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Five cities in five cats

We’ve been back about 10 days now and I’ve been trying to catch up on everything. There was a lot of work waiting for me when I returned (which is good, because 3 weeks in Europe can be a huge drain on your pockets!), as well as plenty of email and blog feeds to read. So that’s my excuse for not blogging until now. (It’s weak, I know!)

We visited London, Belfast, Rome, Venice and Florence. We met some very lovely people: some old friends, some new ones who were welcoming and helpful. We walked our feet off, got lost in museums, went underground, flew around, slept in an airport, dawdled in cafes, watched a play, a musical and a concert, knit on the world’s largest tea cosy, got duped, had a complete stranger give us his entry tickets free, had pizza for lunch and dinner, ate Chinese cuisine in London and Thai food in Rome, drooled over dessert, fell in love with a car (and a people), met a TV personality, gawped at a Bollywood star, window shopped, celebrated a birthday…

Some of our pictures are here.

The common thread throughout the journey and my personal highlight were the cats we encountered. First, there was Fergus in London

With Fergus

Then there was Mystery Cat (we never discovered where she came from or who she was) in Belfast

Visiting cat

Then there were the three lovelies in Rome*! (Yes, two of them are male, but they are still lovely).

Here’s Puddy (Paddington)

Puddy Tat

Max with Puddy

Max and Puddy Tat

And a glimpse of Sunshine at the bottom right corner

Bribing the cats for a photo-op

That smile on my face says it all, really.

* Names changed because somehow that’s how I think of them.

The last three we spent quality time with and got to know as much as they would allow us. Puddy is a big sweetie and the only one who’d let me pick him up. He didn’t like it much, though, so he’d emit a feeble ‘meee-ew’ and I had to let him go. Max was the most gorgeous, with a glorious mane which made him leonine, except he had a yellow streak as large and would flee if you so much as looked at him directly in the eye. Sunshine was good at pretending to be aloof and spent most of the night jumping around the house.

The trip started really well, because we gatecrashed Cindy in Bangalore and it was there that the whole “wonderful hosts and yummy kitties” thing began, with Cindy’s two felines. They were quite talkative and carried on a conversation throughout the night and although we didn’t get any pictures of them, Cindy’s promised me a few of their kittenhood. Yes? Please?

Funnily, though, most of the other cats we met didn’t say a word. Only Puddy with his ‘mee-ew?’ and occasional yelpings when he suddenly found his toys around the house.

There was a notice in Venice’s St Mark’s square for a black kitten lost (young and affectionate…), and it rained cats…and dogs in Florence. I spotted a cat who could have been Puddy’s Italian twin in Trajan’s forum, and a calico lady in a whiskey distillery in Ireland. So happy.

I know I ought to be telling you more…

Ok, let’s see.

– we nearly missed our musical (Chicago in London) because the husband was so fascinated by the displays at the Imperial War Museum he never came out (obviously he did, eventually, but I’d given up on him and left to reach the theatre on my own)

– loved the Tube (again!) (ooh the information!)

– took (and missed!) budget flights between London, Belfast and Rome

– slept at Heathrow airport in a cafe (see above)

– watched The Mousetrap and Chicago in London, and a baroque music concert in Venice (with costumes!)

– went to I Knit on two evenings, one of them when knitting was taking place on the world’s largest tea cosy (I added my bit!)

– as we were walking towards the Colosseum in Rome a gentleman returning with his grandson gave us the tickets he’d bought and then discovered didn’t need

– I spent too much for glass souvenirs in Venice (but, oh, the colours!!!!)

– the desserts in Rome were… words fail me. flaky. melting-in-the-mouth. inspiring. amazing. My mouth is watering at the memory.

– the Italians are such fun! And I wanted to pick up one of the Smart cars and bring it home with me, only we fell slightly short of the thousands of euros that would have cost

– I ambushed journalist Thomas Kielinger on my way to Chicago and spoke to him. He was looking for a restaurant, the poor man

– on two consecutive mornings we saw Ajay Devgan shooting a song for a film. Sans his wife, though.

– on our last day in Rome we celebrated the husband’s birthday with dinner at an interesting restaurant, which ended with everyone in the place singing the Italian version of Happy Birthday for him and the other person there celebrating, while they blew out their candles on their pavlovas. A great finale. Thank you so much, Carla and Ben!

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We’re off!

We’re leaving for Bangalore this evening, and for London tomorrow. Yay! Amazingly, the Italy (Schengen) visa came through in just two days, after I went to Chennai to submit the forms on both our behalfs, had some bad moments with the travel insurance and so on and had the chappie tell me we’d most probably have to go to Mumbai for an interview! That would have been another 20K down the drain…And yet miraculously I took the overnight train back to Cochin the same evening (Tuesday), and by Thursday, the passports had arrived at home! That’s what I call efficiency 🙂 Considering the UK visa took exactly one calendar month to arrive…

So we go to London/Belfast/Rome with Venice and Florence thrown in somewhere…

I’ve been spending hours on the net booking/trying to book trains through the Trenitalia site…only at the end it tells me I need to scan my ID, my card, and what not, mail it to them and they’ll authorise the transaction. Bosh! I also thought raileurope.co.in allowing payment in rupees was wonderful, until I got to paying and found they only deliver paper tickets! How backward of them, to be sure.

In any case, London, here we come…Are any of my readers in any of these places and shall we meet?

Comment here or mail me.

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Catching up

There’s a lot of loose ends to tie up. Well, not exactly, but my mind is all scattered in the past few days. I’ll tell you all about it, but let’s get the knitting out of the way first, shall we?

Me and bags…

Lambe bag

I stole some yarn from Jaishree to make this bag. It’s now living with its owner in Australia happily, so I can blog about it now.

In the usual fashion:

Yarn: Common-or-garden acrylic, pinched from Jaishree’s stash. The recipient said she liked blue and this was what I found. I used two strands held together. I’m happy to report that despite being acrylic, the yarn shows off the cables quite nicely. Perhaps the tight gauge helped. This is light-worsted weight, the usual size.

Needles: 4mm, 6mm and 6.5mm

Pattern: The Lambe bag from Berroco. This came in a newsletter with four cabled bag patterns and I had in fact queued one of them when I read in the Rav RAK group that someone wanted this one, so it sounded ideal. The other one’s still on my queue, but will probably be made later. My project page on Rav is here.

Time: This took a while to make, because after starting it and finishing a repeat or so I realised that I’d miscrossed a cable, and had to rip. That kind of put me off a bit, but this was the only knitting project I took with me to Hyderabad, to ensure I would finish it. And I did.

Size: 9″ x 13″ across at the widest point, going down to 11″ across at the top.

Extra #1 I was glad to have the bamboo handles, which were almost identical to the ones the pattern called for. I bought them right here in Cochin.

#2 I like cables and bags. What can I say?

#3 I didn’t line this bag, because I felt the fabric was dense enough…Should I have?

#4 I had yarn left over and couldn’t resist the temptation to begin another pattern on my queue. I cast on almost immediately I got back and even finished part of it, and then found myself wondering if I had enough yarn. So of course I demanded that Jaishree send me more, which she has, the poor thing. So keep your eyes peeled for yet another blue thing in the future, ok? I know you can’t wait.

………………

Other stuff. Warning: will be hodge-podge-y

  • There’s this new job I’m doing (job? contract? assignment? whatever) and I have a couple of files to attend to.
  • Yesterday we had two separate meals out at the hospital, one a traditional Onasadya (Onam meal) for lunch served on a banana leaf, and the other a dinner in the evening to dine one of the doctors out. I got told off after the first one by the male in-law for waving my hands about when I talk. It isn’t ladylike, apparently. Not if I’m dressed in a sari. I wonder if I have a banner on my head that says, “Yes, I’m 34 years old, but I need to be told how to behave.” In a suitably tasteful font, of course. Needless to say, I tried to be very demure at dinner and did not go over to talk to the men which I normally do. Mustn’t blot my escutcheon further.
  • We are hoping to go to the UK/Ireland/Italy in a few weeks time, and now that The Man has been given approval from his headquarters, the visa process has begun. Last year I thought getting a visa to one country was bad enough. I don’t know what made me think trying for 3 at a time would be any better! If they had all been within the Schengen zone, it would have been nice, but alas, no! All three countries have minds of their own, so we need a UK visa, an Irish one and a Schengen one from Italy. Just the UK form has 21 pages.

Of course, a lot of it we don’t have to fill, because it’s full of sections for all categories of visitors, but the bulk is still intimidating. Also, finding answers to questions like “How much money will you need for your accommodation and food while visiting the UK?”, “Have you ever done anything which might make you not a person of good character? If yes, please give details.” is quite exhausting (I wonder if waving my hands about would qualify). And so much of it is plain terrifying. The Italy visa requires a long list of “mandatory documents” including a confirmed air ticket…what if we don’t get one? Then we’d have to add the visa fees to the cancellation charges as lost money.

  • Bright spot? I posted for advice on the Rav forums and found a great new friend who’s promised to put us up in Rome. Best of all, she has 3 cats!!! No wonder she’s so kind as to offer a bed to almost-total strangers.
  • Italy sounds more and more like India every time I go to a different website or source of information. The potholes, the pickpockets, the 60-day train bookings, the refusal to accept credit cards…But the men should be handsomer, no? 😉 And I always have been drawn to Rome and Egypt…Perhaps Rome because my parents and sister went there as part of their farewell tour (actually they were relocating from Canada for good and decided to cover Europe on the way back, touching London, Rome, Venice, Paris, Amsterdam, Belgrade and Egypt in 1972). Anyway, they had a photo-rich book on Rome I still have memories of.
  • Another India-like feature? The Consulate site tells me the VFS (Visa Facilitation Service) has a centre in Cochin, but the VFS-Italy site says there isn’t. This sort of confusion feels so Indian! I’ve sent a mail asking for information. I’m hoping not to have to travel to Chennai or Mumbai for the visa, sigh. Anyway, we need to get the visas in order, so nothing to be done until the other two come through.
  • Looking once again for help/advice on accommodation in London. And do any of my mostly silent readers live in any of these places and could we meet? It would be so much fun! This would be in late October, early November. Last time I didn’t actually get to go to a knit/crochet meetup. Or a real yarn store. Though I’m thinking that would be too tempting/depressing/dangerous for my credit card. So, anyone out there in London/Manchester/Belfast/Dublin/Rome/Venice-or-Florence?
  • Another example of the unexpected kindness of people: I saw someone queuing or faving the Ten Stitch Blanket (Ravelry link) on Rav and discovered the UK’s Knitting and Crochet Guild were selling copies of the past issue of Slipknot which had the pattern. I wrote to them to enquire whether they’d send a copy to India and the lady was sweet enough to send me a copy free! Gives you a nice warm feeling inside. The pattern itself is written in Elizabeth Zimmermann’s chatty style, not the row-by-row detailed style.

Thanks for listening! My mind is flitting from one topic to another these days, and the table at which I work is in a royal mess. Which is reflecting the other I am not sure, but the likeness is astounding.

Improvised thread holder for crochet

Don’t mind me, I’m just a sloth.

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Holmes meets Wooster (and Alice)

Not exactly, but that’s how it feels sometimes when I read the Lord Peter Wimsey books of Dorothy Sayers. I found a cache of them at the library, and read three in a row a few weeks ago, and got two this time around. Currently I’m reading Busman’s Honeymoon. The books are such good fun! Wimsey is a gentleman like Bertie Wooster, and even has his version of Jeeves, but is obviously much cleverer. Also, I found a reference to a quote from Alice (Through the Looking Glass) which my sister and I use regularly, paraphrased, “You couldn’t deny it if you tried with both your hands.” To which Alice tries to argue, “I don’t deny things with my hands…” “I didn’t say you do, I said you couldn’t if you tried!” (more or less). Which is unbeatable logic, don’t you think?

The Dowager Duchess says of her (elder) daughter-in-law: “She couldn’t have said anything nastier if she’d thought about it with both hands for a fortnight.

My sister and I were also gratified to read somewhere about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, that it happens every other day. You need to find out in advance whether it is happening on a particular day or not. The White Queen tells Alice she can have jam every other day, but when Alice asks if she can have it the next day, she is told “Today isn’t any other day.” You can’t argue with that one either. My sister tells me in her Red Bus tour of London, the guide used the same phrase about when some attraction was open and no one seemed to have any questions about it.

No wonder though, that I think my mom and I were very lucky we wandered towards the Palace on a day that did happen to be an “other day”, although perhaps during the English summer, the Changing happens every day?

Finally!

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Water the flug

Houseboat on backwaters

Two weeks ago, we wrote a complaint that the washbasin in our bathroom was shaky. So two guys came (Malayalam only) and dismantled the whole thing, leaving the washbasin in the fire escape and the only word I understood was “nala” meaning tomorrow. Well, the tomorrow only came after a week or so, when 4 (!!!) men showed up to “put in a flug”.

Having given up on anybody ever replacing the washbasin, it took me a minute to understand that they’d come to do something about it. I let them in, they carved out a hole in the wall, put in some cement and a wooden flug (now you get it!) and went away, asking me to water it twice a day and Monday (yesterday) they’d come and put the washbasin back up.

I’ve been faithfully watering the flug, but alas, no one has come to complete the task. And so we roll.

In knitting news, I’ve been working on this pattern, which caught my eye. I’m using Lion cotton and Sugar n’ Cream. Although the designer’s work looks scrumptious, mine is definitely going to end as an Ugh. The problem might be that (a) I knit too tight therefore my floats are too tight, thus not giving that gingham look, (b) cotton isn’t slippery enough for the pattern (c) general shabby knitting.

Also, the handle is done in double knitting in two colours, which has me completely floored, me never having done double knitting in colours before. I’ve tried checking out the videos available online, but I wish someone would explain this particular pattern to me. I’ve finished the body of the towel and it only needs a handle now. There is a chart, but I’m not able to understand that very well. 🙁

As you can see in the photo, it is still raining here. Apparently Kerala (and much of India) has had 20% excess rainfall this monsoon. Somebody forgot to tell the southwest monsoon that it must retreat before the northeast monsoon comes calling. We went on a cruise of the backwaters on Sunday, taking around the husband’s superior and family. That isn’t our boat, although ours looked identical. They do you for lunch. The boats have two bedrooms with attached bathrooms. You can hire them for the night as well. Food is traditional Kerala cuisine. The backwaters are used as the main media of transport in the region, and it was startling to see distance signboards we normally spot on highways. All in all, a unique experience.

Me, I’m a dry land creature, and while the life on so much water is fascinating to study and brood over, I much prefer less moisture. Water scares me. Nice for a break, though.

ETA: The designer is holding my hand while I attempt the handle. Progress shall be reported.

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Paying the price

I have an odd approach to earning money (and spending it). Since I freelance, each article I edit has a price on its head. So I tend to think “I’ve earned Rs 1,500 over the last two days, which pays for the new cellphone I had to buy after my last one met an untimely end after a fatal encounter with azelastine, my nasal phus-phus.” Sort of seeing the trees too much and not the wood so much. Also, while I like the security of having a solid 5-figure amount in the bank, once I withdraw cash from the ATM, it’s like water. Somehow the real paper never feels as important as seeing the numbers in the account balance sheet. Why do you suppose that is? I find it very odd whenever I think about it.

Anyway, in England they give you back every single penny of your change. In fact, as soon as we arrived at Heathrow, I tried contacting an acquaintance who’d said he might be able to pick us up. I didn’t realise you had to prefix a zero to a mobile number even if it was local (you don’t in India), so my first couple of attempts were unsuccessful, and after the second try, the coin-operated phone actually returned not just my £1 coin, but an additional 10p coin. So funny! But then of course I got through to my contact (who couldn’t come anyway) and although the call only took 50p, the machine swallowed the whole £1 so overall I made a loss.

The London underground is totally amazing. There seemed to be so many different levels, one for each line, with each one invisible from the other. The system probably goes miles deep into the earth. I wonder how a cross-section of the ground below London would look. Some of the escalators were very, very high. Despite all the mechanisation, though, I realised not even in London are public transport systems totally friendly to the physically challenged. Not all stations have the escalators, and the stairs require fitness. Carting around my backpack (why are guidebooks and water so heavy?) I think I lost some weight. Next time I travel, I’ve resolved to go with a stronger, fitter person, who can carry around the maps and water and stuff, (and of course the massive amounts of change you acquire in a surprisingly short time). I shall only carry my camera and my enthusiasm.

Talking of baggage, I was lugging a load of it on the Saturday we returned from Sheffield to London. Since we arrived at King’s Cross by around 2pm, my mom (Can you believe she’s over 70?) suggested we should use the time to do some more sightseeing (it’s such an advantage having sunlight until 10pm – schedule all your higher-latitude travel in the summertime, it doubles your visiting hours). So there I was, wheeling the strolly, and packing my backpack, and we trudged to the Tower of London. The cobbles in that place really made it hard. Also, nowhere throughout the trip were we asked to (or allowed to) leave our baggage at the entry (except at the Dickens Museum).

I was also carrying a load of emotional baggage (colonial hangups), as I realised after we saw the Royal jewels. The sight of the Kohinoor made me want to return to India and start up a petition for its return. First, it was taken from India, and then we travel all the way and pay for the privilege of seeing it!!! Of all the nerve…

We met this Yeoman guard:

John the Beefeater

Who said his grandfather had been in the Indian Army and his father had studied in a place which is now in Pakistan. Of course, when you meet individuals, it’s hard to maintain any anger or prejudice (unlike when you think of the country or race). So we took a nice happy picture together. (Of course it was before I saw the Kohinoor).

My mom is carrying a usual bag from Sainsbury’s (she insisted on buying vegetables all the time so we could have Indian food after reaching home at 10 or 11 in the evening). Western food is good for breakfast and maybe lunch, but you start craving the salt and the hot by night time. (Except I bought a mix for Yorkshire pudding and was disappointed to find it salty when I baked it here in Cochin. Perhaps it is dunked in jam or something for eating? Odd when most of the other baked stuff we encountered in the trip was sweet).

Oh, and that sweater is my handknit. Seen here way back when. Ruth was nice enough not to fall about laughing when she saw it. (Of course she’s got the baby to think of, but you know.) Came in useful, though.

And I thought this was an interesting sight:

Odd juxtaposition

That er, cigar-shaped building (one of London’s famous landmarks) with the hoary Tower edifices on either side. I keep forgetting what it is called. Most of Central London, though, is still nicely older architecture and I was especially pleased that even shops didn’t deface the fronts, and were simple. Bombay would do well to follow suit.

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Past history

So on the second Saturday we spent in England, we took the train back to London from Sheffield (from Meadowhall Interchange to Doncaster and then direct to King’s Cross). The taxi driver who drove us from our friends’ house to the station was of Pakistani origin and we had an interesting conversation with him in Hindi (with sort of political overtones, so not for this blog).

I love so much the sheer amount of information that is available in all the train stations and coach stations and interchanges and at the bus stops. There are route maps and bus maps and brochures. I picked up a whole load of paper, just as souvenirs. Culled a lot of it when we were packing to move from Vizag. Of course the best part was, it was all in a language that is de facto my first language. People I spoke to on the street and elsewhere didn’t seem to have issues understanding my accent either, but my mom was disappointed no one sounds like the Beeb! I explained that the Beeb accent is largely an artificial one. Ruth and Tom said perhaps some people sound like that in some parts of London, but we didn’t meet any. Anyhow, the weeks I spent glued to Silent Witness, Waking the Dead and The Inspector Lynley Mysteries on BBC Entertainment paid off and I understood the different accents quite satisfactorily. Actually, I think I’d have been intimidated if someone had sounded like the Beeb. This way, my accent was just another among a thousand others.

Not that I watched the series to learn the accents. Also the years of growing up with British writing meant I got a thrill just from recognising street and place names :D. Like unexpectedly stumbling upon this while looking for something else entirely:

Found! New Scotland Yard

That was on the way from watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.

Or cutting through from Marylebone Street (after walking through Oxford Street) en route to Portland Place and seeing this board:

Harley Street

Almost enough to make me forget the ache in my feet (our feet ached the entire two weeks! Never have I ever walked so much in my life.)

Then for the murder lover in me (the genre of books, not the act naturally), this on the way to Trafalgar Square:
Murder bookstore

I made a lifetime of memories from those 13 days. And if I was nostalgic before the trip, now it’s like “I have to go back every year!!!”. Dreaming on…

While on the subject of language, this is the first time I’ve lived in a place where I don’t even read the script. English is ubiquitous, obviously, but I wish I could read Malayalam too. A penfriend from Cochin in my youth tried teaching me but I remember very little of it. One weekend, I shall try to locate her, as I remember her address by rote. Do you think I’ll be able to find her? It must be almost 20 years since we last corresponded. I’m hoping at least her parents will be here, even if she has moved away. I found a schoolfriend in Mumbai when we moved there, 11 years since we last met.

I think all my posts for the foreseeable future are going to be rambling ones. Stay with me if you can!

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Resuming service

I am unhappy about Hyderabad and don’t want to think about it, so let’s jump in straight into this new place.

My impression of Kochi so far? Wet, cramped, wet, lots of traffic, wet, potholes, boiled rice, wet, no pavements, wet…oh, and did I mention the wetness? Seriously though, I guess I’m too much of a dryland person (The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics is situated in my hometown). I suppose we’ve missed the bulk of the monsoon, though.

Haven’t done much sightseeing, as we’ve been settling down instead. You know, I’d really love to know what goes on in a designer/architect’s mind when he (most architects for the government in India would be male) designs quarters such as these. The flat is large, the largest room by far being the kitchen! (with poor ventilation and little actual storage space). I tried to convince the husband that we could move the dining table into the kitchen, but he thinks it wouldn’t look good when we have visitors. And of course it would leave the dining room without a function.

What sort of families wouldn’t require cupboards? None of the rooms has any at all, and only two bedrooms have a couple of afterthought wardrobes added. In Vizag, all the wall decorations we’d packed in Bombay remained packed, because we didn’t want to defile the nice walls of the civil flat we were renting. Instead we decorated with stuff in the showcase. Here, on the other hand, there are absolutely no shelves anywhere, but at least a million nails driven into the walls by the previous occupants, so all the showcase stuff has remained in storage and out have come the wall hangings.

The husband indulged in some semi-forbidden activity by getting an extra loft-tank installed, as there isn’t any running water except for 45 minute intervals twice a day. Thankfully the kitchen has a loft tank and one of the bathrooms.

The furniture is mostly good, and after a lot of elbow gunk, the cabinet doors in the kitchen are decent now (the amount of ick on them was unbelievable and I didn’t think on first impression that any of it could be removed, but faithful Scotchbrite came to the rescue, along with lots of soap and water). Apparently the previous occupants didn’t care in what shape they left the house. There are two rocking chairs! Good for watching TV while knitting (of which there has been some).

Am I sounding incoherent? There’s lots of things to blog about, but I find the longer I wait to talk about something, the less likely I am to talk about it at all. Does that happen to you too? I somehow feel after a gap that whatever it was doesn’t matter any more.
To be an interesting blog, though, I think it is important to be regular as well as current. Hmm. No wonder this blog is so poorly read. 🙁

Today I enrolled as a member of the Eloor library here which is chock full of the kind of pulp/pop fiction I read and should keep me happy. Got two Heyer murders, one Ian Rankin (my first) and for old times’ sake, a Betty Neels (Kimberly, you’ve read her? You know, mushy chick lit of the traditional kind). The library isn’t close by, but maybe that will keep my expenses down. Also spotted a book sale, but the husband didn’t want to stop in the rain.

Before we left Vizag, the MIL and I had a romantic getaway at Araku. The husband was supposed to join us, but couldn’t as the trucker (try spelling that minus tr plus f) let us down but he joined us the second day for the actual sightseeing. Since it was a “suite” meaning a double bed and a diwan, no room rent was lost. I’ve uploaded pictures at my Flickr account. It was very green and lush. No actual rain, but cool. Also saw my first coffee plantation (drive through).

Off to watch Law & Order: SVU. Ta!