A Bridge Over Troubled Water.

The boys arrived in Sangkhom, a small town further along the Mekong, with just a little trepidation. They had visited the friendly workaday settlement four years previously, and had loved it for it’s exquisite ordinariness.

Paul rarely liked to journey backwards, much preferring the surprise and adventure of the soi less travelled. Quite often somewhere revisited had lost the very essence of why one returned, tarnishing both the return trip and the original stay. It was always a risk.

Fortunately very little had changed in Sangkhom.

On pulling in to the two-horse town they’d noticed a new ATM outside the local supermarket but that seemed about it. Fortune still seemed to smile down sunnily on this little stretch of the great river.

At first sight at least.

They were, however, to discover that was certainly not the case. The real riverine tale being a steady stream of sadness and survival.

As they entered the little ‘Buoy’s Guest House’ and crossed the precarious rickety bridge to the small island to which their dilapidated hut creakily clung, the familiarity of their surroundings were at once entrancing. Paul recognised the even tinier shack across from what was to be theirs on this occasion, and was immediately reminded of an evening they’d shared on it’s verandah with a gregarious Gallic couple. They’d inhaled some herbal tobacco together and laughed into the star-studded night as Paul hazily revisited his schoolboy French.

The fat yellow dog was also still padding around amicably, although her hips now appeared to have seen better days. Paul knew the feeling!

And Buoy, the smiling, ebullient proprietress, was still there to welcome them effusively into her home. No need to show passports on checking in. And beers and such were to be taken from the open fridge and written down into book number ten. The number of their shack.

Probably far too frequently!

Paul and Andrew adored an honesty bar. It was so refreshing in every way.

But something at ‘The Buoy Guest House’ was not the same!

The Boys had arrived on a rather special day. It happened to be the very day on which they’d fallen for each others dubious charms, twenty-six long years ago.

Paul thought of it as a milestone, though he was well aware his partner sometimes considered it more of a millstone!

They celebrated in the afternoon with bottles of honest beer and some honest downtime.

The earth didn’t move, but their shaky accommodation certainly did!

 

Later that day, as the boys bravely crossed the bridge of sticks back to the main house, they twigged! It was a different bridge. It was longer and lower than before.

It also leant a little to the left, much like Paul!

 

They then spotted the crooked concrete pylons which had once held up the restaurant. Unevenly sprouting from the river bank like a contemporary Stonehenge.

And the main house, they now realised, was half the size it had been on their previous visit. They knew at once, the earth had certainly moved for Buoy.

They discovered this joyous and spirited lady was also marking an anniversary, yet not the kind most people were eager  to reach. She explained that three years before she had lost her husband to a massive stroke, and shortly afterwards, half of her home to the mighty river in a single stroke.

The wet season had brought with it tragedy,  her husband and livelihood went violently downstream to join that great spiritual estruary.

It was heartbreaking, as the boys learnt how the Mekong had changed it’s mood during the last few years, growing angrier and more ferocious than ever before. Buoy, having lived on the river all her life, had never witnessed the ‘Mae Nam Khong’, as it is known in Thai, behave in such a torrid way. She was certain the current situation was due to global warming. But there were darker forces at work too.

As the Mekong snaked it’s way down from the Tibetan plateau, through China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, before escaping into the sea via the majestic delta in Vietnam, it’s ancient course was being irrevocably altered.

There was now a veritable deluge of huge hydro-electric damns. Great ‘green’ projects that did very little to help the farmers on the verdant plains downstream.

As the Chinese government intermittently flushed these monstrous constructions in their own national interest, little interest was being shown to the thousands of villages who saw their once fertile fields inundated with mud and thereby rendered useless.

Masses of farmers had flooded to join the urban mass in the growing cities of Bangkok and Phnom Pen to work as building labourers.

Growing condos instead of cabbages!

It seemed the vegetables making the big decisions upstream didn’t give a damn.

They could only build them!

Paul also discovered that there was an ambitious plan afoot, headed by none other than China, to blast a vast channel through the Mekong all the way from Yunnan, a province in it’s south west, right down to Luang Prabang in Laos. Thus creating an artificial,  all season waterway capable of carrying 500 ton cargo vessels.

He thought of the incongruity of these giant ships which were to set a course and dwarf the beautiful Buddhist temples, he and Andrew had previously delighted in, situated along the shoreline.  Gigantic steel river monsters washing away thousands of years of antediluvian  beauty in an instant with their giant wake.

A tsunami of slime and greed!

He wished the world would awaken to the disaster that was already taking place. Mankind was getting itself into very deep water.  He’d read of the growing consensus which predicted that in just ten years time the natural habitat of the mighty Mekong would be entirely washed away. Completely destroyed. And there would be no way to turn back the tide once this precious waterway had been dynamited to damnation!

A turbulent point that has got much of the Thai population,who will be affected by this blasted idea, close to boiling point.

Things had certainly changed beneath the surface in Sangkhom, and right along the Mekong’s exotic serpentine journey. And now it was beginning to bite back.

Paul knew one only had to listen to Buoy to realise the evidence didn’t need any buoying up. The rising waters and their now frequent tempestuousness were proof in themselves that the plimsol line had been crossed.

He was, for once, very glad he had trekked backwards, as it had enabled him look forwards. But the future was not bright. It was not orange. It was sludge grey and stultifying.

He silently cursed the Chinese and the equally ignorant President ‘Chump’ for their reckless and shortsighted view on the level of the disaster. They were ignorantly allowing this watershed moment to drift on by  He was sure they would rue the day when they had tampered with the globe’s natural plumbing. They, after all, would also be submerged when the waters rose.

And Paul knew for certain that he would not be drowning in pity on their behalf.

Neither would the beautiful buoyant Buoy.

Damn fools.

In The City Of An Artist Of Spanish Abstraction.

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The Picasso museum in Malaga was certainly interesting.

Some of the old Spaniard’s work really appealed – some of it did not.

To be honest, if I want to see an impossibly twisted torso with a disturbingly contorted face I only need to look at Andrew laying beside me of a morning!

And I don’t have to pay ten euros for the pleasure.

I once had a London agent who often told me I had a face that reminded her of a Picasso – after experiencing eleven rooms of his paintings, I’m beginning to think this was not such a compliment.

No wonder she got me such odd auditions!

There I stood, in the Malaga house in which the painter grew up, between ‘Fruit Bowl’ and ‘Acrobat’ – most concerned! Lost between a somersault and a satsuma!

I felt, perhaps, I needed to be on the journey with Pablo to actually get it!

A bit like ‘Land’s End’ – if you don’t know how you got there, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

A puzzlement.

There were moments of undeniably riotous nuttiness which obviously impressed.

Almost ‘Pissed-casso’!

But for the most part I felt nearly as suicidal as most of the artist’s own family.

Luckily there was no bleach to hand!

During one encounter with ‘Woman With Flailing Arms’ I literally felt flailed.woman

The gift shop, however, was a true masterpiece – fridge magnets galore.

A Philistine’s paradise.

Just the antidote to all that abstraction. Something comfortingly tangible, like a ‘Guernica’ coaster!

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A Mug !

Andrew showed more appreciation, but I think that may have had something to do with the herbal cigarette he smoked prior to entering the building.

In fact, I’m sure he saw an entirely different exhibition!

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I would never be nearly naff enough to liken this body of work to ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, but I did have a sneaking suspicion that the old guy wasn’t wearing much in some of the paintings.

Still, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, sorry, painting.

In Malaga for a short birthday break with my beautiful sister, Tina and our gorgeous friend, Stella, the Barbra Windsor of the coast, Andrew and I had little idea of what to expect from the rest of city either.

Especially with two yappy Pomeranians in tow.

As one of those horribly ignorant Englishmen who assumes there is nothing much more than an aeropuerto in the Andalucian capital, I am delighted to stand corrected.

The city oozed an Iberian charm that was distinctly not abstract but as definite and sophisticated as a top notch Malaga wine. Heady and classy at the same time.

A style we could all understand.

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We had a marvellous time.

Though I could have done without the orchestra of  wandering minstrels strangling their squeeze boxes and plucking their g-strings at every given opportunity, usually whilst one was eating alfresco and deep in conversation.

But hey, it did relieve us of our loose change.  And some of them were good.

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Especially the Ken Dodd lookalike, who tickled his instrument goofily beautifully.

filename-100-0886-jpgWe stayed at the ‘Abyss’, I mean, the ‘Ibis’.  A mustard monstrosity adjacent to a storm drain on the edge of the old city.  Charmless and cheap, but as clean as a pair of nun’s knickers,  so we had no complaints.

They even allowed dogs, which was great, as Andrew so often has to sleep in the car. Joke! It is my birthday so I’m allowed ……

Yes. Another birthday, another show.

I can almost hear half a century beckoning me from the distance – the far distance I might add. Still, I think it maybe time to start having them bi-annually from now on – like a Hollyhock.

It was a quiet affair this year.  Like a small family funeral.  A few gathering to mourn the passing of my youth as I now roar, precariously and precociously, into middle age!

I am not planning the transition to be dignified.  Quite the opposite.  I intend to shock – much like Señor Picasso. I’m preparing a palette to arrest – maybe even get arrested.

His blue period is gonna be nothing on mine!

I plan to make hay til abstraction, or destruction, whichever comes first!

As Pablo’s Acrobat comes into my mind once again – I can’t help but feel a yearning for a time when I could get my limbs into such unnecessary postures – well, almost.

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A twisted sense of loss for an acrobatic past.

Maybe that’s what he was getting at.

Maybe I get it!

Maybe I’m getting old.

Maybe I was in there too long.

Which way to the gift shop?

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Our Norman Conquest.

Our Norman Conquest.

Well we did it!

Normandy.

We came; we sang; we conquered.

Mon Dieu!

We landed far from the famous wartime beaches – in the romantically named Charles De Gaulle Aeroport.  I know very little of the actual man, except he certainly didn’t want to allow Britain into the European Common Market, and, in my ‘umble opinion, bore a fairly close resemblance to a young Inspector Clouseau.

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 Touche´ Charlie !

All I know is that the aerodrome sounds terribly Gallic, and that’s enough por moi when arriving somewhere french.

Ah – Gay Paris.

It had been exactly that for me once.

This ‘City Of Light’ had certainly shown me the light!

It shone loudly as I rowed and rowed, insane on t2 Men Rowing_The Seine, during a trying salad day tryst I shared, albeit very briefly, with a budding young french actor.

I was sixteen, maybe seventeen. The affair was doomed. Of course it was – this was France. Plus, he didn’t quite bud enough, at least, not enough for my salad bowl!

Back to the present day and after checking into a bijoux hotel in the heart of ‘Pigalle’, the city’s infamous red light district,  Andrew and I went street walking.

Not literally.  It was far too early!

We hit the Metro, more for fun than necessity, and were made suddenly aware it was ‘Le Rush Heure’ !  Wedged together with our fellow passengers, closer than the filling in a ‘Croque Monsieur’, did not seem appealing, and as I was getting what felt more like  ‘Cock Monsieur’  from the gentlemen pushed up against my derriere, we decided to ejaculate – I mean, evacuate!

Sorry – Just couldn’t resist that one! Ooh la la!

We disembarked at the first stop we could, and left this highly fragrant, french stew, Le Compote Des Commuters, to make our way to the surface and some plein air.

We climbed the many steps to the famous artists’ quarter of Monmartre.

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Resting, part-way, knackered from the late  finish of our show the previous night, we lay on the grass in front of The Sacre Couer, to pause, and take in the wonderful panorama that is the Parisian skyline.

A metropolis unspoilt.

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With Monsieur Eiffel’s massive erection still dominating things, much like the dirty git on the train shortly earlier.

I have been lucky enough to have seen this particular view several times during my life (the one from the hill – not the train!) and have always been struck by the timelessness of the city sprawled before me.

Languorously spread, like an artist’s model.

Due to some judicial city planning and probably, some good old-fashioned luck, Paris does not seem very altered or horribly scarred by her age. It is very easy to imagine tripping up upon Henri Toulouse Lautrec ( well, he was small), or bumping into Maurice Chevalier on the boulevard.

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Thank ‘eaven for little change,
For little change keeps Paris always gay….

We nonchalantly entered a very smart art gallery in ‘Place Something Or Other’ and next thing, found ourselves negotiating for a piece of Dali sculpture.

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We had no idea it was an original until a very surreal price was mentioned. We should have taken an artful hint from the Picasso and the Chagalls that were hanging nearby. We politely made our excuses and told the owner we may return nearer christmas.

We didn’t make clear which Christmas!

But Paris is still so romantic, we must come back.

This was Andrew’s first visit and he too, was charmed.

Even when I lead us, accidently, off piste, and we found ourselves walking through a gloomy, leafy corridor, replete with old settees, and littered with junkies and less than charming drug dealers.13blog-paris5-pigalle

We eventually made it out the other end and were pleased to witness the ‘Entente Cordiale’ was still quite strong.  Although, we would probably erase that particular arrondisment from any future itinerary should we return, which we surely shall.

But we hadn’t come here just to lose our way amid pimps and hookers, we were here to work too.

Our first performance in The Fifth Republic was a private party in the grounds of a friend’s beautiful four hundred year-old Normandy cottage.IMG_5672_FotorIMG_5686

We left the capital and took a train to the the ancient city of Rouen. The spot at which Joan Of Arc was burnt at the stake.                                           Stilke_Hermann_Anton_-_Joan_of_Arcs_Death_at_the_Stake

Although we planned to set the place alight, we were hoping our show, in a small village
further south, would get a slightly better reception than ’The Maid Of Orleans’.

As we fiddled with our equipment for our sound check, our favourite part of any day, (to which anyone who knows us will testify!!), we noticed a beautiful cluster of very traditional french houses, and with a chocolate box church to boot, all gleaming innocently in the  distance – in the exact direction our voices would later travel.

We couldn’t help but imagine what the villagers response would be should they came out to ascertain where all the pink turkey feathers were coming from.

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It turned out, we didn’t have to use our imagination after all.

It sadly transpired that most of the guests from the other side of  ‘La Manche’ couldn’t manage to make the crossing, due mainly to the current current in cross-channel relations….

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And the fact they couldn’t be arsed.

Just kidding.

Alors –  So the majority of our audience for the evening’s performance just happened to be made up of the aforementioned french village and the nearest town.  Most of them, without a word of English!

And Andrew and I, armed only with my naughty, schoolboy French, and his enormous ‘joie de vivre’ !

We wondered if our vivre would survive!

At first they were afraid, they were petrified.
Probably thought they should have packed un pistol by their side.
But they seemed to open up,
And they all changed pretty vites.
By the ending of the party they were standing on their feet.

Go on now go.
We will survive.
Just go and sling some French words in
And The Lola Boys survive.
We did our version of  ‘La Cage’,
Gave them cheek and la Fromage,
At le fin they were up dancing,
We say – Vives Les Villages.

Et merci.

We did survive.

The night culminated in a very merry version of ‘Chanson D’amour’ around the dining room table.

Andrew also gave his ‘La Chat Shat On The Mat’ song followed by a vodka-fuelled rendition of ‘ Sur Le Pont D’Avignon’, but by the looks on guests’ faces, most of them seemed to want to leap from it!

The evening was rounded off raucously by a rousing rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’.

Roared splendidly by our drunken, french cousins.

It was both unrecognisable and indefatigable.

Very French.

We had great fun – and survived.  We lived to tell our tale of two cities.

Unlike poor Joan!

The stakes were still high – the atmosphere crackled – we just sizzled in a different way.

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Vive La difference.