senses working overtime

The other day I watched with interest as a couple of barang (foreigners) struggled manfully across the busy riverside road lugging a large Cambodian urn between them. It got me thinking about Morecambe and Wise. Not that they were indulging in any humorous bantering interplay between themselves, indeed far from it. They were hissing from between gritted teeth at the barrage of ‘hello – you want tuk-tuk’s’ that they were subjected to from the riverside posse. Judging by how much they were sweating they had been lugging and naysaying for a long time and were pretty much fed up. They did not even resemble Morecambe and Wise, they were in fact clean-cut-t-shirt-wearing-college-boy look-alikes. So why did the humorous twosome spring to mind? Because in the random morass of neurons and thingies that zoom around in the grey(ing) matter that passes for my brain I thought of a ‘joke’ that I am certain Eric Morecambe once used, albeit with a different locational content.

But we’ll get to that later. The grey matter shoots off in a different direction and lands upon things that make me very happy. I spoke to my beautiful wife and baby boy today courtesy of the Thunderbirds videophone that I have disguised as a Macbook. They are both well and happy, and despite the tendency for the digital pixilation to occasionally turn them into a David Hockney-esque explosion of colours, they are looking good. One week to go, yippee! and I can see them in person – I truly am very, very excited by that.

The bad weather here seems to have severely scrambled television signals, so I am unable to watch hours of Khmer karaoke videos as I had hoped. Severely disappointing, but if the weather and signals improve then be prepared for a blog on the finer points of how to create the perfect Khmer karaoke video. So you can put in some preparation, it might be useful to seek out the following – a tree, three people (either two men, one woman, or two women, one man), a shop selling jewellery, a motorbike, and a long path to stroll down (preferably adjacent to the tree.). This masterclass will continue when the reception gets better…

So I have actually been watching some DVDs of late. Here are my thoughts on the last couple. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – my kind of movie. Fantastic, in the truest sense of the word, beautifully shot and acted, and in Spanish, which always makes the dialogue more portentous. ‘Volver’ – as above. Today I also bought the first season of ‘The Outer Limits’ – $13 for 8 discs, and oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy, am I inordinately excited about that… the man in the shop tried to put me off by telling me that for some obscure reason the first disc is dubbed into French with no subtitles, but you know something? I DON’T CARE. Now if I could only find a set of ‘Journey into the Unknown’ I’d be ecstatic…

The Khmer grunge outfit that performed on Friday night were rather sweet actually. They were about as grunge as Josie and the Pussycats, but immensely likeable, and played their own stuff, so three cheers for that. I think that the music scene is really showing signs of developing here, which is so encouraging. I think I’ll try and keep out of the way musically, as I don’t want to set things back 10 years or so with my noodlings…

What might Eric have said? Maybe something like this –
Eric ‘look – there are two blokes, lugging a Cambodian Urn…’
Ernie – ‘what’s a Cambodian Urn?’
Eric – ‘just over a dollar a day, based on the GNI of $380 per capita. Boom Boom!’

And before you ask, it was a Big Urn, not a little Ern…

Listening to – ‘Live from Brattles Theatre’ – Evan Dando
‘Iron Man’ – Black Sabbath
‘Highlights from the Plugged Nickel’ – Miles Davis

Eating – Spiced Fish Chowder (Friends Restaurant)
Drinking – Pineapple and Chili Frozen Margarita (as above)

And yes, still really, really, really missing my two beautiful babies, Ani and Oti.

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Hey there, little insect

As I sit here munching contentedly on a rather large bowl of Coco Pops (the more observant among you may wonder ‘ how strange, at 6 o’ clock in the evening…’, but the reason will be revealed… later!) my thoughts meander in the direction of food. I know Coco Pops are not really ‘good’ for you, but I feel they are a real comfort food. They help me to get through the feeling-sorry-for-myself times, such as now, when I am really, really missing my wonderful wife and my beautiful baby. Yes, I do have feelings and I am not ashamed to admit to them. I hope you are beginning to sniff a little, and are blinking back that tear forming in the corner of your eye. I did warn you all that things might become a little maudlin over the next week or so, so you really ought to have stocked up on the Kleenex…
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, food… a colleague who had traveled to our office in Kampong Thom came back the other day with a gift for Rivann and Maly, my two female project officers here in Phnom Penh. And what did he bring… some perfume? Some silk? Some beautiful flowers?
No. He brought a bag of fried insects. Crickets, to be precise. Oh wow. However, the women were over the moon. Apparently there is something about the Kampong Thom crickets, they have that little ‘je ne sais quoi’ that sets the little fried beasties apart from the other delicacies that abound in Cambodia (chicken feet, anyone? Come on, lets not fight over the beak… tell you what, I’ll swap you two deep fried tarantulas for one duck embryo – look, it’s got little tiny feathers on its wings… yummy!) . The reality, of course, is that the ‘eat anything that crawls, swims, flies or walks – and waste no part of it’ approach is very much rooted in the poverty that still grips much of Cambodia.
Poverty is no excuse for well-fed westerners ‘though, and I have to confess that my experience of insect eating is very limited. I have accidently swallowed a couple of midges and a few flies in the UK; over here I have managed one cricket (eaten under the influence of beer), and a handful of ants (not recommended – Mowgli, don’t listen to Baloo!). I still find it a little disconcerting watching people munch away on things that most people in the west veer away from as scary and/or disgusting…
Rivann invited Maly and I for lunch today. Not really being much enamoured with the thought of snake gizzard or frog liver (do frogs have livers?) I was relieved to find we were lunching at the Paragon Centre, a shiny new(ish) shopping mall near the centre of town. It does not remind me in any way of what must be the greatest shopping experience in the world, the Paragon in Bangkok. I will blog another time on the wonders of the Bangkok Paragon. For now, let us return to its smaller and quirkier little brother, here in Phnom Penh. My $2 plate of fettuccini with stir fried vegetables and pepper pork was substantial and wholesome, and washed down with a large glass of chocolate iced coffee, which ensured that I hurtled through the afternoon with manic intensity and eyes pinned like a speedfreak. And that is why I am unable to manage any more than a bowl of CP’s tonight. Or perhaps just two bowls. Uh-oh, I can feel the steely glare emanating across the miles between from A even as I munch…

…. and I forgot to mention fish head soup… but that is a story for another time….

listenng to – ‘dancing days’ Led Zeppelin
‘roll on down the highway’ Bert Jansch

missing – my sweetheart and my little boy… so much

Watchin’ the river flow…

…so we are in a Land Rover Discovery, weaving like quicksilver surfers through the dense and frankly unpredictable early afternoon traffic of northern Phnom Penh toward a meeting at the office of the national landmine authority when suddenly the drugs take hold… no, what really happens is that my boss slips the best of AC/DC into the stereo. At the traffic lights the waiting motodops and tuk-tuk drivers are suddenly startled by the crunching metallic chords of ‘Highway to Hell’ blasting bass-heavy from our skull-and-crossbone emblazoned vehicle. I’m sure the panic that flared briefly in their eyes was partly due to the fleeting thought that perhaps Keith Richards had finally decided to visit PP…The day is becoming more and more surreal – this morning, a long conversation (in a meeting) about one of our field operatives who was hospitalized with broken ankles after hitting a car with his motorbike. “So lucky, to escape with such minor injuries” say we foreigners, nodding sagely. A little later we discover that it was actually a cow that he hit… earlier, shaking his head in profound disbelief one of my colleagues emerged from his office “those bloody termites have eaten my in-tray” he said as he forlornly poured himself a cup of coffee.

So when we arrive at the venue and find a spread of chocolate chip cookies, brownies and miniature pate rolls laid on for us, who is surprised? When one of the presenters repeatedly pulls the plug of the projector out mid-presentation, causing an eager Australian lady (who appears to be the only person who can work the thing) to vault over the table each time it happens, who raises an eyebrow? The strange becomes the commonplace in this fantastic city.

I was people watching at the river yesterday, awaiting Mr. R whom I was going to buy dinner for to thank him for his help with the little O’s party. The elephant strolled by, as it does most days at about 4.45 and swarms of foreigners raced alongside it, snapping photographs frantically to remind themselves… of what? Ray Davies was probably right, that “people take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed…”
I was too busy with one of my favourite sports, which is observing the passing streams of traffic and counting the number of passengers on one moto. My record sighting to date is seven, which was on the airport road one night last year. Of the seven, two were seated on the front mudflap facing the driver. Two and three are most common, but you can spot the occasional four and five, and the much rarer six. There is also the game ‘most unusual object being carried on a moto.’ My winner so far is a palm tree (admittedly only about five metres tall), ‘though the lavatory pan with cistern and piping attached runs it a close second.

Mr. R arrived and we repaired to the Pop Café, where the most delicious Italian food (the penne with meatballs is out of this world!) is served to you by the Cambodian Stevie Nicks and her be-frilled sisters, and then on to Hurley’s Cantina to observe the bad behaviour of foreign journalists covering the Khmer Rouge trials in all their technicolour (yawning) glory, whilst an old ex-soldier bearing a remarkable resemblance to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry does a peculiar shuffling dance dressed in what appears to be a 1940’s pinstripe demob suit decorated with braid and medals…

If the tourist office is looking for a slogan to sell the city to potential visitors, might I suggest this –

‘Phnom Penh – never knowingly boring.’

Listening to – ‘Bitches Brew’ Miles Davis
‘Give me back my man’ B-52’s

Really missing – my beautiful wife and baby boy XXX

Memory of a Free Festival

‘…the sun machine is comin’ down, and we’re gonna have a party…

Elsewhere, Phnom Penh
Friday night in Phnom Penh, a city where the live music scene has yet to show the massive blossoming that the fine arts has over the last few months. But tonight we are in ‘ waiting for a bus’ syndrome land (is this a peculiarly British way of putting this? – please ask if you don’t understand). In a city where one or two gigs a week is the norm, tonight there are at least a dozen going on. It’s the ‘fete de la musique’ , organised by the French Cultural Centre, so around many venues in town the sound of (live ) music will bring the hills alive with songs they have sung for a thousand years.
Mr R and I are intending to sample some of these audio delights, and number one highlight will of course be the punk-indie-mash-up-with-the-ramones-live at Rubies wine bar… but first… to Gasolina…

Gasolina is heaving with a crowd of beautiful people (mainly French) and their beautiful children who are behaving rather like a cross between the Lord of the Flies and the Lost Boys when we arrive. Mr R admonishes one young chap who is attempting to burn the place down by waving leaves through the flames of one of the many decorative torches burning in the grounds – he smiles at us and moves his mayhem elsewhere…
A large-ish PA is set up, and the process of sound-checking is going on. I have to say that my experience of hiring sound systems and engineers in PP has not been good, certainly in the live music arena. Generally the equipment is pretty good, but the ‘engineer’ sent along with it is simply the guy who drives the gear around from venue to venue… and so it is tonight, as we are treated to howls and squeals from the PA as the engineer continues to break so many of the cardinal rules of sound mixing that I begin to think that no, this is actually pretty good, and we are witnessing the early development of Industrial music in Cambodia (eat your hearts out, Throbbing Gristle).
Then the performance starts, and the first act are really pretty amazing. A small group of guys from Mondulkiri who have moved to PP and are camped out opposite the National Assembly to protest at their land being torn from them to make way for apparently government sanctioned ‘commercial development’. They are singing about this injustice accompanying themselves on small gongs, a hypnotic, ancient sound… then they unleash their secret weapon, the youngest member. I don’t quite know how to describe this… his voice was like a cross between a kazoo and a buzzsaw, but delivered with the pitch and tone of a castrati – simply unbelieveable. Mr R commented that Andy Kershaw would have been blown away, as we were.

After that, some Japanese drummers,powerful, physical stuff,who then conducted an impromptu workshop for the kids (saving us from immolation in the process)and also jammed with a French musical collective whose name escapes me but were also pretty good. They carried on playing on their own, bringing to mind Les Negresses Verte. We had listened, drunk and eaten, so now onto elsewhere.
‘Elsewhere’, to be precise, which was deeply surreal. A cocktail lounge jazz/soft rock trio on a huge stage with lights performing ‘no woman no cry’ to a crowd of expats and wealthy Khmer kids loungingaround an illuminated swimming pool… no, I am not making this up. We had arrived near the end of their set, so it was a quick ‘fly me to the moon’ and a ‘your love is king’ where a young woman from the crowd who really, truly, believed she was Sade locked in the body of a much larger person was hauled onstage to deliver her impersonation, just too, too surreal…so off we went in our trusty tuk-tuk to Rubies – Punk rock here we come!
Well, no. Man in pork pie hat programming random tracks from a computer over the sound system here we come. Some very good music, granted, but no thrill, no threat, no Ramones live, no punk, no style… major dissapointment of the night. Sorry.
Tuk-tuk again to the final destination for us, Talkin’ to a Sranger, where we encounter the Blue Geckos. Despite the fact that I was quite beered up by now and had christened them the Grateful Undead I really enjoyed their down-homey backporch take on things and their eclectic musical choice and delivery – anyone who plays ‘tequila’ is alright by me… thumbs up for Blue Geckos.
…and so Mr R and I said our goodbyes and staggered off in opposite directions, with the memories of a pretty good evening of music behind us (no Glastonbury, granted – but warmer, drier, at least as eclectic, and pretty funny in parts), and the promise of a good night’s sleep and a Saturday spent with the hangover from hell in front of us.. just like the old days…

listening to – Tom Petty ‘Wildflowers’ (very quietly)
missing – my wife and baby, very much.

Effect and Cause

It remains still, quiet and quite eerie in the house with A and O in the UK. Last night we Skyped, which was fantastic, so Gerry Anderson video-phonish, but it seemed to mystify the little man somewhat… when I spoke he looked out of the window into A’s folks’ garden – did he think I was hiding in the bushes…? He is so alert, fascinated and fascinating to watch. I miss him and his mummy so much. Been listening to the White Stripes new album a lot – I REALLY like it, its noisy and fuzzy and sweet and crunchy and so black and white and red all over… he plays lots of major chords too so that a musical dimwit like me can almost struggle along with them without too much trouble. The version on sale here is bootlegged off a Canadian radio show, and has snippets of a female DJ between some of the tracks, and I think it’s really good, gives it a kind of ‘the Who sell Out’ feel to it. Oh, those White Stripes…They are so good, so primal, so real that they must have made one hell of a deal with satan… in fact, you can see the evidence of that deal if you follow this link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9zgT3WzTVA

Mr R and I are going to attend an evening of punk rock tomorrow night, an event which we are eagerly anticipating. From the flyer, which depicts Patti Smith in an outtake from the Horses cover and promises an ‘indie punk mash up plus the Ramones live’ (!) we could be in for some New York New Wave (the venue owners are New Yorkers) – let’s hope so. Should I wear my skinny tie and black converse sneakers? Probably not…

A report should filter through into this blog soon – maybe even some pics, if I can remember how to get them into the editing box – I still struggle massively with the mechanics of digital wonderment – it takes a long time and a great deal of effort to get anything onto this site, believe me.

And so to bed… how loud can an I-Pod go, I wonder…

‘ yes, I can tell that we are going to be friends’

ha! ha! said the clown

The house feels very strange now that Ani and Otis have gone to the UK…I myself feel like a ghost haunting its corridors, a spectral presence in an empty shell where the laughter of a woman and a child still echoes in the walls like a siren song… there, I hope that has given you just a little bit of a chill.

I was thinking today about some of my favourite authors when I was a younger chap, and I confess that most of them were of a strangely morbid bent. Edgar Allen Poe – he was a dark soul. H P Lovecraft – so influential they named a (dark and mysterious) sauce after him. William Hope Hodgson (go on, look him up. Read ‘ The House on the Borderland’. Very sinister.), but my all time literary hero award would have to go to… I’ll tell you later.

At lunchtime today the reading matter in the White Room (don’t ask, it’s a man thing) was Edward Lear’s ‘complete book of nonsense’, which I had bought ostensibly to entertain the little O but obviously subconsciously was also to entertain me. It’s wonderful, whimsical, very Victorian and just plain nonsensical. People like Lear and Lewis Carroll were intellectuals who had a deep streak of fractious foolishness coursing the strata of their intelligence, and the sceptred isles have thrown up many other wonderfully eccentric persons of puckish singularity whose work is a joyous celebration of the silly, though often with a soupcon of the sinister to offset the whimsy…

‘There ought to be a monument
erected in the land
to purveyors of fine nonsense
very stately, very grand
perhaps made out of custard, enclosed within a sock
and mounted on a plinth
composed of sugar rock
wherein the silly roll-call
of names would be engraved
of the mighty and the mirthful
whom our lives had better made –
stand up Milligan! Come here Sir,
Carroll, Lear and Cutler too
Messrs Sellers, Bentine, Secombe,
Mr Drake and Clitheroe (who?)
Mr James and Mr Hancock
Form a line around the back
Cleese and Gilliam and Idle,
Palin (leave your haversack),
Mr Stanshall, Mr Innes, yes,
Mr Barrett (with guitar)
Bring us, sir, a bigger rock now
As these names go on so far…’

Those lines above, extracted from an epic by another purveyor of pulchritudinous prose, Mr Skip Cormack, say things much more eloquently than I can. We should never forget the child within us, and the work of the above (and more) still has the unerring power to bring out the
‘ starry-eyed in wonder’ child in me…

… and my literary hero? Well, heroes really. A tie, between Robert Louis Stevenson (who also found time to say some lovely things about Wick) and Ray Bradbury…

‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…’

listening to – White Stripes ‘Icky Thump’
Guided by Voices ‘Under the bushes, Under the stars’
Traffic ‘John Barleycorn Must Die’

Reading – nonsense

you know my name, look up the number….

‘ this world is like a great big onion’ – surely one of the most profound statements ever uttered in song- please discuss, if you are out there….

Will Mr Brown (Big Star fan) really be better than Mr Blair?
…so many questions, and so little brain left to answer them…
whatever you do, do not go gentle into that good night.

I wish i could sleep…

‘last night, I saw a fire burnin’ on the palace lawn…’ (CCR Effigy)

‘danger, Will Robinson, danger!!!’