Category: Volunteering

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.





Harvest Festival – now I get it

Harvest FestivalI remember the annual Harvest festival assembly at school. We used to make up boxes of food, usually in a shoe box. Back then (and I am talking about the 1960’s here folks) there were not the big supermarkets and all the brands we have now. I think my box may have had a couple of tins of vegetables and some spam or corned beef. And always some fresh vegetables that my grandad dug out of the garden.

We were told the food was going to the old people who were poor. I have a vague recollection of visiting houses with a teacher to hand over this parcel. Were they poor? I didn’t know any poor people, my nan was ‘old’ but she wasn’t poor, we always ate well, as did all the other old people I knew then. I was about 8 years old, what did I know?

We lived in a tiny council house and my grandfather worked for the corporation as a painter. Nan ran the house, my mother had various jobs, including cleaning and helping in a halfway house for young people in care. My aunt and uncle, who also lived there had ‘good’ jobs in The Civil Service and I expect they paid ‘keep’. Five adults, two children, a cat and a dog (Puss and Doggy) in a two bedroom, one boxroom house. We had no car. I had one pair of shoes and some school pumps that were only replaced when I had grown out of them.  Mom made most of my clothes. When I went to secondary school the duffle coat I had been bought was too big for me as it had to last the whole five years I was there. Nan did the weekly wash in an electic tub and a hand wringer. The toilet was outside the house.

There was money coming into the house, as there were four wage earners. I am pretty sure that Nan did a lot of financial juggling and scrimping though. We ate well. I was on free school dinners as was my brother. Nan made a 25 shilling (£1.25) leg of lamb last a week. The bread and milkman delivered to the house as did the local shop. I had to drop the list into the butcher (our corner shop) on the way to the shop, and the box of food found its way to the kitchen table by the end of the day. Nan settled up with them weekly when Grandad handed over his pay packet.

We didn’t have a car. We walked everywhere and used a bus for special trips at Christmas into town (Birmingham) or to Bearwood for the market to buy fresh food. Grandad left the house at about 6 am every day to get the first bus to work.

It was not untill I went to Grammar school that I realised that maybe we were not as well off as a lot of others. While many of my new school friends also lived in social housing, some lived in semi and detached houses. They had colour tellies. And a car. My closest friend at school had a pony. Credit to my school, my family and my friends, I never felt disadvantaged or poor. I guess, having an aunt who lived in a big house with a field at the back and two brand new motors every year, I had no sense of rich and poor. She was family and just lived in a different sort of house. Hey, before my Dad did a bunk, I had lived in a house with a swimming pool in the back garden,  Auntie took us off to share caravans and houses in Tenby or Teignmouth every summer. I was just a kid growing up in an extended family that was full of love and fun.

Family and Friends

And now I know how lucky I was. To be fed well, and live in a family that cared for each other.

I have spent the majority of my working week collecting food donations from local schools. I work for a charity who manages Smethwick Foodbank, a Trussell Trust foodbank. These schools have had Harvest Festival assemblies and the food collected is being donated to foodbank.

As I was loading up my car boot yesterday the young infants were helping and asking where the food was going. Many of them thought it was going to poor people in another country. That we were taking it on a plane.  I told them that we gave the food to people from this country as there were people, in England, that didn’t have enough money to buy food for their families. So far this week I have collected the equivalent of 10 supermarket trolley loads of food. About 800 kg.

There have been times in the past 30 odd years where my husband and I have been short of money. Very short, of money, trying to pay a mortgage and feed ourselves and two children after 18 months of living on benefits. Yes me, who went to a grammar school and university. Me, who has worked for one of the biggest accountancy firms in the country. Yes me, whose husband was once a national manager for a DIY company, a Marketing Manager for a house builder. We were once down to our last pound and bought a lottery scratch card with it. That was pretty feckless of us wasn’t it? That scratch card fed the family for a week as I won £50. It was the last one I ever bought.

Yet I never needed to go to a foodbank. Not because we had enough money living on benefits, we didn’t. We didn’t have a car. We had pre payment gas and electric meters. The children had free school meals and I got a uniform grant. I didn’t need to go to foodbank because I had credit cards. I bought food on credit. I borrowed money from my mother, and mother in law. I was worried sick we would lose the house and be homeless on more than one occasion. The heating was turned off and we had duvets on the sofa to keep us warm.

It wasn’t pleasant to have to borrow money from my mom. It was not pleasant to have a school secretary humiliate me when I asked for the form for free school meals. And it has been tough paying back the debt over the years. Because it wasn’t just once that we were out of work. I stopped counting the times we were made redundant after it happened to us seven times. But you never forget the interviews at the Job Centre, the countless forms you have to complete and the waiting to sign on. It was horrible then. It is worse now. Now Job Centre staff have the power of ‘sanctions’ to threaten you with. And some of them enjoy that power a bit too much.

And so I know that when someone comes to a foodbank , I want to make it a pleasant experience as it possibly can be. I want to make sure they have all they need to feed themselves and their family. I want to make sure they have someone they can talk to. And if they need more than food, such as toilet roll, toothpaste and soap, that we can offer it. What I want at Smethwick  Foodbank is to restore dignity and revive hope.

And now, finally, harvest festival collections make sense to me. Because I know that the food we give out at foodbank is needed. And that every tin of beans, packet of rice, and litre of milk donated  at every harvest festival will go to someone who is in crisis.

And I would love to know what you think about foodbanks and if we need to be offering more than just food there.


Tweeting for good

A couple of weeks ago I heard that SIFA Fireside could no longer offer breakfasts to the homeless of Birmingham. They needed £10k a year to keep the service going, but due to cuts in funding they had to make the difficult decision to stop this service. At the coldest and wettest time of the year.

£10k is a lot of money to me. It isn’t to a Premier League footballer or a Banker of course whose bonus could fund SIFA for many years. And I got angry.

And I thought about what I could do. So I tweeted.

Tweeting can be good for you

I have read this book and I have hanging around on social media for a while and I know that as well as the trolling, flinging of insults and tweets about doggie do, Twitter can be used for good.

I was already following @buskingbobby whose Socks and Chocs initiative went off the scale this year when this film of him went viral. And yes, he uses Twitter for Good.

Busking Bobby and I had a chat via Twitter about various things I could do that may help to raise funds. I was pretty sure that there were big corporations out there that could sponsor them. Even if only 1 in 10 Brummies donated £1 each, SIFA would have enough money to carry on breakfasts.

I started following SIFA on Facebook and Twitter and asked them what I could do to help. I told everyone in my Social Media world about the work they do by sharing their tweets and posts.

I also tweeted @GreggstheBakers to ask them what they did with unsold yet safe to eat food that they bag up, suggesting they could use this to support charities like SIFA. They sent me a link to this policy outlining their partnership with Fareshare.

Dear Coral

Thank you for contacting Greggs.

I just wanted to let you know that I’ve forwarded your e-mail onto our Charity Team who deal with all charity requests that we receive. I’ve asked that they contact you directly about your request, so they should be in touch with you within the next three weeks.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Remember to quote your call reference number: F1523470 in any
correspondence, as this will assist us in providing you with a
quick response.

Kind regards

Lauren McGettigan
Customer Care Team

I am still awaiting the follow up emaiI. I am hoping they have contacted SIFA direct as I suggested.

Yet I still felt I was not moving on in helping with the issue and I was getting a little frustrated.

Then two things happened this week. SIFA held a silent auction for a meal to two that had been donated by Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill. Just as it was about to close I put my bid in. And then got this.

Remember our silent auction on Friday? Well done @travellingcoral you had the winning bid! We hope you enjoy the meal at @mpw_birmingham!

It is my birthday and wedding anniversary next month, and guess where  I will be celebrating? And the food will taste even better knowing that my money is supporting SIFA, albeit in a very small way.

And last night SIFA were featured on BBC Midlands today. The Worcester Warriors Rugby Club had donated time and money to serve breakfasts there.  At once I dashed off a tweet.

Brilliant news for @Sifafireside on @bbcmtd as Worcs Rugby team are cooking brekkie one a week, come on more companies football teams!

It wasn’t much and I do not know how much difference it made, but it got retweeted by BBC Midlands today who have over 37000 followers.

Today I saw this:

  1. Thank you @WorcsWarriors for your campaign to help us get our breakfast service back! We are re-launching it next Monday! 🙂

  2. Thank you @wraggeandco charitable trust for helping us fund our breakfast service!

  3. Great news!Thanks to your support our breakfast service is coming back to #Birminghams #Homeless next week! #ThankYou

    Embedded image permalink

And of course I retweeted.

I didn’t do much, but this much I know, I used Twitter for Good.

Melbourne – things to do for free

As part of our round the world trip, we are house and dog sitting in Melbourne. After being on the road for a month and a bit, having a comfortable bed, our own shower room and a kitchen is fantastic. Beats a camper van, hands down. We are very lucky to have essentially free accommodation for six weeks, which is a bonus. Another bonus is we get to live like Melburnians not tourists. Well mostly!

Other bits of this trip are going to take serious chunks out of our travel budget, so we are more than happy to look after a house and the dogs and be able to explore this great city, which is consistently voted one of the best places to live in the world. What I hadn’t reckoned on was how big the place is. And that it’s divided up into mini towns, all so very different. And the traffic and mad drivers. So we are mostly using the public transport system. To get our bearings we took the FREE city tram, which runs around the CBD. This is a hop on, hop off ride, with a recorded guide to what you can do and see at each stop. A couple of weeks later we hopped on the FREE city bus, that does a bigger tour of Melbourne. * see addendum below.


There is also a recorded commentary, but our driver also added snippets of his own which was brilliant, such as this is where my grandad got married. Random, but fun.

We have yet to join a FREE guided walk, courtesy of one of the information centres volunteers. Melbourne certainly knows how to utilise volunteers in the culture and tourism industry. They have volunteer guides around the city with maps and other information, volunteers at the Royal Botanic Gardens and you can join a volunteer guide at the NGV to learn more about the art collections on show. Also FREE. And when we are all cultured out and need to escape the heat we can get the FREE shuttle bus to Chadstone Shopping Centre we haven’t been yet, I suspect it is like Merry Hill or the Bull Ring, but bigger.

As National Trust members we also get FREE entrance to the Polly Woodside and The Old Melbourne Gaol The Polly Woodside was good fun, especially as there was only us two on the FREE guided tour. Phil got above himself, as second mate! When we visit the gaol I will ensure he is punished!


There are a few other places we will be using our National Trust membership to visit. And while we pay for membership, these visits are not technically free. However, my view is that my membership is a charitable donation and visiting the properties is a privilege. Free transport, free accommodation, free guided tours, free entrance to attractions, so all we need now is to eat for free……..


Addendum – the city shuttle is no longer free. However all trams in the CBD are (clearly marked free zone).