Thursday, March 11, 2010


I took a wrong road, reached an unhappy destination, then began again in a fresh direction. All that remains of that period is remorse, a few stories and a few memories of remarkable and precious moments. Attempting to revisit those moments is futile. I tried yesterday. The memory is of four of us in my open VW. I had driven to Mapsa market. As I turned right at the end of the market to head back to Calangute, someone yelled my name. None of the others heard. I was certain. I reversed back round the corner. An old friend, Hamish Crawford, swayed on the sidewalk. He was seriously sick with jaundice and his then wife had abandoned him for a particularly unattractive red-headed Brit. God knows where Hamish found the strength to reach Mapsa. He saw my VW take the corner and he thought, That is the type of car Simon would drive if he came to India. So, yes, a remarkable moment, but impossible to revisit. Mapsa market is unrecognisable. Memory is memory. Let it be.
John seems to me stuck in the past – that book, all those photographs.



The erstwhile manufacturer of silver snake belts has telephoned with a number for Walking John. I call and we meet at John's house. It seems to me a sad house, old and long and narrow and dark and neglected. Presumably it was bought as a resurrection project. If so, the resurrection stalled early.
And John, though ten years the younger, seems to me old. We sit opposite sides of a wood table in the dimly lit entrada and he tells me of his health. He has cataracts and had a cancer cut out from close to his nose and too close to his eyes for radio therapy. Whether the surgeon removed all the cancer is uncertain. John has wondered often what happened to me, so he says, and talks of me often to those he sees from the old days. He commiserates with me for having arrived too late to take part in last month's reunion of the old Goa stagers – though most who came were from the 80s or later. He shows me a book commemorating the reunion with photographs of then and now. Long hair is the uniting feature. The faces are foreign to me. Even when here, I wasn't part of that. The inside cover lists the dead.
John mentions two. Vanessa Jack is the shock, dead young in her sleep. I have been trying to trace her on the world wide web for the past six months. We traveled together forty years ago. Our journey was hers as much as mine. We were good together. Certainly there was love - yet I abandoned her in Nepal. I was taking that wrong road and didn't want her involved.


Fiona and Paul (Dutch) are giving a Sunday luncheon party at a French restaurant on the beach in Goa (ex-Portuguese. Of their guests, I am the only non-Indian. A major industrialist with homes here in Goa and in Delhi and Bombay and in France and in New York (two) talks of the British in the years after Indian Independence. He lists companies then famous in British industry, all swept away by superior Indian management. Britain had lost interest in India. British industry sent their weakest managers.
I doubt whether British managers existed who could have saved British interests in India. If so, why didn't they save British industry at home? Car manufacturers deceased. Truck manufacturers deceased. Locomotive manufacturers deceased. Motorcycle manufacturers deceased. And so on and so on and so on...


Amin de Souza has invited me to lunch. We will meet at the steps below Panjim's biggest church. I arrive early, park the bike and sit in the cool of the nave. I am digging into happenings that have lain heavily on me for forty years - surely an inappropriate time to practice protected by the massive walls of the church, I surrender to the quite and cool and peace and finally simply accept for the first time the futility of my search. I did what I did. I knew that it was wrong, that I hurt people dear to me. But it is done. Remorse changes nothing. Time to move on.
So with Amin I sit and say little but, at peace, listen to the history of his life, of a father increasingly erratic and increasingly frail to whom, in nursing, Amin gave chunks of his life and on whose death, Amin managed to clean, if not the emotional distress his father bequeathed, at least the financial chaos.
It seems to me as I listen that suffering from his father's actions and the collapse of his parent's marriage, then suffering for his father in his illness has made Amin very self-contained. He has tested himself and learned the futility of anger. He is become a man to trust, a man of remarkable integrity, a man good to be with.



My turn for a question. What happened to Walking John.
Walking John was a Brit in his mid twenties. His base was a bed-sit with bathroom on Bombay's Marine Drive - nowadays as costly as a walk on the moon. John wintered in Goa and summered trekking in the Himalayas. John liked to tell of his walking and Peter Henry was a listener. One of John's tales concerned the Buddhist monastery closest to Base Camp on Mount Everest. The monks had become rich and lazy on the leavings of Everest expeditions. In earlier days they survived on the sale of religious prints on handmade paper. Climate made printing difficult. Either the inks froze or humidity made the inks bleed. According to Walking john printing was possible only six weeks a year.
Eastern Spirituality was big business. Peter Henry loaded John and two young Californian women with natural colour inks and hand-made paper bought at an art supply store in Bombay and instructed John to reach the monastery at the beginning of the window, rent the blocks from the monks and print print, print.
Peter Henry took the prints to New York for Christmas and set up a display (at Bergdorf Goodman, if I remember correctly) with photographs of Everest and the monastery and monks coached to look spiritual plus a few monastic geegaws - one was a silver-edged bowl fashioned from a aged human cranium. Genuine Buddhist print from the Monastery at Everest Base Camp and blessed by the Abbot made a great Christmas present at $100. The outlay was five cents.Walking John complained that he never saw the profit. Such is the risk in joining forces with a scam artist.
So where is Walking john now?
“Almost certainly in Goa,” says my host, though he may need a day or two to come up with a telephone number.


My past is surfacing at a party in Goa. First Amin de Souza. Now, “What happened to Peter Henry,” asks my host.
Last I knew of him, Peter was in Liverpool preparing designs for a flash Chinese restaurant and overseeing the work. The Chinese had paid Peter up front - always an error with Peter. So is scamming the Chinese. Peter disappeared. That was thirty years ago and Liverpool is a sea port. The tide goes out twice a day. Those of us who knew him well fear that he went out on the tide.


Peter Henry was an accomplished scam artist. Antique silver snake belts were a fashion item in Europe and North America and young Westerners on their travels were scouring the bazaars for belts. Peter Henry spotted a short cut. Surely snake belts were as easy to manufacture as metal watch straps. My present host had a watch strap factory. Peter Henry ordered a few hundred belts. He packed the belts in a net and buried them in the sand at the low water mark. Two weeks and the belts had gained the wear of a century. Peter Henry headed for New york in time for Christmas, reaped a splendid profit and swamped the market. Snake belts were no longer a fashion item.


Why did Amin de Souza remember me? With this thought, my own memory clicked. I knew our host. Used to know him. I'd been to his home in Bombay more than once. He was married to a difficult German then. We were seated beside each other now on the stone parapet. The garden lights were dim – not that good light would have helped. Forty years changes a man. “Simon Gandolfi,” I said. “You manufactured the belts for Peter Henry and the silver snake belt scam.”

Monday, March 08, 2010


I don't do parties in the UK. Eight people in a room is a maximum. More and I become claustrophobic. Cocktail parties are my particular hate. Stand with a drink in one hand, nibbles in the other and nod intelligently to someone whom you can't hear above the general babble. And what do you do with the trash? Leave with a pocket full of toothpicks and olive stones? Outdoors is different, room to breathe and usually somewhere to sit. This party is hosted by a Bombayite and his English companion. I sit on a stone parapet of comfortable height and talk with a Goan civil engineer.
Does he know of a Goan architect with a Danish wife?
De Souza - yes , of course. He is dead, she back in Denmark with their daughter. However the son, Amin, lives here in Panjim.
I recall Amin as a small boy.
“We'll telephone him.”
“At ten o'clock?”
Absolutely – and he does. “Amin, I have someone here who wants to talk to you,” and hands me his mobile.
“Amin, you won't remember me. Simon Gandolfi.”
“Simon Gandolfi! Of course I remember. You used to drive us to the beach in one of your open Volkswagen...”


Simon and Lisa have difficulties in getting published. Simon does the writing and organises their photo-library (one hundred thousand or more pics) while Lisa does the more mundane: route planning, visas, finance, etc. Simon is one more forty-year old biker – OK, so he's tall with long hair and moderately glamorous. Who cares? Lisa is the story. She is the elder by ten years, tough good-looking without being butch and astride a great big throbing BMW. Open the throttle and she leaves Simon trailing. That's the story, Flash leather and a Toy Boy. Most every woman's dream.


www.horizonsunlimited. com is a web site community of biker travelers initiated by a Canadian couple, Susan and Grant Johnson. Check the Hubb for road conditions in Albania, visas for Turkmenistan, possibility of entering China, BMW mechanic in Buenos Aires. What ever, you'll find it here. And you make friends. I have been communicating via the web with an English couple, Lisa and Simon, since 2004. Now, finally, we meet on Arambol beach. They have been on the road for seven years and ride monsters. I ride a minow and we are very different travelers. Simon and Lisa are adventurous. Travel ecstasy for me is good tar, a dish of prawns, soft mattress and Emails from my kids. For Lisa and Simon, the tougher the road the happier. Truly dangerous and they are ecstatic. Check their site on how to survive a broken neck in the Amazon forest ( However a few weeks of Indian drivers has put them in a hate-India mood.


GOA: FEBRUARY 13Paul and Fiona work a twelve-hour day. I hunt my past. Goa's Hippy community has been squeezed steadily northward. Calangute was the beginning, then Baga, Anjuna...Now ninety minutes up the coast to Arambol. Goa is ruined – so they say. Then why do I pass almost deserted white-sand beaches?
As to the hunt, imagine a fat ederly Blimp accosting any Oldie with long hair. “Excuse me, have you been here long?”
In a guttural German accent, “Ten years...”
The Blimp needs forty...And the courage to keep accosting elderly long-haired strangers. A full day (unsuccessful) and I divide them into gracious, puzzled, bewildered, dismissive and impolite.


Paul and Fiona don't eat in. They haven't eaten in for fifteen years. They could write the definitive guide to the best restaurants in Delhi, Bangalore and Goa without further research - a fresh project should they lose interest in automobiles. They are also the experts on India's stray dog population. Paedophiles groom children. Fiona and Paul groom strays. Spot a male stray and the grooming begins with leftovers from dinner. A week and the stray becomes expectant. Progress to physical contact. Finally in to the back of the car and home to the knife and recuperation. Two such dedicated castraters per district would decimate India's huge stray-dog population. Next step, homo sapiens...


To begin again: Fiona/Paul may not be the true voice of Goa. They are the true voice of modern India. They research the Asian automobile market and provide detailed reports for major motor manufacturers. They founded their company fifteen years ago with offices in Delhi, moved to Bangalore and have now been in Goa for two years. A large Portuguese country house is both their home and their office where a staff of ten or more sit at computer terminals in what was the dinning room. The guest bedroom is as big as a UK council flat. The bathroom is marginally smaller. I sleep in a vast bed beneath a mosquito net. I keep the door to the corridor shut. Leave it open and the room is invaded by a pack of ex-stray dogs and puppies.


Fiona and Paul - is it sexist to put the woman's name ahead of the man's? Or the man's ahead of the woman's? Please excuse the digression. I have had only one cup of coffee this morning and my thoughts remain somewhat disorganised. The plains of Tamil Nadu in March are hot. Fortunately I am cooled by a strong sea breeze. I am writing on the roof terrace of the Sunrise Guest House in Mamallapuram. A grass park and a few trees separate the guest house from the sea. The sea is a pale greeny blue beneath a sky that is paler than pale. Surf breaks on the rock shore. Two small, narrow, high-bowed fishing boats rock at anchor. Four sister boats have chugged south down the coast. A junior teenage help is preparing fresh coffee. Ten minutes and my brain will be unscrambled.