Carrot Cake

I don’t remember when I first tasted carrot cake, but I have known for a while that it is my favourite type of cake. It still surprises me that I like carrot cake so much. Carrots are not an especially preferred vegetable, although I do eat them in a variety of ways.

When I was eight years old I was sent to boarding school, a bit of a traumatic experience for any young child. One of the better memories of this four year experience was that each and every child in the school was given a small allotment plot in which we could grow whatever we wished. Amongst other things I grew carrots. Even if you are not keen on eating carrots, they are beautiful plants to watch grow. They have such lovely feathery foliage, magical for children, and even more magical when you pull them up to find a crop of carrots underneath, a crop that you can actually eat. Although I’m not a big fan of boarding schools for young children, looking back, I think it was very enlightened of the school to encourage children to tend gardens and grow their own crops.

But back to carrot cake. At eight years old I didn’t know there was such a thing as carrot cake. I was brought up on Victoria sponges and the like. Carrot cake only came into my life when I took up cycling about eight years ago. A frequent, local, flat, 20 mile ride involves a half way stop at a café which, up to today, I thought sold the best carrot cake ever, particularly delicious with cappuccino ten miles into a bike ride.

I have many a time told the café owners this, but after today will not be able to do so again, because today some friends came for lunch and brought with them really the best carrot cake ever. Evidently the recipe was a BBC Good Food one. My friend told me, ‘I’ll tell you that this is the recipe, even though I know you will never bake one.

Recipe: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3229/yummy-scrummy-carrot-cake

From now on I will associate carrot cake with a really enjoyable lunch with good friends, but also with the query in my head about whether my friend knows me better than I know myself. Yes, it’s true that I haven’t baked a cake since our children grew up and ‘fled the nest’. I decided I had had enough of baking, but also just two of us simply cannot eat a whole cake these days, even over a few days. But will I really never bake another cake? And what is it that my friend knows about me that I don’t know about myself? It’s always intriguing to consider how others perceive you.

Who would have thought that carrot cake could lead to these memories. I have to put this down to the fact that the cake in itself was an especially memorable experience, invoked by the senses, which triggered off more memories, which in turn were invoked by the senses. I think even Descartes would have had to trust his senses that this was an absolutely delicious cake.

Visiting Kolkata with a Wheelchair User

Visiting Kolkata with a wheelchair user is a challenge and certainly not for the faint-hearted. Hand-pulled rickshaws are being phased out, but there is little sign that facilities for wheelchair users are being phased in. I think it would be fair to say that Kolkata is the most inaccessible city for a wheelchair user that we have ever visited. We were there three days and in all that time of being out and about for eight hours each day, I didn’t see one other person in a wheelchair. Given the difficulties of getting about this is not surprising.

If you are a wheelchair user, and are thinking of visiting Kolkata, then here are some of the experiences we had that might inform your visit.

First, a little background so that you can compare your condition with ours. It is not me, the author of this blog post, who uses the wheelchair, but my husband, so I am writing from the perspective of the carer of a wheelchair user. I can’t imagine a wheelchair user travelling to Kolkata without a carer, although I do know that there are some extremely intrepid young wheelchair users who travel the world alone. We are not in that category.

My husband is in his 70s,  a quadriplegic, partially paralysed from a spinal chord injury. We are fortunate that he can still stand and, with support, bear his own weight, but he cannot walk. So he is permanently in a wheelchair and is not a user who, for example, needs a wheelchair at an airport because of the walking distance required. He simply cannot live or get about at all without a wheelchair.

We arrived in Kolkata from Kerala, travelling with Indigo airlines. Some airlines, in this case both Indigo and Etihad in Kolkata, don’t have a lot of experience with wheelchair users  (or at least not with wheelchair users who cannot walk and cannot get out of their chair without being lifted). And they have no experience of more active wheelchair users who travel with a bicycle attachment, as we did. Not surprisingly the lithium dry cell battery for this attachment caused great concern, despite the fact that we have a certificate showing that it is safe to travel with. And we also learned that the airport staff, whilst extremely polite and kind, do not know how to lift someone who is paralysed. It is essential to speak up and say exactly how it should be done, or demonstrate, or do it yourself. Everything at the airports therefore takes longer than expected, however much information you have provided before-hand. So be sure to allow time for this.

 
At Kolkata Airport

We had, of course, booked our hotel prior to travelling, making specific requests for a disabled friendly building, bedroom and bathroom. We arrived to find that there was a flight of steps into the hotel and a very steep ramp, too steep for me to push even this very light wheelchair user up and scarily steep for going down, but a group of the hotel staff did this very willingly. We also found, on arrival, that we had been allocated a room with the shower over a bath. We asked for a room change and finally were given a room with a walk in shower. However, when it came to it, and after we had unpacked, we found that the door to the bathroom was not wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through. We were told that all the doors in the hotel were the same width. We also met this problem in restaurants, when we asked for access to a bathroom. But it is amazing how with a bit of imagination it is possible to find ways round these sorts of problems and make things work. Sometimes we surprise even ourselves with our ingenuity.

For the three days we were in Kolkata, we had booked a car and a guide. The guide was wonderfully informative and the driver turned out to be an absolute gem. The car we used was a Toyota Innova, and the seats were too high for my husband to be able to get in. This meant that the driver and I between us had to lift him in and out several times a day. The guide wasn’t strong enough to do this. I always worry that willing, but inexperienced helpers, are going to end up pulling a muscle or damaging their backs. But the driver and I had this off to a fine art by the end of the three days. You might ask why we didn’t have a smaller car, where the seats would have been lower. The answer is that we needed a car big enough to take our wheelchair which doesn’t fold. A good driver is also essential because of the traffic. Kolkata is so crowded with traffic and people that suitable parking, to enable a wheelchair user to get into and out of the car safely, is very difficult to find. Our driver was a master at making this work, holding up traffic if necessary.

Although we were driven around Kolkata, we obviously had to get out to visit the sites. Most places were, in one way or another, inaccessible to a wheelchair user, but, as we have found elsewhere around the world, people are usually very willing to help, and, in a crowded city like Kolkata, it is fairly easy to find four strong people to lift the wheelchair and occupant up (or down) a few steps. Despite this most of the sites were inaccessible for a wheelchair user. There were often too many steps, so we either gave the site a miss, or my ever patient husband waited outside while I had a quick look inside. Leaving a vulnerable person alone on a pavement in a crowded city is not ideal, so I never lingered.

Outside the Indian Coffee House

These are the sites we visited, or rather, I visited; many of them my husband viewed from the outside. At least it was warm and didn’t rain while we were in Kolkata, so waiting outside was not as uncomfortable as it might have been.

Site Accessible Notes
Dalhousie Square, now known as Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh (B.B.D. Bagh) Yes No traffic on a Sunday morning so easy to wheel round.
St John’s Church Yes Accessible via a ramp.
Job Charnock’s Mausoleum Not inside Can only be seen from the outside.
Rabindranath Tagore’s house No Flight of steps to enter.
The Flower Market

 

No. Flight of steps to enter, but flower sellers can be seen along the pavements outside the market.
The Indian Museum Only in part Access difficult and very crowded. Steps into the Bharhut Gallery to see the famous railings, but the public helped to lift. No access to the first floor galleries for us, because our wheelchair was too wide to go down the corridor to the lift.
Walk along the Hooghly river starting at the Princep Ghat Monument Yes Good path once over the railway line.

 

Birla Mandir Hindu Temple No Long flight of steps to enter.
Mother House Yes One step to enter and a further step inside. The Sisters were very helpful. No access to Mother Teresa’s room which is up a flight of steps
Jain Temple Access to the grounds only No access to the temple. Flight of steps.
The Book Market Yes, but very difficult Pavements very crowded and uneven.
Indian Coffee House No Flight of steps.
South Park Cemetery Yes Some surfaces were difficult to wheel over.
St Paul’s Cathedral Yes Access round the back via a very steep ramp. Ask inside for the back door to be unlocked.
Kalighat Temple No Steps to enter. The surrounding area is very crowded. The number of people make it an unpleasant, if interesting, experience for a wheelchair user.
Victoria Memorial Yes Loose stones on the walk up to the memorial building makes wheeling very difficult. Entrance is via a ramp round the back, but at the top of the ramp is a flight of steps. Public needed to help lift. Very crowded inside.

A site that we didn’t have time to visit, but probably would have been accessible, is the Botanical Gardens. We were sorry to miss them.

So not only were many of the sites inaccessible, but the experience of the three days for my husband was of being bundled in and out of a car and up and down steps like a piece of baggage.  I asked him if, as a wheelchair user, it was worth visiting Kolkata. His response was that most things can be made to work, so it depends on what your motive is.

For us the motive was that Kolkata is where I was born and I wanted to see it once more, having not been there for 65 years. We both found that this was motive enough to make the visit interesting and worthwhile, but it will definitely be a one off.

Would I, as the carer of a wheelchair user, recommend Kolkata as a place for a person in a wheelchair to visit? The answer to this question would have to be ‘No’. Kolkata simply does not cater for people in wheelchairs and I think it will be a long time before this becomes a priority. It has too many other issues and problems to address.

But, as we have shown, with enough help, with a positive mental attitude, and under the right conditions, it can be done. These conditions, from our perspective, are that:

  • You can afford to stay in the best hotel possible, have a car permanently at your disposal, and have at least two people helping you.
  • You are small and light, and use a small and light wheelchair, ideally a folding wheelchair. The crowds of people, the steps everywhere, and the amount of lifting needed, make this very necessary.
  • You are not afraid to ask people for help. The people of Kolkata give their help very willingly.
  • You are scrupulous about keeping clean, particularly your hands, so wear gloves and use plenty of hand wipes or antiseptic gel.
  • You are careful where you eat. We relied on our guide to choose suitable restaurants and decide on the menu.
  • You have a patient, tolerant disposition and a sense of humour.
  • You have a motive for visiting Kolkata beyond tourism.

I took photos at all the sites we visited. You can see them here – Kolkata, 2019

I have also written posts about visiting Venice and Rome with a wheelchair user.

Revisiting Calcutta (now Kolkata) after 65 years

I was born in Calcutta in 1946 and lived there until I was eight years old, when my father decided that we must leave. India was no longer a comfortable place for the British – at least, in hindsight, I think that was what he thought. I was too young at the time to appreciate the problem. Leaving India was no easy decision. My mother cried for months after returning to the UK. My father who had been financial director of a well-known Calcutta firm, Shaw Wallace,  had to start again in the UK as a junior accountant, making tea for his seniors.

I do not remember a lot about my early childhood in India. I put this down to the trauma that the whole family suffered on our return to the UK. We were all grieving for India, and I, at the age of eight, was packed off to boarding school. I don’t think my mother could have coped any other way.

At the beginning of this week, 65 years later, I was in Calcutta again, only this time I was calling it Kolkata. (Many of India’s city names that I grew up with have been changed). I was only there three days, and on this occasion that was just the right amount of time – time enough to see many of the key tourist sites (see my Flickr album),  time enough to get a feel for the city of my birth, and time enough to listen for the ‘voices in the ground’. I learned this wonderful and so apt expression, which describes the sense of ‘deja vu’ experienced, or that history is speaking to you, from a blog post recently written by Lisa Lane.

It would be fair to say that I was fascinated, excited, stunned and appalled by Kolkata all at the same time and in equal measure. The first thing that hit me was the seeming chaos everywhere (although we didn’t visit new Kolkata, which we were told is calmer, cleaner and quite different to the old Kolkata that we were seeing). The difference from the tranquil Kerala backwaters we had just left, could not have been more stark.

When we asked our travel guide how he copes daily with the chaos, his reply was that since he was born and brought up in Kolkata he is ‘habituated’. The noise is incessant, with constant blaring of vehicle horns, despite the sign ‘No horns’ on taxis. The traffic is nose to tail all the time, with apparently no driving rules. It’s every man for himself. You cannot move for people, not only on the streets, but in all public places. I cannot see how Kolkata will ever surmount the problems which are obviously associated with being over-populated. But most troubling was the dirt. A clean place felt like a sanctum. The shame is that in old Kolkata all the original buildings with their wonderful balconies and shutters still exist, and could look amazing if they were cleaned up. We were told by our excellent guide, Manab, that this won’t happen because the owners have to pay higher taxes if the housing they are living in looks ‘smart’. Evidently these homes which look so grimy on the outside, are quite different on the inside, well maintained and cared for.

Manab also told us that the Kolkata we see today is not the same Kolkata that was home to my parents, my brother and myself in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. In those days the population was much smaller and the streets and buildings were cleaner, he said. The problem started with partition and a massive increase in population for which Kolkata was not prepared and is still not prepared; immigrants are still arriving from Bangladesh, to sleep under tarpaulins and use standpipes for washing, along all the streets of old Kolkata. For me, this was a sight that could not be ignored. I wondered if I would become ‘habituated’ to this if I lived in Kolkata.

Despite all this, Kolkata is not a miserable place. Incredibly it seems to work, with people going about their daily business seemingly impervious to the chaotic hurly-burly around them. For Manab, an educated, well-read, knowledgeable and travelled man (a retired electrical engineer), Kolkata is truly a ‘City of Joy’. He had read Dominique Lapierre’s book of the same name, which he said he enjoyed, but thought it over-emphasised the problem of poverty in Kolkata. I found it hard to understand this perspective. Poverty on the streets of Kolkata seemed to me to be overwhelmingly in your face everywhere. But Manab also said, when we visited the Kalighat Temple to the goddess Kali, ‘All life is here’. With this I could and did agree, and it was this that made Kolkata such a rich and colourful experience. It was so alive – teeming with life.

My parents are no longer alive. I wish I had talked to them more about their 15 years in Kolkata. I wonder if they ever visited the Kalighat Temple. I somehow doubt it. I once asked my mother why she didn’t know more about Indian cookery. The answer of course was that she didn’t have to cook. I suspect that my parents, for the most part, lived in a British community bubble. I got an inkling of what that must have been like when we visited the Tollygunge Club, where my parents were members – an oasis of calm compared to the streets we had driven through to reach it. I can remember having weekly riding lessons there at 6.00 am before school, and also spending Christmas Days there.

In those days the Club was exclusively British, but Anil Mukerji, the current President of the Club, who kindly gave up an hour of his time to show us round, made it plain that there is no longer a place for anything exclusively British in India.

For the most part the impression I got is that the people of Kolkata are immensely proud of their city with its incredible buildings such as the Cathedral and Victoria Memorial, which they fully acknowledge are their inheritance from the time of British rule. As Anil Mukerji said, good and bad has been done on both sides and now the UK and India are friends. Whether or not this is true, it is the people of India that stand out for me. They are so wonderfully generous of spirit, so wonderfully tolerant, patient and kind.

So did I hear ‘the voices in the ground’ in Kolkata? I certainly walked a small way in the footsteps of my parents, even finding the address on my birth certificate, 10 Palace Court, Kyd Street, where I must have lived on first entering this world. I felt excited and happy to be in Kolkata again after so many years. Despite not recognising a single thing, it felt familiar.

New Year’s Eve in Kerala, 2018

On this last day of 2018 I have spent some time, here in Kerala, under blue skies and in beautiful surroundings, reading an interview that Jonathan Rowson conducted with Iain McGilchrist in 2013.

Rowson, J. McGilchrist, I. (2013). Divided Brain, Divided World: Why the best part of us struggles to be head, (February), 1–100. Retrieved from https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/blogs/rsa-divided-brain-divided-world.pdf

It struck me that the article has many messages for how I might wish to progress into 2019.  Here are some quotes that seem apposite to the time of year and maybe more broadly.

McGilchrist says:

“… we are caught in vicious circles. Many things seem crucial for a good life only because of the very mess we have got into. We have less and less time, so we need to rely more and more on gadgets and machines to shore up our lives – an aspect of the pressure under which we live, the lack of leisure. We need expensive foreign holidays when we want to relax, because we have made the places we live in so alien, so limiting and so sad.”

Since I am on an expensive foreign holiday, a month in India, it’s not surprising that this passage caught my attention. Of course it’s possible to criticise McGilchrist’s use of ‘we’, question who ‘we’ refers to and feel uncomfortable with the generalisation, but nevertheless, for me, there is some truth in this. I don’t find my home in the UK alien, limiting or sad, but I do feel more relaxed here in Kerala than I have for years, so it’s interesting to reflect on why this is and what could be changed at home to replicate this feeling.

McGilchrist goes on to say:

“… for many people their family is what gives life most of its meaning. It is these sort of things – the experience of love, of the spiritual realm, of a sense of closeness to nature, of music, art and the rituals and ceremonies that form an essential part of our sense of ourselves individually and as a society, that bring meaning in their wake. And there is barely one of these that is not under attack in some form as a result of the way we live now.”

These sentences also strike me as having truth in them – words to hold on to through next year.

McGilchrist then suggests that

“We must step back to see the bigger picture. Living headlong we skim over the surface of the world rather than allowing ourselves to enter into its depth. At the same time, as it might seem paradoxically, our view is too ‘close up’: always in a hurry, we are narrowly focussed on a few salient things and miss the broader picture. We need to find a more natural, a slower, more meditative, tempo. That way too we see more.”

“It’s in any case a good discipline to keep an open mind, not to think one knows it all, and to respect and to some extent feel in awe of what is greater than ourselves. By the same token, it’s a disastrous belief that we understand everything and have it all under control.”

The final sentence I selected to share in this post is

“… we must all, from the ground up be involved with and committed to resolving these problems – not just a government on its own, and not just isolated groups of individuals without government support.”

All these quotes resonate with me on one level or another and seem worth thinking about as 2019 is almost upon us. As I write this, it’s 8.30 pm here in Kerala and sitting here on the veranda of our homestay, the homes across the water are competing for which one can play their celebration music the loudest. But this small coastal community here in Kerala, when it is not New Year’s Eve, is a great example of a place with a more natural, a slower, more meditative, tempo.

Wishing anyone who reads this a happy and fulfilling 2019.

A-Z of my year – 2018

I first wrote a post like this in 2016.  I didn’t write one last year. Here is one for this year. It has seemed more difficult this year than in 2016, but perhaps that’s just my memory, or perhaps it’s because I am in Kerala, away from home and access to some of my resources.

 

A – A better year than 2017. Announcing one family wedding for 2019 and one family engagement

BBettyBaymaas Homestay

CCotswolds. Cycling. Caring

DDurham with Lisa

EE-Learning 3.0Existentialism. Ethics. Epistemology

F – Fifty. This year’s number.

GGolden wedding. Garden. Good friends

HHexham. House improvements. Hot summer

IInclusion paper published.  India

J – John, my future son-in-law

KKerala. Kitchen renovation

L Lanzarote. Lisa’s visit 

MMcGilchristManchester

N No Things. This year’s most intriguing idea.

O – Offers made on two houses, but we are not moving yet

P – Philosophy. Physiotherapy

Q – Questioning the meaning of life and death

RRome. Retirement?

SSedberghScampston Walled Garden. Speke Hall 

TThe Trossachs. Tennis Elbow

U –  Uncertainty

VVatican City 

W –  Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. Watering the garden this summer. Weight-training

X –  eXtravagant holidays for a special year

YYork

Z – zzz – time to end this year and this post.

Reasons why I am happy to be in Kerala at the end of December

This morning I found Anthony Wilson’s blog post in my inbox – Reasons why I am happy to be in the city at the end of December. I enjoyed his post, but I am so pleased not to be in the city, and in Kerala. Here are my reasons (with thanks to Anthony Wilson for prompting this effortless post).

  • Because there is no pressure; I feel lighter
  • Because it is an escape from Christmas and New Year hype
  • Because it is peaceful, calm, unspoiled and serenely beautiful
  • Because I do not have to cook and the food is delicious
  • Because the people are so wonderfully open-hearted and friendly
  • Because there is time to stand and stare, time to think
  • Because there is time to read, write and reflect
  • Because the days are so-o-o-o-o slow
  • Because I feel warm, inside and out
  • Because of new sights, sounds, smells and experiences
  • Fruit – papaya, pomegranate, pineapple, water melon
  • Because of steamed bananas for breakfast
  • Because of daily swimming under the trees to the sound of delicate, haunting music
  • Because life is in the open air
  • Because absence makes the heart grow fonder
  • Because 2019 feels more promising from here

12 Rules for Life

Earlier this week I travelled to Manchester to hear Jordan Peterson speak at the O2 Apollo Theatre about his book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ . This was one event in a punishing schedule of 80 cities –  https://jordanbpeterson.com/events/

One of the delights of having children who do their own thing and are willing to share this with you, is that you end up doing things that you would never do had your children not suggested them. So it was that one of our sons introduced us to Peterson’s book (even bought us a copy) and thought it would be a good idea if we all went to hear him speak in Manchester. Our first response was that anyone who thinks you can number the rules for life needs to be considered with caution (although we were informed – not sure if this is true – that Peterson may write a second book with more rules) and secondly, did we really want to fight the terrible Manchester traffic (in the rush hour) to get there? But we did and yes, the traffic was terrible!

I’m glad we went. It was an experience. 1700 people were in the audience. I could scarcely believe that, although it’s interesting that none of the UK venues have sold out, although many European venues have, but maybe that’s because of the size of the venue. Also, as Peterson acknowledged, the balance between male and female members of the audience was 60:40. I didn’t see that as a problem. I had wondered before going whether there would be any demonstrations. Peterson seems to be hated as much as he is loved, and at the beginning of the show we were told that heckling would not be tolerated. This was said with ‘tongue in cheek’ and I wondered if it was really an invitation to heckle. But in the event there was no heckling. At one point a young man tried to get on the stage, seemingly to share some information that he had found on his mobile phone about a reference that Peterson had trouble remembering. Needless to say the security guards stopped him, but Peterson was kind in his acknowledgement of the young man’s attempt to help.

The event surprised me on a number of levels.

According to Wikipedia, Peterson is 56, but he looked a lot older than that. He is extremely thin and grey and to me looked exhausted. Evidently he hadn’t arrived in Manchester until 3.00 am on the day of the presentation and then in the morning had to do a BBC interview and following this visit a Manchester Boxing Club which, by all accounts was turning round disaffected young men. No wonder then that he looked shattered.

At the start, he said he was going to talk about Rules 11, 10 and 7 (See https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/sites/penguinbooks.co.za/files/Extract_12%20Rules%20for%20Life.PDF)

RULE 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back

RULE 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

RULE 3 / Make friends with people who want the best for you  

RULE 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

RULE 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

RULE 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

RULE 7 / Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

RULE 8 / Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

RULE 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

RULE 10 / Be precise in your speech

RULE 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

RULE 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

In the event, he talked mostly about his encounter with the young men from the Boxing Club he had visited in the morning, relating that from time to time to the 12 rules. He talked for an hour without notes (I think there were auto-cues, although he didn’t seem to stand still long enough to read them) and there were times when I felt he wasn’t able to adhere to Rule 10, i.e. I asked myself where was the evidence for what he was saying. But on the whole I found myself sympathising with how exhausted he seemed (whilst at the same time recognising how much money he is making from this tour!) and I didn’t find a lot to argue with in what he said.

I don’t have strong feelings for or against Peterson. He is an interesting phenomenon. He is extremely articulate and able to argue his point well (even if he scarcely draws breath and would probably be easier to listen to if he would just pause occasionally), drawing on a wide range of literature, not least Biblical references.

What really surprised me was the audience. They gave him a standing ovation and whilst I found him interesting to listen to, his talk was unstructured, difficult to follow and clearly delivered by someone who was exhausted. On this particular night, from my perspective, it did not merit a standing ovation. I think a debate might have been more interesting, such as the one with Kathy Newman, as was reported in The Guardian here – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/banning-jordan-peterson-causing-offence-cathy-newman-free-speech , but that would probably have required too much energy on such a punishing tour.