Thursday, 27 November 2008

Skywatch Friday - The British Seaside

Lunchtime for some?

definitely for the donkeys

and possibly the fishermen

and then maybe a walk by the dunes

If you would like to take part in SkyWatch Friday or simply look at photographs from all over the world click here.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Meme Meme Meme

I've been tagged again. This time by Cheshire Wife, who passed the following meme to me:

4 Places I go over and over:

Tesco supermarket
To see my mother
Into the garden to feed the birds and squirrels, and sometimes to work there!
The walk into the local town

4 people who email me regularly

My daughter
My cousin
My friend - H

4 of my favourite places to eat:

The local Indian restaurant
The Knoll Inn - a local pub
At Lucia's in Stratford on Avon - (after dinner the chef and the waitress and her mother (aged about 72) play and sing to the diners and hand out musical instruments so everyone can join in) - fabulous! Food is delicious as well!
At my friend's - a great cook.

4 places I'd rather be

Well I'm very happy at home but -

In Stratford on Avon - with my daughter and grand-daughter
In Australia with my son and family
In New Zealand with my step-daughter and her family
Lying on a beach, in a hammock under coconut palms, in the warm sunshine.

4 TV shows I could watch over and over

A Touch of Frost - David Jason is the best
Wild Down Under - fabulous photography
Mapp and Lucia - wonderful characters - brilliantly played!
Friends - love all the characters - they make me cry and they make me laugh out loud.

And finally ...

4 people I think could be willing to take up the baton and respond:

Denise at An English Girl Rambles
Karen at The Rubbish Diet
Lindsay at Rural Villager
Flick at Dusting Spiders

Now, like Cheshire Wife before me, I won't be letting them know - will just wait and see if they spot it and are willing to take it up. If they do there is an ice cream here for them if they would like it - you too Cheshire Wife!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Skywatch Friday

If you would like to take part in SkyWatch Friday or simply look at photographs from all over the world, click on the above link.

I went out early yesterday and returned home just as the sun was beginning to set. Fortunately my camera was nearby.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Portrait of Words - The Reunion

Portrait of Words

Jeff B at "Word in Edgewise" hosts this monthly blog. This, my first attempt, is an entry for November. If you wish to have a go yourself, click on the link above and visit Jeff B's blog to look at the rules and categories.


Sally had returned to her home town for the funeral of her uncle, her mother's brother and decided to stay on for a few more days. Steve her husband had to go back to work so left that evening saying that he would return for her at the weekend.

The weather recently had been wet and miserable and the day of the funeral started the same way. But the afternoon turned out to be glorious and the sunset was fiery and beautiful. Sally had promised Carol, her cousin, that she would go and spend a few hours with her the next day, it would give them chance to reminisce and maybe she would want to talk about her dad as well.

Gazing at the sunset took Sally back about 40 years as she remembered how she and Barney used to walk up to the wetlands and sit and watch the sun disappear over the lake. She had always marvelled at the colours even then. Barney had been her first boyfriend and she had loved him very much. She had got to know him at school, he was a couple of years ahead of her and a bit of a "Jack the lad", but she had caught his eye and eventually he had asked her out. She could still remember how she felt about him. It had been an innocent romance, especially compared with those of today, and they had gone out together for a few months. When one evening he told her, very gently, that he couldn't see her anymore she was devastated and cried for days. Her dear dad had tried to sympathise and said that one day she would wonder what she ever saw in him. She had thought then as she had ever since that she knew exactly what she saw and felt about him, and she always would. However, that evening she decided that on her way to see Carol she would drive to the wetlands, just to see it again.

The next morning she borrowed her mother's car, an old convertible that dad had been so proud of. Her mother hardly ever drove it now, it was too big for one thing, but would not get rid of it - "not yet" she would say and smile. Sally's dad had been dead for 25 years now, and she guessed the time for her mother to sell the car would never come.

She drove in to the town, passed her old school, then took a left turn along towards the lake. The road had been modernised with new systems and roundabouts and lots more houses than she remembered, but once off the main highway the lanes were pretty much unchanged. She passed the swannery, the lovely birds had been there for as long as she could remember, and before long she came to the lake. As soon as it came into view she slowed the car and just gazed at it. It was still as beautiful, especially now in the sunshine and with autumn leaves on the trees. It made her feel quite emotional and she was very glad she had come. She drove to the parking area.

Barney had admired Sally for quite a while before he eventually asked her to go out with him. He had had lots of girlfriends and they were all quite a bit more sophisticated than she was. She was quiet and shy but there was just something special about her. They had gone about together for a while but then he became unsettled and knew he had to finish it. It was partly due to pressure from his parents although he never told her that, in fact he had never really given her an explanation and she had just accepted it when he told her it was over. She was only 15 then. He was about to leave school and already had plans to go to college to try to get a degree. She was coming up to taking her 'O' levels at school. Any other commitments may spoil their chances and future prospects. And so it had ended and he had left their home town to go to college. One time when he was back he had got a friend to arrange a "blind" date for him with Sally. She had agreed and was amazed that he was her date, and they spent a very happy evening together. So then he asked if she would write to him whilst he was away and she had happily agreed to that too. However, with the pressure of his college work he found little time to write letters and eventually Sally wrote to say she had started seeing someone else. They didn't meet again for many years. At times, back at home, he would run into friends of hers and always asked after her, but never saw her and then one day he heard she had married and moved away herself.

Sally parked the car and decided to walk around the lake a little way. As she walked she thought about the last time she had seen Barney. It was very shortly after her dad had died. She had been staying with her mother and had driven to the local supermarket to get some groceries for her. She had borrowed the convertible then as well, the first time she had driven it. As she was backing out of her parking space she had nearly hit a man walking behind the car. Slamming on the brakes she wound down her window to apologise and found herself looking at Barney. She recognised him instantly even though he was now sporting a beard. They were both pleasantly surprised so she parked the car once more and got out to speak to him. He said that he had thought he had seen her a few days before in the town but that it had actually been someone else he knew. So then he had wondered to himself about her, where and how she was. They spoke for several minutes - she told him she was married with 2 children, a son and a daughter and he said he was married with 3 sons. As they parted he told her he was very glad to see her as he and his wife were selling up and emigrating to Australia. They had smiled at each other - remembering, perhaps. As she drove away she realised that she had almost certainly seen him for the last time.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she noticed a small cafe, which looked as if it had been built fairly recently. There certainly hadn't been one in her day. Inside it was warm and inviting and there was a lovely smell of baking and coffee beans roasting. A few tables were taken but there was one vacant by the window and so she made her way towards it. As she went to sit down a man sitting by himself at the next table looked up and smiled. Sally couldn't believe her eyes - it was Barney! She stood gaping at him and eventually sat down opposite him.

A waitress came over and Sally ordered herself a coffee and, as she was drinking it, realised Barney didn't have anything but he said he didn't need anything more and was just happy looking at the view.

And so they sat and chatted. She told him about her husband and family, including their 3 grandchildren and he owned up to 4 grandsons of his own. He and his wife and family had gone to Australia all those years ago, lived there happily and had only returned for a visit a couple of times before. He was on his own this time though and only for a short while. He said he usually came to the lake each visit because he had always loved it here. He had wondered if he would ever meet her again as they had that time in the car park.

When it was time to go, he walked with her to the convertible and laughed as she reminded him how she had nearly knocked him over. As she turned to say goodbye he reached out and pulled her towards him. They kissed briefly, sweetly - and hugged - knowing this would be the last time they would see each other. They held hands, trying to prolong the moment. He asked if she had been happy and her eyes glistened as she nodded and smiled, unable to speak. She got into the car, Barney leaned in, put his hand to her hair then stroked her face, smiled and walked away.

Sally sat quietly for a couple of minutes then started the engine. She glanced back but he had already gone.

She drove to her cousin's house in a daze. At least she would be able to talk about it with her, she was so amazed at the coincidence. Carol was pleased to see her but noticed immediately that she seemed agitated. They sat looking out at the garden bathed in the warm September sunshine, and Sally told her that she had been to the lake near the wetlands and how she had seen Barney. Carol, open-mouthed, stared at her for several seconds then got up and walked over to her bureau. She took out a newspaper cutting and passed it to Sally. "My love, you couldn't have seen him" she said, "he was killed in a car accident in Australia last year. I didn't know how to tell you".

Monday, 17 November 2008

I have been given an award

Cheshire Wife has kindly given me an award for my creative blog name. I replied that in fact the name was given to me by friends, many years ago, and when I began my blog decided it was a good name to use. However, I accept with thanks.

The "rules" that go with this award are that I list six things that make me happy and I should pass it on to six fellow bloggers. So first my "happy list":

1. Long Sunday lunches with family and/or friends. And by long I mean that they go on well into early evening or beyond!

2. A day at home with Bob - just the two of us.

3. Spending time with my grandchildren.

4. Chatting on the telephone to my daughter who lives 100 miles away; also my son who lives 10,000 miles away.

5. Watching the wildlife in our garden, the birds and the frogs and newts in the pond.

6. My-time relaxation which includes sitting in the warm sunshine, reading, eating chocolate, listening to music and time in the kitchen - just peparing meals or baking.

And the award goes on to -

Gill at Gill - That British Woman for the variety of her posts, especially the recipes.

Jay at The Depp Effect for her ability to include Johnny Depp's name in so many of her posts.

Denise at An English Girl Rambles for her lovely photographs and poems.

Sandi at Holding Patterns for her wonderfully creative writing.

Fern at Ferns Lakeland, again for photographs, particularly of some stunning views of the Lake District.

Rosiero at Alcoholic Daze for being able to remain positive in extremely difficult circumstances.

I do hope they will accept the award even if lack of time means they are unable to pass it on immediately.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Playing Tag

Whilst I was on holiday I was tagged by Lindsay. Wondered what the email meant until I started to catch up with blogs. Well it means that Lindsay requires me to post six interesting facts about myself!! Unfortunately it has had to wait until now to be dealt with as I wanted to get my Indian experience down before I forgot it. I'll never forget it!

So, six "interesting" things about me:

1. I have been driving for about 38 years. I only learned to swim about 20 years ago, when I was in my mid forties. I still cannot ride a bike!

2. When my children were in the junior school I became quite involved with helping in school, listening to readers, helping with artwork etc. I also was part of the PTA and was the chairperson for a year. I really enjoyed it all.

3. One of my first jobs was as a waitress in a restaurant which was frequented by some of the stars of the 1960's film "Far from the Madding Crowd", during the time of the film being made. Saw such celebrities as Peter Finch, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates. Director of the film John Schlesinger also ate there, and I remember him coming in to reserve a table for that evening and having to spell his name for me! On another occasion Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas came in to eat.

4. I adore cats and have always had them in my life until about 4 years ago and I do miss having one around.

5. I dislike tea. I cannot even bear the smell of it so never drink it.

6. I love cooking and like to experiment with different dishes. I particularly enjoy baking cakes and decorating them. Over the past 15 years or so have made dozens of celebration cakes including wedding cakes.

So there you are!

Now I have to tag six others and report back to Lindsay. Not sure I will manage six as the tagging game has been popular lately.

So I am passing the baton - so to speak - to, and in no particular order -

Rosiero at Alcoholic Daze

Maggie at Nuts in May

Pam at Life with our Lads

Gai at Just Gai

Ann at Retired and Crazy

Winifred at The World's Greatest Procrastinator (Ditherer)!

Naturally this is not compulsory and if any of the above have already been tagged and I have missed it - apologies.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Skywatch Friday

If you would like to take part in Skywatch Friday or just simply look at photographs from all over the world, click on the link above.

Early one morning

Just as the sun was rising ....

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

India (iii) - Delhi to Chennai

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is in the south east. The flight from Delhi took about two and a half hours. We arrived at our friends' apartment just as the rain began. A monsoon rainstorm, torrential, for several hours, accompanied by an almost deafening thunderstorm. The roads were soon like a river and we heard the next day that many people, adults and children, had taken several hours to get home that night. But the next morning, although not sunny, at least the rain had stopped and the roads were mostly dry again.

Our friends had made arrangements for us all to go along the coast to a beach resort for the weekend. It was about an hour and a half drive and we arrived at around lunchtime.

That part of the coast was hit by the 2004 tsunami and there are still about 1700 people waiting to be rehoused. Lions Clubs International are helping with this project and there are some new buildings still being erected. Meanwhile the people are having to live in temporary accommodation. (click on the picture to enlarge)

The weather improved over the weekend and by the time we left to go back to Chennai it was very hot and sunny and in fact remained that way for the rest of our holiday.

That first weekend saw the start of Diwali - the Festival of Light. From Saturday through to Tuesday there were fireworks being set off most of the time, day and night. In some cases it was the children in the streets setting off firecrackers, there were fireworks being set off from roof tops but we also saw large displays, one such on the Saturday evening lasted for about 30 minutes and Standard Fireworks posters were much in evidence.

We had a very relaxed weekend, swimming, reading or just dozing in the warm sunshine. Unfortunately, I didn't swim in the sea, which I love to do. There it is part of the Bay of Bengal and a little too rough for me as I am not a strong swimmer. In any case, the red flag was often flying.

This is the view from my hammock -

and this is some young local men with their home made craft getting ready to go fishing. They bound four pieces of wood together with twine/string, pushed it out into the water jumped on and paddled away. Once beyond the shore they threw a net over the side and then waited for their haul.

The rest of our holiday was very relaxed. Two weekends at the beach with some shopping, sightseeing and socialising in between. At the beach we were close to Mammalapuram, which is famous for its wonderful carvings in the rocks. We visited to see for ourselves and bought some hand carved bowls as a memento.

There is so much more I could write about, that we saw in our two weeks, I have only really scratched the surface. Our holiday went all too quickly and suddenly it was time to pack up to come home. I have to admit that India was never at the top of our holiday destination list, in spite of my longing to see the Taj Mahal. I am so pleased we decided to go there.

So, some of my abiding memories and in no particular order:

That first moment in Delhi in the heat and sunshine and noise.

The Taj Mahal - obviously.

The sheer volume of traffic.

The beautiful Indian girls and women, in their jewel coloured saris.

Also seeing some of those lovely women, sitting side saddle on the backs of motorbikes and scooters, their glossy black hair, sometimes in a plait, hanging down their backs and of course, no helmets.

And the motorbikes and scooters with the whole family astride, dad steering with small child in front, another small child behind and mum at the back, sometimes holding baby. Again, no helmets!

The friendliness of the people.

The deliciously fragrant food.

The colours and vibrancy of it all.

I loved it and wouldn't have missed a second. Would I return? Most definitely, YES!

And finally - we got to the airport at 1 am for our 4 am flight back to London and checked in to be told that courtesy of British Airway we had been upgraded to Business Class. Wow!

We arrived in London at 9.15 am, met up with our friend/driver at 10 am and were back home by just after mid-day.


Saturday, 8 November 2008

India (ii) - Delhi to Agra

Having finally met up with our friends (relieved hugs all round!) and caught up on the events of the past 24 hours or so, we were able to then carry out our plans for our visit to Agra. That was already booked for the next morning. We were to leave relatively early - 7am - as we would be travelling by car and the journey would take at least 4 hours. So bright and early, off we went.

What an experience! Traffic in Delhi in the early morning was heavy. Everything seemed to be on the move. Cars, lorries, tuktuks, motor bikes, scooters and bicycles - all rushing along, mostly in the same direction, and it appeared that horn sounding is compulsory. It seemed to indicate "get out of the way - coming through, like it or not". And that is what our driver did, he just pointed the car and hurtled along at great speed with his hand permanently on the car horn and occasionally speaking on his mobile phone! As well as all the vehicles there are the pedestrians and animals and of course cows wander at will or just sit down somewhere along the side of the road.

At one point during our journey we had to pull in for the driver to go to a border checkpoint. He left us in the car with the instruction " do not open any of the windows or doors"! As soon as he was gone we were approached from all directions by all sorts of vendors, the disabled and children, all trying to catch our eye, some tapping on the windows. A snake charmer came and sat beside the car and started playing but we saw no snake - presumably because we did not pay up. Eventually we set off again and had a relatively uneventful journey, albeit completely fascinating. We arrived in Agra and went straight to the hotel we were staying at that night.

In the early afternoon we were taken to meet a guide and then on to see what I had wanted to see for a long time - the Taj Mahal.

We had a short walk before we went through the first gate. Our guide told us we would be surrounded by people trying to sell us all sorts of items and to just ignore them, make no eye contact and they would go away. However they were very persistent and just kept following. I do not like ignoring people, I think it is demeaning, therefore I found it easier to just look at them, shake my head and say "no", with a half smile. And do you know, it worked, it was much easier and that is how I dealt with that particular problem from then on. Made me feel better too. However, on to the Taj Mahal. There was very tight security, as you would imagine and we were not allowed to take in bags etc, only small handbags and cameras of course. But finally we got through and there it was. A wonderful moment for me and I felt very emotional.

Considered to be one of the Wonders of the World the Taj Mahal was built by the Emporer Shah Jahan for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1630 giving birth to their 14th child. It is said that it was her last wish that he build a beautiful and incomparable monument over her grave as a token of their worldly inseparable love. It is truly beautiful. Built of white marble and inlaid with semi precious stones it took from 1631 to 1653 - 22 years - to complete, using 20,000 labourers. If you look at the main picture of the Taj Mahal, the four columns at each corner appear to be leaning outwards. It is thought that this was part of Shah Jahan's plan so that in the event of an earthquake the pillars would fall outwards and not on the Taj. There are 22 small domes on the main entrance gate and it is believed that these represent the 22 years of construction.

The body of Mumtaz Mahal was finally placed in her tomb inside the Taj. Shah Jahan had planned to build a similar mausoleum, across the river, for himself but unfortunately for him, because he had spent such vast sums building the Taj Mahal, his son deposed him and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort where he spent the rest of his days. From his window there he was able to look across at the monument he had built for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. After his death his daughter had his body placed in a tomb beside that of his wife and there they remain, side by side.

The tombs are enclosed within a wonderfully ornate screen, away from the public, who are allowed inside the Taj Mahal, but photographs are not permitted. So here I have scanned a picture from a book that we have. Apologies for the quality.

I think it is very moving to see them there, together for eternity, in such a beautiful setting.

Some of the carving and inlay work - (click on the pictures to enlarge)

We spent most of the afternoon there and it is another memory that will stay with me. Seeing it for myself, the hot sunshine and the whole atmosphere of just being there amongst so many others wanting to see it for their own particular reason, mine being mainly romantic I suppose. It was hard to leave it and I kept glancing back to get a final glimpse of that wonderful building.

Back to the hotel then, having made arrangements with our guide for the following morning, when we visited Agra Fort. (Again photo from a book)

This is an imposing building of red sandstone which was started in 1565 and took 8 years to complete. It had been surrounded by two ditches (moats) filled with crocodiles to repel the enemy. Only the inner one exists today (no crocs).

The fort originally consisted of many buildings but only a few exist today. One of these is a white marble building - Khas Mahal - used as a Harem by the ladies of the royal family and also used by Shah Jahan as a drawing and sleeping room.

The Jasmine Tower was renovated by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal and again is inlaid with semi precious stones including many jasmine pieces, which gives rise to its name. Ironically it was here that Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb and it is here that he died.

The picture again is from a book and you will notice the Taj Mahal on the far left (click on picture to enlarge).

We finished our time in Agra here and eventually made our way back to Delhi in another hair raising car chase! We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and prepared to fly to Chennai the next day.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Our "Passage to India" - (i)

When our friends told us they were going to be in India (Chennai - formerly Madras) for a year they asked if we would visit them for a holiday. So on one of their trips back to the UK we made the necessary plans and all the arrangements and bookings were finalised.

We left on Monday 20 October. The flight from Heathrow at 5.20 pm was due to arrive in Delhi at 6.15 am and our friends intended to be there to meet us. Bob had arranged for an ex-colleague/friend to drive us to the airport. It is a 2 hour journey on the motorway and we left home at around 12.30 pm, up the M5 onto the M4 and straight into a traffic jam and there we were stuck for over 2 hours! There had been an accident that morning at 8 am but the radio report had said it would be cleared by mid-day. To say it was a nail biting journey is an understatement. Once clear of the traffic our driver put his foot right down and it was all speed to Heathrow (by now in pouring rain). Nevertheless we arrived at 4.45 pm to be told, what we already knew, that the flight was now closed!!! The airport staff were very helpful and sent us to the ticket sales desk. There we explained the situation and asked for the next available flight to Delhi. Nothing direct until 28 October! (we hadn't realised that Diwali was beginning on the following weekend). However after a bit of searching we were found a flight to Mumbai with a domestic flight to Delhi, arriving at 3.30 pm. At least we would get there on Tuesday, albeit late.

Now we had to let our friends know the situation. Given the time difference they would probably be asleep, having to be at the airport at such an early hour. However I tried texting but had no response. We rang the hotel and left a message for them. Tried texting again and again nothing back from them. We had to give up on that and hope that one of our messages would get through. We finally flew out of London at 10.45 pm. We had a good flight to Mumbai (Bombay)and the onward journey with Jet Airways was also very good. We arrived and claimed our luggage but then were uncertain whether our friends would be there to meet us (a) because we were so much later than we had expected and (b) they may well have made arrangements for the day. Anyway, we walked out, both of us keeping an eye out for them. No sign, but then I spotted a man holding a card with our name and flight number on it. We met up and he explained he was from the hotel, that there had been some confusion as to what had happened but they had ascertained that we were on our way and he was sent to meet us and take us to our hotel. We followed him out into the sunshine.

I feel emotional even now thinking about it all and particularly when I remember the feelings I experienced then. We walked into the sunshine and the intense heat of the afternoon, the sheer volume of traffic and all the noises and sounds, of car horns, police whistles, people shouting and jostling. I was completely mesmerized. I'll never forget it. We had finally arrived in Delhi.