Friday, December 28, 2012

Growing Old

The mind is set
The body has grown
I think I am getting old

The tummy comes out
The hair starts to thin
The memory lets you down
You think I am getting old?

My life of 30 odd years
Backed up on the hard disk of my brain
Flashes those growing up years
Making me forget i am growing old

As the years go by
And December leads to January
We both cannot deny
We both are getting old!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

UK Special - Boxing Day Sale!

Festivals are a time to open up your purses and splurge on food, clothes or other accessories.  Irrespective of the economic cycle a nation or the world is in, this is a time when you as a spender will not mind spending your hard earned money. During these times of festivals, especially the brands whose products you buy cannot choose to ignore you. 

These brands and the larger organisations behind them try to make the most of this sentiment to “spend money“ by offering huge discounts and door buster “hard-to-ignore” deals. It is a time for them to improve their top line (revenue) and take a marginal hit on their bottom line (profits) – as the discounts drive down the profit margins; however it is still impressive for them to repeat this practise of giving discounts many times a year. For you as a buyer, it is – a hit on your savings (equivalent to profit margins), depletion of top line (income/savings) but a huge satisfaction of our consumerism and the feeling of “getting a good deal”.

In the UK, one of the best times to get a discount is during the Boxing Day sale. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas. Traditionally from the olden ages, it was a day when the rich & luxurious used to give presents to their servants, workers or close ones and give them a day off. Maybe this symbolizes the efforts put in by the people throughout the year and an act of Thanksgiving. Boxing day is also a public holiday in the UK.  Today, Boxing Day is the day when the English loosen their purse strings and the High Street Retailers and all organisations across Clothes, Fashion and Electronic Goods give their best bargains to increase their wallets of the shoppers in England. 

A Boxing Day sale is exactly similar to the sales which go on in the US – a day after Thanksgiving (which typically comes in November). Shops are open from early in the morning till late in the evening with their cash registers clocking sales by the minute and their websites loaded with internet users buying items virtually. The early morning door buster sales are for the determined shopper, who can wake up early in the morning, brave the cold and stand in line before the store opens for the day, ready to get best of the deals. However even if you miss door buster, there is still enough meat during the entire day, for you to splurge your money on!

Debenhams, Harrow Mall, London, UK - 2010
A visit to the shops later in the evening, just before they close for the day gives you a sneak peak of the highlights of the day. One of such pictures was captured by me during the Boxing Day sale of 2010, when i was in London – visiting a Debenhams outlet in Harrow. I am sure there would have been a few “cat fights” between ladies – trying to snatch the first best outfit that hits the eye!

This Boxing Day of 2012 , Meenakshi & I had been to a factory outlet – Junction 32, which is about 20 minutes from our place. A very nice mall – horizontally spread – just like the huge malls in Connecticut, US that i used to frequent with my friends. Over 90 multi brand outlets don Junction 32  and keeps one busy with the discounts and offers all over the year. In a span of 5-6 hours that we spent at Junction 32, we gave footfalls to Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Collectibles, Marks & Spencer, Gap and allowed Nike, Next and Gap to have a share of our wallet!  Next is typically known for better quality and styled clothes than Primark, Marks & Spencer and is a suggested “must visit” during Boxing Day sales in UK.

Junction 32 Mall, Castleford, UK - 2012
Thanks to Subway for ensuring we were able to relax and recharge our batteries before finishing off abusing our credit cards this Boxing Day Sale! Hope we stay off this temptation for sometime now and avoid buying this we did not plan to buy in the first instance! 

On a lighter note - let me assure that if you miss shopping this day when in England, with the lady in your house - be prepared to get "boxed" on your jaws or tummy for sure! No wonder -someone named it right as - "Boxing Day" when men ought to loose the match!

Happy Boxing Day folks!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

UK: Nottingham: Visit to Pub - ye olde trip to Jerusalem

The Pub’s have a fundamental importance to the British social life since ages. Pubs are short form for “Public House” – which are public drinking establishments for people from different backgrounds to socially interact with each other and share a drink. Just like tea rooms as indicated in my early blog on Betty’s Team room (click here for the same), Pubs have also been promoting social networking for centuries!

The pub is one of the most significant landmarks in any village, suburb, town or city in England and is the focal point for the communities around it. The pubs serve a variety of spirits like beers, wine, scotch and other hard drinks. It is always worthwhile and recommended to check the local beer that is available and famously served in the pub. This gives you a distinct experience of acquiring a taste beyond the typical branded international beer brands. I have visited a variety of Pubs in England in the last few years. The first visit was in London; where by brother in law had taken us all for an evening. I had tried Guiness beer for the first time then and it tasted unlike other international beers I had tried till then. In Leeds, over the last year – in 2012, thanks to our local expert Guy Bradshaw – Meenakshi & I have had a chance to visit a host of pubs and I was able to taste different beers, experience history of various pubs in and around Leeds. The Leeds pubs deserve a different blog of their own soon!

However, one of the pubs I was recommended by Guy and had read online was the “Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem” in Nottingham. My friend Mridul who stays in Nottingham also happened to be a forced bachelor in December of 2012 just like I was (since my spouse Meenakshi was also in India). I was bubbling with enthusiasm that week anyways – having cleared my UK driving test and was itching to go for a long drive on the UK motorways. We decided to catch-up over the weekend – a last minute plan which always works! Over the 2 days – we had a blast, having had sumptuous lunch at Chennai Dosa in Leicester,  followed by a visit to this famous pub on a Saturday night and some movies and loads conversation!

Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem claims to be the oldest drinking establishment in England. It indicates it was established in 1189 AD.It is on the foothills of one of the Nottingham castle - about 6 minutes walk from Nottingham station. Legend has it that knights who answered the calls of Richard I to join the crusades stopped off at this watering hole for a pint on their way to Jerusalem.

Mridul & I stepped inside the pub to have a beer and queued up behind a long queue in a very narrow and small entrance. Thought it was hardly 4.30 pm in the evening, we instantly got to know that his pub was famous and needs persistence, if you want to enjoy the drink and enjoy the ambience. 
The ambience inside will take you centuries back in time and you will feel you are in one of the low ceiling caves - as you jostle and queue up to get your beer from the bar. A lot of folks were already in high spirits and were cheerful and welcoming.

I had a pint of “Olde Trip” and Mridul stuck with a pint of “Abbott”. We walked around the pub to the other side – where there was a huge seating in the form of wooden benches in long rows in the available area. All the people were enjoying the wet and cold Saturday evening, with a beer in hand – busy in their own private conversations in a public place. The smoke from different cigarettes was forming a virtual partition or smokescreen giving one an impression of privacy between the groups in a public place.

Over conversations and catching up on old times during our MBA days, we couldn’t help observing some casks around and a small picture showing the beer making process. The picture was symbolic to those chemical process diagrams I remember drawing during my school and college! Some good knowledge for a beer connoisseur like me! Hope a day comes when I am able to expertly talk about the hops, spicy ness, ales and barley on the beer and the right mix!

Post that one pint, we decided it was a good homage to the “ye olde trip to Jerusalem” and decided to head home to enjoy drinks at home! Pubs are somewhat a dying phenomenon in England now as your Supermarket stores and off license convenience stores sell beer & alcohol at rates – lower than pubs. It is essential that pubs are preserved as they house so much of history (some of the pubs in Leeds I visited are almost 120 years old!) and culture of this country! I encourage you to visit a pub to at least have a pint to support its existence, if not party the entire night! After all if you are supporting social networking by reading this blog, accessing twitter or facebook – isn’t it fair to support pubs who have promoted social networking for years?

The last capture of olde trip - circa 2012!

Comic Strip: Lucy and the TV person by Ms. Sanjana Iyer

As a kid, i was slowly discovering the penchant for writing. The vent was through 2-3 page short stories scribbled on the calendar diaries gifted by my dad. The frequency was periodic and not regular and unfortunately it wasn't as clean as writing it on computer - thanks to my illegible handwriting (which still has stayed loyal to me to this date!) and correction/ spelling mistakes!

I had never attempted a comic strip ever - probably because of bad drawing skills and also lack of an imaginative mind. My niece Sanju the poetess has now donned the hat of a comic strip creator in this one. Found this lying somewhere at my sis's place while they were shifting houses this November. Got a chance to sneak this one into our bags and post approval from the budding writer - i have decided to put this one the blog. Putting this in an image format for ease of read for all!

All the best Sanju! Carry on writing and creating these comic strips! When you grow up - do follow "Calvin & Hobbes", "Dilbert", "Garfield" and "Chintoo" (if you learn marathi) - which will be good inspiration!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

UK: Leedsify: German Christmas markets

Millennium Square towering over Leeds Christmas markets
Christmas is to the Western World what Diwali is to Indians. A time to exchange gifts, buy new clothes or items, meet friends and family, enjoy good food  and lot of laughter, lights and joy all around to light up the spirits from the mundane profanities of everyday life.

Around Christmas time, people are willing to open up their wallets and ready to indulge in purchasing and shopping.  This not only ensures good business to High Street retailers, but also is a good source of income for temporary markets and traders who travel far and wide from other countries to make their monies during the festive season.

Every year during Christmas, there is a German market put up at Millennium Square – the heart of Leeds city centre. This Christmas market is called “Christkindelmarkt”, and is indeed- a little piece of Germany in the heart of Leeds City Centre. This market attracts more than hundred thousand visitors for about a month before Christmas.

The market consists of over 40 wooden stalls – which look like Wooden cabins from the outside. Each of these stalls are put up by authentic German traders providing a wide range of seasonal gift ideas for everyone including; handcrafted toys, jewellery, Christmas cards and festive decorations. 

This also includes speciality foods and traditional German delicacies such as gluhwein, sausages, goulash, soups, gingerbread and candied fruits, crepe` and other delicacies. Not to forget the German beers, giving you feeling of your own “Novemberfest” or “Decemberfest”!

Gluhwein in traditional cup!
The temptation of German beer!

Apart from the wooden stalls the other attractions are the games in and around the German markets – which keep families, friends and kids glued enough. The shiny flashbulbs lighten up the nights – underlining the feeling of joy & enjoyment for all folks enjoying the market!

A must visit for anyone who would like to experience a little bit of “continental Europe” in UK and hear Germans speaking measured English with a cute European accent. I would advise one to not miss gluhwein (warm wine), beer & crepe’!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

UK: Worcester: "Poppins" local restaurant

Over the last 10-15 years multinational corporations have subconsciously controlled our choice of deodorants or perfumes, phone, jeans or other accessories and of course the choice of our taste buds as well. “Organized crime” is a term used widely for crime that is a result of pre-determined motives from a group of people. “Organized robbery” or “Organized looting” is what multinational corporations do to the society making us individuals devoid of local choices. The chains of McDonalds, Subways, Pizza Express, Burger King and others rule the palates of at least a quarter if not half of the world’s population at this time. We identify city landmarks with reference to the Subway or McDonald nearby. In light of this “organized disillusionment” to select a local restaurant of your choice, you are at times caught fumbling to think of names you can recommend to your friends, family or colleagues. The dwindling numbers of such local restaurants are a result of the buying power of multinational corporations with their food chains.

One of the places where i have had a very sumptuous meal in England is a local restaurant called “Poppins”.  Poppins claims to be a coffee house and restaurant and it is exactly opposite the Worcester Foregate train station in Worcestershire. From the outside and also from the inside, the restaurant decor gives you a feeling of being a very old restaurant which was just about making money to pay the bills and making a wafer thin profit margin on top. Though it has been maintained well, it has still grown old over the years and definitely has the old style seating arrangements, chairs and furniture. The people who serve you also make you feel you are in the 1980’s or 1990’s. I don’t know if its by design or by accident.

I happened to be in Worcester with a colleague for an official meeting in that city. We had taken a train from London down to Worcester early in the morning. Since it was too early a start, we hadn’t had breakfast and Poppins is where we had our first meal of the day – around 10 – 11`ish on a Thursday morning. Poppins was still full of customers settling down and enjoying their cuppa tea and late breakfasts. The feeling i got seeing a lot of old people was that this was a joint for them for years together now. Many of them would probably be friends who would have met in the same restaurant for the first time in the 80’s and continued their daily visit to Poppins over the years – growing older with their lives, but not bored of “Poppins”. Kudos to the owners of Poppins as well to keep it as it was and give good quality food. I had an egg omlette with bread and chips. Also had some tea and freshly made orange juice. Quality of food for the price was very very good.

Poppins definitely reminded me of “Chandraprabha” Chinese center around Mulund (a suburb in Mumbai) or any of the Udupi hotels  / Iranian cafe’s in Mumbai which are old from outside and inside – with chipped tables and chairs – but still serve good food. These establishments have stood the “test of time” against multi brand food chains and our continued patronage to these will help us to get nice change to taste good quality local food across the world!

If you want to try a slice of life from an era gone by, please stop by at Poppins and enjoy your no frills meal!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The significance of 12 -12-12

1.    Well, the world did not come to an end on 12-12-12!
2.    It was Indian Superstar Rajinikanth’s birthday on 12-12-12! Some joke to say  that perhaps that explains why the world did not end!
3.    I cleared my UK Practical Driving test on 12-12-12 at 12.43 pm! On a second attempt (much to my dislike), its finally a sigh of relief. My first attempt was in November and i should have cleared it – had it not been for some silly mistakes which cost me my license then! Anyways better late than taking “forever”! They say getting your UK Driving License is the toughest in the world. Perhaps right - i got my US Drivers License on the first attempt, which itself was considered highly unusual by my American colleagues in 2004!. 
4.    The win was well celebrated in the loneliness of my apartment with a Staffordshire IPA (local beer from Stafforshire) that a colleague and dear friend Guy Bradshaw had gifted me. I had ordered take-away food  from Michelin starred “Bird” Indian restaurant in Leeds. Playing in the background was the movie “Kes” – an old British movie recommended by Guy. Good one!

For Point # 3,
Thanks to my driving instructor Parminder Lyall – who has been a good coach for my driving. I took 2-3 lessons from Parminder way back in Jan’12 to get used to the road rules and driving temperament in UK. Starting October – took at least 20-22 classes from him before my driving test – once my Indian driving license was about to be invalid to drive in UK (you can drive on an  Indian license for a year after you land in UK). I flunked it once in November and appeared again in December to clear it. Parminder has been instrumental in helping me sort out my driving in UK and help me not carry forward the baggage of "driving rules" i carry from my three years of road experience in the US and baggage of  "following no rule" in India for over 15 years!

I am now getting tempted to start a series of “Global Driving Experience” on lines of “Global Haircut Experience”,that will help me share car driving experience across countries! Anyways, let me wait for some more time before i run out of topics!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Global Haircutting Experience – Part 4

United Kingdom - England
Price: £4-£6 (INR 320 - INR 560) excluding a tip (2006-2012 prices)

Probably the last of the series under this topic on my blog – unless I visit another country! Having donated my locks of hair for years in India and then having cut it in US and Norway I have had a chance to have this experience in England as well.

I have been visiting England as a tourist since 2006. However, since 2011, I have been deputed for work on an official assignment.  Over these trips, I have had my haircut in London on numerous occasions and also in Leeds. The price I have paid for these haircuts is somewhere between £ 4 and £ 6 per hair cut session (excluding any tip which is around £ 0.50 to £ 1.00).  Because Britain has been open to immigration for years (prior to 2010), the influx of Asians, Iranians and African’s makes it a very price competitive market.

In London, my first few experiences have been at the salon on the High Street just before the junction of Ealing Road and High Street in Wembley. The hairdressing salon with a signboard of Irfan is quiet prominent amongst other signboards that may well make you feel you are in India. Signboards like “Chennai Dosa”, “Bank of Baroda” donning the entrance of these Indian bastions may make a local Englishman feel like an outsider! Irfan typically has hairdressers from Pakistan/ border of Afghanistan and Pakistan or from Afghanistan who have sought asylum in England. With typical Bollywood music playing in the background and conversation in broken Hindi with Urdu influence,  you doesn’t feel you are in a foreign country when you close your eyes as the scissors go – click, click!

In Leeds, I have been able to find another cheap hair dressing salon – right next to a Persian restaurant in the city centre.  An African man does a good service of cutting your tresses for not more than £6. With conversations spanning London Olympics and other sports and travel around the world – I have fond memories of having visited him for 2-3 times.

Early this month, I was literally forced onto having a haircut in London (though I knew long before I needed one, but was just plain lazy!) by my sister. Since my wife is in India and my work was taking me more often to London, I had crashed into my sisters & brother-in-laws for over a week. Early December, I spotted a hairdressing salon on Wembley Plaza, right outside Wembley Central station which proudly proclaimed to cut your tresses for £3.99/- under the name of “Satish Haircut”. I was a tad circumspect if the low price had something more suspicious about it. After running it past my brother – in-law to get his local expertise, I decided to take a risk. Satish hairdressers welcomed me and thankfully – there was no waiting time at 5.00 pm on a cold Tuesday evening. Satish’s cell phone was playing Kumar Sanu songs from the Bollywood movies of the 1990’s in the background. I explained to him in plain Hindi (like we do in India) on what needs to be done, closed my eyes and went into a trance feeling i was in India – thanks to the music and an Indian guy around. In about 20-25 mins I was down a few white and black hairs off my head and got closer to the haircut I always wanted so badly while abroad, but never got. My tip justified my satisfaction for sure! Thanks Satish – if I happen to come next time – all my tresses are to be cut by yours truly! Thanks for the Gujarati conversation in the background you were having with your other colleague; I could well have been in Ghatkopar, Mumbai in India that in Wembley, England that chill December evening! Home away from home!

Having a hair cut is the cheapest in England, outside of India – if you know where to look for – especially Asian/ African dominated areas. Even while I was in Norway, whenever I used to visit England, I planned my haircuts to ensure those £7-£ 10 were saved - eventually to be splurged in something else which was much more trivial!