Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The UK Files - Oxford

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The day after S joined us, we woke up in the morning with no particular plan of action. My aunt suggested that if we liked, we could hop around to see Oxford. The decision made, we got ready in a trice, and S, Puttachi and I set out. My aunt dropped us at the railway station, and we took the train to Oxford.

Green fields, striking yellow rapeseed fields, pretty houses, untidy backyards of pretty houses, flowering trees, and haphazard allotments flew past the windows, and the Thames followed us a good part of the way. Oxfordshire is supposed to be one of the prettier parts of the country.

On the way:
S: My cousin P studies in Oxford.
Me: What? The one working in the US?
S: Not anymore. She studies here.
Me: Why didn't you tell me?
S: I told you!
Me: No, you didn't - do you have her number?
S: No.
Me: Do you remember her father's number?
S: No.

Then followed a series of phone calls and messages trying to get hold of P's number.

Meanwhile, we reached Oxford, got off the train and exited the station.

We were equipped with a printout of Oxford City centre, courtesy my aunt who thinks of everything :O, and we stepped onto the roads , in the mostly beautiful buildings of Oxford.

Puttachi looked up and down, and made a very worldy-wise observation in an ostentatiously patient grandma tone: "Ondondu ooru ondondu thara iratte." (loose translation: every city is different)

We saw Oxford Castle, first, and the very distinctive and unusual mound outside it. Oxford Castle has a very gory history, but we didn't have the time nor the inclination to go in.

We decided to walk down High Street and walk back up Broad Street. (Did I tell you that city names are boringly same everywhere? Every town has a High Street, a Broad Street, a Queen's street, and a Church Street. Highly unimaginative. Some towns like Oxford's redeem themselves with a Boar's street, but that's about it, and I won't be surprised at all if a dozen towns in England have streets with the same name!)

We reached the most recognizable building of Oxford - the Radcliffe camera. We went into All Souls College, that looks like a medieval castle, had a look inside. We walked down High Street, and confirmed that Oxford is indeed one big college. Everywhere is a college,and most of it familiar. Christ church, St Mary's, Exeter, Magdalene - and brought to mind the numerous authors and scientists who've been associated with this place. I later heard that Richard Dawkins lives here, and also found out that Lewis Carroll's Alice's setting was Oxford-inspired. Then of course, Potter fans know that the Great hall of Hogwarts was filmed at Christ Church College's dining hall....

We chanced upon the Oxford museum on Blue Boar Street and popped in to have a look. It was a good thing to do, since I hadn't done my mandatory reading up about the place before I came here. Apparently, Oxford has been a university town since the 11th century! The museum also talked of Oxford's eminent citizens through the ages. There were some museum exhibits, and some nuggets of history too - an interesting place.

About this time, we got hungry, asked and found out that most of the restaurants are on Broad Street. So we deviated slightly from our plan, went straight to Broad Street, and chose a restaurant to have a sandwich. On most of our travels after this, lunch consisted of a sandwich/soup/bread/dessert/coffee, and usually I chose a cold egg and cress sandwich - it was inexplicably comfortable on my palate and stomach.

By this time, we had gotten hold of S's uncle's number, who gave us his daughter's number - we tried calling, but couldn't connect. Later, he called up again to tell us that he'd given us a wrong number - finally we got through - but to her voicemail.

By this time, we'd reached Magdalen college, but it had started drizzling. And it was very cold indeed. We wrapped ourselves up well, draped a sheet over Puttachi's stroller. Taking advantage of a slight lull in the rain, thought of going to the Botanical Gardens - just so that Puttachi could run around - the poor thing had been strapped in her stroller all day long while her parents looked at buildings. But just at that moment, Puttachi fell asleep, and the drizzle started again, so back we went, up Broad Street.

The famous Bridge of Sighs, or the Hertford bridge had to be seen, of course, after which we just ambled around, checking out narrow little lanes that (nearly) opened out into classrooms.

By that time, we'd found out which college S' cousin went to, and decided to try our luck there. By the biggest of coincidences, just as S went in and was asking at the reception, she came down the stairs to see S standing there - she who hadn't the slightest idea that we were even in the country. She had to rush to a class in five minutes, and so that is exactly the amount of time we could spend with her. It was 4 pm by then, and we went back to the station to catch a train back home.

Oxford is lovely. I've got to visit Cambridge next time. (Next time! :D)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The UK Files - The First Sight of London, and the Zoo

Years of reading about England and the English bequeathed, in my head, a kind of glow to London. The centre of a culture. A place that has to be visited. A place that I knew I'd definitely visit some day.

This isn't the first city to have attained that kind of halo in my books. Bombay was the first. You know how it is, all those movies, - I knew it would have to be visited. Again, the centre of one kind of culture. When I visited it, and even stayed there for 18 months, I felt like something that'd been pending was finally complete.

If I had lived in any place in Karnataka other than Bangalore, I'm pretty sure Bangalore would've been "that" place for me. New York, in fact, still stands that way. I've never been there, but I know I will. It's got to be visited. To complete an image. To give a body to all the ephemeral visions floating around in my head.

So. I was looking forward to visit London. Since I planned to see most of London after S joined us, we wanted to finish those things that S wouldn't be particularly interested in. And so, my aunt planned a visit to the London Zoo.

We drove to the nearest station and took the train to London. It was lovely, entering London. The roads, the streets, the buildings - the sight of Thames - the distant sights of London Eye, Christie's right by the tracks - and to crown it all, Waterloo station.

We got off and took the tube to Camden Town. We'd noted directions, and there was even a map to the zoo at the station, but for some reason, we took a wrong turn, and got lost. The road we took was what seemed to be a major punk destination - tattoo shops alternating with body-piercing shops. Girls in black with spiked hairstyles and heavy eye makeup sauntered past huge men with popeye arms and elaborate tattoos.

I've imagined London in a thousand ways. Narrow streets, imperial buildings, wet streets, the Thames, the parks, the banks - every which way except what I was seeing as my first sight of London. I couldn't stop giggling at the incongruousness of the whole thing.

We stopped at a shop to ask for directions, and a friendly tattooed man came right out and with generous servings of "Yes, Love," "Turn right, Love," directed us to the zoo. He also added a "Don't worry, love, you'll get there, just keep walking," and we understood his "don't worry" only after we started walking.

The road went right next to Regent's canal, under a bridge. It was dingy, gloomy and lonely. Walls climbed up on either side of us, with little niches in which small groups of men sat - doing what, no idea. I almost thought Oliver Twist or Fagin would pop out from the nearest corner. This was the kind of place in the movies that unpleasant things happened. I felt an urge to photograph all this, because I was sure I wouldn't believe myself if I thought about this place later. But I was afraid to even take out my camera!

But walk we did, my aunt, my 14-year old cousin, 3 year old daughter and me, and finally saw the green bridge the "Love" man had told us about. We climbed the steps near it, and lo, back in civilization - and the zoo was across the road. And man, was this the London of my mind!

The zoo is good. Lots of posters with information if you have the time to read. Saw many animals that I hadn't seen - the sea-creatures- anemones, jellyfish. And meerkats, especially, of which I've been a fan ever since Meerkat Manor.

The Gorillas were amazingly human, the way the male gorilla picked up a bottle of some kind of fruit juice and took a swig - I could've sworn it was a man in a costume.

The bugs section was good, probably Puttachi's favourite, coz she sat cross-legged outside the cricket enclosure and wouldn't leave. It was extremely cold (which explains the dearth of photographs - stiff fingers) and my aunt's fabulous sandwiches, and some hot chocolate from the coffee bar revived us a bit. The tropical section was excellent - probably my favourite part of the zoo. Saw a sloth (not) move - and the warmth helped Puttachi fall asleep in the stroller.

I saw much of London later, but this was fun! And now, I wish I'd risked taking those photographs!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The UK Files - Windsor

Another amiable spring day took us to Windsor. The castle stood fine and regal, but we'd already decided we didn't want to go in to see how the royals live.

We walked through the town and to the Long Walk. People were out in great numbers, and I did a fair amount of people watching. Families intent on having a good time. Couples walking hand in hand. People lolling upon the grass. Teenaged girls dressed like 25-year-olds. A couple sunning a baby so small that it seemed like she'd been born that morning.

The trees that line the entire length of the Walk are horse chestnuts - and when in full bloom, they apparently look white and beautiful.
But now they were just deciding to go green. They were lovely anyway.

We played frisbee on the lawns, and then walked quite a bit.

I would've liked to walk up to the Copper Horse on Snow Hill, right at the end of the path, but we didn't have the time for that. Some day....

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A realization, and a concern

Ever since Puttachi started school, she's been talking about one classmate, let's call her Kutti. I met her mother once, and she told me that Kutti also keeps talking about Puttachi. I gathered they were "best" friends, in whatever sense it is used for three-year-olds.

About three months ago, we met another classmate in the park that Puttachi frequents. Let's call her Kat. Something about meeting a friend outside school probably gives these children kicks, and after that, Kat entered many of Puttachi's conversations.

Last week, Puttachi's class saw a new girl - I'll call her Angel - and it turns out that Angel has moved to live very close to us, and has started coming to the park. Perhaps it is because they are older now, or perhaps this friendship is a kind of active one, but Puttachi and Angel have hit it off very well.

On Friday, Puttachi came home and told me:
Amma, Kutti is very troublesome.
Really? What does she do?
She doesn't do anything to me, but she troubles Kat and Angel a lot.
When I say, "Kat is my friend, Angel is my friend" and hug them, Kutti pushes Kat and Angel, drags them away, makes them sit on other chairs, and then comes and sits next to me. If they try to come near me, Kutti pushes them away.

My heart went out to Kutti. I can see her now, the tiny little thing, her heart bursting with emotion. At the same time, I was extremely surprised. I don't think there is any one of us who's not been a part of this age-old situation at some point in our lives - but I had no idea this kind of possessiveness, jealousy even, would manifest itself in children of such a young age.

I said,
Puttachi, I think I know why Kutti does that.
Kutti and you are friends, right? You were friends right from the beginning.
Do you still talk to her a lot, and sit next to her like you used to?
Not much, Amma. Kat and Angel sit next to me nowadays.
Kutti probably feels bad that you are not talking to her much. Perhaps she misses you.
Perhaps she likes you.
Do you like her?
Yes Amma. Amma, I will talk to Kutti also. When I go to school next, I will hug Kutti also.
That's a wonderful idea, Puttachi.


We had a lovely 10th standard reunion last Saturday. After lunch, we decided to have ice cream at Corner House.

Puttachi overheard this, and was excited.

Amma, I want pink ice-cream.
Amma, will there be pink ice-cream?
I don't know, let's go and see.
If there is pink ice-cream, I will feel happy and eat it up, but if there is no pink ice-cream, then I will see which ice-cream they have, and I will like it (ishTa maDkotini), and eat it up.

Should I rejoice that this child knows the secret of happiness? Or should I worry that she is going to become too accommodating and compliant?
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