My son and his wife are still with me.
The evening climate is warm and welcoming.
Our garden supper, in an elegant restaurant, was the excellent end to a gentle day.
I opted for a rich, cheese and tomato, home-made ravioli.
“The children” both settled on “fisherman’s dream”, a medley of sea-food, served on basmati rice, with a coconut-based, curry sauce.
Their chosen dessert: miniature chocolate samosas, accompanied by fresh mango coulis.
“The journey is the reward.” Taoist saying
We set out.
Mindful that these are times of great austerity, I travel light: just my driver, Babu, and house-boy, Anu, will attend me.
They sit in front. I recline sideways across the back seat, with the aid of two specially purchased cushions.
It occurs to me that I have adopted the regal posture of H.M. The Queen, sitting side-saddle, as she reviewed the Trooping of the Colour. Such are the indignities of age and infirmity.
We take our food in road-side restaurants.
The roads are largely unsigned and often deeply pot-holed after the recent monsoon.
Babu and Anu chatter quietly but excitedly in the front, while I take in the sights or gently snooze.
Indian driving is unlike that in the West. Even if the Highway Code is known, it is seldom followed.
Fortunately Babu is calm and measured. When forced to brake suddenly he does not shout or curse, but looks ruefully at me through the rear mirror, saying “I am sorry, Sir”.
Similarly, Anu regularly turns round to face me and enquires, “You are alright, Papa?”
Dalila and Shaji, my other house staff, call Anu from time to time, checking on our progress and ensuring that “Sir is OK”.
We are starting a five-day tour of Malabar. I hope to meet a couple of friends on the trip but the main purpose of our journey is just the joy of travel.
“to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” Robert Louis Stevenson.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
With thanks to John, my dear brother-in-law, for pointing me to this clip.
(The cartoon is taken from “The New Yorker”)