I had the best time last night, I played chess. I’ve always wanted to learn but my brain doesn’t think in stratagems and counter-stratagems, it just sort of goes with the flow. A few people have tried to teach me but they all gave up in the face of my total ineptness. So last night someone asked if I could play, I explained that I knew the rules but not how to play the game and he said he would teach me.
So he sat and patiently explained why every duff move I made was bad and let me have another go. I was especially impressed because he explained everything perfectly in English (not his mother tongue) and had the patience not to take advantage of my floundering up and down the board. We talked about strategies and why chess helps develop other skills and a bit about places in Europe I’d like to visit. Eventually though the inevitable happened, my king was cornered. Check mate.
I went outside for a cig and met a guy who was a dancer. We talked about how hard it was to get work when you are only as good as your audition or your last job. I told him how much I’d like to be a writer, but i like the security of a regular job. Someone else chipped in that it was better to be fulfilled than stuck behind a desk doing something you hate. I guess you only live once so why limit you ambitions. He also made a very astute point about how we judge success or failure relative to what we actually achieve. One of the main reasons I carry on smoking despite all the tax and standing in the rain is the people you meet standing in doorways.
I suppose you might ask where I was last night. I was volunteering in a homeless shelter in London. Sadly I don’t get the time to do it often but I really enjoy it. It never feels like I have ‘given up’ time to work there because I gain so much. Over the past two winters I’ve played board games, card games, debated current affairs, learned about places and cultures all over the world. It’s a strange environment because it doesn’t feel forced; some people like to sit and chat, others just go to bed.
It has been a pleasure to be involved with the project and has changed my perception of homelessness completely. It’s easy to sit and imagine homeless people as lazy or somehow bad people but the people I have met are funny, kind, interesting to talk to and just unlucky with the cards they have been dealt. I’m not sure what it was I expected when I first volunteered but I was pleasantly surprised and wanted to write this to try and encourage other people to get involved with similar projects near them.
C4WS is a project run all year round and operating a cold weather shelter in churches around Camden in the winter. To find out more follow them on twitter @C4WSCamden