Rip It Up

…And start again. As I get older (losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greet – stop it! Be still, my Beatling heart…) I start to have so many more of them. Preconceptions, that is. Rip them up and start again, or at the very least leave them at the door, that will be my new philosophy.

On Saturday we had a somewhat cultural day, firstly visiting the International School of Phnom Penh International Day. Ani wore her Sari, Otis was decked out in his wee kilt with Sutherland Clan crested kilt pin, and I looked like an American. That is, until I took the Stetson off, then I just looked like a white male, 50-ish, medium build, receding graying hair, no distinguishing features… ‘He just looks like any outa town rube’ Kincaid sneered as he crudely rolled the body over with the toe of his badly scuffed boot. Brett stopped and lowered the camera from his eyes which narrowed with disdain as he squinted at Kincaid. ‘Never forget, Mr. Kincaid, that this was someone’s son, maybe someone’s father… we should show some respect, no matter how hardened we’ve become down the years…’ Kincaid shrugged, embarrassed at this outburst from the normally reticent photographer, and spat his chewing tobacco from the side of his mouth into the same dirt where John Doe had struggled for his last gasps of air…

Sorry, got sidetracked there briefly. Yes, in the riot of colour that characterized International Day I was a mild protest of drabness. However, the day, or rather the morning we spent there, was extremely entertaining and well worth the $5 entry fee. (Note to self; I’m becoming just a little obsessed with vfm these days… a worrying trend – gone are the carefree days when I would go out and splash $10 on trivialities…) The food was good (excellent somosas!) and the performances were exemplary. Ani’s class did her proud in their gosh-gee-whiz-aren’t-they-cute way, by performing a very strange piece about hats and monkeys. Unfortunately I missed the apparent highlight, as I was informed by Ani, which was three (female) senior students performing a hula dance. Apparently every male in the audience resembled the big bad wolf in that old Betty Boop Little Red Riding Hood cartoon, eyes out on stalks and tongues dragging on the ground. At that exact time my eyes were also on stalks and my tongue dragging on the ground in the International Food room, where I had just encountered the Belgian chocolate display next to the New Zealand chocolate cake…

Otis drew his usual admiring glances and was his usual charming self as we flitted from country stall to country stall. The face of the woman in the room dedicated to India was a picture as I informed her of Otis’ Indian heritage. You could read her mind ‘… this man is crazy; he comes in here with the whitest baby in the world and expects me to believe that the child is part Indian…?’ So we did the rounds, nodded and smiled, piled as much food as we could under the buggy then rode off into the mid-day sun…

We did a little shopping in the afternoon, going to the Russian market to buy some winter clothing for Otis. The temperature has dropped to around 20º in the evenings now, and is hovering around 30º during the days so we thought it time to get him some long sleeved woolens and mittens and scarves to ward off frostbite. Ha ha ha. No, but we are returning to dear old blighty soon, and it is apparently a bit chilly around those parts, so time to stock up on the winter woolies. That done, we went off to the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) so I could finish typing up my dispatch to send it out with the Reuters journalist on the last chopper before the sun set and the rebels mounted their assault on the Palace under cover of darkness… Or alternatively I could have a Tiger beer and a poke of chips. I settled for the alternative. It’s hard to imagine what places like the FCC must have been like ten or fifteen years ago. Probably pretty horrible actually, bursting at the seams with gung-ho foreign correspondents and their ever expanding egos. As a younger man, I used to imagine myself one day having an ‘Our Man in Havana’ type existence, rushing about in a hot place in a crumpled linen suit mopping my brow with a monogrammed handkerchief and masterminding incredible feats of espionage in a kind of bumblingly endearing James Bond manner, whilst confounding those damned journalists at every step. Pretty much what I do now actually, albeit more in the manner of the drunken elderly ex-consul lampooned by The Fast Show…

I had noted earlier in the week that the First International Rock Festival of Phnom Penh was to take place in the Titanic (!) restaurant on 1st December. And it was free. Major VFM, no less. The cynic in me leapt at the opportunity to spend some time guffawing at what the First International Rock Festival of Phnom Penh would present for our edification. We were promised a German band called Diva International, fronted by a Debbie Harry type singer and influenced by Bowie and Iggy, a ‘nylon punk’ band (!) from Thailand called Bear Garden, and PP’s own Thom Thom (or Josie and the Pussycats as I call them). Oh boy… a German punk band called Diva International… the laugh-o-meter was cranked up and ready to go! I used to be a big fan of German music of the early 70’s – I would go round to my friend Eric’s house (where and how are you now, Mr. Law?) to listen to Aamon Duul II and Can and Neu and Tangerine Dream. These albums were serious pieces of work, with fantastic cover art and great titles – ‘ Dance of the Lemmings’, ‘Tago Mago’, ‘Monster Movie’, ‘Phaedra’… then came the wonderful Nina Hagen, eventually she gave way to the still tolerable Nena and her 99 Red Balloons and then, as far as I was concerned, it all went wrong. It seemed as if most of Europe didn’t quite get punk right, and Germany were no exception. Die Totden Hosen. Oh Holy Jebus, somebody please tell them that the UK Subs are not the kind of role models to build a career on… so German rock music and yours truly drifted apart at that point, until…

…now! It’s 8pm in the quite wonderfully but bafflingly named Titanic Restaurant (considering it is perched on a jetty at the riverside – visions of the whole shebang sliding slowly into the dark waters as the bands play on swim before my eyes ), and I have just missed Thom Thom. Not to worry, they are playing an acoustic gig later this week so opportunity to catch up then, but as I arrive a rap duo, a young man and an older man, both Cambodian, are performing a rap about genocide to the smallish crowd of mostly German expats. Some people are enjoying a Saturday evening meal, apparently oblivious to the frenetic rapping and scratching coming from the dynamic duo on stage, who I find out are DJ Sday and his young protégé, MC Curly. This is their last number for the moment, then Curly introduces Thai duo Bear Garden, a young woman playing bass and singing and a young man playing a vintage Casio mini keyboard. They’re pretty good, a little like a cut price B52’s crossed with Sadistic Mika Band ,and I find myself doing some on the spot restrained Dad dancing to their plinky-plonk rhythms and bass popping. Good stuff. Another rap from Curly, who is now genuinely amazed at the gathering crowd, and then he announces Diva International. Nothing happens for about five minutes, then the black clad rhythm section amble on, look about them a bit then walk off stage again. Perhaps they are a little upset at the neon sign above the stage that somewhat erratically flashes the words ‘Titanic Band’ and variations thereof above their heads in electric blue. A young man with dark curly hair and a permanently worried expression is obviously the band’s gopher, and he rushes over to fix whatever has been displeasing them so much that they have telepathically communicated it to him before retreating. They return, and now they are four, skinny guys dressed in black with low-slung guitars. Where is Debbie Harry soundalike? Utilizing the old ‘dramatic pause before entrance’ routine perhaps? Well, no. It’s clear that as the band start up that there is no female front person, just the skinniest of the skinny foursome with low slung Telecaster untouched round his neck, see-sawing his microphone and stand up and down in the grip of first number nerves, cigarette smouldering in his left fist and laconic Lou Reed/David Bowie vocal tics firmly in place. They are good. I eat my thoughts. They are really, really good. All you could really fault them on would be the horrendously cheesy between song patter. Every cliché is being expounded, and I don’t really think it’s worth wasting your or my time repeating them. Come on, put your hands in the air and ROCK AND ROLL if you agree with me. Are you having a good time reading this? I can’t hear you… come on, are you having a good time??!! Hello World, are you ready to rock tonight? One, two – more monitor… Yeah! You’re the best crowd who has read my blog ever! I love you! Goodnight! I’ll be back!!

There is one deeply surreal moment when the singer shouts from the stage ‘hey…. anyone here tonight from… Bristol?’ but all becomes clear when moments later they lurched into a growlingly electric version of Portishead’s “Glory Box’. Curly Roadie is kept endlessly busy attending to the whims of the singer, who cannot plug his guitar in, light a cigarette, pick up a plectrum, turn up his amp or indeed wipe sweat from his own brow without help, but that’s ROCK AND ROLL isn’t it, and he is forgiven as they are so good. It’s a short set, but they win two encores and get MC Curly and Roadie Curly to join them in a scrappy yet exciting jam at the end, and their whole veneer of distant cool and arch pretension has long since dissolved in the sweat lashing from them. I congratulate the singer as they come off stage, telling him how much I enjoyed their performance and how good the cover of ‘Glory Box’ was, and he puts me exactly in my place and reinforces that I need to really keep an open mind when it comes to perceptions or preconceptions about music (or indeed anything) – ‘Thank you’ he says ‘ it’s really difficult to do this when it’s not your own language’…

On another subject, Orange Juice (spot the easy connection) once had a whimsical wee ditty called ‘you old eccentric’, and thinking about that got me wondering, where are the eccentrics of my generation? Maybe I’m not thinking quite hard enough, but have my generation not spawned any George Mellys, Ivor Cutlers or Spike Milligans? The only one worthy that I can think of right now to follow in those hallowed footsteps would be old irascible John Lydon, but there must be more – write in with your ideas, and we’ll put together a list of current great eccentrics to give us hope and inspiration when the real world becomes a tad too crazy for our own good.

In the meantime, be good, clever or both at the same time (sound of sock full of custard hitting brick wall).

Thank you and goodnight from Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia.

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