Late in the tourist season I learn that a friend from London has just arrived in the area, staying in the same small village as me in the south of Goa, we meet up and have a drink, Tim is a lovely bloke, back home he does lots of stuff in the local community, he was a founder of the Portobello Film Festival, he got himself involved whenever the local council tried to rip down the heritage of the borough and sell it to the highest bidder, ( in Kensington and Chelsea this is a regular occurrence ) of a Saturday morning you could more or less be guaranteed to find him on Golborne Road helping a bloke with a junk stall on the market, where, when customers were haggling and deals were slow to come Tim would step in like an upmarket David Dickinson with a Degree in Art History and offer sage advice on potential purchases. Later you would find him sitting outside the Portuguese Cafe, holding court and disseminating wisdom & reflections on life and existence to the friends that would mosey by on their ritual Saturdays down the market.
Tim had an unfailing ability to be able to echo locate a party at will, in fact it was a given that were you to be at any decent party on a Saturday night anywhere close to Portobello Road then there you would find Tim.
Remarkably Tim’s party nose even worked in India, A friend of mine he announced is having his 50th Birthday party down at OM beach, it’s a weekend thing, should be quite good why don’t you come? Well maybe, say I, why not.
I meet up with Tim at the local train station where ever the gentleman I find him dressed in a cotton shirt, a crumpled but impeccably tailored summer weight linen suit and a pair of brown brogues that were no doubt hand stitched by blokes from generations of cobblers in Northampton.
Even the crumpliness of the suit worked, every crease said emigre gent, the Englishman washed up on tropical shores, the kind of fellow who would never ever let himself be seen unsuitably dressed. It is eighty degrees but a gentleman, an English gentleman has standards to keep.
Om beach is an hour and a half train journey south from Goa into the next state of Karnataka, the train is slow, but the sixty kilometre trip rolls though palm trees and estuaries and seascapes & the lack of speed is a blessing, some journeys can only be truly appreciated when you take them slowly.
As we approach the end of our train journey Tim springs into life, right he says, I can see taxis ahead at the station, there are only two of them, we should get off the train quickly and make a dash for the taxi rank, otherwise we may not get one. I follow Tim down the carriage and wait behind him at the door. Before the train has drawn to a halt he opens the door and steps down onto the footplate, he then launches himself onto the platform and begins to run for the station exit, I follow, in India where it feels like nothing ever happens quickly the sight of two Englishman in a rush brings curious stares from the locals, but we get to that taxi rank before anyone else and as we pull away I look back at a gaggle of customers fighting over the one taxi that remains.
Nice one Tim.
The taxi journey should be a ten minute ride, skirting the city of Gokarna and then on to Om Beach. But then the driver pulls into a side street and before I realise what is happening two policemen are standing beside the passenger doors of the car. It turns out that tourists arriving in the area are checked for booze and drugs, this is a dry state and the former is strictly controlled and the later basically a big no no.
Well normally this wouldn’t be a problem, I’ve never been one to dabble in illicit substances, well apart from a joint once in a blue moon, but today of all days I had a lump of cannabis in my pocket and I can tell you right there and then I practically crapped myself.
Like I said, I never really indulged, but this one time – I thought, what the hell, it’s a party weekend, a little smoke isn’t such a big thing, and I’ve always been anti drugs, maybe I need to relax a bit, a little bit of weed can’t do any harm can it? And, after all marijuana has been proven to help with arthritis, so hell it’s practically medicinal? So that one time I bought a little weed and took it with me on the train.
The cops escort us into a hut by the side of the road and one concentrates on me, the other on Tim. We are asked to empty our pockets, I imagine how this is going to go, at best I am going to be frog marched to the nearest ATM and my bank account fleeced with an ‘on the spot fine’ or at worst made an example of and end up in court and then banged up in some mosquito infested shit hole of a gaol.
I decide to try to pull a fast one and when I’m emptying my pockets hide the lump of hash between the base of two fingers then when I’ve been patted down slip it back in my pocket. Somehow or other the cop doesn’t tumble and I get away with it. Next he goes though my bag. Just as I think the ordeal is over he then says ‘drop the trousers’.
Come again? I reply.
Take down your trousers.
I follow instructions, he then proceeds to look into my underpants. This he does rather thoroughly.
Tim however does not get the same treatment, he is patted down and then told that his check is complete, my nether regions are still being investigated.
Is it the suit? Do I just look dodgy?
Meanwhile two other tourists are marched into the hut accompanied by two more policeman.
They are youngsters, they have tattoos, they are patted down, bag searched, but no underpant investigations ensue.
As I am given the all clear I dress, a feeling of indignation wells up and despite the fact that I am carrying drugs I nevertheless feel incandescent with rage at my treatment. How could they?
Why was I the only person out of four to have his pants peered into?
Now I should have just kept quiet, but oh no, Mr. Angry is going to give these cops a piece of his mind.
Why search me and not him? I point towards Tim, why didn’t you go through his underpants?
And these two, I point at the two other tourists, I hope you are going to go through their underwear.
The cops just laugh at me and wave me away dismissively and off I go back to the taxi, fuming & feeling hard done by whilst Tim laughs.
A few minutes later our taxi pulls up at Om beach, a second taxi is not far behind us, as I am getting my bag from the boot I hear footsteps behind me, I turn to find the figure of a Westerner bearing down on me. He then launches at me verbally.
“ You fucking cunt “
I’m sorry I say incredulously……..
Then I clock him as one of the other people at the Police checkpoint………..
My mate, he says gesturing back to the other taxi, I had to hold him back he says, he wanted to come over here and punch your lights out ……. When you told the cops they should search us, where do you think we had our stash?
You dumb fucker he says for good measure. He stomps off not waiting for a reply.
I spend the next two days trying to avoid them though on one little beach with just a few places to hang out it’s not exactly easy.
Om Beach is a crescent shaped bay of white sand less than a kilometre in length, squeezed between sea on one side and hills covered in green forests on the other, there are ramshackle beach huts peppered along the border between sand and forest, but this is like Goa must have been thirty or more years ago, it is nascent, low density, and un-evolved tourism and all the gentler for it.
Tim and I spend a while trying to find a place to stay for the weekend, we trundle up and down the beach, most places are full, eventually we find a room with two beds in an uninspiring and basic gaff, our room is built on sand, the walls are bamboo and woven palm, its nothing to write home about, but its somewhere to sleep.
Saturday night and the party kicks in, there are at least fifty or sixty Brits, mostly West Londoners, its a little surreal us all being here at a beachside bar and restaurant in Southern India. Encouragingly there is a tonne of delicious food and plenty of alcohol, I’m not quite sure how they managed to do it in a dry state, but I drink more than my fair share and by the end of the night am pretty thoroughly pissed. The later part of the evening is to be honest a blur, but I had sobered up enough to make my way back to my hut at some point in the early morning, I arrive at close to 3am, the hut is locked, I fish through my pockets for the room key, it is nowhere to be found.
Tim, dirty stop-out is not there, the shack owner likewise nowhere to be found. I ponder my predicament, shall I just sleep on a bench for the night? No, I can’t, the thought of a bed is just too alluring, I just have to get inside. I try forcing the lock without success, then consider cutting a hole in the palm leaf walls, then I look down at the floor, of course – it’s sand, maybe I can dig my way under the panels? I begin to claw away at the compacted sand with my hands, I go deeper and deeper and the tunnel grows larger and larger until its wide enough for me to crawl inside, on I go for a metre or so straight then I begin to dig upwards, Eventually I break through to open ground on the inside of the room, I crawl through, and flop on my bead, relieved and it has to be said somewhat proud of my ingenuity given the late hour and my state of inebriation.
The following morning I get up and crawl once again through my tunnel, waiting for me on the other side are four figures, all seated in a semi circle watching me. The shack owner and three staff. They say nothing, I ever the wit say something about ‘these bloody turtles, what a nightmare’. My attempt at jocularity doesn’t work though and they just sit saying nothing.
I paid for a new lock, and at the end of the weekend Tim headed off, I rather partial to the delights of Om beach stayed on for a while.
That weekend was the last time I was to see Tim, a year or so later I was overseas somewhere & I learned on social media that Tim had died. Gradually it became clear it was suicide, he had hung himself in his flat. The news shocked me, the brutality, the pointlessness, the tragedy, this bright man, full of life and decency, this raconteur and flanneur had topped himself. Why did he do it? So many people valued him, liked him, the world was a better place for him being in it, might he have changed his mind if he knew how much he would be missed?
To be honest I would like to have made his funeral service, but I was kind of pleased it wasn’t to be, because my abiding memories of Tim are of laughter and creased linen suits and a voice that even now if I walk down Golborne road on a Saturday I half expect to hear coming from the back of a stall on the market.