No Cinderellas please! (Soup Kitchen Diaries #08)

Get in there and listen to the Music

It’s been a lively week so far. My campaign to extend the 12 months period to 36 months for early access to pension for the terminally-ill grinds on, but time for including my amendment in the current Finance Bill is running out. However, I have a professional ally and after a meeting at his office in the West End, he wants the relevant correspondence summarised so he can bring his expertise to bear on the matter. Three hours and 14 emails later – job done.

Earlier in the week I do my first full day as a phone volunteer at TPAS The Pensions Advisory Service, which is great fun. Less than 200 phone calls so it’s a quiet day. The boost to one’s professional knowledge is amazing – at the end of the day you feel you have been on a pensions bootcamp. Any retired or bored financial advisers reading this and can spare say, one day a month? see this link.

As another bonus, a referral might have another connection which could help my campaign, plus a follower on Twitter asks me if I want to write up my experiences of throat cancer?

Having had a fairly full day, my thoughts look ahead to a quiet evening, when the phone rings.

Are you free tonight? We’re a bit short

Putting duty before quiet, I promise to be at the Soup Kitchen at 7pm. Something special is on and when I arrive much of the work has been done with tables set out and places laid. This is the first Wednesday I have worked there and I am the only guy, but there are tablecloths and flowers plus we have a singer coming in. Interesting how different crews do things. One night the tea urn is in the hatch between the washing up kitchen and the dining area. Another crew put the urn on a small table near the hatch while this crew puts it all on a large table at one side. Not much for me to do except warm the tea urn up with three kettles of boiling water so when this urn (with 24 tea bags initially) is filled up from the main one, the tea is hot rather than just warm.

Tonight we open at 7.30pm and the lady in charge tells me she wants me out in the dining area keeping an eye on things. Everything is ready, so I open the door and 9 guests stroll in. It is very slow at first and it looks like loads of food will be left over. Some volunteers from the City have been in earlier and made 5 huge pans of potato and sweet corn quiche which smells delicious along with trays of roast chicken and roast vegetables. Bang goes my 600 calorie fasting target for the day. There seems to have been a slight misunderstanding about what the City volunteers would do, as they left after doing their cooking, leaving the crew slightly short, hence the phone call. A late rush means bulking up the main pots with tinned vegetables, so everyone gets fed. Forty-odd meals are served, plus one guy gets quietly given a couple of cans of tuna at the end, for him to take home.

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It’s a bit quiet

The crew of several ladies including an Irish nun are veterans of the soup kitchen, and one them remarks how quiet it is. The atmosphere seems very calm. Is it the table cloths, the unusual food? One of the ladies says she likes to talk to some of the guests, and as we are not short now, that sounds a very good thing. Most guests sit at the tables and chat, but a handful prefer to eat on their own, and it is these that the lady talks to.

About 10 minutes later than expected, the singer arrives with her co-vocalist and piano player. I seem to have ended up in my usual place keeping the very fast dishwasher occupied and the hatch is closed so the noise of my work doesn’t distract the singer Hollie Haines Three songs later, the lady supervisor comes into the washing-up kitchen (Stop being like Cinderella!) ordering me out to sit down and listen to the lovely music. We are treated to 5 songs, including one she wrote herself.

Cheap have texture numbers web has platinum?

There’s always one..

Later than usual, we start clearing. Our regular late guy comes in after the singing has finished, but he is happy with a take away. Around Muswell Hill one starts to recognise various “guests” – some respond when you say hallo, some do not. Quite a few guests come from miles away, perhaps not wanting to be seen at a soup kitchen in their own area?

At the end of the evening, the surplus is given to the guests as take aways for those who want them. One asks for a carrier bag to take home the surplus buttered bread. I am released at 9pm and treat myself to a beautiful loaf of Rosemary & Thyme artisan bread from Waitrose on the way home. Back on usual duty in two weeks time – unless the phone rings, maybe.

Want to volunteer yourself? Start at your local church or Google your area with “Volunteer”. Homeless numbers are increasing

George Emsden
Now retired, George is busier than ever: working through an OU Maths & Physics degree, blogs, volunteering at Muswell Hill Soup Kitchen and Haringey Winter Shelter plus being a very proud granddad.