Wednesday, 31 December 2008

So long, 2008!

We've had the last few days off work and it's been great to unwind a bit. I've been leeching some free music off the web and have discovered stuff by Nick Drake, Morcheeba, The Buddah Bar series, Folklore de Peru & Ecuador and many others! I find I quite like the sound of the charango - a South American lute/guitar which is often played on documentaries about Peru. Anyway, it's quite relaxing and nice to have on in the background. My laptop's got reasonable speakers for an office computer but I really miss having a bit of volume. With luck I'll get some cheapo speakers in Trivandrum tomorrow, then I'll be able to drown out the Hindu temple noise when it next happens!

I mentioned that I'd found a new path from Kovalam Junction to home. Here are a couple of photos taken along the route. The one with the orange house actually shows the more usual house colours in the foreground - a "beige with algae" sort of colour scheme. Many of the houses are this rectangular concrete style.

Since I arrived in India I've been recording how much I spend and on what. Call me anal but I've even been recording Rs.3 cups of chai! The two weeks in October weren't really typical because there were some big one-off costs such as the hotel, the mattress, Internet subscription, and the cost of kitting this place out. November and December work out at £150 each, and that includes £83 for the monthly house rent. In total I've spent £825 for two and a half months. Mind you, I've been living quite frugally - I haven't been out for any expensive meals and the only alcohol I've had was half a pint of lager. Even that was bought for me! If I continue to live like a hermit I should be able to manage on £3000 for the year, excluding flights and any costs in the UK. That is well within my budget. I think I can afford to splash out on some speakers for my computer!

Good wishes for 2009 to all my readers!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Happiness is a crossed-off list!

I had planned to work on SISP's website today but didn't get around to it. When I took my washing up to the line on the roof this morning I found the lid of my water tank open and no one in sight. I was furious and told the owner in no uncertain terms that this was not acceptable. She muttered something about the tank needing cleaning but it only needed cleaning because her bloody family stick dirty buckets in it! We did clean it, as it happens, but after I'd calmed down I also told her I would fit a tap to her tank and she agreed. I had a look at her tank and found it was nearly empty, meaning that I could do the work without dumping too much clean water. To cut a long story short I got and fitted a nice brass lever tap and it works fine. It does drip a little from the tap thread because, although I used PTFE tape, I couldn't tighten it sufficiently without spanners. I'll keep an eye on it - it might just resolve itself (there's optimism for you!).

Some of the plastic fittings needed solvent and so they needed to be very clean. After washing the algae off the existing pipes I used one of my Dish Mate scouring pads to lightly abrade it, and a damned fine job it did too! Here's a photo of the packaging - attractive woman, huh?!

On the way to the town I passed the Hindu temple and decided to have a chat with a committee member. It was one of those conversations where you think you're getting through only to find after five minutes that they haven't really understood a thing. When I mentioned loudspeakers he immediately rushed off to turn on the temple's PA system and, with it, the horrible squawking noise resumed! I tried to speak in a quiet voice to make the point that the noise made it impossible to hold conversations but, unfortunately, his hearing was incredible - either that or he was lip-reading! I think I eventually got through to him that I wasn't moaning about the regular sounds, but rather it was when they have a celebration and stick speakers in the tree a few metres from my lug holes! He told me I should speak with the secretary of the place tonight at 19:30 (when it's pitch black) but he also happened to mention that the next celebration was on 3rd April or thereabouts - which is the day I fly back to the UK!

These two things have, up till today, been bugging me, but I feel a weight has been lifted. Maybe I'll be less of a rat-bag now! The rest of the day was spent catching up on emails. Amazing how long that takes, but again it feels good to have answered them all.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Trivandrum Trip

Well, this photo amused ME, if it doesn't you! But thereby hangs a tale. This is the notice on my water tank which is on the flat roof of this house. It's a big round plastic drum with a capacity of 500 litres and about waist height. The neighbours' tank is 750 litres and taller. Guess which one they use to water the plants on the roof? Mine, naturally! They dip a nice unhygienic and dirty bucket into it, no doubt putting it on the ground in between fills, and God knows what else it is used for. I've told them that this is not acceptable, and it stopped for a while, but it's started again. I did think about just padlocking the lid but that's not very friendly, is it?! I'm wondering about showing them how a syphon works so that they can syphon water out of their tank, but syphoning would be pain to do frequently. Or I could buy them a hose to attach to their outside tap near the back door but, with the length of hose needed and a low head, there may not be enough flow. Or I could plumb in a tap into their tank's outlet pipe on the roof. It's 32mm plastic piping but it should be easy enough. Actually, if I just tee'd off to a hose they wouldn't need a tap, would they? They could just keep the end of the hose above tank height. But then if it fell down the tank would empty itself... Hmm, maybe not!

Today I went into Trivandrum to find the Sri Lankan Airways office to find out why they wanted to see me. The bus was really crowded - so much so that I couldn't see where we were going as we jolted, swerved, accelerated and braked all the way to East Fort. Lucky we stopped when we did or I would have been very sick! I felt really rough. The first thing I do when I get there is have a chai at a stall near the cinema, and that helped restore equilibrium. A tall and friendly, bearded, dignified Indian guy always serves me and recognises me now.

I walked up the chaotic, noisy and polluted MG Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road - a common naming in most cities and large towns). Eventually I found the SLA office and was told that there had been a minor time change. No big deal. The girl wondered why I had bothered to come and not phone - so do I, now! Anyway, I saw today as a day for exploring.

I found the famous Connemara Market, went inside but then wished I hadn't. The fruit, veg, snack and oddsandends stalls were OK, but the fish stalls... what a dreadful STINK! The big fish had been cut in two and someone was dabbing blood onto the spines, to make it look fresh and healthy I suppose. I would have liked to have taken photos but I just had to get out of there before I heaved my guts up!

Outside University College I found a pavement display of Indian greetings cards and just had to take a few snaps. The owner and his mate were quite bemused and didn't mind posing for me.

A little further on was the Victoria Diamond Jubilee Library outside which a guy was selling fluffy dogs, Father Christmas-ish doll things, and crash helmets, as you do!

I made my way up to the zoological gardens and visited the Napier Museum - housed in an interesting timber building.

Very airy and spacious inside. Lots of bronzes of Indian gods, very decorative wood, stone and ivory carvings, Japanese shadow puppets, and so on. No photos allowed inside and the ones outside didn't come out too well. Partly due to the extremely high light contrasts I suppose, and partly due to my cack-handedness. I managed to have the camera on the wrong settings. Actually, it's surprising that it's working at all after I spilled a glass of sweet tea over it a few days ago. The stickiness has affected the lens cover which now only half-closes like a half-shut eye.

One of the goddesses was Parvati. Having seen her, you can keep your elephant gods! You'll understand why if you look at these library pictures. BTW, her name is Sanskrit for "she of the mountains" :-)

Oh, and some colourful houses snapped between Kovalam Junction and home:

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day

Another day in paradise...

It's been a quiet day. I took a walk down to the sea at Vizhinjam and then along to Kovalam. The beach at Kovalam was heaving with tourists, both Indian and Westerner. I had had the idea that I might find a nice place to have lunch and maybe find a few English-speaking people to chat with but, to be honest, once I got there I couldn't face it. Most of my days are spent having staccato "conversations" with Indians and trying to understand their thick accents; it would be nice to have a chat without all the concentration and interpretation for once. But I could see all the restaurant owners rubbing their hands at the prospect of charging extortionate prices, and the tourists themselves looked self-contented, wary of any outsiders, or just not my kind of person. Picture blubbery loud Americans, or sweaty UK Northerners with knotted handkerchiefs and football team T-shirts. I decided against it. On the way up to Kovalam junction I passed two fat tourists in shirts, shorts, socks and hiking boots. The woman's tight shorts showed the sweat running down the crack of her backside from the exertion of waddling up the hill. Urgh! Be very glad I didn't have my camera with me!

My Christmas lunch was chicken curry and barottas from the stall at Kovalam Junction (something I could buy any day of the week), sitting on a plastic stool under some shade and watching the traffic. Contrary to what people told me, many shops and stalls were open for business as usual. The "Divine Supermarket" was doing a roaring trade. This is the supermarket just diagonally across the road from the stall. I suppose it's convenient - you can browse around and choose things at your leisure without having to speak to anyone. Nothing is where you'd expect to find it though, and it's totally disorganised and dusty. I found the Sellotape in with the cosmetics, for example, the logic of which eludes me! And it's more expensive. They appear to do a good trade though, with a high percentage of tourists, and are in the process of adding more floors with all the attendant dust and noise that that entails.

I had some SMS messages and emails with friends and family which was nice, but best was having a chat on Skype with my two children and hearing about what they had been up to and what their plans for Christmas were. Just small talk. It made me wish even more that I could be with them in person. It ain't easy out here.

Christmas Eve

The photos tell the story. A lot of fun was had by all. I was particularly impressed by (SISP founder) Paul's involvement with the celebrations - he joined in with some of the games and sang a kind of Christmas rhyme which all the children had to repeat. And his voice was good too!

I spent a lot of the time taking photos - these are just a few of them. But I did get involved with the Spiderman team tug of war - I thought my weight might help! We won one game and lost the other. Pity! We were making headway but then the opponents jerked the rope and a few of us sliped over and were dragged back over the ground. I managed to graze my face and arm but nothing too serious. In case you haven't spotted the old scoreboard, Spiderman came last overall. I'm told it's the taking part that counts!

Some things about today pissed me off. One was that no one told me that the kids and staff were not having lunch together, so I ate with the kids as usual. It was only after I had started to tuck in that I was told. Then there was a gift exchange thing - everone had bought a little present to exchange with another randomly selected person, but no one thought to tell me. It turned out that there were a few spare gifts so I did actually have something to exchange, but that's not the point. Finally, when I got home in the evening, I found that Paul had written a Christmas message on the 18th and given it to the Belgian webmaster who had published it today. Too late for me to make an English version before the big day. Hmm.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Hole Needs Looking Into!

OK, this is the trench being dug by hand by BSNL up my road. This guy was one of many, hard at work before the day got too hot. See what I mean by the orangey soil?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times at SISP today. Best, because the pressure of the Christmas decorations was off me. I could relax and try to be friendly with the kids, to make up for my tension-induced grumpiness. Worst, because I found myself not needed. All exam papers were being marked and results were being given to the children. I had no part in this. Actually I felt a bit overlooked and neglected, but I suppose the teachers had good reason, being preoccupied with school matters. As the children would be finishing early and there'd be a staff meeting (in Malayalam) afterwards, I decided to leave mid-afternoon after doing a bit of exam invigilating and marking some computing tests.

Two nice things happened today. One was when a little girl came up to me while I was sitting on a step, gave me a hug and put her head on my shoulder. Ahhh! The other was to hear from Phil Morgan that his wife, Jackie, had mentioned their recent visit to Kovalam to her work colleagues and as a consequence the Christmas whip round was in aid of SISP. £215! Brilliant!

Oh, and I found a new route to work too. It's a path which is away from the busy roads yet isn't too far from them. It would be hazardous in the dark but a nice alternative for the mornings or for days when I finish early.

No Internet!

Yesterday evening (22nd) I found I couldn't connect to the web. I fiddled about for a bit, resetting connections, powering off and on again, but all to no avail. Finally I called Asianet, and I must have done that ten times before I eventually got to speak to someone who gave a reasonable answer. Either the phone wouldn't connect, or it would cut out, or I'd get through to a moron, or through to someone who put me through to another number which went unanswered... and so it went on. Usually, when I get someone sensible, they ask for the landline number here (IE, next door, as I only have a mobile). Or they ask for my mobile number. This time they asked for a reference number which would be on an email they sent me - which I couldn't get to because I had no connection! Then they asked for my "mac id" number which is printed on the modem but a little tricky to read when you have to be outside to get a decent phone signal! Finally, the upshot was that there were known problems in the area which would be fixed when they get fixed. I wonder if it's anything to do with BSNL digging up my road to lay fibre-optic cables. Hmmm.

Actually, BSNL's work, which is all done (impressively) by hand, shows the quality of the soil around here - it is very orange! Very sandy with mostly small stones in it which must make it a bit easier to dig and very free draining. Boring you, huh?!

I managed to get my nativity "monstrosity" to SISP yesterday, complete with the figures and spare decorations, posters and backpack, without catastrophe and without forgetting something vital. I set off very early to avoid problems with traffic. Even so, there were many folk about, chatting in the street, gossiping over fences, having a chai at a stall or walking to work. I got many strange looks, and the stable got even more. It was amusing to watch people's perplexed faces! But actually it was a very pleasant time of day indeed - quite cool and still a little bit misty from moisture in the air, but you just knew the sun would burn it off in a very short while. Quite delicious, in fact, and I'd do this more often if I wouldn't have to hang about for several hours for the teachers and kids to turn up!

So, I got the stable to school without problems, went up to the hall, and found three things:
1) Hanuman team had copied our idea of using decorated branches, only they had got something the size of a tree compared with the few twigs we put up on Saturday.
2) Tables are not allowed - only blackboards, so where do I put a model stable? No one had told me this "rule".
3) Muscleman team had outclassed us with their posters - Christmas posters from Amnesty International about child soldiers, children of wars, children for whom there would be no Christmas, children suffering, "So this is Christmas, and what have we done", i.e. the "Happy Christmas, War is Over" John Lennon song. When I saw all that, I knew we were beaten. Paul, SISP's founder, is a strong believer in these calls for social justice and the Head would like the focused message, and these guys were the judges.

And again, no one turned up to help. My main poster "A Very Merry Christmas from the Spiderman Team" had, for me, a hollow message - what team?

I take this all a bit too seriously, don't I? I should just shrug my shoulders and ask what does it really matter. I don't though. And it makes me a right miserable and grumpy old git!

As luck would have it, I found some nails and an old whiteboard which had the advantage of being strong, light, and with good fixing plates. I also found a bit of string. With this lot I managed to make a suspended shelf off the blackboard - so, like a table but without the legs! I covered it with a green towel (grass, you see!) and placed the stable and figures on it. As every figure was added the shelf sagged a little bit more. Just don't breathe on it!

Despite the effort we came last. Not original enough, not a strong enough message and not outrageously OTT! But at least we tried. And my Spiderman badges were a great success - everyone wanted one, even kids in other teams! They counted for nothing on the scoreboard - just a bit of fun.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Nativity Monstrosity

Monstrosity: Noun. Something hideous or frightful; something which is very ugly and usually large; something outrageously or offensively wrong; something grossly malformed. These descriptions must surely correspond to the thoughts running through your head! I'll have you know that this thing has taken a day and a half to make - and no, it's not the size of a house! Yes, it IS meant to look rustic. All houses looked like this two thousand years ago, right?!

Actually, it is SO rustic that I think it'll be dismissed as a pile of crap. It reminds me of the time when I overdid the make-up on my son, C, when he went to a school fair dressed as a scruffy urchin - people recoiled in horror!

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the other hanger-ons, came as a set of cement figures from a local shop. Many of the houses around here (well, I suppose the Christian ones at least) have little nativity scenes with these very same models. I decided the standard colours were a bit dull so slapped on a bit of red, blue, green and yellow (I have no white to tone the colours down). Anyway, Indians like bright colours, don't they?!

How I'm going to get this lot, plus other decorations, posters, and my shoulder bag to SISP tomorrow is going to be interesting. I foresee dropping the monstrosity, it smashing into smithereens, and me then kicking it into oblivion!

Friday, 19 December 2008

Spiderman! Spiderman!

48 badges for our Spiderman team! A lot of card, glue, safety pins and sore hands. I hope the SISP kids want to wear them (the kids next door are wearing theirs!).

The last few days have been exhausting, partly because of doing the posters and decorations on the team's blackboard, which have to be changed every day first-thing in the mornings. The theme for a few days was "AIDS" and now it's "Christmas". I made another Spiderman poster and have made various informative displays. My team's captain made many of the AIDS ones, which had to be written in Malayalam, and he did a nice job. But somehow the other teams have nearly always done something brighter, bigger, wilder and more eye-catching. And many times I've turned up early to find that those who promised to help didn't come, or didn't bring any materials. I think that Monday will be the last day and, to be honest, I'll be very pleased when it's over.

Part of the team games is a chess championship. Now, the last time I played chess was 40 years ago so I expected to be thrashed. Nevertheless I managed to win the first game on points (games are limited to 30 mins) against the school bus driver, who was meant to be a bit of a handy player. My heart was pounding over that game and I was quite pleased to win because he's got a bit of an attitude problem - thinks he's something special! But in my second game yesterday, I was trounced! I was playing against a sneering little so-and-so too! Bitter and twisted? Moi? I'm trying hard to forget this beating but secretly plotting my revenge!

The days have been long and intense too, with kids from other schools turning up early, sometimes before lunch, having done exams and coming to us for tuition. Meanwhile we have our own exams going on and those children not capable of the exams, or not timetabled to do them, have to be given lessons or tuition or, basically, just kept quiet. This is where I come in. And because of the exams I haven't been able to take Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off to recover. All in all I'm somewhat knackered!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Akhil Illuminations

This is a "Hindustan Ambassador" and they're everywhere in India. Lumbering but spacious, from a bygone era, they are a great favourite with tourists. The design is based on the Morris Oxford from the 1950's and it's hardly evolved since that time. I mention it because I pass Akhil Motors on my walk to work, where they service these old beasts. They are usually working on a couple of Ambassadors under shelter, another two in their yard (amongst the old yellowing ones which are presumably donor vehicles), and another two in the road. They don't have inspection pits or fancy vehicle lifts, just scissor jacks and lumps of wood. I mention them because, as a token acknowledgement of Christmas, the garage have slung up six illuminated flashing stars. The stars have a lop-sided flash, three come on for maybe 2 seconds then the other three come on for 1 second (very ish). The flash looked very familiar and it didn't take me too long to figure out what it was... they must've used a car flasher unit to switch the bulbs! They've used the old-fashioned, non-electronic, bi-metal strip type where the delay depends on the load. With a heavy load the delay becomes long with noticeably uneven on/off periods. This kind of stuff fascinates me, sad old git that I am!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Team Games and Furlongs

On Friday (today's Sunday), in the afternoon, the younger classes squeezed into the bus and set off for the "playground". When I say "squeezed" I mean twice as many people as there were seats, plus a dustbin of water and a bit of play equipment. It becomes stiflingly hot, particularly while the bus is stationary and being loaded, which always seems to take ages. The "playground" is a bit of bare sandy, smelly earth near Vizhinjam, close to the mosques (one quite new and perfectly good, the other even bigger and being constructed, presumably because Allah didn't hear the five daily prayers in the former. Needless to say, the people here are very poor).

I should have known it'd be hot. In the full sun, with no shade, my only protection was an exercise book which I used to keep the scorching rays off my scalp. The kids and teachers didn't seem overly bothered - and the clothes they wore didn't make much concession for the heat - but I was suffering. Normally Fridays are routine school days but this day we were having team games (for the Superman, Hanuman, Muscleman and Spiderman teams), and very competitive it was too. My team, Spiderman, had what I considered to be a few unfair decisions against it so we didn't do as well as I'd hoped. Still, my proudest moment was when we came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 400m race! One of the lads, who I'd formerly considered a bit of an annoying pipsqueak ran like the wind! It was Brilliant! I shall look at him in a new light from now on!

I think we've moved up the scoreboard but we are still well behind the leaders, unfortunately. My contribution to all this is the Spiderman posters. Teams have their own blackboards onto which they attach posters, pictures, written slogans, or chalked-on messages. They all change regularly but I decided to up the ante and took the initiative of extending our board vertically to that we can keep the better ones permanently displayed - all is fair in love and war after all! I was flattered when another team copied us the next day but now I have to find some other way of keeping ahead...

I have a plan - to make Spiderman badges for all the team. These can be red and blue with the simple Spider logo and a web background - hopefully easy to draw, photocopy onto coloured card, cut out and attach safety pins to. And I'm going to decorate our board with tinsel too! And maybe photocopy slogans onto coloured paper.

Yesterday, Saturday, I set off for Trivandrum by bus. Another sweltering day. It didn't seem quite right to hear canned carols, see a dancing animated Father Christmas, and all the shops selling huge stars and baubles. I got the tinsel and safety pins easily enough but I also wanted acrylic paints in decent sized tubes. I found I could buy 10ml pots or 5litre cans but there didn't seem anything in between despite spending ages hunting around and following leads. But one thing amused me which was, after asking for directions, to be told to walk down to Trivandrum Bypass Road, turn right and find the stain shop, one furlong from the turning. One Furlong! Surely those units were phased out years ago along with chains, rods and perches?! This in a country where the speed limits are in Km/h - even higher up the evolutionary ladder than the UK. I couldn't even remember how far a Furlong was but I guessed 220 yards (200m) and, would you believe it, I've just checked, that's absolutely spot on! My God, something from 50 years ago is indelibly etched in my brain!

Still couldn't find the paint though...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Christmas Shopping

This is a report I put on SISP's website yesterday evening...

"Each year, just before Christmas, and if funds allow, we take the children to the shops in Beemapalli to buy some clothes as an end-of-year present. Many of their clothes will normally be second-hand or hand-me-downs, so receiving something new is a real treat for them.

While children in the West will be demanding the latest Wii, XBox, Playstation or fancy mobile phone, our children have no such expectations and are extremely happy just receiving something functional like clothes. And like all children, given half a chance, ours are discerning fashion consumers! They love to choose their own garments and create their own individual style. Within the limits of our tight budget, by shopping carefully and with a bit of negotiation, we are usually able to buy something our children are proud to wear.

So, on Tuesday and Wednesday we made two trips to the shops with our bus crammed full of our younger children. Despite the heat, waiting in the bus, and having to wait turns to be served in the shop, it was a very happy occasion!

The older children are even more fashion conscious and will make their own purchases in their own time which they'll bring to the Centre and we'll then reimburse them. All the children will be presented with their new clothes on the 23rd or 24th December - immediately after their exams and just before they break up for the holidays. Their pleasure is always a joy to behold!"

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Beemapalli Bargains

8 kids in the clothing shopWe visited Beemapalli today to buy clothes for SISP's children. This is the place to go if you want a bargain of any sort. I was told prices were cheap because of the tourists, but I didn't see a single white face so maybe it's just the volume of business they do - it certainly was heaving! The commercial rents are likely to be low too, because of the poor condition of the roads (flooded in parts - it's a very low lying area) and because it's under Trivandrum Airport's flightpath. As well as the bargains, it's famous for its huge pink mosque.

Photo of mosque from 2007The boys were getting "pants" or shirts, while the girls were getting a dress or a skirt and top. The budget was under £4 per child (Rs.300), and this is to be their Christmas present from the school. Most of the kids wear second-hand cast-offs which volunteers bring with them so getting something new is a bit special. A few of the kids who come to school bare-footed will also receive "chappals" (sandals). While waiting with the bus, one of the children asked me how much my sandals cost. Well, they're Merrell Kahunas, costing £54, or about Rs.4000. Sobering to think that for the same money I could have kitted out 30 or 40 kids with perfectly decent footwear.

Monday, 8 December 2008


I'm quite pleased with this, even if you think it's a bit crap!

As we are approaching the end of term, SISP is planning six days of exams starting next Monday. As well as revision, somehow we are also going to fit in a series of team games. The school has been divided into four teams and today's competition was to decide names for them. I didn't really understand what was happening so I made a total of fifteen suggestions - names of the planets, names of big cats, names of snakes, names of cheeses (yes? What's wrong with cheeses?). The winning entry was selected today - and despite my very prolific contribution, I didn't win. Can't think why! What won was "Spiderman, Superman, Strongman and Hangman"! I did think that last one was a bit odd until I was told I'd misheard "Hanuman", who turns out to be an Indian God. An easy mistake to make!

As I was the only guy around from my team at SISP today, it being a national holiday, I got assigned the task of designing the team poster. And this is it - Spiderman capturing Superman, Strongman and Hanuman! I wonder if the judges will appreciate my "slap it on, rough and ready" style. It took me four hours to produce this masterpiece so it deserves at least some recognition!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Sreedaralayam - photos

This is the nameplate of my house, Sreedaralayam, in Muttacadu, Kovalam.

I spent an hour or so this morning cleaning the floors. About 50% of the effort was in just trying to keep upright - wet marble floors are very slippery! The other 50% was spent trying to chase the water into a drain or outside via the front and back doors. Of course these are not the lowest points so it turns into a bit of a race!

One of the problems in sharing a house with a lot of spiders is the webs. It wouldn't be so bad if you didn't need candles - the soot sticks to the webs making them more visible and less easy to sweep off the ceiling with a brush. You just end up with lots of sooty smears! There are also many concrete shelves set at a height of about 190cm. The visible bottoms are smooth and have probably been plastered. The less visible tops are left rough and collect dust which is difficult to remove because of the roughness. So basically I have an excellent excuse for not cleaning away the cobwebs or dusting the filthy shelves! I need a vacuum cleaner....

I took some photos of the house today and will post them in the next few days - you won't be able to miss the cobwebs! But first, here are some showing the house exterior. The interior is better than these photos might suggest!

This is the view down my street. Next door to the house is a shack where I buy my bananas and eggs. The chap and his wife have virtually no English at all, so it's impossible to ask if the bananas are ripe or the eggs fresh!

This is the house viewed from the road. The hut on the roof gives protection for the stairs which lead up to the roof. The metal rods sticking out to the right will be concrete reinforcement for the upstairs floor when/if it is eventually built.

The verandah is my house - beyond that is the neighbour's house. Note the outside tap and base complete with mouldy wall: it's where they have their showers (clothed!).

A drunken view of my verandah and front door. Note the single chair - the other was loaned to the neighbours but didn't return. The windows are reflective but not completely so - I still need to fit some curtains. This is where I sit and eat my breakfast, listen to the raucous crows, and admire the view of the wall!
A view of the side of the house, looking back towards the road.
The same, but with blurry chickens this time!