Friday, August 31, 2007


My neighbours are such a miserable lot of people. There are about five people in the whole building who will even reply when I say hello.

Meanwhile, I'm the most civic minded person in this whole council block. I've taken on sole responsibility for cleaning the common areas of our floor (see photo in last post). I'm at war with rodents which I didn't attract. My balcony garden is a credit to the building. I set an example of cleanliness in the rubbish room.

So far I am even ignoring the fact that the lady upstairs has dedicated 3-4am as Lionel Richie hour. She doesn't even play 'All night long' which is my favourite Lionel song and clearly the most appropriate.

So what's suddenly got me annoyed?

Yesterday I was coming through the front security door with my bike. I let the door go too early and my pedal and wheel got sandwiched. A man from upstairs was behind me and opened the door again for me.

I was impressed because I only know three other people in the building (apart from me) who will hold the door open for anyone. I thanked him and gave my most grateful looking smile. It's not easy to get through that door with a bike.

And in return? He gave me evil and goes 'Shame you scratched the door'. Aiyaah!

One more week and I will be back in Temple Street where I know I can count on a warm reception from my old neighbours!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Back on the bike

The sun has finally come out, two weeks after I arrived back in London. The plants are recovering and I'm on my bike again. Suddenly I remember all the things I like about living here.

And I have a new accessory. It was a 5 pound special from Columbia Road and this seemed like the best way to get it home. I got even more attention than I did in the nappy.

This time I had entire families laughing and construction workers calling out from the side of the road. How will I top this?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back to work

After more than a month of holiday, I'm starting to get very fidgety. I used the first couple of days of this week to sort through the whole house, making several bags of things to take to the local charity shop.

A friend called from Perth to wish me happy birthday on Monday and asked what I was doing. 'Well, I've been keeping a pile of magazines with recipes inside. I'm cutting out all the recipes and pasting them in a scrap book'. Oh dear. Just weeks ago I was climbing mountains.

I also made two bags of teaching stuff to take to work. I try not to do any lesson preparation at home these days because I'm terrible at it. Even at work, I'm much more productive if I place myself in a seat where other people can see what I'm doing.

I decided I had better go back in to work before I donated everything in the house. There are only a couple of weeks now until I go to HK and Sydney so I need to start preparing for the new term - I start teaching on the same morning I arrive back.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Returning to London from India is much less difficult than returning from India to Sydney used to be. It's not only the reassuring smell of urine, there are plenty of other reminders here.

The day after I arrived back, we headed with House Negro to Brick Lane. I dislike the Brick Lane restaurants but we managed to find a low key place that had a Sunday biryani special. And then did a shopping trip to Bangla City.

On Friday I misread my Eurostar ticket and missed the train to Amsterdam. Shekerim was over (between Hungary and Armenia trips) and we decided that it must be kismat that I'd missed the train (which is a Turkish and a Hindi word and I suppose Arabic as well).

A replacement single ticket for a later train was more expensive than my return had cost. I was too angry with myself to spend much more money so I booked an 11pm night coach. That left the rest of the afternoon and evening to pack and tidy for the flatswap.

I was watching the evening news when they went live to a Bollywood celebration in Trafalgar Square, part of the India in London season. Trafalgar Square was conveniently placed between home and the coach station so I headed straight down there with my luggage.

I sat watching artists finish a huge mural. The music was loud and some entertaining spontaneous dancing was going on. I texted Shekerim to say that missing the train certainly was kismat. Ironically, a Tarkan song then started - the one Holly Vallance covered.

And then the show began. Abseilers dancing to the music of Niraj Chug. I loved it.

Amsterdam wasn't bad either.

Friday, August 17, 2007


A couple of months ago I set mouse traps in the hot water tank cavity. The mice who run around under the floor, making noises at night, had made a nest in there.

When I didn't catch anything, I made a deal with them. I'd let them be, as long as they stayed behind walls and under the floor and didn't come further. I don't like to use poison.

But the day after I arrived back, I found this in the bathroom. A mouse had chewed its way in through the skirting board overnight and the floor was covered with sawdust! And for what?

War is now on. I filled up the hole with steel wool and expanding foam and from now on will show no mercy. Grrr.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I'm now back in London and mountains, monasteries and 12 rupee lassis feel a world away.

After I wrote last from Dehra Doon I spent a couple of days in my friend Nandu's village and loved it. Nandu's family has gained two buffaloes and a cow since I last visited and are now selling milk to the whole village. Throughout the afternoon, people would turn up from all the nearby houses to collect their milk and have a chat.

While I was there, I took a day trip to Rishikesh to see old friends, get more clothes mending done and go for a haircut and shave plus face and head massage (for just over a pound!). Catching up with old friends was great, particularly an old lady who I wrote a short biography of for an assignment when I studied there years ago.

Yashuda's family migrated from Calcutta 30 years ago and she sells flowers on the ghat. When I arrived there, another flower seller recognised me and told me where to find her. After a happy reunion, she packed up her stall and invited me to her place for tea (and lunch which I declined - I had already recieved several other offers!).

Yashuda and her husband live with their four children (and their respective families) in a four room house. In addition, they have a steady stream of visitors staying with them from Calcutta. I felt terrible that they didn't have any tea ingredients in the house and someone was despatched for milk, tea and sugar as soon as I arrived.

If Rishikesh and Dehra Doon were all about seeing friends, Delhi was all about eating and shopping. After the limited range of food in the mountains I went a bit crazy. I'd been craving yoghurt and on my last day there I managed to drink 9 lassis! I feel very much at home in Delhi and have several favourite hotels and restaurants.

The lassis in one shop were so good that I didn't care when the guy making them added tap water and scratched his toes before throwing in a handful of ice. A little bit of dirt from the air had settled on top of the yoghurt and there was a hair in my glass but I was enjoying the lassi so much (my 2nd at that sitting) that I forgot to take it out!

This trip definitely was my best holiday in India yet. Not getting sick made a huge difference. I can't believe that all these years I've thought India made me sick when it was actually just the rotis, naans and parathas. Travelling to such a beautiful area really made the trip. It was the perfect combination of relaxation, exercise and scenery.

But meeting fantastic people was the best part. I had so many invitations for chai, meals and accommodation (many of which I politely declined) that I struggled to spend any money at all. Apart from expenditure on presents, I think I spent 200 pounds or less in a whole month. And I didn't bargain at all for anything!

My Hindi hasn't improved much over the last few years but I think my general conversation ability has. And conversation is so much easier in India where it's perfectly acceptable to ask all kinds of personal questions of a complete stranger! I also realised that having much more liberal religious views (than when I first went to India 8 years ago) has made relating to people so much easier.

I'm really going to miss the interaction and sense of community. I spent five minutes chatting to the lady in the dry cleaners today and she named all her celebrity clients (I'm in good company!). I wasn't so successful in the post office where I freaked the staff out a little with excessive friendliness. It's going to take a while to settle back in!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The descent

I'm now in Dehra Doon, well and truly out of the mountains. It's hot and I'm stinking.

My trip down Kinnaur was a lot more adventurous than the trip up. And I managed to do it without stopping in any place mentioned in the Lonely Planet. With mixed success.

After getting the bus from Spiti to Kinnaur, the first village I stopped in was Spillo, a pretty non-descript town by the river where buses stop for meal breaks.

I spent an afternoon and a morning hiking up to two spectacular villages on the hillside above, Khanum and Labrang. Both had amazing views back towards Kinnaur Kailash.

Khanum had an ancient monastery. It had been renovated not too long ago but the prayer room (which I couldn't photograph) was at least hundreds of years old (the lama thought 1,000).

And Labrang had an ancient fort.

Lamas in both villages showed me around the monasteries and fed me cups of tea. One even gave me a bag of dried apricots and almonds (both local) to go back down the hill with!

I then headed off on foot for Lamba, a village in a remote valley which I knew nothing about. I had been assured by several people that there would be a place to stay there. After seven hours on foot, I arrived to find out that it was little more than a settlement for migrant road workers!

I stopped in a little restaurant in a hut, run by an old Nepali man. It was almost dark when I arrived and luckily he offered me a space on the floor of his hut.

I spent a really interesting evening sitting around the fire in his little restaurant while he dispensed wise advice to the young migrant workers from poorer parts of India. They were smoking a lot of marijuana so I'm not sure how much advice sank in. He didn't seem to mind.

It started raining heavily during the night and the hut was very draughty. I was very grateful that very little water seemed to get through the holes in the roof! Some time in the early morning I heard noises which I think was some kind of small animal coming in to shelter from the rain.

In the morning I paid the old guy a hundred rupees (he asked for 40 - i.e. 50p for dinner, accommodation and a lot of cups of chai!) and got a ride in the first vehicle leaving the village. I had been hoping to hike further up the valley but the weather was really misereable.

I then headed to Roghi, a village on a steep slope with incredible views. It was misty when I arrived there but the locals entertained me with tours of their apple orchards and an old holiday house left by the British.

And they plied me with a lot of local alcohol. Each time I finished a glass there was another type that I had to try because it was better for some reason or other. After finding out that the last type I tried was 50% alcohol, and then finding out I couldn't walk very straight, I insisted that I couldn't take any more.

I really am going to miss the apricots, fresh and dried, and the apricot wine!

The weather did clear up on my last night and the views were fantastic.

I sat on the rock in the foreground of this photo and watched the sun set on the mountains.

Roghi is on the old high up highway to Tibet, (built before a new one was blasted into the rock face next to the river) and I walked several hours on the old highway to get further down the valley.

After walking through a forest, passing more abandoned British holiday houses and a couple of villages, I took a shortcut down to the new highway and got on a bus out of Kinnaur.

I've spent most of the last couple of days on buses. Speed on mountain roads is frustratingly slow, particularly when you have to pass through congested little villages. I've taken my last bus now - I spent a couple of hours in a queue this afternoon for a train ticket to Delhi at 5am on Thursday.