Thursday, 11 February 2010
Baby it's cold outside.....
February is undoubtedly the worse month. Well it's definitely my worse month. The end of winter. The end of civilisation, it drones on and on. Endless dull, damp days, the threat of snow a blessed relief from the low-hung sky; a dismal sun glimpsed like a 40 watt light bulb from behind a shower curtain. It's grim up north, down south, east and west. And this particular ragged end of winter seems worse than usual, as if summer belongs to another generation, someone elses memory found pressed like a buttercup between the pages of a dog-eared Enid Blyton book, before the library banned them. A time long, long ago in a land far away, when the hot, sticky heat smelt of ripe tomatoes and Ambre Solaire and yellow-parched grass pricked the back of bare legs, a humming bee buzzing just overhead. Aaaaah, 1976......that was a summertime when the weather was fine.
Happy daze indeed, but I fear summer will stay on hold for a few months more. That's why I'm off. I'm heading for the hills, the Nilgiris Hills that is, in Tamil Nadu, south India. And I can't wait. I was concentrating so hard on booking guesthouses and Bamboo lodges and sleeper trains, I'd sort of lost sight of the bigger picture ie: I'm going on holiday. It will be a mixed bag of low budget, shabby-chic and old-colonial-drinks-on-the-terrace sustainable tourism ending up with a bit of hippy-on-the-beach relaxation in Goa (think Mediterranean summer, light on the cost, heavy on the palm trees).
I first went to Goa an anxious, naive, 19 year old not even armed with a backpack. My boyfriend, a seasoned traveller of the over-land sort, insisted I jettison everything I owned. So, packing nothing more than a spare pair of knickers, a years worth of 'the pill' and as many boxes of tampons as I could carry in my. . . . . shoulder bag, we set off. I was supposed to be starting my degree at art college in London. This was a time before the invention of the gap-year so I lied to the tutors and told them I had been offered an opportunity of a lifetime: to stay with my Uncle who was working in Asia, an opportunity I couldn't possibly turn down, a once in a lifetime experience but I so wanted to go to their college what was I to do? 'Go' they said, 'of course you must,' they said, 'we'll hold your place' they said. So I went. That truly was a year of magical thinking and was to shape everything that came after it. 20 years later I went back to India, this time without the boyfriend but with his son instead. The father flew out to Manali, northern India, and we celebrated the son's tenth birthday.
Now I have a friend who lives in Goa with an open house and an open invitation. She is in the bikini business and as an ex-nanny who once worked in LA, there is nothing that woman doesn't know about beachwear. It's a good ......minute walk to the beach so after such early morning exertion it's time to enjoy a hearty breakfast at my favourite beach side cafe where they make the best Eggs Florentine and an excellent cappuccino, enjoyed under a shady canopy, watching the waves lap the half-moon curve, the sand already between my toes. A world away from my first visit to the once Portuguese state, where we subsisted on bhaji and 'ommolette', the culinary highlight being a coconut cake and a 'Nescafe'. And, after many hours sat staring at the sea or watching the palms sway overhead, back-dropped by a bright blue sky, under a heavy canopy of hashish, we would dream of sitting on cushions, eating Marmite toast and hot baths; luxuries we'd learned to do without on our quest for enlightenment. Oh happy daze.
Top tip: Turn up the heat with home-made chili oil. Toast dried chillies in a pan, add to olive or groundnut oil, whizz in a blender and pour on ......everything.
Young at Heart takes a trip......normal service will resume after March 9th.