My blogging's moved to Wordpress - and is a whole lot more prolific than my LJ ever was. My latest post is an attempt to explain exactly what happened with the CofE and female bishops this week.

Oh yay!

Jan. 5th, 2010 12:09 pm
Temp member of staff who reports to me decided not to come back after the Christmas holiday. Guess who is covering his work...
I'm now down in Kochi/Cochin and this is where my trip appears to both have stalled and be ending. And unless my flight home is particularly amusing (as it may be - it promises to be a bad one anyway - far too long and too many changes, but better than the 41 hour train journey before flying) this is my final update.

The reason it stalled was an incident sufficient for the Indian Health and Safety Inspectorate to have got involved (not with me personally). And I'm sure by now if you've been reading my log (or know much about India) you'll know that that must have taken something depressingly spectacular. I was planning on heading to the Periyar Nature Reserve (and tiger sanctuary). But a boat sank there with 44 on board, and the boats (which are the best way to see the nature reserve - especially if you don't want to see a tiger sanctuary on foot) are therefore beached for the moment (and the inspector has been arrested). And it was a long way to go south beyond that - plus the fact I need to leave fairly soon, so wanted to be somewhere with an airport. Which means I've been in and around Kochi for almost a week, watching the world turn.

That's not to say I haven't done some travelling. First Kochi - which is incredibly hot and sweaty due to being a port. (I like to see the sea, but I detest this humidity). Portugese headquarters (with a house claimed to be belonging to Vasco Di Gama), taken over by the Dutch after the South Indian empire I mentioned in travellog 2 fell (and the Portugese had behaved abominably enough no one wanted anything to do with them), and then later taken over by the British (I think as a part of the trade of India for the world's supply of Nutmeg).l I looked at one building and thought "Bloody hell. I didn't know that colonial architecture got that stereotypical." It only turned out to be the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company.

But I'm enjoying Kochi. It is not really on the tourist trail (although there are things for tourists to do here - see the old part of the city I mentioned earlier) which means I'm not being pestered every five seconds or so by people either trying to sell me things or to con me, and instead get to see more of what is actually happening. And for all I complained about Mysore, there is nowhere in India I've felt actually unsafe in any way - just harassed.

I'm down here in Kerala in part because I like the sea and travelling round backwaters (which were lovely and peaceful although nothing spectacular), and in part because the sociology sounded interesting - Kerala has 99% literacy (with some places claiming 100%), and a decent social welfare system - but limited employment opportunities as no one invests in Kerala (I'm not sure why - I think it's been a long time since they nationalised too much). Possibly correlated with the low violence and accidental death rate, but the very high suicide rate. Anyway, one huge advantage of here is that whereas in Mysore if someone spoke English it was to probably rip off the tourists, here they speak it because they speak it - and they seem to like Tourism (it being one of the few sources of money for the region). Means it's a lovely place - and full of energy (this being the largest city in the region even if not the capital). But it's not easy to explain. It's a city with a tourist reservation attached (I'm staying in the city part but currently in the tourist reservation).

But other than see things I can't really describe without taking a long time, and go on nice quiet backwater cruises, what have I done? Gone up into the hills where things are lovely and cool to see the elephants and to watch the tea being picked. And to see some lovely views. The hills of Kerala look (like other tea plantations in my experience) as if someone had taken an idealised picture of unspoiled soft green English landscape and inflated it. Thousand metre high mountains covered in mottled light and dark green (the light green being unpicked tea bushes, the dark green having been picked more recently), plunging valleys (with some beautiful and high waterfalls - although I wish the Indians wouldn't drop litter all over them, as apparently does every other backpacker I've heard mention it). And the day we went there was low cloud cover. So although we couldn't see above us, we could look down along a valley 500 or so metres below us, and wisps of cloud clung to the mountainside like the breath of a sleeping green dragon, the mottling only adding to the effect.

Of course in order to get to that view, we had to *get* to that view. In the car of our local driver - who seemed to believe that the speed to take mountain hairpin turns was between 25 and 30 mph (the two of us in the third row of seats were bouncing around like peas in a can). That was mildly worrying even if the tarmac was fairly new (it had been dirt less than ten years ago). But even more worrying was, for about quarter of an hour, hearing this choking sound behind us - tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk. Yup, we were being tailgated over those roads and at that speed by a tuk-tuk.

(For those of you who haven't been to India (or elsewhere in the far east), a tuk-tuk is a small three wheeled vehicle with open sides, a motorcycle engine, and ... limited suspension. An integral part of India and you find them absolutely everywhere. But they really do not feel safe. Great fun tho. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_rickshaw )

On that trip, as well as visiting a tea factory (and being inundated by corporate propoganda) we also saw and scrubbed elephants, and watched the handlers shave them (I hadn't realised elephants were bristly creatures). I was surprised by how roughly the handlers were scraping over the elephant's eyelids as well as everywhere else when they bathed them. And amused by how most of the tourists were scrubbing with the flat of the husk rather than the edge that the handlers were using and cutting. Which brings me onto the subject of coconuts (sorry if I'm rambling).

Coconuts in India are sold everywhere as green things by men with kukris. You buy them and they hack the top off and hand you a straw (sometimes used) for you to drink the fairly pure milk inside - a nice, slightly sweet drink. Then you hand it back to the seller and he cuts a piece off as a scraper and cuts it in half so you can eat the thin layer of coconut on the inside. An older one has a much harder shell round the meat and milk - and when fully ripe they turn into the solid brown coconuts I normally think of. But that's not the cool part - not only do you eat the meat and use the outside as a scraper (or elephant scrubber or to make a ladder for toddy-tapping or...), the green outside decays into fibres from which the fairly rough coir rope (doormat quality, but pretty strong) that you find everywhere. You use every part of the coconut (and not as fertiliser), and the number of uses brought to mind Flanders and Swann's Wampom http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgxKeezq7DI

Tuk-tuks and coconuts. I'm rambling. But I hope these updates have been entertaining reading and given some clue about my trip to India and what I've found. And I fly home between tomorrow evening and Friday so this is me signing off from India. Hope to see many of you soon.
Well, I've spent the last three nights in Mysore (as I said I would in my last update). I'm slightly (but only slightly) less tired than I was last time - although hopefully this update will be a lot better written and won't miss half as much of the actually interesting things I've been doing out.

First a digression on one reason I'm tired. It's not technically true that every single Indian who has spoken to me has been trying by some means or other to get money out of me. But it comes remarkably close to the truth (especially for me in Mysore). Everywhere I turn there's someone trying to sell me something (and for what it's worth, they take "No thank you" as a signal that I'm interested and want to bargain rather than that I'm walking away). Or some duk-duk driver trying to convince me that I want a lift. And I normally when I travel ask for advice from waiters or taxi drivers on where the best place to do something is. Not in India I don't. They are almost all on commission - and will try taking me to a hotel that gives them kickbacks (and in Mysore in my experience (and other places) actively lying about the hotel I've said I wanted - claiming it's either full from a conference or that it's three miles further out of town than it actually is - and that was when hunting for a hotel in Mysore alone - in the end I just got out and walked). And then there's what I perceive to be the standard of honesty. This isn't a slam, merely different standards. Not once have I been robbed by anyone from India - or has anyone welched on a bargain. On the other hand, Indian culture involves a lot of haggling whereas I'm used to things like fixed prices and things like the Trades Description Act. And haggling involves a lot of deliberate misrepresentation. This isn't considered dishonesty by any in the culture to which it belongs. But to this tourist, this standard of behaviour - which is seen as entirely normal - feels like (and in many ways actually is) dishonest. They say travel broadens the mind - but in my experience it also narrows it by telling us why we do the things that we do. And honestly, it is so much *easier* to go through the day under the assumption that vendors are honest and cons are minimal rather than routine that I wouldn't have Britain any other way. Here's to the Trades Description Act and regulation!

Also because of issues like this and not staying in dorms (and so not having had interesting conversations with people who weren't trying to sell me things pretty much since the day after I arrived in Mysore) I've been feeling pretty lonely and isolated for the past few days. What's been going on back home?

Anyway, after that mini-rant and philosophical digression, I'm going to digress again. Because I'm in Mysore. And to any student of either colonial or military history, Mysore is famous at least in part for Haider Ali and in particular for his son Tipu Sultan. It was against Tipu Sultan that a certain Colonel Arthur Wellesley learned his craft before later going on to fight Napoleon (and become the Duke of Wellington). He, like many other such figures, is controversial (his Wikipedia talk page is fun!) - he was a definite Islamic ruler in charge of a Hindu population, fought highly successfully against the British (with French support) and took four wars to finally defeat (at which point the British gave back the region to the previous Hindu dynasty). There is no question that he tried to modernise his region of India and that he was a superb military commander (who probably gave Congreve the inspiration for his rockets). On the other hand, he was definitely a devout Muslim, and the jury is out on exactly how he treated Hindus and Christians in his territory. Or more accurately there is so much nationalism and propoganda flying about from everyone that even if anyone does know, they have absolutely no way of making themselves heard. But his main stronghold was fascinating to see - a 7m deep river that has a natural two hundred and seventy degree arc is a pretty good start - and the walls he put up were ... impressive (as they would need to be for facing almost-Napoleonic artillery). And he added railways to the mix.

His palace was also quite spectacular. The night I arrived turned out to be lucky - the palace is only lit up at weekends for half an hour per day - the entire thing has been covered with literally hundreds of thousands of incandescent bulbs and it's one of the few places where a static photograph to my mind does justice to the whole thing - so see the link below. Inside it was truly opulent and as spectacular as the lit version of the outside. Some of you will be aware of my views on St Peters' in Rome - that that much opulence and lavishness made me almost literally physically sick. But if the palace showed me nothing else it showed me how it's possible to use a lot of gold leaf paint tastefully - you use it for highlighting the tips of the shapes rather than just throw it around. (Particularly inspired, I found, were the
sitar-playing angels whose wings were deep red at the roots, fading through orange to yellow, and with the tips covered in gold leaf). That said, I thought the palace was tasteful only until I saw the throne room (gold everywhere, solid silver doors, etc.)... It was also very interestingly styled - it had to have been a modern construction because you could not use that much stained glass before the industrial revolution - but I know of very few palaces that were constructed that late, and more impressive modern buildings tend not to be actual palaces. (At this point it's worth mentioning that one of the few Indians I met who wasn't trying to sell me something - someone sitting next to me on the train from Bangalore - mentioned that he was very disappointed when he saw Buckingham Palace, and I'm not surprised). The floor itself was tiled in a specifically British design - for all that short-lived dynasty wanted Britain out of India, they definitely wanted to emulate some of our traits (including industrialisation). Still, I'm really distrustful of any large palaces even if that one was really well done.

As for the rest of Mysore, Mysore is at the centre of both a silk and a sandalwood industry, and is one of the places in India to buy various forms of oils. Which means that I've had eople continually trying to sell me both. And to take me to a "museum" (read: not even thinly disguised shop). And to take me to about fifteen different variations of the Cauvery (the fficial government shop where you only pay a strictly limited amount over the odds) at which prices were really inflated and there were kickbacks for whoever took you there. And at least three different people have managed to persuade me to look at the local oils, claiming I'd see them being made - once I arrived it was a simple attempt to sell me oil I neither wanted, needed, nor had a use for. And for which the person guiding me there was getting kickbacks. (Not that I bought anything). The only pricy things I bought I actually found on foot - mostly because I knew the taxi drivers would take me to the wrong places and claim they were the right ones. Because they wanted kickbacks. And it's very hard to tell a taxi driver the difference between the Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium, the Kauvery Emporium, the Carvery Emporium. the Carvery Arts and Crafts Emporium. the Cauvery, and any of the other dozen or so different spellings that are used to lure in unwary (or even wary) tourists. I just love being that much on my guard...

http://alanlittle.org/Gallery/LL/MysorePalace.jpg
When I left off last time, I was in Mumbai, and slightly overwhelmed and short on sleep and planning to head to Goa for some R&R. The short on sleep is still true (although at least I think my body is in the right timezone), and the slightly overwhelmed remains true. But most of the rest has gone the way all my travelling plans do.

The more I looked, the more fascinating Mumbai got - but I still wanted to leave. Still, I doubt after seeing Mumbai's local railway's I'm going to complain too much about London's again. I doubt even Tokyo residents can complain much - at least they can all fit inside the carriages. Rather than hanging off the outside, or holding on to the roof, or... (No, I didn't try riding in one). Mumbai's art galleries were interesting, with one exhibition where the artist had deliberately left off the faces to draw attention to the body (I found this slightly creepy) but ultimately were art galleries. I spent a nice morning and afternoon on a boat trip to the ruined temples on Elephanta Island (the Elephant in question being a stone one and having been put in a museum elsewhere). Hour long boat rides are always nice and relaxing, and the statues were well worth seeing (but looked as if they should have been painted). I hadn't realised prior to that trip that Shiva Nataraja is literally "Shiva, Lord of the Dance". I suppose destruction does fit dancing if you look at it that way.

Anyway. I already had my ticket out of Mumbai booked when I left. And needed to catch the train. So I left myself plenty of time and decided to walk, occasionally stopping to ask for directions (haven't these people ever heard of street signs?) The normal answer was "Straight. Fifteen minutes." Which I was told for about twenty minutes solid when I asked people. In the end I gave up and took a taxi. (It wasn't straight, but it turned out I was where I thought I was and only five minutes on foot from the station). Which brought me to my first Indian train ride.

Indian trains are packed. Fortunately I'd booked on to the sleeper, which meant we had three rows of bunk beds (each about 5'8" long - certainly a little too short for your 6'2" correspondent) and fairly hard, as all beds in India appeared to be. The train was very noisy until about 11pm when there was quiet to sleep in (and many people did - if only I'd thought to have my blanket or fake-pillow to hand). If I'd been in standard rather than sleeper class, there'd probably have been four people sitting on each of the upper and lower bunks (the compartments are, I think, exactly the same. But I'm travelling by sleeper class as much as possible from here on - especially as seats seem to be in restricted supply.

I arrived in Goa short on sleep. And then had to decide which resort I wanted to go to. And then wondered (not for the first time) what I was going to do for two days on beaches so decided to head to the ruins in Hampi instead of heading to the beach from Margao - especially as most of those heading to any of the beaches seemed to be the backpacking equivalent of Club 18-30. Upending my entire travel plans on ten minutes notice. I love backpacking.

But first I had to do things in Margao. Using my cards to take money out of the bank. I'd been informed by my mother that Lloyds had wanted to talk to me about possible card fraud after I'd used my cards the previous time. So I'd asked her the contact number - and the number she'd given me was incorrect. I'd asked again to confirm it before leaving. She'd got it wrong, so I'd asked her. But I found in Margao that Lloyds bank had cut off my cards on suspicion of card fraud. So I had several near-panicked conversations with the bank staff (who said there was nothing they could do) before running around to try to find an internet cafe to check if my mother had now sent the correct contact number (which she had, thank you) and what Lloyds said I should be calling (something else entirely for random suspicion). I then spent another ten minutes looking for somewhere which did international calls before I could call Lloyds. (Lloyds themselves had both cards stopped in under five minutes). All's well that ends well. But being stuck with extremely limited money and no cards in a strange town with some language barriers is scary to the point that I was working out how to contact the High Commission (or rather the branch in Mumbai). And many thanks to Kate who was also heading to Hampi for staying around to provide moral support simply because it was a scary situation.

I was asked when I did my South American travellog why I didn't mention people - mostly that I'd feel I'd need to ask individuals to mention them (I did in this case). But Backpackers tend to be a type. Almost all quietly confident either that we can deal with most things that will be thrown up by the trip or "Better drowned than duffers". Minimal care for comfort or major appearances (or we'd not be backpacking in the same way) - I've yet to meet a backpacker who wore makeup routinely (and see below for my creature comforts so far this trip - although that's on the extreme side). Hippy-ish tendancies in many many ways. Masses of innate curiosity and a desire both to see and to do. And two general attitudes: don't sweat the small stuff, and we're all in this strange country together so we should at least help each other out if someone needs it. I've seldom seen much active dislike (some people for the Israelis and one breakup) - even if you don't like someone and are in the same hostel you'll be doing other things and one of you will probably be gone within three days (so who cares). Means that most people you meet are interesting, worth talking to, and you're unlikely to meet them again. (The slight schism with the Israelis is that most backpackers don't like disrupting the place - Israelis straight out of the army are much much noisier than anyone else).

Anyway, Kate convinced me to take the overnight bus to Hampi rather than the train. This was probably a mistake - the buss was less comfortable than a Routemaster and the roads were utterly terrible.But still, I'm glad I've done it once even if I don't want a repeat experience. It also meant that my air temperature shower on arriving in Hampi felt utterly decadent.

And now we get back to the local geography. Hampi is the nearest village to Vijayanagara - the capital of a southern Indian Hindu empire that lasted 200 years and was founded as an attempt to hold the Muslim empires of the north back. That most of you haven't heard it shows whether or not it worked. Some utterly superb defensive terrain (natural rocky fortifications), and well built walls - mostly drywall to near Incan standards in three separate rings, combined with its own water source would have made it almost impossible to conquer. Unfortunately the cretin emperor when he was winning a battle using his main army decided to encourage his troops by sending them money by cannon. It would have been cheaper to fire cannister into the back of a tight mass of infantry - without much difference in the results. King captured, army crushed. And about the only reason the Muslim empire didn't follow this up with a Roman level salting of the earth would appear to be the price of salt in central India. The walls (both natural and mundane) are in ruins, the big (20m?) statue of Vishnu (see link below) had its arms broken, the statues round the ceremonial temple were literally defaced, and most of the population removed. But in its heyday, it was clearly incredibly opulent, with masses of wealth and industry. And now it stands as the crushed ruin of what was once a mighty empire (indeed almost all the Portugese trade in India was with this empire - and the Portugese weren't allowed much more of a foothold when it fell). That said, when contemporary accounts have such luxury - and an Emperor who can field more than a million men in an army, most of whom are almost naked and just carrying spears and shields I have ... limited sympathy. (Compare with my comments on Tipoo Sultan next time).

Anyway, after rambling for a couple of days, spending most of the first day with a couple of charming and slightly crazy Englishwomen (hi, Stephi!), and visualising much of how the place must have looked when it was still standing, it was time to move on. And so I booked a train to Mysore. Minor adventures later (including missing a connection due to a delayed train and having to work my way through the Indian railway system and work out how to get a refund, and having to jump off a moving train),. I am now in Mysore. The first thing I did after arriving was had a nice warm shower - which felt absolutely delightful (for those of you keeping score, I'd spent three days out of four sleeping on public transport and no actual warm showers since I've arrived in India). But with three days out of four on public transport, I'm sleeeepy, So more next time.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b4/Ugranarasimha_statue_at_Hampi.JPG
I hadn't realised before I set off quite what a buzz just getting my backpack down from its cubby hole would be, not to mention setting off to Heathrow Airport with a two thirds full hiking rucksack on my back. You never know how much you've missed something until you come to do it again. On a tangent I bought both the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide guides to India (plus a couple of more focussed books). I massively recommend the Lonely Planet over the Rough Guide in this case - the Rough Guide reads to me as if it was written by someone who disliked India. Which makes it twice the pity that my Lonely Planet is in the departure lounge of Heathrow Terminal 3.

When I set off, I worked to the plan that with an 11 hour overnight flight I could sleep on the plane and rely on the time lag to catch me up on sleep. About all I'll say about that plan is that sleeping with the person behind you playing overloud Bolywood over their speakers so you can just about make out the words isn't easy. And that Star Trek XI was an entertaining film to watch again - and Wolverine was pointless. (That said, they've massively improved the film choice since last time I flew long-haul as you can now choose your own film rather than having to watch the same thing. But 24 Series 1 is not IMO good for plane audiences). So I had a very early night last night and am still massively jetlagged. And I'd forgotten how pretty towns were at night from the air. And Dubai looks as if it was designed to be seen from the air rather than somewhere that looks lived in. Especially the palm trees and map of the world made out of islands. Ack. (There was a lot of cloud cover meaning I didn't see much even when I'd decided I couldn't sleep.

Anyway, I am now in Mumbai and staying at the Salvation Army Hostel (the first two hotels I tried not having room). Mumbai appears to be a large bustling multicutural city with quite a lot going on, open markets down a lot of streets and many beggars. I live in London. Therefore I leave for Goa tomorrow night on the Sleeper train. (Meaning I'll get to find out if I'm any better at sleeping on trains than I was on planes). I'm slightly irritated not to have arrived a day earlier than I did - some of the residents here spent the day as an extra in a Bolywood Movie (which I may try to see if I can do when I get back). On one note, the traffic in Mumbai isn't half as bad as its reputation - I'd much rather cross a busy road in Mumbai than in London (Mumbai drivers are more used to crazy pedestrians) and far far rather cross one in Mumbai than Paris. The architecture is. I have no other way to describe it - it seems to make London's seem rational and coherent. Which is the way any big city ought to be. (Building by building isn't particularly interesting - nothing has so far stood out).

Anyway, next stop Goa. Where there won't be too much of an update - Goa is the perfect area in India for stopping and relaxing, which is exactly what the doctor ordered. I haven't had a holiday in months.
About to board flight for India. I intend to post a travellog. I'll be back in three weeks.

:(

Aug. 20th, 2009 10:41 am
Off work - probable swine flu.

Oh joy!

May. 8th, 2009 04:49 pm
Just spent 15 minutes stuck in the lift. And the alarm system wasn't working. Fun, fun, fun.

Moving on

Oct. 16th, 2008 07:42 pm
I've got a new job - at Guy's Hospital setting up an information team for their Urology department. (Yes, the jokes are obvious). Better hospital, better location, better pay, more interesting job (I trust). And also an easier commute.
Yesterday I went to see the RSC perform the Taming of the Shrew in Stratford upon Avon. It was played uncut, very straight, and performed extremely well with all the characters being more than understandable. At a technical level I would therefore have to give it full marks. I have just one basic question about the performance.

Why would anyone want to watch a play like that?
Read more... )

Bah

Jul. 13th, 2008 09:04 pm
Made it half way to Pembury, felt sick and ill, and so turned round and came home.

Apparently

Jul. 1st, 2008 11:16 am
I've got hyperventilation, and the worst possible thing for me is to be off work and rather than reducing my normal level of activity I should have been increasing it. So I've just wasted the last six weeks of my life... At least it's not as serious as I thought it was.
First available appointment with a consultant: July 1st.
For those of you who haven't seen me recently, I've been ill for the past few weeks with a respiratory condition. And the local GPs appear to be utterly useless.
Happy birthday [livejournal.com profile] loreid

Happy birthday [livejournal.com profile] livredor

Happy birthday [livejournal.com profile] nitoda
I've just been messed around by two letting agents for about three weeks - the first took a deposit and then gave the flat to someone else and the second faffed around then lied about the terms and conditions (again, the deposit will be refunded).

Therefore I need somewhere in London (within striking distance of either Eltham or Woolwch) for a couple of weeks before the new attempt at renting goes ahead - could one of the various Londoners on my friends list help out please?.
I've just submitted my resignation to TRL as I have a new job at Queen Elizabeth's hospital, London (the poster child for PFI deficits). It wasn't a hard choice to make, and I'm moving back to London in the next month or so.
The missing Flanders and Swann album has been found on E-Bay - and partly to prevent a bidding war between sections of my Flist, I thought it would be a good idea to form a syndicate to buy the thing. (And then MP3 it for whoever doesn't get the LP).
Organising arguable piracy underneath )
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