Occasionally, I am stopped in my tracks. The floral shorts were one thing. But next to the matching dress, that was a total couple fail.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The journey here is a bit tough on the old body, but the sun and heat definitely help the bones feel better, escaping from a London November.
Mainly, it is pool and sunshine time, but a few months since the last visit and a difference in the seasons here means that the sun’s at a different angle and now disappears from the pool at 3.30pm instead of 5pm. Drat; but why should it not have changed here too? The angle has changed markedly in London since September – we may not share a tropical climate in London, but we do share the northern hemisphere. Everything has gone south as we head towards December. My body felt like it was heading south and this is the perfect pick up. Bag lady does not grumble.
It is a treat and a joy to cross the side street from the hotel and have a beer in the evening, sitting outside too. The bar is beginning to feel like my local. When in Thailand, have a Chang beer. Oh, I really could live in this sort of weather.
A gentle trip this morning to the Chatuchak weekend market was productive for a replacement power adaptor – mine mocks me from London. And some little shiny embossed plastic zipped pouches that look as if the should have cost more than 20 baht apiece. That’s just less than 50 pence in sterling. Bag Lady is a quality control freak so tested the zip on each pre-purchase. Excellent too. Holiday fantasy brain thinks that there could be a microbusiness opportunity in importing these and selling them on……
The realisation that Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin starred Dim Sum restaurant, has its Thai outpost in the nearby shopping mall is an inducement to spend an evening or two carbing out on the fish and vegetarian options there. The queue in Hong Kong two years ago really was too long a wait.
And the Food Court there looks amazing. We noticed it on the visit here three months ago and were astonished at how cheap the prices seemed, particularly when compared to the likes of Food Republic at the Siam Center or the food court in the basement of the Siam Paragon Mall. I have read subsequently that the owner of the mall in which Pier 21 is situated, Terminal 21, does not charge rent to the food businesses in return for cheap prices which, in turn, encourages footfall into the mall. Now, this man would make a fortune from importing the little plastic pouches into the UK………
Terminal 21 is actually a bit of a hoot. Its theme is that of a fantasy airport terminal, only very light security checking though as you enter the mall, no requirement to take off your shoes or belt. Each floor represents a destination – San Francisco, Istanbul, Rome, Tokyo, London, Paris and the Caribbean. On the London floor, people were queuing to get their photograph taken next to an MDF painted guardsman. It’s all a bit strange, but it actually works.
I am getting fairly good at this jam making malarkey. Small batches though as who wants ten jars of jam?
This evening’s quick two jars, more than I was expecting, involved some overhanging figs, heavily laden with fruit. It astonished me that no one had already picked them: to be fair, I only noticed them as I almost slipped on a windfall. The windfall reminded me of a windfall picked off the roadside in Naxos about ten years – I can almost taste it now, sun ripened and warm from the sunshine. However, I was not going to try an urban windfall on a dark pavement in East London. The dogs had possibly got there first. But I looked up and saw that the overhanging branches were fairly laden for November.
So, tonight involved no recipe. I cooked the chopped figs with a bit of water, then got the potato masher out to break down the skin. I added some chopped walnuts, only a few as that was all I had, finished off some leftover flaked almonds and added as little sugar as I could get away with. I had to add a bit more as it was never going to turn to jam otherwise.
So, a good old stir with a long handled wooden jam spoon, intense heat to bring it to a really high temperature. I used a wok rather than the preserving pan as this was a fairly small amount. A handful of dried cranberries at the end for no other reason than I had noticed them in the larder.
Two jars of rather nice fig jam. And I scraped the wok before it went into the dishwasher.
You almost couldn’t make this one up. Bag Lady goes to buy a new bag, tries the display model out for size by decanting her bag contents into it. Buys the bag, but gets a pristine new one from the stockroom. Noticing her phone is missing, retraces steps and returns to bag shop. Display bag also now sold.
Fortunately, the bag shop takes customer details and emails the buyer. Bingo. The phone is in the bag.
So, the bag twin will get the random phone collected and the bag company will send it back to a very happy Bag Lady.
Bag Lady loves Anya Hindmarch.
Just picked ten minutes ago. Now for some sugar shopping. This will be the first time I have attempted reasonably adjusted quince paste – I will have to sit down to do the pressing through the mesh bit. Let’s see if it’s as good as usual, after a two year gap.
So, after three nights at the Inle Resort & Spa, unable to leave the hotel because of a knee injury, but grateful for the sunbed that was set up on the jetty to the tiki bar, an amazing view across the lake and red dragonflies, yes scarlet red dragonflies, it’s time to move on.
The next stop is Bagan. We’re catching the evening JJ Express bus to Bagan, a journey that takes about seven hours or so.
I’d wanted to buy some of the delicious honey that was served with breakfast. The hotel could not sell me any but thought that I would get some at the supermarket near the bus stop. We wait at the travel agent’s office for the bus and I ask the girls there about buying some honey. They have a conversational grasp of English, but honey is a sticky word to muster. Never fazed, I start acting out a bee to girls at the bus office, flapping my arms and going ‘bzzzzz’. Bingo. Recognition. Problem: they thought I was acting mosquito and wanted mosquito spray before realising that I was after local honey. They ask me to write down the words in their books – bee, honey and hive (I describe a hive as being a house for a bee, noting that hive sounds like number five). I learn the Burmese word for honey – it sounds a bit like Piaget.
Then, the rattly bus. We are travelling on the JJ Express bus. This is the rattliest, shakiest bus on this planet. Across the windscreen it reads ‘thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as in heaven’. As we begin to rattle our way out of town and into some mountains, I do begin to wonder whether this journey will stay on earth or end in heaven.
The driver’s assistant soon comes round and asks whether we want Shan noodles or Chinese noodles. Vegetarian for me. After less than an hour on the road, we stop at a cafeteria. There are some cottage industries going on in here – in the far corner, about four women are doing the noodles. A bowl of noodles, hot water/stock, chicken and seasoning. A free bowl for all the bus passengers, all part of the ticket price.
I cop out and buy a pot noodle, Tom yum flavour, from the shop at the other end. 70 US cents and I make it up to a dollar with three small bags of mango flavoured candy. The shop is so neat and ordered.
I ask about honey – I say Piaget – they do not understand – I say it again, English style, which means repeating it and saying it louder and, eventually, they understand. The local honey, just two bottles of it, has been decanted into some quarter whisky bottles, US $1.50. I decide against it as I don’t think I’ll get it home in one piece. And, if truth be known, I’m not sure which gutter the quarter whisky bottle was picked up from.
I have turned into Pooh Bear in the last day or so, searching for teakwood honey. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can source some in Bagan or Mandalay.
It is too bumpy to sleep, even when we get to the Highland Road toll road, part of the state highway.
Along the road, I notice petrol stations. Dozens of them, not far apart either, all within spitting distance of one another. We cross over a railway line – this could very well be the main train track from Mandalay to Rangoon – there must be a train station here as it seems quite busy, lots of neon lit hotels and roadside bars and cafes.
We go past a lake – there are illuminated golden temples in the water and a quite humungous golden dragon boat. I am totally clueless about where we are, the significance of this lake. I am a bit of an information junkie so, sometimes, it is good for me not to know!
Another loo break at the Feel Cafeteria, a nighttime roadside market set up in front of it, lots of fruit for sale, huge grapes and dragonfruit, bananas too.
But, first, to get past the snarling pack of dogs that is having a shouting match with one another, teeth bared. I go into the cafeteria to avoid the dogs – I think I may have fractured my patella and do not want to add a course of post-exposure rabies jabs and immunoglobulin to my woes. The overflow washroom outside the loos is quite surreal, like a washbasin rockery.
Back to the bus, it cannot be too far now. I did not realise that the bus could get shakier and bouncier. We are almost being thrown around. Serious turbulence here. If this were a plane, I’d be thinking we were all doomed……