Drama on the beach

The house we are staying in here on the beach in southern Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed in. It is called Thalassa and, as the name suggests, is by the water. It is a big sprawling house with high ceilings, wooden floors, fans and comfy places to read (or write) books all around the property.

As I write this I am listening to the waves. Every day the kids have been body surfing, we have walked up and down the beach with the three dogs, and explored the rocks at the end of our beach.

This morning started out just the same. At one stage I headed back home with Bea and Leo, stopping for a quick body surf en route. The sea was a little rougher than usual. I had seen a group of people by the rocks and said to Olivia “they’re too far out”.

Just as I got to the garden gate Olivia ran to tell me Ria, a friend who is with us, told her to run and get help. “There’s a woman drowning,” she said.

I asked the staff in the house to call an ambulance and ran back out to see what I could do. The beach was filling up with people, friends of the missing lady, locals, stray dogs, all running towards the rocks near to where the group had been swimming. Ria had told a couple of locals to get a boat and we saw them first run past the house and then row out towards the rocks.

One of the friends of the lady told us the lady had been swimming with a couple, a huge wave had washed them all out to sea, the man had managed to grab his wife and pull her towards the shore, but not the other lady.

The whole group waited anxiously for the boat to arrive, one young local man braved the waves on a surf board to try to reach her. A group, her boyfriend included, went to the rock, I kept the children off it, and at one stage Ria told us they could see her floating in the water, face down. But still we all hoped that she would somehow come out alive.

The boat finally reached her and we all walked along the beach to meet it. Ria asked if either of the men on the boat had phones. No was the answer. She wanted to explain how to try to revive the lady. I took the children into the house while the rest of the group carried on down the beach. After about half an hour Ria came back.

“There was no hope,” she told us. “It was obvious when they pulled her from the boat there was nothing we could do.” Despite this two people did try to resuscitate her, but to no avail.

We are all still in shock. It is so horrible to think that the beautiful sea (pictured above) we have frolicked in all week and admired has killed someone. I can’t imagine how her poor family is feeling, hearing that their loved one has died in this holiday paradise. Of course all I could think about was that it wasn’t any of the children. I can’t imagine the panic and fear, thinking of them being lost in those waves, in that vastness, the immense sea, with barely any hope of finding them alive.

Needless to say we are staying away from the sea for the rest of the day, all grateful and happy to be together.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

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Another grand day

OK so I know I said in the last blog that it’s amazing how little you can get done on holiday, but after a week in Europe I’m amazed at what we have actually achieved.
Yesterday we drove from Pezenas to Rome (I use the term ‘we’ loosely, I drove about 40 minutes of the ten hours. Prior to that we had packed all of this and more into a week:
Swimming naked in a river
Playing badminton in my underwear (is that progress?)
Playing tennis (by said river). Several times.
Shopping in Zara (in Geneva and Annecy)
Watching masses of Wimbledon
Staying with good friends Norrie and Mary
Staying with good friends Simon and Julie (and Julie, I dedicate today’s picture to you)
Staying with good friends Jean-Claude and Alex (Jean-Claude of wine-making fame whose wine is in Love in a Warm Climate)
Staying with my seemingly ageless in-laws
Playing tennis on a clay-court in Pezenas
Reading almost half a book
Eating my first plate of proper Italian pasta in Lucca
Seeing my lovely mother and Swedish cousins I have not met since I was a child

And today of course is the Mens’ Wimbledon Final, so how better to end this blog than with a gorgeous picture of the 2011 champion (we hope).


We are on holiday. I don’t know why we don’t spend more time on holiday, it is quite wonderful.

As soon as we got to our friends Norrie and Mary’s the children did what they long to do in Abu Dhabi bu can’t, ran through a lush green field. It was one of the happiest sights I have seen. I called the photo ‘Heaven’ but I sent it to my mother who came back with ‘Freedom’ which I think is better.

We had all talked about the first thing we were going to do when we got there was. Apart from running in the field, the children were going to see the rabbits. I was going to lie on the lawn, something I didn’t achieve until the end of the second day. It’s amazing how little you can get done on holiday, I have been trying to post a letter since I got here (sorry Jacques). But I have managed to swim (naked) in two rivers, play some good tennis, drink too much wine, watch Wimbledon and have a dreamy dinner in a candle-lit cave with old friends.

We are in the Languedoc where we are having a series of “one-nigh-stands” staying with my in-laws and friends. The children are also spending a night with Chantal and Gilbert. Chantal was our childminder right from when we first moved here in 2000 to the day we left in 2008. Apart from immediate family and close friends I can’t think of anyone who loves them more. It will be interesting to see how they communicate though as the children have resolutely refused to keep up their French and Chantal speaks not a word of English. I figure it will be a kind of language and love immersion and they will be fine. All that French must be there somewhere?

It is so nice to be back, and the good thing about only staying one night with people is they don’t get fed up with you. And traveling with three children there is always that danger. Although I would love to have had more time. It has been so nice watching the little ones recognise things, chatting to their grandparents (Leo and my father-in-law Peter had a lot of cricket talk to catch up on) and feeling so at home. It made me realise how important it is that we come back every year.

Next we head off to Italy to see my mother. It will be great to get there but I am not looking forward to the drive and the six million ‘are we there yets’ along the way.

But at least there will be green fields to run through when we eventually get there.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2011

Things I have discovered

It was Shakespeare who said that no traveller returns, meaning that when you go away you come back a different person. We are now well into our holiday and I have learned a few things about myself and life in general.

I have learned that I want to live in a country where the waiters have summer houses. At dinner in Paris the other night we were served by a charming waiter aged around 50 who had a summer house in the Var. I felt this was a sign of a civilised country.

Rupert’s grandmother Kitty said one should always stay in the best hotel in town. I would say that you should never stay in a hotel where you don’t want to steal the bathroom products.

Finally I have discovered that Wales is a very nice place. This is my first visit here and I know that the weather (constant sunshine) has been extremely unusual, but we have liked it so much we may come back next year. I think this has more to do with the friends we are staying with though than the weather, however good it has been.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Three in the morning stress

I suppose if you have to be awake at 3am there are worse places to be. I am sitting on a rooftop terrace in Paris with an (albeit limited) view of the Eiffel Tower. Our hotel room is a tiny attic room at the rather oddly named Hotel Wo on the rue de Stockholm close to the Gare St Lazare. I feel like a character in La Boheme. My tiny hand is frozen, even though it is summer. We are almost a week into our holiday.

The Swiss Alps were perfect – totally glorious. If you ever have some (serious) money to spare then go and stay at the Tschuggen Grand Hotel in Arosa. We were there writing a travel piece for the paper and I cannot think of a more charming way to spend four days. I think I even slept through the night at least twice.

This nighttime waking is nothing new of course. But isn’t it extraordinary how annoying it is and the stupid things you lie awake worrying about.

Just now I was worrying about, in no particular order;
how I am going to lose the two kilos I have inexplicably gained since leaving Abu Dhabi
how we will make it to the Eurostar and then on to Wales all in one piece with all our luggage (including Leo’s scooter) intact
how the girls are getting on with my mother, or rather how my mother is coping with their endless energy
why they didn’t eat the sophisticated cheeses my father tells me my aunt was offering them, insisting instead on eating supermarket cheese – is this a terrible defect?
what to wear tomorrow (today)
where to live if we ever leave Abu Dhabi
will I have more snotty emails and calls from the (only) summer tenants we have at Sainte Cecile – it seems the house is rebelling against their presence and keeps shutting down the electricity and/or water supply at regular intervals
if my husband will ever stop snoring
is my book is good enough
will I ever finish it

So it was much better to come out here and enjoy the beautiful view. Amazing how chilly it is. And how peaceful without the sound of my brain whirring. Now I just need some gloves.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Holiday time

Tonight we head off to Europe. All being well this time tomorrow we will be in the Swiss Alps at the Tschuggen Hotel where we spend four nights (working hard on a travel piece) followed by Paris, London, Abersoch (it’s in Wales), then home to Sainte Cecile for a week and finally the Savoie to our friends Norrie and Mary. My mother will bring the girls to Sainte Cecile for a reunion.

I will be relaxing, sleeping, eating and drinking. But also trying to do some work on the book for which we have a cover…..what do you think? Leo and Bea are both concerned with her headless state. Nothing wrong with headless I say, that’s how I spend most of my days…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

Popping to Oman for the weekend

One of the advantages of living here is that you can pop to Oman for the weekend, which is what we did last week.

We drove from Abu Dhabi over the border to the Musandam Peninsula and the exclusive, gorgeous Zighy Bay resort.

Arriving there from the city through a mountain track populated by goats was extremely exciting and romantic. The resort itself has a feel to it a little like a small Spanish village from another era, with sandy tracks the children cycled up and down and wooden huts.

Listening to the sea was glorious, the waves crashing against the beach and hundreds of little crabs scuttling around like over-sized demented spiders.

It was so lovely to see the children outside, cycling around, playing and swimming. They had three friends there and the six of them roamed around in a pack, in total safety, and ordered room service endlessly (eating for kids under the age of 12 was free).

There was a classic line from Bea when she told me off for being caught topless by her young friends; “Mummy, you only have one life and there is no point in spending it naked”.

The four of adults played tennis (once we got Leo and Max, the new Rafa and Federer off the court), read books and watched the England game which was undoubtedly the low-light of the weekend.

Having said that possibly the only thing that was more painful and irritating than witnessing England’s sad performance was watching my husband flirting with a Brazilian woman sitting next to us. What is it about Brazilian women that sends men mad? You just have to mention the word Brazilian and they start salivating and behaving like fools.

As there were no men for me to flirt with I went to bed at half-time hoping that by the time I woke up England would have scored. They hadn’t, but neither had my husband, so I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

One night in Bangkok

So I finally get a good night’s sleep, in Bangkok. Probably not what most people come here for but it made me happy. We are here for three days; Rupert is writing a cover story for the Travel section about it.

I did not pack any red clothes, nor any yellow ones. In fact I’m not sure I own any yellow clothes, but it is Olivia’s favourite colour so maybe she should stay away for the time being.

So far the only evidence of any troubles has been the burnt out shell of the Central World shopping centre. But we did have a wobbly moment on a rooftop restaurant last night when we heard some football fans chanting and wondered if the red shirts had come back to town.

I love Bangkok so far. We landed yesterday morning and managed to fit in a massage, tailor-made clothes, very cheap shopping, lots of eating and even a trip on the hotel boat to the other side of the river where honeymooners sat listening to Thai music over dinner.

There is also something extremely serene about a Buddhist country, even if things were less than peaceful a few weeks ago.

Today we have to onerous task of investigating the spa here at the Mandarin Oriental and dinner on a boat this evening.

But for now I am going to breakfast; gorgeous Japanese green tea and tropical fruits. And I look forward to a good night’s sleep again tonight…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

As good as it gets

Carla said this morning at breakfast that we should always remember this trip and how wonderful it has been. For example, if we get captured by Somali pirates we should think about how happy we were at Shreays and how beautiful it is.

I think these past few days I have understood must be what it is like being a princess. We are alone in this luxury retreat and treated like royalty. We probably wake up a bit earlier than your average princess, but that is to do yoga, so I don’t mind.

In case I ever do get kidnapped by Somali pirates I am going to list some of the special things about Shreyas here so I can remember them:

The tree opposite the yoga pavilion which I focus on when I do my tree pose

The flowers strewn over the tables at mealtimes

The ginger tea

The smiling zen staff

The sound of my yoga instructor’s voice when he says ‘balance’ and ‘be aware of’ whatever part of my body I am meant to be aware of or ‘very good’ which he doesn’t say very often

The amazing food; day after day

The dinners, always candlelit and in a different part of the garden

The crisp, clean, elegant swimming pool

The little garden with flowers and a tree in it outside our tent which is almost part of the bathroom (there is no wall)

The tall palm trees swaying gently in the wind

The massages from Jason who has magical hands

The library where you feel you could spend a lifetime reading all the books (not all, there are some terrible ones, left behind by people I assume when they realised how bad they were)

The morning and evening sun by the pool

The sound of birds all around

And just in case this list isn’t enough, here are some more photos…

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010

An ideal life

So far the Shreyas retreat has come as close to my idea of an ideal way to live as I have ever experienced.

Set in the lush Indian countryside it has beautifully landscaped gardens, a yoga pavilion, lovely swimming pool and little tree-houses where you can chant, or just chill and read a book.

The food is outstanding; all vegetarian Indian. There is no alcohol but actually I don’t even mind.

The day begins at 7am with yoga, then breakfast then meditation and chanting. Following this there is free time until lunch when I work on the novel, have almost written 5000 words, not bad considering my brain is a little mushy to say the least. There is another yoga session at 4 and then dinner at 8. Dinner is in the garden, candlelit.

There are lovely touches all around, like flowers strewn on the tables and every time you take your shoes off to go inside someone comes and turns them around for when you come out again.

My friend Carla has arrived and it is lovely to be with her. There are also some lovely people staying here. I guess in a yoga retreat you’re unlikely to get any real plonkers.

OK there are times when I want to giggle, like this morning when I was sitting cross-legged with my fingers in my ears chanting. Happily Carla was in another class (the easier one, natch) so didn’t see me or I would have collapsed.

But most of the time I am really into the whole experience; the exercise, the breathing, the chanting and the feeling of total and utter blissful relaxation. They say in the literature that a holiday is actually a holy day. I’m not religious but this is as close to holy as I have ever felt. I can’t believe we have another week to go…..

Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2010