We are in Cambodia. Today we visited the vast Angkor Thom complex with its mix of temples and palaces, incorporating Buddhist and Hindu influences and stunning sights. I’m blown away when I think this was all being built while the French were giving the Brits a good hiding in Sussex and building a few rather bland castles. I hope the images speak for themselves.
I learnt a bit about Cambodia at school. My A level history was more world affairs and macro politics which was pretty unusual I think for 1973/4. We had a module on American domestic and foreign policy from 1952 to 1973 a lot of which centred around Vietnam and, by extension Cambodia.
If I took away an impression it was a country of a royal in exile, Sihanouk aligning himself with a sick nutter called Pol Pot, the equally unlovely leader of the rebellious Marxist, communist leaning Khmer Rouge who set up against a military dictator. Someone behind all this was the spill over of American influences in Vietnam at the time.
Cruelty, violence, endless jungles dominated the portrait thus painted.
Since then I’m aware from friends and family who have visited of a country that has made peace with itself and settled to an unexpected stability over the last 30 years or so.
Land mines still kill and maim as reminders of a terrible yet recent past. But it is a place that welcomes people to its shores with a seemingly untainted openness that belies its history.
We have a guide – Sohpak – to help us make the most of our time here. On the way from the airport he teased me about my phone, laughed at the corruption and inadequacies of his government and explained in a measured way the pros and cons of the rapid development of Siam Reap, the small town that is exploding as the gateway to the temples of Angkor Watt and the city of Angkor Thom.
Tourist dollars are welcomed but there is a price to pay in trying to maintain a local v visiting balance that merely heightens the disparity in affluence.
Sohpak is married. His wife runs a market stall. She is ready for a family. He’d like to have saved more. His aim for his children is not unusual. Education and for that he needs cash which puts off having children.
It’s a similar story to that we heard in Singapore. One we hear at home and from countries like India and China whose huge populations are not growing at what demographers think of as a replacement rate. Those in the rural areas, says Sohpak, have large families early. His implication is that those who aspire don’t.
And we visit in our droves with our free time and lovely teeth and huge appetites and wads of cash and he and his cousins look on and want more. And they want even more for their children.
So they prize stability even if corrupt and they prize education and money even more.
As the afternoon rains runs down and the sweat pools on my knees I’m conscious this is typical.
It was like this 100 years ago and before that. We visited an artisan led silk worm factory – what can I say, the Textiliste finds weaving everywhere, much like Irish bars are in every city – and it had echoes of the Mill we saw recently in Derbyshire.
It was fascinating to follow the process through (if you turn a blind eye to the mass slaughter of silk moths at the pupae stage – that bit was hard for me).
It would have been the same when the French ran Indochine. The big difference is the lack of industrialisation – it’s a cottage industry still.
Big industry, the pursuit of power, both to run machines and control markets has spawned a huge demographic shift in populations.
But you don’t need to industrialise in the modern world – you can harness geography and financial clout like Singapore has or your antiquity and fabulous ancient culture as is evident here in Cambodia and provide the conditions for aspiration.
The question it seems to pose is which will we consider to be the bigger problem going forward: an over heated planet with an over dominant species sucking up all the natural resources as it blindly heads for the climate changing cliff or an intelligent species that is growing that intelligence but in what will become an aging and dwindling population that does not replace itself?
Statisticians suggest the world population will top out a 11 billion and then fall. History and science might suggest we will find ways to survive what we are doing to the planet.
Will we? I think that, whatever the truth of this it’s going to be a bloody bumpy ride. Cushion anyone? Maybe artisan silk?
Or just maybe I’d be better off kissing a rock and finding my own Buddha.
Today’s story is promoted by the Textiliste and this image.
Her addition is it should view matters from the side of the defence. I rather got carried away here so I’ve split it into two parts. Here’s part one.
Tiffany Westbrook’s body lay for several weeks in the woods that bordered Anselm Park before it was discovered. She wasn’t reported missing in that time. The dog walker that found her noted the look of surprise on her face not realising she had been shot through the temple by a small calibre bullet.
The authorities soon concluded her husband, Grant, was their chief suspect. Firstly the Westbrook’s were known to be arguing a lot in the days leading up to Tiffany’s last sighting. On that day, they were seen in a local restaurant where they fought with particular vitriol. Tiffany was heard to say ‘You’ll not get rid of me.’ Later she was seen storming away from him in the direction of the park with him following behind looking furious.
Subsequent investigations showed that Grant had flown out of state that night, having bought a ticket that afternoon, heading for Costa Rica. He had cleaned out the joint bank account that day. Further checks showed he had remortgaged their home in the months leading up to her death and cashed in various investments, with all the proceeds being sent to a numbered account in the Cayman Islands.
The final piece of evidence, confirming Grant as the guilty party was the fact that on the afternoon she disappeared Tiffany went to her bank to clear out her safety deposit box. Under subpoena the bank clerk confirmed that there were two items removed: an amount of cash in one hundred dollar bills and a snub nosed revolver and ammunition, of the type used to kill Tiffany. Neither money nor gun were found at the scene.
The police applied to have Grant arrested. When he heard of the charges he professed himself horrified and claimed to be prepared to return to prove himself innocent. However when appraised of the evidence against him, his attorney recommended he stay put as extradition to the States was not easy even in the case of capital offences. He did agree to be interviewed.
His story was straightforward. He acknowledged the arguments and the deteriorating relationship. He confirmed the financial transactions he had undertaken up to the day he disappeared. But he denied following his wife into the park and killing her. Indeed when they left the restaurant he walked with her towards the park to tell her he was leaving her for good. She was an heiress with powerful family and he knew, given his circumstances any divorce would go badly for him. Indeed he accepted the marital breakdown was his fault in that he was congenitally unfaithful. His reason for taking what he could and going then was because his lover was waiting for him. He had hoped Tiffany would understand and agree to an amicable arrangement but she made it clear she would do everything to ruin him. He hadn’t planned to fly that night but after their argument he felt he had no choice. He was running away from being trapped and impoverished not from murder.
No one believed him. The press, a significant part of which were controlled by her family pressured the police and public opinion. The senator, a family friend, used his influence to force the Costa Rican government to find a way to send Grant home where, or so the press had it, a hot seat awaited him.
Jay Cattle played a lot of games. His room in his parents’ house which overlooked the entrance to Anselm Park was full of computers. On the day of Tiffany’s death and Grant’s disappearance, his room had been moved around to enable a plumber to work on the pipes to his radiator. He was livid. He loathed anyone interfering with his things. The argument that followed Jay’s discovery of the changes in his room’s layout led to him storming off to his friend Ropey and staying for three nights. When he returned all computer privileges had been revoked for the duration.
Lieutenant Prole held the phone from his ear. He tried hard to remain professional but it felt like an early birthday present. Grant Westbrook was coming home. He turned to Roger Clay to tell him to gather the team but he was on the phone, frowning. Instead he had Jerry pull everyone into the meeting room while he prepared to address the squad. They needed to run through how they wanted to conduct their questioning. There could be no slip ups.
‘Boss. A word.’ Clay’s lugubrious expression gave nothing away.
‘A gun shop on 37th has reported a kid trying to sell an unlicensed firearm…’
Lt. Prole sighed. Something bad stirred in his waters. ‘You’re telling me because…?’
‘It’s Tiffany Westbrook’s gun. The shop keeper had the registration details and phoned it in. It was on the highest priority. I understand a car’s going to get him and his parents. He’s 14.’
‘What’s he doing with it and why sell it.?’
Clay shrugged. Most of his teenage years had disappeared in a cloud of pot smoke. He had no idea what motivated kids.
Mr Cattle sat with his son. He too was confused. Jay merely stared at the backs of his hands which lay flat on the table.
Lt. Prole sat heavily while Clay stood at the back of the room. ‘Jay, I’ll cut to the chase. You know it’s an offence to have let alone try and sell a firearm. But I’m prepared to pass on that and leave your dad to explain how stupid you’ve been if you help us with what you know about it. This is very important.’
Jay looked at the officer, confusion competing with surprise. His father however grasped what was on offer. ‘Jay, son. Tell him every bit you know. Please.’
Jay rubbed his forehead. The truth was he didn’t know anything. He said as much.
Prole leant forward. ‘You’re nervous, I get that so let’s piece this together. Where did you get the gun?’
‘The front yard. In that bush.’ He looked at his father. ‘The one you made me cut.’
‘He’s doing some chores. To make up. It’s an azalea, quite old.’
‘Where exactly was it?’ Prole pushed a pad across to Jay. ‘Draw it for me.’
Jay took a minute to sketch the scene. Prole watched. ‘Can you add the entrance to the park?’
Jay looked at his father who turned to the policeman. ‘Is this about that woman? I thought it was…’
‘Can we focus on the gun, sir?’
Mr Cattle half stood. ‘My son has nothing to do with that murder. He’s not…’
‘Sir, please sit. We’re not suggesting anything at this time so please. The more we know, the better. Jay, when did you find it?’
‘Maybe Saturday. The weekend.’
‘And why not give it to your mom or dad? Why try and sell it?’
Mr Cattle looked visibly rattled. ‘Whatever it is, son, don’t worry. Your mom and me ain’t going to be cross. Just answer the man, okay?’
‘I’m grounded. Can’t even use my phone, can I? It ain’t fair so I thought if I could get some cash I’d be able to get me a new one. Just to keep in contact with my friends, you know.’
Prole gave a short laugh. ‘You must have done something wrong big time to lose your phone.’
‘He did. He ran away.’
‘I just stayed over at Ropey’s, dad.’
Clay had been studying the drawing. ‘I guess we asked earlier but did either of you see who might have put the gun there? Anyone looking out of the windows?’
‘When was this?’
‘July 15th about 4pm.’
Mr Cattle looked at his son. ‘That’s when you ran off, isn’t it?’
‘When you destroyed my room.’
His father shrugged as if to say ‘see what I mean?’
It was clear Jay wasn’t listening.
Mr Cattle went on. ‘We had the plumbers in. Emergency. It meant we had to move all Jay’s stuff to one end of the room. Even if he’d wanted to he couldn’t have looked out of the window. After that, as he says, he stayed with Paul Ropemaker – Ropey – for two days before coming home. Since then his room’s been locked and he’s slept in the spare room.’ Mr Cattle added, ‘We, my wife and I sleep at the back. No one else overlooks the yard or the park.’
‘Never mind. That’s helpful. Jay, we will need a set of prints to eliminate from the gun. Anyone else touch it? Show it to your friends?’
Jay shook his head.
Prole and Clay headed back to the squad room. ‘What you think?’
Clay pursed his lips. ‘He’s no killer. Looks like Grant just dumped the gun.’
‘Yeah. They argue. He lures her to the woods. She pulls the gun. There’s a struggle. Or he knows she has it and takes it and, bang, she’s dead and he’s running. He tosses the gun in a panic.’
‘I still thing all the moving money stuff points at premeditation but throwing the gun doesn’t fit so well, does it?’
‘It was her gun all along. Odd way to premeditate – get her to bring the gun.’
‘Sure. Let’s hope he was clumsy over the prints.’
End of part one