Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Book out-takes

In the final stages of writing the book, I sat down with my editor in a cafe at the Tate Modern and we went through the entire thing, tightening it up, and chopping out any bits which did not add anything to the overall story

It was quite fun in a way, but also a bit depressing when a section which I had spent hours (or days) trying to write was chopped out and thrown in the bin. Sometimes we even got rid of entire chapters (weeks of work!) with a simple stroke of the pen. But I am glad we did it, and it made the book a lot leaner and more readable in the end.

Below are two short, notable outtakes which we axed at the last minute.

Police in Japan [Al and I are cycling south through Hokkaido Island in Northern Japan when we have another encounter with the police].

One night, as we neared Hokkaido’s capital city, Sapporo, we could find neither a train station nor a public toilet to sleep in. We stopped and showed our new, Japanese magic letter to a restaurant owner, hoping that we would let us put our tent up in his sheltered car park. The owner ignored our request about camping and insisted we sit down and eat. The waiter brought us some slimy seafood. It tasted good though Al and I agreed that it might be better if we did not find out what it actually was.

After eating, the restaurant owner led us outside, up a fire escape and into a warm, carpeted storage room. He said that instead of camping, we should sleep there. We accepted gratefully and bedded down on the floor once again.

In the middle of the night I woke up needing a pee. There were no toilets here, so I put on a coat, pulled my balaclava on, and climbed down the fire escape. I relieved myself quickly in the bushes and clambered back up to bed.

A few minutes later I was awoken again, this time by a light shining on my face. I sat up and saw a silhouette of people outside the window with a torch. I walked over to see who it was. They were in uniform, and as I woke up it dawned on me that it was the police. I opened the door and the five policemen entered apprehensively. They began to ask me questions in Japanese. I could not understand, but I guessed someone had seen me clambering up the fire escape in my balaclava and reported a break-in. I tried to explain with uncoordinated miming actions that we had been given permission to stay here. The policemen looked at me suspiciously.

I then appealed to Al who, after all, was our official expedition Japanese speaker. Al was asleep, so I shook him. He opened his eyes and looked at the policemen staring at him. “Urrggg”, he groaned, “I am fed up with being treated like a freak-show everywhere I go”. He buried his head in his sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

I wanted to go back to sleep myself, but I was running out of ideas. Then I remembered that the restaurant owner had given us a copy of his business card. I presented it to one of the policemen, who called the number and spoke to the manager. The situation was resolved and the policemen apologised and bowed goodnight. They gestured that in future that I should not wear my balaclava when going to the loo outside a store room as it made me look like a burglar. I agreed that they had a fair point.

Sunset at the border between India and Pakistan

The border between India and Pakistan had a history of being a place of high tension. When the two countries had been divided in the partition of 1947, massive outbreaks of violence, especially between Muslims and Hindus, had left over half a million dead. The uneasy peace of the next sixty years had been punctuated by sporadic wars. Both sides were now nuclear armed, though fortunately relations had been reasonably peaceful for a while.

I arrived at the border just after it had closed, at 4pm. I was frustrated to be unable to enter Pakistan that day, but pleased that I could now watch the famous “lowering of the flags” ceremony which was performed here daily. A huge crowd of Indian tourists had also amassed to watch the proceedings.

The troop of Indian soldiers who marched out into the square in front of the gate, were tall, sported gigantic moustaches and wore immaculate uniforms and enormous hats. They strutted intently back and forth giving salutes, and kicking their legs high in the air as if they were auditioning for career at The Ministry for Silly Walks. Just on the other side of the gate I could see a similar ceremony being performed by the Pakistani army.

The crowd cheered, the gates were shut and the flags were lowered. Then calm descended on us as night arrived once more.

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