The Roundabout Tom-Tom

We are back after what felt like a short vacation. It was, in fact, just right. Like a good cup of coffee that wakes and rejuvenates you, yet leaves you thirsting for more. I hadn’t met the brother in three years (the bane of multi-national families) and I was like a happy child in anticipation for a good three months before the trip. We visited London, then drove on to Wales and finished up at Ireland. After a hectic day sight-seeing around London, I was quite glad of the opportunity to pile into the car and make for the famous English countryside. I do like cities for a spot of sight seeing, but give me a forest or the fields any day and I will be a happier camper.

The plan was to leave London in an orderly manner in two cars, one following the other, and drive to Wales, stopping in Oxford and Birmingham on the way. The brother set the destination on the TomTom, a name I found hilarious. Well, it should have been Tom-Jerry since we were playing catch with the brother’s car ahead of us most of the time, and he like Jerry the mouse was quick at turning at the right turnoffs, while we…well, read on.

Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry
Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry

The relations between UK and US maybe perfectly cordial, but they insist on doing everything opposite. The flushes are on the right, the toilet paper is on the left,  toilets here have half hearted doors, while they go all the way in the UK.  (brother’s blog here when he visited the USA)

More importantly it is left hand driving there while it is right hand driving in the US. This, in and of itself, was confusing enough without adding roundabouts, turnabouts, Tom-Toms and the lot.

The Tom-Tom did what most GPS-es do. It kept telling us what to do, and when we did not listen, stopped just short of sighing. One time, I did hear something that sounded like “Chee! Not there – Turn around when possible

There is something else one must know about the Tom-Tom: It was either surprisingly good at Mathematics or gapingly poor at it. One minute, it would be saying , in quarter a mile, take left on the round-about, and third exit towards A-56648.

The next minute, it’d say, in 200 yards, take left on the round-about and fourth exit towards A-56648

Now, we are all for good-natured fun at our expense, but really! How was one to figure out whether:

(a) There was a round-about at 200 yards and another round-about at quarter of a mile.

(b) 200 yards is approximately equal to quarter of a mile.

(c) Since they don’t use miles, does it really mean kilometers?

(d) To take the fourth exit or the third exit to A-56648

New Delhi had a similar menace too and I remember writing about it 9 years ago here:

All highly muddlacious and confusional. The result being that the brother would be waiting at our rendezvous point twiddling his thumbs (read, running after his over-active toddler happy to be released from his carseat) when we’d tumble into the scene mildly cursing the Tom-Tom. The husband quite often blurred the lines between the Tom-Tom and his faithful wife who directed him with a firmer voice than the Tom-Tom. When asked who he was cursing, he’d use his charming smile and say, a tad too quickly for comfort, that it was the Tom-Tom.

The Roundabout Charkrayuga
The Roundabout Charkrayuga

The night we reached Birmingham, we could easily have reached Manchester, for there was a round-about that spindled out like a spider in seven or eight different directions. Having muddled up the previous round-about with just three turns and going away after some pretty deer in the countryside before turning around, we were really scared about this one. We managed though and generally tottered out towards our hotel like sheep lost for a day and a half on the pastures by the stile.

After the fifth muddle-tum-misseoso, the brother took things firmly in his hand, and sent his wife in our car to direct us. We’d have to say things were better, because we told her we will. But the truth was that the Tom-Tom just upped its ante when it realized that it had another person to misdirect. I don’t know whether I really trust folks when they say that inanimate objects have no feelings. I could not shake off the feeling that the Tom-Tom sat up with glee at the additional person in the car and laughed its way through the countryside. One time, the b’s wife said, “I am absolutely sure – you turn here” and then, the Tom-Tom chuckled and said, “Chuckle Chuckle Grin Grin, Turn around when possible and take right on the roundabout and fourth exit.”

Really, what is wrong with good old fashioned signals I ask you. Why can’t you have crossroads that say, Turn Right on signal to go to Birmingham and Left to go to London? Why have people go merrily round and round a roundabout? Not that it got us in anyway because we had all the time in the world. We were driving through the countryside with breath-taking views and any sense of purpose seemed wasted. Miles and miles of farmland with sheep and lambs spotting the hills. Any time, we took a wrong turn, we simply released some giggles from our giggle pots and carried on.

rush hour in wales
rush hour in wales – our fridge magnet

Till the last day when we had a ferry to catch, but that is an another blog for another day.

The Samosa Love Triangle

If you read my entry on the footwear in the cruise carefully, you will see that a Samosa figured. Namely that we were looking forward to having the hot samosa while aboard the cruise. There are a few memories that rankle you – titillate you days afterward. The hot samosa is one such.

Launching then, into the story of the samosa.

There was a point in the proceedings when the daughter and I were left to ourselves and the remaining party went for a walk. Of the party that went a-travelling to see the sights of London & Scotland were two babies under the age of 1. The 10 month old was my son (the compulsive crawler), the other was my dear nephew who was 5 months old at the time. That sweet little baby had not yet learned to crawl. He lay there quietly on his back uttering a gurgle or two now or then, cooing and smiling like a 1000000 watt bulb. I swear to God, his is the first smile I’ve seen that is so all-consuming. When he smiles, his whole being lights up and happiness pours out of every pore. Bless the dear – may he be happy always.

While on the walk, the parent committee decided it was best to change the diapers. Tick one job off the list. Efficient use of time. Two stones in one throw. I had no idea that changing diapers could be classified as bragging material, but apparently it is.
After a longish walk; we met the diaper braggers and walked around for another hour or so. It was at this point in the story that we decided to rest and take in the sights of London by taking the cruise.

Always brilliant when it comes to pairing experiences with taste, my brother and his wife said the samosa is a must on the cruise and deftly swerved into a place and bought the hot samosas. The cruise had barely started when the babies got hungry too. The million watt smiler was easy – he just migrated towards his mother and gave her one of his heart-breaking smiles. That is all it took for his private milk bar to open up for business. The crawler was now ‘on solids’ and needed fruit. So, I looked for the diaper bag and it wasn’t there. Gone!

The husband and I exchanged looks. The husband & brother exchanged looks. The sister-in-law and I exchanged looks. Then we all exchanged looks. The result of all that looking was that we nominated the first prize winner of the Diaper Bragger Contest to go and get the diaper bag from wherever they so efficiently changed diapers – a good 2.5 miles away from the next cruise stop.

That was how the husband missed the thrill of watching footwear on the cruise. As for me, I gave a noble reason for not diving into the samosas (I said I did not want to devour hot samosas while the husband was off diaper bag hunting). I decided to eat with him later. We got off at Greenwich and the vigilant sister-in-law having done justice to her samosa decided it was time to clean up house. Consequently, the first trash can in Greenwich (that beautiful spot that calibrates the World clock) bagged the lottery of our trash.

So, there we were a good two hours later. Nothing but bull-headed self control (and love for my husband) kept me from the samosa and nothing but love for the samosa kept him running with a diaper bag in tow towards us. You know how it is. In our heads now, the samosas had miraculously heated themselves to an ideal edible temperature and were sitting pretty on a plate. It did not help that the brother and his wife kept talking about what a wonderful taste it had and how it was just the right size. Among samosas, these apparently belonged to the royal family. The moment we met, we knew that our hearts may beat separately, but they ache for one thing : Samosas.

If ever there was a nasty jar, it was this: The blasted samosas were missing!

Remember the looking scene when we discovered the lost diaper bag? That was nothing. Magnify the proportion of disbelief a hundred fold. We looked at each other like we’ve never seen one another before. Then one after the other, we all looked into the bag to see if there was some crevice where things were hidden. Nothing. At one point I thought the bag had a sneaky samosa-eaten guilt look about it.

When I finally pulled a bag of trash, the mystery was solved. The sister-in-law, her nose still dripping with the smell of samosas, sniffed in the bag looking for the trash bag. Her nose naturally went for the samosa bag and she tossed that in the trash instead and saved all the trash for the little crawler to inspect.


PS:Interesting fact, did you know that the Chicken Tikka Masala was Britain’s national food? Right through our trip there, the one thing that stood out was the number of Indian restaurants. There we would be – a small town, you know the whole population fits on a backstreet around the length of a longish dinosaur. Then, you see the main street has 5 Indian restaurants. It is almost like every Indian family felt compelled to extend their kitchen out into a restaurant.

Ships, Trains & Feet

I have been trying to jot down my memories of the London Scotland trip before it fades away in memory. So here goes installment 3 of the series:

The cruise on the Thames River is beautiful. The pamplets don’t lie. They tell you to watch for London Eye on the left, the London bridge up ahead, Westminster Abbey on the right etc.

I just have to look down from my screen and I can visualize the cruise – how cool is that?

Cut. Now zoom your lens out to the next shot.

The train ride from London to Edinburgh is breathtakingly beautiful.

I just have to look down from my screen and I can picture the whole train ride again. Cooler than the cruise or what?

London may have been dripping with History and the buildings and statues spotting the city vying for your attention like they have been for centuries. But what attracted me was at ground level. The English countryside may have been as charming as a painting as the train charged past it at 120 miles an hour. What I remember is again the ground basics.

Here’s another one….

Let me elucidate. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at people’s footwear. I don’t suppose anybody has studied the footwear of the English as much as I did. If you ask me whether clogs or boots or molasses were the latest in fashion, I will not be able to tell you. You know how it is – the mind is preoccupied. The eyes are seeing the roses, but not taking them in. That was me. The very epitome of motherly vigilance. My baby learnt to crawl a few weeks before the trip to the UK. Once mobile, there was(is) nothing to stop him from practicing EVERYWHERE. He would try to slip himself off the stroller, try to jump your shoulder, claw his sister (Who incidentally does an impressive job of carrying him) – anything to get crawling.

Imagine my chagrin, therefore, when we walked into the cruise with a hot samosa in my backpack just waiting to be devoured, and looking forward to a peaceful cruise; when the whole thing was upset by a baby wanting to crawl near the refreshment booth to boot. Obviously it was no fun being strapped into a stroller or being carried when one’s immunity needs building up by licking the carpets of cruise ships, flights and trains. So, I let him crawl. (See how I worked in an illusion of control into that sentence? ) Whether it was just my feverish eye I will never know, but not one of the potential tramplers seemed to be under 200 pounds in weight. I stood there looking sulky and watching the little thumper pick up dirt from the carpet while the beautiful sights of London passed me by. My daughter said ‘Don’t worry Amma. I will tell you the list of things you missed.’ and sat down to enjoy her icecream by the window. I saw the most muddy pair of shoes I have ever seen in urban areas aboard that ship, and obviously those were the shoes that most attracted the crawler. The man in the shoes was a very sweet man with a bristling moustache and said, ‘Don’t worry – the dirt is clean!”

I must have bent and picked him up 2^16 times in the whole cruise. Some exercise.

The same scene was enacted on the train ride from London to Scotland. The book I had planned to read on the train(I know!) lay forgotten on the abandoned seats while the daughter, son and I manned the dirtiest zones of the train. The cleanliness factor was upped a bit by the fact that the chosen area was near the restroom and nothing but a motion sensor controlled sliding door to hamper progress. The motion sensors were obviously at a height taller than my baby and the whole time people would walk through the door assuming a free passage only to find a baby lurking at stamping distance. I only picked him up at the rate of 255 times an hour for 4 hours.

If I hadn’t practiced on the cruise, I might have had a sore back, but since I aced the pick up act, I sailed through looking triumphant and bronzed ready to take in the sights of stockinged legs of men in kilts at Edinburgh.



Dragon Rider, Horse Whisperer & Stroller Mesmerizer

Couple Struggle and look for Stroller Counselling

Life for Londoners took an amusing turn on this cold day in April as they watched a couple struggle with collapsing a stroller on the London subway. The usually good team hit unexpected snags and delayed pedestrian traffic as they moved over to the corner to enable rampaging Londoners to proceed during peak commute times. When interviewed later, the harried looking couple apologized for the trauma it caused fellow commuters. Fellow commuters, when interviewed, said the act was among the best shows of comedy they’d witnessed on an earnest and stern working day and many said they planned to laugh over the whole thing at home that evening.

In case people missed the fabricated news item – there it is. The unfortunate couple mentioned is us and the stroller was not ours. Being parents twice over and aunt/uncle multiple times over gives us a certain over-confidence when it comes to handling strollers. I mean how hard can it be? There is a lever there – push it down along with the button here and down it goes. Collapse – small and easy. Then you tuck the beautiful thing under your arm like an umbrella, competently hold your baby in the other and stride forth with your shoulders straight and your chin set to face the challenges of the World. Right? Wrong!

Just as we were leaving for a spot of sight-seeing about town, the brother and his wife(bless them) handed us their stroller and nudged us on. ‘Go on – it is small, quick and easy’ Ours being in the garage still, we gushed our thanks out and carried the stroller down 2 flights of stairs. I then pushed the thing about and it went. It took me a few minutes to realise that strollers have personalities. You read of horses and dragons training their riders – The Dragon Rider, The Horse Whisperer. No one talks of The Stroller Mesmerizer – but they should.

Just goes to prove that looking innocent and standing by the door isn’t always what it seems. It did not seem to like taking directions from a new stroller pusher. So, it would exert its personality and show you whose boss. I’d try to make it turn left to cross the road or something and the stroller would want to do nothing more than observe the pebble on the right. We coaxed and cajoled the beautiful green stroller and strolled along the beautiful streets of London (I find complimenting a stroller works.) I must also come clean and say the stroller was not the preferred mode of transport for the one person capable of sitting in one and half the time, the stroller gulped and set aside its pride and ferried assorted bags instead of a baby.

Marengo(Napolean’s illustrious war mount) would have been upset if Napolean got excited by a pig, when he was doing the important work of ferrying his rider into battles wouldn’t he?

It was the same with the stroller. I mean if I were a stroller and my rider showed visible signs of excitement at a painting of a horse while sitting on me, I’d be pretty upset which is what my little one did. Which is why I don’t entirely blame the stroller for acting up the way it did. But boy! Did it give us a shock? There we are: charging along the subway looking to catch the blue train home. Just before we took an escalator down, we stopped to fold the stroller. I hung the baby under my arm and pulled 3 bags from the stroller and hung them on various spots of my body.

The husband then tried to collapse the stroller. I watched him for a few minutes and then started doing the best thing in the world. Giving directions.
Just collapse it.
There must be a lever on the right.
No? Then, there must be one on the left.

The key thing to do while giving dumb instructions is to ignore the exasperated looks of the receiver. When beads of sweat appear on a cold London evening, you know you got to help. So, I upped the stupidity quotient of the instructions.

Check under the seat.
Maybe, the rain shield is blocking the folding mechanism.
Here, let me hold the stroller while you look under the wheels.
Does this one have a gear? It did say Sports Model.

Pretty soon, the daughter decided to get in the action. So, the three of us pushed, grunted and shoved. I took on more movable parts of the stroller apart for convenience and the daughter saw something bend. So, we all heaved and pushed. We got the thing to collapse after 12 long minutes and were still left with the rain cover, the cup holder and something else in our hands separately. We turned our heads to find a commuter smiling at us and saying, ‘Oh you know – you needn’t have gone through all that, you could have just taken the elevator there and rolled yourself right on to the train.’

Duh. Next time. There is always a next time.

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