A Jamaican adventure paid for by my students, Week 1: Kingston

I had been careful to have absolutely no expectations before I boarded my nine hour flight to the other side of the world. It was as far away from home as I had ever been and I wasn’t paying a penny – awesome. I also had to be a responsible adult in charge of four teenage girls. I think describing myself as out of my depth would have been an understatement. I was downright terrified. Warned not to take anything valuable with me in case it was ‘ripped off me’, I had even left my engagement ring at home and had packed a first aid kit to cover all eventualities. What lay ahead were two weeks where I experienced so many things that I am going to struggle to fit them into two blog posts. 

When we popped out into the Caribbean heat my first thought was ‘wow, where’s the water?’ Driving through Kingston to our hostel really gave us a feel for the city. The two main imaginatively named areas, downtown and uptown, were polar opposites. Downtown is the poorer area, packed with houses whose inhabitants stood outside on the street chatting and cooking food but also where the shops were all protected by an iron grille with a small serving hatch.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

A rum punch from the Usain Bolt bar in uptown Kingston.

Uptown is more modern and buzzing, with lots of traffic, shopping malls and bars. The most striking feature were the street hawkers who would wander between the cars at traffic lights. This seemed odd at first but by the end of the week totally practical. I wish in England someone would sell me a morning paper and some local bananas directly to my car window during rush hour. 

At no time did I feel in danger. This was the biggest surprise, after being warned of the dangers of Jamaica I found myself walking down a street in central Kingston feeling safe and secure. Jamaicans are very friendly and they want you to fall in love with their country. The most common question I was asked after ‘where are you from?’ was ‘when will you come back?’. 

Up at the monks' retreat in the Blue Mountains

Up at the monks’ retreat in the Blue Mountains

Now, a place that cannot go without mention is the Blue Mountains. A retreat away from the city, a trip up into the peaks was a breathtaking experience. The tropical splendour of the scenery combined with the views back down over Kingston were fantastic. After an almost two hour drive upwards we popped out at a picnic park complete with pagodas and BBQ areas. That was the most surreal picnic I

have ever had, over 3000ft above sea level and at times in the clouds. 

Kingston is not the most tourist friendly city, there are a few attractions to see, but we weren’t there to be tourists. We took the students to Kingston so that they could work with some of the poorer citizens of Jamaica. They taught a summer school for HIV positive boys living in an orphanage. HIV/AIDS is still a taboo in Jamaica but a charity called Mustard Seed provides homes for HIV positive children. We also worked in a home for disabled children run by monks from the

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Me and one of the children, Nicola.

Missionaries of the Poor. Working in these homes was the real highlight of the trip for me. An eye opener for the students and a truly unique experience. I loved working with the children. The conditions of the disabled children’s home, known as Bethlehem, seemed shocking and stark at first. However, when I thought about the poverty of the surroundings in Downtown Kingston and I was given an idea of the relatively low standard of free healthcare in Jamaica generally, I saw them in a better light. The children were kept well fed and clean and, the longer I was there the more I realised, they were very well loved. The monks, staff and volunteers doted on those children who were so much fun to be around. I will never forget their joyful faces and the happiness they gave to everybody around them, despite the stark reality of their situation.

The most important message we all learnt in that week was that life is simply luck. We are all lucky to have been born into developed countries. The only thing between our lives and those of the children in that home is the chance of our birth.

The end of week one; I hadn’t been mugged, I had only used my first aid kit for mosquito bites and no student had done anything untoward, yet. I had survived in a very different country, but more than that, I had loved every second. Now off to Ocho Rios for a week of relaxation! 

Garden Museum Cafe

Would you like to know about a secret quiet space in Central London? Wouldn’t every Londoner? Well I discovered one on Sunday.

We all need a little calm time in our lives, I could do with some right now. I am writing this sat at Gatwick airport waiting to take 4 students on a once in a lifetime trip to Jamaica. They have all flown long haul before. I have not. I’ll let you know how we get on in 2 weeks time.

Just down the road from Waterloo station, attached to Lambeth Palace, is a garden museum. In the museum is a cafe, which is free to enter and set both inside a deconsecrated church as well as the pretty gardens outside it. Charlie and I found our way inside wandering down the south bank and it is in the book!
The cake selection was not huge but it was the most homemade looking cake so far! And with rather adventurous flavours. We could choose between: courgette, ginger and lime; butternut squash or orange almond and rosemary. Charlie opted for the courgette and I went for orange.
We sat outside in the lovely garden and it was so peaceful, particularly because it started raining gently. There was nobody else around and we sat under a tree eating cake. We felt like the only people in the world!
The cake tasted very homemade, which is a compliment. It wasn’t perfectly shaped and iced but tasted like it was lovingly stirred and watched in the oven. I don’t know how you can mix love into a cake but I’m sure that’s what makes home baked cakes different. Charlie’s lime and courgette cake was rather like a carrot cake but green. Soft and crumbly, cream cheese topping, not a particularly strong lime or ginger flavour. Very subtle. Mine was also very moist, I was very impressed with the sponge itself. The flavour was less impressive. I could taste everything and there was rosemary in the cake, but it was a little underwhelming. Perhaps too experimental for their own good?

Ratings:
Atmosphere: 7/7 – try and go on a quiet day
Cake: Me 6/7 Charlie 5.5/7

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Cupcakeathon. Lola’s Cupcakes

Today it is raining, but for this post I need you to cast your mind back to when it was hot. I mean really hot. The kind of hot which makes us British wish for rain. It was that sort of hot Sunday when I had to dress for a one day flying visit to Windsor, to see a priest. Yes that’s right, you may be aware that I am planning a wedding at the moment, and the time had come to go and see the priest.

What do you wear to see a priest on the hottest day of the year? I needed demure yet cool, smart casual but sweat-proof. I ended up in a cardigan, strappy top and skirt. Cardigan = coverage right? Well I thought I had nailed it but from the moment I entered the perfectly cool house of the priest and shook his hand, any evidence of sweat proofing left and I promptly stuck to the armchair I was sat in. I guess I am just one of those sweaty people.(Do they exist or is it just me?) Stick me in an awkward situation and I will swiftly sweat away, not profusely, but like a nice cold pint of cider which fogs up on a hot day. I always have done and always will do. Luckily the priest was very friendly and didn’t notice that my handshake on the way out was slightly damper than on the way in.

After getting lost in the backstreets of my home town, being a bit late, meeting the priest, explaining why I wanted to get married in my own church back home, walking across Windsor in the heat, dodging the triathlon taking place in front of the station entrance and missing a train, I finally made it back to the air-conditioned safety of a carriage. Here I could escape the heat and found myself having a little train nap to recover from a busy day of travel and excitement.

It has been a while since I have eaten cake; wedding planning and working many Saturdays has not been cake friendly. So imagine my excitement when I crossed Waterloo station towards the Jubilee line entrance and saw this shining in the distance!

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Amazing! Lola’s Cupcakes hasn’t been reviewed yet so Charlie and I excitedly bought 4 cupcakes just for us! I gave them each their own photo shoot. We eventually chose Banoffee, Raspberry, Chocolate Truffle and Peanut Butter but there was a ridiculous amount of choice. They were the perfect after dinner pick me up to remedy a hot stressy day and prepare for a week away with 32 school children on PGL. More on PGL later.

Review time! I wasn’t sure what to expect because Lola’s Cupcakes has expanded a lot recently and I’m always wary of the quality of mass produced cake. I was pleasantly surprised. I must start with the Banoffee cupcake because it was the best. The best cupcake ever that is! It simply had that moist texture that cupcakes don’t normally have. It tasted just like I imagine a slice of the cake would, and the slightly cream-cheesy icing was perfect. A good banana and toffee flavour with chunks of chewy banana as well. YUM!

The chocolate truffle cupcake was second up with a delicious chocolate ganache topping to die for and decorated with actual chocolate truffles. A gooey chocolate filling finished it off. The sponge, however, was missing that moist cake texture and was verging on the dry. The raspberry and peanut butter were both very good cupcakes. The buttercream was flavoursome and tasty with a creamy texture. Both however were slightly dryer than I would have wanted. Although I am very fussy, and they were by far the best cupcakes tasted so far!

4 Large cupcakes sitting in a box...

4 Large cupcakes sitting in a box…

Ratings:

Banoffee: 7/7!!!                 Chocolate Truffle: 6/7              Peanut Butter and Raspberry: 5/7

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