Let me begin by saying that they are a wonderful body of people. Volunteers are a scarce commodity round here, as you need a very specific person. You need someone with spare time and a car. Public transport is just not an option round here, so transport is essential. This narrows the field down to retired people who have sufficient health and income to drive. All my volunteers are retired ladies and gentlemen, with a lifetime of skills and knowledge behind them.
Managing them is a delicate business, as they have the advantage on me in terms of age, experience and sheer volume of numbers. Plus, of course, they are here of their own free will and can simply walk out if they’re not happy. They are immune to the lame-at-the-best-of-times performance-related-pay carrot, as they get no pay anyway. The I'm-docking-your-wages stick is equally as redundant. I have to use other methods to get the best out of them. I use cake, mostly. Cake and Being as Nice as Possible.
So, all my dealings with them involve a lot of smiling and relentless chirpiness. You must never, ever, ever betray the slightest irritation with them, or they may leave. And then where would we be? Knee-deep in uneaten cake, I imagine.
The problem is, at present, we all share the one office. Indeed, we all share the one house. The house is neatly divided into two halves. One half is the part which is open to the public, the showrooms. This is the part where the volunteers steward, keeping a watchful eye on the contents and interacting with the public. The other half is my living accommodation, my home. Then there is a small “no man’s land” lobby in the middle, where the two halves connect, and my office.
The office has many functions. This tiny room is not only my hub of operations, with all the computerisation and paperwork that entails, but it is also the storage area for conservation materials and cleaning equipment, a dumping ground for the boxes and boxes of leaflets we seem, as an organisation, to produce and – this is the tricky bit – the volunteers refreshment area. There is only one desk. On one half is my computer and diary. On the other is the kettle, mugs, cake and biscuit tins. There tends to be a mingling of areas, despite my best efforts. I may foolishly leave the office for a minute or two, to attend to a visitor enquiry, or go to the loo or something, leaving my neatly printed letter next to my keyboard, awaiting my signature and an envelope, and I will return to find three coffee mug rings, a smattering of crumbs and a sandwich crust upon it.
Also, if I happen to take time off for whatever reason – holiday, day in lieu, explosive diarrhoea – I run the risk of being spotted as I cross No Man’s Land to get to my living room or kitchen. The fact that I am Not Really There means nothing. Not when there are incredibly important issues, burning issues that cannot be contained, issues that simply have to be raised, right here, right now.
I’ll be flitting surruptitiously from one room to the next, when a volunteer will pop out from the office, hearing aid obviously attuned to my careful footfalls.
“Dor-is!” comes the cry in that slightly singsong way they have. “I know you’re on your day off/holiday/deathbed, but - ”
I smile. Through gritted teeth, Usually with my hand on the latch of the door to my kitchen to indicate my deep need to be gone. My body language is screaming, damn it. But? But what? But a visitor had a heart attack? But a Precious Thing caught fire? No. More important than that.
“- do we have any more animal stickers?”
I must stress that I am inordinately fond of them, really. And I do appreciate all they do, for free. But, be warned, this is a theme I will return to again and again, bless 'em.