Wel, I am now the (proud) owner of a spare pair of specs, for the first time for many years, given their extortionate price in Europe. Did I say 'proud'? Well er, no. I made a disastrous choice of frames (blame it on my shortsightedness); they are absolutely hideous and I look like a dragon.
In theory I was doing a very sensible thing. I took the ferry for the thirty-minute trip to the mainland (less than 3 rupees - about 3p) to Ernakulam, intending to buy specs and get a copy made of my favourite trousers.
On the boat I sat next to a much tattooed Welshman in his fifties who lives here for half the year. He says that after a lifetime of travelling he has found inner peace here and feels it is his true home'. His friends are all locals and he is no longer regarded as a tourist.
After the relative calm of Kochi, Ernakulam comes as a bit of a shock: it is yet another noisy, frenetic Indian city. I took a rickshaw to 'Lens and Frames' the specs shop recommended by my hotel and was relieved to find a modern shop, not unlike the ones in Europe. I explained I wanted large lenses, as my current specs are too small to give enough protection against bright sunlight. I chose a pair with dark lenses in (my mistake, as I didnt take in that they have hideous black frames when my photochromatic lenses are not dark). I was then given an efficient eye test, measured for the specs and given the price for photochromatic, non-glare, varifocal lenses: 9000 rupees (about 100 pounds) - a third of what I paid last time in Britain. I was told to come back at 7 in the evening to collect them.
Then I realised I had left my credit cards back in the hotel, so instead of looking for cloth, I had to go back to the island to fetch them. The evening was a bit of a nightmare, as I couldn't find the shop. Three rickshaw drivers later I tracked it down just before closing time and after collecting my specs all I wanted to do was get back to the island.
Queuing for my ferry ticket (in the ladies' queue) I held out my coins to the girl in front of me and by signs asked her how much the fare was. She pointed at 2.50 rupees and helpfuly paid for mine along with her thre tickets - another small example of the friendliness of Indians.
The local ferry is a bit scary to take; it is just like the buses: these basicaly calm tranquil people suddenly become maniacs, pushing and shoving to get on. Worse, there is quite a gap between the quay and the boat, with nothing to hang onto when you jump.
I found myself sitting next to the girl from the queue and her two friends, one of whom spoke a little English, so we spent a happy half an hour 'talking' to each other. The girls come from Kochi and commute to Ernakulam every day to work in a textiles shop (from Monday to Saturday, 9.30 to 7) and were looking forward to their Sunday off. When I asked if they were married, they said no, their families could not afford a dowry.