Cambodia Day 3: temples, tempura and terrifying transport

One of my old saws with my kids is to embrace experiences not stuff. So deeply ingrained is it that I can hardly be surprised when the Vet announced she had booked us all on a Cambodian cooking course on what was meant to be some down time. That’s the other thing about my family; the concept of downtime and rests don’t really cut it.

The restaurant and the chef showed us a good time and we gained a certificate for chicken with aubergine

tamarind amok ( a local fish)

and bananas in coconut and tapioca

( which frankly gave me the willies when I thought back to school dinners but wasn’t half bad).

The thing about experiences is everyone gets to chose and much to all our surprises the next day we had an experience I will not soon forget.

First up we were off early to the Temple at Ta Prohm.

It’s neither the biggest, nor the best preserved nor the one with the most spectacular carvings but it did feature in Tomb Raider and best shows how the years of neglect allowed the jungle to overwhelm these beauties.

How the trees grow with buggerall soil is beyond me.

Some sort of industrial scale natural hydroponics or something.

But the combination is stunning visually and understandable why visitors enjoy their time there.

Bees nests too… cool

‘Ok. Where next, Sohpak?’

‘We see giant Buddha and carved elephant in jungle and batcave.’

Ideas of Gotham-on-Mekong were put to one side. Of course he didn’t mean a Bat cave as in the Bat Cave. Did he?

‘We have special treat get you there. You like?’ Ok so I’m cool with a batmobile. Every kid’s dream, right?

We climbed the mountain (named after lychees) and parked up near a stream where the King had Lingam and Yoni carved in the water.

If like me your not big on your Hindu lore these are linked to Shiva and are a sort of yin and yang (apologies to those that know what the correct way of describing  this is). Said King wanted his people to have holy water so by placing theses motifs in the river, as the water passed over them it was deemed holy and those lower down the slopes would benefit from it.

We smiled. What a nice dude, we thought. Feeling a sort of glow we followed Sohpak to where our transport was parked…. and walked on by. There, waiting for us, were some extras from Mad Max meets the Fast and the Furious (jungle motorcycle edition).

We all turned to goggle the Textiliste. She shrugged. ‘Haven’t ridden pillion in decades, thought it might be fun.’

Sometimes Dick Head Tours has its benefits in deciding what does and doesn’t pass for an experience.

How can I describe the trip as we fair hurtled through the back waters (I say that advisedly given this is near enough the rainy season and water had come down in torrents earlier). Terrifying? Shit-scary? Exhilarating? All of the above but mostly painful. I may be a man of a certain age with no intention to sire more offspring but having my testicles rammed back whence they came 50 odd years ago was not on this or any other bucket list. We bumped and we borrowed and we bounced.

After 30 minutes I was experiencing the motorcycling equivalent of Scylla and Charybdis. My left buttock, newly dimished since I lost weight was cramping like it was held in a vice while my right knee demanded to be straightened or it was sure to explode. To lean one way to solve that problem merely exacerbated the other.

We stopped. I had no idea where we were. We could have gone back to the start, not that that seeemed likely. As I triaged my nethers, my family bounced up. ‘Cool’ ‘That was fun’ ‘Brilliant.’ ‘Mum you’re a genius.’

We climbed into the cave, saw a lot of bats, not that I think any pictures will come out  and climbed back on the machines. I did my best perky smile. ‘We far to go, Sohpak?’

‘No. Few minutes only.’

I was relieved and gritted my teeth. I could do this. And indeed after no more than five minutes we stopped again.

‘Now we see Elephant. Excellent carvings.’

They were. Truly. But I didn’t really embrace them as I might. Because I knew, as cramp follows seizure that I wasn’t back in the village. I didn’t ask how long or far to go. I feared he might tell me.

What can I say about the return? Apart from it ended eventually. With Buddha. And he didn’t exactly solve my problem either.

Today’s story is again split into two. What is it about the moist fecund atmosphere that it is squeezing out such long tales. This one was prompted by this picture chosen by the Vet

and with the extra requirement that it took its themes from Snow White and the Seven Gentlemen of Dimished Stature. I give you

Lotus Flower and the Seven Otters

The Sleeks were a family of seven otter siblings who lived together in a holt on the edge of the Magical Forest, as you do in fairy stories. The brothers never knew their parents – another of those fairy stereotypes. Only in this case it wasn’t because of some wicked queen or wind from the east but rather because it has stretched my imagination to come up with seven otter names as it is.
They were called, oldest first: Oily, Fishy, Stinky, Slick, Nipper, Night Owl and Colin, and so far as it went they rubbed along okay, keeping the rivers clear of debris and providing fish to the usual bunch of low brow royals and unelected elites that people what passes for governments in Fairy Land.
Oily, being the oldest had always led the way when it came to visiting the Magical Citadel to deliver the day’s catch. Recently, however a Chamber of Commerce had been set up to regulate all supplies into and out of the Citadel. Oily was informed by the obese yet twinkled-eyed Burgermeister that the CoC had received a complaint, to whit Oily Sleek was leaving unsightly stains on the upholstery so could another otter bring the catch. Fishy tried but he couldn’t resist eating his cargo so Stinky took over. Needless to say the Citadel prided itself on its inherent fragrance so his tenure lasted one visit.
It is here we can glimpse the baddy in this story, for all fairy stories need a dastardly Villain. The Court Florist, who for convenience we shall name the Wicked Florist in keeping with the genre, but whose real name was Beryl, hated smells that she hadn’t decreed to be pleasant and was behind Stinky’s demotion. Indeed the general Parfum D’Otter gave her conniptions and she was determined to keep them away. Sleek tried next and while he wasn’t as odiferous as his brothers he rivalled Beryl with his vanity. When she spotted him checking his coat in each mirror he passed his days were numbered. Nipper bit Beryl’s assistant and Night Owl overslept leaving Colin as the last hope. It was touch and go. While Beryl raged, saying fish should be banned the King, your archetypal wimp, dithered. His daughters, the Princesses Beige and Bland were used to having their way. They liked fish – it rarely came in strong colours after all – and they pressed their father to be tough.
While King and daughters debated Colin sat in a bowl provided for him and listened to the chit chat about him. Soon he heard something that horrified him. Deep in the Magical Forest the most wondrous plant grew. Lotus Flower was said to double the spectrum so vivid were her colours. She could be heard singing to raise spirits and being so sickeningly perfect that she could only exist in fairyland or on the fringes of reality TV. Few people saw her – it was said she only appeared to those who needed her – but her qualities were so well known that no one questioned them. Yet, if Colin had heard right, The Wicked Florist was planning on digging her up and bringing her to the Citadel to win the King’s favour.
Colin wasn’t about to let this happen. He slid from the bowl, slipped a couple of carp in his day bag and headed for the wood. Of course he had adventures and of course I should draw everything out making it seem like he wasn’t going to find her. Let’s skip to the chase. She was chatting to a couple of flighty Marigolds by a babbling brook, who frankly was driving them mad.
‘Lotus Flower, I have come to rescue you.’
The plant eyed the otter sceptically. ‘You know who I am, otterboy?’
‘You’re Lotus Flower, the beauteous, the magnificent, the…’
‘Yeah, yeah. Point is I’m the one who does the saving, capiche? Why don’t you run along and do something useful. Like build a dam to stop this bloody brook babbling.’
‘I’m an otter, not a beaver….’
She turned away. ‘Talk to my agent. Morning glory. Always thinks he’s bigger than he really is. Over by the creepy old mansion. He’ll give you some dried petals and stuff.’ She turned to her friends. ‘So, I was minding my own business when…’
‘The Wicked Florist is planning on ripping you up and taking you to the Citadel to impress the King.’
Lotus Flower stretched her stem and sighed. ‘Not again? That woman will be the death of me. Ok Otterboy, what do you propose?’
‘I will dig up your roots and carry you to my holt where I will plant you and tend you and you will be safe from her evil plans. She’ll never find you there.’
‘Holt you say? Is that like a fairy princess’ boudoir?’
Colin wasn’t completely without gorm. ‘Near enough.’
‘Well lead on, spatula-paws. I’m all yours.’
Soon Colin and Lotus Flower approached the holt. Lotus Flower, being unused to the conditions wrinkled her petals. ‘Kiddo. There’s this, I don’t know how to say it politely, pong. Is that normal?’
‘My brother. Stinky.’
She swallowed. ‘Well named. How many others live here? ‘
‘Me and my six brothers. We’re one big happy family.’ Colin clapped his paws and gradually one after the other of the Sleeks emerged to greet their guest.
Oily took Colin on one side. ‘I don’t want to put a dampener on things but is this wise? Getting on the wrong side of the Wicked Florist?’
Colin smiled. ‘No one knows. If we don’t say she will be safe and so will we. And we will have her wonderful scent.’
They both looked at Stinky. Oily nodded. ‘Fair enough.’ He turned to Lotus Flower. ‘Okay girlie. So what do you do? Cook? Sew? Keep house?’
Lotus Flower turned to Oily with a look of utter disdain. ‘Ignoring for a moment your outdated patriarchal assumptions about the place of women in society, in case you haven’t noticed I’m a bloody plant so can hardly go dancing around the kitchen, can I? Just pop me in the soil and I’ll look after myself for now.’
The Brothers Sleek took a step back. They weren’t used to such a forceful presence and certainly not a female one. While Night Owl who’d woken what with all the noise helped Colin plant Lotus Flower the other brothers went about their daily work. Mostly they ignored their guest even though each of them had to take a turn with the watering and the pruning and trimming and seed collecting. Only Slick paid her much attention, discussing what she thought was his best side and how to ensure the best image when reflected in the stream.
Meanwhile, as is the way in fairy land the woodland folk were missing their favourite daughter and full time gossip. Word got back to the Citadel that Lotus Flower had been rescued by a dashing young knight clad in black leather. Let’s face Marigolds aren’t the spiciest of weeds and wet fur can pass for shiny leather on a dark day with the light behind you. The Wicked Florist sent out word that she would pay handsomely for information concerning the whereabouts of Lotus Flower and the identity of this mysterious knight. And also, in case anyone was in any doubt those self same people with information that they didn’t share with her would pay handsomely if she found out.
Back in the holt Fishy was the first to voice a commonly held concern. ‘When is she going to do anything for us?’ Beyond the lovely scent, that by now was a given.
Oily was charged, as the eldest to ask Colin to ask her what she might be prepared to do, if that was alright, not that they were pressing or making a big thing of it or anything. Colin approached Lotus Flower rather cautiously but this being fairy land she already knew what he wanted to say. ‘What can I do for you guys? What can’t I? But each of your brothers has to believe I can help and ask and then I will.’
‘Um, okay. I’ll let you know.’
Meanwhile one Marigold had talked to a Petunia, you know in strictest confidence and word had got back to Lotus Flower’s manager, the Morning Glory. He had felt deflated even since she’d gone without a word. He told a couple of Fushias who’d gossiped to a bed of Lillies and before you knew it the Wicked Florist had sent her Horticultural Hit squad to bring in the Marigolds. It only took minimum torture – ripping out half a dozen petals and breaking off a leaf – before they explained what the knew. Which wasn’t much but the Burgermeister was brighter than most and it was he who recognised the knight as an otter. Now the hunt was on to work out which otter.

End of part 1

And this? I’m the one at the back you can barely see but if you look closely you’ll see my shattered teeth spread around from all the clenching…


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Cambodia Tales, Day 2: glorious boating weather

Today’s pictures are from the villages adjacent to, and Lake Tonle Sap itself


I’m not sure when I saw my first house boat – probably in 1978 when I moved into a flat next to the Lots Road power station which is by the Thames and Chelsea Harbour. I fell for the idea of a home on the water. And this from a man who lacks any sort of buoyancy, despite a gaseous porosity which is the despair of my family.

Boats on the Thames and specifically house boats are about as far removed from the floating villages and houses on stilts we saw today. Leaving the grandeur of the temples behind we headed for Lake Tonle Sap , the biggest freshwater lake in South East Asia and part of the water system that feeds into and from The Mekong which flows through six countries and covers 4000 km on its journey out of the ice melts of Tibet and eventually into the South China Sea.

The lake grows and shrinks with the seasons and life hereabouts pretty much mirrors it. In the dry the local people grow crops and travel more easily, spreading out on dusty fields, rutted by the retreating water.

But that self same water is less welcoming as the levels reduce, exacerbating any pollutants. Come the turn of the seasons, and we are now heading into the wet season, lives withdraw more.

Anything valuable is lifted to safety, including livestock and boats replace mopeds for the trips to market or school.

Inevitably nature’s fickle, erm, nature imposes extremes – in 2011 it was an egregious flood that brought sewerage into homes in much the same was as happened on the Somerset levels but without any supporting infrastructure.

I sat in the boat as we cruised far out, looking on at berry brown children swimming and smiling

while extended families mended nets and cleaned fish. Smiles, so cheap and here so freely given are a seduction to this tourist.

They wave and turn back to their labours. I looked ahead and wondered, not for the first time if I’m a welcome visitor or thoughtless voyeur.

Far out the lake becomes a sea, the distant crinkle of foliage soon giving way to a tired and empty horizon.

It’s peaceful, in this now pacific land.

I wish them well.

Yesterday The Textiliste prompted me to write a story with this picture prompt.

Here is the second part.

Two days later they had their answer. ‘Two sets of prints apart from Jay. Tiffany’s and a partial from a John Doe. And the John Doe held the gun after Tiffany, smudging hers.’
‘The gun shop owner?’
‘No. He said he never touched it and he’s clean. Maybe Jay’s protecting someone.’
‘Or it’s Grant’s. We’ll know when we get him here.’
‘Let’s call round. See what Jay says now.’
It took them 24 hours to find the time. Clay called ahead to warn Mrs Cattle. ‘I’ll make sure he’s in. Not that he goes out much, now he’s got his darned computers back.’
Jay sat at a monitor when his mother appeared. ‘Darling. The police are coming to have a word.’
‘About time,’ was his enigmatic reply.
Jay was not untypical for his age in that he suspected – with reason – that his parents snooped on him. As a result he had rigged one computer with a motion-activated camera, the aim being to capture what they did if they entered his room whenever he was out. Because of the plumber the camera and the sensor, rather than pointing into the room towards the door, had been moved so they aimed at the street. As Officers Prole and Clay entered the room, Jay rolled his chair away from the monitor. ‘You’ll want to watch this.’
The two men stared as Grant Westbrook and his wife parted company with one heading into the park while the other strode down the street. The camera shut off and on again and immediately the scene changed. A short man in a beanie, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather hurried out of the park and turned towards the Cattle house. He crossed the road and briefly disappeared below the line of the camera before moving away again, this time in the same direction as Grant Westbrook had gone.
‘I’ve blown up the man’s image. I can’t be sure but it looks like he’s carrying something. He doesn’t have it in the final shot.’
Jay explained what had happened with the sensor and camera and repeated why it was only now they were seeing the recording. ‘The camera works when it detects movement. There’s a gap of thirty minutes between the first man walking away and the second one leaving the park and crossing the street.’
The policemen were stunned. Their whole case had just crumbled. Now they needed to start again, with a cold trail and a family who wanted a guilty party. Prole felt everyone of his forty-seven years. Clay spoke first. ‘We can’t get Westbrook back, not after this. It fits what he told us. He left her and she was the victim of some random mugging, shot with her own gun.’
He was right about the extradition. Grant’s attorneys made much of the clear prejudice evidenced by the police behaviour and the constant press harassment.
Grant Westbrook was relieved. He hadn’t expected things to go quite so well. He knew that eventually one of the cameras he’d carefully made sure had picked him up would prove he didn’t have the time to kill her and get away. What he hadn’t counted on was the fool he’d hired to take her out had acted so fast. The arrangement had been to hold her for a few hours – in the park or somewhere – and then top her.
The killer, whose name isn’t recorded, had been surprised when Tiffany pulled her own gun. ‘Mister I don’t care what you plan. If Grant’s gone then life ain’t worth it.’
He should have let her kill herself but that wasn’t in the planning and he had tried to stop her. The clean shot had been entirely accidental. At least he consoled himself that the spot he’d chosen for the killing was devoid of cameras to pick him up going into and leaving the park. Maybe he had been rash to dump the gun but it was clear no one had touched it in ages so it was unlikely to be found.
Three years later, he was pulled over for a minor infraction and his prints showed a match with a John Doe on a murder case that had long grown cold. Roger Clay remembered it mostly for the teen’s bedroom and the sense that one day the story would all unravel.
When, finally Grant Westbrook was arrested for his wife’s murder he laughed when told it was a remotely activated camera that had provided the evidence of the killer and the gun. He knew he should never have believed it would be a camera that would save him.

Oh, PS is it any surprise that the one piece of high ground is covered by a buddhist temple?

I have to admit it is rather lovely

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Cambodia Tales Day 1: silk and scenery

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?’
‘I… ‘
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

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Singapore and Stories Day 3: of tea and pickles

Just to be different here is some Singapore street art from Haji Street. I’m encouraged by this sign of subversion


It I had this habit. Rather unfortunate for a leader of men. Well, head of a department at a rather large and self regarding law firm. It was that I kipped a fair bit. You know, took a nap, had forty winks, trotted up the wooden staircase.

Which on the train home, or on the sofa in front of Casualty is ok but at your desk? Less so. In a meeting? Not really. Interviewing a potential new partner? A definite no-no. But it happened to me, all of the above and the quick snooze – or power nap as I liked to think of it – became commonplace.

Younger lawyers knew to cough on entry if I looked like I was concentrating on my computer – the screen faced the door so my back was to the corridor. My given reason was it avoided glare from the sun on the screen but the truth was more prosaic, sadder. It was easier to have that short eyelid break and not be spotted.

But they all knew and said nothing. You didn’t.

So imagine my surprise, talking to the Lawyer who is working in Singapore, to be told that the resident lawyers often rest their heads on their arms and snooze. You see it in restaurants, too, one of a party of four having a quick break.

Rather than an admission of weakness, of one’s inability to keep going it is a recognition of dedication to the task that you sacrifice yourself so much for your job and your friends that you stay with it even if dog tired.

Our holiday in Singapore is in two parts, broken by 8 days in Cambodia. So this is our last of our first days and it focused around a rather splendid high tea at Raffles, a picture of which I shared yesterday.

The reason for the treat was to meet my great niece, the daughter of my nephew, the English Teacher and his Singaporean wife the Civil Servant. The First Of Her Kind is one in November and it seemed a lovely way to meet up.

Chatting to the new parents inevitably spilled into matters of differences, hence the tale of the sleeping lawyers. The Civil Servant noted that nearly all children in Singapore are myopic. This is not genetic but rather a function of overly ambitious parents who keep their children indoors studying and thus not getting enough daylight. Another downside of this culture of excelling at education is the heightened teenage suicide rate which is, alongside South Korea, another hot house, amongst the worst in the world.

Social and cultural differences and comparisons get played for political ends so often. We hear about league tables and where we are placed on subjects like maths. What we don’t often hear are the costs and the compromises that are made. For many the benefits are apparent but for those who slip below whatever line it is that is drawn the consequences can appear stark.

I’m curious to know how accurate these statistics are but they fuel easy stereotypes of tiger economies pressing to improve their place in a competitive world. The question I ask myself is how far you sense the locals are asking questions. No system works perfectly for all its citizens and while Singapore is a calm and safe place to be, clean and intriguing is it all it could be?

Perhaps that is a vital question for the future. For now it is very welcoming and enjoyable, but I come with cash to splash. For others, struggling maybe to achieve in such a dogmatically meretocratic system?

We saw a light show after our busy day

It was spectacular in the Gardens By The Bay and on Marina Sands Quay. Maybe the excitement was too much, maybe I was taking a leaf out of the locals book.

Or maybe it was a result of checking the cricket score… 

We can make some comparisons, perhaps as we head for Cambodia, a country with a far more difficult past, a recent past. It is stable by many of the regions’ standards and by reputation as welcoming if not more so, than Singapore. But it is poorer and with much more visible issues of life and death to confront. We will see.

Today’s story is prompted by the Pest Controller, the Vet’s boyfriend. This is the image

and his additional requirement  was to make it experimental or surreal. I wonder if I have achieved that?

And here the story

Simone Fiorenti and Susan Le Grand may have been separated by 100 years but they were linked in several ways, not that either knew it. For example both killed two men within a minute by the pressure of their right thumbs.
Simone lived in New York, in an Italian suburb, in a damp apartment. It was 1917 and America was off to war. Her mother, a seamstress, had sent the fifteen year old Simone to deliver a parcel of piece work. She returned to find her father and a strange man in uniform arguing in the parlour. As Simone watched the argument grew heated and the stranger pulled a gun. Screaming, ‘Daddy’ Simone ran into the room intent on saving her father.
Susan was twenty-seven and living in Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds. She loved trawling the antique and second hand shops for unusual pieces with which to furnish her small flat. One curio shop, in Lower Slaughter had passed her by but this Saturday was surprisingly wet and she darted into the gloomy interior to escape yet another downpour.
Simone’s family had already identified a husband and her marriage, at 14 was successful in terms of children if not a happy one. She had two sons and ten daughters and all were healthy and, in their own terms successful. However her oldest son married a Gambino, part of a large established Italian dynasty of entrepreneurs. They made a fortune from gambling, the prohibition and, later gun running and drugs. By the early 1940s they were run by Simone’s son Vere. In contrast her youngest hated what his brother did, and the compromises he made. He joined the NYPD rising to Lieutenant. As America resigned itself to another conflict that would take the cream of its manhood, Ronnie decided to join the Army, leaving his promising police career behind.
The shop felt oddly familiar as Susan wandered towards the rear. A trunk, similar to one her great aunt had caught her eye. It was so familiar. She lifted the lid and gasped.
Ronnie had learnt, the hard way, that having a brother in the Mob was no help to a rapid rise in the department. He attended family events but steered a wide birth when it came to the overtly affluent Gambino clan. This time, his mother’s 40th birthday, he found himself eavesdropping on a conversation between Vere and another man, boasting about the money to be made out of the war. Ronnie was livid and confronted Vere. Simone watched in horror as once more she witnessed two men, her children fighting. Then Vere pulled a gun.
The trunk was her great aunts. How could it have come to be here, Susan wondered? On top was the quilt, redolent of lavender and camomile, that she remembered from her great aunt’s winged armchair. She lifted it carefully and smiled at the next item, one her great aunt treasured above all others.
‘No. Stop. Enough. This family will not kill itself.’ Simone was in tears. ‘Not any more,’ she whispered. Her mind was filled with an intense flashback to that bright November day in 1917. As she ran into the room crying out, both men stopped and turned. The stranger’s face changed as he saw Simone, his eye’s watering. He dropped the gun and stepped towards her. She was quick, though, darting past him and snatching it up. ‘Bambino.’ The stranger kept coming towards her, his arms outstretched. She raised the gun, terrified.
Susan felt oddly guilty. The plate had hung on her great aunt’s sitting room wall. She had never been allowed to touch it as a child but it drew her gaze every time she visited.
Robbie and Vere hesitated. You didn’t argue with their mother. ‘Come.’ She led them to a small office and turned to confront them. ‘Will you stop this? You are family.’
Robbie sneered at his brother. ‘He’s a cheap crook. When I get back – if I get back – I will take him down. Sorry ma but he shames our name every day.’
Vere started to respond but the matriarch held up a hand. ‘This ends here. Now. Vere, are you going to change?’ A sharp shake told her all she needed to know. Sighing she told them to meet her at an address in Queens later that evening and left without a word. The young men studied each other briefly before going their separate ways.
Susan lovingly lifted the plate running her fingers around its edge. She always wondered at the men depicted in the pattern, both running in that stylised way. And the letters: ‘R’ and ‘Ve’. What did they represent?
The address was a Chinese laundry, tatty and filled with the smell of smoked opium pipes. Robbie was the last to arrive. In the back room his mother sat to one side. In the middle an ancient Chinaman spun a potter’s wheel slowly. Around him various pots bubbled and burnt. Vere stood, shifting nervously.
Susan’s fingers were drawn to the two running men. Gingerly she touched the first. It seemed to give to her touch. Similarly the second. A voice seemed to echo inside her head.
‘Will you, finally, stop this feuding and unite our families either on one or other side of the law? I don’t care which, just end this.’
The men held each other’s gaze. Vere spoke first. Slowly, quietly. ‘No, ma. There is no going back.’ Robbie nodded, for once in total agreement with his brother.
Simone let her head drop. ‘So be it.’ In the beat of an eyelid the potter had cut one then the other man’s hand and transferred the fresh blood to the clay where it was instantly absorbed by the fast spinning motion. Neither man had a chance to react before then slumped to the floor.
Simone opened her bag and placed one thousand dollars on the table. ‘How long will they be held?’
‘For the life of the plate.’
‘And then?’
The chinaman did not reply.
Simone knew she should care but she had to bring the family together and these two were stopping her. Once again she returned to that winter’s day. Her small thumb hadn’t meant to pull the trigger, nor had she meant to fire at the stranger but she had and watched in horror as his chest exploded in blood. She felt her father’s hand on her arm and turned. He looked guilty. But why? ‘Give me the gun,’ he said but she didn’t understand why he looked the way he did. What had he done wrong? ‘The gun, Simone.’ He tugged at her hand. Neither meant it but the frozen fear, the incomprehension and his tugging caused her to squeeze that thumb again. The explosion shook her and she staggered back, her face dripping in her father’s gore. As she slumped to the floor, her mother appeared. Simone watched as the woman took in the scene. To her surprise her mother ran, not to her father but the stranger, beating his chest. This man, who she’d never seen before, it turned out was her real father and not the man she had lived with and considered as such. She had killed them both.
Susan’s thumb hovered over the first man’s image. The voice, clearer now came again in an American-Italian accent. ‘Squeeze. squeeze.’ She felt the squidgy surface. It was like soft skin, creepily warm. The insistent voice reminded her of her great aunt and, using her right thumb she pressed.
As Simone moved to the exit the chinaman said in a soft voice ‘They will live 75 years. They will be at peace.’
At first there was resistance. Then a district pop, like something bursting. Her ears began to ring, a continuous vibration as if there had been a loud noise moments before. She moved her thumb to the second figure and repeated. As she did so, there was the same pop but this time the sound was over-laid with the soft sound of tears. Susan put down the plate and closed the trunk lid. She was overwhelmed with a feeing of peace, of release and of something finally ending. She turned towards the front of the shop, noting the sun was now out.
Inside the trunk the plate seemed to glow slightly. If Susan had looked carefully she might have noted the red patches that had appeared on the plate, over the hearts of the two men, as if blood had seeped from their chests into the glaze.

Posted in family, humour, miscellany, singapore | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Singapore and Stories Day 2: cultural dummies

A while back London did this thing with cows. Or was it Bristol did cows and we did bears? Large polyester figurines painted by a mix of artists, celebrities, ne’er-do-wells and schoolchildren and then auctioned in some worthy fundraiser.

I imagine this is something everyone does, choosing a character better to represent themselves. The Germans have a sausage, I imagine, the French a shrug and the Americans an ego.

Walking around Singapore.

Taking in its greenery,

its bursts of national self confidence in some of its architecture and public spaces.

We happened on a mall. As you do in Singapore with the ubiquity of. Red post box in the U.K. Or is that an uncollected dog poo back home? No such faecal statements of civic indifference here, for sure. The punishments are eye watering for such infractions.

The mall in question is opposite Raffles hotel, a tourist must where we take tea tomorrow with my nephew. This is a throwback to the colonial history which is represented here, not so much as oppression nor as a subject of gratitude but rather as some event in the past, like a change of jobs of a grandparent that altered the families fortunes but really isn’t the reason why today’s generations are a success, merely part if the setting. It was unfortunate, they seem to be saying, there are some things we’ve kept, well, because you do, but we’ve moved on.

It’s better than the chips I sometimes encounter, this benign understanding but maybe a little forced, like indulging granny now she’s a frail old lady even though you know she slippered your mother at the slightest sign of some infraction and left her with some mental scars.

Inside the Raffles Mall there’s an exhibition, somewhat like the cows and bears of home. But this one is, how can I put this? Toddlers. Pointing. The theme is something like the future or progress or some such but the blank-eyed uniformity of the mannequins is, frankly, creepy like some sort of mind-control at work, these willing babes pointing at a Big Brother figure sitting on high – all seeing god or demonic dictator, it’s not entirely clear.

Here are some, weird and wacky and cute and creepy unlike the bears and cows which at best were thought provoking, st worst tasteless and kitsch. Maybe this is the future, maybe it’s welcomed but it doesn’t feel like progress, this sweet innocent control. Capitalism in a social conscience wrapper, manipulation for the common good. Hmm.

In contrast we past through a walkway by the utterly bonkers Japanese artist Kusama who does to spots what Brigid Riley does for stripes and Jackson Pollock for drips.

The reflections are twisting and testing on the eye as cars hustle past. There’s something both appealing and encouraging in this little installation.

Like an otherwise A starred teen of impeccable behaviour getting a tattoo on their ankle. Maybe one day this will be a home grown artist but for now international subversion is a start. From such small rebellions does great creativity come and I sense in Singapore a move from conformity and copying to a country keen to create its own identity, and with it all the messy freedoms that such creativity demands. I hope so.

Todays story is prompted by the Lawyer using this picture.

His instructions were to have two neighbours with secrets.

Margaret Platt has a secret. Her neighbours in Abbeywell Mansions, a mock Tudor block on the outskirts of Cheam to the west of London, see Margaret as a little old lady, spending her days with her knitting circles and book clubs, occasionally venturing out with her wheeled basket to take a healthy walk into town for some shopping. If any of the tenants wonder about the inside of Flat 7, they assume it kitsch, perhaps, be-doillied and full of nick-nacks.
Graeme Rickshaw, at flat number 8, also hides the truth of his existence from his fellow residents. In his thirties Graeme, they assume is an accountant or, perhaps an actuary, keen on healthy living, exercise and self improvement.
Margaret and Graeme’s privacy is maintained because no one pries at Abbeywell. Residents nod on passing, a hat may be tipped and occasionally a greeting exchanged. But rarely are thresholds crossed. It simply isn’t done and everyone likes it that way.
That remained the status quo until today, a broiling hot Thursday afternoon in June. Graeme’s window is open; he is at his workstation, concentrating on his latest task when he hears a noise. But not any noise. It is a cry of pain, a cry at once both sharp and sad. He stops and waits. There is a muttering and then another cry, lower, more guttural, followed by a distinct : ‘Help.’
Graeme is torn. On the one hand he is halfway through his current task and loathe to stop completely and lose momentum; on the other the sounds are continuing; females in distress. Old fashioned chivalry, instilled by his father overrides more quotidian concerns. He checks everything is in order and heads for the door.
Graeme has already determined the sounds emanate from Margaret’s apartment. He knocks and puts an ear to the door. Muffled though it is, the sounds of continuing discomfort come to him. He tries the handle and pushes.
Those who see Graeme as a health aficionado base their assessments in part on his physicality. He is strong and the lock no match for his shoulder; so much so that when the door gives way Graeme hurtles, in a somewhat undignified manner through the door and straight into the sitting room.
Surprise is but one reaction to this accelerated visitation. Shock, too, is there as is some little distress and, at least for two people a degree of hope.
For Margaret is not the quiet retiree of common myth, nor are her (exclusively female) visitors knitters and readers but those who enjoy the calming relief of group tantric lesbian sex (Wednesdays half price for the over seventies). Today through a combination of a new position and a dislocated hip, Jemima Newbiggin (train guard and stamp collector) and Sandra Flout (self-employed pig whisperer) are knotted together in increasing agony while Margaret is trying to ease them apart, hindered as she is by the slick sheen of their naked limbs and Jemima’s understandable if inhibiting punches every time the pain increases. While it is not entirely essential for this tale it is worth noting here that Margaret is also sweaty and naked.
Graeme is a man not given to embarrassment in the presence of nudity. He takes in the scene and steps forward. ‘Allow me ladies’
Graeme, you see, is an up and coming, if one can put it that way, porn star whose principal asset is his exceptionally impressive wang. He is a keen student of contortion and has been known to carry three female actors across a set so this menage appear, to Graeme’s eyes at least as a straightforward challenge.
The three women however are less than enamoured of Graeme’s well meant if a trifle thoughtless approach. However pain dulls articulacy and none are capable of explaining their reluctance to be manhandled by one so patently masculine, even in extremis.
No one is clear whose hand grabs Graeme’s groin and finds, no doubt unexpectedly a metal weight. Equally it remains unexplained why that hand does not let go when confronted with something so strange but instead yanks for all it is worth.
It must be noted that, in his time in the industry Graeme’s wang has been the subject of considerable manipulation; however never before has this happened when wearing his penile-enchancement weight. As Graeme tugs one way and the weight is tugged the other something delicate is torn rendering Graeme no longer capable of supporting three writhing women. He falls to the floor concussing himself on an ornamental spittoon and pinning Margaret beneath his inert self.
A combination of the screams, the splintered door, the cries of distress and Graeme’s somewhat earthy and Anglo-Saxon reaction to having his foreskin julienned brings more help to Margaret’s apartment.
One would like to report the attendees first consideration is to call the appropriate services to help the unfortunate foursome. Sadly there is a delay while pictorial evidence is obtained and shared on social media, as is the modern way. While the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity may hold true, the local paper’s headline takes some living down
Slick chicks in tricky dick fix
(More pictures pages 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, and 21)

After a day of sightseeing we had dinner for all of us at the Tippling Club. We need to glam up; the Lawyer organised a cab. Sometimes he is so like his mum…

Posted in family, humour, miscellany, short story, singapore, thought piece, travel | Tagged , , , , , | 33 Comments

Singapore and Stories #selfprompting

On tour to meet the rest of the family

We landed in the cauldron of early evening rush hour. The heat was about 15 togs but devoid of sweat. On the coping spectrum I’m at about  7 – capable of eating, unlikely to sleep. There is aircon but it isn’t a panacea, leaving me scratchy and fractious.

That said the clan had regathered so the smothering heat wasn’t about to diminish the smiles and hugs. We were lead on a short stroll to a pleasantly accommodating fish restaurant where we caught up.

While the chit competed with the chat I took in our surroundings. It’s a bit Disney, pastiche. Wealthy, with a penchant for a sort of Colonial-Manhatten hybridised architecture. Youngish vibe, confident, controlling – people wait until the green man shows even if the nearest car is in Malaysia – who knew that happened? On the cab from the airport there was a line of ‘don’t’ stickers – the one prohibiting congress suggested a more flexible clientele than you’d find in London. Do you really need stickers for that? I always said it spoke volumes about the French that they needed a sticker telling people not to spit on the train.

Every third block is a mall of some kind and a lot is made a gaming.

In one store, whose frontage exploded with Minions and Pokemon there were tables with adult males (mostly) playing complex looking war games while others watched – the new thing, this e-sport where people spectate on gamers. I don’t think I’ll be buying debentures for that.

We wandered off for ice cream. At least that feels universal.

I brought some postcards and asked my family to chose one – this from the Vet – for me to use as a short story or flash prompt. Here

She added it had to be written from the POV of the cat.

Being a familiar is no picnic, I’ll have you know. There’s the constant need to appear otherworldly, possessed of special powers. Then I’m expected to perform like a pet monkey, reacting to Spamzo’s stupid prophecies. It’s not like I don’t understand what he’s saying but he insists on those ridiculous props – the twitching tache, the tipped hat, the false hand and that bloody ludicrous fag.
After each show, when he’s at his lowest, I’m expected to fetch a towel and check on dinner. Then count the takings, check if his costume needs any mending, call the accommodation. I could say no but if I didn’t do it the whole thing would fall apart.
I know I’d be better off with another Warlock, someone with more pizzaz. Someone with ideas, plans. With imagination. It’s that I miss. The excitement when he surprised me with a new spell, or insight. Those days were always too short, each hour passing in a blur; now they drag like his feet, barely leaving the pavement.
I know I should quit, leave him to his mumbles and fumbles. People sometimes laugh at him when he loses his thread. It takes all my willpower not to come out of character and claw the morons. I want to scream. ‘Don’t you know who this is? Don’t you realise how lucky you are to spend time with Spazmo the Stupendous? You’re not worthy of wiping his feet.’
Instead I just smile and stare straight ahead. If I blank my mind I can get through this. We both can. I know how hurt he is. He still has it. He just needs to believe. We’re a team after all.

Posted in miscellany | 22 Comments

Buster and Moo, on #LisaBurtonRadio

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, when you release a character onto the page they take over. However I never expected one to be interviewed by a buxom robot, especially not a dog….

Source: Buster and Moo, on #LisaBurtonRadio

Posted in miscellany | 5 Comments