Thursday 29 November 2012

Great Expectations

Whenever I hear Wizzard singing: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” I always think: Yeah, I bet you don’t really. It would soon lose its appeal, too much of a good thing and all that. Like the time I told my Dad I loved NestlĂ©’s Golden Nuggets so much that I wanted them for every meal for the rest of my life. He said he doubted it and that I’d soon go off them. I said I wouldn’t. So off he went and bought five packets of  Golden Nuggets and I set about eating them for breakfast, dinner and tea (as meals in our house were called in those days) On Day Two, I’d had enough. I had to admit defeat. It’s the same with Christmas; no one in their right mind would wish it could be every day.

I used to work in a book shop in London where American students came for temporary work placements in the summer.  One sweltering August afternoon, one of the students came in from his lunch break with a Christmas compilation CD.

 “Why are you buying Christmas music in August, John?”

I still remember his answer to this day, although it was nearly 20 years ago.

In a thick New Jersey accent: “Hey, every once in a while Christmas rolls around and I’m gonna need some choons!”

He is right, of course, every once in a while, Christmas does roll around and that’s how I like it! (ie not every day)

I think of John every year the moment I spot the first Christmas item in the shops. I do love Christmas and I am as excited today as I was in 1971 when I received an ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ on Christmas morning. I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack and die of joy.  

There was a period in my 20s when I went off Christmas a bit. It meant going home to stay with my parents, sleeping in my childhood bed and going to the pub to see long lost school friends on Christmas Eve. I would wake on Christmas morning (sometimes in a pool of vom) with a thick head while Mum poured the Buck’s Fizz and Dad ran about the house knocking on doors and shouting: “He’s been, he’s been!”  I’d haul my sorry self down stairs and wear a rictus smile while opening practical gifts of soap and socks. (Nothing has ever matched the ‘Etch-a-Sketch’ moment) Then, feeling as rough as a buzzard’s crutch/badger’s arse, I would be forced to get dressed and peel the Brussels sprouts. Later in the day, when everyone was asleep in front of ‘The Two Ronnies’ I would slink back to my room to sulk over the unsolicited toiletries and slippers, consoling myself with a tin of Quality Street and yearning for  the day when someone special would buy me stuff from Tiffany’s and Agent Provocateur.

The Joy of Christmas returned when I got married and we went to Bermuda for a Christmas Honeymoon. On Christmas Eve we went into Hamilton and agreed to spend no more than $20 on each other. I went into Trimmingham’s of Bermuda and bought a pair of loud Bermuda shorts (obvs), a bottle of rum and a Cuban cigar (naturally I went over budget)  Turns out Mick panicked, bypassed the perfume and lingerie counters and came out with a Gordon tartan woolen scarf and a cribbage set.  I could see where he was going with the Gordon tartan, ie that I had recently become Mrs. Gordon but the cribbage set? WTF?  I had to tell him that this was not acceptable and he would have to try much harder in future. Simple guidelines…perfume, lingerie and jewellery. That was 17 Christmases ago and I am pleased to report that he has adhered to the guidelines ever since  - with the exception of a very nice ceramic owl that I had admired in a shop window. Good work, Michael xx

The nicest memory of that first Christmas together as man and wife, was waking to find the hotel management had left us a gift outside the door of a glass bauble filled with pink Bermuda sand and decorated with a tiny starfish. Amazingly, after all this time, it is still intact. Since then, we have collected Christmas decorations from everywhere we’ve visited and un-wrapping them each year is always a fuzzy time to remember their individual histories.

When Mick’s brother got married in Mexico City just before Christmas in 2002, we bought two painted wooden figures from a street seller. As we walked off, she followed us, shouting in Spanish but we didn’t understand. A minute later, we stopped in our tracks, looked at each other and shouted simultaneously: “THE THREE KINGS!” We realized we had bought only two of the three kings so went rushing back through the market to find her, which we did and duly purchased the third king. Much laughter all round. One of the kings has lost his crown now, but he will never lose his place on our tree.

We bought a blue and white porcelain Santa icicle in Delft, a Baby’s First Christmas bauble when Hugh was born in ‘97, and a felt Fox Terrier with a Santa hat on when we got the dog.  There is a glass London Bus, an Eiffel Tower and a Statue of Liberty. I’m kicking myself I couldn’t find a glass Burj Khalifa bauble in Dubai this summer! (But I do have a pink glittery camel!)

 I confess that I stole a lovely red bauble from a table setting at a hotel in Thailand in 2010. I’d had one or two glasses of Champagne as had the wife of the Hungarian Ambassador to Pakistan who happened to be sharing our table (a bit random, I know) We both concluded that the Christmas Gala Dinner was a bit over-priced so felt justified in nicking a bauble each.  Good times.

The most precious thing on the tree, besides all the little cotton wool snowmen and robins the children have made over the years, is the spire at the top, hand-blown by my Uncle Arthur who died years ago but is fondly remembered every year when we crown the tree. This year I am adding some exquisite hand-embroidered red velvet hearts I bought from an NGO here in Mumbai. I am also on the lookout for a sparkly little rickshaw.

For me, the best thing about Christmas in Mumbai is Hill Road with its market stalls selling ‘kwality’ fake trees, plastic snowmen and tinsel - all glittering in the hot sun amid the Catholic churches and tombstones. It’s as far removed from Liberty’s Christmas Shop in Regent Street (another one of my favourite haunts) as it’s possible to be, but it makes me just as excited!

I think the secret of a good Christmas is to lower your expectations - the greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment.  I have always felt vaguely let-down when it doesn’t snow on Christmas Morning even though I can never actually remember this happening. And don’t be crestfallen if you un-wrap a set of coasters from someone to whom you have just given a basket of LancĂ´me products, it’s not necessarily a reflection of what they really think about you or if it is, get over it! Expect cribbage sets and coasters, that way, anything else is a bonus!

This year my dog (who resides in the UK) has gifted me a lovely Mulberry purse and phone holder to match my Bayswater. I had to help him buy and wrap it,of course, but I really appreciate the care and thought that went into it. Good boy, Otto xxx

Be kind and generous to everyone, including yourself and that way you can be sure of a very merry Christmas!










Thursday 18 October 2012

Will Reading Mumbai Mirror make me Pregnant?

I am a big fan of Dr Mahinder Watsa’s Ask The Sexpert column in Mumbai Mirror.  In fact I keep a scrap book of all my favourite problems and believe me, it’s an interesting read.

Dr Mahinder must be a very patient man because he deals with the same ‘problem’ again and again and the answer is invariably: “No, it will not make you go blind.”
Because this is a family publication, I’d better not go into too much detail about the sexual problems of the poor souls who pen these letters, but I will say how shocked I am at the level of ignorance.

If I were a skeptical person, I might say that they must have been concocted by a couple of reporters having a laugh at the readers’ expense but then, if this were the case, wouldn’t the problems be a little more varied? They are, as I say, almost always concerned with one topic and one topic only - and that is the solitary past-time of young men.

Occasionally we see a variation of the theme. Here are a few of my favourites but bear in mind; I am going to have to paraphrase… a lot:

“I stole my aunty’s knickers off the washing line and enjoyed some sexy time with them before hanging them back. Will she get pregnant?”

“How long can I keep wearing stained pants?”

“Recently a mosquito flew into my eye and got stuck. Will I get Aids?”

Most of the problems are triple-X rated and funnily enough seem to happen to people’s friends rather than to themselves. “My friend had oral with a girl and the spunk trickled down her neck and onto her underwear…… Can she get pregnant?”  His ‘friend’ seems to know an awful lot, doesn’t he? It is almost as if he were in the room with them.

I have just read through the whole scrap book of problems – three years worth- and I laughed so much that the maid came in to see if I was alright. Sadly, I cannot repeat any of them here because they are way too blue but it makes me wonder how Mumbai Mirror gets away with it in a city where public displays of affection between men and women are few and far between.

We’ve all seen the couples canoodling far from home on the Sealink and Worli sea face, hidden beneath scarves in case they are spotted by a passing family friend. But you don’t see them going about arm-in-arm or kissing openly because Indian Society is quite buttoned-up about stuff like that.

I understand that sex is not spoken about in the homes of most Indian families and many schools do not have a sex education programme. No wonder there are so many messed-up questions flying about. The good doc Mahinder must be run off his feet but always finds the time to impart wise words to all those anxious, head-scratching would-be lovers out there.

But there’s more to Mumbai Mirror than Dr Mahinder’s marvelous column. I also enjoy the entertainment listing section Fun Zone. I am tempted to pick out one of these events at random and then just turn up for a laugh. I might really enjoy a play called ‘So Many Socks’ or ‘Moments with Pankaj Udhas’ (a soulful-lookin’ dude who looks a bit like Bob Carolgees, you know…him off Tiswas… Spit the Dog)

But then again, maybe I wouldn’t.

 I’m usually on my second cup of chai by the time I get to the adverts for miracle body treatments and marvel about how they get away with it. Don’t the trading standards people read this stuff?

 “Skin Whitening All over body in few days Whitening from within!!”

“Stem cell Hair Multiplication, best price Rs 12 per hair!!!”

“Look 10 years younger in three hours with long-lasting endoscopic face lift!!!!!” 

One exclamation mark is enough to indicate surprise, there is never any need for a double, and triple and above just makes me plain angry.

One minute I’m scoffing at the absurdity of it all, the next I get drawn in and start writing down the phone numbers. I could do with some hair multiplication. Maybe that endoscopic face lift might really work? (I might even have considered it if it were presented without the exclamation marks) (!)

And so onto the News which is mainly either something incomprehensible about a Housing Scam or something I won’t bother reading because the  headline is written in acronyms which I am not familiar with: 
“Now, hold FSs, insurance, PO funds in demat”

How unsnappy is that?

Or how about: “Arrested IM men plotted attack ATS HQ”

Yeah, can’t be bothered to read that either.

But amongst all this political hoo-ha there are stories of such human pain and suffering that sometimes they stay with me for days or even weeks -  the stories of abused and depressed women hanging themselves by their dupattas from the ceiling fan or of children who are taken from their homes and later found in gunny bags in abandoned buildings.  Today I read the story of a rickshaw driver who was hit by a bus as he chased a passenger for three rupees and lost his leg. He was the only bread winner in a large family who will now all suffer. Sometimes the news is too much to bear. Sometimes, it’s easier to think of what we read as just stories rather than things that are actually happening to the people we are driving past in our air-conditioned Innovas.

The woman looking out of the window on the crowded bus might be worrying about a missing child (or else daydreaming about a moment with Pankaj Udhas), the man behind her might be angry at his wife for not giving him a son while she is at home eyeing up the ceiling fan, wondering if it will take her weight. It won’t be long before the one-legged former rickshaw driver is tapping at your window for small change at the lights.

It’s all getting a bit dark, isn’t it? I guess what I am trying to say is that it is hard for us to comprehend the suffering of so many people we see every day on the streets of Mumbai, people who are desperate and real. Our coping strategy is often to detach ourselves because the problem is too big for us to change. But let’s do what we can, where we can to make small differences to people’s lives. A little goes a long way…and that is one of Dr Mahinder’s favourite sayings! (!!) 

Saturday 15 September 2012

Is Mumbai making me old?

Here’s a thought... at the age of 46 does the ageing process suddenly pick up speed or am I beginning to look so much older because I live in Mumbai? Or is it, as I suspect, a terrible combination of the two?

This hasn’t just occurred to me today. I have been noticing things for a while. A cluster of brown spots have appeared on my calf, they are slowing forming a relief map of India. There is a general puffiness of the face, a slackness of the jaw and a weariness of the body.

I have just found a photograph of Mick and me in Goa three and a half years ago and compared it to one taken last month. I can hardly believe how much we have both changed in that time so I’m going to analyze what went wrong and attempt a counter-attack on Mumbai’s ageing elements and the march of time (well, I like a challenge!)

So what is it about Mumbai life that is making me old? Firstly, walking is not really an option (if you value your life!) At home in Kent I used to walk my dog over the fields in the fresh air for a couple of hours every day. There are two factors here: walking and fresh air and I’m getting neither. I went to collect Polly from school in a rickshaw yesterday and, as I sat in the traffic I could almost see the pollution gently creeping into my pores. And, as I gulped down the exhaust fumes, I thought of my little dog and our long walks together in the early morning mist and how rosy my cheeks would be when I came home. There’s not much I can do about the pollution but there is a swimming pool down stairs which I rarely use and a gym with a treadmill. It’s time to draw up a new exercise routine. But hang on a minute! I already do three  yoga classes, three Zumba (Bollywood-stylie) classes, four weight-lifting sessions a week and a 10 km run on Saturdays! Also, since coming to Mumbai I have run a full Marathon and several half Marathons. What’s going on? Three and a half years ago I weighed 60 kilos and thought I was fat. Today I weigh 70 kilos and cannot fit into any of the clothes in Zara in spite of my crazy exercising.  When I went to get my nails done yesterday, the manicurist (a man) greeted me with a cheerful: “Hello Madam, you’ve put on weight!”

So this situation has not come about through lack of exercise it must be the food. It is no secret that since arriving in Mumbai, like most ex-pats, I enjoy the all-you-can-eat-and-drink Sunday Brunches at the fancy hotels. After a week of curry and rice, it’s nice to have a blow-out on some lovely European-style nosh washed down with a bucket of Sula Brut. Aha! here's the problem!

 So, it’s out with the five star brunches and in with the, er what? I have decided to do a whole separate piece on the state of the supermarkets in Mumbai (see below) because I have a lot to say on the subject. It’s not that easy to pop out and buy a fresh avocado and some lean beef because it just isn’t available. In fact, thinking of healthy things to cook and sourcing all the ingredients here is a real challenge. (We did employ a cook for a while but that didn’t work out because of her limited repertoire of curry or dhal)

I was in Phoenix Market City in Kurla last week and suddenly realized I was hungry. I didn’t have time to go for a sit down meal as I had to get back for school so I began to look around for a quick snack. From what I could see, I had two choices:  ‘Mad Over Donuts’ or ‘McDonalds.’ All I wanted was a lovely crayfish and rocket sandwich on whole meal bread and a freshly-squeezed orange juice but I might as well have wished for the moon! With my stomach grumbling I went into the new Reliance hypermarket and rushed about looking for something quick and healthy to eat. Look, fresh orange juice! But on closer inspection of the label, I noted several grams of added sugar. “But I don’t want sugar!” I told the guy at the, ahem, ‘deli’ who looked at me as if I were a crazy lady and told me it “wasn’t possible” to have freshly squeezed juice without sugar. I came out with the sickly sweet juice, a packet of dates and some digestive biscuits, not exactly the ‘Meal Deal’ I was lusting after. And this is what is making me fat!  I am never going to get anywhere unless I prepare in advance. I can get hold of nuts, oats, pulses, vegetables, fruit and chicken, so I’m going to buy that lot in bulk and eat the same things every day until I am 60 kilos once again. Watch this space!

Primping and preening are all part of the expat’s life, should she choose it, as Mumbai is full of beauty salons and health spas. I do have regular manis, pedis and facials, something I rarely did at home, but each time I go they try to flog me things I didn’t think I needed. “Do you want your arms waxing, madam? Shall I thread your moustache also?” No and no! I do not have hairy arms or a moustache and yet, as soon as I get home, you can bet yout bottom dollar I’ll be inspecting myself in a magnifying mirror, insecure and fearful of finding new and horrendous flaws. Perhaps it’s a case of the more you dig, the more you find!

All of this, of course, comes hurtling back into perspective when you see disfigured beggars at the roadside.  I may have the odd hair on my upper lip BUT THAT MAN HAS NO LEGS! India, you may be making me old, but you also make me grateful for what I do have.

Like Cher and most other self-obsessed women past their prime ‘I wish I could turn back time’ but I can’t so instead, I’m going to try to make Mumbai work for me. The fact that I have a maid to do all the housework frees me up to go for a run on the beach every morning and try to shop for healthy foods (which she will chop and make into soup) I have just booked a holiday in Goa for a dose of fresh air and will try to remember my factor 50 every day. Finally I’ve signed up for some weird Indian Ayurvedic fat melting treatments at Dr Bhavana’s Fitness Highway (check the ads in the Mumbai Mirror) My wobbly bits will be coated in a funny-smelling paste and magically massaged away. I know there is no obvious science to this but I quite like the mysteriousness of it. They also made me swear to give up alcohol for 50 days. Hmmmmmm

There are many things I love about living in India (yoga, coconuts, and my strange Bollywood Zumba class) but food shopping isn’t one of them. I used to be a Happy Shopper, but now I’m a sad one. Going to the supermarket is a miserable experience, I hate it.  I know, I know, I should be grateful that I CAN shop in supermarkets (there are plenty out there who can’t) it’s just that they should be so much better than they actually are. This economy is steaming ahead; the supermarkets need to catch up!

I reserve my most vitriolic criticism for Nature’s Basket in Lokhandwala which reminds me of one of the obstacle courses my brother and I used to make in the garden after watching “It’s a Knockout.” It’s actually a combination of an obstacle course and a maze for really thin people; a labyrinth blocked at every twist and turn by unruly gangs of empty (dirty) trolleys. Ok, you can get Heinz Beans here and Coco Pops (at a price!) but why is everything coated in thick, black dust? Why are all the tins dented? Any pasta product that does not have an inner wrapping of foil or plastic will almost certainly be infested with weevils. C’mon Goodrej’s Nature’s Basket, you can do better than this! You can start by eliminating whatever is causing that foul smell which greets the shopper at the threshold. I could go on and on. Why, when an item is scanned, does the cashier then have to enter the product into the till manually? (And seemingly read the whole of the label) It can take up to 30 minutes to pay if you have more than one basket. Also some sort of queuing system wouldn’t go amiss, rather than everybody milling about amongst the cardboard boxes and chaos near the till, hoping to catch the eye of an assistant so they can pay and leave. Hey, I’m only saying!  And yes, I have asked to speak to the manager and each time he has smiled politely, obviously not understood what I was saying and then quietly backed away from me as if I were a dangerous care-in-the-community patient.

Ok, Hypercity, it’s your turn now. Filthy trolleys, the smell in your meat hall makes me gag, your fruit and veg is often past-it (bought two melons last week, both rotten inside) and your million-decibel sound system makes my ears bleed. Plus, when I pointed out to an assistant that the spaghetti was crawling with weevils, he just took the packet from me and returned it to the shelf, offering me another one. Finally, your idea of filling the conveyor belts at the checkout with products on special offer sucks. The 50 bottles of sunflower oil you had lined up on every belt meant there was hardly any space for the shopper to unload the shopping. Sack the brainiac who ‘thunk’ that one up!

I have tried shopping at the Mom and Pop shops, I really have, but the stock is so limited and it’s massively time-consuming.

My local supermarket, Star Bazaar, is affectionately known as Shit Bazaar in our house. A large family of cockroaches live in the space vacated by a damaged floor tile. I watch them busying about each time I wait in the queue to pay. Come on Star Bazaar, clean it up!

The thing that gets me most is not the bad smells, the filth or even the weevil/ cockroach infestations, it’s the Lack of Choice. Meat choices are chicken or anonymous offal (I think I’ll take the chicken) Milk - long life or dodgy unpasteurized stuff tied up in a plastic bag; Cheese - processed slices or seriously expensive imported Cheddar which will not have been stored properly and will almost certainly be off. You could have blown me down with a feather when I saw a little box of blueberries in Hypercity the other day. It didn’t matter that they were half mouldy, I was having them. I don’t care if they did cost me a fiver; it was like finding hidden treasure!

Great news this week! After months of dithering about the government finally allowed 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in multi-brand retail. This paves the way for retail giants like Wal-Mart and Carrefour to open in India. I am sure a bit of healthy competition will be good for the likes of Hypercity, Nature’s Basket et al. Bring it on!

I noticed that the boss of Wal-Mart arrived in India this week (in the papers because he breezed in with an expired visa –sack the PA!) I am really hoping he was here to start building a massive Wal-Mart right next door to my building. My life would then be complete and I would never moan again…honest!

Friday 17 August 2012

It's Very Nice to go Trav'ling...

Right, I’m fed up with being on holiday now; I want to get back into a routine. I’ve been dragging this sorry suitcase around Europe, Asia and the Middle East for two and a half months and I’ve had enough! I miss my remote control and my comfy chair. Also, it’s time to impose a bit of self-discipline as the boozing is out of control. The “I’m on my holidays!” excuse is wearing thin.
Yes, it’s very nice to go trav’ling, as the song goes, but it’s so much nicer to come home. Well, I say home, I mean the place where I keep most of my newer stuff. My older stuff is quietly disintegrating or being eaten by moths in dusty suitcases shoved under beds in various relatives’ houses in the UK.

One day I would like collect all my old stuff (if I can remember where I left it) and introduce it to my new stuff and live happily ever after in a nice big house… day. Meanwhile, in the desert outside Dubai, I met some Bedouin tribe’s people and found myself jealously eyeing up their tents, lovely carpets, ceramic pots and clay lamps. I felt more like a nomad than they did!

In England, Spain and Italy I stayed with friends and family, varying the weight of my luggage according to which airline I was using. At the Ryan Air counter in Valencia, I was half a kilo over and had to remove a single wedge heel and carry it in my hand. I had been careful only to buy fridge magnets as souvenirs but they must have tipped the scale. I still don’t know how I managed to travel around Europe for two weeks with only 15kgs of luggage; I usually take more than that in toiletries!

One of the problems with this expat lifestyle is that you often have to impose yourself on people when you travel home. You also have to keep moving on because you don’t want to overstay your welcome. Even so, the time together can be intense and sometimes you spend far longer with a person than you normally would, and that can lead to over-familiarity, which is never good. The whole thing is a recipe for disaster.

 A low point for me was arriving at my brother’s house after a day’s train travel, changing in London, with a child and two heavy suitcases in tow, to that chilling question: “Can I have a word?” Apparently I should have organized myself better and arranged to stay at his house longer than the allocated two days as it wasn’t fair on the kids. (Duly noted, but I was only in the UK for a week and in that time had to visit my parents in the West Country, in-laws in the South and collect my son from boarding school!) Tired and emotional, I exploded with rage and stormed off to TK Maxx where I sat on a low wall weeping. I didn’t even have the heart to go in and buy something because I knew whatever I bought wouldn’t have fit in the suitcase anyway.

And so, having (unwittingly) royally pissed off various family members, I headed off to Mumbai with the kids where we were reunited with Daddy for two days of unpacking and repacking, before we set off for a fortnight’s family holiday in Dubai. Many people have asked me why on earth did we choose Dubai? Surely it’s just a boiling hot shopping paradise? Yeah, exactly. And it’s easy to get to and organized, with a massive Waitrose.

Because we are that kind of family, we didn’t even realize it was going to be Ramadan half way through the holiday which, in fact, turned out in our favour as the hotel was half empty so they upgraded us to a palatial three bedroom apartment overlooking the Palm. It was way bigger than our flat in Mumbai with baths and showers that actually worked. We spent the first two days in Carrefour and Waitrose buying legs of lamb, mince beef and even bacon! We went into the very well-stocked Virgin Megastore and bought up a load of TV box sets, pulled the curtains and hunkered down with snacks, snacks and more snacks. The lack of alcohol for sale in the shops wasn’t even a problem as we had stocked up in Duty Free on the way in.  We needed a couple of extra trolleys for all the booze but it meant that once we reached our new home, the Oasis Beach Tower, we didn’t have to move again for quite some time. (FYI, we calculated perfectly the amount we would consume in two weeks. I mentally congratulated myself on the last night as I lay in bed at finishing the last of the Tanqueray while watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony! )

After living in Mumbai, it is so nice to have order. Yes, I am a bit of a control freak, but I just love walking to a shop without falling down a hole and buying a decent (?) newspaper, a packet of in-date cereal and a litre of semi-skimmed milk. Such simple pleasures but alas, denied to me here in Mumbai.

When I was a kid, I used to play ‘house’ in the garage with my next door neighbour, Jeremy Goodwin (who, for some reason,  always wanted to be ‘mum’ or big sister’ - he grew up to be a concert pianist!) Anyway, in that apartment in Dubai, I felt like I was playing ‘house’ all over again, except this time I was allowed to be ‘mum’ and get the dinner ready and stuff. The kids had their own space and we could all go to the toilet at the same time if necessary. Yeah, I love Dubai. It is a bit hot though. One Sunday morning I got up early and sneaked off to the Spa at Atlantis the Palm. As my family lay sleeping in their Super king beds, I found myself submerged in a rose petal filled Jacuzzi, awaiting a Body Scrub, Fake Tan and Blow Dry.  I chose to wear a new beige silk dress for the occasion. As I left the Spa with my big, bouffant hair and sun-kissed skin, the therapist told me to avoid getting wet for a day. Of course I won’t get wet, why would I get wet? In the time it took me to step into an AC taxi, dear reader, I was drenched in sweat and the ‘tan’ seeped through my dress, staining it beyond repair. When I got back to the apartment, my hair was a frizzy mess sticking to the back of my neck and forehead and my dress was ruined. I didn’t have the heart to tell Mick how much my little jaunt had cost him. I just had a shower and got back into bed. That’ll teach me to get up before noon on holiday!

Back in Mumbai, with only a week or so left of Hugh’s school holidays, we went to Bhandardara for the weekend. Just three hours out of Mumbai, this holiday village nestled in the mountains is nothing short of stunning. Everywhere is verdant, lush and fresh, with spectacular waterfalls cascading from the mountains, a very dramatic place to experience Monsoon. We stayed at a lovely resort with delightful staff but, boy, was everything wet!  Being the sort of family we are, we (I) had not brought any waterproofs or warm clothing (obviously Mick had brought all the requisite clothing for himself and was very pleased about that!) so other than a couple of trips out to the waterfalls with nothing but three partially knackered umbrellas to protect us from the elements, we sat in our dark, damp cabin watching the Olympics on a hissing 1980’s telly and playing Scrabble. We had a fabulous time! I guess what’s important is who you share your home with, not the home itself. But on the other hand, I’m still dreaming about that rose-covered cottage. One day, Linds…..

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Summer in the City

It is at this time of year that we can observe the migratory
patterns of the ‘Lesser-Spotted Firangi Bird of Mumbai’ as
she prepares to fly west to escape the monsoon.  Before the
journey can begin, an elaborate titivation process usually 
occurs in the spas and salons of Mumbai, ensuring she is in
tip-top condition for the flight.
Then, as the monsoon draws closer, an eerie silence descends
over mah jong and bridge tables across the city. The
chattering of the sparrows is but a distant echo and
tumbleweed sweeps though Palladium Mall. Nature’s Basket
is empty and Powai is a ghost town. Save for a few hardy
souls, the expat ladies have flown the coop and will not be
seen again until August.
I have been planning my own migration for some months
now and I am counting the days until I fly. Don’t get
me wrong, I am very happy to live in Mumbai most of the
time but when it gets this hot and humid I have had enough.
I am exhausted through lack of sleep as I spend my nights
turning the AC on and off. One minute I’m boiling, the next
I’m freezing. I wake up drenched in sweat and pretty much
stay that way all day.
I have nothing but admiration for anyone who goes out to
work in this heat and even more for anyone who goes out to
work and is actually productive. Mick had to change his shirt
twice before going out this morning; it was as much as I
could do to lay face-down on the sofa under the AC. I
wouldn’t go so far to say that my husband hates me on these
mornings but there is definitely a simmering resentment in
the air.
 “What are you doing today?” He asks. It sounds like an
Let me see…yoga, coffee morning, facial, meet friend for
lunch and shopping, nails then home in time to watch ‘Come
Dine With Me’ circa 2005 on BBC Entertainment. Hmm, a
busy day then.
Obviously I can’t say any of that as it would make me look
like a frivolous lady-who-lunches without value or purpose.
This is not how I see myself but I realize this is how it might
come across. Also I am far too hot and bothered to justify my
existence to him now.
“I am going to take your suit to the dry cleaners, buy
something lovely for dinner and call the plumber to fix the
This placates him for another day and I am free to go about
my business unscrutinized.  Samir and I can get that little lot
done in about two minutes, no probs. To be honest, I don’t
know where the time goes. When I first came to Mumbai
three years ago, I brought, in my shipment, two suitcases
filled with thousands of loose photographs going back 15
years. I was going to buy some albums and arrange them all
in chronological order. In the days when I used to work, I
dreamed about how nice it would be to have the time to do
this but not only have I not even started the job, but during
the past couple of monsoons, the photographs have all stuck
 together, each suitcase contains one amorphous blob. I’ll
wait until after this monsoon and then I’ll tackle it. I promise.
So this year, the plan is to head off to Cornwall for a seaside
holiday with some old friends. We are very much looking
forward to some sea air, beautiful scenery and sitting in a
pub having a good laugh. I will look at them and envy their
settled life in rural England, their home-improvement plans
and their pets. They will look at us and envy our
international jet-setting but I wonder, if it came down to it,
would any of us really want to swap? At this moment, I am
sorely tempted.

Sadly Mick has to fly back to Mumbai after a week while Polly

and I go on an extended tour of Europe, visiting friends in

Italy and Spain. Apparently there’s going to be a lot of

football on the telly in June so he won’t miss us. I know when

I come back, everything in the apartment, including Mick,

will be covered in monsoon mould but that’s all part of life

here in Mumbai, we’ll laugh about it one day.

I have just seen this month’s Mumbai Connexions classifieds
and it seems that a lot of people are leaving for good this
monsoon. The ‘staff available’ section is chocca-block with
folk recommending their maids, cooks and drivers.
Hopefully, a ‘fresh batch’ of expats will ship in after the rains
to employ them all. I have spoken to several people who are
moving on to places like Canada and Australia and they
seemed more than a little demob-happy. I must admit to
feeling a tinge of jealousy listening to their excited talk of
clean air, countryside, homes and gardens.
If nothing else, Mumbai has made us realize how much we
miss all that stuff. Perhaps we didn’t appreciate just how
much until we came to live in this polluted city. However, I
am guessing that within a couple of months of setting up
their dream homes elsewhere, there will be things about the
Maximum City that they will miss. They just don't know it

Wishing you all a fabulous summer, wherever you are.

Monday 16 April 2012

Mi Casa es tu Casa

I have just received an email from our estate agent in the UK who tells me that my property is being maintained in a ‘reasonable’ order (I don’t like the sound of that!)

He says: “The tenants feel that an annual rent increase, regardless of currently prevailing economic conditions, would be unfair. An increase this year may be uncalled for.”

Co-incidentally, within the hour, our landlord here in Mumbai called to tell us that we can expect a ten per cent increase as from next month. End of.

Mr. Malkani is a businessman and only speaks English when it suits him. You can be in the middle of a sentence when he will suddenly say “hello, hello” and walk off. This leaves me perplexed and lost for words, which is exactly why he does it.

I tried telling him that we had made many improvements to his property at our own expense. We’d had every room painted and put up shelving and safety bars at the windows. We keep the place immaculate and pay 12 months in advance. We are perfect tenants and therefore (using our own tenants’ words) an increase this year may be uncalled for.

“Hello, hello” he says, “rent is ten per cent more” and off he waddles.  I am not going to fight this because the idea of going through the whole business of moving house again is too much to bear. I am also going to acquiesce to my tenants because; on the whole they are good and pay on time, even though the rent for my lovely home does not quite cover the mortgage. We are taking the hit from both sides.

Of course, Mr. M is a professional landlord who bought a white box and stuck some tenants in it. Mick and I, on the other hand, are emotionally attached to our Kent home, it’s where we brought up our children and invested all of our savings.

I wonder if our tenants read one of the ridiculous stories about us in the British press recently where they had us “living like royalty in a five-star luxury compound” with an obeisance of servants. (As regular readers will know, we spoke to a freelance journalist who asked us to say a few nice things about Mumbai and then contorted the facts to suit himself and the nationals) Anyhow, maybe they read it and decided we didn’t need the extra money –who knows?

If only they knew that in reality I have to sit under a tap to wash as the shower has never worked; the toilet seat regularly slides of the toilet and the raised gas hob is so precarious that once again this week I have suffered third degree burns to my hand. (A pan of boiling oil slid effortlessly off the hob and onto my hand, which now looks like something out of a horror film. The kids won’t let me anywhere near them with it!)

Sometimes,  as I sit under the tap, I think about the two state -of-the-art bathrooms we had fitted only months before we knew we were coming to Mumbai. Or when I am cooling my poor, blistered, skinless knuckles in a bucket of ice, I think about my kitchen at home and my five-hob Britannia oven. I used to be able to cook a leg of lamb and all the veg all at the same time. There is zero chance of doing that here when all I have is four dodgy gas rings and a microwave. Even if I knew where to get a decent joint of meat, I wouldn’t attempt it for fear of blowing myself up. No, if it’s the maid’s day off, I’m ringing for take-out.

Can you tell I am having a Bad India Day? Sometimes when I miss my home and family life as it used to be, I ask myself why we are doing this. Why are we living 4000 miles away from friends and family in a two-bedroom white box?

And then I remember… it’s great for Mick’s CV, we are putting money away for the kids’ education and there is also fantastic opportunity to travel. So shut up Lindsey and take the crunchy with the smooth!

Let’s talk about the good things!

When my son came out for the Easter holidays we went to Indonesia and Singapore. We stayed in a couple of fabulous hotels and did all the touristy things: Sentosa Island, the Night Safari and Universal Studios. The children were happy and our short time together as a whole family again was very special and dear to my heart.

I tell you what else was very special and dear to my heart…..THE SHOPS!

Whoaaa! How many malls does Singapore have?  What I loved about it was that every one (except my husband) was in a mad, shopping frenzy. I even saw a group of Buddhist monks swooning in the window of Louis Vuitton.

Yes, yes I know buying designer stuff is only an attempt to fill an unfillable void in my soul but whatever, it makes me happy. It makes up for having to sit under a tap to wash or for having to take my life in my hands every time I fry an egg.

I look around Mumbai and I see people who would have to work for a year to earn the money it costs to buy a designer bag. It’s enough to make you weep. I get that, I understand, but something deep inside me still wants the bag.

So…. some news…..there has been a new addition to the family. One minute I was walking along Orchard Street in Singapore and the next I was in the Mulberry shop buying an Alexa. WTF? I didn’t even see it coming. There was no planning for this baby, it was a happy surprise, unlike my oldest, a classic Bayswater, which, like a longed-for IVF baby, was years-in the planning.

Now my two babies are sitting next to me on the chair and I cannot decide which of them to take out today. It’s Monday morning, 32degrees outside, and I’m off to the Burns Unit for a new dressing. I am going to stop worrying about my house, there’s more to life than bricks and mortar….like bags!  Come on then, Alexa, you’re coming with mummy today!

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Are You Being Served?


 A little fantasy of mine is that I am approached by one of the big retail companies, let’s say whoever owns Shopper’s Stop for example, and asked if I would like a job as customer services advisor. I can think of nothing that would make me happier. I would get stuck into that job like a pig snuffling for truffles only coming up for air when the profits had doubled.

This is not new territory; many regular readers will already know that I am often exasperated by shop assistants who follow me around a store at a distance of less than an inch and have once or twice even stepped on the backs of my shoes.  Yesterday an assistant actually leapt into my path, causing me to jerk backwards, knocking over my daughter who was walking behind me.

I do not wish to be rude but my patience is wearing thin. The one thing that is sure to send me straight back out of a shop is a pushy assistant offering me: “Something in bags?” It doesn’t even make sense. I understand customer service in the retail industry is a relatively new concept in India but it is a million miles away from where it needs to be.  For the sake of a little investment in basic staff training, millions of sales must be lost each year. I have lost count of the times my husband has calmly put down would-be purchases and walked out of the shop empty-handed after being made to wait for more than 10 minutes to pay. (Quite often where there are three tills or more, only one is manned)

There are exceptions of course, namely Zara and Good Earth.  Assistants at these stores have obviously been trained well and leave you alone to browse unless you specifically ask for help. The wait to pay is minimal and the retail experience is, on the whole, pleasant.

This month I had intended to write about either, my trip to the Mountains of Bhandardara or my full medical at Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, both thrilling topics, but a last minute change was effected after a visit yesterday to Infiniti Mall Two in Andheri. It is with heavy heart, dear reader, that I feel we must revisit this perennial issue of poor and sometimes downright frightening customer service.

The moment I darkened the doors of Infiniti Two, a security guard gave me the once over with her security wand and then burped in my face. Charming!  First stop Zara. That was easy enough and out we came a half hour later with Polly kitted out for our upcoming holiday. In retrospect, it was a mistake to go  to Zara first as this meant we had to leave the bag at the entrance of every other store we visited, going through the whole rigmarole of handing it in and collecting tokens.

 In Accessorize the assistant legged it over as soon as we crossed the threshold: “Something in jewellery, madam?” What is the answer to that? “Yes, just give me something in jewellery, I don’t care what it is.” I gave her a curt smile and asked if I might be allowed to browse. She smiled back and continued to stand the customary inch away from me. I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my skull as I handled the trinkets. The security guard also had his lasers locked on stun.  Finally, we selected a hairgrip for 445 rupees and took it to the till. I handed over a 500 note and you know what’s coming next.

“Do you have exact money please?”

And here begins my rant about till floats and it being the responsibility of the shop to provide change, not the customer. The security guard is dispatched with my 500 to find change but the shop girl, in a desperate bid to escape my tirade, darts into the staff room to get her own purse out in search of change. Polly has long since fled in embarrassment (with the token) and it is left to me to negotiate the return of the Zara bag without the token when the guard comes back, sans change. What a kerfuffle!

I catch up with Polly and we have a little look around some clothes shops where most things are sized S or XS. That’s good news for Polly because she is a petit 12-year-old girl so the women’s clothes fit her perfectly but I am an outsized hefalump because I am a size 10 -12. We are ambushed by assistants wherever we turn and when I make a joke about being too big for the clothes; it is met with confusion behind a rictus smile. I can almost see the thought bubble coming out of her head: “What is this foreigner saying? Her face looks happy but she is making negative comments. I do not know how to interpret this.”

For lack of anything better to do, we wind up in Pure Living which is a bit like a poor man’s Ikea without the self-assembly element. On the plus side, it is clean and seemingly organized. In the 15 minutes we are in the store, we are approached by no less than seven assistants. Each time I bat one off, another arrives until I lose my rag and wail: “For the love of God, just let me browse.” As I am filling my basket with candles, an assistant arrives to helpfully inform me that “these are candles, madam.” Bless him.

At the till, each candle is laboriously packed separately and then the fella gives my card to another fella who runs off with it out of the store.

“Where’s he going with my card?” I enquire

“Card machine is not working, madam, he is taking card to Puma to swipe it there”

Whatever, I have no fight left.

On the flip side, I was in Bangalore last week and spent a glorious two hours with a rug seller in his opulent showroom. He laid out one silk rug after another until I fell in love with a 6ftx9ft Kashmiri beauty.  I had one figure in mind; he had another, so we chatted and drank chai until it was time for me to go. I offered him my best price, he made the pretend phone call to his “boss” before claiming that, sadly,  he couldn’t accept such a low offer, so I left.  I had reached the top of the second escalator before I heard him calling after me. Puffing and panting, he accepted my offer, herded me back to the shop and the deal was done.  I think we both enjoyed the experience and both came away feeling that we had stitched the other up –  shopping in India at its best!