The Art Of Giving Compliments

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Personal / Random Banter

I occasionally do a spin circuit class on Wednesday mornings at the gym. At the end of the class, there is five-minutes dedicated to stretching, and some of the stretches require a partner. Two weeks ago I partnered up with a small, blonde woman who had the most beautiful blue eyes I’ve ever seen. That is not an exaggeration. They were disproportionally large compared to other peoples’ eyes, but perfectly proportionate to her own features. They were a see-through sort of blue, framed by dark lashes grouped in triangles as though she’d been crying – though of course she hadn’t been. A few things about her were fake; hair extensions, tan and I suspect her lips too. But those eyes were real and astonishingly beautiful. They can’t have been fake but surely they can’t have been real either. Surely not.

The next week we were partners again, and I had to tell her. I apologised I hadn’t told her last week but explained I’d been embarrassed.

You won’t believe her reaction; I certainly couldn’t. No one had ever told her before. Ever. In her thirty or so years, she hadn’t been given any sort of compliment to do with those eyes. In fact, she almost didn’t believe me – and I very almost didn’t believe her either. I can only imagine how many people must have thought it. How could they not?

I regret not having told her the week earlier. And I regret all the times I’ve thought wonderful things about wonderful people and haven’t told them.

Let’s make a pact, you and me, to give compliments when and where they’re deserved. I can’t see there being any harm in that, can you?

Let’s also take this as an opportunity to acknowledge the compliments we didn’t give, but should have:

To the girl at university with pink hair, pink clothes, pink everything – you’re the coolest person I know, and I don’t even know you. To the elderly man who crossed the road in the opposite direction to me yesterday, wearing the most immaculate three-piece suit and shiny purple brogues. To the conservative looking woman dressed in all black with unexpectedly crazy leopard print sneakers. To the girl who sat in front of me at a talk on Monday night, with a mane of amazingly curly hair – I wish I had the confidence to wear mine natural like you. To all those people – and so many others I’ve forgotten – I’m sorry I didn’t tell you how tremendous you are the second I thought it.

Go on…better late than never.


Humans of Khokana Children’s Home

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Travel Bits

An accidental trip turned life-changing experience: this is the story of my school friend Sarah, and the lives of Nepal’s orphans that she’s changing for good.

All words and photographs are Sarah’s

10471094_10206224050740793_8478090432619212466_nThis whole trip happened by complete accident. I got a part-time nanny job in London while I was doing a course in World Religions. After a couple of weeks the family announced that the Dad, a BBC journalist, was applying for a job in India. They asked me if I would come along. I found out I could pay a fee to sit my exam at an international venue, so thought ‘Why not? What could possibly go wrong?’ Well…

I’d been enjoying India so much I decided to extend my six-month visa by taking a cheeky two-week trip to Nepal and re-entering the country. A friend of a friend of a friend I met at a party put me in touch with Khokana Children’s Home, where I spent two weeks playing games, changing nappies, and picking out head-lice with my fingers. The kids completely captured my heart and forced me to reassess my whole existence.

When I returned to Delhi, the family was in London so I had this enormous mansion all to myself. I started to get really lonely and depressed, and I realised how much more fulfilling human contact and human love is than having nice things.

I wrote in my journal one night, ‘I have everything, but I have nothing’.

I miss my little munchkins at the orphanage terribly, especially Yash who I formed a very strong bond with. I think about him every day. I’m running out of time and money so I won’t be able to see him again, but I can at least improve his life through fundraising. It’s the best I can do for him right now.

Khokana Children’s Home has directly helped a total of 43 children orphaned by the 2015 earthquake, and many of them are likely to stay at the home until they turn 18. The Nepalese government has outlawed international adoption, putting a huge strain on limited resources. The home is in desperate need of new clothes for the kids, nappies for the babies, as well as money for medicine, staff salaries, food and books.

Please help spread the word and support this worthy cause. Click here.

These five precious lives have changed Sarah’s, and Sarah is changing theirs


Meet Samiran,
The sweetest little boy on this planet. Samiran was brought to the children’s home as a newborn baby by a mother that could not keep him. At the age of 45, she decided to move to Iran in search for work, and found a job in a wealthy home as a domestic servant. The man of the house is now in jail, as he was found guilty of raping his staff. Samiran is the product of one such rape.

He is kind and outgoing. On my arrival he decided we would be best friends, and we have since spent hours and hours playing hide and seek together. The language barrier became evident during my failed attempts to teach him that he was supposed to hide in a different place each time, and that giggling hysterically when the seeker walks in the room defeats the game’s purpose. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun together, and I will never forget his contagious smile.


Meet Kajal
I don’t know the details relating to Kajal’s parents. All I know is she was orphaned as a very young girl. Until recently, she was raised in an orphanage south of Kathmandu, but it collapsed during the first quakes in April 2015. She was lucky to survive, and was transferred to Khokana Children’s Home along with 21 other children three months ago.

Despite being a tough kid, she was too shy to talk to me at first and would stand about two metres away, watching me interact with the other children. She managed to warm up to me after a week, and eventually spent many hours braiding, unbraiding, and re-braiding my hair. She keeps to herself most of the time, and prefers the company of her younger peers. She’s not passive though. She is more than happy to beat up a boy much bigger than her if he pinches her, or torments one of her younger friends.


Meet Yash
It is unlikely that Yash will ever find out who his parents are, as he was taken straight to the children’s home after birth. The other kids tell me he was abandoned by his mother, but this is just a rumour. It is more probable that she died in labour, which is fairly common in these rural areas.

Writing about Yash is the most difficult for me, as I find it impossible to adequately describe the amount of sheer joy he brought to me while I was there. His smile and his laugh are unbelievably heartwarming. My entire stay consisted of carrying him around on my hip, so saying goodbye was very painful for both of us.

Yash is more than just smart – he’s resourceful. I’ve seen him outsmart kids that are three times his size, and I’ve seen him use his brain to get out of doing things he doesn’t like, rather than crying like the others do. He’s a kind boy, but I can tell he will one day be a ruthless businessman if he is ever presented with the right opportunities. He’s cheeky though – changing his nappy is first and foremost a chasing game. His “mama” at the home had to literally tie him to his cot so that he wouldn’t climb out during nap time to run and find me. I nicknamed him “Baby Hanuman” after the Hindu monkey-god, because he literally climbs everything.


Meet Kalpana
Kalpana was taken to Khokana Children’s Home as a newborn baby by her 13-year-old mother. She is now two, and, as international adoption is illegal in Nepal, it is highly likely she will stay there until she is 18.

For the entire fortnight I was there, I never heard her utter a word. This is a stark contrast to her best friend Yash who is also two and never shuts up. Kalpana is very introverted, and although she seems to like the company of the other toddlers, she always needs a bit of persuasion before joining in any games. She is a deep thinker, I could tell straight away. A future philosopher, perhaps.


Meet Anisha
Anisha was the first child I met when I arrived because the other children were at school and the babies were having their midday nap. As a result she got a bit possessive over me and got terribly upset when the other children tried hold my hands. She was orphaned by the earthquake only a few months ago, making her the newest arrival to the home. I could instantly tell she was struggling to settle in.

As the presence of adults is fairly limited, the children have formed some clever alliances among each other in order to survive in such a tough environment. Every child seems to have one or two bigger kids to watch his or her back, and equally, everyone also seems to have a couple of younger kids that they look out for. Anisha doesn’t have anyone.

Unlike her peers, Anisha knows what it’s like to have a family. She remembers the love, devotion and attention of her parents. She knows what she’s missing. So, when someone half her age comes up to her and pinches her arm severely, she doesn’t know what to do with herself. Her first instinct is to go and find an adult, but the staff usually shrug it off and tell her to fight back. Naturally, this has resulted in quite a bit of bullying, which is not easy to cope with when she’s still overcoming recent traumas.

“Don’t give up.

I believe in you all.
A person’s a person
No matter how small.” – Dr Seuss

A Rose Among Thorns

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Random Banter

Once upon a time I’d have written “amongst” in that title, but my study of journalism has convinced me that the word “amongst” is dead, as is “whilst”, “thus”, “interestingly”, and any word that has a shorter substitute. My study has me confused as to whether those commas should be on the inside of the quotation marks as different style-guides provide contradicting answers. I have learned that puns and clichés should be avoided at all costs, so I suppose this title is entirely inappropriate. Bugger. I’ve also learned that every word/sentence/paragraph should relate to the story which is problematic here as I’ve already gone off in a direction quite opposite to where I was headed, but I’m not prepared to delete what I’ve written because my words become my babies. I’ve also been taught to have foresight and to plan a piece before it’s written; what information to put where, what information not to put anywhere – beginning, middle and end sort of stuff. I clearly haven’t taken this advice on board as I had not planned to end up here. I’ve also been told not to ever, ever use semicolons because they too are dead. Kurt Vonnegut once said that semicolons “are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college”. But here’s the thing: I want a job so it’s probably in my best interest to show I’ve been to college. I guess I better keep using ’em. And see how I integrated Vonnegut’s quote into a sentence I started myself? Well, you’re not meant to do that. Quotes should always be stand-alone and entirely independent of the paragraphs either side; that way they have greater impact. And when it comes to writing hard news, a paragraph should be just a sentence which it seems I haven’t done either. But this isn’t hard news so I suppose I’m all good. Final thing (I hope!): a journalist should never write I/me/myself, unless their presence is integral to the story. I just went right ahead and put myself in this before I had a chance to think about it – whoops. Anywho. One probably should not make up words either. Though I haven’t been taught that, per se, I suppose it goes without saying. I’m sure that Latin expression “per se” is dead too. And one definitely should not repeat the same phrase over and over e.g. “I suppose” which I’ve said over five times already. And I should definitely have written “more than five times” instead of “over” because how can I be over a number which isn’t a physical thing? Rhetorical questions like that should absolutely not be used. Ever. Nor should one worded sentences because sentences should always include a subject and object and one or two clauses. Oh, that word “nor” is dead too! And exclamation marks? Don’t even.

I suppose I should start where I intended starting all along: a rose among thorns. I sneakily took this photograph in a big crowd of people leaving the train station. The singular splash of colour among a sea of black and grey coats struck me instantly. I told its charming wearer once I caught up with her. “Thank-you, dear. It sure is bright, isn’t it?” Yes, and wonderfully so!

The Unwritten Profiles

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Random Banter

News cares about the famous, the newsworthy, the just plain worthy. But what makes a person’s profile worthy? It’s obvious: beauty, money, celebrity. Profiles – high ones especially – sell papers, magazines, television. No secrets there. These golden profiles feed our entertainment hungry world; a world that worships superstardom, names, brands. But is there any value in these profiles besides monetary? A short-term entertainment fix. A juicy piece of gossip: marriage, divorce, children, affairs. A tip about diet or exercise or how to look and live and breathe like what’s-her-name. You know the profiles.

But what about all the unwritten ones – the millions of worthy people whose stories haven’t been told, and probably never will be? The man who sits on his front doorstep and greets passersby. The pony-tailed woman who makes your coffee every morning and remembers your order, soy latte. The young boy who scans your dinner ingredients at the supermarket three evenings each week and asks what you’re cooking. The lonely man in the brown coat who walks up and down the main road, smoking, leftward-posture. What about those profiles? Do they matter any less? They won’t sell papers, they won’t change the world. But aren’t they worthy of being written?

This is the unwritten profile of the man at Journal Café.

He’s there every day, as far as you know. He sits at the low share-table closest to the big sliding door, always at the bottom left-hand corner. Today he wears navy pants, a blue polar-fleece jumper and perfectly clean white sneakers. He is physically and intellectually disabled, moving slowly, always smiling. He doesn’t speak words, but greets the waitstaff with a crooked nod of the head. They return greetings without using a name, placing a glass of water and today’s newspaper on the table before him. It is a familiar, comfortable routine, and you wonder how, when, it started. He doesn’t drink coffee. He sits for hours, turning a page of the paper rarely. He doesn’t look at it. He looks all around fascinated, never staring. He is there when you get there, still there when you leave. Where he comes and goes, you don’t know – and nor will you find out. He is happy, and the café is happy to have him. He’ll be back tomorrow morning, still smiling, and you’ll be glad to see him.

Unwritten, but not unworthy.

Slowly Overcoming The Fear Of Writing

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I think I’ve developed a fear of writing. It must have been a gradual development, for I’ve only just realised it. I have a million ideas, but there’s a million other things going on in my head that have got in the way. Most of these things have to do with me thinking and caring too much about what everyone thinks and cares about. And the more I think, the scarier writing becomes and for that reason I’m not writing as much. I’ve become conscious that everything I write begins with I, too. Who cares about I? You’ll tell me you do, but I’m telling you there are a million more important things than I. But the thing is, I’m comfortable talking about because I is the only thing I know everything about. And I guess I’m scared to write about something I don’t know about because there will always be someone out there who knows more about whatever it is I don’t know. You know? And then there are all the things I do know a little something about but am too scared to write about for other sorts of reasons. Friends, family, mind, body: one day I’ll write about these things but that day isn’t yet. I will never be the sort of writer I want to be if I don’t overcome my fear of writing about these sorts of things. I am hugely envious – and that’s a trait I despise – of all the writers that write about sex or drugs or depression or love or whatever it is without caring what you think. I want to be that sort of writer. I will, but it will take time; a hurdle in this never-ending attainment of confidence. I’m a confident person but not a confident writer…yet…and while this all seems very negative it shouldn’t because essentially this is a post about hope and excitement and growth and all those other gooey things that make you roll your eyes but smile too. Admitting to this fear was kind of scary to do so I guess that’s a sort of start. Slowly, surely, I will write about all of these things but please be patient because it’s harder than it looks.