Feelin’ Groovy

Has it really been three months since I last inflicted my meandering musings on an unsuspecting world? ‘Not long enough!’ comes a cry from the back. Excuse me whilst I summarily eject that malevolent thought made manifest and get down to… to what, exactly?
Being the kind of person who is continually plagued by self-doubt, I had pondered for some time on just giving up this blogging malarkey and simply getting on with life in all its myriad forms… you don’t really need my cod philosophical ramblings to enrich your already full and fulfilling lives, do you?
‘Damn right!’
I thought I’d thrown you out… Come here you troublesome id… now, OUT you go!
There now, that’s better. Now where was I …?

Yes. Blogging. On reflection, and being purely selfish here, I think it’s good for me to put this stuff somewhere, so why not out into the eternal ether, to buzz around in a blissful binary state until somebody’s search for ‘Slim Whitman’ or ‘Commé a la Maison’ or ‘Tinariwen’ drags them here….

So how have you all been, my virtual friends? Well, I hope. The familial ‘we’ have also been well (but also unwell), happy (but also unhappy) and generally just stumbling hopefully where possible through the intricate maze of life with occasional diversions onto the rollercoaster and helter skelter to break up the monotony.

Some highlights of the missing months? Holidays!
Yippee! Visits to England, Scotland and the U.S.A. were wonderful. England to see my mum-and-dad-in-laws, Scotland to catch up with my family there, and my first visit to the U.S.A, to attend a celebration event in New Jersey organised by my wife’s family which brought together nearly 100 people from all over the globe whose roots were in a small village in India. It was an astonishing, and for me a humbling, experience to be part of, and accepted into, such a close-knit family gathering. Little O thoroughly enjoyed himself, pottering about in his kilt amongst the adoring Sari-clad women and snacking heartily on the many delights on offer. I wore my white suit (feeling a little more like a Cambodian bridegroom than a Mafioso hitman, I have to say) and made an unexpected and wholly impromptu speech (ten minutes notice – luckily I’ve worked long enough in development now to be able to spout mumbo-jumbo at the drop of a hat) which left nary a dry eye in the house. Personally, I think the exquisitely spicy somosas were to blame for the red-rimmed eyes…!

After three days of being bathed in the warmth of the family, of wonderful experiences shared, entertainment, music and food being enjoyed, and a real sense of generations not only coming together but strengthening their sense of family pride and duty, it was time to decant into the stretch limo (I’m not kidding. You wear a white suit, you gotta have style to match.) and to quaff champagne on the drive into New York City. Brother-in-law Paul and I were inordinately excited by the cultural delicacies on offer during that drive, which mainly consisted of Paul recognizing the locations of multifarious ‘hits’ from ‘The Sopranos’ or my spotting the actual ‘Fountains of Wayne’ store that great little band took their moniker from.

Soon, through the late July summer’s haze and the tinted glass of the limo, I glimpsed for the first time the distinctive skyline of Manhattan. It was one of those magical moments when I actually saw something that as a small child in far away Northern Scotland I could only have dreamed about, and strangely yet appropriately enough the words that crowded my brain were remembered from those long gone days, the immortal lines allegedly uttered by a quintessential son of New York,
‘Yonda lies da castle of my faddah….’
Thank you, Tony Curtis…

New York City was three days of full-on New Yorking – sightseeing, eating, more sightseeing, more eating… edited highlights would have to include the following… O in Central Park, swinging happily against a backdrop of dazzling skyscrapers; a horse drawn carriage ride around the park – thank you, Charlie Brown; breakfast at the Empire State deli, feeling slightly vertiginous gazing up at the sight of King Kong’s last stand; a moment of sadness in the doorway of the Dakota Building, on the spot where Lennon died; a touch of cynicism at the Strawberry Fields memorial – the world is full of bloody hippies now; the Hotel Pennsylvania with its ‘Shining’ like corridors and reverse Tardis rooms; Madison Square Gardens – I don’t see no flowers here!; open top bussing around downtown Manhattan with a selection of outrageously stereotypical tour guides; a nighttime jaunt across the river to Brooklyn, soaring through the mist over the Brooklyn bridge on the top deck of the bus, then gazing at a hazy Manhattan from across the river… magical; the neon overkill of Times Square; ferry cross the Hudson – sailing around Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as O marveled at the helicopters buzzing like prehistoric dragonflies all around us; dinner in the diner – nothing could be finer… except maybe the ENORMOUS sandwiches of the Carnegie Deli; O’s burgeoning interest in all things wheeled, primarily taxi cabs and fire engines… Broom! Broom!; the MOMA… O gazing enraptured at a huge picture of Dali, and him being very excited both by the Jackson Pollock’s on view and the acoustic possibilities of screaming in the gallery; Schwarz’s Toystore, and O listening intently to a story from a man dressed as a toy soldier who namechecked ‘In-a-Gadda-da-Vida’; a brief but amusing audience with the legendary Bleeker Bob in his record store in Greenwich Village; hot dogs with everything in the Village; seeing Radio City Music Hall (at last!), Electric Lady studios, Joey Ramone Street and other equally iconic places…. there was so much more, we did so much in three days that looking back now I am amazed at the stamina we had!

… and so it was time to return to England, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Well, actually it was time to spend the night sleeping on the stickily uncomfortable floor of JFK airport, courtesy of Delta airlines. A variety of excuses for a no-flight scenario were provided after we had been decanted from our settled positions on the aeroplane to spend several hours hectoring a lone Delta rep who appeared to know less about the situation than either we or the scary LED screen beside him did. Basically, a combination of no-show co-pilot and inclement weather were blamed for our predicament, an ATC decision, which, we were informed, meant Delta were not obliged to provide us with either accommodation or food. Even as Delta rep informed us to be patient, that he fully expected the flight to reboard soon, the screen beside him broadcast the news of its cancellation. Tempers were frayed, all the stores in the airport were closed, Delta rep reassured us however that vending machines were available. Great. You can buy an I-Pod and docking system from a vending machine in JFK, but try as you might you cannot buy a bottle of water or anything remotely edible, unless of course, you are a goat… I snuck back onto the plane to steal blankets and pillows from business class, resisting the easy temptation to slip onto the open flight deck and fly the plane to Cuba, and we settled (!) down for the night. After a deeply surreal and uncomfortable night on the floor we eventually got back onboard the next morning. We joked with the cabin staff about the pilot situation. Oh dear. No joke. We may have got back on board, but we were going nowhere until a co-pilot showed up. Several hours later one did, we finally took off and actually had a reasonably pleasant flight through the attentive ministrations of the cabin crew, who obviously thought that giving us copious amounts of ‘ sedation’ was the way to win back our hearts. Thank you, cabin crew, screw you, Delta Airlines.

I’ve blathered enough for the moment, tune in next time for the unbelievable excitement that will comprise…

English Village Fetes!
Bubbles!
A Grand Day Out!
Swindon Mela!
Return to Post-Election Phnom Penh!!

Can you bear to wait…..????

Musically, I’m currently grooving (am I allowed to at my age?) to The Black Keys, 22-20’s, Ry Cooder ‘I , Flathead’ (genius!!), Richmond Fontaine EP, Fleet Foxes, Midlake and wishing I had some Robert Gordon and Link Wray with me. Reading Michael Palin ‘New Europe’ and watching ‘Long Way Down’ and Sigur Ros on DVD. But you don’t really need (or want) to know that, do you?

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The Soul of my Suit

There seems to be a bit of a fashion note creeping into these missives of late, and indeed this particular bunch of virtual scribblings will be no exception, as we proceed through the sickly events of this past week up to your humble correspondents encounter on Saturday last with…
The tailors of Ambre!!!

The pained coughs, wheezes, snorts, splutters et al that accompanied our family visit to Siem Reap to celebrate my birthday (and were compounded by our otherwise lovely driver Socheath’s attempts to cryogenically freeze the lot of us with his state of the art AC on the way back) carried blithely over into the following week, rendering the entire family prostrate at one point, somewhat resembling the Fort Knox gassing scene in ‘Goldfinger’, and effectively knocking Ani and myself completely out of action for a few days.

Poor Ani had to stumble back to school for the latter part of the week, where to compound her already overwhelming miseries a caring parent decided to celebrate their little darling’s birthday with a cake. Not just any cake, but a Durian cake. No, for those reading this in western parts, that’s not a misprint, the parent was not a major fan of dodgy 80’s blow dried Diana -gawd-rest–‘er-soul favourites Duran Duran (of whom more later – can you wait? Please don’t expire from excitement!), but rather a fan of the so called (around these parts anyhow) King of Fruit, the Durian. The Durian is a fruit which is, and here I will steal wholesale from Wikipedia, ‘distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk.’ The part that should concern us regarding this particular application of the fruit, is the ‘unique odour’. What can I say? The majority of expats I have talked with on the subject seem to agree that the closest verbal approximation of this olfactory experience would be the stench of extremely ripe, cheesy and smelly socks… to be honest, I personally don’t find the smell too offensive, just slightly reminiscent of the boys changing room in Thurso High School circa 1969… but that’s another story…

Meanwhile, back at the classroom, there was a bit of a scenario going on. The Durian smell and taste had combined with the wonderful creation of a cream-and-icing-sugar horses head surmounting the cake to induce both hyperactive behaviour and projectile vomiting in many of the children who had wolfishly consumed this ‘treat’… ah, the sad lot of the early years teacher… I was glad to be at home, completely inert in bed, unable to even summon the strength to rotate the click wheel on my I-pod… yes, that’s how ill I was…

As we’ve just touched on the subject, we’ll briefly pause here for this week’s music recommendation, which is a double album of staggering wonderfullness called ‘Nigerian Rock Special – Psychedelic Afro-Rock and Fuzz Funk in 1970’s Nigeria’, which is on the Soundway label and is absolutely everything the title implies and more… simply loonpantfully magnificent! Do check it out if you yearn for the past joys of a well trodden wah-wah… ok, ad break over, back to the blog…

Saturday dawned, and we decided that although still hacking and sputtering, we would venture forth into the balmy Phnom Penh day and do a bit of shopping. In July we are going to decant briefly to New York, to attend a reunion and celebration of the Indian branch of our family tree, and of course the big question that hangs around this event, looming ominously and even larger than ‘where are we going to stay’ is ‘WHAT ARE WE GOING TO WEAR?’. Now, in my mind that had translated into ‘what are Ani and little O going to wear’, as I had already mentally commited to the universal ‘trousers and shirt, any colour’ for the formal, and ‘jeans and t-shirt, any colour’ for the informal aspects of this family gathering, hoping against hope that no-one would remember I was Scottish and attempt to force me into kilted garb… but lets face it, I’m not really built for a kilt, leaning more toward the Russ Abbott than the Mel Gibson (good Scotsmen both, eh?). However, a sneaking suspicion lingered that perhaps I might just have to make a bit more of an effort on the formal wear front…

So Saturday afternoon it was into the good Chairman Mao’s black wrestling-sticker bedecked Tuk-Tuk, first stop the Russian Market, to buy some material to construct (is that the appropriate word?) a suitable garment for Otis. We spared him the excitement of the market, though truthfully we actually spared the market the ‘excitement’ of the young Oti. He’s fifteen months old now, and at the stage where everything is in reach, by fair means or foul, and equally everything must be investigated fully and tested, tasted, prodded, pulled, poked, stretched, bent, bounced… you get the picture, I’m sure. He is, I have to say, generally very well-behaved in public, indeed a veritable charmer, but in the warren-like confines of the market where an inopportune tug could cause the very fabric of the building to collapse upon itself it’s best not to take any risks. We sweated and haggled, and came away with some very nice white linen and also some very wonderful yet bizarre material which combined skulls, swords and flamingos to startlingly weird effect… should make a very nice waistcoat for the wee chap and a talking point for the nannies…. We left the market in cheerful spirits, then Ani announced that she wanted to visit Ambre.

Ambre is an incredibly stylish designer fashion shop located in a beautiful town house in Phnom Penh. Here one can marvel not only at the rainbow-hued glamorous designs of the stunning Ms Romyda Keth, but also greatly marvel at how she can possibly stand, let alone walk, in her incredibly high heels, and indeed further marvel at the attempts of the manifold western women who are trying to squeeze into designs which are plainly targeted at the delicate sylph-like lines of the asian female form. I firmly believe that a survey would reveal the most oft-quoted line the staff in Ambre hear would be ‘do you have that in a bigger size?’. We were sheperded in, shielded from the by now driving rain by umbrellas, and entered this urbane and urbane oasis of cool. As Ani looked around the many rooms in search of inspiration I sat there feeling even shabbier and scruffier than usual as vertical feet Romyda and her team whisked and fussed around their clientele looking impossibly chic, though I was cheered that unlike the other western men there at that time at least I wasn’t garbed in the appalling uniform of long shorts and shapeless t-shirt. Ani came back to find me sitting disconsolate outside the changing rooms (that sounds bad, doesn’t it, but the truth is that this place is so chic I didn’t even realise I was sitting outside the changing rooms – none of that M&S ‘only four items at a time and thousands of coat hangers lying around’ malarkey here). ‘OK, lets go’ I ventured, gearing up for a sprint downstairs and out the door as fast as my fake Birkenstocks would take me. It was not to be.

‘why don’t we have a look at the men’s stuff’ she said.
Somewhere in the distance a muffled bell tolled. A door slammed, and a lone tumbleweed bounced forlornly past, small eddies of dust following in its wake. The silence seemed to last for an eternity. Without looking up, I replied.
‘No’
‘come on’ said Ani, ‘don’t be silly. Just a quick look, then we can go.’
I should have just wriggled away from those ensnaring words and leapt the finely-wrought bannister to freedom, but I did not. I grudgingly followed her down the steps to the mens department, trying to remain hovering just outside the door but ultimately failing and being drawn inexorably into a world of immaculately tailored suits and shirts.

Her eyes had already alighted upon a white suit racked near the door, and almost before I set foot inside had whisked it from its hanger to proffer before me… I had no time to splutter my usual stream of negatives before a tiny and pristine Cambodian man in a beautifully fitted pink shirt and white pencil thin trousers appeared, apparently from nowhere, in what to me was an eerie echo of Mr Benn’s shopkeeper. What bizarre adventure was I going to be hurled into?, I pondered as he expertly fed my unwilling arms into the crisp white sleeves. In my feverish imagination I was now firmly in the stereotyped domain of ‘The Fast Show’, of “Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Width’, the ‘Rag Trade’, Grace Brother’s menswear department and every other camp cliché abounding around mens tailoring, fully expecting to now hear Khmer variations on ‘oooh, suits you sir’, ‘which side does sir dress??’, ‘let me just warm my tape measure…’ et al. What I actually received was a ruthlessly efficient fitting, interrupted briefly by a French man(ager?) who had been watching from the door and momentarily imposed his views on how to stick pins into me upon efficient pinkshirtman. In these situations, where I am clearly out of my depth and have no control whatsoever over unfolding events, I sink to using puerile humour to (mainly) reassure myself. This was no exception. Everything from mirror based attempts at humour (“you looking at me? Who you lookin’ at then?”), to every tenuous white suit related association I could muster (“haven’t you watched any Ealing films? Look what happened to Alec Guiness! Just call me scarface… Hi, I’m Tony, Tony Manero… ch’wanna dance? ‘Her name is Rio, and she dances on the sand…’, ‘lets all get up and dance to a song that was a hit before your mother was born…’, the name is Bond…Basildon Bond… I was very, very drunk at the time…). Yes, I acknowledge that Simon Le Bon wasn’t actually wearing a white suit in the video for Rio, but he should have been, shouldn’t he? Fitting almost completed, and if truth be told now feeling slightly pleased with how the suit looked expertly cossetting my elderly frame, it was clearly time to try on some shirts. A striped b & w effort suggested by Ani just didn’t feel right, and pinkshirtman re-iterated this somewhat brutally as he snatched it from my fumbling grasp… ‘Tsk tsk! Too young!’. Eventually a plain black silk number was deemed appropriate by all, and what had appeared initially to me to be an ordeal a thousand times more agonising than the comfy chair of the Spanish Inquisition was fast drawing to a good humoured close. Suit and shirt would be ready in one week, and then I would be free to do my John Lennon Abbey Road impersonation (minus the hair and talent) as much as I wanted. Yay!! All the stereotypes flitting around the dusty attics of my brain department had long vanished, and it was with an unusually cocky swagger that I made my way toward the door. As he turned from folding the garment to say goodbye, pinkshirtman smiled and provided the icing on the proverbial cake…
‘ I must say sir, you know when you wear that suit, it make you look really…’

… Cool? Dashing? Manly? Debonair?

No.

‘… it make you look really cute…’

Exit. Stage left.

Effect and Cause

It remains still, quiet and quite eerie in the house with A and O in the UK. Last night we Skyped, which was fantastic, so Gerry Anderson video-phonish, but it seemed to mystify the little man somewhat… when I spoke he looked out of the window into A’s folks’ garden – did he think I was hiding in the bushes…? He is so alert, fascinated and fascinating to watch. I miss him and his mummy so much. Been listening to the White Stripes new album a lot – I REALLY like it, its noisy and fuzzy and sweet and crunchy and so black and white and red all over… he plays lots of major chords too so that a musical dimwit like me can almost struggle along with them without too much trouble. The version on sale here is bootlegged off a Canadian radio show, and has snippets of a female DJ between some of the tracks, and I think it’s really good, gives it a kind of ‘the Who sell Out’ feel to it. Oh, those White Stripes…They are so good, so primal, so real that they must have made one hell of a deal with satan… in fact, you can see the evidence of that deal if you follow this link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9zgT3WzTVA

Mr R and I are going to attend an evening of punk rock tomorrow night, an event which we are eagerly anticipating. From the flyer, which depicts Patti Smith in an outtake from the Horses cover and promises an ‘indie punk mash up plus the Ramones live’ (!) we could be in for some New York New Wave (the venue owners are New Yorkers) – let’s hope so. Should I wear my skinny tie and black converse sneakers? Probably not…

A report should filter through into this blog soon – maybe even some pics, if I can remember how to get them into the editing box – I still struggle massively with the mechanics of digital wonderment – it takes a long time and a great deal of effort to get anything onto this site, believe me.

And so to bed… how loud can an I-Pod go, I wonder…

‘ yes, I can tell that we are going to be friends’