Café Royal

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Café Royal will always and forever remind me of my good friend Heidi who introduced me to this hidden gem back in 2003 (I realise it’s very well-known now). I remember being shocked that I’d never heard of it, yet it was so close to Monument (I used to spend all of my spare time & money in Waterstones – which then became H&M and has recently closed down). Thanks Heidi!

When I started my blog last year, I wanted Café Royal to be the first place I featured. Off we went, very early one saturday morning, we ordered breakfast and I just couldn’t bring myself to take any photos (even though I had taken my camera out of my bag). It was already full with hungry diners and when a man glanced over, I assumed he hated me because I had a camera. Paranoid or what?! So a year later, I thought it was time to take some pics! I did get some funny looks, but I never photograph other diners so carried on doing my thing.

Located on Nelson Street, opposite the Grainger Market and a minute’s walk from Monument, it’s always been a favourite of mine over the years. I always turn up with the expectation that I’ll have to wait to be seated. It’s always busy, no matter when I go, which speaks volumes really. It’s an SJF establishment, but doesn’t feel like part of a chain at all. If anyone asks me where to go for breakfast/brunch in town, this is always my first suggestion.

Not surprisingly, I went for breakfast with my friend Julie and as always we discussed our food choices at length so there was no chance of food-envy :) I usually opt for Eggs Benedict/Florentine or Scrambled Eggs… but on this occasion I picked Waffles with Bacon & Maple Syrup and Julie chose the Café Royal Big Breakfast. I fancied a fruity juice as well as coffee so ordered the Berry Nice (I think that’s what it was called) and a Flat White. Tea for Julie. Obv.

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The waffles and bacon were both crispy and delicious and there was more than enough maple syrup (I do worry about running out, there’s nowt worse than a dry waffle). I know this is going to sound odd, but despite really enjoying my food, I wish I’d chosen Scrambled Eggs or Eggs Florentine like I usually do – they’re just so good. Julie’s breakfast looked great, Blagdon sausages, dry cured bacon, fried egg, beans and local black pudding. The toast arrived after I’d taken photos and it seemed cruel to make her wait any longer to eat. The verdict was that it was tasty and filling. The black pudding was softer than Julie’s preference and the beans were very different. I wish I’d tasted the beans – I do love homemade baked beans.

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I hope Fog on the Tyne is available next time I go in!

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Helpful! I usually pick a latte but didn’t feel foamy.

Once you’re seated you order at the till, where there’s a huge array of delicious items to tempt you. I now regret not getting a few things to bring home. Namely, a chocolate florentine and a cheese scone.

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I’ll take one of everything, please.

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Hiya

After realising he'd been snapped in the last photo, I got a full-on pose from this friendly chap!

After realising he’d been snapped in the last photo, I got a full-on pose from this friendly chap!

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I’m most likely to visit Café Royal for breakfast/brunch but lunch has always been brilliant too. I’ve not had the Afternoon Tea yet but it’s at the top of my list. It looks great and £25 for two is fine by me! It’s served from 2.30-5.30pm, Monday-Friday.

I’ve had both great service and average service during my countless visits, but it’s never been bad and I always go back… I love the feel of the place, as well as the delicious food. If you’ve not been, do pop along. If you’re going for breakfast maybe I’ll come with you!  Would love to hear what you think if you’ve already eaten here :)

What should I order on my next visit?

Curious Leaves – Grainger Market

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Mrs Pumphrey’s Curious Leaves Tea Shoppe is now open for business within Newcastle’s Grainger Market. Part of the Pumphrey’s Coffee family, Curious Leaves is all about the tea!

With lots of speciality teas to choose from, you can either sit in and sip (like I did) or buy a bag of tea to enjoy at home (OR BOTH).

I decided to go with the Indian Breakfast Tea (with milk) – I’m of Indian heritage and it was breakfast time. Made perfect sense at the time. The barista also brought over a timer to let me know when my tea would be ready to drink. Of course it took me ages to realise my timer had gone off and was beeping at me.

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There are also tasty-looking food items to go alongside your brew of choice, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I didn’t eat ANYTHING during my visit. If I had to choose now, I would have a toasted scone or a slice of cake. Carrot cake. I did get to sample the lemon and ginger tea though, complete with a tiny slice of lemon. Delicious. The ginger wasn’t too overpowering which I much prefer, more lemon, less ginger.

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I’ll have one of each please.

This location in the Grainger Market is a lot quieter than Pumphrey’s, which I liked. I ended up chatting with the lovely girls working (hi Amy and Lidia!) and also made friends with a very sweet lady who sat on the bench next to mine.

Amy informed me that you can BLEND YOUR OWN TEA to take away! The way she explained it was: a lot of the teas have health benefits but might not taste great on their own so you can blend with something that’ll taste lovely. e.g. Echinacea Herbal Infusion could be blended with Lemon & Ginger Herbal Infusion in the nifty blender.

The blender!

The blender!

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At the bar, there are 4 stools for tea drinkers and little bowls with loose tea in for you to look at (and sniff, if you’re like me). I sat in one of the little booths – there are three of those available, so yep it is pretty tiny but they’ve definitely made the most of the space they have.

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I’ve got both of these at home – delicious.

If you’re a Grainger Market obsessive (there are many of us, I know!), or are just passing through, stop by Curious Leaves for a cuppa and a slice of cake. I’m going back soon to get some tea blended. I’m very tempted by the combo Amy suggested!

I think I’ll also go for a pot of flowering Jasmine tea – just look how pretty it is!

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Curious Leaves are on Instagram and Twitter – follow them!

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Let me know if you do pop in for a cuppa or if you create your own special blend of 3 teas – I need inspiration!

Before I go, I’ll leave you with these wise words…

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Maxine Ashleigh – Little Miss Delicious

I first heard about Little Miss Delicious from my friend Julie, which won’t be a surprise to any of you who know Julie! Little Miss Delicious is an independent online shop that specialises in handmade jewellery made from polymer clay, as well as accessories and apparel that are so adorably kawaii. I’m talking pizza slices with cute little faces on, or a charm bracelet with brightly coloured donut charms (WITH SPRINKLES!), I could go on and on and on!

Maxine Ashleigh is the owner and brains behind Little Miss Delicious, she runs designs and hand makes each item herself! Maxine took time out of her hectic schedule to answer some questions for me :)

Maxine Ashleigh

How did Little Miss Delicious come to exist?

I first started making jewellery when I was 15, but back then it was very different to the designs now! As soon as I discovered polymer clay I fell in love. The freedom to be able to create something completely unique from a lump of brown clay was just amazing, and I haven’t looked back since. At first I made items for myself and friends, but soon other people started asking where they could purchase my designs so I set up an online shop, and it’s continued to grow ever since! By the time I was ready to leave university, I was lucky enough that my business was already at a point where I was able to go full time straight away, and it’s been my full time job for 5 years now!

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Little Miss Delicious pieces before they’ve been glazed

What has been your biggest inspiration? 

I find inspiration everywhere – from a certain colour combination, a food I’m craving or even just while brain storming ideas. I’ve always had a huge sweet tooth and so my designs come from my love of all things cute, while incorporating lots of my favourite foods. Pinterest is quickly becoming one of my favourite places for inspiration – it’s full of so many cute and yummy food pics, I’m a little addicted! You can find me there at – pinterest.com/lmdelicious

How do you manage to fit everything into your working week! Could you give us a little peek into a day in the life of LMD?

I’m honestly not sure haha! My average day is very hectic, and tends to involve working at least 15-18 hours a day. My day tends to start with replying to emails, updating social media and scheduling posts for the rest of the day. As well as running LMD, I also run social media for other brands too, so this can take anywhere from half an hour to 3 hours depending on how much online work I have to do that day. Then I spend the afternoon either sculpting, painting or sewing depending on what is on the schedule for that day (my days are planned out with very in depth to do lists and schedules to keep me organised!). I package and post orders around 4pm, then once I get back from the post office it’s right back in my studio sculpting, painting or sewing until it’s time for bed! I give myself a hour after work to relax before I sleep, a few hours to cook dinner and do any cleaning, as well as little breaks through the day for kitty cuddles!

What’s the main challenge about being your own boss?

I’ve definitely found it a struggle to get the right work/life balance. It can be very easy to forget when to stop working and neglect everything else, so I’ve started trying to take at least one day a week off – but it’s so hard when you love your job and just want to work 24/7!

You’ve created so many tasty little characters, do you have a favourite?

That’s such a hard question! I love all of them, but I think the Double Scoop Ice Cream and Home Slice Pizza’s are definitely up there as favourites. They were some of the first things I ever made, and although they’ve changed drastically over time they’ve still got a special place in my heart.

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Look at them!

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An actual battenberg necklace ladies and gentlemen!

Do you have any advice for creative crafters out there who want to start up their own business?

The first step is to make sure it is something you really want to do and something you are very passionate about as it’s very difficult to establish a stable income, so be prepared for some hard times, even if you have lots of funding right from the start.

One of the most important pieces of advice I think anyone can give to someone thinking about starting their own craft related business is to create something original. Find a way to put your own signature mark on it. For me, I find the way I paint the faces on my pieces and the colours I use help identify them as my brand, and I can’t stress how important it is to be able to create something identifiable. I also make sure I do a quick search online when I have new ideas to make sure there isn’t anything similar already out there, and if there it is means I can take appropriate measures to make sure it’s as different as possible, or change my idea completely. The fashion world and many other business areas are extremely competitive, with new brands popping up all the time, but if you can bring something new to the table then you’ll go far!

Starting your own business is not easy, there is a lot of hard work and long hours involved. However, the more work you put it, the stronger your business will be, so it all pays off!

I’ve done various blog posts with lots of tips for small businesses, which cover different areas such as taxes, social media and pricing. Definitely worth a look if you’re thinking about setting up your own business – FAQs.

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In actual love with these kawaii coasters!

Lots and lots of thank you’s to Maxine for featuring, hope you’ve enjoyed reading.

To see more of Maxine’s delicious little creations you can find Little Miss Delicious here:

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*All photos have been taken from the Little Miss Delicious FB page with Maxine’s permission*

Post Box Ponteland

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Post Box is the brand new café that has just opened on Main Street, Ponteland. Sandwiched in-between Bridgfords and Ponteland Tandoori, Post Box really stands out – it might be something to do with the pretty red bench outside, freshly painted front and kilner jar lights hanging in the window.

My friend Sarah and I have had this in the diary for quite some time and went along this morning – on their opening day.

Inside, the decor is cosy and inviting. Exposed brickwork, a wall made from scaffolding boards, wooden floorboards and loads of natural light from the lovely big windows. Next time I go, I’m definitely aiming for one of the window booths.

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A wall made of scaffolding boards!

A wall made of scaffolding boards!

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Post your comments cards here!

Post your comments cards here!

We had a quick look at the menu and made our choices, I hadn’t eaten breakfast so ordered Eggs Benedict whilst Sarah picked a slice of Victoria Sponge. Post Box serves Ouseburn Coffee (readers of my blog will know this is my favourite) which I was already thrilled about… imagine how happy I was when my cappuccino came with a little square of chocolate tiffin. On the second page of the menu there was a “Clean Eating” section which Alex (whose exciting venture Post Box is, along with business partner Hayden) explained would appear on the blackboard on the wall, in the next few weeks and options would change every few days. Loving this idea. The team will also start serving Afternoon Tea in the next couple of weeks. YESSS.

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Just like us, lots of people have been waiting for Post Box to open, so I wasn’t surprised to see a steady stream of excited customers coming in for a peek & a cuppa. The team have been posting teasers on their Facebook page for a few months now so it almost felt like I’d been there before.

The staff were helpful, attentive AND they offered to pose for a photo when they spotted me awkwardly trying to take a picture of the counter. Thank you!

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A closer look at the cakes...

A closer look at the cakes…

I went to school in Ponteland and lived there for about 10 years, working in Safeway (RIP) after school and at weekends. People in Ponteland still recognise me from my Safeway days. Ha ha. MEMORIES (although, that stripy white and green uniform should be forgotten). That was over 15 years ago and very little has changed in Ponteland Village in that time, so I’m sure locals will be very happy about this new venture. I am.

The opening hours are 8am-8pm, every day, which suits me just fine. Quite often after work I really fancy a nice cup of coffee and somewhere cosy to catch-up with friends… this is just the ticket. Alex also told us that they’ll be hosting a variety of classes in the evenings, creative writing and origami were mentioned amongst others (which I’ve forgotten).

It’s clear Alex and Hayden are perfectionists, have put loads of work into this and have thought about every last detail. They’ve spent over a year doing their research, looking at cafes at home and abroad as well as working with their chef and coffee roasters to create something that really fits in Ponteland. It’s paid off. I like that they’re not rushing to do everything at once. The team are brand new, getting used to their new surroundings and the service was already great, I look forward to my next visit!

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you decide to pop in.

Bill’s Restaurant, Durham

Ever since my friend (who lives in Lewes) told me about Bill’s, I’ve wanted to go. I love their story, oh and the food looked rather delicious… I was chuffed to bits when she told me they were opening up in Durham.

Bill’s opened their doors in Durham about a month ago and is located on Saddler Street in a Grade II listed building. It’s right in the centre of town and dead easy to find, nestled in amongst the cute little shops.

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My friend and I went along this morning for a late breakfast. Breakfast is what Bill’s first became famous for, so I knew my first trip had to be for breakfast (I love breakfast food for any meal, often dinner). Having checked out the menu beforehand, I was really looking forward to it but typically hadn’t been able to make up my mind. Life is hard.

Bill’s fits in very well in Durham. It looks like it’s always been there. From the outside, I was expecting it to be quite small and cosy… I was right about the cosy part, but small it most certainly is not. The decor is a style I like and have seen in lots of places over the past few years – eclectic furniture, lots of wood, vintage style chandeliers, painted brick walls, exposed metal work. There are also shelves full of Bill’s groceries for sale, you can even order groceries from a tick-list from the comfort of your table. I was tempted by the pink lemonade, just look at how pretty it is.

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We ordered coffees, had a quick look at the menu and then the very lovely Henry showed me around the place so I could snap some pics. There are two main dining areas plus a private dining room which is gorgeous and bright with a great view. They’ve also begun work on an outdoor terrace, which will be lovely for the summer.

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Our coffees arrived while we perused the breakfast menu again. I picked the blueberry & buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup and bacon (after a lot of inner turmoil choosing between this and eggs florentine) and my friend ordered the granola with yoghurt, plus some toast because “granola is too healthy”. Ha!

Ready for food photos?

LOOK AT THE BACON! This was the right choice for sure. Perfectly crispy bacon and thick blueberry pancakes soaked in maple syrup. I could have done with a little pot of maple syrup on the side for good measure. Luckily for me the granola & yoghurt came with a small pot of warm honey which my friend didn’t want. I took it.

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We sneaked a look at the lunch & dinner menu and there is a great selection to choose from. When there’s a combined lunch & dinner menu, it’s hard to get the balance of options right but this works. I’ve got my eye on the mac ‘n’ cheese with butternut squash. Or the burger. Or the cod fish finger sandwich. They’ve also got a really comprehensive Allergen Menu  to comply with new requirements – super helpful & lots of gluten free options from the looks of things.

I know Bill’s is a chain – but it doesn’t feel like one, nor does it look like one and most importantly it doesn’t taste like one. Maybe I’d feel differently if I’d known and loved Bill’s before they were bought out. The staff were attentive, friendly and given they were rushed off their feet, service was mostly quick. Our second coffees took a while to arrive but we were busy eating and talking so I didn’t mind too much. Henry brought them over and apologised for the delay. The place was packed, people without reservations were turned away as all tables were accounted for.

If you happen to be in Durham and looking for something tasty, I’d recommend paying Bill’s a visit. It’s definitely worth booking ahead to avoid disappointment. Their phone number is 01913 867 672 (or you can email durham@bills-email.co.uk). I’ll be back soon, I couldn’t wait and posted a photo on my Instagram earlier today so I’ve already got a few friends who are interested in a trip to sample the menu.

Would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve already been!

* Our meals were provided free of charge for review purposes, but as with everything on my blog, my opinions are 100% honest* 

Chloe Hall – Bumble & Bloom Media

I’m very excited about this post which is the second in my series of features! (If you didn’t catch it, my first feature was all about the wonderful Bels Flowers – read it here.)

Chloe Hall is quite the busy lady! Founder of gorgeous North East lifestyle blog Prosecco and Pie and newly established small business Bumble and Bloom Media, Chloe was also shortlisted for ‘The Guardian’s Rising Star Award’ last year. We’ve met a couple of times, tweeted each other lots and her blog is one of my favourites – she writes so beautifully. (I also love Chloe’s Instagram photos of Daisy and Miffy, her two fluffy bichon frises!). I decided to ask her, very formally via Twitter DM, if she’d like to feature on my blog. She said yes. This would be a sad post if she’d declined. Ha.

We met up for a good old catch-up over brunch at Harvest Canteen in Jesmond, I could have quite easily spent all day chatting and drinking coffee.

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1. Predictable question to start us off! How did you first get into blogging? 

I decided to start Prosecco and Pie about the same time as I was working for a local magazine as a writer and helping to manage their blog. I loved the idea that you could reach hundreds, if not thousands of people interested in the same things as you and get an instant response/feedback to your writing. I also realised I knew very little about blogging, so jumped in with both feet and decided to learn everything I could – turns out it was one of the best things I ever did.

2. How did you decide you wanted to work for yourself?

I’ve always daydreamed about running my own business, I just didn’t ever let myself imagine it would (or could) happen so quickly. I’m a bit of a geek and secretly loved Business Studies at GCSE and A-Level, I kept thinking this looks so fun! The marketing modules were my favourite, but I still found a strange enjoyment struggling with balance sheets and the meticulous layouts of cashflow forecasts. Ultimately, being in charge of your own destiny, income and daily schedule always seemed so appealing to me, to think of going back to a 9-5 grind now would be rubbish!

3. You’ve blogged about lots and lots of places, what’s your favourite hidden gem to visit in the North-East? 

Prosecco and Pie has definitely inspired me to get out there and actually see what’s on my doorstep. Because I stayed here to study (I ended up doing English Literature at Newcastle Uni) I found myself feeling a bit flat when my uni mates were getting excited about places I’d visited so many times. Being able to drive and have my own car definitely helps me get about, so if I had to choose a favourite hidden gem it would be the beautiful Garage Spa near Barnard Castle (about an hour away from Newcastle) I visited recently, or The Northumberland Arms in Felton which is the most beautifully furnished pub/restaurant with rooms right in the countryside. Both are picture-perfect!

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4. Being your own boss can’t be easy – are you always working?

Truthfully? Yes. Being self-employed is so empowering and exciting that my body and mind can (so far!) handle being at work almost every hour I’m awake, but it can also be scary as hell when unlike your friends and family, you don’t have a pay-day at the end of the month. If I don’t keep putting myself/my business out there, meeting new people and forcing myself out of my comfort zone to try new things then I don’t get paid. In between meetings, networking events and actually doing work for clients at Bumble & Bloom Media,  I’m also thinking about Prosecco and Pie and making sure I’m in touch with what’s going on in the region, when was the last time I posted etc.

5. Give us an insight into your working day!

My ‘office’ is at home, so if I’ve got a lot of work to do the next day I’ll get up around half 8, turn on my laptop and can work away until 6pm if needs be. Often I’ll have meetings and events booked in my diary – some days I’m out of the house at half 8 and not back until 9ish! I can’t lie to you though, some days are like a dream come true/scene from a film where I get up, grab my handbag and drive five minutes along the road to Tynemouth and sit in a coffee shop with my notebook or laptop. If I really can’t concentrate, sometimes I find the silence of my local library the perfect atmosphere to work. Working from home definitely has its perks, although with two dogs, two guinea pigs and a tortoise at home all wanting my attention sometimes I find myself shooing a guinea pig out of the dog’s bowl in between proofreading a press release I’ve written or shoving my wellies on and taking the dogs for a walk in the pouring rain just to tire them out so they’ll sleep next to me for the rest of the afternoon while I manage clients’ social media or write a blog post for them.

6. What tips would you give to budding entrepreneurs/bloggers? 

  1. Have faith in yourself. Before I decided I was ready to become self-employed I thought it would be more sensible to get additional experience under my belt. It wasn’t until I was in various interviews telling people what I could do and what I have achieved already that I thought actually, why don’t I just show these people I can do it? And so I did.
  2. Having a support network around you is also really important. Without the help and advice of my family and friends I’m not sure whether Bumble & Bloom Media would have turned out as wonderfully as it has. It’s little unexpected things that get to you the most, like having to make decisions alone. In theory, that didn’t seem like a problem but when you run your own business and you have the final say on everything – from approving logo designs to writing terms and conditions being self-employed can be daunting and lonely.
  3. Don’t apologise for being ambitious. Not all of your friends or family will understand what you do – my Nanna was HORRIFIED when I told her I was leaving a full-time job as a Senior Writer for a magazine for example. She still asks me now a year and a half later whether I’m looking for jobs, or if a job comes up will I take it? What she doesn’t understand is that I no longer enjoyed my job, it wasn’t nearly as glamorous as it seemed and that the freedom to be as ambitious and adventurous as I like was too exciting not to pursue. The world is your oyster, if you truly believe you’re talented at what you do then go for it!
  4. Save up. Boring, I know, but looking back I’m glad I saved up money to act as a cushion while I was still looking into developing my business, panicking about a name, doing my market research etc. It meant my car was still on the road and my rent wasn’t a big issue – giving me the freedom I needed to explore new options.
  5. Be honest with yourself about where your skills lie, and how good you are at what you do. I love writing, but I also know what kinds of writing I’m good at and more importantly, how to write commercially. Working to daily, if not hourly deadlines at a magazine with word counts of 1,000+ you have to be able to write to a high standard consistently. Having a portfolio of work definitely helps when pitching your ideas to people, but at the end of the day it’s all about the delivery. Writing for a magazine where an Editor checks everything before going to print is a safety net, now I’m self-employed I have to be both and that has taken some practise and getting used to. Some people I know realised they love writing more as a hobby, blogging about things that they like and enjoy – that’s fine, and that’s when your writing will be at its best.

Thank you to Chloe for taking time out of her busy schedule to feature :) Hope you’ve enjoyed reading!

Portraits of India

I took a lot of photos of the people I met in Amritsar and Delhi.

The people I photographed were so polite and humble. The kind old man with the balloons almost made me cry because he was so happy to hear that I wanted to take his photo.

Here they are. I hope you like them!

DSC_0580This man sells balloons on Lawrence Road, Amritsar, often standing outside the school gates when it’s time for the end of school bell to ring.

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Four friends playing cards in Company Garden, Amritsar.
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A street food vendor, selling savoury laddoo. He walks around with his portable cooking station, lots of passers-by stop him for his laddoos which are served with pickled carrots. Delicious.
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A young boy selling cream rolls, flaky pastry filled with cream.

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This older gentleman has been selling puri and chole outside Company Garden for many years.
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Advising us to buy puri and chole – we didn’t on this occasion as we were about to jump in the car.
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Pani puri stall outside the Golden Temple, Amritsar. I love this photo so much. I think because of how proud he looks.

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“Take my photo” said the tall man giving out the halva prasad at The Golden Temple. DSC_0782

Chachey di Hatti near the Golden Temple, we bought a few spicy things here.
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A man peddling a rickshaw with the most colourful fabrics ever! I took this from the car, as we drove past he saw me with my camera. I waved, he waved back.
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“The press man” ironing clothes outside of the hotel we were staying at in Noida.
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I followed this lady with the beautiful parasol until I was close enough to take this photo (which I then showed her), at Qutub Minar, Delhi.
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Two Coolies at Delhi Train Station. DSC_1296

One of the many chefs at the famous Brothers Dhaba, Amritsar.
DSC_1315Fresh veggies for sale on Lawrence Road near the Am Papar stall.