We have an old ship’s bell hanging in the yard. Daily it is clanged to summon us, gather us together for lunch, usually about one o’clock. On a quiet day we will be around 12 people, a normal busy day at 17.
Eating together has always been at the core of LandWorks, initially five of us perched around a rickety old camping table. Eating, chatting, arguing, and laughing.
Men who are fixed in their ways from too much prison, on occasion physically shake at the prospect of eating communally: “Chris, I’ve never been around straight [drug-free] people, not since I was 15, that’s 34 years ago”. We all sit down together.
Social etiquette or just basic good manners have had their moments…. Frank pushed back his plate and proclaimed, “Julie, that’s f@#king disgusting”. An unexpected response to a ‘Nigella’ Greek pudding.
Frank later apologised, explaining he was so out of his comfort zone, he never sat down at a table to eat, always on the move. But he wanted to be part of it. And he progressed to help cook a great number of delicious (non-Nigella) meals for us all.
So, it’s never actually kicked off…but there have been times.
Moments of extreme discomfort, occasions when I have quickly intervened using distraction techniques honed from when my children were toddlers. Not so much singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ but, for example, swiftly suggesting that the individual who is on the verge of having a paroxysm has something of ‘Elvis’ about him. It’s surprisingly effective!
Absurdities can and do occur. Weirdly simple veg dishes can push a ‘carnivore’ to his limits. There must be meat. “A man is defined by what he eats, and I am not a vegetarian. I’ll have a cheese sandwich instead!”
Cooking starts around 10.30. Always 1:1 working, one of the guys paired up with a volunteer. It works well, really well; conversation is intertwined with learning a new recipe or techniques or a life story that you thought you would never hear. The pressure builds, one o’clock is approaching and the chicken still isn’t quite done…
Then unhelpfully I suddenly pop my head around the corner and ask if we could cater for a probation officer who is unexpectedly bringing a new referral straight from prison…
“Yep that’s no problem, Chris”
“Great, errr I think he may be vegetarian,” I shout as I leave the building, not quite catching the reply, but I’m sure it’s okay.
The newbie arrives and is confronted with a huge table (5m long) with all sorts of characters around it. It is never as daunting as I fear, people are so good, perhaps remembering their first meal here, welcoming and sharing food, conversation, and the laughter that I know will break out, does so.
Note from the Editor: “The Greek pudding with thyme and honey was delicious.”
Tony completes his trek across Costa Rica for LandWorks!
Message from Tony Everett:
“The walk across Costa Rica has now been completed and with tired legs and worn feet I am now back. From temperatures in the mid 30s and very high humidity to this “beast of the east” in the UK. The whole trip was a great success and no injuries to anyone although one person had to drop out. Very steep hills over the Talamanca range which separates the Pacific from the Carribean. Deep rainforest and much use of machettes and walking across incredible landslides due to the heavy rains in November.
To dip a toe in the Pacific and one finally in the Caribbean is quite an experience!
Thank you to all those who have sponsored me. LandWorks is doing such a good job in the rehabilitation of those who have been in or at risk of going to prison and I know are very grateful.
We have doubled the initial target of £2500 which is fantastic.
For those of you who might have been waiting for me completing the walk, there is still time to donate by clicking here “