Sir Stuart Etherington's fear of royal birthday bash beneath a plastic poncho

Plus: Lesley-Anne Alexander's new role, a leather harness is dragged out of Regent's Canal and Rob Wilson 'talks to staff'

Sir Stuart (c) hangs out with some royal mates
Sir Stuart (c) hangs out with some royal mates

Addressing the nation and the Commonwealth is slightly more daunting than making a few jokes at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' annual dinner, but Sir Stuart Etherington, the umbrella body's chief executive, didn't bat an eyelid when speaking at the street party in The Mall that closed the Queen's 90th birthday celebrations.

She is patron of more than 600 charities and, as chair of the Patron's Fund, he paid a solid tribute to her, quoted Churchill and introduced the Duke of Cambridge. Was he nervous? Only about the weather, according to an impeccable source - he really didn't want to have to address a global audience while wearing a plastic poncho.

Lesley-Anne Alexander's customer-focused approach to running the RNIB seems to have begun in her second job as a warden of sheltered housing in west London, when she would "borrow" her judo club's minibus and take the residents to the pub or shopping at Selfridge's. "They didn't buy anything - it was just the experience," she says. "But that's what they wanted to do - they didn't want to go and sit in a dusty church hall and have someone serve up mashed potato." Despite - or perhaps because of - that kind of thing, she was soon promoted.

A Second World War hand grenade, a 16-foot python (dead) and a VW camper van are among the unexpected items recovered from Britain's waterways over the years. Now the Canal & River Trust, the charity that took over the system in 2012, has salvaged from the murky depths a black leather harness, some handcuffs, a collar and lead designed for humans, and a sex swing. "We're used to working with locks and paddles, but not this sort," says a (rather fruity) spokesman. The find was in the Regent's Canal, where it passes the sometimes sleazy environs of London's Paddington station. Like you, At Large doesn't know what a sex swing is - and doesn't really want to.

The political imperative to show what a caring and big society we have has, over time, produced some fairly elastic definitions of volunteering. Ever posted a letter for a neighbour? Yes? Then tick the box! But in Volunteering Week in June, the boundaries expanded still further when the charities minister, Rob Wilson, visited the Furzedown Centre for older people in south London and, according to the subsequent press notice, "volunteered by assisting the older people and talking with the staff". Talked with the staff? Yay - tick that box!

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