"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

shopping

Away Days: Retail Therapy?

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I did not enter any of the exclusive designer, shopping outlets.
My life on an NHS pension is perfectly comfortable,
but not outrageously so.

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(The harmonies in “For all I want is you” still gets to me after all these decades..)

Picture taken in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, the world’s oldest shopping arcade.


Draped

My dining room curtains were not fit for purpose.
They were intended for neither the room nor the house in which they hang.

Last week the drapes were formally retired, along with their ugly metal supporting rail.
Yesterday my carpenter fitted a new wooden curtain pole.

Today we hired an auto-rickshaw, braved the monsoon, and hit the mainland in search of textiles.

My upholsterer hopes to have the new curtains in place by Monday..
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Pictures taken in the fabrics department of Kalyan Silks, one of Cochin’s biggest textile stores.

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Sunday Evening Calls

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Picture of a corner-shop, taken in Pattalam, Fort Cochin


Old Spice

Inside one of the many spice shops of Broadway, Cochin:

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The amazing blends of sweet, tangy aromas were quite intoxicating.
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Christmas Cakes

Before the clock struck eight this morning,
Anu had summoned an auto-rickshaw to the house.
We were off to the local shops.


On Christmas Eve, as soon as the bakery opens, I buy Christmas cakes.
It’s a bulk purchase:
for ourselves
and for small thank-you gifts,
to the many people who, with Shaji Dalila and Anu, keep our household running smoothly throughout the year.

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Pictures taken in the Muslim Bakery, Kunnumpuram, Fort Cochin.


Challenge And Choice

I had to make my own early-morning tea today:
A challenge I haven’t faced in some time!

Fortunately, it’s a temporary hardship.
Anu, my house-boy, is taking a two-day holiday with his family. They are guests at a typical “big fat” Indian wedding.

As in the West, the arrival of wedding invitations focuses a guest’s mind on choosing the gift.
In this case, purchasing a silk sari.

 A daunting challenge for Anu, but gentle amusement for the shop assistants,

Who modelled the saris,

And, very demurely, flirted with him.

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Pictures taken in Kalyan Silks, Cochin


Open All hours

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And ready for business.
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The Temple Approach

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From breakfast in Thanjavur to the grand and ancient temple of Trichy

The temple approach provides a thriving business enterprise zone.
All is for sale:

From kitchen utensils

To human hair, newly shorn from the faithful – an act of religious piety.

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Everyone appears to be involved

In either shopping,

Or fixing deals:

A heaving mass of bustling commerce which the children sit back and enjoy.

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Temple Traders

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Finally we had arrived in Hampi,
The primary goal of our travels. 

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Hampi is a city long deserted.
All that remains are the ancient stone temples and palaces: some remarkably intact; others in various degrees of dilapidation.
But the vast site provides excellent opportunities for those wishing to make money,
From both tourists and pilgrims.

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Family businesses

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And children’s market stalls:

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Young men

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And old men:

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All ply their trades

In an exotic world where religious piety and financial profit seem reluctant to part.

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Twilight Traders

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We had experienced the magic of its palace and the piety of its temples. Our time in Mysore was almost over.
After taking our last evening meal in one of the city’s many restaurants, we walked back to the hotel through the city’s dark but still crowded streets.

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In India, even at night, the shops remain busy.

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The Journey Is The Destination: Part 3

The attraction of spiritual accessories

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Picture taken on my travels in Karnataka


Broadway Calls Again!

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The lure of Broadway is undeniable.

This time, for something called a “chappati cutting board”.

Although not having a clue what it is, I am certainly not going to argue if Dalila says we need one!

The shop in Broadway is filled to capacity with various kitchen utensils including, it seems, an appropriate chappati cutting board.


We make our purchase and then,

Passing all manner of imponderable wares,

Head back to our taxi.

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Just a few hours later Anu, my trusty houseboy, is using the new chappati cutting board to prepare our supper.

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Shopping For Shoes

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My sister is shopping for shoes.

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Not for herself

But for her four lovely daughters.

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Perhaps to the relief of my brother-in-law,

This time, her shopping list does not include shoes for all ten of their grandchildren.

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Retail Details

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“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

Bo Derek

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Dawn Traders

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Shops and road-side cafés in India are open for long hours.

By half past six in the morning – as dawn breaks – they are already busy.

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By seven o’clock,

Business is solar-powered.

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Shopping For Saris

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Next Wednesday is Dalila’s birthday.

Yesterday Anu and I went across to the mainland, ostensibly to buy fabrics to re-cover the diwan and dining room chairs.

In reality, Dalila’s birthday pressed heavily on our minds. We were acutely aware of past inadequacies and humiliations.

With skilled help, Anu and I both felt the only way was up.

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Kalyan Silks sells the best textiles in Cochin and has two floors devoted to saris.

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But I had failed to think it through:  Two floors devoted to saris.

We were totally overwhelmed.

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Beautiful, elegant and amused, female shop assistants ask if they can help.


– Who are we buying for? A bride?-

– No. Our wonderful cook –

– How old is she? –

Anu is flummoxed. But I have many years of professional training behind me and flatter myself into thinking I’m a shrewd judge of age.

(I also know the age of her sons.)

I hazard an expert opinion.

We are led to countless rows of saris, deemed suitable for Dalila. As an act of charity, a male shop assistant is summoned to help us out.

I choose a sari for Dalila. Anu chooses his gift.

We are almost finished but I know that every sari has a dedicated choli.

The material fortunately includes its matching length for a top.

– You want a blouse lining? –

Um..

– This material is see through –

Yes. We need a blouse lining.

– You want a skirt lining? –

Definitely!

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Trust me:

After this, choosing soft furnishings is a doddle.

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Photographs taken by me in Kalyan Silks. Art work taken, without permission, from the Kalyan Silks website


The Diversities Of Spending

A walk in Fort Cochin

Always offers

The opportunity to spend.

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To spend uncounted years of pain

Again, again, and yet again

In working out in heart and brain

The problem of our being here,

To gather facts from far and near

Upon the mind to hold them clear,

And knowing more may yet appear

Until one’s latest breath to fear

The premature result to draw –

Is this the object, end, and law,

And purpose of our being here?

Arthur Hugh Clough

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The Ghosts Of Christmas Shopping

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As the decades slip past, Christmas shopping can be strangely poignant:

Ghosts of Christmas Past, that we think lie safely buried, merely rest.

They are always ready to be conjured up.

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“My fiftieth year had come and gone,

I sat, a solitary man,

In a crowded London shop,

An open book and empty cup

On the marble table-top.”

From Vacillation IV,  by William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

 

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The Race To Christmas

The race for Christmas and all its dreams has started.

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The fine tuning of my athletic frame and focused mind are almost complete.

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“A sari for Dalila, a dhoti for Shaji”

Anu and I have spent weeks psyching-up and are trained in the necessary teamwork skills.

But a man in his fifties and boy in his teens may not be the ideal couple for sari shopping.

Confidence peaks too quickly:

“You think Dalila like this colour, Papa?”

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

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“More baubles for the Christmas tree”


“And paper stars for the roof terrace”

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Thank goodness!

We’re on the home-straight.

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Getting Down To Brass Tacks

This morning was spent at our local brass emporium.

Some small but perfect objet d’arte is needed as the final touch to a guest bedroom.

Sadly, I could not persuade myself that this satisfied the list of requirements.

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“Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away.” Sir Thomas Beecham

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Pot Luck

 

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The monsoon has now departed.

At its height, flapping bamboo blinds on our roof terrace toppled and cracked some of the pots.

It is time to replace them.

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An auto rickshaw brought us to the local terracotta outlet.

Distrustful of the weather, the lady shop-owner has left the larger pots still covered with tarpaulins.

A few are uncovered for my inspection.

Haggling does not come naturally to me. Leaving it to the experts is simpler.

I indicate to Anu, my houseboy, which items interest me. Then bargaining begins.

The process is light-hearted. Broad smiles, ham acting, much arm waving and laughter – all appear vital to a satisfying transaction.

The auto driver and I stand back to enjoy the performance.

Having negotiated a thirty percent reduction of the asking price, both Anu and the owner appear happy.

I pay.

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We are then wedged tightly back into the auto, amidst our fragile goods and cardboard protective padding. Pots and decorative finials are clutched between our arms and thighs. The driver very carefully manoeuvres us home, avoiding pot-holes wherever possible.

Somehow, we and our purchases arrive intact.

The pots are washed and put aside until roof terrace repainting is completed.

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On Broadway

Broadway calls me.

Broadway, Cochin – that is.

 

Having crossed the water we arrive at the Ernakulam jetty,

 

Then take the short auto-rickshaw ride to Broadway.

 

I want to buy Christmas cards.  Anu needs an apron.

We enter one of the many narrow-fronted shops.

Anu completes his purchase.

Slowly we negotiate our way down congested Broadway to buy my cards.

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The return ferry does not leave for another thirty minutes. We have ample time to walk back to the jetty.

Shops and godowns line our Broadway route. Spices, metal-ware, Christmas decorations and almost everything one could wish to buy all jostle for my attention.

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“if you ask for a bat, or for something like that, he has got it what ever the size is.”  A. A. Milne.

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Another Broadway spectacular.



Little Pharma

Here in India, I self-prescribe. Everything I request is supplied with a smile.

Powerful intravenous antibiotics, needles, syringes, analgesics, statins and anti-inflammatory steroids: all have been purchased over the counter.

This is an excellent service.

But I wonder about its implications.

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The Pleasures Of Food Shopping

I love Kerala food.

This is probably just as well. Outside of the tourist restaurants, there is little else to eat.

Increasing age brings a somewhat jaded palate. Kerala cuisine, with its abundant use of local produce such as cardamom, black peppers, ginger, garlic and coconut, is an excellent restorative to the fading sense of taste. Dalila, my cook, can always tempt me with her amazing dishes.

But there are two things I miss:

Bacon:

and European cheeses.

Both have fiercely strong tastes. They are almost pungent.

Here bacon is unheard of.

The locally available cheese is processed and bland, having a slightly plastic taste and consistency.

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Last week I came across an article in The Hindu, one of India’s national English language newspapers.

It featured “Gourmet House”, a local shop specialising in imported foods.

They sell European cheeses.

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This morning saw me riding pillion on a friends motorbike, across to the mainland. I carried a small back-pack.

Stepping into Gourmet House, I felt like a child walking into in a toy-shop at Christmas.

Here was everything I had missed and many items I hadn’t even dreamt of missing.

Half an hour and Rs. 2,250 ( £30 or $50) later, I emerged.

At home I unpacked my luxuries:

Fine blackcurrant jam, Scottish marmalade, sliced pepperoni, Lee & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, pickled gherkins, back bacon,

and cheese.

Mature English cheddar, Red Leicester, French Camembert and Danish Blue.

Combining these culinary treasures with the excellent local bread I have recently sourced, my future lunchtime snacks may be more gourmand than gourmet.

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With thanks to John, my dear brother-in-law, for pointing me to this clip.

(The cartoon is taken from “The New Yorker”)

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