Ten years ago this week, my brother and I found ourselves in the sleepy Himalayan village of Hatkoti.
We decided to go off the beaten track, and the guidebooks raved about places to the north, south and west, but there was "nothing of interest" to the East – so we took the first bus eastwards from Shimla, and 6 hours later as darkness fell, decided to get off in Hatkoti. We We asked someone where we could stay and they pointed to a temple, down in a valley below. We hadn’t realised just how dark the mountains are, and ended up walking down a mountain, with backpacks on, in the dark with a tiny keyring torch to check that we weren’t going to fall into an abyss.
So it was with great relief when we reached the temple, and a very startled temple keeper told us we could sleep there for free (but blanket rental was 1 rupee a night!) but we must leave our leather belts and shoes outside the complex. And, totally by accident, we realised that we had stumbled upon a beautiful ancient temple, built 1200 years ago. The temple keeper and local policeman came to help us unpack – and talk (they’d never met english people before) and they showed great interest in my packet of Marlboro, so I offered them one. The temple keeper then produced an index-finger sized lump of marijuana resin and gave it to us – so we quickly gave him a whole pack of smokes – and the rest of the night disappeared into a haze.
The next morning, my bro and I were washing in the river, and realised why the temple keeper had been so generous with his ganja. The whole of the beautiful valley was green – with mature marijuana plants! Even the cows were munching it. As we washed, a troupe of neatly-groomed schoolboys wandered past. Hatkoti, in the valley, was a central residential college for all the surrounding area. The boys invited us to visit their school, so we tagged along with them and met an adult who insisted we smoke a joint with him, then showed us through a door which led us directly onto a stage, around which the whole school – maybe 300 boys and 200 girls – were expectantly sitting.
"Sing us a song", commanded someone. "Not a slow one; a fast one". Now, I’d just spent a whole summer as a singer in a restaurant in Turkey, but acapella singing ain’t my forte. In a ganja-induced flash of genius, I had everyone clapping rhythmically as bro and I began with the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine: "In the town [clap clap] where I was born [clap clap]…".
Then it was question time; we gave advice on how one addresses the Queen, an explanation of the UK post code system, tips on how to date American girls (like I’d know!) and then, the ubiquitous question of travellers in India: "Why are you visiting India?". In a flash of ganja-induced stupidity, I replied "I’m looking for an Indian girl to marry". Stupid, stupid me. As we left the auditorium, there was a line of beautiful Indian schoolgirls (a perennial fantasy of mine, I freely confess). The lad who orginally met us introduced them one by one to me.
Helpful lad:"This is Sangita Gupta" Me: "Hi, Sangita". Sangita: "Namaste, Mr Bruce" Helpful lad: (confidentially): "Do you love her?" Me (shamefacedly):"It’s .. er .. a bit too early to tell." Helpful lad: "OK. So, this is Nabeela Mohammed" etc etc
Now, Hatkoti seems well-established on the tourist map, and has a flourishing trade in dowry-free marriages which are a wonderful idea. But to me, it’s the place where I almost got an accidental Indian bride.
So the front door goes, and I answer it. There’s a boy on a bicycle, skinny,
maybe 8 years old, who I’ve never seen before. "Can I have twenty pence?",
he asks politely. I’m dumbfounded. "No"
I reply, incredulously. "Why not?" he replies, equally incredulous
that I don’t just hand out the required funds. Then it occurs to me: maybe
he’s in trouble; lost; needs to phone home. "What do you want it for?" I
ask him. "Sweets [candy]",
he replies with laudable honesty. "Where’s your mum?" I ask. "In
he replies, and gets back on his bike and pedals off.
Tuesday: doing the garden
I decided to spend a couple of hours coding my submission to the CSS Zen Garden. As usual, that couple of hours morphed into about ten.
So the new boss books us all a day’s Dreamweaver training course. I’ve published a lot
about Dreamweaver, but knew there were huge holes in my knowledge as
I’m basically a hand-coder and never used the drag’n’drop features, design
view etc. The trainer’s pretty good; she mentions accessibility issues
in all the right places, and I meet a lot of my goals in seeing just how
powerful Dreamweaver can be as a wysiwyg designer’s tool.
But then she gets us using all the old-school image hspace attributes etc,
so I ask, why don’t we apply some CSS to the img tag? "Ah", she replies
at lunchtime; "I’ve got a big book by Eric
someone-or-other but I haven’t read it yet".
Later, we start laying out a simple 2 column page using tables. "Why
don’t we use DIVs and apply CSS floats?" I ask, being a fucking smartarse. "Because
if you want complex layouts with backgrounds and colours, tables are the only
way", replies our Macromedia-certified trainer. So, I point out that she
is perhaps mistaken, and she nods agreement: "You’re right, but laying
out in tables is much quicker and easier for the developer". And suddenly,
we were back in 1998 again: sod the end-user’s experience, forget using the
tools and language properly – let’s make sure that the developer has
an easy job of it. How could a dot com ever fail with that attitude?
My god’s dick is bigger than your god’s dick
Having been a schoolteacher, being a parent, and approximating a civilised
human being, the siege of the Russian school by Chechen rebels gave me a real
visceral anger. I know plenty of god-botherers of the Islamic, Christian, Sikh
and Jewish flavours, and the ones I know are decent people who are equally
mistrustful by fundamentalism.
But if you are a suicide-bomber in Russia, or Israel; if you are an Israeli
soldier about to fire missiles into residential areas of Palestine; if you
are a Hindu fascist about to burn a Christian family alive; if you are a Catholic
who’s ever blown up shoppers in Omagh/ Manchester/ London, or a "pro-life" death-lover
who murders abortion clinic staff; or if you are an "evangelical" fuckwit
preaching that homosexuals are evil, I really really hope that you suffer the
torments that you wish upon the people whose god hasn’t got as big a dick as
the first tarot reading for years
For the first time in years, I read my
tarot cards for someone else, and it came out well. I’d forgotten how wierd
it can be when the muse takes you, and you find your mouth saying things that
your brain hasn’t yet pre-processed, edited or censored. I read for two summers
in Turkey a decade ago, and the urge to read again – for strangers – has come
back. It’s an urge incompatible with careers, pensions and mortgages, unfortunately.