Monday, June 25, 2007


Some evenings are so delicious that they need to be cut into slices wrapped in fine French linen and stored in a hat box, to take out and savour a sliver at a time. I collect evenings like philatelists’ collect rare stamps – discerningly picked and then stored with care. After Friday evening with a wonderfully vibrant gang of girls let’s just say my hat box is full.

Seeing as we are both at work during the week and barely have the energy to come home, load laundry/ dishwasher and throw a meal together, it is left to visiting relatives/ friends to entertain themselves during the week. V’s folks are our current visiting guests and being repeat London visitors they do an admirable job of wandering around the city and relaxing at home on their own in equal measure during the week. The key to a joyful holiday is then devoting our weekends to finding interesting and simple things to do together.

On Saturday we took the train to Brighton, just an hour from London and yet a place V and I have not bothered to visit in all our time here. It had been recommended by so many of my colleagues that I was half wondering when to go. Of course my other half was wondering how nice it would be stay in bed and snooze a bit more. But dutiful child of my mother that I am, I got us a hand-drawn-by-colleague-that grew-up-there and knows-everything-about Brighton-map, found out about group saver tickets to be bought with annual gold card, packed water, carried umbrella’s and shawls and shepard-ed us to Brighton. From the moment we stepped off the train and into the big old beautiful roof station I could tell that it was going to be a special day.

Legged it downhill, toward the mesmerizing blue sea in the distance, past the clock tower, stopping only to get some awesome iced latte from a friendly Aussie at Taylor St Baristas. Once at the seafront we sat down and ate softy ice-creams and watched the wind whip kids and adults and dogs into peals of laughter as they frolicked in the short waves. On our right was the old Pier burnt down and partially fallen into the sea, looking forlorn and devastated. On our left the newer, whiter and brighter Brighton Pier, the amusement park at its tip balanced over the sea, looking precarious and cheese-ily inviting. We walked left along the pebble beach, scrunching along tourists and locals alike, admiring the grey-blue sea, stopping to watch merry-go-round and examine wood souveniers and colourful paintings of boats and huts galore.

After the obligatory photo call at Brighton pier we turned up into the Lanes and looked at the little souvenier and clothes shops before stopping for lunch. We had lunch at Indian Summer, choosing it because it was closest and Indian, both qualities that appealed to my in-laws. As with all Indian restaurants in this country I usually have very low expectations and continuously tell people that the lower their expectations the more pleasantly surprised they are likely to be. We ordered off the very limited day time vegetarian menu and when the food arrived we found the portions were tiny and seemed to be starters rather than mains. But when we told their very helpful staff we wanted something more substantial and vegetarian he checked with his chef who produced a wonderful vegetable curry, some tandoori stuff and the tastiest roti’s and laccha paratha’s we have had a long time. Accompanied by some lovely dal tarka we polished off our meal in no time. For a change we could tell it was food cooked by an Indian chef, someone with an understanding of aromatic spices and the delicate handling of them and an equal aversion to food colour and oil. An absolutely stunningly simple wholesome meal. Sea breeze makes one so hungry – although in my case I doubt sea breeze has anything to do with hunger!

A wander down the little shops and Brighton Pavilion later we traveled back to London. And we never encountered any rain. NOT. A. SINGLE. DROP. So much for forecasts.

It rained all day Sunday and we sat inside our flat looking out from behind the waterfall (huge glass walls have this effect). It was a relaxed, sloth-like day and I behaved a bit like a brooding slug, sloping around the house with a look to reflect the weather. By 4.30pm the weather had really got to me. I opened the hat box to find nothing but fine linen, the delicious evenings having escaped, washed away with the raindrops. I made banana cake instead.

Indian Summer: 69 East Street, Brighton BN1 1HQ. Tel: 01273 711001

Friday, June 15, 2007

Long time no see

Here is why.

After 5 years of living in London my parents and brother finally made the trip over from Delhi to see us. My mum had been before, one fleeting summer 3 years ago. My brother had come to see us our first summer here and then again every few weekends while on a 6 month work stint. But despite traipsing all over the world and having come to England numerous times since he was about 10, my dad had somehow not been to visit since we got here. And of course it was the first time they had all come here together.

A very simple-complex plan was hatched to help celebrate his 60th birthday this May. The first bit was a quick trip to Madras to be with my grandfather, aunts, uncle to celebrate his star birthday. Efficient aunt organised an intimate gathering of family and a sumptuous sadya to mark his shashtpoorthi with some help from the Nik. Then all three of them boarded the plane to be here for his date birthday.

And for a week and a half we celebrated every day. Just being a family and having this time and place in our lives to be together and be happy. Here are thee best bits:

1. Why my mum is the best
Just before mum came to visit there was fierce arguments in office about how she could take so much leave (she was planning to stay for two and a half weeks). She gave in and agreed to come here for just a week and a half. When she told me this on the phone there was stark silence. It was a sob threatening to escape – so far, after so long and for so little time. And then these words “Don’t worry Darling, mama is coming”, that shook my tears away and made me smile. The moment in which I knew that it was not quantity but supreme quality that 1.5 weeks with her would contain.

I always get a huge suitcase full of stuff my mum thinks I need but don’t know I need and she is usually right - I do need it even though I have no space for it! For months before she has been squirreling away stuff to bring me. Bits and bobs, all infused with a style and pizzazz that I did not inherit. And like every visit, whether I go there or she comes here, it’s like all my Christmases come at once. Ever since I got married my body reacts to seeing my mum by falling ill – not life-threateningly, just mildly, with a cold or a fever. It knows that I need her hand to soothe my brow and her hugs to feel better. And connected. This time was no different. No sooner were all my goodies unpacked and put in their place that I developed a cold. This is how I know for sure that I love my mum. Her cool hand on my forehead is how I know she loves me back.

2. Why the Nik is so cool
When we were kids I was usually the Niks side-kick, and on rare occasions his co-conspirator. With that twinkle in his eye His Naughtiness came and kicked my seven year old straight laced ass straight into the dust. We argued a lot, but it was mostly just a precursor to me ignoring his surely-the-Devil-will-come-get-me plan and then loving him when he came out the other side of it. Like when he decided on speed dervish whirling till a forehead was split open by a stabilizer corner. Like when he thought standing on a tricycle AND going down the stairs simultaneously was a good idea. Like sticking his fingers into live electric sockets “just to see”. Like cutting up his T-shirt (whilst still wearing it) to check out the prowess of a new Swiss army knife. Like swallowing marbles and coins, more than once. How the times have changed. Each time I see him now I marvel that he is a grown up and utterly responsible adult and not just my silly baby brother who embarresed the hell out of me when I was a teenager. I marvel at what he has grown into: a great son, adoring brother, loyal friend to millions (I exaggerate but that’s what his 60 odd ‘short-list’ of friends felt like at MY wedding), loving boyfriend, and above all a responsible, gentle and kind human being. He also loads up my i-pod with ‘young’ music and listens patiently to me over-think everything and anyone that can do ALL that without batting an eye-lid is cool in my book.

3. Why I adore my dad
To make up for mum going back early dad decides to stay on for an extra week. After mum and Nik leave dad and I decide to go watch a Sunday matinee show in Leicester Square. Full of lunch this will be the best way to be entertained and snooze on a hot London afternoon. We are standing in the lobby of VUE cinema having been reliably informed that the concessions stand now sells tickets alongside its traditional fare of popcorn and Coke. Talk about multi-tasking (for concessionaires) and cost-cutting redundancy (ticket booth dudes). Young Pimple-y Boy (henceforth called Pimple) of indeterminate teenage years is our server.

Me: Can we have two tickets for X at Y please?

Pimple (looking up briefly): So is that one adult and one senior citizen? It’s half price on Senior citizens today.

Dad (recovering quickly from shell-shocked look and bellowing): I AM NOT A SENIOR CITIZEN! I’M ONLY 60! SENIOR CITIZEN BEGINS AT 65 IN INDIA.

Pimple looks stunned beyond belief. Here he is offering this white haired & bearded man 50% (I mean FIFTY PERCENT!!!!!) off a £12 ticket and he is refusing it on the grounds that he WON’T be called a senior citizen. And that in someplace called India senior citizenships starts at 65. He doesn’t know what to do and breaks into a nervous laughter aggravating dad a bit more. Dad's beard is smokin’.

Bright red Pimple: Are you sure (looking at me brandishing my credit card)? I think here it’s 60, sir.

Suddenly-young-Dad: YES, WE ARE SURE. PAY THE MAN. And then let’s get some popcorn.

And so we pay £24 to watch a Hollywood Blockbuster. I wonder if this is how Hollywood makes a chunk of its money – off dignified elders unable to accept their age. My dad is too cute.