The love of books, the joy of reading..

We just got back from a whirlwind of a trip to London. It has been over a year since I went there and for me, it was all nostalgic.

On the London underground, I spent all my time showing Poohi all the stations – my old work place, husband’s old workplace. She has been on the tube millions of times , but I think this was the first time that she understood what was going on.  She was a little spooked when I told her that the tube would go under the ground. She was very worried that ‘We’ll never, ever get out again!’ 🙂 It must have been one of the few times on the London tube when I did not read while travelling.

For my husband, tube travel was something he never enjoyed, but for me, traveling in London was the time that I loved – because it was completely ‘me time’. I used to carry books and of course, London Metro or the London Lite( free newspapers) used to be my staple reading on the way and back from work. These newspapers used to be free and would be handed out outside stations. I used to be one of those, who, even in an inch of space, would still manage to read.  I think I used to read a lot more in those days because of the uninterrupted time I used to get on the tube. There was a time when I used to travel around 3 hours one way and the only positive part was the reading time. But then I used to read in crowded Bangalore buses, and while waiting for the ITPL shuttle – I actually used to get funny looks then. One of the things that I loved about London as soon as I landed here was that everybody had a book/newspaper in their hands. I was no longer the odd one out.

Bones’ post on reading, touched a chord. Like her, I am not a book snob – I read anything and everything. I remember the first fairy tale that I got when I was 5 or 6 years old. I have not looked back since. Reading has been a passion and an addiction for me. I actually feel uneasy if I don’t have reading material around me.

As far back as I can recall, I used to be fascinated by books and stories. My mom and dad used to tell us stories at night, read to us when we were little. I think, it was all that storytelling that started me off on reading. I started on Reader’s Digests out of sheer boredom during my summer vacation. My maternal and paternal grandparents used to live in the same village but mom and I used to be at my maternal grandparents place, and we used to visit at my dad’s place in the evenings. Now I used to hate that, because my dad’s side had loads of cousins while at my mom’s side, I was the oldest and the only one for a while. So I used to yearn to go over to my dad’s place. In utter boredom, I flicked through my granddad’s collection of Reader’s Digest and started reading those little anecdotes at the end of each article. There was no looking back from there. I started reading the articles next, and before I knew it, I had read every issue that he had and his collection ranged from the ’60s. I then graduated on to P G Wodehouse and used to spend every waking moment reading!The magical, mystical world of books that I would disappear off to, oblivious to everything else around me! My mother used to say that nothing would break my concentration once I started reading.

Those days, I used to be fascinated by all the delicious food that Enid Blyton used to describe! Her eclairs sounded nothing like the Cadburys eclairs that we used to get. And I had imagined scones to be something, oh so yummy! Only to my intense disappointment when I finally did eat it! The eclairs, however, more than lived upto it’s reputation.  Sardines – I used to think was something yummy too! Until my granddad showed me what it was! I used to wish and wish and wish that my parents send me off to a boarding school! One of our friends threatens their daughter that if she gets naughty she would be sent to boarding school – and those were the days when I would yearn for that life! These days, of course, Indian authors seem to evoke the similar kind of sentiments. I read a book by Lavanya Sankaran, the other day. The Red Carpet, was a set of short stories set in Bangalore and it evoked a nostalgia, a wonderful feel of the city.

The funny thing is that the kind of stuff I used to conjure up in my mind while reading, might have been far, far away from what the author intended.  That I think is what I like about reading. The words would allow me to  dream, imagine, in my own way.  That, I think, was the reason, why most of the movie adaptations of books leave me disappointed! When we read, I think , each of us conjures up our own versions, our own mental image  of the book. Reading for me, is my way of vicariously, enjoying different lifestyles, cuisines, cultures and countries.

I was also lucky in my teachers at school. Even my Maths and Physics teacher was an avid reader. I remember that he had recommended Alex Haley’s Roots and reading that was a revelation for me. I remember being blown away with Gone with the Wind. Waiting with bated breath for the sequel – Scarlet and then being so let down by it! For me, so many memories are linked with books. Books that were gifted to me, books that I got as prizes. Books that have served as milestones of my life. One of the things I always wanted was a library in my home. And I intend to ensure that that becomes a reality once we move to India for good.

These days, I try and pick up obscure books that I have never heard of. The libraries here are amazing in that respect. The huge collection they have, ensures that I can experiment different authors. Some time back I had picked up a book by a Srilankan author. I had never heard of her- but loved the book. I have learnt to rely on my instincts more these days. There was a time when I used to haunt the best sellers and pick them up. These days, I go for books that I have not heard of, and I have to say that I have been fairly lucky so far. I do get some good books. Over the years, the one thing that has not changed for me, is the passion for books and reading.

The only thing I regret is that I cannot read in Malayalam. My parents had a wonderful time when they came to London. They found lots of Malayalam books in the library there and they made the most of it. Maybe, one day, I will try and learn enough Malayalam to read a book..

The world of books opened a new horizon for me. My love of reading has contributed significantly to the way I think, the way I interact with people.. If I could gift anything really precious to my daughter, it would be the love of books.. The joy of reading…

A bridge with a life of its own..

The Tower Bridge of London is one of the most well known images associated with London. One which a lot of people mistakenly assume to be the London Bridge.  The first time I saw the London Bridge, I was quite disappointed, but as I read more about London,  the history behind the bridge enthralled me. The simple, normal looking bridge is one of the most well known bridges in the world, and has a fascinating history, right from the time when London was a Roman Settlement. It is the latest of in a series of Bridges to be called the London Bridge.

Tower_Bridge

The iconic Tower Bridge (Courtesy: Google Image Search)

london_bridge

The unspectacular London Bridge.(Courtesy: Google Image Search)

Funnily, when I was searching for images of the London Bridge, I got loads of the Tower Bridge, mislabeled as London Bridge.

For such a nondescript bridge, it does have an amazing history. A bridge has existed at this place right from the time of Roman settlement, over 2000 years ago. One of the first bridges to be built over the River Thames.

As per the Wikipedia,’ The bridge fell into disrepair after the Romans left. As Londinium was also abandoned, there was little need for a bridge at this point, and in the Saxon period the river was a political boundary between the hostile kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. With the impact of the Viking invasions, the reconquest of the Roman city by the kings of Wessex and its re-occupation by Alfred the Great, the political conditions arose for a Saxon bridge crossing to be placed here. However, there is no archaeological evidence for a bridge before Aethelred‘s reign and his attempts to stem the Sweinian invasions of the 990s. In 1014, according to a much later skaldic tradition, the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf, as he was aiding King Aethelred in what, if true, was a successful bid to divide the defending forces of the Danes who held the walled City of London plus Southwark, thereby regaining London for the Anglo-Saxon king. This episode has been thought to have inspired the well-known nursery rhymeLondon Bridge is Falling Down

After the 1136 destruction of the bridge, a new replacement was commissioned – an inhabited bridge. It took 33 years to complete. The bridge itself was about 26 feet (8 m) wide, the buildings on the bridge took up about 7 feet (2 m) on each side of the street. Some of these buildings projected another seven feet out over the river. The road for traffic was thereby reduced to just 12 feet (4 m) wide. This meant that horses, carts, wagons, and pedestrians all shared a passageway just six feet wide, one lane going north and one south. There were a few places where houses and shops were not built, which allowed people to get out of the traffic and enjoy a glimpse of the river and the shorelines of London. It was completed in 1209 and was also the first stone bridge in the world. Most of the shop owners lived in the houses above the shops. Apparently, it had 20 arches, and none of them similar. It would last for 600 years and was demolished because it had become very congested and because of the detrimental effect the bridge was having on the river, thanks to its narrow arches.

old london bridge

An artist’s impression of how the medieval London Bridge must have looked like. (Courtesy: Google Image Search)

In 1831, a new bridge, Rennie’s Bridge was opened a few yards upstream and that became known as the new London Bridge. This bridge, however, had a flawed design and could not take the load, so was soon replaced by the current London Bridge.  The Rennie’s London Bridge was dismantled and re-constructed in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

londonbridge- Lake Havasu CityThe Old London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona((Courtesy: Google Image Search)

The most fascinating avatar, if I may call it so, for me, of the Bridge that I found myself captivated by, was the inhabited bridge. I found it fascinating that people actually lived on the bridge.  I read loads about it and was lucky enough to be able to see an existing inhabited bridge in Florence. It is the oldest Bridge in Florence, and is still inhabited and was spared damage in the World War II – apparently by Hitler himself. Here are a couple of photographs that we took when we were there. It was a smaller scale(and much less grand – at least in my imagination) version of what the medieval London Bridge must have been like..

view of brgd

side view of brgd

There were lots of shops inside the bridge and most of them – jewellery shops!

inside the bridge

I just wanted to add, that one of the books that totally captured my fascination was Edward Rutherfurd’s London. It has the London Bridge as a main protagonist, while he sketches the history of London through 2 millenia.The first time I read it, we were living in London, I used to work at Southwark and used to pass the London Bridge station everyday. One of our favourite walks by the River Thames used to be from the Tower Bridge to Waterloo and we used to cross most of the historical places mentioned in the book. I used to feel the history behind those places.. Yes, I am a hopeless romantic!  I am now re-reading it and it now makes me all nostalgic and thankful that so much of the history is preserved, with plaques commemorating important events and through these wonderful books which give you a flavour of the time…

Most of the information is from Wikipedia and from some random reading that I had done earlier. There are so many more interesting pieces of information in connection to the Bridges, that I had a tough time deciding what to include and what to leave out.

Of daughters and mothers and friends..

Does anything sound sweeter to one’s ear than the delighted giggles of a child, thoroughly enjoying herself ?

After, Poohi not getting to see any animals, last week, we wanted to ensure that she got to have some fun this weekend. And it was not very difficult to achieve either.. She had been invited to a birthday party, and ended up having a ball of a time too! And that was just the start of the weekend.

It was in a soft play area where the children went crazy! Climbing up obstacles, and zooming down giant slides to end up in the ball pool! It was fun to watch her collapse in giggles as she hits the balls 🙂 It took me back to the time in London, where we used to go to these soft play places, very regularly.There was one, very close to where we lived and there the parents were supposed to go with the child – on to the play area. So to be honest, it was as much fun for me as it was for her.

Those days, husband used to be working away from home – 5 days a week 😦 , so we used to do a lot of mum-daughter fun stuff. The soft play area was on of our favourites! We used to climb right to the top and zoom down the huge slides, ending up in huge ball pools  – huge enough even for mums to get submerged 🙂 It used to be amazing exercise too – for me 🙂 Made up for all the junk that I used to eat 🙂

That was the time when, I ‘fell in friendship’ with a dear, dear, dear friend. She was my husband’s ex-colleagues wife. Funnily enough, we had never met before we accidently ran into them at a restaurant. We started talking on the phone and hit off instantly!  Both our husbands had been very busy travelling and we went on our annual India vacation and we never met again for the next three months. We did keep in touch on the phone all the time though.. Finally, we ended up meeting at a play group near her house and from that day on – I think we met every single day  – barring the weekends. She had 2 daughters, a 5 year old and a 1.5 year old- the sweetest little children! . Her younger daughter and mine hit off too 🙂 Both their names were similar sounding and both of them referred to each other with the same name and funnily they, even looked similar. We used to be asked by people of the road if they were cousins 🙂

Those days, were probably one of the best times, of my life.. We used to be inseparable.. We used to meet at the play group every day – and then walk around the town aimlessly – talking away, go to the park, and let the kids run around having fun.. and yet feeling as if time was not enough.. there was so much more to share and so little time. It was a truly magical time.. We used to share what we cooked. What she cooked and I baked, to be honest :), share our thoughts on everything possible.. gossip , have serious discussions… watch our little girls have fun while we, big girls had the time of our lives too 🙂

DSC09305Here’s a pic of the 2 cheeky monkeys running around in the park 🙂

The amount of fun all of us had, was amazing.. What absolutely took the cake, that my friend’s elder daughter and Poohi got along very, very well too – from the moment they met! They even had a sleep over at our place and my daughter could not stop talking about ‘chechi'(elder sister) for ages after that..

What brought on, all this reminiscing? Well, it’s been a year since I saw her last. They returned to India last year, this time, and to be honest, it broke my heart.. Everything felt so empty.. Daughter used to look for her friend, in vain, every time, she went to the play groups, to the library or the parks…We are still in touch and we can still talk away for ages on gtalk or on the phone.. and it is almost as if she has never been away.. But it is amazing how much we still miss each other..  Just makes me wish, how wonderful it would have been, if our friends did not have to move away, or if we could all live nearby.. how wonderful that would have been..

Weekend Update : I have to say that this weekend, while Poohi had a wonderful, wonderful time, I got the bestest compliment from a little 7 yr old girl:) She told me that my daughter and I look like a ‘pair of twins’ :), if only I had been a little shorter 🙂 For an almost 33 yr old to be told that she looks ‘just like’ a 3 yr old is huge 🙂 Coming from the mouth of a babe – I am going to consider it totally true 🙂 And to make it even better- I even drove the Audi !!!! Yay!!!! Even the fact that it was just around our estate did not detract from my excitement!!! Like, my daughter says, ‘I’m so excited and happy’!!!!