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Elephants and Enfields - Chapter 1 "No Gain Without Pain"

Updated: Jan 3, 2023




CHAPTER 1



No Gain Without Pain


Where To Go This Year - In Praise of the Cruise

The Folly Of Family Names - Computers and Grandchildren

Excess Baggage - The Joys of Flight - Dabolim



‘Here, you’re an old person who loves boats; how do

you fancy spending your two weeks rest and recuperation

trapped in an anchovy tin with an incessant, baritone hum and

no natural light?’ I ask.


‘Mmm, tempt me more.’ Hannah replies.


‘Well, a couple of times a day you could claw your

way along a companionway with a fruit machine guard-of-

honour and an ultraviolet glow, tiptoe through a sea of neon-

bathed vomit and lie next to a bathtub sized pool of childs

urine. You could even sit with nine total strangers in a hot,

steaming, bubbly bath of foaming urea.’


‘Is that all that’s in the pool…people and piss?


‘No, of course not, there are dirigible armchairs,

beach balls, toe-jam, faecal matter, nits, crabs, snot, scabs,

and a myriad other bodily fluids…’


‘Now you’ve really got my juices going. Sock it to

me big boy!’


‘…And in the evening you can take advantage of the

onboard facilities. You can be entranced by a bunch of

‘X-Factor’ rejects with their stupid baseball hats on back to

front and their trouser crutches around their knees. They’ll be prancing about in Adidas jumpsuits to the sounds of Gary Barlow played on a Hammond organ.’


‘You’re certainly selling it to me; what about the

cuisine?’


‘Well I’m glad you asked about the food because

that’s another highlight on this holiday. All you have to do

there is queue up with a nice mock-wood, laminated tray for

forty minutes with 180 fat fuckers wearing those peaked

tennis headbands and white shorts. Then you select what size

of partially-thawed, listeria-encrusted, reconstituted lobster

you’d like, find your allocated table next to the acrylic-

composite, art-deco water feature and make scintillating

conversation with ten people you’d rather see dressed only in napalm.’


‘Sign me up, where do I sign? No, hang on, I can’t go,

I haven’t got safari shorts, a pastel coloured angora jumper to

wear around my shoulders, an aspiration to explore only the peripheral 50 yards of a country or a terminal disease.’ Hannah says.


‘What about the ability to determine whether you’re

running in the right direction along a claustrophobic,

unidentifiable passageway against a torrent of icy seawater, screaming, stark naked and in total darkness?’ I ask.

‘Nnnnnno.’


‘Damn, that’s a cruise off the list, then.’ I rue.

Hannah takes a gulp of black coffee without

detaching her gaze from the travel supplement of the Sunday

Times.

‘Here’s one. Ten days in a creosoted, wooden box in

the Sherwood Forest in the pissing rain with only squirrels

and small, smug girls on muddy, pink bicycles for company?’

She asks.


‘I quite like squirrels,’ I affirm, ‘but I didn’t know

they could ride pink bicycles. Or any other coloured bicycles

for that matter.’


‘They’ve got stabilisers, stupid.’

‘Squirrels with stabilisers? Who are you calling

stupid?’


‘Who are you calling old? You’ve been smoking too

much of that botanical stuff, matey.’ Hannah scolds as I take

another long lug on a rather splendid five-skin, squidgy-black

spliff. I should say that we are social marijuana smokers,

Hannah and I, rather than dedicated potheads.


‘They say Goa is for hippy druggies.’ adds H.

‘Sure it is.’ I retort.


And I’m right, it is. But the drug I am talking about isn’t the

kind of stuff you’d scrape from a pop-nobody’s, perforated

septum or the little brown ‘blim’ that your fourteen-year-old

will try to convince you fell from his guinea pigs bottom.

This drug is far purer than that. The drug of choice for my

wife and I is Goa itself.

We have been hopeless addicts for some time now. In

the run up to winter each year we scour the internet and

peruse Teletext and trawl the weekend broadsheets for

vacational inspiration. We push our noses up against frosted,

travel agents’ windows, and weigh up the options. Mexico

and Cuba have always appealed, but each winter our feeble,

spineless bodies singularly fail to resist the lure of this tiny

state half way down the west coast, the Arabian Sea side, of

India.

I suppose that we could be accused of a lack of

adventure in returning to the same destination every year.

‘Evelyn can resist everything but temptation.’ I am reminded.

In a manila folder in one of those numerous, dusty,

under-bed briefcases, I still have the faded pages of my

grammar school reports which include this, what I thought at

the time to be slanderous, inclusion.

‘We continue to be concerned by Evelyn’s less than cooperative behaviour.’ and ‘I have not seen enough of

Evelyn this term to make an assessment.’ are two further

examples of how I was so cruelly and erroneously judged by

my stripey-blazered, grammar school Gestapo…but I digress.

It seems that they were right all along. It appears that even the

Betty Ford twelve-step recovery programme couldn’t prevent

our zombie-like shuffle beneath the ‘GOI’ sign at Gatwick.

(GOI being the international airport abbreviation denoting

Dabolim, Goa).

I wonder if there’s a white-walled room somewhere

full of twitchy, sunken-eyed people with beaten up Gladstone

bags or those Germoline-coloured Argos suitcases where I

could sit alongside other likeminded wasters in a circle and

declare ‘My name’s Evelyn and I’m an addict’?

Forgive my rudeness, I haven’t even introduced

myself. The astute amongst you will have deduced that my

name is Evelyn (pronounced ee-ver-lin) and I’m a man…in

the biological, gender sense at least. Thanks mum and dad,

it’s been a real boon over the course of the last sixty-four

years to have been named so, how shall I put it…individually.

It has given me boundless, philanthropic satisfaction to have

amused my school friends and army colleagues so. How we

laughed together! To this day, ninety percent of my

correspondence is addressed to Miss, Mrs. or Ms. Calvert.

Families, eh? Despite the joy afforded to my mates, the

only scrap of mirth that I’ve been able to glean regarding this uncommon moniker is its derivation.

My father, a man who, whilst not overtly puritan, was

one who delighted in projecting an air of correctness, also

carried the middle name, Evelyn. He wore the name as a

badge of pride; a denotation of individualism by virtue of

rarity. This ‘family name’ was inherited by my younger

brother David Evelyn, my elder sister Jane Evelyn (the female

gender pronounced ever-lin) and by me Evelyn Jeremy

Charles. I even had the magnanimity and generosity to pass it

like a genetic defect to my son, Leigh Evelyn James. At least

they all only had to carry it as a middle name. It was only

much later, following my grandfather’s sad demise that a

rummage through his bureau, and the more intimate,

documentary remnants of his life, that copious correspond

-dence of an amorous, almost pornographic, nature bearing

this same name materialised.

Yes, we’d all been named after my paternal

grandfather’s mistress with whom he had conducted a

clandestine and apparently sexually rewarding affair for a

large number of years. I bet he’s looking down (or, more

likely, up) upon us all and laughing his arse off.

I am married to the very lovely, but slightly twisted,

Hannah and have been for the last twenty-nine years. Sounds

like it’ll be an expensive anniversary present this year. I’m not

sure what denotes the thirty-year milestone; ivory, pearl,

Teflon, asbestos? I’ll let her think that it’s Tupperware and

tell potential gifters that it’s scotch. What I’d like to know is

who decided these things anyway ...and who gave them the

damn right?

As far as our family goes, the only kids who haven’t

left the Calvert home in Cornwall are Jasmine, Cato, Munchie,

Chai, Zheera and Ceefa. Six spoilt, four-legged, feline

surrogates, who deign to allow us to pay the mortgage on their bungalow, stoke their open, log fire, scrape the semi-digested

rodents from their Wilton and generally lavish fish-based

favours upon them. Actually, I lied…it’s five four-legged

felines and Munchie who is probably best described as a

tripod. Munchie lost by way of knockout to a white Ford

Transit van some years ago and as a result is (as Peter Cook

so descriptively put it) ‘deficient in the leg department’ to the

tune of twenty-five percent.

I don’t know what it is with cats. I never even used to

like cats when I was younger. My parents were long-standing

canine aficionados and it was always rough collie saliva that

dribbled down my neck when crushed into the loadspace of a

Morris 1000 Traveller on long holiday journeys to the Isle of

Purbeck in Dorset.

It shames me to admit to it now but, as a ten year old

growing up in London, I used to walk past cats sitting on

suburban garden walls, sunning themselves and licking their

genitals, and try to elbow them into the rose bushes beyond. Invariably though, and rightfully too, it would be me that ended up with the lacerations. Hannah introduced me to kitty

delights when we married and now I couldn’t imagine life

without them. Come to think of it, it would be impossible to

have a life without them seeing that every flea-laden,

bus-ticket-eared, boot-faced, incontinent specimen in the

county moves in to our house 'sans invitation'. It must be my punishment!

So you can see that I’m an ordinary bloke with an

ordinary life. I’m probably not the type of person whose

untutored travelogue will make the Evel Kneivel leap from

Microsoft Word on budget A4 to published page with shiny

cover and embossed, foil title nestling between Bill Bryson

and Phileus Fogg. But if nothing else, I am determined to

reward the perseverance of my English teacher and write a

book and if only one person enjoys it, then it won’t have been

time wasted.

Hopefully it will fare better than my last literary effort

…I wrote six whole chapters once of a novel that was surely

destined to sit on a shelf labelled ‘International Bestsellers’

and be inextricably linked to Whitbread. And I don’t mean

being used as a beer mat. I had a great story. I had a great title.

I had a great knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject.

Unfortunately what I didn’t have was the foresight to back up

those eloquent and hard-sought words to data disc before

generously allowing the three grand-daughters to ‘Whatsapp’,

‘Bebo’, ‘MSN’ and ‘Facebook’ all over the computer to

which I had entrusted my writings.

I despise these crappy, sub-teen, social networking

sites. One minute you have a perfect, superfast, functioning

example of Mr. Dell’s genius on your desk and within 30

seconds, a nine year old and a Chinese virus have reduced it

to little more than skip fodder. The technological marvel now

takes an hour to boot up and grace you with a start screen. The

home screen whose wallpaper was a glorious, high-definition, photographic study of the Hodge 301 star cluster in the Tarantula Nebula has somehow, miraculously, been

transformed. Gracing my screen now? A jpeg of one of the

latest, talentless, zit-encrusted, twelve-year-old pop marvels

to be plucked from obscurity and deprivation by Simon

(check out my bronzed musculature beneath my Kashmir

cardigan) Cowell. I live in hope that, whoever he is, he is

destined for a speedy and painful, drug-induced, collapsed-

vein martyrdom in a bedsit in one of the less desirable ZIP

codes in Los Angeles.

My machine is now so full of data miners, viruses

and malware that even the finest crap-cleaning programmes

throw up their little binary arms in despair. Still, at the speed I

type, or think for that matter, it should still be more than fast

enough for this offering.

You’ll have to forgive my meanderings. I shall try my

level best to resist the urge to ramble obliquely or rant

maniacally as only a middle-aged man can, but it’s not easy to

hobble a cynic.


Goa, that’s right, I was going to tell you of our latest

trip to Goa.

Just sitting here with the fading suntan and the sound

of English, hail-infused rain pelting horizontally against the conservatory window pane makes me want to pause my literary ambition, click on the ‘save’ icon and ‘Google’

Holidays to India’ instead. Maybe I’ll resist it for now

though.

This year we chose to visit the worlds second most

populous country in early January. The climate and availability of ‘Happy Shopper’ charter flights largely dictates

to us, poverty-gifted, non-professional travellers the timing of

our jaunt and January is just great. It knocks a small hole, at

least, in the, seemingly, eleven month limbo that is an English

winter.

Goa’s tropical winter lasts from about mid-October

until March or April and that about coincides with the

availability of packaged cattle-flights from the U.K., Russia,

Israel and elsewhere. Warm seas, warm evenings, hot days

with cloudless, cerulean skies and the plethora of bars, shops, markets, restaurants and palm-shaded beach shacks make this

the best time for wan, work-weary, western visitors.

Goa has its monsoon between June and August and

the coastal areas are lashed with fierce storms and torrential

rains for days on end. Squally winds whip up the seas and

send palm fronds and litter skittling down red-rivered roads.

Brown rats and snakes are washed from their holes and head

for the drier areas, or peoples’ houses as they are called. The

frogs and toads chirrup and croak incessantly. Temperature

and humidity is high and can be oppressive from about mid-

April until late September. Even the locals tend to stay

indoors, hold their collective breaths and play ‘Angry Birds’

on their mobile phones until October.

We hummed and ha’d about whether or not to fly

from our local airport at Newquay to Gatwick. However,

despite the paltry fifteen kilo baggage allowance, the risk of

coastal fog resulting in a flight cancellation and the danger of

missing the return connection, it was with unbridled

enthusiasm that, at 1pm on a startlingly sunny Saturday

afternoon, we boarded the little turbo-prop and sped skyward.

In reality I had overlooked the paltry fifteen kilo

baggage allowance. I had forgotten the pleasure of donating

twelve kilos of travel kettle, travel iron, clothing, shells, beach

rocks, 3 litres of duty-free Indian whisky, presents for the cat

sitters, presents for the cats, shirt-off-my-back etc. to a wide-

mouthed bin in Gatwick’s South Terminal on a previous

return. The cost of that trip was at risk of doubling after

having been presented with an excess-baggage bill which, I’m

sure, exceeded the combined wealth of Mark Zuckerburg and

the Catholic Church. We’ll just have to be more prudent and

less exuberant when scouring the night bazaars, markets and

beach stalls this time.

I wonder what happens to all those sacrificial travel

irons and miniature kettles. I bet that, somewhere in Gatwick,

there is a tramp wearing a bin liner, a shoebox on one foot and

a pair of trousers with razor-sharp creases, sloshing as he

trundles from bin to bin with all the tea he’s been making with garnered travel kettles. Or, more likely, a team of cleaning staff with eBay feedback scores climbing past the million

mark and tripling their salaries with every delve.

We touch down in Gatwick with sufficient time to

check in the luggage, neck a ‘Frankie and Bennies’ lamb

shank, slap on a five-million milligram nicotine patch and

play on the free robot train which plies between the north and

south terminals. It is a free train ride, after all. I’m tempted to

take a week off in the autumn, fetch a sleeping bag and a

Primus stove and stay on it.

Riding this short, electric railway always takes me

back to my early childhood in MertonPark, London, when the absolute epitome of fun for the group of eight and nine year olds I chummed around with was ‘Underground Hide And

Seek’. This pastime differed from regular hide-and-seek in

that the bounds of the game weren’t the usual, boring house

and garden or even house alone, but rather the whole thirty-six

mile length of the London Transport Northern Line from

Morden station in the south to High Barnet in the north. For

the price of a platform ticket (one old penny to my

recollection) you could spend all day in the wafted, warm air

of this subterranean wonderland. Needless to say, certain rules

had to be applied to a game of this magnitude:-


1.) Hiders must stay on the ‘up line’ platforms only

and not stray all over the fifty odd stations served by the line.


2.) Hiders must not take any of the spur lines off of

the main route.


3.) Hiders must not secrete themselves in broom

cupboards or signalmen’s cubicles and must be dressed in an

easily-spotted, distinctive top. (Believe me, some of my

1960’s, home-knitted tops could definitely be described as distinctive).


4.) Seekers must seek.

This, seemingly superfluous, fourth rule was belatedly brought in when a temporarily unpopular boy was encouraged

to be the ‘hider’. After he had disappeared into the electric

labyrinth with gusto to the chant of ‘One, two, three…’ still

echoing in his ears, the designated seekers (me included)

turned away and pissed off to the park for the day. The poor

sod spent five and a half hours behind a Poppets Chocolate

Raisin machine on Clapham North Station before returning to

Morden Terminus, and the bosom of his mother, in floods of

tears.

Looking back on it, I’m surprised that our parents let

us all loose, daylong and unsupervised, and equally surprised

that none of us ended up being prized from the 630 volt third

rail by the British Transport Police. It seems a shame that kids

today are deprived of such freedoms on the grounds of

protection from perverts or health and safety. Were there

really less child molesters in those days? I doubt it somehow.

Back to Gatwick Airport and embarkation on the

marathon which is the trek to the furthest boarding gate that

B.A.A. can allocate. Have you noticed, as your breathing

starts to sound like that of an asthmatic scaling the south face

of K2 and your legs scream at your lungs for more oxygen,

just how many unutilized boarding gates you pass? Have you

ever heard of anyone in the history of flight who has been the recipient of the following announcement…?

“Ping, pong …will all passengers travelling to Istanbul

on flight TA 384 please make their way to gate number…

one?”

No, never! Gate number one‘s lounge seats have still

got the polythene on! Gate number two would be good. Gate

number three would be fine. Anything up to gate number ten

would be acceptable. Instead, we gate sixty-four’ers round the

corner of yet another bloody Costa coffee boutique to face a

corridor which has a vanishing point! Art students from all

over the world come here to study perspective. You can’t

even see your boarding gate; not because of an absence of

signage or failing eyesight but because of the curvature of the

earth.

I don’t know why we even bother with the plane; let’s

just walk to sodding India. I’m surprised that some canny entrepreneur isn’t doing flights from the concourse to the boarding gates……with a five kilo baggage allowance!


Tapping it’s fingers on the tarmac at gate sixty-four

was the ‘seen-better-days’ and ‘seen-fewer-seats’ Airbus

bucket which would shortly spirit us to the land of elephants

and Enfields. My enthusiasm for the ten hour flight, I admit,

had waned slightly since having been allocated seats in the

dreaded, four-in-the-middle section. Both Hannah and I love

the window seat. To sit and gaze downward like the bomb

aimer in a B-52, whilst the deserts, oceans, rivers and

mountains scroll beneath you and that purply-pink of twilight

fades to bejewelled blackness is breathtaking and wondrous

and eternal.

I scorn and despise the people who, having won the

window seat lottery, prize out their beige, inflatable, flock

neck cushions, slam shut the window blinds and are clocking

up 'z’s before the plane has reached Reigate. Those are the

people who should have the squalid slum that is the

four-in-the-middle section.

It’s like the motorists with soft-topped cars who drive

around on the most blisteringly hot, sun-drenched days with

the soft-top up. Why do they buy them? Why not purchase a

black panel van and whitewash the windows? Other, less

fortunate, souls with tin-tops and vitamin D deficiencies

through lack of exposure to the sunlight should have the right

to stop and politely point out to them the folly of their ways.

The ‘liberators’ should unceremoniously plant their preys’

sorry arses onto the softening asphalt and speed away with the

wind in their hair and dappled warmth on their faces in their

newly annexed cabriolets.

My sense of foreboding proved to be well founded

when I saw the woman in seat E, row 31. Or should I say,

seats D, E and F, row 31, for she was huge. On seeing her I

was reminded of the sequence in Lucas’s Star Wars when

Luke Skywalker first cast his eyes on the Death Star. Her

husband, who had the look of a human Yorkshire terrier, had

half of seat F and I was to occupy half of seat D. Even with

the armrest down, the cellulite excess-baggage oozed beneath

it like the rubbery skin of Jabba the Hutt and adhered itself to

my thigh and hip.

It was going to be a long ten hours and I already

envied Hannah the aisle seat, despite the certainty of being

clumped round the head with the flight bags of the thick

morons who refuse to accept that a 24 inch wide valise won’t

pass along a 22 inch wide aisle sideways.

In order to stymie those of you who derive

amusement from other peoples’ discomfort, I shall skip

forward several hours and spare the description of the, now Amazonian, microclimate that was evolving between my right thigh and Mrs. Hutt’s left.

Just at the point when, despite the cramp in the hip

and the crick in the neck, I manage to slip into a version of unconsciousness, a particularly astute stewardess seems to miss the fact that I have a blanket over my head and gleefully

invites me to partake of a plastic cup half filled with tepid,

brown, joylessness loosely described as coffee. Sure, when

I’m trying to sleep, there’s nothing I favour more than a cup

of coffee. I tell you what; why not mix in a can of Red Bull,

a gram of amphetamine sulphate and a couple of Pro-plus

tablets whilst you’re at it, arsehole?

In a parallel universe, where I am open and honest

and truthful, I hear myself reply…

“I don’t want a hot drink. I don’t want a cold drink.

I don’t want an unopenable bag containing four peanuts.

I don’t want an extruded plastic tray containing what looks

like the contents of Tutankhamen’s loincloth. I don’t want a

bottle of nauseating, overpriced perfume, a plastic torch in

the shape of a Monarch airliner or an exclusive designer

watch which looks like the booby prize from a council estate transvestite’s bingo night. I don’t want to give you my loose

change to transform the life of a one-legged, blind,

Venezuelan crack addict. I don’t even want a twin-pack of disposable gas lighters to replace the ones stolen from me at Gatwick security four hours previously. What I do want is

for you to take your coffee pot, your ‘Tat-Shop-In-The-Sky’

glossy brochure, your resin-hard smile and your orange-

sprayed face and jump out of the fucking window!’


In reality I smile politely, decline the offer and pull

the blanket back over my head.

I don’t know about you, but I invariably arrive at a

point on a night flight when I start to realize that the fitful,

sleep-scarce suffering is almost at an end, and a renewed

excitement and vivacity kicks in. It tends to coincide with the

first whiff of plasticised scrambled egg from the galley and

the first shaft of sunlight which the bastard in the window seat

with the air-filled noose deigns to share with ‘steerage’ by

sliding up the blind.

I’ll spare you the description of breakfast, you’ve done nothing evil enough to deserve that., surely. You haven’t, have you?

My deliberate mock yawns and our reducing altitude

cause the pressure pop in my ears as the plane banks tightly to

port and a glance sideways is rewarded with the glimpse of a

tiny fishing boat suspended on a rippled, azure mirror. Twenty

shafts of sunlight now track across the cabin ceiling as the

other bastards wake up and slide open their blinds. The

engines’ high-pitched monotone now slowly drops, the wings

level and we slot to the glide path.

Over the intercom comes the captain’s announcement.

”Ping…..fur, fur, fur, Dabolim, ner, fur, fur, ner, der,

toilets, fur, ner, seatbelts, thank you”.

I don’t know what airline pilots have in their mouths

when they make these in-flight announcements, but I could

only assume that he wasn’t advising us that the toilets at

Dabolim were fitted with fur seatbelts.

I’m never too sure about seatbelts in airliners

anyway. I’m all too aware that if captain Fur Ner Ner has

partaken of one too many strawberry daiquiris over

Afghanistan and we lightly skim a hillside before sliding to a

halt in a cloud of red dust and splintered palm trees, I shall be

grateful that my nose has avoided an intimate relationship

with the clip that holds the meal tray to the seat in front. If,

however, we lightly skim a hillside before careering,

wheel-less and screaming, into the airfield fuel depot and

consequent, pyrotechnic fireball, then I feel sure that my

chances of avoiding crispy skin and being welded to my seat

would be enhanced should I not be wearing my seatbelt.

Hopefully I shan’t be given the opportunity of finding out.

I snap shut the buckle, I’ll unsnap it post hillside clip.

I then take the precaution of restoring my shoes on my feet; I wouldn’t want to be sock-footed whilst clambering over the passengers trying to retrieve their duty-free from overhead

lockers in a cabin rapidly filling with toxic smoke. We swoop

in low over the Arabian Sea and touch down alongside a row

of 1960s Russian Illushin and Tupolev propeller aircraft

operated by the Indian military and Coast Guard before

taxiing to the low terminal building.

Dabolim’s single runway sits atop an isthmus south

of the Zuari River about a third of the way down Goa’s coast

and was built by the government of the Estado da India

Portuguesa ( the Indian PortugueseState ) in the 1950s. It is

jointly operated by the Airports Authority of India and the

Indian Navy and since its construction, at least 4 rupees have

been spent on modernisation and upgrade.

I really shouldn’t be so derogatory to the ‘Portal of

the MagicKingdom’ but it can be both one of the most

fascinating and frustrating places on the planet.

We all sit impatiently whilst the whistle from the

engines and generators subside and air conditioning nozzles

spout wisps of cool condensation from above. Finally, the

most orange-skinned air steward that I have ever seen in my

life minces from his jockey seat and, with the assistance of an

equally orange stewardess, swings open the bulk of the

aircraft door. Those passengers who feel that they are owed

two and a half minutes more holiday than everyone else insist

on leaving their seats and firing up their phones. Like

jack-in-the-boxes they spring up and herd in the gangway,

pushing their genitals into the faces of those still seated as

they struggle to remember which overhead locker contains

their essentials. Finally they barge through the doors fore and

aft, descend the steps and join the next queue waiting to enter

the terminal. As we step through the aperture, the heat of the

day fetches a broad grin to our wintery, wan faces.

Hannah and I both love the sun to the point where it’s harmful. We try to make the 100m walk across the hot concrete apron last half an hour, but all too soon

we’re into the time-warp that is the Dabolim Terminal.

Overhead and on every cream gloss-painted pillar are electric

fans which afford, if not coolness, then at least a movement of

the warm air. The floor is tiled geometrically in cream and

terracotta. Any visible wood is as sapele as a cheap office

door and the place has a perfume reminiscent of the old

hardware shops of my childhood. A blend of linoleum,

hardboard, polish and … sweaty passengers, I guess.

Hanging from ceilings and screwed to every wall are hand-

painted signs in both English and that beautiful Hindi script.

How I wish that I could write with such handsome and

graphic flourishes. How I wish that I could read it. It must go

top of the to-do list, I think.

I also love the way that Indians have this obsession

with labelling and numbering every fixture and fitting in sight.

I’m sure it’s a legacy of British military colonialism. The

army being famed for it’s love of labels, signs and part

numbers. We pass ‘Wall Fan No.11’, ’ Electrical Cupboard

No.8’ and ‘Stupid Wan Tourist Who’s Lost Their Passport

No.5’ on our way to immigration control. For once, the

khaki-clad and very spruce, navy security staff almost speed

us through to the baggage conveyor. They must have arrivals

stacking up behind us for it normally takes an eternity of

shuffling before emerging into the arrivals hall.

‘Coming for a stig?’ Hannah asks, though it was more

a statement than a question. (Our pet names for cigarettes are numerous and incomprehensible to the majority. The derivations of most are long since forgotten. ‘Stig’ is a f

avourite but it’s just as likely to be substituted by ‘stoge’,

‘stogey’, ‘stogerooney’, ‘fag’ etc.)

We decide to go for the ‘stig’ option as there is no

movement as yet from the carousel. Over in one corner of the

arrivals hall is the small, glass-walled cubicle set aside for

lepers, people with contagious diseases or open sores, those

carrying unsealed, radioactive material…and smokers.

I pull out my Golden Virginia, slickly roll a couple

of cigarettes and we enter the fish tank.

I don’t know why I bothered to make the cigarettes at

all because the nicotine hit when the door is opened by a

young Goan sponsored by Marlboro’ Lights must be the

equivalent of that generated by every untipped Navy Cut

cigarette smoked during WW2 combined with the atmosphere

from a World Popeye convention.

The last time I smelled tobacco that strong was when

my pipe-smoking French teacher leant down to me at my

school desk and whispered in a matter-of-fact way…

‘The next time I see you stick soggy, chewed paper

pellets to the ceiling with a plastic-ruler catapult in my lesson, Calvert, I shall break your fucking legs. Do you understand

me?’ I did understand, of course, but had to nod mutely as I

had a mouthful of soggy chewed paper. She had a facility with languages did Miss Le Grys.

It should have been awful in that cubicle but to a

dedicated smoker, after ten hours ‘sans nicotine’ it was a joy.

It was the roller-coaster roar and the squeak, squeak,

squeak of the baggage carousel which prompted our return to

the small main concourse. Compared to the smooth, almost

silent, stainless steel and glass affairs at most modern arrivals

halls, the tiny carousel at Goa International stops and starts

and stops again in an almost comic ritual. It prompts you to

imagine a small group of adolescent Indians running inside a

giant hamster-wheel affair out of sight of the passengers and

linked by a Heath Robinson series of cogs and pulleys to the conveyor. They must be tired today for things are moving very slowly.

‘I’m going outside for another smoke,’ announces

Hannah. ‘I’ll find us a taxi.’

Before I can utter a word, she turns and strides

through the third security check carrying with her the plane

ticket stubs, the requisite short immigration forms and the

tobacco. Unfortunately she also strides out with both

passports. I call out to her but she is already into the sunshine

being accosted by tour reps, porters, garland vendors and taxi

touts.

I turn back in time to see a huge mountain of

suitcases and valises slump from the belt where the

‘hamsters’, it seems, have found a burst of energy which

catches out the trolley boys. They are frantically removing

cases from the carousel. I’m still suppressing a grin when I

notice a porter in what appears to be chocolate-coloured

pyjamas milling about in the throng with our sailing bag on

his trolley.

These lads get so carried away with ensuring their tip levels remain buoyant that they almost overlook the hapless passenger who is still standing open-mouthed waiting for his

case to appear through the plastic curtains. The custodian of

our bag threw his eye. I caught it. I was less successful in

finding a spouse-shaped catcher for mine. Hannah was

nowhere to be seen and by now the porter and I had reached security where a machine-gun toting, Indian Navy guard who had even less of a smile than I, did his best to not understand

why I didn’t have a passport or any of the other pieces of

official paper that I should have had.

I mentally labelled myself ‘Stupid Wan Tourist

Who’s Lost His Passport … No.6’.

I thought about trying to sneak past the control via

the foreign exchange cubicle in the entranceway but, like the

Mona Lisa, every time I looked toward naval security, his

eyes were burning into me. I returned and tried again to

explain to Goa’s doorman that I needed to leave the terminal

in order to retrieve my passport in order to leave the terminal,

but was re-rebuffed. It was then that I finally twigged and,

reaching into my pocket, pulled out my spare passport

cunningly disguised as a 500 rupee note, a leftover from a

previous visit. I mused that if I stood here much longer, I

would have little difficulty in convincing even a Scotland

Yard face recognition expert that the picture of Mahatma

Gandhi on the note was my passport picture.

The Great Mephisto would have been proud to have

palmed the money as adeptly as my new khaki-clad friend and

so pyjamaman and I hit the sunshine to find Hannah sitting on

the concrete kerb, partaking of a smoke and conducting a

leisurely conversation with a middle-aged, female fellow

traveller whom she appeared to have adopted.

My wife is an amiable and generous soul but rather

prone to starting conversations that I am obliged to terminate…usually because of a shortage of life-expectancy.

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