Thursday, 29 November 2012

Back in the game

Last week I was asked if I wanted to play badminton on a Wednesday in Galashiels with others in the same age bracket as myself. I last picked up a badminton racket some 12 years ago and gave it up as my leg could no longer sustain the kind of pressure that was demanded of it and I was a bit sick and tired of taking pain killers before and after I went. Nevertheless, I was definitely interested.

Much as I enjoy going to indoor bowls I don't get the same buzz as rushing around a court. Also, I've had to give up zumba due to my ankle injury that hasn't healed as quickly or as well as I'd have liked and, because zumba has lots of movement that stressed my ankle, my physio told me it wasn't wise to do it anymore... of course this was after I bought the shoes specially for it, but that's another story.

So yesterday morning saw me ready with my leg brace, my sports bra, badminton racket (No. 1 son's spare I found in the roof as I couldn't find my own) and all the other paraphernalia I needed to go and play.

I'm so pleased I did and, a bit like riding a bike, it only took a couple of hits and misses before I was back in the game - though I did get slightly irritated at having an enforced coffee break half way through, which is not my thing.

What I realise is the tempo of play amongst the good ladies of Galashiels is somewhat different to the phrenetic pace I used to play at. And I'm pleased to report my leg was just fine. The only problem was the rest of my body as I awoke this morning to feeling I had used muscles that haven't been used in a very, very long time!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Something for Xmas?

Today, while searching for something completely different, I came upon a rather intriguing object on Amazon and it certainly got me wondering.

It's a Five Year Diary.

Okay, I can hear you saying, what's the problem? But friends, this is no ordinary Five Year Diary, no... this is a used Five Year Diary and its condition is, according to the sellers, 'Acceptable'. And the price I'm hearing you ask?  £1.50 + £1.26 UK delivery.

What's even stranger is that there's another used Five Year Diary for sale and this one is a hefty £24.00 + £1.26 UK delivery. I'm not 100% sure that having it in 'Very Good' condition makes it that much better than its rival, but I'm sure there must be reasons.

Given that you can buy a new Five Year Diary for £3.33 and it does come complete with a pencil and padlock (alright well it does have the slight downside of being a One Direction Secret Diary - and I'm sure anyone in their right mind who bought one of these would want it to remain a secret) I think I must be missing the point here. 

Please someone, tell me who buys this stuff?

And just in case you don't believe me, here's the link .

Monday, 26 November 2012

Mirror, mirror

Recently I've been wondering about the mirrors in my house.

I've noticed that if in my bathroom mirror my image looks reasonable and then I go downstairs and on my way out have a quick look in the mirror in the utility room I look, well... like I could do a whole lot better (I'm being kind to myself here folks). I then go back upstairs to see if a bit of hair alteration or make-up will make me look ok, and once again the mirror in the bathroom shows me as looking presentable at the very least. What's going on here?

I do realise this sounds like I'm looking in the mirror a lot, but I'm not, really I'm not. It's just that I don't want to go out looking like a complete dork and, given that my hair is pretty dorkish to start with and my nose is a bit crooked and my eyes seem to be getting smaller by the year while my ears get bigger, I'm already starting out on a dork scale of pretty much high. I'd much rather have a quick look and an adjustment to bring me down to dork scale medium to low if at all possible.

I've decided the mirror in the utility room has it in for me and I'm not even going to have a lookette in it anymore. I can't afford this running up and down the stairs before going out, let alone the trauma of the dorkfactor 10 out of 10 I'm presented with. No. I shall resist all temptation and go with the one in the bathroom. At least that one seems to like me.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Nell is still with us

After working this morning I rushed home to plug in the tv and sit on the new sofa... just because I could. I'm so pleased we bought it and I've now decided it's not the desk that needs moving, but the lamp. No doubt a new home will be found for that soon.

The only thing I have discovered is that we have dog hairs on the sofa... and they're definitely Nell's.

I can't believe how many of Nell's hairs are still around. She died in June and yet here we are in November and still with dog hair coming out of the woodwork, so to speak... and honestly I promise I have vacuumed since June. But it's funny that none of the older chairs have her hairs on them, just my lovely new sofa. Mmmm.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Sofa saga... a happy ending

I'm really pleased to be able to report that the sofa has arrived and more than that it's just lovely.

This wasn't what I said when I walked in the door and realised that it didn't seem to fit the way round I'd thought. Living in an old church that has rather strange pillars at odd angles doesn't help. But of course the whole point of getting a modular sofa was so that it could be moved around easily. We had to try several permutations and move tables, lamps, the tv and a desk, but I'm very happy with the end result.

One not quite so small problem is that now I have to find a new home for the desk. But at least I'll be able to do so from the comfort of my new, very squashy, very comfortable sofa.

Our old 3-piece 'sit up straight' suite

Our new squashy (even tho it doesn't look like it) modular sofa

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Just say no

Have you ever found saying 'no' difficult?

I find there are some situations where I struggle, but there are some where it's very easy - very, very easy indeed.

Last night my mother, who lives in London, phoned me and told me she'd solved the problem of where we're going to stay when we go to down for her 90th birthday party next March. Those of us whose presence is not just requested, but it would be on pain of death not to go, and need a bed are: Mountain Man, No's 1 and 2 Sons and me (of course). I'd told my mother not to worry about this ages ago and I'd sort it, but it seems worrying she's been doing, never mind that we still have well over four months to go.

My mother, who is quite amazing for her age, lives in a four bedroom house in Central London, but due to not being short of a bob or two and socialising most nights of the week (and days too), her clothing has exploded throughout the house and fills every available wardrobe and about 20 years ago completely took over one of the bedrooms so that now there's no bed in there, but rails and rails of clothing. This leaves one spare double bedroom and a single.

Her solution to the problem? Here we go, and I quote, 'You can sleep with me in my bed, one of the boys (aged 28 and 26) can sleep with John (Mountain Man) and the other one can have the spare room.'

I'm sure you can tell that this was one of those situations where struggling to say 'no' did not apply. I took a huge breath and very quietly, but very firmly told her what I thought of her idea.

Alternative arrangements will be made... and made soon, I can assure you of that!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Six degrees?

Last Thursday night, Peter, a friend and work colleague from Inverness, came to stay. We had a long meeting on Friday morning to discuss plans for our future workings together and then he went off for a spiritually sustaining weekend at Samye Ling, the Tibetan monastery that is round the corner to us in Scottish Border terms.

Then on Sunday Mountain Man and I, along with 8 other people, went to a lovely Vietnamese afternoon at an Edinburgh work colleague's house. This was to introduce her friend, Colin, who takes people on holidays to Vietnam, have some food, drink, chat and look at some slides of the place itself. Oh yes, and it just happened to be her birthday too, though this has absolutely nothing to do with what I want to tell you today. Somewhere during the afternoon I overheard Colin mention Samye Ling, but he went on to say other things and so didn't pick up on it.

This morning I had a card from Peter to say thanks for our hospitality and when I looked at the back I realised it had been photographed and printed by the very same Colin MM and I had met on Sunday.

Talk about connectedness! I'd say not even six degrees in this instance.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The beginning of the end?

Last night I hate to admit it but I watched X Factor after coming home from a very interesting Vietnamese afternoon in Edinburgh.

I've never really caught on to the concept of people wasting their money on voting on reality shows. On the very first Big Brother there were a lot of people who seemed to be complaining that they couldn't get through but were charged anyway and I thought then that this was all a bit of a con. Call it conspiracy or what you like, but I'm absolutely convinced that the producers of these kind of programmes call the shots and ultimately say who's going to win.

So it didn't surprise me at all that the two people in the bottom two of X Factor this week were two out of the three people who were destined to be in the final if you went by people who could actually sing. My 'conspiracy theory' says that if the producers create a whole thing around people not voting, then maybe people will actually be fooled into picking up the phone again and wasting money on what has already been decided.

Poor Ella was destined to go. Someone who could sing, who obviously has a future and so was expendable, as, sadly, is James Arthur, who can also sing and will also, in my opinion, have a future.

It didn't really matter who was knocked out, what mattered was that the public were so shocked they'd pick up the phone and start voting in their droves again. The powers-that-be needed to pull something out of the bag or they'd be in danger of this being the beginning of the end of reality shows in the format they're in now.

Cynical... sure I am!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Semi-retirement as I know it

As you know I'm semi-retired.

In March this year I was asked by a local charity, Places for People Scotland Care and Support, to become a member of their board of directors. I thought long and hard and felt, with the looming of retirement, I wanted to give something back to the career that's given me so much, so I said 'yes'.

And so on Wednesday afternoon I went off to be inducted into my new role. I emerged somewhat mentally battered and bruised at 8 o'clock at night after three and a half hours of induction and an hour and half of meeting. It was, and forgive the cliche, a baptism of fire. Thank goodness I have 2 months to recover until the next meeting!

Then on Thursday I had work, followed by co-leading a workshop, entitled 'Getting it down on paper: strategies to kick-start your creativity', with a Creative Writing Tutor from Strathclyde University for our local Borders Writers' Forum. I'm pleased to say it seemed very successful... or at least that's what they said to our faces.

A friend came to stay that night with the express purpose of having a whole morning meeting the next day to talk about our strategies for our Mindfulness work for the next couple of years. And on Friday evening I had a meeting of the Indoor Bowls Management Committee, of which I'm a member.

And that's without all the phone calls and emails I had to deal with re the NHS Education in Scotland job I've not given up for the time being, the workshop I'm doing for GP's in Edinburgh next week and the two conferences I've been asked to present at next March.

Mmmm... something tells me I don't think I've quite 'got' this semi-retirement lark...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Sofa saga

Before we went away, Mountain Man and I had come to a decision. It was time for a new sofa.

Approximately 12 years ago, when Sons 1 & 2 were young teens, they used to slob about on the very old sofa, and so we decided to buy the one we currently have so that slobbing would be to the minimum and they would be encouraged to sit up straight, thereby not ruining the cushions as they'd done with the old one.

Off we went and purchased the one we have now. A three-piece suit, comprising a sofa bed (always useful when teenagers are in the house) and 2 armchairs. And very useful and hard-wearing it's been. However, MM's and my getting older bodies have started to object to the 'sit up straight and no slobbing' suite we have and so I've been on the look out for a new one.

So a couple of months ago I started my search. I spotted one in the Heal's sale at 20% off, which just happens to be a modular corner sofa, which is flexible and can be moved around at will. The only problem was that I wasn't going to London until December (when MM and I have an Xmas party to attend and will be in London for only 24 hours), and so we'd decided to call into Heal's when we're down and make the decision then.

But on our return to this country I was in John Lewis and happened to spot another sofa (also modular, but not quite so flexible). MM was called and we gave it the 'squash test', which it passed. This one could be ordered, but wouldn't be with us until late January/early February at the earliest, because John Lewis said they can't get anything made and delivered before Xmas and then all the manufacturer's are on holiday for at least 3 weeks, hence the delivery date being so far away.

I went back on the Heal's website and looked again, and by this time the sofa had been reduced to 30% off. I loved the colours and the flexibility, but if at all possible I didn't want to go to London unless I had to. I phoned Heal's. Please could they perform a 'squash test'? They did and it was awarded a 10 out of 10 on the squash factor. But who's going to believe a sales person? I phoned friends in London. Please would they go and sit on the Heal's sofa. They did. They also awarded it 10 out of 10 and took pics and urged me to buy it.

I then asked one of them if they'd go to John Lewis in London and sit on the other one, which she very kindly did and I was informed that in no way did that one measure up to the one in Heal's for comfort, well-builtness and squashiness.

I phoned Heal's (and we're talking one day here since I'd phoned them before) and I spoke to a delightful sales woman, who informed me it was now 50% off! And so, sight unseen and totally untested by MM or me, I bought it! I realise the madness of this, but you know sometimes in life I've learned to go with my gut and then, of course, cross absolutely everything and hope I haven't made an almighty error!

Our new sofa is supposed to be coming in the next week or two. But then what was I going to do with the three-piece suite? I phoned a friend who has youngsters, but no... it wasn't for them. She suggested Gumtree.

I've always wondered if you advertise on these sites just how successful it might be and  decided now was the time to find out. So yesterday saw me creating an ad and putting it on the local Gumtree and the ad went live this morning. I didn't want paying for the suite (it's certainly well worn and a bit stained in places from the occasional lapse in concentration whilst holding wine or eating pizza) so didn't want to pay anything for the ad and just flung it out there... and this morning I had people clamouring for it!

By 10.45 am the three-piece suite had a new owner, and even though she turned up with a trailer to put it in, she went away empty trailered and will come and pick it up just before my new one arrives.

I've gone from the irritated bunny of yesterday to a smiley one today... so keep your fingers and toes crossed for me and the new sofa. I'll let you know how it works out.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Unhappy bunny

There are times when you just know things 'out there' are not going your way. Today was such a time.

I have, for the last few days, been trying to send money abroad. Now this is MY money we're talking, not anyone else's and it's sitting in MY account ready to do wtf I decide I want to do with it.

I wanted the transaction to go through smoothly so decided to call the bank the other day, which happens to be RBS. Ok - I can hear you all saying 'what you still bank with RBS?' and it's true, I do, but I have my reasons.

Anyway, the guy on the end of the phone told me that the details I had so far (Bank Account number, name and Swift Code) were not enough. I needed an IBAN number. He made an appointment for me to see someone in my local branch today. So far so good.

Except today I discovered that the country I wanted to send the money to doesn't use IBAN numbers, and that I needn't have bothered to make an appointment to see someone in my local branch, I could just have turned up. That pissed me off.

But what pissed me off even further is, that for RBS to facilitate the sending of MY money from MY account, they actually can't help at all. What they really mean by 'facilitate' is pressing the button to finally send it when I, the person who's money it is in the first place, has had to do all the work. They can't possibly find out another bank's Swift Code, nor can they find the National Clearing Code nor the currency that it's best to send it in. No dear reader, that's my job.

And what's more I have to pay for the privilege.

Definitely not a happy bunny!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

My November birthday

Today is my 11th birthday celebration of the year.

I just wanted to tell you how lucky I feel. It's a gorgeously sunny day out there, I've been given a card, had a Sunday breakfast in bed and I'm being taken out to Jamie Oliver's restaurant in Edinburgh tonight, all courtesy of my lovely husband (well, apart from the sunshine that is - obviously - not even he is that good).

The intention is to spend part of the day, before heading for Edinburgh, going for a walk and taking in some Autumn sunshine - after my Sunday ritual of listening to the Archer's first of course... there are some traditions that just don't change!

My October birthday was spent riding and climbing to The Tiger's Nest in Paro, in the warmth of the Bhutanese sunshine. I can hardly believe this was a month ago, in some ways it feels like a lifetime and in others just a day or so ago - though my very rapidly fading tan is reminding me that my holiday is just a happy memory.

The easy part for me, probably not so for the pony!

Our destination on 11th October 2012 - The Tiger's Nest, Paro

Wonder what MM will do for my final birthday celebration? And just in case you're wondering, that was, very definitely, a hint!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Indoor bowls update

I was back at indoor bowls last night, in a women's league match.

I don't quite know what happened, but I played absolutely brilliantly, which for me is pretty unusual. I played so well that my skip told me she was going to put me down for the Scottish Women's, who play on a Saturday. Sadly, on the last end I totally ballsed the whole thing up and threw two unbelievably bad shots. The invite was, I think, immediately rescinded, but for the hour and a half while my good play lasted and the invite was there it felt great!

Funnily enough I was playing against the Scottish Women players, who you might just remember I played with last year and when I couldn't throw a jack they spent time at the end showing me how to. I think last night they were regretting all that help!

My team didn't win, but we didn't lose either. It was a draw. A very close match and very enjoyable. If only every game I played was the same!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Of birthdays

Birthdays to the fore yesterday meant out for 2 meals in one day.

No. 1 Son's 28th birthday arrangements had been made. He wanted something low key, so because I had to work in the late afternoon, Mountain Man and he would go to see the new James Bond and then we were to meet up for a lovely meal in the evening after I was finished.

No. 1 Son came round first thing to get his present and do a general catch up as we haven't seen him since getting back to Scotland. We have, of course, chatted on the phone, but it's not the same. Then because Friday had been my friend Shirley's birthday and because she was busy travelling on that day, we decided to wait and go for lunch yesterday before I had to go to work. Prior to going to lunch MM was accompanying me to John Lewis to have a quick peek at a sofa that I am thinking might be for us.

All good so far.

As MM and I get off the bus and head for John Lewis I am aware I'm a bag short. Panic sets in. Did I leave Shirley's present on the bus, or did I leave it back at the house? Aware of the rising sense of, 'Oh shit what'll I do if I've left it on the bus,' we rushed round the furniture department, squished onto the sofa of choice, then I rushed off to get a bus back, fingers severely crossed, to see if the missing bag was at the house. It was! I was so relieved.

I have to add here, it's not like the present she was getting was so great, it's just that it had been sourced with care and attention and I wouldn't be able to get another in a hurry. But more importantly, Shirley and I have been using the same bag for the giving of birthday presents between us for more years than I care to say. It's our birthday ritual and I was so pleased I hadn't ruined the ritual by a random act of carelessness.

Then I had to run off to get another bus into town to make it for lunch, birthday bag severely clutched in my hand. Shirley and I had decided on Jamie's Italian (Jamie Oliver's restaurant) in Rose Street as we'd passed it a few times before, but we've never been in.

A couple of minutes before midday we met outside to find the place shut. As we were wondering what time they actually opened a small queue was forming behind us, luckily some saying they'd booked a table for 12 so they were sure it would open then. The manager seemed a touch taken aback at the amount of people waiting on a freezing, Edinburgh Monday, but was equally delighted that her establishment would be full.

I can highly recommend Jamie's Italian. It wasn't cheap, but not also not expensive. The food was delicious, the atmosphere great. I'd definitely go again. In fact I've blatantly said to MM that I would like to go there for my November Birthday. I don't do subtle terribly well!

Work was work and then off for dinner at Bonsai - one of our Edinburgh favourites. A lovely meal and company and No. 1 Son appeared pleased. I think this last was more to do with my not ordering a cake, nor did I sing 'Happy Birthday', so I think that counts as a pretty ace birthday meal in his eyes!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Back on Nepali time

Last night Mountain Man was invited to a Gurkha Welfare Association (Edinburgh Branch) get-together in Everest Restaurant, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh.

We arrived at just before 7 pm to be greeted by a whole room full of very welcoming Nepali's and one European (from Czech Republic). We were immediately introduced by 'mine host', Tika, to a Nepali guy who was only over in the UK for about a week and had just climbed to the top of Everest. We were very impressed. He seemed to be very impressed with us and insisted on having photos taken. I managed to get one of him and MM.  He was very sweet, but his grasp of English wasn't huge, and given that MM's Nepali is limited and mine is non-existent the conversation was a bit stilted.

Shiva Kumar Dangi, better known as the Man Who Conquered Everest, and Mountain Man

Next was singing and dancing. Very, very jolly and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves hugely. What's quite amazing about the Nepali culture is that all the guys get up and dance before the women. I was forced onto the dancefloor and was really pleased that all that idiot dancing I practiced in the 1960's came all to the good for me as I wiggled my hips and waved my hands around. I did have a slight moment of panic as I sincerely hoped I wasn't making any rude gestures, but was told I was a 'natural'.

What was even more surprising was that MM got up and danced too! For those that know him, know that dancing really isn't his thing. I think he even surprised himself.

Mountain Man joins the throng on the dance floor

One of the cultural delights of Nepal is the time difference. When we, in the West, are told, 'Food will be in half an hour,' our expectation is that food will appear in half an hour. In Nepal you can pretty much guarantee that half an hour can be anything from half an hour to... well... take your pick! So although we initially expected to be fed at 7.30, it was no surprise to us that nothing appeared until 8.30. Actually I take that back. My belly was very surprised!

Delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable evening and we were pleased we'd made the effort to go. Next time... and there will be a next time... I will wear more appropriate clothing. I'm not sure shiny knee-high boots and leggings was the best clothing to wear under the circumstances. Next time it'll be jeans and T-shirt. Then I'll really feel comfortable giving it some!

By the way, a few month's back you'll maybe remember that I wrote about a train journey back home from London where I spent part of my journey with a Gurkha Welfare Officer. Well Tika knows him well. What a small world! It turns out that Gary, the Gurkha Welfare Officer may well make an appearance at one of these Edinburgh events. It'll be nice to renew our acquaintance.

I've added a very short video of a bit of the Nepali dancing for your delight.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

There and back again - Part 6

Last day in Pokhara 
After spending some truly enriching days at the beautiful Ganden Yiga Chozen Centre, our last day finally arrived. Time to pack our bags and begin to contemplate the long journey home.

Before I tell you about our last full day in Pokhara, I wanted to tell you how amazed I was by the tenacity and single-mindedness to overcome all obstacles of some species: You've already heard how 2 leeches in Chitwan persevered to climb up my trousers and my vest top and to find a spot where my jacket left an opening to my skin under each arm; and the other leech who spent time and energy burrowing through my heavy-duty, natural-fibre woollen socks so that it could enjoy a feast of my blood. Well, in Pokhara they have these incredible ants. They're not big, just tiny little ants, but my goodness do they ever have tenacity to achieve what they're after!

Mountain Man and I had taken some packs of dried fruit and some nuts on our travels. I have a tendency to get hungry between meals and so always like to have something handy to snack on. When we arrived in Pokhara we still had a pack of half-eaten almonds, a pack of half-eaten dried blueberries, a pack of half-eaten dried cherries and a pack which contained about 8 pieces of uncrystallised ginger left. On our first night we had a small snackette before brushing our teeth and going to bed and we put these packs into a plastic bag, folded it several times and then locked it in the bottom of my suitcase and went to bed.

During the next day I felt hungry and went to find the stash. I unlocked my suitcase to find every available inch completely covered with ants! The food, still wrapped in the plastic bag, was so thick with the blighters the term 'movable feast' is the only description I feel is completely apt! I dealt with this by throwing the food in the bin (I hate to waste, but there are just some times when it's absolutely necessary) and then shaking out all my clothes, but rapidly realised trying to get rid of a horde of ants by trying to shake them out was not going to work. So I left my suitcase open and given that there was no food for them to enjoy, they all marched safely out. Some went away up the walls and off to pastures new, while others remained with us in our chalet room, I can only presume to wait and see if we were stupid enough to bring any more food back in for their delight.

I can't say I was totally thrilled by this episode, nor by the odd ant I found wandering about along my pillow on several occasions, but it did occur to me that if only I had half their tenacity I might have completed a whole lot more in my life.

Okay, back to our last day.

Gerald, the new German project co-ordinator (who retired a few years back and now uses his expertise to help with the various projects at the Centre, and who MM and I met for the first time this year), invited us to join him, The Venerable Yeshe (the teacher at the Centre) and Sonam, the Centre's Director to lunch at the delightfully named Pokhara Beach Club.

On a beautiful, hot, sunny, blue-skied day, we set off to walk the 10 minutes or so to the restaurant, with Yeshe under his brolly to keep the sun off and MM, Gerald and I savouring the heat as only us Northern Europeans like to do, while Sonam, sensible Tibetan that he is, was just taking it as part and parcel of living in Pokhara. We had a delicious lunch with a starter of hummus and beetroot hummus, which was fab, followed by local fish with salad and potatoes. Pudding followed, which I politely declined - puds are really not my thing, but given the mmm's and ahhh's that came from the others I knew the end of the meal had been as good as the beginning.

Lunch was a very jolly affair and I found it fascinating to listen to the stories of how the 3 of them had each arrived at the Centre, while MM and I, on the insistence of Gerald, related the story of how we met all those years ago (21 to be precise), courtesy of The Inverness Courier. Gerald then insisted on a photo call (though I noticed he resolutely and firmly wouldn't let anyone take one of him), which lead to much hilarity from us all. Then it was back to the Centre to spend the final hours of our last day in deep discussion and contemplation before the evening meal.

We had Yeshe's permission to spread the rest of Nell's ashes we had with us under The Mother Bush, and so in the quiet of our last Pokhara night, we emptied our plastic container around the coffee bush's base. The stark white of the remains of Nell against the darkness of the Pokhara soil was startling. In fact, so startling that it looked like the soil around the Mother Bush had some dreaded disease! A few minutes later and it started to rain. Then it poured and remained doing so for most of the night. MM and I were hopeful our Nell would be soaked up by the rain storm and her remains wouldn't be there for everyone to see.

The next morning, before breakfast and heading off to get our bus to Kathmandu, we went to have a look and see what had happened to Nell's ashes. There they were, white as white and as bright and perky as Nell had been in her life. It still looked like the soil had a problem. We decided the best thing was to fess up to Sonam and tell him what we'd done. We didn't want anyone thinking the Mother Bush was about to get caught by a fungus. Sonam just smiled generously and nodded his head. We were very relieved.

I thought I'd finish this bit about our time in Pokhara with two photos. The first one captures the jollity of that lunch (there were others taken that show us all well posed and with our 'photo faces' on, but I just love the pic of Yeshe trying his best to hide under a fern); and the second is one I took of the empty gompa room on the last day, which, for me, captures the feel of the centre.

Mountain Man, Ven Yeshe, me and Sonam after lunch at The Pokhara Beach Club

The gompa room at the Centre
I was sad to have to say goodbye, but at the same time I know I shall be sustained by the very happy memories I have of a wonderful time with such lovely and inspiring people. And of course I'm hoping it's not too long before I can get back there.

Back to Kathmandu
It so happens that while we were in Pokhara it was also the Nepali festival, Dashain, the final day of which just also happened to be the day we were travelling back to Kathmandu. I've never been in the country at this festival time and the effect it has on Nepali life is truly incredible, basically because most Nepali's go back to their families and shut themselves away to eat and party as much as they can. What this means in actuality is that most shops are shut and there are hardly any cars on the road.

For us, this meant that our normal 7 hour journey was cut by over 2 hours and we arrived back to an unrecogniseable Kathmandu. Hardly a car being driven, shops shut and no working on the roads had transformed the city from a veritable dust bowl to relatively clean air! Not one bit of traffic chaos, just freeflowing roads. What a shock! We were so early that Rabi, who apparently had come to meet us from the bus, arrived well after we'd got back and were soaking up the sun by the pool. Even he was shocked, and that says something!

Our journey back might have been quick, but was it uncomfortable. We'd been put in a transit van-sized bus and MM and I were the last on, so we had the seats at the back over the back axle and spent the whole journey trying not to hit our heads on the roof as our bus negotiated the pot-holed, crazy road that is the main highway to Kathmandu. We were very pleased to reach our destination in one piece.

That evening MM took me out for a wonderful Nepali experience at Utsav. If you're ever in Kathmandu you really must treat yourself. Traditional food, listening to traditional music and watching traditional dancing. A brilliant evening.

We decided to spend our last full day in Kathmandu being fairly low-key. We went into Thamel to enjoy wandering about in the after-effects of Dashain. Not that many cars about and shops still shut. We said goodbye to friends, bought a couple of books and a few goodies to bring back as Xmas presents and then back to the hotel for a last sit by the pool. Rabi took us out for a farewell dinner at Or2K and then that was it. Back to the hotel and time to go to sleep for the 5.30 a.m. get up for the trip home.

And finally back home
Tribhuvan was negotiated for the last time this journey. The usual mix of queuing, being searched umpteen times and filling out forms. No problems with our flights either from Nepal or the connection in Delhi. Sadly during the almost 9 hour flight from Delhi I contracted a stomach bug, which meant that the last 5 hours of the flight were not the best.

We arrived back at Heathrow and MM managed to get me from Terminal 4 to Terminal 5 with the minimum of fuss and bother. Part of this was because we discovered that our bags had been forwarded to our final flight to Edinburgh and had gone off to Terminal 5 without us having to do anything. What a relief we didn't have to drag those along with us on the Heathrow Express and up and down the escalators and in and out of the lifts.

When we arrived at Terminal 5, however, my hand baggage had set alarm bells going on the conveyor belt and was detailed off for a thorough search by security. I didn't know what the problem was.

'Anything metal in here? Sharp?'asked the female security guard.

'No, I don't think so.'

'Well would you mind emptying everything so I can check.'

It then occurred to me. 'Oh, well I do have a bull-in-a-bag. That might have set things off.'

'I'm sorry, Madam. A what?'

I then emptied my bag and fished it out.

'Oh, that is seriously cute! Where did you get it? I want one!'

I didn't offer her mine, but wearily was allowed to put everything back after the mystery of the metal detecting flashes had been solved.

It was only then that we discovered our flight had been delayed for over 2 hours and our already excrutiating 22 hours of travel rapidly turned into an even more uncomfortable 24 hours. Feeling rapidly worse by the moment, we found the painfully awkward seats that British Airways so thoughtlessly provide for weary travellers and plonked ourselves down to wait what felt like an interminable time til our flight was called.

We arrived back in Edinburgh at 1.45 a.m. local time to a typical, freezing Scottish Autumn night, and with not a bus in sight. Then it was a long wait in a queue for a taxi to rock up and take us to the Edinburgh house.

On arrival MM immediately tucked me up in bed with all my clothes on and a hot water bottle to help try and warm me and I slept fitfully until morning. I felt so ill I could only just get up to to go to the loo that next day and change in to a pair of pj's and so we stayed put, MM soothing my fevered brow as I spent the whole day and night dozing on and off.

By the next day I managed to get out of bed and get some clothes on so that by midday we were on our way South and home, arriving to a cold Scottish Borders house, a mountain of mail, and 798 emails.

End of holiday. We were well and truly home.

Friday, 2 November 2012

There and back again - Part 5

The road to Lumbini was 'hectic' as my friend, Tracy Mc, from South Africa might well have said. Three accidents on one hill and all pretty nasty. Not hitting other cars, but overturned by the looks of it by not negotiating the road well. Given the way some Nepali's drive I'm surprised in some ways we didn't see more. Our driver wasn't too bad, but we certainly had a couple of moments!

The place we were staying in Lumbini was quite a way away from the actual World Heritage site, so after finding out it would take us over an hour to go by public transport and the fact that we were leaving in the morning made us decide on a taxi there.

Think about this for a second: there you are on the way to The Buddha's birthplace... what music do you think you might be listening to? Loud rock music? No? Well you'd be wrong in our case. Our young driver was a bit of a nut and insisted on driving in time to the music. Not quite as I'd imagined my journey to such a place! The sad bit was, he drove so fast I couldn't get a photo of all the water buffalo wallowing in the afternoon mud, or the oxen pulling a cart.

There was one funny moment when, in the garden of one of the temples, which was home to the story of Buddha (all in statues), MM in his best, though slightly limited Nepali, asked our driver (who'd come into the temple with us) what his name was. The guy looked at MM incredulously and replied, "Buddha"! We left it at that!

Lumbini itself was fascinating. It's made up of 3 square miles of park land and temples, most of which are still being built. We only had the afternoon, so we couldn't see as much as we'd have liked. Our favourites were the Germany temple, which was quite stunningly beautiful, and the Maya Devi temple itself, which houses the actual spot where The Buddha was born. Many of the stones in the latter were from the 3rd C.

The Chinese Temple

The Germany Temple from the front

Gardens at the Germany Temple

Lovely view of the pond and walkway outside the Germany Temple

Me across the pond from the Maya Devi Temple

Ashoka's Pillar (249 BC) at the side of the Maya Devi Temple

The Eternal Peace Flame at Lumbini

Because no cars are allowed on the site, it has an incredible sense of peace and quiet and it's certainly a place I'd love to visit again and spend a whole lot more time, but maybe when most of the buildings are completed.

Another hair-raising journey back to where we were staying and a quick out and about in the market place. Strangely, as before on these travels, we were the only Westerners and caused another stir. A little tired of being stared and pointed at we headed for an early meal and bed, but not before I managed to get a pic of a bull wandering down the main street. There's something rather special for me about having what we at home would call a potentially dangerous animal allowed to do it's own thing. It wasn't bothering anyone, wasn't tied up, just having a nosey around.

A bull just having a bit of a nose around outside a shop in the main street
The next morning it was time to leave Lumbini behind and another of Rabi's friends picked us up in his car for the almost 6 hour journey to Pokhara. Luckily he didn't drive so fast so I had the opportunity, as we were leaving Lumbini, to take a pic of oxen pulling a cart.

We arrived at the Ganden Yiga Chozen centre in Pokhara, where we go to stay, meditate and get teaching whenever we possibly can, in the early afternoon. It's been 3 years since I was last there (Mountain Man was lucky enough to have a quick visit last year - though he was with clients on an Annapurna Trek, so didn't actually get to stay, just have a cup of tea and a catch up) and the changes in that time have been extreme.

Where the centre used to look out with a clear view of Lake Phewa, have no buildings by it's side, it's now got buildings on all 4 sides and the view is pretty much obscured. Nevertheless, once you enter the gates, it's like being in a different world. One where calm and peace descend.

The other big changes were that the chalet room we always get given has been painted inside in brilliant white, there is now bedding provided - so I needed have taken up a quarter of my suitcase space with my sleeping bag... ah well. And bliss of blisses... it also now has a fan!

But the one thing that doesn't change is that this is the home of the dear old Mother Bush, who I'm pleased to report, in spite of what appeared to be a severe short, back and sides, was looking healthy and well.

A severely trimmed Mother Bush
It was absolutely wonderful to see our old friends and within minutes the last 3 years melted away and I could have sworn I'd only been away from the place a couple of days. We stayed up far later than usual just talking with everyone. Great to be back.

The next day, before our time in retreat started, we went on a quick walk through Pokhara and to meet up with Rabi, who was down there for a couple of days. It was a lovely day and Machapuchare (better known as Fishtail) could just be spotted high above Pokhara.

Machapuchare in the distance
We also spotted a cow and her calf nicking a white radish from a shop front and snacking on the hoof!

Got one!
I'm not going to say much about our retreat time, because it is what it is, but tomorrow will be the final episode of There and Back Again. Do come back and read about our last day in Pokhara, a startlingly strange drive and arrive in Kathmandu and a bit about our journey home.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

There and back again - Part 4

We took the Greenline bus to Chitwan. This is mainly because nowadays if you book on the tourist bus you don't necessarily get a seat as they overbook (welcome to Nepal!), but the Greenline is a certainty if you've booked. Also a bit more legroom. Not a lot, but enough to make a difference on a 7+ hour bus journey.

On arriving at our hotel, Tiger Camp, run by the effervescent Nick, a friend of Rabi's, we were told our itinerary for the next couple of days, which started with what was supposed to have been a half hour walk. 2 hours later we were back at the hotel having seen loads of very pretty, red insects, some elephants in the compound and a couple of crocs in the river, a bit hot and tired and ready for food.

Red bugs
Can you see the baby ele?

Hanging around

Is it tea time yet?
Coming back from a day's work
Chitwan is jungle territory, so our meal was joined by so many bugs and mozzies that it was decided to turn off the lights and go for candles, which cut the flow slightly. We felt blessed to have a mosquito net over our bed I can tell you!

Next morning, an early start. We were ready for a canoe down the river at the back of 7 and were joined by a couple of Chinese girls, a Chinese couple, a Dutch girl and a Hungarian guy. We'd been told by Nick the night before to wear dark or jungle coloured clothing (nothing red, pink or white) - this is because rhino are short-sighted and will tend to charge at bright things they can detect. We were also told to talk quietly and make sure we all walked close together on our 3 hour planned trek. Apart from our Chinese compatriots chattering constantly, one Chinese girl wore a pink top and the Chinese guy smoked a pipe. This was just in the canoe. By the time it came to the trek they'd all started talking so loudly that any rhino that saw a pink top moving around in the jungle would most probably have been either put off by the noise or by the smell of smoke. Oh yes and I don't think the Chinese quite get the meaning of keeping close together!

A whole lot of tourists starting their jungle trek

Ele going to work



Tharu houses

Suffice it to say we didn't spot many animals - a couple of monkeys, a deer or two dashing through the undergrowth, a frog and some rather lovely black bees, but the actual walk was good.


Beautiful black bee

Another monkey

A frog

What we did see in abundance was leeches, which absolutely loved me. I've never actually seen one up close and although the ones that were trying to latch on to my waterproof trousers were fascinating to watch, in some ways I wish I hadn't seen the two latched on under my arms... I think it's what you'd call an 'interesting experience' and apart from assuring you there was no girlie screaming or any waving of hands, I'll leave it at that. At the end of our trek I also found one had infiltrated through my sock and had a good go at my ankle. My sock was drenched in blood... great!

After a sock change and a quick shower we watched the elephant bathing. We didn't fancy it ourselves as it felt a bit too 'circusy' and the place was surrounded by Chinese tourists.

Elephants getting ready for the tourists


Doing what they do

After lunch it was time for an elephant safari. Luckily the four Chinese were put together and so the four of us Europeans enjoyed our safari in relative peace and without pipe smoke. We saw wild boar, herds of deer and loads of monkeys, but not a single tiger or rhino. Still, it was a fun afternoon.

A pause in the chat to have their photo taken

Wild boar

Can you spot the croc?


Sunset at Chitwan
The sunset at Chitwan was stunning and after another meal joined by what our Dutch girl called 'a zoo', it was time for a bit of entertainment. Off we all went to the village hall to watch Tharu dancing. This was, in some ways, rather a hit, but for all the wrong reasons. The guys with sticks were pretty good, but the girls were way out of tune and their song went on forever, but the ace for me was the announcer. He had this wonderful accent and it took ages for it to sink in what he was saying. I'm really sorry if this sounds as though I'm poking fun, but it wasn't like that... honest. Here's one that had me laughing all the way back to Tiger Camp: I could have sworn that he said, 'And now we have the pick up dance'. It seemed to fit with all the other dances that were going on, because they were to do with fertility or fighting and 'pick up' seemed to fit amongst all that. Imagine my surprise when out came a guy dressed as a peacock! It definitely called for a beer after that!

Back at Tiger Camp and as us four Europeans were sipping our drinks, our guide, Utsah, came and told us he'd been told a rhino had been spotted fairly near. So we headed a short distance down the track by the river, and there, not more than 30 yards from where we were staying was an adult male rhino. I could hardly believe it was so close. We'd been on a 3 hour trek, an hour and a half elephant ride through miles of jungle and not a peek, yet here one was, next door, so to speak. We all agreed to get up at 5.30 and see if he was still there.

Rhino in the dark in the undergrowth
He was! Quite amazing to be watching a rhino in the wild as dawn broke over the jungle. We also saw eles crossing the river off to work, one with a baby trotting along at her side. Just gorgeous... and so peaceful!

Here he is!
If you look carefully you might just spot the baby
We also saw some lovely birds as the dawn lightened.

Back for breakfast at 6.45 and then a quick pack as Rabi had sent someone to pick us up in a car and drive us to Lumbini that morning.

On reflection I'm really pleased I made the trip to Chitwan, but I don't think it's a place I'd come back to. It all seemed a bit too touristy for me.

Tomorrow is Part 5: on to Lumbini