I have an odd approach to earning money (and spending it). Since I freelance, each article I edit has a price on its head. So I tend to think “I’ve earned Rs 1,500 over the last two days, which pays for the new cellphone I had to buy after my last one met an untimely end after a fatal encounter with azelastine, my nasal phus-phus.” Sort of seeing the trees too much and not the wood so much. Also, while I like the security of having a solid 5-figure amount in the bank, once I withdraw cash from the ATM, it’s like water. Somehow the real paper never feels as important as seeing the numbers in the account balance sheet. Why do you suppose that is? I find it very odd whenever I think about it.
Anyway, in England they give you back every single penny of your change. In fact, as soon as we arrived at Heathrow, I tried contacting an acquaintance who’d said he might be able to pick us up. I didn’t realise you had to prefix a zero to a mobile number even if it was local (you don’t in India), so my first couple of attempts were unsuccessful, and after the second try, the coin-operated phone actually returned not just my £1 coin, but an additional 10p coin. So funny! But then of course I got through to my contact (who couldn’t come anyway) and although the call only took 50p, the machine swallowed the whole £1 so overall I made a loss.
The London underground is totally amazing. There seemed to be so many different levels, one for each line, with each one invisible from the other. The system probably goes miles deep into the earth. I wonder how a cross-section of the ground below London would look. Some of the escalators were very, very high. Despite all the mechanisation, though, I realised not even in London are public transport systems totally friendly to the physically challenged. Not all stations have the escalators, and the stairs require fitness. Carting around my backpack (why are guidebooks and water so heavy?) I think I lost some weight. Next time I travel, I’ve resolved to go with a stronger, fitter person, who can carry around the maps and water and stuff, (and of course the massive amounts of change you acquire in a surprisingly short time). I shall only carry my camera and my enthusiasm.
Talking of baggage, I was lugging a load of it on the Saturday we returned from Sheffield to London. Since we arrived at King’s Cross by around 2pm, my mom (Can you believe she’s over 70?) suggested we should use the time to do some more sightseeing (it’s such an advantage having sunlight until 10pm – schedule all your higher-latitude travel in the summertime, it doubles your visiting hours). So there I was, wheeling the strolly, and packing my backpack, and we trudged to the Tower of London. The cobbles in that place really made it hard. Also, nowhere throughout the trip were we asked to (or allowed to) leave our baggage at the entry (except at the Dickens Museum).
I was also carrying a load of emotional baggage (colonial hangups), as I realised after we saw the Royal jewels. The sight of the Kohinoor made me want to return to India and start up a petition for its return. First, it was taken from India, and then we travel all the way and pay for the privilege of seeing it!!! Of all the nerve…
We met this Yeoman guard:
Who said his grandfather had been in the Indian Army and his father had studied in a place which is now in Pakistan. Of course, when you meet individuals, it’s hard to maintain any anger or prejudice (unlike when you think of the country or race). So we took a nice happy picture together. (Of course it was before I saw the Kohinoor).
My mom is carrying a usual bag from Sainsbury’s (she insisted on buying vegetables all the time so we could have Indian food after reaching home at 10 or 11 in the evening). Western food is good for breakfast and maybe lunch, but you start craving the salt and the hot by night time. (Except I bought a mix for Yorkshire pudding and was disappointed to find it salty when I baked it here in Cochin. Perhaps it is dunked in jam or something for eating? Odd when most of the other baked stuff we encountered in the trip was sweet).
Oh, and that sweater is my handknit. Seen here way back when. Ruth was nice enough not to fall about laughing when she saw it. (Of course she’s got the baby to think of, but you know.) Came in useful, though.
And I thought this was an interesting sight:
That er, cigar-shaped building (one of London’s famous landmarks) with the hoary Tower edifices on either side. I keep forgetting what it is called. Most of Central London, though, is still nicely older architecture and I was especially pleased that even shops didn’t deface the fronts, and were simple. Bombay would do well to follow suit.