Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

For the third year in a row, I managed to the Northern Rock cyclone this weekend. It was a lovely occasion as before; the weather was cool in the morning with a brisk wind, but it warmed up a little and the wind dropped by the end of the day. The numbers have gone up slightly and it was good to see so many cyclists around.

Compared to last years’ ride I was way down. I just cleared 5:30 in the saddle, or 6 hours elapsed, which is about 1 hour slower (although the route is, apparently, 2 miles longer than last year). Not unexpected, given the absence of training; this is my longest ride of the year, 40 miles being the longest otherwise. Having moved house early in the year, and with an F1 in the works, I just haven’t found the time.

This really is a great event; at the moment, it’s big enough to be an event, but small enough to still feel personal. I hope that it will get bigger, although the roads mean that it could never rival the GNR, because this sort of mass participation event will help to bring cycling up the agenda. However, having done the GNR, I know that this would almost certainly lessen the pleasure of it.

Managed to see “On What a Lovely War” on Friday, at the northern stage. I’ve not see it before although I’ve been aware of the play since they did it while I was at school. I guess that being based on World War I, the show starts from an emotional strong point, but the mix of light-hearted and optimistic songs, set against the deaths of millions works as well as it ever did; this version of it was magnificent, with the instrumentation on stage, as props, actors moving backward and forward between playing, singing and acting. Perhaps the most moving section was the 1914 football match in no mans’ land, ironic as it has no music over it.

The whole play is encapsulated, though, by its version of “Keep the Home Fires Burning” — the original is a light and jaunty number, although with a melancholy for home. Here, it is performed by a lone nurse, lending it a poignancy that is in the song, but which is hidden in most versions; the combination of the simple lyric and delicate melody is heart-breaking.

I knew that it was an Ivor Novello song; I didn’t know that it was his first big hit and defined his career to the extent that his grave reads “Ivor Novello 6th March 1951 Till you are home once more“. Nor did I know that this epitaph are the words of another — Lena Guilbert Ford, an American poet who wrote the lyrics, but has otherwise moved through history leaving only this song and a forlorn edit page to show her passing. A little more digging got me to an archive from New York Times:

London, March 12 — Two bombs were dropped together on the house of Mrs. Lena Guilbert Ford, the American poet who was killed in the air raid last week, and on the adjoining dwelling, an army expert testified at the inquest today. The bombs exploded simultaneously.

The Coroner’s jury found the death of Mrs. Ford, best known as author of the war song, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” and that of her son, Walter was due to “suffocation from the collapse of a house caused by the explosion of bombs from a hostile aircraft”.

— New York Times (1918)

The rest of the article is a distressing account of the inquest, which tried to determine whether the mother outlived the son which had implications for inheritance.

She made little more impact on history because she was in it for only a short time more, dying in the declining years of World War I, a civilian casualty of a new form of warfare. One more tragedy among 20 million.

As one person said of my blog, it’s a bit weird, what with you thinking you’re still in India. It’s been a long time now, that we’ve been back, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the experience. Writing the blog has served it’s purpose though; since I’ve been back, I’ve marked exams, taught two modules, run a meeting and submitted a paper. The holiday seems a long time ago, but the notes I took for the blog has helped me to remember the experience; for this reason, even though I wrote most of these reflections while travelling, I’ve decided to write these from the present, as opposed to the past present tense all the other posts have used.

I’ve also noticed that my page view stats have plummeted to the point that they are flat-lining around 1 a day (which is probably google). Perhaps I should get back to wittering about ontologies.

One of the most pervasive parts of the experience was the architecture; we saw many different styles and many different buildings. It was magnificent, finely wrought and cleverly details. This seems to reflect a wider delight in design and ornamentation, which you seem everywhere. The women’s clothes are brightly coloured, even when they are digging holes in the road. The tuk-tuks are covered in flowers. Even the mud huts in the agricultural areas have intricate and sweeping patterns inscribed in the cow dung. It’s all in stark contrast to both the garishness of the Bollywood experience and the surrounding environment.

The food mostly lived up to my expectations. From the home cooked food in Agra, the Shanti Restaurant in Jaislmer to the thali in Mehrangarh fort, we had some really good meals. On the whole, it wasn’t a new experience. The food is not that far removed from the UK curry, although with a few unique ingredients — the Rajastani desert beans — and the careful use of coconut. Like my experiences with Italy the best thing about the food is that it’s easy to get. Everywhere you go, good food surrounds, you don’t have to hunt for it and it’s not expensive. It’s just expected, as a matter of course. Compared to the 3 quid, ready-packed, pub food that we get here, it’s magnificent. I think we have a lot to learn from India.

The poverty and degradation has been grinding — much less so in India than in Dhaka, and it’s not the first time that I have seen it, but it’s always depressing. I suspect that we only see the edges of it, and the worst of the Shantis were away from the road, but this was enough for me.

I heard less music while I was there than I would have liked—the percussion was limited to tourist and ceremonial occasions, the rest was garish Hindi pop which totally lacks in appeal to me. So, much like home then.

The pollution I expected, but India, or at least the part of it that I say, was a very dirty place. — no where is clean, with animals on the street, rubbish everywhere, and the in-town midden being the most common disposal path. I guess the cows makes some sense, as they at least dispose of the organic material and produce something useful, if smelly. Even in Delhi, just outside of our, relatively posh, hotel the place was a mess, with sand heaps everywhere, an unusable pavement, and around the corner raw sewage was spilling onto the streets from a broken pipe. I have a relatively high tolerance for this sort of thing, but really this was too much. It will remain, I suspect, till they treat their public space like their private space.

A more pleasant aspect of India was the diversity of smell. Herbs and spices fill the air, both as a byproduct of the cooking and from incense. Back home, we everything that we use is chemical, even for strong smells such as lemon. Coming back to the UK, my senses where heightened to nasal assault that my own society has turned into; it’s pointless and we should stop it.

India is becoming a world power; I thilannk it’s clear that this century will be defined by it and China; I’m glad to have visited it, particularly at the time that I have. I’ve seen many good things here; but, then, many less good. I hope that India finds solutions for its problems and builds on its strengths; ultimately, it is going to have a larger and larger impact on this society as I get older.

My favourite memories of the journey; chilling out in the Shanti resturant looking over the desert from Jaislmer, the bus journey, hideous, crazy and dangerous though it was, and finally in Jaipur the observatory and the kites from the Wind Palace.

Outside the Hotel le Roi is a messy street, but inside it’s nice. The drive here was hectic and smelly, with many miles of crawling through traffic. Not nice at all. We had another near accident when a lorry in the lane next to us lost a tyre and the car was hit with large chunks of Rubber.

We came from the Taj Mahal. It’s been described in detail by many others; the sunlight scintillates of the marble facade, leaving you speechless; but, not if it’s foggy. Despite this, it is a magnificent building and visiting it is well worth while. I guess nothing can quite live up to is reputation once it becomes a world icon.

Just had to phone reception. The room heating controls don’t work, with the room getting colder and colder, so they have bought up a fan heater.

And that’s it; tomorrow, we go to the airport and fly home.

We started off today at the Amber fort in Jaipur. For some reason, the hawking here seems particularly heavy, a theme that was to continue. The Amber fort, though, is magnificent — it’s a labyrinth of connecting rooms, built through the walls of several connecting courtyards. Strange for me, the most interesting bit was the latrines (historical, not modern day, I hasten to add) and the water system. They had underground storage facilities, a system for elevating the water. In general, though I had a great time wandering through the rooms, finding new places.

After that we drove to a Agra Fort; we were short of time, but we managed to see much of it — the rooms were strange, over built over several levels. Finally, we saw the mosque at the back with relentless hawking, including demands for money in exchange for shoe guarding.

Finally a hellish journey into Agra — it was foggy and polluted, worse in the cold snap I suspect than normal. The driver didn’t know his way, and his relentless stopping resulted in a bike crashing into this rear end; minor injuries, fortunately, no worse. We finally got to the Garden Villas guest house, where we were staying. This was inside a drab, gated community, but inside the rooms were good with a warm welcome and an excellent, home-cooked curry. No complaints there.

As a city Jaipur is like many that we have been too — busy, polluted and unattractive, and also very in-your-face; yes, thank you, I am sure that are many elephants, but I still don’t want your tuk-tuk. We did see the Jantar Mantar observatory. This is a magnificent place, full of angles and careful measurements — Jai Singh thought that bigger was better. Each instrument had a careful description, telling you what it measured and what this measurement was for; although the signs kept of mixing up “accuracy” and “resolution” which bugged me a bit. The thing that confused me was that most of the instruments fall into two categories; those for measuring angles and sundials for measuring time. Time and space all sorted, it seems, but time only measurable during the day and space only measurable at night.

The city palace is okay; there are some good things inside, but it’s not as well done as Jodphur. The Wind Palace on the other hand is just a big building, but it’s fun to climb and the view from the top is great. Today is a saturday, and the place is full of tourists — many want to talk and I’ve been asked my name and photographed with many people. But the image that is going to stick in my mind are the kites circling overhead — hundreds of them fluttering in the wind, steered by intensely concentrating kids, perched on the sprawling rooftops. I have a grainy photograph which was the best I could do.

Finished off with dinner in the hotel cafe; the last time I had a curry with no spices at all was in Canada. That time, at least, it was served hot. If you stay in the Hotel Arya Niwas, well, avoid the food. Otherwise, it’s pretty nice.