The Mushrooming of Fashionistas

T’was the evening before our return to the connected world. We were to leave beautiful, bucolic, Bala with its bubbling brooks and baying buddies, to catch a ferry to Ireland the next morning and the brother’s family was to return to London. The refreshing walks and hikes had resulted in much sharing of life’s wisdom. As the niece said, the toddlers now know they must not stamp on the black balls on the trails for that is sheep poop.


There was great excitement in the house.  We were getting ready to go to a fancy dinner. What I had seen of Bala was wonderful, but did not look like the whipping hot scene of the fashionista and the twitterati. The old farmer we passed on the road seemed nice enough and waved at us from his tractor, but I was having a hard time imagining him as the charging center of Bala’s social scene in his earthly tweeds and hat. Which suited us perfectly.

Allow me to digress here for a bit. The husband cannot for the life of him squash his neck into a tie. I would not put it past him to crinkle a freshly pressed shirt. He is the sort of fellow who feels compelled to fold up his full-hand shirts lest they look formal. (I have touched upon this aspect here: So you can imagine how sterling the sister-in-law is for convincing us all to dress up nicely for a dinner out.

 I felt like we had gone back to Jane Austen times when they dressed for the ball and no other reason, but shook the feeling away firmly. The slightest doubt about dressing well would mean we all slip back to yoga pants or worse, pajamas for dinner. That does seem to be fashion trend these days: )

“Are there any restaurants in Bala, or are we just going to eat out like what we did in the afternoon? We could do that, you know? Under the stars.” piped the girls. You can rely on them to surface any nagging doubts sniggling in your brain.

Though we were miles from any restaurant or super-market, I don’t want you to run away with the notion that we were hungry. The Balas and those who marry into the Bala family like their nourishment. Consequently, the brother and sister-in-law had a box of considerable size with ‘provisions for a few days’. What that meant is that if the sheep were not happy grazing, we could have fed them all Channa Masala, Dum Aloo, Creamy Pastas or Steaming Basmati rice any time of the day.  This is what the girls were referring to: we had eaten food fit for feasts in the backyard in pajamas, why not have more of that after a shower?

Anyway, despite hemming and hawing about dressing well, we collectively put up a brave show of it. The toddlers looked like strapping fine gentlemen, and the strapping fine gentlemen looked like harassed toddlers forced into wearing pants; the girls looked like young ladies, the ladies wished they looked more like the younger ladies teetering next to them and all was well. The toys, boys, girls, men and women got into the cars. After brief stops to open the gates by the ponds, we sped off towards the adventures of the night.

I must say, for a small town, the eateries were very good. The Bala-name’s reputation with respect to food was intact in our minds. I was asking the brother about cuisines and pastimes when he said, the Welsh love their mutton chops and lamb stews.

There was an ominous silence from the back seat where the daughter was yapping seconds before. “Uh oh!”, was all the brother could say before a quivering voice asked him, “You mean people kill these lambs – even Patchy?”(Patchy was the sheep who she managed to get close to that morning, We assured her that we will not be killing Patchy and bleated out a white lie to set her animal activist’s heart at rest.

The brother heaved a sigh of relief and told her he was going to ask the waitress for a vegetarian menu. It is at times like this, that I wonder how lovely it must be to live in a small place. The service we got for this simple request was exceptional. The head chef left his busy haven. He probably switched off the oven, turned off the gas, untied his apron, removed his mittens and headed upstairs to ease our hearts and tell us all about his offerings.

“We have mushrooms and cheese that I can make into a lovely omelet. “ he boomed heartily. “And some of the best creamy mushroom soup. If you are looking for something a little more spicy, I could make you a Mushroom Stroganoff with some mushroom and tomatoes. Or you could have a vegetarian lasagna with mushroom.”  Clearly, he couldn’t help noticing that he was going a bit strong on the mushroom motif, for he hastily added that  “Carrot and coriander soup is also available.”

We ordered them all and the chef sang his way to the kitchen. The daughter was happy and Patchy would have been happy.

Patchy happy with menu: Mushroom stragonoff, mushroom lasagna, mushroom omelet and carrot soup!

As we headed out, the brother pointed out a picture taken about a century ago on Bala High street. Even though the picture was a black and white one, you could discern the flushes on the cheeks of about 30 young ladies dressed for the Ball at Bala, and it looked marvelous. Suddenly, it seemed okay to dress up and come to dinner. Like the husband said, “Anyway, no one knows us here, so why not dress up?”

Patchy’s Lessons in Patience & Perseverance

Walking has always been a favorite with the Balas. From a mile away, one can identify the fathers or my walk. In moments of thought, we tie our hands behind our back, take long, energetic strides and march on. Walks are also the time when we come up with our epiphanies and learnings. Ripe with the lessons gleaned from a reading of Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I took a walk near the cottage at Bala.

The mists were lifting and the sheep and their kids were starting to get on with their day. I looked at them and saw a number of tendencies that were downright endearing. The ewes and rams that were mothers and fathers cast a protective eye upon the surroundings and while they watched their kids frolic around, were quick to show they meant business if you approached too close to the kids.

After jumping over a gate and skipping over a gushing stream, I sat down to gaze at the surroundings. 

The English Countryside
The English Countryside – pic taken from wikicommons but where we stayed looked similar

As I sat there admiring the sheep near me, I mused on how wonderfully the whole society looked after one another. How they let the young ones thrive, while ensuring their safety. How they grazed, and what useful animals they were. Human beings have no means of knowing what animal thought processes are, but as I sat there gazing out at these gentle creatures, one of the kids came closer to me. I saw it approach, saw the mother cast a warning look and bleat at it to be careful (probably, for I don’t speak Sheep, but you can always get tone). I just continued to sit there and the kid approached me even closer and finally came really close to me,  before bounding off to boast to its friends. There was much bay-ing among the kids when this one bounded back and I could not help thinking the kid had approached me on a dare. It brought a little smile to my face and I headed back.

But again, I maybe inserting anthropomorphic tendencies into that lamb’s demeanor.

Over breakfast I told the daughter about the lamb and inserted a ‘lesson’ about the virtues of patience. A lesson I can learn myself as I know too well. “Sitting and patiently waiting for things beyond our control is a skill and one that can be developed, “ I said to the children like I was Buddha. To give the daughter her due, she did not call my bluff and she did not laugh, but absorbed the statement with as much mellow-ness as her character would allow. Which was to say that she continued attaching herself to the chocolate syrup and the pancakes and ignored the banana pieces.

In a place like Bala, it is phenomenally hard to do something filled with purpose. After a few hours, we decided to walk. After walking for a bit, the children wanted to touch the lambs, but they would not let them approach. They frisked and ran when we approached. After some time, the daughter decided to try what I told her and I was truly amazed.

She approached a lamb and sat at a respectable distance for a few minutes. Then she moved an inch or so and then waited again. Patiently. Quietly.  Every time she moved, the ewes and rams gave her a warning look as if to say ‘Don’t mess with our kids!’. The minutes ticked on and though, at other times, she would have been anxious to move on to more gregarious activities, she sat and waited.

Apparently, she had taken my words to heart in the morning. It made me realize that though it looks like children are not sitting like disciples around the Buddha and listening, they are absorbing and it drove an even harder lesson to me.

Buddha's disciples
Buddha’s disciples

It happened after what seemed like a long time. The kid approached her. He let her talk to him and look into his eyes. She named him ‘Patchy’. When she tore herself away after a few minutes,  it followed her around like Mary-and-the-little-lamb. She was ecstatic in her joy as were the rest of us.

It was hard work winning the confidence of a lamb, but it was worth it.

The Balas at Bala

Last names come in a variety of different flavors. Family names, father’s name, husband’s family name, husband’s name, the name of your hometown, occupation. Our brand of surnames belongs to the Father’s-name-variety and given that the father’s name is all of 15 syllables, we can be excused for cutting it short to the first four letters every now and then. For convenience and sanity.

In other news, if ever one is looking for some aspect of  the English countryside to compare and contrast with South India, I think an area of stiff competition could be in the names. The Welsh names were some of the most tongue-twisting I have ever come across. And this is from a person who has visited Hawaii( LLanfo, LLyn Tegid, Afon Trywryn, Gwydyr, Llangolen and so on. School is written as’ Ysgol’ pronounced Yisgool. Can anyone see how similar that sounds to the famous South Indian  pronunciation of Is-cool? (Is School cool? Or is Is-cool cool? Or school is cool?)

For Is-cool to be understood as School and then to be -reinterpreted as Ysgol must be hard work. Now please imagine the plight of Indian Americans trying to understand the Tom-Tom’s British accent while pronouncing Welsh names. It is no wonder that we went-the-round-about-in-Ysgol what?! ((  Before we could understand the Tom-Tom and interpret what it is saying, the round about had already spun us out in a totally different direction.

However, there are benefits to this and one of them is the fact that we stayed in a place called ‘Bala’ (The first four letters in the alphabet soup that produces my father’s name) Bala is home to the largest lake in Wales and is a bustling town of about 100 residents (one of whom is having their home remodeled, and that is the talk of the residents) The husband and brother had found a marvelous cottage in the middle of nowhere i.e. about 5 miles from Bala. I kid of course, but Bala was beautiful (

The Bala Lake:
The Bala Lake:

The directions to the cottage were something like this:

  • Satellite navigation will end at one point in the road.
  • Keep going.
  • You will notice a road sign saying the road ends and there are no more through roads.
  • Keep going.

What they should have said:

  • The roads are narrow. If another car approaches, God help you.
  • You will see three ponds, three ducks, a farm full of sheep and 15 rabbits.
  • Keep going.
  • After this you will see two gates. Send the author of future blogs about the trip to heave and ho as hard as she can to open them, while the rest of the party sits in the car and cackles at her plight.
  • Keep going.

After all of this, I have got to tell you was the most marvelous experience of all time! For the first time in many years, we found ourselves without hearing any man-made sounds for a few days. All you could hear for miles around was the soothing sound of lambs and sheep baa-ing, the song of birds and the sound of a rushing stream of water.  I suppose people find this when they go camping to some place in the woods or something, but smack in the middle of this bucolic heaven was a cottage with all modern amenities. If ever there was bliss, it was the gratitude of knowing a warm, comfortable lodging awaited you the moment the stars shone down.

Thank you Bala for everything (My father first and then the town).

The Balas at Bala
The Balas at Bala

Coming up next: What the sheep taught us at Bala.

The Roundabout Tom-Tom

We are back after what felt like a short vacation. It was, in fact, just right. Like a good cup of coffee that wakes and rejuvenates you, yet leaves you thirsting for more. I hadn’t met the brother in three years (the bane of multi-national families) and I was like a happy child in anticipation for a good three months before the trip. We visited London, then drove on to Wales and finished up at Ireland. After a hectic day sight-seeing around London, I was quite glad of the opportunity to pile into the car and make for the famous English countryside. I do like cities for a spot of sight seeing, but give me a forest or the fields any day and I will be a happier camper.

The plan was to leave London in an orderly manner in two cars, one following the other, and drive to Wales, stopping in Oxford and Birmingham on the way. The brother set the destination on the TomTom, a name I found hilarious. Well, it should have been Tom-Jerry since we were playing catch with the brother’s car ahead of us most of the time, and he like Jerry the mouse was quick at turning at the right turnoffs, while we…well, read on.

Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry
Tom-Tom or Tom-Jerry

The relations between UK and US maybe perfectly cordial, but they insist on doing everything opposite. The flushes are on the right, the toilet paper is on the left,  toilets here have half hearted doors, while they go all the way in the UK.  (brother’s blog here when he visited the USA)

More importantly it is left hand driving there while it is right hand driving in the US. This, in and of itself, was confusing enough without adding roundabouts, turnabouts, Tom-Toms and the lot.

The Tom-Tom did what most GPS-es do. It kept telling us what to do, and when we did not listen, stopped just short of sighing. One time, I did hear something that sounded like “Chee! Not there – Turn around when possible

There is something else one must know about the Tom-Tom: It was either surprisingly good at Mathematics or gapingly poor at it. One minute, it would be saying , in quarter a mile, take left on the round-about, and third exit towards A-56648.

The next minute, it’d say, in 200 yards, take left on the round-about and fourth exit towards A-56648

Now, we are all for good-natured fun at our expense, but really! How was one to figure out whether:

(a) There was a round-about at 200 yards and another round-about at quarter of a mile.

(b) 200 yards is approximately equal to quarter of a mile.

(c) Since they don’t use miles, does it really mean kilometers?

(d) To take the fourth exit or the third exit to A-56648

New Delhi had a similar menace too and I remember writing about it 9 years ago here:

All highly muddlacious and confusional. The result being that the brother would be waiting at our rendezvous point twiddling his thumbs (read, running after his over-active toddler happy to be released from his carseat) when we’d tumble into the scene mildly cursing the Tom-Tom. The husband quite often blurred the lines between the Tom-Tom and his faithful wife who directed him with a firmer voice than the Tom-Tom. When asked who he was cursing, he’d use his charming smile and say, a tad too quickly for comfort, that it was the Tom-Tom.

The Roundabout Charkrayuga
The Roundabout Charkrayuga

The night we reached Birmingham, we could easily have reached Manchester, for there was a round-about that spindled out like a spider in seven or eight different directions. Having muddled up the previous round-about with just three turns and going away after some pretty deer in the countryside before turning around, we were really scared about this one. We managed though and generally tottered out towards our hotel like sheep lost for a day and a half on the pastures by the stile.

After the fifth muddle-tum-misseoso, the brother took things firmly in his hand, and sent his wife in our car to direct us. We’d have to say things were better, because we told her we will. But the truth was that the Tom-Tom just upped its ante when it realized that it had another person to misdirect. I don’t know whether I really trust folks when they say that inanimate objects have no feelings. I could not shake off the feeling that the Tom-Tom sat up with glee at the additional person in the car and laughed its way through the countryside. One time, the b’s wife said, “I am absolutely sure – you turn here” and then, the Tom-Tom chuckled and said, “Chuckle Chuckle Grin Grin, Turn around when possible and take right on the roundabout and fourth exit.”

Really, what is wrong with good old fashioned signals I ask you. Why can’t you have crossroads that say, Turn Right on signal to go to Birmingham and Left to go to London? Why have people go merrily round and round a roundabout? Not that it got us in anyway because we had all the time in the world. We were driving through the countryside with breath-taking views and any sense of purpose seemed wasted. Miles and miles of farmland with sheep and lambs spotting the hills. Any time, we took a wrong turn, we simply released some giggles from our giggle pots and carried on.

rush hour in wales
rush hour in wales – our fridge magnet

Till the last day when we had a ferry to catch, but that is an another blog for another day.

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