What’s with these fire alarms…

On Friday, we had a fire alarm going on in the school just before the school was about to start. Thankfully, not many kids were in the building. The steam from the Kettle in the kitchen was the culprit. Having done the recent Fire Marshal Training and being nominated as one of the Fire Marshals, it wasn’t easy to remember to herd all the kids and not to mention the school dog, through Fire Exits and stand there freezing in the cold until it was all sorted.

On Saturday, we were back home after a quick trip to Central London for shopping and were relaxing watching Taggart when the fire alarm in our apartment went off. What with all the fire incidents that have been going recently, we had to rush out with our essentials (phone, wallet and a jacket) and were waiting and wondering what caused it. Looks like someone smashed the fire alarm box on a floor below us. Thankfully, the fire engines (almost 4 of them) arrived within 5 minutes and checked all the floors and ensured us that nothing was amiss and let us in. We were outside standing in the freezing cold for almost 15 minutes until all was sorted. If only I could get hold of that person who did that. Wonder why they did it. Some thought that it was a prank by some drunk person. It was just 7 pm for god’s sake. I guess we should be happy that it wasn’t 2 am or such. I would be happy to not to hear those alarms for a long time now.

That day when my heart almost gave up on me

In most of the tube stations here in London, we do not have stairs. We always have the escalators or a lift. I try and take the stairs when and where available and if it’s easily accessible too. One day on my way to school, I decided to use the Hampstead station route. I have been through this station and always noticed that no one ever uses the stairs, not that I had noticed one anyway. That day for some reason I saw the sign to go through the stairs and it was kind of tucked in a corner. That should have blinked the red lights…but I can be colour blind sometimes and I wondered why do I have to wait for those lifts (one of the four was out of order)? Let me just climb the stairs. It said, “There are 320 steps and do not use it unless it is an emergency”. Now we know that those are standard legal terms that they write everywhere. 320 isn’t much, is it? So I just started climbing the stairs.

Slowly and steadily as I climbed step by step my mind started to realize that there wasn’t anyone else climbing other than moi and then it slowly began to realize that there was a reason for that number 320 and the steps being tucked away in a corner. I must have climbed almost halfway through it when my heart decided that enough is enough. I literally thought it would stop breathing. I had my asthma inhaler with me, but I had already used my reliever one in the morning so there shouldn’t be a need for me to use one for another 12 hours minimum.

I thought I must be halfway already and there would be no point going down and taking the lift, so I might as well just climb the remaining stairs albeit very very slowly. In order to divert my brain from the panic rising in my heart, I started imagining a scenario where I am closer to the end of the stairs, even though when I looked up I could only see more steps curling and curling with no end, and that people are waiting for me with a camera and a mic and giving a live commentary about how close I was to making it through…yadda yadda yadda… I saw myself finally climb those last few steps and those people looking at me like I am a fool to even attempt it but then also praising me for my valiant efforts on completing it. With those scenes playing in my mind and willing my heart to give it’s all (I haven’t made my will yet… and I wanted to be conscious when I finally reach to make one) I finally made it. I almost crawled the last few steps. There wasn’t a soul around to see me and if there was one, they must have thought me a numpty to even attempt such a thing.

My legs almost gave up on me and that wasn’t the end of it. I still had to reach my school which was another 10 mins of drive from there by bus. I ended up having another dose of my inhaler and couldn’t speak for almost half of the day. My throat was all scratchy from trying to breathe. One of my colleague who saw me in such a bizarre state asked about it and I told her about my expedition of the day and she said that Hampstead was the steepest of the climbs and that is why people do not use the stairs in that station. I felt so dumb. Not my finest Monday I should say. My thinking was all muddled up that morning (I will blame the weekend!)

A couple of weeks later, one of my colleague came in the bus I was in and she almost fell down getting to her seat. On enquiry, she said that she just climbed the 320 stairs which she hadn’t known was that steep and it almost killed her. I sat back a little relieved that I wasn’t the only one 😉

What’s your name? … What!?!?

All of you know that I use a pseudonym for my blogging. Which I think sounds much better than my real name or so I think. My real name (first name + last name) has 24 letters in it. Yeah, just two short of the total alphabet set, but thankfully not all of the alphabets are used. It is not an uncommon name, but it is definitely pronounced wrongly even by most South Indians because it kind of rhymes with a God’s name who is a male deity. My last name (which is my dad’s) is not a common one and it is quite lengthy too. I didn’t think my name would give me stories to tell about until I moved here.

I had to fill up some government applications for which I had to first call them up and give them my details. I did spell out my name, all 24 letters and all, but when the postal application came through, my name on the address had the worst spelling ever. All my ‘a’ was replaced with ‘ay’ and the next letters missed. All in all, except for a few letters which cannot go wrong, all the other letters were wrong. We had a good laugh at that and were thankful that they chose to not fill the form with that name and let me write it. Small mercies.

Next came the gym. When I went there to enquire about the membership I told the guy at the helpdesk that I had been using their gym during my other trips using the weekly passes so I would be on their system. He asked me for my name and when I told him, he asked me to spell it. When I started on my last name after say about 6/7 letters he said ‘that should be enough. I am sure there wouldn’t be anyone else with that surname for sure’ and voila! there I was on their system. He looked at my documents and asked me why I haven’t taken my husband’s name which is much smaller and easier to pronounce. I told him that we weren’t looking to do that and this way we can have some fun looking at people’s responses. He then asked me how long it took my husband to learn my name. Not too long actually. Even though he is Irish, he is aware of Indian culture, religion etc…so he did pick up my name and its meaning faster.

One consultant who called up called me by a totally different name (I think he shortened my first name, but still it sounded so different) and I had to ask him twice before confirming that it was indeed me, even though I don’t go by that name and then continue the conversation.

I know that this is just the beginning and there will be so much more incidents to come. I can’t wait for it. I am gonna carry a small paper with my full name and what they can call me instead, like a visiting card. I think that will be much easier considering the alternative. My husband (I better refer to him as Mr. M from now on) suggested me to learn the NATO Phonetic Alphabet which will come in handy when I have to spell them out so that ‘a’ will remain ‘a’ and not get modified to something like ‘i’ or ‘y’.

Devil or Angel ? : Check your mirror

The things I undergo while driving, especially being a woman driver. It is indeed a tough job and an interesting one too. Let me start with what happened today.

I was on my way to the office and I “wasn’t” rash or fast or even ruthless (which I sometimes am. I will come to that in a bit) because there wasn’t enough space to do all those things ( 😉 ). And then suddenly the uncle before me stops all of a sudden and well there is that ripple effect you read about when something like that happens (like the falling of dominoes). So I was left with no option to press my brake (very hard actually) to avoid hitting the uncle before me. And then I hear it. Bham!!! For a second I thought that my pressure on my brake wasn’t enough and I really did hit the front car. But then I see a small gap and then I realized that the sound came from somewhere behind. I turned around and there he was, a guy in a bike, waving his sorry through my window. Now what do I do? I calmly say OK and went ahead. Why? Because even though he did hit me, it was just an accident where none were harmed. He sure was a little close (there was another bike fellow who did turn at the last minute from hitting me I think) but all he did was react to my braking and being in a two wheeler you cannot always escape that small gap and you indeed brush against the car’s mudguard. He looked at me with so much thanks and went ahead.

Now rewinding to a month before, the same thing happened with me, infact that time, I did hit the mudguard of an autorickshaw. It was a very huge traffic jam and there wasn’t an inch of space and this auto had come in between from another side before my vehicle. Now what do you think was the reaction of the auto fellow? Well, he saw that I am a woman and so he got down and started shouting that I was driving rashly (even if I wanted to do that I couldn’t because I couldn’t even go in my 2nd gear) and all that. All I did was put on a face as if he was shouting at someone else other than me and looked at him without any reaction to his words. And everyone else asked him to go ahead because he was blocking the traffic (and there wasn’t a single scratch in his auto) and there he went cursing me all the way. The auto fellow’s I have seen would go quietly if the driver had been a man because they would give as good as they get at times and  since I, a woman, am not that aggressive with face to face confrontation unless if there is a real hurt, they tend to try to prove their ‘power’. But then, don’t start feeling sorry for me yet, I am about to tell you how things turn out if I really feel very aggressive.

I have had incidents where people look closely and see that a woman is driving and tend to either take advantage of it thinking that ‘oh yeah!! she wouldn’t know how to handle if I take a turn suddenly or if I cross the road before her…’ Trust me, I have almost hit people who tried to do that and without any regrets 🙂 One day while coming back from a brunch with friends, there was this traffic signal that turned green so I had just picked up speed and on the opposite lane there was this auto fellow who was planning to take a U turn and was waiting for the cars before mine to pass and once he saw I was a woman he was all roaring his vehicle to pass it before me. I signaled him and without reducing my speed I kept driving on. We locked eyes and he almost went ahead with his turn ignoring me, but then something devilish must have sparkled in my eyes because he stopped a mere inch and I passed without even a small decrease in my speed. I was all ready to hit him that day, even a visit to the local police station was looking all good for me. Because a) he was doing a U turn out of his turn b) I had signaled him and he had ample time to wait and in spite of all these if he was ready to take the risk, I was game. On the same day, after some time, there were these two young guys who were waiting to cross the road. Till my car on their vicinity, they stood quietly for vehicles to pass (that is the norm here and they were not standing on the crossing line too). But one among the two saw that I was driving (a woman), gave me a smile and started crossing (ignoring his friend’s calls) almost before my car. Well, I was the she-devil that day, so I gave a smile back and a shake of my head indicating that I am not sparing him and luckily (for him) he stopped and let my car pass. My friends were appalled and were wondering why people behaved like that to me. And that wasn’t the only time I have had this experience. It happens every other day and every other day, I am resolved to not let these people scare me and I react as cool as a cucumber 😉 which unnerves them. And thankfully and touch wood, I haven’t had a single incident except for the ones that involves auto’s , where I even brushed anyone else.

I have had enough arguments with people who say women drivers are worse or they are funny or anything like that. I have seen enough stupid male drivers too in my life so I will never say that only women drive badly. Some people are just bad drivers, irrespective of being men or women. And if people want to take me for granted because I am a woman, I won’t think twice to pull the ‘i-am-a-woman-so-i-am-a-bad-driver’ card and hit you and not regret it for a second and may be add a flutter of eye lids for more effect (I hate and despise that action actually). I may not be a great driver, but I am a very considerate and safe driver unless you provoke me otherwise.

So next time if you are trying to break the law and play a game with me in driving just because I am a woman, think twice and unless you value your life, I would advice to refrain from proceeding ahead. I will only be your mirror.