Monday 30 April 2012

Hoorah for the failed wannabe maneater!

Well, the Sage has come up trumps, that's all I can say, and it may have taken a few years but who counts the years?

I shall not beat about the bush (which can be quite uncomfortable, so I'm told) but tell you straightaway, that Bobby the leopard is in residence.  I shall give you the link to the time I Told The Tale - goodness, almost four years ago.  Here, darlings.  The comments are really cool too, please do read them.

Anyway, he's on the landing.  I'm so thrilled, I can hardly describe.

Actually, I'm going to give the Sage one of my special chocolates.  Excuse me.

As I said in the post, I wasn't at all sure if Bobby would prove to have become hopelessly motheaten in his years in the barn, but he looks fine.  It's possible, now he's in the warm, that a load of woolly bears or other caterpillars or maggots will appear, horribly, but I'm the optimistic sort on the whole, and I hope that there will be no problem.

The Sage and Jamie were busy in the workshop when I went out to my village festival meeting and I guessed what they were up to but didn't go and look, just called out that the Sage's kipper was ready to be put in the oven.  When I arrived home, I was led upstairs to look.  Tomorrow, I shall take a picture and show you.  Remember, darlings, this leopard was no big game trophy.  Great Uncle Ronan only killed him to save his servant's life.  If he'd been a trophy, he'd have quietly mouldered away in the barn, not exhibited proudly.  But anyway, Bobby is part of my childhood and I love him, failed wannabe maneater though he is.

Sunday 29 April 2012

Z shoulders responsibility

In the interests of fairness, I should say that it's by no means all the Sage's fault.  I'm just as untidy as he is - you should see the state of my study and I've got a spectacular floordrobe.  Mind you, I always knew and admitted it, whereas he married me under false pretences.  When I used to visit his house it was always tidy.  It wasn't until I married him and moved in that I opened drawers and discovered that, before I was due to visit, he used to sweep everything off all the surfaces into them.  The writing wasn't so much on the wall as in all those empty envelopes that he didn't bother to throw away but kept with the more important former contents.

Nevertheless, we more or less overcame that (a large spare bedroom was unusable and packed to the gunwales* by the time we left our house in Lowestoft) and things were more-or-less reasonable for some time after we moved here, especially after we built an extension.  It all fell apart after Weeza's wedding, when my hip started to give problems and I gradually became less able to keep things together.  This is not an easy house and it has a large garden, and once darling Kenny couldn't manage any longer, the garden became too much for me.  I lost heart, frankly, and the housework suffered too, and I left the Sage to his own devices.  Devices and desires, dear friends.  His collecting habit extended beyond control.  He hasn't changed over the years, it's just that his brakes are not what they used to be and they were always poor.  I did enough cleaning and tidying to get by and no more and ignored the rest.

And so it's not his fault, it's not mine either.  It's just that now I can't deal with it any longer, I know that we won't be able to stay in this house unless it's easier to run and that means a lot less stuff.  He's awfully reluctant to do anything about it, he's not too keen on me at present because he thinks I'm being unreasonable (not that he'd say so to me, but he does to others), but I know my limits.  And so I'm having to push.  He's being co-operative, though it's not easy for him.

I haven't started on the garages and outhouses yet.  Nor the cars.

*gunnels if you prefer, darlings, I grew up among sailors

Willing, if not able

Thinking about wills (thank you, Tim) reminded me of my mother's.  One of her quirks in later life was to tweak its details every so often.  Only in minor ways, we found several former wills drawn up over a period of about five years and the main items were the same, but minor specific legacies to my sister and me were changed regularly - she'd left almost everything to us anyway, so there didn't seem much point to this, but it evidently gave her some satisfaction.  The final change was a bit odd.  She left me her car, which she'd already given to me (before making the change), although I refused to accept the gift in case she became well enough to drive again, which she did, as it happened.  She left Wink a portrait of herself (of Wink, that is) that Wink had always disliked and which she refused to take, so it's now somewhere in our attic.  The third stipulation was the odd one, though.  She declared that everything in her house should be left exactly as it was - well, obviously she didn't mean not to clear out the fridge.  The furniture and everything.

Darlings, I'm normally a polite woman but this was a bit much.  "She wants it kept as a shrine?  For how long, forever?  She didn't even own the house!"

Actually, she'd much have preferred what actually happened, which was that Al moved in (having redecorated and removed much of the furniture) and he and his family still live there.  She'd love that, far more than having all her things still there gathering dust nine years on.  

Saturday 28 April 2012

Z declutters

As a pleasing antidote to yesterday's burst of domesticity, I spent the morning reading the papers and doing nothing else at all.  I didn't even go shopping - with the result that I'm going to be rather using my ingenuity for a menu for tomorrow's meals, but it had to be done.  I've got eggs, cheese, onions (well, shallots at any rate) and bacon, one can eat for a day on those.

I did do some sorting out this afternoon, mostly things that Wink and I inherited from our mother and which we've agreed should be sold. I can't bear to think any longer that my children will have a horrible headache over Too Much Stuff when I die, though getting the Sage to acknowledge that either of us will do so is another matter.  He was enthusiastically agreeing to the sale of anything I looked at (I refrained from saying that it wasn't up to him) as a way of not addressing the load of stuff he has that he really neither wants nor needs.  The hundred or so paintings he bought without mentioning them to me over the past few years has pushed me beyond endurance however, quite apart from the things I did know about, and a major clear-out has been agreed, in principle at least.

My mother and father loved each other dearly, but had quite a volatile relationship.  My mother loved drama, which my father hated, and when pushed too far he verbally exploded, although he got over it quickly.  He hated being nagged (although who doesn't?) and my mother said, but if you did what I asked at once, I wouldn't have to say it again.  And that's a fact. "Darling, please could you?" - "You know I mentioned?" - "I hate to mention it again" - "Have you forgotten?" - "Just sodding do it, will you, like I asked three months ago and the deadline is tomorrow" - well, we all have been on both sides of that, and I honestly do try to avoid mentioning anything more than twice, but that generally just means that nothing ever gets done at all.

I'll give you a couple of examples, although they aren't so much actions as agreements.  When Al was three years old, I raised the matter of having a third child, something that had been agreed in principle when he was born.  The Sage didn't answer.  So I didn't mention it again.  When Al was seven and a half, he suggested we have another baby.  Ro was born ten months after that.  When our dog Simon died I wanted another dog, but the Sage looked ahead to when it would finally die and hated to think of that and preferred not to have a dog at all.  It took four years before he agreed and I never mentioned the subject in that time, much as I wanted to.

I'm old now, however, and I've run out of time and patience.  So if something doesn't happen, I'm afraid I'm prepared to nag.  Well, to mention it again, maybe two or three times, over a matter of months.  But the only way I can justify expecting him to make a sacrifice is to make one at least as large myself.

I've turned out five boxfuls of books so far.  And a whole load of silver plate.  Oh, and four decanters.  Well, it's a start.

Friday 27 April 2012

Half a crown

Of course, the disaster at Aberfan in 1966 made a huge impression on me, as it did on everyone at the time. For those of you who are too young to know or don't live here, it is a village in Wales where a coal slag heap slid, following heavy rain, onto the village primary school, killing nearly all the pupils and their teachers. The most appalling tragedy, everyone was shocked and grieved for their parents and the few survivors.

What I remember too is that there was a fundraising appeal. How money would help wasn't that clear, but there was a big response. We were asked to bring contributions to school and my mother gave me half a crown to take in. I never told her, but it was quite embarrassing. Everyone else brought in sixpence or a shilling at most and I rather stood out. Since my main aim in life at that time was to remain unnoticed in the background, I was particularly uncomfortable in case it looked as if I was showing off.

Half a crown, two shillings and sixpence. Twelve and a half pence. There's inflation for you, it would be an embarrassingly small amount now. I wonder what happened to the money - apart, perhaps, from funeral expenses, I can't think that any of the bereaved parents would have wanted to take it for themselves.

I've had a rare burst of domesticity in the last couple of days. Unable to sleep the night before last, I got up early and could think of nothing better to do than clean the aga and polish cutlery. Today, I defrosted the fridges. Well no, one of them is the frost-free sort so I cleaned it - I'm not sure what happened while I was away but it was slightly and unidentifiably whiffy when I got home. The other one has a freezer compartment with a very slightly deficient seal. It's fine for weeks, then a slight build-up of ice soon turns into a snowstorm. Not literally, mind you.

Next week I shall revert to my normal slapdash self. Domesticity doesn't suit me in the least. Why, I even ironed the skirt I'm wearing this morning. All quite worrying. I've been cleaning windows and everything.

Have a good weekend, everyone.


Sent from my iPad

Thursday 26 April 2012

Z blathers on a bit

Just one more chunder, as Weeza elegantly put it (I suppose that should be 'chunder, or is that just too pretentious for words?) last night and Augustus has been much better.  They're coming over tomorrow afternoon for fun and jollity, or as much of it as one can have when the weather keeps going from bright sunshine to chilly rain.

The Sage bought a yearsworth of stamps today.  He'd just paid the half-year's rates, or Council Tax as it's more correctly known these days, so needed access to my bank account.  Crumbs.  Do stock up on stamps before the price goes up at the end of the week, darlings.  If you think it hurts now...

I should put up a few more photos from India, but I've rather run out of steam for now.  The henna painting on my hands has almost faded away now, it always goes quite quickly once I'm home because of the chlorine in the water.  I finished unpacking my suitcase today - I know, darlings, quite incredibly quick, I've hardly been home a week ... well, nine days ... it's quite understandable when I don't unpack until I'm repacking for the next time.  Which reminds me, I've got to book some tickets.  It's all pressure, innit?  Those First World problems.

It'll be the Sage's next auction sale tomorrow week.  He tells me he's got a lot of commission bids already and a few phone calls booked, so that augurs well.  He's managed to talk me into three sales again this year, but at least the next one isn't until September.  Still, it's a lot of work.  I'm not really into work.  More into cultivating my garden, metaphorically speaking.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Z is a Good Mother

I haven't got around to looking out any more photos yet, sorry.  I spent the day with Weeza and the children.  There was a phone call around 10.30, with Weeza wondering if I happened to be free...? Gus had a stomach bug and there was a lot of washing to be done as a consequence and Zerlina, who was quite well, to be looked after.  I gave apologies for my meeting and hot-footed over to them.

Babies can recover remarkably quickly and he seemed to be over the worst by the time I left this afternoon.  We're hoping no one else catches it.  I'll make sure I keep a decent level of alcohol intake over the next few days, believing that to be the surest protection against pretty well all germs.

A friend came to dinner tonight, being down from Aberdeen on business.  A relaxed and cheerful evening, he was good company.

That's about it, it seems.  I haven't done anything else.  And it rained most of the day.  

Tuesday 24 April 2012

Z-ero, Sage- one

I decided to turn out the area under the stairs in the hall.  "I'll help you," said the Sage, which I thought was nice of him.  I was free this morning so this was to be the day.  "You won't throw away anything before I've seen it, will you?" said the Sage which, I realised, was the reason for his helpful attitude. Hmm.  I told him I wouldn't throw away anything of his before he'd seen it.

The job was duly done and there are a couple of boxes of things to be got rid of, mostly silver plate that had been put there after my mother died because we didn't quite know what to do with it.  Our hall is divided into two - the hall itself with the front door (which we hardly ever use, when someone knocks on it we assume it's Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons and the passageway leading from the side door which we use all the time (the back door usually has a stack of bottles in front of it waiting to be taken to be recycled).  The passage near the side door was full of boxes, stuff to be taken to the bin, to be recycled, to be stored or sold.  "I'll see you about 5 o'clock," said the Sage.  "I've an appointment in Ipswich."

I was suckered again.  All the clearing up to do and he was beetling off.  I never learn.

Actually, I've been really tired since lunchtime.  I don't know quite why, maybe it's the damp and dreary weather, because Dilly says she's tired too with no particular reason.  I went to sleep for a while this afternoon, curled up in an armchair (and woke with indigestion as a consequence) and it took me ages to get going again.  And now, honestly, all I can think of is going to bed.  I went to make some coffee, in the hope of it waking me up a bit, but couldn't be bothered when I discovered I had to grind more beans (I usually grind enough for two or three days at a time) so made Earl Grey fumé instead.  And if I'm too tired to use an electric grinder, perhaps bed is the best place for me.

Monday 23 April 2012

The wheels on the bus went round and round...

The bus trip wasn't brilliant, to be honest.  It was quite interesting, but Maja and Marina sensibly cut things short after lunch.  Wink and I didn't, and wished we had when we discovered we had to walk a kilometre to an ashram (and another one back again) in the heat of the day when we'd already walked a lot.  We opted to stay on the bus.  Or rather I did, I read, Wink went and talked to a group of children playing cricket.

An entertaining moment was when we were by a lake.  A group of schoolchildren were just leaving as we arrived.  They were adorable, but that isn't the entertaining bit.  Someone was watering the shrubs from a hosepipe, and after a while he realised that no more water was coming out.  Another man carefully unkinked the hose, but it didn't help.

You might notice from this picture what the problem actually was.
It was even better when they tried to rejoin the two lengths of hose and water sprayed everywhere.

We went to another church, where there was a window depicting a saint whose name I've forgotten, but who was rather petulantly showing us a graze on his knee.  Marina recognised him, apparently he was rather badly wounded but his dog licked his injuries which miraculously healed at once.  Presumably, the sore knee was the final hurt that the dog hadn't licked yet, but the flirty yet indignant display of knee was highly entertaining.

Sunday 22 April 2012


After the Hindu wedding celebrations were over, most of us headed off in various directions for a few days before we were due to convene in Vallore for the Christian ceremony.  Wink and I were going to Pondicherry.  We went with Maja and Marina and left them to visit the Shore Temple in Mahabalapuram (I should have checked the spelling of that, it's not way out) before finishing the journey.

I took several snaps from our hotel bedroom but not one of the sea view, a few hundred metres away.  This view, however, shows what an Indian building site looks like.
It isn't really quite indicative because they're just being used as supports, but those precarious twigs, when lashed together, comprise scaffolding in India.  It's remarkable.  They don't look as if they'd support anything at all, but I've seen it over and again in the past.  And another thing, it's women who do the labouring.  Men are the builders, but women fetch and carry and do the heavy work.

Wink and I walked down the road towards the sea.  There's not exactly a beach.
 The statue of Gandhi provided welcome shade for a couple of men and several dogs who slept underneath.
 That Pondicherry was part of France right through and beyond the days of the British Raj was apparent in the street names and in some other bilingual signs.
 It was hot and the sun was strong.  I wore my big floppy hat, or I'd have been in trouble, but Wink is quite impervious to the sun's rays.  However, we were both pleased when our destination, the tourist office, became visible.
 A rather charming touch was that there were two clocks in the office, one giving Indian time and the other giving French time.  It was wrong as it happens, because it hadn't been adjusted for European summer time, but no matter.
The beach opposite the tourist office.

We found out that there was a tourist bus daily doing tours of temples and so on in and around the city. So we decided that we'd have our massage and pedicure and do the tour the day after.

On the second evening, we tried out the rooftop restaurant.  We liked it very much.  It was quite breezy up there, but that meant that it wasn't too hot.  We looked out over the lights of the city.

Saturday 21 April 2012

Not so much tweets as cheeps

If you look across at my Twitter updates, you'll see that we've been making valiant efforts this evening to save the lives of several baby chicks.  I'm not at all sure that we will have been successful.  The shells are really hard so they wear out their egg tooth (one each, can't possibly say teeth) trying to crack through, and the mother, though several years old, is inexperienced in motherhood so is not very good at keeping them warm.  We do have two live chicks though, at any rate.

A few more pictures.  I should explain that I don't really like intruding on people by snapping away at them (photographically speaking) at a party.  And most of the places we went, such as museums and temples, one was not allowed to take photos.  Wink and I hired a car and went off to look at the cathedral in Chennai, which looks like this...

and then went to a museum on the same site where, extraordinarily, the late Pope and Father Christmas were in close juxtaposition.

Then we went to see the Law Courts.  A very nice man showed us round, he showed us all the interesting bits that a guide book might not mention, such as this -
He took a lot of time and trouble for us, but in the end I had to ask him to take us back to our car (we were quite lost) because Wink's leg was so painful and she was limping along behind us.  It was very interesting to see the portraits of the judges: for a long time they were all white and British, then the first Indian judge's picture came up and from then on they were all Indian.  Unfortunately, I didn't note the date of the changeover and it was too dark inside to take a photo.  You'll have to go and see for yourselves.  A few photos of the outside of the buildings...

I'm not sure who the conductor chappie was in the third photo - Chris, is it a statue of you?  I find that I have got a photo of the Advocate General of 1897 and that he is Indian, so the changeover had occurred by then.  Here he is.
We didn't stop at the beach this time, which is impressively huge and sandy.  Marina and Maja went there another day, so they might have a better photo if they would like to send it across.  
I know, darlings, no one will ever love me for my photographic skills, nor for my writing ability.  It's sheer Zedness that will carry me through.  Ahem.  

Friday 20 April 2012

Z is a rubbish photographer

It's so late, I've been out for dinner and then caught up with emails once I arrived home, that I don't think I'll write much now.  Instead a few pictures.

First, Kamala's house on the Friday evening when there was the first of the parties.  It looked spectacular lit up with blue lights.
The next day, the next party, which was when all the women had their hands hennaed.  Mine are fading now, this soon happens once you arrive home and wash in chlorinated water.  This is taken from the verandah.  Most people had had lunch by then so there weren't many in the picture.
This is Laddu, the basset hound.  His father Skipper only died a month or so ago at the age of 15.  Both belonged to Arte, Nandini's sister.  I'm afraid he moved his head so it's out of focus.  I told you the photos weren't up to much.
And this one explains why I didn't take pictures of the wedding ceremony.  One could see round the photographic paraphenalia, but it really got in the way of taking pictures.  Both bride and groom are professional photographers, so one can see why the official photos were a priority.
And that's it for today.  

Thursday 19 April 2012

Z and the elephant packed her trunk...

I'll see what I can do about a few photos - they're mostly a bit random, you can see my heart wasn't in it.  Far more fun to take part in what was going on than to take pictures.  But here I am getting up close to the temple elephant (which I just typed as 'elephone').

And, for the time being, here's a picture of the bride and groom and immediate families after the Christian ceremony (on the steps of the church), and one of the wedding cake, which was made at the Madras Club.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Westernisation and prosperity

I mentioned in my first post (I think) from India that there were various changes that I noticed.  Funnily enough, towards the end of the holiday Geeta asked me (and Wink, separately) about our impressions from just that point of view.  Another friend, Jill, who is English and lives in London, hadn't noticed these differences, but then she visits India frequently - the last time was in December - so they'd have crept up on her.

I suspect it's all connected with India's increased prosperity and success as a nation.  I should start by saying that I'm sure that in many areas, particularly rural villages and slums in the larger and more crowded cities, that deep poverty is as grinding as ever, but what I saw in Chennai in particular was a generally higher standard of living.

I've already mentioned that there are much fewer bicycles and more motorbikes.  Also that cars are modern ones rather than the old Ambassadors.  It's noticeable that cars are in beautiful condition and look new.  They're nearly all imported - and that's notable too, because there was a time only a few years ago when Indians took pride in making what they used and now it's more fashionable to buy imported goods. The roads are incredibly crowded and busy, even more than they used to be.  It all looks chaotic, but actually people drive very well.  They need to be very alert.  As a general rule, the larger vehicle is held to be responsible for an accent* - so if a motorbike hit a pedestrian it'd be the biker's fault and if a car hit a bike it'd be the driver's.  There was an incident where a bus hit a lorry it was overtaking - witnesses said that the lorry swerved into the path of the bus, but it was the bus driver who was arrested.  He was overtaking, therefore the anus of responsibility (sorry, family expression started by Weeza some 20 years ago) was on him, although checks were being done on the lorry's steering.

Wink and I also felt that there were far fewer people living on the street.  We weren't approached by a single beggar or street seller in Chennai.  There aren't many of the woven huts left where, remarkably, a whole family would emerge dressed in immaculate, freshly laundered and ironed clothes, the man in crisp white shirt, the children in school uniforms and the woman in a sari.  I suppose that a lot of new flats have been built for those people to live in.  Regarding clothes, the sari is still traditional in South India, but less so now.  Young people are far more likely to wear casual Western clothes - my younger friends used to at home but not go out in them, but this is gradually changing.  If they do wear Indian clothes it's likely to be a shalwar kameez or trousers and tunic rather than a sari.  The dhoti has all but disappeared (I didn't see a single one) although a few men still wear a lungi - the difference between them is that a dhoti is wrapped around the waist and passed between the legs, whereas the lungi is worn more as a sarong; that is, it goes around the waist but not between the legs.  It's convenient in that it can be flipped up to waist length to walk in the street and the lower half released to make a long skirt to wear indoors.  A dhoti is nearly always white but a lungi is usually coloured or checked.

Another difference on the streets is that now there are overhead signs giving directions!  This is a real innovation within the past 18 months or so, apparently.  Just of major roads, but it's certainly a start.  One thing about motorcyclists, by the way - the rider often wears a crash helmet, but I've never seen a single passenger wearing one.  Most car drivers and front seat passengers wear a seat belt, a rarity in the past.

I didn't see a single person being given instructions doing a head waggle.  This is a real change - it's sort of the equivalent of a nod of comprehension, although there was often a fair degree of subservience in it.  The few times I saw it were 'equal to equal' - that is, it was simply comprehension - and it seems remarkable that there has been such a change so quickly.  Tips are as readily and gladly received as ever, but there's no indication that anyone feels demeaned by a tip and it's graciously received and quite often a handshake is exchanged afterwards which would never have happened a few years ago.

The water is much more likely to be safe to drink.  Previously, I'd never have drunk water unless it was from a previously sealed mineral water bottle, but now many more places buy in sufficiently pure water that Westerners and non-acclimatised people can drink it safely.  I'm always careful - in four visits I've never had a stomach upset (rather the opposite, if you see what I mean) but I was able to feel a lot more relaxed this time.  Oh, and you can order black tea without fearing that the roof of your mouth will be removed by tannin.  And I'd never previously had anything but disgusting coffee, but now it's far better, usually filtered although modern coffee shops have espresso machines.

*As Sir Bruin wittily put it when correcting my typo - "grave or acute?"  So good that I'm leaving the mistake as it stands.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

A passage from India

I'm home, darlings, and so is Wink.  The most notable thing about the journey was the unexpected upgrade - woo hoo! - Wink went through first because she's damaged a tendon in her leg and asked to board early because standing for a long time is very painful, and was surprised and pleased that she was also upgraded.  She spent the next ten minutes wondering how to break the news.  I, meantime, queued as one should, arrived to have my boarding pass checked and was asked to wait as my seat had been changed.  And then "you've been upgraded!" - and I thought woo hoo - oh bugger, I'll have to do the decent thing and give my seat to Wink.  So when we discovered we were both in the same boat as it were, we were jolly pleased, especially when a woman was making a fuss about her teenage daughters having to sit apart "I paid £975* each for those tickets, you know," - mind you, that was return - and we jolly well hadn't.

I'm tired tonight, too tired to write much.  I'll see what pictures I have tomorrow, not huge lots actually and I hope I'll be able to pinch some of the wedding photos.  It really has been brilliant.  Wink and I have got on really well, never a cross word (The Hindu's crosswords are easier than The Times, btw) and it was lovely to see our friends again and meet new people too.  I even gave our new Croatian friends the address of this blog.  I hardly give anyone that, they may not have realised how unusual it is (Wink told them about the Razorblade).

One thing's for sure, I'm never again going to arse about taking the train to a London airport.  It's the coach for me.  The cost is about the same, it's bus station to door, no exhausting trek across London and no broken down East Anglian trains and no information about substitutes.

The Sage tells me he has cooked my dinner.  The rest of the evening will be devoted to him.  It's only fair.  Mind you, an early night is planned.  Nothing on for tomorrow morning (not clothes, silly, no appointments until the afternoon) so I'll probably talk to the plants in the greenhouse and have a cup of tea with Dilly.

*about that, darlings, can't remember the exact sum

Monday 16 April 2012

Last day

Just had my final Indian breakfast for a while. Idli, sambar and the rest. Wink had an egg. I also had toast, butter and honey and some pineapple and guava. I know darlings, it'll all stop once I'm home and I shall stop eating so much. However, the sensible practice of this hotel in providing every bedroom with a set of bathroom scales means that I could weigh myself at the start and finish of this holiday and that I've put on half a kilo is a considerable relief as I'd prepared myself for three or four.

In his email last night the Sage came out with a real Norfolk expression. Describing his evening activities, he said "and it was 10.30 time I got home." He doesn't talk with a trace of a Norfolk accent but doesn't realise he uses the odd expression.

Receiving daily letters from my husband has been a new experience for me. I've emailed him in the past when away, but this is the first time I've been out of Europe since he learned to email. His letters are very entertaining, badly spelled and a bit randomly typed - there's nothing wrong with his spelling normally but it goes haywire when he types - and very chatty. We have a single black chick, hatched a few days ago. There was a second but it didn't survive, in spite of the Sage's best efforts at revival.

I've finally relaxed enough to sleep well. It took quite long enough, it's just been the last couple of nights. Our flight is 5.30 tomorrow morning so we'll have a sleepless night at the airport which will put me back to normal I expect. Still, no matter.

It's been a wonderful fortnight, we've had such fun. It'll be lovely to be home of course, but I'll miss India and my friends. Jill, who lives in London, left in the early hours today and Maja and Marina leave a few hours before us. The rest of the family has dispersed and we will see Kamala in an hour or so. We spent last evening with J, M, M, the bride and groom Nandini and Joe and friends Sanjeev and Jack, at the cricket club. After an hour or two eating delicious hot and cold snacks which I thought constituted dinner, we were served dinner. We ate dinner anyway.

Hope you're all well, I've looked at a few blogs while I've been away but commenting hasn't been easy so I'll catch up when I get home. Love to you all and if you have been, thanks for listening.

Zoë xx

Sent from my iPhone

Sunday 15 April 2012

Coffee, lentils and oranges

It was a charming and moving service in the small church. Many of the choir are Joe's relations, they sang really well and perhaps with extra feeling on this family occasion. Then there was the reception, which included a three-tier iced cake - sponge cake with butter icing, it was very good. Mel told our Croatian friends that they should make a wish as they ate. She and I did too. It occurs to me now that I should have wished not to have gained whole lots I'd weight while I've been here, but I fear it's too late.

There was yet another get-together at Joe's parents' house last night, but I'm afraid the four of us Europeans didn't stand the pace and we stayed in our hotel. I was going to buy Wink a birthday drink but it turned out that the hotel was dry! No alcohol licence. So we trailed back to our rooms, feeling we'd shown ourselves up rather by asking.

And so we toasted Wink's birthday with instant black coffee and ate fried lentil snacks - I don't know what they're called, yellow like grains of rice, not at all spicy, very tasty - and oranges that we had brought from Chennai.

This morning we had breakfast with Joe's relations (I ate a ridiculous amount again), said goodbye and now are on our way back to Chennai. I'll post this from the hotel.

Later - here we are again, back in sunny Chennai, about to order a chicken sandwich and a glass of beer. Chin chin, dear hearts.


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Saturday 14 April 2012

A nod and a Wink

It was a lovely relaxed friendly party last night hosted by Joe's parents. We met his relations, some of whom we'd been introduced to at the wedding in Chennai. This morning we were taken (they are so hospitable) to the Gold Temple which was remarkable. A huge place with lovely gardens and the entire temple really is covered in gold leaf - a tonne and a half of pure gold went into its construction. Getting in was something of a ritual in itself. A wealthy cult whose leader started it 20 years ago when he was only 16.

As I write, we're on our way back to the hotel after lunch, will get changed and then off for the marriage blessing in a church housed in the fort. There is also a temple and a mosque in this fort, there's complete religious tolerance.

By the way, in case you're surprised at a Christian ceremony, Christianity came to India long before the days of the British Raj, in the 2nd century AD. There are around 30 million Christians in the country, a sizeable minority religion. Mixed religion marriages are relatively uncommon however, I was told.

And today is Wink's birthday


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Friday 13 April 2012

Happy New Year

It's New Year's Day in Tamil Nadu. Wink and l are, as I write, on our way to Vellore. It's a modern dual carriageway with a central reservation planted with flowering shrubs. Where we are now, there is plenty of greenery though we went through quite an arid stretch soon after turning inland from Pondy where there were trees but little other vegetation.

We saw a near-accident in Kanchi. I'm not sure how it happened because I was sitting behind our driver and didn't have a good view, but a motor cyclist had to stop or swerve suddenly and his wife lost her balance and fell off. Luckily, she was able to keep her balance as she landed on the road and didn't quite lose her footing and he stopped quickly enough not to drag her along as she held on. She must have scraped her feet on the road at the very least though and been wrenched as she twisted. They both looked shaken. We were far enough behind to stop easily, luckily.

There don't seem to be as many accidents on the road as you might think. Over four visits, this is my ninth week in India and I've travelled fairly extensively by road, both in town and long-distance. In that time, I've seen the accident I just described, one overturned auto rickshaw where the annoyed but unhurt passenger stood as the driver tried to right his vehicle and one dead dog.

Dogs seem to be treated quite kindly, by the way. You know it's a poor area if the dogs look thin, usually they're quite well nourished.

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of stroking an elephant. I was sorry for it mind you, standing in its place outside a temple in Pondicherry. It was calm and friendly enough, reaching out its trunk to passers by. I wondered how large its living accommodation was. The last temple elephants I touched were in Kerala and Weeza and I were able to ride them and feed them bananas. That was out in the countryside, they looked as if they had a good life.

We have arrived at our very luxurious hotel. I have wifi!

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Thursday 12 April 2012

Fwd: If a lady merely glows, Z is no lady

> The massage and pedicure were very good indeed. Parts of the pedicure were almost unbearably ticklish, true, but I managed, just, not to snatch my foot away. I have to admit, I kept my pants on for the massage (in an underwear sense, darlings, knickers, I wasn't wearing trousers) because when I've had a massage before I've always been provided with a towel for modesty, however scant but wasn't this time.
> We were just arriving when we received a text from Nandini, anxiously warning is not to go to the seafront because of the tsunami warning. Concern abated later of course, but apparently people in Chennai did feel tremors so it's not surprising they were worried.
> Today we went on an organised tour. I've done that a few times before and they were always very good, but this has been a touch disappointing. There's the usual round of temples and so on, but not much more. Pondicherry museum has some nice bronzes, some French furniture left by a past governor and, most interestingly, some pieces of china and so on that were brought over a couple of thousand years ago by the Romans, who traded at a town (which no longer exists) not too far from Pondicherry. Such artefacts haven't been found anywhere else in India.
> The afternoon part of the tour involves a walk of a kilometre to something or other. Probably a temple. Wink and I opted out. With her damaged tendon and this heat, walking two kms is not something that appealed to her and nor did it to me. I'm sweltering on the bus instead. I nearly fell asleep, but a trickle of sweat down by back and into my knickers (a different pair, of course) woke me up.
> I had meant to write again last night, but I wasn't able to log on. Marina had the same problem though Maja was okay. Quite odd. I had a couple of replies to emails written and couldn't send them off until this morning after breakfast.
> This is our last night in Pondy. Tomorrow morning, we have a car booked and will drop off the girls at their next overnight stop and then continue on to Vellore. I'm afraid, for those of you hoping I'll come back with fabulous textiles, that I won't. It's too hot to want to shop and I haven't enough knowledge of handicrafts to know what to buy anyway. I've a funny feeling that souvenirs for the children will be bought at the airport. We'll have plenty of time to wait for our 5.30 am flight.
> And now we are back at the hotel, having been kindly dropped off, rather than been taken back to the bus stop. And we are having a long cold drink. Lemonade, dear friends, lemonade.
> Zoë
> Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday 11 April 2012

Wednesday morning

This morning, we set out in search of somewhere to have a massage, a treat I've promised to Wink for her birthday present. It took rather a long time to find the place ... and then it was closed. Hardly downhearted at all *sigh* we remembered a beauty salon we had passed the previous day. Maybe there?

Wink is really good at remembering places. We went back to the main road and I'd have had no idea whether to turn right or left, but she had her bearings. Above the salon was a coffee shop so we went in for a drink first (air con, bliss) and then I noticed, over the road ... a place that did massages, facials, manicures and so on. That we hadn't noticed yesterday - although, to be fair, its closing day was Tuesday.

So we trotted over the road, were greeted by two young women, then by the proprietress who speaks good English and we've both got a pedicure and a body massage booked for this afternoon.

After that, we went by auto rickshaw in search of shops. Actually, we're not great shoppers, me and Wink. Now we are back at the hotel, have put our feet up for a bit and are heading down to meet Maja and Marina for lunch.

Laters, darlings


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Tuesday 10 April 2012

Mad dogs and EnglishZ

I hasten to reassure you. I strode out into the heat of the day, I didn't see any hydrophobic dogs: it's a quotation.

One doesn't walk on the pavements in India, because things are put on them and the paving slabs are often broken and uneven anyway. We wished we could because there would have been some shade, at least part of the time. But we kept going manfully, waving aside hopeful offers of rides in auto-rickshaws, until we reached the sea front, and then at least there was a breeze. We - well, Wink, who had the map - led the way to the tourist office. Having checked out what's on offer, we've decided to take a bus tour on Thursday.

This afternoon we investigated the hotel pool, and very nice it is. On the rooftop with views of the city and out to sea, it's secluded and, though small, pleasant.

I took with me a towel (brought from England), a sarong, a wrap-around skirt, sunglasses, a hat and my phone, as well as my swimsuit. Wink took her cozzie. Maybe our degrees of preparedness should meet in the middle? However, although there were plenty of towels there so I didn't need mine, at least I didn't have to change afterwards. I twisted the sarong into a top and wore the skirt. We really will try the roof-top restaurant tonight, having forgotten it yesterday.

Oh, and I went to a bank and changed a thousand rupee note. Quite a relief, it's difficult to get hold of sufficient small change for tips and buying odd items.

Half past six here, darlings. Time for a drink, perhaps? Cheers.

Zoë x

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Monday 9 April 2012

Z is a tidy traveller

We are settled in our hotel in Pondicherry, an impressively comfortable place with a really nice shower. We had intended to eat in the 5th floor open-air restaurant tonight but, leaving the bar, we absent-mindedly turned towards the next-door ground floor eaterie instead. D'oh, darlings. We didn't actually remember until after we had finished our meal. Wink and I had a sort-out of luggage, leaving behind anything we aren't likely to need for the next few days in my case and taking the rest in hers. Kamala will look after my case until we go back to Chennai next Sunday. Always best to travel light. I also travel tidy. My parents having been hoteliers, my mum was always conscious that the job of chambermaid is one of the least covetable in the business. So, when I stay in a hotel, my room is always tidy. No clothes are left scattered and if anything is out it's neat and there for a reason. Books are in a tidy pile, grubby clothes are put in a bag and back in my case, the washbasin is washed and wiped clean, the bedcovers are tidily laid back to air, the pillows plumped and the sheet smoothed. And I leave a tip. At home, I do my own cleaning so I'll be chaotic if I want to be. But when away, the person who cleans my room won't suffer that moment of heart-sinking or revulsion on opening the bedroom door.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Sari with a fringe on top

The bride and groom looked fabulous of course, and very happy. I'm afraid I didn't take pictures because the photographers were in the way, but I'm sure I'll be able to get hold of some later. In fact, there's too much going on for me to think about my camera most of the time - besides, it seems intrusive.

It got a bit frantic at the last because Wink, Gita and I managed to be left without a driver. We finally arrived at the wedding hall just as the ceremony started, but it's not a faux pas like entering the church after the bride, people mill around all the time.

This afternoon, we went shopping with our new young Croatian friends, Marina and Maja. We turned out not to be half as good as Indian ladies at shopping. Having bought nothing, we wound up at a modern shopping mall. We were open-mouthed. It was huge, filled with Western-named shops, M&S, French Connection, Accessorise, you name it, and lots more besides. On five levels, each of them pretty enormous. There were loads of people, but I have the feeling that more looking than shopping was going on. We wanted to find a grocery store and found a supermarket in the basement where we bought fruit and water for our journey tomorrow. Then we queued. It was supposedly the speedy checkout but nothing is speedy in India and it took an age. We were all hot and bothered by the time we left. There was a guard on the door to check your receipt. We also found a bureau de change, which actually gave a good rate of exchange, so I changed another £100 - not that I've spent much of the first lot, mind you, as yet, but that'll change in the next few days because we have been guests since Friday. Anyway, none of us cared much for the mall.

Tonight, we're back to our friend's house for dinner again - the wedding eve caterer, who is a friend of the bride's, owns a couple of restaurants, one of which serves Thai food and that is what we will have this evening. Wink has taken off her sari (she's wearing a dress, darlings, do get a grip), I know the guests will have changed but I only brought the one sari and have few chances to wear it, so I'm keeping it on. I received a lot of compliments, some from charming unknown women in shops, saying that I look very natural and wear it well, and I do enjoy wearing it.

I'm pretty confident of free wifi in hotels, so you'll probably hear from me again. I can't sleep much, five hours a night would be the most, but I'm having such a good time. And it's lovely to have Wink here too, we're having fun together.

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Zed's sari

Saturday 7 April 2012

Z puts her left hand in ...

Make do and mehendi

Indeed, that's what is on the cards for today. Mehendi - that is, having one's hands painted with henna in celebration of a forthcoming wedding.

Wink and I have just finished our breakfast of masala omelette (with onion and chilli) and toast and jam, with tea. We forgot to ask for black tea so it arrived mixed, that is, the milk already in it. It turned out to be coffee anyway, so no matter.

Our friends' relations all arrived yesterday and there was a party in the evening. Huge fun. I started with a beer and then asked for a glass of water, thinking to pace myself. I said yes please to ice (made with pure water, don't worry). Half a tumblerful arrived, which seemed a modest quantity. I sipped. Neat vodka. Me and my accent. I went and asked for it to be topped up with water. The waiters looked confounded - surely some mistake, I didn't have enough vodka? Finally, one indicated a bottle of 7-Up. I accepted it.

It was warm and humid, I think the laughter and dancing sweated out the alcohol. I stuck to soft drinks after that, admittedly, however.

Returning after midnight, the driver took us to the Madras Club (where tonight's reception will be held). "No, the Madras CRICKET Club" we chorused. "Where is that?" asked the driver. We four Europeans were dismayed. Marina and Maja had only flown in that morning and were exhausted already. Luckily, the mention of a socking great cricket stadium gave him the clue and he found his way here.

I've been catching up on some blogs - sadly, trying to type in Macy's wv introduced a glitch and thereafter I haven't been able to type in any comments other than the couple I had already left. So, sorry darlings, I may have to lurk. And there won't be much time even for that in the next couple of days - it'll be party all the way!

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Thursday 5 April 2012


I had relied on jet lag and heat exhaustion suppressing my appetite, at least for the first couple of days. *Unfortunately* is hardly the word except insofar as it relates specifically to that, but one way or another, I am rather resigned to gaining quite a few pounds while I am here, growing out of all my clothes and having to return home in my sari as it will be the only garment that expands to fit.

In short, I'm fine, enjoying myself and the food is delicious. We spent much of yesterday with our friend K, her daughter (who is getting married) ate with us although coming and going: on one of her comings she brought her fiancé so we have now met him too.

Today we hired a car and driver and sightsaw our way around parts of the city. I hadn't realised it was as long as seven years since we were last here - its understandable that there have been some changes. Free wifi at the hotel for example - I didn't bring my iPad in the end but it would have been a good idea to. The roads are incredibly busy, more than ever - but thinking about it, it's the type of traffic that has changed. And I suspect that it indicates increased prosperity - very few bicycles nowadays and a huge number of motorbikes. Still the auto rickshaws of course but even they, though much the same in design, are more modern - newer, anyway - than they used to be. And I've only seen a single old Ambassador, the Indian Morris Oxford, the cars are all new.

Tomorrow we move from this hotel to the Madras Cricket Club, where we will be the guests of K (I kept my previous MCC temporary membership card for a long time but it was eventually used as a bookmark in, presumably, an unfinished book) and I don't know if the wifi will be available. It'll be great, K's sisters will be there too so we can catch up on their news.


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Tuesday 3 April 2012

From the departure lounge

It's simpler to blog than to add a comment on the phone - thanks for your comments, the Sage is going to reply to the wedding invites and I've mentioned it to Dilly too so she can remind him/check. Belt and braces Z to the end, you see, even when I forget something.

Wink managed to fit in a job interview on her way to the airport - I'm not the only multi-tasker in the family as you see - and she will receive the result by email in the next couple of days, so we will be online. I've promised the Sage emails, anyway.

By the way, a note for anyone getting a new hip and having to decide what it's made of, take into the equation that you will be stopped at security every time if there is any metal in it. My china/polymer/titanium jobbie is fine in every other regard. I take the view that it gives me patience and enables me to have a pleasant chat with the security woman.

Be seeing you, darlings.

Zoë xxx

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Monday 2 April 2012

Z remembers what she had forgotten

There is indeed always something. Ironically, given that I am on my way to a wedding, I have just remembered that I didn't get round to replying to either of the two wedding invitations sitting on my desk. I shall have a word with the Sage and ask him to see to it...yes, I say that doubtfully. I'm not sure that replying to wedding invitations is quite his bag.

I can't remember ever going to three weddings in as little as four months before. Well, four and a half months. Fortunate that I bought a new dress for the first one and that none of the guests will be the same for either of the others. My wedding outfit is secured already.

Otherwise, I finally managed to get the work done, I think. I emailed the Nadfas minutes out with a couple of hours to spare before I left. After that, I went and bought Al wine for his birthday (happy day, Al), wrote a letter of condolence to a friend whose husband has just died, unpacked and repacked my suitcase - it is absurdly heavy. I succeeded in removing a pair of sandals, a pot of body cream, a jar of deodorant because I'd managed to pack two. The case is quite full because I'm taking presents, but they're mostly not heavy. Maybe the case itself is. Anyway, I'll be returning with it half empty, unless I am persuaded to do a lot of shopping. I can't think of anything much that I want though, except a particularly gorgeous cardamon flavoured halva that I buy every time I go through the departure gate at Chennai airport. I know of no other place to buy it. Just as well, perhaps. If I had a steady supply I should eat it every day.