Monday, March 26, 2007

Shock and shell

There are no words of comfort that will ease away V’s anguish. Like many other die-hard Indian cricket fans he spent Friday night tossing and turning, weighed down by the defeat of the Indian cricket team. As if he bore that burden solely and squarely on his shoulders. As if it were his faith that had come short and made Team India lose.

I came home quite late that Friday evening, having spent the afternoon gazing at glorious Amrita Shergill paintings at the Tate Modern with S and then gone for a bout of gym working to avoid watching yet another nail biting India match. I imagined that the 413 record scoring from the previous match was the start of bigger & greater things to come and that my presence in front of that TV would only jinx a good thing. I came home as the last few balls of this decisive match were being played, only to encounter a forlorn V. His chilled Gambrinas looked very cheerful in contrast.

I knew when I met and married V that I would have to change my ways and become the ‘Wife of a Sport Fan’. I signed into that club pretty quickly and quite easily because it’s not a lot to ask and really, I ask a lot more in return. Also sports are basically organised games and individually I like rules/ games/ teams and love organisation of all kinds so even combined it wasn’t an imposition I couldn’t bear. It also meant that I could have holidays around sports fixtures when we could afford the time and effort and moolah.

During the last world cup we didn’t have enough money or time to travel to watch matches. And then India got to the final and we sighed and insisted ‘next time’. Well, this is next time and many months ago V got us 4 tickets to go and watch 2 matches in the Caribbean with friends. The friends bowed out but we went ahead and booked our flights, found a beach resort, bought that sunscreen and packed our bags. Now we have 4 tickets to watch both Bangladesh – England and Bangladesh – Ireland. It’s a sad, sad day and even the sunshine prelude to our upcoming getaway isn’t helping cheer V up. I on the other hand cannot wait for the sandy shores to pick shells off while V lies under a beach umbrella, nursing a cocktail and hoping to recover from the shock. It’s a difficult life but somebody has got to do it.

I, for one, am no longer supporting cricket – not today, not next month, not next year, not ever. I’ll go and watch it when forced upon (seeing as we have 4 tickets for each match and are hardly likely to find Bangladesh/ English/ Ireland fans wanting them now) but really in my eyes it lost its lustre as a game the second poor Bob Woolmer was killed. I won’t discuss this now because it’s all under investigation, but I will say that in my heart it’s now a tainted game. Even India going through would not have changed that. And to top it all that ridiculous Usha Utthup song from the new movie ‘Hatrick’ (that plays in a loop on one of the desi channels, one of 3 world cup ‘go India’ songs on constant display), will not leave my head. Bah humbug!

At a brilliant home cooked Mexican meal with friends on Saturday night the discussion centered on India’s failure to make it to the Super 8 stage. My suggestion was to sack the entire Indian team, but hey, what do I know of sport, politics, money or the world. I had to quickly back down from that argument. Mostly V and our hosts were plotting about how Bermuda would miraculously beat Bangladesh on Sunday thereby pushing us back into contention for the next round. As V oft quotes from his phrase book of life, “‘eternal optimist’ equals ‘Indian cricket fan’”. I believe him. Bermuda didn’t triumph. I am still going to bask in sunshine and bake in the sand. The End.

I baked him a ‘cheer up’ chocolate cake. And promised I’d collect him a unique shell from my foray to the beach, string it up on a length of leather and use it as a good luck charm for next time.

He still isn’t smiling.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Twerps in Antwerp

Just my luck, the one day the darn sun shines in London, I’ve made plans to leave town. Blue toy plane took me to Antwerp airport on a rare sunny Friday afternoon.

45 minute flights are pretty perfect when they have only 15 people onboard, lounging in the 50 seats. The seatbelt ON sign stays on the first 20 minutes while toy plane attempts to defy gravity and rise to glide above the clouds. At 19 minutes the pilot gives up and we just plateau out, below said clouds and not far enough above the ground to no longer be able to see the fields and scattering of houses. We pass over the English Channel and I see a wind farm swirling vigorously in the brisk sea air. Rows of wind turbines make up a diamond shape, standing proud and tall against the sea of blue. Apt, wouldn’t you say, seeing as I am heading to the diamond capital of the world. The plane is level for just about 5 minutes before the descent must begin. This means that the stewardess has to wheel her trolley down the aisle pretty fast, chucking sandwiches and chocolate at us en route to the galley. The plane dives down towards its destination and comes to land on a tiny airstrip. The airport is very tiny and basic. And that sums up the city as well.

My mama (let’s call him Sam) and his family have moved to Antwerp 6 months ago on a posting and as I had not seen any of them in the past 5 years I decided to make amends by making this short and easy journey. So Sam and his kid (let's call him Sprout) are at the airport to meet me. And true to his name, my cousin Sprout has grown a few feet since I last saw him. Of course he was 7 at the time and is now 12. But which 12 year old towers over their 31 year old cousin? Sprout is nearly at the 6 foot mark, his still child-like face topping a tall and gangly frame. Its official: I am the shortest person in my mother’s ENTIRE family. And possibly the universe. Gah!

My nani also lives with them, and after battles for her visa she has joined them. (The Belgians do not consider single, older parents to be dependents on their son). I saw her when we went to India last October and she was all upset at being parted from her son and running around trying to rectify the situation. Seeing her again and this time in better circumstances, reunited with her precious son, was the cherry on an already rich and sweet cake.

Spent Saturday out and about, sitting in trams and buses, walking miles, taking in Antwerp, talking nineteen to the dozen. It was lovely to do all that catching up, exchanging gup-shup and baat-shaat. It must be said though that Antwerp is not a terribly exciting city and there are only a few things worth mentioning from all that touring:

1. A very large building sits empty on a road called Bolivarplaats. This is the new court house that has been built to bring together all the disparate courts in the Antwerp area. Although its very innovative ceiling is a series of fin like appenditures, the overall look of the building is quite monsterous.

2. As with its big sister city of Bruxelles just 48 kilometers away, Antwerp has a Grote Markt or Market Square. The buildings surrounding the square are not very impressive but the central statue is not half bad. Legend has it that a giant would cut off the hands of sailors who used the Sheldt river and refused to pay taxes. That statue is of Silvius Brabo, a Roman who defeated the giant and let sailors pass through with their hands on. Of course I didn’t get any pictures because I did not bother to carry my camera.

3. There are plenty of roads and buildings named after Antwerp’s greatest resident – Reuben’s. The main cathedral has four of his paintings and his house is a museum. The cathedral is missing a tower and the stained glass was unimpressive but the hushed silence within and the main hall of prayer was sublime. I didn’t go see the museum but I did pass more that a few roads and buildings named after him. Does that count?

4. Went to big electronic chain Media Markt to buy the Sprout a birthday present to cover the past 12 years of ignoring it. Passed by the largest ever collection of coffee making machines in one spot. I guess Belgians do take their coffee seriously. The store is right near the Central Station which is a magnificent building, far more pleasing than any other sight I saw. It’s lovingly called the Railway Cathedral and it’s easy to see why with its iron and glass dome, majestic stairs and gold decorations. In appearance it seems more a historical building than a utilitarian one but I am reliably told that it is a station that prides itself on being the perfect meld of both beauty and functionality.

5. I ate a lot of waffles. Again. We would stop every couple of hours and at every opportunity to wolf down hot hot waffles. We walked the length of the Meir, which is a very long pedestrian-ised length of street which serves as the main shopping attraction. It has every brand imaginable on either side of the road and I had to maintain great ‘won’t power’ to abstain from going in and shopping myself silly. On Sunday we wandered around the local market that sprung up on the roads nearby and got caught in a sharp shower while watching the bird sellers train little budgies and parrots. Picked up some very tasty cheese from a smiling lady behind a very large cheese counter and helped choose some climbers for their apartment.

6. Wandered all over the diamond district and saw the branch of ABN Amro where the great bank robbery recently happened. It all looked ordinary and unassuming enough. No sign of the diamonds either.

After that short and sweet trip to Antwerp came back on the most turbulent flight ever, rocking and swaying violently all the way from Antwerp to London. Couldn't bear to catch the sandwich being chucked at me or drink a drop of water.

And seriously, there were no twerps. I just couldn't think of any catchy titles.

Monday, March 12, 2007

When a bull sees red

Doing up your own home needs a load more concentration and effort than living in rented accommodation. For one, the rented flat was fully furnished and the big decisions were really insignificant, like the colour of the linen mustn't clash violently clash with the curtains else blindness will be absolute. Whereas now, in our own abode, every decision, be it crockery or furnishings or wall colour or lighting fixtures, must be carefully turned over in the mind, written in neat columns and compared for shade, size, multiples, usage, price and innumerable other factors.

It’s a long and badly tarred road from an empty flat to full house. And it’s filled with decision making potholes as the battle for colour, size, design and quantity find us veering towards pitched lines where neither home owner is ready to compromise. After all, this stuff costs not-quite-the-earth-but-not-far-off-it and we will have to live with it, warts and all, till it becomes economically viable to cellotape the bits of our credit card back together again.

In our old rented place the second room essentially served two purposes: dumping ground for freshly laundered clothes that needed ironing and much more than occasional guest bedroom. I was determined that when we bought our own place the second room would be more than that. MUCH more, in fact, as I repeated the mantra three times each morning while we house hunted. The second bedroom was not for guests. It was for us and we would occasionally let guests use it. If they behaved well that is. Else it’s on to the balcony with a sleeping bag.

Seeing as there is so much stuff needed just for basic flat living, like a bed to sleep on, chairs to sit on, plates to uuummmm …… eat off, you know, that kind of thing, we postponed the decision of decorating our second bedroom as much as we could, concentrating instead on decorating the rest of our house into a self-pleasing aesthetic. The only decorating idea for the second room that came to some fruition was the curtains. Even that was more because it was an essential to avoid people looking in on us while we ironed, the iron being the second item in the room – more utilitarian and essential than decorative.

The curtains were won in a pitched battle on the John Lewis floor. We quickly agreed on curtains for our own room but for the second room I wanted something with a design on it, something that would stand out. So while poor V helplessly looked on in surrender I chose the palest shade of green-almost-ivory with large red flowers embroidered onto it. Very LARGE flowers. It sounds terrible but it isn’t - truly. The advice of the sales lady was that they would be difficult to match with linen but I was mesmerised enough to coerce poor V into letting me have them. Like simultaneous arm and ear twisting, no more meals for you mister, ok here come the big croc tears mister – twisting. He decided it was not a battle worth fighting. And really the tears were just plain embarrassing.

When the curtains got delivered 9 weeks after we ordered them (yes, this is not India where master-ji will turn around 14 large pieces of furnishing overnight) the curtains for our room were a different colour from the ones we remember choosing but being an equally pleasing neutral colour we decided to keep them. The curtains for the second room were as we expected and once up they looked glorious (to my eyes only), the red flowers setting off the background and framing the wide window with élan. Soon our beloved bean sofa was returned from relocating friends and its beautiful black leather sat plump and robust against the patterned curtains. The blue covered ironing board is now the obtrusive invader.

When our first guest announced their arrival we decided we had better buy a bed. After much hunting, high and low, catalogues, internet and shops we agreed on a pullout guest bed that would give the room the space to be 'our' room as opposed to the guest room. After re-mortgaging our house to pay for the bedding – really there is an awful lot – mattresses, pillows, sheets, duvets and duvet covers, in multiple sets - we had the first guest who pronounced the bed suitably comfortable. Result.

So beside the hunt for a couple of unique bed side tables, some art for the living room and a replica of a £75 silk cushion I saw in Selfridges’, we’re mostly done. Of course I’ve now got it into my head that I want to stain/ varnish the guest bed wood a darker more teak-like shade. Well, that won’t happen anytime soon.

And in the meanwhile V has mastered a set routine in showing visitors around the house. He pauses in the doorway of the second bedroom, behind unsuspecting guests trapped within and asks in his meekest voice, “So, what do you think of the curtains”. Since we only know polite people, they all say, “Oh, very nice”. And then he closes with the killer, “So do you want to take them home, then?”

master-ji: Master Tailor (in this case)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A new day in this modern world

It’s the unsaid things that weigh most heavily on ones mind.

The weight of expectation is immense. Too large not to notice but not so large as to buckle the knees, bend the shoulders. Thankfully.

Today is International Women’s Day. This day is about ordinary women as makers of history: women around the world who challenge the status quo in their daily struggle for equality and find their own voice to guide their lives.

Let the decisions be your own, expectations be damned.