I spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at the weekend at the Day at the Races event in the grounds of the spectacular Castle Fraser near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire and was very impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the many volunteers working for North East Sensory Services, the charity benefiting from the proceeds.
Everywhere you looked there were people wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “proud to be a volunteer”, underlining their commitment to this 140-year-old charity which does amazing work to support deaf and blind people.
Their efforts brought home to me – yet again – my own fruitless efforts to devote some of my retirement hours helping good causes. Television quiz shows these days seem to feature a lot of people who, when asked what they do for a living, reply that they are retired and are now so busy they wonder how they ever found the time to go to work.
Well, count me out on that one. From the very first day I retired, nearly nine years ago, I can honestly say that the words “I’m too busy” have never passed my lips. Having taken up golf fairly late in life, and having had little opportunity to play while working, I did resolve to get my handicap down to single figures. Sadly a lack of suppleness, combined with a lack of ability, meant that that lofty ambition was doomed to fail.
The other love of my life – travel – has filled many hours, taking my wife and me to far-flung places we had always wanted to visit, and a recently-acquired motorhome has allowed us to explore Scotland, even venturing down to England and Wales on one of our more ambitious trips.
Still, however, I would be lying if I said I was even close to being busy. Gardening and DIY hold no interest for me whatsoever, and the attention span of a gnat renders reading or other time-consuming hobbies pointless.
So it was that three years ago I decided to do some voluntary work. Full of newly-found enthusiasm, I pitched up at the Scottish SPCA centre between Peterculter and Drumoak and faithfully completed the fairly comprehensive questionnaire presented to would-be volunteers. The young lady at the reception desk warned that it may take a little time to process the paperwork because animal charities were popular with would-be do-gooders. Almost three years later, I have not even had an acknowledgement, let alone a “proud to be a volunteer” tee-shirt.
Having resigned myself to rejection by the animal kingdom, I thought of other sectors where I could put whatever skills or interests I have to good use, and the winter of 2017 produced a moment of inspiration. Sitting at home, watching the snow slowly accumulate, while listening to radio reports of nurses and other essential staff not being able to get to work, I decided to offer my services, and that of my 4×4, to anyone who was being seriously inconvenienced by the bad weather. The first thing that struck me was that no-one appears to hold a list of people, like me, who can be called on at short notice to keep the health service and social services operational when road conditions are bad. I did, however, stumble upon a voluntary group of 4×4 owners, who seemed to be recognised by the emergency services. An e-mail offering to join up was met with a speedy response, explaining that they were at full stretch at that moment but would get back to me once things quietened down. As another winter has come and gone since then, I can only assume that either things have not yet quietened down or that my services are not required.
Slightly frustrated, but ultimately undeterred, my interest was aroused by an appeal in one of the community newsletters distributed to my home. The Royal Volunteer Service was URGENTLY seeking volunteer drivers in Westhill, near where I live, to undertake a variety of duties, including taking elderly and infirm people to hospital appointments etc. Just a few hours a week were required. Another e-mail was despatched, registering my willingness to help, and stressing my near 50 years of accident-free motoring. Again, I received a prompt response explaining that it may take a while to get back to get back to me, but as the appeal for volunteers was urgent, I assumed that was their pro-forma reply and someone would be beating a path to my door that very day. Wrong. Six weeks have passed and not a word.
All of which leaves me wondering whether the root problem is age (mine), incompetence (theirs) or whether secret background checks have thrown up someone with the same name but a less spotless record. Whatever the reason, I shall view future charity appeals for volunteers with a good deal of scepticism, which is a shame because I’m sure there are organisations out there genuinely crying out for help. I just don’t seem to have found one.
Derek Tucker is a former editor of the Press and Journal