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 Helen Jones & the title is “Blue Poppies & Bed Tea”

Helen Jones was for a number of years a physics teacher at Stokesley school. After early retirement she took up trekking alone in Australia & Chile. Her other interest was flowers. When the opportunity arose to go on a plant collection trek in India she seized it. The result was unexpected & life changing. She found that she was the only one on the trek but decided to continue & enjoyed it so much that she wanted both to return frequently & to give a lasting reward to her guides & porters.

Her treks in India were north of Darjeeling up the Pangi valley close to the border with Nepal, indeed the

guide & porters who accompanied her were ethnic Nepalese who had been introduced to the area by the British 150 years before. Travel north of Darjeeeling is only for the brave, the roads are single track, unmetalled, with sheer dropsinto the river at the edge. The standard of driving is low, there is no driving test in India. Cars are becoming more plentiful in India & new owners drive north of Darjeeling to see snow for the first time in their lives. Her photographs were breathtaking, not only for showing fast flowing streams in steep valleys with snow capped mountains as the back drop but also for car & lorry wrecks. Equally impressive was her collection of photographs of flowers growing in the wild, many of which are regarded as exotic garden or greenhouse species in Britain,.

In the lower valleys the soil is very fertile & barley, potatoes & peas are grown for sale to the cities in the south. The locals, some of whom had not seen a European before, were very friendly & hospitable. They are essentially self-sufficient. Both men & women work in the fields & live to a ripe old age. Owing to the harsh climate & frequent earthquakes the architecture of their houses is unique, with walls reinforced with horizontal beams & entry by means of a ladder. Their life style is changing quickly & the first satellite televisions have already arrived.

Further up the valleys, in the foothills of the Himalayas above 13,000ft, it is very remote, with very little vegetation & a harsh climate. As it can only be reached on foot few people, if any, go there. The only sign of life she found was bear „poo‟. However, trekking is not the total hardship one might imagine, for just three tourists, two dozen porters carry all the extensive kit, which even includes hot water bottles!

Helen explained that the title of her talk was derived from the spectacular blue poppies found in the region & the luxury of having the porters bring a cup of tea in the morning, which they call „bed tea‟.

Helen has chosen to thank her Nepalese friends by establishing a school at Darjeeling; the government schools are frequently poor, as corruption is rife. She has set up a charity in England called “School Aid India” to provide funding & to ensure that all the money given in England actually reaches the school. Some ú80,000 has been raised to date. Helen also gives practical assistance by hiring the teachers, providing school uniforms & supervising the design & construction of a major extension currently being built. Only a small fee is charged to attend the school & this is waived in cases of hardship. The children & parents are very appreciative & pupil numbers are increasing rapidly. Helen‟s enthusiasm & dedication was evident throughout her presentation. Her talk is given to raise funds for the school.

A vote of thanks was proposed by Dick Hawkins.