India 1998. Hot!

We completed our visit to Jaipur with a look at its Red Fort, perched high above a lake in a picturesque setting and more impressive for it than Delhi’s Red Fort. Since access to the fort was by an ascent of a steep hill-and in searing heat, we were treated to elephant transport, climbing up to a scaffold and waiting to be loaded on to the howdah [a seat strapped to the elephant’s back which accommodates several passengers]. Once we were installed on the howdah our elephant commenced its stately, swaying saunter up the hill, accompanied by numerous peddlers of gifts and goods, who called up and gestured to us en route.

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Husband’s attention was captured by one of the traders, who was keeping up with us whilst carrying a large selection of hats. Husband is prone to buying wide-brimmed summer headwear and continues to expand his hat wardrobe to this day, littering the house with them, bought from varied sources and countries, so as we continued swaying up the path to the fort he negotiated for a hat he fancied, finally reaching a satisfactory price and having the hat tossed up to him where he sat.

We disembarked on to an identical platform at the top, the fort entrance and went to the interior, which was ornate and beautiful, with mirror-inlaid frescoes and intricately patterned ceilings.

Afterwards, waiting  for our coach we were entertained by watching the off-duty elephants bathing in the lake with their mahouts. And as we stood, the mahout, astride his elephant, approached us and gestured for us to place a rupee note on to the end of the elephant’s trunk, which we did, delighted as the elephant passed the money back to the handler. A cunning trick, and the kind of activity that Paratha frowned upon, but by now we’d had enough of her control freakery and were opting out of some of her rules, at one point asking the bus driver to let us off on the way to yet another of her factory outlets.

Next day we were off on the coach again, this time to a bird sanctuary where we were to take a tour of the reserve by rickshaw before spending the night in the custom-built hotel.

The temperature at the bird reserve was uncomfortably hot-and exacerbated by its humidity. This was a damp, marshy piece of land, a haven for birds but an endurance trial for tourists. Enthusiastic as we are about wildlife we wilted in the sticky, cloying heat. We took our bicycle rickshaw tour, accompanied by another rickshaw carrying Steve and Jane.

The reserve was home to, among others, weaver birds, who’d woven their tiny basket nests and suspended them from the pendulous branches of palm trees.

The hotel was a modern, concrete, two-story block. We were allocated a first floor room flanked by a wide balcony that ran the length of the floor. As dusk fell this balcony gathered a covering of beetle-type insects so thick we couldn’t walk anywhere except on the top of them. It was a thick, crunchy, beetle carpet and the air and every surface crackled with them. Walking into our room was like entering a steam oven. We would never be able to sleep inside it. We contemplated hauling the mattress on to the balcony and quickly pushed the thought aside when we looked at the beetle layer.

But we were lucky. Our friends’ room was directly below and many degrees cooler. Would we like to sleep on their floor? We didn’t hesitate and hefted our mattress over the rail.

Next morning we were to travel to the last point of the Triangle. Agra!

India 1998. Part 3. The Pink City.

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Jaipur. Of all the world famous sights and sites in India’s Golden Triangle this was to become my favourite. I began to fall in love with The Pink City as we drew into its centre, past the beautiful Palace of the Winds and on towards our hotel, The Bissau, a grand old merchant’s house in an inauspicious side street. It was comfortable enough, with an ancient but serviceable swimming pool and within walking distance of the city.

Along the street camel carts and tuk-tuks jostled for position and cows wandered unperturbed amongst the teeming traffic. As yet we’d had no chance to wander unsupervised, to peruse the street stalls or to take a ride in a tiny, noisy, careering tuk-tuk and we couldn’t wait. Paratha, though had other plans. On no account were we to fraternise with locals, eat anywhere other than the hotel or purchase anything other than in an outlet of her choosing.

With our co-conspirators Steve and Jane we announced that we wouldn’t require a hotel dinner that evening as we’d find a restaurant of our choosing somewhere in the town. Paratha baulked, telling us that ‘nowhere would be open’. We said we’d take a chance then we set off together to explore the delights of Jaipur, exiting the hotel and taking care to step over the sheep’s head that lolled in a puddle by the roadside.

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Jaipur was not closed. It was as open as it is possible for a city to be, a riotous conglomeration of traffic, stalls, shops, shrines, animals and commerce. Steve and Husband declared that they’d like to visit the barber’s, a swanky, gleaming grooming parlour for men where Jane and I sat, enthralled while the men were liberally daubed with foam and shaved with terrifying cut-throat razors, swathed in hot towels, trimmed, primped and burnished, after which they must have felt wonderful in the searing heat of the afternoon.

We explored the colourful streets, marvelled at the goods on offer, bought things. We got our white-knuckle tuk-tuk ride, screeching with pleasurable terror as we tore round roundabouts and buzzed along in clouds of noxious fumes. As evening drew on we went to the jewellery quarter where items were sold by weight, and like a child in a sweet shop I was spoilt for choice, buying earrings and necklaces, still my beautiful and much-loved, favourite accessories to this day.

Later we found a restaurant and had dinner together, just the four of us, enjoying local cuisine and a cosy, non-hotel ambience.

Next day we were due to tour Jaipur’s Red Fort, accessible by elephant-and who could argue with that?

New York 1997. Part 6. A Fitting Finale.

We departed Buffalo and arrived late to Penn Station, too late to purchase tickets to Boston next day-another early start.

The subway from Westside to the station was becoming familiar and there was time for coffee before boarding the train, which was packed. Leaving New York via The Bronx was a much more dramatic and interesting journey than going out through New Jersey and there was a fine view of Manhattan’s skyscrapers as we left. Later, though, the scenes were the same dull, monotonous, derelict industrial sites that we’d seen before.

The train pulled into Boston at midday and we walked out into a proper station concourse, fitting for a large city in the way that Buffalo’s facilities were not. There were shops, cafes and bars-all very smart and clean. But we wondered how to go about finding a hotel. An information desk provided travel help, though not accommodation. We persevered and were pointed in the direction of ‘Hotel Reservations’ in a different part of the station, also bizarrely serving as a cigar stall. A sturdy, jovial woman called Marsha claimed to be there to help. After asking our ‘requirements’ she phoned several hotels. They were able to offer one night, but not two. We assured her we’d cope with staying ‘out of town’ provided it was on a subway route and sure enough, Marsha came up trumps. The ‘Hotel Farrington’. ‘You what?’ she hissed. ‘It’s messy? You have a back-packers’ room?’ She cast us an enquiring look. ‘OK-OK. They don’t mind. They’ll take it.’ She gave us a copied set of instructions for the route then we handed her the $5 booking fee and thanked her-feeling relieved and grateful, which was ironic when you consider what was to come.

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We studied the directions-a ‘red line’ train and a ‘green line’ train. Emerging into the Boston sunshine, towering buildings reared at us as we plunged down into the subway and to an unusually unhelpful ticket clerk. The Boston subway was newer and cleaner than that of New York, the trains quaint and picturesque, like historic trams. A number of lines converged and you had to clamber up steps into these tram-like compartments. ‘Boston College’ was our train. It rumbled along, slowing and almost stopping at intervals then emerged into a sunlit boulevard lined with college buildings and blocks. an ivy-clad ‘Alfred Morse Auditorium’ and several Oxford-like university piles. This was Boston University and Harvard lay just across the river in ‘Cambridge’. Boston is a university city and the society, pace, buildings and people reflected this.

As instructed we stepped down at the 3rd stop, located the street and walked; far, it seemed, carrying bags in the hot sun, but we came to Farrington Avenue and thus to Number 23. Farrington Avenue was elegant and tree-lined with large timber houses, one of which was our hotel, accessed by steps up to the polished doors. We entered into a grand, wood-panelled room, styled with antiques, chaises and a huge, burnished desk for reception. So far so good!

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The young woman there motioned us to a sofa. She had an unhurried air. It seemed unlikely that in this gleaming, gracious, stripped-pine, polished building there would be a ‘messy’ room. The woman took our details and searched around in some drawers for a key as one or two people drifted in and out. At last she led us out and up the road to another house of the same style, but here the similarity stopped. It had a neglected, decadent look, it’s wooden floors dusty, dirty and unkempt. We were led up two sets of stairs, weary of bag-carrying by now. The woman dithered at the top as we looked on, aghast. The entire building appeared like some kind of squat. She descended back one flight, apologising, round a corner and past what might have once been a kitchen but a quick glimpse made me shudder, through a once-glorious lounge area. Off this, behind a frosted glass screen was our room.

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It was dirty, cramped and unpleasant and the sheets worn and threadbare, though clean. The woman left us, saying that coffee and muffins would be served next morning from 8-10am. We threw the bags in and looked around in disgust, venturing out to see the bathroom, which would not have been out of place on the set of ‘The Young Ones’. It was grim. But the towels were clean.

Nevertheless, Boston awaited. We left everything and went to the subway to go into town, alighting at Park Street, where all was green and there were food stalls and folks enjoying the sunshine. Deciding on a trolley-bus tour we were told that next morning would be better due to rush-hour. Instead we walked the ‘Freedom’ trail, following a red line on the sidewalk and taking in the sights. Boston seemed a relaxed city, very conscious of its history and sporting a great many Irish pubs staffed by an unending stock of Irishmen, Bostonians proud of their history and eager to help with sightseeing suggestions. There was a huge market square like Covent Garden boasting gift shops, cafes and restaurants and it was here that we stopped to eat, choosing an outside table in the warm evening.

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Everywhere teemed with people and musicians played South American music as we ate, the food good and washed down with Samuel Adams Boston-brewed beer.

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By the time we returned we were too tired for a last drink at the Irish bar on our street. In the ‘hotel’ a man was wandering about on our floor looking for a screwdriver as the lock on his door had broken. We braved the shower together, using some discarded towels to stand on then tip-toed back to the room, through the dust and dirt of the lounge, to fall at last into bed. Then someone came into the lounge, putting on lights and TV, neither sound or light muffled by the tatty blind over the glass door. We groaned as a conversation also began, the TV, thankfully as dysfunctional as the rest of the place was extinguished and peace settled.

The Farrington breakfast was dispensed at reception, coffee and enormous muffins dispensed by an elderly. frail man at a table. Chatting to an Australian woman who confirmed the lack of Boston rooms we discovered that it was Graduation Week at Harvard, hence all was booked in advance. We had to grateful for our flea-pit!

We returned to Boston centre for the trolley tour, waiting while crocodiles of schoolchildren were shepherded along the streets. The tour began; the now-familiar, carefully rehearsed monologue punctuated by the odd joke. We got off at Charles Street, a quaint, though expensive row of shops with quirky signs, everything engineered for faux antiquity. We ate then took the next bus which drove past Harvard, through an up-market area and into theatreland where we left to walk on to Chinatown and on to the docks and the Boston Tea Party ship [unimpressive].

In the market square we had coffee and relaxed. The remaining time was dripping away. It would be our final evening in Boston and in the USA. We got a subway to Hynes Convention Centre for an ascent of the Prudential Tower, a tame 50 floors, to look over Boston at dusk. At the top it was quiet but with a stunning view over the blocks and landmarks of the city. It was a contemplative end to the trip.

At the ‘hotel’ a couple had moved into the next door hovel to ours and were complaining loudly, their remarks clear through the flimsy plywood between the rooms. ‘This room’s so Fucking depressing!’ cried the woman and the man’s low voice could be heard placating. We showered and went to ‘Arthur’s’, a small seafood cafe we’d spotted and had a last beer at the Irish bar. On our return the TV was silent, as were the next-door couple.

At the muffin and coffee breakfast next morning, two refined Oregon ladies proudly revealed the were in Boston for a reception in honour of Jackie Kennedy. Their home town had a population of 350 and this was an adventure for them. They were tremulous at the idea of the Boston subway so we told them they’d enjoy the experience for its period charm, and we recommended the trolley-bus tour.

Finally it was time to pack, lug the bags to the subway and to the station, board the New York train and sink back into our seats to watch the New England scenery float past with its quaint and pretty towns and villages, lakes and marinas, white churches and pastel, weather-board houses. The sky clouded briefly then cleared as we came to New York. The trip was done…

New York 1997. Part 4.

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Tuesday. Train to Buffalo day. After an early start and with a scaled down bag of packed items we went to Penn Station and boarded the Amtrak train, impressively huge, silver and sleek with wide comfortable armchair seats. A small dining car sold snacks-good enough for a breakfast of coffee, bagels and cream cheese.

The journey out from New York was the most diverting part, it transpired as what followed was hours of attractive but not dynamic scenery. Tiredness and monotony led to some gentle skirmishing [if you’ve followed from the start you’ll know that the relationship was in its infancy].

At intervals the train stopped. Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, towns heard of in some way and now in context. Some passengers were travelling direct to Niagara; a few heading on to Toronto. We alighted at Buffalo, expecting to go straight to ‘Tourist Information’ and being disillusioned. Buffalo Station had nothing more than a ticket office-and a tiny one at that. One railway official remained as the train chugged off in the direction of Niagara. He looked at his watch. ‘Aaahm about to close up at fooour!’ he announced. We’d still to find accommodation and the bus station, for getting to Niagara next day.

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The buildings of Buffalo reared up in a menacing, unwelcoming way as the railroad man pointed vaguely in the direction of the bus station and suggested The Radisson or The Hilton in response to enquiries. We heaved our bags across the road and walked the few blocks to the bus station, where the wall-mounted schedule was incomprehensible. Braving the disdain of the ticket clerk we were none the wiser. I threw myself at his mercy. ‘We’re English’ I told him. ‘We’re all a bit dim. Please would you help explain this?’ He softened. ‘Sure. You go get schedule 40 and I’ll show you.’ I sighed. A cold sore had begun its ominous tingle at the corner of my mouth.

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Now we had to tackle the hotel problem. The transit police suggested the Hotel Lenox and that we’d need a cab [of course] to get there. The driver spent the entire journey earnestly trying to persuade us to take his cab direct to Niagara. ‘You can get a motel down there for 30 dollars and give me 30 dollars-that’s less than you’ll spend at the Lenox’. He laboured his point several times, until Husband gently persuaded him otherwise. ‘We’ll stay here now,’ he replied, ‘we like looking at places so we’ll have a look at Buffalo’, at which the driver capitulated and suggested a restaurant-‘The Anchor’, home of the famous ‘Buffalo wings’. Who knew?

The Lenox was once grand but now a decadent pile skulking in front of the Holiday Inn. The room was adequate.

Buffalo was not the tourist Mecca I’d expected. We debated our options, with this town seeming less hospitable by the minute. A connection to Boston, the next destination, was impossible. I suggested a flight, but there was no reply from any of the freephone numbers we called for ticket agencies. Maybe reception could help? The receptionist seemed invigorated by the challenge- a small, pale, bespectacled girl, offering the phone, finding numbers.

We were introduced to ‘Mr Pellegrino’, the hotelier, an effusive character who extolled the virtues of the Anchor Bar. ‘Tell them Mr Pellegrino sent you!’ and gave us a card. He was a portly ex-cop.

The travel research was not going well. Only one airline flew direct from Buffalo to Boston and the ticket was $301.

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We went out to find The Anchor, a red brick pub standing alone on a corner. The sun was still warm and the evening crisp and clear, the beer excellent. Here in the quiet gloom of the restaurant 3 mountainous men were consuming gargantuan meals while a family in the corner were setting into a banquet, with plates covering the whole table. A nearby couple appeared to be eating the entire menu of food. We were surrounded by eating machines-dwarfed by them. But the famous, spicy chicken wings were very good and following the meal we decided to look at the town…

Returning in Blissful Ignorance…

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Packing for a return journey is different from packing to begin a trip. When you prepare you place your ironed and folded, or rolled clothes neatly into your case. You take care to put shoes into bags; use every small compartment in the space and perhaps, if you are ultra fastidious [I am not], place layers of tissue paper between your pressed garments.

To leave, however you are likely to have more unwashed items than laundered. They may be in a tangled heap in the base of your hotel wardrobe- beachwear, underwear, evening outfits all mingled together in an unsavoury melee. In the case of Husband and myself the unwashed clothes will also be combined.

So rather than layering it into a case with loving care it gets thrust into any crevice available, an un-fragrant mush of sweat-ridden garments to be dealt with later, when you are able to face the chore of unpacking.

Check-out is by midday, although as with any humane hotel there is a room set aside for showering and changing into travel gear as our airport pick up is not until five. Once we’ve breakfasted and packed there’s only time for an hour or two lounging around in the sun before we need to go and ready ourselves. The hotel hosts a different clientele now as the German contingent has left and a Russian influx has taken over.

We’ve been allocated a swisher room than ours for showering and changing-a small suite with a private plunge pool, but it’s stuffy inside the tall fence and I’m not envious. With half and hour or so to kill we wander across the road to our nearest bar and have a beer before our taxi rolls up to take us for the first leg of our return.

It’s back to Koh Samui’s beautiful airport. Check-in is easy this time, although there’s very little here to while away the long wait in departure. At this point we feel no need to don masks as thus far there is no virus on the island. In departure there is a kiosk with gratis snacks and cold drinks-a delightful touch.

I spot a staff member strolling around with a placard and notice that it bears our name. Horrors! Husband’s case has something undesirable inside it. He is whisked away to oust the offending item, leaving me wondering if I’ll see him again. Eventually he returns, having retrieved a cigarette lighter he’d inadvertently packed. We’d bought it to light the mosquito coil on our balcony. I suppress the shame I feel more than he exhibits and we board the plane, where there is barely time for the mini-meal before we are touching down at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport again.

This time we take care to wear our masks and use our gel as we navigate along the extensive arms of the hub. It is midnight. The flight to the UK, we discover, is delayed.

At once the idea of 13 cramped hours feels unacceptable so we make our way to the Thai Airways desk, and in a reckless rush we upgrade our seats to Business Class-an eye-watering sum. Will we be seated together? The masked check-in lady tells us that we will be able to see one another but not seated side-by-side; a description that I do not fully understand until we board the plane.

Now we can use the business class lounge and although it takes several miles of airport wandering to locate it, when we do we can sink into comfortable chairs, help ourselves to a banquet consisting of every possible comestible and quaff an unending supply of drinks. It is hard to resist the urge to binge but tiredness craves calories!

Then it’s down to the gate and at last to the plane-accessed by a privileged short cut. We find ourselves on the upper floor of this gargantuan, winged behemoth.

There is our accommodation. They are not so much seats as nests. Compact pods furnished with screens, trays and best of all-buttons that stretch the seat into a fully reclining bed. Heaven in a cabin seat!

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Husband’s pod lies just over the low screen, so I can wave and smile at him. As I’m getting settled a masked cabin steward lady approaches with a tray bearing orange juice or [wait for it] champagne. She addresses me by name and hands me a menu. It is all overwhelming. I’m not hungry but feel obliged to consume the meal I’ve chosen, accessorised with real crockery and cutlery.

I attempt to watch a film but have watched all I wanted to see on the outward flight, also I am exhausted and seduced by the comfort of the stretch, the place to lift my feet. I press the buttons, snuggle in the blanket and sleep.

We touch down at Heathrow. It is cold, dank and indecently early.

How ignorant we were, then, of what was to come!

Lamai and Food Heaven

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The road that runs parallel to Lamai Beach passes the front of our hotel and teems with all kinds of traffic, from endless convoys of scooters to chugging, motorised kitchens, their driver negotiating the twists and turns while a bubbling vat of something delicious sizzles away next to them. While the traffic is not fast, it’s difficult to cross over without the help of the security guard.

All we can manage, having limited our daytime sleep to two and a half hours in order to try and adjust to Thailand time is to stroll across to the small bar and restaurant facing the hotel. Here we can sit upstairs in summer clothing on an open balcony and watch the world go by in all its fascinating variety while we sip a Chang beer and enjoy the balmy warmth-a novelty for us, coming from our UK winter.

We peruse the menu. I’m confident that here in Thailand I can find a variety of benign meals to suit my very contrary constitution, which eschews spicy things. And I do. Thai food is choc-a-bloc with stir fried vegetables, delicate rice and noodle dishes and fresh, delicious seafood. So I plump for fat prawns and broccoli with fried rice. In the unaccustomed heat a selection of a few, modestly proportioned dishes is perfect.

It’s all we need for today and having managed to stay up past ten we retire early, hoping to sleep all night. The room is spacious, though gloomy. We are unable to fathom the workings of the coffee machine and will need water and non-dairy milk so a foray into the mini supermarket along the road will be necessary tomorrow.

The day dawns hot [35 degrees], blistering as we make our way to breakfast, which offers every possible need or desire, including, miraculously, soya milk!

And while it’s too hot to do much, other than loll about in the shade, reading, Lamai Beach stretches in a sandy curve fringed with coconut palms, a steady breeze mitigating the searing heat.

The mini-market is a treasure trove for oat milk, beers and water but yields no coffee-making equipment, not so much as a pack of filters. We step across to the coffee bar across the street instead, where air conditioned comfort and some creditable pastries are available.

The evening temperatures are perfect and a short walk across a bridge takes us to an open market square where an abundance of food stalls provides an evening meal, and a lively bar with a music stage provides the entertainment-a competent covers band with a charismatic girl singer. We can sit in the open eating freshly grilled kebabs and sipping from a delicate coconut then enjoy some stomping music. How much better does it get than this?

A Long Journey to the Sun

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Winter sun. The post-Christmas adverts are full of it, and as the UK drowns once again in a deluge of depressing damp, these old bones itch with a longing for hard, brittle, hot sun to dry them out.

We leave our house at lunchtime, taking one last look at the flood lake that covers the water meadows behind our house and head off to get the airport coach. Health issues preclude early morning starts for me and these days we overnight at an airport hotel; this time it’s the Hilton, being the only hotel with easy access to Heathrow terminal 2. It’s fine except that, as is usual in chain hotels the room is over-hot with no fathomable means to turn down the temperature. After I’ve removed the too-plump duvet from its cover we finally get to sleep.

We’ve decided to get out of our winter sun rut and swap the West Indies for Thailand, having not been for some years. The flight is long to Bangkok and followed by another, domestic flight but perhaps some passengers will have cancelled due to the sudden, rampant appearance of ‘Coronavirus’ that is running riot in China; in truth we’ve vacillated, considered aborting the trip, although since there’s no advice from the foreign office for Thailand, no money would be refunded were we to cancel.

We’re armed with face masks and hand gel for the journey. There’s more than enough time for a coffee and to tug on my flight socks for the 11 hours to come.

Thailand is 7 hours ahead of us so there’s some darkness as we travel forward in time to Bangkok. I am happy enough to while the hours catching up on films I’ve missed, watching three movies in a row, meanwhile there’s a reasonable meal and later a snack.

At last the Thai Airways plane touches down at Bangkok and there is that unfamiliar bombardment of warmth/fumes/humidity as we exit, stretching our legs for the long, long trek through Suvarnabhumi Airport, which must have some of the longest airport walks, endless tubes to get to check-ins, desks, bag-drops, international, domestic, immigration and the rest.

Here we don our masks, stifling in the unaccustomed warmth and join the collected mass of bodies queueing to get our fingerprints scanned, our passports scrutinised and our photos taken. There are ‘health check’ points, though not for us and more than half the fellow-travellers are sporting masks, as are we. The wait is long, hot and airless.

Despite our continued route through on to a domestic flight we must undergo more security before we are allowed into the gate area for the flight to Koh Samui. I’m alarmed when our water is discarded and subsequently discover that no water is available to purchase at the gate. I’m starting to feel thirsty and get the ominous, prickly feeling that precedes cystitis. There is no option except to fill a bottle from the fountain, an unknown. I decide to take the risk. and while it tastes rank it’s better than dehydration.

There is not much more than an hour to Koh Samui and when we arrive we step out into a green, flower-filled oasis, the airport buildings airy, open-sided huts. This is reputedly the ‘world’s most beautiful airport’ and I’m not about to dispute it.

In the taxi to our hotel I gaze out, somewhat stupefied by lack of sleep, though grateful for the air-conditioned cab. By now we’ve been up for 17 hours and have yet to acclimatise to the fierce temperature.

At hotel check-in all I can do is nod wearily and sign things, before we stumble to our room and fall into bed.

We are here…

Welcome to our Shores!

It can’t have escaped the greater part of the world that here in little old Britain we are experiencing a time of flux. Amongst the dire predictions of disaster that are flying from every media orifice are those of unaffordable foreign holidays, difficulties over flights, problems with customs queues, visas, reciprocal health cover and more besides. Horrors!

The gloom that has settled over our British summer is further compounded by an unseasonal bout of wet, windy and miserable weather. So not only are we facing the prospect of holidaying in the domestic bliss of our home shores but will be doing it in thick sweaters, raincoats and wellington boots.

To be fair, wet, windy and miserable summer weather is so far embedded in the ethos of a British holiday it has become an essential component-part of the essence of a traditional British seaside vacation. For the uninitiated, what else should a new visitor to British shores expect from their holiday?

To begin with, there is the matchless experience of staying in a British hotel, guest house or B&B. Where else are you provided with sticky carpets and overpowering aromas of disinfectant? You may get to sample the famous, ‘full English’ breakfast-a carb and fat-fest consisting of a lack lustre sausage, some pinkish, slimy bacon, a greasy egg and blotting paper toast. This feast is designed to arm you for the rigours of the day to come, when you are to set off out into the gales and torrential rain for some sightseeing.

What should you see? You should not miss the delights of the pier, where you may stagger along against the wind to the end, where although the view may have been obliterated you will be able to while away an hour or two feeding coins into slot machines-this will also provide some shelter. Exiting the slot machine arcade gives you an opportunity to enjoy the pier for a second time as you stumble back to the promenade. You may wish to hire a deck chair for an hour or two, weather permitting. Be sure to open your umbrella. You will be rewarded by the sights of British beach-goers as they walk their dogs or scour the beach with metal detectors. There may even be a lone swimmer-dressed of course in wet suit, goggles and cap.

If you have made it to lunch time you should not pass up an opportunity to try that great bastion of traditional English cuisine, fish and chips. Years ago this mainstay of the national diet was served rolled up inside sheets of newspaper, providing the added bonus of reading material once the contents had been consumed. These days, with the onset of health and safety, together with dwindling newspapers the packaging consists of a polystyrene box and may or may not be furnished with a plastic fork. Examples of the packaging are readily available to view around the streets and pavements of our towns.

The afternoon can be spent browsing the shopping centres, where a range of pound stores and super-buy  emporia interspersed with charity shops will clamour for your attention. Your evening will consist of a return to your accommodation for a tepid shower in your rustic ensuite, followed by an evening meal in one of the many and culturally varied restaurants at your disposal. Will you choose the kebab house, the Indian, the Chinese or MacDonald’s?

Well-what are you waiting for, international tourists? The pound has rarely been lower! Welcome to the UK!

 

Tarring with the same Brush

I’ve just spent a week in foreign parts and I’m more convinced than ever that differing nationalities bear traits that identify them.

Observation of such characteristics is one of the strategies I’ve adopted to assuage some of the more tedious aspects of long-haul travel. On the plane I’m happy enough, these days to adopt the upright, confined posture required to utilise the seat, to pay attention to the cabin crew, to watch the movies, to get up and do my exercises, to mutely wait in line for the unsavoury joys of the lavatory, to eat and drink everything that is offered and hope to sleep.

Off the plane however there is the long, zig-zagging queue in the pens for immigration control, the stinging bark of the customs officers [no-we didn’t know we needed to complete the back of the form] and the customary thrill of waiting to discover if your luggage arrived too.

At the rear of the queue an unseemly stampede erupted as one or two of the tapes marking the lanes became unhitched, prompting severe and hasty action on the part of the officials. The couple immediately behind us [whose nationality shall remain nameless but has a reputation for somewhat self-preserving acts on holiday] spotted a gap and ducked under a tape to skip to the front, upon which stern officials corrected the error and they were returned to their place.

After we’d all shuffled along for what seemed hours [although in reality probably only about 30 minutes], a family with very young children were relieved of the stresses of jollying along two tiny tots after an eight hour flight and were ‘fast-tracked’ through to the front.

At the hotel we entered a jolly mix of races from both sides of the Atlantic [and beyond]. There are loud, garrulous types whose principal ambition is to be best buddy with every member of staff, to feel special and take selfies with all of these new best friends. Their conversations with companions are held publicly in order for others to share. A man at the bar told someone the other side of us enquiring after his holiday he had no complaints and smiled nervously when I said complaints were more interesting.

Meanwhile a gentleman with a keen interest in filming everything panned around the bar, the customers, his tiny son, the entertainment, the beach and the diners with abandon, using his mobile phone as if welded to it.

Then there are we British; reserved. We are polite. We say please and thank you-and sorry. I imagine we are held by most other nationalities to be cold and unfriendly. Our sense of humour can be difficult to spot, acerbic, sarcastic and cynical as it is.

And then one night my conclusions were overturned when we met a charming young couple of New Yorkers who initiated conversation. They were interested, interesting and wonderful company. Mea culpa. One should never generalise…

Think you don’t have an Accent? Think Again!

A recent poll in The Independent newspaper revealed that the British accent is the most popular in the world.

This is an odd piece of news. For a start, who is to say what, exactly a British accent is? There are many. There is Geordie, West Country, Scottish, Brummie, Northern Irish, Kentish, Cockney, Liverpudlian, Welsh, East Anglia, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Home Counties and many more besides…

Within the areas there are also differences in accent. A trip around Scotland, Yorkshire or Birmingham would expose a plethora of differing sounds in words.

Presumably the ‘British’ accent of the study is ‘BBC’ style, although even in an organisation as large as this there have been attempts in recent years to get regional accents on to the airwaves rather than the plummy tones of yesteryear.

While it is surprising to learn that the French accent is less of a draw, it is no real shock that the Queen’s English is admired around the world. Many years ago I undertook a road trip along the West of the USA with a friend-my first jaunt to America and one that I considered intrepid, given that I would be driving an automatic car on vast freeways and attempting to join the LA traffic and cliff-hangers of San Francisco.

Part of our home made itinerary took in a trip to Las Vegas, which involved travelling across the desert. We’d scheduled in stops, one of which was at Victorville, a kind of truck stop on Route 66. We’d found a hotel [on our budget we were confined to the cheaper chains], dumped the bags but at that point, although we’d driven all day in sweaty heat, a beer seemed more compelling than a shower.

We found a simple, no frills bar which was occupied mainly with workers, mainly male, enjoying a drink after their day’s labours. The arrival of two English women provoked enormous interest, so much that we were unable to buy our own beers and were interrogated on every aspect of our personas and our trip. This, incidentally included a query as to whether we met the age criterion for alcohol [most flattering, since I was 40 at the time]. The flattery continued. ‘Ah luuuurv yer aaahccent!’ one of the admirers drawled. This threw me. Having moved about the country quite a bit throughout childhood I consider myself accent-less. ‘I don’t have have an accent, you do!’ I replied.

Every country, of course has regional accents but you have to be well versed in another language to recognise them. After many years of regular trips to France I still struggle to understand the Southern French tones, and even here in my own homely island much that is spoken with a Scottish twang escapes me-notably post match inquests from football managers etc

I don’t really have a ‘favourite’ although I must confess to there being one or two I really do not like. What are they? Not saying! What’s your favourite?