Welcome Back



Hello and welcome back to the Oxfam Balham blog!

My Day as a Volunteer

I have recently started here at Oxfam Balham (roughly a month ago) and I am very excited to be taking over the internet realm of Oxfam.

A typical volunteer shift is four hours long (10am – 2pm or 2pm – 6pm) and will include a range of activities: serving customers on the shop floor; photographing and writing up descriptions of the books to be featured online; pricing donations; replenishing stock, and drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee. I am finding it great fun. I’m meeting new people, building up a network of ‘people I know in Balham’ (living in London can feel isolating when you’ve grown up in a small town where everyone knows everyone) and volunteering is always a great way to do that. As a life-long book lover, I am happiest in a bookshop. The atmosphere here is relaxed and calm, and my fellow volunteers are friendly, welcoming, occasionally weird, and all round lovely people.

Rare and Interesting Finds

I particularly enjoy sorting donations (as my colleagues are doing as I type this) – it always yields something interesting. Today two black-and-white portrait photos turned up in a donation, photos of Robert ‘Bob’ Coults and his brother Edward Coults. Bob is in military uniform and Edward is in a smart suit and tie. The only information on the photos is their names, and that Edward died in the USA. Sadly we have no information on the donor of these lovely photos – do let us know if you are the donor or a relation. Until then Bob and Edward have taken pride of place next to our new manager’s much loved Jimi Hendrix poster because, as a volunteer team, we are a sentimental lot.

New manager Eleanor is a bit of a music nerd so she’s made sure there are plenty of CD’s and LP’s on sale.There’s a rare 1967 vinyl copy of ‘The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in really good condition, and it includes a page of yet-to-be-cut-out cardboard cut-outs of the band.

The Online Shop

The online bookshop is open 24/7. It features all manner of rare and intriguing books, including a book of beautifully illustrated fairy tales ‘Flora’s Feast’, published 1899, and a first edition, two-volume set of ‘A History of Ireland, From the Earliest Period, to the Present Time, in a Series of Letters’, published in 1783. These are just a couple of the wonderful books to be found. The online shop can be accessed through the Oxfam Balham website: http://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop/local-shops/oxfam-shop-balham. Just click on ‘see all items for sale’ to see the whole range of books and memorabilia on offer.

The Book Group

The book group meets once a month to have a natter about books over a cup of tea or coffee. This month we’ll be discussing ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery’ by Henry Marsh. The group will meet on Wednesday 19th August at 7.30pm here at Oxfam Books.

Here’s an excerpt from chapter one:


“I often have to cut into the brain and it is something I hate doing. With a pair of diathermy forceps I coagulate the beautiful and intricate red blood vessels that lie on the brain’s shining surface. I cut into it with a small scalpel and make a hole through which I push with a fine sucker – as the brain has the consistency of jelly a sucker is the brain surgeon’s principal tool. I look down my operating microscope, feeling my way downwards through the soft white substance of the brain, searching for the tumor. The idea that my sucker is moving through thought itself, through emotion and reason, that memories, dreams and reflections should consist of jelly, is simply too strange to understand.”

Science isn’t really my thing, I’m looking forward to reading this. It’s beautifully written, gives an honest account of life in a hospital, and shows how surgery is a difficult procedure, physically and emotionally, for both the patient and the surgeon.

I hope to make it over. If I do, I’ll bring cake.

– Jenny


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