Generals and Majors

Otis and I went for a long walk on Sunday morning. I suppose that technically I walked and he was pushed. He adopted the slumped relaxed position that he favours in the McClaren (Yes, how awful. We are a two-buggy family…) and away we went down the bumpy dusty backstreets of Chamkarmon en route to the green oasis of the park. The rainy season seems to be over now. The temperature has dropped a few degrees and a pleasant breeze rustled and whispered through the leaves of the trees lining Hun Sen Park. The park was relatively empty; a handful of people sitting or lying on the stone benches dotted around the perimeter, a stocky unsmiling man in a green uniform passing a metal detector in slow sweeps over the prickly grass…

A metal detector? As we strolled down toward the Independence Monument my mind was slowly mulling over the possibilities, soundtracked by Otis’s unrelenting stream of what the parenting books call ‘baby jargon’, a form of communication I actually do understand as it has real parallels to the kind of language that used to come out of me at three o’ clock in the morning as I stumbled out of whatever Thurso hostelry (usually the Central or the Sheiling) I was frequenting in my teenage years … a metal detector…Cambodian currency has no coinage, so he’s not going to be looking for those… I’m not aware of a serious landmine or UXO problem in downtown Phnom Penh… what could it be?

Then I noticed that there were police about. Lots of them. And a great deal of activity in and around the Monument. They were checking the area, prodding and poking in bushes and bins, accompanied by surreptitious puffs at cigarettes hidden in curled hands. So, that meant that there was something about to happen. Something important. Best not to get in the way then, methought. We turned around and headed away from the area. Metal detector man shouted after us ‘– aren’t you hot?’ It was not, thank goodness, a statement of lustful intent, merely an enquiry seeking an answer to that famous assertion of Noel Coward’s. Noel should have spread his geographical wings a little further – mad dogs, Englishmen, Scotsmen and their baby sons, they all go out in the mid-day sun. I really didn’t think it was that hot. I hadn’t even worn the new hat that A had bought me, which either makes me look a little like Michael Stipe or a wizened Cambodian farmer (or more accurately a combination of both), so I cheerily shouted back ‘no problem, bong, crazy Scot!’ which he chortled at and carried on sweeping.

The O and I walked past the Vietnamese monument, which has been restored very impressively since it was bombed a couple of months ago, then on down to ‘Pencils Supercentre’, a supermarket-come-shopping mall nearby, accompanied partly by some small boys who were carrying large pieces of polystyrene and cardboard boxes. I presumed that they were off to build some kind of den with these, and both Otis and I kind of wished we could join them… however we had some serious shopping to do! ‘Pencils’ is a relatively large complex, which always appears to be almost completely deserted of shoppers yet full of staff who either sprawl across the checkouts or slumber in the aisles waiting for… what? The arrival of His Majesty Otis in his Royal Buggy however means that the mostly female staff immediately come alive and get into some serious ‘baby baby baby!’ attention. We can barely walk two or three metres without another young Cambodian woman leaping out from behind a shelving unit, fawning over the O, making clicking noises with her tongue, playing a big-doe-eyed version of peek-a-boo, grabbing his arms and legs, pinching his cheek, comparing skin colour, in fact generally behaving as if Lord Buddha himself had reincarnated in the form of the Golden Boy in the Blue Buggy before them. This certainly keeps him amused, and it has to be said that he is an OUTRAGEOUS flirt when it comes to the attentions of Cambodian (and Thai and Vietnamese…) women. God, he is going to be a handful when he grows up…

So we bought the necessary, and as this is man shopping, the completely unnecessary, then headed back out across the square and through a couple of side streets and emerged… right into the middle of massed ranks of the Army, Airforce, Navy and Police. Erk. It appears that all the activity around the monument is because the King is due to arrive to snuff out the flame that has been burning for the last few days to honour independence. All the surrounding streets have been closed to people and traffic in a major security operation. And the dynamic duo of Dad and O has emerged blinking into the sunlight on the red carpet no less, surrounded by Generals and Majors and a sea of military personnel of every rank and file… A three (or maybe four or five or six) star General in a dazzling white uniform standing next to someone who must be the Chief of Police for the Kingdom, to judge from the amount of gold braid he is encumbered with, barked an order to a lackey who rushed over and indicated we should immediately go to these two top brass. Visions of impending incarceration or worse swam before me as we passed the serried rows of uniforms standing to attention and went up to the Chief and the General, who were glowering and bushy browed under their peaked caps… the lackey whispered to me ‘he says come closer…’ so I nervously did so… Otis had by now fallen deeply asleep and was blithely unaware of the situation we were in. The Chief stepped forward, stared at me for a moment, then bent forward and peered into the buggy…

“baby baby baby!’ he barked, and tickled the O’s dangling tootsies whilst a huge gap toothed grin broke out across his formerly sullen visage…

Yes, it certainly does pay to have a baby in tow sometimes, I thought that evening as I watched TV footage of the King arriving (on our red carpet!), and our new best friends, the General and the Chief of Police flanking him during the Ceremony …


  1. Santosh Mathur · November 13, 2007

    Another masterpiece. Glad you have got friends in high places! I would urge that you publish all your blogs in the form of a book which could be a good taster for those who wish to travel.

  2. eannsinc · November 17, 2007

    Just what the man said! Are you and O some kind of advance guard of the peace apocalypse? Or are you some kind of nordic savant at large in the world, wreaking – well, happiness – wherever you go?

    Either way, cap’n, you’ve got my vote.

    The Pictish navy salutes you!

  3. deleted user · January 4, 2015

    Thanks for Generals and Majors – Lost in space

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