Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oh June

So many bits, so little time or energy.

Summer is here. The odd thundershower threatens but basically its nice and hot mostly (although at 45 degrees in Delhi, my parents regularly dispute my version of hot with a roll of the eyes I can see through the phone) - and of course this has dulled us into forgetting how horrible winter is. Although at this point I am ignoring the idea that the longest day has passed us and winter is months away. I guess it all depends on my mindset - is it MONTHS away or months AWAY?

Our balcony has a serious spider problem. Two successive cleaners have declared that having spiders is good luck and therefore they will do nothing to help eradicate them. I convinced both to atleast remove the tangle of cobwebs that the spiders keep weaving on our outdoor furniture. Pest control companies assure me that spiders are good for the environment and therefore not considered pests. We've polished up the furniture and wipe everything down as speedily as we can but they always come back. To the point where I am thinking of getting rid of all the plants (before I kill them that is). I have not managed to find any medication to remove the darn spiders. All suggestions are welcome. Workable ones which work could win a prize.

London's tube sytem is officially a shambles. We had a 48 hour strike over pay and redundancies. I worked from home one of the days. I thought I could manage one of the days by taking a direct bus to work. Only instead of taking 40 minutes it took 2 hours each way in a city gridlocked by road traffic. So essentially I spent 4 hours on the road and 6 hours at work. What a waste.

Additonally every weekend large parts of the tube system shuts itself down for 'upgrade work'. This has no noticable results as during the week there are still perpetual delays and sardine can carriages. A startling example is a platform extension programme at one station that shut the station down for over a year. When it re-opened with great fan fare we went to check it out and it turned out to be the same platform concreted over and with a glass/ perspex siding (so that people would not fall off the other side) and a similar roof to stave off the rain. And this took them over a year. Yet another station has no interchange because they are repairing escalators - and this has so far run into its second year with no one seeming to care how much we pay to travel around the tube, how much we pay in taxes and how ridiculously low our expectations are.

To top it all they have announced some fabulously revolutionary system of *-gasp-* airconditioning on some parts of the tube that are outside the underground bit (which other cities like New York and Tokyo take for granted). Of course this is on 1.5 lines for 0.6 of the line and after their wonderful beauracracy is scheduled to be completed in 2013 (with delays I make that 2017). And not without those lines being shut EVERY SINGLE weekend from now till completion (in 2017 I hasten to add).

The olympics is nearly here - in 2012 as per schedule - in 2013 in reality (which they will blame on the recession) ha ha. The truth is crap budgeting to start with from well before the recession (but hey you can blame anything on the recession these days). Nothing is on schedule or within budget. They have already used more than 3/4th of the contingency budget, cut down on new buildings by declaring random parks as possible (and free) venues. Shambles. Expect nothing short. So people who are planning to come and sleep on our floor to watch the games, don't buy those tickets just yet. Oh, and the tube is being upgraded purportedly to cope with the deluge in those 16 days. Because at the moment London clearly has no people. Jeez.

I'm addicted to the Wimbledon. Terribly sad not to be able to see hunky Nadal. Not sure Andy Murray will be able to win it, no matter how hopeful the crowds of Henman Hill are. Sure that now they have the retractable roof the rain gods will spite them all by holding off. Hoping Federrer wins it - although his coat of arms and crazy suits are more than a bit OTT - he is a dream to watch.

And finally Michael Jackson. I mean OMG. Can I say that again - OH MY GOD! Was woken this morning by V, hopping around and yelling while brushing his teeth, Michael something something (obscurbe by mouth full of toobrush and foaming paste). I was too fast asleep to figure it out but he was persistant and I finally got something through sign language that made me hop out of bed and lurch blurry eyed to the TV. I have to admit that after a whole day of endless news bulletins on the subject I am still in shock. I listened to him on my ipod as I took the tube this morning. I don't think I can fully describe what an impact he had on my growing up years - I can't comprehend it yet or make any sense of it and what a loss this is yet. He was about to come to the O2 arena not far from us for his final tour. And even though we couldn't manage to get tickets for any of the first 10 shows, the idea of nearly 2 year residency and 40 other possible shows was thrilling. Michael Jackson - no matter what his personality, his problems, his complex life - it's his music for which I am thankful. RIP.

Tata June.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The stakes in May are always high

It’s clearly a very popular place if just starting the word ‘Smith…’ can get a taxi to take you to ‘Smiths of Smithfields’ without need for further elaboration. The problem is that on this May evening we weren’t looking for the ever popular Smiths of Smithfield, fondly known as SOS (and yes, I am over one month late with this post). We were looking for Smithfield Bar and Grill – confusingly also in Smithfield Market. We had a dinner reservation there to celebrate 18 years since we first met, a date to dine out we keep each year because it makes this old lady feel young and foolish at heart.

The Smithfield bar and grill is owned by the Blackhouse Grills and it was recommended by a fair few people in V’s office. So reservation duly made in advance, a day of work complete we met up and travelled to it together. The entrance is a wood paneled bar area with some booth and bar chair seating, large chandeliers and thumping music to aid the ambience of an evening of drinking. The restaurant portion is set back and right through two open rectangular arches and the ambience is decidedly different considering what a short distance lie between. The walls are mainly brick and the walls are adorned with empty black frames. I saw more than one person get up to check that they were indeed empty and not just an illusion of the light. Three of the walls had built in leather booths while the centre of the room was all tables and chairs. Soft lighting and music a total contrast to the front of the house, it was a pleasant atmosphere to unwind from a hectic work week. And the correct volume to be able to talk.

We shared a Thai fishcake starter with sweet chilli sauce (good not great) with a basket of warm bread (again good not great), V drank wine (excellent, his words not mine) while I indulged in a chocolate milkshake (good; I am indeed young AND foolish). And for mains we ordered the chateaubriand for two with peppercorn sauce, sides of French beans, creamed spinach, honey glazed carrots and chips (which were fab). Everything was served beautifully and the waiting staff was neither overly intrusive nor ever too far. The meat was tender, flavourful and done to perfection. Nobody tried to rush us even though the restaurant was filled to the brim in the few hours we sat there. In summary I would say it was not the most inexpensive meal but it was good value for money. It was nice to eat a meal that showed how simple food could be well done. I would recommend it and I would go back.

The year and day we first met May was a sweltering summer month in Calcutta – I suspect like every summer before or since in Calcutta. In London all these years later it is still spring in May, the sun and wind and rain tussling to give the greenery their best chance to grow lush and people their best chance to awaken from the slumber and depression that the dark winter days can leave behind. This fine evening it was still light when we left, the first of the long days of summer. Year nineteen, off to a fabulous start.

The Smithfield Bar & Grill: 2-3 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9JX. Tel: 0207 2460 900

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Margarita Club

It all began on a Friday in summer last year. The wife of V’s friend, my firm friend and then a very new mother, e-mailed to say she needed an afternoon of lunching with adults and not thinking about feeding, pooping and sleep schedules. So could we meet in town to have lunch while her husband stayed home and looked after their child? Of course I could! The added advantage that there would be no possibility of spontaneous breaking into nursery rhymes would just be a bonus for her. Another relatively new mother, friend in common, would join in. And to keep pace/ balance with the child-free one (me) company we roped in another friend in common.

And so it was that we met at Covent Garden (sans any children, bequeathed to their fathers for the afternoon) on a sunny Saturday and proceeded to procure a table at Wahaca. I’ve reviewed Wahaca before (I love the place) and although any American (and some in particular) will tell you that it is not a patch on what you get in Amreeka, sadly (not) it’s what we have to make do with in London. On this particular Saturday it did not matter. Glasses of Margarita’s (and other non-alcoholic beverages as I don’t drink) and a bunch of street food plates accompanied by nachos and guacamole kept us going while the 4 of us talked non-stopped. About what specifics I do not clearly recall – but it was a mix of childhood/ growing up in India experiences, relationships with spouses, friends and family and anecdotes of life in London. What I do recall is that we sat there for nearly 4 hours and we laughed a lot. And I mean a lot. It was a Girl’s Night Out in the daytime. The Margarita Club (which only I refer to it as in my head) was duly born.

In a land where help is scarce and expensive it falls to weekends to socialize and run errands and so it was that a few months and a stack of 27 emails passed before another common date and our next meal was planned. This time we chose trendy Angel and a highly recommended Italian place to eat. La Porchetta on Upper Street did not turn out to be all that I imagined but it was neat, clean and the food was hearty and wholesome rather than delicate and pretentious. The conversation was outstanding yet again. And with the added bonus of pastries and coffee in the lovely Ottolenghi (which is a sweet-toothed girls café heaven by afternoon and sophisticated, sparkling restaurant by night) and a walk through Camden Passage we had a lovely day.

By this second rendezvous the opportunity to whinge and talk freely without the need for censorship had quickly come upon us. Clearly this was as much therapy for me as it was just good solid connectivity with women friends for us all. In my many years in London it has always been socialising with colleagues or other couples that V and I know. I have made some great individual gal pals but thus far no group to be a foil to my endless conversation with their endless conversation. So this has been an opportunity I have grabbed at – a small group of 3 girl friends who will not just hear but listen, share advice, give as much as they take, banter, argue, tell it like it is and chatter. Women who share a context with my life in that we are all migrants to this country. Of course there are many such but it takes an invisible, unquantifiable clicking to make that connection and somehow we made it without even realising it.

We’ve had a few more meals since, each as special for the company as the food -trying out new places is now part of the dance. But in this hectic pace of life where work, distance and other commitments take up so much of our time and energy it is difficult to find the time to do this as often as one would like. And in a strange way that just makes each time, once a quarter or so, something special.

For this, the (randomly named) Margarita Club I am grateful.

La Porchetta: 141-142 Upper Street, London, N1 1QY. Tel: 020 7288 2488
Ottolenghi: 287 Upper Street, London N1 2TZ. Tel: 020 7288 1454. E-mail:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Life Lessons: Great at doing Nothing

I’ve near given up on blogging. Not because I have nothing to write; more because the weather is so nice that I cannot muster the brain power to do anything but lie in the sun and bask, my mind a total blank.

For those not in the know Great Britain does not have enough public holidays in the year and gets 3 additional Mondays a year off to make up the numbers – first and last Mondays in May and last Monday in August. Taking advantage of the Bank Holiday last Monday and adding on 4 days of left over annual leave from last year I decided to give myself a week off. And what a glorious week it was.

On Saturday we had our usual swim, followed by friends round for lunch and a whole afternoon of non-stop chatter and a delicious little boy to play with. Soaked in the sunshine we ate Mediterranean vegetable couscous, slow-fried potatoes with tallegio and thyme, garlic butter & dill ciabattas, chicken baked in lime & chilli chutney and salads. And in the stupor after we ate leftovers and cleaned-up.

Sunday was errands all morning followed by the IPL final. I was planning an afternoon nap but some neighbours decided to come and watch the match at our house and so I stayed up watching it as well. Then everyone wanted to go out for some Indian food and so we hot footed it to Caraway. It was midnight by the time we got home.

On Monday V and I caught up with random DIY and general lazing - totally ditching a plan to go meet some friends for lunch at Saravana Bhavan and get some grocery shopping done. He tried to talk some of the plants back to life while I tried some long overdue kitchen spring cleaning (overdue by one spring at least). Everything was half hearted and the daybed was well used for short lie-downs and breaks.

On Tuesday while the world went back to work I braved the hideous dripping rain (yes, our weather is so unpredictable) and the battered tube system (particularly bad when it rains for more than 5 minutes or a person decides that chucking themselves on the track in front of a train is the only solution to Tuesday mornings) to go and spend the day with 3 lovely ladies and a trio of children. We spent the day fielding questions from a little man and watching a pristine living room turned into toy explosion by the younger ones. Just watching children run around and expend energy non-stop is exhausting and that evening the silence of my house was such a stark contrast that I turned on both ipod in dock and Tv on simultaneously. But it was a day well spent and a ginormous meal imbibed – I would do it again in a heartbeat.

For Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I had big plans. I woke up on Wednesday and used one of the sheets of beautiful origami paper to make a to-do list for the next 3 days. I have not the first clue about origami but buy sheafs of the paper regularly because it’s so pretty – it’s no wonder I live in the House of Clutter. On this list, besides waiting for delivery of a new chair and bedside lamps I had bones to pick with our grocery delivery people, the hunt for a gardener, research on how to get rid of spiders, things to sell on Gumtree and measuring for new blinds. There were half a dozen other mundane oh too boring to mention things. Needless to say I did not even get through half my list. Besides waiting for the deliveries, which are brought to my door and therefore require nothing more strenuous than a halfhearted signature and a kick to the other side of the room, I did nothing. Nada. Zip. Double Nada. Triple Zip. You get the picture.

I watched repeats of the Gilmore Girls and The Practice, random DIY and property developing programmes and did an incredible impression of a sloth by not even getting up for the ringing of my mobile phone which lay just more than an arms-length away. I lay on the daybed in my glass walled living room, often still in my pyjamas and read at great speed, dozed in the afternoon sun and indulged in the wastefulness of time. Every time V called from office (which was about every jealous 10 minutes apart) I would sigh at having had to answer the phone and repeat the same thing, ‘Nothing’ in reply to his inquisitiveness of what use I was putting my day to. You would think he’d get it but I think he was living in hope that continuous questioning might get me to move my butt. Poor man, even after all these years he doesn’t know me.

By the end of each day, sun soaked to the bone, I would venture into the kitchen and cook enough of something light to last till lunch the next day. And then after an evening of yet more mind-numbing TV and promises to myself that I would in fact move my butt the next day I would retire to bed with a book. The end. Get up rinse and repeat 3 days in a row for wonderful glow of person just back from beach vacation without the sand in her hair.

Now that I am back at work and the sun is still shining all I can think of is my next tryst with the daybed, a pile of books and the TV remote control. Here’s to another day of laziness. May this glorious weather and my genetic love for the sun forever last. Although rain is forecast before the week is out I remain an eternal optimist.