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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 37: 31 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysLate afternoon. Playing Scrabble and looking out over grey seas and rain puddles on the containers. This should be one of the most exotic parts of the journey, slipping down between Malaya and Sumatra. Instead it's like a wet Sunday in Sheffield. Ironically the ship has run out of drinking water. On our last night on the Bay of Bengal, the rolling of the boat mixed residue from the bottom of the tank into the water supply, which is why Nigel's bottle of drinking water looks the colour of a prop from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

At dusk I take a walk on deck. A pair of dolphins have homed in on the ship, and, as usual, make for the bow wave. I hurry to the bows to watch them and whistle encouragement. They play for a while, but the sea is no longer blue and translucent, and they have to dodge polystyrene fragments, swirling tissue paper and bobbing cups - the trail of debris that heralds the approach of civilisation.

Even the meals fail to lift our spirits. Meat, meat and more meat, and the officers (apart from Ivan) seem dragged into a pit of Slovene morosity in which nothing gives them pleasure. The news that we shall be later into Singapore compounds their gloom, for it means even less time ashore in the only port they can bear.

If Nigel and I can be so desperately bored after six days, what can it be like for the crew after six months? I suppose they become numbed, their responses reduced to the minimum necessary. They don't rush to the rails every time they see a dolphin or climb to the highest point of the ship to strain for a view of a distant island. They just want it to be over. For them Singapore is not the gateway to new unvisited lands. Singapore means Calcutta and Calcutta means Madras and Madras means Singapore again, and this will be their life long after I've finished going round the world.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 37
  • Date: 31 October
  • Country/sea: Indian Ocean
  • Place: Malacca Strait
  • Book page no: 120

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