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.

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