The Great England Trip: Volume IV

Volume IV: Le Nozze di Figaro and A.O.

I was at A.O.'s house one Sunday afternoon, shuffling around his room and sulking because he had exams and had to work and couldn't pay attention to me, when I saw something on his desk. Mildly curious (such a better term than bored and nosy), I picked up the envelope and a ticket to Le Nozze di Figaro fell out. 

"Oh," I said, enviously, "you're going to the opera. I've always wanted to go," 

"Yes," was the eloquent reply. 

"When are you going?" I asked, still looking at the ticket. 

"This Thursday." Brief pause, followed by a casual, "Oh, I forgot to tell you. You're coming too." 

"WHAAAAT?" I shrieked, whirling around to face him. 

He winced slightly at the volume, but looked exceedingly pleased with his little joke. Less pleased after I, never restrained at the best of times, leaped onto him and nearly strangled him in my excitement. By the time he emerged, purple in the face and clutching his throat, I was babbling away about how much I'd always wanted to go to the opera, especially this one, because I love Mozart. 

Eventually he managed to get rid of me, telling me firmly that he didn't want to see me until Thursday.

Thursday came eventually, but before that, I’d decided that I needed something to wear. Something spectacular, something dazzling, something worthy of an opera. I already had a dress, a simple black dress, and I didn’t have the energy to go in search of another one. I did, however, decide to buy a pair of shoes that would be the mother of all shoes so that week, I dragged Pria off shoe shopping.

She said Bromley was a good option because you find lots of things in one place and we’re both the sort of people who appreciate things like that. Reached Bromley. Decided lunch was more pressing than the shoes. Afterwards, we got down to Business. Went into shops, went out of shops. I tried on more shoes than I’ve ever tried on before. Black ones, soft pearl grey ones, navy blue ones – even, I must confess, a bright green pair.

At Dorothy Perkins, I saw them. The shoes. The Shoes. Bright red (too red, perhaps? Pria said no) with five inch heels. I tried them on and my legs looked much longer than usual. I looked at the world from the impressive height of five feet, eight inches. It had to be those shoes.

We bought them. The saleslady, who’d seen me tottering around on them, discreetly slipped in a couple of shoe-pads. To make them more comfortable, she told me. And to help balance. Something she felt I needed.

“You know, Dad’s going to freak out when he sees those,” Pria told me, on the way home.

“He is?” I said nervously, because I’ve seen my uncle freak out before, and it isn’t a pretty sight.

“Yep. I bought a pair of grey shoes once. Three and a half inches. He flipped.”

I was silent. If my uncle had thrown a tantrum over grey-three and a half inches, what would he say about bright red-five inches?

I showed them to Rajeet when I got home. Were the shoes, perhaps, Too Much?

“Try them on,” he said suspiciously.

I was reluctant to; I still hadn’t learnt to balance on them properly. But I did, and he looked at me and said they looked nice, which coming from him, meant they looked mind bogglingly gorgeous.

“You know Dad’s going to kill you, right?” he said.

I chose to ignore him.

That evening, we were sitting around watching television after dinner. My uncle hadn’t mentioned the shoes and I was hoping he’d forgotten. That bloody Rajeet though, looked up during a commercial break and asked me loudly whether I’d shown him the shoes yet.

“Ah!” My uncle’s eyes brightened. “The shoes. Go on, Trish. Let’s have a look,”

“Another time, maybe,” I murmured, squirming around uncomfortably on my beanbag.

“Come on, come on,” Both my cousins and Sue, took up the refrain.

I sighed, and brought the shoes down. Opened the box, showed them to my uncle.

He looked at them.

Everyone looked at him.

“Try them on,” he said.

I tried them on.

He looked at my feet.

Everyone continued looking at him.

“I have to admit,” he said finally, “you do look quite stunning.”

I smiled a beatific smile, kissed the top of his head, and pranced upstairs with the shoes securely in their box. Behind me, I could hear Pria being Very Upset because he’d accepted the red-five inches and not her grey-three inches. My uncle chose to maintain a dignified silence.

And then it was Thursday. I put the dress on, and put the shoes in a bag. I was going to be wearing my brown sandals till we got to Garsington, because I had to take the tube to Nicky’s house first and from there, we were taking the train to Oxford. I didn’t think I’d be able to manage all that travelling in the red shoes, glorious as they were. Pria lent me a necklace to wear, since I didn’t have any, and Sue lent me a pair of earrings, since I didn’t have any.

On the way to A.O.’s, I texted him, asking him whether he’d come and pick me up from the station. Naturally, as any idiot would know, I was just being polite and it wasn’t a question. I wasn’t even sure if I remembered the way to his house. He texted back, saying it would be great if I could get myself to his place but was I sure I knew the way. I was about to reply, saying that I didn’t and I’d see him at the station but my signal went off. And didn’t come back.

When I reached Lancaster Station, where he usually picks me up from, he wasn’t there. I was hoping he’d have the sense to be there, but I was wrong. Signal still wasn’t back. I sighed a sigh, heaved the Adidas bag I was carrying onto my shoulder (how incongruous it looked with my black dress and colourful necklace) and began to try finding my way to his house. Luckily, I have a good memory, so I found myself in the right area, but there were a couple of streets that looked a lot like each other. Called A.O. (signal had returned), but his phone was off. So then I called him a couple of very rude names but he wasn’t around to hear them and so it didn’t really make a difference. But I recognised his street eventually, and as I was walking down it, he called to find out where I was.

“Outside,” I said grimly.

By the time I reached his house, he was already outside, looking the other way. I tapped him on the shoulder (“Oh,” he said, “I thought you would come the wrong way,”) and shoved my bag at him before marching in.

After many delays, we left for Paddington and we were only a little late. We returned five minutes later because the idiot had left the tickets behind. Finally reached Paddington, got tickets, got train, and sank down with a sigh of relief.

He kept fiddling with his phone on the way, texting and pinging and whats-apping, so I stared out of the window. Fell asleep, naturally.

When we finally reached Garsington, A.O. disappeared to make himself look presentable. I solemnly took my brown sandals off and put the red shoes on. The world suddenly looked brighter. And a little more shaky, but I chose to ignore that. 

Nicky emerged from a nearby tent in his tux and looked doubtfully at me teetering on the shoes, as did the man who checked our tickets.

“Sure you can manage those? It’s hilly and grassy there, y’know,” the man said.

“It’s the principle of the thing,” I informed the both of them but being men, they didn’t understand.

I realised my mistake as soon as I stepped foot on the grass and grabbed A.O.’s arm.

“Nicky,” I hissed, “don’t you dare let go, not even for a minute,”

“You can count on me,” he said gallantly.

Ten minutes later, he’d left me alone, telling me to find a picnic table while he went to see someone about something. I don’t remember what it was supposedly about, but the someone was a very pretty girl, so I know what it was actually about.

“I can do this,” I muttered, and took a step forward. Instantly fell on my knees, onto the grass. I was surrounded by snooty looking English women in gowns and so I kept kneeling there, pretending I’d dropped something and was looking for it. Besides, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to actually get up by myself.

A.O. eventually noticed me, and heaving a sigh, came over and hoisted me up. I rocked back and forth dangerously for a few brief seconds before grudgingly admitting I should take the shoes off.

“I think that’s a good idea,” he said, looking relieved.

I sadly took the red shoes off and put the brown sandals back on.

I didn’t have much time to dwell on my loss, because we found a picnic table, and A.O. took out two bottles of champagne. And a picnic basket. And food, which he’d cooked himself. There was roast chicken and roast vegetables and little sausages and strawberries and cream.

How can you feel upset when it’s a beautiful summer evening and you’re in Garsington, about to see your first opera, and in front of you, are bottles of champagne and strawberries and cream and one of your best friends in the entire world?

So I wasn’t upset, and after the first bottle of champagne (we finished it in ten minutes) I was almost gloriously happy.

A bell rang, and we went inside to see the opera.

Hm. How do I describe it?

A broad wooden stage, and because we were in a pavilion of sorts, parts of it were dappled in sunlight. There was so much colour. The setting, the costumes, the music. Perhaps it was the champagne, I don’t know, but everything seemed to sort of shimmer. It wasn’t in English naturally, and I chose to ignore the screen showing the subtitles because it distracted, but you didn’t need to know Italian to understand. The exaggerated movement, the wide eyes, the over the top acting and more than anything else, the music that poured out from their mouths, was enough. After the first half, we went back to the picnic table and finished the rest of the champagne. During the second half, I sat back and stopped concentrating on the plot because to do that, wouldn’t have allowed the singing to sink in the way it did. I remember, at one point, linking my arm through A.O.’s, completely ensconced in the music, and feeling a calm, contented sort of happiness. The music reminded me of my grandmother, because she loved Mozart. It was a good sort of reminder.

Afterwards, we walked around a little – it’s so lovely, Grasmere – and then we got on the train and headed home. A.O. was whats-apping a friend of his, and I was feeling jealous and so I sat and sulked, but he didn’t notice and anyway, it didn’t really matter.

We got back, raided his father’s liquor cabinet, stole his dead grandfather’s cigars and finished the strawberries, and I don’t remember what we talked about, but it was a nice sort of ending to the day. A day, a little like A.O. himself really, filled with moments of irritation and frustration and disturbance and turbulence, but overall, something really quite special.

 PS Nice, no? I learnt to walk in them eventually. 



Pebble, I wish I'd found you first
Picked you up and turned
You over in my palm.

Rubbed my thumb
Slowly over the hollow dents
In your stone cold greyness
Your salt sad softness.

Rolled your heat softly
Over the scar on my wrist
Pressed you to my lips
And slipped you in my pocket.

Pebble, I wish I'd found you first
But you eluded me
Choosing the waves
That snatched you away
And drowned you in the sea.


Advice I Wish I Could Give My Past Self

- Leaping from your bed on to moving toy buses will result in six stitches and three injections on the butt. Don't. Ditto for climbing walls to impress fourteen year old- cricket playing- in love with the girl who lives next door boys which will result in a loss that will traumatise and haunt you for the rest of your life. It's okay when it happens to your milk teeth. Adult teeth? No. 

- When fifteen and covered in acne, do not smear face with toothpaste. Or honey. Or toothpaste and honey. Just hide from the rest of the world until sixteenth birthday. 

- Going completely insane before a history exam is acceptable. Walking out of the house without any shoes, and walking four times around Ballygunge Circle while reciting dates in a sing song voice, is not. It will result in stares (stares of amazement, stares of amusement, stares of derision, and stares that are more than slightly creepy) and an acquaintance coming up to you the next day and whispering, "I heard you lost it outside Mama Mia last night." 

- If you must cut your hair, go to a salon like normal people. Don't get Jahnavi Ghosh to do it at the age of nine, or Rohini Bhose to do it when she's stoned. (Mawii Zothan, sober and in college, is okay). Otherwise you will spend the next three months with something akin to palm trees growing on top of your head.

- Swallowing cherry seeds will not make a cherry tree bloom in your stomach. 

- If you must push Tania Mirchandani off the jungle gym in nursery, make sure you do it discreetly. When the teacher isn't looking. And don't do a tarzan cry and leap on top of her afterwards. 

- Never take your diary to school. It will be grabbed and flaunted and read aloud in Assembly and everyone will know about your unrequited love for Farhad Anklesaria and the fact that your breasts refuse to grow, no matter how much you talk to them. 

- Talking to your breasts will not make them grow. They won't start growing until you're perfectly comfortable with them and then they won't stop. 

- When waiting for First Kiss from First Boyfriend, wait. Don't get drunk and frustrated and attack him in the back of a cab. (I don't think Vikram or the poor taxi driver ever recovered). 

- When at the age of thirteen, you drink the best part of a bottle of rum, it's best to throw up quietly in the toilet. Not announce to your mother that you're drunk and then throw up in front of her. 

- Neighbours do not appreciate you relieving yourself on their terrace. Even if it was a dare. 

- Bouncing a tennis ball off the back of Sabir Bhaiya's head is not a good idea. Especially when he's driving. 

- The next time a new maid calls you to the kitchen to show you something when your parents are out, lock yourself in your room and don't emerge. This will save you the trauma of seeing a live crab being made dead by an energetic twist of her hands. 

- Eating the plants on the terrace will not make you turn green. The same way painting yourself blue will not make you look like a Smurf. It will just make you look strange and have people question your sanity.  

- After finding out Farhad Anklesaria's favourite song is Crazy Town's Butterfly, desist from wearing clothes with butterflies on them and following him around singing the song in an out of tune voice. It will not make him realise you are his future wife. It will make him look terrorised every time you happen to be in his vicinity. 

- When a boy tells you you're pretty, smile. Don't tell him he's pretty too and then spill your drink on him. 

- Speaking of drinks, don't tell Minnie to spill hers on the crotch of a boy who has been less than nice to you. She will. Actually, do. 

- Continuing speaking of drinks, do not mix them. No, this time will not be different. Yes, you will make a fool of yourself and end up puking spectacularly in less than appropriate places. Eg. Relative's bed. 

- Do not set things on fire. Especially your hair. 

- When you see a banana peel on the pavement, do not step on it to prove you won't slip and fall. Because you will. 

- Do not watch Trainspotting stoned. Ditto Saw, Jaws and Psycho. 

- During a piano exam, when you're having your aural test and the examiner asks you the time, chances are he wants to know the time signature of the piece he just played and not how many minutes away four o'clock is. 

- Never poke a snake. 

- The next time someone dares you to leap into the river Avon and swim across it, don't. 

- Plasticine food may look pretty, but it's advisable not to eat it. 

- If someone (your Class 2 class teacher) asks you if you have any siblings, say yes and stop there. Don't say: I'm not sure. Wait. Yes, one brother. No, two brothers. I think. 

- An umbrella may help Mary Poppins fly, but it won't help you. And no, salt+sand+red powder+expensive perfume is not the secret recipe for pixie dust. 

- Do not go to an acquaintance's house and start playing their precious violin. And once the strings are broken, don't blame it on their dog. 

- Above all, don't keep diaries. Your future self will look back and weep.


The feeling when you're halfway between sleep and wakefulness. Your eyes are still sandpapered together, but your mind begins to stir, seeing, though your eyes do not, the sunbeam falling on your face. Slow and easy, like the edge of a sea nibbling away at the shore. Not happiness; the promise of happiness. 

But promises are prone to throwing themselves out of windows.

A voice. Gently stirring you. 

A small smile because the voice is known and loved.

A blink as the voice keeps talking. 

Ceiling. Light splaying on the walls. The shadow of a tree.

Stumbling to the bathroom, falling on the floor, your heart in your mouth. Choking. Trying desperately to cough it out, to get rid of it, because that's the only way you'll be able to breathe again. Tears forcing a path from eye to cheek to mouth. Salty, scalding. Heart slowly jerks its way back into place again but it wasn't so heavy before, no. 

And then some toast and a false smile because that's what life brings after death is done.


It seeped into my skin, slowly and painfully, under a canopy of leaves, and stayed there. Like your words did, and your eyes when you smile.


The Great England Trip: Volume III

Volume III: The Return (to Civilisation).

I greeted my last day in the Lake District with great joy. It wasn't that I hadn't enjoyed the trip; I did have a brilliant time despite certain horrendous moments. But I missed the city. I missed my cousins and meals that didn't comprise breakfast and strangers that shoved me aside on the pavement instead of hellolovelydaying me. And to be honest, the country was getting on my nerves. Everything opened too early and closed too early and I was starting to see Izzie's point about the whole chips with gravy thing. If chips with tomato sauce were a cigarette, chips with gravy would be a bidi. 

Izzie and I discussed our plan briefly over breakfast. The plan was this: Pack. Leave bags behind. Kill time till three thirty pm. Collect bags. Walk to station. Get on train. Leave. Never come back.

Excellent plan really.

As Andrew thrust congealed eggs and salty bacon under our noses, we asked him if we could leave our bags behind and collect them in the afternoon. Understandably, we didn't want to lug them around the Lake District for the next six hours.

"Okay," he said, almost graciously. "Leave 'em in the dining room. Ring the doorbell when you come back."

"Thanks very much," said Izzie.

"Lovely day," I added. It wasn't. If ever a sky was going to burst into tears, it was this one. But I was trying to be conciliatory. It didn't work. He turned away and started haranguing some poor Japanese tourist in Japanese.

"So that's how he communicates with his wife," Izzie muttered.

We decided to pass the morning by climbing another fell. It was quite close by, and not very high. We climbed it. We stood at the top trying to savour the moment but it was ruined by a couple of girls dancing around photographing themselves. We went back down. I found an interesting tree which had initials and dates carved all over its bark. The oldest inscription I could find said: TD, 1915. I thought that was extremely cool. I tried adding TD, 2010 below it but none of the stones I found were sharp enough. So I was unable to leave my mark on history.

"I'll find other ways," I told Izzie on the way down, but she was busy tripping over stones and didn't hear me. Or perhaps she thought it was kinder to pretend, who knows?

We wandered sadly around Windermere for a while, and because it's so small, we soon found ourselves on the road to Bowness.

"What to do? What to dooo?" said Izzie, as we passed a row of cafes.

A sign caught my eye and a lightbulb went off in my head.

"Izzie!" I said, grabbing her arm and pointing towards it.

We dashed across the road, forgetting to look right or left but since there were no cars, it didn't really matter. We went into the cafe, ignored all the little patties and cakes because nothing - not even a strawberry tart - was going to deter us from our goal, and plonked a couple of coins on the counter.

"Those two are free," said the kind lady-behind-the-counter.

Two and a half hours of email and facebook bliss followed. I'd been cut off from the world for four days and in the interim, many things (heartbreak, meltdowns, and influenza) had attacked my friends. I did my best, in the short time I had, to set their world aright and it was with a lighter heart (I'd managed to confess some unmentionable deeds as well) that I stepped out into the streets of Bowness once again. Even the sun was making an attempt to peep out.

However, it was with no small amount of relief that we begin to walk back to Windermere to pick up our luggage. We reached the B&B by three thirty. We were early; the train wasn't to leave till four and the station was only five minutes away, but we didn't want to take a chance. The thought of one more night in Andrew's B&B was too horrifying to even contemplate.

No one answered the door.

"Maybe they're upstairs and can't hear," said Izzie nervously.

I pressed the bell three times in quick succession, counting to ten each time. Someone passing by gave us a dirty look.

"Do you think they're asleep?" I asked.

"They could be dead and they'd still hear it," said Izzie desperately.

I stood before the window. Through the thick glass, I could see our suitcases. I thought of opening it and climbing inside, but it was fastened. Blood pressure running high, I walked all round the house looking desperately for an open window but they were all locked. Probably as protection against Asian refugees.

Izzie was still pressing the doorbell, not giving up hope, saying rude things about Andrew and B&B owners in general under her breath. Well, okay. Not under her breath.

I pushed open the flap where the letters go through. I could see the hallway, I could see the stairs, I could see the room where our suitcases were. It was torture.

"Hellllooooooooooo," I called.

No one helllooooooooo-ed back.

"What's the time?" I asked Izzie.

"Nearly quarter to four,"

"Do you have his number? Maybe we could call,"

"No, but maybe Mum does." Izzie rang her mother who rang the tourist office who gave her the number which she passed onto us along with a don't-worry-if-you-miss-the-train-it's-not-your-fault.

"We are not going to miss the bloody train," snarled Izzie. She called Andrew, punching in the numbers on her phone so viciously that I winced a bit.

When she spoke to him though, she was quite civil. At first.

Iz: Hi, is this Andrew?

Andrew: *presumably saying yes*

Iz: Right. Well, our train leaves in twelve minutes and no one's answering the door. We need to collect our bags.

Andrew: *says something I, obviously, cannot hear*

Iz: *raising voice slightly* We did tell you that we'd be back for them. You said you'd be here.

Andrew: *says something else that I cannot hear.*

Iz: Well, you shouldn't have told us then. It's not our fault. *Pause* Wait. What? WHAT? No-

She snapped her phone shut and looked at me.

"He says," and she sounded so defeated, poor thing, "that he'll be here in five minutes. Our train's in less than ten."

"We'll run," I said encouragingly.

Izzie looked doubtfully at me but didn't say anything. Five minutes later, Andrew drove up (along with his wife and the children). He got out of the car and went to the letter box. The key was on top. Izzie and I looked at each other speechlessly.

"Why didn't he just tell us it was there?" I whispered to her.

"Because he's mental," she hissed.

We ran in and grabbed our stuff. Andrew followed us to the door.

"You should have planned this better," he said to us. "It's really not my job to be responsible for this. I'm a busy man."

"Goodbye, thank you." I said cheerfully, clutching my duffel bag in one hand and using the other to hold Izzie back. She had a slightly crazed look in her eyes and her hands were balling into fists.

"No time to hit him," I told her. "Let's run,"

We ran. Uphill, obviously.

"Not his job?" Izzie yelled as she ran, her hair blowing up in a puff above her head. "NOT HIS JOB? HE'S A FUCKING BED AND BREAKFAST OWNER IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. OF COURSE IT'S HIS FUCKING JOB."

I would have agreed, in equally strong language, but I was having trouble breathing. And most of my attention was focused on avoiding the straps of my duffel bag getting tangled up with my legs.

"BUSY?" Izzie has remarkable lung capacity. "BUSY? BUSY DOING WHAT? MILKING A FUCKING COW?"

"Or shearing sheep," I said as we stumbled into the station, a minute before the train was about to depart. We rushed onto the platform. There was no train.

"Do you think we've missed it?" I said, terror seizing my heart.

"No. It's late," said Izzie gloomily, pointing to the signboard. "Eight minutes."

I repressed a sob with difficulty and plonked myself down on the platform.

"At least we didn't miss it," said Izzie after a pause.

I shot her a filthy look.

Eight minutes turned to sixteen. Izzie went to speak to the office and came back with the horrible news that the train had been indefinitely delayed.

"You know what this means don't you?"

"What does it mean?"

"We're probably going to miss the connecting train to London."

And that of course, is exactly what happened. The train came forty minutes late. I insisted that it had probably been delayed because a cow had wandered onto the tracks but we later found out, from the ticket inspector, that it was running on one engine instead of three.

"But why?" Izzie asked.

"These things happen, love," she said, shrugging.

We reached Station X to find that our train to London had left without us. We called our family, all of whom were supremely unconcerned. They told us to catch the next one and let them know what time we'd reach London so someone could pick us up.

"What if we never reach London?" I said darkly, while talking to Sue.

She snorted unsympathetically. She didn't know. No one knew.

We finally caught a train (an hour later) that took us to another station where we had to wait for another train that would take us to London.

"It's going to come to Platform 5. Where is Platform 5?" said Izzie, looking around.

I didn't answer. I'd spotted a vending machine and the vending machine had chocolate. Chocolate. I needed chocolate.

"I SEE PLATFORM 4! I SEE PLATFORM 6! WHERE THE FUCK IS PLATFORM 5?" yelled Izzie. I ignored her. I was too busy unwrapping my chocolate.

"You're on Platform 5," said a sweet old lady timidly, pointing to a sign that said 5 on it.

"I've had a bad day," Izzie muttered, sinking down next to me.

"Chocolate?" I asked. My mouth was full, my eyes had glazed over slightly and I could feel the chocolate smears all over my mouth. I didn't care. I'd reached another plane, a higher one (some would say a lower one), and nothing else mattered except the chocolate.

"It's going to be past nine by the time we get home," groaned Izzie.

I finished my chocolate and got another one from the vending machine.

The train came and we got into it. It would take us a couple of hours to get back to London but we'd be back before dark. Nine thirty in the summer is before dark.

The journey is hazy. I remember eating the chocolate and then moving onto a muffin that Izzie had on her and then I think I fell asleep. I woke up covered in crumbs only to be told that London was still an hour away.

We did reach eventually. I texted Sue, telling her I was a shadow of my former self. 

Izzie's parents were there to pick us up. They took us back to my aunt and uncle's and we all had dinner by candlelight. I was forced to skip dessert.

"So how was your trip?" Pria asked me.

"I'm a shadow of my former self," I said tragically.

"We saw that text," said my uncle, who has been notoriously unsympathetic towards me since the day of my birth. "Don't exaggerate. You missed a train. It happens to everyone."

I looked at Izzie and Izzie looked at me.

"Let it go, mate," she said, shaking her head. I let it go, choosing instead, to raise my wine glass to her. We both made a silent toast to the city. To civilisation, and our return to it.

"Stop drinking so much and finish your salad," said my uncle.

I comforted myself with the thought that those who truly suffer, suffer in silence.