shankhu was here from the 20th to the 24th. he was arriving at stansted airport which is nearly two hours from surbiton! i was trying to find out the cheapest way i could reach the airport, but i gave up in the end and went by train. cost me quite a lot, but got to see a lot.
the journey from surbiton to stansted is like this –
surbiton – waterloo – bank – liverpool street – stansted airport.
the hyphen in between the stations requires a train change. shashank’s flight was supposed to land at 1030, but it was a bit delayed because of the fog. the journey from liverpool street to stansted is quite interesting. the landscape is bare, marshy and looks straight out of tarkovsky’s brilliant film ‘stalker’. there was a thick fog hanging in the air. horses grazing, the typical houses with smoke from their chimneys, bare trees, broken logs sticking out of marshes, everything had a very hazy outline. like an impressionist painting.
reached the airport a little after 1040. took me some time to figure out where the international arrivals were. waited for almost five minutes, within which shashank arrived. felt great to see him! we went to the ticket counter to get him tickets to london. given my excellent sense of direction, we spent ten minutes locating the exit! found the lift eventually. got into the stansted express, where shashank’s characteristic complaining began! dirty trains, dirty landscape, smell etc. etc. it’s a bit difficult to get used to him being so critical about everything, almost whiny, but if you know him well, it is actually endearing. i know he is going to get livid when he sees the two words ‘shashank’ and ‘endearing’ in one sentence!! but then, that’s what it is!
after going up and down fifty three thousand nine hundred forty seven escalators and hopping on to various trains, we finally arrived at surbiton. the exposed brick architecture made shank wonder why all of london looks so ‘under-construction’. oslo, where he lives and works is very posh and well maintained. no surprise though, considering the fact that it is the world’s most expensive place to live in. came to my room, which was nice and cosy. he was wondering why i was being so whiny about the cold, and having to wear two sweaters, a pullover and a monkey cap, with funny looking gloves. the minus two outside was warm for him. coming from a place that is perpetually below zero in the winter, his saying so did not come as a surprise.
we hung around the room a bit, checked mails, listened to some good music, and went out to kingston town center in the evening. shank is not a shopping person at all. so, my decision of showing him the bentall center was kinda sad! walked along to the riverside after that. by six, he was hungry. he usually has dinner at that time. so after a small walk over the bridge, we went to ‘chez lalee’, the mexican place i had been to with ashish and gang. had golden tequila, which was terrific!
the food was too good! had the house brandy, which was spicy, much to our surprise. for dessert, we had some fried banana thing, which was brilliant. started back home, nice and full!
the next day, we went to central. came up to the british airways london eye, and we both thought of, and decided to hop on to it at the same moment! it was fifteen pounds, but worth it!
from there on, we had a small walk along the south bank. we were tired from all the walking, though it was not much. but shashank had sprained his ankle just a couple of weeks before coming here and we did not want to risk it again. so we decided to go back. it then struck me that ashish was supposed to be in london that evening. and just as i reached to take my mobile out, he called! chetan and him were at marble arch, which was close to bond street and oxford circus, the most well known and terribly crowded shopping places in london. so shank and i went on to meet the guys at marble arch.
we walked around a lot, jostling through the milling crowd of christmas revelers. live jamaican bands were playing christmas songs in their fast paced style. the entire place looks like malad, near inorbit. huge shopping places all over, crowd, cars…shank wanted to buy some dvds so we went into this massive hmv shop. it was spread over three levels, and was crowded like a dadar train! but in overall area, it seemed smaller than planet m. shankhu bought a good deal of dvds and cds. he had instructed me to warn him in the case he starts buying stuff. but i could not resist helping him in buying metallica and rammstein dvds and sountracks to sound of music ad requiem for a dream! and yes, i too sneakily bought a susheela raman cd – salt rain – for myself.
shank could not find the rammstein dvd he wanted, and the store clerk said that there is a much bigger shop down the road. so down the road we went, ashish complaining every fifteen steps, chetan egging him on, and shank with a determination of finding that stupid store. which eventually we did not! we ended up walking past two underground stations, and finally we gave up. shank was still eager to go and find the store, but after a little bit of whining from my side, he agreed to head back home.
both of us were terrible tired when we finally came to surbiton. headed to this indian place called joy near the station for dinner. food was good. chicken kadhai and manglorean fish curry with butter naan. shank was disappointed with the manglorean curry as they had made it a little sweet, in classic chettinad style with curry leaves and mustard seeds. and the biggest flaw was that they had used a fresh water fish, some ‘ayr’ for the curry. shank being a manglorean found the dish strange, but we had it nonetheless.
when we got out, there was this dense dense fog all over the place!! everything beyond 10-15 feet was invisible!! took some pictures with my camera. shank did too.
went home and dropped off to sleep.
the next day, shank wanted to visit trafalgar square as it is a hot spot for all kinds of protests, and he would get really good street shots there. but we left late and there was not much light anyway. and then, even the square was filled with camera-wielding tourists instead of placard holding protesters. i took a lot of street kind of shots on film. hoping that they turn out well. as the light got lesser, and both of us got hungrier, we started looking for a place to eat. spotted mcdonald’s, which initially seemed like a crappy option. but then, both of us hadn’t eaten at mc for along time. went in and had a chicken something meal. was okay. the fries were too salty and burnt 😦
came home early as we were going to ameya’s place for a visit. rested for a while. shank got to know my wimbledon teddy, and the both seem to have gotten on well!
that, according to shank, is the most fake he can get. posing with a cute teddy and attempting a bleak smile on his face!
went to ameya’s place later in the evening. had a great deal of fun sharing stuff with everyone. norway, london, bombay, pune, hyderabad, mangalore…everything coming together for some hours of undiluted fun. i guess shank must’ve enjoyed it too. the smile on his face shows it, even though nothing else would…
oh! by the way, i recently had a nice haircut. well, there was not much hair to cut anyway! the barber is a nice guy from kurdistan, speaks a bit of hindi, can sing ‘tere man ki ganga aur mere man ki jamuna ka’ from sangam well, and is a trained draughtsman. the buzz cost me six pounds. was worth. and yes, i do look like akshay khanna. heard that so much, that even i have started to believe it!
slept off pretty late. got up the next day at around 11. shashank was up already and was upstairs talking with the guys. we left in some time, again into the fog that was refusing to leave.
on our way home, saw this woman sitting in a roadside cafe with her two dogs. made a funny picture, methinks!
the way these drops hang on to the end of the grass…afraid to let go.
this picture is something i have always admired seeing in magazines. my attempt has not been too good as my hands were frozen! but still…
when we reached clayhill, it was eerily quiet and empty, as most of the students have gone out for christmas to their families or friends. the parking lot was empty, and the tree made a spooky shadow on the wall.
got back home and started looking at options to go to stansted again as shank had to leave by an early morning flight (6:30). checked out the travel for london website, stansted express etc. the main problem was getting to liverpool street / tottenham hale from where the stansted express train leaves. but the trains and the underground services do not start before four in the morning, which was a problem as he had to be at the check in two hours before departure. after a lot of deliberation and calling friends with cars, we decided to go by bus! it was the easiest and most convenient option we had.
the journey from surbiton to stansted aiport was like this:
surbiton – kingston – aldwych (trafalgar square bus-stop) – stansted airport
here too, the hyphens meant we had to change buses. and the first bus was at 1:52! i did not sleep at all, while shank had an hour’s nap. was good for him as he had to travel the whole morning to get back to oslo. we left the room at 1:30 and just about managed to get into the bus to kingston. waited a while for the next connecting bus to aldwych, which was a bit late. it took us some 40 minutes to reach trafalgar. that was when all the fun began! the next bus to stansted airport was supposed to come at 3:15 at the W bus-stop. we got down and the driver told us the stop was just around the corner. and as luck would have it, we took the wrong turn! ended up looking in three directions for the god-forsaken W stop, finding none! i could see shank’s frustration increasing by the minute. but he was trying hard to control it. by the time we gave up searching for the stop, it was already 3:25. we were sure that the stupid bus had left, and went around a curve to look for a taxi, and there it was!! the W stop! it was actually just right round the corner where the earlier bus had left us!
the stansted bus which was supposed to come at 3:15 had not arrived at all. so we had to wait for the next bus, which came at 3:45 as it was supposed to. got into it and had a really good nap! i don’t even remember how long it took, or where it went from. but i got up just at the right time when the bus entered the stansted coach station. shashank and i rushed to the departure, and found that the queue for his flight was not too big. that was a relief! and within minutes, he was gone. now shashank is not one too fond of elaborate good-byes and stuff. he just rushes out as if he were waiting to run off! i waited outside for a couple of minutes, and then turned back home.
had a really good four days with shankhu. it’s always good to meet someone you know and share a lot with. helps you to relive some terrific times! and make many more memories…till the next time!