by Colin Bloom
Three years ago I gathered some friends together from church and we began an epic journey of spicy discovery into the world of rough sleepers, street drinkers and curry. Our vehicle on this journey is called the Curry Union.
It all started when as a volunteer at a soup kitchen I thought I was helping people who had a deficit of food, but soon realised that the people who needed the services of the soup kitchen had a greater deficit of relationships.
The folk who ran the soup kitchen were great people, but their work had become an institution that kept the institutionalised institutionalised. It became an exercise in getting as many cheap calories into someone as quickly as possible - a paper plate with a dollop of mashed potato and dollop of sausage stew, all washed down with some highly diluted orange squash - before they were ushered back into the night.
At the Curry Union we have always been determined to treat our guests like Kings and Queens; we have crisp linen, tea lights, china, glass and only the freshest and highest quality ingredients (fairtrade where possible). We cook curry, a lot of it, and we love it. However, the most important thing we do is build great friendships with people who don't seem to have many best mates.
After serving thousands of curries, we have never really had any problems despite often having more than fifty rough sleeping and street drinking guests at a time. On our first evening together and at every subsequent meal, I have told our diners that we have just three rules; no drink, no drugs and be nice to each other. The genius of this is that everyone, even people with poor English, have understood these simple rules and we have all got on with each other without too many problems.
Perhaps the brilliance of this is because of its simplicity. Everyone knows what you mean when you say no drink, everyone understands what you mean when you say no drugs and being nice to each other seems to be universally understood too. Keeping things simple, means we can concentrate on the important things like enjoying each others company and eating tasty, spicy dishes.
If I've learnt anything in life it's that the simpler the message, the better it is understood. So take my advice, keep it simple. The next time you embark on a project remember our no drink, no drugs and be nice to each other rule; and when you've completed your task treat yourself to a bhuna, dopiaza or madras.
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