walk a-musing

Monday, May 29, 2006

Scarecrow Trail

On Sunday afternoon I went for a long walk, a really long one. I walked along the Thames for about an hour, till I reached the Sonning village. I had heard that the village was very picturesque, and it sure is! The cottages are so very pretty, sorrounded by even prettier gardens. The names of the cottages seem to have jumped out of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple stories.

I found it surprising that one of the houses had a scarecrow on its roof. why is a scarecrow needed in the middle of a village? A few steps down the road, there was a huge stuffed pig and a stuffed dog peeping out of the upstairs window of a house. I assumed it was an inn decorated to attract passersby. A further few steps away, there was a life size doll of Mary Poppins hanging from her umbrella under a roof. Are all houses in this village adorned with stuffed dolls?

The Simpsons

And then I saw this board:

SONNING VILLAGE SCARECROW TRAIL SUN 28th & MON 29th MAY 06 from 11am - 5 pm. Over 70 Scarecrow characters to spot- from Postman Pat to Ali Gee ! 5 lovely Village Gardens Open. Church ’Fun’ Floral Display. All day refreshments. Plant Sale. Trail Map & Gardens ticket £3 per adult per day. FREE PARKING. Great Day Out for all ages.

The event was organised to raise money for a children's playground. The British seem to have very innovative ways to raise money for different causes!!

I can't help but appreciate that so many households have enthusiastically put up the scarecrows in their yards, or on the footpaths outside their house in aid of the community.

Message from a bottle

I wonder what the royals would say if they knew that the people had put them up as scarecrows!!

Prince Charles and his wife

I just had to return the next day to show the Harry Potter, Eliza Doolittle, Wizard of Oz scarecrows to my son. This time ofcourse there was no question of walking (According to Google Earth I had walked more than 12km to and from home the previous evening). I had to drive.

Had a good time walking around the village and eating 'Walls Magnum' with friends !


Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Let A Girl Overtake Me? No Way!!

When I was in college I had a bicycle (Yes, back then, college girls didnt zoom around on Kinetic Hondas :)). I loved my cycle. It was my proudest possession. My brother bought it for me soon after he got his first job and from the day it arrived, I was a willing messenger, letter 'poster', money 'withdrawer', shopper.....in general, a great errand girl for my parents. Our family friends, who lived five houses away joked that I took the cycle out even when I had to visit them. I just didnt understand what was so funny about it!

Once I hopped on to the cycle, I hated getting off till I reached the destination. I rode it through traffic, through flocks of sheep, through the rain, and up steep inclines till I got where I wanted.

On the way to college there was a long road that went uphill, became really steep along one stretch, till at some point it levelled out. Most riders, young and old, male and female, got off at that steep incline and pushed their cycles up till they reached the flat road. I was loathe to get off even here.I started pedalling fast a little early so that I gathered a bit of momentum which helped me ride up the hill without any major effort.

Gradually over the days I made a very interesting observation. Whenever I overtook a male rider who was pushing his bike up the incline, I could be sure that within a few seconds, he would be up on the bike and overtake me. The girls didnt seem to care. If they decided to push the cycle rather than ride it, they continued to push it irrespective of who rode past them. This became a game for me. Whenever I saw a male rider ahead of me struggling up the hill, an evil grin would form itself in my head, I would pedal fast, overtake, and start counting. One, two, three, four...... Without fail, hundred percent of the time, before I counted ten he was past me. The younger the poor devil, the earlier he had to hop on to the bike. Such entertainment it provided me, back then!!

Ohhh, the Vanity of Men!!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Summer Makeover

Thames valley in winter 2005............

..............and now.

I tried to get these swans to be part of the picture above, but without bread slices, they just wouldn't cooperate!


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An Audience With Richard Dawkins

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The name of Dawkins first registered in my mind when I read an article "Is Science a Religion?". I was a fan almost immediately (and NOT after I saw how handsome he was, which is what my impish niece suggests). Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, popular science writer and at present the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding Of Science at Oxford. He is an outspoken atheist, who was compelled to say after the Sept 11th attacks, "I used to think religion was harmless nonsense, entitled to at least some respect. I'd now drop the 'harmless'. And the last vestige of respect." And perhaps angered many.

I searched for and read other articles on the net and then finally found a fantastic book 'Unweaving the Rainbow'! This time, I fell in love with Science, all over again. The book can be considered as a retort to the accusation by Keats that Newton had destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colors. Dawkins has set out to show "the feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe — almost worship — this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide" (quote from 'is science religion?') and has fully succeeded.

Imagine my thrill when I heard that " An audience with Richard Dawkins" had been organised in a hall near where I live! I called up and booked my ticket. I couldn't wait to hear such a learned and articulate man of science speak. It turned out to be more than I hoped for. There were about five hundred people in the audience. First there was a reading of passages from his various books, 'Unweaving the Rainbow', ' A Devil's Chaplain' and his latest, 'The Ancestor's Tale', by Dawkins and his wife Lalla Ward. They made a superb job of it. Lalla Ward being an actress, was able to bring in that extra life into quotations and dialogues found in the passages.

Next came a Q and A session. It is one thing to produce written work of extreme clarity, and lucidity (not that it is easy!), but an entirely different matter to speak with these same qualities when asked unexpected questions. There were questions concerning the recent controversy in America regarding teaching creationism in schools, about the place of morality in the absence of religion, how evolution explained the existance of moral values in humans, how if given the chance, Dawkins would change the teaching of science in schools...... Whatever the questions were, the answers appeared well thought out, and were engrossing and extremely thought provoking. I also have to note that some of the questioners obviously disagreed with Dawkins on the matter of religion. But to the credit of both parties, the exchanges were in a most dignified manner.

At the end of the program there was a book signing. I had bought A Devil's Chaplain' earlier in the evening and I got Dawkins' autograph on it before I went home. An evening well spent.

I had been a little reluctant to pick up 'The Ancestor's Tale' because of its size, and the fact that it is entirely about evolution, but this experience has left me with a thirst to learn more about evolution. I think I will go for it.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Agony and Ecstasy

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I had said I would write about the agony and ecstasy of working in a charity book shop. Well, 'My World - Of Heroic Mice And Thai Curries' should serve as an introduction to this. My experience in book shops the past few years being what they were, consider how it feels to be left all alone in a fantastic book shop for four hours at a stretch!

This is no ordinary book shop mind you! It is a second hand book shop, and second hand book shops, and old books (a..a...achoooo!!) have their own special charm for me. (When in Bangalore and Mysore the Select Book Shop on Brigade road was a favourite) The old books in leather jackets and gold edges, which my father quoted from and said was a must read , which I found too serious back then; Classics which, if we read, were in paperbacks, found here at their original dignified hardbound best, and with original illustrations; The popular books I read as a child or college student, and the books which were the rage a year and a half ago, and a few odd new ones, all sitting invitingly together in one room! If spending four leisurely hours in that room is not ecstasy, what is?

And what do I do in this book shop? I sort out the donations, and send the salable ones to the appropriate shelves in the store room above the shop. I bring in my favourites from the store room and display them in the shop. Occasionally when a really old book appears among the donations, I search in abebooks to find their value, sometimes discovering that it could fetch us hundred of pounds! Ofcourse I also bring home books at very reasonable prices.

The customers are so interesting! The youngish grandmother looking for Beatrix Potter's 'Benjamin Bunny' to give to her new born(!) grandson named Benjamin. The old man with the dog who buys a book from the 50p tray every week, reads it and promptly brings it back to donate to the shop. Students from the university who come in one after the other desperately looking for the same book till we realise they are participating in a treasure hunt.....

Have you as a kid, ever played make-believe shopkeeper and customer with leaves for notes and pebbles for coins? Ever fought to be the shop keeper? Ha! I get to play the shop keeper with a proper till and real money! I am proud to say that I have finally learnt to make a transaction without hitting a single wrong button! (There were just a dozen buttons to learn. Tchah! I thought. Easy. Then I was alone at the till when a customer came along and I pressed some button and it went "kreeeeeeeeeeee"!) Great fun. (when you dont have to do it everyday, I suppose!)

Now for the Agony. A lot of donations come in every week. Unfortunately, many of the books are not in great condition. They are unlikely to be sold. There are some other books which sit on the shelves for months occupying precious space. We keep reducing their price till finally they cost 50p and even then are not sold. What to do with them? Some are bought by another roadside bookseller, but the others..... are sent for recycling! Really, it is absolutely heartbreaking! When I make a fuss, the other volunteers tell me it is better than the books sitting for ages collecting dust. If they are recycled they will hopefully come out as other books (or toilet paper?! Ohh the Agony!) I am so tempted to rescue some of them, but where is the limit? As it is, I buy quite a few books I really want. Even when I know I already have many at home I havn't read, I pick up some telling myself I will not get them for 50p when I do have the time to read. So I end up coming home after every session, thinking that surely someone somewhere would have wanted that book, but now it has gone to be recycled! Sigh!

Note: Just as I finish typing this there is talk about our donating these books to another charity that is collecting books to establish libraries in Africa. If that happens, I will be the happiest!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Btw, my son read 'My world - Of heroic Mice and Thai Curries', and said,
"Nooo Ma, you have got it all wrong, they are all lies"
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah...........I never read Brian Jacques when we were visiting Kinokunia, it was only after coming here, to England, and..... Alex Raider is not the latest, it is the vampire books...."
So you see, the lies are all in the little details!


Friday, May 05, 2006

I Cast My Vote In England!


Yes. Last evening, I cast my vote in England. Not to elect the President of the Kannada Sangha, not to elect the secretary of the Indian Association, but to elect the councillor for the borough we live in! I, a citizen of India, resident of England for less than a year, I voted. I am told that even during the country's general elections, my vote is invaluable. Am I the only one who finds this wierd, or are you with me?

When my husband first told me that we were eligible to vote and he would register us as voters, I cound not believe it. He explained that since we were citizens of a commonwealth country, and were residents of UK, we were eligible. I later discovered that I could even stand for election to the House of Commons!

In a way, voting in the council elections seems right. After all we pay our council taxes. If I pay for something, I should have a say in how it is delivered. But my mind just refuses to extend it to the national arena. Would I like a foreigner to vote in India to decide who will head the governement at the center? I think not!

I initially said I would not vote. I felt I should not vote. You see, I have voted only a couple of times in India, when I was in Mysore and Bangalore. After the introduction of the photo ID, and our move to Delhi and the resulting confusion in voters lists, I never voted. Now that we live outside India, and there is no overseas ballot, there is no question of voting. I felt that if I don't cast my ballot in my own country, why here? Faulty logic, hence I said 'felt' and not 'think'.

Is it a right or a duty to vote? For me it is both, in India. But here? I don't know! I finally decided I should treat it the same way here, atleast in the council elections. Plus I was curious to see a voting booth, and the voting process here. We could vote any time between 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Very long hours compared to India! So off we went at 8.30 in the evening. There were no banners near the booth, no flags, no party members with leaflets and stupid grins urging us to vote for their party. All very quiet. I felt like an intruder. The election commission had sent us cards with our registration numbers on it, but I assumed we would need some identification, so we carried our passports along. But no one asked to see any proof of identity. We mentioned our names and address, and the election officer found them on a list, she struck them off and gave us the ballot slips, we voted, and the lady thanked us and we were out.

What should I do during the national elections? When I wouldn't want a foreigner to vote in my country, how can I vote here? The parliament can take major decisions that could change the lives of people in the entire nation. How does this country allow outsiders to be part of the process of electing their MPs?? During the last US elections, when an American friend in Singapore was getting ready to cast her (overseas) vote, I had told her that since the US pokes its nose in every country's business, the outcome of the US elections will affect all of us, so all of us should have the right to vote. She agreed (that I was right). But I can't say the same about UK, atleast not now. And I wonder how the citizens of UK feel about it. How is it that they are not jumping up and down and protesting, especially with the paranioa concerning outsiders that appears to be increasing after the terrorist attacks? Or are the numbers too small to worry about? But I thought every single vote is supposed to matter. Well, I for one, just don't understand it.