A few years ago I was staying in a town in the Indian Himalaya; one of those towns that would have been described as a ‘hill station’ in the days of the British Raj, where the climate is tolerably similar to that found in Britain, and the Colonial masters were able to retreat for that half of the year that the temperatures on the plains became just too hot for them to endure. When that happened, they would load up themselves and their possessions, even down to plants in plant pots, so that native servants could drive them or carry them for weeks on end, on the long journey up into the hills. Nothing would be too much bother…for the servants and ‘coolies’, that is. At that time, the Westerners considered themselves to be utterly superior to the ‘native peoples.’
Of course, that kind of attitude has been consigned to history, now, hasn’t it?
Anyway, it is a lovely town, this town that I am referring to, full of historical buildings associated not only with the British, but also with Indians (of course), Nepalese, Tibetans, and several other races. For this reason, amongst others, it attracts a goodly number of tourists, Western and otherwise.
One day I sat eating breakfast in a restaurant there, when a group of five other Westerners entered and sat down at a table nearby. Within about half a minute, they had begun to complain bitterly to each other about their travels. They appeared to think that the whole world was a freak show, put on for their benefit as they travelled around viewing it, but everyone that they met in these backward places (‘I don’t miss Western civilisation at all.’ Remarked one of them, whilst playing with his i-phone) were either out to fleece them, or to thwart their plans in some way or another by pretending not to have what they were asking for, or by taking ages to do what was demanded of them.
However, I was distracted from listening to their conversation and wondering how best I could kill them all without being arrested, by the arrival of another Western lady, aged, I would think, about sixty, dressed in a slightly odd mix of Indian and Western dress. She had appeared the previous morning in the restaurant, and had a shouting match with the same group of Westerners, although I had been on the other side of the restaurant that morning and could not understand what it was about.
Today, she popped her bag down on the table next to mine, disappeared for a while, and then returned, with a loaf of sliced bread that she had obviously gone out especially to buy. She took out four slices, turned to me and said ‘Try these; they are much nicer. Are you a priest?’
‘Thank you.’ I replied (I was in t-shirt and trousers, nothing particularly priestly). ‘No, I’m not.’ Our conversation continued for about ten minutes. She was a Plantagenet royal, brought to 2013 by a time machine, which the CIA discovered in 2000. That is why so many people are unhappy; they have been sent away from their proper times. She apologised for not being able to hear very well, although I could see no problem in that respect, but she had been hypnotised. Then she wished me goodbye and went out again.
What a splendid woman. She was a breath of fresh air, and unknowingly saved the lives of five other Westerners that day just by being there.
Unfortunately for me, though, that same evening I chose to eat in a restaurant that was empty when I arrived, so that when a couple of girls came in and sat down two tables away from me, I could hear every word that they said, whether I wanted to or not. There was a Swiss girl, whose role in the conversation was to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and very little else, whilst the other girl, who was British, just spouted on and on and on…
It appeared that she was travelling around the world. If I was a relative, I would have given her the money and said ‘go off for a few years. Enjoy yourself.’ And then moved house. She had been to Marrakesh. To Cairo. Thailand, Cambodia, Australia…I forget where else. Almost everywhere, she hated the food. It generally made her sick. She hated the people. They were horrible. Rude. She was excited because someone was shot in a bar in Cambodia whilst she was in the bar. It seemed to have been the highlight of her travels so far. ‘Was he killed?’ ‘Of course!’ she said, excitedly. And on and on and on…
Perhaps we should all be made to stay at home.