Category Archives: Out and About

Hunting for Gruffalos

The summer holidays have started in earnest, dear Reader.  A constant stream of questions over breakfast of who, what, why and when, leaving me utterly exhausted before I’ve even had my first coffee of the day!  With a day spent with the builders not being high on the list of summer holiday fun for Poppy and Primrose, I thought it might be time to pull something out of the entertainment bag sharpish before my little crew resorted to mutiny.

“Gruffalos”, I said through mouthfuls of toast one morning.  I mean, who could pass up the chance to hunt for that illusive of creatures, the Gruffalo, dear Reader?  “There’s no such a thing as a Gruffalo”, came the reply.  No such thing as a Gruffalo?  If you’ve read Julia Donaldson’s infamous story, you’ll be sure to know where this is going…..  With a somewhat sceptical Poppy and Primrose bundled into the car, we set off to see if we could track one down.  Anything to beat the cabin fever of a few rainy summer holiday days.  As it turns out, we didn’t have to venture far, since hunting for Gruffalos is the very thing to do at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer.

Following a trail right past Mottisfont’s front door, we were undeterred in our search.  Would we spy a Gruffalo in the wood….?

No sign there but we see Fox skulking away into the undergrowth.  Onwards we marched climbing logs and following streams, till our search led us to the Giant’s garden.  Crawling under the washing line (you’ve never seen such big pants, dear Reader), sadly we found no Gruffalos hiding there either.

We even managed to blend in amongst the guests at Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay’s wedding to see if he was there,

before stopping to listen to Tiddler’s tallest tales in the ocean…..but………

still no Gruffalos.  Could the girls have been right after all?  I was starting to wonder.  With no trace of our purple prickled friend outside, we decided to try inside the house to see if we could hunt him down there.

I can report that sadly there were no actual sightings inside either.  Gosh he really is rather tricky to find.  However, we did find a Gruffalo or two upstairs amongst Mottisfont’s latest summer exhibition of Axel Scheffler’s best loved illustrations.  Colourful, comical and utterly captivating, this marvellous collection of Scheffler’s work features original artworks, sketches and works in progress from the modern classics which Scheffler collaborated on with the fabulously talented Julia Donaldson, Children’s Laureate from 2011-2013.

The team at Mottisfont are consummate pros when it comes to exhibitions and this one is no exception.  With something to delight all ages, the best thing of all is the care and attention taken to hang all the illustrations and sketches at a child’s eye level.  No fear of being told off for getting up close to all the exhibits, there’s plenty to interact with too – from a clearing in a wood made from cushions to deckchairs for resting awhile with a story.

We even found Stick Man before he disappeared up in smoke.

Since Gruffalo hunting is hungry work, it was soon time for lunch and perhaps a spot of pudding.  No Gruffalo crumble on the menu dear Reader so he must still be out there.  I’m wondering if we lost him whilst we made our way through the Climbing bog.

Exhausted and no Gruffalos sighted or captured on this occasion, we decided to call off the search with plans to mount a full scale mission another day.  With plenty more Gruffalo fun to be had at Mottisfont and time to enjoy the Axel Scheffler exhibition until 3rd September, we will most certainly be back.

You might like to check out the Gruffalo family fun on offer too, dear Reader. Mottisfont will be running a Gruffalo Sculpture day on 2nd August from 11am until 4pm where you can join in making a big Gruffalo or right at the end of the holidays, the Gruffalo Mural day on 29th and 30th August.

You know, I didn’t tell the girls, dear Reader, but I could swear I heard footsteps behind us as we made our way back to the car.  You don’t think…..  No it couldn’t have been, could it, dear Reader?

Tales from the Forest

I have to admit to having rather a soft spot for the New Forest.  Rugged heaths, ancient woodland, sea and countryside entwined, grazing cows who amble across the road and wild ponies walking amongst hues of gorse and heather.  Pure untamed romance – the countryside embodiment of Byron.  I’m always trying to persuade Jerry to move there.  So when Rachel from New Forest Escapes asked if I’d like to come and see some wonderfully unique properties she lets for short breaks and holidays, I jumped at the chance to explore.  Some invitations are just too good to turn down, dear Reader.

They say that location is everything and New Forest Escapes certainly know how to open the door to explore some of the New Forest’s best kept secrets. Handpicked and unique, their properties encompass so much from luxury coastal chic to vintage quirkiness – far more than your average rental or Air BnB.  Unusual requests?  Big birthday to organise?  Hen party? Want your dogs to join you for the weekend or fancy bringing your pony?  Honestly, it seems that there is nothing Rachel and her team can’t organise for your stay.  In fact, their properties are so marvellous, I wasn’t entirely keen on sharing them with you, dear Reader…..

With plenty to choose from, New Forest Escapes offer everything from bohemian style, a veritable Swallows and Amazons’ paradise, luxury weekend boltholes by the sea, a smugglers’ inn with its own private beach, countryside elegance to rival The Pig Hotel to a Tithe barn with an interior to die to for, complete with its own private jetty and many more lets for weekend retreats or staycations.  Now can you see why I didn’t want to share….?

Staying at the beautiful Ploughman’s Cottage which is a stone’s throw from the excellent East End Arms pub, owned by John Illsley, bass guitarist of Dire Straits, we lost the girls immediately to the stunning garden.  I very nearly lost Jerry to the pub too, if I’m honest.  I think he was hoping that Dire Straits might want to recruit an additional band member.

The dogs were in their element bombing round the garden and Poppy and Primrose were determined to leave home and move into the gypsy caravan.  Inside was all the comfort of home from home but oh so much better.  Books galore too.  All Jerry and I had to do was to find the corkscrew and decide what to do about supper, dear Reader.

Eventually when we managed to tear our gypsy girls away, we snuck down to have fish and chips on the beach at Pitts Deep (pictured below).  Lymington Pier station was a short hop away and a great place to get the train down from London to – Jerry said that the coastal route was brilliant with the last train stop ending feet away from the sea.

Pitts Deep Cottage offers a dose of pure coastal glamour. Sumptuous interiors, uninterrupted sea views and bags of charm, its past as an inn “Famous for Selling Good Brandy” tells tales of 18th century smugglers.  With Pitts Deep as our backdrop and the sea before us,  it was the most wonderful fish and chips we’ve ever had. We sat on our picnic rug on the sand, watching the waves with a cold glass of rose as the children made dens on the beach.

If magical adventures with your children are what you’re looking for, then I can’t think of a more perfect stay than Eat me Drink me Cottage.

Taking a trip down the rabbit hole in this Alice in Wonderland inspired hideaway, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage toys in this higgledy piggedly cottage – ideal for free range children and grown ups.  Eat me Drink me Cottage is the ultimate place for a bit of rewilding and is a beautiful reflection of its eclectic owners, Peter, a concert pianist and Victoria who runs vintage children’s clothing delight Elfie London who decamp here with their children when the cottage is free.  The dressing up box had Poppy and Primrose in raptures!  Unsurprisingly, Eat me Drink me won our hearts straight away and its magical location on the Pylewell estate (which hosts Curious Arts Festival in the summer), is just close enough to Tanners Lane Beach to organise expeditions to hunt for pirates or invite a few fairies back for tea in the meadow beyond the garden gate.  A top tip – do read Rachel’s marvellous blog before your stay.  We loved her wonderful ideas, handpicked offers and suggestions for adventures with the children during our stay including going on our very own Unicorn Trail .

Reluctantly leaving our weekend bolthole, we returned home feeling as though we’d completely switched off and recharged our batteries.  No need for phones or telly – time to play, relax and just….well…be.  Now if that’s not a reason to book a stay in one of New Forest Escapes‘ properties, I don’t know how else I could tempt you, dear Reader.  I’m already thinking about the next time I can enjoy this view again!  With a nice long gin and tonic of course.

 

 

 

 

Cocktail Hour

You’ll have to forgive me, dear Reader.  I have been somewhat off the boil in blog terms of late. The last month and a bit has had many ups and downs, mostly house related and I have been burying my head in a good bit of writing to try and create a more pleasing chapter for the four of us.  Enter cocktail hour.  At just the right time.

If you follow me on Instagram you will know, dear Reader, that cocktails have featured rather heavily since Christmas.  It’s all strictly medicinal, I can assure you.  One of the most wonderful presents I have ever received was from Jerry’s grandparents who gifted me a little vintage Gordon’s Gin cocktail book from circa 1950s.  Not only does it list my favourites – old fashioned Gimlets, a recipe for ‘Gin Fizz’ but it also has the hilariously named Television Special with orange squash (slightly yuck) and White Lady which embraces that back of the booze cupboard lurker, Cointreau.  The ultimate for me though has to be the glorious ‘Gin and it’ which with one sip, I am transported to the drawing room at Home Place (from Elizabeth Jane Howard’s brilliant Cazalet Chronicles – I am totally obsessed with the books, dear Reader) where Edward or Hugh is preparing me a sharpener to sip in beaded evening dress, before dinner.  Best of all are the handwritten recipes in the back written by one of Jerry’s great-grandparents.  Truly the loveliest of gifts and I send G and G a huge kiss for thinking to pass it on to me, as I know they will be reading this.

With cocktail recipes well and truly tested at home, it was time to have a go at shaking up something new.  So it should come as no surprise to you, dear Reader, that I hotfooted my way to Winchester to enjoy an evening of cocktails as part of the fabulous Winchester Cocktail Week organised by the brilliant Cabinet Rooms.  A huge thanks to Gary and Marcus for the invitation – how could I refuse?!!  Also a special mention to my trusted chauffeur for the evening, my father in law, who drove across Hampshire to make sure that I didn’t have a Cinderella moment.

It has to be said that, a cocktail is really only as good as its ingredients.  So where best to start? Well, the ingredients of course and one of my favourite foragers, cooks and foodie wonders, Naked Jam.

Jen Williams is an artisan producer of award winning jams and conserves – her syrups, cordials and jams contain seasonal, local fruits or foraged ingredients with no artificial colours, flavourings, setting agents or preservatives.  Bottled beautiful bounty.  Jen is a fount of knowledge when it comes to the foraged flavours and it’s not for nothing that she’s been snapped up by Chewton Glen to run a unique course for The Kitchen, Chewton Glen’s new cookery school.

That evening, her gorgeous syrups and recipes included a cocktail with the autumnal mellowness of medlar syrup, a surprisingly drinkable chilli and balsamic number with vodka and the salty swirl of seaweed which produced a syrup that had depth, earthiness and just the right hint of the sea to add to the glass.  This was not cocktail making, dear Reader, this was sheer alcoholic alchemy. Jen knows just what will work and her lightness of touch in combining flavours needs to be tasted to be believed.  Inspired by her enthusiasm, I came away with some of her delicious velvety medlar syrup to recreate a little something at home.

It was a treat to meet the lovely Gin Monocle Company (an artisan mobile gin bar – gin on the move, what’s not to love?) who served up this rather unusual number – a Gin Fizzless – gin and ale together, rather a revelation that slipped down nicely and altogether too quickly.

The canapes created by Fiona Hill (Twitter – @realfoodnf) were to die for too.

My advice, dear Reader?  If you haven’t sampled the delights of Winchester Cocktail Week then you really ought to get it in the diary for next year.  With different venues all over the city, a veritable fountain of cocktails to be sipped and savoured, it’s a great week to explore Winchester’s emerging drinks’ scene.  Well done to the marvellous Cabinet Rooms‘ chaps!  Keep your eyes peeled for more events and insights into the city’s food and drink scene as they have also taken over the Art Café on Jewry Street in Winchester.  I can’t wait to see what they concoct next!

As for me, it’s Friday, dear Reader and very nearly time to get the cocktail shaker out……..  After all, it MUST be gin o’clock somewhere in the world.  I’ll draw the curtains and get the fire going, you pour the gin.  It would be rude not to join them, wouldn’t it dear Reader?!

Brief disclaimer – This does not constitute as encouragement of daytime drinking and Margot is in no way suggesting the reader has a few gins in the dark by his or herself before doing the school run.  Have them after you’ve picked up the children.

 

 

 

 

Aye Aye at The Master Builders

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With the summer nearly over, Jerry and I sneaked in a weekend off before back to school and back to work chaos began and slipped away for a night on the Beaulieu River without the girls.  The summer holidays have been glorious and after a couple of weeks in France, we really didn’t want it to end, much less come back to reality.  So when a rare chance to snatch some last minute peace and quiet just the two of us came our way, overnight bags were packed and waiting by the door before you could say G and T time!  Our hosts for the evening?  The rather wonderfully quirky and nautical The Master Builders in Bucker’s Hard.  For anyone looking for somewhere in the New Forest to spend the weekend, we can heartily recommend it.

Set back from the river’s edge, The Master Builders has bags of nautique chic (think Rule Britannia) with rooms which start from £99 per room per night including a New Forest breakfast.  From Posh Classics in the Henry Adams Wing……..

img_3014to Chic and Luxury rooms in the main house (we stayed in one of the Quirky Luxury rooms), The Master Builders is the perfect place for a weekend getaway in the New Forest.  Dogs are very welcome too and your hound can order to his heart’s content with the Dog Room Service menu, ensuring that his stay is as comfortable as yours.  The spaniels would have had a field day, dear Reader!

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Whether you intend to sip a riverside pint or large G&T, the new Yachtsman’s Bar & Garden is open daily from 11am and even offers the option of a take away menu from 5pm – a fantastic option if you are moored nearby.  Yachties take note.  Wonderfully relaxed, Jerry and I watched as fabulously gargantuan portions of classic pub grub with a few little Italian twists and plenty of local delights were served up.  The Ringwood ale battered haddock and chips and South Coast Seafood Sharing platter looked real winners – Jerry had to repeatedly tell me to stop staring as the table next to us tucked in.

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Seated in the Riverview Restaurant, I’m glad I hadn’t sneaked a chip from our neighbouring table as Chef Tom and his kitchen brigade produced the most marvellous three courses from start to finish.  The A la Carte menu is a treasure trove of lip smackingly gutsy flavours executed beautifully with a large emphasis on locally sourced produce and the best of the New Forest.  I must make particular mention of the rabbit loin and black pudding as well as the lamb rump with spiced cauliflower and pomegranate which was a delight and the apple millefeuille which Jerry had for pudding was light as a feather, palate cleansingly clean and fresh tasting.  We hadn’t been sure of what to expect.  To say that we were surprised would be an understatement.   Quite frankly, it was one of the loveliest meals we’ve had in an age and Jose, the restaurant manager could not have been more obliging, including letting me sneak into the kitchen to chat to Chef.

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The table of digestifs was more than a little inviting too, dear Reader!

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Waking up to the gentle sounds of the river below our window, I think you’ll agree, dear Reader that you would be hard pushed to open the curtains to a more peaceful view…..

img_3011No stay would be complete without a leisurely breakfast – we really couldn’t resist the rather spectacular New Forest breakfast which supports and champions New Forest Marque produce.

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Jerry was most put out when I made him wait until his breakfast had been snapped.  It was far too good not to warrant a picture, dear Reader!  I did let him eat it in the end…..

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From the décor to the food, the service to the location, it was a very enjoyable night away.  The Master Builders is a great little New Forest weekend bolthole – perfect for long walks and even longer G & Ts, delicious food for any occasion whether it’s three courses in the Riverview Restaurant or a hearty pub lunch with a difference and the well appointed rooms with a view offer up cosiness alongside a slice of riverside get aways.  A huge thank you to Claire and Clive for organising and hosting us.  Jerry and I can’t wait to come back!

 

A Tale of Beatrix Potter

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‘Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were – Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...’

There can’t be a soul alive who hasn’t heard the tale of a plucky little rabbit named Peter caught nibbling the vegetables in grumpy Mr MacGregor’s garden.  With plenty of cheeky bunnies, hardworking mice, ditsy ducks and laundry washing hedgehogs inhabiting the world of Beatrix Potter, it is not hard to see how her beloved tales and illustrations have worked their way into the very fabric of childhood.  Well certainly in our house at any rate, dear Reader.  With celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter in full swing, Poppy, Primrose and I popped down to the National Trust’s Mottisfont for a special afternoon of picnics, trails and open air theatre in honour of the lady herself.

FullSizeRenderExploring round every nook and cranny and even into the dusty corners of the Cellarium, the trail took us round and about the gardens exploring, solving riddles, singing songs and peeking behind tiny yellow doors.  I wonder if you can guess which of Beatrix Potter’s characters we found, dear Reader.

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Venture into the house and climb the stairs to the gallery for a treat too.  There you’ll find yet more Beatrix Potter treasures, with an exhibition of 30 original artworks alongside a selection of dolls and figurines, rarely seen outside of their permanent home in the Lake District due to light sensitivity.  This particular Beatrix Potter exhibition at Mottisfont is an unique opportunity to see a rather special collection of illustrations which are an utter delight to young and old and show much of Potter’s own playful and mischievous nature as well as her sense of childish fun.  We really loved finding out abut the stories behind the drawings, inspiration taken from Potter’s daily life and rural adventures at her Cumbrian home, Hill Top Farm.

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Lashing of cucumber sandwiches and picnic rugs all laid out, we sat down to enjoy an open air performance of Quantum Theatre’s production Once Upon a Time there were Four Little Rabbits.  Poppy and Primrose thoroughly enjoyed watching Peter Rabbit being chased round the garden by Mr MacGregor!  Bliss in the sunshine – honestly, dear Reader, you really couldn’t have asked for a more picture perfect location.

IMG_2613With so much to see and do, sadly an afternoon just wasn’t long enough.  So, we will most certainly be back to revisit the gallery and take part in all the other fabulous activities and birthday celebrations planned as Mottisfont’s Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood exhibition will be running from now until 18th September.  Here’s a taster of what’s in store for the rest of the summer holidays.

Thursday 28th July – Beatrix Potter’s birthday

Mottisfont will be hosting a rather special picnic in her honour between 3 and 4:30pm (normal admission charges apply).  Visitors are encouraged to bring blankets, picnics and birthday buns to join in the celebrations on the lawn with storytelling and party games.  Perhaps a few cuddly Peter Rabbit toys might make an appearance too!

Beatrix Potter activity weekends
30th & 31st July, 13th & 14th and 27th & 28th August between 10am and 5pm –
Mottisfont will be running storytelling sessions and drop-in craft activities plus plenty more Beatrix Potter-themed fun.

Stopping for a delicious cream tea is pretty high up on our to-do list for our next visit to Mottisfont.  Exploring is hungry work!  I’m sure Peter would agree.  Don’t you think, dear Reader?

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Midsummer blooms

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The rose.  Silky velvet to the touch, passionate and pure, its elegant beauty a symbol of endurance and strength yet hopelessly transient. All that earthy worldliness and heady scent caught up in ribbon soft petals.  To me there is no other flower in the garden that offers as much pleasure to the senses nor epitomises an English garden more than the rose.  It’s the perfect bloom for Midsummer and one definitely worth celebrating as part of British Flowers Week.

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Under a canopy inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I found myself immersed in the beauty of British grown flowers with the air thick with the perfume of English roses from the Real Flower Company.  Transformed by the incredible floral design talent of Jay Archer, River Cottage Canteen in Winchester was barely recognisable – moss and roses tumbling from the ceiling, peonies, uplifting mint, lavender and joyous sweet peas, the room awash with the sweetness of Midsummer’s best blooms.  Not an oasis in sight.  It’s worth noting dear Reader, that should you wish to learn the art of creating such stunning floral displays, Jay also runs a Flower School .

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Christened with floral crowns, assembled guests were treated to a little of Puck’s mischief too with the imbibing of sumptuous floral-inspired cocktails brought to us by the charming Cabinet Rooms gents.  Aptly named ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, it proved the perfect tonic for any Midsummer’s eve.

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Enthused by all the flowery delights of British Flowers Week, I unearthed an old Rose Cordial recipe of mine from last year, made when the sun was blazing.  Keen to make the most of the roses here in our very own cottage garden, I shall be gathering up the leftover scented blooms which haven’t been blown or washed away in flaming June’s latest weather front to enjoy a little taste of my own midsummer when the sun decides to grace us with his presence again.  Bottom’s Up, dear Reader.

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Be More Margo

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“Come and judge the Best Dressed Margo and Barbara”, she said.  How could I resist such an honour, dear Reader?  Especially when the fabulous talent that is Viv Groskop was in town to preview her new Edinburgh show, Be More Margo.  I whooped at the invitation when the delightful Donna of Sulky Doll stylist fame tweeted me.  As you know well dear Reader, I never need an excuse to don a floral kaftan and spend an evening drinking Prosecco accessorised with obligatory maraschino cherry.

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In a sneaky charity preview of her new Edinburgh Festival show, the rather masterly writer (Sunday TimesThe Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times (Weekend), the Observer, the Guardian, the Spectator, the London Evening Standard, Red, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, High Life and The Pool ), comedian, presenter and all-round amazingly talented woman, Viv Groskop, brings to life all that is brilliantly middle class about The Good Life’s Mrs Margo Leadbetter.  Wafting about in floral maxis and keeping up with the Jones (or should that be, the Goods?), Viv highlights the virtues of Margo as middle class role model.  I fear she may have hit the jackpot as the audience offered their best in tales akin to those shared on ‘Overheard in Waitrose’ from performing yoga in orchards to bringing Ayah from the Far East to nanny in the UK.  Who knew that Winchester could be as much of a spiritual home for Margo as her beloved Surbiton?!!  I’m not sure when I have laughed so much at the mere mention of quinoa.

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With my judging duties over, plenty of knicker-wetting laughter and lots of cash raised for the marvellous Kos Kindness – Winchester and Andover Collection run by the wonderful Roshi and her team, the evening was a huge success.  HUGE thanks to Sulky Doll for organising and inviting me, to Viv for putting up with my gushing over meeting her and to my fabulous friend Siobhan who told me she was simply going to throw on a kaftan when I asked her to come along and ended up greeting me in a floor-length silk number from India which totally trumped my chiffon flowers and turban!  If you are up in Edinburgh for the Fringe then DO get tickets for Viv’s show – if she’s half as funny as she was at her preview, I promise you’re in for a brilliant night out.  I intend to take her advice and channel more of my inner Margo.  If that’s possible, dear Reader.  Got to dash, I’m in the middle of arguing with the Ocado man.  He’s substituted a bottle of Prosecco for my Bolly……….

"After 3, let's repeat after Margo......Awful"

“After 3, let’s repeat after Margo……Awful”

(On a rather more serious note, Roshi and her team coordinate refugee donations at Kos Kindness.  The work they do sees that essential items are shipped to Kos, Samos, Chios and Lesvos for direct distribution to the refugees arriving there daily.  If you can help by donating items, time or a bit of cash, then please get in touch with Roshi at roshihudson@yahoo.co.uk This is such an important cause – what Roshi and her team do really does help those in desperate need).