Going to a Go-Go

Have you ever hankered after tinkling the ivories but were stymied by a complete lack of length in your fat little digits? Ever been the disappointed one turned away in the queue for hand cream models because your stubby fingers were too Shrek-like to pass the grade? Were you forced down the career path of butchery because, lets face it, those pork sausages you had sprouting from your palms were not really suited to the fine motor skills required of a brain surgeon?

Despair no more, for help is at hand (groan!)…

Just around the corner from our humble abode in Phnom Penh city is a beauty shop. Ah, but clearly not only a beauty shop, also a place where dreams come true in a magical scented haze of all-round wonderfulness, for not only will they ‘iron the hair to make it straight’ and ‘make the face to white’ (is Michael Jackson their best customer, I wonder?) but they also promise, for the princely sum of only $10.00, to, wait for it…

‘perfume the fingers to be slim…’

Yippee! A new career awaits me…
‘Oh, I just loved his Bach variations, so fluid, so emotive the way his beautiful, long fingers glided so effortlessly over the keys…’
‘Yes! Yes! And his hands smell so nice…’

I bet Rick Wakeman goes there too.

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t go to the one I spotted some months back close to BKK market, where a somewhat graphic piece of naïve art accompanies the assertion that not only can this establishment provide all the usual skin-whitening processes, but can also ‘cover all kind of bruises’ that a woman may be forced to endure in her daily routine. A sad reminder that this is still a male-dominated society, and that too often that domination is reinforced by the application of a fist…

I’m still as bemused and confused and amused by everyday life in the Cambodian capital as I was when I began writing this blog. Every day continues to bring new things to wonder at. Why is a gigantic office block being built near us opposite the site of a smaller office block that was forced to close earlier this month because… well, because no-one can afford to rent offices… ? Why do so many vehicles have no number plates, tinted glass and mini televisions showing Tom and Jerry cartoons smack in the middle of the dashboard? How many Hummers is it possible to fit on the sidewalk outside Malis’s restaurant? (Arlo Guthrie, there’s a song in there for you somewhere…) Why have Lucky Market suddenly stopped selling mayonnaise (until last week there were three shelves full of variations on the stuff, now they lie empty and forlorn – it’s either a melamine-type scare that we don’t know about yet, panic buying by foreigners (?), or it just simply has ceased to exist, like sun-dried tomatoes. We used to buy some lovely sun-dried tomatoes from the small deli counter in Lucky’s until the day they were no longer there, and the staff conspiratorially informed me that sorry sir, sun-dried tomatoes no longer existed, had vanished off the face of the earth forever, had ‘done a dodo’, etc etc. I simply haven’t had the heart to tell them about deli Le Duo’s range of sun-dried t…………….

Of course, if I get bored at being stuck in morning rush hour traffic with only the sight of two senior policemen driving at high speed in their very large SUV down what most people actually do now realise is the wrong side of Norodom Boulevard whilst simultaneously guzzling from cans of ABC beer (8.00am… isn’t that a little early, gentlemen?), then I can always drift off into a gentle reverie about little O. One morning this week, he finally completed his metamorphosis into a petulant teenager. I came into his room to give him his morning greeting at around 6.00am, and there he was, lying on his back across his bed, hands clasped behind his neck, knees up, gazing at the ceiling fan with a look of utter boredom on his face.

‘Hello! How are you today, O?’ Daddy enquires.

‘Go away!’ says O.

All well and good, but he’s TWO, forgoodnessake! TWO!

And…

He can climb the stairs approximately 2.8 times faster than I can (and in all probability descend faster, but thank the good lord I have not yet witnessed that particular heart-stopping exercise – our stairs are like the Odessa steps with a bend in the middle).
He can completely (and silently) disappear, and then reappear in a completely different place less than 5 milliseconds later.
He can store an entire packet of Chocolate Buttons in one cheek, some cheese and ham in the other and still manage to chew and swallow eggy toast soldiers at the same time.
He can lower his trousers/pants/nappy and pee at will, and in any situation, providing it causes the maximum annoyance/embarrassment to his parents.
He can open locked doors in the blink of an eye, and can lock doors that have no key finally and irrevocably.
He can programme an I-Pod and change DVDs with incredible speed and dexterity, and he employs his own form of censorship upon the adults in the house by switching off any television programme that does not meet with his approval…
He covertly works for a secret organisation whose mission is to rid the world of all remote control devices, but particularly those for TVs and DVDs.
Or perhaps he covertly works for the woman in the market who sells remote controls – we are undoubtedly her best customers, and come to think of it she does seem to have some unspoken dialogue between O and her when we make our almost weekly pilgrimage to replace them…

And…

Awww…he’s truly, truly wonderful. Our lives are just so much better for him being around, and each day brings new surprises and moments to melt the hardest of hearts (mine particularly). I’ve never wanted to be one of those ‘my kid is wonderful, blah blah blah’, parents, but it’s my blog and I’ll blag if I want to… so there!

Let’s talk about music again. You have to admit that going for about seven paragraphs hardly mentioning any music is pretty good, isn’t it? I quite often ponder in an ‘out-of-the-body-experience’ manner at the stylistic leaps I take in my listening habits. Last few weeks it’s been mainly the bleak English folktronica of July Skies emanating from my trusty and battered I-Pod and speaker pillow (remind me to elucidate at a later date on that particular wonder…), this week it’s Motown. I’m actually ‘listening’ to those songs that soundtracked a great deal of my adolescence, as opposed to living with them , and I am marvelling in a frankly gobsmacked manner at just how amazing the production was on the classic Motown tracks, and how vital and alive everything sounded (and still sounds today.) Every note in the right place, every component of the mix exactly where it should be in the sonic palette. Wow. Far out. Although the early 1970s was largely the domain of progressive rock in the circles I moved in, nearly every party came to the point where the only thing to do was to haul ‘L.A. Woman’ off the turntable and replace it with the silver Motown Chartbusters Volume 3 album, which would inevitably, as Pink might say, really ‘get the party started’. There were other volumes (one, volume 6 I believe, even had a Roger Dean sleeve! How that confused the progressive fraternity!), but 3 was the tried and trusted partystarter in our remote neck of the woods. The moment ‘Í heard it through the grapevine’ kicked in, all manner of solitary dizzy hippy hopping gave way to Soul Train-esque funky choreography, or so we thought in our naïve northern Scottish way… I’m sure Rufus Thomas must have taken inspiration from the ineptness of some of us ‘funky chickens’ gyrating drunkenly in the tiny wee kitchen of a tiny wee hoose in a tiny wee toon, with elbows akimbo, emerging like a hairier and scarier Pan’s People through a fog of strangely sweet-smelling smoke, Newcastle Brown and vodka-and-orange-wi’-a-wee-drappie-o’-water fumes…

The latter drink was the closest at that point that I had come to a cocktail. I still recall the burning chemical aftertaste of the potent mix of Smirnoff and diluting orange (Oh boy, was it ORANGE. Colourings and preservatives were essential parts of the deadly mix!), with the edge just slightly dulled by the brackish warm water…such sophistication! I truly did not become a fully paid up member of the suave and urbane world of the real cocktail drinker until one memorable afternoon in Edinburgh in the early 1980s, in Refreshers Cocktail Bar, when Donald McIntosh and I decided we would drink our way through the card…. but that’s another story for another time….

Oh well, that’s enough reminiscing for now. I wonder (if I can stop A from laughing too much) if I can teach little O the moves for ‘Going to a go-go’ ….

(cue funky guitar and rolling piano lick)

‘Watch me now!!!’

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Distant Showers Sweep Across Norfolk Schools

For the lucky ones such as I, memories of the past are akin to imaginary creatures, amorphous yet solid, there but yet not quite there, subject to being shaped by the will to make things fit with the idea of an ideal past, yes, once again those blue-remembered hills of yore.

Lately I have been listening to the work of a band called ‘July Skies’. They deal in a particular kind of musical nostalgia that is designed to evoke in the listener the distinct feeling of a place and time, and by goodness it works. The mainstay of the band is a young man named Antony Harding. He holds some singularly unusual ideas for a contemporary young man, and he can be found expressing them during a 2006 interview in a highly eloquent and captivating manner at this website, http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Article.aspx?id=4113 . His views really resonate with me – as a younger person I often found solace in visiting old deserted buildings, sitting quietly and listening to the sounds they made, imagining the lives of those who had once lived there… I was a strange little chap, really.

The title of this posting strikes me as emanating a strange, calm serenity, invoking something of a Turner landscape in the reader. In my mind’s eye I see huge skies flecked with streaks of blue-grey rain that descend upon and partially obscure the clusters of tiny grey buildings dotted amongst the green at the bottom of the picture. It actually comes from the name of a track on the July Skies album ‘The Weather Clock’, and in my opinion Mr. Harding totally succeeds in using appropriate instrumentation and almost intangible atmospheres on this recording to conjure the feelings and sensations of growing up and living in post-war twentieth century Britain. It’s a world of grass poking through grey concrete slabs, grimy windows, gritty pavements designed to inflict maximum damage to children’s knees, sweet wrappers blowing through deserted housing estates, a lone mother wrapped up against the cold pushing a pram up a steep hill… Real or make believe? Who knows? Why should we care if it feels right, which it does… One track is called ‘Waiting for the Test Card’, and it does remind this listener in an uncanny way of the butterfly-stomached anticipation that the test card appearing on the television screen brought to those of us of a certain age… impossible to convey to many today, as we face saturation television digitally penetrating our homes from satellites or cables twenty-four hours a day… the old guard are disappearing too… last year the genius that was Oliver Postgate, this year Tony Hart. My old musical sparring partner Skip has more to say on their sad passing on his blog over at skipcormack.blog.co.uk, please take the time to visit. I don’t always entirely see eye to eye with him, but in this case I do. These remarkable and gentle men were inspirations and friends to thousands of British children and I cannot help but wonder if the braying hyperactive ninnies who host many children’s TV programmes nowadays will be remembered with such warm fondness by their viewers. Mind you, Barney the Dinosaur seems, although oh-so-slightly annoying, quite a big-hearted kindly chap and little O is very taken by him indeed…

I’m sorry if these last two postings appear to have had an overly sentimental sepia tinge to them… it’s not that the past was better, for that is not the case, it’s just I feel, as I’m sure many do, that to a degree we have slightly lost our way as humans at the moment. Yes, the past is a distant country that we once visited, but it is still a place that we may have much to learn from. To paraphrase Blur (Back together again! Nostalgia for an age yet to come, anyone?), ‘Modern Life Is (not entirely) Rubbish’. If we can be informed by the past, then that can help us to have a viable present and a hopeful future…

Next posting I will try and inject a bit more humour into proceedings. After all, as ‘The Reader’s Digest’ (now there’s a publication to get nostalgic about if ever there was one!) has told us on countless occasions in Dr’s waiting rooms as we nervously await our appointment, ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine.’

So I shall leave you with this…

“What goes ‘Ha Ha Ha Thump!’?”

A man laughing his head off.

Bye.

The English Cold*

Hello again. I have returned.(sound of muffled boos offstage)

Temperatures of -11 across southern England, bloody carnage in Gaza, winter vomiting virus, the credit crunch, the demise of Woolies, MFI, Zavvi and more, 1000 jobs lost at M & S, goodbye to Harold Pinter, Eartha Kitt, Ron Asheton… an alarming number of people thinking Jeremy Clarkson would make a better Prime Minister than the dour Scots incumbent, and most shockingly (for the UK press) no gong for our Brucie (Forsythe, that is – Springsteen is a Yank and doesn’t count)… yes, the family winter holiday in England has been shadowed by some pretty strange and unsettling events in the UK and elsewhere which I have watched with a growing concern that is nevertheless tempered with a distinct feeling of distance… in a few days we return to Phnom Penh and our expat existence, back into the warmth and mild craziness of the city that has been home to us for over three years, away from the freezing fog of gloom that seems to currently envelop the sceptred isle…

Fortunately we have had a wonderful time with our families and friends, and young master O in particular has thoroughly enjoyed the festive season and all its excesses. Many delightful images from these last few weeks crowd my brain and banish the lingering, lurking dark shadows cast by the tabloid grimsheets, the bleak mid-winter pinnacle that was scaled by ‘Eastenders’ (‘Dancing On Ice’ is no longer recommended by the beloved tabloids – whither the Dickensian scenes of yore? “ Oh, Gorblessyew no, no ‘ot chestnuts for me, guvnor… iffen I drop ‘un, me and the missus and kids will fall frew the melted ice…”) and all the other frankly awful programmes that crammed the digital airwaves in the name of entertainment. British television has sunk to new depths of triviality, repetition and crassness, so much so that the endless property and antique programmes that fill the morning (and afternoon) schedules are beacons of old-fashioned family values in a cloying sea of profuse profanity and backstabbing viper-tongued fast-cut mediocrity. No, that last phrase does not refer to the Queen’s Speech. It was the usual ‘aren’t-things-orful-for-one-and-one’s-subjects, but if we all pull together we can get through this (becorse one is just the same as you plebians underneath it all)’ stuff and nonsense. You can’t fool me with all that Helen Mirren smoke and mirrors nonsense, ma’am… also full of smoke and mirrors but the best thing on the X-(mas) box by a haunted-country-house mile was something called Jonathan Creek, starring the mumblingly excellent Alan Davies – it was a good old-fashioned brain-teasing complex whodunnit crossed with a gothic mystery, so let us rejoice just a smidgeon, as all hope for British television may not be lost after all.

Or is it? Smoke and mirrors pretty much summed up the New Year festivities as presented on’t telly also. It seems that the nanny state has decided once and for all that we should not be subject to the sight of drunken revellers drowning in the Trafalgar fountains or spewing over the Royal Mile, but rather we should enjoy an annual incrementally more expensive and destructive firework firefest around the London Eye… wow! After about five minutes the realization dawns that one colourful big bang is pretty much exactly the same as another… never mind, there’s always the bafflingly obtuse Jools Holland and his Hootananny to turn to – this year the audience was again the boringly usual selection of middle-aged ‘celebrities’, mainly unfunny male comedians, that must make up Jools’ drinking buddies, the only real humour coming from this years diva in residence, Duffy, who appeared to have not only ingested rather too much electric soup before raiding what she thought was her wardrobe (but was actually her mum’s lace curtains) but also to have taken several substantial hits of helium prior to performing… the Minnie Mouse revival starts here…

However, the season to be jolly was not all artifice – real joy was to be had from watching little O shuffle wide-eyed through the frosty leaves in the wood behind his grandparent’s home, shout his greetings to Santa up the chimney on Christmas Eve, rip the paper from his presents with exuberant glee on Christmas morning, proudly ride his red tricycle around the tree (with matching feather boa adorning his neck), tuck heartily into his Christmas dinner with lip-smacking relish and then regale us with ribald tales from the playschool as he puffed merrily on a monstrous Cuban cigar and sipped from a large glass of Cognac in the fuzzy ennui post Her Majesties fibfest. Okay, so that last part was also a fib…

It has been heart warming to see how O has again taken to his family in the UK, the strengthened bonds forged during this holiday and it will be really hard for us to say goodbye, as it always is…. Sorry, this is getting a bit maudlin, isn’t it? Let’s lighten up and talk about something cutting edge and, like, relevant to the real world out there. So, who’s going to win Celebrity Big Brother then? Ulrika? Tommy Sheridan? Ooooh, who knows? Who cares? I certainly don’t. I should be given an honorary place on yet another waste of thirty minutes of valuable lifetime, namely BBC 2’s ‘Grumpy Old Men’. Rick Wakeman is on there, and definitively proves on a weekly basis that wearing a sparkly cape and eating curries and drinking beer to rile macrobiotic bandmates in Yes was not his sole contribution toward lightening the burden of humankind through humour. Yes folks, being grumpy can be fun!

Apologies for the lack of Christmas Quiz this year. Couldn’t be bothered, to tell the truth – compiling it would have cut into valuable Celebrations/Toblerone/Quality Street eating time over the holidays. Who knows, I may spring a surprise quiz at some point in the not too far distant future. Or not. We’ll see…

Next blog will be brought to you from the Kingdom of Cambodia, for the time being it’s bye-bye from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland… mind how you go on that ice…

*an album by July Skies – watch this space closely for more effusion on these guys soon…