Christina Patterson: Reality intrudes in the search for paradise

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Five years ago, I ended a love affair with a nasty itch. The itch, it turned out, when I went to the doctor complaining that entire armies of creepy-crawlies were apparently trying to burrow through my skin (which now resembled a bloody battlefield) was scabies. Armies of creepy-crawlies were indeed, said the doctor, trying to burrow through my skin. But where had they come from? Had I, asked the doctor, been in close proximity to anyone, er, new? No, I had been living like a nun. But I had just been on holiday in Goa.

The love affair started six years before. Like almost every other inhabitant of this green and sometimes pleasant land, there comes a point, usually in January, when I feel that if I don't glimpse the sun, if I don't, in fact, have some vivid visual reminder that behind that grey shroud, a better, nicer, and considerably warmer, world is hiding, I will shrivel up and die. And so, like many another cash-strapped Brit, I heard the voice of God telling me to go to Goa.

It was love at first sight: the sky, an electric blue that makes you feel alive; the beach, a golden sweep of sand stretched out like a vast hammock; the palm-trees, bowed as if in homage to that wondrous orb – oh dear, oh dear, we're back to the Bounty ad. But isn't that what we all want, in the fag-end of the year? Bring on the clichés. Bring on the Bounty. Bring on the pool and the pina colada.

The hotel was modest, but it was fine. If you stayed by the pool, you spent your day with middle-aged couples from Manchester. They were extremely large (so large that the hotel beautician giggled, when she pummelled my flesh, that she had never before massaged a slim Brit) but they were perfectly nice. They didn't wander round the local town in a bikini and a sarong. They didn't haggle, in imperious mockney, over 10p. They didn't take drugs and paint the palm trees red.

That, by the way, is not a metaphor. The trunks of the palm trees on Anjuna beach, the one time I went there, had been painted in lime-green, pink and fluorescent yellow. The flower children – gap-year public school boys, pierced and dread-locked and tie-dye pantalooned, and their older companions in tuning in and dropping out – had, in rather literal-minded acquiescence to Voltaire, cultivated the garden they had found and appropriated in such a way as to intensify the psychedelic range of their drug-fuelled experiences. Here, all the world was not just a stage, but a rave.

The fourth time I went to Goa, this army of creeping brown insects had spread and multiplied and crawled into the cracks. The whole place was infested. It wasn't paradise before, of course. Like anywhere else on earth with poverty – and, indeed human beings – there were drunken, violent husbands and vicious bosses and corrupt police. But when the new colonials arrived – too laid-back to work, but too penny-pinching to pay anyone for anything properly – a whole new ingredient was added to an already piquant dish. Contempt.

Of course the largely Hindu and Catholic Goans aren't overjoyed by the advent of these crab-like creatures baring their bodies and, from time to time, their (metaphorical) teeth at a local population they regard, due to an economic accident of birth, as their inferiors. Of course they're going to grab a bit of the sexual pie if it's on offer. Of course they're going to rustle up a suspect or ten if that's what the bosses demand.

It's the oldest story in the world. Rape, pillage, revenge. And yes, Ms McKeown, you were – tragically – naïve.

A counsel of hope for real women

"To live without hope can mean to live without despair," says a character in Terence Rattigan's Deep Blue Sea. Well, quite. But the current touring production of this play, directed by Edward Hall, is one to give hope to middle-aged women everywhere. The play, unfortunately, won't. A searing depiction of the agony of unequal love, it's almost enough to make you think that the central character's bid for suicide is an excellent idea all round.

But she is played by Greta Scacchi, the star of Heat and Dust and White Mischief, still smoulderingly beautiful at 48. Unlike that all-purpose male fantasy fodder, Felicity Kendal, Scacchi does not have the body of a pre-pubescent girl. She looks like a (very gorgeous, very sexy) real woman.

* Sometimes, in the galaxy of gloom that is the 24-hour news machine, a little star twinkles briefly overhead. This week's, surely, is the news that an accountant from Golders Green has failed in his bid to force M&S to cough up £300,000 for the "adverse psychological effects and depression" caused by slipping on a grape. The judge, John Leighton Williams, was "not persuaded" that the grape was the cause of Alexander Martin-Sklan's tumble, outside the Finchley Road branch of M&S, or even that it came from the shop. "Accidents happen," he said.

At long last, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I don't care if Judge Williams has heard of the Arctic Monkeys, or the internet, or Lily Allen's latest exploits at the Groucho. He is clearly a man who recognises that when it rains, the sensible response is not to sue God. If only those "no win, no fee" vultures, who are spreading the virus of blame for financial gain, would take heed. They won't, of course.