Saturday, November 25, 2006

You're Never Too Old...

... to sit on Santa's lap! No, I didn't go specifically to see him - I spent this morning photographing kids on his lap at the Overseas Women's Club Christmas Bazaar, so I popped myself on there too! It was interesting to see the kids' reactions - some smiles, some tears, some terror. My mum tells me she once pulled Santa's beard off and I have memories of wanting to do the same. In fact, my sister-in-law Lauren told me that she was instructed to 'reverse her child' towards him so that he didn't get too scared! Is it really worth it? If he's that bad, and kids are that scared, don't go see him. In fact, just mail him a letter - or better still, email him. I did, and here's his reply...

Merrrryyyy Christmas Julie!!

Thank you for sending me your email all the way from Bangalore! The Net sure is wonderful because now I can get emails from Bangalore and around the world in the blink of an eye. Even Rudolph gets emails... from pets! Why, here's Rudolph right now! HO!! Ho!! ho!! He just asked me to say 'Hi!' to you!

Rudolph put this on personally, just for you Julie!Jumping Jingle Bells, Julie! Are you fibbing to ol' Santa Claus?!? You can't possibly be 40 years old already! Why it seems like only yesterday that I was leaving presents for a certain little girl and here you are now, practically one of Santa's elves! (*grin*)

Sorry the presents the last little while probably haven't been quite as exciting as they were when you were a little girl but, well, you know how these things go (*wink*). Anyway, Santa's glad to see some of the 'older kids' (not to mention anyone in particular!) still take the time to write. I also hear you've been a REALLY REALLY good girl. (Of course, you won't mind if I do a little checking, will you? HO!! Ho!! ho!!).

Let's see what you put in your letter for Christmas wishes: 1. horse; 2. diamond earrings and; 3. video camera. May all your Christmas wishes come true!HO!! Ho!! ho!! I see you'd like a special little friend for Christmas! Whether you want a real horse or just a pretend one, caring for a horse takes a lot of work and love! Santa and Rudolph want to make sure all pets are loved and cared for (just like you!) so, just to be sure, we'll have to check with your family to make sure its ok with everyone. I hope you'll talk to your family about getting a horse too. But remember, just because I can't bring you a horse this year doesn't mean you don't deserve one. Sometimes the horse you want needs extra special care or pets aren't allowed where you live. Of course, if you do get a horse for Christmas, the two of you will have to email Rudolph every year to let him know how you're doing!

Oops! I guess I shouldn't have had that last cookie because a button just popped right off my suit. I better go see if Mrs. Claus has any thread left! ho!! Ho!! HO!! Take care Julie and don't forget to come back and visit me here at on Christmas Eve!! And remember... only 30 more sleeps until Christmas!!

Forever and Always Your Friend,
Santa Claus

Thank you Julie for thinking of me!P.S. The reindeer say "Thank You!" for the nice treats! I hope you don't mind, but I had a bit of carrot and celery too. After all, even Santa eats his veggies!

P.P.S. I've attached a special postmarked copy of your email below so you can print it off and show it to all your friends or put it on your fridge.

Friday, November 24, 2006

If It Seems Too Good To Be True 2

So while we're on the subject of so-called bargains, here was the worst crime so far in India, and sacrilege, it involved alcohol! Sopexa, promoters of French food and wine, were in town to help educate the masses, and restaurant and hotel wait staff, about the joys of French wine. Of course, it's all about selling more French wine, but who cares about the marketing ploy when a glass of 'real' champagne (hard to get here and bloody expensive) was just Rs. 600 per glass (approx. $15). Quelle bargain! Excitedly, we ordered our wine and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually the champagne was carried into the restaurant like a newborn baby; waiters gathered round, oohing and aahing, but no-one daring to open it. The Sopexa rep cautiously carried the bottle to our table but to our horreur, instead of popping and pouring, she went onto show the fledgling cork-poppers how to open the bottle - complete with Q&A's! While I don't disagree that education is needed (how many times have we watched our champagne cork being 'popped' out of the bottle by the waiter's thumb, and at least a glass full of fizz go flying onto the floor) just don't do it in front of the punters! Eventually after protestation from the thirsty punters, they poured. Little by little, the fizz dripped into the champagne flute. Then it abruptly stopped. Not just an inch short of the top of the glass, but a good half glass short. Why? Because the promotion, we were told, was for a tasting size, not a full glass. Now, call me old fashioned, but I like to taste a full glass, sometimes a bottle, when I'm drinking fizz, but moreover, nothing in the promotional materials or wine list indicated that it would be a mouthful vs. a flute full. And how did the staff, then restaurant manager, handle our complaints? By telling us something could be done tomorrow - maybe. Not good enough! We recommended the simple solution of pouring a full glass to shut us up and then change their materials to avoid other misunderstandings. It worked, but after 40 minutes, I'm afraid the offer had lost some of its sparkle for us. If Sopexa is coming to a town near you, Bon Chance!

If It Seems Too Good To Be True...

... it probably is! Thank you Dr. Phil for reminding me of this as I succumbed to another great "Indian bargain". This deal was from a local salon offering the 'exclusive services' of hairdresser to the stars, Barney Martin from Australia. I booked my 'appointment and consultation' and, as someone who enjoys going to the hairdressers as much as getting my teeth pulled, was excited that a) I was getting my 'western' hair cut by a 'western' hairdresser and b) that it was a snip at $20 vs. the price at his Australian salon (I am from Yorkshire, remember!)

I was soon reminded of Dr. Phil's salient comment when I learned that Barney wasn't actually cutting hair but 'overseeing' the Indian hairdressers. Every pun intended, I wigged out. No matter how much the lovely Barney reassured me that all would be well, I wasn't happy being a 'guinea pig'. A young hairdresser fiddled and snipped at my hair while the maestro moved from chair to chair supervising his students, and enough was enough. After a little chat with Barney (who, by the way is as Australian as me, i.e., from Yorkshire) he took over and gave me the best haircut I've had in India. Suffice to say I am booking in with Barney at his Sydney salon when we visit in 2007 and am looking forward to a not-so hair-raising experience!

Bucket Bath and Beyond

Here I am again, talking about baths. But this time it's not the long, luxurious soak, but the kind you can have everyday in India, courtesy of a simple plastic bucket and jug. It took me a while to figure out why there's always a bucket and a jug in every bathroom here, but there's no bathtub, or even a shower to step into; the bathroom floor is completely tiled and flat, with maybe a small one inch step down into the immediate shower area to stop mass flooding! My friends talk very matter of fact about taking a bucket bath; in fact, Aussie Fiona is ALWAYS preparing a bucket bath when we're on the phone, think she lives in one! And every time I go shopping I get a free bucket with something or other - I've never had so many, last count eight! So finally last week I took the plunge; after a couple of hours of gruelling riding needed more than a shower. I filled up the bucket with hot water, added a little Space NK bath oil (from my friend Sue last Christmas, not Bangalore!), and jug full by jug full, doused myself in the hot scented water. When I could finally scoop no more from the bucket, I poured that last remaining water over me from head to toe. What a treat! It felt (almost) as good as an hour soak in the tub at The Imperial. I was hooked! This is one of those things that you 'must try at home', even if you have a fabulous bathtub to wallow in. Three cheers for the humble bucket bath!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Welcome to our new home! Call it user error if you like, but our old blogspot was giving me nightmares, so we shifted home to here! Hope you like it. You can subscribe at the bottom of the page. Hope to read your comments soon!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Horse of the Year Show 2006

While you may be forgiven for thinking that this annual extravaganza takes place in England, this year was an exception: it actually took place this weekend in Bangalore when the adorable Slim Shady**, ridden by yours truly, scooped not one, but two, first place rosettes - and a medal - as Best Turned Out Horse and winner of the Adult Walk/Trot Dressage Test.

Tensions were high at the Embassy International Riding School as competitors from around the globe preened, plaited, and pampered their horses and ponies, preparing for tests like the Handy Pony, won by 9-year old Henry from Australia, and Adult Advanced Dressage Test, won by Equestrian and Bollywood Dancer, Eva from Sweden. Slim and I were entered in the beginner's dressage test and 'best turned out horse and rider' and despite my advancing years, it was my first competition in the horsey world. Mr. McGuire ably assisted in much of the grooming the day /night/morning before the test, with me focusing on the front end (plaiting of mane) and him bringing up the rear brushing the tail! All that brushing is actually very therapeutic. I'd prescribe it to anyone who's had a stressful day on the mean streets of Bangalore as your mind totally switches off and you are completely focused on the task in hand: there's a lot of horse to be brushed!

Slim looked amazing - shiny as hell and with a hair-do that any New York salon would be proud of! The day was great fun, shared with lots of friends, and it was truly a thrill to be rewarded for doing something I love: my first rosettes, medal, and certificates will form the start of my 'winning wall' which I hope will grow as my skills progress. Bravo Slim Shady, thanks to Tara my wonderful teacher, and here's to the next show!

** p.s. Slim Shady was NOT so adorable a few weeks ago when he flung me unceremoniously onto a fence, scraping and gashing my arm - but all is forgiven now!!! It was all my fault, I am sure!

Help The Aged

Forgive me if this is old news to people in the US, but I just discovered the site that helps you determine your real age. After a lengthy questionnaire and a wait of about one hour, I was horrified to learn that despite my vigorous horse riding, vitamin taking, and yoga nidra, I am three years older than my biological age!!! But not to worry, I am sure that the company has 1001 things to help me reduce my age AND reduce the size of my wallet! Take the test yourself; if nothing else, it makes you think about what you eat and do - or don't do - every day. Would love to hear your results!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Full Mary

I stared in amazement at my inbox today; news of the world's first pubic hair colouring kit just arrived via email. It was only a question of time before your "collars and cuffs" could match, but what really intrigued me was the name: Betty Beauty. You can have a blonde betty, a brown betty, a black betty, and a fun betty - that's hot pink - but why a Betty? Apparently, the company's founders used it because it was a pet name for a girl that college guys found attractive, so sadly it wasn't named after my mum, or Liz's daughter. In these parts we call it a Mary. It's a term that I've heard used for many years, but one which has taken on new meaning given that the top bikini waxer in Bangalore is called Mary. Her work is the Bangalore equivalent to the J.Sisters in New York at a mere fraction of the cost and globe trotting women from as far afield as Australia, the UK, and the US, make a beeline for Mary when they're in town. Who knows, perhaps one day "The Full Mary" will do for Bangalore what "The Full Monty" did for Sheffield!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's A Dirty Job...

There are some jobs that you just wouldn't wish on your worst enemy .... garbage collector, undertaker, pedicurist (I hate feet!), plumber (back to my blog on bathtubs), and even tax collector. It can't be a satisfying job: everyone thinks their taxes are too high, no-one wants to pay them, the minute you mention taxes everyone's eyes glaze over, the taxman is generally reviled, whichever country they are in, so how can someone enjoy this job? So on that topic, I was impressed this week by the way the Indian government is tackling the issue of non-payment of taxes and employing a new kind of tax collector: The Eunuchs. What a stroke of genius! Eunuchs, like the taxman, are feared and reviled in India, and going from door to door collecting money is one of those jobs that takes someone with real balls..... or not, I guess, in this case!!! Good luck to them - maybe the money they collect will help provide much needed infrastructure, more sanitary waste disposal, and homes and education for the poor. Go Eunuchs!

Tax authorities in one Indian state are attempting to persuade debtors to paying their bills - by serenading them with a delegation of singing eunuchs.

Eunuchs are feared and reviled in many parts of India, where some believe they have supernatural powers.

Often unable to gain regular employment, the eunuchs have become successful at persuading people to part with their cash.

The eunuchs will get a commission of 4% of any taxes collected.

In Bihar's capital, Patna, officials felt deploying the eunuchs was the only way to prompt people to pay up.

We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy
Bharat Sharma
Patna official

"We are collecting taxes for the municipal corporation, collecting money from those who have not paid their taxes for years," said Saira, one of the eunuchs on the streets of Patna.

"Tax payment is necessary. When the corporation won't have any money how will they look after the people?"

Accompanied by police officers, the eunuchs approached shopkeepers and large defaulters on their first foray into tax collection.

"Pay the tax, pay the Patna Municipal Corporation tax," the eunuchs sang as they approached Ram Sagar Singh, who owed 100,000 rupees (£1,180), the AFP news agency reported.

Mortified by the commotion, Mr Singh reportedly agreed to pay up within a week.

The eunuchs collected about 400,000 rupees on their first day of work, authorities said, sharing 16,000 rupees (£188) amongst themselves.

Bharat Sharma, a revenue officer, told the Associated Press agency he was pleased with the eunuchs' work.

"We are confident that their reputation and persuasive skills will come in handy," he said.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Five Things I Miss About Home

We have just returned from a wonderful dinner at one of the nicest restaurants in town where we bumped into a dozen or so of our lovely ex-pat friends; it's so nice to feel familiar in a place that we have only been living for 11 months, and have only recently started calling 'home'. So with all this familiarity, what are the things we're missing about 'home' (for us, US/UK)? Aside from the obvious family and friends, and day-to-day culture, here's my rough list of things that spring to mind, in no particular order:

1. Kitchen Roll - In a country renowned for beautiful handmade paper, the Indians can't get this kind of paper right: it tears apart, dissolves, disintegrates, to the point that even our Indian maid complained about the Indian stuff we've got right now; 'good stuff' is available sporadically at the Dollar Store on Commercial Street (where bizarrely, everything costs $2, but who are we to argue?) or when your mum mails you some from the UK!

2. Nail Salons - Walk right in, sit in those lovely vibrating big chairs, pop your feet in the bubbly jacuzzi water, and get a mani pedi no hassle; all the best nail polish colours are there - Ador-a-ball, Geranium, Ballet Slippers - and the 'nail technicians' are the fastest in the west. Yes, you can get a good mani pedi here, at about a fifth of the cost BUT bring your own polish, put your feet in a plastic bowl, and be prepared for a sloooooower process than Manhattan.

3. Fresh Fruit and Veg - After years of not eating my greens, now is the time I want them but can't have them! Fresh fruit and veg is limited here, albeit a little more unusual - chow-chow is my latest find, a kind of gourd, I think, but tastes a bit like potato - and wonderfully priced - I pay just a couple of cents/pence for a big bunch of fresh herbs. But lettuce? Forget about it, it's not great, unless you're in a restaurant. Avocado? Bizarrely large and not quite what you're used to.

4. Great Wine at Good Prices - I was spoiled in New York; not only did I have the finest restaurants and wine bars on my doorstep, I worked for a wine company, with a fully stocked fridge in my office. Indian wine is fine, in fact, Grover's (the local vineyard) Red La Reserve is great - at just $10 a bottle at home, it's a bargain. And the Sula Sparkling is adequate. But even the lamest American wines (if you can get them) cost a pretty penny here, as a result of the government's 260% tax on wine. And that's the wines they are allowed to sell; there are so many restrictions on what is sold in which state, that restaurants have a hard time fulfilling and replenishing their wine list, resulting in you getting (fairly) good wine at great big prices. Shame on you, India!

5. Driving Miss Julie - So, I was never the best driver, but rarely had an accident (apart from the time I collided with a girl dressed as Santa - I think she had too much sherry!), and did get lost a little (Shorthills Mall to Princeton via Pennsylvania = not good!) but I miss driving! As anyone who's had the pleasure of driving with me will tell you, I can do 17 things at once - eating, smoking (those were the days), talking, singing, map reading, discussing meeting, changing gear, overtaking, thinking about next glass of wine... etc. Here, it's different. I spend more time in the car than ever before, but I'm not driving because of the crazy screwed up traffic system, what system, that makes it dangerous for anyone to even try. Our wonderful driver, Manoj, takes the traffic in his stride and is trained not to 'sound horn', despite the requests painted on every vehicle from a rickshaw to a truck to a car - to cattle! I cannot read in the car - blurgh - so try to use the time to make phone calls, relax, ponder my navel, or my favourite thing, sleep!!!

So, these are just five things, off the top of my head that I miss. I can think of 55 reasons to be here - and more - and will pen those soon. In the meantime, if anyone has wine, kitchen roll, and a Korean nail salon they can transport here - free of government restrictions - please feel free to do so!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Grow Your Own

India is the land of typo's - not a day, nay an hour, goes by without you see a typo - in newspapers, on billboards, on shop signs, in marketing materials - it's relentless. My favourite of the day is this:

It comes hot on the heels of Tom and I spending a day looking a Bassett Hound puppies in Bangalore, courtesy of the lovely Priya at Winters Hill Bassetts Maybe we don't need a breeder, we can just grow our own???

Storm in a Bathtub

I love to stay in hotels. One of the best things when checking into a fabulous hotel is running a hot bubbly bath for myself. I have a bathtub phobia. It's weird, don't know why, or where it came from, but there are some bathtubs I can get in, and some I can barely look at. Our bathtub in Manhattan, for example, was a no-no: no matter how many times Tom scrubbed it, I barely took three baths in the three years we lived there. I did shower in it though, you'll be relieved to know. There is no tub in our apartment in Bangalore BUT it did take me a few days to get used to my own bathroom and its little quirks. So, when I go to a hotel, I look forward to a pristine white bathtub that I can while away a good half hour in. Some of the best bathtubs I have wallowed in were the marble tubs at The Imperial in Delhi or, very different, The Tabacon Spa in Arenal, Costa Rica, whose bathroom windows fully opened onto the jungle exposing the whole room so you felt like you were bathing outdoors. Both hotels cost under $200 per night at the time of travelling and are billed as luxury. Which leads me to the last 'luxury' hotel I stayed in, the 5-star Ashok in Delhi at $220 per night. The bathroom was so bad, that I was tempted to not even stand in the shower, let alone sit in the tub. The plastic bathtub was stained yellow, the plug was rusted, and the plastic curtain had seen better days. The rest of the bathroom lived up to the tub - the mirrors were tarnished, the toilet seat - which was 'sealed for hygiene' - was once white, I believe, although muddied by years of fingerprints, and even the light switches had been flicked by grubby fingers too many times. Click here for my full account of The Ashok. According to the Ashok website, "they don't build hotels of such grandeur any more". Thank goodness!

Living in India? That Won't Do Nicely!

I've been an American Express cardholder for many years, maybe even 15; I have a blue one, a gold one, a green one, and one that even gives you money, called a One. I am even told that I am pre-approved for a platinum one. But not a black one. That's a secret that not a lot of people know about. Anyway, the point is, that my gold card just expired and, as we're now on secondment in Bangalore, we asked for the card to be sent here. That'll do nicely? No, it won't. Apparently, India is an 'unsafe' country, according to Amex Customer Services, and they will not ship your card here, even though UPS (whom they use in the US to deliver cards) offers a very reliable service to and from Bangalore, as does FedEx, Blue Dart, TNT, etc. etc., nor will they transfer the card for pick up at an office even thought they appear to have one in all the major cities. What would happen, I asked, if I was travelling here and lost my cards, isn't there an Amex 'we'll replace your card and get you out of there in five minutes' policy? Sort of. They wouldn't send me a replacement card - India is 'unsafe' remember - BUT they would allow me ONE emergency payment. Who would I pay? The airline to get me home, the hotel to check out, the boutique selling that fabulous sequinned sari??? It seems ludicrous that a company like American Express, whose card is quite widely accepted here (as much as anywhere else, that is) and who have offices all over the country, cannot do a simple thing like ship a card here??? Presumably they are happy for their employees in India to work in an 'unsafe' country, and for all their cardholders to shop til they drop in an 'unsafe' country? Suffice to say, we had to make our own arrangements to get the cards here using UPS at a cost of $50. Will American Express reimburse me? I'm sure they won't do that nicely.

Let Sleeping Ex-Pats Lie

This week, I am learning Yoga Nidra - or 'psychic sleeping'. I am an excellent sleeper, as anyone who's ever lived with me, worked with me, or had to get me up in the morning, will testify, so why do this? The thing is, that you're not meant to go to sleep, you're meant to get somewhere inbetween. Herein lies the challenge. I am being taught the Swami Satyananda method by an interesting Australian woman called YogaRatna who spent many years in an Ashram and is now teaching all over the world. Yoga Nidra involves lying on your back, palms up, and relaxing (I'm good at this so far); in rotations, you tightly clench and relax your arms, legs, face, and entire body (going well so far) to show how relaxed they should be; then comes 'externalising' where you focus on the noises outside the room and body (in Bangalore, that's dogs barking, rickshaws honking, trucks revving up, construction clanking). So far so good, but here's the tricky bit: in rotation, you start to focus on the inside of all your different body parts. YogaRatna talks you through it, but the minute I start to focus on each little finger, toe, joint, etc., I fall asleep! There are about 18 people in the class and they were commenting yesterday on how someone was snoring... I am almost positive it wasn't me, but who knows? By the end of the week I am hoping to have overcome the sleepy bit and transported myself into a deep - non-sleeping - sleep. Watch this space zzzzzzzzzz.

Wagon Wheels

I was reminded of one of my favourite childhood nibbles, Wagon Wheels, when I was furniture shopping on Sunday afternoon. No, they weren't selling them in 'Woodpeckers' furniture shop on Whitefields Main Road, but they were selling a dispicable looking 'genunine' wagon wheel dining room table, complete with glass top and chairs. I went there looking for a table made of a temple door, or something equally Indian, but a wagon wheel? I've never even seen a wagon wheel in action in Bangalore, maybe a bullock cart wheel, but not a wagon wheel. It took me straight back to the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally's friend Marie is moving in with Harry's friend Jess; Harry's a little bitter about love having just seen his ex with her current guy and has this to say as Jess and Marie are unpacking their possessions together...

Harry Burns: Right now everything is great, everyone is happy, everyone is in love and that is wonderful. But you gotta know that sooner or later you're gonna be screaming at each other about who's gonna get this dish. This eight dollar dish will cost you a thousand dollars in phone calls to the legal firm of That's Mine, This Is Yours.
Marie: Harry.
Harry Burns: Please, Jess, Marie. Do me a favor, for your own good, put your name in your books right now before they get mixed up and you won't know whose is whose. 'Cause someday, believe it or not, you'll go 15 rounds over who's gonna get this coffee table. This stupid, wagon wheel, Roy Rogers, garage sale COFFEE TABLE.
Jess: I thought you liked it?
Harry Burns: I was being nice.

Suffice to say the wagon wheel dining table is still in the store, if anyone wants it. But where are those tasty chocolate wagon wheels? I remember eating them as a kid, and they were HUGE, but then they seemed to shrink (or did my hands get bigger?) and since leaving the UK in 2001, I haven't even had a sniff of one. Their website is 'under construction' which I guess means they are still in business? If anyone knows where to find them in Bangalore, please let me know!