In which I am smudged

So, this week I am back at a cancer retreat with my friends Ms Marsden and Mrs Ure. We met here in the first place but have carried our friendships over and it’s the kind of place where  you do meet soulmates or just really good friends and keep them. This retreat is all about nature and ‘Giving it back to the land’ which I must admit is a phrase which is still defeating me. However, the 3 of us are pitched in with another 8 people plus 2 facilitators and off we jolly well go, as Jimmy Young used to say. The buildings and grounds are beautiful and it’s a bit like staying at a pretty good hotel which also does lovely organic food. We do not have to lift a finger except to serve ourselves breakfast and make the odd cup of tea. Speaking of tea, there are many varieties on offer but the nearest thing to builder’s tea is Assam or Earl Grey. And absolutely no coffee although rumour has it several members have smuggled some in for their private consumption. I myself bring organic decaff which doesn’t count as coffee in many people’s books. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the staff really cannot do too much for us, including giving one sturdy member a yoga mat so he can sleep outside at night. Nothing is too much trouble.

As usual I have not found time to do any of the pre-course reading and was hoping Mrs Ure, who has been an absolute swot, would bring me a crib sheet but she didn’t although she did tell me which of the books was most readable which was at least a help. Our facilitators are 2 lovely women who are kind and smiley and issue invitations all over the place to experience this or try that. In counselling speak, inviting someone is a way of pointing them in a direction and saying “You could go over there if you wanted to. But only if YOU wanted to. And if you don’t want to go there, where would you like to go? It’s completely up to you ” and then walking off, whistling. It allows people to make their own choices about things without the risk of them storming back and saying “You told me to do it!” and a very sensible thing it is, too.

Our retreat is a week long and very intense. We begin with our intentions; that is to say, what we are hoping to achieve at the retreat. It is not the kind of place that lets you go about with your hands in your trouser pockets kicking idly at daisies. There is a certain structure to each day with some fluidity in it. We have all been to the Centre before so we are at least familiar with the concept of mindfulness even if we are not adept. Since undertaking the mindfulness course with Mr Mason some times ago, I have been practising it fairly regularly, even if it is just to remind myself where I am and what I am doing. It is lovely to take a mindful walk in the gardens which are beautiful with sections of meadow and seats creatively made in all sorts of places. I have a favourite seat under a tree and when sitting on it, you are completely hidden from the outside world, so low do the branches hang. They have also installed a fabulous swing and we all have our eyes on that. The real breakthrough comes on the second day when we are having our first Council of the Heart. You really have to suspend disbelief at this point and just go with it. Even though it has a slightly strange name, the sessions are actually moving and full of emotion. People talk about themselves, their partners, how they feel, how they are unable to feel, what they want to achieve and what they think is holding them back. There are no holds barred and the only rule is that we pass round what looks like the end of a pine cone so that the person holding it is the only one who can speak and we also say some words which I will not repeat here as they may be taken out of context and that’s not a good thing. I do not want people to make fun of this as it’s serious stuff. It is not difficult to listen to other people’s stories but it can feel quite hard when you can empathise with what they are saying. There is a lot of pain and grief around, some anger, some rage and fury, a bit of swearing and lots of tears. To acknowledge that it is a hard day, we are all given appointments with bodywork therapists in the afternoon, either Shiatsu or massage. I have a massage but Ms Marsden is having Shiatsu and she thinks I am teasing her when I tell her it is done on a big soft mat or futon on the floor.

In our retreat, we are following a hero’s journey which will involve us crossing the threshold into the underworld. When we come back after lunch today, the threshold is ready. There is a lot of symbolism and ritual and the threshold has been dressed with floaty curtains, branches and flowers. We are told we can cross over if we want to but there is no pressure if we are not ready. We are also told we will be smudged which means burning bundles of white sage will be passed over and around us in a cleansing ritual and we can then go through the threshold. Smudging seems to have its roots in Native American culture and has been appropriated by others. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing as cultures cross-pollinate all the time. It’s not something I am used to, however, and I do feel a little strange waiting for my turn. I am duly smudged and then cross through the curtains into the garden. There is a lot of emphasis on taking time outside on this retreat. Sitting in the garden, listening to the birds and inhaling lungs full of the scent of spring flowers and grass is joyous. After the trauma of the last couple of years, this does have healing qualities, despite what my cynical side tells me and this is what I need to get back in touch with. We still have 2 more days on the retreat and apart from a scheduled spell of dancing tomorrow evening, I am looking forward to the rest of it. After the Biodanza episode last time, I am hoping no-one will notice if I quietly slope off.

Home, sweet home

I have my last few days in Bangkok and with Ms Mason. It is an amazing place to stay, quirky, humid and full of contradictions. We spend our time shopping, meeting friends and trying to get taxi drivers to take us where we want to go. Taxis are cheap and plentiful but it depends on the driver as to whether he will take you to your destination. Sometimes he just doesn’t know where it is and Ms Mason has to direct him (and in Thai! I am so proud!). Sometimes he just doesn’t want to go there and laughs heartily at your suggestion. He might indicate traffic and say “no” on the basis that he doesn’t want to sit in it or that he doesn’t want to drive a longer distance. Unlike taxi drivers in London, they do not like long journeys as the meter does not make it worth their while. They do not like to turn around if they are driving in the opposite direction to your destination. And where taxi drivers do not wish to take you, tuk-tuk drivers will. I have only taken one tuk-tuk ride, simply because I find it such a struggle to get into one. There is a delightful pantomime where Ms Mason leaps aboard and then I realise I am unable to. The driver moves his tuk-tuk to the side of the kerb so I will have a step up but even then, it is a bit of a struggle. I manage to get in just before I think the driver is going to come round and haul me in manually. The Sky Train is wonderful – cool, clean and regular and a far cry from the Underground.

The trip home is interesting. My flight is at 10.10 in the morning which means a fairly early start. The condo where Ms Mason lives has lovely security people who summon a taxi very authoritatively and before I know it they have shown it where to park, stowed my luggage in the boot and opened the door for me to get in. No argument. On the way to the airport, the driver sticks an inhaler up his left nostril and leaves it there. A few minutes later, he swaps it to the other nostril and leaves it dangling. Ms Mason says this is quite common. At the check-in my luggage is just 1kg less than it was when I arrived so this is a relief, given all the lovely things I have bought. I wave sadly goodbye to Ms Mason, brush the tears away (seriously) and go through security which takes about 40 minutes. Waiting for my flight I eavesdrop on 2 English women who are returning home. They have awkward hand luggage which includes 2 parasols and they spend a lot of time fiddling about with it. The woman with over-bleached blonde hair says to her rather mousy companion “I’ve been inspired!” Just as I am wondering, her companion asks the very question I am pondering. “To do what?”  “If I’m asked to go to Vietnam, I’ll go! It’s only the next country over. It’ll be the same but I’ll see different things”. So very Thai. Same same, but different.

This time I do not have any children sitting next to me, behind me or in front of me on the flight to Muscat but passengers behave oddly. Firstly, the inspired woman and her companion take AGES to stow their bloody parasols causing huge tailback in the aisle. One of the aircrew helps them and they don’t even say “thank you”. I do dislike rudeness. When I get to my seat I find another man in it. He asks if he can have my aisle seat and puts me in the window so I hope I will not need to be jumping up and down to the bathroom. There is quite a bit of room on the flight, though, and once again, there are men shouting to each other all over the plane and changing seats like anything. As soon as we have eaten, they are seeking out empty rows of seats in the middle and laying down to sleep.

When we arrive in Oman, the air seems positively cool after Bangkok’s clammy heat. Again, our friends with the parasols cause chaos again, dropping bags everywhere and not thanking those who help. We queue patiently behind them while they faff about. Our flight back to Heathrow leaves almost immediately and this time I have chosen an aisle seat in a row of 4. 2 of the other seats are taken so there is a nice empty seat beside me where I can put my bag and have a bit of space. The leg room on Oman Air is really good, even though I am not blessed with height, but it means when the seat in front is tilted back, it does not invade my space so much. Although I have a family sitting in front, the woman is very considerate and checks if it is OK for her to tilt her seat back. The child must be around 5 and thinks it is really amusing, when his parents aren’t watching, to lean over the seat and tap the screen of the woman sitting behind him. As they are touch screens, he seems to be continually changing the film she is watching which must be annoying but she is very tolerant and doesn’t beat the crap out of him tell him off. The very tall man sitting behind me has, I think, learning difficulties. He keeps on stopping people who are walking past and speaking to them in Arabic. Well, I think it’s Arabic, anyway. Everyone he stops does not speak the same language and struggles to understand what he means. He then starts banging on the back of my seat and asking me the same question. I say patiently I don’t understand him and indicate he should ask one of the air crew who would be able to help and probably understand him. I put my headphones back on and no sooner done but he is tapping me on the arm and saying the same things. He can see I am frustrated and says “Bye bye!” in a loud, singsongy voice. He appears to be having lots of loud conversations on a mobile for the rest of the journey. Shortly before we touchdown, his parents appear from elsewhere in the plane and sit with him, settling him into his seat and putting his seatbelt on. As we are shuffling our way off the plane, I hear him talking to the air crew, thanking them and saying he will see them again in perfect English. Huh? I sense my initial diagnosis is correct.

Getting through passport control is swift and the bags come out quickly. I am so keen to see Mr Mason but when I get through customs, he is nowhere to be seen. I call him and find he is in a queue to park the car. He asks where I am. I don’t know any more than I am in Terminal 3 at Heathrow. Luckily he can see me and hurries over. Going to Bangkok represents the longest time I have ever been away from Mr Mason since 1978. I am so, so tired and know I won’t be able to eat when I get home. Travel always puts my stomach in turmoil. I manage to stay awake all the way home, telling him bits about the holiday and when I get indoors, I go upstairs to see for myself the decorating Mr Mason has been doing while I’ve been away. He looks rather dishevelled and has paint splatters on him but I don’t care. It was lovely to be away but it feels so good to get back home, too. And my bedroom is looking fabulous. If I told you how long it has been since it was decorated, you would never believe me. So I won’t.

Food, glorious food!

Hot on the heels of our monkey experience, Ms Mason has generously booked us 2 places on a food tour of Bangkok. We will get to sample an amazing number of dishes and visit lots of diffferent kinds of food outlet. This is exciting and I look forward to it eagerly. I look doe-eyed at Ms Mason and so she relents and lets us take a taxi instead of the skytrain. We find the appropriate exit and meet up with our guide, Puu, who is really friendly and enthusiastic about her subject. There are just 5 of us on the tour which makes for a nice intimate experience. We do introductions and I immediately forget everyone’s name except my own. Everyone else is going to be flying home except Ms Mason and I, and I really admire their spirit in indulging in a 4 hour food tour on the day they go home. I am sure I would be lying in a darkened room with a damp flannel over my eyes. But I digress (and I’m so good at it).

First we get to sample some little pastries from the curry puff vendor. This is street food in the shape of a tiny Cornish pasty but filled with a choice of taro, vegetable, potato, mushroom and something else I’ve forgotten. It is hot and delicious. From here we go to a curry paste shop. The pastes are made fresh daily and they will measure the exact quantity you need to make a meal.If you want to make a delicious massaman curry for 6, tell them and they will provide exactly what you need. The colours of the pastes are vibrant and gorgeous and the smell of the shop is comforting and spicy. Image

From here we go to a tea vendor. I opt for coffee and am pleasantly surprised when it arrives with lots of ice. I am not a big fan of condensed milk in drinks so was not looking forward to a hot coffee with it in but with ice, it was really refreshing and gave us a good pick up to continue on our tour. All the time, Puu tells us facts and information about the area, the things we are eating and drinking, the history and tradition. It’s really interesting and she is very likeable, too.

We go on next to sample some fishcakes from a stall. There is a small boy helping his Dad out and he is very serious about putting the fishcakes into a bag, even though that is not exactly what is wanted. Ours are really, really good. Far better than anything I have had at home. I have to apologise here to Puu for stealing some of her photographs. For some reason my laptop will not recognise the card from my camera so I have to steal hers from Dropbox. I am sure she will forgive me. You will also see why I had to steal some of them. This boy was so cute.


The Thai dessert shop is next on the list and I have to say, when Puu says there will be salted cocnut shrimp on the sticky rice I think “I am not going to like this”. Those who know me well know there are only 3 things I really cannot eat. Bananas (they make me sick), sweet coconut and marzipan. Nope. Not even to make someone smile. I just cannot bear them so the idea of coconut shrimps on a dessert just sounds plain wrong. Anyway, the dessert shop is cool and has comfortable chairs so we sit down and wait for our next treat. There is black sticky rice with coconut shrimp, sticky rice with custard, golden thread which looks like a bright, small version of Shredded Wheat and then 2 other golden drops. The final one we are advised to eat last to fully enjoy the taste. I plough into the black sticky rice first and do you know what? It is delicious. It’s sweet and savoury all in one go and I really like it. The rice desserts are my favourite. I am not too keen on the golden thread although it goes down a storm with some of the others. The golden drop is really an acquired taste and one I am not able to acquire at that precise moment. It is flavoured with jasmine, I believe, and is really not to my liking. However, that’s the first thing I haven’t enjoyed and we’re not halfway through the tour, yet.

Our next stop is to try some different fruits. We have mangosteen, rambutan and tamarind prepared for us. The tamarind is very date-like in its consistency and I don’t find it has a lot of flavour. The rambutan is lovely, though, and reminiscent of a lychee. The group’s favourite, however, is the mangosteen which is gorgeous. As Ms Mason can speak and understand a fair bit of Thai, she translates as we walk away that the fruit stall ladies are asking “Why didn’t they eat it all? What’s wrong with them?” I guess the reason is we have already had quite a lot to eat and know there is more to come. We walk to a small shop next which is Chinese and selling the usual Chinese dried sausages (delicious) and lots of different sauces. Puu tells us this shop has been in the same family for generations (I forget how many) but they produce herbal drinks which are designed to help different parts of the body recover. I choose one for a boost to my immune system. Unfortunately it is incredibly sweet and after one sip, i pass it on to Puu as I don’t want to waste it. Others have chosen perhaps more wisely and enjoy their drinks. The very exciting fact about this shop, however, is that this is where the brand Healthy Boy was created. We have Healthy Boy sauces back in our kitchen at home and use them all the time so I feel especially thrilled to stand where they were first created.Image

We then lurch onto a delicious lunch of roasted duck. The restaurant is already heaving downstairs so we climb upstairs and grab a table while there are still some available. We have duck 2 different ways with some broth and it is, obviously, delicious. I am running out of superlatives to use so you will understand that the food was really, really good. By now, I am feeling quite full but we still have 3 more food establishments to visit. It’s quite a good job that we’re walking in between as it helps me to feel less guilty when I am tucking into something outstanding. We force ourselves back out into the heat and go to a fried banana vendor. We have a choice of banana or sweet potato so I opt for the latter. It is sweet and tasty and full of starch and I can only finish half of mine.

The final 2 stops are, for me, the absolute highlights of the food element to our tour. Apart from eating and drinking, Puu takes us to alleyways and streets we would never normally go down, even if we knew they existed. There are parts where we are asked not to photograph people and we are privileged to see their homes as we saunter by. We also see an old cinema, now boarded up. The glass and typography speak of the 1930’s and Puu tells us they used to show silent films there, complete with a band to play along. Later, as things progressed, the cinema ran into a decline and in order to perk up sales, they showed silent X rated films, instead. No band playing along this time although I like to think a trombone would have been able to make a comedy of it all.

So we go to the Somtam restaurant. We have already been told that in Thailand, it is considered polite to say you are going to pick a flower when you need the toilet. This restaurant is a good place to pick a flower! It is absolutely packed with hungry people devouring the 29 types of somtam available on the menu. I am particularly pleased about this because I tried to order somtam a few nights before but they didn’t have it. We are trying it just 2 ways. For those of you not familiar with somtam, it is a spicy salad made with papaya and utterly delicious. The crunch and flavour is refreshing and makes you feel you are eating something which is not only tasty but good for you. The other kind of somtam comes fried which is also good but I prefer the original. Image

2 members of our party have to leave at this point as they need to go to the airport, so there are just 3 of us to head to our final destination. This last restaurant was opened by a Princess of Thailand who handed it on to her son. It is very different from the very busy place we have just left. It is hushed inside and there are linen tablecloths. The chairs are a little strange. Not one of us can touch the floor while we are sitting in them so we all sit, like giant babies, waiting for our food. When it comes, it is divine. I have to say it is the best green curry I have ever eaten anywhere. The flavour is incomparable and it is well worth a visit just to sample the curry although I expect the rest of their food is up to the same standard.

Finally, we stagger out into the sunshine, absolutely stuffed full with fabulous food. Puu will not leave us until we have been put into a taxi and on our way home. I feel I cannot really do justice to the day. The experience has exceeded my expectations and we have drunk with our eyes and ears as well as our mouths. It highlights what contrasts there are in Bangkok – that we could be in a small alleyway with poor housing just behind a bustling street full of high tech gadgets and shops. The tour has been about food but also about so much more and I would highly recommend it. If you want to go with the same people, they are at Image

Don’t monkey with Miss Mason

Since arriving in Bangkok, I have been busy. On Sunday we go to the weekend market and shop for clothes for Dog. Mr Mason and all concerned will be pleased that there are not any suitable garments in Dog’s size. We think briefly about buying him a jeans and t-shirt combo bearing the legend ‘I ❤ Hip Hop’ but feel it would not have many outings, particularly if Mr Mason has anything to do with it. There is a quilted coat which looks quite cosy but not large enough. There is also a fluffy towelling dressing gown which we think would do perfectly for those after-bath moments but on closer inspection, we see it is just a small dressing gown, probably meant for a child and decide not to buy it on principle.

Monday evening sees us at a fabulous bar on top of a skyscraper. We arrive in time to grab a seat on the rooftop bar on the 61st floor and have a couple of cocktails while watching the sun go down. The bar is busy and the view is fantastic although not one for the faint-hearted or Mr Mason. He would particularly not like this bar as while we are enjoying ourselves, we feel the building swaying. We busily discuss the merits of making buildings in this way so that they stay upright during earthquakes and inclement weather, little knowing that the swaying we feel is actually an earthquake which began in the Chiang Rai area. It is so disappointing to realise I have felt my first earthquake but thought it was a particularly gusty bit of wind.

Today we set off early to go to Lopburi in search of the monkeys. We take a taxi to the train station where the monks have their own roped-off enclosure. Once on the train, we are greeted by a woman who thrusts a tray of food at each of us. It contains chicken noodle soup, mackerel in a chilli sauce and a bowl of rice. I am not sure whether this is included in the ticket or not, having been fooled by a wily old man on a train in Thailand before. However, everyone around us starts eating so we do, too. A big black sack is then passed around and people put their rubbish into it. It all seems very organised. The sky looks very black in places as we travel and it seems as though more rain is on the cards. Why did we leave the umbrellas on the coffee table? By the time we get to Lopburi, however, the sky has cleared and the sun is hot. The air feels less humid, too. We decline the offers of rickshaw drivers who shout “Monkeys! Monkeys!” at us. Well, not at us in that way. We walk down the road and after a couple of minutes we see the first one. A macaque, strolling across the road apparently without a care in the world. There are others lined up in front of shops and cafes. We cross the road to go into the Khmer Temple, Prang San Yot, pay the man at the gate and walk into a macaque wonderland.

The first to draw our attention are the baby macaques. They are tiny and simply adorable with little tufts of hair on their head and huge eyes. They hang off their mothers and babysitters in casual ways, wrapping themselves around with their long limbs and tail. We try to admire the temple as it is apparently a rare example but we can’t help look at the macaques. After just a few minutes, the first makes a kind of kamikaze leap onto Miss Mason. It is shortly joined by another and they examine her closely while I take photographs. She does the obligatory monkey selfie (although I have to say, Bangkok is a selfie obsessed city) and then one decides to try his luck on me. We have no food on us so we think we are relatively safe. This one lands on my shoulder and decides my earring is just right for pinching so it does. Miss Mason sees it and tries to retrieve it but it is up and off before we know it. I decide to put the other one in my pocket for safe-keeping. We are assaulted by macaques on all sides so we move a little away. The man selling peanuts to feed them has more luck with a Japanese couple who come in and immediately are beset by the monkeys. We know this because we hear her scream. A little while later I am joined by another macaque who thinks it will be fun to steal an earring. At this point, confusion reigns. Miss Mason indulges in what can only be described as a monkey fight in an attempt to retrieve my earring and we are not sure who has won when suddenly the earring goes shooting up into the air and the monkey makes a dash for it. We look on the ground and cannot see it. It’s 2-0 to the monkey. There is a sudden contretemps between a couple of the females and we see one trying to run along with a baby under each arm. Another couple of females bear down on her and prize a baby away which runs to the side of the pursuer. I think we may have seen a case of macaque kidnapping. In between stealing things from us and each other, our hairy little chums try tasting us to see if we are worth eating. A couple of them do an experimental bite to see if anything dislodges but I am clearly too big to eat. It licks a bit and then bites a little harder in case I am just plain old tough. After a few experimental bites, we have had enough and leave the macaques to their playing. Later, while having a drink at a local cafe, she feels something down the back of her top. This turns out to be a mangled pearl earring. I think at least I will be able to make a pendant out of it and put it safely in my bag.

Our journey back to Bangkok we do by minibus. The minibus cannot leave unless it is full and when it is full, there isn’t an inch to move. As we leave Lopburi, the skies darken and the rain begins to fall – and fall and fall. The roads turn into rivers and the amount of water being thrown up by the minibus is huge. We slide and aquaplane our way back to the city at top speed while the minibus springs a leak at the back and drips onto Miss Mason who tries to plug the hole with a bunch of tissues. By the time we get back to Bangkok, the skies have cleared and the rain has stopped. The air seems to have cleared a little, too. Back in the flat, I check in my pockets for tissues to throw away and tucked in a corner I find an un-mangled earring. This means the earring thief, having stolen one, came back with it, presumably to steal another. The monkey fight we thought Miss Mason has lost suddenly becomes a triumph of human over macaque. I would like to say at this point that she did a little celebratory dance but she was a bit too tired. Instead, I can give you a flavour of what her fight looked like.

Tales from Bangkok

I am on a trip to Bangkok, to check in with Miss Mason and see how the wedding preparations are coming on. Checking in at Heathrow, there is no queue but the people in front of me have an inconsolable baby who screams in real distress for what seems ages. Of course, this child is seated directly in front of me when we board and, yes, it screams pretty much all the way to Oman where we change planes. It must be horrible travelling with very small children so I don’t feel it is anyone’s fault but I would like to point out I am a magnet for small, screaming children on aircraft. Never sit near me. The passage through Muscat airport is easy enough. As we go through a security check which insists our lotions and potions are displayed in clear plastic, I discover a bottle of Coke which has mysteriously made its way through security unharmed and, indeed, undetected. The woman checking us through says our flights are at the gate and that we should all hurry. We all duly hurry only to be met by another man who insists we are not allowed down the stairs to any of the gates and tells everyone to ‘wait here’, waving his arm expansively. I go and sit by some Arab women, asking one if I may sit by her. She pats the seat and I sit, only for her to start asking me questions in a language I not only don’t understand but can’t identify. She has a lovely face and asks her questions so nicely only to be met with me grinning inanely. She does the tried-and-tested English method of asking her questions more slowly and a bit louder but it has no effect. We smile, because that’s the only language we share. A short while later, the man controlling the escalator down is side-tracked by someone asking a complicated question. I wonder if other travellers have conspired in this ruse because he is drawn away from his post and hordes of people pour down the stairs, myself included. My Arab friend calls after me,  saying “Have a good trip” or possibly “Up yer bum”.

Havind made it to the elusive ground floor, I find myself a chair and sit like I am glued to it. More people come down and then, suddenly in our midst is the Guardian of the Stairs. He is apoplectic that we have let ourselves through his grasp and shouts really loudly at people to go back upstairs. I am sitting pretending I don’t know what is going on (which I am naturally very good at) and so I stay put. There is a flight to Calcutta leaving shortly and the people queueing for that flight get very short shrift from him. Of course, sitting at the gate is a man in full Arab clothing with a small, screaming child. This time they are seated behind me. I am eyeing up the seats across the aisle from me when they are occupied by a group of men including a dwarf. Given Miss Mason’s passion for dwarves this is good positioning but this dwarf is rude and surly, drinking himself into a mild state of chaos and being rude to the air crew. He is jumping on the seats and throwing things about. At some point the dwarf and his companions are drawn into conversation by the man sitting in my row. He is on his way for a holiday in Bangkok and they tell him they are oil workers. I find myself wondering what work a dwarf would do on a rig. It’s not a sizeist thing but I suppose there are lots of jobs, really. Maybe he’s in IT or something. Anyway, he’s a very rude dwarf.

We get off and head to immigration where we have to wait for some time. I have smugly filled in my visa application whilst on the plane but I still have to wait ages. Eventually I am through and retrieve my bag which seems to weigh a ton. I had a mild fit when I weighed the bag at home. The airline allows 30kg of baggage which is really good and I had offered to bring Miss Mason’s wedding dress amongst other things. Oh, and a huge amount of Cadbury’s, for Mr Safaie. When I weigh it at home, it seems to weigh nearly 60 kg and I am in a bit of a panic. After a bit of scrambling around, though, I realise the scales weigh pounds and kilos and that I have been reading the wrong number. Equilibrium and sanity restored. After coming through Customs, I look for Miss Mason’s dear little face but it is nowhere to be seen. Having checked my phone would be able to roam, I am rather frustrated to find it will neither text nor call. After some minutes, I decide to walk down through the airport to the meeting point but before I get there I see there is another gate for people to come through and she is waiting there for me. Relief. And a lovely sight.