An elegant sufficiency

Monday, March 31, 2008

Into the Desert

Mid afternoon, we turned up for our "adventure" early as usual. It bore rewards however, for not only were we assigned seats in the first convoy of vehicles, in car #1 indeed, but we were in the care of Dinar, driver in chief and leader of the pack! There were three convoys of ten vehicles taking different routes but meeting up later for drinks and supper.

We set off down an unassuming motorway, like all areas of Dubai there was some building work going on everywhere we looked. 20km down the road, we took an exit slip road and voila! no road!

First thing to do was to let air out of the tyres - 50%. We all scrambled out to have our first step onto the sand and to marvel at the sights around us.

I could not believe the patterns created by the wind on the soft sand and the shapes and soft curves of the dunes, stretching off as far as the eye could see. This was a magical place.

The fun was just starting however, for no sooner had we set off on the sand, driving surface as slippy as ice, than Dinar gave a little chuckle and whoops! over the dune we shot - WOW!

We slid sideways down some, drove along the side of others at 45 degrees, bounced up and down and giggled like children as we did so. We stopped to look at others in the convoy, watching with amazement as they took the route we had just created, sometimes hovering on the brink of the top of the dune and creating an almightly sand cloud behind them as they slithered down the other side.

We stopped at a camel farm to take pictures but really wanted to play some more - and Dinar was only too happy to oblige!

After another hour (seemed like ten minutes) we met the rest of the convoy for drinks "at the Sunset Bar" - a carpet on the desert - and drank champagne as the sun went down. Absolutely amazing.

But there was one more surprise. Over the dunes, about ten minutes away, a "village" had been set up and as the darkness fell, we left the cars and walked down into a spot lit by oil lamps, with carpets and music playing.

A barbecue had been set up and there was supper on offer, wine to drink and activities to try - camel rides, hubblebubble pipes, dressing up (!) and henna painting.

After supper, the belly dancers came on and put on a fantastic show and surprisingly, unbelievably and thankfully, we didn't get to make fools of ourselves by having to join in!!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dubai Morning

We didn't really know what to expect from the place, even though we'd attended a lecture earlier in the week and seen slides of some of these amazing buildings which are appearing here. So opening the curtain this morning to find a kind of Emerald City in the mists on the horizon, we looked forward to getting into this amazing city to see what's what.

Arriving in port is always exciting and there was a buzz of anticipation during breakfast time. We'd booked an orientation tour and jumped on a coach with about 30 of our shipmates and set off with Samir, our guide, along what must be the fastest-changing roadside collection of skyscrapers in the world. All the superlatives were here - the fastest built skyscraper, the tallest, the most expensive, the highest number of cranes in the world, alongside banners advertising the sale of apartments in one or other "sold out in 1 hour"!

First stop was the Burj al Arab hotel - 7 stars and not for the likes of us. We simply stopped by the promenade and took photos. Onto a mosque and more photo opportunities - losing one of the bunch along the way. Seems as though this particular elderly gentleman has a habit of wandering off and "has history" - in spite of a lengthy search he was nowhere to be found and we left without him!

Next stop, the Dubai Museum - a really interesting collection of life size sets of shops and scenes from everyday life. Dimly lit, it gave a really good impression of how things were before the transformation into the 21st century city began and we thought it great.

Not everyone felt the same though: "Jim,'s dark in here, I can't see anything!! I don't like it..." Oh, for heaven's sake!

Final stop was the souks - the spice souk and then the gold souk. Once again, a few souls made unintentional bids for escape by not listening to instructions - I think this was the most tiresome aspect of the morning and once or twice, Mark had to do a little rounding up of little grey haired old ladies who then followed his every step to make sure they didn't get left behind again!

Did we buy? No gold jewellery, that's for sure. But we were pleased to grab a bag of cashews, a box of sandalwood incense, some sweet aniseeds and a pot of sweet curry masala. Oh, and 10g of saffron, too. We prefer the edible gold!

Next adventure - wadi bashing as we head out into the desert this afternoon in a 4WD. We're headed for a bedouin camp and fun is promised...

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Craft Class

On days at sea, a craft class takes place at 3pm and a bunch of assorted all-comers are welcomed into a corner of the restaurant by the very friendly and welcoming tutor M.

The first class I joined was a one-off project - a brooch or fridge magnet made from Crayola Model Magic. We all copied M's design, generally speaking, and as I sat, keeping my own counsel, I found it interesting to meet my classmates. As the hour drew to a close, it was clear that I had made some kind of commitment, for several of them waved me goodbye and looked forward to seeing me tomorrow.

So, I dutifully turned up the next day, to find that this was going to be the start of a longer project - a Kantha quilt. I said nothing which might reveal my background but followed M's instructions and very gratefully accepted free access to her "ragbag" of remnants she'd bought in Singapore. Magpie that I am, this was a real treat!

I quite liked what resulted, enjoyed the therapy of simple stitching and am pleased to have a little stitched souvenir of the trip. I enjoy sitting and chatting to a different group of people and of course, it's always interesting to see what happens when a bunch of stitchers are given the same materials and the same instructions - something totally different always appears!


Life on Board

A trip on board this luxurious ship would confirm every prejudice about cruises and the people who take them! The population is primarily American, mostly elderly and some 400 of the 750 are booked on the full, round the world trip. Some began their journey earlier still - one chap who joined the craft class today had begun the journey in Fort Lauderdale on December 21st and will finish his cruise at the end of April.

Quite how they do it, I have no idea, for luxurious as it is, it isn't home and one could tire of certain aspects. Too much of a good thing, perhaps.

But a certain culture seems to have been created and as an incomer for only a short part of the journey, it's interesting to step back and observe.

Those who are booked to travel the whole journey are endowed with a "World Cruise 2008" name plate for their door. Of this select group, many bear further trophies in the form of name plates from previous World Cruises. In addition, many doors have collections of keepsakes from places along the way.

Regardless of nationality, wealth, age or experience however, we all find ourselves in one particular room. This is the great place to catch up on the gossip, encounter interesting folks with tales to tell and at times, it's the most popular place on the ship.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dubai here we come

As the sun set, we stood on our balcony with a glass of champagne and watched as the crew became more and more agitated over the late arrival of several passengers. There was a lot of hanging around as everyone waited...

and waited....

The band on the quayside exhausted their repertoire and began to repeat Dire Straits numbers as finally, three or four coaches sped around the corner and screeched to a halt by the embarkation ramp. Not so quick, however, was the process of getting everyone on, for several of these latecomers were elderly and infirm and hurry up wasn't an option.

Finally, some 45 mins late, we sailed for Dubai. We have two days and three nights to make up lost time!

We really enjoyed our short time in Mumbai and feel that we're ready for another, longer, trip to India before long.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

A morning walk

An hour or two this morning gave us a chance to go out and see a little of the city. Since we'd visited the usual tourist sights on a previous trip, we chose to walk straight past the Chhashivaji maharaj vastu sangrahalaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum) and instead, observe the daily life around us.

Some considerable contrasts here - the city is dusty and not exactly sparkly clean, and yet as the workers streamed out of the buses and trains they were remarkably well pressed and smartly dressed. Even at this early hour, it was hot and sticky and we felt far from crisp ourselves!

Every second shop front was full of adverts for mobile phones, for internet and technology of some kind. And yet, there on the street, life was a little more basic for some.

The business dress of the men - pastel shirts and flannels - was in sharp contrast to that of the women who wore the most beautifully coloured sarees and shalwar kameez.

Standing in the Chhatrapati Sivaji Station, formerly known as the Victoria Terminus (VT), we wondered how it was that most of the brightly dressed women got off the train first and stole a march on the rest of the trainfull of passengers. In the five minutes we stood there, several trains came in and went out, giving us ample opportunity to spot the sign on the first carriage, marking it out for women only.

As we stood there, quietly observing the comings and goings, men hurried past us with baskets on their heads, water dripping down their neck from whatever it was inside.

Taking a left turn heading back to our hotel, we walked past the grounds of the
Bombay Gymkhana

The clubhouse looked as though it had been lifted straight from a Home Counties Village Green!

Finally, I had a mission to resolve. Working on my journal last evening, I discovered that I had left behind my hole punch and a glue stick. Surely somewhere along this street, I would be able to buy replacements? The first place looking anything vaguely like a stationers we saw was a simple hole in the wall type of place, with piles of paper and notebooks. It was worth asking though - and my request was greeted with a nod and immediate presentation of exactly what I was looking for from the shelves to the side of the tiny counter. One single hole punch and two glue sticks - a total cost of 98Rp, which, with 70 Rp to a £, is a bargain by any standards, I reckon.

Delightful service with a smile, too.

We continued back to the Apollo Bunder and mooched around the local tourists who were doing what all tourists do. Taking photos and enjoying being here, just like us.


Up and at 'em

Mumbai is waking up rather slowly this morning. We are bright eyed, bushy tailed and raring to go!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Mumbai

It's always good to sleep enough on the plane so that upon waking, I'm surprised that we're nearly there! So it was this morning, when the Captain switched on the cabin lights and alerted us to the fact that in just over an hour, we'd be there.

India is such an amazing place, chaotic, spirited and colourful. So disorganised and yet there's a kind of order somewhere in here. And we had forgotten the curious little phrases painted on the vehicles which are somehow held together - but who knows how?

The journey from the airport to our hotel was time to refresh one or two memories and to lead us gently into the short blast of sensory overdose we'll get in the next 24 hours.

Yes, we felt excited to be back even if the 32km journey took us almost two hours!

You might describe the traffic as "heavy".

So, it was a kind of relief when our room wasn't ready and we could go into the coffee shop and order something on the house, to refresh and revive us. This Rose Falooda was absolutely delicious - cool and refreshing with the added surprise of a kind of turkish delight at the bottom. Not only that, but the pink matched the label on the bottle of Himalayan Water perfectly!

Going up to our room at last, we discovered that we haven't got much of a view... (This is the Gateway to India, btw)

We've investigated the 12 restaurants: European, Mediterranean, Chinese, Grills, Pool Bar, Snacks, International Haute Cuisine, etc etc - and have booked a table in the Indian restaurant. Now that's inventive, isn't it?!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A little knowledge

Isn't it interesting how a little knowledge and limited resources makes us more creative than a whole studio full of stuff? I wonder if I sometimes can't see the wood for the trees and intend to simplify my approach now I've got the time to develop some ideas.

Take last week for example. Though I had done a bit of spiral rope beading before, an hour's "Make and Take" workshop in Glasgow refreshed my memory of how to do it and I quickly finished a little bracelet to go into my bag of judging samples.

Evenings around the table at the cottage whilst at Birmingham provoked us all to do something - and since I'd been knitting at times throughout the day, I can't say the needles called. Anyway, we were all infected by Lisa's new enthusiasm for beading, inspired by our friends from Alice in Tokyo on the stand opposite.
Then, in the box of beading stuff I'd taken for Lisa, I found a couple of pots of beads which I thought I'd try mixing together for another bit of spiral rope.

This is the result. More beading than I've done in ages. Possibly a more adventurous combination than I'd have gone for had I been able to access the huge drawer of beads I have stashed away here "for that particular project". No book meant that I simply had to get on and do it and never mind the consequences.
A lesson learned.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Quite a week

It's been quite a week, with not much time to think but certainly one to remember. Much of it is recorded elsewhere, so rather than repeat myelf I'll simply add links. At times, during the last few weeks, I felt my life was something like the picture above!

Coming home from Birmingham was great. Not that the exhibitions haven't been great fun and so hugely rewarding, but there's no place like home. In particular, there is nowhere to sleep quite as comfortably as in my own bed!

Monday and Tuesday were days to sort out, to catch up and most importantly, to make sure everything was in place for Wednesday. That was the day of the big meeting, the sell out event with a full Town Hall and eminent speakers. My Swansong.

It would be wrong to say I was nervous. Having got two of these events under my belt, I know that it's a bit like leaving on holiday. Get the thing started and anything that's been forgotten or omitted is simply hard luck. I knew that I had Liz there for me, secretary and veteran of many such occasions and I was confident that she had thought of everything. I had written and tweaked my speech, gone through the timed agenda over and over again to make sure nothing was forgotten and taken out a couple of phrases which I knew would prove too emotional to speak out loud. I had checked everything I could think of. But having said that, I was conscious that having been away from home for a couple of weeks, I hadn't quite got all my ducks in a row as I'd normally have. Most important, I had no shoes to wear!

So, on Monday I went shoe shopping.

On Tuesday I had my hair done and bumped into so many friends in Cirencester, all of whom were looking forward to the meeting and who said how sad they were that I was coming to the end of my three years. I guess that was the first hint of what lie in store for me the following day. Edward came home on Tuesday evening and his presence was a great distraction from the big day ahead.

I felt calm on Wednesday morning and confident that everything would go smoothly. A call from BBC Radio Gloucestershire at 7.15am set my nerves a-twitching - just what was the best collective noun for a large number of WI members? As soon as "my slot" was over, the phone rang and a neighbour who'd been listening said how she'd enjoyed it. By this time, I was feeling pretty shaky!
My colleagues were pulling out all the stops and putting together a fantastic show by the time I got to the Town Hall and it felt good to be part of such a terrific team. I had little to do myself, which was probably as well, since I could walk no more than a couple of steps - not because of my shoes (!) but because everyone wanted to stop and chat and to say thank you and sorry to see me go and so on. Quite amazing.

Just before we were opening the doors, the phone rang again - Radio Gloucestershire wanting a final decision on that collective noun. We settled for "A Flirtation"

The meeting itself was wonderful. Baroness Fritchie of Gloucester, local girl and a familiar face to many was so very inspiring. Understated and quietly spoken but so powerful in what she had to say. I think she left a huge impression on everyone in the audience. Anne Widdecombe was - Anne Widdecombe! Great speaker, very amusing and so eloquent without a note in sight - her performance was an entertaining start to the afternoon. she was rushing back to Westminster for a three-line-whip, so the Chief Constable spoke last. He too had thought provoking things to say - did any of us realise before then how very close we'd come to absolute disaster last year after the flood? Maybe just as well we didn't.

I was delighted to present a cheque for proceeds from our book, to the Gloucestershire Flood Relief Fund knowing there's yet more money to come!

Which brought us to the end of the meeting and the traditional thank you. I had been quite ok throughout the day, in spite of occasional thoughts which threatened to bring a tear to my eye. I was, however, totally unprepared for the response to my friend and colleague's formal "thank you" which brought everyone in the hall to their feet and that tear (and several more) to mop up.

The rosy glow of that moment has continued and I have so much appreciated cards and calls from friends with so many kind words and good wishes that I treasure. My successor has been elected and I am happy that she will do a grand job. Relieved of the day-to-day responsibility, I will have time to do more tutoring, spend time with friends and best of all, have time at home to do whatever takes my fancy! Not only that, but all those friends will still be there as well.

So, Thursday was relatively quiet, except that in the evening I'd been invited to celebrate an 85th birthday in the company of a local celebrity. That was fun!

And on Friday, I was amused to hear the party referred to on BBC Radio 4! We sat listening as snow/hail pelted down leaving the garden room roof white over for a (very) sort time.

Who would have thought that Good Friday would be colder and more wintry than Christmas Day?

How very much I'm looking forward to my holiday next week! I won't miss the pots and pans and assorted paraphernalia which made up that amazing display in Habitat in Cheltenham this morning. Quite reminiscent of an Anthropologie display, I thought. (Oh dear, in getting that link I note they're now shipping to the UK...that's pretty dangerous)

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