03 October;SIM Cards and Tea Pots

Posted: 4 October 2017

Woken at 5.30 by the sound of construction traffic on the road outside. It feels very heavy and muggy in the room and I am reminded that this is the start of the second monsoon. Already the temperature on my clock reads 31 degrees. It is going to be hot and humid.

     Cheese omelette, toast, fresh pineapple and watermelon for breakfast and Maryann has made coconut pancakes, light crepes filled with sweet, shredded coconut and covered in syrup. Absolutely delicious and about as far removed from a fried breakfast as you can get. Her husband Philip sits down to join me and we chat about food and visiting tourists.
     ‘The French are the worst,’ he tells me. ‘They never want to try anything. All they want is demitasse café and croissants.’
     ‘Who are the most adventurous?’
     ‘Oh the British,’ he laughs. ‘Visitors from the UK are happy to try anything. Not so much Americans. They like the idea but not the food.’
     I spend the rest of the morning trying to source a local SIM card so I can stay in touch easier with my contacts here. The whole process takes some time and for some reason on the form I have to give my father’s name and place of birth. I eventually get it sorted and for a month I have unlimited calls to anywhere in India and unlimited internet access, and all for 500 rupees, about £6.00.

     For lunch I decide to head to the Tea Pot Café on Peter Celli Street. Tea is definitely the name of the game here. With a name like The Tea Pot Café I don’t suppose you would expect anything else. Tea pots are everywhere. They hang from the ceiling and sit in rows on every available surface. All the tables, apart from a large glass-topped centre piece which has as its base the huge root of a tea bush, are fashioned from old tea chests on top of which sits a precariously balanced piece of wood.
     With all that clutter it is only to be expected that the café is a bit dusty. The walls are cracked and broken in places and the photographs recall a bygone age, never to return. Strangely all of that just seems to add to the chaotic charm of the place.
     On the other hand the tea is excellent and for less than the price of a High Street latte in the UK I enjoyed a large pot of Assam tea and a toasted cheese sandwich. Old and dusty it may be but on a hot, sultry day The Tea Pot Café is a place of calm, cool refreshment.

     The afternoon was largely spent at the David Hall, I am due to play a concert there on Saturday night, for a photo shoot for the New Indian Express. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but Milton, the photographer, knew exactly what he wanted. 
     ‘Please sit,’ he said as he indicated a chair in the centre of the lawn. ‘And could you please sing and play while I photograph you.’
     ‘You want me to sing and play? Can’t I just mime?’
     ‘No, no, no, sir. Please sing and play properly. It will all be captured by the camera.’
     And so I sang and played for almost an hour as Milton snapped away and moved me around to various positions in the garden. I was exhausted.
     At the end of the session I chatted to an American lady called Linda who told me that she lived half the year in India and half in New York. She was utterly devastated by the news about the mass shootings in Las Vegas and she didn’t try to hide the fact that she thought the gun lobby in general, and Donald Trump in particular, were stone raving bonkers.
     ‘It’s all driven by money,’ she said. ‘You are very lucky to live in the UK where there are proper gun controls.’
     We chatted for a few minutes more about various gun related atrocities, including the awful events that happened at Dunblane Primary School. I left feeling quite drained, and realised that it probably had nothing at all to do with the weather. 

     Earlier in the day I had noticed a sign outside Oy’s, a café in Burgher Street popular with backpackers, advertising dinner that night of traditional Kerala food served by the ladies of Kochi. This was far too good an opportunity to miss so I duly turned up at the appointed time only to be told that no dinner was being served.
     ‘We only are open for breakfast and lunch,’ I was told by a smiling waiter.
     ‘But the sign,’ I said pointing to the blackboard.
     ‘Ah yes, sir,’ he said, wagging his head, ‘that is an old advertisement. We just haven’t got round to cleaning the blackboard.’
     Fortunately Oy’s is directly across the street from one of my favourite haunts the Kashi Art Café, famous for its thirst-bursting ginger tea and amazing chocolate cake. Akin, one of the waiters I had got to know on my last trip, recognised me and came to my table pointing and smiling.
     ‘Iced tea, iced tea.’
     ‘Thank you, Akin. Some iced tea would be lovely,’ I told him, secretly thrilled to be remembered. 

     Finding somewhere to have a beer in Kochi can be a bit of a challenge as in 2014 the Kerala government introduced a 10 year plan in an attempt for complete prohibition except in five start hotels and the state run liquor outlets. It isn’t quite clear yet just how far the government will take this legislation as more and more tourists head for the state. It is feared that, apart from the effect this may have on tourism, any kind of prohibition could create a black market in the sale of alcohol, and we all know how well that worked in the past. Ali Capone is just waiting on the sidelines.

     One place you will always manage to find a Kingfisher perching on the cold shelf is the Old Harbour Hotel on Tower Road facing the famous Chinese Fishing Nets. Elegant, stylish and still retaining in part shades of colonial Britain, I sat in the gardens under a clear navy blue sky eating tapioca chips, nursing an ice cold beer and listening to live Indian music and I asked myself, does it get any better than this? Not really, I had to answer. 


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