Letters for my kids to read in the future, from around the world now

Archive for the tag “history”

Not being able to use cash in India

Dear G & B (and bump),
I’ve spent the past week or so in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune enjoying the heat whilst it hits zero degrees at home.

Mumbai skyline

There is some crazy stuff going on in the world at the moment. 2016 has been a funny old year, but I don’t know how much of this will make the upper rankings of history books, so by the time you read these letters, you will need to scour the web to look them up:
1) The UK left the European Union (“what is the European Union” you ask…?)
2) Donald Trump, a businessman/celebrity/nutter has been elected as President of the most powerful nation on earth
3) Lots of icons have died: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Terry Wogan. I suppose this happens every year, but it seems to have been a bumper crop.
4) There was a demonetisation policy in India
I’ve been experiencing number 4 first hand as it unwinds. Essentially, the Prime Minister (Mohdi) announced at 8pm on 8th November that all 500 and 1000 Rupee notes would no longer be legal tender as of midnight that night and just then be taken to banks to be exchanged for new 500 and 2000 notes. Crazy move and something we in the UK would know would cause chaos (and it has) but there is method in the madness: There are 1.3 billion Indians and only 20 million of them pay tax. That is one hell of a black economy and he is trying to reduce it. All those people that deal in cash now have to declare it. If they declare a significant amount that they’ve been stashing under their mattress the government will ask why, fine them and look into their dealings. Overnight (literally) he has made people have to legitimise their businesses and savings.
In practice, there has been pandemonium and it has hit the poor the most as cash has suddenly become scarce and they have no other way of paying or things. If people get hold of  (new) cash they are holding onto it as the queues at banks and cash machines are huge, taking people all day. Even when you get to the front you can only withdraw the equivalent of £50! It is an exercise in patience and I admire the Indian people for that.

Queues at the ATMs. This is actually a very small, orderly one compared to most

I queued for 2 hours to exchange currency when I landed at Delhi airport, which turned out to be pointless – nobody wants to accept my crisp new notes unless they can give me old shitty ones that I can’t then use! I have had to use cards and online payments entirely for a whole week and it certainly makes you plan in advance.
Enough of the economic update. I had great day looking around Pune (used to be called Poona and was where the sport of Badminton was invented) at the old Fort and some of the markets. Beautiful colours, terrible smells, but a nice afternoon adventure. There are a lot of stray dogs and stray people, but neither of them bother this obvious fish out of water, they just get on with getting on.
Some images of the Phule Manai (market) and Fort:

I’m now back in yet another airport lounge in France waiting for my connection back to the UK and you little rascals. I just got sent videos of you both performing the alphabet to camera: G is spot on and quite the little thespian, B’s attempt was full of enthusiasm and interpretative movement rather than accuracy. I’m smiling from ear to ear.


A Pune sunset


Dad x


Summer Palace, Beijing








Dear G and B

At the beginning of December I hopped over to China for a week, first to Shanghai and then on to Beijing. For the first time in many visits the pollution was all but gone and the skies were clear – I even managed a run around Peoples Square in Shanghai and the air didn’t even taste of battery acid….

Because it was clear, although minus 8 in the wind, I decided to use up an afternoon’s free time to look around the Summer Palace, one of the few main tourist attractions in Beijing I haven’t seen before. I guess it is better in the summer, but I figured I could escape the crowds there and by this point in my trip, that in itself was attractive enough to warrant a visit.

The palace is actually made up of many buildings that surround a lake, all from slightly different eras. It would have been more impressive, but most of it was burnt to the ground by us Brits during the opium wars and has since been reconstructed. It was bitterly cold and I didn’t have any gloves, so after the second hour I lost patience and trooped off, but I think I saw most of it by then and had a nice, contemplative time in the process.

The most impressive structure is the Incense Tower which looks down upon the rest of the palace from atop a hill and is an ornate circular pagoda. It has amazingly steep and symmetrical twin staircases that run down each side to lake level with some covered with beautifully decorated roofs. Walking down them was a joy. At the (semi frozen) lake there were some food stalls and trinket sellers where I bought a coffee and browsed for gifts, but was slightly put off by the vacuum packed chickens feet. I’m sure they are a delectable cold snack for on the hoof as it were.

Afterwards I had a meeting around 60km north of Beijing so took the metro to the end of the line where I waited for a lift to pick me up. It was like post-war China; bleak, grey, flat landscape with communist style buildings and very little else. People stared at me from their cars and I felt quite uneasy – not the China I have become used to and I was glad to get out of there before I saw some kids riding pigs and pointing at planes overhead…

I had a great night out with a colleague around HoHai lake in a converted hutong made into a bar that sold various Belgian beers with a live band. He had had a tough week as his wife and baby had been knocked off their bike back home and we’re in hospital briefly, so it was good to unwind at the end of a trip. Nothing is as good as coming home to you two though.



Why do my clothes always smell so ba……ah! #china

A quick whizz around Mexico

Panorama showing pyramid of the sun

Panorama showing pyramid of the sun

Dear G and B

In November I took part in a GREAT week, which is part of the Foreign Office’s current marketing of the UK to other countries for trade purposes. It involves taking a group of companies overseas on a mission and networking across various sectors and with government, etc. This one was focused on the creative industries and was in Mexico.

It started in Mexico City which I haven’t visited for three years and is a city I really like. It is far more developed than I expected first time around and sprawls on and on, so when you are driving through the city it simply seems like an endless mass of four storey buildings. But it is alive and, edgy and great fun. Work involved a lunch in one of the city’s tallest buildings and there was a stunning 360 view right out to the surrounding mountains which really showed the scale and that it lies in an old lake. Apparently the city is sinking, actually quite fast, because of the soft ground it is built on. That evening we had a drinks reception at the British ambassador’s residence which was really rather nice – a whiskey tasting bar, a beautiful house and lots of talk with diplomats about the world’s woes.


Our tour took us to Puebla, Guadalajara and Queretaro all of which seemed quite nice (mountains of Puebla, old town of Guadalajara and beautiful old squares of Queretaro) but we didn’t have much time to stop and look around as it was a full on week of work. The organisers really got their money’s worth from us. One day I got up at 4am and was still working at 10pm that night. Coupled with travel it was an exhausting time. One evening in Guadalajara we went out to an old Cantina where elderly gents played piano and sang traditional songs whilst drinking tequila in a very rustic atmosphere. It was a genuine Mexican pub equivalent. I ordered snacks and got pickled pigs knuckle, which I wasn’t expecting. Maybe I need to work on my Spanish.

After a week of mixed success I made it back to MC on Friday evening and had a day to kill before my flight home. That evening I went to the Arena Mexico to watch the Luce Libre, or traditional wrestling. The atmosphere was amazing and the (obviously faked) matches were a hoot. The crowd got really excited by it all and seemed to take it quite seriously, standing and shouting out whatever they liked all the time. Great theatre. I had heard of the mesoamerican pyramids outside of the city before and decided to head there on Saturday instead of hanging around the city. They are collectively called Teotihuacan (meaning place where gods are born), which was established in about 100 BC and was around for about 8 centuries, at one time probably the largest city in the Americas, with about 150,000 people living there. I stopped off at a shop on the way selling carvings and souvenirs and learned about the local cactus, which natives used to get water from, brew an alcohol from and use for fibres to sew and weave with. It even has a built in needle to use – amazing. The pyramids themselves are joined up by boulevards, plazas and various other structures and I was totally blown away by it all – I wasn’t expecting it to be so well maintained and so dramatic. Lovely, clear hot weather and quite hard work walking up and down the main pyramids,especially the massive pyramid of the sun. Easy to imagine a civilisation living, working and practising their human sacrifices, lopping off heads with blood pouring down the steep sides of the structures.

Getting sacrificed

Getting sacrificed

There are local merchants dotted around the place selling trinkets and I picked up some clay whistles for you, shaped like a cougar and a colourful bird. I got myself some sun burn.

Luce Libre!

Luce Libre!

The flight home was a killer: 12 hours on Aeromexico in a terrible plastic seat with no movies. Thank god for iPads.



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