I have long needed extra help in the house. McColleague is a one woman wonder, a dynamo, and does far more than the actual six hours a week she's actually paid for. Still, no matter how far we stretch those six hours, they in no way cover all that needs doing. This means that when McColleague isn't here, I fill in the gaps. When I fill in the gaps, my important managerial tasks involving files, reports, budgets and other bits of paperwork, do not happen. When vital bits of paper don't arrive on Important Person's desks on the appointed day, I receive terse little emails, stressing how very important it is that the visitor statistics are received on time. I then have to send terse little replies about how very important it is to have the house open on time for people to visit in the first place. Before you know it we're all being terse, and where is the love?
Of course money is always the problem. No finances for extra hours for McColleague, let alone for an additional member of staff. So, I put out a plea for conservation volunteers to help in the house.
To my utter astonishment, someone was interested! A delightful young woman applied to become a full time volunteer conservation assistant. The question was, would she be put off by the actuality of the job itself? The perception is that there will be lots of wearing white cotton gloves, cleaning ceramics with a cotton bud or dusting with a pony hair brush. The truth is that interesting, meticulous tasks like those take up a tiny proportion of the working year, with the vast majority of the time taken up with boring old hoovering and dusting. There just isn't time to do anything else before the house opens to the public each day. The basics are dull, but necessary. Bat poo needs to be hoovered up, dead flowers need to be replaced with fresh ones, litter bins need emptying and loo rolls replacing.
All of this was explained in advance, in great detail to our New Girl, and, to her credit, she still turned up to give it a go. Along with the conservation side of things, she was also interested in learning about how a heritage site is managed, so at least she's getting an honest experience.
I hope she finds it has been worthwhile. (There is a tendency to worry you're not giving your volunteer interesting enough tasks, so you end up emptying the bins and doing the hoovering while they get to do something more glamorous or fun. Several of my counterparts at other properties have fell into the same trap. I am trying hard not to let it happen this time. The job is what it is, after all.) She keeps coming back, and she's still smiling, so it bodes well.
A key educational moment came fairly early on in her volunteerhood. Myself, McColleague and the New Girl were outside installing solar powered lights along the path, ready for an evening event. The lights were mounted on the end of a black plastic stick, with a pointy end, so you can just push them into the ground wherever you need them. Well, in theory, anyway. The ground was proving too hard.
"McColleague, " I yelled down the path. "Fetch the hammer and a bit of wood!"
I turned to smile at the New Girl. "There," I said. "When you hear me call for the hammer and a bit of wood, you know that's proper conservation."
This week I have told her to bring her wellies, as I have another conservation project in store. If she sticks with it, I may break out the cotton buds and white gloves, as a treat.