Chris Thomas recently joined us for respite at the hospice. Here’s what he had to say about the food, the carers… and the elephant.

We arrived around midday to a lovely greeting and went straight up to my room – it was very spacious with ensuite wet room, access to the huge balcony and views of the garden, the fields beyond and the distant hills. There were sheep in the nearest field which reminded me of the cottage in Scleddau, as at certain times of the year we could hear the sheep in the field behind.

The staff took me down for lunch and I met one or two of the other patients and numerous staff who were all great. The food was excellent all week, although I could never become a vegetarian. There is only so much Quorn or tofu one can eat! I’m showing my ignorance… Quorn probably is tofu. Fortunately for me there was a fish option on two days and much to my surprise home-made pizza and proper chips one day. I developed a liking for cheese omelette for tea / supper.

“I could never become a vegetarian. There is only so much Quorn or tofu one can eat!”

The staff at the hospice are just amazing; whether they are nurses, volunteer carers, or brothers and sisters from the religious community 20 minutes away. The meals coordinator, who is also a carer, rang before I arrived there to check on my likes and dislikes and what I drank. Lorna said she sounded delightful on the phone and indeed she is.

Many of the carers are local people. They are all different; some are quiet and serene, some just normal and one or two quite noisy – but yet they all have endless patience, are caring, kind and have a deep respect and love of humanity.

One perhaps shouldn’t have favourites, but two of the noisier ones stand out. I nicknamed them Laurel and Hardy. They were a laugh a minute and loved the music on my iPad. I have this image of Hardy pogo-sticking across my room to ‘Caroline’ by Status Quo, and Laurel strutting across the room to ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’. Priceless!

On Thursday there was a trip to see Valli bathing and to one of the temples to observe a puja (the monks / brothers chanting). I had to miss this due to my bowel problem, but one of the sisters from the community provisionally arranged for me to go on the Friday morning.

I was fine on Friday and it was a lovely day. One of the brothers came to collect me and Laurel came to look after me. A bonus on the way there; I saw my first lambs of 2018 a couple of miles short of Skanda Vale. The nearest place appears to be Pencader but the whole area is a maze of lanes and not a single sign leading you to Skanda Vale until you are there… and so to Valli. Very much the highlight of the week.

One of the brothers took us in to meet Valli. She is just lovely and so friendly especially if you’ve got food. She dribbles a lot as I do but is very gentle with her trunk. Elephants eyes are so expressive and hers were no exception. That’s what really gets me. I couldn’t stop grinning and the nurse with me couldn’t couldn’t stop crying.

“I couldn’t stop grinning and the nurse with me couldn’t couldn’t stop crying.”

The brother who has been with her all the 37 years shares the duties with two other brothers. He designed the new elephant house for up to four elephant. We watched Valli and her keeper go off for their daily walk (up to eight kilometres) accompanied by the Beagle. Valli loves dogs.

We were then taken on a whistle-stop tour. They have over 200 animals in the sanctuary and we saw deer, mules, donkeys, ponies, Shetland ponies and loads of birds including white peacocks. They also have water buffalo and a herd of about 50 cattle. We saw some of the temples and living accommodation and the brothers / monks going about their daily tasks. The puja will have to wait until the next time.

The Guru who started the whole project in the 70’s only bought a very small plot of land. He is now buried adjacent to the deer park and wood. The whole complex now covers 300 acres. Apart from the living accommodation and the temples there is a large coach park and car park. They can feed up to 700 at a time, so they must on occasion have vast numbers of pilgrims. The ethos is non-denominational. The whole place certainly has a feeling of peace and serenity.

“The whole place certainly has a feeling of peace and serenity.”

Back to the hospice for lunch and Ben collected me at half past two. Somehow he managed to get the Stedy in the car as well to save the hospice having to bring it. Emotional farewells after a memorable week that helps to restore ones faith in the human race.

Lovely to be home with Lorna and Sydney and another visit to look forward to in May or June.

My love to everybody.


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A bedroom in our respite unit: