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Elephants & Enfields - Chapter 3. "Settling In"




CHAPTER 3



Settling In


The Riverside Regency - The ‘whiff’ mystery solved

Cat Chess - Saving ‘Bluey’ - ‘Mozzies!’ - Not Wearing Shoes - Tattoos - Frayed legs - Shopping roulette And so to bed.



The Riverside Regency Resort is a small, family owned hotel, and one that has endeared sufficiently to secure our return for the second time this year. Reception is just across the road from the creek and is situated in a low block of air-conditioned rooms. H and I reacquaint ourselves with our bags, still in the grasp of the room boys, who seem loath to put them down on the mirror-polished, marble floor. One lad looks at the other and they exchange strange expressions until they spot me watching and then they freeze. It’s as if someone has blow darted them with Botox.

Our decision to take the taxi from Dabolim is rewarded by being the first to arrive at the hotel. We register, secure a safe deposit box next to the reception desk and fill it with our few ‘valuables’ before following the manager and the bag carriers to our room.

Behind the air-conditioned block is a pool flanked by a pair of three storey billets, and further back towards the hillside, a newer four or five storey block stands amidst the trees.

We both find it hard to stifle schoolchild giggles, as do the room boys. The manager’s left, leather sandal squeaks each time he puts weight on it. He tries to shuffle a little to silence the offending footwear but only succeeds in making the noise louder and, now, more like a fart than a squeak. He speaks to us increasingly loudly,

‘Did you have a pleasant flight?’ Fart… Fart… Fart.

Hannah lied, ’Yes, it was good, thanks, but we’re certainly glad to be here.’

Like sitting in a metal tube with your knees around your neck, and your gusset tautly jammed up your bum-crack for eleven hours could have been anything other than pleasant!

I was grateful that she was able to answer at all, because, by now, my puerile, schoolboy sense of humour prompted a rivulet of tears streaking my cheeks, and I had to pretend that an insect had flown into my eye. The lads with the cases were coping a little better than I, but not much. They were grinning from ear to ear and hiding behind me so that the manager could not see their fresh, contorted faces. The prod in my ribs from H’s elbow pretty much did the trick though as we rose above tree-top level to the third floor and were introduced to our room.

‘Do have a pleasant stay; the boys will look after you.’

The manager seemed anxious to get back to ground level and the ‘farts’ grew quieter as he disappeared back down the stairwell, to further giggling. We introduced ourselves to the lads, Chandan and Sani. No matter where you go in Goa, tourists, and the lads themselves for that matter, feel compelled to abbreviate and anglicize their Indian names and thus it was ’Danny’ and ‘Sunny’ whose identity we tried to memorise. A third lad, ‘Johnson’, seemed to have beamed in from somewhere and was stood behind the other two. I requested two additional pillows and with the promise of some rupees as soon as we could convert some sterling, we were alone at last.

I’m not sure why, but regardless of the length of a journey where a hotel is the destination, it is impossible not to throw oneself bodily and recklessly onto the bed on arrival in the room. It’s like trying not to lick your lips whilst eating a sugared doughnut, or not vomiting when Paul Daniels appears on the TV, or not laughing when the Pope, in all his pomp, preaches morality. I feel sure that in some dusty tome, in the corner of a university science lab, there must be a Newtonian law that explains the phenomenon. Whilst this practice is largely fine in a five-star, luxury resort, caution needs to be employed when ‘flomping’ on the bed of a two-star Indian hotel. A running ‘newlywed leap’ is not advisable, unless you wish to avail yourself of some extremely good value hospital treatment and spend the next fortnight in a tan-hampering, head to foot plaster cast. The mattresses here, as in most places on the subcontinent, are probably slightly less plump than you would find in the isolation cell at Alcatraz or Sing Sing or a British youth hostel. Surprisingly, you do get used to it after about four years. H and I adopt the sitting-on-the-end-of-the-bed-and-easing-backwards method and immediately find ourselves playing the ‘bacon-slicer game’.

Now this pastime involves studying the revolving ceiling fan above the bed and contemplating the likelihood of its single, rusted, retaining screw remaining faithful to its intended purpose and, thus, averting our premature return to Cornwall in zipped, black, vinyl bags, looking as if we’d been involved in an horrific, Chinook helicopter accident. The fan oscillates slightly and the wiring pokes ominously from the hub, but the screw seems to be holding firm and we decide to risk living dangerously.

It is at this point that I get the sense of déjà-vu.

‘Can you smell a slightly musty, sort of familiar, animal whiff in here?’

‘Mmmm.’

‘I’m no mechanic,’ Hannah proffers ’but I’m prepared to put money on there not being a Maruti taxi in here with a dodgy clutch or overheated brakes.’

‘Me too.’

The hunt is on, and after checking armpits and shoe soles and sniffing each other like a pair of rampant mongrels for a bit, the process of elimination leads inevitably to our baggage. Hannah makes the mistake of pressing her nose to the canvas fabric and cops a lungful. Even with her shoes on I can see her toes curling.

‘Jesus Christ, Dooby, come and put your conk down here.’

‘I don’t have to,’ I reply, ‘there are people in Mumbai with their eyes watering.’

The two sail bags we take away with us each year are always stored atop the wardrobe in the back bedroom at home. The other thing to be found atop the wardrobe in the back bedroom at home, at any given time, is a cat.

Now those of you not familiar with the feline psyche will not be aware of the game ‘Cat Chess’. I am indebted to James Follett for educating us to its intricacies in his book ‘Very Short Fiction’. Our cats play the abbreviated version, the rules of which run something along these lines.

1.) Several points are scored by a cat who selects a position to sit, where another cat cannot see it. Under a duvet for example, or behind a curtain.

2.) Another place where points can be scored is one where a cat can see more than one other cat, such as under a car or a sofa or similar.

3.) The ultimate kudos, however, goes to the cat who adopts a place where he or she can see all the other cats without having to move anything other than an eyeball, and at the same time remain unseen by them.

On top of the back bedroom wardrobe in our bungalow is one such place. From this Ikea eyrie, the occupant can observe fellow Felis cattus, both traversing the hallway and passing outside the window. This constitutes checkmate and doubtless confers upon the winner the right to carry the ‘haughty smug kitty bastard’ expression for the rest of that day.

Now, of our six children, four are girly cats…no problem there. The other two are boy cats, both of whom are now ‘testicularly challenged’ and, thus, as fragrant as a bouquet of wedding freesias.

The trespassing, neighbourhood, un-neutered toms, on the other hand, clearly carry with them a small bottle of the most potent nose-wrinkler known to humankind, and seem determined to stake their claim to our wardrobe top by liberally dabbing it on our luggage during the fifty weeks of the year that it is not being utilized.

I can only assume that, with freezing temperatures in Cornwall and a six mile elevation within the cargo hold aboard the flight to India, the offending whiff was neutralised. As soon as things warmed up however…’Sorry Raj for doubting the serviceability of your taxi.’

The bags are hurriedly unpacked and thrown into the wetroom, for a serious scrubbing when either one of us has the time, disinfectant and stomach for the task.

I remove my watch and note that it shows a little after eleven in the morning, local time. I consider the time in the UK and a convenient way of converting Goan time to UK time is to turn your watch or clock face upside down. Twenty past six becomes ten to twelve. Half past two becomes eight o’clock. The act of inversion subtracts five and a half hours, the exact time difference between GMT and Indian time…amazing! I keep meaning to check which other destinations permit one to utilise this handy time-conversion phenomena, but never quite get round to it. Presumably, the only others would be those along the time zone five and a half hours ahead of GMT. Hang on whilst I check …Google, Google …no, there aren’t any other than Sri Lanka further south.

Regrettably, there is no such handy solution to the condition that is desynchronosis or jetlag. The recommended course of action, to get back to as close to normality as we ever get, is to immediately adopt the behaviour of those in the new time zone. I.e. arrive at 1 a.m. local time…go clubbing! Yeah, right! We reject the idea of hitting the town or local beaches in favour of hitting the mattress, at least for an hour or so.

I almost succeed in dozing for an hour before the lure of the pool gets too great. Hannah is made of sterner stuff and remains unconscious whilst I sniff my swimming trunks to ensure that they are not permeated with ‘Eau de Chat’ and I’m not mobbed by Goan strays en route to the water. It’s early afternoon and the pool is especially quiet.

Each to their own I suppose, but I have never understood the mindset of those tourists who travel so very far from home and never venture further than the hotel reception desk to complain about the absence of HP sauce at the breakfast table. Do they rise each day, go to the balcony and think ‘I’m in a land rich with unfamiliar culture, unparalleled colourful sights and sounds, fascinating, friendly and amusing people. I know, I’ll go downstairs, squirt my corpulent flesh with Deet and factor 40 sun block, and lie next to a 68 cubic metre cocktail of chlorinated water, nasal excretions and verrucas for two weeks’?

Then there are those who are sufficiently adventurous to walk the fifty feet to the first bar or restaurant that they stumble upon. This invariably proves to be the crappiest (strangely, an adjective that my spellchecker seems unfamiliar with) bar or restaurant for miles around and, for obvious reasons, it usually panders to the apathetic, undemanding and easily-pleased. You only have to browse review sites, such as Tripadvisor, to see the extent of their enthusiasm for mediocrity… ‘You really must go to Mico’s Bar, it’s only next door and they do a fantastic full English. You can get real Heinz beans and proper bacon. We ate there every day. They’ve even got all of the ‘Take That’ songs on their karaoke machine. And Sky Sports with all the football. Do go and say hello to Francis, he was so friendly, and tell him we’ll be back again next year.’

Of course Francis was bloody friendly; every single rupee you took to India with you is in his back pocket, and you even believed the bullshit about the beans being real Heinz. Were I a bar owner, even I could be friendly to you! Pop down to the nearest tattoo parlour and get ‘tawT elbilluG’ etched across your forehead. A reminder to you when you look in the bathroom mirror each morning.

There is no-one in the pool and only a handful of occupants on the rickety, wooden sun-beds dotted around the mirror-smooth water. I ignore the supercilious, ‘Ooh, look at that whitey’ expression on the few, bronzed faces momentarily raised from their towels and dip into the blue. I can’t really criticise, I suppose; I’m as guilty as they are for scorning those with a tan less ‘perfected’ than mine. It’s a kind of status thing and I don’t know why. We don’t exactly have to do much to give ourselves a ‘healthy’ glow, other than to lie like a beached walrus in front of a 386 billion billion megawatt nuclear reactor 150 million kilometres away and sip watermelon juice.

The coolness and quiet is wonderful as I swim a couple of lengths underwater. It feels as if the world has been put into slow motion and the ‘attenuate’ button pressed. I gently break the surface once again, turn in slow-mo and hang my elbows over the hot flagstones.

Around the pool is planted Golden Fern, Hibiscus, Petunia and Musa ( banana ) Palms. A more than adequate selection of hiding places and leaf food, I would have thought, for all but the fussiest of insects.

The little blue soggy thing which was being sucked across the surface about an inch from my nose was probably more careless than fussy. I’m sure that in its unwaterlogged form, it was the entomological equivalent of a bird of paradise, but right now it looked pretty sad as it was drawn inexorably towards the recirculation sluice and a certain ‘sticky end’.

I could have sworn I heard ‘Hellllllp meeeeee’ in a high-pitched squeaky tone as it passed. I reached out my hand to scoop it from the skin of the water but it was as if he and I had a negative magnetism and was repelled by my fingers. It was now travelling even faster toward the yawning, sucking sluice channel. It was paddling frantically but its fate seemed ordained. One last-gasp effort was needed and I whooshed the water from in front of the sluice to push the hapless thing further towards the middle of the pool. It must have been the insect equivalent of a tsunami which hit it in the face. Did I hear a tiny squeaky ‘Fuck me!’ as it passed the other way at great speed? Either way I like to think it looked grateful as I managed to lift it from the surface.

It was only now that I became aware of the six pairs of quizzical eyes coming from the poolside sun beds. This time, I’m certain that I did hear a collective opinion of my antics…

‘Does his nurse know he’s out here?’

I was still holding little ‘bluey’ aloft as I exited the water. I selected a particularly fine Musa for him and left him to dry on a leaf in the hot sunshine. As I started back towards our room I looked down to see a further two insects doggy-paddling in the pool. I thought, briefly, about jumping in again and questioned whether I wanted to spend the next fourteen days being an entomological super hero or a tourist. The latter won out and I padded back up the stairs.

It is only when faced with our room door that I realise that I did not fetch a key with me. I knock gently on the varnished wood. No response… I knock again, this time with that ‘secret’ knock that everybody uses. I’m certain that most robbers could go to any target door and do the ‘knock knocky knock knock…knock knock’ thing and then just barge in when the door is opened, resulting in a lot less damage to peoples’ property. Again, silence… If I’d had a tobacco tin with me I’d have probably returned to the intimate poolside bar, ordered an icy-cold Kingfisher, allowed Hannah to sleep on and felt smug for getting an early start on the suntan.

Now H is not renowned for being a heavy sleeper and I have to admit that I was surprised by the lack of response. I knocked a little louder this time and whispered ‘H’… Nothing. She couldn’t have left the room, I’d have seen her pass me…and she’d have fetched me a fag and helped me rescue little ‘Bluey’. She must be ‘soundo’. Right, this time… thump, thump, thump, and a far louder ‘Hannah!’.

My frustration builds as I become aware of a presence at my shoulder. I seem to be attracting an audience.

‘Lost your key?’ an elderly woman with gold flip-flops and a moustache that Tom Selleck would be envious of, asks.

‘No,’ I wish I’d answered, ‘it’s in my pocket, but I only use my arms on alternate days and today I’m relying on other people to open doors, feed me and hold my cock when I’m taking a piss.’

‘Forgot to take it with me, my wife’s inside sleeping.’

‘Silly boy, is she a heavy sleeper?’

Mrs flip-flop is unaware of just how close she is to becoming the first victim of the Riverside Regency Swimming-trunks Asphyxiater.

‘Not normally but we’ve only just arrived and she’s exhausted’

‘Can I help at all?’

‘Well, if you can pop downstairs, go around to the front of the block and shin up the drainpipe to the third storey, scale the balcony and smash through the shutters into the room, SAS style, slap my wife into consciousness and ask her to kindly open the door, you’re certain to gain my admiration and gratitude.’

‘I’m sure she’ll wake soon, thanks.’

The well-meaning but superfluous old biddy evaporates as spectrally as she arrived and I’m alone again in the stairwell. But only briefly.

‘Is that you making all that racket?’

I spin on my heel to see Hannah’s familiar face on the stairwell above. At the same time I hear movement from behind the door. Oh shit. The latch rattles and the door swings open at speed.

‘Who the bloody hell are you and why are you banging on my bloody door when my husband and I are trying to bloody sleep? We’re pensioners you know!’

It’s strange how people who are normally loathe to disclose their age suddenly feel a compulsion to broadcast it to the world.

A more muted, male voice wafts through from the distant recesses of the room.

‘It’s those room boys isn’t it, don’t they know we’re pensioners, Margaret?’

Oops… right room, wrong floor. I’m only part way through my apologetic explanation when the door slams and my nose is a micron from the varnish.

‘What a plonker!’ H giggles. I echo her opinion.

At a time like this I am grateful that we are anal enough to fetch tea, coffee, sugar and a travel kettle with us on these trips. The lower starred hotels in Goa rarely have these facilities provided. You can usually pay locally for a fridge to be put in your room or for air conditioning, but never a kettle. We saunter onto the narrow balcony with our tea and black coffee where a couple of chairs and a small glass-top table await. We lean against the concrete balustrade and survey our temporary domain.

The block is a recent addition to the hotel and the ground below is just dry, red earth with a few small, random plantings. Along the boundary walls and within are rows of ornamental plants with flowers so vivid that they look to be artificial. In the corner sits a small bungalow with whitewashed walls and a terracotta tiled roof. A short distance out from the house is a flimsy gazebo made from sun-bleached bamboo and screamingly colourful, printed gauze. This place houses a family, the parents of which provide an ayurvedic massage service to both locals and hotel residents. There’s a massage table in the open.

For those unfamiliar, ayurveda, native to India and widely practised since 1500 BC, is an holistic and ancient lifestyle system which combines regimes of diet, exercise, massage, meditation, detoxification and natural medicine. It is believed that every life form has 3 ‘doshas’, ( literally ‘fault or disease’ in Sanskrit) comprising biological humors or energies. The three main energies of vata (air), pitta (fire) and kapha (water), in varying proportions determine the type of person one is and, thus, the regimen which is best for ones overall health and wellbeing. I’m not sufficiently persuaded either way to condemn it all as outright bollocks, as is my want. I’ll doubtless impart my philosophy on that subject at a later stage. Enough of that for now though.

On the other side of the boundary wall are tall coconut and banana palms striding up the verdant slopes. A couple of the ever-present, dun-coloured dogs run enthusiastically through the low scrub, their barks echoing off of the nearby hillside. The air is still and warm. Our cigarette smoke curls slowly out from the balcony and hangs almost motionless.

We return to the room and try again to clock up some z’s. This time we succeed.

I think it’s the colour of the sky which prompts us to stir, almost simultaneously. A loving peck is the foreplay to verticality and we resume the pre-flomping position on the end of the bed.

The open shuttered windows frame a classic Goan image. A pale mauve sky silhouettes the palmtops before blending through burnt orange, washed out peach, light grey-blue and then a graduating, darkening true blue. I see the appeal of the ‘sundowner’ but don’t need the Malibu, pineapple, rum, ‘et al’. We are drawn to the balcony. H has the foresight to fetch the tobacco, rolls a stig and hands it to me as the sky’s colours change from the west moment by moment. By the time she has rolled and lit her own, the outline of the palms has all but melted away. We say nothing. The air remains still and warm. Bats flutter close enough to the balcony to be heard as they pass.

Engine rasps from the scooters and tuk-tuks coursing the creek road periodically drown out the more distant and echoing barks of the beach dogs a half mile away.

A stark blue-white strip light blinks on in Mrs. Massage’s bungalow below casting a fan of light across the rust-coloured ground. Mr. Massage appears from the house and they chat softly whilst lifting the massage table and placing it under the gazebo. He sits down on a plastic garden chair as she picks up a sparse ‘witches broom’ and brushes the large, fallen leaves from around the door.

‘MOZZIES!!!!!’

‘Jesus Christ, Dooby, I nearly fell over the sodding balcony!’

‘Quick, shut the windows, and the door, the bathroom light is on.’

I scurry around like a schoolboy who has settled down with a cigarette, a beer and a porn mag’ after their parents have gone out for the evening, only to hear their car pull back into the driveway unexpectedly early.

I do what must be the window-shutting equivalent of hiking an Alice Cooper album off of the (out-of-bounds) Hacker radiogram, pulling up my trousers and frantically waving a copy of ‘Playbirds’ to disperse the tobacco smoke and run to return it to my fathers briefcase…Oops! Did I say ‘My’ there? …. remind me to edit that bit out when I proof read it.

I guess it’s easy to take a lax attitude to mosquitoes when you’re the fortunate sort who either does not get bitten or whose blood does not suit the pallet of this airborne, nocturnal hypodermic. And a lax attitude is what I take.

Hannah, conversely, cannot afford to be lax. Were there only one mosquito in the whole of Asia, you could bet a pound to a pinch of shit that she would find H and sink her little proboscis to the hilt in search of a sanguinary feast.

I say ‘she’, because it’s only the female mozzie which drinks blood. Poetic justice really. The males are wimpish, simpering and benign nectar feeders and don’t need the protein and iron, as the girlies do, for developing eggs. Apparently they can smell the carbon dioxide in their victims’ body odour and just prefer one persons whiff over another. Fortunately, for me, Hannah smells better. There’s a tip for travellers…marry someone who suffers with mosquito bites and they’ll always be there with their sweet smelling blood to divert insectivorous attention. As far as garlic, tea-tree oil, vitamins and citronella go, they only help the financial health of sellers of garlic, tea-tree oil, vitamins and citronella and are likely to be about as much use as Anne Frank’s drum kit.

Clever little things though. I guess they should be good at what they do by now, they’ve been around long enough. One has even been found in an eighty million year old piece of Canadian amber.

Although not as dangerous here as in other parts of India, they still pose a risk as carriers of malaria in Goa. Best keep taking those disgusting tablets.

Now hermetically sealed in the room, we go through the timeless (and pointless) ritual of trying to find the BBC World Service on the little, portable Roberts radio whilst readying ourselves to go out. I don’t know why we bother really. You would think that as the world's first national broadcasting organization and still the largest radio broadcaster in the world, you would trip over frequencies blasting out the old colonial bullshit with crystal clarity…but no.

You sit there and scroll through ten short-wave bands of hiss and whistling, winding the needle back and forth until your thumbs have no discernible fingerprints. You think you hear a snippet of English and it’s…the Radio Ukraine International service. For gods sake, a bunch of beetroot weavers from a city which gave the world the chicken Kiev can project their brand of bullshit to India, why can’t we?

Well, stuff the mother country; it’s going to be Indigo FM for us from now on, broadcast from Marmagao just down the road.

‘The colour of music…Radio Indigo on 91.9 FM’

‘Where are we going to eat then?’ H calls from the bathroom.

‘How about ‘Tibet’?’ I profer.

‘Bit far isn’t it?’

‘Did you pack the needle and cotton so that I can re-stitch my sides?’

‘Too Chinese.’

‘A shack on Baga Beach?’

‘We haven’t got time for that and we need to get some Rupes, remember.’

We agree to go into Calangute to ‘Menezes’ supermarket where they generally offer a favourable sterling exchange rate. Most hotels offer currency exchange but tend to settle somewhere between ungenerous and ‘Dick Turpin’. ‘Menezes’ is like a ‘Spar’ in the UK, stocking pretty much anything you’ll need from gulabjam to aftershave and tobacco to tinned cheese. A good priced off-license too. There are two branches run by a husband and wife. The husband looks after a branch on the Candolim Road out of Calangute and his wife the central Calangute shop, our first port of call.

Hannah emerges from the bathroom in a cloud of ‘Deet’ fumes. She’s not taking any prisoners with the mozzies tonight. I’m sure that the alternative natural repellent of Lemon Eucalyptus oil would be kinder to the nostrils but, hey ho. Long trousers and long-sleeved top are order of the day too.

As an ‘unpalatable’, I can afford to stick with the shorts and short-sleeved shirt. No shoes. I never wear shoes in Goa from the moment we arrive until the final departure. Feet deserve a holiday too. I think it’s the legacy of our very first holiday taken years earlier to the Costa del Sol when my best man offered us the use of his parents’ villa in Velez-Malaga. Winter of ’86 as I recall. It proved to be a memorable fortnight for all the wrong reasons.

We were, if not borderline, then ‘slightly tight’ on money. I had recently been divorced from my first wife and H was separated from her first husband too.

As the villa was up in the Sierras behind Velez, we hired a car at MalagaAirport for the duration of our stay. It all went ‘breasts skyward’ on the second night.

We drove down from the hills into town for a meal. It was out of season and, thus, not hugely endowed with restaurants. The one we chose on a dusty square at the back of town had large windows…they certainly saw us coming!

In fairness, the tapas were great and the chotto (baby goat in garlic) did hold its flavour during the ten minutes or so it took to chew each piece. The non-biological ‘indigestion’ came the following morning. No matter how many times I counted it, I couldn’t persuade the pathetic pile of pesetas on the coffee table to impersonate the not-unhealthy wad we had taken out with us the previous night. By my reckoning, we had about £90 left to last us twelve days.

‘Oh, that’s not too disastrous,’ H tried to reassure me, ‘we can scrape by on £90.’

‘Well possibly, if we didn’t have to pay £75 plus mileage rate for the hire car.’

What should have been a very glum moment was rescued by Hannah’s snigger. Sniggers are infectious and before long we were chuckling. I was still chuckling when I went outside to the hire car to retrieve my shoes which I had kicked off prior to driving back to the villa … as you can imagine, I was in stitches when I returned to report that the hire car had been broken into overnight and my shoes, of all things, had been stolen.

We concluded that I must have given the waiter in last nights eatery thousand peseta notes instead of hundred peseta notes and he, of course, ‘hadn’t noticed’.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining and our linings came in the form of a pair of blue flip-flops with a torn toe strap on one foot, found stuffed behind the hot water tank in the villa and a veritable Annapurna of deposit-paid, returnable, soft drinks bottles left on the balcony by the owners and former guests.

I disconnected the speedometer cable from the hire car to freeze the odometer and we ferried boot-loads of bottles down to the local shops to realise the deposits. Each one only amounted to a few pesetas but their combined worth saved us from having to eat stray dogs, mug old ladies, or send Hannah to ‘El puerto’ to sell her body to the sailors.

A prolonged scrutiny of the local supermarket prices quickly brought us to the stark realisation that if we wanted to have a drink on this holiday (and believe me we needed one) and be able to afford the petrol to get back to MalagaAirport, we would certainly have to stifle any epicurean ambitions. This we would do by eating the cheapest food items available. I can’t imagine that many of you have sought the pleasure of eating tinned pâté and water biscuits for thirteen days on the trot, but that’s just what we did. I’m ashamed to admit that I cannot even remember what animal gave up its existence to prolong ours, but we had pâté on water biscuits, pâté on toast, pâté salad, grilled pâté and pâté ‘en croûte’. We even tried deep fried pâté on one occasion and I still bear the scars to prove it! Do not deep fry fucking pâté!

On one occasion when we were huddled on the grey beach for warmth we were approached by some beggar boys asking for money. H managed to convey to them that we had none and that we had no food either. They ran off and I have to admit that our stoic humour deserted us, briefly, just a tad. A short while later we were more than a little surprised to see the same boys running back along the beach towards us…and amazed when they fell to the sand before us with grubby smiles the size of Montserrat Concepción Bibiana Caballé’s arse and a rolled up newspaper containing a cotchelweight of grilled ‘sardinas’ that they’d scrounged from the last beach vendor as he closed for the day.

The obvious enjoyment they displayed at being able to give us, a pair of foreign strangers, a share of their food made the truly enduring memory of our first holiday together…although the mental trauma of the tinned pâté did run it a close second!

We whiled the following days with excursions to anywhere which didn’t involve an entrance fee or a lengthy drive and amused ourselves back at the villa by flicking the immersion heater switch in the kitchen on and off whenever the other was in the shower. It must have had a faulty earth because it electrified the water whenever it was switched on and invoked tirades of exciting new swear-words from the abluting recipient upstairs.

At Malaga Airport on departure day, we even forwent a much needed meal and scraped enough pesetas together to buy a brace of two litre bottles of the cheapest, palatable, Spanish brandy available, Bobadilla 103.

‘At least we can get caned tonight’ we thought.

The final insult came on our return to Hurn Airport in Bournemouth after ‘liberation’.

I jokingly said to Hannah that I’d be glad to set foot on English soil again but hadn’t meant it quite so literally. As I stepped from the aircraft stairway onto the tarmac, my sockless right foot slipped, the tenuous flip-flop toe strap gave up the ghost, and left me to walk barefoot across the freshly frosted apron to the terminal. Hannah’s ability to laugh in the face of (other peoples) adversity didn’t really need reinforcement.

At least customs wasn’t a problem to us. Having sat and stared vacantly at the emptying baggage carousel in the arrivals hall until there were no cases left upon it and it fell silent, enquiries revealed that our suitcase had decided not to rejoin us in the UK. A week or so, and a return trip to Calgary, Canada later, it postponed its globetrotting long enough to put in an appearance at our front door wearing a fetching, bin-bag tuxedo and gaffer tape cummerbund.

The sad, battered specimen emitted an ominous, crunchy tinkling on being picked up and we could have got pissed on the brandy fumes before it even crossed the threshold. Short of wringing out my under-utilised socks and sieving the glass shards, it was the only way we were going to get caned on that duty-free….you couldn’t make it up.

Back at the Riverside, Hannah and I stroll down towards the pool, all the while looking for the little lizards which hang out in the stairwells. If it’s possible to usher them into our room, we do. Apart from being cute, they eat the insects. None to be seen tonight though…lizards that is.

Like so many eastern tourist destinations, the Candolim / Calangute / Baga conurbation by night performs a magical transformation. It’s like having been miniaturised and walking through a pinball machine on fireworks night.

A million Technicolor bulbs illuminate the streets… shop signs, advertising boards, tiny pavement shrines, fairy lights festooning every bar and restaurant within 100 metres of a thoroughfare, and if a hotel or roadside palm is not adorned with a spiralling, twinkling rope light, it must feel left out.

The lights of the Riverside Regency poolside bar and restaurant have attracted a smattering of resident ‘moths’; mainly new arrivals judging by their pallor. Candles flicker on the few occupied tables. Two youngish guys and a waiter are watching the test cricket on a TV on the bar top. Pakistan v. India. We get a nod and a smile from the barman, Heston, slip down the side of reception and out onto the creek road.

‘Taxi, sir?’ ‘Taxi, madam?’ There are half a dozen Marutis ranked outside the hotel and their eager mounts sitting opposite on the river bank are up from their plastic garden chairs and playing cards quicker than Roger Bannister with diarrhoea.

‘No thank you, we’re walking tonight.’

‘With no shoes?’

‘Catman never wears shoes.’ comes a familiar voice.

A neon-white smile hanging under a creditable moustache appears from the back of the huddle of taxi drivers attached to the face of Sandeep Vaidya.

‘Sandeep, my friend.’

‘Hannaaaah, Eddiiiie, you didn’t tell me you were coming!’

Sandeep shakes our hands with all the vigour of a victorious racing driver about to pop the cork on a bottle of Tattinger and spray his pit crew.

‘I could have collected you from the airport if I’d known.’

‘We lost your card.’ Hannah explained.

I’m still reeling from being able to remember his name. I’m crap at names.

Sandeep, in common with so many Goans, seems to remember the name of every one of his former customers from one year to the next. He is outside the Riverside Regency every season. He owns his taxi and two Honda scooters which he hires to visitors and that is why he knows us.

The ‘Catman’ tag comes from my having a large tattoo of a pouncing cat on my right shoulder and upper arm.

I was very proud of it when I did the design. The inked permanence is still recognisable as a cat despite the fact that the ‘outlaw-biker’, Cornish tattoo artist commissioned to decorate me probably had more Ketamine in his bloodstream than an equine vet did in his anaesthetic cabinet.

At the outset, he seemed quite lucid, rational and understanding of my requirements. At the point that he traced the design onto my arm, he was still reasonably intelligible. Even when decanting the black ink, not into a sterile purpose-made mini-pot but into a tequila shot glass with a magenta lipstick ‘bow’ smudged on the rim, I was prepared to accept his assurances of sobriety. The arrival into his parlour of two denim and leather clad ‘One percenters’ (outlaw bikers self- nomenclature) was probably the point, on reflection, at which I should have stood, thanked him for the ‘practice run’ and bid him ‘Good day’. But I didn’t.

I recognised the newly-seated spectators as ‘Rocky’ and ‘Hatter’ from the local biker chapter, the Scorpio. As a slightly trepid, virgin tattooee …also not recognised by spellchecker but what a great word … the last thing I needed was an audience, and the last audience I needed was one comprising be-muscled, macho, bikers whose visible skin wasn’t marred in any way by patches of pink. I had even heard, and could confirm at a later date, that Rocky’s pain tolerance was such that he had a cherry tattooed on his ‘bell-end’. Now quite why anyone, not least a Hells Angel, would want the image of a piece of soft fruit on their glans, I know not and, quite frankly, don’t want to think about any more. Hatter’s boots clumped across the lino floor behind me. I was unable to hear his footsteps on his return journey to his seat, because he’d persuaded the crappy stereo in the corner to play Lemmys rendition of ‘Ace of Spades’ at a volume level which risked peeling the plaster from the walls.

Hospitality at the St.Austell Ink Emporium was offered and accepted. A straight, pint glass brimming with a neat, robust and fruity Jack Daniels and passed between the four of us was the aperitif to a fine ‘main’. I smelt it before I saw it. Like a sweet blend of sage, coffee and damp earth. A cocktail of ‘red leb’ and ‘squidgy black’ I was told was wafting beneath my nostrils. I gleefully joined the round and took a good few lugs on the huge conical joint before passing it on to the man with the rattling tattoo iron in his hand. Whether it was the JD or the spliff or whatever else was coursing his veins that was responsible, ‘Lou the Tat’ and reality gradually became less intimate. I feared that my arm was going to resemble one of those pictures created by a child of seven months that a proud parent defaces a perfectly aesthetic fridge with.

‘Win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me’ Lemmy balled.

Another joint joined the throng, this one more herbal and citrusy but equally strong. Rocky started telling banal jokes and, before long, we had all joined in. Our giggles turned into raucous laughter that gave Lemmy a run for his money. The now well-depleted glass of bourbon and a third ‘roaster’ came round, and again, and it wasn’t long before any of the four of us were incapable of coherent speech, never mind intricate tattooing. I glanced down over my now tingling shoulder at Lou’s efforts and announced that I would have to call it a day whilst I could still walk and he could still see. For god’s sake, I was even starting to make sense of Motorhead lyrics!

Lou later completed the tattoo and, despite the too-heavy whiskers on my ink cat, I still treasure it and the feint memories that the intoxicated afternoon brings.

Shortly after, we moved away from Cornwall for a few years and on our return heard that ‘Lou the Tat’ had died of an accidental, though predictable, drugs overdose. Such a shame as he was that rarest of all creatures, a genuinely funny, truthful, warm hearted and kind person.

‘Catman!’ … tattoos seem to fascinate Indians and they are as quick to assign nicknames to visitors as they are to themselves.

‘Do you have a scooter for tomorrow, Sandeep?’

‘Yeah, yeah, no problem, I get for you.’

‘Nice new Activa, yeah?’

The Honda Activa is the scooter of choice for discerning riders in Goa.

‘Yes, my friend, nice new one.’

Having updated Sandeep on the UK weather, a subject of unerring interest to him (and taxi drivers worldwide it seems), we stroll off towards the Baga Bridge only a stones throw from the hotel. We cross to the middle and pause to gaze over the parapet. The BagaRiver eddies below, the reflected, coloured lights from the hotels and bars on either bank creating kaleidoscopic swirls on the shallow water surface. Fish occasionally disrupt the patterns, adding plops and gurgles to the background rippling. All the while, scooters and cars toot their horns. Sharp and occasional close by and muted, but more frenzied and contiguous in the distance where the Bridge Road joins the busier Baga Beach Road.

This construction is the ‘new’ Baga Bridge, a twin span concrete affair, built three or four years ago, white painted and spangled with blue and white mosaic.

This bridge replaced the infamous, earlier box-bridge which resembled more a cross between a WW2 German submarine pen and the film set of ‘Hostel’. The thing had a most sinister air and many locals refused to even cross it, preferring a one and a half mile drive to the nearest upstream alternative. If you can imagine a rectangular, single-car-width, fully enclosed, cancerous, concrete tube eighty feet long, laid on its side across the river with a rutted, rough, sand road running through it and no street lighting, you’re half way to knowing how awful it was. Over time, vehicles using the track within had worn away the soft sand. There were rocks the size of basketballs in the road and at the end, on the Baga side, the erosion had created a veritable precipice and a four foot drop to the field below. Anyone less proficient than Evel Knievel at jumping motor vehicles over voids would really struggle to reach the far bank.

Once across the bridge, the old road wound like a sand snake between dusty and sparsely-vegetated football fields on the low ground beside the river, and behind the north end of Baga beach. This place was, and still is, populated by youngsters whose shouting and laughter adds vocals to the scooter-horn symphony. I think the game they play is about eight-a-side…three kids and five dogs on each team.

H and I always joke about a post on a travel website in which someone warns of ‘packs of vicious dogs’ attacking people who cross the football pitches and advising walkers to swathe their ankles with bandages to avert the certainty of frayed legs. To date, we’ve had no such unwelcome, canine intercourse.

We are half way across the fields on the shiny new tarmacadam road and far enough from the hotel to accept the solicitations from a passing tuk-tuk jockey without offending the Riverside taxi drivers. Tuk-tuks are brilliant. Tuk-tuks really bring home to you the sense of being abroad….no western country would allow such things on the road. These tiny, flimsy three-wheeled scooters with a bench seat in the back offer motorised travel at a cheaper tariff than the taxis and, consequently, are less ‘refined’. When I say ‘less refined’, what I should probably say is ‘less conducive to a long, happy and un-splinted old age for its occupants’.

There are rules to be obeyed when interacting with tuk-tuks.

Rule 1: When mounting, try not to put too much weight on the floor pan. The lesser consequence of disregarding this advice is that you will lose the soles from your ‘crocs’ as your feet pop through the thin film of tin and are dragged along the tarmac. The more serious consequence could be that you will lose your feet entirely and end up with frayed legs again. People will point scornfully at your stumps as you exit the tuk-tuk and smugly say…

‘Look at those twats; we warned them on that travel website about walking across Baga football fields without leg bandages.’

Rule 2: Try to avoid using tuk-tuks at night. Like many scooter-based modes of transport, the lights are largely powered by dynamo rather than by alternator and charged battery. This means, in real terms, that all the while the little yellow and black vehicle is speeding along, the driver is rewarded with, if not a beam, then at least a flicker of illumination. The second that he decelerates to avoid the cow which is fast asleep in the centre of the carriageway, his flicker drops to a level which is more likely to attract a glow-worm than improve his night vision.

Rule 3: Ignore rules 1 and 2. Tuk-tuks are great fun and it’s good to live dangerously now and again. Improves the cardiovascular system far better than jogging I’m told.

By now, H and I are speeding along the Baga Beach road towards Calangute and ‘Menezes’. The entire lengths of most roads through the conurbations of North Goa are corridors of vibrant colour, myriad lights, smells and hubbub. You know that bit in ‘Star Trek, the Motion Picture’ when Captain Kirk demands warp speed, Mr.Sulu hits the throttle and a tunnel of streaking colour whizzes past your lugholes? A bit like that. Alfresco bars and garden restaurants vie to woo with chase lights draped through the palms, twinkling candles on tables, tandoori ovens at the roadside disgorging wafts of rich, spiced smoke and names which tantalise or amuse or both. ‘Souza Lobo’, ‘I 95’, ‘Punjabi Dhaba’, ‘Infantaria’ (more on said later), Tibetan Kitchen’, ‘Try Me’ … ’Cactus Shepherds Pie’ ( and no, I didn’t make that one up! Candolim Road, on the right if you don’t believe me.) These are interspersed with shops which are either quaint and intriguing or touristy and tacky, but never dull. The non-touristy ones are a bizarre lure to me and I spend way too much time in them, examining each and every alien item in its simple and primitive packaging whilst H gets frustrated outside.

‘That’s the last time I ask you to get a bottle of coconut oil; fifteen bloody minutes you’ve been in there! Shinned up a palm tree to get it, did you?’

I’m certain, however, that the shopkeepers take a pride in the diversity of their stock, and aren’t one bit annoyed each time I shuffle to the counter and ask,

‘Can you tell me what this is please?’

Sometimes I just buy stuff without the first clue as to what is secreted beneath the baffling wrapper. It’s life on the edge. It’s like being a ten-year-old on Christmas morning, unwrapping gifts with excited anticipation. O.k., so occasionally you end up trying to make tea with an ayurvedic, herbal wart poultice or shampoo your hair in two-stroke motor oil. I even tried to wash my face with a block of UHT cheese once. Hang about, come to think of it, most of the items are better than any of the yuletide presents I got as a ten-year-old.

You should try it. Charity Shop Roulette is a good one. Next time you pass a branch of Help the Aged or Testicular Tumour Research, march in and confidently pluck a CD from the shelf, the artist and title of which you have never heard of in your life. I like to be seduced by the colour or the picture on the cover. Sure, sometimes you get bitten. Well, normally you get bitten. O.k., most of the time you get bitten, except, very occasionally, you pan a musical nugget and your audio collection, if not your life, is enriched forever. The only caveat I would issue on this method of music selection is … never pick anything whose cover portrays hirsute, emaciated men wearing skin-tight trousers and faggy, blouson shirts. Avoid those typeset in any font which is even remotely Gaelic or Germanic in appearance or anything bearing the eight letter public warning ‘Take That’. I cannot ever recall anything nice happening after hearing those two words used in that sequence.

At the far end of the Baga Beach Road is the roundabout denoting ones arrival in Calangute Centre. Take a right and it’s Calangute Beach Road, to the left, Market Road and, directly ahead, Dr.C.Alfonso Road. Any way at all, pandemonium.

We take a left and join the scooter, pedestrian and tuk-tuk stampede for a hundred metres or so before asking to be dropped off opposite Menezes’ supermarket.

Calangute’s main drag is tarmacadamed like most of the urban streets, but is a little wayward at the edges. Between the road and the shops is usually a strip of orange sand and gravel which is utilised as scooter park, taxi rank, cow resting area, dog playground, refuse tip, flea market and refuge into which pedestrians dive to avoid being clumped round the ear with wing mirrors. Within two seconds of stepping out of our tuk-tuk, we are being asked whether or not we’d like a taxi.

We decide to retain the services of our three-wheeler chauffeur and steel ourselves for the lottery which is ‘crossing the street without shedding blood or acquiring an horrific internal injury’. Now this task is best performed in pairs so that each person can concentrate on traffic coming from only one direction. Patience is paramount. You need to stand for a while and just ‘get your eye in’. Note and mentally absorb the variety of hazards which could precipitate your premature, internal inspection of a body bag. Do not make the mistake of assuming that motorised traffic will be displaying lights or, if it is, that the lights are any kind of indication as to the size of the approaching vehicle. Despite the Indians love of all things twinkly and sparkly, when it comes to ‘wearing out’ automotive bulbs by switching them on, they are less enthusiastic. If you can, time your crossing with that of a herd of cows meandering out into the mêlée or a taxi performing a impromptu u-turn. Better still, use a group of less astute or older (and preferably plump) pedestrians as a shield. Look out for new arrivals, the ones with no suntan; they are less likely to be familiar with the hazards of road-crossing. Lastly, check with your fellow observer, take four or five deep breaths to oxygenate the blood and … run like fuck!

Oh, and one other thing, don’t run out too soon after that scooterist has passed; he may have gone, but the twelve foot ladder or eight-by-four foot sheet of plywood on his shoulder might not have.

H continues to rebuff taxi drivers as we reach the sanctuary of Menezes forecourt. We wander in and are immediately recognised with a smile and ‘Hello’ from Mrs. M. The place, as usual, is jumping.

I change enough travellers cheques to pay for tonight’s meal, tomorrow’s scooter hire and living expenses for a couple of days whilst H gets the much more enviable job of selecting tea bags, Nescafé, milk powder, cheese and biscuits for breakfast, bottled water, candles for power cuts, Pepsi and a bottle of McDowell’s No.1 Whisky for a nightcap. I resist the inevitable temptation to buy something intriguing wrapped in patterned, emerald green tissue paper and we step back out into the throng.

The opportunity to purchase a pair of ‘Elvis’ aviator sunglasses, a cigarette lighter which plays ‘Happy Birthday’ when flicked and a whirring, l.e.d. ‘something’ from the table stalls outside is sacrificed in favour of finding an eatery. Our three-wheeled cavalry arrives promptly to spare us the ardour of re-crossing Market Street.

‘I don’t suppose you fancy just having cheese and biscuits in the room, do you? H asks.

My yawn suggested that I did, and with a toot on the rubber-bulbed, brass horn of the tuk-tuk, we warp-drove back along the Baga Beach Road to the Riverside Regency and the quiet comfort of our room.

It took only a nibble and a quaff and the lure of horizontality to persuade our tired bodies to crawl beneath the single white sheet. H selected speed one on the meat-slicer and the talking book, ‘Notes From A Small Island’ from the MP3 menu and we drifted off to the melliferousness of Bill Bryson.

‘Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson, chapter one…’

‘There are certain idiosyncratic notions you quietly come to accept when you live for a long time in Britain. One is that…’ Zzzzzzzzz

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