‘human kindness, it’s only blindness…and I think it’s going to rain today…’
Tuesday. It has rained for most of the day. Eric Olthwaite would have been in his element in Phnom Penh today. Precipitation has precipitated pretty much from dawn to dusk and beyond. That in itself is a little uncommon. Certainly here in the city the pattern during rainy season is normally one daily tumultuous downpour that lasts at most a couple of hours, not the incessant mise and rain we are currently experiencing. Consequently, everything seemed a little grey and drab and miserable today, despite the proliferation of brightly coloured plastic raincoats favoured by the motodops. There are also many sniffles and coughs doing the rounds at work, many cases of mice in the throat (Khmer version of frog, I suppose) and here at home young master O is still suffering from coughing fits and what mummy terms candlesticks, a frankly overly flattering term for the twin greenish streams emanating from his nasal cavities. He is still young and naïve enough to enjoy the sensation (surely not the taste?) of jutting out his lower jaw and sucking these foul rivulets into his mouth before I can sweep them away with a well-aimed paper tissue. Or indeed The Aspirator. No, not the comeback movie from Governor Schwarzenegger, but rather a fiendish Cambodian device that resembles a small turkey baster and is used to literally siphon the snot from your little ones tiny nostrils. You may well grimace at the thought, but isnt it slightly more civilized than the approach many rural mums still take, that is, to clamp their mouth firmly over the childs proboscis and suck hard ?
Post-election Phnom Penh is still strangely quiet, although I sense a distinct but unfathomable difference in the city I left in July to the one I returned to in August. Maybe thats just me on the surface things seem to meander by in much the same haphazardly disorganized way as they used to do prices are still creeping up (22% inflation during July… ulp!), cars are still encroaching more and more upon the formerly two and three wheeled domains (a Rolls Royce was spotted the other day Saints Alive!!), apartment blocks and estates with names like Happiness City are springing fully-formed almost overnight from the toothless gaps in the infrastructure where once wooden houses and family businesses stood yes, business as usual for the developers. I grumble about these changes at work, but I am politely reminded by my Khmer colleagues that this is what people want, they want a 21st century city with all that that entails. They gaze kindly at me, smile and shake their heads as I launch into yet another rant about the destruction of communities for supposed economic gain, but this is now literally a young nation with a haunting legacy that it is no surprise many want to obliterate from their consciousness.
The recent border dispute with Thailand over the temple in Preah Vihear has also stoked the fires of nationalistic pride in a manner which I must confess shocked me a little at first. However, once again I have come to realize that the failed obliteration of the historical past rings heavy in the reaction of people to what is seen as one more unwanted and unwarranted encroachment by a powerful aggressor.
This all sounds a bit gloomy, doesnt it? Im sorry to give that impression, for really things arent all trouble at t mill , oh no. We, the Space Family Orbison, as I shall dub us for the time being, have had a pretty hard time of late, with much unrest in the ranks mainly through the actions of someone with, as Rod Stewart so succinctly paraphrased it, a lot more money than sense. However, we have come through this particular asteroid belt of challenges and are now looking to the stars again with engines set on warp factor 8, if not hyperdrive. Im pretty sure the Dilithium crystals will also hold, Mr. Scott.
Way back when the universe began well, ok, when I commenced this blog, I referenced the title as being lost in the virtual space of the Internet Im pretty sure now it was actually a more than subconscious homage to the marvellous Lost in Space TV series of the 1960s, and its three enduring characters, Will Robinson (whom little O bears an often uncanny resemblance to), the long suffering Robot, and Dr. Zachary Smith. Dr. Smith remains something of an (anti) hero of mine to this day, played on TV with arch camp impeccability and irascibility by the wonderful Jonathan Harris. The good doctor (he is a Colonel in the earlier episodes, and considerably darker a character in those also ) is one of lifes devious shirkers, a conniving, backstabbing, all-round bad egg who somehow manages to embroil both honest but gullible Will and the hapless Robot into one of his cunningly evolved wicked plans on a weekly basis. The weekly show, brainchild of the prescient TV genius Irwin Allen (Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Land of the Giants), spawned many wonderful catchphrases (oh the pain, the pain, danger, Will Robinson, danger!) and insults, usually directed at the Robot (you nickel plated nincompoop!, begone, you monstrous metallurgical meddler!,) and a hideous movie remake in the 1990s, but the 60s original is by far the best, and along with Dr. Who was a staple of my formative years (so thats whats to blame, I hear you mumble). As I glance somewhat furtively around at the global political scene at the moment, I can only reflect that we really do seem to be Lost in Space there are far too many Dr. Zachary Smiths out there running countries, and not enough Robots to keep a watchful eye upon all us Will Robinsons
Wednesday/Thursday. Rained again. It were always raining in Phnom Penh. Even when it were dry it were a bit moist round t edges. Average precipitation were around 10mm. Must buy a shovel. Useful things, shovels.
Friday. Aye. Rained again.
But not such a boring day, one way or tother.
O greeted us in his usual cheery manner but with the added bonus of a cotful of dried vomit this morning. Closer inspection by CSI Phnom Penh deduced that the little chap has been fridge raiding, in particular targeting red grapes which he appears to have been ingesting whole, stalks and seeds included. We presume he is doing this when nanny and mummy and daddys collective backs are turned, either that or he is clambering out of his cot and nipping downstairs in the night for a midnight feast. Part of me is inclined toward the latter explanation, for his development seems to be taking place in quantum leaps. He sat on the sofa beside me tonight and asked if I preferred earlier protest-era Dylan, the jagged acoustic troubadour, as he put it, to the electric and post electric phases of his career. Staggering, eh? I had absolutely no idea that he watched The Magic Roundabout, let alone had an opinion on it.
Today also brought us the unexpected, and, if truth be told, unwanted, bonus of a free fireworks display when the power cables outside our house exploded at 1.00pm, sending flames dancing into the sky and sparks showering over the vast crowd of gawping onlookers who quickly assembled below. As usual, many people stood around and did nothing but watch others do nothing. Attempts to call the electricity company were met by baffled expressions, then explanations that 1) it was still lunchtime, so no-one would be around until at least 2.00pm. 2) it was threatening more rain, so no-one would come out if that was the case 3) they shut for the weekend at 4.00pm anyway, so we might as well forget it until Monday. Resigned to a powerless (and waterless the pumps also ceased to operate, so ) weekend, I headed back to work. 3.00pm, Bang! The electricity ceased to flow. Not only at work, but also throughout the entire district of Chamkarmon. After about an hour of sitting around and giggling a great deal, it was clear that power was not going to return in the near future, so everyone trickled home. A is away for a few days, so I am in sole charge of little O. I have to admit to struggling more than a little to cook dinner on the gas stove under the febrile glow of tea lights whilst keeping a more than watchful eye on Fridge Raider, but mid flow I was interrupted by Chairman Mao who asked if I was willing to pay $10 to have electricity restored. Oh yes, said I, more than willing so O and I went out in the fast fading light, and joined the crowd of watchers observing a man shinning up the electricity pole, then perching precariously at the top armed only with a pair of wire strippers and conducting a miraculous repair job under non-existent lighting conditions. He shinned back down, then had a big discussion with all our new friends in the crowd about who could speak English and who might ask me to cough up the tenner prior to the restoration of power. Eventually one woman pressed forward and shyly relayed the request, I paid the guy and a muffled cheer and lots of Arkun Charans rose from the crowd. O and I went back in to the house and waited. And waited. And waited. Then, just as I was becoming resigned to the loss of power, water and $10, the lights came on! Then went off again. Then about five minutes later, came back on again and so far, its holding up. And we also have water again. What a Friday! I can only wonder in a kind of wondrous manner what the rest of the weekend holds in store for the dynamic yet feckless duo of dad and O lumme!!
On the stereo Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice, Epic45, Elbow, James Blackshaw, Death Cab for Cutie and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. On DVD, The Outer Limits (1960s season one – in French Encore? Pretentious? Moi?) Looking forward to the new Calexico, and enjoying Josh Rouse Bedroom Classics podcast. Hello to Tosh, good to hear from you and when I think about it, Im sure you gave me my Pink Fairies album back as a birthday present a few years ago or maybe I dreamed that?