Friday, December 29, 2006

Dispatches from a biscuit tin

Courtesy impulsive decision making (one dreary Sunday night two weeks ago) and an excellent Eurostar deal, we spent the two days preceding Christmas in Brussels, There were four of us: S&S, V&me.

I don’t much care for the name Brussels as it reminds me of its namesake sprouts (ghastly cooked any way no matter how much Nigella Lawson tried to boost them up). I prefer Bruxelles, its French avatar which sounds far more exotic to my uncultured ear.

Instead of a rambling travelogue I shall round up our trip in 12 short points:

1. Never having been on the Eurostar in these past 4.some years I had built up great expectations and sort of imagined it being a bit like one of German ICE trains. Check in was a bit like at Heathrow only far closer at London's Waterloo station. The train itself was a sore disappointment, looked a bit worn out, had not much leg room and was quite like any other train within the UK. I think Virgin trains might have been a bit better. But the journey was smooth and on time so I cannot complain. The dotted sheep and countryside look exactly the same both sides of the channel and having a tunnel under it is a technological miracle I am thankful for. Our ‘Customer Service Train Manager’ was “Erve” whose lovely French accent made me and S giggle a bit. I like French names –they sound nothing like they are written. Like Hervé.

2. What’s nice about Bruxelles apart from being 2.something hours away from London is that there is no mad clutch of must see things and a two day break is a relaxed getaway as opposed to foot blister inducing manic rush.

3. Bruxelles has picturesque medieval streets and beautiful boulevards and we wandered up and down them wearing down some of the cobble. We took lots of pictures but have not even uploaded them yet. Strong sturdy trainer type shoes was a good idea.

4. The big buildings are not particularly impressive and the monuments were, well just monuments. There was a nice winter market near the Grand Place Square and we stood in the cold amongst the crowds enjoying a Belgian Waffle and some hot Gluhwein.

5. We went to the City Museum which is housed in a grand old building one side of Tourist Central, Grand Place or Grot Markt (Historic Square). The museum was nothing to write home about and its artifacts would have fitted comfortably in a very small room at the V&A. The Building was an altogether different matter. It had majestic vaulted ceilings propped up by solid beams, a sweeping central staircase, intricate stained glass windows and flooring that made me want to lie down and weep. The building could easily have been an architectural tour of its own.

6. We visited the famed Mannekin Pis which is the statue of a little boy peeing. Located on a street corner with a grill guarding it from the marauding throngs of tourists this little fellow is the pride and joy of the Bruxelles Tourism people. It’s one of those things that is built up in the mind as being magnificent and then in reality it disappoints. The City museum (Pt.5) had a whole room of the Mannekin Pis statue dressed up in costumes from all over the world. So many of the same in one room was deeply disturbing and quite gross.

7. We stopped often, each time in a cosy cafés or small restaurant and indulged in what the Belgians make best: Waffles. They were light and airy and we often had them covered in something: covered in dusting sugar or chocolate or the piece-de-resistance Whipped Cream.

8. Our only dinner in Bruxelles was at a restaurant called Le Cap, recommended by the dude at the hotel reception. We had no reservations and the restaurant seemed quite full but we were quickly given a table in a little cave like box next to a wall of wine bottles. The food was excellent and service was excellent and I must mention my dessert which was warm strawberries with peppercorns and ice cream. It was a perfect evening and we spent much of it chatting and laughing.

9. As always V & I popped into a little supermarket (the best way to buy some local food to take back) and bought some cheese. S&S were buying some biscuits in really cute tins (designed as biscuit shops, designated to brighten up any kitchen) and I was inspired and did the same, bringing back two tins of biscuits to London. All the way back I kept wondering who would eat all those biscuits as neither V nor I are great lovers of biscuits. Well, these were different. Three sealed packs inside each tin: Almond thins, Butter thins and Butter crumble. Since Christmas day I have eaten my weight in biscuits. Groan.

10. We went to the Comics Museum which is housed in an old Art Noveau warehouse designed by Victor Horta. It’s a magnificent building and really showcases the Belgian art form of comic strips to its very best. While most strips were in French or Flemish it was the skilled drawing and colouring that drew the eye and brought the characters to the forefront. The best and most famous of the Belgian comic strips is of course Tintin and there were numerous pieces of original artwork to look at beside great big cutouts, a few plastic statuettes and the rocket that took Tintin to the moon. I recently bought the entire collection of animated Tintin movies so I was quite thrilled.

11. The previous afternoon we went into the Tintin Boutique which sells everything Tintin in it. S bought a lovely big blue umbrella and we bought a framed Tintin print for our dining room.

12. I love taking tram rides or bus rides through cities because for me they provide a whole new perspective to the city, outside the touristy trail. We took a nice tram ride and I thoroughly enjoyed looking through the windows at the passing homes and quiet suburbia of Bruxelles.

It was a lovely two days away from the hustle of London. It was lovely traveling with friends. We didn’t go crazy with sightseeing or shopping – the calm pace is a luxury that Bruxelles affords. It was cold but not freezing. It was touristy but still homely. The waffles, biscuits and Tintin made it all perfect. As did the French accent of Hervé.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Traffic One

I bet you thought my Calcutta One was the last of my reminiscing posts about our trip to India over Diwali. Not so. After all I have yet to tell you about my near death experiences.

But I’ll be quick and neat and precise. Promise.

Let me start this tale of woe by saying that I am now petrified of traffic in Delhi – this after living my entire ‘younghood’ in Delhi and maneuvering around the city between trucks, buses, autos and cars. The number of vehicles on the road has just exploded and my only defense is to sit in the middle of the back seat with my eyes shut and my hands balled into tight fists. I thought Calcutta would be a better. Wrong. Calcutta is a whole different ballgame - its black & yellow taxis and trams that rule the roads. Day before Diwali we have a hired Indica taxi from the local stand to transport us around Calcutta.

And here are three ways to possibly perish in a car:
1. Left Orly after buying kurta’s for the boys and almost immediately got stuck in front of Loretto House. Our smart* Indica driver first climbed onto the pavement, and nearly drove into a bunch of small kids. Then off the pavement and stuck between a mass of cars who were all mad at the driver for even trying to get ahead. With less than an inch between us and any of the surrounding cars one of the cars on our side decided he was not going to let us through. So he scraped past us and the loud metal on metal noise was deafening and our car tilted threatening to roll over. Our driver let forth a stream of abuse, stopped the car, climbed out of the window and went around to examine the damage to the passenger car. No apology for anything that might have happened to any of us on the passenger side.
2. In the evening, traveling from A to B, our driver decided that he was faster and more able and more needy of the road than a tram. Yes you read that right – A TRAM – big bulky thing that transports its millions across the city on tracks built into the road. A TRAM. So we jostled for space on the tram line and what happened? The obvious. Our car was side scrapped by the tram and carried some distance further by that momentum. With me and my sis-in-law screaming at the top of our lungs for “the madness to stop” (those were not our words, just a politer version of the verbal yelling). The driver was well protected on the right while those of us on the left of the car were in fear of the windows bursting inwards and scarring us for life. The tram was tooting its horn as was our driver. And crowds of people were yelling and pointing on the outside. Deafening noise was over in a few traumatic minutes while we disengaged from the side of the tram. And once again what does our driver do? Goes to check the damage to his precious car. Not a word of apology for the bad driving, complete lack of sense and trauma to his passengers. How many times can I say this to make my point – A TRAM.
3. Next morning we had a new driver with a new (read unscratched/ unscathed) Indica from the same stand (when will we ever learn?). Under a famous Calcutta flyover he decides to take a U-turn. In the middle of full flow traffic on Diwali/ Kali pooja day. Scaped a few taxis and other cars, none of whom seemed to mind or stop. One car hit us from behind, rocking the car akin to a boat on high seas. And still we kept going. Even the Calcutta black and yellow cabs are safer.

Maybe all this time in London has made me soft but I couldn’t help thinking we were lucky to come out of these ‘episodes’ physically unscathed. Mentally I am still a reeling a tad bit.

Here in London all my traffic troubles seem so far away. This morning some guy in his jazzy sports car careened through a red light and just missed me. Moral of the story: It does not matter where you live, traffic is crazy. And whether you are in a car or anywhere near one, bad things can and do happen. So watch the road while you cross and avoid hiring an Indica in Calcutta!!

The fingernail marks on the palms of my hand have deepened becoming permanent symbols of our car journeys in Calcutta.

The end. Of my India trip reminiscing. Finally.

Notes: * When I say smart I really unequivocally mean asinine

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

ssNot niCe

I have not been to the gym since Friday (no no don’t groan or despair just yet) and as something of an addict now (ohmigod I have put on 100 kilos just smelling this dinner!) I keep bugging poor V with insane questions (do I look fat TODAY honey?). Poor chap. This is the price to pay when you marry someone who only wants homemade tomato soup made only in her own mother home, by her mother's fair hand. 3500 kms away. NOW.

I’ve been in bed since Saturday, moaning mainly, as a sniffly cold and fever have taken over the reigns. After 3 hideous days in which I alone have kept Kleenex in business, I am back at my desk - exhausted and sore nosed, but back nonetheless.

Falling ill is a rare occurance and I seem to give it my best shot when it come gets me. I felt my brains shift around in the cavernous skull with every loud sneeze. I lost my appetite and any sense of taste accompanied it on its way out – I could not tell a chicken goujon from a kebab if they both appeared under my blocked nostrils on a heated platter. I, the queen of 10 hour-a-day TV viewing, couldn't be bothered to watch anything through my bleary teary eyes. I worshipped the god of 13.5 tog duvets, drank copious amounts of hot lemon and honey water and turned our shower room into my very own personal steam room. None of it helped. I completely lost my mojo. In short I feel like hell. Even though I married Saint Patience (That dinner had NO calories in it. You ALWAYS look thin. Here's another Kleenex. Want another blanket? More soup? Ticket home to your mum?)

I bet when I get back to the gym I shall have lost more than half my body weight in pure snot. MuWaHaHAhAHa (evil laugh). Through my nose and into a Kleenex. Why didn't I think of this simple solution to weight loss before?

If I haven’t lost any I shall be very very cross.

And still very very fat.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Calcutta one

No trip to a parent’s home is ever long enough once you live overseas. And our 10 day trips to India are fraught with tension in the planning as our parents and siblings all live in different cities. I feel a bit like an elastic band pulled in different directions by obligation and love and a crazy combination of both.

In the four and something years since we came to London V and I have celebrated every diwali at our little home. This year we chose to spend it in India inspite of having just bought this home. I think the homesickness of missing festivals finally caught up with us. The images of diya’s, the puja, colourful clothes, firecrackers and most of all smiling families were too strong a pull to resist.

After a quick flying week in Delhi with my folks (of which V came for 2.5 days, after 2.5 days in Mumbai) we flew to Calcutta (no apologies - I’m going to say Calcutta instead of Kolkata) for our last 2.5 days at my in-laws home. Well planned to be able to celebrate diwali with them – for the first time ever for me. And what a wonderful few days it was….

We landed on my brother-in-law R’s birthday. It was all so well planned that he and his wife T had landed from Mumbai that very morning. And then the fun began.

For me Calcutta is the culinary capital of India. There I’ve said it and now I await the gazillion comments from people telling me how their city outshines Calcutta with examples of where I should have been eating etc…. People people, this is a blog and this is only my opinion. You have the right to yours and I have the right to mine.

Before I begin our Calcutta culinary journey I must thank J.A.P for his kind suggestions on where to eat and what to eat. Unfortunately we could not stick to them all as both boys had agenda’s of their own to follow. I hope you approve as much as we enjoyed it.

This is a long standing favourite in V’s family and no trip to Cal is complete for me without it. It’s a funny old place in very central Park Street with two different entrances both of which lead into a strangely imitation Swiss style décor interior. They serve Indian Chinese, Indian Indian and Tandoori food and even on a week day afternoon they were jam packed. We had a super Indian meal with the channa and paneer tikka coming up trumps. (point to note: I can’t think of anything I love more than a well made paneer tikka)
@ 43 Park Street, Calcutta. Tel: 2229-2870

Chinoiserie: To celebrate R’s birthday we went for dinner to this restaurant at the Taj Bengal. I make no bones about it - I love Indian Chinese food and miss it terribly in London (Dalchini is too far for frequent visits). The restaurant claims to be ‘authentic Cantonese and Szechwan cuisine.’ But at the end of the day it’s all to cater to an Indian palette and so whether what we ate is genuine or not nobody knows. They made up dishes as per our request even and without a doubt it was an excellent meal. The service was a bit over attentive for me (I think it’s because I’m used to a really appallingly low level of service in most places in London) but that is what most 5 star places are like and attentiveness is far more charming than rudeness.
@ Taj Bengal, 34B, Belvedere Road, Alipore, Calcutta - 700 027. Tel: 2223-3939

The Atrium Café: After dinner one night we met up with a classmate of V’s from his school days who took us to the Atrium Café at the Park Hotel. Let me start by saying that the Park Hotel is overflowing with people as it has numerous restaurants and two clubs within its walls. It was lovely to see, even in the middle of the night, a vibrant young crowd of people enjoying an evening out. We stuck to the coffee shop and sat around an enormous square table. There was a DJ and we kept sending them requests on little chits of paper. As a result a lot of 80s music was played, maybe too much as after a bit I think people started to leave. V’s friend is an absolute riot. He has the unique capability of making everything sound funny. Not just hehe funny, but belly aching laugh out loud funny. We were laughing so hard that one of us had cold coffee coming out their nose. The Atrium is not particularly lovely and the cold coffee (and I have an opinion on all cold coffee) was not much to write home about. As a setting for a reunion of friends though it was perfect.

Oh Calcutta!: We had a day of dashing around the many malls that have sprung up around Calcutta and to break the day (after a very hectic morning of book buying) in two we decided on lunch at Oh Calcutta! I cannot emphasize this more – IT WAS THE BEST MEAL I HAD IN A RESTAURANT IN CALCUTTA – EVER!! Now, Kewpie was a suggestion but we’ve already ‘been there, done that’ five years ago and it was lovely, but this was convenient in the short time we had and proximity from where we were. The interiors are soft and soothing with beautiful photographs and sketches of Calcutta dotted along it. But it was not the interiors that were anything out of the ordinary. How do I begin to describe this meal without drooling all over my keyboard? We had Kosha Mangsho (which I was assured is a delicacy and it certainly was), dom aloo, a fish fry and numerous other things the names of which escape me (the taste still does not). The thing that completed the meal for me was the world’s lightest luchi’s. This Bengali brother of the north Indian puri is the bread accompaniment to a main meal. These luchi’s were light and round and filled with air and the taste was outstanding. The meal was outstanding and although I imagine people saying that a fancy restaurant cannot possibly provide the authentic thing I beg to differ.

We had an unremarkable meal close to home but it’s not worth mentioning, other than for the company which was remarkable. Our other meals were at home and on Diwali day I cooked two of the main dishes. People seemed pleased with the results and that’s good enough for me. We did the pooja at home and spent time with V’s parents and extended family. It was a short but very full trip and we certainly made the most of every moment.

It’s all over and now all these weeks later I’m sitting here and remembering all this and feeling a tad bit homesick……C’est la vie

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A wedding day

Five years ago this day the day dawned bright and blue skied. In one Kolkata household the Groom got ready, resplendent in his wedding clothes, adorned with a smile. In a home on the other side of Kolkata the Bride was being dressed by her sister and sister-in-law, in clothes and jewels fit for a queen, her heart overjoyed by the thought of this day finally having arrived.

At mid-morning, under an exquisite pandal of bright red tube roses, they were wed. It was a morning of continued celebration as they then signed their names in affirmation of this relationship, witnessed by the smiling faces of their families and friends. An outstanding lunch left every guest wishing they could shed their finery for more comfortable stretchy clothes.

The afternoon gave guests time to recover from all that food and get ready for the evening reception of schmoozing, gift giving and renewed eating that ensued. As with all weddings the official photographer milled around, positioning people strategically, snapping away with pre-conceived ideas on how to compile the best possible album ready to commemorate the day. The Groom and his two brothers stood in front of the still fresh tube rose pandal (in the not so hot, not so cold Kolkata winter air) to have their photograph taken – interlaced with the women in their lives - the Groom gazing at his new bride, the eldest brother with his wife and the youngest brother by his own soon-to-be-bride. A photograph for posterity. A snapshot of smiling content faces.

This morning I took that framed photograph off the shelf and looked at it to help me remember. Remember the day, remember the beautiful clothes, remember the smiles, remember the moments of pure unadulterated happiness. Remember to call that Groom & his Bride to wish them a wonderful fifth anniversary. I was the bride-to-be, now the sister-in-law.

Happy Anniversary R &T!!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Weekend Whirl

Only one thing gives me the will to wake up on a Monday morning and trudge to the gym and then to work - it is the prospect of a weekend in 5 days. I know I know 5 days is awfully long and the work week does drag exhaustingly - usually bringing me to re-think my position on a Tuesday morning. Of all the days in a week I find Tuesday the hardest to get through. I question everything about my life on Tuesdays. But mostly the work week is a constant buzzing reminder of that weekend ahead.

When I worked in India we had a 5.5 day working week. And it was a joke really, as for the 5 week days we worked all the hours god sends and then some. Then on the .5th day we came in hoping to leave by 1pm and catch an afternoon matinee of the latest blockbuster and a leisurely lunch. Of course we never left before 4pm by which time there was just time to grab a slice of Domino's pizza and get ready for an evening out on the town. And that left just sad old Sunday to be the sole day of recovery before the madness began again.

Living in London I treat my weekends as a near religious experience. For the year between last April and this, when I worked only occasionally and volunteered mostly, the whole week was a bit like a boring weekend with no time demands, no rush hour traffic and no V. Now that I am back at a busy day job my 5 day week is mainly focused around what to do this weekend. The weekends are something of a luxury here – two entire days to call our own and do as we wish, mainly. The two months after moving home were a bit different (read manic) and along with any socializing we needed to buy stuff for the house, await a timetable full of deliveries and unpack and organize like at boot camp.

Usually our weekends are gentle and calm in quality and include a heavy dose of sleep. Both of us are deep sleepers and many a Saturday has passed by without us noticing much except a quick meal and the news headlines. However weekend planning is an activity I take seriously. With no immediate family or festivals to devoutly follow, the weekends are our oyster – to craft and mould into time well spent, to balance out the time it takes to de-stress with the need to be entertained, to eat with pleasure & Tabasco or discard as rotten fish. Who shall we meet? Shall we entertain? Shall we be entertained? Shall we go for yet another child’s birthday party? Shall we visit this exhibition? Where shall we eat? What should we watch?

This weekend was no different from the others. We entertained on Friday evening; making friends with our new neighbours because neighbours are important in this lonely world (my mother will be so proud). It was a relaxed evening of talking family histories and swapping stories of life. NICE nice NICE nice NICE (you gotta sing that otherwise it just looks like repetition for no good reason)

On Saturday evening we met up with a bunch of friends to bid one couple, M&A, a fond farewell as they prepare to relocate to Zurich. We met up at the Brew Wharf, which is tucked away off a little unobtrusive entrance by the side of Borough Market (Tube station: London Bridge; Tube line: Jubilee Line). Once inside the magnificent proportions of this microbrewery and restaurant stake their claim. Built under three huge railway arches this is an impressive space with along list of beers to match. Each arch houses its own specific task; thefirst of these is the bar area with some scattered seating. This leads into the second area with its big open plan kitchen and some long tables and benches. The next arch leads into what is called the Brew Hall and is essentially the main dining area. We sat under the second arch, at a big solid wood table quite close to the kitchen. The arches provide for great acoustics and the music was excellent. And while the guys enjoyed a variety of beers when the time came to order we found ourselves assigned to a rather smirky, irritated waitress. Of course part of our order got taken down wrong but over all the food was excellent. I had fish and chips, where the fish was haddock in a very light beer batter, the chips were in fact 3 halved potato wedges and the tartar sauce was a treat in itself. V had a pair of delicious fishcakes, each of which was lightly spiced and of a consistency very unlike the processed supermarket fishcakes. The space and the food more than made up for the service which got better as the evening progressed. So much so that by the time we finished our meal the waitress was smiling and asking how our meals were. Cynical me wonders if it had anything to do with the time to include a tip with our payment. At around £20 per head I will definitely go back because as an exciting ambiance and meal the Brew Wharf came out tops.

To top the night out we caught the tube one stop west and hopped off at Southwark station (Tube Line: Jubilee). In 5 short strides we entered the very swanky Baltic. The Baltic is the second in the mini-chain of Vodka Bars and restaurants and is every bit as swanky as the reviews describe it. A long long bar extends from the entrance, adorning one half of a white and muted light corridor till the actual restaurant space. And what a space it is! It must have been our night for magnificent spaces because the cavernous restaurant took my breath away. Large and airy, with great big beams holding up a vaulted glass ceiling, the space shimmered over the candlelit tables and amber(?) chandelier. And although we didn’t sit in any of the little alcoves and sip vodka, I walked rather slowly to and from the restrooms just to gape at the space and imbibe some of its ambience. We sat near the bar, around a small metal table appropriately lined with alcohol: 2 different types of Vodka’s (of a list of 35 would you believe), 2 different whisky’s (one of which was called the Monkey’s Shoulder much to my amusement) and 1 still water (that was for boring ol’ me). I read the compact bar menu and then the main menu with some delight. Baltic offers an eclectic menu of Eastern European food, from Uzbekistan to Poland, Moldavia to Siberia. The bar staff were a bit unhelpful and non-smiling but once again ambience wins and I shall certainly return to try out some of the food. By the time we ambled home it was past midnight and the only way to calm myself down was by watching ‘Criminal Intent’ on Hallmark (which is fast becoming my favorite cable channel for showing constant CSI type serials).

I had planned to go and look at an exhibition at mid-day but discovered in time that the space was shut on Sundays. So I called and cancelled that appointment to meet friends and instead enjoyed a late-ish brunch with V at our steady favourite, Tootsies. Then V went off to sit at his laptop and simultaneously work and watch reruns of the Natwest win instead of the washed out match. I traipsed across town to attend the 1st birthday of young Z where I was repeatedly asked if I had a ‘little one’. The first time my reflex was ‘little what?’. But then I got used to it. As I had to continuously reply in the negative and endure stares of disbelief that I would be invited let alone bother to show up, I indulged in some brilliant Tallegio with cream crackers. I got home exhausted from watching a roomful of youth and innocence run around screaming and eating and talking and singing. Seeing as I regularly get invited to kids birthday parties I’m coming around to the view that I must have the patience of a saint. Or the thick skin of a Rhinoceros.

It’s Monday again and in 5 days the weekend begins all over again. Hmmm. What shall we do this time?

Brew Wharf: Brew Wharf Yard, Stoney Street, London SE1 9AD
Baltic Bar & Retsaurant: 74 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA

Thursday, November 16, 2006

All I think about is food

Food is a big part of my life and an even bigger part of holidays in India. While I live in London I spend an unholy amount of time thinking of what is being eaten at home and what are the new places to eat out when I am next in India. Food is a big part of my life and an even bigger part of holidays in India. As soon as a holiday is confirmed I begin to rifle through the rolodex in my brain and create a mental post-it note with two main columns: what shall I eat at home and where shall we go out to eat. And in the run up to the holiday I spend all my time thinking about the meals to be eaten, conjuring up images of magnificent plates of food. This is why I am fat.

Last time I was in India I never ate at home. I was rarely up in time to have anything more meaningful than toast as my breakfast. I intensely disliked the cooking of my parents cook who made the same pyaaz-tamatar gravy for everything. His main cooking path every morning was the same. He would make ‘oil with some onion tomato’ base and then proceeded to dump whatever vegetable had been requested of him to make. So I ate lunch out and I ate dinner out.

This time was a bit different. Said cook is no longer in my parents employ for a variety of reasons (one of them being the food floating in oil). And although we ate out a fair amount I ended up eating some very tasty meals at home. My nani is a fantastic chef, and all her food is cooked with a healthy combination of painstaking effort, love and wizardry. My favourite bit was the divine stuffed Karela’s, all wrapped up in string. And my mum made me her heavenly kofta curry twice (yes TWICE) in the span of 6 days. So meals eaten at home were few but delightful, each one of them.

As for eating out where shall I begin? Possibly the most efficient method is to list down where I ate and what it was like.

Flavours: Moolchand Flyover Complex, Defence Colony, New Delhi
Flavours opened when I was in High school (yes I’m that old!). It was a small, higgledy-piggledy hole-in-the-wall place more than a restaurant in the true sense. It was run by an Italian guy who often did the cooking all by himself. He walked around the little tables-that-wouldn’t-balance and talked to us politely. It was my first experience of how schmoozing worked – if we liked it we would recommend it to our friends at school, parents and so on. I rarely had any money and a lunch at Flavours was both affordable and a treat all rolled in one. It served steaming hot generous portions of authentic Italian fare long before we could afford the likes of La Piazza (@the Hyat). The schmoozing worked and the fabulous lasagna soon became a favorite of my father.

This time, after my morning of silver shopping with my best friend, we decided on having lunch at Flavour, to reminisce and eat some wholesome Italian food. My parents joined us and I could tell that my father had been dreaming of nothing but that mean lasagna.

What a disappointment! Flavours has expanded into a full fledged restaurant, taking in the space next to its original tiny home. No sign of Italian man, just lots of thin women running around like headless chickens. It has ugly wrought iron furniture and a cold cold ambiance. The menu is almost as long as before but reads quite badly. And the food was disappointing in everyway – bland, luke warm small portions and terribly rude service to match. The false ceiling had huge damp patches and the only redeeming feature was the fact that the air-conditioning worked. It was not redeeming enough. The four of us talked and laughed through lunch so on that count it was a success. But Flavours is anything but flavoursome now and I do not think I will be going back.

And since they no longer make lasagna my dad certainly won’t be going back!

Wengers: A-16, Inner circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi - 110001
My earliest memories of Wengers involve my father giving the Nik and I a lecture on its status as a near sacred institution and how we were never to go past Connaught Place without bringing him back a chicken patty. In my younger days we’d buy our patty or kebab and go around the corner to Keventers, another institution since well before I was the apple of my fathers eye, and eat our Wengers treasure with a cold coffee or chocolate milk from a big glass bottle. Down the years my family and I have bought enough chicken patties and shami kebabs to have single handedly paid for their renovation to a slicker new look Wengers. A few years ago they underwent a makeover and have made their limited space look slicker and more efficient. They did keep to their original space though and have not done what the greedier would do by expanding. They still have two counters, opposite one another, the one on the left has savouries (our beloved chicken patties, shammi kebabs and my new found love, paneer roll) and the one on the right has bakery items (my mum is partial to the English donut). You point out what you want and one of the guys behind the counter types it into a machine and gives you a slip. You then go to the payment counter, pay and collect a paid slip, come back to the original counter and collect your stuff. And no matter how many people throng the place they follow a particular pace and yes, stuff does run out if you go in too late in the evening - so go early.

This time my parents, the Nik, his girl and I were careening around Delhi looking for a car showroom. Having been unable to find anything that suited the purpose we decided our time would be better spent at Wengers so we rocked up to it on a sweltering Delhi afternoon. Armed with enough patties and shammi kebabs to feed a small army we went around the corner, downed our Keventer’s cold coffee and took home the patties for tea time. Through all its transformations Wengers has maintained its great oldie-worldly feel and continues to produce world class patties that would put any other to shame. There is nothing quite like it anywhere and it always makes my trip to Delhi special. My father is so right on this one.

Golden Dragon: C-Block Marekt, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
I love Indian Chinese food. Most people just don’t get it, why would we want to eat chilli chicken, paneer schezuan, hakka noodles and hot & sour soup? For me it is the ultimate fusion food – Chinese, with their noodles and semi-glutinous sauces, and Indian spices. Golden Dragon has been home to excellent Chinese food for the longest time and V & I have eaten there innumerable times. Originally we went for proximity, subsequently we went for the fantastic array of dishes they produce and serve in a cosy space. This time a whole large platoon of people went along and we ordered enough food to feed a small country. My nani had the best time of all – enjoying the king prawns and crab to her hearts content. Chinese food fills you up really fast and we ended up packing our leftovers (duly consumed the next day) and groaning our way home. For the laughter, ambiance and food, this one always gets a thumbs up!

Café Coffee Day: All over the place
I would normally not mention a chain of coffee shops that is springing up like Starbucks in every corner of the city. Mainly because I am not a big fan of Starbucks or its so-called Fairtrade image but that is the content of a whole other post. After our very heavy Chinese dinner we decided to wash down the food with a break in our local Café Coffee Day. So sofa’s and great big glasses of cold coffee were ordered. Some pigged out on big chocolate desserts. Others just sipped their coffees. Everyone talked. At. The. Same. Time. And yet everyone could follow all the converstions. It’s an Art. CCD, as the wise Nik calls it, made for the perfect end to a wonderful family evening.

Angeethi Bar-B-Que: Asiad Games Village, Siri Fort Road, New Delhi. Tel: +91 11 6493 995
Situated in the Asiad Games/ Sir Fort complex this is a newer addition to the slew of restaurants that populate this compact. Angeethi is the Tandoori arm of the Indian restaurant (which has changed name numerous times so don’t ask) and is housed in a little circular building with the Tandoor outside. We spent an evening there with my whole family and some old friends of V’s and mine. The food was standard tandoori fare, and once again we went home full and satisfied.

1911: The Imperial, Janpath, New Delhi – 110001. Ph: +91 11 2334 1234
I’m a serious club sandwich and cold coffee person. Allow me to explain. When I’m in India my own special joy and delight is going to a five star coffee shop to indulge in this combination. I judge every hotel by the quality of the coffee shop fare. And this trip was to be no different. Built to fit Lutyens scheme of Central Delhi in 1936 this Raj styled hotel fell upon bad times. After undergoing an extensive renovation a few years ago this once tired signet of a hotel transformed into a breath-takingly beautiful swan. Now it is an enchanting hotel from the first step into the marble foyer to the numerous themed restaurants. Its colonial bearings are brought to the forefront with attention to detail and wonderful artwork and photographs. We had a late lunch on the verandah of the 1911 coffee shop, which overlooks a well manicured lawn - a refreshing oasis in concrete Delhi. The club sandwich was just above average but the cold coffee was superlative. It was a long and leisurely afternoon as a friend of mine joined us and we yacked for India, about everything – from our good old college days to the very present world we live in. Basically, lots of gossip. I love the Imperial more each time I visit it.

We ate at a whole lot more places but these stood out in my estimation. I came away well fed and delighted by my forays into Delhi’s gastronomic delights. I was in for more on the next leg of my journey. Wait for it.

Tamatar: Tomato
Nani: Maternal grandmother
Karela: Indian bitter gourd

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Delhi one

When asked where I am from I usually describe myself as a Delhi-ite. I spent the better part of my growing up years in Delhi. School and then later on a few years of work and an MBA. I missed out on the whole college scene though, no U-special for me. And at some level I regret that.

But this post is not about regrets. It is about joy. That is the joy I feel every time I land at Indira Gandhi International. I try and elongate my neck and lean across the people sitting in the window and middle seats just to catch that first glimpse of a brightly lit city by night. And there is a tear in my eye. Although this time (and almost every time seeing as I have such as rubbish record with good flights) I suspect the tear was partly from relief of escaping all the crazed passengers with me.

The sight of my beaming parents’ faces and tight hugs reminds me how much I miss them and how far apart we now live. And I am so glad to be in Delhi.

I had only seven days in Delhi so I had to make the most of every minute.

So instead of boring you with the details I’ve made a list of highlights:

1. First things first. Food is always my focus when I am in India and I wanted to make sure that I could eat out wherever whenever and not fall ill. So the first order of the day was to buy mineral water. Lots of advice from people about which Mineral water to buy and finally it came down to Himalaya and Evian. Sorted.

2. Our family is a bit like a pod and it was a bit of a grand reunion for all us peas. We all arrived on different flights at different times but by the end of it we had my dad back from his travels, the Nik from Chennai and V & I from London. The additional bonus was seeing my utterly elegant grandmother who is staying with my parents for the moment. And of course there was my ever patient mother mothering her family till at least I felt wrapped up in a precious shawl.

3. I did the smart and very Indian thing and carried samples of my cushion covers. I spent an inordinate amount of time in Fabindia buying upholstery material (very grown up!) and then thanks to my mum’s skill of organizing stuff I gave all 30 meters of cloth to the ‘masterji’ who proceeded to churn out 14 very large cushion covers in record time. Now that I am back the new covers are one and it all looks very nice thank you!

4. I spent a lovely morning with my best buddy from school. We sat on the floor of a silver shop and bought our weight in jewelry. I don’t see nearly enough of her and it was a wonderful morning, talking about this that nothing something life death.

5. Two things with Nik deserve mention in the same point. One, I finally got to meet the girlfriend. And she is lovely. Second, we had a mad afternoon careening around Delhi looking for a car showroom. We were trying to convince my parents that their car needed an upgrade and so the plan was to visit a few showrooms and look at some options. We drove all the way to Connaught Place stopping at Green Park and various other places we thought there might be showrooms. As it turned out we found none. They have all relocated from the houses converted to showrooms that populated the outskirts of colonies. We ended up eating chicken patties and shami kebabs at Wengers and drinking cold coffee at Keventers. So it was certainly not an afternoon wasted. And ironically we did find car showrooms in the most unexpected quarter – just down the road from our house - so we need not have traveled that whole distance. It was a lovely afternoon though, loads of talking at the same time. And even after all these years Wengers rocks!!

6. One of my classmates from college (let’s call him Rabbit) got engaged while I was in town. He is the last of us lot to be getting hitched. Not unusual as he has always been late for everything as far back as I can remember – late for class, late for meals, late for movies, late for life. And his is not the rushing-around-in-mad-panic kind of late. It’s the Oh-life-is-too-damn-hectic/laid-back/short/long-to-be-rushing-around kind of late. And despite having missed whole days in life (lost to sleep) Rabbit is one of the nicest people I know. His niceness makes up for his lateness. And I don’t say that lightly or just for anyone (I intensely dislike unpunctual people). Anyway, his engagement was great fun. All my classmates were joking with the bride-to-be about how long it must have taken her to snag him, and how did she ever manage to get him to come to the engagement on time. It was a fun fun fun evening – and everyone came to the conclusion that even 10 years after we left college it all seems like just yesterday that we were all living in each others pockets. We also found everything utterly amusing and by the time we went home both my jaw and stomach were aching from all that laughter.

7. Now that I no longer live in Delhi everyone treats me a bit like a firangi (foreigner). Don’t eat this. Don’t drink that. Don’t go there. Sit in air-conditioning lest you melt. Well I have the constitution of iron woman and ate everything I could. Food wise my only concession was the water. I traveled in an auto (only the once and much against everyone’s wishes) and reached home alive and on a direct route. Come on people I’m not going to lose the way – I have lived here like forever.

8. Delhi, Lutyens bit, is beautiful. Tree-lined wide avenues and pavements. India gate. Rashtrapati bhavan. Flanking either end of a long stretch. And no matter how many times I see it I am amazed by the network of flyovers. The AIIMS one is just a piece of art. And Connaught place is ultra organized, much easier to walk, park and generally looking cleaner and neater than I can ever remember it being. The metro seems to be functioning to everyones advantage. I had no chance to get on it – I’ve promised myself that next time I shall. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love Delhi.

9. The weather was just genius. Bright sunshine and hot days. The only firangi thing about me is that I now actively seek the sunshine. Where earlier I would have loved to sit in air-conditioned comfort this time I enjoyed the sun. And then the night before I left it rained and I woke up to one of my favourite smells in the world – geeli mitti ki khushboo (the smell of wet earth). It was the perfect end to a perfectly formed holiday.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Friday, October 27, 2006

M3 is for Madonna's Malawian madness

Forgive the language. I am so pissed off by this whole Madonna adoption vs Media row. I have many points, and some of them will probably conflict with yours but for a change I shall not be politically correct, mild or calm.

1. There is the argument that Malawi is poor and in Madonna’s words “I witnessed conditions in Malawi that were the equivalent of a "state of emergency. I think if everybody went there, they'd want to bring one of those children home with them and give them a better life.” I applaud her for sponsoring eight orphanages’ even though it probably does not even cause a dent in her millions. I applaud her for thinking that these children in the poorest of the poor places need help. I applaud her for bringing the plight of the forgotten to the forefront. For using her fame to make people sit up and notice what is happening in the deprived nations. At least her heart is in the right place and however small a percentage that is in a devastated country like Malawi, if even one child is healthier or happier her contribution will have been worth it. However by adopting a child from there she has turned herself into an accessorizing superstar. Does she not know how much media she attracts or is this the prelude to another music release? More than good intention this smacks of “Oooh, look at me I am so talented AND so good.” Balderdash I say.

2. If she was so concerned about the ‘children of Malawi’ why not give the cost of adopting this one child in legal fees and bringing him up in England (where he shall no doubt go to private school and own a pony) toward making a whole host of children happy. Why not put her money where it’s most needed, sponsor 15 orphanages instead of 8? Surely nutritious food, basic education and efficient healthcare for as many children as possible are better, nobler deeds.

3. Her basic premise is incorrect. David Banda is not an orphan. His mother died in childbirth and his father put him in the ‘orphanage’ so that he could work. To earn a living, to eat a square meal each day. One report said that the child had not been visited in over a year. As if this magically makes it right for the child to be considered an orphan. Did it occur to whoever said this that the father might be working, trying to save up some money or trying to get to a better place where he can provide for his child. And that instead of leaving him alone in a dangerous situation the father chose to put him in a safer environment. And no matter how bad the situation or how infrequent the visits it remains that the young boy has a blood bond with his father and that is above all else. How often is David Banda going to see his birth father now?

4. The media skews everything to suits its own needs of attracting an audience. It’s all sound bites for viewership, readership. All without context and although this was how it was reported I doubt this is an accurate account. First David Banda’s father Yohane comes out saying that he did not understand that his son would be taken away forever, only that he would be clothed, fed and educated with Madonna’s money. Then he says that he could never ask for his son back and deprive him of the luxuries in life that she is able to afford. Then Madonna says she “looked him in the eye” and that he completely understood what was going on. I don’t believe anyone. And this side controversy could have been averted had she chosen a real orphan, a child whom no one would claim their own, ever.

5. The Malawian Government is no better bending rules which state that adoptive parents need to live in the country for 18 months. And Madonna claiming she has “kept to the law”. Was it her doppelganger angering the Vatican by recreating the crucifixion while on world tour just a few months ago while she and Guy slummed it in a tent in Malawi? I highly doubt it.

6. Are there no orphans in the UK or America? Every day I watch ads on TV here in London asking people to foster and adopt children within the many boroughs. As she lives here and apparently wanted to adopt a child why couldn’t she have done so here (country of her husband Guy) or in America (her own country). Are these children not needy enough or is it that the media frenzy is greater with an African child? Children are not accessories and I fear no matter how noble the intention, by doing this she has created an ill required storm.

Do not get me wrong. I am a big Madonna fan – her music was my music all my growing up years. I do not for a moment begrudge her well earned fame or wealth. I just worry that by looking abroad and doing something as foolish as bending the law, adopting not quite an orphan and going all the way to another country to adopt when the needy are at our own doorstep, she has made herself look foolish, inconsiderate and flaunting of her wealth in an unattractive and uncharitable way.

I wonder how much longer I can separate her music from her deeds.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The flight one

They do it to fool you into complacency. Check-in is 15 steps away from security check and there is no customs and immigration after, just the bright glow of duty free beckoning the credit card. I buy Cognac for the father, whisky for the f-i-l and some chocolates for everyone else to fight over. And then I look at the boarding card. Of course I should have guessed. The Indian flight is from gate 206787387, which the board kindly suggests I allow a 10-15 minute walk for. Of course it’s only a 15 minute walk for the sprinters of the Chicago marathon. For the rest of the normal ambling public, laden with duty free goodies, it is a half hour walk - an aerobic and resistance workout, all in one. Good thing I did not go to the gym early this morning.

Even on a weekday morning the flight was full as could be. There was a heaving crowd near the departure gate. I was pleased to note that there was just one little boy sitting quietly by his mum. I mentally relaxed – after all what was the probability that they would be sitting next to me. And even if they were close by he was only just ONE little boy - far lower lung power than the last time I went to India and had lots of sticky children running up and down the aisles.

I was so wrong - on every count.

I do not know why I bother playing with probabilities. I am doomed by Murphy’s Law curse. I was in an aisle and the mother and son were in the aisle and adjacent seat of the centre back. Take off was quiet. And then it began. For two continuous hours there was an ever increasing decibel chant. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I want my G I Joe. I WANT MY G I JOE. He did have the lung power of 20 children. His screams pierced the sound barrier, went around the world and came back to us. I swear - it went on for two hours with the sobbing soon giving way to hysteria soon half having a fit. And all the while his mother sat quietly and ignored him. She must have stolen ear plugs from Virgin Atlantic - bl**dy BA saves on money and doesn't give you any. I sat across the aisle with the headphones on trying unsuccessfully to block out the noise, wishing I would magically go deaf. I guess other passengers were reeling under the noise barrage as well because at the 2 hour 1 minute mark the woman in front of the loud child got up and pretty much yelled at the mother, “For god sake, give your child his damn G I Jow before we all go deaf”. A bit shocked by this outburst the mother got up, reached into a rug sack in the overhead locker and pulled out a small G I Joe. Instant silence. All this ruckus was for the worlds smallest toy – no bigger than a child’s palm. Unbelievable. Had it been any bigger I would have snatched it from the little boy’s hands and beaten the woman over the head with it.

The rest of the flight was standard. Watched ‘The Devil wears Prada’ and ‘The Break-up’. Neither was memorable but the quality of Meryl Streep’s acting versus Jenifer Aniston’s was like pitting a bull versus an ant. Picked at the standard lunch of cardboard, drank copious amounts of orange and tomato juice, completely ignored the cold cardboard snack distributed before landing, chatted with an old New Zealand-er couple of Netherlands origin and generally dagger eyed the incompetent mother across the aisle.

I was so glad to land at Delhi.

Friday, October 20, 2006

On holiday

I'm in India, holidaying and holidaying.

I'm having too much fun to write. Just yet.

Also the internet connection is simply appalling.

Next week I shall be be back, with stories and stories.

Have a lovely Diwali celebration (if that is indeed your thing) wherever you are.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bring on the moon

As far back as my memory goes my mother has celebrated karva chauth at her cousin’s home in Delhi, with her cousin sister in-law (my maiji) leading the ceremonies and being the guide to all the traditions and stories surrounding it.

As a child the ceremonies of karva chauth held no great appeal except that it was the one day that all the cousins got together and spent all evening looking for the moon while their mothers piously prayed for their marriages to be long and happy. Sometimes, on especially cloudy evenings, the fathers would bundle us all into the great big ambassador cars and drive us to India gate where the clear maidan would be the most likely place to spot the moon. A treat of ice cream from the thelawala was our prize. In a good year we even got a balloon each.

Childhood turned into young-girl-hood and I began to take a greater interest in the lore and mechanics of the festival. I remember sitting in the room listening to my maiji reciting the paath and leading all the young women (cousins, nieces, friends – newlyweds joining in each year) through the ceremony. This is what I remember.

Originally, in ancient times, the celebration of karva chauth was started as a day on which women got a rest from cooking and cleaning. A day of well deserved rest. With time the day got a religious bend to it and it became a day that married women fasted to ensure the long and prosperous life of their husbands. It is celebrated all over north India, predominantly in Uttar Pradesh (where my mum is from), Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. All these states have their own version of the tale of karva chauth and the prayers said in each state are all variations of one another. This is the story (the paath) as told in Uttar Pradesh – my interpretation and definitely an abridged version. It also sounds much nicer in Hindi.

“A woman’s husband takes ill and dies because she has not prayed for his health or prosperity and greedily not fasted or prayed. She repents and takes her husbands body under a tree and sits and does tapasya [prayer through penance]. One by one 6 witches come and to each one she asks to exchange karva's (terracotta/ clay pot with a spout and little lid) with her to complete her penance and bring her husband back to life. Each of the 6 witches denies and goes away. However, the 7th witch is impressed with the woman’s penance and patience and exchanges karva's with her, bringing her husband back to life and ensuring success and hapiness for many years to come. “

Traditionally women wake before dawn to eat and drink something. Then they keep a vrath (fast) all day, taking nothing either to eat or drink from sunrise onwards. This fast is called 'nirjal' or 'without water'. This is far harder than it sounds as being hungry is one thing but being thirsty is quite another. In the evening, after sunset, a pooja is done. A figurine of atta [kneaded flour/ dough] called 'gaur' is made and prayed to. The gaur is meant to be the embodiment of all the female incarnations of god. Women will dress in pink or red; wedding finery is usually aired this day with heavy sarees and jewelry being donned. Prayers are usually given with sisters-in-law, mothers etc, just after sunset. Each woman has her own karva [and one karva is kept for the gaur]. Each karva is filled with water and over the top lid 7 poori's, a pua and some money are kept. The paath is recited. Then once the moon is sighted, each woman takes her karva to where she can see the moon. She must look at the moon, pray for the longevity, good health and prosperity of her husband and pour some of the water from the karva - this is to be repeated 7 times by each woman. Then all the women come back to the pooja and passing the karva to another woman, one says 'pua passun?' [should i eat this pua?] and the woman replies 'passon' ['eat'] - the pua is broken into 7 bits and each time the woman eats one bit. Two women must do this for each other 7 times - usually you just touch karva's with the other woman, not actually exchange them.

I still remember my first karva chauth as if it were yesterday. I had none of the paraphanalia; no karva, no gaur, no pooris or puaas. But with a long email from my mum I quickly adapted. Got the poori’s from a restaurant, a glass and small lid to be my karva and a small bar of chocolate to be my puaas. I made a small gaur with atta and did the pooja quietly at home, dressed in what little Indian finery I had had carried from India to London. It was an especially cloudy night and whilst I stayed home, V went off walk around the Sainsbury parking lot to check on the whereabouts of the moon. Funnily enough he was not the only one there as there were other desi guys (his classmates) also duly dispatched!

Now I have got better and better at it. More organized, getting my karva from India, making the poori’s and puaas at home. It has been said that the modern women needs to move on with the times and one unbelieving friend laughs every time she hears I keep a fast for karva chauth. I disagree as I believe that a balance between the modern and traditional is possible to achieve. It is a festival that in some way comforts me. I like to think of it as an Indian anniversary, a celebration for married women to rejoice in their married-ness.

Tomorrow is my fifth karva chauth. May the moon rise from behind the clouds before I faint.

maidan: open space/ park, such as the famous Kolkata maidan
thelawala: Man with cart selling stuff – in this case ice cream
maiji: Maternal aunt (mother’s brothers {or cousin} wife)
vrath: fast
pooja: prayer/ worship
karva: small terracotta/ clay pot with a spout and little lid
poori: A light unleavened bread that is deep fried in oil. Simply scrumptious!
puaas: A baby Indian pancake steeped in sugar water. Sweet, sweet sweet.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Losers club Or DIY hell - take your pick

Once upon a time, nearly every Friday evening, 31 and V used to come home from a hard days work, get changed, maybe have a drink and then head out with friends for drinks, dinner, a movie, dancing. They would come home past midnight, possibly with friends in tow, and watch re-runs of re-runs of old movies, singing along while sipping cognac. They would then sleep till past noon on Saturday in preparation for another night out. Those wonderful wonderful times. They were called 'our twenties'.

I’m in the mood for reminiscing about the good old days. Humour me.

You know things have changed when you spend Friday evenings at B&Q. Ever since we moved to our own place (8 weeks ago this past Friday) we have been spending an inordinate amount of time in B&Q. For the uninitiated B&Q is one of the UK’s ‘largest home improvement and garden retail centre’s’. In other words it’s the warehouse from hell for people who have nothing better to do that strip their houses and re-do them time and time and again.

This country is very caught up with DIY. To the uninformed that is ‘Do It Yourself’. I should have been worried when I saw the many TV programmes that constantly show the ‘new’ trends in home design and then force you to go and redecorate your existance. There are whole channels dedicated to makeover shows – ones where noisy, boisterous and usually overbearing presenters/ designers go into people’s houses and re-do rooms in their ‘distinctive’ (often hideous) style. There is many a programme where the house owners have begun some project of self improvement such as stripping out their bathroom and then never got back to putting it together again. And then when their children are in danger of slipping through the gaping hole in the floor they resort to calling home shows and begging for help. The designer and handymen come and film the whole re-design and at the end of such shows the owner has no choice but to smile beatifically and be groveling, breathless and thankful, all simultaneously, that their children can now walk along the bathroom floor without landing directly at the kitchen table (or rather on it) without the need for stairs. I recall one particularly popular show that finished its run on BBC after 8 continuous highly rated seasons. In this show neighbours/ friends exchanged keys and then worked with designers to redesign just one room in each other houses. When I say worked with, I mean that in the loosest sense, as usually the designer had their own unchangeable plans that they barked at the friends. At the end the rooms is revealed to the owner of said room. I have to admit that in many cases the rooms turned out well - completely incongruous with the rest of the house, but well in isolation. In other cases they were unmitigated disasters, with sand beaches on floors not being the desired living room effect they were hoping to come home to. What was that designer ON?! Or like once when a ceiling suspended show rack for a prized plate collection fell to the floor shattering a lifetime’s collection into a million shards. Or like when someone expressly mentioned that they hated black and the designer completely ignored that and created a black and gold bedroom. Sexy, you say? Needless to say one of them burst into tears and vowed to strip out the room because “I HATE IT”. I bet you some friendships have been ruined over that re-decoration craziness.

I digress. So anyway, one Friday evening a few weeks ago, I was in bl*st*d B&Q (thanks to this)traipsing the aisles looking for light fittings to replace the UFO’s that previously lived in the ceiling. 540 choices of lighting and endless sad-o’s like me, with trolleys and stacks of DIY equipment. After about 15 minutes of utter wonderment at the sheer range of choice and the ugliness to choose from it was determined that help was needed in tracking down simple spotlights. Along with other confused parties wandering the lighting aisles, a ‘customer service assistant’ was chased and pinned to a wall. Needless to say I got some answers about wattage and other sundry lighting jargon. I left with 26 spotlights and many more bulbs. And god said, “Let there be light.”

Another Friday evening was spent searching for a simple, straight line towel rack. ‘Ultimate’ and ‘towel rack’ are not words you would think would go together. B&Q begs to differ as there were 12 different choices, each uglier than the other, and the one on special offer was marked ‘Ultimate towel rack’. I kid you not. I chose the least of the ugly brothers, bought two and beat a hasty retreat. I wonder if there are frequent buyer miles in these places?

Another Friday evening was spent deciding on paint colour. But that’s a story for another post. Wait for it.

I am not a student of the School of DIY – so I was merely buying materials for a jack of all trades to affix for me. I’m still lazy and mainly incapable of doing any home improvement things - a legacy of having affordable labour to do these things in India. I’m great at shopping for the materials but someone else will have to do the work. I wonder if there is a frequent buyer miles programme at B&Q?

I want my Friday evenings back please.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

If only laughing made me thinner!

Week five

I’m still the exact same weight as when I started. Not one ounce less. But four completed weeks on, I am still motivated enough to get up at 5.30am and move my behind to the Gym. Early morning is the best time for people watching and the cardio machine floor is the perfect vantage point to do this from.

Two desi guys are regulars at the Gym during the unearthly hour that I am mutilating the machines. Their swagger and general demeanor suggests that they think of themselves as dudes (in a cool way) – I think of them more as duds than dudes and for the purposes of this post I shall refer to them as Desi Dud (DD) and Bug Eyed Boy (BEB).

Desi Dud is short (by the standard of men and even short old me) and apparently prides himself on wearing nothing unbranded. His single minded motto: If you market it loudly enough I shall wear it. Reebok shorts, Nike T-shirt, K-Swiss Trainers, Puma socks, NBA headband & wristbands, Timberland cap, I-pod strapped onto his arm – on any given day you can see him in at least 6 branded things, swaggering around the gym like a walking billboard for a sports store. He does not seem to do very much except walk around, pause in front of different weight/ resistance machines, take of his cap to unattractively tousle his hair, attempt a set, give up, wipe his brow and move on to the next one. From where I walk the treadmill I can see him looking confused and slightly irritated, as if the sweat and machines are conspiring to ruin his carefully put together outfit.

Bug Eyed Boy is tall, lanky and naturally, bug-eyed. He wears sleeveless vest-like Ts to highlight the hideous tattoo of a skull and dragons that adorn his very thin left arm. His right arm is permanently attached to a water bottle from which he noisily slurps water. He walks for about five minutes on a treadmill and then stops to hang off the machine and pant as if he has just completed a marathon. He then slurps some more water and goes off to have a wander. Comes back in a bit and walks another five minutes. By the end of this ‘extremely’ strenuous workout BEB has become almost cartoon like in dimension, eyes popping out of his skull in a yo-yo like manner. Then he gives up and disappears out of view. Probably to re-adjust his eyes back in their sockets.

Oh, and his mother must be so proud of that Tattoo.

Week six

I am still the same weight as when I started. It has taken 5 weeks to get myself booked into an induction with someone from the fitness desk. For all I know everything I’ve been doing from week one to five is completely incorrect. This would explain why I have not lost one fluid ounce of weight.

Fitness Aunty (FA) is all muscle. She probably works out about 6 hours a day seeing as the other part of her job is quite boring - as standing behind a desk and looking like you are filling in forms can be. She clarified that I wanted to lose weight (Duh!) and then proceeded to give me a long lecture about food groups, carbohydrates and low GI diets. All in a very s-l-o-w monotone. Like, if I’m fat I must also be deaf.

FA then proceeded to lecture me on the ‘merits’ of working out while taking me on a tour of all the machines I have been using for five weeks. Hello, is this is why I pay an exorbitant amount each month – to be told what I already know? That too five weeks late.

Then we reached the dreaded elliptical cross trainer 95xi she makes me train for 10 straight minutes to ‘warm up’. This is just what I needed, to be trapped on a machine while being talked at by FA. She continues in her monotonous vein, all about how its not how much weight you lose but how much muscle you gain. She told me not to be disheartened by not having lost any weight yet. “All your fat is turning into muscle”, she simpers. This makes me more healthy. So instead of rolls of fat I shall now be the proud owner of rolls of muscle. Surely there is something wrong with this statement. I give up. And instead concentrate on the TV screen in front of me which is showing a beleaguered Tony Blair smiling and waving at some poor hapless crowds. Imagine. Even this is preferable. Soon this will be over and I can go home.

After demonstrating the use of various machine and some floor exercises FA tells me to come back in 6 weeks and to use a tape measure as a guide to how effecitve the gym is, not weighing scales. It completely goes over her head when I say I want to weigh less, not turn into muscle woman. Declaring that our time is over she shows me where my card (another perk of expensive gym is a drawer with alphabetized cards) with my routine written up. As I’ve already been doing this routine for five weeks, I wonder if this is for her benefit?

Saw BEB wiping his sweaty arms after just 5 minutes on the treadmill. Bug eyes popping out and victorious smile on his face (5 minutes is akin to climbing Everest for this charlie) he was dabbing his tattoo lovingly before striding off to refill his water bottle. A sight to make sore eyes.

Week seven

In the lift up to the Gym on Monday morning I was struggling to banish sleep from my eyes. DD and some Girl get into the lift right behind me. Ever the brand master, DD is carrying the world’s largest sports bag, emblazoned with Slazenger on every side. DD proceeds to ask Girl why he never saw her at the party organized by the gym. I can see Girl thinking (something like a cartoon balloon of thoughts), “because I have a life”. But she politely answers that she had another commitment. DD continues to press upon her how he flew back from a busy schedule in Tokyo to be there and it was a wonderful evening. In one fell swoop DD has attempted to tell her that he is busy, flying across the globe to the other side of the world and how cool he is for attending this party. We reach our floor and I can almost hear Girl exhale a sigh of relief. As she attempts to get out of his way he tells her she must come to the next Gym party as it was a ‘hoot’, amongst other adjectives. Girl smiles, weakly says “Yeah, cool” and disappears into the locker area. I bet you she turned around and left the gym without working out that day, just pausing to make sure she escaped unnoticed.

Tomorrow brings week seven to an end and I suspect that I have still not lost any weight. As the nights get longer and mornings get chillier it is harder to persuade myself to get out of bed. The hilarious characters that populate the Gym in the morning make it just a little easier and a lot funnier.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Everyone is learning from their mistakes

Wouldn't it be cool if this was because someone read what I wrote about their warehouse of hideousness, idiot design, rubbish customer service and 243 screws for 3 drawers?

MFI to be sold for just £1
By Elizabeth Rigby and Eoin Callan // 16th September 2006

The board of MFI is poised this weekend to approve the sale of its struggling retail business to Merchant Equity Partners, in a deal that will see the furniture chain pay its acquirer a "dowry" of about £100m. Under the terms of the unorthodox deal, the 42-year-old furniture chain is thought to have agreed to pay MEP, run by Henry Jackson, the veteran investment banker, a dowry to take the lossmaking business off its hands so it can concentrate on its profitable Howden Joinery trade business.

The deal, which is set to be signed this weekend, still has to be agreed by MFI shareholders. The generous terms being offered by MFI reflect the dramatic erosion in the retailers value over the past few years. Once priced at close to £1bn, MFI is now set to change hands for a nominal sum of £1.The UK's biggest furniture-maker has been one of the casualties of the tough recent trading period for retailers, which has seen costs rise while the prices have fallen.

Or is it I who should have known this in advance and never set foot in their store?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Building the beast

The weekend was calm and relaxed and I did less than a slug. The triumph of the weekend was all V’s as he completed assembling a chest of drawers without the help of any ‘promising’ friends. Now this may sound like nothing to expert DIYers and regular IKEA goers but please, allow me to explain.

We have built in cupboards with nothing but a rod to hang stuff off and a shelf above it. The shelf is too high for me to use on a daily basis without the aid of a step ladder. At the moment our stuff is stored neatly in baskets arranged on the floor of the cupboard. It’s inconvenient to get to anything not on the top of the basket but an achievement in my mind to be out of suitcases. So from the hanging rod to the floor there is no option but to fashion some sort of shelving system. Or else buy 300 hangers.

Intent on not trudging out of town to IKEA we hunted around a bit and decided on checking out the options at a chain of cheap-ish furniture stores. A few weekends ago, measurements in hand, we went to MFI. For those not in the know, MFI is a chain furniture store selling everything from bedrooms to bathrooms to kitchens. Their slogan is ‘You dream it. We’ll make it happen’. Whoever thought that one up was either blind / dumb / had never visited a store/ never purchased something from them / been brainwashed / paid a load of cash.

So anyway, drizzly morning and a warehouse type store filled to the gills with ugly furniture. Amongst the monstrosities we found the prefect candidate. The most basic chest of drawers with a plain, neat maple finish and dimensions to fit our cupboard. Its three drawers making it the perfect height. There was the small question of whether it came assembled or would need to be magic’ed into something useable.

The very large store and huge pieces of furniture made it difficult to find the very well hidden store assistants. Once we found one, the question of assembly was swiftly answered. It was a do-it-yourself situation but, and I quote, “you will not need anything more than a screwdriver”. That is what swung the vote for us. We bought three sets.

A week later they were delivered. Flat packed. With instructions on how to join them with other bedroom furniture (into a wall of furniture) but no instructions on how to build the actual unit. Idiots. It took us three days, numerous phone calls, email exchanges with the ‘customer support team’ (who, what?) to get the correct instructions. And so it began.

V opened out the flat pack for the first set and spread it around himself. I took a mental picture at that moment. Of V, sitting amidst a forest of wood with 243 nails and screws, two types of screwdrivers and the instructions akin to building a small jet plane in the comfort of our home. Picture taken I fled the scene, never to look back again.

It’s a good thing our second bedroom has nothing but an ironing board and piles of books awaiting their shelves. In the past 3 weeks it has been the epicenter of construction. Every evening, after a long hard day at work, V has attempted some part of DIY. The initial triumphs were the making of the drawers. And here let me interject the numerous ways in which MFI is so user unfriendly. Instead of simple instructions, all the tools and wood with pre-drilled holes (like IKEA stuff) this MFI carcass came with rocket science instructions, superglue, the need for a drill and a small piece of wood. I have a good mind to go and thump the store assistant who told us otherwise.

First the drawers, which had to be nailed, glued together and left to dry. Then the outside walls needed runners fixed to them. Then the side walls, back wall and top needed to be joined together. Then runners needed to be fixed to the drawers. V refused to buy a drill and instead improvised with a 3pence nail. Ever so often I would be summoned in to hold two pieces of wood together while nails were hammered in at the appropriate spaces.

All these weeks while V has slaved away bit by bit with the drawers of wonder, I have occupied the day bed and watched endless TV. Full credit to V for tackling what I would not have even begun to take on. This Sunday evening a shout of joy indicated that the exercise was complete - all with just measurements, screwdrivers, a hammer and a good eye. Oh, and I forgot, some grouching about bl**dy MFI.

One set of drawers sits resplendently under a row of business suits, fitting perfectly in the space albeit without door handles (which are for sissies and people without perfectly smooth runners). His baskets have been banished and cufflinks have been arranged to neatness. His ironed clothes will remain ironed. His eyes gleam with the joy of accomplishment and he walks around looking like he's tamed some wild animal. I understand.

Only two more sets to go.

Meanwhile I’m still wearing the shirts from the top of my basket.

I dislike MFI more intensly than ever before. And I would not recommend them to anyone.

Take it on good authority - this will be a long autumn.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Get shorty....err

I was thin once upon a time. And tall. As a child. A bit of a beanstalk with golliwog curls and lanky limbs. All that went out the window when I turned 13; puberty met me and I met rice. Suddenly I stopped growing in height and instead started growing into what the Delhi punjabi’s call ‘halthy girl, ji’. At 5 feet and 3 AND a half inches I stopped and grew upwards no more. I was sorely disappointed because I have lovely tall parents, a tall grandmother (maternal), grandfather (paternal), uncle (maternal) and cousins (paternal). My genes (which I am assuming also decide height besides every other human characteristic) had ignored all these tall people genes and given me the genes of the short people of our family, my other grandparents and adorable aunts.

Life is just not fair.

The Nik who was always instructed to call me ‘jiji’ (which is what you call your elder sister in UP) consistently ignored the instruction and just called me ‘shorty’ or ‘moti’ or ‘fatty’ (the latter two meaning exactly the same, just in different languages) instead – both more than somewhat true. The ‘shorty’ is a far more hurtful reminder of my errant genes. The ‘fatty’ is being addressed by my saintly 6am visits to the gym. Nik, the lucky fella, got the right genes, and well within his teens overtook me to reach his present height of over 6 feet tall in his socks. So now he and said parents loom over me, walk in longer strides and sit at the tall peoples table while I languish at the shortbread table.

I won’t bore you with the details but I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday during which they wanted to check my height. And what did they find? That I’m five feet and two and a half inches. Can you bl**dy believe it? A WHOLE inch shorter than I have always thought/ been told/ measured at. I was so upset when the doctor first told me this that I rather angrily asked him if someone else could come in and check this fact as I was pretty certain of my height. A rather surly nurse came in, instructed me to ‘stand straight child’ and reconfirmed the doctors findings. By this time I was more agitated than angry and insisting that I had had my height taken a million times before and there was no way I could be only 5’2”1/2. I insisted on being checked against another height chart. So nurse, doctor and I traipsed across the hall to another office and checked my height against the chart there. Still 5’2”1/2.

Completely leaving aside why I had originally gone to the doctor I went into explanation demanding mode, demanding to know how I could have shrunk. The poor doctor had no answer except that ‘maybe in India they took your height measurement wrong”. What? My whole life, numerous times – how likely is THAT?

I came into office in the middle of the day still very upset about this change in my height. And I told anyone who would listen to my woes about this shocking shrinkage. Stood back to back with loads of colleagues who all seemed to think they were more than 5’3” and it turns out I’m taller than them. So either the doctor or his charts were wrong or everyone is living in dream world about their height.

There is no rational explanation for how this has occurred. I’ve either started shrinking naturally 20 years too early (the doctor thinks this is highly unlikely). Or I’ve always been this height and in a race to be giraffe like convinced myself that I’m taller than I am. Or I’m 5’3”1/2 and the doctor just got it wrong. I prefer the last explanation thank you very much.

This is a very upset (and apparently very short) 31 year old signing off.

And Nik, if I hear laughter, even at this distance, you are in DEEP trouble young man!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Gym Tales

Week One. Day One.

Sunday. Knowing that Monday morning is our first outing to the Gym I pack my bag in advance. A bit like a school bag run where we had to find out which lessons were on the next days timetable and pack textbooks & notebooks accordingly. My big Crumpler bag is ideal. I knew someday I would be able to justify why I spent all that money on a newspaper-delivery-looking-water-proof-bag. This is the day.

Bag has office clothes (what was the point of ironing them if they are going to be rolled into a ball?), office shoes, hairbrush, soap, shampoo, conditioner, assorted nice smelling things (deodorant and perfume) and cosmetics (which I otherwise never use) to complete the ensemble. After all there will be other women in the locker room while I get ready – I have a reputation to keep up (not so much keep up as build from scratch – this is only day 1). Bag also has handbag within it which has wallet, card holder, lip balm, Polo mints, travelcard, book and ipod for journey. Bag weighs 34 kilos.

Monday. Alarm set for 5.30am. I am up as soon as the alarm goes off. My sneakers/ trainers (depending on where you are from!) with new socks tucked in are at the end of the bed, near my already packed bag. Gym clothes – non-slogan T-shirt and tracks – are resting on the bag. Out of bed like an eager child on Christmas morning (still blissfully unaware that Santa was in fact mom and dad) followed by hurried-get-ready experience and at 5.55 we were out the door and legging it to the Gym.

Gym is full of scary, scary thin people. The kind motivated enough to get up and be at the Gym in their colour coordinated gear before the crack of dawn. V and I are motivated but not even vaguely colour coordinated – forget with each other, even just as ourselves. Ignoring the running masses we decide to diligently exercise for 45 whole minutes.

While I walk on the treadmill at the pace of a snail doing the marathon I marvel at how for someone who has often been described as a ‘slow walker’ this is an achievement. For someone who will not move an inch unless absolutely required this is inspired. As for getting up at 5.30 am to be in the gym at 6am, this is the equivalent to walking on the moon.

I go to office full of beans confident that I have already lost some weight and look better in my clothes. Excuse my delusions. I need them instead of coffee.

Week Two

Went to the Gym for four days out of five in Week One. Skipped it on the weekend because there is still so much house setting up to be done that I think that is exercise enough.

Found the class for fat people. It’s called – say it together people – “aqua aerobics”. It’s at 6.50am on a Tuesday morning. Being ‘aqua’ it is naturally in the pool. The class is great for my self-esteem. I am the thinnest person there. I swim 30 laps before the 40 minute class starts. All the roly-poly’s come to this class mainly because the water provides good resistance making the workout make your body work hard while also cushioning it from injury. It’s lovely, a coordinated whale workout if you like. The teacher is fit and energetic and has us all feeling like we’ve had a workout rather than just aimlessly splashed around in the pool. I’ve met some nice people and in just the second week of us taking this class together we are chatting after class. "Did you enjoy that? Where do you work? How many days do you come in? How long have you been a member? Do you always use this locker?" A bit like a secret club this is Gym-talk, if you like.

Besides losing weight my only aim is to get them to switch off that Brittany Spears music.

Week Three

Can you believe I am still getting up at 5.30am to use the Gym before work? I hit the snooze button almost as soon as the annoying alarm goes off. 8 minutes later I am awake and getting ready. I think the sheer cost of the Gym membership is keeping me going.

6am gym sessions are not to be laughed at. It’s that time of year when winter is closing in on us and the sun lights up the sky a few moments later each day. It’s not cold enough to need even a light jacket yet but the skies are darker when I wake up. The thought of not going is a fleeting one I have managed to overcome so far. Like the preceding two weeks, in Week Three, I managed to go to the Gym for four out of five days.

I feel lighter although the scales tell me I have not lost anything. They lie methinks.

Week Four

I’m used to the alarm now and wake up just a few moments before it's peeling begins. I like waiting in the dark for that first ring to herald this new day.

I’m still pre-packing my bag (although I have done away with handbag inside a bag and various other unnecessary items – who needs blush-on when freshly scrubbed pores show red cheeks to their best?) and being well-organised.

I feel a little bit saintly.

I wonder how long this madness will last?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A long long way from home

V & I are noticing women in Indian clothes roaming around central London with far greater frequency than before (as in there are more such women than before, NOT we are suddenly becoming more observant - we are very observant thank you very much) . And these are not just salwar kameez and saree aunties who have come to look after their children/ grand-children. These are bona fide tourists. Backpacks, cameras and sneakers. All the way from India.

I know this is not new. Once upon a time I worked in the tourism industry in India. Till that year traveling abroad on holiday was the pleasure of the rich and well heeled. Let's be brutally honest, you needed black money and loads of it. Alternately you could travel in a huge group,with mummyji's, auntyji's and uncleji's, a busload full, whizzing around Europe with a maharaj cooking all your Indian food as you took in the sights in double quicktime. (No point trying out any new cuisine as god forbid we bite into a forbidden onion or eat on dishes once used to eat meat). That year foreign currency regulations changed and because people could take more money legally with them they were able to consider holidaying abroad with just their own families. My job became the most interesting one of all time. I got to travel around the world, negotiate and create individual holidays for every category of holiday maker from the 3 star wanderers to the super-deluxe craving few. Initially it was a steep increase and as the years have gone by the number of Indians on holiday has steadily continued to grow. It’s amazing what a good exchange rate, a higher disposable income, a competitive holiday market and a world of destinations brought closer by new age travel can and will do.

Yesterday I was sitting near a Manhattan-style tube station, reading the Times, enjoying the odd breaks of sunshine through the quick marching clouds, while waiting for friends to turn up for lunch. An Indian, with his bag on his back and his camera slung around his neck came up and very politely asked for directions to the DLR station. While he made his enquiries his family stood behind and discussed possible routes amongst themselves. A mother draped in the most beautiful Chaderi saree, a father in his neatly pressed trousers and shirt, a wife in salwar kameez – all with appropriate walking shoes. Instructions taken, map consulted and they were off. Explorers of the best kind.

London in the summer is a lovely place to be a tourist. There is an efficient (for the most part) tube system that connects you from one corner of the city to the other. There is an award winning tube map that shows direction and stations clearer than a bright blue sky. The Tube station staff are friendly and helpful. There is a wonderful bus system (at least for central London) that will take you the short distances. And there are so many touristy things to see including five world class museums: National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, British Museum. Small cafe's to buy an innocent cheese sandwich and cola from. There are also a huge number of desi's like me who live here and know the city well enough to guide a lost person. Being of the same colour makes us more approachable.

I don’t want to sound like a blurb for the London Tourism Board but I am glad that more and more Indians are shrugging the fear of traveling abroad and venturing to newer and further sights. I like that there are more people who look like me and will smile back at me as I make my tube journey across town. People who, in that moment, across the aisle in the tube carriage, are wondering where in India I am from, while I wonder where they are from and whether we can prove the six degrees of seperation and find people we know in common back in just six short steps. Just the sight of beautiful intricate saree's will bring a little bit of India into this sometimes parched life. Living so far away from my original home this brings me just a small smidgeon of comfort, for just a second. Till the odd person leaves their litter behind and I remember one of many reasons why I think people should be given a litter 'black star' on their visa/passport for the next time they plan to visit. Three strikes and you're out.

I'm glad people are taking these chances to explore the world beyond their own backyards. While I agree that there is so much to see in India, I am adamant that it's beauty would be enhanced by the experience of having travelled abroad and having something to compare it with. I’m glad that we too have the capability to take holidays, short and long, to appreciate other cultures and cuisines, to see other landscapes and ways of life. I’m glad the world is a smaller place.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dining tables, exercycles and gyms - all good for round people

Where have all the long lazy weekends gone? This house settling in is taking up way too much of my time and energy to be believed.

There was a time when I would wake up on a Saturday morning, peer at my mobile phone clock digits through one eye, be shocked that it was 7am and that my bloody body alarm had kicked in 5 days too late, and promptly curl myself deeper into the duvet, promptly shut that one eye and go straight back to sleep. And be asleep within an instant, till noon at least. I can no longer remember the last time I accomplished this feat.

Now my Saturdays have taken quite a different shape. And I do not like it.

As with all recent weekends this was a busy one. Furniture delivery in the morning – a four drawer, four door reclaimed teak sideboard and one round teak dining table to go with the chairs that arrive 2 weeks ago. The sideboard weighs in at over 100kgs and looks solid. I can almost imagine what those teak trees look like. In the time it took to find the prefect place for the sideboard to live it magically grew roots and rooted itself to the spot it has been placed in – there is no hope of ever moving it or taking it with us when we leave this flat. Look at me, talking about leaving before even having been here 3 weeks!?

The dining table is a revelation. The perfect size for the little alcove in front of our kitchen. So now whoever (me) is cooking can be talking to their guests while throwing pizza dough into the air to form the roundest lightest crispiest pizza bases for dinner. Of course I don’t make pizza bases. And anyway with my luck it would probably stick to the ceiling. Coming back to the dining table - I am a great believer of eating at the dining table. I hate eating off my lap and I hate the idea of crumbs everywhere – or drops of gravy gravitating to the floor. It’s all the legacy of my mum and dad who insisted that every meal be eaten, not only at the table, but off beautiful dishes and a well set table. I believe that a meal is better digested if eaten of a table. Call me old fashioned if you must.

The afternoon was spent in John Lewis with me trying to convince V that beautiful patterned curtains were the way to go. With a little 'effective persuasion' (ie. do what you want) from Shoefiend I managed to win half the battle. We’ll have bright red flowers on pale ivory curtains in our second bedroom. Absolutely exquisite. V says he is never going in there again.

It took about 3 hours (I kid you not) to order curtains that will now take 5 whole weeks to be made and delivered. My guess is that the cloth is woven in India, measurements are taken in John Lewis stores here and relayed to workshops in India. All that too-ing and fro-ing is what takes 5 weeks. Meanwhile I will have paid a small fortune to pull down masking taped sheets and replace them with real curtains.

Our first meal on our beautiful table, and not precariously balanced on our laps, was Pizza out of a box, greedily eaten with our hands. Disappointing. I had wanted the meal to be more dramatic. Table mats, cutlery, an array of pickles. Curries, gravies, dal, subji’s – all vying for the opportunity to fall off our plates – surprised to find their descent cut short by our solid table. I shall have to call our friends over again, for a proper meal.

Sunday was no less tiring though the pace slackened a bit. Had lunch with possible new friends; i.e we’ll see how it goes. Then we traipsed around a Greenwich furniture store till we found the perfect ‘media’ cabinet to house the various bits and bobs of electronic equipment needed for ‘pleasurable cinema quality home viewing’. That is to store sky box, dvd player, amplifier and woofer. V is thrilled. And it nearly matches the rest of our furniture so except for the plastic steel of the boxes and 300 wires it should look quite nice.

There’s an exercycle shaped space on our floor. No, it hasn’t died, and no, we weren’t robber by exercise thieves. Colleague came over in the evening to pick up our exercycle. I had put up an advert for it in office and within a day my colleague had walked up to my desk and said she wanted it. So she came along on Sunday evening with her 6 year old daughter in her Skoda, admired our flat and left one cycle richer. This exercycle has been our main form of exercise for well over a year now. Either V or I would place it in front of the TV and cycle for between 30-45 minutes in the hope that our hearts and bodies were getting stronger. While it made no discernable difference to our physical beings it was all I was willing to put myself through.

Things have changed. From a time when I was not willing to use a gym I now live too close to one to have any excuse not to. So the exercycle has been sold and a gym membership bought. What I think of gyms and attempt in the gym are stories for another post. I am feeling nostalgic about the exercycle. A bit like a pet that’s been given away because we are traveling to places where the quarantine is too long. I am glad it has gone to a good home.

Getting back to the rest of our Sunday evening, we then had M&A round for our new ‘apartment approval programme’. They approved and so we fed them a dinner of pasta at our shiny new dining table.

I feel tired but it was a weekend well spent. More than tired I feel grown up. I own a dining table. And some day in the future we will have curtains. Who ever thought that these facts would rock my world!?