Category: Personal


I keep watching various of the “Grumpy” programs on BBC TV.  The problem is that more and more I find myself viewing the “Grumpy Old Men” are more role models than objects of amusement.

I grumble amount young drivers.

I complain about speed camera.

I get annoyed when the gas company tries to sell my electricity.

I’m turning into a grumpy… and I’m proud of it.

Abingdon 4×4 Festival 2008 “BIO”

One of the reasons entries here have been a bit thin over the past few weeks is the time I’ve been devoting to the Abingdon 4×4 Festival.  I volunteered as their webmaster, and spent most of the weekend either working in the photo tent printing photos for people, or out and about with a camera taking them.

Unfortunately this means I don’t have any photos for here, but I hope to have a selection on the Abingdon site soon.

There’s lots of positive feedback on the event, so I’m eagerly awiting the results of the fundraising to see how much money we’ve made this year.


“Where’s that?” has been one of the most common replies from people learning of our latest holiday destination. Kerala is the smallest state of southern India, and is a popular holiday destination for hippie types and package tourists from the UK.

10 hours flight from London Gatwick gets you to the state capital, Trivandrum. The airport was the usual tedium, and we emerged at about 7am local time and got our first shock of the holiday, in finding out that the coach transfer to the start of our tour was going to take FIVE hours.

With a brief breakfast stop en route, we arrived in Kumarakom for two nights there. This turned into a not-so-free upgrade to the Radisson, since our expected hotel was full. “not-so-free” because our bill for two lunches and dinners was about three times what it would have been at the Backwater Ripples.

It was rather nice, though.



The tour included a so-called “sunset cruise” on the lake, but we were back before the sun actually set. At least it gave me a stationary position to take some sunset pictures from!


Yvonne’s review of the hotel, and the others on the trip, can be found on Trip Advisor – essential reading for any trip!

This stop was our introduction to the bizarre alcohol licensing that exists in Kerala.

Officially it’s a “dry” state.

The bottle shops are run by the government.

It’s very difficult for hotels and restaurants to get a liquor licence – hence even at the Radisson the bill showed “Open Food” for the drinks. Other places had the beer bottles left on the floor under the tables wrapped in newspaper, beer served in coffee mugs, and even brought to the table in teapots! Various bills showed “Special Soft Drinks”, “Pop”, or something similar. Suffice to say it wasn’t a problem getting a few beers with dinner!

Once we’d recovered from the travelling, we get back on the coach for another five hour journey, heading east into the foothills of the Western Ghats, the mountain range that marks the boundary between Kerala and the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.

The destination was Thekkady, and after some impressive driving (I wouldn’t like to drive a 50 seater bus up those narrow roads), we arrived safely at the Cardamon County Hotel. From here we visited the spice gardens, rode an elephant, and went to the Periyar Tiger Sanctuary.




We didn’t see any tigers – there are just 43 of them in the reserve, and they’re largely nocturnal. But we did see wild elephant, lots of birds, and a playful otter family.


The next leg of the trip was possibly the slowest – taking 2 hours to travel the first 40km (25 miles or so) over the hills from Thekkady to Munnar.  At an altitude of 6,000 ft with rolling hills, Munnar is called the “Scotland of India”.


Not much of the Scottish glens are covered with tea trees, though!  The taller trees dotted around are white oaks – which provide shade and a natural windbreak for the crop.



Yvonne surrounded by tea – some might say a tea-drinkers paradise.  Personally I can’t stand the stuff!


Tea picking is still a largely manual activity.  These fields are owned by TATA, a huge Indian company who own Tetley tea in the UK.  It might be hard work, but 80% of the profits go to the workers.


After Munnar, we drove back to the coast to the city ofCochin, home to the oldest Jewish Synagogue in the Commonwealth, and got treated (and I use that word in its widest sense!) to a display of Kathakali dancing.  It might be an ancient tradition, but it bored me silly and the dancers looked like pantomime dames!


The highlight of Cochin for me was the Chinese fishing nets on the beach there – some of these have been handed down through the same family for 500 years, though I suspect a few running repairs might have been made in that time!


We also saw a snake charmer on the streets of Cochin.  While Trivandrum is the capital, Cochin is the more cosmopolitan city and more industry oriented. The legacy of the spice trade is clearly visible – it’s still the home of the Pepper Exchange, where the world price of this valuable commodity, known as the King of Spices, is still set.


The shortest day’s travel took us to Alleppy to board our houseboat for the next night.  15 years ago, some enterprising soul converted three rice barges to houseboats to take tourists around the backwaters.  There are now 650 of them, and another 200 in construction – my advice is to get there before they build too many more!


One slightly bizarre sight on the route was this duck farm – thousands of them covering the waterway from bank to bank!


Sunset over the backwaters was stunning!



The final leg of the trip was down to Kovalam for our stay at the Leela Kempinski hotel there. The beaches at Kovalam were something of a disappointment after the clean golden sand of Goa – here they were covered in dirty-looking black mineral deposits and not as welcoming.  The weather was also something of a disappointment during this week – it rained every single day, sometimes for as much as 7 hours without stopping.  At one point it was raining so hard we walked back to our room in our swimwear!

The weather did break enough to allow us to venture out to the restaurants along Lighthouse Beach – excellent dinners and decent toasties for lunch, and a fraction of the price of the hotel food.



Merry Christmas

Christmas is about Santa Claus, Reindeer, mulled wine, turkey with all the trimming, presents for the people you love, and crap songs on the radio.

So why do the Americans insist on wishing each other “Happy Holidays” instead of just admitting that December 25th has nothing to do with Christianity apart from the catholic church moving their religious festivals to coincide with pre-existing festivals in northern Europe.

Merry Christmas to you all, and best wishes for a happy, healthy, wealthy and wise 2008.

You never know what’s going to happen next….

Driving home last night at about 9:30pm, along the road from Crowthorne to Sandhurst, I did a bit of a double take.

“Was that really someone lying on the ground there?!?”  Nothing behind me, so I stopped and reversed back.  Yes, there really is someone lying at the side of the road.  I get out of the car, pull on a hi-viz jacket and go to check.  This guy is confusedly blinking in the glare of the headlights, and not really capable of much more than grunting.  I’m a little unsure as to what to do next.. so I’m rather glad when I see someone else has stopped.

Matey (I never did find out his name) had seen him sitting against the tree a few minutes earlier and dismissed him as some youth waiting for a mate or just killing time, but when he came back and saw him comatose decided to stop.

Our casualty seems in no discomfort, but was confused and uncommunicative, so I get an emergency blanket to put over him – he’s just wearing a light shirt, no socks, and the paramedics later establish, no keys, wallet or ID.

A few minutes later Spencer, the friendly paramedic, arrives, takes one look and says “I think he’s had a stroke”, but when we get him to sit up the smell of alcohol gives a different diagnosis, as does the half bottle of vodka in the plastic bag we couldn’t see.  The misdiagnosis was entirely attributed to him lying with his face along the floor – as he sat up it looked for a second like the classic symptom of one side being paralysed.

So, with the diagnosis confirmed, what do we do with him?  Apart from a few grunts, he won’t talk to the paramedic, but Spencer’s pretty sure there’s nothing wrong that a good night’s sleep, rehydration, and a few paracetamol won’t solve, and tells our casualty that if he doesn’t want to head home, we’re calling the police and he’s sleeping it off in the cells.  Thames Valley’s finest save him the phone call and turn up at that precise time.

After some conferring, the police are concerned that since he’s so uncommunicative,  they want him to be checked in hospital.  So we leave them arranging for an ambulance to take him away to be checked out.  While that’s the end of my involvement, I have a feeling this might well be a “later, rinse, repeat” story: his behaviour didn’t seen just like “normal drunk” to me, but Spencer confirmed it’s actually fairly normal for the advanced stages of alcoholism.

I think the sad part of this, though, is that he’d obviously been lying there for a good few minutes before I stopped.  And this is in a relatively affluent and well-to-do part of the world, not some run down estate where the odds are he’s been on something stronger than alcohol.  That’s a sad, sad,  reflection on the state of the world.

Landy Rally

Paul Kibbey of Thames Valley 4×4 participated in the Inaugural Landy Rally, taking in 8 countries in 7 days.  Paul’s participation was done to raise funds for the club’s charity – supporting Russ, their the club’s president, who suffered a brain stem stroke a few years ago and now suffers from “locked-in syndrome” – one of the most severe forms of paralysis.

I told Paul I’d sponsor him £10, and I’d double it if he came back with a prize.

The scheming little whatsit told the organisers about this.  Paul comes back with the “Contrived Award to Thames Valley 4×4 Club so they can collect more funds”.

Hey, it’s all in a good cause!

How not to approach a potential customer.

I just received an email, the subject line of which started with “DO NOT DELEAT”.  It went on to make a bunch of wild security claims about a product (there’s no 100% security, ever), and mis-spelled the name of my employer (it’s only three letters, surely getting them in the right order isn’t that hard).

I  deleated it.  Right after I added them to my “try not to buy from this company” list.