Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All's Fayre....

Anyone who has served on a volunteer committee of any kind will know that in the organising of events there is always a lot of love and nearly always some kind of war!  Volunteers do what they do for the love of it.  Their conviction that they are right and their way is the right way is what gets things done in spite of the myriad other responsibilities on their collective plates.  I speak from experience.  I have served as a volunteer on some sort of committee or the other since I can remember.

I am Chairman of the PTA at Rhea's school this year.  I felt I could make a difference.  I hoped I could encourage people who are willing and able to join hands and create a community to do just that.  I love to write - so I started to write newsletters and to make plans.  The best part of heading up a committee is the getting to know and work with a bunch of incredible people.  My committee is brilliant.  They each have their strengths, we have a lawyer, a couple of accountants, a couple of people with the history of the PTA and all of them have convictions and commitment.  Fab!

We took over in the middle of September and suddenly realised that we had Pizza Lunches to order, a second hand Uniform Sale to organise, several kids sporting fixtures to support with snacks and refreshments and the big event so far... our Christmas Fayre.

Our school does not have a lot of space to spare, but we get by.  My Vice Chair is fantastic.  She is a whiz on the computer and can create documents that look sooooo professional and sooo enticing!  We cover each other perfectly - I like to be creative and whitter on about my ideas and my vision and she likes things to be bullet pointed to the nth degree!  So I write long newsletters and she make posters with Christmas baubles highlighting the exciting things coming ahead!

I am not working yet and she works more hours than is physically possible!  So I can do the organising and the nitty gritty and she can do the big stuff like the Santa's Grotto we set up in the school gym each year.  She leaves me to getting my bits done and I let her run with hers.  What a partnership!  She ordered the raffle tickets, I distributed them.  She organised the first prize and I trudged from store to store to get the long list of exciting extras.

I was always told that getting parents who work full time to help out or to join in would be a job and a half.  Let me say up front that this is definitely not the case at Reddiford School.  These parents are dedicated, committed and clearly willing to step up to the plate and boy, did they bat a home run for the kids a few weeks ago.  We had over a thousand items donated  - either new, nearly new or gently used books, toys, bric-a-brac, toiletries etc.  Our Bottle Tombola stall had over 400 bottles - absolutely incredible!  We had nail painting, face painting, decorating cookies, Christmas arts and crafts stalls, we had a fluffy Frosty the Snowman to win, we had cakes, cookies and mulled wine.  We had Starbucks Hot Chocolate with yummy whipped cream squirted all over it!  We had a Secret Store where kids had the chance to buy Christmas gifts for their parents (already wrapped and ready to go under the tree!).  We had people laughing and joking with each other.  We had parents and staff socialising in a informal manner.  We had a Willy Wonka Sweet Store with Nerds and Reeses....mmmm!  We had mince pies and egg less cakes.  We had so much Christmas Cheer and good will, it was something amazing to see.  The Gym was packed from the get go.  The School Choir sang carols for us and we joined in.  The Reddiford Families pulled together and pulled a really cracker out of the hat!

The PTA Class Reps (parents who liaise with their classes) came out in full force.  They had their stalls signed up from beginning to end and were flexible enough to jump up and help with the Pizza Stall if needed.  There was no whining, no whinging, no nagging and definitely no Bah Humbug!  Other parents shot off to wholesalers to grab last minute bargains for Grotto gifts.  Others wrapped for all they were worth!  My kids and my family always end up helping whether they like it or not!  My Darling orders take away meals so I can keep working on the Christmas Fayre, The Ray sparkles as she folds raffle tickets for all she is worth and Nikh spends all his time carrying things back and forth to make sure nothing gets forgotten!  What a team

Best of all ... in the whole of the Reddiford Christmas Fayre.... there was a tonne of love and no war whatsoever!

I am beginning to think this could be the start of something good!

home is where the heart is...

Hi I am Sejal and I have been Chennai-free for nearly a year!  Chennai is an addiction.... one I needed to quit.  (Although I didn't know I was addicted until I quit!)

We left Chennai in India about ten months ago.  I had been preparing for our exit for almost ten years!  We had gone there on a short term assignment which became very very long term.

My Darling and I came to Chennai with three suitcases and a three year old.  We left Chennai with a twenty foot sea freight container, 18 pieces of baggage, loads of hand luggage, a twelve year old and a five year old.  I guess that is what you call value added!

Both kids took the decision to leave in different ways. The Ray wanted to know when she would see her best friends again and Nikh flatly refused to go. He started trying to find a family that would take him in and our many many good good friends obliged without hesitation - thanks a bunch!  Made my life that much harder!

Anyway we arrived home (London, that is!), it was still in mainly holiday mode.  This was still not reality.  As months went by, Nikh, The Ray and I started to realise that this was our new REAL life.  My Darling started his travelling again and we had to deal with a new set of issues that could not be solved by maids, cooks and drivers.  We had to deal with it all on our own. We did.  We survived!

Nikh was still not quite happy.  He wanted to go 'home'.  I told him he was home.  He chose to ignore me!  We agreed to VISIT Chennai at Christmas.  In the end, I changed the dates as none of us were truly settled and this would be five steps back.  Our recovery was dependant on how we dealt with this revisiting of old haunts, old friends and AISC.

We landed in Chennai during the Easter holidays (Spring Break for AISC).  It was a bittersweet arrival.  It still smelled yucky, the airport was still hot, humid and crowded with disorganised travellers.  But it felt like a homecoming! It was familiar and comforting (never thought I would say that in a million years!!)  I had made plans with as many of our friends (more like family) were in town and we were booked back to back for the whole of our stay.  

We started with brunch at The Park with the usual suspects (!!), moved to meals galore at The Madras Club, Tuscana, Golden Dragon, Bayview Point, Woodlands etc etc and umpteen homes.  We had idlys, dosas, tiramisu, Indian Chinese, the freshest fish in the world, dim sum, Thai, Italian, homemade wadas, cheese dosas  and so very much more.  We did nothing but eat, drink, shop and grow out of our waistbands!

It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with people we love and those who care about us in return!  We played water polo in the pool at Fish Cove, cricket on the beach, did one more turtle release and spent so much pleasurable, treasurable time with these wonderful people.  We missed some who were on holiday, but will make plans over the next few months.  We went back to AISC - so much a part of our lives for so many years.  It is changing and growing. It was both hauntingly familiar and strangely unfamiliar.  It was lovely to sit and chat with friends just like the old days, with the thoughts of departure held firmly at bay.

Nikh drifted through the school remembering his time at one of the nicest places in Chennai.  When he was done, we left.  More hugs, kisses and bittersweet tears.

After a final frantic shopping dash, we headed down to Fisherman's Cove where there was one last batch of Olive Ridley Turtles waiting for us to help release them into the ocean.  The joy on my kids' faces, the awe and wonder on friends' faces who were doing this for the first time and the pleasure of sharing such a wondrous experience was simply incredible.  At the end of a day spent splashing on the beach and in the pool, playing with people we like to be with and eating such delicious fresh fish and chips, we went back to the town centre to pack and prepare to leave.

One last night out again with two charming kids and we were on the home stretch, literally!  One last friend to visit us, straight off the plane, out of the airport and to our hotel just to spend an hour together.  lots more tears, hugs and kisses and we were off.

As we took off, both kids held on tight.  Nikh looked at me with sadness and said, "Chennai will always be a sort of home, won't it?"  The Ray insists she is a Chennai-girl as this is her birthplace.  And I?  I will hold cherished memories of a place that filled me with love, laughter, joy, pain, frustration, heat rash, tears, gallons of alcohol, dozens of mosquito bites, snakes, cockroaches, biting spiders, incredible experiences and so many many lifelong friends... how could I not think of it as a home?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Unpacker's Plight (photos may follow!)

Dear Packers,

As I now, one year on, start to see the results of your handiwork, I felt the urgent need to write and tell you how I feel.  I guess I should do it before I do my Mount Etna impersonation all over my poor family!
Just a few simple thoughts that might help the next poor soul who HAS to go through your clumsy, incompetent hands!  
I felt the need to thank you for wrapping my cheap, tatty, stained plastic ware with such utmost care and at least seven layers of thick wrapping for each piece.  Thanks also for not bothering with my handmade earthenware - most of which is now chipped or broken and as each set is now incomplete it is completely worthless.  I may as well have thrown it out of the window, in Chennai and smashed it to smithereens myself!
Thanks also for wrapping my thin Indian kitchen paper in several loving layers of more paper.  I don't know how it would have survived a year in storage without that.  I also was most surprised to see a roll of disposable cleaning cloths gently placed in a large box for me to open up twelve months later.  Unfortunately what you didn't know was that I brought that roll from the UK to Chennai and had many expat friends who would have willingly kept it there.  Ditto the Ziploc bags and heavy black trash bags.
Thank you for wrapping the white Wedgwood service in such a flimsy manner, but  for making sure the brightly coloured trashy china was swaddled better than a newborn baby!
I wonder at your reasoning behind bubble wrapping pillows, cushions and blankets.  Were you concerned they might get broken?  Chipped? Cracked? Or were you mentally deranged?   Pity you didn't think the same for my bespoke, handmade terracotta dining table and matching pots... all of which are now crumbling wrecks not the original beautiful items we bought and fell in love with.
I have spent countless hours over the last few weeks shaking my head in wonder and disbelief  at your sheer stupidity! I would love to know why you would place glasses one inside the other and wrap with a single sheet of grey paper, when the books, files and Cd's got two layers EACH.  Every single glass is chipped or broken.  Thanks.
In our new home, we have a double garage - thanks to you we can not even park a bicycle in it.  There is a veritable mountain of corrugated card roll, bubble wrap, the intensely poisonous and vile polystyrene, boxes of every size and description and so much paper I could start my own printing works and never have to source paper for twenty years.  Have you heard that our planet is suffering and we are trying to reduce, recycle and reuse?  Have you been doing an impression of an ostrich for the last ten years or so? Think ECO, think GREEN, think ahead to the poor person who has to unpack your imbecilic wrapping.
Thank you also for making us pay for an additional shipment unit after telling us that all our belongings would not FIT into a 20 foot sea freight container.  Had I known then that not only had you over packed EVERYTHING, that you had put in at least ten 'dead' boxes (this means empty - filled with screwed up paper or with nothing at all) but also included other boxes that had the ends of rolls of paper, finished rolls of tape, sweet wrappers, screwed up tissues - obviously used..... (YUCK!) and other litter; I think I would have personally come over and smacked you ALL upside the head..... hard.  Perhaps I would have enlisted Dhoni's cricket bat to help me!
Finally thank you for robbing us blind.  It was truly incredible (that word means hard to credit in case you have already wrapped my dictionary five times!) that  several of our boxes left our home in my presence, went to your warehouse, supposedly were loaded into a sealed container which I witnessed being broken open in London and somehow went missing.  Can you explain more fully than the witless "no Madam, it was not our fault"?  I am pretty sure you can't.  The same way you cannot explain why the insurance you made us take out and pay for exorbitantly somehow has a hundred thousand terms and conditions all of which make it impossible for us to claim a single rupee (never mind a dollar or a pound).
Finally I would just like to say to you, dear, dear packers, that when a close friend suggested in her Blog that your company name should be changed to 'I-LIED'  she was right on the button.  That is your company name, mission and motto.  Congratulations on maintaining that position to the bitter end. I pray daily that we never have to deal with you again.

With deepest regrets,


PS - Thanks for the Diwali card you sent me wishing me a happy new year - clearly you had not seen fit to think of what you had done to my possessions - a happy new year is the furthest thing from my mind!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fifteen years, fifteen reasons..

There are many reasons why I love to be married to My Darling.  
Here is just one for each year of our marriage!

I love the way he makes me laugh till we both cry and I get cramps in my tummy!
I love the way he makes me feel safe and protected.
I love the twinkle in his eye that tells me he still has the naughty little boy deep inside!
I love the way he swept me off my feet nearly twenty years ago.
I love his curious but wicked sense of humour.  He sees humour in things that others miss by a mile.
I love how capable he is and how able.
I love the way he loves Nikh and The Ray, unconditionally and overtly.
I love his confidence and his reserved quality.
I love the way he holds me back at times and lets me fly at times.
I love how he challenges my ideas and tones down my impetuosity.
I love his quiet calm in the face of my frantic fury.
I love that he supports my decisions even if they are not always what he thinks is the best for me.
I love the way he sings slightly off key and a few beats before the words start.
I love that he completes me and with him I feel I can do or be anything.
I just love HIM.... totally and irrevocably..... for the last twenty years and for the next million.

Happy 15th Anniversay, My Darling!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Almost a man, my son

Thirteen years ago, at 9.46am, on Friday 16th January, our little 6lb 10oz bundle of wrinkly, squalling joy arrived into this World after three and a half hours of intense labour!  My Darling, my Mum and the Angel were there.  My Dad was on a train trying to get to us as fast as he could!  The Angel cut the umbilical cord between my son and me, and sealed a bond between Aunt and nephew that is unbreakable!  We named him Nikhil which means 'whole' 'entire' and that is what his was to us - our whole, entire world!

Twelve years ago, Nikh was walking, talking and teething! A mobile, noisy cutie filled with red cheeks and raw gums!  He was still the entire centre of our world, still the only child and grandchild!  He had started at Teddies Nursery about 7 months earlier, settled right in and was a darling, waking up in the morning, breakfast and playtime, two hour nap, waking up for lunch and playtime, two hour nap, waking up for dinner and see his Da (Daddy), and then bath and bed for nearly twelve hours!  I am still surprised that he knows anything about the world as most of the time he was in dreamland! His friends from Teddies are still near and dear - Roan, Spencer, Archie, Holly, Asha, Cara, and many more. The Moan (Simone), Kim, Debbie and others are still dear to us.

Eleven years ago, Nikh was very sick, contracting Broncchial Pneumonia and ending up extremely unwell and being admitted as an emergency to the children's ward.  My Darling, my parents and the Angel hovered over him, praying for his safe recovery.  We ended up creating a mini family out of the four other tiny patients in the ward.  I will never forget thinking how lucky we are when faced with their despair at the terrible prognoses offered for their children.  Mine was going to recover (I prayed), theirs were not (I wept).  we left the hospital with inhalers and a spacer device.  Around the same time, he was diagnosed with a suspected heart murmur and scoliosis (19% curve) of the spine.  Our whole, entire world was crumbling and our beautiful baby boy was so unwell.

Ten years ago, we took Nikhil for interviews at the boys private schools and were overjoyed when he was granted admission in all the schools we applied to.  Our toddler could write several words, could spell phonetically (a bit!), could count, and add, he could tell you stories from pictures and loved doing construction games!  He was on inhalers constantly, sick continually and hardly eating anything.  Then we took him to India!

Nine years ago, we were in Chennai, India.  The plan was to go with My Darling, settle him into an apartment and then bring Nikh back to London to start his formal schooling.  We quickly realised that going to the beach every afternoon and all the fresh sea air and food was doing Nikh a world of good.  He soon began using his inhalers less, began to eat regularly.  He began to gain some colour and was truly energetic.  How could I possibly go back? How could I take him to the cold and wet and damp that was making him so ill?  So he started at Kids Central Playschool and made some fantastic friends, Rajwa, Hamza, Baby Amr, Gul, Sanah, Tarsha, Annika and several others. These children were and still are good strong friends.

Eight years ago, Nikh was stronger, brighter and very very happy.  We applied to The School, KFI in Adyar, and we passed the parent interview, he passed his and he started there in June.  His closest friends went with him, all was right with his world.

Seven years ago, My Darling said that we might go home - so we started the process to transfer Nikh from running barefoot in the sand, hiding under the stairs to find ants in the playground, swinging from a Banyan tree that was 100 years old, leaning Tamil, learning to nurture nature (the school has its own cow - which once ran amok!!), from using chalk and slate or writing on the floor, from eating a full Indian lunch with his fingers to the brand new, hi-tech American International School in Taramani to gain a transition to wearing shoes again, to sitting at desks and using workbooks as the norm, to taking part in several sports.   Jeanette Parry was his first teacher there - what an angel - a loving, nurturing teacher who adored him - the feeling was mutual!

 Later that year several of his closest friends left Chennai and Nikh had to learn about separation.  He had his mummy for a teacher for some time and his other teacher, Kaylynne Matheson, taught Nikhil about self discipline, self motivation and doing your absolute best. She also taught him sign language and  how to laugh at himself. She was incredible.

Six years ago, our world was rocked on its axis. The Tsunami hit Chennai HARD. People we knew died, were swept away.  We were lucky.  The cottage we should have been staying in, at Fisherman's Cove, was hugely damaged and the guest who took our place was injured.  Nikh was learning about human tragedy, suffering and endurance on a huge and personal scale.  What he saw in the news, what he read in the papers was REAL.  Meanwhile, after an ectopic pregnancy and a few miscarriages, we had a baby girl who was a ray of sunshine and our own tsunami!  The Ray was wonderful for Nikh as he was allowed to take a day off school in celebration (my rule is that you have to be dead, dying or bleeding to miss school!).  On the downside, most of the rest of his 'best' friends left Chennai and Nikh

Five years ago, Nikh started thinking outside of himself.  He ran his own bake sale first for the Tsunami victims, and then for Habitat for Humanity and with some clever negotiating, persuaded his Nana to top up his seven thousand rupees to seventy five thousand rupees and raised enough money for the high schoolers at AISC to build an entire extra house! His teacher was utterly brilliant and encouraged him and supported him through it all - Becky Thomas. A talented teacher, creative, musical, artistic, constantly learning, changing, adapting and so full of energy and motivation.  A star!

Four years ago, Nikh managed to show that his character is forming nicely. He made friends with a huge influx of kids, he was on the Student council and was offering suggestions to make the school a better place.  He was IT student of the year, he got into fights with his closest friends and learning about making up and saying sorry. He joined the Madras Kids and realised what a gift his voice is - pure and clear and with perfect pitch!

Three years ago, he started trying to better himself at his sports, he started setting goals for himself each year.  He started practicing the piano more, he took part in another Madras Kids production.  He finally understood that each action has a consequence - that distracting himself in class might mean distracting others too.  He had one of the most fantastic teachers, Carolynn Fischer.  She had a baby and still continued doing the mega job she always had.  Her first and last thought was for her class.  She used parents to the best advantage to make sure her class go the best and most experiences.  In the process, she made other teachers better at their job and made parents appreciate how very very lucky we were to have her teach our children.

Two years ago, Nikh entered the Middle School - his Principal, Michele Dirksen, his counsellor, Trish Joudrey and some of his teachers motivated him.  They encouraged him to be self sustaining, to self manage his equipment, his property, his body and his education.  They showed him how to be independent.  They encouraged him to do his best, to try out for sports teams.  The cut him from the team to teach him a much needed lesson.  He had to learn to cope with criticism and disappointment.  Coaches Sebastian, Kostas and Dirksen taught him that even if they like him, they have to judge on performance and dedication and commitment.  His art and music teachers taught him that he can do anything that he sets his mind to.  His English and Science teachers taught him that all is not fair in life and you have to deal with stuff. The teachers that took him away for a week without walls showed him through example that there are adults outside of family and friends upon whom he can depend.  Who like him for who he is, not for whose son he is.

Last year, Nikh left Chennai.  he learnt to cope with emotional trauma on a devastating scale for him.  He had to say goodbye to his friends cum surrogate family.  He had to go to umpteen 'goodbye' dinners and lunches and realise how loved he was.  He had to come to terms with how close he had become to so many different people.   He had to come back to his 'home' that really was not a home.  He had to reconnect with his friends who have no knowledge of him.  His friends Roan and Archie have been fantastic.  He has started at a school where there as many kids in his year group as in half the school at AISC!  He is now one of many.  He is alone, unknown and alien.  He has had to learn to yank himself up by his bootstraps, dry his tears and get on with it, in spite of feeling alone and unloved and unwanted.  He has taken a few months to make a couple of friends.  He has worked hard and had a few shocks at how some children behave in school, how they talk to teachers and how disrespectful they are.  It is a credit to AISC that it had not even occurred to him that kids can behave this way!  He had to realise that extra lessons in keyboard, vocal coaching, badminton, choir and science were his responsibility.  If he didn't make sure he went, no one else was going to!  Life lessons!  He got his first report card and came third in his year (out of 300 kids).  His grades were great.  His Head of Year asked him to produce better next time around and he was astounded!!

This year - Nikh has read the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling.  He is going to try to live by it.

Now that he is thirteen and almost a man, my son is going to undergo some mega changes.  But some things will always stay the same.  The love My Darling, The Ray and I have for him.  The respect we have for his many talents and the thanks we give each day for his health and good humour!

Happy Birthday Nikh!  I love you!
(PS photos posted on Facebook and in a seperate post)

Dreaming in Dubai

Since living in Chennai, Dubai became our oasis in the desert of muck, grime, germs, bugs, and unruly crowdedness.  We loved for the times we could hop on an Emirates jet and fly straight into the arms of clean, sparkling malls; hygienic eateries and relatively few bugs.  Since moving home to London, coming to Dubai still holds the same appeal, but not for the same reasons.  We LOVE it here, simply LOVE it!  We enjoy the peace and quiet - no horns tooting.  Wherever we stay is not on any flight path, so no jets overhead.  The occasional 'whup-whup' of helicopter blades is not irritating, merely interesting - gives me a chance to make up an imaginary billionaire or dashing Prince heading to some world changing meeting or the other!

We love the crystal clear blue sea (some of it man-made - I agree!) but still gorgeous nonetheless!  We love the feel of the breeze - warm in the summer and like today, chilly, in the winter.  We love the fountains below the Burj Khalifa.  The music and choreography enthrals us relentlessly as we sit on the balcony with a definite bird's eye view!  We love the view from 51 storeys above ground - the unique architecture all around us and I defy Nikh to find two buildings that are alike!

We love the feel of the flown-in sand beneath our toes, the divine cooling lemon ice lollies that are dished out by the pool and beach staff to cool you down as you heat yourself up!  We love the underwater music system in the pool - easy to swim laps when you are being serenaded with every stroke and splash!  We love the cool, wet face cloths offered to ease your burning skin under the scorching sun.  We love the ease with which you can move from hotel room to water park and back again when they are all part of the same resort.  We love the way the kids are treated - with smiles and understanding.

We love the food - fresh, tasty and scrumptious.  We love the Hummus, the Tabbouleh, the Labneh, the Shawarma, the breads, the meat and fish and poultry.  We love the variety and the presentation.  We love the portions and the speed with which food is prepared and served!  We love the fact that fast food, when the Ray is starving, is just that!  We love the numerous coffee shops - Caribou, Starbucks, Second Cup, Gloria Jean's and more.  We love the choice of ice-cream shops - Baskin Robbins, Haagen-Dasz, Coldstone Creameries and the rest.  The fruit and veg are crunchy, crispy, sweet and tasty.  The quality is top notch and the colours are myriad.

We love the shopping - albeit a little expensive, window style works fine!  Designers vie with high street brands.  The outlet mall is wonderful, the Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall and Mall on the Marina are wonderful - best part is that you can walk miles and miles and never realise it.  Even better - the toilets are constantly cleaned and can be used without fear of dirt and disease!

But above all, we love the down time.  We love the time we spend together as a family, talking, walking, laughing, sharing and enjoying.  There is negotiation, debate and conversation about where to go next, which film to watch and what to have for the next meal.  Arguments are nil, stress, frustration and anger have gone with the wind.

For my dream holiday, or the holiday when I dream all day - Dubai is the top of my pops! I LOVE IT!!