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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 32: 26 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysIt's a dispiriting conversation, and it seems likely to go on for a while, as through the porthole window I can see containers still being swung aboard. The operators in the huge gantries, seem unable to get a grip on the containers first time. It all looks awfully amateur.

Jacky explains to me what is going on. Incentives are necessary for these workers. 'Speed money', it's known as: 25 rupees per container to the gantry man and he'll pick up anything; 10 rupees per container and the dock drivers will move at 40 miles an hour rather than 20.

I walk on deck. It's limbo time. No one is really comfortable. A solidly built, dark-haired Slav called Marenko, who is the Donkeyman on the ship, unburdens himself, in very limited and slightly slurred English, about the political situation in Yugoslavia. He's a Catholic and a Croatian and can't see why the people of Kosovo should not have their own republic, when the Montenegrans have theirs. He can't stand the Serbs.

'They are . . . the secret police . . . the controllers,' and he emphasises his distaste with a curious gesture - a flick of the back of the hand up the neck and out under the chin.

There are two communists on the boat, he tells me, the chief steward and the chief engineer. I ask if the captain is a communist. Marenko looks shocked, 'No. He is a Catholic! like me'.

It's when he begins to tell me of his prostate problems, 'but sex is still goot', that I know I've had enough. Apologising, I turn to go back to the hospital. Marenko presses upon me a little gift. It's a magnetic badge on which is a picture of the Virgin Mary and the words, in English, 'Christ Came Into The World To Save Sinners'. I stick it onto the door of my locker but it drops off in the night.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 32
  • Date: 26 October
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Madras
  • Book page no: 111

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