Sunday, November 19, 2006


As I was getting ready for the airport, I was offered a part in a Bollywood movie. As a customs official.

Even though there wasn't time, I was selfishly thrilled, and eagerly imagined my winning rendition of the part, bringing to it a wry complexity.

As I walked to the taxi, there was a dead rat lying outside the hotel. A dog walked past the rat, sniffed it, and then continued on his way.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

French Connection

There is one gay bar in India. And it's only open on a Saturday.

The reason Club Voodoo goes gay once a week is because it's not the biggest crime going on there.

As we walked in, Rick was separated from me by a throng of Russian female prostitutes.

I tried to order drinks at the bar. A knee landed against the back of my leg. And then started to rub up and down against it. And push in harder. I caught a glimpse over my shoulder of a fat grinning man. Frantically I turned to the indifferent barman, who was pouring "vodka" the colour of piss into our glasses. I was being dry humped by a fat man's knee in a hooker bar while paying through the nose for moonshine.

Rick and I stood there, glancing nervously around.

"R and B gets everywhere," growled Rick.

I saw a lovely man at the end of the bar. He looked very severe, with a shaved head and cruel expression. Rick looked over and tutted, "That's an arms dealer."

"All the same, I'm going to chat him up," I announced, staggering unsteadily across the dance whores.

The arms dealer turned out to be a charming French tourist. He'd had a terrible evening at the bar, being groped by strange fat Indian businessmen. It was all rather unpleasant, but we were getting on very well, considering I was almost too drunk to speak.

Soon, I realised it was time to go home. "I'm drunk. I'm going back to my hotel. Would you like to come?" I asked.

The Frenchman warmly. "I don't understand, i'm afraid."

"Would you like to come back with me?"

"No. Sorry. Do you know it in French?"

"Uh. I'm sorry. The only way I know is from the song... and I can't..."

But I did.

He burst out laughing.

"Oui," he said.

Bombay Jazz

Rick and I found a jazz club in Bombay. It was full of rich India businessmen, and empty of jazz.

Instead, there was a wedding singer. We all sang our way through 'Mustang Sally', 'Sweet Caroline' and 'Come On Eileen' quite happily, paying through the nose for vodka.

It was blissful. "How ironic is all this?" I asked Rick after half an hour.

"Not at all," came the grim response.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Power Cuts

Aren't rare in India. And there's nothing that spices up a mad dash to the toilet quite like being plunged into darkness.

However, the joke runs out when you're sat in an airport and there's a power cut. Followed by another one every ten minutes.

Rick turned to me, putting down this Agatha Christie. "We're going to die," he said.


The Indians are proud of their approach to English, which leaves the rest of us a little baffled. In a country that uses the old sense of "avatar" in headlines, it's hardly surprising to pass a billboard that reads "When She's Creative And He's Conservative, Thank God For Royal Tiles."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Love my leeches

So, Rick and I went for a walk through the rainforest. Only a short walk as the sun set. We walked back along the river, and got back to the cottage.

"Right" said Rick. "Let's check for leeches." He smiled a sour smile. He'd picked one up a couple of days before, and had proudly burned it off his leg.

We both laughed at the absurdity of having leeches. And then I pulled up my trouser leg and squealed like a greased gerbil.

Both of us had anklets of leeches, hanging off like swollen bling.

The measure of a true friend is what they'll do for you. I've had friends who'll buy me supper, or sleep with me in a crisis. But Rick is possibly the only friend I have who'll spend a patient half hour burning leeches off my legs.

They were vile little buggers, who just wouldn't die, but flopped around on the porch, pointing themselves hungrily towards us.

We then combed through our trainers, which were full of them. I burned my socks.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


You’ll get ill in India. It’s how you cope with it. Drink plenty of water and make sure there’s a very nice bathroom nearby. Preferably with lots of marble and a bowl of coloured soaps.

If it was up to me, I’d much rather not poo, or even talk about it. In India it’s a fascinating thing. After all, the streets are full of people doing it, and I’m travelling with a straight man. Straight men like farting, and they love pooing even more.

The useful thing Rick taught me was tagging meals, to see how fast the bacteria were working. Cashew nuts seemed useful, even if my claim of half an hour was hotly disputed.

The only thing against us was the food. Two weeks ago, spicy Indian meal after spicy Indian meal seemed like bliss. Now it’s torture. Breakfast is the worst. Weakly, you plead for a little toast and coffee. They do the Indian nod, and bring you some toast. And then a bowl of curry. And a glass of yoghurt with chilli.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Malabar Caves

I only had one bad day on holiday. We were offered two hours in a jeep, seeing a waterfall and the nearby caves. It actually took two hours to get to the waterfall, another two hours to get to the caves, and then two hours to get back.

Six incredibly bumpy hours. The waterfall was fine – but the caves were awful. For a start, we had to climb up a hill. A very steep, tall hill. At the top of that, we had to climb even further. And then, once we’d paid, we crawled into the caves. Which looked oddly like even more mountainside. We scrambled through these open air caves to the Main Chambers. They turned out to be a space between two rocks, about the size of a teashop, almost completely open to the elements.

“Come over and see the carvings!” a guide enthused.

“It’ll turn out to be pictures of lady bits,” said Rick. And he was right.

The sad walk back down the hill was miserable beyond words. Except for the little monkeys, who were great and didn’t spend any time either masturbating or throwing faeces. They just stood around, looking neat and graceful, and a little like WH Auden.

Monday, November 13, 2006


If you are going to do a rainforest, you might as well do it with servants. Why backpack through arduous conditions and wipe your bum on a banana leaf when you can sit in a secluded cottage, reading Perry Mason novels and watching nature just happen merrily around you.

The Bell helped. When we arrived, the hotel staff pointed at it. “If you want anything, just pull the string, and we’ll come.”

We spent an afternoon looking at it, as suspicious as cats. It just seemed wrong. After two days, it was an essential part of life – I don’t understand how I managed to boil my own kettle, mix my own drinks or make my own snacks. (Note to self: Get really subservient boyfriend. Who is also good cook).

The lovely thing about being so high up was the weather. We’d be sat reading on the veranda, and the clouds would come rolling in, blocking out the trees, the valley, and then us.

The Kidnapped Child and the Starving Politician

While we were in India two stories grabbed some headlines. The first was about the child of an IT executive who was kidnapped. After three frantic days, the child came home in a rickshaw.

The police gave a jubilant press conference about how the child’s return was part of a triumphantly elaborate rescue operation.

However, when the child was interviewed he said that his kidnappers had got worried for him, hailed a rickshaw and sent him home.

Angrily, the police responded by arresting the rickshaw driver.

Meanwhile, in another province, an 82 year old statesmen went on hunger strike to protest the conditions in his region. He became so ill that the police arrested him and took him to the nearest public hospital. So horrified were they at the conditions there, they promptly took him to a private hospital. The starving statesman gave an interview that was, effectively, “See?”

Sunday, November 12, 2006


“You’ll love this train,” said Rick. “It’s not a sleeper – it’s like the Eurostar.”

And indeed, if they did a Eurostar to prison, that would be just like the train from Cochin to Kalikut.

A large, vibrant family were sat next to me. They had a young daughter who was precocious. You know how, in classic serials, there’s always a sprightly young thing who reads poems, sings madrigals, says “Fi!” and makes a disastrous early marriage with a guardsman? Well, imagine that at three. All orange ruffles, cartwheels, bangles and constant baby talk. It was almost charming…. Until she realised I was watching Family Guy on my mp3 player.

She was entranced. Good, I thought. She was so entranced, she fetched her brother. Okay, I thought, a little creepy. And then her father.

At which point I realised I was watching an episode about drugs, sex and paedophilia, and hurriedly changed to an old episode of Yes Minister.

The little girl screwed up her face and tugged on her father’s arm so he’d sort it out. He produced his mobile phone and let her play all the ringtones.

When the journey finally ended, we were in Kalikut. It’s a tourist stopping-off point, before you go up to the rainforesty mountains. It really, really smells so much you can navigate with your nose – Turn left at “What the hell’s that?”, carry straight on past “Kidney Infection”, right at “Dead dog” and past the “I don’t know what it is but I think I’m going to throw up. Oh god help me.”.

Kalikut has about one hotel. An old English officer’s club. It’s expansive, a little bit luxurious, and appears to be the local drinking den. Various owners, managers and life insurance salesmen made their way over to our table to swap pleasantries and offer to help us in any way. In the background, a boy of about 14 appeared to do all the work.

In the morning, one of the managers was sat on my porch reading the paper. He scowled at me as I walked past.

The most amazing thing about breakfast there was that they brought it as soon as you ordered it. This isn’t normally the way. Indian restaurants have a little note on their menus “All our food is prepared freshly from your order. Please allow 30 minutes.”

In practice this means that you can walk in, order toast and tea, and watch as they put the toast on, make a pot of tea, and then leave both until their allowed half hour is up. By which time the toast is sandpaper and the tea can talk.

But no. In Kalikut, they brought out the toast when it was freshly toasted. Along with some gorgeous butter. Which was great until I found the mouse droppings.

The Hotel in Kalikut also managed the most amount of paperwork. We had to fill in two forms (171C-New and 171C-Old), in quadruplicate (India is a country where carbon paper is brandished proudly). When we checked out the next morning, we found we had our own dossier. Such meticulous care went into their paperwork that it was hardly surprising they didn’t have the time to clean our rooms.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Diet Coke

India is a land almost bereft of Diet Coke. “People,” Rick said crossly, “Are starving. There isn’t really much call for reduced calorie soft drinks.”

“Coke tastes horrible.” I muttered, chastened.

The Indian approach to soft drinks is that they’re all very well, but a little bit more sugar would make them even better. They do a version of Orangeade that’s pungently sickly – although a dash mixed with “XXL Rum” and a pint of soda water makes a reasonable cocktail.

The Indian approach to hard drinks is curious. They have booze shops that look rather like betting shops – a long, furtive queue and frantic shouting at the counter. Customers slink away, neatly concealing three or four bottles of rum in their dhoti.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Boat Trip

Travelling companion RickThe boat looked like a whicker armadillo. But it was our own boat. With servants. For two days. Pottering up and down a genteel river in a piece of giant garden furniture, past rice fields, palm trees, and strange little villages,

We did nothing, very steadily.

We’d sail past rice fields, where peasants were happily gathering in rice, and then suddenly squat and poo in the field before moving on. It makes a certain agrarian sense, but it’s still a facer when your cook brings you a plate of steaming rice an hour later and says, “We brought it from that field we passed this morning.”

Every now and then, our boat would stop at some strange land mark. Either an electricity sub station, or a water tower. I realised that these were probably sites of great local pride. Or just near the shops.

I’m uneasy about having servants. On the plus side, it’s three new people in my life to constantly apologise to.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chemists Shop

Product proudly displayed in the window: “Nice N’White Skin Bleacher”. Oh.


We went to Pondicherry because it had a nice-sounding name. It’s an old French beach resort, so the streets have those quaint blue-tin-and-white-writing signs that say things like “Rue du Renard”.

There’s a lycee in town, so every now and then a chic French girl will putter past on a scooter. All the restaurants serve gourmet French cuisine. Or at least, a version of gourmet French cuisine. And anyway, when a steak’s 40p, can you really complain?

Pondicherry contained the first nice hotel – Hotel de l’Orient. It appeared to be a restored chateau, with vast rooms, four poster beds, and slowly stirring ceiling fans. It was luxury, especially after Bombay, where Rick’s room overlooked a kitchen yard where the chef was butchering chickens. And it was about £20 a night.

Going out at night, we found a tiny little bar. The kind of place that North London bars aspire to be – the sort of chic filth you associate with Cuba. Cockroaches chased across the crumbling plaster, ashtrays overflowed onto the floor, and wires dangled from the ceiling.

When we walked in, a couple of “travellers” at the bar glared at us. The look said, “Fuck off, tourists. We’ve suffered to find this place. This is the real India. You have no part in it.”

Rick and I grinned and started to work our way through the interesting collection of fake whiskies behind the bar, with names like McSporran, Bagpiper and Old Tartan. Rick brough a packet of fake Marlboro lights. They looked like Marlboro, but were like smoking soap, and turned teeth instantly black, like joke shop cigars.

By the time we were a little drunk, Traveller Girl was dancing ethnically to that song about Milkshake bringing boys to the yard.

By the time we were very drunk, we’d spent £1.20. As we left, Traveller Girl was sobbing at her table, muttering, “I love this country so much.”

We were followed home by a little man on a scooter, who looked rather like Ralph from the Muppets. He kept asking us whether or not we were married, and grinning.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cures for Travel Sickness

1)Mildly successful cure for travel sickness
Run over a dog. It'll take your mind off it.

2)Incredibly successful cure for travel sickness.
Run over a cow a few minutes later.

Rather nicely, Rick leant the taxi driver his bottle of water so he could wash the blood off the car.

Notes on Vermin

I've never really liked rats. I can't see a point for them, although India has taken them to its heart.

There are, by the way, no cats in Bombay. Plenty of sick-looking dogs living off dust, but no cats. It's as though they got together, took one look round and said, "Fuck this, let's build a raft."

But rats - rats are everywhere. Which is a shame, as I've never liked rats. One of my earliest memories is living on a housing estate in Northampton. We'd only just moved in, so there was no furniture, and the TV just rested on the floor. I was watching Star Trek, and a rat ran in front of the screen. I've never liked Star Trek since.

The only nice fact I've ever learned about rats came from a man I met in Hyde Park. He was so remarkably under-endowed he made a cat look well-hung. I was gamely trying to go down on him on a park bench, and he just stopped me. "Never mind," he said, "Let me tell you about the Royal Parks instead."

One of the things he told me was that Hyde Park has almost no vermin, as it is large enough for foxes to live in. And foxes eat all the rats. This is the only nice thing I've ever heard about rats.

Platform Fag

It was 2 am, and we were 12 hours into a 26 hour train journey across India.

I popped out onto a train platform to smoke a cigarette.

I got three drags in before a guard stopped me. "There's no smoking here!" he yelled. "India is a clean country," he admonished me, as a rat scuttled across the platform towards a fresh turd.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Indian Train

"I should like," I said, "to go to Pondicherry. It's supposedly an old French town, but plonked in the middle of India. Sounds cute."

"Sure," said amiable travelling companion Rick, "I'll book us a train."

Just buying the tickets took three visits to Bombay railway station, walking along a nasty little gutter where people were buying fast food on one side, and defecating on the other.

But we got the tickets in the end. As we left the train station, I walked past a rubbish bin, which someone had tipped coffee grinds into. Then, as I passed it, I realised they weren't coffee grinds.

One thing I soon learned about Bombay - if you're not sure what it is, it's probably human excrement. It's a city where 6 million people don't have access to a toilet at all. Of any kind. Even in the nicer slums, the ratio of people to toilet is 1,500:1.

The train itself was surprisingly nice. A bit like a prison on wheels, only without the showers or sexual tension. Everything apart from the bedding was nailed down, and the beds themselves were made out of the same pallets they use in gay saunas.

I unfolded my bedding. It contained pubic hair and two muddy footprints, probably tracked in from a squat toilet.

We were sharing a tiny cubicle with a snoring businessman and a polite young naval commander, who kept us sane for the next 26 hours.

26 hours is a long time to spend on a train. It was suprisingly lovely - just sitting back and reading, drinking endless cups of coffee.

The best thing of all was discovering a Western Toilet at the end of the carriage, which was strangely reassuring. Although after a few hours, someone did to the toilet what we'd all like to do to K-Fed.

Bombay After Dark

"How nice," I thought, "It's 2am in Bombay and the roads seem quiet. I'll go for a little stroll."

The road seemed lovely and empty and calm. And then... It was like one of those magic eye pictures. But a magic eye picture that's watching you.

I was aware that all around me, I was being watched. By the road. From the long shadows under cars... And by the pavement, with it's little individual cobbles. Each cobble was staring at me. And then I realised what they all were.

Vermin highway.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Filthier and sadder than I could ever have imagined. Where there isn't poverty, there's shit. And trailing through it all are people, people, people. Ooh, and cute little taxis with almost no gears.

In my first day, I've seen the official welcoming of the Prime Minister of Belgium, and mistaken my mosquito cream for toothpaste. My gums have stopped bleeding.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Spark plugged

A straight electrician followed me home the other night.

In his defence he was very drunk. I was out drinking with the Gay Royalty of Cardiff - a couple of staggering handsomeness and style. And suddenly, he sat down at our table. With a slight whoosh of bacardi breeze.

He announced he was straight. Very straight. And then looked at one of the Gay Royal Family. "You are gorgeous, mate."

"I'm straight," said one of the GRF. He pointed at me, "He's my gay brother. And that -" with a gesture at his partner, "is his ex."

Confused? Now add eight pints.

It was all good harmless fun. Until the electrician said that one of the GRF looked like Barry Manilow. Then we figured we could be as nasty to him as we wanted.

So, we got drunker, and he just sat there, believing every lie we told him, until at one point, quite without us noticing, he took his trousers down and rested his member on the pub bench.

"Ya see?" he said, grinning. He'd obviously just proved a really important point in his head.

We glanced at it, and tutted.

Quite why or how he followed me home, I don't know. But he did. Placidly. Like, I suspect, cattle trot off to the abbatoir.

He sat down on my sofa and waited. I pottered around, getting ready for bed.

"Right," he said. "I suppose you know I'm a DJ, yeah? I've got a residency at The End."

"Um." I said. It could have been worse. He could have wanted to talk about sport.

"Now, guess who my favourite DJ is. Go on."

Out of my depth, I shrugged. "Armand van Halen?"

He looked at me, blinked, and shook his head. "No, man, he's like number 15. I want the top, the first, the best DJ in the world ever. What's anal sex like?"

"Fat Boy Slim has to be in the top 10," I ventured.

"Seven," he nodded, "Not that I'd ever do it mind, but I'm curious. Just want to know what being bummed feels like, you know. Never do it. Now guess who number one world DJ is, faggy."

I never did guess who the number one DJ is. But I did answer his other question about five minutes later.

The next morning he turned out to be a surprisingly good kisser. "It's being straight mate. Pretty much all my girlfriend wants to do."

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

South by South West

"It would," said the doctor, "Be so easy to make you into a zombie right now."

Instead, she told me about Flu Season. "It's why I gave up general practice. 37 people sitting in surgery every morning, and another 40 in the afternoon. I was having panic attacks. I was terrified of going in every morning - but I loved being a doctor. So I did this."

She'd opened up a small private surgery. Which was very flexible about appointments, letting you see a doctor at a moment's notice for a small fee. Which meant that when, halfway through an email, I thought "Well, I can't do this any more," I was just able to pop down and see her. It's like how GPs were 10 years ago. Even the receptionist was chatty, rather than a terrified harridan hidden behind bullet proof glass covered in Hindi.

Anyway, the point is I'd reached a stage where I just couldn't work. Now matter how much I loved my job, every time i'd try and do something - whether work or email - I'd just feel an incapacitating wave of panic and misery. Every morning, I'd wake up, shaking with fear. Every evening, I'd stumble to bed, miserable.

Which is what found me in the doctor's surgery. With her explaining that there were all sorts of exciting new pills to try before hitting the heavy stuff.

My pills, it turns out, are pink. And immediate. True, they stop me laughing as much as they stop me crying, but this merely means that I can watch the West Wing with dignified composure, and allowed me to have an evening out with my parents without feeling despair.