Nous avons été à Paris !

Excuses pour le retarder en répondant ici. Nous avons été des vacances à Paris ! Some serious R&R was had whilst away.

Route 79 has been on vacation in Paris!
(Apologies for the lack of updates recently. Plenty to catch up on soon!)

On my return I attended a “UK Indian Bloggers” meeting this weekend, organised by the famous Chakra, and attended by some equally famous (or infamous) Indian bloggers on active service here in UK. And a lot of fun it was too!

Many special thanks to: Anand K, Anand V, Chakra, Guru, Praveen, Neha, Radhika, Renga, Subhashree & 18-month old Sriram.

We met for lunch, gossip and general chit-chat at a South Indian restaurant called Sagar in Hammersmith – which was just as well – as most of the attendees were “Southies”. Being the only “Northie” there, I was totally outnumbered and tried hard to make out some of the impromptu breakout into Tamil conversation! 🙂 But, nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the company – and, as is usual with these events, made a good few friends along the way.

Chakra’s Graffiti: Zindabaad!
(Those dosas look really tasty!)

A thoroughly enjoyable day!

24 hour contrast

Thursday was hot. I mean really hot. And humid. Almost opressively so. I was working in Central London that day. With the office a stones throw from Trafalgar Square I took a leisurely stroll in the late afternoon. Picture if you will, a scene where tourists are sitting around, enjoying ice-creams, dipping there feet in the fountains in the square – and generally just enjoying the great weather in the heart of the London. Even the pigeons seem to be going about their business in a laid-back fashion.

Idyllic in Trafalgar Square
Great weather, laid-back atmosphere, everyone feeling good.

Now – advance forward by 24 hours. I had to attend a wedding reception in Essex Friday evening. Not Essex as in that desert-like land that suddenly appears as you drive past the the “Welcome to Essex” sign on the A13 heading East out of London – but a beautiful part of Essex – near a cute little town called Saffron Walden on the northern side of the county. Only getting there was no fun at all. In fact it was DREADFUL.

I left my office in Slough (by car) at 4pm – thinking that the best way to get to the venue was to drive the M25 clockwise round to the M11 – and then go North from there. I had to be there for 6.30pm – so although I was expecting some stop-start traffic on the M25 – I figured that 2.5 hours was plenty time and, if anything, I should actually get there earlier.

How wrong I was. How very wrong.

I joined the M25 at the Heathrow junction (not far from Slough) – and two and a half hours of miserable grey sky, heavy rain, foot-ache, shoulder-ache, neck-ache, and severe driving-nowhere-stress later – I was still on the M25. I got to the venue at around 7.15 – so I missed some of the wedding-recption action – but by that time I was absolutely shattered – and frankly wasn’t feeling too well as a result. I stayed for just 20 minutes and then went back home. This time I took the M11 right into London and took the North Circular to get home instead. Got home after 9pm – and went to bed soon after.

(A painful reminder of why I hate the M25)

West London Mix

A trip to Southall – West London for some lunchtime “chaat“. This is North Indian snacking at it’s most sweet-and-sourest finest! And there’s no better place that Southall to sample, what in my opinion, is the best chaat in the UK.

Southall Broadway on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I took this lunch-trip opportunity to collect together some junky moving images of multi-cultural suburban London – sometimes in it’s most unglamorous forms (let’s face it the world must be fed up of cute “tourist” images by now – come and see the real London) – which you can download by doing a RIGHT-CLICK and “SAVE TARGET AS” on the “Windows Media” icon below:

Download the video file on the left to your computer by doing a “right click” and “Save Target As” to a folder of your choice.

It’s a junky (cutting-room-floor-style) music-video of just 2 minutes 43 seconds in duration (about 6.7 megabytes in total) – which captures some random footage of my neighbourhood: Kingsbury High Street – and then some of our car journey to Southall in West London via Greenford – finishing off arbritarily with some of my hazy view out of the top deck of Route 79 bus on the way home up the Ealing Road in Wembley. It should only take a few minutes to download if you are on a high-speed Internet connection – but please note: it is NOT for streaming: you should download the WMV (Windows Media Video) using “right-click and Save Target as” – as a file – to a folder of your choice – and then double-click on it when it has finished downloading.

The music is by Rishi Rich (featuring Juggy D and Veronica) – the song being “Kuriya Aajana (Come one girl!)” – which is a catchy, contemporary Indian-ethnic tune of the UK-homegrown British-Asian Punjabi-R&B fusion style. Turn it up loud for maximum enjoyment. Hope you enjoy it!

Some people don’t care

Those of you who check out my Flickr photo pages occasionally may have noticed my cameraphone snaps of people who for some reason feel compelled to put their dirty feet up onto the rearward-facing seats whilst sitting at the back of the upper deck of my beloved Route 79 bus.

However, putting feet up on seats is one thing – but much more irritating is when people deliberately set out to cause a mess – graffiting the seats, the floor, and the windows – as well as leaving behind a complete mess on the seats. I think it’s a minority of citizens who do this kind of thing – and, in my experience at least, it’s mostly teenage schoolkids – but this kind of thing makes the back of the upper deck a bit of a “no-go area” for most people as a result.

The vandalism and mess that some people leave behind.
(The very back of the upper deck of a Route 79 bus.)

Not trying to be some sort of vigilante hero or anything – but I usually find that if I purposefully make my way to that seating area – shunning the wide open opportunities of sitting anywhere else – then it kind of intimidates the types who normally congregate there – thinking that they “own” the place. And on many occasions I have made it very clear that I am undeterred and unamused by any bad goings-on. I like sitting at the very back of the upper deck; when the windows are open – there is a unique vortex of wind that keeps you cool on a hot summers day travelling to work or going home.

I have, on occasions, told schoolkids off for throwing bottles out of windows, or challenged kids who have applied marker-pens to the walls and windows – and each time I have done so, as regular as clockwork, I have been faced with a barrage of insults and abuse.

But there is one item of verbal response that has reduced said teenage gangs into silence:

“OK: What school do you go to?”

This is usually followed by a stunned silence. And is sometimes followed by a fake response – which invites my obvious “I know you’re lying to me” expression. Which is always followed by me visibly close-examining the school badges being worn on their jackets. And nine times out of ten – there is always a prolonged period of silence and good behaviour on behalf of the perpetrators. This generally only works on the way to work – as this tends to coincide with kids on the way to school. I mean: I could get off at their stop and walk right into their school with them – and complain to their headteacher – who would then summon their parents etc. etc. etc. Which I’m sure would be hugley embarassing for them. But I never go this far – I don’t mean to ruin their “fun” – I just want them to understand for themselves that destroying the bus aint clever.

And I often feel guilty for being a “spoilsport” – as I suspect that there aren’t enough people like me who care about my bus to go so far. And I fear that it it will only get worse when you hear about stories like this.

Every modern bus on the London transport network has at least 6 CCTV cameras on board – and yet even this seems to not deter the vandals. I’m really not sure what will.

On normality

Thought I’d share a few things about travelling the London transport system over the last couple of weeks or so.

It would be wrong of me to suggest that everything has been “normal”. People are definitely trying to behave normally (or are behaving as abnormally as they always used to) – but there are a lot of things that indicate quite the opposite. You get on the tube or the bus – and the first thing you notice is that you are scanning the entire carriage or bus for a) people who look unusual or b) people with big bags or rucksacks.

London is full of unusual people – and it used to be part and parcel of big city life to not give a damn. But now you do. And people with big bags and rucksacks; well you wanna make sure that the people with these bags don’t look unusual either. Because if there’s a (formerly usual) unusual person with a big bag or a rucksack- then a little warning thing inside you makes your adrenaline go a little – but you try to stay calm – and instead focus the rest of your journey-time energy on keeping an eye on said unusual person with rucksack.

For example – the other day I got onto the top deck of the 79 bus – and everything was just fine. I went right to the back – and I sat in the middle – arms folded – like a guardian angel keeping watch over things in front of me. A few stops later – a formerly-usual-but-now-unusual guy – (with alarming rucksack) – gets on bus onto top deck and staggers towards a seat not too far in front of me. It could have been just a bad night-before for this guy: perhaps he had a hangover or something? But in his somewhat dazed demeanour – he starts to fiddle about with his rucksack. My alarm bells start ringing. And they ring even louder and more violently when the guy suddenly stands up and digs deep down into the pockets of his jeans. What is he looking for? A detonator perhaps?

Chewing gum. Just chewing gum. That’s what he was looking for. He sits back down and starts chewing. A few minutes later – he suddenly gets up – picks up his rucksack (which is black and grey incidentally) (just like mine) and switches seats. Alarm bells ring even louder than before. Why is he switching seats for no apparent reason? This cannot be right! He slumps himself down in new seat on other side of the aisle – still only a few seats in front of me. A few minutes later he does the same thing! Now I am beginning to panic – this is most unusual. My heart thumping – I force myself to calm down as best as I can. Only to have any attempts at calmness to be SHATTERED by the fact that the same guy is now visibly praying. Yes: PRAYING. On the top deck of this bus! His hand gestures, closed eyes and general body motions clearly indicate that he is praying!

A sudden sort of calmness sets in – like a feeling of hopelessness. I figure that there’s no use panicking. If he hits a button and the bus explodes – then I’m gone. And I probably won’t feel a thing.

I turn up the volume of my MP3 player – and immerse myself in the music.

A few stops later – it’s my stop – and I get off as usual. As I get off the bus – I look up towards the top deck. The guy is now sat on the seat right at the front of the top deck. I laughed to myself. Like I’d survived some kind of cruel test.

Later. I get onto the tube. Same protocol: everybody checks you out as you get on – and you check everybody else out too. (Previously it was only the older Indian ladies who congregate on the bottom deck of the bus who checked you out so blatantly. So overtly – like they are checking to see if you would make suitable marriage material for their daughter or something.) But you also notice that there aren’t as many people talking to each other any more. Or perhaps that’s how it was before – and now you notice it? Who knows? What you do notice is that there are a lot of people wired for sound. iPods, walkmans and MP3 players etc. Lost in music. Not a bad way to go I suppose. I’m doing the same.

Someone left a comment to a previous posting below – one that pointed me to a BBC News page where readers were invited to feedback their comments on the aftermath of the bombings and attempted bombings. There was one particular piece of feedback that got me thinking. It was by an Asian guy (that means “South Asian” for you North Americans reading this). He said that he had taken to carrying a copy of “The Economist” magazine with him whilst riding the tubes to work and home. The idea being that he couldn’t possibly be a suicide bomber and be reading The Economist. Surely? Anybody suspecting him would soon feel very reassured that he was just an ordinary Londoner – and not a terrorist.

What a great idea I thought to myself. Since I am Asian and carrying a rucksack – I, too, would buy some intellectually-stimulating reading material next time I ride the tubes and buses. That way I could reassure my fellow commuters that I’m a good guy. So I did. The very next day in fact. Exactly 7 days after the attempted bombings on the 21st. A Thursday. The platforms and carriages of the trains at Kingsbury and Wembley Park were deathly quiet that day – and there were police in day-glo yellow jackets EVERYWHERE. I had popped into the newsagents on the High Street right next door to the tube station and pondered at the magazine shelves. What should I buy?

You’re not going to believe this: I bought a copy of “Wired” magazine. How stupid I felt when I got onto the Jubilee Line at Kingsbury. I had to quickly put the magazine back in my rucksack. And this act in itself invited too much staring. I could hear the alarm bells inside other souls going off.

Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t!

Elsewhere, the big (South) Asian guy with an equally big rucksack. Written in bold letters on the back of his bag are once innocent words that make me shudder: “Just Do It!“.

Anyway – today I worked in Oxford Street – shopping heaven for tourist London. A nice sunny day. Just as busy as it’s always been around here. People doing their thing – as if nothing had ever changed.

Everything seems to be normal in Oxford Street – Central London
(Right outside Bond Street tube station)