The Princess 👑 and The Odissi Dancers

The gorgeous and talented Desiree Bashi created this beautiful image and prompted me to try and write the story behind it. I hope you like it 🙏🏽

Princess Madhvi – it’s such a wonderful name, isn’t it. So pretty and graceful. You will probably be imagining a beautiful Indian princess dressed in an ornate extravagant jewelled gown. Perhaps in pink or blue or emerald green. Ok, so she was really very pretty; well actually the prettiest in the land! I know that’s such a predictable start to a story but I don’t want to lie to you all.

But that’s where the good stuff ends. I’m sorry to disappoint…but in reality she was a nightmare child! Well when I say a child she was actually 17!! And her 18th birthday was fast approaching.

Madhvi’s parents were very generous with their time and love for their people. Everyone seemed to live happily in this enchanted idyllic land. The only time that they weren’t smiling and dancing was when they came anywhere near Madhvi.

She could do everything and did it well; she could paint, she could ride, she could sing, she could run fast, she could write well. In fact, all the other children were in awe of her but no one really wanted to be her friend because she never seemed happy and if she wasn’t happy she made sure those around her were miserable. She just couldn’t help it.

No one could understand why she was not content with her life and all the pleasures that came with being a princess. I know you’re all rolling your eyes wondering what is wrong with this young woman. So let me tell you: Madhvi just couldn’t dance! No rhythm at all. Could not coordinate arms and legs, looked like a broken puppet. Not a big deal is it, you’re thinking. But if you’re a princess, you are expected to dance and be graceful and be twirled around by handsome princes at grand balls. And when does that start? You’ve guessed it! At her 18th birthday party. Like all princesses she would need to find a prince. Sorry to be peddling stereotypes.

It had been two years of planning by the king, queen and numerous minions up and down the land getting the best of everything. In the meantime in a private room somewhere in the palace Madhvi was watching different dancers and after each performance she would, with their encouragement, join them. What can I say?! it was a disaster. They would politely reassure her that this wasn’t her dance but the next one surely would be just her “thing”. Well let me tell you, that never happened and Madhvi became more irritable and, in addition, very sad. She even stopped looking beautiful.

At this point I think we need some magic to help out our princess. No fairies or magic slippers or even unicorns but a fish! And a tiny fish at that. No, I don’t know her name. But for the sake of this story let’s call her Payal.

Payal’s job was to bring the last remaining form of dance that the princes had not seen or tried to the court, Odissi. It was a dance that came from a distant land and had been made famous by Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree. When the dancers heard of the princess’s plight, they wanted to help. The three dancers set sail in a round boat that had no sail. Although very frightened they knew they would be fine as Payal appeared ahead of them and sparkled, set the route and seemed to pull them along…

The friends were at sea for many weeks but in our story it was just a few days. Delicious fruits, cheeses, bread and fresh water appeared during the night. The girls ate, drank, sang and enjoyed their time at sea. But they were starting to miss their dancing and were worried they would disappoint the king and queen. They were very proud of their Odissi dance and spent many hours practicing and preparing their vibrant costumes and jewellery. They were always immaculate and prepared. Professionals, you might say.

Payal shone and shimmered. She would swim ahead, dart back and then swim around the boat. She would smile at the girls and they would wave back enthusiastically. On day eight the dancers awoke to see that Payal was no longer in sight and their boat was now amongst others all in a row, but theirs was the only small round one!! And the only one without sails. Not a particularly cool way to arrive to a new country, they thought. They whispered amongst each other as to what they should do next. Both Desiree and Sheeba looked towards Parvati for some guidance; after all, she was the oldest and wisest. They loved and respected her.

Parvati stepped out of the boat and helped her friends out. As they stepped forward they noticed a tall beautiful woman with long flowing black hair wearing with a long silver dress. She had a very familiar smile and as they stared at her she gave them a wink. Good grief, they thought! And all of a sudden there were crowds around them creating a path behind the woman. Parvati encouraged the other two to follow…what else could they do? Payal had disappeared and their boat was trapped between these fancy ships.

You’ve guessed it! They were soon at the palace gates which were adorned with flowers and jewels. They had never seen anything so special and beautiful (I know this word is being overused but there is no other way of saying it). I really wish you could see it. The tall woman with no name knocked ever so gently that the three friends wondered who would actually hear them. However within seconds the gates swung open and they carried on in. It was your typical palace but there seemed to be an abundance of beautiful flowers, many of which the dancers had never seen before.

Once in the dance room Parvati, Sheeba and Desiree were left all alone, oh except for the musicians who sat at one end. It had been a long time since they had been in such a wonderful space that the friends started working together and danced. All were moving to the music and telling stories of the Gods, watching each other, switching places and continuing the dance. They did not notice the three people spying on them from above; all were entranced and smiling at each other with knowing and approving looks.

Guess who the three were ? The King. The Queen. The third one was the tall beautiful woman named Payal – I am sure you’ve all guessed this already. She was not your normal fairy godmother!

The plan was made. Madhvi would be initially allowed to watch the three Odissi dancers and would slowly, under Parvati’s tutelage, begin learning the basics. Over the weeks and months, Madhvi seemed to develop an aura about her. She looked even more radiant and beautiful but now she also spoke sweetly and was kind and generous – a younger version of the Queen herself.

And the other extraordinary revelation I have for you is that she was a natural and gifted Odissi dancer. I would never have guessed that part. The three soon became four. They would perform for the court and anyone else amongst the fragrant gardens. And from Odissi Madhvi learnt the connection between her body and music; she was graceful and captivating.

The eighteenth birthday celebrations were approaching and Madhvi had learnt all the rules for the day – they were endless! How to dress. How to address people. How to receive the Princes and their gifts. When to sit and stand at the party (she did wonder if this was really what a party was). With whom she could and should dance. What a bore this was going to be, she thought, and felt ashamed about feeling ungrateful. She really had changed.

The night of the party arrived. The three dancers put on a special show for Madhvi. The princess was watching intently but she longed to be with them. She mingled gracefully amongst the guests as planned. Then it was time for her to receive the good wishes and possible marriage proposals from the Princes arriving from far off lands. This seemed to take forever and she was getting visibly bored. The king was looking at his daughter encouraging her to smile. She could not. There was not one handsome man amongst this lot. I just wanted to clear up that no handsome prince was about to sweep her off! And anyway that’s not what she was unhappy about. She was sad that the dancers were leaving that evening. They had admirably completed their task and had come to love Madhvi in the process.

All of a sudden there was a gasp, then ‘oh my’s, followed by some claps. The line of Princes stood speechless and could only watch as Madhvi shouted, “I’m too young to worry about this and anyway I am going to take a gap year for dancing”. Didn’t I say she was also very bright and had a place at university? Princesses do normal things, too!

She ran bare feet alongside the sea in her ridiculously heavy embroidered and jewelled gown gown and hoped that her new friends and teachers were still there. They were waiting for her. The four friends, that included Madhvi now, ate, drank water (no alcohol as it’s a children’s story), slept and talked of nothing but their beloved Odissi and where they would dance next.

Payal sparkled and shone and was now guiding four friends across the ocean. For a tiny fish she never seemed to tire….and knew exactly where she was taking them.

To be continued I am sure …..

There was & There were & There will be 💕

There was a lifetime of normal.

There was a lifetime of being independent.

There was a lifetime of being strong.

There was a lifetime of being a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunty.

There were two children – one of each.

There was a lifetime a lifetime ago.

There were many hours at the mandir.

There were countless steps along the Broadway.

There were yards and yards of sarees.

There were never ending supply of shoes.

There were countless people fed, my cooking was in demand.

There were the strokes, they were drawn to me.

There was the dementia, when did it arrive ?

There were the months of being incomplete.

There were the piles of dosset boxes.

There were the glorious months back home in India.

There were the endless adaptations to make life easy for me.

There were the wheelchair walks to the park.

There were the attempts at frame walking, I was an unwilling participant.

There were the fun days with family.

There were the visits from the grandchildren;Nanimum and Daadiji.

There were the times I couldn’t stop talking.

There were the days I made life bleak for those around me – they didn’t seem to mind! They pretended…

There were the flowers that Guddi always bought.

There was the smile that Simon bought.

There was the love that Sam showered me with.

There were yet more ambulance rides.

There were the worried looks on faces.

There were many hospitals and many wards.

There was the garden where I soaked up the sun, the amazing tilt & space wheelchair.

There were the ups and downs of the hoist machine, some escape from the bed.

There was June who shouted all the time but she didn’t know why?

There was the lady who was beside me for many weeks and then wasn’t.

There was the young girl who lied and made lots of noise.

But she couldn’t help it, I saw the cuts.

There was the young woman who moaned all the time. She wanted a hotel experience.

There were the women who had no visitors, my heart breaks for them.

There were the nurses who called me Aunty.

There were the nurses who cared.

There were the young doctors who seemed too scared to speak.

There was the giving consultant.

There was the “get the bed emptied” consultant.

There were the relentless needles, hunt the vein.

There were the unforgivable hospital meals that Ramesh fed me.

There was the nasty thickener in everything, even the tea.

There is this room, with Sky TV no less

There is Zee, Sony and religious programmes, I want my soaps.

There is Gayatri Mantra every time Guddi is about.

There is the missing tea.

There are flowers, photos and a little temple – this is my new home.

There are the people standing over me, wanting me to acknowledge them.

This is Meadowhouse Hospice , this is my last stop.

There was my family.

There was the love.

There was the worry.

There were the tears.

There was hope.

There will be a future for all.

There will be someone watching closely.

There will be light again.

💕💕💕💕💕

My mummy

Shashi Bala Sharma

10th July 1946 – 11th October 2019

The Art of Buffet Eating 🍵🍤🥘🍲🥗🌮🥙🍕🍗🍳🥚🧀🥖🥔🍠🍞🥕🥒🍆🥭🍓🍇🍉🍌🍒🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢

In this world of excess I would like to take you through some do’s and don’ts when confronted with a buffet. As the holiday season approaches I hope you will find my words of some use.

Actually the trick is not to go big on the first visit. Pace yourself … pace yourself … pace yourself.

Be calm and cool. Walk casually glancing but note contents at each station. Don’t show signs of commitment even if the displays are magnificent and enticing. It’s a negotiation between your head, eyes and stomach.

Forget about the principle of a three course meal. Buffet eating is when the number of courses should not be mentioned.Haven’t you heard “what happens at the buffet table stays at the buffet table”.

Also don’t limit yourself by being choosy .. “I’m having Indian , Italian, salad or pizza ….” No no no. Buffet is the one time when you can mix and match cuisines with ease and without judgement. Pizza and curry – why not? To make it more interactive there are often chefs at each of these stations – the Indian guy making fresh naans, the Italian (🤔) making pizza, the Arabic guy arranging the Middle East table etc etc. I for one believe (or am I dreaming again) that the nationalities of the food and chef are “matchy matchy”. Then there is the head honcho wondering around making sure that not a bean, a prawn or lettuce leaf are out of place and playing their part in this show.

To give you an example to get you buffet ready ;

Option 1

Starter: flat bread, hummus, tatziki, cucumber, carrot, popadom, salad

Mains: naan, Kashmiri pilau rice, okra curry, chickpeas, paneer & peas, popadom , raita

Desserts (note plural form): fruit, baklava,pear tart, – avoid the chocolate fountain unless you want to be splashed by the giggly girls experimenting with various food and their chocolate applications !!

Option 2 (see the seafood theme)

Starter :prawns, mussels smoked salmon fish and salad

Mains : South Indian fish curry, fish Biryani , grouper and nan bread

Desserts : baklava , fruit,

Drinks: wine , beer , coffee and water

I am sure they use stylists at these buffets. Each one looks like a piece of artwork and who wants to be the first to put a great big ladle or knife through it.And that dessert counter or should I say counters. Which wonderful chef created that. That trauma at the end of a meal where you can’t choose one single pudding, gone in a swish. No sharing needed. And perfect for me to try a bit of everything. 😱

Don’t be complacent though, watch out for

⁃ the people who pile their plates so high that they can’t remember what was on the bottom layer. They will get their money’s worth!!

⁃ The naughty kids at the ice cream station who can’t stop the ice cream from flowing.

⁃ The people who don’t know how to queue at the omelette station ! I’m not calling out the nationalities — you know who you are and don’t want to start a diplomatic incident….. When you do get to the front make sure you don’t faff and ruin the flow .

⁃ Those children running around making it a dangerous assault course. 😂

⁃ Mistakenly using a large plate for the starters. Hmmmm we don’t do that do we?

⁃ Bad timing, you don’t want to be that person standing waiting for one thing that’s being replenished.

⁃ That one person who wants a guided tour of the whole buffet- I think this is just delaying tactics because they are confused and overwhelmed.

Now that you’ve ready don’t get lulled into some false sense of security if you arrive at a themed buffet. It is out to get you . They will squeeze in flavours and options that will make you raise your eyebrows. Go with it … buffets are a perfect place for experimentation.

Food priority is an area to consider. Especially for those that eat everything. Why would you put cucumber 🥒 (love cucumber btw) on your plate if you could put prawns 🍤 or lobster 🦞? Don’t fill up on bread, it’s easily done with the mountain display of tempting shapes, flavours and seeded options. Then they throw in rolls and flatbreads. Slowly walk past and acknowledge this carb feature or if you must take some for one person. You are not sharing tonight -reminder.

And if all options fail (as it sometimes does for me) play the I am a vegetarian card “really disappointed with the choice you have amongst all this wonderful… no I don’t want to have salad again for £££. Yes that would be very kind of chef. Yes if he could make it spicy that would be lovely.”😬 Smile graciously and thank generously- how many nights are you here ?!?!?!

Be careful in those restaurants. It may be prudent, no absolutely necessary to have another person with you. But make sure that the other isn’t my hubby – a buffet tart! No dear I don’t have any tablets – no I didn’t keep a track of how many courses you had. “Did I drink too much as well?” Imagine my rolling eyes 🤦🏽‍♀️.

No need to make eye contact with the waiting staff… they’ve seen worse. Remind yourself that you are not greedy and it was in the contract to taste as many foods as possible. It would be rude not to …surely ?

🙏🏽

Seema

Two women..Two Tories..same but different 🤷🏽‍♀️

Dear Mrs May and Ms Widdecombe

Let’s not hold with formalities. Theresa and Ann. I thought I would write to you at the same time to be green. I’m also on my way out of the country again for a holiday. Although not terribly green, it is much needed. I promise to plant some trees in my garden. And as I have been vegetarian for 53 years I’m probably in the plus.

On to other matters. Theresa, I was a bit surprised that even after two letters from me, you did not respond! I will start thinking you don’t like me. I know you have been busy going around Europe – not inter-railing I know. What was your favourite country by the way?? I hope they were kind to you. Is that Brexit thing happening? October is so far away – are you hoping that everyone will come back after the summer holidays and have forgotten about last term? What will the BBC do?? They will have to create some fake news to fill up their schedule.

I digress. It would be churlish of me not to thank you for the lovely weather you got us for Easter. So you must have seen my last letter 👍🏽 What are the plans for the summer? I think if you manage to get us a good summer the country would get right behind you. Does anyone in government know what is happening in the country? I hope someone is paying the bills and keeping up with the regular chores such as education and health?

I know you’ve handed in your notice. But goodness you’ve been very canny with the conditions. The negotiation gene is in there! Much as you and I don’t see eye to eye please, pretty please don’t let Boris, Michael or Jacob get the key to Number 10. Change the locks. I can send you the details of a reliable locksmith from Bedford and he’s not too expensive – I know we are being measured in our spending.

Are you looking forward to Donald’s visit? If it were my decision he would not be allowed here, but I suppose we need all the help we can for those future trade deals. There are a lot of Americans and we want their Dollars. Whatever it takes, Theresa! But we don’t expect you to let him hold your hand. There are limits to everything.

Finally, are you keeping well? I have been concerned at your persistent cough and greyish tones. Do you need some drugs? Nothing illegal but I have a lot of new friends in Bedford who are Doctors. They are all Indian, by the way. I am sure I can get one of them to see you without waiting for weeks for an appointment. Did you see what I did there?? Mixed immigration and healthcare 💪🏽

I don’t want to seem like a stalker (that is illegal, I believe) and I am certainly not going to beg for a reply. I have my pride. But always here to offer help if you want it. I’ve been baking recently so can offer tea and cake.

And now on to you, Ann.

I heard that you have joined Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. I hope you didn’t think it was a remake of Noel’s House Party?? No, so you seriously made a conscious decision to step up with old Nigel. Perhaps I am not as clever as all you politicians – try doing something that brings people together rather than creating more division. And if you put on that superior voice to start lecturing me … all I will say is “Strictly and hanging in mid air”. Everyone should do what they feel is right and honourable BUT I wait to be shown how Mr Farage adds any value to this country. Shame on you for walking over to his world.

What do you think you and Nigel do once Brexit is achieved? Do you have other passions that will surface? Does he dance too? I don’t mean to be rude, you’re the same age as my mum. But could you not have achieved something positive without him? I feel as if I’m reiterating my dislike for Mr Farage so I will stop. And I know you aren’t bosom buddies with Theresa so you will understand my feelings.

See you both on Halloween! 👻🎃

🙏🏽

Seema

The Art of Redundancy 🤔

Life has a funny way of sorting itself out sometimes. I am delighted to report that I have a new job which I will be starting on 3rd June. I obviously have to squeeze in some more travel before then. Those of you that know me will not be surprised with the previous statement.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you at Exclusively Housewares in my new role as Housewares Sector Manager for BHETA. How wonderful to be able to stay in an industry I genuinely love. I am hoping I can help and support others, going forward, in this role.

I thought I would pen a few words about my experiences over recent months. So let’s start from the beginning.

The definition of redundancy is given as:

“The state of being not or no longer needed or useful”, or

“The state of no longer being employed because there is no more work available”.

Don’t believe the above when it comes to being made redundant – take it from me. A human being is never “no longer useful”. Work does not define you or your life unless you are one of the lucky creative types. Of course, it helps to pay for the annoying things in life like mortgages and bills, but also the treats. There may be no more work available at your current employer but there has to be some somewhere! At this point I would also like to remind you to never forget your worth which is tested acutely at times. Good people cannot be kept down ( Kam Nash).

Many of you reading this will at some point have experienced redundancy personally, through colleagues, family or friends. In my career, I have survived redundancy once, have been part of the team that has made people redundant and stopped a redundancy. I did not truly appreciate how people felt and cannot turn back the clock to come up with the appropriate words. I just remember feeling great sadness when colleagues were no longer around. But I have also seen those that have been made redundant flourish elsewhere.

Over recent months I have experienced sadness, loneliness, worry, hurt and a sense of being lost. Why me? I’m good at my job….people have always said that. I had lost my anchor, which I believed to be work.

I hope I do not come across as preachy or gushy but here are some observations after being made redundant at the end of 2018 along with six of my colleagues.

– Try and remain positive. Don’t shoot the messenger 🙏🏽 I can’t tell you how and cannot convince anyone that it is easy.

– Think about what you want to do. Do you want to carry on doing what you did before? Do you have skills to do something else? Hmmm, I wish I’d taken my metalwork seriously. Can you afford to learn a new skill? I have spent many hours and had numerous conversations debating and trying to unravel these points.

– Surround yourself with kind but honest people. They will keep you on the right path. They will help keep it real 😬 You will have some dark days; let them come and pass. I’ll leave mindfulness and being in the now to those in the know.

– Do listen to people and try not to roll your eyes when you hear for the umpteenth time “everything happens for a reason”, “something better is out there for you”, “enjoy the paid holiday”, “it will give you a chance to decide what you really want to do”. Well, actually, I just want to work and do a good job. Jeez! Being positive for weeks on end sounds tough.

– Get your CV checked by a professional CV writing company; get recommendations. One of my darkest days was when one of these companies targeted me. I felt absolutely dejected and they left me wanting to curl up in a quiet corner. Let’s just say that was not a productive day. They did not know me and had pitched it wrong – they completely pulled my CV to shreds (which btw had been created by another company only a few months earlier and is pretty ok).

Redundancy is a painful experience. I am not trying to belittle and undermine the emotional upheaval. And for many it brings with it financial trauma. I have a daughter at university and my concern was how would I continue to support her. In addition, my husband had only recently started a new job himself. I was lucky enough to go through the process relatively smoothly and was treated well by my previous employer.

I read so many posts and the positive memes … but my personal favourites and ones I have tried to live by are as follows:

– Keep busy. I was lucky enough to go to India for six weeks as many of you know. I made sure I visited some new places, learnt more about The Hope Foundation in Kolkata and immersed myself in family. Back in the UK I got more involved with the charities and community group I support. My kitchen cupboards have never been so tidy and everything is within its use by date 😂 Who can claim that?? I’ve made sure that every day I do something. Walking is free so have been trying to do more of this in readiness for my 10 Peak Lake District Challenge – it seemed like a good idea at the time. 24 miles in 12 hours with a 5am start 🤦🏽‍♀

– Rediscover the things you used to enjoy before you became a workaholic. Well, my husband and friends can’t believe the amount of baking and cooking that’s going on in my kitchen. And all from scratch! Blimey, how times have changed. Be warned that this brings on extra calories.

– I’m also enjoying creating conversations through my blogs. I don’t claim to be a great writer but get great pleasure from connecting with readers.

– Don’t be embarrassed.

– Don’t be angry.

– Try something new – well why not! When will you get this time again? Why wait until you retire? Well, I am trying something new but it’s a secret for now 🤫

– Spend more time with your loved ones. I’ve spent so many nights away and on the road. Before you know it you will be back at work.

– Keep networking and enjoy it. Do it because you get a kick engaging with people.

– Remember that people genuinely want to help. Be gracious if nothing comes out of these conversations. It’s all about timing.

So many events overtake our lives on a continual basis and it is very rare that we are actually in control. We firefight and juggle all the commitments of modern life like true pros. These recent months have given me the opportunity to slow down and learn to wonder at my life more. I have always been grateful and will continue to be so.

I’m truly excited about my new job and accept I am one of the lucky ones. If you think I can help you just get in touch.

🙏🏽

Seema

And hoorah for me for not mentioning Brexit!!! Well, not until now!

HOPE …. because without hope there is darkness

I was lucky enough to be born 53years ago to a family that was able to clothe, feed and provide me with shelter. Later came the education, opportunity to travel, freedom to think and speak and act independently. But, for now, I want to focus on how lucky I was to have the basics of life. Was it down to good fortune or just pure chance?

IMG_4493(Image: Howrah Bridge over the Hooghly River)

I had the opportunity to visit Kolkata, the city of Joy between 31st January and 9th February with a view to visiting the three girls Simon and I sponsor through The Hope Foundation and some of the projects (crisis centre, girls’ & boys’ homes, hospital,4 crèches etc.) run by the team. Jhulan Ghose, who handles the volunteers was my first point of contact out here. Any volunteer really needs at least 6 weeks so this week for me was a taster session. Jhulan is a passionate Kolkatan lady; bright articulate and full of so much knowledge about the city and its history. She also only drinks Darjeeling tea and can be found with a supply of tea bags on trips abroad.

IMG_4754
(Image:Jhulan Ghose)

The HOPE Foundation, now 20 years old continues to help the street children of Kolkata and often their families too – no child should have to suffer or lose their childhood. The foundation has garnered the support of many especially the Irish community back home. Plaques all over the city illustrate the generosity of various individuals, families and organisations.

Over 5 days I visited several projects, most of which are described briefly below. All the children enjoyed having their photos taken as you can see. Please note that I cannot give location names for security/child protection reasons.

The hundreds and thousands that are born here on the streets of Kolkata (and some who come from farther afield) did not choose this life. But do you know what, they handle it will dignity and grace. They see it as their lot. The children have their eyes wide open and smiles that warm your heart. They are cheeky and friendly with their new aunty! Like children everywhere.

Creche

(Images:Creche within the slum)

This is serving a slum community. We’re dropped off on a road and Jhulan darts into a narrow alley and weaves through to a doorway from where you can hear chatter. We walk in, shoes off and there is huge excitement from the little ones. We sit and watch, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you are at any normal creche; posters on the wall and the teaching methods. Jhulan tells me that training is provided regularly, and experience is shared by teachers from Ireland every year. The children are so well behaved and keen to show off their talents. My favourite was “heads, shoulders, knees & toes”.

Girls’ homes
The security is visible across the two homes I visited. In a city where children are seen as a commodity for traffickers this is critical. The homes look after different ages; younger ones and then the 13-18years olds. Their days are filled with school and extra-curricular activities. Fresh food is cooked on site for these growing girls. They are proud of their home.

IMG_4763

(Images:Girls from one of the homes playing after school)

Boys crisis unit/home
Most of the boys at the crisis centre were rescued from the railway. When we visited they were keen to show us their dance, artwork and just play games. The boys were wonderfully open and happy.

(Boys from two homes playing after school)

Mother & Child Unit
No phones and photos allowed in this unit as this is a rescue centre. Some of the children are here with their mothers, but not all. It was a much quieter unit than the others. The mothers were all out for a routine X-ray that the foundation had organised. It was a calm place and I was taken by a teenage girl with autism who was here. She is an orphan and unfortunately her adoption fell through. With the support of the team she can now participate in more activities.

Out of town creche/classes
About 1 ½ hours outside of the centre we see the below hill. But it is not a natural hill, it is a rubbish pile around which a community has developed over several years. It is a source of income for the people. HOPE has both a creche and classes for the local children here. As you can see they are not shy! I can also verify that they all have strong lungs.

(Images:Creche & School)

Hospital

(Image: Samiran Malik, Paula, David with me during our visit to the Hope Hospital)

Samiran Malik has been here from 2008 when the hospital began helping the poor of Kolkata.
It’s inception and existence has been possible through many generous donors. They have an operating theatre, ICU and a specialist eye unit. There are 40 beds and it caters for children and adults. Volunteers often come and sit with patients. Samiran’s passion for the place was evident. He insisted on having the above photo as he keeps a record of every visitor.

Night ambulance
Soma is the administrator and is the cowboy who walks into the slums and within a year of doing this job has built a relationship and earns the trust of the various sites they visit. There are 18 field visits during the week on a rotation. Soma rounds up and encourages anyone who may need medical support to simply come and talk to the doctors that are in the bigger ambulance. She seems to know everyone and their situation; I am in awe of her calmness and her ability to cajole people into taking the help they need. The homes are made from what we would consider waste and rubbish – cardboard, tarpaulin, carrier bags, old rags, sticks. I meet a mother and father who are so determined for their daughter to be educated – she is a sponsored child. I feel relaxed and confident beside Soma and am overwhelmed by the acceptance these people have of their situation. No moans or complaints. The kids have become overly excited and decide to race; mostly barefoot and along the main road beside their homes.

(Images: Night ambulance visit)

Hope Cafe
Run by the wonderful Renu Singh. She makes it look so easy. The cafe is a haven for HOPE volunteers but also a place for great eats for the local office workers. Tasty food at incredible prices. And cakes are yummy too! And whilst there I had the privilege of meeting Jenny Forrest. Part of the original team and Maureen Forrest’s sister.

(Images:Jenny, Renu & Anne-Marie, Paula & I: all at the Hope Café)

Life Skills
To survive you need to earn money. To earn you need a skill. And here the young adults are taught in areas of food &catering; beauty; tailoring and computer skills. The HOPE team then helps them either to secure paid employment or set up by themselves.

(Images:Hope Life Skills)

Hope Kolkata Office
This is where we had the opportunity to meet our sponsored children. Seema was cheeky and had some spark to her personality. She stays in a protection unit. The two sisters Jyoti and Bhoomi were beautiful and shy and were accompanied by their father. They had lost their mother in January. They liked their gifts of a top each and some stationery. It’s a strange overwhelming situation but I for one was happy and somewhat quiet for me.

(Images: Sponsored children)

The people I met
– Jonny the driver — always smiling. You knew you were nearly at your destination because his seat belt would come off just around the corner.
– Gora – head of logistics. What Gora doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing.
– Geeta – The Director. She is part of the original set up team and works tirelessly to get more funds.
– Anne Marie who has now working with HOPE for 14 years. Calm and elegant. With the uniform of a white salwar and bright kurtis. She walks amongst the locals at ease. Softly spoken but strong.

In a city where 5star hotels and branded malls sit comfortably less than a few minutes away from abject property. By this I mean no electricity, no running water and where there is no imaginable future. The only escape is through education and in a country where this is a priority for all it means it is a million gazillion times harder for any child from the street. And this is where HOPE comes in. Not only is the mantra that no child should be hurt. They work with various NGOs and the police and other groups to arrive at the best outcome for every child. The teachers and staff at the various projects are dedicated and nurturing.
There are so many memorable moments from my trip; the above are just some of the highlights. Please visit the HOPE website and donate whatever you can. If you have the ability to sponsor a child please do let the team know. It costs just £20/month.

Thanks for reading.
Seema
(NB: I will be doing ‘The 10 Peak Challenge’ in the Lake District on June 8th and will be raising money for The Hope Foundation. I will be setting up a JustGiving page shortly.)

The Fussy Tea Drinker does The Coffee Festival

She, Louise Hickling from Bodum, who happens to be a WOTE (woman on the edge), said come on down. It’s an experience. So Meeta and I did.

She warned us

⁃ the venue is trendy (Old Truman Brewery at Spitafields)

⁃ Not suitable for heels

⁃ It gets really hot.

⁃ It gets really busy.

When a WOTE warns you , you take note.

⁃ The obligatory leather jacket comes out – trendy ✅

⁃ Flats boots – comfort ✅

⁃ No sweaters on this glorious day – temperature control ✅

⁃ Elbows ready, crowd control ✅

What she didn’t warn us about was that the place would be dripping with young trendy types, mostly with tight black t-shirts, tattoos, shades and just generally looking cool. I may have felt a little old. I support Lou and her right not to wear a polo shirt. There is a time and place for that sort of behaviour.

The above photos shows Lou and her colleagues and if you look closely you’ll see Meeta and I photobombing! We are famous.

Anyway I should tell you a little more about The Coffee Festival. For coffee lovers and connoisseurs this is a must do event. Every variety, combination and permutation of beans, coffee machines, method of roasting and added flavours all under one roof. A great demo area where super cool baristas were showing their skills – unfortunately wasted on me! When I say machines I mean everything from what a newbie to coffee may have (the ones that deliver the same quality of coffee through pods every morning) to those machines in trendy cafes that splutter, gurgle and require an engineering degree even to approach them.

Walking around you need to just go with the flow and not expect a normal trade show with straight rows of stands. This adds to the quirkinesses of the event. We came across jewellery, flowers , bags, green travel cups, healthy energy bars and so much more. My favourite was a tea company being brazen amongst the coffee ☕️.

Opposite Bodum we saw a group of visitors with headphones . I wonder what they were listening to. Probably someone telling them the source of the beans, who had dried them and roasted them.It’s all about the experience and increasing engagement. I should know. A box arrives for hubby every month with beans, details of origin, how to make the perfect grind and tasting notes. I’ve seen “hints of honey” and “overtones of dates”. It’s like fine wine apparently. 🙄

We were drowning in Turmeric Latte and Beetroot Latte – well Meeta was.

She did say you’re talking to the converted. I was half hoping she would say you’re talking to Indians. We won’t pay that much for a bit of turmeric! And it was far too early to be indulging in cocktails or dancing to the music that filled the air.

I have it on good authority that there are

600 independent Coffee shops inside the M25 corridor with about 3 opening every day. These will be the ones alongside the vegan delis.

Here is a photo of us outside the coffee festival.

And do you know yours truly doesn’t actually drink coffee!! I feel bit of a fraud writing about this and hence why it’s a little lacking in coffee detail. I can see why it enthuses people;it is more than just about coffee. It’s about fashion,lifestyle, being green and being part of the buzz. And from a commercial viewpoint it’s great to see entrepreneurs and established brands sharing the same space. I recognised some of the bigger brands, Sage, Dualit, Hello Fresh and obviously Bodum . “The can do”attitude was palpable. It’s the perfect place for new brands to showcase their products.

So if you’re a coffee buff or just “hip” get yourself down to London. You still have tomorrow. Be one of the 30,000 people who come.If you miss it there is Coffee EXPO later this year at Olympia.

Me, well I am off for a nice cup of PG tips.

Cheers.

Seema 🙏🏽