Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Five - VII or the New Year One

1. I have come to love this time of year in London despite the bitter cold. It's crisp (yes, I feel like a shivering lettuce when I am outside) but so long as it is dry I try and go out for a short walk each day. Of course we've just had two solid days of rain (drizzle) which were miserable but on the whole we've had more sunshiny cold than wet cold. We've already seen some snow and apparently there is more to come in the new year. Of course it is nothing like the States or Siberia but it is always amusing to see how 5 snowflakes cause an entire city to shut itself down. No wonder the world laughs at us when a bit of snow closes the transport system and has people working from home to avoid panic attacks of commuting in an already rubbish system.

2.This year, after 7 cold winters dealt with, a small miracle has occured in the 30 household. V turns on all the heating as soon he is awake. Yes, in every room. And encourages me to keep them all on till the house is like a mini-furnace by mid-afternoon. Now to people who turn their heating on in September and only turn it off in April this may seem like a non-event. But for the penguin that is V this is a total turnaround. Till the day we discovered that a child was on its way we never turned the heating on because it 'gives me a headache' (his mantra) and I should 'add some layers (my winter fashion look). Well, miraculously the headaches have vanished because house must be kept warm so said child can crawl around. If only my double socks, multiple layered person had known that it was a child that could procure me heating I would have had the child years ago!

3. We spent Christmas day as we always do, making and eating pizza and watching rubbish on TV. I had a glass of wine after about 4 years. Sort of went to my head but no hangover whatsoever. I shall be returning to the occasional social drink in 2010 after a long dry hiatus. Tequila shots here I come!

4. Unlike the past 7 years of New Years parties this year we are staying at home like boring old people. For one, most of our friends have gone out of town on exotic holidays - Boston, Spain, India and Argentina. Two, V would like to not have to host yet another party but instead stay home and play with his son. Three, I guess it's impractical to host a party for the 6 people who do remain in London considering we'd have to dumb it well down for the sleeping child. I have to say though that I am disappointed and sad for I love-hate hosting parties and look forward to this every year. Instead I will cook couscous with peppers and peas and bake chicken with lime and chilli for dinner and possibly have another glass of wine while watching the fireworks, to bring in the new year.

5. All that remains is to say that I am busy compiling my 2010 resolution list and going through last years resolutions to see how badly I fared. In the meanwhile I hope you have a splendid New Year party (think of me - grumpy old woman wrapped in blanket and with her bedsocks on by 10pm!). This is 30in2005, V and babyboy signing off for 2009 and wishing you the best, brightest, healthiest 2010 possible. See you on the other side!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry as wine

A break in my (slow moving, rarely read) Delhi stories to say Merry Christmas all.

At around 5am UK time, 10.30 India time, it will be 8 years to the hour that V and I stood in front of our closest family and friends and declared mental fitness to be tied in holy matrimony (the requirement of a public registered wedding!). Under a tree draped in strings of jasmine and terracotta lamps, on a glorious Delhi winter sunshiny morning, decked in finery and smiles so broad they contained our whole hearts in them.

Like every year between then and now we will celebrate with homemade pizza and wine, perpetuating a tradition we created for ourselves to mark the passing of time, the strengthening of bonds, the joy of our lives together and the anticipation of another year. Happy Anniversary V boy.

And if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas cyber world people.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dilli Kahaani 2

I think I've said before that in our family it is the Nik who has the midas touch. Each year he plays cards before diwali, wins a s**tload of cash and then uses that (plus some) to do something house enhancing. In the crap construction of DDA it is only enhancements and continued bolstering that ensures the buildings remain standing or re-saleable. Last year it was pop (that's plaster of paris, not my father) and painting. This year, in anticipation of being a married man next year, it's fixing his loo and building a walk-in closet for his room.

In true desi style the builder promised a one month slot in which he would finish everything (before diwali) and of course nearly 2 months later when we arived things were more than a nudge away from being complete. It didn't help that only my dad was at home to supervise while the loud, bellowing, authoratative voice of my brother was sitting at work all day. So when we arrived in Delhi it was not to the room of my youth that baby and I settled. It was my parents room, thereby displacing my father who was more that happy to live with the gadgets in the TV room.

Once the dust had settled and every garment and shoe in my room (see I still refer to it as my room, even though it was always 'our' room and even though it hasn't been my room in about 8 years) had been washed/ drycleaned/ ironed/ scrubbed to a shine, we began the slow move. Of course not before we procured new matresses and unpacked our suitcases into the new shiny cupboards. This whole process took most of the second week and it was not till week three that the room was actually usable.

By the start of week two I had shed my sloth like avatar, comandeered the car and driver and was trying to leave the house each day, father, baby, car seat and 10 million pieces of equipment in tow. We had lovely lunches with my parents (kidnapping my mother from work), an afternoon with my cousin M & her two adorable children, and an afternoon with my school friends sitting around our living room and chatting nineteen to the dozen over chai. I read bundles of David Baldacci books each afternoon and night (the Nik has every single one) and ordered a different kind of stuffed paratha to be made by the cook each morning. I tell you there is almost no vegetable that man cannot stuff into a circle of deep friend cholestrol.

In the evenings, the Nik and P would entertain us with stories, gup-shup and the bubliness of youth (mainly funny noises which baby thought were hilarious) and sometimes their friends would drop by for a bit. We ordered in a variety of eats from momo's to kathi rolls to kebabs to ice cream depending on the day, mood and state of stomach.

It was a tiring week what with all the weeding and cleaning out, one final push before the room could take shape and the rest of the house and we could all settle in our respective corners. But it was that most pleasant of aches, where all the activity made for a little progress each day and a deep satisfied sleep each night.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dilli kahaani 1

There is so much to tell that I think it is wisest I break it up into little stories. Also it's been over 2 weeks since we got back and it all seems a bit like a fairytale to me rather than a real life lived. Here goes.

My parents live in a DDA flat. For those non-familiar with the term, officially it stands for Delhi Development Authority. Unofficially, as my father succinctly puts it, it means lowest tender construction. It's a south facing ground floor flat, well proportioned but not of garangutan proportions. When we first moved to it in the early 90's even our school bus would not venture this far south. We had a private pool of parents taking on the resposibility of organising transport for school and lobbying for the windowless DTC buses to ply our way. It was a deserted shell of a colony and people stared in utter amazement and laughed out loud (at us, not with us) if I ever told them where we lived. It was akin to telling someone that we lived in the middle of the Thar Desert. Of course now it is considered a reputable outpost of south Delhi and with burgeoning Gurgaon to its south it seems almost central what with its endless malls and ridiculous rents and house prices. Who's laughing now?

It's south facing-ness with just a prk in front always made my parents feel like they had won the lottery. My brother and I used to grouse growing up that living at the back of the colony with wilderness in front of us meant that we lived at the southernmost tip of the southern end of Delhi. It also meant a 10 minute trudge to the bus stop each morning - and that meant a few extra freezing cold or burning heat minutes (depending on the Delhi season) than the oh-so-lucky kids who lived facing the front road. We hated it.

Well, now we have no one peeking into our house and the flat gets that delightful Delhi winter sun streaming through its large windows. And we have a park with somewhat mature foliage between us and the ample parking space. So I guess in some small way my parents did win the lottery. For the entire first week I stayed indoors, reading and napping and eating my way through anything made of flour and deep fried in butter. And most mornings I lay on the sofa chatting with my dad as he sat on the doorstep, reading and chuckling with the baby on his lap on the doorstep, soaking in the sun, listening to music on one of his many many music systems. After our whirlwind 4 weeks, 3 cities tour both baby and I needed it, that feeling of stopping and letting everything settle. It was a good week.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Waapas in London

It's been so long that I think I no longer know how to write or how to organise all the gazillion things I have to say to you my dear blog. That is what comes of a four week break in Delhi, at my parents home, where I don't have to think about what/ how to cook, when to do laundry, whether said laundry needs to be seperated into colours and whites, how clean clothes can be magically ironed or if I take a long bath will my kid bawl his lungs out. Bliss. So much 'breaking' in fact that I took long naps, read and chilled out at home for 4 straight weeks and as a result look like Goodyear blimp. I blame it on fried parathas for breakfast.

Of course we are waapas (thats 'back' for the non hindi speakers) and I am trying to adjust to the reality of cooking, laundry and the zillions of other small chores that need doing. Really a tough gig when all I want to do is crawl under the duvet at 4.30pm. Reality sucks.

Here's back to blogging more frequently. Already a 100% improvement from November. But I promise more Delhi tales and food stories.

What have you been upto peeps? Miss me at all?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Five - VI

1. Done with Diwali for another year. The silks held up. Mainly because I wore them for a grand total of 45 minutes. It was blazingly hot what with all the diyas and lamps and Calcutta weather etc., so I breathed a sigh of relief when my MiL said I could go change after the puja. Dinner was scrumptuous (it always is in their home) - the highlights were badam halwa and dahi badas. The Kid slept through it all, not even stirring when the fireworks went off in the vicinity. I think he has my genes.

2. V left us at Calcutta airport for his long return via Mumbai to London. We took a much delayed flight to Chennai, port three in our round India visit. People were uniformly helpful, whether in their official capacities as airline crew/ staff or just as friendly passengers. The flight was fine and we got to sit in the empty business class section so that 'with a baby you need more space ma'am'. Great.

3. Chennai is lovely. My favourite city in India I think. Despite the searing humidity. I have the fondest memories of summer holidays with my cousins (although I think all we did then was fight!) and then of living here when I first tackled the corporate world as a youngster. The bonus this time has been the retreating monsoon - sheets of rain each night with that earthy smell accompanied by claps of thunder and bolts of lightening. We sit on the balcony in the generous swing and sway and chat while enjoying the sudden cool breeze. Simply lovely.

4. In food I am a confirmed idli and sambhar addict. I think everyone is quite sick of me and the amounts of sambhar I can consume. I have most certainly eaten my own weight in light fluffy piping hot idlis. I can bet you both things are off the menu for atleast a week once I have left. We try and go out for a 'chakkar' each morning. To a saree shop or Hot Breads or Landmark or just to drive past Marina beach where my grandfather used to take us as children for ice cream. Everything in Madras is for me suffused with a memory and I continuously chatter to my father and aunt ' oh this is where/ when/ how...... I feel almost like a child again, so many are my memories. But the reality is that I am grown and want my child to see somehow what my history is made up of. He is not being at all obliging - the second he is in his car seat he falls asleep thereby avoiding any of my lectures.

5. Finally, we leave for the last of our Bharat Darshan destinations tonight. Delhi, my original love. But Chennai you are a wonderful second. Besides seeing my family the great highlight has been the news of a baby boy born to my cousin A a day ago. It's been a wonderful, relaxed and happy trip so far (although I and the Kid miss V dreadfully). I expect my home in Delhi will make me yet happier if that is possible.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Five - V

1. Never thought I'd get sentimental about a book. And more than want to, I feel compelled to review it here. For posterity. To remind myself how I felt when I read it. It's been over a week since I finished Fugitive Histories by Githa Hariharan. But it's left so many thoughts swirling around that even now I can't promise I'll be coherent. And since I'm on holiday there is not enough time for me to do this now. I'll wait for coherence and leave the writing till I am back. It's enough to say it is a wonderful book that brings home the fragility of life and the thoughtlessness and cruelty of human beings. It's a simply wonderful, tender-harsh book that I enjoyed immensly despite its great sadness and hurt.

2. We are in India. The first leg of the journey is over and we are in city 2 of 4. The long London - Mumbai flight was a doddle but once here adjustment for the tiny person in our midst has been fraught. He seems to sense we are away from the only home he has ever known and is both happy and sad and stressed and smiley. It's funny and difficult both.

3. Mumbai was quick but fun. We stayed home mainly and had loads of friends drop by. The cousins played and we ate some lovely food and took pictures and chatted till early each morning. I made a quick trip to a bookshop and bought 10 books - just the start of my book retail therapy.

4. Enjoyed a sudden Calcutta shower this afternoon from the confines of a covered balcony. What they call a drizzle is what we call a downpour in London. But there is nothing to match the smell that the first few minutes brings - fresh rainwater hits matti smell. Thereafter it is the smell of rubbish and water.

5. It's hot. In Mumbai and in Calcutta. Sweatingly hot. The kind which needs continuous air conditioning. Even though Diwali is just around the corner. I was complaining till V reminded me that I'm used to Delhi where winter is between Diwali and Holi and even though Diwali is super early this year I hear that already the Delhi nights are cooler. But Diwali is to be celebrated in the Calcutta heat this year. How will my silks hold up?? Report in the next Five.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Five - IV

1. Why do I have no faith in the system? After I fought with the Bloomsbury aunty I was sure I would not get a replacement for my faulty copy of 'Burnt Shadows' by Kamila Shamsie. On Saturday, after a week drought of post, my brand new proper copy arrived along with 5 other awaited parcels of internet shopping. Am waiting to finish 'Fugitive Histories' by Githa Hariharan which is my current midnight feast before I get stuck back into the wonderfully compelling Burnt Shadows. So many books so little time.

2. Actually that isn't strictly true. I finished Zoe Heller's 'The Believers' in one night, a birthday gift from a friend. And then 'The Inheritors' by Neel Chowdhury in three nights. I would recommend both and have every intention of getting everything else Heller has written. She has a wonderfully descriptive way of writing, setting the scene as if the reader is a fly on the wall, urging the protagonists forward, cheering the underdog, debating every side of the story. Eminently readable. 'The Inheritors' was interesting in that it was about the high flying business and social worlds of Calcutta marwaris, a quantity unknown. But it had its shortcomings in the simplicity and neatly tied ending, which made it predictible after a point. Good not great. I find myself speedily going through my very diminished book pile at great speed. Cannot wait for my replenishment run.

3. Talking of replenishment runs, I am off to India for 7 weeks in mid-Oct. I intend to make use of all pampering facilities and extended jaunts to buy books for who knows when I shall have the chance again. My bags aren't packed but the collection of stuff to be carried is now living in piles on the bed of our guest room. To look at it one would think we were moving permanently, not just going for a bit. As for whether this mountain shall mould itself into our Samsonites with ease is a question that no one can reliably guess. We are taking bets as to how much excess baggage we shall have to shell out for and how much stuff we shall have to discard at the airport.

4. In India I am doing the bharat darshan version of things, introducing my son and relatives & friends to each other in Mumbai, Kolkatta, Chennai and Delhi. Varying days in each city but none so short or rushed that we shall feel harried or cheated. Numerous flights which shall be erased from memory no doubt by the wonderful hospitality of family in each port. For the first time ever V and I will vacation together in India, having 2 whole weeks in which we do not scatter around the country like headless chickens. Our speciality so far has been 8 day trips (3 in 2 years on average) where we travel the long legs together and then scatter, only to re-group 7 days later having given pieces of ourselves to various cities. Not so this time when we will spend the 2 weeks entirely together before I continue on to the last two cities for varying lengths of time with bubba in tow.

5. Sadly this trip will necessitate big changes to how much we manage to do in each place. No more scurrying around cities trying to see/ eat/ buy everything in sight. I figure that since I cannot/ do not want to go to the mountain, the mountain shall just have to come to me. So family and friends shall have to come see us and thanks to all that economical labour food too shall be delivered and/ or carted home when leaving home in the cold winter evenings with tiny person in tow no longer becomes an option. I look forward to staying indoors, warm and comfortable, with dvd's to watch, hot indian food to imbibe and gurgles to respond to. Shall I blog while I vacate mes amis? Or will I be revoltingly boring droning on about my wonderful vacation and should spare your sensibilities for when I am back to the hard edge of life in London? The honest vote is now open.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Five - III

1. It's winter. Not autumn, just winter. Which is disappointing because either summer never really had a chance to settle in or I was too busy to notice it. There is a chilly breeze and mutliple layers including a jacket are now needed for adventures in the urban outdoors. We even had a day of lashing rain to bring the point home. The only redeeming features about winter are warm duvets and comfort eating. Hot chocolate anyone?

2. After a summer of visitors and the new addition to our busy lives, our home is now preparing for the long winter. The last of the parents or GOD (Grandparents on duty) as we refer to them, have left and we have been left holding a little boy whose new skill of smiling (and this time it isn't gas!) has us both enthralled. Life has changed immeasurably, it's a much tougher gig than before and at some level I miss the carefree life of coupledom where everything was about me and us. But as with all decisions in life that are taken and need considerable thought we knew this was the stage that awaited us. And although certainly different to our restaurant hopping, all day sleeping, much partying existance, this too has it immense rewards. Luckily there are friends with advice and plenty of Toblerone to see me through!

3. For a fair few years now I have always had the thought in my mind to be a kind, fair and good person - to think before I act. This does not mean that everyone I meet becomes my best friend or that I go around giving hugs to strangers on the street. What it does mean is that I endeavour to connect and do things for/with family and friends and give them the opportunity to reciprocate appropriately (not do things necessarily, but be there when I need them or atleast show a modicum of interest/ concern in our lives). Of late with a certain couple (family or friends I won't say) I have felt taken advantage off Both V and I have made every effort with them but there seems to be some coldness and aloofness building. Luckily for them (and me) I know my limits of bullshit-taking. I am fast reaching the point where after cajoling and then resorting to a sarcastic email I am at the end of the rope. I'm done. It's their turn and if they don't respond it's their loss. There are no second chances and I am clearly humanly fallible in that I cannot always be good and kind no matter how well intentioned I aim to be.

4. Finished all my books from Amazon. That's what a young baby who stays up a lot at night demands. Thankfully I shall soon be off to India where I can buy the next 25 books to read. In the meanwhile I am re-reading lots of old lovelies from my bookshelves such as Listening Now by Anjana Appachana and The Memory Box by Margaret Forster (next). And some books from previous purchasing jigs which fell by the wayside for one reason or another (the Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale, The Inheritors by Neel Chowdhury and Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian) .

5. What with the 'wonderful' weather, little person, swine flu advisories and laziness/ exhaustion I spend most of my days at home. Changing diapers. And watching TV. And reading. And napping. And eating Toblerone. And Ben & Jerry's half baked I have strayed from my point. What I meant to say was, we get out a few days a week for a wander and a baby weighing but not much else. This means that I need to find things to occupy myself. Yay credit card era. I have spent the last few days indulging in the purchase of half a new wardrobe and am extremely pleased with myself. Of course it won't last, because everything will arrive and nothing will fit and then when it comes time to write the next five I will be all grumpy. What with clothes and weather, consider yourself warned.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Five - II

1. It's been a slow news week. Actually it's been the wierdest kind of week, one in which I have had no inkling of date or day unless I look at a news channel on television. I feel like I am living in somewhat of a vaccum. And although I know this is only a temporary state (and clearly one for which no amount of preparatory talks are enough) again I have friends to thank for calling to check I am alive, awake and kicking!

2. Skype works and I have everyone of any importance in my life on it. The problem is that some people don't have camera's or good quality camera's which makes it a bit of a one sided discussion; it gets old fast when you can only see a static picture and/ or no picture at all. Then there are the vagaries of internet speed which picks on the streaming quality making transmission shaky and unpredicatable. And finally the timing of getting to see/ chat with anyone is down to luck/ texts/ calls to get people online. When it does work though it is a joy to see smiling faces. In one case we will be conferencing a whole bunch of spread out family once a week so everyone can see everyone. This Sunday is the trial to see if it works for 4 sets of us simultaneously across countries and time zones at a pre-arranged time.

3. Not much by way of snail mail but I did get a host of books I ordered online, all neatly boxed up. Here is what is on the midnight menu for the next few weeks: The weekenders: adventures in Calcutta by Bella Bathurst, A good Indian wife by Anne Cherian, (Un)arranged marriage by Bali Rai, Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry, Swimming Lessons and other stories by Rohinton Mistry, Such a long journey by Rohinton Mistry, The Cardamom Club by Jon Stock and In times of Siege by Githa Hariharan. By way of explanation on the Rohinton Mistry's, I have read them all ages ago and the copies are living in Delhi adopted by my mother. I need my own and to refresh my memory with these wonderful books.

4. I had a huge fight with somebody at Bloomsbury. I was reading 'Burnt Shadows' by Kamila Shamsie (one of my favourite authors) and suddenly the story made no sense. It was 3something am and I was somewhat sleep deprived so I thought it was just exhaustion playing tricks with my eyes. When I went back to it the next morning it still did not make any sense. Turns out the book has been wrongly bound and has huge chunks of pages missing - just when it was developing the most intriguing of turns. Anywho, I called Bloomsbury's complaints department and the long and short of it was that they wanted me to go return the book to the vendor I pruchased it from. When I pointed out that it could have been at an airport on another continent or a gift from someone the woman thought I was not being 'accomodating enough' at which point I lost my cool and pretty much yelled at her. I have to send her the book and a replacement will be posted. I have her name and her supervisors number so I'd better get it back in a hurry!

5. My new favourite ice cream is called half baked and has among other things brownies and cookie dough in it. We don't readily get cookie dough in London, or if we do I haven't seen it. I also don't know anybody who uses it so I would ahve no idea what to do if a roll of it came and thwacked me on the side of my head. I know it from the serial 'Friends' and am intrigued by how it can be eaten raw or baked. I want cookie dough.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Five - I

1. If statistics are to be believed apparently I can no longer be counted upon to come up with cogent posts worth reading. So for the forseeable future I will be making these mini-lists of Five. Feel free to ignore me.
2. I have become the scatter-brained woman who neither brushes her hair nor bathes till all hours of the day. I blame it on the baby who does not yet have his own blog to defend himself.
3.The best books for midnight reading are the non-heavy paperback kind that can be held with one hand. This week I have finished the 4 Ox-tales books: Water, Air, Fire, Earth - each a series of short stories by remarkable writers. Loved most of the stories. Should I bother with a review?
4. Have discovered that homemade garlic ciabatta's are the stuff of evening snacks especially on days when it is raining. It's also something that everyone will happily eat without comment or advice on how to make it better. Take one ciabatta, slice through, butter on both sides, sprinkle chopped garlic, dill and chives, wrap in foil and refrigerate or freeze. Then bake at 180 deg preheated oven in foil for 22 minutes direct from freezer or 18 minutes from the fridge. Slice while hot and eat while hot.
5. I have installed Skype much to the delight of my parents who NEED to see their one and only grandchild gurgle and coo in order to be able to sleep each night. And introduced my in-laws (staying with us) and V's brother in Singapore to it as well - so all grandbabies can be seen across the world. Everyone is behaving as if they have just discovered electricity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


My how time flies when you’re changing diapers (yes, British people I am using Amriki Ingles – I say diapers; somehow nappy just seems not to flow off the tongue as easily).

I’m going to finish this post today come baby bath time or bedtime. It’s been circulating around my head so long that it’s demanding a post code of its own. So 34 points, no order, no hidden meanings:

1. I turned 34 on the 15th of July – 9 days after a small person was yanked from my insides and therefore it has taken me one fuzzy month to get my act together enough to put it down in the blog I started for that very purpose. To mark my years.
2. I was going to write / publish this post by the 15th of August 2009. Of course I began and other demands caused the draft button to be pressed.
3. My birthday gifts included some amazing musk lotion and foot balm from Laline, another bookshelf (finally) and mastitis. The last gift was painful as hell and proves that the baby is cute for a reason.
4. It also meant that most of my day was spent with 103 fever, under the blanket and topped up with a trip to our local GP to get antibiotics.
5. The antibiotics make it to the top of the list of most wanted.
6. Super dinner of goulash and tagliatelle conjured up by my mother to end eventful-uneventful birthday.
7. My parents were in town for 5 weeks. And then they left. We survived a week on our own (yes I know most people manage on their own ALWAYS – I am not one of them). Now V’s folks are in town. Both times we have had incredible menus to keep our tummies warm. Lucky us.
8. GOD’s (Grandparents on Duty) are a wonderful support system and something that not living in India has taken away from us (or is that us taken away from it?). I escaped for the odd hot chocolate and spot of retail therapy while they were around.
9. After all these years it’s no longer an immediate fit for anyone. Parents have their way of doing things in their homes and then we bring them here and demand they do things our way. Add hormones into that mix and I make for a horrid host. I apologise unreservedly.
10. Of course they were superstars, taking him when I needed to nap, burping him when I was at the end of my tether and generally providing the boosting moral support and motivational speeches of what a good job we are doing (not).
11. My mum wandered around with bowls of fruit, cups of milk and biscuits trying to stuff the abovementioned into my mouth while my hands were otherwise occupied. Annoying but clearly necessary.
12. She also massaged my swollen feet with soothing salves each night. For this I and my feet are eternally grateful.
13. My aunt came and stayed a few days before and then after, bookends to her big Russian holiday. Along with my mum she had plenty of wonderful advice and a pair of helping hands that left us a freezer of sambhar.
14. My mum added to this a week of dinners before she left – high protein and highly tasty non-vegetarian delights. It made our in-between week much simpler being able to just defrost and eat with rice/ roti/ bread.
15. My cousin (very same aunt’s son) came to on holiday (so convenient) to London after the Moscow leg. I saw my adorable niece and nephew (him for the first time) when they came to see the baby.
16. My 6 year old niece wanted to know why there weren’t two babies (crossed wires in a child’s mind) and where was the lip balm?!. And my nephew told me all about his holiday where he had seen nothing, done nothing, except ‘walking’. For a 4 year old I guess pounding the pavements of London all day long was the highlight – oh, and also going on a boat. Adorable.
17. In-laws are now in residence. It’s the month of vegetarianism.
18. I have given up television. Or rather it has given me up. With so many people wanting a share of screen time getting ones hands on the remote is like stealing the Kohinoor diamond. It requires getting past an intricate guard system of relatives. Without hurting anyone.
19. I want a television on my bedroom wall. And yes I know it’s not good for us. I also know it’ll never happen. But a want is a want.
20. I shall have to catch up on Law & Order in its many versions as a box set.
21. I borrowed a box set from friends to watch during the first days on my maternity leave. It’s taken me over two months to get through the fantastic ‘The Wire’. And with the best will in the world I’m still not done.
22. I have lost all touch with the news and my obsession with the weather has all but disappeared. Seeing as I may never leave the house again thanks to an unpredictable routine does it really matter if it’s raining or sunny?
23. On the other hand I am reading with speed bordering on conorde-ish (yes, that isn’t a word, yet seeing as this is my blog I am allowed to make it up). I am loving living in a world of fiction, all history, magic and make-believe
24. I am counting on the Economist to keep me up to speed with world affairs.
25. I am officially a professional at multi-tasking. I can read, feed, and sing a lullaby all simultaneously. In the middle of the night.
26. Maybe I should / could join something as a logistics officer.
27. What I cannot do is fall back to sleep instantly. I have never been able to sleep without reading and this habit of old persists. This is a problem for my sleep deprived day persona. What it means is that I am reading swathes of books by lamplight each night. I have at least 10 I could cogently review. Should I?
28. We got 15 cards to congratulate us on the arrival of the baby. I got 1 birthday card and most of my friends forgot. Oh well, I guess it (and I) are getting old.
29. There is to be no more baby talk on this blog. I am not and never will be a mother blogger. There are those better suited to gushing about their children and spouting advice. I hope to glean some of it from them, ignore the sanctimonious others and muddle my way through motherhood thank you very much. For my friends in London who live on the other end of the phone and regale me with news of the outside world – thank you. You make my London life brighter and better each day.
30. Even though my ventures out are limited the glass walls of the house decide my mood each day. The weather outside our windows is undecided. Some days it’s all rainy and others all bright. Summer is almost at its end and it never truly got here.
31. Our new laptop arrived. I got a skype account. The laptop keypad has a fault and does not yet work. We are still stuck with our 17th century old-timer. And no skype.
32. I am obsessed by chinese food. Particularly fried noodles with beansprouts.
33. And Green and Blacks chocolate ice cream. Which I can shamefully admit I will go and have 2 tablespoonfuls of in the middle of each night without an iota of remorse.
34. I’m undecided how I feel about 34. It comes with a whole lot more baggage and responsibility. And my mind is befuddled with all the trivial day to day chores at the moment. What I do know is that no matter what life throws at me I am a year richer and more ready than ever to face it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Revolting appliances, reading books

Thanks for nothing internet. I am having to re-type the whole of the post that I wrote last weekend. Boring.

All the household appliances are revolting. Going on strike a la London style - one by one. The washing machine went first. It refused to dry anything or even remove the excess water. So every morning we had to wring out sopping wet clothes and hang them up on our rickety over the tub stand. Then in a moment of early returned home panic I dropped a glass of water on the laptop rendering the ‘c’ key and one of the ‘ctrl’ keys useless. So now I have to type everything in word and paste ‘c’s into it before transferring it to its rightful place.

So we got a new washing machine (requiring a third mortgage) and of course we had not bargained for the integrated-ness of our kitchen so we had to return it and buy a yet more expensive one to fit our kitchen. It worked fine till one night last week it suddenly went off its rails (literally) and threatened to take off, the sound was so deafening, with all of us suddenly jumping out of bed in a panic. Emergency switching off and call to the installer next morning determined that the level of the floor the machine was off/ uneven and the sole cause of the sound/ jumping. The dude came and fixed it and it worked for 2 washes. As of 3 nights ago it is back to its old tricks, this new machine. The guy has readjusted it. And when it happens again we have a plan to rectify it that is more permanent.

We also ordered a new laptop. Ours was on its last legs before I dropped the glass of water on it - although that is not a good enough reason to christen it with water. It’s mouse pad temperamental, the contrast on the screen fluctuating, the memory and speed too low; 6 years having served us well it is ready to retire. So my days are spent waiting at home patiently for things to be delivered/ fixed etc.

In other news, it took me 12 days from the 6th of July to finish 1 book. An all time slow-ness record, but with good reason. The book was ‘The Associate’ by John Grisham, a man whose book redefined legal fiction in my youth. The book was good to start with, the story following a law student into his first job at a big Manhattan firm, egged on by blackmail for a college indiscretion. The blackmailers want inside information on a lawsuit that that firm is pursuing, something big and involving defence equipment. The process is long and arduous and he flits with the ethical dilemma of betrayal and pursues his own methods of finding out about his blackmailers, finding a way out of this safely. While the writing is good, it lacked the lustre of his earlier novels. It sped along and then slowed and then sped, threading stories of people around him, his father, colleagues, roommates from college, to make up the numbers and provide adequate background. Sadly it ended badly – very up in the air, with some FBI involvement but no real conclusions. It’s all left to your imagination and random options. The abrupt end left me very disappointed. I shall have to re-read one of his earlier books to persuade myself to buy his next book.

Since then the speed of reading has picked up and I finished Testimony by Anita Shreve (very well written, worth the effort) and am now onto the ‘The Senator’s Wife’ by Sue Miller (so far so average). More book reviews seem to be the order of the day…..

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I used to be able to write in word do_uments and then paste stuff into blogger. No more apparently. As half the keys on my laptop are not working this is imperative now to be able to write anything of substan_e. Any ideas on how I paste stuff into blogger? Or is this the end of the road....

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The world this week...

...has changed in this 30s household beyond all recognition.

30in2005 and V had a baby boy on the 6th of July 2009.

We are both completely in awe and totally exhausted...

See you later alligators!

Monday, July 06, 2009


It was Wimbledon weather (i.e. rain rain) for only a day in the past two weeks - besides that one day of run we have had uninteruupted days of glorious sunshiny weather. All the better to welcome my parents and aunt into town. They arrived on Wednesday morning and in a manoeuver reminiscent of troop movements my mother came home with one set of baggage while my dad waited for my aunt and fthen ollowed a few hours later.

What has followed has been days of eating and drinking and talking. Mostly talking with short pauses for the other things. Stories and gossip and news and reminiscing. Fun fun fun.

My aunt left on Saturday for the next leg of her holiday. Then we went for lunch to my favourite Royal China where copious amounts of dimsum and beansprout noodles were consumed, all sitting outside in the bright sunshine and enjoying a cool riverside breeze. Came home to watch the Williams sisters play for the Wimbledon womens title - all sitting in our sun soaked living room and drinking cool things. Of course the weather won't last (already it was cooler and cloudier today) but while it does YAY!

Spent today at home, pottering around and organising the chaos that so many people in one tiny flat are bound to create. Watched Roddick and Federrer go at the Wimbledon title. Thrilled that Fedex won even though Roddick looked like the stronger player throughout.

Wimbledon is done for this year. Strawberries and cream no more.

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

As cool as a cucumber. Or how to ruin Monday night

What is Monday night without doing something silly? Like decapitating your thumb while slicing a non-descript cucumber.

What began as an idea of feeding V leftover pizza and eating cucumber and yogurt myself to avoid doing anything but slumming in front of the TV went horribly wrong at 8pm last Monday. I bought these amazing new knives recently and in forgetting every chef rule and years of practice of tucking my fingers under while I hold something to cut I chopped straight into the top of my left thumb. It was not a particularly deep or big cut but the flap of skin looked menacing enough with the blood flow refusing to stop. With no visible clotting happening and two cotton pads quickly soaking through it became apparent that a trip to the A&E was in order. So we got into a cab and toodled off to the nearest A&E. Thankfully there was nothing of great interest on any of cable TV’s 999 channels.

We’ve only had one previous experience with the A&E in our area – it was not great but hey that is what ‘free’ healthcare is like. This time we went in and got behind about 6 other people in line for the reception/ triage, amidst a room full of people waiting to be seen. 15 minutes later we were at the counter and beside being asked stupid statistical questions like how did you arrive here (by foot, bus, private transport, taxi, cycle etc; to which I am always tempted to say helicopter) we were given a yellow form and asked to wait. After a while we got called in and a doctor in a suit from one of two rooms off the main room asked the details of the injury, like a registrar. He gave my thumb a cursory look and was instantly quite dismissive saying there was nothing to worry about and that a few stitches and tetanus shot might be needed. Then he asked us to go back and wait.

15 minutes later we got called into the other room by a doctor in proper scrubs who after making me flex my thumb and declaring it not as deeply injured as it looked, cleaned it and applied some surgical glue and steri-strips to seal it shut. Then saying he was going to dress and needed to get the materials to do so, he disappeared. Half an hour later a nurse who finished plastering a broken wrist in the next cubicle while majorly flirting with the patient appeared and deftly dressed my thumb in multiple layers of gauze and tape in under 2 minutes. By this time (2 hours into our stay here) some serious traumas were beginning to arrive, foul mouthed and clearly drunk. It took 3 healthcare professionals 2 hours to sort out my tiny mishap - and people wonder why the system doesn’t work! Our work done we took a cab home where I proceeded to eat the uncut cucumber and yogurt before turning in for the night.

Three interesting incidents from the A&E:
1. Two young Bangladeshi boys are in line to get to the reception windows before us. With the buzz cuts, hooded jackets and track pants and giant shoes they are just pandering to the stereotype. The conversation between them in a mixed Bangladeshi and British accent is amusing to say the least. One of them is telling the other how he scammed £2,500 from somebody he was involved with in an accident by claiming he had got whiplash. His friend was eagerly quizzing on him on how to go about perpetrating said scam. WonderBoy was offering advice on how to fake whiplash and the number of his very good lawyer. When they reached the window it was for both of them to report injuries, as one was limping and the other was complaining about his hand. No way of telling if this was another scam.

2. While I was waiting for the disappearing doctor to come back with some plaster (a bank of which was on the wall facing me) a young boy limped in shouting and screaming and followed by his friends. A male nurse was trying to clean his leg wound and all the boy could do was yell and shout about wanting a scar, how nobody ever look at his legs, how the bad bad nurse was hurting him and how much he wanted a cigarette. His slightly schizophrenic girlfriend kept wandering in an out alternately saying things like ’sorry baby, do you want me to hold your hand’ (in her best crooney voice) and ‘stop behaving like a baby, they pushed you the front of the line man, ahead of all the other people, suck it up’ (in her best shouting voice). Imagine that conversation with a lot of bad language thrown in and you will get most of the picture.

3. And just as the nurse appeared to dress my finger a very drunk and emaciated man was brought in on a gurney by paramedics. While he was being transferred to one of the beds in a cubicle by the very kind paramedic, she told him his stuff was at the foot of the bed and asked him if he wanted anything else before she left him in the ER’s capable hands. He growled, ‘yes, can I have a beer please?’. To which she, without blinking an eyelid, replied, ‘No darling, someone will bring you a cuppa tea shortly. Now won’t that be nice?’

Such is a big real life ER – I have huge respect for paramedics, doctors and nurses who walk these halls each day and night, trying to help people who come to them for emergency care. Of course speeding up looking after smaller insignificant injuries i.e. being seen by and attended to by one instead of three people, in one shot instead of over 2 hours, would probably make everyone’s life a bit easier. But I am sure there is method in their madness.

Thumb is healing well and as off this Saturday I have a fully functioning left hand – which means I am back to the chopping board for some home- cooked grub. Much as I enjoyed eating takeaway all week I am glad for the simplicity of not fighting over the menu anymore.

And as far as the ER goes all I can add is that a George Clooney lookalike would have made the 2 hour stay way easier! Why are all the cute doctors/ nurses only ever on TV shows?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friendship V: Friends vs. Acquaintances – the endgame

Oh so long that you might need some coffee (to stay awake) and a comfortable chair (in case you don't manage to).

In the hectic pace of life in London, there are hardly enough hours to fight the transport system, do a full day’s work, go home to cook and tidy (many forms: laundry, ironing, dusting, vaccuming etc.), prepare for the next day and maintain full blossom friendships. What meager time of each evening is left after an exhausting day is usually spent watching television, reading and unwinding from the trauma of an adrenaline paced rush. Socialising is for the weekends unless it is well planned for and similarly executed in a timely fashion during the working week. The weekends are filled with errands and ‘me’ time and ‘us’ time and larger scale socialising – all before mentally clocking on for a new work week. In short, friendship maintenance and acquaintance developing take skill and patience and committment.

The key reason in writing this post is to examine the difference between acquaintances and friends. In 2009 (and for some years before this) there has been the massive influx of people in one’s life thanks in no small part to technology – so where earlier you would have called to wish someone a very happy birthday late at night from the one phone booth near your house VERY QUICKLY because it cost an arm and a leg, now you have the option of sending a free e-card, skyping them, leaving a message on their Facebook, e-mailing and having a gift delivered direct to their doorstep at very little extra cost. Where in college I lost touch with all but a few close friends thanks to these long distance phone calls and the vagaries of the postal service today everyone is out to be friends with everyone else and their brother, distance be damned. This often makes things difficult and confusing, for all parties concerned.

Sadly I am an old fashioned girl. Or is that just plain old I wonder? To me there is a marked difference in friendships and acquaintance-ships and in my world these are two distinct things. I find that often in my interactions with people this is where the confusion lies. Friendships in adulthood are harder to come by, gauge and access with any modicum of sense because of the way we form habits and interests that become more settled and staid as time goes on. Things don't click like they used to. There is a level of apprehension and thinking 'is this worth pursuing' if the click is not instant. On the other hand it is still easy to make acquaintances – we said hi at a party, small talked about the weather, your kid, how cool you think living in Wembley is – and lo and behold we part acquaintances. I would then never describe you as my friend. This is the bulk of our adult social interactions and the examples are endless. People you meet at work and then decide to go for a drink with, people at blog meets, picnics and parties, friends of friends of friends. Mostly you meet, are introduced by the common denominator, exchange pleasantries, swap life histories, look for the things, people and places that you might have in common.

Sometimes you come up trumps and there is a an instant connection and you just know that you will exchange mobile phone numbers at the end of the evening, at which point you will not only give them your real number but you will also make an effort to meet for lunch, introduce your partners to each other and possibly make plans for a movie. This is not the norm but the exception. Unless you are a very friendly person (i.e. not me) who makes friends with everybody, want them ALL to come to your house, share childhood photographs with, see each other every weekend and make one giant group - in which case we clearly have nothing in common and you shouldn't even be reading this.

But most often the introduction, swap stories stage will remain just that, the extent of how much information you will swap. Because in yours and/or the other persons mind it is clear to see or muddy as hell as to where this might go. There is no potential and no matter how hard you try you can see that you will not be friends in the true sense of the word. Sometimes you give it a second and third try, you mix and mingle whether out of politeness or to genuinely give it a shot but unless something magically appears between you it is unlikely that a long and lasting friendship, that keystone to adult life, will appear.

Being a friend, even as an adult, is about sharing confidences and enjoying each other’s company in a more uninhibited way than say a formal relationship with a colleague. It's about sharing common interests, laughing at the same things and connecting. Most of this is not a learnt behaviour or response. Mostly, but especially the connection, has to come naturally, because anything forced will not thrive but make each of the people more resentful and untrusting of each other and jeopardise other future relationships. Sometimes things click, other times they don’t. Thankfully the world is a big open accepting space and if one friendship doesn’t work out to ones satisfaction you don’t need to crawl under a rock to be forgotten. You just get back out there and try, try again.

Some people are loners and don’t need the adult interaction with anyone but their partners and their 4.5 friends from chaddhi-hood. But time and distance from bedrock friends of yore necessitates some socialisation - how likely is it that you and all your college friends will stay in the same city throughout your careers in this fast moving world? Else an adult life in a faraway place (or any place really) would be impossibly lonely to bear. I like to think that with age comes wisdom and the finesse to maintain ones dignity in the face of forming friendships. Alas this is not always the case. It is, as I am learning, a trained response. To have the grace to accept ones shortfalls and the understanding of what the difference is between friend and acquaintance. Which is not to say acquaintances are a bad thing – in fact it’s quite nice to, once in a while, have a slew of people with whom random non-meaningful, yet colourful conversation can take place. Checking about health, children, movies watched, opinions, cultural interests – these are all things that might widen our understanding and view of the world. But they are distinct from the influences of friendship where the conversations impact how we think and behave. And no matter how many advances you or I make, in some cases you will never go beyond the veneer of acquaintance-ship into the warmth of friendship.

I want to leave this with two prime examples from my life - to explain how even technology trumps this very human of relationships:
1. Evil evil Facebook: I am no fan. Before I could say ‘Jack Sprat jumped on a mat’ I had nearly 300 ‘friends’ on it – and to be honest I pursued only about 20 of those to become my friends. This is not because I am so popular – it is because everyone wants to be everyone’s friend and use it in a totally different way than I do. I use no applications; I have no interest in taking the multitudes of tests to see who my top film stars are or what kind of flower I am; I don’t get throwing of animals and food at my brother and my birthday calendar is a book that lives on my kitchen sideboard. I use it to put up random pictures (with no given regularity) and share what book I am reading at that moment – nothing deep, insightful or meaningful. I have ‘friends’ on it who are people I barely talked to in school, distant relatives, people I haven’t seen in 20 years, people I will never ever bump into on the street, friends of friends who remember me from the common friends 20th birthday party. All kinds of people, who are lovely no doubt, but not really my friends. These are mainly acquaintances. With friends and some acquaintances I stay in touch via the odd email, the phone and in person. So in one fell swoop, a few weeks ago, I deleted about half my ‘friends’ from Facebook. I feel lighter and I have no remorse. Because the people I kept on are still not all my ‘friends’ but they are people in whose lives I am vaguely and genuinely interested in following (loosely) and this is the easiest way to stay in touch without having to delve deeper.
2. But to illustrate that I am not a Luddite who believes that too much technology is a bad thing let me tell you about my friend Pretty. She used to write a blog which I loved reading. We met on a whim, for coffee, on a dark winters evening on the steps of the Bank of England. She claimed to have few friends being new to London and I was feeling a particular friend shaped hole in my life as well at that point. Long story short we exchanged e-mails for a bit and decided to meet. From the instant we met I think we both knew we’d be friends. We sat in Starbucks far longer that planned that evening and over coffee and laughter arranged to meet with our spouses very soon. I could tell then, immediately in fact, that we’d be pukka friends. And I think over the years we have become and we are just that - friends. But she stopped writing. Which is a crying shame because her writing though usually brief was always insightful, tinged with humour and good cheer. She claims she doesn’t need the blog to vent into an abyss anymore. What she forgets is what the abyss throws up is unexpected treasure (um, me?), sound commentary/ advice/ viewpoints from independent third parties (um, you?) and the odd stalker (which could be fun, no?). Nothing I say will convince her to start again – thank goodness we became friends before she stopped. If it weren’t for our blogs we’d never have met. So for some things I am grateful to technology.

Life is full of treasure and friends can be found in so many avenues in this big bright world that it is a shame not to try and to be closed to the idea of new friends as we grow old. I give full marks to extroverts like my mother who is surrounded by acquaintances and friends constantly. And while I realise that I am not at all like her and have real friends far and few between as opposed to her many many, like her I understand that there is a difference between the two, what loyalty in friendship means, what the power of being an acquaintance is and appreciate both friends and acquaintances for what they bring to the table.

Once you learn how to make the distinction and set your sights accordingly life can be wonderful and fulfilling with people who fill it meaningfully and with people who entertainingly live in its fringes. Whichever you are or whomever you choose to be, remember that life is never lonely if you have a friend. And being a good friend can be an entirely fulfilling way to get through life.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friendships IV: Mentor and Mentee

Not everyone has one and not everyone needs one but mentors can be an important part of one’s adult life. Beside the very formal way of being assigned a mentor by your work place (to boost efficiency, show you the ropes, be able to whinge to in confidence blah blah blah) I think there is plenty of opportunity to find mentors in life. Not like a life coach (whose job descriptions I don’t fully understand although as a career it sounds intriguing), instead a person from your area of work to be more like a sounding board.

Mentors are not people who start out being your friends, but often, given time and opportunity they can also turn into friends. But this is not essential by any means. It is important to be very distinct in this relationship because while you can sob on a friends shoulder about anything under the sun including adult acne, burnt dinner, crap movie, the job of a mentor is more focused on helping you find a solution to a problem, guide your career, be a sounding board and generally share the wisdom of their experience with you for something a bit more serious than where to get takeaway from. I also think that it should flow in that way – Mentor to friend, not friend to mentor – and this is because as friends you have a much more informal relationship and becoming a mentor is possibly harder and could be taken less seriously and jeopardise the friendship. Whereas starting out as a mentor and turning into friend is a whole different ballgame – one where the mentor is connecting with you on a more formal level, for a more specific issue, without the easy banter of friendship, and therefore is more likely to have a serious view and opinions on your problem/ situation. This then can (but not always) form the solid platform for a friendship to rest on.

I found my mentor at work quite by accident. Neither was she looking for someone to mentor and nor was I looking for a mentor. It just so happened that when faced with a career indecision I made a foray into checking with this person and thereafter it became natural without any mention of it that I could go to her with problems/ situations. She never had solutions for me as such, just a correlation to her experiences and a laying out of possible options more clearly and succinctly that my muddled brain could manage. Eventually, we voiced the fact that we had a mentor-mentee relationship and this made things easier; her more approachable and willing to share a larger chunk of her contacts and expertise and me more able to think through things rather than just making hasty, ill informed decisions.

Once she left my organisation we’d meet up once in a while and talk about my career vs. personal life balance amongst other things and she always had something interesting or useful to add to the equation.

Eventually we went from being mentor and mentee to also being friends. She still gives me good advice when I seek it but we also just go out for the odd meal, cup of coffee and chat. In an environment where there is so much hustle and bustle and focus on career and life balance having a mentor and friend has been an invaluable help. To be able to talk to someone in confidence and not have your idea knocked down cold or to be able to weigh up different options clearly and objectively or to be able to talk without judgment – these are the gifts that a mentor can give.

I know that not everyone needs one but with my change in career and city/ country it was amazingly useful to have this person on board. And over the years beside being a mentor she has also become my friend, age difference not withstanding. It is my opinion only that it is always better if you can find your own, approach them with the idea, be clear about what you want from the relationship rather than have one imposed on you because that becomes the first step in feeling forced to do something you don’t really want to.

What can I say? I got lucky.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Friendships III: The love of your life and a possible dilemma

After college (and a possible post graduation) comes the real, often bright lights of a harsh world. Filled with adulthood people, the ones you pick up along the way in your adult life – mentors and acquaintances and friends (and I will come back to these in another post) - from amidst work colleagues, your neighbours and random strangers at parties and other similar avenues. With luck, from among these, you will find a life partner, someone to share the everyday with, to set-up home with, to gasp at the proverbial rainbow with, to walk the walk with. Sometimes other people pick this person for you, sometimes you stumble upon them in the unlikeliest of places and friendships blossom into love, or your eyes meet across the room and in that instant it’s all over. Any old way you get there you work like hell to make that partnership be the epitome of a happy content exciting good life.

With this appears the first dilemma. You try and meld your friends and your just chosen life partners friends together. Sometimes you’ve moved to a new city and are at the mercy of all his friends/ social circles. Other times it’s the same city but suddenly you are taken up with endless ‘family’ affairs and all friendships take a back seat. Or it’s a new city and there is only family, nobody has friends and it’s like being at the kindergarten playground all over again, wondering whom to talk to, how to make friends etc. But usually, no matter where you landed up the initial being married stage includes loads of ‘us’ time, where the need for other people is low and goes unnoticed till a more stable daily routine of work and play makes its mark. This short season precludes anyone’s friends. After this initial honeymoon/ tourist-in-new-city phase it’s time for friends to meet the new partner. So dinners, get-togethers, movies, coffee, picnics – a number of ways in which friends of one spouse are introduced to the other. Sometimes they stick, and everybody gets along with everybody else. You form a wider group and with luck the fact that the husbands were friends becomes irrelevant. In fact you become such good friends with some of the others wives that you forget that introducing you is the only good work that the men did that year. Or your friend and her partner become such good friends of your husband that you have to cry out in disgust when they form the mutual admiration society and declare presidency of the random hindi movie music club. But all this takes time, luck and effort.

Of course this is not the par for the course for most of your friends or his friends. Some you just continue meeting once or twice a year as the inescapable social obligation requires. Others fall straight off the radar and appear as hungry voyeurs on Facebook. The ones you are keen to keep and he is keen to keep find ways to work into your routines - drinks after work, afternoon at the movies, a wander on Oxford Street, dinner at a new restaurant, email and texts to keep up to date on the news – various ways for various people. Mostly you try but don’t always form cliques and groups. You just drift in each other’s company, meet when time and weather and mood suit. Other social intrusions into limited free time include meeting the odd relatives that might live in your city or the occasional attempt to meet and cultivate new friendships as a couple with other couples you both think have potential (how pompous that sounds! But it’s true). You check them out as they do the same to you and inevitably some will find things in common and become friends while others will stonewall you (or you them) till you (or they) no longer try. For the ones you are desperate to keep the easy alternate is that you organise girls nights outs while the men have boy’s nights out. The tough alternate is giving in, losing most of your friends to the institution of marriage and since this is 2009, hopefully in your book, as in mine, that isn’t a choice.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Friendships II: The college years

It is purely my opinion that the linking years between ones childhood/ early teen years and adulthood are the college years. And that these are distinct from what lies on either side. By this point of joiing college we have more than an inkling about how relationships are formed. We have been trying, with any luck, to convert our parents into our friends. We are learning, sometimes the hard way, about who our friends are, what it is to be loyal and dependable person, where the line crosses over from nice to nasty, what pettiness and greed can do and which of our inherent skills in the field of making and keeping friends will stand the test of time. And while we think we know all this it will surely be tested in college, when we discover that actually we know nothing, of life of friendships. We are yearning to become our own person, to break the shackles of dependence on our parents and siblings, while yet holding them close, for comfort in times of need. We are on the threshold (to put it vaguely poetically) of wanting the best of being independent and dependent, where our own choices must matter more than any others.

And then comes college, that zenith of what it means to be a grown up, a nearly adult. We’ve made that first choice about what to study and now, with only the gravity of a young person, can expound on how this will help us reach our career goals. This is a question oft asked - “beta, what are you going to do after class XII?”, to which you resist rolling your eyes and explain v e r y s l o w l y that you are going to study X at Y and then go on to rule the world/ become the CEO of your destiny/ get married and have a bakers dozen of children.

Once through that admission process it actual collegetime and a whole new gamut of people and fashion statements to pick and choose from. Some people may have been classmates in school but depending on how far you venture from home and how specialized your studies get this becomes a progressively smaller list. For some their whole school clique is on the same campus or at least the same U-special bus. For others they are far away from home, in a hostel (possibly for the first time) with not a familiar face for miles. Either ways there is a degree of ragging to be endured, new friendships to be sought and a degree of peaceful relations to be forged with seniors.

Over the 3 to 5 college years cliques will be formed, multiple movies watched, numerous cups of tea and coffee consumed, pocket money evaporation pondered over, cheap meals hunted down, culinary expertise in making Maggie over a hotplate mastered, study notes shared, parties organised and attended, mess food complained about, jokes about professors cracked, alcohol imbibed, day trips and getaways planned, boyfriends/ girlfriends found, rumours started, all-nighter study groups pulled, exams taken, birthdays celebrated, jokes shared, tears shared and confidences built, kept and lost. The years go by in slow motion and fast forward all at once. You join with some trepidation about what the years will bring and before you know it you are full-fledged adult making life choices like you’ve been making them, well, all your life.

On the flip side you learn about nastiness, pettiness and the world of the ‘popular’ more forcefully than ever before. Traits that are a mirror reflection of the real world sadly. You will live on one or the other side of that line and with any luck you will learn compassion and leave behind shallow thoughts like ‘we should be friends because your dad is…./ or you have a big house…/ money….’.

By the time you need to step into the big bad world, with luck you will have formed deep, enduring bonds of friendship with classmates and hostel mates. Sorted the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Friendships from childhood might now strike one as shallow, lame, innocent and child-ish but the passage of time will bring some of those to the forefront as having stood the test of time. The ones that do are meaningful. And added to this wonderful college gang of ‘undying’ friendships’ will draw your circle of friends out wider and bigger and better than ever before.

Friendships I: The bedrock

3 points before we begin:
1. This is based on my experience of 33.9 years. Even though I use the greater ‘us’, ‘you’ and ‘we’ – this just makes it easier to write – this is from my life, make no mistake
2. Any similarity to your life is purely coincidental and there are no apologies
3. As it is pure opinion and not fact, your contradictory life experience needs to get its own blog

This is the start of my diatribe (lately all my writing) about friendships. Something I have written about before and will no doubt reflect upon repeatedly as I grow older and many of my more materialistic pursuits fall short of the joy that friendships bring. This is just the first installment of all the thoughts swirling around my head.

Today I am writing about that great passage of childhood and how we all get to adult life with the aid of people, with any luck, not singular in any way. Parents, siblings, extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, school friend, college friends, colony friends.

Some of these you are born into (parents, siblings, cousins etc) and often people make difficult choices or are hard pressed to connect with some or all of their families. For the lucky lot however this family is the basis for values, our role models and perpetual advice givers. You learn to love and respect people and their choices and every little argument and fight along the way only builds upon that ‘blood is thicker than water’ adage. Or not.

Friends, whether it’s the next door neighbours kid or your college roommate, these are choices, the weighing of what you need at that point in your life. Childhood and the teen years are often also fraught with indecision, bullying and the games that the young play. There are cliques and fights and the inevitable attempts at humour, bribery and subtle means to belong to the cool popular lot. There are the loners, the nerds, the cocktail children, the sporty and the achievers. Everyone, no matter who they are, finds ways and methods to work around or through these – to find even that illusive one friend that is theirs, who will stand with them, at lunch break, laugh at their not so funny jokes, share their homework and listen to their secrets with the gravity only a child can muster.

From all these connections appear the rock-bed of life, the support system of early adulthood, people you can call at 3am when you think you might be having a heart attack; the people who will listen to you whinge about nothing and everything for hours with only wise comments, useful advice and humour; or travel across town with lasagna from your favourite little eatery when you are unwell and then entertain you with anecdotes till you just have to smile; drink with you following heartbreak or celebrate promotions.

This rock is a hard wearing platform, and many many childhood friends and even faraway but once close relatives fall off it with the passage of time. It’s the ones that stick into your twenties that have passed the test of the time-space continuum. These are usually the people you will keep in touch with even when you move across the seas and before the advent of email. Standing in line at the phone booth to wish someone happy birthday, or posting a long hand written letter about hostel food, the small things that connect you with the foundation no matter what the distance or time. With any luck this bedrock will always be there, the basis of your start to a good, happy, well rounded life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Churning of the demented mind

Or things that make me mad with sadness/ grief/ anger. Take your pick.

1. Levels of respect: Behaviour of a certain family member who has not the time to attend a small family function (in spite of this having happened before and it being discussed to death last time and with me thinking that some gyan had been learnt) instead choosing to stay home and play cards with friends. The genius reasoning ‘I don’t know these people and I will never have to meet them’. Which is/ was not the point at all. Having bothered to swing by for even 30 minutes under false pretences of another function, or something, would have greatly pleased another family member. And to me that counts for a lot more.

2. Growing-up: The inability of someone to do things on their own. To break free of the confines of a protective upbringing. Missing out on the opportunity to explore something of the world and be their own individual person and instead dragging the person they love along under the pretense of inability to travel alone. Or pressure. I am not sure which. From experience of both traveling alone and with someone I love, I know that both these are equally fantastic experiences – each beautiful and empowering in a different way. And in my opinion this is the age and ideal circumstances to experience the first. But this is not my life and everyone has to make their own decisions/ mistakes. Sadly I have to be the bystander that watches them.

3. Neediness: I believe that everyone needs someone. Or rather people. Some need more, giant circles of people surrounding the. Others need fewer, a chosen few to sound out their lives. But the ways of getting to either point of people in ones life are varied and fraught with cliques, dislikes, likes, interests, shallowness, neediness and many many pit falls. I find that this topic is an often uncomfortable one. To talk about. Write about. And most of all, to be in. This is something a future, possibly my next post, will explore. It will reflect the unpleasant side of life in gaining people and I will not be gentle. Consider yourselves warned.

4. Of the 610 times that this blog was viewed since I last wrote what I thought was an interesting and informative and interactive post on gifts and minimalist gift wrapping, only 6 people bothered to leave a comment. And I know 3 of them. Even if I discount repeat viewers who stalk my blog each day because without it and a cup of coffee their day would not begin, mistaken viewers who came looking for information about Sachin Tendulkar (still my top viewed post!), and myself (let’s say that itself is 50%) looking to see who was looking/ commenting, that would leave us with about 100 individuals who either never give gifts, or get gifts, don’t believe in minimalism, don’t think the ideas were innovative, don’t like my blog, are too lazy, or just lurk and never de-lurk no matter what. And here I was, hoping that at the very least people who came to my blog were different people from the morons who agree with every word that comes out of certain bloggers mouths. And who leave 392 comments for drivel writing and simple photographs that are neither great nor scintillating yet elicit comments that make you wonder where all the good words and pictures went to die. (This is not jealousy - I wouldn’t want to be any of those bloggers if you paid me all the money in the world AND threw in a book deal). Up till this point I was thankful that I don’t live in the same world as the morons. Now I realise I just live in the world of lazy and uninspired. It makes me wonder why I am still blogging? And brings home how self-absorbed I am.

As you can tell I am in a bad mood.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No wrapping required

I am terrible at wrapping things. It stems from the dreaded school notebook wrapping of my childhood when I would mess up so much brown paper that my mum would give up in exasperation and do it herself. Gifts were the same story. I would botch it up big time; crooked cuts in the paper, uneven bulges and the crushed look reminiscent of having opened a gift and re-wrapped it to give away. My mother, on the other hand, had a bag of ribbon, a selection of tissue and coloured, patterned paper and would craft beautiful bows and frills and every gift ever given would be admired for its packaging in equal measure to the gift itself.

The wrapping of things is not a skill I can even pretend to have. As a result I spend too much time looking for innovative gifts to give that involve minimal or no packaging. And in an attempt to re-stock my idea cupboard with gifts for the next year I am sharing the 10 things I am proudest of giving – in the hope that my 5 readers will leave me a comment each on what their most innovative gift ideas with minimal wrapping are.

Here are my top 10 minimalist-wrapping ideas:

1. Plants (& the odd Balloon): For his 30th birthday I woke V up to the smell of freshly baked chocolate cake, a chilli plant in a terracotta pot and a ‘happy 30th birthday’ helium balloon. Have subsequently given and received potted plants that have thrived (mostly!) – and this can be done fairly economically. I try and get mine from our local nursery or Columbia road market and then re-pot in an inexpensive terracotta/ flea market pot, tie a ribbon around the lip of the pot and viola!

2. Baby blankets: To friends with newborn child. Gift-wrapped in 4 sheets of tissue and twisted at the ends to resemble a giant toffee. This toffee wrapper trick is easy and works every time as ribbon at either end can take care of disastrous tears/ unsightly tape.

3. Jewelry, knick knacks and books: To nieces, little girls. Can be disguised in Princess themed knapsacks. Or young charges can be taken to shops and allowed to choose (under some guidance and supervision) their own gifts. This involves no gift-wrapping.

4. Desk Calendars: Make excellent New Years gifts. Small, snazzy and easily bought and shipped off a designer at Etsy, this has been my top gift to give my close girl friends for the past two years. And since they come in snazzy CD cover cases they need no additional wrapping.

5. Tickets to a musical: Can be slipped in with a card. Or else left in ones wallet (seeing as you have gifted yourself the accompanying seat) and accompanied with a meal makes a great gift. This is a rather expensive option though…

6. Cooking class voucher: Given as a Christmas gift to a friend, in a card - which finally last night she redeemed by attending an hour long class of her choice at L’Atelier des chefs. She was gushing about it via text last night and then all this morning. Says she hasn’t had such a good time in a long long while. I might use this one again.

7. Baked goodies: A small basket of home baked muffins or brownies or slices of cake. Inexpensive basket lined with parchment paper usually works a treat. Although to be fair I have only done this twice because the other few times we ate the goodies before we could leave to gift them away.

8. Wine: Needs no wrapping. Or else a fancy £1-2 paper bag from any supermarket which fits the bottle and has handles for ease of carrying it. I’m not a huge fan of this gift but have resorted to it when less than organised.

9. Jewelry: When on holiday in India I buy a lot of inexpensive jewelry, beads and silver and random materials crafted into bracelets, earrings and necklaces. My favourite haunts for these are SilverLine, Dilli Haat, the emporiums and now Fab India. I gift these away to friends in little silk cloth bags, a steady stash of which I get from India (usually free with the jewelry) or little coloured boxes from Ikea which cost about 20p.

10. Time: I have often offered my services as a babysitter by way of coupons to new mothers. I have only rarely been taken up on the offer. I have offered wandering days and evenings to friends as gifts – helping them hunt for things, wander new areas of London, organising something they need or paying for some element of a day out. These have always been accepted generously. And this is my favourite gift to give.

Now tell me your favourite gifts to give/ receive – specifically those which require minimal or no gift wrapping. Please.