What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been…

‘and in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make’

The Beatles ‘The End’

This is going to be The Last Post from me for the foreseeable future and I really want to talk a bit about music again, despite the fact that, yes, I know I’d promised something a little different for my next blog last time, but of course I’m nothing if not unreliable. So, in an effort to soften the blow of my final blathering I asked my friend Skip if he had anything interesting to share. He’s been writing various bits and pieces over the months with a view to putting together a children’s book of cautionary verse, but we all know he never finishes anything so I’ve managed to persuade him to release one poem to an unsuspecting world. Here follows the sad tale of a little chap who stood out from the rest of the little chaps around him. Suitable for children? You decide…

The Sad T(r)ail of Mollusc Boy

Mollusc boy was different from
The other kids in town
He kept his house upon his back
And always wore a frown
He had no legs to speak of
Just an elongated tail
And everywhere this strange boy went
He left a silver trail

He wandered ‘round the neighbourhood
On paving stones and walls
and left his slimy signature
Wherever he would crawl
His friends (of which there were but few)
Would say (to no avail)
‘please do not crawl across our floor
and leave your sticky trail!’

and so he grew and went away
to where the grass was greener
and got a job (surprised? I was!)
as a high-rise window cleaner
as he could stick to brick or wall
with ease, and lean right over
to polish glass with pail and mop –
for now he was in clover!

But nothing in this world can last
and changes they must come…
poor Mollusc Boy, he lost his job
and boy, was that boy glum
he slithered off into the night
and when the dawn appeared
they found him in a garden quiet
drowned in a pint of beer…

©Skip Cormack 2008. All rights of the author reserved. Please don’t copy or use any part of this without asking me or I’ll get upset and cry.

He’s a strange one, that Skip… anyway, back to music. I’ve only relatively recently realised the power of music. That’s a strange acknowledgement to make, I know, but true. I spent the greater part of my adult life involved in selling, producing and playing music, but always had a kind of selfish approach to it, in that it was just for me or my immediate circle of friends to understand how deeply a particular piece could affect an individual or a group. I scoffed at the statement at the time, but that tree-hugging yoghurt knitter Jon Anderson from Yes probably summed it up pretty well when he said in the booklet accompanying ‘Fragile’

‘Music’s chosen colours move the soul –
War music, Peace music, Love music,
We move to it all.’

As I type this I am listening to Cheb Khaled, the Algerian Rai singer, on my I-pod. I’m not really meant to be, as it should actually be John McLaughlin’s Shakti, but the guy from the CD shop put the wrong CD in the sleeve and… I now have to say, that more than twenty years on, Olaf Cowan, you were right. Olaf was a regular customer who was into all kinds of music, particularly folk and world music (though at that time it wasn’t even called world music) and would often try to get me to listen to some of the artists he liked (Khaled being one) to no avail, as I knew what I liked, and it certainly wasn’t some singer from North Africa who didn’t even sing in English… but I was wrong, and my narrow mind has at last expanded to recognise the worth of more than just skinny white kids with guitars (although they probably will always be my major musical influence).
Some final thoughts and recommendations then, before I fade into the sunset…
sunset… hmmm… I can think of two great contemporary songs about sunset… ‘The Consul at Sunset’, by Jack Bruce (which works in so many ways… bit of a genius, Mr. Bruce) and ‘Sunset’ from Roxy Music’s weary masterpiece, Stranded. The most perfect ennui song ever, bar none, with one of the most evocative opening lines of all time ‘oh, look at the sun, it’s all aglow… slow burning orb, sinking low…’. How I wish I could write like that. Sorry, that was a bit stream of consciousness wasn’t it? That’s how my mind is working at the moment, flitting from thought to thought just like a butterfly, alighting for just a moment then spiraling off into the blue.
Calexico’s new album ‘Carried to Dust’ is going to become a favourite; I can feel it in my bones. It’s low-key, and dusty, and hazy, Cormac McCarthy-ish and a real grower methinks. I love a few tracks off Elbow’s ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’, particularly the tracks ‘Mirrorball’ and ‘Grounds for Divorce’ where the album’s title originates. They really remind me of Gabriel-era Genesis, which is no bad thing round my ranch. Epic 45 have been a fixture in my ears for the last couple of months also – their album ‘May Your Heart Be The Map’ is just so evocative of a mythical English summer, all acoustic guitars and hazy samples and church bells and wispy vocals – mind pictures of dappled sunlight through green trees, combined with aural honey for the synapses. The US has responded by bestowing the Gabe Dixon Band, who summon up the ghosts of early Jackson Browne and ‘Madman/Tumbleweed’ era Elton, and wrap it in an album cover that is so 70’s, very American Gothic. I like them a great deal. As usual, there’s oodles (Is that a word? Must ask Skip..) of other stuff out there, but you’re all smart enough to figure that out.

Blogging is pretty much an egocentrical kind of thing, and I suppose I hadn’t thought too much about boredom levels, or levels of possible offence, or other things I should have been thinking of in any audience out there when I write these things. I probably basically just haven’t thought,full stop. I’m afraid I’m totally incapable of writing the diary type of thing that a blog should be, so I’ve decided to knock this on the head for the foreseeable future. For those who are wondering, day to day life is probably pretty much like yours at the moment. We just muddle along, getting things right and wrong and steering a middle path most of the time.

It’s been fun being Lost in Space – maybe one day I’ll fire up the supersonic rocket ship engines and get lost again. Until then, thank you so much for your support, you cyberspace friends out there.

‘ If you have a revolution, do it for fun.’

Goodbye, and may your God go with you.

James

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I think it’s going to rain today

‘human kindness, it’s only blindness…and I think it’s going to rain today…’
Randy Newman

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 isn’t it slightly more civilized than the approach many rural mums still take, that is, to clamp their mouth firmly over the child’s 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 that’s 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, doesn’t it? I’m sorry to give that impression, for really things aren’t 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. I’m 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… I’m pretty sure now it was actually a more than subconscious homage to the marvellous Lost in Space TV series of the 1960’s, 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 life’s 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 1990’s, but the 60’s original is by far the best, and along with Dr. Who was a staple of my formative years (so that’s what’s 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 t’other.

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 daddy’s 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, it’s 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 (1960’s 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, I’m sure you gave me my Pink Fairies album back as a birthday present a few years ago… or maybe I dreamed that?