Tag Archives: journey

A story of Tamsin and her family

One day Tamsin woke up and made up her mind. Tamsin, who grew up in South Africa and England, has always wanted to live in the country and have a dog. It’s just that her dream always seemed out of sight. The stars did not align. The timing was not quite right. Her job was not paying well enough. And, of course, she needed just the right partner to move to the country with. You know, the dog-loving type.

Years went by. London underground in the heat of commute was as dismal as ever. Jobs and men came and went. “What am I waiting for?”, thought Tamsin and searched for Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, a website she’d been browsing for hours at a time. The charity, which on average takes in 13 dogs and 9 cats every day, is an animal rescue centre which aims to rehome unwanted cats and dogs. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home was established in 1860 by Mrs Mary Tealby, who was concerned by the number of animals roaming the streets of London. The Home was then known as “The Temporary Home for Lost and Starving Dogs” and was based in Holloway, North London. It moved to Battersea in 1871. Today they care for over 8,000 pets.

Tamsin 1

This is where Tamsin met and adopted Dexter, a Siberian husky with soft black-and-white fur and clever dark eyes, mischievous under his thick white eye-brows. It is his fourth home. Huskies, explains Tamsin, have a very well developed pack instinct and thrive in company. Soon Tamsin also took Lola, a snow-white husky with unimaginably beautiful white-blue eyes. Lola is a bit naughty but also very affectionate. Sometimes Lola still flinches when someone touches her head.

Tamsin 3Tamsin 2

The trio lives in Surrey in a rented house right near the heath. Tamsin gets up before five and takes her huskies to London for doggy day care.  She picks Dexter and Lola up straight after work and they commute back to the country. Her previously busy social calendar is now empty but there are long walks in the woods, playtime and cuddles. Lola, who used to be skinny, is putting on muscle, thanks to the proper diet and exercise. Dexter is still battling with separation anxiety when Tamsin, ‘the head of the pack’, leaves for work. There is something surreal about Tamsin suddenly having a family but there is nothing wrong with deciding one day to be happy.

Tamsin 4

Interview with Jane Olphert, founder of Haleo, making the world a healthier place

About a year ago I offered subscribers to www.lifetonic.co.uk to meet me for a coffee and use me as a sounding board for their business ideas. This is how I met Jane Olphert and got to hear her incredible, inspiring story. We have kept in touch since, and finally I get to share Jane’s story with you to celebrate the launch of her website: www.haleo.co.uk!

Please visit Jane’s website and sign up to her newsletter for diet and lifestyle tips, spread the word about the healing properties of vegetable foods and ideas for making the world a healthier place.

“Who Made Your Pants”? asks Becky John

Becky John, founder of Who Made Your Pants?

Becky John, founder of Who Made Your Pants? at the Women of the World festival in March 2015

Who made your pants? Whether your underwear has a M&S or an Agent Provocateur label, chances are, you have no idea where exactly it’s been made, who took care of the stitches and whether the company used the profits to give something back to the community rather than just to its shareholders. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much in favour of developing emerging economies and helping to raise the standard of living in poorer countries, but from now on I’m buying my underwear from a cooperative founded by Becky John. I hope to convince you to do the same by telling you a story.

Becky John has been an activist all her life. At 15, she organised a petition at school against animal testing by L’Oreal; a year later she collected signatures for banning Nestlé’s products sold at her school canteen to protest against their aggressive marketing of baby products. In addition to her passion for fairness and ethics in business, Becky has always been good at sales. Perhaps selling sweets at the Rugby Club at the age of eight had something to do with it.

In 2008 Becky realised that having a decent job in retail and a good social life just simply wasn’t enough. She wanted to make a difference, start a business, which would be fun, make the most of her skills and have a social purpose. Who Made Your Pants? is a lingerie company, with a core purpose of creating jobs for disadvantaged women. The cooperative, which was founded at the end of 2008 in Southampton, employs, trains and supports local refugee women.

Who Made Your Pants? makes gorgeous and comfortable undies for everyday wear buying surplus fabrics re-sold by large underwear companies at the end of each season. The quality of each item is exceptional (my pants have survived an industrial laundry treatment in Colombia!), the designs made from leftover fabrics are unique, but it’s the ethos of the company that really makes a difference.

“I love beautiful underwear”, says Becky “but the products we make are irrelevant. We could be making furniture or cakes, as long as it means creating jobs, investing in training, improving quality of life for the women involved.”

Who Made Your Pants? is still a very small brand, employing less than ten women. Each woman receives thorough training, counselling and general help. Some women are keen to improve their English, others are grateful for advice of how to register their children at school or how to manage utility bills. The profits are reinvested into supporting the staff. While Becky crowdfunded £110,000 last year from the existing fans and customers to help manage the company’s cashflows, she still needs to improve her sales to make the business sustainable.

“I hope that by spreading the word about Who Made Your Pants? I can build a loyal customer base, who would be happy to spend £15-£18 on a pair of high quality underwear, knowing that they are changing other women’s lives.”

WMYP1      WMYP2Needless to say, I am in. I hope that you too can support Becky by treating yourself to a new pair of underwear online.

On resilience “I have never doubted my course, but of course being an entrepreneur isn’t easy. I do think it helps to have a purpose. I always remind myself that I have a responsibility towards the women who had trusted me to help them. It gives me resilience. A failure is not an option.”

On challenging yourself “If you want to pick a challenge, make sure it’s a big one. My challenge is to connect women who buy pants with women who make them.

Asma is from Afghanistan and has been with us from the very start. She’s a very talented seamstress. Batol is from Sudan. Batol did a lot of cutting for us, but she was keen to learn the sewing machines and now she is brilliant at fiddly jobs like finishing seams. Sacdiya is from Somalia and has seven children. She often has beaufitul henna on her hands. Every piece we make has a story. Every piece we sell supports a woman in need.”

Becky is an incredible woman who is remarkably resilient and has a uniquely strong sense of purpose. I asked her about her achievements, aspirations and advice.

What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Don’t be blown off course – you know who you are. Carry on.

What are you good at? I’m good at organising, planning, big picture thinking and looking at tiny details (not at the same time!). I’ve been told I’m good with people and it must be true since I’ve always worked in retail.

What is your greatest achievement? Getting here. It seems I like setting myself deliberately tough challenges but I’m OK with that. I am very proud of what I have achieved with Who Made Your Pants?

If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d launch Who Made Your Pants? in every country, providing jobs and and making ethical products.

Who inspires you? My team – phenomenal women who have been through so much and yet they appear happy and laugh all the time. I feel really privileged to be working with them.

For more details and to get your own ethical pair of underwear, visit www.whomadeyourpants.co.uk.

Meet illustrator Alexandra Burda

Alexandra BurdaAlexandra Burda (28) is an illustrator. She lives in Romania.  

I have been drawing forever… Ever since I can remember, I have been drawing and sketching. I remember drawing rooftops as a child.

I studied Graphics at the Art Academy of Bucharest… I could not imagine earning money as an artist. I thought I had to find a job which would be deliberately boring, but pay for my canvasses and brushes. I ended up working in a call centre for a Swiss internet provider in Brasov, but only lasted a few months.

It really gets to you… The time you spend in a soulless office, the habits you acquire just to pass the time and cheer yourself up. That job was changing my personality. At the end of each day I did not have the energy or the inspiration to draw. I suppose I’m grateful for the experience, because it showed me that art is more than a hobby for me. I became determined to make it work and started taking on illustration projects.

Making money as an artist is not easy… but I think I’m truly lucky to be making money from something I love. Most of my clients come from the US, UK, Australia and Canada. I live in Romania, but my art travels far and wide!

In creative work, it helps to have a deadline… Deadlines help me focus, but at the same time I often find them a bit stressful. I usually try to take as much time to think as possible before putting pen to paper. Having enough time to think and research is so important: everything seems to fall into place afterwards.

KikuWhen I am not working on a brief, I like my mind to travel…

I came across a word “kiku” which is  a “chrysanthemum” in Japanese and also means “to listen”. It perked my interest and I wanted to explore a possibility of capturing both meanings at the same time. I wanted to show a transformation of the word “kiku” depending on a context, to tell a story…

Like any other means of creative expression, painting is therapeutic… Last year I lived in a tiny 5 sq. m room, which was very cold in winter. I was drinking tomato juice and watching a BBC documentary about great painters online. Sometimes the most ordinary objects can inspire you to produce some of your best works of art.


Image credits: www.alexandraburda.com 

Romania… is not breathtaking… It is a small country. Grass and shrubs grow from every nook and crack in a city. When no one is looking, a new tree pops up. Have you ever noticed that?

I wish I had more… Time. And more space to work would be nice. And healthy snacks for when I feel peckish. Is this too much to ask?

Babushka and Me

I recently worked on a cover for Babushka and Me: Stories from a Soviet ChildhoodI read the stories and I thought about my grandmother and my own childhood. Romania too was affected by communism, shortages and a difficult transition to a market economy. My grandmother was a legendary cook and always made treats for us. I remember her holding my hand very tightly when we walked along the streets. I thought it would be a good way to portray a relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. There is love and trust; an intangible magical bond and hope for the future, represented by a circus dome.

If you’d like to see more of Alexandra’s work and perhaps commission her to produce an illustration for you, please visit www.alexandraburda.com.

A story of Tamara Shevtsova

I met Tamara (76) on a city tour of Toronto, and she told me her story.

Tamara and Anatoliy met in Kiev, their home town in Ukraine, when they were both twenty. Tamara fell in love with Anatoliy at once: he was in the military, looked dashing in his uniform, and on weekends he roamed around central Kiev on his motorcycle, turning heads. Anatoliy was blond, and he too was instantly attracted to the stylish brunette (“Oh yes, I was a looker in those days!”).

They have been seeing each other for about a year until the day when Anatoliy’s best friend Yuriy had a word with him.

– How long are you planning on fooling Tamara? When will you tell her that you’re married?

– What’s in it for you? Will you tell on me?

– I might if you won’t.

– And why is that? Do you fancy her yourself, is that it?

That was indeed the reason, for shortly after Yuriy (“the traitor” in Tamara’s eyes) had spilled the beans, he and Tamara got married. They have been married for over 50 years, and during that time Tamara and Anatoliy barely saw or heard from each other despite having mutual friends. Anatoliy moved his family to Murmansk, the inhospitable North-Western corner of Russia; Tamara and Yuriy had children, and the love affair remained well in the past.

In 2010 Anatoliy travelled to a reunion party of the Military Academy alumni in Kiev. At that time he was living in Toronto. When in Kiev he managed to find Tamara’s friend and asked her to help get in touch with Tamara. Anatoliy called his young love and told her he still cared for her. He said: “My wife has died, I now live in Canada with my son’s family. Now will you see me, a girl of high morals?”

Technology is a wonderful thing. Every week Tamara went over to her friend’s house with a laptop and dial-up internet connection for a Skype call with Anatoliy. It seemed, weeks not decades have gone by. They talked and laughed and got to know each other again. Eventually, Anatoliy’s son helped to arrange a visa for Tamara to come to Canada.

It was Tamara’s plan to stay with Anatoliy for a few weeks (or so she told her family), but when she saw him at the airport, she momentarily wished she could fly straight back home. Once dapper, Anatoliy aged badly, his skin was purple and his limbs were swollen. He was a painful sight. The death of his wife took his toll on him. His son took him to doctors, but they weren’t able to help.

Tamara took matters into her own hands. She fed Anatoliy a healthy diet, took him walking, prepared herbal bandages to drain the lymphatic fluids, and each night she massaged his legs and arms to reduce the swelling. Anatoliy’s son puzzled over the sounds of nightly activities until Tamara straightened things out. It took time, but her perseverance and care worked magic.

Anatoliy recovered and became once again his own fit self – just in time. Tamara suffered a mild heart attack and had an operation. It was Anatoliy’s turn to nurse and look after her. Tamara never went back to Kiev. Her husband (“the traitor”) eventually gave her divorce. Anatoliy and Tamara got married, and have now been living together in Toronto for three years.

“These last three years have been the happiest years of my life. It is as if I was re-born. Tolik [Anatoliy] gave me this new life. I have never been so in love as I am now. Can you believe that I am 76?”

Tamara and Anatoliy

Kate Arkless Gray wants to go to space

Kate who wants to go into space

This is Kate Arkless Gray, and she wants to go to space. Really badly. This idea took over her life when she turned 30. Below is an incredible story of how an ordinary girl, who grew up in East London, is friends with astronauts, gets phone calls from space, appeared on BBC Woman’s Hour and was invited to see a shuttle land by the Head of NASA.

The story begins with a science conference in Canada, where freelance journalist Kate met a scientist from NASA. Meeting a person working for NASA is a little bit like bumping into an A-list celebrity at your local pub: it is, of course, possible, but highly unlikely. Kate was understandably thrilled:

“He gave me a NASA pin and I was so excited. I thought that it was the official staff pin for people who work there. He let me have my moment of excitement before explaining he always carries a few in his pocket to give to people – apparently you can buy them in the gift shop…”

That encounter inspired Kate to mastermind her mission: get to space by the time she turns 40. Now, I don’t have to spell it out how impossible this mission is: UK’s space missions have not traditionally funded human spaceflight; the US are winding down their shuttle programmes and Kate would need to a U.S. citizenship to get involved with NASA; her Russian is patchy and Virgin Galactic flights are advertised at $250,000 a pop.

And yet… Inspired by her idea and demonstrating extraordinary resourcefulness, Kate managed to attend the launch of space shuttle Discovery STS 133 and see it land for the very last time, an awesome adventure, which allowed her to meet real astronauts, the Head of NASA and plenty of like-minded space enthusiasts. Through her engagement with all things space though freelance assignments, via her blog and through Twitter, she can boast a money-can’t-buy collection of memories and experiences: getting a phone call from space, receiving a Tweet from Houston Mission Control during her recent space ‘unconference’ and quite simply making friends with equally passionate, interested people from all over the world.

Kate Arkless Gray wants to go to space

Granted, Kate has not yet made it to space, and her mission remains impossible (for now). But whoever travels for the sake of arriving at a destination? This story is about an ordinary woman and her extraordinary journey. I bet many of you can relate to it in some way – I know I can.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself


Marianne Cantwell with her laptopLast summer I left a prestigious job at a large media company, where I’ve been working for 3 years.

 It did not happen on a whim: approximately 6 months earlier I came across Marianne Cantwell (see photo) and Free Range Humans, a lifestyle blog, which grew into a community, and helped many souls escape corporate cages, pursue their passions and still pay the bills. Just a month after I ‘discovered’ Marianne, she published a book, Be a Free Range Human, which has undoubtedly helped me to reassess my life and jump ship.

Marianne’s blog and book made me question the conventional wisdom at school and at work where we’ve been taught to focus on our weaknesses. Remember your last review at work where your boss spent a minute to tell you how brilliant you are before spending the rest of the meeting talking about things you could improve. Perhaps your flaw is that you don’t delegate well or that you carry your heart in your sleeve. Whatever it is, in corporate environment we seem to be obsessed with things we aren’t naturally good at, but we are never encouraged to play to our strengths and make the most of our talents.

Marianne made me think about my priorities. For the first time I contemplated the relative importance of such things as income, flexible working hours, location, freedom and fulfilment. When thinking about how I want to make a living, she advised to think about the sort of clients I’d like to deal with and the environment I’d like to be in. Previously, I never gave myself permission to think in those terms.

In words of Seth Godin, bestselling author and inspiring entrepreneur:

“It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even s blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realise that no one is going to select you – that Prince Charming has chosen another house – then you can actually get to work.

Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realise that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.”

After I left my ‘proper job’, I left behind stability and security, and my life now is more akin to a roller-coaster or a small sailing boat in a choppy sea than to Piccadilly line, more or less predictably getting its passengers to their destinations. I’m not even sure of where my sails are ultimately taking me, but so far I’ve been loving the journey: its challenges, its small victories, new opportunities and possibilities.

It had been my dream to interview Marianne Cantwell at a Ladies Who Impress event – Leap of Faith was a very special celebration indeed.


Maybe I’m Crazy But… with Jen Brister, Sarah Weldon, Chi Onwurah and Helena Morrissey

Maybe I’m Crazy But… this time I’d like to celebrate women who embarked on the most audacious of missions, came up with the most impossible ideas, weren’t afraid to break conventions and set their own rules.”

It’s always a thrill to open a Ladies Who Impress celebration, and our 5th event was very special indeed: a packed room with over 100 guests, very naughty espresso martinis and not three but four fabulous guest speakers from very diverse backgrounds: stand-up comedy, education and adventure, politics and the City. Backgrounds aside, their stories were equally inspiring and here are some of the highlights.

Jen Brister

Jen Brister’s profile on Twitter says: “I am a stand up comedian and I am a woman. I know AS IF?”

Jen did have a stab at the 9 to 5, selling advertising space, once in her twenties, but having studied stand-up comedy (although by her own admission, you cannot be taught to be funny…), she knew that her calling was to be on stage. You may think that Jen has always been supremely confident to take on live comedy, but it’s about ‘faking it till you make it’ and then being on stage becomes natural and quite a bit addictive… Why, I can even relate to it myself.

To see Jen perform live, check out her website or Twitter.

Sarah WeldonSarah Weldon is setting off to row solo around Great Britain in May 2014. Nope, this hasn’t been done before but this incredible woman has come up with an insanely ambitious plan to raise awareness and funds for the Oceans Project she founded in 2010, whilst teaching kids in Georgia. The project has a custom-built online platform with English and Science lessons delivered via Skype. Funds raised will buy tablets, internet access, projectors, solar charges, and, ultimately, education, for kids globally.

There are many ways to help, so please get involved! For just £10 sponsorship, you can get your name on her boat!

Chi OnwurahChi Onwurah, MP for Newcastle and Shadow Cabinet Minister, joined us straight from the Parliament, which, by her own admission, still largely resembles a men’s club.

When asked about her most treasured achievements, Chi first told us about her career as an Electrical Engineer, connecting Nigeria’s first telecoms network to her father’s house and making him proud.

Chi is incredibly passionate about getting more women interested in science, engineering and technology. On a personal note, if she had any spare time, she would study … Portuguese.

Helena MorrisseyHelena Morrissey advised women to be open to opportunities, get noticed rather than blend in and be proactive because merit alone isn’t enough to advance your career. Otherwise, she talked about doing not just ‘white’ and ‘dark’ but ‘orange’ laundry, an ordinary chore for a mum of nine…

Helena’s foundation, the 30% Club, committed to greater gender diversity on corporate boards through voluntary actions, has made great progress since 2010: now only 2 FTSE-100 boards have no female directors and 20% of all FTSE-100 directors are women, up from 12.5%. To find out more about the 30% Club, please visit its website.

Fabulous five

This event has been generously sponsored by:


The Makers Academy, offering full-time web development courses for both IT professionals and complete beginners and helping their graduates to get jobs at top technology companies in London. 

They also offer £500 scholarships for women to promote greater diversity in the tech community.


Cru Kafe, a new brand of 100% Arabica, organic, eco-friendly coffee, delivered in biodegradable pods, compatible with Nespresso machines.

Indeed, the evening wouldn’t be the same without the Cru Kafe team and their fabulous espresso martinis…

Many thanks also to Abby Chicken, Anne Sommerfield, Michael Hobden and James Stittle!

Jana with Jen Brister

Cru kafe martinisJana with Helena

Jana with Sarah

“An incredibly inspiring event, highlighting successful women”

“Far exceeded my expectations – a truly inspirational evening. A room full of positivity and forward thinking. Cannot wait for the next event!” 

“I left the Maybe I’m Crazy But.. event feeling pumped up for life. Such inspiring women make you realise you can do anything!”

Just how did they get there?

This time last year I was in Tromso in Northern Norway, psyching myself up before the big day: Midnight Sun Marathon, a 42km/26m run in the gorgeous setting of snow-capped mountains, lit by the never-setting Arctic sun at the time of summer solstice.

In fact, the marathon itself was a culmination, a triumphal parade, an ode to all the hard hours of training I’ve put in to prepare for the big day. I am thinking about it today in the context of a journey.

Every big success, achievement or an accomplishment starts with a first step taken days, weeks, months or even years earlier. What’s more, that step isn’t even necessarily deliberate.

I didn’t wake up one day and decided I am going to run a marathon. In fact, I used to hate running, when I started enjoying it, I was rubbish at it and it was not until a decade after I started running more or less regularly that I ran my first marathon. What happened is that I fell into exercising when I was conscious about my sedentary lifestyle and then little by little I got really into it, thanks, perhaps, to my competitive streak.

Once you are well and truly on your way, it’s natural to pick targets to aim for and heights to reach. I believe that many impressive role models you come across have achieved fame or recognition at some point of their journeys which may have been simply exploratory at their beginnings.

The point I am making is that you don’t have to think of a marathon to go for an afternoon run, in the same way that I am not thinking about writing a book or spreading the Ladies Who Impress word as am writing this blog. I am simply putting my throughs on paper, taking one step at a time. Life is a journey.

What step will you take without worrying too much about your destination?

Amara Karan

Amara Karan – whose life is it anyway?

I imagine this is the exact question Amara thought of asking her Dad when she decided to quit her job as an investment banker and enroll into an acting school. I wonder if she did – it sure enough takes guts.

Amara Karan was born to Sri Lankan Tamil parents, who emigrated to Britain two years before she was born and brought her up in Wimbledon, hoping for a stable and prosperous life for their daughter. Amara went to a good school, studied hard and got into Oxford University to read Politics, Philosophy and Economics. It was fairly predictable that she became an investment banker in the City of London.

But at some point Amara found her City “hat” did not suit her; she missed theatre, being on stage, acting in school and university plays. At some point that sensible girl, always following her father’s “high hopes” made a decision many would view as foolish. She applied to study acting at The Arts Educational Schools of London.

Just months after graduating, Amara made her film début in Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited. Her other film credits include lead roles in indie productions All in Good Time and A Fantastic Fear of Everything. She starred in such TV series as The Bill, Poirot, Doctor Who and, more recently, Kidnap and Ransom. What’s more, Amara spent 2008 and 2012 seasons with The Royal Shakespeare Company playing Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.

When I met Amara for lunch, she was very candid about still waiting to make a real breakthrough internationally and winning an Oscar, which is fair enough. I am all in favour of aiming high. But I found her happy, relaxed, genuinely in love with what she does, grateful for all the opportunities she’d had so far both on screen and on stage and having no regrets about her unpredictable schedule, hectic lifestyle and taking that fearless plunge.