Family treasures from the attic

Mum found this sketch that my dad did of me, probably about 53 years ago. Boy, I had a fat face.

Mum didn’t get off too lightly either: there’s one of her too. That hair did not look like a good cut, and her nose looks a bit wonky.

My dad was so talented, and took my art criticism well too!

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A bit of South Bombay; shopping opportunities, roaming and a bite to eat

One of my friends said that her sister’s family would be staying at the Taj Mahal Palace just before Christmas. I have a rage of envy, having stayed there previously, more so because I am missing out Bombay this year, keeping it simple with three weeks on the beach in Goa. I should not be envious.

So, I have quelled the envy and passed on a few tips that I hope may assist them or you. It’s a bit random, pulled from memory, no particular order, but nowhere is more than ten minutes from The Taj.

Almost on the doorstep from the Taj Mahal Palace –

●Theobroma Patisserie (on Colaba Causeway, South of police station, next to Parsi Colony) – amazing coffee and cakes, some of the best people spotting, all the rich Parsis meet for coffee and gossip here. The coffee is great, and the cashew topped Bircher muesli is worth a mention. I feel like Damon Runyon listening to the gossip about people I’ll never meet. I have also been here when the hunkiest naval officer officer in the world stepped in for coffee. Swoon. Be envious.

●Bombay Dyeing on Colaba Causeway. Their white hotel quality towels are the best in the world. You can buy an extra suitcase at the Samsonite shop a few doors away!

●Forest Essentials fragrances and skincare, all properly ayuvedic. Oudh & green tea spray lasts all day. Lemongrass or rose roomsprays are brilliant. Part owned by Esteep Lauder group now, apparently opening in London soon (but expect Jo Malone prices here). They have a shop airside at international departures, but stock there is hit and miss – check carefully as I once got back to London to find that the Oudh and green tea body spray was actually bath foam. I did not want bath foam. The rose room spray smells like Turkish delight….

●Good Earth opposite South end of Taj Mahal Palace. This shop is, in my view, overpriced but stocks nice home knick knacks. If you want to buy a cushion or a quilt, they have a machine that sucks all the air out for easy packing.

●Bombay Electric stocks a beautiful collection of overpriced shirts, bags and costume jewellery plus electro-plated tiffins at about £200 each! Good to look, lovely staff, a nice little courtyard garden too. It’s next door to Good Earth.

●There is a lampshade maker in Reay House, next to Good Earth/Bombay Electric. These are high end lampshade weavers. You do not know how much you want one of these, or all of these, until you see them, and watch them being made……

●Drop into the Methodist Church on Colaba Causeway to see the plaque to the Rev Clutterbuck, and his sad demise after surviving Bombay pastoral service for several years. Shipwrecked and drowned on the SS Stella. This is history and reflection in action. To think that he lived and worked in South Bombay in the days when that land was malarial, not to mention all manner of other tropical diseases and illnesses in the days before the discovery of antibiotics. By the way, I am not in the slightest bit religious, but love this little church.

●If you want a Parsi cafe on Colaba Causeway, go for Mondys (think the full name is Mondegars). Personally, I avoid Leopolds which is full of backpackers and young Indian guys drinking huge pitchers of draft lager. I have had a late evening in Mondys that involved friends who work or had worked in Bombay – it was like something out of Shantaram, lost and found wallets, job envy, lots of beer (not me – they had been drinking since 2pm) and one of the party falling out of the bar, breaking his nose etc and being bundled off to private Breach Candy Hospital. One of my friends and I then went back to my ocean facing balcony room at the Taj Mahal Palace to drink gin for the rest of the night….

Britannia & Co is worth a walk up to for lunch – the Ballard Estate upon which it is sited is about ten minutes walk, plus the very European styled estate provides great photo opportunities. I think Britannia & Co must have been part of the inspiration for the Dishoom chain in London. It is very characterful, even though the Parsi food was a bit too meaty for me to have too much choice. Try a dish with barberries – these are an Iranian delicacy, but tasted a bit like cranberries to my unrefined palate.

●A swift stroll up to Kala Goda will take ten minutes, more if the traffic is really busy and you are not so brave at crossing the road. It is full of little galleries and coffee shops. I like Artisans Gallery because it focuses on folkloric and traditional craft art from India, and it’s friendly and welcoming. Filter Gallery is good for prints and tasteful modern contemporary Indian gifts. Kala Goda is also the home of Trishna, a Bombay restaurant institution, well worth an evening. Do book though.

●And, if you’re staying at the Taj, play my favourite game which involves sitting in the lobby and looking at all the Chanel bags that other guests are carrying. Believe me when I say that you don’t get the same quantity of Chanel handbags at the Four Seasons nor at the Oberoi. This is Chanel country.

●Don’t miss out on the tour of the Taj either: this is for guests only and takes place early evening. It was quite fascinating and a surprising highlight of the stay there.


Early evening time out in Bangkok, November 2016 (and June 2017)

Visiting Bangkok in November, it’s cooler than the usual summer weather highs, definitely a weaker winter sun. It’s time to join the city folk for a bit of late afternoon time out in Benchasiri Park, a complete oasis off the sometimes manic Sukhumvit Road. Green, lush green, manicured and obviously much loved by all the people enjoying its restorative calm. Toddlers, weary looking executive types, teenagers skipping and using the outdoor gym equipment, a  cluster  of smartly uniformed  school children welded to their phones, a cat, squirrels chasing one another up palm trees, some swings, a lake, joggers. The smaller kids are all playing quietly, which only becomes obvious when one toddler has a tantrum.

Every city needs green space to let us escape, even if just for ten minutes. A calm prevails, people smile at one another in a way that just doesn’t happen in a mall, along a pavement, waiting for the BTS sky train etc. Those ten minutes in a nice green city probably reduce your city blood pressure too. 

And, lucky enough to have another holiday to Bangkok six months later, we fight our way to Benchasiri Park during the late morning. Fighting our way with flu – it has knocked us for six, and the walk there was a bit of an effort, even though we were staying only a few sois away. As an incentive, the sun is stronger and hotter than November.

We are approached by some teenage schoolboys pointing their phones in our directions, as if they are wanting us to be their selfie friends. No thank you to that. 

I sit it out on a park bench as walking around the lake is really too much for my flu raddled body. My mum doesn’t surrender though and goes off, looking at all the park sculptures on her way.

As we are about to leave, two teenage schoolgirls approach and ask whether I will answer some questions for their school project about visitors to their city. They are superpolite and their spoken English is top notch – they ask whether it is okay to record the interview. Yes, and I answer away; randomly, they have found someone who has visited their city frequently and knows a fair bit about the country. They have hit school project gold! Girls one, boys zero. 

Archway revisited, aka a trip down Memory Lane

A sunny afternoon, mid-May, and a meet up with some friends for an afternoon drink in a pub off Holloway Road. I remember the days when most pubs off, and on, the Holloway Road were fairly no go pubs. But times change and areas change.

Archway tube station seems very much the same, but there’s a huge change outside the station. Where has the Archway roundabout gone? A traffic flashpoint. I have nostalgic memories of city pollution and traffic jams there, a pub in the centre of the roundabout: now, who would want to go to a pub in the middle of a traffic roundabout? But the roundabout has gone and it all looks a bit fancy now. The old DSS block has become a rather swanky block of flats. A corner pub opposite is now a Starbucks. This is not the Archway I know.

My parents lived in Highgate so the Archway roundabout was an almost daily part of my life. I used to get on the tube at Archway as it was cheaper than getting on at Highgate. I despised Archway as it was grotty. I hated the roundabout and I hated having to use the underpass under the roundabout.

But it looked rather magnificent, poshed up and bathed in early summer weekend sunshine. I felt a pang for days past, the days of being in my late teens and twenties. A very different time. These days can never be recreated, but I like to think they were formative and that I still gain by them.

I walked down Holloway Road, well stomped in previous years, and by my mum and dad too. The top of Holloway Road is still a bit hit and miss – small cafes and takeaways, Poundland, Tesco Metro, Sainsbury Local, tarted up pubs that look a bit more welcoming than they did all those years ago. The pie and mash shop, Manzies, is long gone – I never went in there, but used to go past on the bus and remember the woman who worked there, dyed bold bright red hair, almost the image of Rita Webb.

The Church, St John’s, looked magnificent, even to this atheist. An open blue sky, emerald green trees and the Church tower. A rural aspect of the Holloway Road, probably unappreciated by those who walk by daily. I used to be see the Church tower from the bedroom window of my flat, and could hear the clock chiming. So, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk along the road where I lived in about 1986 or 1987, then a brand new one bedroom flat. The road itself had been a bit grotty, fairly run down small Victorian houses. It was not a posh road then, and I was quite pleased to see that it is still definitely not a posh road now, even though the houses there would probably sell for much more than my house in another part of London.

Nostalgia over, and it was time to meet up with the friends at a very nice pub, lots of tables outside to allow us to combine gin with sunshine, then to head to another pub for a late Sunday lunch.

The Archway experience ends with prosecco and ice cream in a friend’s garden, just by the side of St John’s Church. I hear the clock chime. Thirty years vanish and, like the ice cream, melt away.

Power out in Patnem

A power cut is a great leveller here. Whether you are staying in a basic beach hut, think shed, or a boutique chichi beach hut, you get plunged into equal darkness, becoming a musical statue. The maglite or your phone may be nearby, but try finding either in pitch black.

You can hear a collective “ooh” from the diners at the beachfront restaurant as the power fails and the candles on the table come into their own, providing just enough light. 

The kitchen is well used to cooking in the absence of electricity.  The lit tandoor is fuelled by wood. The cooking rings are powered by bottled gas. 

But you can’t get a strawberry daiquiri when there’s no power as those get whipped up in the bar equivalent of a nutribullet. And they need a power source.

Sitting on the balcony, mug of tea, reading the kindle, I carry on as normal. The kindle screen is great in pitch black. Ironically, I am reading Americanah and am on a page towards the end of the book where the protagonist talks about power cuts and non functioning back-up generators in her block in Lagos. I know where the maglite is, but I have no need to use it. I have no need for my own mini back up solution. I am enjoying the dark, even if punctured by the kindle light spill.

Pitch black above softens slightly and after a few minutes of eye adjustment, the faint outline of palm fronds can be detected against the black sky. And there is one star or planet visible. Could it be Venus, apparently visible in the last few days? I will never know.

The waves sound louder as they hit the shore. 

Five minutes or so later and the power is restored. 

Damn. I quite liked the dark. 

And, there’s another one early next evening. Experience tells me to take a shower while it’s still light as there is some natural light spill into the bathroom. No hair straightening for my frightful beach hair. But clean, I head to the bar for a strawberry daiquiri sundowner just as the sun reaches its last few minutes.

Damn and double damn. No power. No strawberry daiquiris: a sundowner pot of tea it must be.

The Hell journey to reach Beach Paradise

It starts off so easily and optimistically. The painful dental infection has been checked, antibiotics prescribed and the dentist is not concerned about my impending air travel.  Friends and colleagues who claim better knowledge of such things  than any dentist have been telling me that my face will all but explode through pain as the cabin pressure kicks in.

A very quick minicab journey to my very local London City Airport and I should be airborne 90 minutes after leaving the house.

And we would have been airborne had not the runway lights failed, causing a 40 minute delay on  board. It is just one  of the vicissitudes of travel.

Do I see my house as we ascend steeply, elevating, over East London? Maybe, maybe not. The view is cool though, snippets of East London and the Thames as we head towards Southend.

There is plenty of time still to make the next flight at Frankfurt, even though the distance from.the city fleet aircraft terminal is 1.5Km to reach Gate C in the other terminal. Ground services have failed to arrange my  airport  assistance and the staff at Frankfurt International Airport wearing the red “May I help you?” badges fail. Curses on you. I do not know the collective noun for a grinch, but you are all worthy of the title.

Finally, at Gate C, apologies all round and the final short part of the transfer is in a golf cart. Bag Lady expects serious pain to be exacerbated during the flight as a result of this fail.  Frankfurt International will never be a travel option again. The return trip is via Munich, a modern compact airport.

But Lufthansa on board makes up for the Frankfurt Airport nonsense. Their aircrew is always professional, courteous and very human. And all in all, quite a smooth  flight, with a movie diversion from Absolutely Fabulous, total cheese but perfect in-flight entertainment with lots of celebrity cameos, product placement  (how much did Anya Hindmarch  pay for Eddie to carry all those handbags?) and a few laugh out loud moments. 

Masala tea is a post-lunch option, a nice nod from the airline to the flight destination. 

Bombay.

Arrivals duty free reminds us of the destination just in case long flights and time travel have caused memory lapses..

There is then another flight to catch, then a 90km taxi journey. Then a few hours dozing on a sun lounger before sunset strawberry daiquiris 

and then more strawberry daiquiris at dinner in the next village..

Ad  then, a good night’s sleep for Christmas day on the beach

Going home

Most people look at the movie options, but Bag Lady is a map addict for her inflight entertainment, not that she actually finds flying entertaining. She is a nervous flyer – every bump and lump brings the possibility of a huge storm ahead that even a few gins can’t really assuage.

But, the maps provide detail of an unknown world out there, or 40,000 feet down there. Where exactly is Cox’s Bazaar and why is it important enough to be flagged shortly after leaving Bangkok, even though it looks as if it somewhere over the Bay of Bengal. Chittagong, fair enough, but Cox’s Bazaar? Yangon, or Rangoon as it should be called, is flagged, but no mention of Scott’s Bazaar – believe me when I say that it was just about the highlight of Rangoon on a wet Sunday a few months ago. If I was an airline mapper, I’d emphasise Scott’s Bazaar rather than Rangoon. Rangoon did not cut Bag Lady’s mustard.

And the Nicobar Islands, the Ten Degree Channel and the Andaman Sea all sound so exotic when compared to Hayling Island and the English Channel. But I expect Hayling Island may sound exotic if you live in the Nicobars. If you meet any Nicobarians, let’s not disillusion them about Hayling or Canvey Islands. Bag Lady wonders whether Port Blair was named for Tony?

And some music playing too. Rubbish headphones, but too rocky to dive into my bag to get out the Bose NR luxury listening. Barbra Streisand, Encore, very Streisand, and I am loving it, especially ‘At The Ballet’. Bag Lady has always loved ‘A Chorus Line’. Plus Regina Spektor, really pleased to listen to this one and I shall be buying as soon as I get home, if I get home, as it is bumpy and the imagination is running into overdrive. About 15 months ago, someone in Hua Hin was explaining the nuances of the 787 Dreamliner and how it is designed to overcome turbulence, how great it is: not this one. Bumpety bump. Seat belt signs are on, about fifteen minutes too late in my view. 2106 miles to go. Will this one match the storm between Hong Kong and Saigon 15 months ago, the one where overhead lockers flew open and lighter weight items like jackets and plastic carrier bags escaped, reminding Bag Lady of the scene from Speilberg’s Poltergeist where the nursery toys flew around?

Approaching India always gives Bag Lady a glow. It is a favourite place and is the next trip in three weeks time. But this bounce bounce approach over the Bay of Bengal is not giving the glow. At least there is still some gin, almost 7pm at transit destination and therefore a respectable time for gin. Reverse time travel going on here as we left Bangkok at 8pm. Plus a bit of very unacceptable sexism before takeoff – an Omani national, male, did not want to sit next between two western women, one of whom was yours truly. Seething with rage does not begin to explain it. But, I don’t actually want to sit next to such a mysogynistic pig at any point in my life so I was pleased that he swapped seats with a younger chap from Oman, who seems not to be offended by females. But he did say that he was sitting here because the other man did not want to sit next to women. Dark frigging ages. Bag Lady is quite a feisty old bird, but I suppose this moment was salutory in that it has reminded her that her independence and definition is not acceptable to some, or many. Pity the women in Oman, and elsewhere, who have to put up with this subordination. What must the other woman, much younger, have thought of this dark ages throwback passenger?

And we get to India, and the turbulence subsides. I bloody love India, even if I have never heard of Vishakhapatnam, just 56km away. Mother India. Mother India calms the path.

And Bag Lady wonders whether her two bunches of pink orchids and some tropical greenery, bought earlier at Gourmet Market, will survive the journey in their makeshift cardboard packaging, upcycled from a discarded cardboard box from Boots The Chemist at Exchange Tower?

And if the pot of raw Thai honey will have leaked? And how about the specially packaged green veggies and mushrooms from Gourmet Market at EM Quartier? The veggies and mushrooms really deserve to make the journey unscathed as the grocery manager treated their packaging as if the contents were the finest Scotch smoked salmon, rather than 55 bahts worth of veggies. About £1.30. I just hope that a branch of Tesco or Waitrose goes out of their way in return for a foreigner wanting some turnips or potatoes.

And I see Hubli on the map and wonder if it the same Hubli that we travelled through to reach Hampi almost two years ago? I think it must be. It was the place we didn’t get breakfast after an early start at stupid o’clock.

And later, the senior cabin officer, an Omani national, said it is not unusual for Omanis (male) not to want to sit next to western females. He most definitely did not condone it. I guess it is life and reality there. It makes me so grateful that I do not have to live in such a society. And I would never do so.

It’s time for a snooze before the race from one aircraft to another at Muscat, then another sleepier seven hours to Heathrow. Zzzzzz.

Christmas pudding jam

This evening’s invention was Christmas pudding jam. Well, it’s that time of year, the season to be jolly etc.

As usual, there was no recipe, no weighing of ingredients, just some guesswork and instinct. 

Chopped up plums cooked gently with a bit of water until they went mushy.

Then, some granulated sugar stirred in, a large handful of mixed dried fruit thrown in for good measure.

 Boil. Furiously. It will begin to go jammy. Remove from the heat and add a few spoonfuls of rum.

Pour into scrupulously clean and dry jars. seal the lids tightly. 

Clean away the splatters from the hob and surroundings, lick the spoon – yummy – and load up the dishwasher..Consider labels, maybe a Christmassy bow too. 

Resist the urge to drink the rum, and return it to the larder.