Monday, 18 November 2013

No Chai With Charles and Camilla, William Dalrymple in Town, Mussoorie Half Marathon

No Chai With Charles and Camilla

Last week our Principal Dr Long came up to Kirsten and me and said he had a dinner invitation we wouldn't be able to refuse. Being a man with a similar wit to my own, I thought he was setting up a bad pun. But as I awaited the punchline it became clear it wasn't a joke.

It turned out he and his wife had been invited to nearby Rishikesh to attend a dinner with Prince Charles and Camilla (aka the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall), who were on a tour of India. Due to short notice and prior commitments, our Principal and his wife were unable to attend. So Dr Long said he would try and transfer the tickets over to us.

That night we started thinking about what we would say to the future British king if we met him, how we should address them (Your Highness? Sir, Ma'am? Charlie boy?) what we should wear, and how we would get there.

In the event we needn't have worried, as due to the short notice Charles and Camilla were unable to get the necessary security clearance to meet us (or was it the other way round?).

So, a missed opportunity to meet our future sovereign.

However, there was another VVIP at Woodstock over the weekend (in India there are not just VIPs but VVIPS - very VERY important persons!). See below...

Larger than life: William Dalrymple at the festival  ED BEAVAN

Author William Dalrymple in Town

As part of the Sixth Mussoorie Writers' Mountain Festival at Woodstock author William Dalrymple came to town. I have read several of his books, including From the Holy Mountain and The Age of Kali, but I'd never heard him speak.

The renowned author and India-phile lives in Delhi and has written extensively about the Indian subcontinent. He was giving a lecture based on his new book entitled Return of the King: Afghanistan Then and Now, on the first Anglo-Afghan war.

Looking more rotund than the photographs in his earlier books, he started off slightly stutteringly during his talk, but once he got onto his subject, he was simply outstanding. He had the whole audience gripped as he recounted the desperate story of the British retreat from Afghanistan in 1842, which led to the needless deaths of thousands of British and Indian troops. He also linked the story back to Mussoorie explaining how one of the former Afghan rulers Amir Dost Mohammad was for a time under house arrest in the hill station. He really did bring history to life for all of us there.

We also chatted to him a bit at a party one night during the festival, he is a flamboyant character and was certainly the life and soul of the party!

Needless to say after his talk there was a run on sales of his book, and a long queue formed of eager punters keen to get an autograph. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Sign of the times: Dalrymple autographs a book for a Woodstock student from Afghanistan    ED BEAVAN

No Pain, No Gain: Mussoorie Half Marathon

On the Sunday of the writers' festival there is the Mussoorie Half Marathon, now in its second year. Last year I wimped out and only did the 10K.

This year I was determined to do the whole thing, so I drew up a training schedule with our head of PE Steve Luukkonen. In the end though, I probably only did half the amount of training I needed to do.

At 7.30 on the Sunday morning I arrived at Mall Road ready to run. The route takes you out to Everest House, the abandoned home of Sir George Everest, the Welsh Surveyor General of India from 1830 to 1843, the guy they named that big mountain after.

Born to run: At the finish with the chowkidars looking on (the crowd is behind the photographer)   KIRSTEN BEAVAN

Marathon Men: Ed with Woodstock's Head of PE and race winner Steve Luukkonen      KIRSTEN BEAVAN

Sadly his house is now a dilapidated wreck. It is around the halfway point of the half marathon, and up until then I felt OK. However, it was during the second 10K my lack of training kicked in. Running back to town there is a gentle incline which is a killer. I had to stop and walk some of the way, I must admit.

In the final mile there is a big hill (Mullingar Hill for those of you who know Mussoorie) which I had to walk up, as, to use a football manager's cliche, "there was absolutely nothing left in the tank".

My previous time for a half marathon was just under two hours, 1 hr 58 mins. However this was a flat course in Cardiff. This time, due to lack of training, hills, and altitude (7,000 ft!) I clocked 2:35, five minutes outside my aim of two-and-a-half hours. Still, it was pleasing to finish. There's always next year to try and clock sub two-and-a-half hours.

The aforementioned Steve won the race in a hugely impressive 1 hr 39 mins!

Cheeky Monkeys

In Mussoorie there are two types of monkeys. The rhesus are orangey brown with bright red butts, and should generally be avoided. They are aggressive towards people and scavenge food from bins around the school campus. Many of them were relocated down the valley recently, however this has had the effect of making the remaining ones even more aggressive.

Langurs on the other hand are greyish-white and a far more elegant type of monkey. They are vegetarian and eat leaves from the trees, and generally keep their distance. It's much nicer if a pack of langurs is on your roof than the rhesus.

Recently I was able to snap this langur outside our front door, and if you look closely you can see the baby langur hanging on to its mother's underside, having a drink of milk. It's great to have these amazing creatures right on our doorstep.

Drinking it in: A suckling baby langur         ED BEAVAN

Leaf off! Munching on the green stuff        ED BEAVAN

Thursday, 31 October 2013

India: Going Back in Time

Going Back in Time

My Swatch watch recently stopped. Yes, I know I'm probably a bit too old to have a Swatch, but I got attached to them during my teenage years and have had them ever since. Anyway, I was a bit gutted when it stopped the other day.

But the great thing about living in India is that everything is repaired or recycled. Not like in the West, where we just throw out a toaster or TV when it's broken and buy a new one. Here repair men still do a thriving trade, and most things are repaired or recycled, often in ingenious ways.

So I confidently took my Swatch to the watch repair man in the bazaar (see photos below). For some reason he sits in a little perspex box in a TV repair shop. Anyway, after about 20 minutes he returned my repaired watch for the princely sum of just 100 rupees (about one pound). I was delighted, my pride and joy had been restored!

Unfortunately my joy was shortlived. The next day strange things started to happen. My watch started going backwards, with the second hand going anti-clockwise. Then bizzarely, the actual watch face started to rotate backwards, with the numbers completely out of place. My watch was literally going back in time.

Sadly, this was the end of the road for this Swatch, and I ventured back to the bazaar and bought a flashy (fake) Emporio Armani watch, which will no doubt break soon.

But the moral of the story remains: re-use and recycle if you can.

The watch repair man destroying my Swatch

"I'm a living in a box": Watch repair guy's base

The box and the road at Landour bazaar

Here Comes the Sun (Nahi)

October is supposed to a gloriously beautiful month here in Mussoorie, with constant sunshine and views of the snow-capped Himalayan peaks. Visitors and alumni of the school flock back at this time to enjoy the Indian alpine experience.

Except this year it has just not happened. Monsoon went on interminably, from the 1 June to about last week. Then we had a few nice sunny days, and now the really cold weather has come in.

We have gone from Monsoon to Winter, without the sunny bit in between! It kinda sucks, as my American colleagues would say. Maybe it's a one-off, maybe it's down to changing climate conditions which have seen strange weather patterns everywhere.

The one positive is that we are getting a new, super-duper bukari (wood stove) soon, so that should keep us warm in this particularly cold Winter. It's due to arrive in the next six to seven days (not 67 days as I first understood!), so I'll blog about that next time.

A local man shelling beans by treading on them
Going Back in Time 2: A Week in a Himalayan Village

It was recently Activity Week at Woodstock, when the whole school has a week off classes and goes out into various parts of India for an outdoor education experience.

This year I accompanied a group of 15 Grade 9 (14/15-year-olds) students to a village in the Aglar River Valley, about a three hour drive from here.

Before we went, there were the expected moans from kids asking how they would survive away from the internet, computer games and TV for seven whole days. I, on the other hand, was rather looking forward to it.

Corn drying by a house
Our village was called Gaird, and staying there was a wonderful experience. Away from the distractions and obsession with modern technology, we taught at the local schools, helped the villagers harvest and shell their beans and chillies, tried our hand at ploughing with oxen, hiked in the surrounding hills and frolicked in the Aglar River for a day.

We were reminded how we take our food for granted and appreciated how hard some people have to work to get food on the table. Many of the villagers lost land in the recent severe rains in Uttarakhand.

We built up friendships with the villagers, were given the tastiest Indian khanna every day, and learnt to just enjoy having time to "be", not rushing around checking our mobile phones every two minutes.

Gaird village from above
We were the centre of attention for the village kids, and we also enjoyed demonstrations of local Garhwali dancing from the children, games of tug of war, arm wrestling and kabbadi with the guys.

By the end of it, even the kids agreed it was great to "go back in time" in a sense and experience a more simple way of life, where people who have much less materially yet seem in many ways a lot more content than those of us who are comparatively richer.

By the end of the week, we had all gone for seven days without the internet and a mobile phone, and guess what, the world didn't end!

Below are some photos of the week:

From generation to generation: Grandfather and grandson
On the pull: Tug of war
Just bought a yoke of oxen, trying them out!
View from above: local kids look down on the Woodstock kids
Buffalo Stance: Water bovine
Traditional Garhwali house with wooden arches
Our Woodstock group

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Monsoon Musings from Mussoorie

We've been back in Mussoorie for about a month now, living through the Monsoon season when it rains pretty much incessantly for about three months. It's dark, damp and dingy inside for most of the time, although when the mist clears it reveals some magnificent crisp views of the surrounding mountains. The trees and hills are a verdant green and there are ferns and flowers everywhere.

Although it's not that easy living here during Monsoon, we really have nothing to complain about compared to so many people in this region. You may have seen on the news how bad the Monsoon was here in June, when heavy rain caused flooding which killed thousands of people in places very close to Mussoorie. More than 5,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives, with some pilgrimage areas such as Kedarnath badly affected.

The school is responding by getting involved in long term aid projects in some of the nearby villages which were affected. We are also contributing to a fund to buy emergency bags of basic provisions for those affected. E mail me if  you would like to know how to donate to this fund.

Photo: Silver Linings - monsoon view from our house
Silver linings: The view from our window when the Monsoon mist clears PHOTO: KIRSTEN BEAVAN
Parlez-vous francais? Tu veux etre professeur?

For the first three weeks of term I have been spending most of my time in the classroom teaching French. The new French teacher at Woodstock had problems getting her visa, so I was drafted in at the eleventh hour to cover her lessons.

It's been a great experience and has made me have a new-found respect for teachers. This won't be news to those of you who are teachers, but teaching is HARD WORK! It takes a lot of preparation, patience, strength of character, and the classes themselves are draining, as you need to be up front and on your game. Kids will pick up on any inconsistencies, and at times try and take a mile if you give them an inch. One negative incident can derail a whole lesson, and when it goes badly it can be pretty demoralising, but when it goes well it's very satisfying!

Nothing new to all of you who are teachers, but an insight for me. Perhaps something for the future?

Fog blog: Away day blues

Back in the UK it's around about this time I'm dusting down my road atlas or booking trains for away day trips to Morecambe or Mansfield, or some such similar beautiful English towns, as I follow the mighty Southend United Football Club.

It's fair to say that following Southend United is one of the things I miss most (after family) about being away from the UK. The closest I got to a game when we were back in the summer was visiting the ground (see pic below).

Visiting the home of football: Chessy and Ed at Roots Hall PHOTO: SELF TAKE

So it was with great anticipation that I set off a few Saturdays ago to watch the first away match of the season, following the Woodstock senior boys team in the renowned Jackie tournament (no I'm not sure who Jackie is either), at the nearby St George's College.

This was different from an English league football match in just about every way. To start with, my method of transport to the trip was by scooter, and I weaved my way down through the steep roads of Mussoorie to the venue, avoiding cows, goats and the plethora of people always walking on the roads in India.

When I arrived it was not a surprise to hear the match was not kicking off at the scheduled time. This is India and things often run late. Koi baht nehi (no worries), it meant I could go and look round the school for a while.

The stony pitch at St George's ED BEAVAN

When we did get going about an hour later the most obvious difference was the pitch. Football is a game which should be played on grass. The pitch at St George's is gravel. Actually, that's an insult to gravel. The surface was in fact small stones, with huge puddles along the sidelines. Even Barcelona would struggle to play football on this surface, and although our boys tried, a passing game was never going to reap dividends here.

The other factor at play here was fog. I've been to games with fog back home, but this was swirling Monsoon mist, at times so thick you could not see the far goal from the halfway line. The picture below shows our coach Tim desperately trying to locate the players.

Our boys did well, but they were up against the St George's alumni team, so it was literally men against boys. We lost 2-0, although we didn't see the second goal because of the mist.

One of the most extraordinary sights of the day was the end of the preceding match to ours, when the coach of a boys team forced his players to do roly polys across the gravel pitch, because they had lost their game. In any other country this would be seen as a mild form of child abuse, here, it was shrugged off with the odd puzzled stare but nothing more.

So, like so many away trips with the Shrimpers, it was defeat and little to cheer about. But on the plus side it was only a half hour scooter trip home, and later on I managed to locate Accrington Stanley v Portsmouth on TV, which was a cracking game.

Spot the ball...players...anything? Coach Tim struggles to see ED BEAVAN

Anyone for Pembs?

We spent ten days of our summer holiday in Pembrokeshire, an area of South Wales which is without doubt one of the most beautiful parts of the UK.

We were truly blessed with the weather and enjoyed a heatwave as we basked in the sun on beautiful beaches and walked along the rugged coastline with its towering cliffs.

The holiday also coincided with an unprecedented summer of British sporting success, with Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the British and Irish Lions winning the rugby series down under, and the first test being clinched in dramatic fashion.

I would strongly recommend a trip to this part of the world if you ever get the chance (although I can't guarantee it will improve the sporting success of your nation!).

The stunning coastline in Pembrokeshire ED BEAVAN
Flagging up political tensions in Mussoorie

Last Thursday were the celebrations for Indian independence day, with flagraising ceremonies at Woodstock and across the country. Unfortunately, Mussoorie hit the headlines for the wrong reasons on this day, as the leaders of the two main parties, the BJP and Congress, squabbled like children over who should raise the flag. Watch all the gory details on the video below. As the article says, it would have been comic if it wasn't so sad and immature.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Ta-ta to Tata tea, Indian News Confusion and Various Other Bits and Bobs

Term has ended at Woodstock and we are winding down before a trip back to Blighty. I've completed my first full academic year at Woodstock, and have now been in India for 18 months! How time flies! It's been a great experience but I feel like I've only scratched the surface of trying to understand this great country. Anyway, here in no particular order are some more observations on life here:

Tata teabags and my favourite mug
Anybody For Tata Tea? No Thanks!

Tata is a huge Indian multinational company which has its fingers in lots of different pies, including companies making steel (it owns Corus in the UK), trucks, as well as having a hotels arm and a beverages division which makes tea.

Yes they have even tried their hand at teabags...I purchased some the other day. But unfortunately the tea they produce is pretty disgusting. My wife says it's probably leftovers from the factory floor...and as an Englishman obviously this is a big issue...tea needs to be tasty!

Although Tata is obviously excelling in its many business ventures across the board, posting profits of billions of pounds, I would encourage anyone in India to give their tea a wide berth and say Ta-ta to their teabags!

Read All About It: Indian News Confusion

As a journalist and news junkie I have missed the British press while living here. We do get BBC World News which is a good global perspective, but trying to watch the Indian news and read the national press here has proved unsatisfactory.

This is because it is largely incomprehensible to me. Indian television news is a horrendous experience, think Sky Sports News on steroids and you're only halfway there. It consists of incessant hyperbolic captions rolling across the screens while often four, five or six people are interviewed simultaneously, each shown on screen (see photo below). This leads to people just shouting over each other and the viewer being completely lost as to the point of the story, and gives you a headache.

The newspapers are not much better. Both TV and the press assume a certain level of knowledge and give precious little context. The headlines are full of acronyms and strange abbreviations, most of which I have no idea what they stand for. A recent copy of the Times of India, supposedly one of India's best papers (but not in reality), illustrates this well. Here are some of the headlines:
Screen overload: a typical shot from Indian TV news

IIT-B buries painful birthday bumps in the dumps
Channelize savings to fin assets, says PM
CSK CEO Gurunath 'missing', gets Mum cops' summons
53%: That's what this year's UPSC topper scored
Rlys gains as Lalu hires 13 special trains for RJD rally
Digvijaya slams SC, CAT for 'belittling' CBI and IB

No I haven't got a clue what most of the headlines meant either, even after reading the stories. Oh well, maybe in a few years' time I'll be a bit more au fait with the news lingo...although I'm not holding my breath!

And finally...

Finally, the BBC recently posted this list of ten things you may not know about India. The car horns have been covered on this blog...the spitting is another pet hate...below are some more observations on life here and links to a few other things.
A metal based meal in Mussoorie

  • I no longer shave at home, because it is so much easier to go the barber who will give me the closest shave for just 50 rupees every couple of weeks
  • Langurs are our friends (langurs meri sati), rhesus monkeys are not.
  • Food in restaurants in served on metal plates (see photo right), which gives dining a completely different feel.
  • Having already met the Dalai Lama and Sachin Tendulkar, I was lucky enough to interview Booker-winning author Kiran Desai who was in Mussoorie last month. Read my interview here. Who'd have thought I'd have met all these folk in the foothills of the Himalayas?!
  • Kirsten and I were also featured in the Guardian Weekly readers' column in April.
  • We often see donkeys on the road, delivering milk and weaving between cars and scooters (see pic below). They have bells on them which make a lovely sound as they walk. It's a reminder how India is modernising but many people still live by traditional, more simple methods.
  • My colleague Abe Okie and I made this mockumentary on food at Woodstock for a story festival here last month. You can watch it on the link below. Not wishing to sound vainglorious, but it is hilarious! Enjoy it if you watch it.

That's all for now folks! Have a great summer, whatever you're up to, and see some of you soon.

Dude delivering dood (milk) by donkey

Friday, 5 April 2013

Mapless Mountaineering, Mhododendrons and Marathons

Mapless Mountaineering

So I'm using the term mountaineering in the title which might be somewhat hyperbolic, but hey, it's nice alliteration. Anyway, we did finally do some hardcore hiking over our quarter break holiday, and walked up the nearby mountain Nag Tibba (literally Serpent's Peak), which stands at 3022 metres or 9915 feet. Seeing we are already at about 6500 feet it still meant a pretty hefty climb.

On the Saturday morning at about 11am after a two hour drive to the road head, Kirsten and I, my friend Mark visiting from England, and our good friends the Snader family set off. The walk up was delightful, following a beautiful stream through sunny meadows before zig zagging across the stream through the forest. The final hour was a particularly steep section and we were all relieved to reach our campsite about 300 metres below the summit at about 5pm.

We set up our tents, lit the fire and cooked some Maggi noodles (never before have they tasted so good!). We looked at the stars as we sat around the fire, sang songs and played silly games. It reminded me that being out in the Great Outdoors is such fun.

The whole group in the forest just before the top SELF TIMER
The next morning we got up and finished the ascent, and did the final steep part in about an hour. We discovered a generous smattering of snow at the summit. It felt great to have finally made it to the top of Nag Tibba, after hearing so much about it over the last couple of years. The views of the snow peaks were stunning and seemed even closer than from Mussoorie.

After this our friends the Snaders went down the way we came up, but Kirsten, Mark and I decided to try and go down the other (south) side of the mountain. Unfortunately in India maps seem hard to come by, partly because of security fears in this region. Makes you appreciate good old Ordnance Survey!

We were using directions scribbled down on a piece of paper from a colleague, but when we got to the stagnant pond landmark, we tried to descend but ended up just khud climbing. We missed the correct path and ended up hiking a couple of hours along a seemingly endless ridge in boiling sunshine, with no sign of a path down.

Eventually with water supplies almost depleted we turned round and decided to go back down the north side. A fast hike in fading light followed, but we made it to a beautiful clearing by the stream where we could replenish our water supplies.

The next day we continued our descent which included an ice dip in the stream for Kirsten and me, a tribute to our brothers-in-law Marks Bradby and Oden who would have been in there like a shot! It was ABSOLUTELY FREEZING as you can probably tell from the photo below!

It ain't half cold Mum: taking a dip in the mountain stream MARK CROSSLEY
The other plus side of coming back this way was the hospitality we received at Srikot village, our starting point, when we returned. With three hours to kill before our taxi arrived, the whole village turned out to come and say hello. A local shopkeeper and his family gave us tea and rice and dal for lunch, before his son taught us (and thrashed us) at the Indian board game Carrom, and then read his English textbook to us at some length.

After this lovely afternoon our taxi finally arrived and we made our way back to Mussoorie, exhausted but exhilarated after a wonderful time in the Great Outdoors, which I realised is "what I'm all about" (I kept saying this all weekend!!). Well as long as I know I'll be back in my comfy bed after a few days!!

The view of the Himalayan snows from the top KIRSTEN BEAVAN
Ed, Kirsten and Mark at the top of Nag Tibba

The rhododendrons have come out all over the hillside as they do every springtime here in Mussoorie, they look absolutely beautiful, clusters of red in the forest glade. Although the temperature seems to have dropped a bit, the days are beautiful and sunny and just so fresh. Here are some snaps of the rhododendrons in bloom:

Rhododendrons in the trees up near Echo Point ED BEAVAN

Confetti like leaves on the road near South Hill ED BEAVAN
Tigers run wild at the Corbett Marathon

Last month a group of us went down to Corbett National Park, about 300km south east from here but still in Uttarakhand, to take part in the third annual Corbett Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K and 5K races.

It is a beautiful part of the state and we were able to do a safari on the Friday before the race. Sadly we didn't see a tiger, but saw several elephants, deer, peacocks and myriad other birdlife.

The race itself was fantastic, I did the 10K and finished fifth out of a field of 50 just outside my personal best in 57 minutes. We ran along a quiet forest road by the park with the odd monkey looking on, accompanied by birdsong.

Our inspirational PE teacher and organiser of the trip Steve Luukkonen won the full marathon by a country mile, a fantastic feat after he was forced to quit the race last  year due to extreme heat.

A good time was had by all the Woodstock Tigers and I hope to do the half marathon next year.

Read more and view a slideshow of photos here

All the Woodstock runners STEVE LUUKONNEN

An elephant spotted on safari PHOTO: STEVE LUUKONNEN

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Chandigarh: The Milton Keynes of India

One of Chandigarh's many manicured roundabouts

After posting just twice this year I now find myself posting twice in a week! I'm becoming positively prolific!

Anyway, this post is about Chandigarh, a city five hours' drive from Mussoorie to the west. We went there last weekend to watch the cricket at the Punjab Cricket Association Ground at Mohali, just outside Chandigarh.

What's extraordinary about Chandigarh compared to every other city in India is that it's a planned city. As you cross the city you drive through different "sectors" over grassy, manicured roundabouts, with blocks of houses and flats and shops which make you feel like you're back in a planned city such as Milton Keynes or Welwyn Garden City in England.

A tree-lined street
It really is the most strange feeling, as it feels quite ordered, and almost makes you feel like you are not in India (however the bad driving and camels on the road soon remind you that you are!).

The city was built in the 1950s and designed by French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and was a pet project of the first Indian Prime Minister Nehru. It was built after partition in 1947 when a new capital for the state of Punjab was required to replace Lahore, which became part of Pakistan. It is now a union territory and serves as the capital of both the states of Haryana and the Punjab.

It's definitely worth a visit just because it's so different. I'm going back to visit its famous rock garden which sadly I did not have time to see this time.

Don't get the hump! A camel on the road in Chandigarh.

A row of houses in Sector 27, or is it Sector 37?!
Meeting MS Dhoni's biggest fan at the cricket in Mohali

Monday, 18 March 2013

Thailand, Tendulkar and Tomes


So finally, six weeks after our winter holiday in Thailand I am finally writing about it, apologies for the delay. Well, what can I say, it’s an amazing country, so much easier to travel round compared to India, mainly because you don’t get hassled every five seconds.

It is also clean, has beautiful countryside, lovely beaches and crystal clear sea…and the food is out of this world - so fresh and flavoursome.

Highlights included seeing the Death Railway at the Bridge Over the River Kwai, made famous by the film of the same name, the Erewan Waterfalls, New Year’s Eve in Bangkok - a bustling city full of energy - snorkelling centimetres from turtles off the west coast, and playing football golf in Ko Sumoi (!). It was great also to catch up with some old friends who are working in a church there.

It is little wonder Thailand is so popular with tourists (around 20 million came in 2012, the equivalent of the population of the country), apart from all of the above…everything is efficient, the roads are good, and it has all the creature comforts westerners can’t live without. There are 7 Eleven convenience stores on just about every street corner in urban areas!

For hardcore travellers India is much more demanding…people everywhere, trying to sell you something, help you, transport you, scam you…

This is not to say I don’t love my current country of residence. But “India is just soooo not Thailand”, as I posted on my Facebook page when we first arrived!

Me and Mr T in the Woodstock gym

Unless you live under a rock in India, you will be aware Sachin Tendulkar is an extremely famous cricketer. Think of footballer David Beckham in England and then multiply it by about a million.

Tendulkar has idol status, he is literally worshipped here. India’s outstanding batsman of the last 15 years, he recently became the first cricketer to achieve 100 first class centuries.

So it was somewhat bizarre to be singing Christmas carols to him at a Christmas dinner party here in Mussoorie.

Mr Tendulkar was up here with his family for a holiday. He trained everyday in our school gym preparing for the next set of test matches, and I was lucky enough to join him in bowling to his son.
He seemed like a nice enough chap and was kind enough to pose for a photograph.

We chatted briefly and I asked him if he fancied coming over to play for my team Essex in England, but he said he had received offers to come to England but his body could not take the rigours of country cricket these days. He reminded me he was the first non-Yorkshireman to play for Yorkshire, and when I asked who he thought was the best current England player, said: “Well, he’s not actually English, but it’s the South African Kevin Pietersen.” Touche Sachin! 

He was certainly pushing his son very hard, who seemed to have some talent, so who knows, I may have bowled to a future Indian cricket star following in his father’s footsteps!

I saw him in action this weekend in Mohali during the third test versus Australia. Sadly he only posted 31 runs, but it was still an experience to see him bat, and the crowd reaction to him. Every time he nudged even a single the crowd would go wild as if he'd hit a six! He was overshadowed by debutant Shikar Dhawan who made 187 on his Test bow! Perhaps the next great Indian cricketer!

Sachin (right) exiting field at Mohali Test match versus Australia

I have a massive pile of books on my bedside table but for I’m always so tired during term time I make little headway through them. During our holiday though I managed to get through four excellent books about India or by Indian authors.

Firstly I read Train to Pakistan which is a grisly novel based on the ethnic tensions that flared up in 1947 during the partition of India and Pakistan. I then moved onto All the Way to Heaven by Steve Alter, a Woodstock alumnus who still lives on the hillside. The book chronicles his upbringing as a Third Culture Kid, son of missionaries here in the 1950s and 60s. His childhood is very similar to my wife Kirsten’s upbringing here, and so many of the details, the flora, fauna and challenges faced by a white person who isn’t quite sure where they are from, made for a fascinating read.

I then read The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh which is an excellent historical novel of the history of Burma and India under colonialism in the late 19th and early 20th century. I then picked up Booker winning tome The God of Little Things by Arundhati Roy set in southern India, not a bad read but quite sad. And I am halfway through another Booker-winning book - The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, who is coming to the school in May as Writer-in-Residence.

Sadly the book I had hoped to read eluded me…my darling wife stole Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children at the beginning of the holiday!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Show's over folks: A diary of the staff musical at Woodstock

Howdi folks,

Sorry it's been so long since I last posted. We had our long Winter break which saw us spend a lovely month in Thailand, before we returned to Mussoorie and were immediately plunged into rehearsing for the staff musical, You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, which took over our lives for two weeks.

I played the role of Linus and below is a diary I wrote of the whole experience. Enjoy! Proper web post on India to follow soon, I promise.

A shot during the "Glee Club" scene, Ed (Linus) with blue blanket in the second row, Kirsten (Patty) second from left in front row PHOTO Nan Onkka
The Secret Diary of Linus

28 September 2012
Did my audition for the staff show…not sure how well it went. I sang Any Dream Will do from the musical Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat, using my dressing gown (a hand-me-down from former staff member Kathy Hoffmann) as my “multi-coloured coat”. Unfortunately as I went to throw it off it got tangled in my legs, causing much hilarity. Then in the dance audition I got annoyed and nearly gave up as my general lack of co-ordination led to frustration in the try-out. I wonder if I’ll get a part?!

9 October
I got a part! I will play Linus in the show, the kid with a security blanket from the Peanuts cartoon. Turns out my disastrous audition worked in my favour! We will start rehearsing in December, a week before the winter break. My wife Kirsten will play the part of Patty, so it’s fun to be in a production together. There are 16 of us in total in the cast, representing India, the US, the UK and New Zealand, with a good mix of teaching, residential and administrative staff involved.

1 December
Started rehearsals today, doing a read-through of the whole show. It’s very funny! All this week we’ll be practising the songs and our particular parts - I am a tenor.

20 January 2013, Ko Sumui, Thailand
Ran into Woodstock teachers Jessie Versluys and Sachi Angel in Ko Sumui today! Went for lunch with them and told them about our progress for the show. I have been trying to learn my part by listening to recordings I have made on my dictaphone, as I sunbathe. Really need to work on my blanket dance. I’m getting a bit nervous as our director and drama teacher at Woodstock, Bethany Okie (a professional actress), has very high standards, and I need to be ready to hit the ground running when we get back to Mussoorie.

26 January
Arrived back last night after catching the Mussoorie Express overnight train. Feeling pretty shattered but had a six-hour rehearsal today, “blocking” all the scenes, which means working out where you will be standing during the performance. Was pretty intense but it was good to see everyone.

Lucy (Meredith Dyson), Linus (Ed Beavan) and Patty (Kirsten Beavan) PHOTO: NAN ONKKA
28 January

Math teachers Zach Conrad and Paul Morrill and parent Craig Wiggins have started working on the set which is starting to take shape very quickly - they are master craftsmen. Meanwhile teachers Mike and Mary Ellen Pesavento and their two hardworking daughters Elizabeth and Juliana are working like Trojans on the lighting and sound, and various other technical aspects of the show. Judy Crider has stepped up to be stage manager which is great.

2 February
Just five days until our first performance, we have been rehearsing every evening after our staff training days. We did our first full run-through today which didn’t go too badly apart from a few people forgetting their cues. I have been having voice coaching lessons with English teacher Paul Roberts as I need to project my voice more to be heard. Bethany has given me free rein to improvise on the blanket dance as long as I just smile at the audience! I think I’ve nailed it now… It’s so bad it’s good!

6 February
Our final dress rehearsal went well. Behind the scenes lots of people are helping out with final set designs and props. Minda Philips, mother of SAGE student Maggie, has been a great help, while Elizabeth Pesavento has created an amazing bust of Beethoven for the Beethoven Day song. Director Bethany’s attention to detail is outstanding, she is working extremely long hours to finish everything off.

7 to 9 February
We did it! Two evening performances and one matinee on the Saturday afternoon were an absolute blast! It was such fun, and having the audience interaction added an extra dimension…happily everyone seemed to enjoy it! All the audiences were awesome, particularly the second night when they got up to dance during the finale – we all left the stage buzzing. It was interesting to see how different age groups reacted to different gags…obviously the younger kids enjoyed the slapstick moments more.

After the final show Dr Long and his wife Sue very generously hosted an aftershow party at their house. I was lucky enough to pick up the “biggest surprise” award, while Devan Landseidel picked up the “princess” award for his outstanding turn as Snoopy, and pianist Jessie Huang won “hero” award for the long hours put in learning the music and playing at every rehearsal, as well as being an outstanding accompanist for the actual performances.

Quite frankly everyone in the cast and all those who helped in any way deserve to be recognised. The show could not have happened without all the Woodstock community rallying round to help, and was a testament to the hard work of so many people here.

I would wholeheartedly encourage everyone, whether student or staff, to get involved in a drama performance if you get the chance. It’s an absolutely fantastic experience, and it will help you get to know colleagues much better.

So, who’s for a Woodstock production of Les Miserables next year?!

The final pose at the end of the show PHOTO: Nan Onkka