Ron Calverley – 100 not out!

Ron has helped out at The Clockhouse day centre in Milford for 12 years – and was the face of a new National Lottery campaign launched to mark ‘Blue Monday’. Turning 100 in April, he is in isolation and misses volunteering at The Clockhouse enormously! This is his story…

I am a volunteer, in a local establishment.

I was seeing my Doctor with some minor complaint. As I was about to leave her surgery she said “is there anything else”?  I told her I was bored. She advised me the Clockhouse needed some volunteers why not volunteer?

Well that was a good prescription, it changed my life. I stopped being television addicted.  I presented myself to the then assistant manager of the Clockhouse.

She asked my age, 86 I replied. I think she blinked. I was given the job of pouring cups of tea from behind a small counter in the dining room.

The Clockhouse is a Day Centre for the elderly. It is a well-appointed building nestling in a quiet road in the village of Milford.

I go five times a week, usually passing through automatic doors about 9 a.m.

The doors slide open as I enter. I always think it is symbolic of someone flinging arms wide apart and saying welcome.

All is quiet. Jules the manager is sitting in her office looking at her computer screen. The receptionist is busying herself and waiting

It changes. A bus arrives at the front door. The passengers alight with their walking sticks and frames. They are all in their 70s, 80s and 90s. I would like to say it was with the sound of music. But this sound is better. It is the sound of old people happy to arrive meeting people like themselves, anticipating the day ahead, bringing with them companionship. Soon another bus load of O.A.P’s arrive.

They are greeted by the receptionist and a volunteer who helps them to discard their overcoats and hang them on the coat rail. Labels with their full names are pinned on their chests for identification. We are very informal, only forenames are used. There is a sort of satisfaction on their faces as they step into the foyer.

They fan out into the lounge with its comfortable chairs. There are smiles and laughter to start the new day.

I would say the morning is the noisy part of the day, the afternoon the quieter part, except when vocalists have been hired for the afternoon’s entertainment

Becky is our designated Carer. She is a girl with a good heart ready to help anyone in need. She has the patience of Job. Sometimes she is the Bingo caller. A few games of Bingo are played in the Dining room before lunch almost every day. I love it when Becky calls the numbers. She has a beautiful voice and I am hard of hearing.

Five and nine she calls, fifty nine the Brighton line, Number Ten Boris’s den,  Unlucky for some,  thirteen,   Legs eleven,   All the sixes clickity click and so on.
Her voice is so clear I don’t need my hearing aid. There are no money prizes; Instead tickets with money values printed on them are used 50p, 20p and 10 p.  All can be exchanged for goodies at the shop.

We have visitors from Elstead on Mondays. I refer to them as the Elstead Ladies. There are about ten in number, and they come to enjoy the Bingo called by a volunteer, and the raffle afterwards.  We are pleased for them to have lunch with us.

Becky recently successfully nursed her 4 year old daughter Ava who had chicken pox. Ava finished up scar free. Well done Becky!

That is not all the morning’s activity.  Paula, our Fitness Instructor operates a group of devotees with exercises suitable for the older person. They usually depart from the Clockhouse after the session. Just before lunch she holds another session for anyone who likes to join in.

I hope Paula never reads this. She has a weakness unbecoming a Fitness Instructor. Yeah, she sure does! Occasionally she indulges in a small bar of Bourneville chocolate. I admit, not very often. I know, because I am the Shopkeeper who sells it to her.

There is a Scrabble School. Cribbage, a large jigsaw puzzle is spread on a table. Always there is someone completely absorbed trying to fit in some pieces

I tried once and gave up after a few minutes.

Another activity we have is Karen’s Hair Salon; open all morning for haircuts, shampoos, perms. I do not think she does shaves. I bet she would if asked

Practically all Karen’s customers are of the feminine variety.

Lunch is served about 1245.

At 1230 the lounge starts to empty. The members drifting towards the dining room. Payment for the meal has been collected by another volunteer shortly after their arrival.

All the tables have earlier been prepared by volunteers. Everything is clean, smart and enticing.

I love the lunch hour. People grouping round their tables, chatting and laughing. This is probably the most sociable hour of the day.

Soon the noise abates. A magic sound has been heard, it is the sound made by the kitchen shutter rolling up disclosing the food about to be served.

Already volunteers have gathered at the hatch to serve the two course meal at the tables and to collect the plates when the meal has been consumed. Robin, another volunteer is in the kitchen accepting the dirty dishes through the small kitchen hatch for washing. Robin is 87 this year and has more energy than most.

All the time the members are munching away to their hearts content there is work to be done in the lounge.

Becky and Elvina are preparing the lounge for the afternoon’s entertainment.

I have told you about Becky, but not about Elvina. Well, before I start she recently married, so once again I am too late.

Elvina is friendly, always positive and outgoing and helpful. I am not going to spare her blushes. She is also very pretty.

Elvina is responsible for the Clockhouse activities and admin. It takes a genius to provide entertainment every afternoon all the year round. She does it. I do not know how. I particularly like one activity. She adjoins several tables into a long row accommodating about 10 people. Placed on the tables are paper and card sheets with designs for colouring. Pencils and tubes of water colouring paints with brushes are supplied. You realise the old ladies painting and colouring the sheets have discarded their years. They have become children again for a short while. I like peeking over their shoulders to look at their work. Some of it is quite intricate. Others, beautiful. They have lost their years for a little while but not their talent. It is a very pleasant scene

Other activities include film shows, games, and quizzes. All the games are sitting down games led by Elvina.

Sometimes you can hear a low murmur. The members are just happy to sit, chat, and reminisce

Then there is Helen who works silently on Wednesdays and Fridays behind an office door doing the accounts. I like Helen. I gave her some sausage rolls once, which she enjoyed. She was pleased. I may give her some more. (I did )

I haven’t mentioned all our activities. There are two Fairs, one in the summer and the other near Christmas. Each is manned by volunteers.

Of course there is a raffle. The prizes are all donated, many by local organisations.

Preparation starts the afternoon before the fair opens. Stalls are made for all the goodies to be displayed. Karen our Hairdresser runs the Tombola. Volunteers manage the stalls. David our Chef makes prodigious quantities of beef rolls. (With or without horse radish sauce.)

Cakes are available at the tea bar. All made by David.

I did not stay making tea. Two volunteers were doing it.  There wasn’t room for me.

I noticed a pile of dirty dishes through the kitchen’s small serving hatch.

I strolled into the kitchen and my real roll as a volunteer began. I worked three days a week for ten years before I escaped. Dave and I became good friends there is 59 years difference in our ages. I like to think my wit matches his. There is much banter in our relationship, which we both enjoy.

His best achievement is the week before Christmas. David prepares and cooks a three course Christmas lunch for five days. There are 50 to 70 diners. He does it alone. It is an astonishing achievement. The only help he wants are from Robin, and Lee, a part-time staff helper washing the dishes.

At the end of each meal David is forced out of the kitchen to acknowledge the diner’s thanks. He gives a brief nod lasting less than 5 seconds and disappears like a wisp of smoke back to the kitchen. I have watched this performance with amusement often over the years. I smile when I see it. David the modest hero? Only in this instance I hastily add.

David has another achievement occurring during my time in the kitchen

He met Hayley. They married and have produced two delightful children Alfie and Lily. Is there is no end to this man’s talent?

Do you want a Birthday Card? We’ve got plenty. How about a Greetings Card? We’ve got plenty of those as well. We have books in abundance, and C.Ds galore.

More than anything else, we have the warmth of human kindness, tolerance empathy, understanding and goodwill. All this is waiting behind those sliding doors.

I first entered the Clockhouse when I was 86 years old. I am now 99 years old. My 100th is approaching with alarming rapidity

My legs told me my washing up days in the kitchen were coming to an end.

Nothing loathe I became a shopkeeper for three days a week. I say a shop, but it is a table on which the goodies are displayed

My world changed again. Before, I was the face behind the kitchen hatch. Now I am up front and face to face with the members. It is quite an experience. Especially when I calculate the change I should give them.

They may be frail supporting themselves with walkers or canes, but they are sharp, very sharp. Before I am halfway to a solution I am told what the change is. So I discard my calculator, because it cannot compete.  If the change is a few coppers. I am told to keep it for the Clockhouse.

Sometimes a person approaches who has great difficulty in walking. I say “good morning. Can I help you”?  This is met with silence. I realise she has a speaking problem. She searches through the products on display. She takes what she wants, and this is the part of the sale that hits me. Without saying a word she hands me her purse to take the money and complete the sale.

To be trusted like that, especially by a very old helpless lady is a very humbling experience. The feeling has reoccurred as I write.

Another customer tells me she is partially sighted. She cannot identify some coins. She offers me her opened purse to complete the sale.

I have regular customers. They nearly always greet me with a smile and sometime we pass pleasantries, which I find very nice. Many walk past my shop as they enter and give a smile of greeting, or a good morning. The Shop is closed at 1230

I have introduced Elvina, Becky, David, Helen, Paula, Karen, Lee, Robin and Kirah

Now I introduce you to Jules our Manager who is responsible to the Board of Trustees for the good management of the Clockhouse.

Well, I am resisting waxing lyrical about our Jules, so aptly named.  I am finding it difficult not to .

She is a very personable popular Lady. Quietly authoritive, decisive, gently persuasive, if needs be. Her office door with few exceptions is always open. Her technique is admirable.

Come off it you might say, just Jules, Elvina and Becky to manage the daily affairs?

Of course you are correct. No matter how good they are they need help. The help are the volunteers.  Most are retired pensioners, all with cheerful personalities. We men are outnumbered. Apart from myself there is only Robin and John active in the day. So come on chaps give us a hand.

I don’t want to give the impression we are smothered all day with volunteers. We are not. They come in, do their jobs have a little chat and depart. Some stay until we close, if the need is there. I find it amazing how the volunteers  proceed with their tasks. I have never heard any orders being given, yet the system works like clockwork. This is because of Jules’s good management and the willingness of the volunteers.

Every spring the Trustees show their appreciation. Each volunteer receives a personal invitation to a two course evening meal and light entertainment. The volunteers are allowed one guest. Last Spring 65 people attended. It was like a family gathering. The trustees serve the meals

David cooks the meal, again without assistance, then does his quick nod and disappearing trick.

The youngest volunteer is Kirah a shy girl of 18 years. She appears every Tuesday morning, starting work immediately. Before lunch you will find her taking orders for sandwiches and making tea. When lunch arrives you are suddenly aware Kirah has disappeared. She arrived and left the Clockhouse silently, as if by magic.

Can you imagine the Clockhouse as a box?  I have lifted the lid off for you to look inside. I hope you liked what you have seen. It is such a happy place.

It has been my working environment for 13 years. I am not the longest serving volunteer but I am the oldest. It is ironic. At 99 years of age I am helping to look after youngsters in their eighties. It is an enjoyable experience.  Without it I would have been long gone

The scourge of the Elderly is loneliness. The Clockhouse provides an antidote.

Ron Calverley

The Clockhouse is a social day centre, located in Milford, providing a range of activities for those pre & post retirement. Drop into see us, have a look around and enjoy a lovely cup of tea or coffee, in our friendly cafe. There’s no membership fee, although we do charge for some activities and services – please see those pages for more information. Closed at the moment due to Coronavirus, it will be back up and runninga s soon as possible! For more information, please visit www.clockhouse.org.uk.

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