Blighted by benefits?

My thriving 20 year-old business has been blighted by apparently random decisions about the Access To Work support I need – and the dispute has been going on for 5 years!  If you have good or bad experiences about how changes in benefit policies have changed your life as a disabled person, please take part in this research project.  I’ve worked with Eva before in relation to self-employed disabled people and I’m going to tell her my story too.

Research Study: The impact of benefit changes on disabled self-employed people

Are you a disabled business owner, or self-employed, based in the UK? Have you been affected by changes to disability and work-related benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Access to Work, over the past decade? If so, consider supporting a research study funded by Manchester Metropolitan University on the impact of benefit changes on (1) personal well-being, (2) working practices and (3) business performance of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions who are in self-employment.

Since 2010, consecutive UK Governments have initiated welfare reforms to cut public spending. Disabled people have been particularly affected, for example, by the introduction of more restrictive criteria on claiming certain benefits. Little is known about the effects of these changes on the individual chances of remaining and thriving in self-employment or business ownership. The study will inform policy makers by contributing to our understanding of the role that welfare support plays in enabling, or constraining, self-employed people and those aspiring to become self-employed.

Taking part in the study involves an interview, face-to-face or over the telephone. More information can be found on the following link:

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr Eva Kašperová (Email:, Tel: 07944856484).



Meet International Music Star

Supported by rock star, Madonna, meet Lazarus who is soon to become famous through a film about his life.  Cooking with the albino group in Malawi (  I learnt about the challenges they face and the success they achieve. With the pale skin and hair resulting from their albinism, these are people who stand out in Africa.    Some people still think that they are ghosts or spirits; many have been attacked in the past, some killed and their bones dug up for export for ritual magic.    Getting work is extra challenging especially as many have visual impairments too.  Thank goodness that the Government of Malawi is taking action to help them with special creams that are reducing the risk of skin cancer.

But, like people everywhere, members of this group still have ambition, determination, motivation and lust for life.  Take Virginia who has become a school teacher, influencing future generations to develop more inclusive attitudes.  Although she recognises that not everyone is kind and understanding of her situation, she continues undaunted to make the very best of her talents.

Lazarus is made of the same stuff: he had been playing music at every opportunity to provide for his family – doing what he can do best.  Now, with the help of Madonna, a film of his life and music is due for release.  He’s already been featured on the BBC World Service and his star will continue to shine.

Who would have believed that just hoping to cook with local people in Malawi would have brought me such revelations?  There is no end to the surprises  and abilities of people all over the world.  My thanks to everyone at the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi.



Feast with Albino group

Open fires on the ground, peeling pumpkin leaves and sifting grit from rice  – my experience of every day cooking in Malawi.

I was cooking with a group of local people who have

albinism – the condition that means that they don’t have colour in their skin or hair.  That all makes life risky in the hot climate of Africa as they are very prone to skin damage and cancer from the sun.  And many have very limited eyesight too.

Malawi has a wonderful climate for growing staple ingredients such as maize (used in their nsima porridge-like

dish) and tomatoes (which feature in lots of food).  Sea fish is difficult to obtain because Malawi is land-locked but there are many fresh water fish available from Lake Malawi – and these are either dried or cooked fresh.

Lack of electricity and refrigeration determine how many food stuffs are used.  Much is dried so that it can be stored safely; potassium permanganate is used to kill off bugs; much of the cooking takes place outside in simple terracotta pots sitting on bricks above a fire; most food is boiled – again to kill any bacteria.

And everything that has food value is eaten: the leaves of okra, beans and pumpkins.

For me, the live chicken was probably the most disconcerting ingredient – especially as it was still laing eggs as it walked in to the compound.  I didn’t see it being despatched but there were more eggs inside that we discovered: hard-boiled after the bird had been cooked.

When food can be sparse and limited, its understandable that every resource has to be used  for the people to get the carbohydrates, vitamins and protein they need – especially as most have tough physical jobs.  It is very different to our “Western” lifestyles where food is  more than abundant and most of us do much less arduous office work.

Mud huts and traditional dances.


The dance was authentic but cooking in the Malawi village was rather a cheat: instead of basic pots over a fire on the ground, we used a sort of field kitchen.  But I did manage to pound cassava leaves in the long-handled pestle and mortar.

Our hosts from the Latitude 13 hotel in Lilongwe

had contacts in this simple rural village.  Hotel Manager, Mehul, Head Chef, Cephus,  and his sous chef, Mphatso,  made all the arrangements from the kitchen equipment and transport to the ingredients and treats for the children.  As we left, the hotel team were planning future support to make those village lives a little easier.

The houses were simple round structures: built with hand-made mud bricks and roughly rendered.  They have to be careful to avoid the carcinogens when firing the bricks over open fires.  The basic thatched rooves were perhaps cooler in the hot climate and easy to create from the local vegetation but had waterproof  liners for rainy days.  Even the communal latrine hut was immaculate.   If you spend most of the time outside, just basic airy and cool indoor sleeping spaces are probably enough.

It was the structured village culture that was so impressive.  In a place without electricity or running water, everything and everyone was neat, tidy, clean and orderly.  Everyone had turned out to watch this strange blind woman attempt their recipes.

The women and youngest children sat chatting and laughing on their own large straw mat while, alongside, the older children sat on theirs – politely patient with the proceedings.  The few chairs were set out in the shade for the elder men  as befitting their age and status.  Only the adolescent young men ranged around the edges: understandably bemused,  rather bored and dismissive of the whole spectacle.

The subsequent village dance was more to their taste.  We trundled over the rough terrain for a mile or so to a large clear space where many of the local people had gathered to celebrate their chieftain.  There were wildly exotic costumes and masks, much foot-stomping to the sound of cheers and singing.  They were all having a wonderful time   and I was the one sitting on a throne-like bench  taking in every bit of the fun.

It was all rather humbling to have been given such a very warm welcome and been admitted in to the lives of all these people.  I came away with considerable respect for and better insight in to a way of life that was so different in many ways but also so familiar in others.



Head Chef’s top dish at Lilongwe’s best hotel

Cephus showed me his best-selling dish of prawn risotto

at the magnificent Latitude 13 hotel in the capital of Malawi

We were cooking under a huge tree alongside a swimming pool of excited children.

Fish from Lake Malawi is very popular everywhere in the country but, being otherwise land-locked, seafood such as prawns have to be imported from the African coast.

It was a great dish but, even better, was Cephus’s insight into the progress that is underway in Malawi, rightly called the “Warm heart of Africa”.

Communications are improving with the internet and mobile phones.  Construction of new roads and buildings are playing their part in increasing business and the economy of the country.  Life for everyone is easier and getting better – people are happier.

Blind people are benefiting too with Government support: learning to read and write; knitting clothes and moving towards work.

With sous chef Emily producing the de-veined prawns, our delicious dish reached its sumptuous conclusion with the final drizzle of garlic and butter.  Perfection in the warm sun alongside the fun in the pool.


Laboratory or Kitchen?

Potassium permanganate reminds me more of chemistry than domestic science lessons.  But Head Chef, Cephus, taught me how to make salad safe in a very hot climate.

I was at the wonderfully eclectic and renowned Latitude 13 Hotel in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, in Africa: cooking under the shade of a huge tree beside children joyously romping in the swimming pool.  It was part of my prize-winning tour: cooking across six continents.

We were making a haloumi salad but first needed to ensure that the lettuce was bacteria-free.  Even when food is locally grown, if there isn’t enough refrigeration between the farm and hotel kitchen, the heat can create a breeding ground for bugs.  Consequently, our first step was to dissolve the potassium permanganate in water to create a purplish bath in which to soak the lettuce to kill off any bacteria.  Once rinsed, there’s no difference in taste but a much safer salad.

Cephus is a great advocate for local farmers and food producers.  He had devised his own version of polenta using “sema”: the traditional maize flour porridge-style dish that features at nearly every Malawian meal.  For this cooking session, he was using local haloumi which he fried to give a crispy coat to the cheese.   He added more texture with homemade vegetable crisps: beetroot, carrot and butternut squash.  The whole dish was topped with a magnificent cooked dressing using the pulp of passion fruit (or granadillas as they are known locally).

Salad sounds simple but this was far more sophisticated.


Painstaking patisserie


Dre in Melbourne, Australia, showed me how to make her caramel éclair with the same level of spectacular professionalism that I discovered in pastry chef, Luis, in san Francisco. Are these a special breed of people? 

Certainly, being able to work in distinctly chilly pastry kitchens is a significant advantage.  Dre told me that she is always so cold that chocolate will harden on her skin.  Clearly, I’m never going to achieve her level of skill as chocolate just melts off me (if it isn’t licked up first!).


This éclair is the stuff of sucrose-induced dreams: even the choux pastry is embellished with shortbread that, horror of horrors, is then cut away.  There are three layers of filling: a bavarois custard, a butter cream and the final mousse set with chocolate –all having different mouth-feels of temperature, ooziness and flavour of caramel.  Nestling in the centre is a crunchy scattering of rice krispies individually coated in caramel and chocolate.  And   the unadulterated luxury and indulgence doesn’t stop there: the whole magnificent confection is topped with shards of dark chocolate and  a fluttering of real gold leaf.  This is a serious pastry that demands uninterrupted attention from first sight to the final crumb plucked from the plate.


Dre has specifically designed her patisserie shop to give the ambiance, sophistication and focus that her delectable creations deserve.  She is a woman at the height of her profession and anyone visiting Melbourne would reap the rewards of visiting this emporium of delights.

You can tell that I’m quite enthusiastic!  But her approach to employing a superb diversity of staff was just as admirable – and she benefits from the equal diversity of skills they bring from all over the world and every part of the community.  It must be so satisfying to make wonderful food amidst such an environment of skill and enthusiasm.

I’m just horribly sad that our video coverage was marred by the loss of a wallet containing the vital footage.  The police correctly didn’t anticipate any prospect of recovery but we did manage to capture the essential elements of Dre’s éclair – watch and drool!