Monday 28 November 2011

3 for 2 does not equal 1 for 2/3

Am I the only person to find the “3 for 2”, “2 for 1”, “buy one get one free” offers pointless because all I want is 1?

I  read an article yesterday which states that 50% of US households are single, so I think I can’t be the only one out there who wonders about the markets continual preoccupation with multi-buy offers.

I remember, in the days before the internet, needing to buy a single rail ticket between Sheffield and London and ending up being told by the booking clerk that what I needed was a return. No I politely said what I had asked for was a single. He quietly explained I should buy a return because it was cheaper. More recently, a friend also told me of cases where buying 2 return air tickets, and only using one half of each, has worked out cheaper than buying one return. Result = empty seats.

Then there are those supermarkets offers of the buy one mango get one free type. But if you are not going to eat the second mango then why buy it, even for zero cost? Result = gluttony or waste. Instead, why not have singles supermarkets, where buying one pork chop instead of a pack of 3 is possible? Or why can’t supermarkets let you sign over your second mango to someone else in return for their second pack of oranges say? Or credit your card with a free mango on your next visit? Or let 2 people share a “2 for 1” offer between them? Or where the zero cost mango could be given to a food charity as your donation?

Next there are the Vouchers for Schools Schemes. Not knocking it, its a great idea. A tiny amount for each transaction translates into real Computers for Schools across the huge volume turnover at supermarkets. But here too there is a singleton factor to the equation. When supermarkets first started giving vouchers for schools, I asked my till server if she wanted them for her kids school. No she replied she was not allowed to take them. OK fair enough, but as a consequence I’m always on the hunt for someone with kids of school age or someone who looks like a grandparent to hand my vouchers off to. I remember once, having done a huge shop one day and then buying a whole load of wine, I had this enormous pile of vouchers, and would you believe it a supermarket devoid of obvious parents! After several attempts to find a person with kids I’m on my way out of the shop when I spot a women at the other end of the car park. It turns out she was a teacher who happily took my very large pile. Why can’t supermarkets have a drop box for each local school?

Then there are 2 for 1 meal offers – what good are these when you are eating on your own? They are in effect a surcharge of being a singleton. No different than single supplement room charges.

Today another of these silly offers. I needed to get my eyes tested and the Optician has a “buy one get one free” offer. But I have perfectly good frames for my glasses, I just need new lenses. On the other hand I only have one pair of prescription sunglasses at the moment and that is never enough, especially when living in sunny tropical climes, and so really needed to buy a second pair.

First the optician costed out my lenses. When I sad I wanted my sun glasses changed as well out came the buy one get one free offer. So here’s how it works out

Glasses : Lens £102.50 x 2 + Frame £144.50 = £349.00

Sunglasses :  Lenses £66.00 x 2 + Frame £29.00 = £161.00

Eye test - £20.00

Total £530.00 (Extortionate!)

Discount £161.00

Paid £369.00 (Still expensive! With a need to change my lenses every 18 months to 2 years that is £15.00 - £20.00 per month cost)

I am buying exactly the same frames as I have already for my ordinary glasses. This means I now have 3 frames the same!

Can someone please tell me why I should be buying an unwanted frame, that someone has spent time making, that materials have been used to make, that energy has been used to make and which in effect is surplus, it is waste?  result – unrequired production, waste.

Why not say that instead I could have £144.50 off my sunglasses? With this, I might have even spent more money and chosen a more expensive frame as the choice for sunglasses within this offer is somewhat limited. As it was, I’d spent time looking at their range of frames and was well and truly non plused by the pitiful choice. Lots of all too similar frames, almost all rectangular in shape, black, blue, pink, violet in colour but little in the way of my rich autumnal browns, greens, and reds to choose from. This wasn’t a cultural acclimatisation moment of too much choice, they were just a boring selection. So I ended up with quite ordinary stayed chocolate brown frame. I want to be more adventurous in my sunglasses, but nothing individual, nothing distinctive, nothing very colourful. However, for what amounts to £161.00-144.50 = £16.50 for my sunglasses I am not complaining money wise, it just seems warped logic and wasteful over production to me. 

I just hate these offers! Rant over!

Sunday 27 November 2011

I guarantee you will never look at pink shoes the same again!

The Consequences of Love


Sulaiman Addonia


A beautifully told story, touchingly read by Christopher Simpson.

After his reading of Q&A/ Slumdog Millionaire I wondered if Christopher Simpson could become one of my favourite narrators. With listening to this reading the answer is undoubtedly Yes.

The book is also a little marvel. It vastly surpasses the chic lit Girls Of Riyadh which lies in the same space – that of sexual repression under the strict Saudi regime. Here we follow the fortunes of Eritrean refugee Nasar, now living in Jeddah.

Nasar’s life could not be more different to that of the gossiping Girls of the upper echelons of Saudi society found in Rajaa Alsanea’s book. His world is full of folks doing menial work, scraping a living, sniffing glue; amidst sexual abuse and  male prostitution, surrounded by opulence on the one hand and state sanctioned barbarism on the other. In a society full of extortion, corruption and  double standards a lone, young and attractive, foreign boy like Naser is at the bottom of the pecking order.

Remembering his mother’s sacrifice to get him and his younger brother out of the war zone their country had become, he spends his time dreaming of women in a world of men. The Jeddah he sees is black and white – the black abayas of the women and the white robes of the men. He never sees a woman, only their black. They are  hidden and separate. They, and the love he seeks, are inaccessible, unavailable until, in streets patrolled by the religious police, a love letter drops at his feet and brings pink shoed Fiore into his life. We are swept along by their courtship, deepening love into the Consequences of their illicit love.

The harsh realities of life hit home and test the young lovers resolve and commitment. Without giving anyway the ending of this book it is hard to make further comment, except to say this was a politically and emotionally charged, memorable read. As a first book I thought it tremendous achievement.

ashramblings verdict 5* if you read any of Rajaa Alsanea’s Girls of Riyadh, Yasmina Khadra’s Swallows of Kabul and / or Khaled Hossein’s A Thousand Splendid Suns  then you must read this. Highly recommended.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair….

…of all the things to have missed! I took a walk into Cambridge today to get my hair cut. Over 12 inches chopped off and it  is still below my shoulders. Walking back, on a late autumnal day, with a slight chill in the air, the wind picks up and whoosh, hair flies! A great “cultural reacclimatisation” moment as Springsteen rings through my  head and after almost 2 years of wearing my hair tied up and back it is free to move and my scalp feels cool. Priceless :)

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Driving normalities

As I am being driven back into Cambridge this morning to stay with friends there for a couple of weeks I am pondering the differences in traffic. There are of course the obvious lane discipline, traffic jams and lack of horns, but I was struck by one particular one as I watched a learner driver run out of slip land space as he tried to merge into nose to tail traffic heading into town. It was a brightly coloured, newish looking , all signed  up motoring school car complete with bright obvious L learner plates. The contrast to Rayagada could not have been more apparent. In my nagar there was one driving instructor who also had a small car. But his looked  anything but new with typical bumps and bruises and balding tyres. Every morning as I walked into work I would pass a collection of young men, all I suspect students at the local Engineering College, who had gathered together with their cycles to wait for their turn in the car. No book and pay for an hour plus here, their lessons consisted of 5-10 minutes of driving round and round the sandy lanes of the nagar. They probably did not get out of 2nd gear. And of course a vital part of their training was to learn to hoot their horn at each junction, even when there was no other traffic, car, bike or cycle, and no pedestrians in sight. It got to be very normal. Now it seems I am living two normalities and happily adjusting between the two :)

Friday 11 November 2011

Farewells … mu samaste Rayagada-ru kebe bhuli jibani

PB110080(Ravi, Mr Panda, Ramesh, Katy, Sanghamitra, me, Suresh, Kishore, TP, Dilip, Sanjay, Jagdish)

This has been a week for taking leave of people here. Signing off with my local shop keepers  - very strange, when what I want to do is shake Kiran’s hand and say thanks so  much for being a friendly face every morning and having to make do with a very formal When are you coming back? How long is your flight? dialog. Muna, my local tiffin walla isn’t here just now so it looks like I have missed him. Then I’m sending off my favourite sabzi walla with a small puja thank you tip plus a plastic waste basket and a plastic food container :)

Next it was over to Sanghamitra’s parents house for the usual chai, chat, biscuits and cold drinks. Her mother’s Oriya is very clear and I can hear more and more of it. She has always made me welcome in their house. My poor attempt at an appropriate thank you for this gets smiles but the message gets correctly translated by Sanghamitra. Next we head off to the market to buy a petticoat for my sari – gosh when was the last time I wore or even owned a petticoat! We collect my sari’s blouse from the tailor but oh dear it is far too big round the under bust line and rides up  over my boobs when I move so it has had to go back for re-stitching on the eve of my last day. Will  it be ready? Of course, this is not the last minute, this is India :)

Last night was spent with Sushila my landlady and daughter Rinky drinking her chai. Everybody's chai is different – hers is made ginger and cardamom, Sanghamitra’s is made with black pepper and bay. Mine adds a touch of cinnamon to the ginger and cardamom. All are different and all are very nice. The tea connoisseur has turned  into a chai connoisseur!

Rinky is receiving the remnants of my nail oil, cream and polish along with my chair. Ok I am spoiling  her I know. Her mother is going to get the pestle and mortar I inherited from Hilary as a thank you for all her chai and Oriya lessons. Everything is either being flung out as rubbish or packed up and stored by my NGO for subsequent volunteers along with the fridge. Unused food is going to the Old Age Home, and old but perfectly acceptable clothing is being found an appropriate home.

Amidst all of this I have had to try and get my Exit Permit arranged. This was complicated because I queried their wording, which seemed to me to indicate that I had been granted my visa extension, whereas I really have only applied for it. Then there was much confusion as the Superintendent of Police was not available to sign, so his deputy did. Then the local guys were very reluctant to give me the one with his signature on it as it would not match the other documents and their messages to officials when I hand my exit  permit over at Mumbai. Trying to convince them that i is perfectly acceptable for the deputy to sign on the SP’s behalf just goes against the typical Indian work practice of having only one centralised authority  to whom everyone defers and waits for decisions from. So I ended up with 2 exit permits :)  That was yesterday. Today at 5PM we get a call lease come back to the Office and collect a 3rd exit permit, this time signed by the SP.

My last day saw me working to finish off some things with Mr P. This week saw usual power cuts being rivalled for inconvenience by the fact that we changed our Internet account and so ended up without any net for 4days waiting for the telecoms people to properly connect our new account

Sadly I did not manage to get back over to the Old Aged Home to say  my farewells there as the office had arranged a picnic lunch out of town by the river. So the CHILDLINE Team, and the main office staff headed out and set up cook pots on an open fire and dished up a delicious chicken curry, aloo gobhi, rice, dalh and salad. So much  food! I was glad the farewell did not turn into a formal one, with Indian style speeches. It was nice and relaxed, much more me.The local spot is a prime picnic spot at this time of year for Rayagada residents, being near the river, with trees for shade and the local kids make money bringing firewood to picnickers and washing up for them. I was pleased to see that we fed the boys who had helped and that as they were eating they were quietly but effectively told about CHILDLINE in their own language.

So this is my final post from Rayagada which has been my home for the past two years – I will not forget you.

Never Say Goodbye

Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna

(Never say goodbye)

Directed by

Karan Johar


The greats of Bollywood cinema Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rani Mukherjee,come together again in this film. The plot is classic Bollywood boy (Shah Rukh Khan) meets girl (Rani Mukherjee), they fall in love, but obstacles abound. In this case the obstacles are their two marriages to other people. Have a large pack of Kleenex to hand as hearts are broken left right and centre as life’s twists take the pair apart, fling them together again, only to wrench them apart again. As normal the hero get his girl but just because we know that is going to happen does not distract from the enjoyment of what is after all a stylise art form. The best of the forms set dances pieces in my opinion are “Rock and Roll Soniye” with real life father and son Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan leading the routine, and “Where’s the party tonight”, a Bollywood take on the Disco dance scene . Coordinated colour abounds as you’d expect from Bollywood numbers which make you want to get up and dance, cuddle into your own love, and cry your eyes out. It’s long over 3 hours but plenty of eye candy for old and young, male and female and perhaps the nearest you’ll get to a sex scene in Bollywood cinema.

 ashramblings verdict 3* Typical Bollywood artform

Monday 7 November 2011

The Crowe Eaters

The Crowe Eaters




Bapsi Sidhwa

Author’s website :

Faredoon Junglewalla is a struggling Parsi businessman living in Lahore at the turn of the 20th century when he strikes upon the then novel idea of an arson based deception of an insurance company. The consequential fire and visual comedy of his mother in law’s rescue from the balcony of the blazing house results in only some of the expected windfall, but enough to see him on his way to becoming a “Godfather” like fixer. As his fortunes grow so does his influence, to such an extent that his son is able to fall for and marry the young daughter of rich parentage. Humour abounds in this book: from the tongue in cheek choice of family names -  the Junglewallas and The Easymoneys – to the hilarious scene where Freddy’s son Billy consummates his marriage amid a thunderstorm.

The book is light on overall plot, but strong on memorable characters which the author crafts through side stories like Freddy’s other son Yadze’s infatuation with a Anglo Indian girl at school, whose dubious birth is an outrage to Freddy, and his attention to spiritual gurus and mystics, his search for his “janam patri” ( translates I think as “birthday letter” sort of like a horoscope) amongst a courtyard full of mouldy papal leaves. These side stories are decidedly double edged –funny whilst at the same time sadly poignant of the superstition, religious dogma and racial bigotry that can still be found in India today. 

Towards the end of the book Freddy, his wife and mother in law make to England,. This not only shows culture shock in reverse – the mother in law is outraged by the thought of her daughter having to dry clean herself rather than wash after toilet, whilst Freddy is outraged by the mother in law carrying a jug with every every visit. Also as they are guests of an English couple who had been stationed in Lahore they see their lack of servants in England and their perceived reduction in status compared to their lives in India. This dispels their illusion of England being the land of queens and coronets and transforms it into just another version of real live, with sad faces, hard work etc.

The Crowe Eaters was Sidhwa’s first published novel. She had written it and The Bride and failed to get either published and so ended up to privately publishing The Crowe Eaters. It was such a success that her further writings was assured of publication. (see Sawnet bio)

ashramblings verdict: 3* A humorous insight into Indian lifestyles of the time and to an author worthy of much reading further. Recommended.