Category: Community

La La Land – a metaphor for our time?

And the winner is La La Land

But there had been a terrible mistake and someone gave the wrong envelope and it didn’t win best picture. Or it did win best picture? For a brief moment and then the prize was snatched away from them in what was either a massive faux pas at the Oscars (or not) or a metaphor for the times we live in of fake news and alternative facts. Like the film – life doesn’t turn out as you think it will – choices are made and the outcome changes.

An alternative outcome if only we put love before ambition. Or use our hearts not our minds. Or, or….

Like Brexit and Trump – La La Land had another outcome. If only we didn’t believe the lies.

In a world that is more than ever full of confusion, conflicting opinions amongst our family and friends (Brexit has divided the UK and broken friendships) and I still can’t work out if Trump is really happening or whether Bobby will emerge from the shower and all is well with the world once more we have La La Land. The dream and the reality. Based on choices we make. And are they the right choices.

And isn’t that what La La Land is all about. The choices the main characters made.

I will state right here that I loved the film

From the opening credits (that opening sequence made me want to get up and dance) to the end which had me sobbing (choose him, choose him) much as the end of Bridges of Madison County had me inwardly shouting the same – I was gripped.

I don’t read reviews – I had seen the trailer and immediately wanted to see  it. Then a friend I have known for 40 years said this –

 my view of La La Land. I don’t call it terrible, just ho hum … 5 out of 10

–  commenting on this review of the film by THEAGE.CO.AU

Based on this I nearly didn’t go and see it. She urged me to do so because she valued my opinion. Anyway, I did want to see the film because how could I not love a film with dancing and music and set in LA?

I got tickets to see it at The Electric in Birmingham and booked a sofa. If the film was a disappointment I was going to be disappointed in a cinema I love, which would take the edge off my devastation.

Loved it. But Best Movie – it is not.

I was brought up on musicals

My mom was an actress in the 1950’s and had Hollywood Stars in her eyes. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Singing in the Rain, then The Sound of Music and South Pacific – these were the movies I grew up with.

Then I saw West Side Story.

Officially my favourite movie ever. Everything about it. The way it was filmed – as if was in the theatre at times, the conflict, the racism, the music and the dancing, oh the dancing. And of course at the end I sobbed my eyes out.

And La La Land has references to West Side Story and many other movies. Depending on what you read they are Singing in the Rain, Top Hat and Wall E (no, nor me). According to this review the scene in the planetarium at The Griffith Observatory where they are waltzing in the stars (and how lovely is that) is based on a scene in Wall E. No one has, to my knowledge, noticed the reference to Le Ballon Rouge in the Paris montage.  We all know, us musical fans, that La La Land has references to almost every great Hollywood Musical and that is why we, or why I loved it.

It also reminded me of a book I had read for my degree back in 1978/9 – The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West.

Nathanael West’s Hollywood is not the glamorous “home of the stars” but a seedy world of little people, some hopeful, some despairing, all twisted by their by their own desires

Good Reads

The scene when they are walking across the film lot – with lots of scenery being moved and how they walk  from one set to another seamlessly, which when I read it back then was, for me. the stand out scene that came to mind when watching La La Land.

Researching it now I discover that one of the main characters is Homer Simpson. This is what Wikipedia says in the current entry :

Homer Simpson – a former accountant at a hotel in Iowa who comes to California at the recommendation of his doctor to restore his health. Soft mannered, sexually repressed, and socially ill-at-ease, Homer’s almost constant inner turmoil is expressed through his huge hands which have an uncontrollable and detached nature to them.

Make what you will of who we all know as Homer Simpson now – and I am not going to reference the uncontrollable small hands with a detached nature.

What did others think?

Some shared my Australian friends viewpoint, and others loved it as much as I did. This is the conversation I had with my talented musician, musical loving, linguist friend.

 Me: I’m intrigued about how you felt about the what if alt ending. I sobbed.

Friend: it was heartbreaking as it feels like the message is you can only have one of your dreams: career or love. I wanted them to have both! Sort of want to see it again and find out they made that the real ending.

Was gutted actually… was so hoping it was true, and the sad ending was a dream. Completely touching how they lived their whole alternative future in a song.
Rarely was I rooting so much for two film characters!
 And these are the words that, for me, summed up the film so beautifully
Completely touching how they lived their whole alternative future in a song
If only we had a picture of the alternative future in a song right now. Right now that song could be ‘So Long and Thanks for All the Fish’.
Let us hope that we get a better alternative future because if not I am off to find my Mediterraneo (Academy Award Winning Film) an island of enchantment where anything can happen and enemies become friends.

Conversations at the corner cafe – Xenos my friend

The stranger

As I entered the corner café, a stranger said hello.

Saying hello to strangers is not what the British do.

I said hello back and we fell into conversation.

We discovered we had at least one person in common.

And that we both loved Greece.

We talked about other cafes in the area, how another café had told him about the corner café. The best Greek food, and where to get it, the best tapas and SE Asian food. And how Moussaka from the corner cafe had won me a day with James Martin.

We talked about afternoon tea.  How a local café turned a poor review on TripAdvisor, due to them handling it professionally, into a success and brought more customers to the café.

He recommended two places for afternoon tea, one in Edinburgh another in Bournemouth, in the Echo building. Where Bill Bryson used to work I said. Yes, that would be right, he said.

I had been thinking of following the trail of Little Dribbling as a holiday idea before I go on the next big trip. And here I am getting café recommendations. How did he know?

We agreed that Tilt needed sofas.

Our conversation – it was as if we were speaking in code. A language no one else knew or could understand. We were not intentionally excluding anyone, yet this conversation of shared experiences,  no one else in the cafe that day understood.

I told him my story of the church in Santorini. He never questioned that I was led to the spot by my mom, she chose where I was to scatter her ashes. People with faith who know the story tell me God was guiding me. I think that connections with people you love don’t end at death. I think he thought that, too.

We talked about great places to eat, how he visited islands in Greece where no one speaks English. That this was the best Stifado he had eaten outside Greece.

He needed to take his own advice and book his trip to Greece he said. Make it happen instead of talking about it.

Two hours we talked. Two strangers.

I don’t believe in coincidences.coincidence

Later that day I sat down to start working through the Life Purpose Alchemy workbook that Lisa Cherry Beaumont asked me to review.

And I thought about my conversation with the stranger.

Because when he got up to go he asked if he could give me his card. I recognised the name, he is a life coach.

The person we both know is a life coach. I told him about Lisa, my life coach and how much I had changed since being coached.

He wants to live in Greece, as do I. I thought that we may end up working together in Crete combining our talents and skills. Not knowing how.

Today in the workbook I have been working on the section where Lisa asks you to

free-write some ideas about what you could do to earn a living. Play with ideas, without restriction. Don’t worry if it sounds crazy or too “way out” – put all your ideas down and don’t limit or edit what you write. Use more paper if you need to

and I thought about that conversation with the life coach in the cafe.

How comfortable we were sharing information with each other. How defined our goals were. How we believed that anything was possible. How open we were to possibilities. How positive our language was. How we said what we thought. How we went with the flow.

It struck me that this can make some people uncomfortable. We have been conditioned to limit our self belief. From childhood. The day you sing for your teacher and don’t get chosen for the choir you stop singing, perhaps forever. You fail a test and label yourself a failure. If you are not in the ‘gifted and talented’ stream at school, you believe that you will never be gifted or talented at anything.

Two strangers, not limited by can’t. People who don’t wait for someday. Who have dreams and make plans. And put a date on it. This scares people because they like the comfort of limited self belief.

That way they can’t fail.

If there is only one bus a day, I will get it. The first ferry of the season that will get me back just in time for my flight, could be cancelled if the weather is poor, book me on it. Get on the wrong bus, fate will intervene. Telling me I can’t do something is merely laying down a challenge.

The stranger too found himself on islands with one bus a day with no one who spoke English. He discovered he could speak Greek better than he thought.

I guess that if you get on the wrong bus in Corfu, a bus full of locals with goats and chickens and not tourists with sunburn, and two minutes later the bus that gets stopped by the police as it is unsafe, you realise that it has happened for a reason. And when there just happens to be an English girl on this bus (she is teaching English in a remote village) who directs you to the right bus, you just know that things have a way of working themselves out.

Yet somewhere along the way, in between being a carefree student, and becoming a mom and getting a mortgage and jumping on the work, watch, spend treadmill, I forgot this. Instead I opted for safe choices, because that is what I believed I was supposed to do. Get a job, get a house, get married, have kids, get into debt, watch the news and get depressed. Be normal.

Don’t talk to strangers.

In Greek the word for stranger is the same as for friend.

Xenos (Greek: ξένος, xénos, plural xenoi) is a word used in the Greek language from Homer onwards. The most standard definition is “stranger”. However, the word, itself, can be interpreted to mean different things based upon context, author and period of writing/speaking, signifying such divergent concepts as “enemy” or “stranger”, a particular hostile interpretation, all the way to “guest friend”‘ one of the most hallowed concepts in the cultural rules of Greek hospitality.

In my workbook I wrote:

A social media language café, where people can learn Greek and English, life coaching, I could coach people to declutter, fulfilling my need to socialise and help people clear their lives of whatever is holding them back.

I told Lisa that going through the workbook was like playing pass the parcel and unravelling the layers to get to the prize.  The prize? A map of my life. Yet the map is a jigsaw, that still needs to be assembled. I haven’t completed all the exercises yet, I’ve unraveled the layers, found the jigsaw, now I have to build the map.

What I have discovered is that everything that I have done and everything good that has happened to me, the lovely people I have met, the crappy things and the horrid people, has made me who I am now. I needed to unravel those layers. To find my purpose. The map is a jigsaw and I can’t find my way until I put the pieces together. When I am uncomfortable it is because I have forced the wrong piece in the wrong place, as if my shoes are on the wrong feet. Sometimes pieces are missing and we have to go find them.

Or they find us.

The conversation in the corner café was a the missing piece I needed to place in the jigsaw to discover what my authentic life looks like. It is pretty much how it looked at age 23 as I got off the bus full of chickens and goats in Corfu and thanked a stranger.

I asked the life coach if I could write about our conversation.

He said yes, but only if I didn’t say he wolfed down Stifado like a wild animal. I don’t think he will mind.

Addendum 3/6/16

Recently, while in Winchester, I met a Greek bar man and talked about the word Xenos. He told me the word I was looking for was this.

Hospitality, the official English translation of ‘philoxenia‘, doesn’t do justice to the concept as it does not encompass its main element, which is generosity of spirit. The Greek noun ‘xenos’ initially meant ‘guest’, acquitting the meaning of ‘foreigner/stranger’ at a later stage.

I have recently returned from a week on Skiathos. Yes, Greece still feels like home. Never a stranger there, always a guest.




Unclutter my life – letting go of the vinyl Part 2

While other buy vinyl we sell ours

It is Record Store Day on April 16th. While others will be clamouring over special releases on vinyl, we will be hoping people may want to take ours off our hands.

As part of the downsizing and reducing clutter, we are letting go of the vinyl. We have bought a Sonos sound system and Phil is currently downloading his CD collection on to his laptop. Personally I think he needs to cherry pick them and upload them on an external hard drive or invest in Spotify. It is his choice.

However, I think it is his way of saying goodbye. When he let go of the tapes he did this.

And listed them all so that he could cross reference them with his CD collection and see where the gaps were. Not sure where the list is now, post move.

Most of the singles went a while ago.

Before we decided to downsize we were reorganizing the music. While this worked in the big house, it doesn’t work in the small house.

The thing he said he will miss the most is the physical connection, holding the sleeve, looking at the art work and the reading of the sleevenotes. Apparently this is a thing and Phil seems to know who produced what album and who played the bass on every record that has ever been made.

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I have suggested he keeps a few using the Marie Kondo method. If it sparks joy, it will stay.

Ikea make picture frames for record sleeves, so we can enjoy the artwork while listening to the album digitally.

The other solution is make visiting record stores part of our travels. This way he can touch the sleeves and read the notes, and even listen to them.

Indeed this is what we already do. Our Melbourne friend for whom we house sit for, runs the media marketing for Record Store Day Australia. On her recommendation we visited a few stores in Melbourne last year.

Doing this combines three of our favourite things to do in Melbourne. Ride the trams, visit record stores, eat good food and drink great coffee at quirky cafes and burger joints.

Every suburb has a plethora of cafes, many have record stores,  and are all on a tram route.

There is also usually some great vintage shops to visit too. And graffiti.

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Back to the vinyl.

Northside Records in Fitzroy

Rathbone Records in Northcote

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Basement Discs 2 Block Place, Melbourne

They seem to have a no photo policy, but I took these anyway. While we were there there were some students making a film there. This is tucked away in one of the arcades, in a basement as the name suggests, so you have to keep a look out for it as it is easy to miss. Nearby there are lots of cafes and a great arcade to explore with mainly up market shops and a visually amazing cake shop, Hopetoun Tea Rooms, that there is almost always a queue for.

Rediscovery in Ballarat

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This one was not on the list we were given, we discovered it all by ourselves. It was up for sale on our last visit, so it may no longer be there.

Next door to it is a café selling vinyl. Perfect.

Of course we don’t just browse record stores in Melbourne.

One of my favourite in the UK is Carnival Records in Malvern.

The excuses that I, Phil and other people give, when struggling to let go of stuff, are numerous.

We will miss it when it has gone

It may come in useful someday

I need to keep it just incase

It cost a lot of money it seems a shame to get rid of them

It may be valuable

I hoarded everything. I had hundreds of dust gathering books, thousands of photos, and duplicate kitchen gadgets. Because I had the space.

Add to those dozens of duvets, pillows, towels and sets of bed linen. All neatly organised and labelled in storage bags. And never used.

The vinyl and the CD’s are taking too much space in this small house. The sound system, amps, decks and speakers, overwhelm the small rooms. To find a CD would involve me going through 8 storage units. To find an album on vinyl would take forever. With Sonos I can click and play.

And Phil can get his touchy feely time with album sleeves at record stores around the world.

Because we cannot lose sight of why we did all this. Declutter, downsize, to pursue a life of more travel and less cleaning.

Update December 2016

Around 500 LP’s are boxed up, together with hi fi and speakers, to go to Carnival Records tomorrow. A couple of friends have been around and cherry picked 30 each. They have gone to where they will be loved and played. We have kept about 20 that we love (well 5 I quite like and 15 I have no interest in At All) to play and or adorn our walls of the small house.






Winchester – the walkable city

Winchester was once the capital of England. As a regular visitor to this small city, I have walked almost every where there is to walk in Winchester. The beauty of it is that one moment you are on a bustling high street and the next walking through the calm water meadows. If you are feeling energetic climb to the top of St Giles Hill for magnificent views of the city and beyond.

Royal connections

Winchester is steeped in history. Henry VII had a castle here where his first son, Arthur, was born. Yes that Arthur, he of the knights of the round table Arthur. The Castle is at the top of the town. At the the bottom of the town, near to the Almshouses and the park is a statue of King Alfred who in 871 AD was crowned King of Wessex and established Winchester as his capital.

Dedicated to God and the public service

Winchester College was established in the fourteenth century by self made man, William of Wykeham. I am not sure how many Bishops or politicians they educate now, but that was his vision at the time. As you walk around the city on the weekend, you will see the groups of handsome rich young men dressed like Harry and Wills. The younger boys will be at a pizza joint with visiting parents. At over 35k per annum to board at this school, I guess pizza is all you can afford.

Literary connections

Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral. The house she lived in on College Street is not open to the public. You can however visit her house in Chawton just 17 miles from the city.

Keats wrote Ode to Autumn whilst in Winchester. There are also Sherlock Holmes connections.

Winchester Discovery Centre  is worth a visit. It houses the library, a gallery with regular exhibitions and a café and shop, where you can buy the book, Look Up Winchester.

Look Up Winchester

The book Look Up Winchester is the perfect book to take with you on a walking tour of Winchester. Available from the Library or the Winchester Cathedral shop for £6.99 this is how they describe the book.

A fascinating book taking you on a tour of Winchester’s historic High Street – from an unusual perspective…

Authors Rodney Graham and Christopher Newberry thought it a great shame that some wonderful architectural details are missed, simply by people never looking up! Above the High Street shops is a wealth of wonderful history; and as well as looking at the features of the buildings, the book also tells the captivating stories behind the facades.

The book comes in a handily-sized small format, perfect for carrying with you as you stroll down the High Street – looking up

Nothing to add. It survived my book cull. That is a good enough reason to buy it.

The French Connection

Every time I go to Winchester I hear people speaking French. Over lunch in the pub on my last visit I met two girls from Paris. You will come across market traders over from France for the day. Many of the waiting staff in the many gastro pubs are French.

The French love Winchester. It is a day trip for the French as much as the English in the south may pop to Dieppe on a day trip. This is because the city is easy to navigate in a day, there are lots of good places to eat and the markets are so very good.

Which neatly brings me to –

The Markets

I think Winchester has some of the best Market Days in the country. The local council have worked with local and some not so local traders to build these markets and they are now a very popular with local people  and visitors to he city.

The Council provide the gazebos, and the pitches are of a reasonable rate. The arguments I have heard from some councils (Sandwell I am looking at you) is that market traders take the custom from the regular shop keepers on the high street. As the occupancy rates of shops is high in Winchester, as is the number of independent stores and coffee shops, this does not seem to be the case. It also makes the shops up their game to be honest. There is no room for complacency when customers have a choice.

Gets off soapbox and continues writing…

The Farmers’ Market is held on the second and final Sunday of each month. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest farmers market in the UK with between 80 and 95 stalls. Go early and have breakfast, get your provisions and then have brunch. Some days they have cookery demonstrations. All traders are from Hampshire and the quality is very high, organic meat, game, beautiful heritage vegetables and homemade bread and cakes. There are no plastic bowls of cheap veg here.

You can however get bowls of veg (cheap but of the highest quality) from the store in front of Marks and Spencer. This stall is one of the many that you can find at the General Street Market. This runs along the high street, with food stalls and local coffee shops to stop by for breakfast, brunch or lunch.

The Art and Design Market is held on the third Sunday of each month between March and December. Lots of Vintage and Bric a Brac, great for browsing and buying unusual items, such as old cameras and typewriters.

There is also a Christmas Market held in the grounds of the cathedral. It is not as big as the many German Markets in England, yet its location is second to none.


I am not a shopper. I try not to buy stuff. Winchester however, has enough quirky independent shops to keep my browsing habit happy. The staff at Mistral are simply the best. Friendly, helpful, not pushy and the music is good. It is the only place that I actually enjoy clothes shopping. If you like the big chains, they are here, including Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Primark. However, I urge you to check out the smaller retailers both in the shops and on the markets. Many of these are not on the main high street in the centre, so you do need to leave the main shopping area. If you like Vintage and Retro this is the city for you. More information about shopping can be found here.

The best way to find these is to wander off the main street and explore the city. Who knows what else you will find? There is a particularly good book shop in the Kingsgate area of the city, near to the college.

Leave the city behind

Step off Bridge Street for a moment and you are on the bank of the River Itchen. Winchester City Mill owned by The National Trust sits atop of it, using the power of the river to turn the millstones to grind the flour.

Or you can walk along the river by taking the steps next to The Bishop on the Bridge. This route takes you past The Almshouses, toward The Bishop’s House and then over the water meadows at the rear of the college sports ground. After a 20 minutes peaceful river walk you will arrive at The Hospital of St Cross, a group of Grade 1 listed buildings, dating from 1132. I have walked to almost everywhere in Winchester, yet, despite walking along the river many times I have never been here. That is something I will put right on my next visit.

Food and Drink

I have my favourites in Winchester. For breakfast or brunch it is always Black White Red, opposite the library. They understand brunch. The eggs are perfectly poached, the avocado is smashed and the bacon is free range. Offering healthy juices and granola, pancakes with maple syrup, and the full English, they have breakfast covered. They are open all day, but I have only ever been there in the morning, but if the wine and food in the evening are as good as their coffee and eggs in the morning, you are in for a treat. I am particularly fond of this place as this is where I met a lovely gentleman who inspired me to write this about loneliness.

Addendum January 2017 – Black White Red has now changed – my new favourite brunch venue is Forte Kitchen. Perfectly poached eggs.

There are a number of pubs in Winchester as you would expect. My two favourite are locally run No. 5, part of The Ideal Collection, and a Fuller’s pub The Bishop on the Bridge. The food at the Bishop is hearty pub food, while the food at No. 5 is possibly less pubby, concentrating on locally sourced, seasonal produce. I would drink beer at the Bishop and wine at No.5. Both have good outdoor space.

After dining at either you can cross the road to The Black Bottle for some wine tasting.

The Black Bottle: where new and familiar red, white and rosé wines are available by the glass. A selection of 32 of our 140 strong bottle cellar are dispensed through our Enomatic dispensers. Each of  our four machines hold 8 bottles with machines dedicated exclusively to red and white varieties. This means that at any one time we have a wide range of red, white and rosé to sample by the glass.  Our machines are individually  programmed to serve our specific varieties of wine at their optimum temperature: an ambient room temperature for reds and a gentle chill for whites and rose, allowing all of our wines to express their flavours fully.

A quirky place, with 5 rooms over 2 floors, you load up your token and choose your wine from the Enomatic dispenser. You can also buy wine by the bottle but the dispenser is much more fun.

My most recent discovery is El Sabio a Spanish restaurant that has been in Winchester since 2008. The tapas were excellent as was the organic wine. I will definitely be returning.

Other good places to eat are the recently refurbished Ghandi for Indian food, although I have only ever had take out, and the relatively new Palm Pan Asia which was recommended to me by people I shared a table with at The Black Bottle. There is also The Black Boy a traditional British pub, decorated with an eclectic mix of art, clutter and taxidermy.

Where to stay?

I used to get to stay in The Grade II listed Tudor House  when family lived there, and only recently have had to stay in hotels in the city.  I have stayed at No.5  which is comfortable and city centre based so while handy for the shops and dining options, there is some traffic noise and it is a very lively pub on Saturday evenings. There is also The Black Hole which looks every bit as quirky as The Black Bottle. For other places to stay, the Visit Winchester website has lots of suggestions. From caravan sites, B&B and Hotel Du Vin, there are plenty of options.

Addendum January 2017 – Most recently I have chosen to stay at The Premier Inn. Although slightly out of town, has plenty of free parking and you can still walk to the centre of Winchester from the hotel. Soundproofed rooms and very comfortable. 

It does quirky

I hope this has been useful for anyone thinking of visiting Winchester. I love the city. I find something new on each visit. Yet it is so compact, you could cover a lot of ground in one day. And you can’t help loving a city that does this. Even the street furniture is pretty.

One Mans Trash….

AKA the recycling centre. Regular readers will know that I have spent a fair bit of time in the past few weeks, recycling my stuff. I heard the centre in Winchester ‘rescues’ good quality items and has a little shop. On this visit they had a perfectly good piano, doors, a toy car and some interesting furniture.  The only other place I have seen this is at Brecon, where I picked up some Wedgwood China. And the bits they can’t sell they use to decorate the garden. One mans trash is another mans treasure. A great place to pick up some vintage items at rock bottom prices.

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The Mornington Peninsula Wine Tour

The Mornington Peninsula is in the top 20 must see places as voted for by The National Geographic in 2015.

Our friends, who we were house sitting for, had given us a list of suggested places to visit and we were gradually working through it. Some were based in central Melbourne, others involved taking tours (when wine is involved this is wise). The Mornington Peninsula was on the list. I did a bit of research on the companies that offered tours here and based on excellent reviews, booked to go on the Mornington Peninsula Wine Tour with Melbourne Coastal Touring. (Now Melbourne Boutique Tours).

After an enjoyable day in the Yarra Valley, on a gourmet food and wine tour, Phil and I were looking forward seeing a different region and sampling the wine and food it had to offer. We were not disappointed.

We were picked up at promptly from St Paul’s, just opposite Federation Square, at around 8 am. Jason, our driver, tour guide and owner of the company, waited while we finished our McDees breakfast (classy I know, but it was an early start) as we did not want to mess up the clean minivan with our trashy breakfast. Although the rest of the group asked where there coffee was. Then it was time to hit the road and we headed out of the city. Jason used the drive time to get to know the group, who we were, where we were from, and gave us a rundown of the itinerary for the day. After a drive of just over an hour, we reached our first stop for the day.

The Colourful Beach Boxes of Mornington

First stop was to see some colourful beach boxes and a stroll along the beach. After an early start and an hours drive on mostly freeways, the opportunity to stretch our legs and wake us up was just what we needed.

This was July 2015 and winter in Melbourne. We were so lucky with the weather.

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Arthurs Seat

As we drove up to the hills from the beach we stopped at Murrays Look Out to admire the views from Arthurs Seat.

2 Macs Farm

We had a quick diversion to 2 Macs Farm as one couple on the tour had requested this stop for a talk about permaculture. This gave us the opportunity for a look around the place.

This is somewhere that I would have liked to have been able to spend more time at. Jason said their Slow Sunday Lunch was renowned in the area. What a shame it wasn’t Sunday.

T’Gallant Vineyard

And so on to the real reason we were here, the wine. (Obligatory picture of vineyard cat included).

First stop was T’ Gallant vineyard. The slightly quirky host had some interesting stories to tell about wine and vineyards.  The one about winning a vintage bottle of wine worth thousands in a raffle, that some eccentric professor had bequeathed to a university in Leicester was a bit far-fetched (and I have not found anything on Google to back up this story) yet she was fun and told us after she did this for fun as she was minted. Yes, that’s what she said.

Phil and I indulged in a couple of bottles to take home to celebrate his upcoming 60th birthday. Then we were off to the next stop, to do some wine and cheese tasting.

Green Olive

Next on the tour was Green Olive for some cheese and wine tasting as their neighbours, the  Main Ridge Dairy that is usually included on this itinerary, were closed for a holiday.

Beautiful setting, lovely creamy cheese and some good wine, and an interesting range of goods in the shop. We chose a bottle from their Kelpie range of wines to take to our friends in Sydney. They liked it.

Montalto Estate

The first thing you notice here is the sculpture collection.Since 2003 they have hosted the Montalto Sculpture Prize, the winning sculpture wins its creator $30,000 and Montalto acquires the work.

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Of course it would be rude not to taste some wine.

As well as cats I am also good at finding Moggies aka vintage Morris Minors. I learned to drive in a car like this….

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Red Hill Epicurean

And so to lunch. Which was excellent. Phil had the Piccantosa pizza cooked in the woodfire oven and I had the gnocchi di pollo washed down with a glass of wine. Lunch is included in the tour. The setting is just lovely, not too formal, in a former warehouse they call The Shed.

There is also a small shop at the front and photos showing what the building looked like in the past and recording the refurbishment to what it is now.

The Epicurean is housed in what was once a warehouse and has an interesting history. It is next door to a hardware store with this painted on the side. Did I say I was a train geek too?

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Red Hill Estate

Our last vineyard of the day. I got one shot of Jason, our brilliant guide for the day, that’s him propping up the bar, not drinking. The group was really bonding by now (that would be the wine then)  we all got on well and had some interesting conversations. Makes the day even better when you have a good group of people to share it with.

There was some interesting artwork, and comfy sofas and more wine.

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The Red Hill Estate had magnificent views of Western Port Bay.

Beautiful setting, but by then even I was a little wine weary. Next stop, chocolate.

Mornington Chocolate

I have included it here as it was part of the tour I was on. After visiting the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie this was underwhelming. The itineraries may vary by season and I expect they also take into account reviews of customers when tweaking the tours. The stop at this chocolate shop is not now on the itinerary. It has now been replaced by a visit to Merricks General Store, which seems much more in keeping with the other venues we visited.

Mock Red Hill

The wine tasting may have finished, yet Jason persuaded us that trying  Mock Red Hill local cider would be a good idea. Well he was driving….

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Me, being the geek that I am was more interested in the old machinery.

And the fire.

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Oh, and the cider. That was good too. Mock Red Hill is a family run Demeter certified Bio-dynamic apple orchard. Had to look what that meant of course. Organic then.

Bio-dynamics is an advanced organic farming method based on the research and teachings of Rudolf Steiner.

And so back to Melbourne

Everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed the day.It was well paced and good value for money. It is a perfect taster day to explore the Mornington Peninsular and made me want to spend more time there. We went in the winter and the weather was perfect. The next day it rained. Would that have spoiled it? No, as most of the places you visit are inside, yet it was lovely to have a stroll in the sunshine on the beach.

About Melbourne Coastal Touring

Melbourne Coastal Touring is a family run business. Jason and Athena, the company owners, have been in the travel industry since 2004. This is what they say on their website.

We started as travel agents in 2004 and were inspired to start our tour company after failing to meet the needs of our clients with the tour product available

Jason was born, raised and still lives on The Mornington Peninsular and you can tell he loves introducing this area to his customers. His commentary during the day was informative and he answered all our questions as only a local, in touch with his community, could. He even showed us where he plays cricket and his old school. That is truly the personal touch.

He was greeted with warmth at all the places we visited, and not just because he was bringing a van load of tourists. I reckon he has the best job, driving around, chatting to his clients and visiting his mates all day.

The customer service is excellent.  It is easy to book on their website and Athena responds swiftly to email enquiries. I would certainly recommend Melbourne Coastal Touring for this tour. I am back in Melbourne in July 2016 and will definitely join them on another tour. Probably Phillip Island to see the penguins.

Disclaimer: I paid for this tour and I was not asked to review it (apart from on Trip Advisor which I now have).


You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one. (Imagine. John Lennon)


I recently changed my Facebook header picture to this and was a bit taken aback by a comment someone made about it.

 Friend :I’m impressed .. thoughts normally alien to your philosophy I think.

Well I didn’t think so. This Is how the conversation went. (abridged version)

Me: Really? You can’t just wait for something to happen. Some action needs to be involved to change things. Don’t get me wrong, I think people need to stretch what they think is possible, be open to and embrace change. Too many people limit possibility by believing they can’t change their life.

Friend: Wow .. amazing philosophy .. you are on form tonight
I thought I always was.
After a restless night, following this exchange two days ago, I started making some notes at 3 am on the ipad that lives by my bedside. I have edited them, you may be relieved to hear, but not as much as I thought I would have to. Rambling at 3 am it seems is a good thing for me to do. I called the ramble Dream Plan Go and that was going to be the title of this post, then discovered someone had beat me to it. Put a link to it as it is a useful resource. And sharing is a good thing.
So here is the abridged version of the rambling mind of an insomniac…

Planning or dreaming.

Both. Dreamers plan, planners dream. Nothing is achieved without planning, then taking action. Yet sometimes you have to wait to see what happens… go with the flow somehow, and notice.

Those that just plod on, accept what they think is their lot, are neither dreamers or planners. Nor are they waiting to see what happens, they are not noticing what is happening in the universe.

They don’t see beyond what their life is. If you don’t have dreams, your life won’t change. If you can’t see beyond what your life is now and what it could be like, (dreaming) and then work out how to make this dream  a reality by planning then putting a date on it, taking steps toward that goal, it won’t happen.

Someone who doesn’t know me very well remarked on my profile pic that this was different to my usual philosophy. I don’t think it is. Yes I say that you have to dream to change things, be the change, believe things can be different, and I guess maybe part of me used to dream of a different life and thought it was not possible and now I know it is as I’ve surrounded myself mostly with people who made their dreams a reality.  Dream plan do. Because you have to take action.


My dream is to see more of the world. House sit to save accommodation costs and have luxury accommodation and live like a local not a tourist. But I want to be a tourist sometimes, join tours, go,on safari. Be with groups sometimes and other times not. Discover food in India and SE Asia and Melbourne and Broome WA, lie on a hammock and read and climb mountains. But those dreams won’t come true without planning.

What do I need to do? Create as mood board?
Plan year ahead? When where? Melbourne. Dates already in diary.

What have I done to achieve the dream?

Downsizing to save money and be debt free was a dream. Planning was to sell house buy a small one, as a base and an investment and use cash to travel.

Sometimes life throws curve balls that can mess with dreams and plans. So dreams of downsizing and driving through  Europe last summer were changed due to a request in January to be a house sitter in Melbourne for June and July 2015. My dreams didn’t change, but I noticed the opportunities and went with the flow. And then made plans.

The trip to Melbourne made us both (me and my husband) realise how much we wanted more travel in our lives and not wanting a big house that was draining our resources of both time and money. The house was sold. In reality that had been the plan all along, I had been decluttering and staging the house for a while. Since February 2012 to be precise.


Stuff and life got in the way. These needed addressing, important stuff. I noticed this and worked through them. This stuff, my mom dying, my depression, the impact that clearing her clutter had on me was, in the end, my road to recovery. I promised my kids that they would never have to deal with my clutter. I recognised that I had the same traits to hoard. I noticed, I worked through it and I wrote about it – this was my Prozac, the writing.

What are the dreams? Let’s capture them and write them down.

Dreams of a camper van and living in Crete. No plans made yet. Because of a relatives serious illness. But the dream is still there. Parked for now.

Invite to Melbourne again eats up summer holidays already. Yet I love Melbourne so I don’t mind and I already knew that this is where we would be. And Greece in the summer is too hot. So we may go in spring or autumn.

Not Dreaming

Some will not have those dreams. Just excuses. ‘I could never afford to go to Australia’ (same person then buys new car/bigger house/designer clothes or a 2 week AI holiday that costs more than the flights to Melbourne). Or they have the dream but don’t put a date on it.  ‘I want to go to India/France/Weston ‘someday’. A dangerous word, someday.

It’s about choice. And self limiting beliefs and buying the lie. That you have to work defined hours for 40 years and get a pension and then finally be free from the shackles of work.


If you hate your job change it. Leave it. I did. I didn’t have a plan mind you. But it was making me so unhappy, it was making me ill. I walked away over 10 years ago from a job with a big firm, best thing I ever did.

This time I do have a dream and few plans… apart from for the house to be fixed up and to be in Australia by July 11.  I have been playing with IKEA kitchen planning tools to work out how to make a small space. I found a builder through social media networks, my she shed  will be in the garden in 10 days time. I am looking at tours in Australia either side of the Melbourne house sit. And some other house sits in Australia.

Drop the not from cannot. I can do it I choose not to.

  • Why won’t you do leave/change your job?
  • You say you cannot afford to? Why not? How could you afford to?
  • There are no other jobs to apply for? Really? Have you looked?
  • Do you have to work the same hours? Could you work fewer hours ? Have you checked?
  • Stay inn your job perhaps and then use the spare time to dream, plan and go.
  • If you could do anything on the world what would it be? What do you need to do that?
  • Write them down. Now you have a beginning of a plan. From a dream to a plan.
  • What do you need to do now? Research, tell people? I find that helps to make things happen. Put a date on it.

This is what happened for me, true stories.

I was interviewed for a much wanted post for the library service, delivering The Big Lottery Community Libraries Programme.  The fact that it was a 18 month contract was great for me, not a problem, because I said I would go travelling at the end of the contract. Told everyone that was the plan. So I had to do it.

After leaving my job with the corporate firm I wrote everything I wanted from a new job. Top of the list was no commuting followed by part time. And I got  it. Not a perfect job and only for a year but it opened up opportunities. I met people who are still in my life. That experience led me to my next job, and eventually to my second favourite job ever (the library service) and that (and great managers and work colleagues)  enabled me to build on the skills I had in community development.  All to be ready to do what I did in my most recent and best job ever.

And all of this started years before this when feedback from an interview was that I needed more experience in community work. I listened, I noticed and I planned. I went and got the experience and 5 years later, the same organisation who gave me that feedback (the library service) employed me.

I am a multipotentialite – I just didn’t know it.

Yes I have had a lot of jobs in my lifetime. Between the ages of 22 and 28 I had 8 (eight) jobs. In those 6 years I graduated, I got married and had a baby, rented one house and bought two. Then moved with my family to Birmingham, to a job in Birmingham which I secured after a brief conversation on the platform of Green Park Tube Station. Just counting up I seem to have had 16 jobs (I think) since 1981. Recently discovered there is a word for what I am. Multipotentialite. It was a relief to discover that it is not just me. It is ok not to have one true calling. Because, before seeing this I was concerned that I may be a bit flaky.

It is ok to ask for help

For my  last job I sought help from friends who helped me put a good application together. I recognised the need for an objective person to help me identify and recognise my skills and achievements. I had not worked for 3 years, I’d had a bereavement, I had lost confidence, I had been ill.

Ask for help. Listen to those who know you.

And ask those who know the you now, not the person you used to be.

Or someone who doesn’t know you at all. A life coach perhaps. I met my coach because I did something different to what I would usually do. I went to Nettlefest. Then I went to Conscious Camp. I noticed. I was ready to leave the safety of the chrysalis, my comfort zone, the blanky I had wrapped myself up in for too long.

After two group coaching sessions, I then had one to one coaching via Skype with Lisa Cherry Beaumont. Suffice to say the end result was as if that all those post its I had all over the place about what I wanted out of life, that were indicative of my chaotic life, were now all on the same page. Yes a curve ball changed some of those and that was a good thing.

When I had a house selling dilemma Lisa got me to write in down and put a date on it. And yup, spot on everything on that list ticked.

Where to start?

What skills do you have? What skills do you need to learn? What skills are transferable? What skills do,you have and don’t use at work? It could be cooking, sewing or writing? What skills do you have and never use? What do you love doing? What, when you are doing it, makes time fly?


This morning, after re reading and editing  the brain dump that is the body of this post,  I was thinking I need to plan out how I want 2016 to look. Not a New Year Resolution list, more a dream, plan, do list.

A 3 am outpouring of all that was going around in this brain is all well and good but I need to write down what I am going to do, vision it. And put a date on it.

I have been occupied with chores and a personal issue that needs dealing with for most of the day and so the planning was parked. Sometime life is like that, stuff needs to be done. Right now. An unplanned drink with friends resulted in getting useful advice about said issue. One that needs to be resolved before any plans can be made for almost anything else, particularly travelling. That done I come home and decide that this post needs to be finished and log on and and of course check Facebook and…

discover that my lovely life coach has posted a link to a year planner.

That my friends is the universe working for you. Notice the signs.

Eating my way around Melbourne – the one about burgers

My first Aussie burger set the benchmark for all burgers, Aussie or otherwise.


In December 2011, on a trip along the Great Ocean Road, we stopped off at Kermonds in Warrnambool. This burger was simply the best I had ever had, so juicy and full of things I had never seen on a burger bun before. In England a burger with cheese and a fried onion was thought of as exotic, up until quite recently. I can actually remember at getting quite excited at my first trip to McDonalds in the 70’s. Indeed, I recall it was the father of the person who we were housesitting for, who was responsible for introducing me to my first Big Mac in Milton Keynes.

Kermonds have had a burger bar in Warrnambool since 1949. And not much has changed. It was almost if I had walked onto a set of Happy Days. A few years ago some would have called it old fashioned. Now of course it is ‘vintage’. Fortunately, no burger entrepreneur came along to improve and modernise, so Kermonds has remained much the same for 66 years.

Also after a long day on the road, I was hungry and tired. This place offered much needed tea, freshly cooked burgers and it was just so cool. It wasn’t just the burger that was good, it was the whole retro experience that makes the burger experience so memorable.

I am pretty sure that is still the best burger I have ever had, but a girl has got to keep tasting them, just to make sure. In the UK The Meatshack burgers are still my favourite. They are a pop up burger stall, and can be found at The Digbeth Dining Club and other events around Birmingham.

On occasions I have missed out as I was not willing to queue for them (is any burger worth a 40 minute line?) but I still rate them very highly. Meatshack describe their burgers as ‘dripping filthy goodness’, and they are not wrong. There are Brummies who would argue that The Original Patty Men make the best burgers, I have yet to try one, so Meatshack is the one for me.

Yet I digress. This is all about Burgers in Melbourne. And one in Sydney. More about that later.


Visiting Huxtaburger was on the to do list, and although both Phil and I liked the burgers we had (Bills and Theo, eggs, bacon, beetroot and pineapple were involved) we didn’t like the location. This branch is in a food court off Collins Street, it was too small and absolutely rammed. It was only later we realised we were meant to go to the one on Smith Street in Collingwood. We had plans to go there, but time was our enemy. And other burgers needed to be tasted. Of course, the burger would have tasted the same, but as the Kermonds visit demonstrates, the surroundings adds to the overall burger experience.


Given that the location is therefore important to the burger taste sensation, Phil and I were looking forward to visiting Easey’s.

Hidden in a back street of Collingwood so many people had said this was a must visit. Collingwood is a hipsters paradise, full of vintage furniture and coffee shops. Which is why we like the area. Phil and I are far to old to be hipsters, but if we were 30 Phil would grow a beard and I would yearn for Ercol. Instead we pretend to despise hipsters for thinking that typewriters are cooler than an ipad and vinyl is so much better than a CD. The truth being that actually we wish we had kept our typewriter and are smug that we have not disposed of the vinyl. Yes, we are that couple in While We’re Young. An older version of them, obviously. Anyway, when someone decided to put three train carriages on a roof of an office block no one thought it was an odd thing to do.

I nearly didn’t eat at Easey’s. The sweary Rap music was too loud. Yes, I sound like my mother! A dad brought his daughter to eat in the train and her face as she emerged from the lift was one of pure excitement. All I could think was that dad would squirm at the lyrics. I also thought the young staff judged us to not be hip enough to eat there, and it was implied that we should have reserved a table (for a burger joint) so we were given the tiny table that faced the lift. I wanted the drivers seat. We then amused ourselves with pressing the button and taking reflection selfies. Old we may be but we can still be childish.

We ordered the Easey Cheesey, Chicken Salt Chips and a dip. The chips were the star. The burger, not so much. Coffee served in a paper cup and the burger in a bag. Afterwards, when the sound system broke, I managed to have a conversation with the guy running Zone 1 (there are 4 Zones, the train is number 4).

The staff turned out to be not too hip to talk to oldies after all. I discovered that the best burger experience was to build your own. I also discovered that it is not just me that hates the music but this was an area the owner would not move on. It was all part of the Hip Hop Culture he was creating. And that the kids loved the PAC MAN games in Zone 2 where there was no music. Hmm, I think the kids would rather have a burger in the train, and that the day time customers (families, and suits) were different to the clientele (hipsters) after dark. It needed 70’s rock not sweary rap. All in all I was underwhelmed by the experience. The burgers were overpriced, undercooked and music just horrible. The owner claims to be a burger king.

Easey’s Burgers was birthed from one man’s mission to consume every burger he possibly can. The man known as Jimmy Burgers has spent the past three years eating burgers everyday. During this time his eaten over 3,000 burgers, released a book ‘The Burger Book – Victoria’ which has sold nearly 10,000 copies; taken social media by storm with a combined network of close to 35,000 and most recently is working on a short film series based on his burger adventures.


The upside? The views are good. And there is great graffiti on Easey Street.

The area is definitely worth a visit, but if I were going for a burger there are better options. Huxtaburger on Smith Street is just up the road and I would also check out Meatballs and Sons on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy next time.

Organic and free range meat. And their balls are gluten free. (That’s what they say on their website). They also say this.

Imagine a restaurant that invites you to know the butcher by name, the grower by the soil on their hands, the chef by his grin as he pinches herbs from the store’s garden, and the wait staff by the granny smith apple they gave you as a parting gift, last time you were here.

Too good to be true? We don’t think so. Simple. Delicious. Goodness all ‘round.


Neither Phil nor I are vegetarians, yet we still love the food and the philosophy at Lentil as Anything.

We are Lentil as Anything, a not-for-profit organisation that relies solely on the generosity of patrons, partners and volunteers. At Lentil as Anything, we believe in the power of humanity to create stupendous change. At our core are our Lentil as Anything vegetarian restaurants, where guests contribute what they feel their meal and experience is worth, according to their own financial ability.

And they make a pretty fine lentil burger. 

We ate here a lot. It was a handy place to visit with the dogs after a walk in the Botanic Garden. We are biased as we volunteered at Lentil in 2011. And this burger, despite being meat free, was as good as if not better than many of the meat laden burgers we tasted Down Under.

Coin Laundry

The other place we regularly ate at was Coin Laundry. Dog friendly, just up the road from the dog park, it was our choice for brunch and was where I discovered smashed avocado. This is their Wagyu beef burger. We really like it here, good coffee, friendly staff and sociable company, many of them also dog walking. And dog people are friendly people.


The breakfast burger.  We had planned a visit to the Iron Houses, and discovered that South Melbourne on a sunny Sunday was the place to be for brunch. The cafes I had pinned on Pinterest were so trendy you had to line up for them. That wasn’t going to happen, so we meandered on towards the market and discovered Bunyip just opposite the market.

When I saw the menu, there was never any doubt what Phil would choose. And this café also encourages customers to buy a suspended coffee, which is another good reason to visit there.


On our last visit to Melbourne Riverland became a favourite place to cool down with a beer. Despite it being in the middle of winter it was still warm enough for hardy Poms to take off their coats and eat and drink alfresco.

At $13 Australian dollars (£7.50) for a pint, we decided that even with a strong pound, that it was pricey. And Riverland is better in the summer.

The Pink Elephant

The Pink ElephantPhil also had a Wagyu burger on our first night, at the Pink Elephant. But being jet lagged and all that, no photos. Officially it is called The Windsor Castle and the interior may have you thinking you have gone back to the 1970’s, but for good, solid pub food and well priced beer, it is worth a visit.

The Burger Project

The Burger Project. In windy World Square. Sydney. I had to include this one as it was rather special, if not in Melbourne. And of course I had The Aussie.

Fast food, slow food values, provenance, community, sustainability. You can see why I like the Burger Project.

Burger Project proudly supports local charities and encourages you to continue the responsibility. We believe giving back is paramount and will continue to fundraise through our restaurants, to that end we commit a portion of our turnover to those that need it.

The burgers were very good and for central Sydney, amazingly good value. Not having the hip hop edginess of being in a train on a roof in Collingwood obviously means affordable food. And a better taste in music. Phil said that they were playing the same music that our favourite B&B played on a Sunday morning, and when he remembers what that was, I will update this post.

Update, Phil has remembered. Sunrise, by Norah Jones.

Anyway, we liked the music. Similar to the music style of Sabor y Cultara in LA  it was laid back relaxing music. A place where families, students, suits and hipsters and oldies like me could relax and dive in to a burger and not worry that the kids will ask what the F and MF words mean.


Headline news while we were down under (the press were almost as outraged about this as they are about mislaying some ashes)  American Chef, David Chang said the Aussie burgers were the worst in the world. Has he been to McDonalds? Seems he has:

As for what makes an ideal burger, Chang puts the following on his checklist: ” …bun, cheese, burger. Sometimes bacon. Ketchup on the side, so I can control it. Pickles—yes! Obviously. And the cheese thing has to be very clear: American cheese only.

We need pineapple and beetroot on a burger. And bacon and egg. With smashed avocado on the side please. And fries with chicken salt.

If you are in Melbourne and like burgers here are some more for you to try. 33 Epic burgers. I have mentioned 2 of them and 1 of them was not epic. Or awesome. But you may disagree.


St Kilda – still more hippy than hipster

A view of Luna Park, St KildaSt Kilda. I never tire of you. The last time I was in Melbourne I volunteered at Lentil as Anything so I could be with you at least once a week. And I still came to see you on my days off.Lentil as Anything

I know you are getting trendy and the expensive shops and muliples are moving  cashing in. Yet you still have that edginess, more hippy than hipster.  Pop Up Records may have closed, property prices have risen dramatically, but you are still holding on to the past through the cakes in Acland Street, satisfying those with a sweet tooth since 1934

The Acland Cake Shop

and your edginess with your laneways of graffiti.

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You were the birthplace of Lentil as Anything in 2000.  And while Lentil now has other cafes dotted around Melbourne, and one in Sydney, Lentil in St Kilda remains my favourite. I have such happy memories of volunteering there back in 2011, and I didn’t know it them but being part of a food movement that will really feed the world.

Volunteering at Lentil changed my life and my attitude to food and food poverty. I didn’t know it at the time but the signs were there. Even before I left the UK on my first big trip I wrote about food and food poverty for Blog Action Day 2011. I wasn’t really aware of foodbanks or of the huge amount of food waste. Or the concept of Pay as you Feel for food. So yes, St Kilda you were instrumental in the journey I have made through life since 2011.

Lentil as Anything, St Kilda, inspired Adam, who started The Real Junk Food project in the UK. . You do that to people, St Kilda. You change them, enable them to re evaluate life. Pay as You Feel

It wasn’t just Lentil in St Kilda that opened my eyes to a new and better way of living.Veg Out

Veg Out also helped me make the link between food and growing a community.  After all we all need food. And someone has to grow it. Here the community grows and shares food. Food is taken seriously, growing it is fun. St Kilda, you gave your community this garden, full of happiness and hope.

And getting slightly lost yesterday, by catching the wrong tram, led me to discover a new side to you.

And I know there is still more to discover. So I will be back. Soon. St Kilda BeachMeanwhile there are other places to visit and experience in Melbourne. But it is not good bye, it is Au Revoir St Kilda.


Why I write

And who do I write for?

A few weeks back a regular reader who often comments (thank you for both) took me aback with a remark about the bloody trench coats. Not quite ‘don’t mention them again’, more ‘I am bored now, move on!’

I was momentarily upset. It is after all my blog and I can post what I want. I write this for me. I very nearly stamped my foot. I may have said a swear word or two.

After I had calmed down, I thought, maybe they do have a point. If someone has taken time to write it, it may be true. It wasn’t unkind, or mean spirited. And when you blog and publish and share it on Twitter, you open yourself to feedback. If you only write or blog so that people say kind things to you, stop now. Really, stop.

I typed the ‘B’ Word in to the search box and yup. I have mentioned them a lot.

So I won’t be mentioning them again. They have gone and I have moved on.

And then I wondered why I had gone on about them so much? And I came to the conclusion that they had become symbolic of the clutter that was holding me back. I was stuck in my life. I wasn’t playing the same old record over and over again, I was just playing the same line in a song. And not getting to the end of it. Time to nudge that needle to the next groove. And give that record a good clean.

Whenever I thought of having too much stuff, it always came back to the fact that Mom had bought the same things over and over again. She too was stuck in the same groove, not moving on.

When she took up machine knitting, she had three different models. They all did different things you see, one did not satisfy her needs.

When she took up golf, for all of five minutes, she got all the gear. Pringle sweater this and plus four that and special shoes. To play on the local council owned golf course, not at The Belfry.

Her stuff helped me understand the relationship between clutter and mental health and to realise that surrounding yourself with stuff does not make you happy. Happiness is not a designer handbag, a wardrobe of shoes or three knitting machines and a collection of Wedgwood Calender Plates. Or piles of books and a vinyl collection that you could never ever have time to play in its entirety. It cannot be bought. Happiness can be found in one song that takes you back to one moment in your life in an instant, that brings all those good memories flooding back. Of course there maybe a song that can remind you of the sad times too. And that is ok because that means that you are alive, you have memories, happy and sad, that have made you who you are. We can’t be happy all the time.

If a book or a CD or a handbag is gathering dust; if you don’t love it and you don’t use it; it holds none of those precious memories. It is just stuff. Taking up space in you house and your mind, leaving no room to let other things in.

Most of the cookery books I had were thick with dust. The ones with food stained pages and repaired spines were the ones I loved and used and I have kept those.

Why do I write? I write because it gets me in touch with all those raw emotions and reminds me that I am alive, and I can laugh and cry and love.

I write because the more I write the better I get. I know this, as I have a record of how I used to write, and how I write now, in front of me. I don’t’ use ‘and’ and ‘so’ as much. Although I still use them too much.

I write because I am learning about blogging and WordPress and Plugins and self hosting. Learning is a good thing. It keeps the brain busy, even if technology make me swear a lot. (You should see me with a remote control).

I write because it make me feel better, it improves my mood. I know this because I have in front of me a journey of highs and lows laid out in posts about lonely people in cafes and days out at local festivals. I write because it is better than taking medication for those highs and lows. Much better.

I write because I want a record of my travels and of my life so my kids can read it in years to come. (They don’t read it now). I write because Mom always said she would write her life story, and she never did. I wished she had as it was a pretty amazing life. Until it became normal.

I write because I know that one or two of my posts have moved and inspired people, and they have thanked me for it. Just like other writers have moved and inspired me. Helped me understand farsickness. The blogging community is a mixed bunch I have found. Some are happy to share and engage, some think they are special. Some make a judgement on their readers and choose not to engage as they decide that I am not their target market (yes, really). And many don’t. And so I tidy them out every now and again.

I write because it makes me a more adventurous cook. I know more about baking and cooking and food poverty now, because I write. I understand better the connection between well being and food.  And writing makes you read more. I read more about food and food poverty. I was directed by the blogging community to writers like Jack Monroe and getting angry about food poverty brought me to the job I do now. The job that I have been looking for for most of my life. A job that I couldn’t have done if I had not experienced the happy, sad and despairing moments that makes me who I am. Met the people who have shaped my life. And that is why I write.

I write for me. I write for Mom. Who didn’t. Yet she taught me to write, encouraged me to. mom and me Tenby Sept 59

And I write for you, if you want to read it you can. Because this isn’t a locked diary that I don’t want to share. It is not the musing of a love crossed teenager who wonders what to wear at the disco on Friday night.

I write because this is about me and what I am thinking and how love, death and stuff can mess up your life and why trying to be normal, to conform, made my mother the person she wasn’t. And that is not going to happen to me. Because I write. For me.




Pay as You Feel for Real Junk Food

At the Real Junk Food Project, Birmingham. I took two new potential volunteers to help out in the kitchens. As I was ill, and banned from the kitchens, I had the opportunity to see the cafe from the point of view of a customer.

There is a whole group of regulars now, and this was the busiest Sunday service yet. Some of them knew each other, from hostels or from SIFA Fireside, others, from sheltered housing who came alone the first time, now eat communally with new friends. They possibly have the only conversation they will have all day, help with the washing up before returning to their lonely flat and Corrie.

Our customers

We have an open-door policy. We’ve fed teachers, solicitors, asylum seekers and bankers. People who are food insecure come here – the homeless, those on income support, students and the elderly. We also feed people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs: we’ve had people in here taking a hit of methadone and sweating in a corner, drinking coffee and sugar and then they get up and say, “Thank you, there’s nowhere else I could do this. – See more at:

Adam Smith, The Real Junk Food Project

One of the regulars, who helped make the gravy to go with the roast beef dinner this week, said the place was a lifesaver. She helped make cakes sometimes, too.  The guy I sat and ate lunch with told me that he had been homeless for over a year, but was settled now, living on £300 per month. As there were people waiting to be seated, we offered our seats to them once we had finished, and he left. He came back, later, he had gone for a walk he said, as it was sunny. We talked the people I had brought with me. He spoke to them about life in South Africa, and cleaned the tables.

Almost everyone put some money in the Magic Box.

It was in 2011 that I first came across the concept of Pay as You Feel. It was in St Kilda, Melbourne and the cafe was called Lentil as Anything. I was in Readings,  a book store and more on Acland Street with my husband, and while he perused the vinyl, I had picked up a book about the project. Realising that the cafe was just a step away we went and had lunch there.

Lentil as Anything

After enjoying the delicious vegetarian food, we got chatting to the manager and offered to volunteer. Like most people new to the Pay as You Feel concept, we struggled to work out what to pay, as there are no prices on the menu. As a volunteer it was probably the most common question I was asked by customers. ‘How much money should I put into the magic box?’ By volunteering, of course we were contributing to the running of the cafe, we always put some dollars in the box for the food we had. We also ate there when we were not volunteering. Not just because the food was so good, and not because the cost of living in Melbourne was seriously denting our travel budget, (it was) but because we loved the concept that what we paid enabled those that could not afford to pay much or at all, were able to eat there because of the contribution we made.

The customer base was made up of backpackers and families, of media types and artists. Rich and poor and in between. On my last day I fed a young English lad who had no money left till the banks opened after Christmas, and a family from Brighton, Melbourne who left $80 for their meal. Which convinced me that the model could work.

Eating out in Melbourne was not cheap, but we usually donated to Lentil the same amount as we paid in similar eateries. Another of our favourite places was Crossways which if the website if correct is still only $7.50 ($5.50 for students) for two courses. And you could go back for seconds. This was always busy, people in suits and yoga kit, backpackers and tourists all sharing tables and eating very good vegetarian food. The cost of a McDonalds meal is about $6, so the food at Crossways was really good value and healthier.

As for what people choose to pay it seems that this is not always enough to cover overheads, if this article is anything to go by.Lentil have now a suggested donation, yet they do not want to lose site of their core philosophy.

Lentil as Anything is a unique not for profit community organisation. At our core are the pay as you feel restaurants where customers give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to contribute towards a world where respect, generosity, trust, equality, freedom and kindness rule.

Adam, the founder of The Real Junk Food project had come across Lentil on his travels. This and other food experiences in Australia developed into the idea which has now created an ever growing network of Pay as You Feel cafes and pop ups in the UK. Food is intercepted before it goes to landfill and is cooked and offered at cafes in Leeds, Brighton, Birmingham and Bristol. The menu changes as food intercepted can be anything from mangoes and plantains from the market to Christmas hamper food from a well known store that is never knowingly undersold.

At the table we are equal, eating food that otherwise would have been thrown away. In a world where bankers and coffee chains and giant retailers legally avoid paying tax, we have people going hungry and food going to landfill. We have foodbanks.

And that is why I want to see more Pay as You Feel cafes, across the country. Across the world. Let’s really feed the world.