Monday, May 10, 2004

While we're on a football kind of theme, thought I'd get down the story of Rob's and my attempts to watch the second leg of Chelsea's Champions League semi-final last Wednesday. The time difference is 4 and a half hours, so the 7.45 GMT kick off was quarter past midnight over here. Now this place isn't Thailand - there aren't bars with TVs or restaurants where football fans can be sure of catching any game that's on. Yes, there are foreigners' haunts, but most tourists here dress in loose flowing robes and start the day with two hours of yoga rather than a hangover. No, McLeod Ganj is dead by 10.

Last Wednesday I legislated for all this. My guesthouse (run by Buddhist monks) has a TV in the small front lobby. I went there in the day and asked the guy at the desk if I could watch at night. My friend and I would promise to keep the sound down. I was told that a monk sleeps at the front to keep guard, but I could wake him. Relieved of his guard duties, he could go off to his own bed. Great - it sounded almost like a favour. This was what I heard anyway.

Rob had been in the habit of going to bed quite early. To make sure we both stayed up, we went to the internet cafe next door to mine and set up shop for a couple hours. Rob was bleary-eyed by the time we left at midnight, but he'd made it.

We crept down the alley leading to my guesthouse and pushed open the door. There was a harsh grating sound. The monk on duty, it turned out, was in the habit of propping a small chest of drawers against the door. We slid in but the monk was startled. "Who there?" he called out in the pitch black. I whispered: "Umm the guy at the desk said we could watch football here now. He said you could go to bed." Silence. Then: "One second." The monk turned the light on and we saw the extent of his 'guard duty'. I swear he'd set up a king size sleeper in there, padded down with quilts and cushions and pillows and all. He stood in his pyjamas blinking at us. "Some mistake," he said. "There lots of monks asleep round here." We didn't have it in us to persevere. We'd have been bastards if we had.

Back on the empty streets at ten past 12, we were not to be beaten. We walked up to the bus and taxi stop, usually so busy, now so dead. But there in the darkened 1st floor window of the nearest restaurant was a security guard and a blue flicker. A TV! We ran up the stairs to the door, where the little Indian man came to meet us.

"Sorry, closed."

"But we want to watch football. We saw you have a TV."

He let us in, as if 'football' was a sort of password. And then we saw the TV. Black and white, attached stick-up aerial, portable - 4 by 5 inches. The game was on ESPN, a satellite channel. But no problem, he told us: "We get signal from next door." This turned out to be a somewhat creative description of the truth. We fiddled with the dial and got a grainy version of the Cartoon Network. And a loud hissing noise. Rob and I had to laugh.

I was about to suggest I take a quick run up the road, to see if a fully equipped late night sports bar had decided to materialise in McLeod Ganj in the last two hours, when the security guard told us to stay. He went behind the bar. I thought he was making us drinks. Instead he emerged with a full length cable of wire and a knife. He cut away at the ends until the inner conductors were exposed. Then he wrapped one end around the TV aerial and opened the window. He leaned outside and up and wrapped the other end to one of the cables strung between the street telegraph poles. Within seconds we had picture, sound, commentary, football. Small football. Greys and whites against dark greys. No Ron Atkinson. But you can't have everything.

We asked our new friend if he had ever done that before. "No," he said, matter-of-factly. I don't know, maybe it wasn't dangerous at all.

For what it's worth, Chelsea played brilliantly in the first half, got the tie back, then threw it all away. Ten minutes from the end, with Chelsea needing 3 more goals to go through and playing like turkeys, Rob went home with a dodgy tummy. The security guard still got excited every time Chelsea went forwards. I explained the two-leg structure for the second time, though I'm still not sure he understood. I wasn't even going to attempt the away goals rule.

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