WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works.

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 pic.twitter.com/e8nYyT9AV3

    Embedded image permalink

And of course I retweeted.

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

Books are the plane, and the train, and the journey.


Today I visited the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. It is stunning. We joined the guided tour of the dome. Again, like so many of the free things to do in this beautiful city it was just us and the guide.


In recent years, Victoria invested a substantial sum of money to refurbish the beautiful building. Money well spent.

The quote is one of the many on the walls of the La Trobe reading room which is beautifully furnished, and is one of the quiet reading rooms.

Not that any of them are noisy as such, just full of people and life and free wifi and a chess room! And Ned Kellys’s armour.

Its archives include comic books





It holds over 1.5 million books too.


I’m glad it was part of my journey.

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Melbourne 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 can, 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 place 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…

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All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

I first noticed Gordon standing on the steps of Winchester Library. It was hard to tell his age, older, well dressed, wearing a Trilby. He wore the hat confidently. I was sitting in the Black White Red café opposite, which was filling up with families with young children on this very wet and windy Sunday morning. He glanced at his watch a few times as if not sure about what to do. The library was not yet open and perhaps he thought of returning home as the weather was so dreadful. I was willing him to come to the café and not be alone.

He crossed the road and came into the café. There were just two tables left and he chose the one next to mine. Once he had settled, I asked him if he was waiting for the library to open. It was by then only 10am and the library did not open until 11 he informed me. We chatted, about how few libraries opened on a Sunday and how being in a warm café was preferable to waiting in the cold and wet. It was his first time in this café. My brunch arrived, he said he had already had breakfast. I suggested that maybe this could be his new Sunday routine, brunch before the library, he thought it could be.

The café was busy, dripping umbrellas, soggy Barbours and wellie clad children whose parents in Hunter’s with Cath Kidson changing bags were busy juggling babies with lattes and pancakes and catching up with friends. I was probably the only one who had noticed him standing on the steps earlier. We were at separate tables, Gordon and I chatting with little eye contact as we were next to each other. Always a good way to start a conversation, I find, sitting next to one another, like on a bus. Or when the unexpected question that children ask in the car while you are driving. Lack of eye contact helps the conversation along. 

Silence fell as I ate and he warmed himself with his coffee. Yet we knew this was just a lull in conversation. He had just moved to central Winchester as a stroke just over two years ago meant he could no longer drive. Now everything he needed was within walking distance. He never thought he would move, not after losing his wife to cancer six years ago. He wells up with tears, as so mine. As I am now. A few days back it was the first anniversary of my mother dying and I am reminded of this, as he sits and remembers his wife. We share our grief in silence. I say I am sorry, how sad, it is clear he misses her so very much.

He told me she had been a nurse, but after they lost their second child, she decided to change career as she found it too much to continue to work in a hospital. How dreadful to lose a child and now he has lost his wife I thought. He was a teacher too. I told him that my mom had taught and that it was the anniversary of her death. He knew. He knew.

Somehow the conversation switches to other things, to cheer ourselves up, and I find out he has grandchildren. I talk about my children. We don’t mention names.  Mine had had to do chores from early on and do their own washing from age 15 while his grandchildren still get it all done for them.

I tell him how we left the youngest to cope for 5 months when I went around the world with my husband, back packing. His eyes lit up, what an adventure, he said, they had travelled a lot he said in Europe and in 5 star resorts. His wife liked more luxurious holidays you see, as she reckoned they both worked hard so needed the rest. I said we had just been to Marrakesh. He tells me that they had had to cancel a holiday to Morocco when they found out she was ill. I got the impression that he had not been on holiday for a while. Four years after she had died he had had a stroke. Maybe he goes with his daughter now. He didn’t say.

Yet he was making the best of his new life. Living in a smaller and more manageable house by the river, involving himself with activities in the library and concerts at the cathedral. I told him that he was brave and wise to make the move to the city, and asked if he had made new friends. He had but seemed to be meeting people younger he felt he was like a father figure. Yes I thought. You are the father I wish I had had instead of the one I never had.

He had taught English, oh, I said,  was so lucky to have had inspirational English teachers. I told him what I had studied. I told him about how my last proper day out with my mother was to Stratford to see The Tempest with Make Friends with a Book. I showed him the photos of us all, on my iPad. He had not heard of shared reading groups. I told him what a difference it had made to my mom in her last few months, stories of how it had changed people’s lives. How sad I was that they were under threat due to withdrawal of funding. He read through the website, listened to what we had read. As an English teacher he understood the impact that great literature can have on people. 

I gave him my email details and we said our goodbyes. And I realised that there was so much more he could have shared with me. I was guilty of using the worrds I and me too much, of not listening.

And then I recalled a post I had read a few days ago. About Edith and how TV was her best friend. This is the paragraph that stood out for me.

And be interested in our lives … I may be confined to a chair now but I used to own three motorbikes, you know. Let me share some of my stories – not just so I can talk but so you can get to know who I really am. I know that takes time but all relationships do.

How many older, and younger people live like that? Only seeing carers or not even that, just a neighbour who gets your shopping once a week. Alone in their chair with only Corrie for company.

Like Edith they may have ridden motorbikes when young, what is certain they all have a past. We all do.

I have shoe boxes of photographs and letters that my mother kept, but no one now to ask ‘who is this and when was this?’ Mom had a story to tell, and I have snippets of her life as an usherette, and actress, my dad, and how Michael Caine bought me an ice cream. Yet I don’t know her story, not really. I asked her to start writing it down years ago, she never did. Perhaps I could have had Tuesdays with Sylvia and got her to talk to me about those days and recorded it. Perhaps I needed to listen more. Perhaps we all need to listen more. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I took it for granted that she would always be around to share her life story. That there would be another day to listen to them. Today is that day to listen to Edith, or Gordon or to your mom.

And I reflected that one of the great things about a shared reading group is that they give people like Gordon, Edith and Sylvia a safe place to share their stories. Talk about who ‘they used to be’ before they got old and invisible, blind and in a wheelchair.

On Monday we read a short story called Powder by Tobias Wolff. It is a story about an young boy and his father on a ski trip. A dad who is a risk-taker. 

Just before Christmas my father took me skiing at Mount Baker. He’d had to fight for the privilege of my company, because my mother was still angry with him for sneaking me into a nightclub during his last visit, to see Thelonius Monk.

One person in the group said how it reminded her of her husband, who was a confident driver and who had a love for motorcycling. She was in the moment, when her husband was young, seeing him as he was then. Like Gordon had recalled his wife, eyes shining with happiness. He husband  had recently passed after a long illness and she had nursed him, like Gordon looked after his wife, but as she listened to that story all she could remember was the young man she had fell in love with.

And that was what I had told Gordon about, that Make Friends with a Book is that safe place, to share memories and anecdotes, happy and sad. Shared reading is powerful like that.

It reminded me of my father who was an unreliable risk taker. A wall of death cyclist. Who never made me feel safe. I think Gordon made his children and his wife feel safe.

And when the group closes after four and a bit years, where will those people go to share their thoughts and memories, over tea and a good book? Many will go back to their lonely cold houses with the telly as their best friend.

And that makes me sad.

So if you met a Gordon, and Edith or a Sylvia, talk to them. And listen too.

Edith, Gordon and Sylvia, we know some of you are lonely, so talk to us, and share your memories. Don’t close the door and cast your bitterness and your regrets for what may have been, your if onlys over us. Don’t be an Eleanor Rigby who ‘Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door’.

And you, yes you, before you become Edith, and can still see, and hear and walk and talk and travel, and build a life of memories to share, do it. Notice what is around you, gasp at the rainbow and smell those spices and breath that sea air. Paint that picture.  And share it with us.

The last gifts I gave my mother were some audio books. On clearing her stuff I discovered she had listened to only one. Tuesdays with Morrie. I had debated whether to give it to her as it is about the time a man spends with his much admired terminally ill professor. And he puts his life on hold, and gains so much insight to his own life by listening.

Just what Edith, Gordon need and what Sylvia wanted.

We have one mouth and two ears for a reason. To listen twice as much as we talk.

I probably will never meet Gordon again. I was meant to meet him that day, that I know. As it says in The Celestine Prophecy:

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”

If I lived in Winchester I would spend every Sunday with Gordon. And listen more.

Is there someone you need to spend more time with? Go visit them while you can.

The Tesco Footprint

When large retail is valued higher than the arts by a local council, the electorate need to start to think about how they use their vote. Market traders, family run businesses will all feel the impact by the bogof culture that Tesco brings, contributing to food waste and more plastic bags fluttering in the trees.


I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here.  The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.

The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tescovanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is…

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High School Reunion 3 #indielove indierock

This post has absolutely nothing to do with my high school reunion at the end of this month. It’s not about me, it’s you, my lovely friend (you know who you are) who took me to her ‘school reunion’ when Scouting for Girls came to Birmingham on tour.

Yes, my friend went to school with the lead singer Roy and the bassist Greg and she was on the guest list when they came to play the O2 Birmingham last night. With four tickets she invited me along with my husband Phil and our our son.

Now he’s going to hate me for this but not only was it the first ever gig my son has been to, it turns out the first album he bought was Scouting for Girls. I didn’t know that until last night. And now Roy (see first name terms now) knows it too as my friend told him.

And get this, we had these wrist bands. DSCF6241 My friend, for whom this is not a first time experience was like ‘well it is not that much you just get to meet the band’, and I am like OMG I have a wrist band. I didn’t say that of course, I am a fifty something sensible wife and mother but actually I was very excited about it.  Usually on a week day I am half watching a cookery programme while updating my Facebook status. We were going to the back stage party! Well not exactly but we did get to meet her mates later. And it was all very civilised.

Before the gig we met at Cherry Reds in John Bright Street. It was a freezing night and, even at 6pm, very few people were lingering for shopping eating or drinking in the German Market. Everyone was rushing to get home it was so cold.

Cherry Reds however was quite busy. It  is strategically placed for when Grand Central opens in 2015. The long needed overhaul of New Street Station will include a new retail development with a flagship John Lewis store. Over a few drinks, we decided that when it was finished  this quarter of Birmingham would be the retail destination of choice, as John Bright Street will be the. Gateway from Grand Central to the Mailbox where Harvey Nics is, leaving the Bullring to the cashed up Bogans and Wags.

Cherry Reds is directly opposite Brew Dog, a bar providing a range of craft beers and food in, according to their website, a temple of non conformity.  It was empty on this bitter Tuesday evening. Cleary all the non conformists were elsewhere.

Cherry Reds is a licensed cafe, with an eclectic mix of vintage sofas and formica tables it sells all day food, smoothly moving from hipster central for Saturday  brunch to a place to take mom for Sunday lunch. Its close proximity to the station, the Mailbox, The Electric Cinema and theatres including the Hippodrome, the Alex and The Rep makes it a good choice for pre theatre coffee, supper and drinks. It is also close to the O2 where we were off to later. Did I say I went to see Scouting for Girls there?

The food is hearty British, between us we had a pork burger with chorizo, gammon, eggs and chips, fish pie and bangers and mash, and there are lots of veggie options.  We were downstairs and it was a bit cold when people opened the door, but every table was full, enjoying laid back post work drinks or supper with friends. Upstairs was quieter and would be my choice for later drinks on the sofa. People watching. Definitely better than freezing in the German market.

We filled up on good food, good beer and good milk shakes and ventured to the sub zero temperatures to the O2. The support band were, Loveable Rogues who were on stage when we arrived. I am no muso journo and I make no claims of knowing half the bands my friends  like, or even what genre of music they are but I thought they were they were good. I had no idea what genre they are but Wikipedia tells me they are indie pop and that they were hand picked to be on Britain’s Got Talent.

For the main act we decided to go on the balcony for what was a better view of the stage without having to stand with the young people who jump up and down at concerts. Phil and I were not (surprisingly) the oldest at the gig. Some parents had brought quite young children (under 11) and there were 20 to 50 something couples as well as teeny boppers or whatever they are called now with bored chaperones.

The band were good. They put on an entertaining show, engaged the audience and nearly everyone in the room knew most of the lyrics. And for those of you who turned down free tickets as they are not a ‘cool band’, well thank you because I loved it.

The highlight for me was the acoustic set. Bringing the instruments to front of stage they played a brilliant set. It was very intimate (as much as the O2 could be) almost like being at pub gig with just mates in the room. Brilliant.

Of course the night is not complete IMHO without the Michaela Strachan number and She’s So Lovely.

At one point Roy came up to the balcony to sing, and brilliantly had to pass our and his friend so to the chagrin of the teeny boppers standing next to us, gives her a bear hug and greets her by name. Their faces we’re a picture, imagine envy mixed with bewilderment aka ‘why has he chosen her she’s really old why her and not us lithe teenage fans?’ Just as most 12 years old think that anyone over 20 is over the hill. Here’s the news guys, Roy’s the same age as my friend.  And she’s not old, just older than you 13 year old teeny bopper and one day you will be that age. I guess one can be grateful that they were at his gig and not at One Direction. Not that there is any connection between the two bands. Of course not. None at all. Nada. None whatsoever. Nothing to see here.

Finally it came to meeting the band. And after just chatting to family, with the fan club girlies with double lip gloss waiting patiently, and me wanting my bed, my friend drags Roy over to introduce him to us. Clearly as we are not friends of her age, but a family consisting of 50 something’s and a 20 something, the ‘how do  you know each other’ question arises. ‘Mary Portas introduced us’. Well that would have been the clever, and true if somewhat embellished answer, instead is was more ‘eh um, we all live in Bearwood, and um xxxx stayed with us during house renovations’ sounds less interesting when talking to the lead sing of Scouting for Girls. Ho hum.

He chatted to us about record deals and reveals that he also does a lot of writing for other bands. ‘She’s So Lovely’ may be his pension but hey he has to make a living, so writing for boys with floppy hair pays the bills. ‘ They’re just kids’, he says genuinely kindly, to me who today discovered said boys on a toothpaste tube and was less kind about them. He is the bigger person for that then. And richer. But he is genuinely an ok guy without ego, he keeps that for the stage. Not that I would expect any less from a friend of my friend. And anyway she knows too much about him for him to be anything other than just who he is.

Then Greg comes over and shows us a picture of his dog a Cocker doodle doo pug something cross that looks like a lab puppy, always.  In my day they were called mongrels, now cross breeds have designer status.  Equal rights for dogs.  He gets told off for doing the rock star hand gesture, teased that he’s in a pop band and cannot get away with it.  He then lists his rock credentials and is grudgingly acknowledged  by his old school friend that they are indie rock. Not pop. Chats about old school mates and who is married and who has 5 kids. Just like any other high school reunion then? Again she’s known him too long for him to act anything more than an old school friend and egos have been packed away by the roadies with the guitars.

We are tired, it’s a school night and they need to schmooze and smile at the lip glossed girls so off into the cold night and despite trying to be really nonchalant about meeting Scouting for Girls, we are all a bit star struck. Well I am. And I think my friend, despite saying its hard to find people to come when she gets comps, is too.

All I can say don’t be a music snob. Because you may miss out on a good night out.

Thank you for taking us, mate.

High School reunion 2 more #indielove

You may have gathered that I am determined to steer the old Holly Lodge Girls to independents during their visit to Birmingham.

In my last post I gave them a number of indie coffee shops to visit so if I see any evidence of visits to chains to get coffee or tea I will judge them harshly.

So onto shopping. Yes there is the Bull Ring. It is full of chains and it will be absolutely rammed and migraine inducing. And of course there is the German Market, plus the so called craft market that starts just outside the new Library of Birmingham. Not wanting to offend I don’t care if I have offended any stall holders but quite honestly most of it is imported tat. There I have said it and I don’t care.

So where to go for good quality hand made original gifts? The Mailbox. Yes, you heard me right because the lovely and extremely talented Crafty Muthas from Bearwood will be there selling their hand made goodies. To find out more click here.

English: The Mailbox, Birmingham, UK

English: The Mailbox, Birmingham, UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While you are at The Mailbox you can have a giggle at the silly prices in most of the shops there (if there isn’t a price on it you can’t afford it) and visit the BBC shop too. Harvey Nics staff believe they are superior to everyone so please go and annoy them too. It will be warm as it is under cover but not heaving like the Bull Ring which will be full of cashed up Bogans. And if you need a coffee Urban have a pop up pod there.

If you haven’t seen the Selfridges building yet, here it is. So now you don’t need to walk to go and see it. Happy indie shopping ‘old’ girls.

Selfridge store, Birmingham Bull Ring

Selfridge store, Birmingham Bull Ring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford (again)

Yes, we liked it so much we did it again!

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of th...

English: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last October I took my mom to see The Tempest with the lovely Make Friends with a Book people. I wrote about it here.

Make Friends with a Book at Stratford upon Avon

On September 21 a whole bunch of us took another trip from Sandwell to go and see All’s Well that Ends Well at the RSC.


Some of us met on the train at Snow Hill Station.

I timed my journey so that I could enjoy a bit of sightseeing and tea before the theatre.

Mom loved Stratford, and had fond memories of a trip she took with her old friend when they were teenagers. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to make it one of her last days out. And as per her wishes I left a little bit of her there, on this visit, by the river in the shade of the theatre she loved so much.


The people from the group that meet at Bleakhouse Library had been very important in her life for the last year of her life and I knew that they were looking after her while I was away on my travels.

Who knew that a group that I helped to establish four years ago was going to have a significant impact at the end of her life? Not me.  They were her final audience and gave her the opportunity to share her stories from the theatre once again. She got lots of curtain calls.

And the play? Thoroughly enjoyed by all, amazing production, and the sun came out for Make Friends with a Book again.

Our next theatre visit is closer to home, at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre to see A Christmas Carol. Guess what we will be reading in December?