Since my last blog post I have left one job, spent a few days in the Netherlands, started another job, celebrated my 35th birthday and produced a short film in an abandoned copper quarry in North Anglesey. If you’re worried that this is going to turn into a 8,000-word exposition, don’t fret: I’m going to spread out this material over the coming weeks. WordPress tells me I have already written a post entitled Endings, which does nothing to allay the fear I am starting to repeat myself in this blog. Oh, well. Endings (2) it is then.
Tuesday 30th June was the last day of my contract with the Albany, and also my last ever Meet Me at the Albany. The past six months having flown by at an alarming speed, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a heatwave, with a lot more hair than when I started back in January, about to say goodbye to my volunteers and colleagues and of course the Meet Me participants.
A couple of people were a little bit tearful, which I don’t necessarily attribute to my leaving but more to ‘change’ in general, and perhaps the associations that it brings (losing a good friend or a loved one; moving house etc.). I had a few very nice final chats with the Meet Me members and received lots of thank you’s and God Bless’s and hugs, as well as a tin of shortbread biscuits from Dahlia (a tiny 90-year-old who is always smiling and saying ‘oh yes dear’ when I ask her if she’s having a good time today), an obscenely large bouquet of pink and white flowers picked by Ted (well into his 80s and an all-round lovely gent), some very kind words, lots and lots of cards, and an impromptu rendition of We’ll Meet Again.
I managed to restrain myself in the pub that evening (the amusingly-titled Job Centre in Deptford) – if I had accepted all the drinks people offered me, I would have collapsed after about an hour. Ted insisted on buying everyone drinks all evening, including champagne ‘for the ladies.’ I stumbled onto my 10.30pm train home from London Bridge to find it had been shortened to two carriages, leaving me squashed in between fellow disgruntled passengers whilst precariously balancing my enormous flowers (now elegantly held in a plastic Daz modelling clay bucket, seeing as its original cellophane container had burst dramatically several hours earlier) in one hand and trying to shove a Big Tasty in my mouth with the other.
I was somewhat overwhelmed by the send-off from the Albany, if I’m honest. I was so pleased to see that my six months there had made a difference in some way. At times, the job really pushed my little introverted self to the limit as I had to deal with all the things that inevitably come up when you work with, and manage, people: obstacles thrown up by life; injustices brought about by a government intent on looking after the rich; illness; conflict. But I took time to listen to people and sometimes that’s all you need. I have an inordinate amount of respect for each one of the volunteers that give up the best part of their Tuesday each week to help older people socialise and connect with the arts – talented, committed, passionate people whose circumstances often made me reflect on how lucky and privileged I am. I learnt so much from that job, and hope to see the project thrive and develop over the coming years – maybe one day (hopefully by the time I’m in my 80s) there will be a Meet Me at the Albany in every neighbourhood.
Two days later, I found myself in the beautifully-designed canteen of the beautifully-designed school where my mother has taught Dutch for the last 32 years, listening to her valedictory speech. Her work at the school in the rural north of Groningen has been part of the fabric of our lives for as long as I can remember, so her retirement was quite a momentous occasion. It was so obvious how much they were going to miss her, and that the impression I had always had of her as a truly exceptional teacher was entirely justified. I’m very proud of her, and hope that she’ll spend a significant proportion of her new-found time making trips to the UK.