Friday, February 24, 2006

Now we know..

..what all these bloggers read or don't:

Shoefiend: the promise of cheese in any form! A lovely long list. Makes me want to go back and read a whole set of books I had forgotten about. As for revolting rhymes maybe we can swap favourites over our fondue caquelon!!

Keya: A wonderful long list - with loads of titles for me to steal and read.

Inspired Shyamala: Now we know where she gets some of her inspiration to write so beautifully from.

JAP: All done. The most brilliant list!

Oh so many books to read and so little time!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ta-da I've been tagged.

By Jane Sunshine. Thank you kindly

Luckily its about my favourite subject. Books. I hope I've done this justice. Here goes:

1. What is the total number of books you've owned?
I own books in different continents – too heavy to transport, to precious to give away. On my bookshelves in India I think I own about 200 books. My mum claims that ‘we’ own them – I beg to disagree! Got my brother to count up the four book towers that hide the mirror on our dressing table. Rough count indicates about 180 books in London. Other books have been lent to travelling cousins and friends and never returned. I still consider them mine. So around the world, in all, I would say I am the proud owner of near 400 books.

2. What is the last book you bought?
Ash & Bone by John Harvey. From WH Smith at Euston. And I read it before a whole pile of others I had previously bought. Never read JH before but it was a fast paced murder mystery solved by a retired detective with his own personal issues. Obviously. Very good bus/ train/ plane reading. On the sofa it was just OK.

3. What is the last book you've read?
How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward
. Good but not great. Came highly recommended but sadly did not leave a dent.

4. What are you currently reading?
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The first novel I've read that is connected with Afghanistan. A present from my friend K on her recent trip from Mumbai. So far I’m loving it.

5. What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed?
I don’t like shortlists. They are constricting. I’ve been influenced by a few of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog in the past and although some of them mean a lot to me I’m keen to concentrate and think of 5 other books that mean something as well.

What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin. This is probably my all time favourite book. I’ve read and re-read it so many times and each time it’s a revelation. I won’t say a lot – I do want to do a proper book review for this one – but it’s my on a lonely island book.

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. This is her best book, better even than the much acclaimed and movie turned Chocolat. She manages to make any situation shimmer with magic. Joanne Harris has an innate ability to see things in the distance and write with a complex charm. This book will seep into your being and make you feel warm and loved.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. Such a powerful writer and such a powerful theme. It taught me to look beyond what I know of my country and even if imagined, to appreciate the complex diversity that is our sub-continent. Set in the Sunderbans in North East India, environmental issues form the base for intricate human interactions between an American Scientist and the various classes of local people. The prose delicately brings to the fore the plight of displaced people and their struggle for land, and more importantly the struggle between the fragile ecosystem and its human inhabitants. It’s a wonderful read that gently weaves together people from different classes and culture, and breaks down all barriers of gender and language.

Abandon by Pico Iyer. This is a departure from his brilliant travel writing. A spiritual mystery that makes you sit up and think about the choices you make, And here is an interview with its author.

Memory Box by Margaret Forster. This is why. Beautiful.

6) What book(s) would you wish to buy next?
I’m a sucker for anything by Indian authors. It’s my medication for homesickness. So my list is ever growing (will be fulfilled on my next India trip and then the cycle will start again) as the number of young Indians putting pen to paper gloriously grows. My list of ‘want this’ is about 50 long but I’ll just pare it down for this:

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Weight Loss by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Mainly because everything he writes is always just so funny.

The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. It’s bound to be sublime.

Babyji by Abha Devesar. I’m a sucker for anything about my lovely Delhi. God I miss that city.

Two Lives by Vikram Seth. I’ve read everything else he’s ever written. I don’t see why I should stop.

The Bouganvillea House by Kalpana Swaminathan. Its got some good reviews.

7. What book(s) caught your attention but you never had a chance to read?
The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen. I keep meaning to but I wonder if it will hold my attention

The whole series of Ramayana interpretations by Ashok K. Banker. They’ve been highly recommended but I just have not bothered. Soon.

8. What book(s) that you've owned for so long but never read?
A house by the River by Sid Smith. Bought at a bargain bookshop about a year ago as the jacket flap read well. The inside was too slow to follow. I relegated it to the bottom of my book towers after chapter 2 and have not bothered ever since. Don’t know that I ever will.

9. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
Here are a few bloggers whose book habits/loves/hates it would be interesting to find out. I know it says 3 - I’ve put in 4 incase one of them declines:

Shoefiend: Because I can and with her writing wouldn’t it be great to know what her inspirations are?!

JAP: Again it’s his writing that intrigues me. Where does it all come from

Keya: The influence of all her travels will probably make this a wonderful list

Inspired Shyamala: Where does she get her inspiration from. Again how interesting it will be.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Love actually

Valentine's day - again. Two people near beating each other over a sorry looking bouquet of carnations at M&S. Couples on the bridge pointing at stars they've named for one another. Helium filled balloons attracted to ceilings in every corner of the mall. Delivery vans with buckets in the back holding arrangements booked well in time. 20% off the boxes of chocolate in the supermarkets which have overstocked by about 300 boxes. No chance of a seat on the water taxi home due to overcrowding by couples using it to replace the overpriced cruises they were too late to book. Full house of singletons at the 'special' comedy cafe, burdened by their singledom and boosted by a few beers. One hour waiting time for food home delivery because of the 'tables for two' rush.

Conspiracy theorists would agree that Valentine's day is a marketing gimmick thought up by greeting card & gift companies in cahoots with chocolatiers, florists and resturants.

When we were young (very, in our teens) and newly in love we fell for the hard sell and exhanged cards and tapes of love songs for a bit. Then it got old and we didn't need Valentine's day to remind each other how special our relationship was. In our minds 14th of February became the day for 'young kids' to enjoy spending their pocket money on 'future hopefuls. And also for florists to have their busiest day of the year. Our special day became a series of special days, anniversaries to mark time - of when we met, our first movie, our first date, and then when we got married, of months gone by, holidays together, years notched up. These were our Valentine's days.

So really any day is good to declare your love for someone. Don't wait in line for the overpriced flowers today. Those flowers will be welcome any day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Flat Out

I hate estate agents. They bring out the absolute worst in me - pretty much more than any other group of people I can think of. I do hate generalisations, but all estate agents (and I will limit the generalisation to all of London) are ignorant, slimy, rude, money obsessed, pressurising and lying fools. The women less so than the men. Only slightly though.

Actually I take it back. It’s NOT a generalisation. Bring me an estate agent who isn’t like that and I will show you an estate agent who has lied to you to convince you that they aren't like that thus confirming exactly how much they are like that in reality.

We have been dealing with estate agents since we got to this small island, having forgotten our 'guide to renting & buying' back home. In my opinion the process should be quick, easy and fun. But it never is and the fault is entirely the crappy estate agents.

When we looked to rent 4 years ago we had 3 specifications in the two areas we were looking in:- 2 bed/ 2 bath modern-ish flat- not lower than the 2nd floor- not more than 8 minute walk to the tube station.

Of course every estate agent we registered with decided to ignore our requirements and we ended up saying no to basement flats with tiny cloakrooms 20 minutes away from the tube station. No I am not a mile a minute runner and nor was the estate agent. I was tempted more than one to make them walk it while we timed him. We saw 3 bed/ 1 bathroom flats, garden flats, upper ground flats, flats that were held up by cellotape and wishes . Make no mistake we are not particularly fussy but c'mmon! We saw 40 flats before we found even one that matched all 3 criteria. And it was finally through a newspaper add and not an estate agent. We grabbed and all these years on we are still wow'd when we walk in the door.

The new situation is that we are house/flat hunting. Have been since August last year. The only reason it's taken this long is that now I am dealing with 6 different and equally rubbishy estate agents who are attempting to sell me my new house. The women all dress like butterfly's trying to get on the catwalk or planning on going disco dancing in the middle of the day. The men meanwhile are all caked in some kind of foundation make-up and lip gloss. And that's meant to hide their absolute lack of manners or common sense. Well it doesn't.

We've seen what seem like a zillion flats in our desired area and we still have not found a single one matching all our criteria. We've seen flats where the 'seperate' kitchen is one wall of a tiny living room demarcated only by ugly tiles, where northeast facing miraculously shows southwest on the agents 'magic' compass, where a 20 minute brisk jog is pronounced 'close to tube', and where 'storage' is 5 inches under the mini-queen size bed in the closet masquerading as the master bedroom. Is it my English?

To top it all the shoeboxes are being offered at exhorbitantly inflated prices under the guise of the Olympics coming to East London in 2012. Who in their right mind will buy a flat just to be able to watch 10 days of olympic games? But try stopping an estate agent from tell you how 'quickly the flat is going to go because the Olympics are around the corner so you MUST put in an offer ASAP'. 6 months on most of the flats that I saw at the begining are still up for sale. At reduced prices. But beside fast-talking agents that's probably because the flats have paperthin walls, oddly shaped rooms, terrible proportions, bad tube connections and shaky infrastructure.

One final rant about the agents before I go. They all have two door four seater cars (OK there is one exception). That is quite a dumb decision considering that any house buying decision will be made by more than one person and will not include the agents opinion. Either V or I must tuck our knees under our chins and sqeeze past a half bent over tiny front seat. For 6 viewings in an evening. That equals cramps and stunted knee development. At the very least.

I am exhausted and highly demotivated by the whole process and all the people involved. I need a break and a fresh outlook. I wish estate agents were better educated, not as rude, less overbearing, more worried about the interests of the buyers, less worried about the commission, heard more and talked less.

In the meanwhile I'm no longer going flat out.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Re done

Took the bull by the horns and rearranged the side bar of this blog.

I needed to remove quite a few blogs that I no longer read because
- they don’t hold my interest
- I don’t agree with their views
- I find they’ve grown too pompous for words
- they have turned into formal-ish websites and lost the sheen of amateur blogging (don't lose the .blogspot/typepad
- I’m not on their blogroll (I know selfish, but hey...)

I have added in
- newly found blogs that are holding my interest (for the mo)
- a new column to hold onto blogmarks that are no longer active but oh so worth the read
- all the food blogs I frequently steal recipes from to feed us

Time flies. Soon I will need to re-do this.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Here a puff, there a huff

Ever since the non-smoking office, restaurant, mall, station came into existence it has been hell for the non-users. Instead of lessening second hand smoke it has concentrated smoke clouds around entrance/ exits to these places. So when a non-smoker enters the clean air mall they breathe a sigh of clean air. All entrances to malls, exits to tube stations, bus stop shelters, office porches are meeting points for the avid smokers. Should you need to use a mall, go to office, wait for a bus, travel on the tube your chances of smelling like a stale cigarette and inhaling as much smoke as before remain much the same as when everyone smoked everywhere. OK I admit its better ventilated on the outside but with the numbers of stained finger smokers at one place the concentrated effect exists instead of the spread out version. A majority of pedestrians are all trying to get their last smoke in before entering somewhere where it is not allowed and for the non-smokers by their side there is often little space to escape on a crowded pavement.

As far as I can tell the only positive things about the ban in indoor places is to make smokers re-examine their smoking habit. An aggressive anti-smoking, get help campaign combined with the limited indoor spaces to smoke has encouraged many smokers to rethink their habit. Hypnotherapy, group sessions, Smokers anon, exercise regimens, nicotine patches. Banning tobacco advertising is mean to discourage the association between smoking and cool activities (like F1). It’s all a step in the right direction. All designed to beat a bad habit and reinstate some will power.

But till every person decides that its bad for their own health and for those around them there will be no real relief for us non-smokers. Like the horrid man with a cigar on the pavement in front of us this morning…….yuck!