Seven years ago, in a fit of abstraction, I moved, bag and baggage, from a miniscule village in the depths of Cardiganshire to the city of Hereford. After I arrived it dawned upon me that I knew not a single soul in this mighty emporium of a place. In fact, in terms of social life it would have been wiser for me to have headed for the innermost parts of the Sahara Desert. For the first year or so, I was heavily engaged in the resolution of mysteries such as washing up, cooking, cleaning, and all the other things that normal people deal with as a matter of course. This, naturally, could not go on forever; it just felt as if it did.

I had, as a member of the RSPB, taken up a comparatively simple job of taking care of some of the shop counter boxes through which we sell pin badges to the augmentation of the Society’s funds. When I agreed to do this I had little idea of the lengths to which this might lead. About six months later I received the fateful email which changed my life completely. As far as I can recall, it invited me to the nearby Country Park at Queenswood and, once there, I would join some chap whose function in life was to persuade the local punters that the RSPB was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that it was a jolly good thing to be part of. My particular role in this would be that of keeping any children of the party of the second part amused, whilst their parents were being given the sales pitch.

I replied to the effect that I had had no dealings with children since my three had grown up, left school, and embarked on their respective anti-social lifestyles. Further, I did not like children, and they, likewise, did not like me. This was answered by an invitation to come next week and give it a go. Being of unsound mind, I agreed.

 The following week I duly made my way to the place appointed where a small marquee was occupied by a rather large chap. His first step was to demonstrate the manufacture of the RSPB dragonfly (Mark I). I am now able to report that, five years later, I’m getting quite good at it. This turned out to be the basic child distracter, but there were (and are) others. These include owl pellet dissecting, badge making, bird feeder making to name but a few. I have, therefore, acquired a range of skills, which will stand me in good stead should I ever want to dissect an owl pellet, make a dragonfly, mix ‘em together, put ‘em in a birdfeeder and stick a badge on it so that the birds know the contents of that of which they are about to partake.

Seven years ago, I came to Hereford after a divorce which nearly destroyed me. Volunteering for the RSPB has given me back the schoolboy sense of humour I had over 60 years ago. That’s what comes of learning to love kids. It’s what comes of working with an organisation whose staff and members accept you for what you are, and ask no more of you than what you can give. It takes you to beautiful places to meet all kinds of wonderful people. It gives you the joy of being able to do something positive to help keep this miraculous world, and the miraculous life that lives in it, in being. It can make old age among the happiest years of your life.

Written by Bryan Holmes