies undone.' Jane froze and stared at him blinking like a rabbit in the headlights. She turned round dramatically and Pam said,'God what's the matter?' 'That man, that man' I cried and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I told them what he said and taking it in their stride they carried on as normal. Pam laughed and comforted me a little and we all resumed our posts. Soon a cheerful chappy in his twenties rolled up for his tea. 'Hello love' he said, 'How are you today?' 'Alright' I said with a little dramatic emphasis. 'What love?' he pressed and I said, 'Well to be honest one of the men said something rude and it upset me a bit.' 'You what?! he cried 'You what?' He spun round and scanning the room shouted 'Where is he? Where is he? Which one is it love? Who is it?!! I'll show him upsetting you kind ladies who help us.' His voice booming he continued. 'Eh? Have you heard this lads? Some f*#*er has upset this lovely lady. What a f*#*ing c**t!' I couldn't seem to stop him shouting. I was flabbergasted. How could I have gotten myself into another scrape minutes after the first one? I looked at Pam aghast she was staring at me her eyes wide with alarm. The offending homeless man sat rigid, his back to us hunched over his food. The ladies gathered round to pacify the young man and with some effort they got him to let it go. Off he walked looking at me saying, 'Are you sure? Are you sure?' Me nodding furiously, the wind firmly knocked out of my sails. I felt utterly defeated.

Driving home I decided as Pam laughed and nodded furiously that that would be my last day volunteering at a homeless centre. A new sense of awe settled on me at Pam's ease in that environment. I said, 'I don't think I'm cut out for it. I'm too dramatic.' 'Too dramatic?' she said, 'You'd been there 5 minutes and you caused f*#*ing mayhem!

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