Monday 6 April 2020

Repatriation, ‘rona and roast lamb

So finally, we are home. 

Although I’m sure you have much enjoyed my tales of chickpea based woe, I am very pleased to say that thanks to the land of Guinness and shamrocks, we have been repatriated, despite not actually being Irish ourselves. 

I’ll start back at the beginning. 

On the 2nd of April, I saw a post on Facebook about the Irish repatriation flights. As we were getting quite desperate to get home, I fired off an email to them (trying my hardest not to include any number of jolly Irish based puns) including my medical history and upcoming medical appointments. 

At this stage in the game I was emailing absolutely anyone. Every single embassy, every single insurance, every airline, my MP...

My MP was ESPECIALLY useless, but then again he is a Tory wanker, so I should have known what to expect. When I informed him that the government’s current advice was for us to piggy back on  a plane headed for Italy (aka, the epicentre of corona right now) this was his response. 

I think you’ll also enjoy my reply. What a twat. I’ve never emailed anyone without putting “Dear....” before their name, but I enjoyed the petty passive aggressiveness that came with just writing his name with no formality. 

Anyway, later that evening, I received a call from an Indian number, and it was the British high commission in India. They had received my email and needed me to fill in some paperwork. It was a lot of paperwork, mainly consisting of pinky promising to pay back the government for the flight they were arranging. 

Which, if I’m honest, was a huge piss take - at £500 a seat, it was double the price, per seat, of what we had originally booked to get home. Where’s the 7.5 million going exactly, hey Boris? 

Anyway, we then just had to wait to hear from them. I felt like a teenage girl, waiting on the boy she likes to text her back. I was obsessively refreshing my emails. 

Around 10pm, I couldn’t stand it any more and I text the number - thankfully they text back - we were on the flight! 

We then had one more day in Agonda to soak up the sun, pack, eat some more chickpeas and green peas (genuinely think I’m traumatised) and then sit and await our collection instructions which “would arrive around 10pm.”

At half eight we received an email confirming we were on the flight. We were then told collection details were on their way. They were not. 

We did not receive an email with our collection details until after midnight. 

This email said we were being collected at 4am. So you know, really great information timing there. 

I grabbed a few hours sleep, and then we dragged our giant suitcases all the way down the village to the collection point. I then received a call from a very nice man called Tom, to confirm I was ready and waiting. 

I was so delirious with tiredness and anxiety by this point I think I told him I loved him when I hung up. Oh well. Forever in my heart he’ll be. 

The bus then arrived (with aircon, thankfully) and tried to find some seats. The whole thing felt very hostile - we were all glancing at each other with squinty eyes trying to work out if anyone had the ‘rona. There were no seats left together and no one offered to move, so Bertie and I sat apart. There was no mind to social distancing - that coach was full, and I sat next to a man who had a lot of room taken up by his guitar. Why do people do this? The last thing I want on holiday is to find myself on a coach with some wanker who takes every opportunity to pull out his ukulele and sing “wonderwall.”

(As a side note you also find these arseholes at festivals in campsites with his smelly mate doing the ‘drums’ on an upside-down bucket.) 

When we got to the airport, it was total chaos - no social distancing and everyone just forming some kind of wiggly queue (very British)  and awaiting instruction. We waited for an hour or so, and then were allowed in, with our temperature being checked before entering. 

It looked like a peculiar gun that was held near my head. I don’t really know how they do temperature measurement in India because it’s bloody warm. Bertie had been having kittens the whole way about this, as he’s a sweaty boy, but by all accounts we passed the test and they let us in. 

We then were checked in (no business upgrades - how outrageous - don’t they know we have a silver card?!) and then handed the saddest breakfast I’ve ever seen. Obviously I’m allergic to eggs, so I just had the roll, but Bertie had the full force of the palest breakfast known to man. What a hero. 

I should mention that you weren’t allowed on the bus, or into the airport, without a mask. Thankfully Manoj had sorted us out masks the day before, and although I was very grateful, I did feel like I was being waterboarded by a sock. It was like a fabric sanitary towel (light flow) with string at each end. We looked ridiculous. But there was no way I was taking it off. Any protection is still protection.

Plus I’d totally colour matched it with my outfit so I wasn’t about to ruin that. 

Unfortunately our flight was not direct. We were flying two hours in the wrong direction to Delhi, to pick up some more Irish people, and then back to London. The plane would then continue from there onto Ireland. There was no social distancing on the plane, like I had seen pictures of online (on the Finnish flight they sat everyone with a seat between them - obviously that makes perfect sense but the UK clearly wasn’t concentrating in virus control class that day.)

We were sat next to a lady who boarded with a snotty tissue already clutched in her palm. She had a face mask, but only over her mouth, so her streaming nose could be attended to at all times. I have no idea how she was allowed on the plane, and Bertie shot me a look that basically secured the decision that when we get home, we would not be going straight to Dorset, and we would absolutely be straight into self isolation. 

Stupid snotty woman. 

I thought you’d also appreciate how I looked when I decided to take a nap. As most of you will know, I sleep with earplugs and an eyemask. This normally isn’t a massively dramatic thing, but when paired with a face mask, you look like this: 

There were two lunch boxes on each chair - the flight was a minimal contact flight - meaning although the airline staff were on board (in full hazmat suits, may I add) there would be absolutely no interaction from them except in an emergency. So basically, we had a 14 hour flight ahead of us and no gin. That really was a disaster. 

Here is a picture of the lunch they provided. We had two of these, both exactly the same. 

Thankfully I had heard there would be very little food provided, so I had asked the restaurant to make us a biryani the night before to take away. I will forever love myself for that forethought, as everything in that lunchbox was vile, and I’ve never been so glad to see a vegetable biryani in my life. 

The rest of the flight was uneventful - the sound didn’t work on my in flight telly, but thankfully I had downloaded enough on my phone to watch. We also arrived 40 minutes ahead of schedule due to “no other traffic in the air” - the pilot said this without a trace of humour, but I absolutely cracked up. Of course there’s no other air traffic you eejit - the world is closed! 

At 6:20 we touched down in London, and everyone clapped. When I say everyone clapped, I am not including Bertie and I in this, because I hate people who clap when a plane lands. No one claps me when I finish delivering a lesson or when I used to wipe someone’s bum they never gave me a stellar round of applause. I’m sure the pilot appreciated it, but after nearly 20 hours of travelling I just wanted my bed. And a sausage sandwich. 

We grabbed a taxi home to limit our exposure, and finally walked through our door at just gone 8pm. 

Thank you for all following this journey, and to everyone who signed the petition and did all you could to get us home. I know how lucky we are. There are still thousands of British people stuck in India. They have not been repatriated yet. I cannot believe the ineffectiveness of the government, and the way they totally failed to look after their people. 

I’m about to spend the next two weeks eating everything I couldn’t stop fantasising about when I was in India. I spent a solid two days crafting a shopping list to send to my amazing friend Keeley, who was doing us a shop to get back to. I thought you’d appreciate a little snippet of what’s on the list: 

Chickpeas and green peas are not on the menu. 

Little bastards. 

Thursday 2 April 2020

A little trip into the local village

So as the days merge into one, I think I’ve settled quite nicely into the lockdown life. 

I obviously had a bit of a wobble, that was evident in my last blog post. I’m sure this is quite similar to what people have been feeling at home, only less sponsored by a steady diet of chickpeas. 

Things seem to have settled down a bit more here - there seems to be a steady stream of vegetables coming through, for which my bowels are hugely thankful, and the staff seem to be a marginally cheerier. It’s incredibly hard - no one can get home - and we aren’t sure if they are still being paid during this time. 

I have successfully utilised my free time in the best way. I had quite grand plans of starting an active exercise regime, meditating and reading classic novels, but the reality is that I’ve managed to teach the world’s most stupid dog to do “paw.”

I’ve never been so proud. 

We had one day of extreme excitement, when we were told that due to the arrival of tomatoes, we would be having lasagne for dinner. Bertie and I were wide eyed with excitement. LASAGNE. IMAGINE. Obviously it would be vegetarian lasagne but that’s not a problem, it’s still LASAGNE! So we cleared the table all ready to consume something that wasn’t chickpeas and rice, and what arrived was definitely equally the best and worst lasagne I’ve ever had. 

Essentially, it was pasta sheets and squashed tomatoes, with some cheese grated on the top layer. It was both terrible and wonderful. To have something like this after ten solid days of curry was just the morale boost we needed. We ate every single bit, served on top of a roti for an even more confusing twist. 

Then today we were surprised by the man who owns our huts, Monaj, offering to take us to his house. This is a huge thing, and we gratefully accepted (after checking there were no police in the vicinity.) 

He has been designing and building his house for four years. He estimates that there is another three years to go - it is beautiful, with detailed arches inside and every single factor carefully considered. We were shown around each room - the large reception room to welcome guests, the three bedrooms, the prayer room, and the kitchen. It looked quite small from out the front but proved to be a total tardis. He also has plans to build a second level to rent out to people.

Once we had been given the tour, we were then taken to the side of the house, where Monaj built a fire. Whilst this blazed, he showed us the pineapples and bananas growing in his garden (which settled the argument that Bertie and I had a week before about how pineapples grow - turns out we were both wrong) and also showed us a grass that you can use to make a lemon scented tea. 

He then threw the cashew nuts (still in their fat green shells) onto the fire, where they sizzled and let out a small burst of flame when the oil leaked out the inside. These are super poisonous, so Manoj coated his hands in coconut oil, before hooking them out of the fire, and cracking the shells with half a coconut. 

We were then given warm cashews to feast upon. I have never tasted anything like it. So creamy and soft, absolutely divine. It was the most simple snack but the amount of effort that went into it I will never forget. At one point, Manoj’s father came out (we all call him “Daddy”) and he set to the cashews with a hammer. Daddy really likes Joe, because Joe slips him secret cigarettes when Manoj isn’t looking, in some hilarious role reversal. 

(“Don’t tell my son I am smoking!”)

They then showed us the raw cashews, before the protective layer hardens, and we ate fresh baby cashews that would be used in curry sauces - they are incredibly expensive to buy - 5 rupees each. If you consider how many you would need to make a sauce, you can see why hardly anywhere in Goa offers cashew sauce curry. 

Once he had taken us home, he also gave us each a plate of jackfruit. I haven’t ever eaten jackfruit before, but I know the vegans have been banging on about it for ages. It’s bloody delicious, would definitely recommend, but I’m less sure about having it in a curry. Each to their own. 

Also, to finish off this blog, I must mention Lucky bringing us a present last night. After a slight tussle as to who was the Alpha, Lucky has finally relinquished his crown to Bertie, after an engaging battle last night. 

In seeming deference (or perhaps spite,) Lucky turned up later clutching a whole crab in his mouth. Not only was it a bigger crab than the one Bertie caught, he then proceeded to decimate the entire thing in front of us, with a deafening CRACK as the shell snapped in his jaws and crab brain splattered around our feet. Cheers for that Lucky, you little dickhead. 

The shops are beginning to open again, and general morale is definitely rising! Although both our flights home have been cancelled, hopefully England will pull their finger out soon. Currently the only advice they’ve given us is to piggy back onto a flight to Rome. 

Yup, you read that right. 


Thanks for nothing, England! Your best idea genuinely is to fly us to the epicentre of the virus, borrowing seats from another country. They legitimately made a PowerPoint explaining how to book the seats, given that the website was in Italian. I’m not even joking. 

So unsurprisingly, we will not be taking that flight. 

Look after yourselves! X

Monday 30 March 2020

Quite a tricky couple of days at base camp

Hi all,

My apologies for not updating yesterday. It’s been a little hard at base camp recently - food was running quite low, and there’s only so many times you can consume a chickpea curry with any enthusiasm. 

The vegetable and food markets have not been operating due to the food trucks being stopped at the borders. It took a few days for them to filter through, but for the first time in about three days we had a curry with some actual vegetables in. I didn’t even complain when I saw the peas floating in my breakfast. I was actually overjoyed at the sight of the little green bastards. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. 

We were told on Saturday night that we were basically all out of food at basecamp. Bertie and I were not too worried, we have pasta and a couple of jars of pesto stored in our room to fall back on, and to be perfectly honest I was quite prepared to eat dry weetabix minis. But still, the morale was low, and I didn’t really feel like blogging. Chickpea curry twice a day for the last three days will do that to you. 

That being said, we have continued to be witness to some wonderful (if a little baffling) local delicacies, including being taught how to eat the cashew fruit I talked about in an earlier blog. 

Monaj bought some from his very own garden, sliced away the poisonous bits, and then mixed the flesh with masala powder and salt. You then put the chunk in your mouth whole.

And wait for your entire mouth to violently react. 

The first thing I should say is that you aren’t allowed to eat too many cashew fruits. They are so juicy, and the liquid ferments so quickly that if you eat around 4, you are completely shit faced. That being said, I have no idea why on earth you would want to eat four of them, because they tasted a bit like dried apple, mixed with a pillow, doused in neat ethanol and then sprinkled with chilli powder. 

I was not a fan. Which was heartbreaking, because I have no idea how something that smells so good can taste so absolutely awful. 

Also, if I am entirely honest, I had a bit of a teary day yesterday, where I felt very vulnerable and was struggling to find the humour in this situation. It wasn’t very nice, but in a bizarrely wonderful way, all the men in the camp seemed to remember I was a female, and perhaps a little more sensitive, and throughout the day they all came one by one bearing little gifts. 

If I’m perfectly honest the kindness made me even more emotional, that these people with so little are sparing what tiny amount they have to try and cheer me up. It’s honestly both heart breaking and heart warming. I was given little individual single squares of chewing gum, a mini packet of Oreos, and even a small bottle of sprite. Such kindness just completely blew me away. 

The police were on the beach, so we were unable to go fishing, and the whole restaurant was completely dismantled before they arrived. All tables and chairs were removed, minus the balcony ones, and although we had to share food last night (due to the limited supply) we all had to sit around a sunbed as a makeshift table. 

But, the vegetable shop has been allowed to reopen, and there are whispers in the camp of aubergines and even green peppers. I am crossing all my fingers that tonight’s dinner will have some proper vegetables in. My lack of fibre is causing some most distressingly symptoms that I won’t go into, but I’m sure a quick google will give you the down low!   

In other news we found out one of the chefs looks a lot like Prince, so that caused a lot of merriment for an hour. I’ll try and grab a sneaky picture for you. 

The boys have cast the nets out today, so here’s hoping we can have fish curry for dinner tomorrow :) Also, milk has finally been delivered, so we are able to have coffee again, which is a treat for sure. 

They have also started repatriation flights for many many countries. France, Germany, Sweden, Austria... everyone but the Brits at the moment. But we are keeping positive that soon, hopefully, it will be our turn. 

Love and miss you all loads. Ensure there are some crumpets left for me on my return! Xx

Saturday 28 March 2020

Bertie caught a crab with his bare hands. I don’t know what the hell is going on anymore.

It’s been quite a hive of activity at base camp over the last 24 hours. 

It’s amazing how a community pulls together in times of crisis. We are very fortunate that we have been coming to this town for many years- the locals know and like us, and we have built some great friendships, plus supported quite a few families by utilising their services every year. 

For example we always use the same man for our taxi ride to and from the airport, and we also rent our scooter from him. It turns out that all these years of loyalty were totally repaid when we received this text yesterday: 

8 beers! 8 freezing cold beers were suddenly in our possession. Admittedly, I had to make the risky decision to send Bertie out to get them, as they met at a middle ground between our shack and his house, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. 

We have also been talking a lot with Monaj, who rents our huts to us. He has been so kind, and so wonderfully reassuring, telling us that he will look after us, that we can stay in his hut as long as we need, and that he will ensure we do not go hungry or homeless. 

I can’t quite put into words what a relief it has been to hear that. I try very hard to keep my blog light hearted, but the reality is that there are British people stuck in India right now having the worst time of their whole life. We are so so fortunate, and I never let a day go by without expressing our gratitude or trying to help in some way that I can. 

So that being said, Joe and Bertie offered to help Monaj cast his fishing net out - fishing was not allowed for the past four days, so things have been a little tight. Monaj accepted and the boys set off to do the nets. I stayed at home and cleaned out the entire hut, as I can’t even begin to tell you some of places I have found sand on my body over the last week. 

(Belly buttons are just so weird, aren’t they?)

Monaj and his crew were actually so grateful for the help - Bertie is a super strong swimmer, and one of the tasks is to swim out whilst carrying a giant rock. This is to cast the net right to the bottom of the ocean. Bertie reckons he swam ten metres out, and by all accounts, the rest of the fishermen were super pleased with this. They were gone for about an hour and a half. I know this because I was on hold to Barclays, and if I’m honest, I don’t know who had the rougher experience. 

Anyway, an hour and a half passed, and this is what arrived at my door -

BEAR grylls strikes again!! 

However, as respect is of the utmost importance here, we gave it straight away to Monaj and his family. 

After four hours or so, we were invited to help them get the nets back out the sea. It was just the most amazing thing to witness and I felt so privileged to be part of it. 

Obviously when I say “part of it”, I mean “witness from the shore” because it’s definitely not acceptable for a woman to get down and dirty with the fishing nets and there have been a couple of things I’ve done in the past weeks (ie - carrying one of grocery bags) that have raised a few eyebrows. It is so important to respect the local culture, and I completely believe that, but it is also unacceptable to let Bertie carry the number of biscuit packets I’d just bought from the shop. 

I took some incredible photos of this experience, including learning how to detangle the crabs from the nets and avoid getting pinched. They’re pretty savage crabs, and the fishermen handle them like it’s no big deal, snapping the front legs off as quick as anything. Nothing goes to waste here, and everything is quickly gathered up in a net bag and whisked away for cleaning and prepping. 

Monaj also told Bertie about catching crabs at night, by hand, along the shoreline. He disappeared off for 5 minutes and came home clutching this massive crab. They’re kind of beautiful here, almost see through and full of attitude. Bertie took it upon himself to make this his mission, and after he had finished with the fishermen, then spent the next twenty minutes running like a madman after crabs along the shoreline. 

But, give respect where it’s due, he caught one! With his bare hands! 

When we told Monaj he laughed and said “yes, but only small crab.”

Poor bear. 

However this afternoon Monaj came to visit and bought with him some of yesterday’s crab that was caught in the net the boys helped cast. His wife had made a delicious curry, and we quickly got involved, cracking the shells and sucking the meat out of the claws with our bare hands. 

It was such a treat - a really simple gesture that actually meant so much. Even if I did look a bit feral when eating it, it was absolutely delicious and I’ve never tasted anything so amazing. 

And at that point when I thought life couldn’t get any better, Santa Amid (okay, his name is Amid, but he usually arrives with a treat or two) arrived with an ice lolly. AN ICE LOLLY. Remember on The Island when they discovered sweet potatoes and had a full on sugar high? Imagine that, but us, due to eating a totally neon green ice lolly full of all the good E numbers they’ve now banned in the UK. What joy. 

He also told us he knew of a person who was secretly opening their shop, (Joe laughed out loud and said Bertie and I sat up like meerkats once we heard the word “shop”) and as we desperately put in our requests we were once again smiled upon from the heavens as a delivery of crisps, cashew nut biscuits and water were delivered! The joy was overwhelming! At times like these, it is so wonderful for these small moments of kindness. 

We also managed to get our hands on some black market gin. It genuinely was delivered over the fence, down the side of the alley by our beach hut. So hilarious, and a bit of gin always boosts the morale! 

I will try my hardest to keep updating you. Fingers crossed they don’t extend the lockdown, and I’ll be home moaning again before you know it :) xx

Friday 27 March 2020

“ They’ve shut the sea?” “What do you mean they’ve shut the bloody sea?”

Considering it’s only been 24 hours since my last update, quite a lot has happened. I was going to aim for one update every couple of days, just to fill everyone in on how life is going here, but it turns out life on lockdown can sometimes be pretty busy. 

So after I wrote so proudly about my washing line, I woke up the next morning to take the washing in (something I am absolutely not used to, as we live in a flat back home!) and I realised that a crow had done a gigantic shit all the way down one of Bertie’s black T-shirt’s. I was furious. I fully blame our neighbour, who is going so mad during this lockdown that he’s been training the crows to eat out his hand. 

It’s not that I don’t encourage new hobbies, it’s just really annoying when someone else’s new hobby shits all over your clothes. 

Eating here has also changed slightly - there is no more “ordering breakfast” - it is now a conversation based around:

“Today we have Chana Masala” 
“Oh. Okay. Maybe you have some eggs? Bertie could have eggs today?”
“No. Chana masala” 
“...Chana masala sounds great thanks!” 

Chickpeas are most definitely not on my list of approved breakfast items, but I am fooling my brain my ensuring I have my juice/coffee first, and then classing that as breakfast, with the curry then becoming lunch. I know that doesn’t make sense, but how does the thought of a curry for breakfast every single day make you feel? It’s tricky. And I like curry. But curry for breakfast is somewhat questionable. 

I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact everything has peas in. 

Now, I love vegetables. Seriously. Sometimes Bertie and I play a game called “top 5”, where you have to list your top five of a certain item. (This is a great game to play in the car, by the way) - I always struggle to name my top 5 vegetables, because I love them all and also my top 5 cheeses. If I’m honest, the cheese list causes me quite a lot of distress - (“If I choose soft goats cheese then I can’t really have hard goats cheese too.... and obviously you need a cheddar to put on top of pasta but that then means I have to choose between feta and halloumi and I haven’t even got started on blue cheese, or what about manchego and OKAY I DON’T WANT TO PLAY ANY MORE”) 

Anyway, the reason I mention “top 5” is because there has never, ever been a mention of peas. Peas are the only vegetable I don’t like. Why do they have a shell? Why do they go so wrinkly? Why do they taste like mash potato with a jumper on? Everything about them is wrong. 

However, when the shit hits the fan, sometimes you’ve just got to eat the bloody peas. I’m calling it personal growth. 

Anyway, last night we snuck out under the cover of darkness to go and see our friend Paul, who lives ten minutes walk away, directly up the beach. It was his birthday, and we wanted to drop off his present. Paul likes to go “full native” when he’s in India, and insists on wearing a sarong full time. With no pants. Every day. 

He also insists it is called a “longhi”, even though it’s definitely just a mini skirt and today Bertie even saw his testicle. 

Anyway, we snuck up the beach like ninjas, delivered Paul’s new skirt and devoured a bottle of gin, all whilst remaining two metres apart. It was a very responsible piss up. It was the tonic we all needed though to cheer us up, even if Paul’s bathroom doesn’t have a bin, so I’d have to walk out with my used tissue and throw it in the communal bin. 

(“Why do you even need a tissue?!” Says bear. 
“You’re a man and you’ll never understand” retorts I, deciding not to go into a detailed description of “flaps” and why I’m not using Paul’s bum towel to pat my Hoo-Ha dry) 

Anyway, the long story short is we all drank a lot and I went to sleep with my arse hanging out the duvet and now I have four bites on my bum cheeks that I’m very displeased about. 

Then, this morning, joy of all joys, a puppy arrived! However, although this caused much merriment at basecamp, we quickly realised it was the puppy that lived next door to Paul, who had followed us all the way home. The problem with this is that the dogs here all run in gangs, and last night we heard a huge fight break out between the dogs. We then found the puppy, looking incredibly tired, hiding in the restaurant this morning. 

We recognised him from Paul’s base, and messaged the owners to confirm. We then had to carry him back down the beach to his home, with our very own stupid Lucky not understanding that we weren’t going for a walk. Here’s a picture of Bertie Doolittle, doing God’s work and dropping the puppy home. 

Also, my final bit of news is that they have officially shut the sea. I have no idea how you “close” a body of water, but Bertie and I were duly beckoned out of the ocean, and told for the next 19 days that swimming was a no go. I can’t imagine this will be very well enforced, and there’s no way on earth they’ll stop me going for a dip, but what a bloody nightmare. 

Stay safe everyone, and please sign the petition to get us home -

Thank you xx