November 13, 2006
It’s our winter so dawn doesn’t come until around 6, which gives me an extra half hour in bed. 5 am and it’s 25 degrees in the house and about 19 outside. It’ll be closer to 15 up the hill so better wrap up warm. Time for two glasses of water and a banana; let the cats that are in out and the ones that are out in and make sure each has the right food, mackerel and rice for one, ‘tab tim’ fish and rice for another, prawn and salmon out of a packet for the third and a mixture of all for Miou. It’s a 30 minute drive up the hill and the road winds its way in the darkness past three small villages, each dwarfed by a majestic temple. The village shops are just opening and a few elderly folk are emerging to sweep away the leaves in front of their houses. Other than that, there’s not much activity. I slow down at the entrance to each village to slalom round the dogs that are lying in the middle of the road and refuse to budge and dodge the chickens that decided to cross the road in death-defying scrambles. I get there just before six, perfect timing, it’s still dark but the first birds are beginning to call. There’s always a dawn chorus up in the mountains, lots of trill peeps and whistles from flycatchers, hoots and squawks from larger birds and a melody or two from the White-rumped shama. It’s not as cold as I thought but I keep my jacket on nevertheless. I drive for about ten kilometres along the track that has small coffee plantations set in the forest on one side and a sheer drop overlooking more forest on the other. Whenever I hear or see anything interesting I stop and get the binoculars and recording gear. There are a few birds I don’t know this morning that I’ll have to check when I get back but the one I want to call, the gruff-voiced Blue-bearded bee-eater stays obstinately silent. After a couple of hours I head home- all the time I have not seen another vehicle or encountered another human being. Wonderful! On the way down, though, things have livened up, little groups of people are sitting chatting or making their way to the village shop and they’ve already put the freshly-picked coffee beans out in the sun. A cycle ride round the village before the sun gets really hot, a quick breakfast of muesli, then it’s time to reverse the cat situation again, Saddam deciding he’s going to curl up in a cardboard box and Bua khao taking over the microwave. Then I drive into town to see a Lahu friend and practise my fledgling language skills. This morning I’ve decided on some revision so I’ve worked out a few questions to ask her. She’s a very good interlocutor as she remembers the words I know and uses them in her answers. But she still manages to catch me out- like when she tells me she’s a hundred and twenty seven years old, has five husbands and always goes for a ride on an elephant before breakfast. We have lunch at our favourite stall on her street. It’s frequented mostly by tuk-tuk drivers, office workers, some labourers from a nearby building site, a family who drive a rubbish truck and a few ‘ladies of the night’ who have just woken from their morning slumbers. They use a range of fresh vegetables and herbs, it’s not at all greasy, the rice is cooked so it’s a little firm rather than being a sticky lump and the portions are enormous. We both have chicken with ginger and Chinese mushrooms at 30p each. Then home for a snooze. As I was feeling a cold coming on I took a couple of pills and slept like a log for an hour. Then I collected my moth-catching gear and, along with a couple of friends, set off back up the hill. Usually there are a few evening cicadas singing but now the cold weather is here they are silent. I count four different owls but they are all a long way away. This shouldn’t be a good time for moths as it hasn’t rained for a while but we are pleasantly surprised by the number. No time to sit and wait as the moths arrive like the planes coming in at Heathrow. Nothing spectacular but lots of new ones, some with striking patterns and colours. At about 9 o’cock we decide we’ve had enough and head for home, stopping to buy a bowl of noodles outside the village. Time to watch the ten o’clock news and catch up with all the latest follies, blunders, mishaps and misdemeanours affecting the rest of the world then I’m sound asleep as my head hits the pillow.
November 11, 2006
I have had pangs of guilty conscience for not including in the portraits our fifth cat, who died last year, and who for reasons too complicated to explain, I will just call O. O, who looked like Saddam’s twin brother, arrived when there was a strict ban in force on new cats. For a while he hung hopefully around the house eating any food that was left outside but denied an entry permit. Then one day he sneaked into the house when my attention was distracted and climbed up onto my chest where he lay with a pathetically appealing look in his eye. I realised the poor fellow was not well so shipped him off to the vet and a week later he was back with his extradition order rescinded. One of the mitigating factors in his favour was the remark of the vet that O was one of the friendliest cats he had ever treated. O would always make friends with visitors but if anyone appeared near the house that he didn’t know he would growl threateningly. He was the most playful cat we’ve had, he would make anything into a game, chase anything and if anybody so much as touched a piece of string or paper he would appear from nowhere and demand to play with it. His true talent, however, was for football. He would practise with a ping pong ball for hours, shooting expertly against the furniture and catching the rebound. He and Saddam would often enjoy a game together, with Saddam keeping goal and O taking the penalties.He got on well with Saddam and if they weren’t playing together they would be nestling up to each other on a bed somewhere. But O had a stormy relationship with Miou, on whom he doted. Miou’s affections were placed firmly on Saddam and O’s constant attentions simply irritated her and aroused O to jealous frustration.But they always patched it up after a brief squabble and Miou would occasionally condsecend to give O a cursory lick. O’s favourite tactic when playing was to hide on or behind my feet and I have permanently scarred toes as Saddam, making a wild leap for O, would use my feet as a landing pad and sink his sharp claws into the flesh to bring himself to a halt. This practice also, on one occasion led to a potentially more serious injury. I had bought O a fluffy pink ball on a piece of elastic which he would leap acrobatically to catch. I had just had a shower and was only wearing a sarong when O decided he wanted to play with the fluffy ball. One of his leaps took him under my sarong, whereupon he looked up and saw what he concluded to be his toy dangling a few feet above his head. Never one to resist a challenge, he leaped up and sank eight razor sharp claws into a rather sensitive part of the male anatomy. The fluffy ball was kept hidden in a drawer for while after that. He was always getting into scrapes- once he got a huge fish bone stuck across his mouth, another occasion he jumped on the back of a motorbike just as it was speeding off and twice we locked him in the car by mistake overnight. Although O had a restless energy he was the one cat who would lie absolutely still in your arms when you picked him up. Unlike the others, he would also lie motionless when he was allowed to sleep on my bed, normally snuggled up against my stomach. He appeared always in a cheerful mood, never sulked or resisted attention and was never ill until one day we noticed he was having difficulty peeing. We took him to the vet but it didn’t clear up, so we took him to another and it still didn’t clear up. We took him back to the first vet who kept him in his clinic but told us the infection was gaining ground. I paid O a couple of visits when he would stagger to his feet and rub himself affectionately against me before sinking down again. One evening the vet called and said he was much worse and when I went to see him he was barely conscious. He died the following day and we buried him in the garden with his favourite ping pong ball. That day, someone trying to cheer me up with a joke said I must have kicked him too hard in the bed one night. That was one occasion when I did not appreciate Thai humour. Still, she later told me that she had shed more tears at the death of her pet dog than for her father so I forgave her.
November 10, 2006
Donald Rumsfeld. CAN it be only five years, asks Christopher Hitchens, ‘since the society columns in Washington were describing Donald Rumsfeld as “hot” and printing stories about how ladies of a certain age wanted his phone number?’ Strange how the sweet smell of success can turn into a right old pong when the aura of power begins to fade. The gnomic utterances which once worked wonders as chat-up lines started to fall flat as a rainy Sunday when Guantanamo Bay went out of fashion. Society ladies with impeccable neocon credentials were soon on the phone to pull out of romantic candle-lit dinners they had suggested and cancel invitations to intimate soirées. “Just like a man to barge into a place and not bother clearing up the mess he’s made”, said one icily. I understand Rusmfield has been reduced to using the Daily Express dating service and putting Lonely Hearts ads in the Mail but still without success.
Paul Gascoigne “I wake up every day with 27 different problems and addictions to face,” he says but Gazza, 39, reveals he has now found religion. He says: “I’ve just started to believe in God. I read the Bible now and again.”I’m not a Bible-basher but I believe in God because he has kept me alive, touch wood.” Odd how faith in clover leaves and goblins seems to go hand in hand with the totally rational belief in a supreme being. Still if it curbs his urge to bash Bibles and throw punches in all directions when plastered, who’s to complain?
Farewell to Markus Wolf, the Stasi spymaster famous for his sleeper agents and for perfecting the use of sex in spying, making a speciality of sending so-called “Romeo” spies into West Germany to seduce female government employees. Who has not at one time or another had to resist the wiles of a stunning East German female spy? Undercover work has changed its meaning and lost most of its glamour now that spies spend all their time at computers instead of hopping into bed with shadowy seductresses. For the German tabloid Bild, the manner of Wolf’s demise – he died in his sleep – was a fitting end to his career.”Death came like an elite agent. Silently, without warning, in the middle of the night,” Bild says.
Linda Stein, an artist and veteran feminist. Ms Stein has written of her experience of being tricked into a part in the spoof movie Borat, saying she was left “confused and sad” after the filming. “Maybe it’s his way of gaining power over the childhood sting of religious animosity or the feelings of inferiority from a woman’s beating him at Scrabble,” she said. Sure, losing at Scrablle can make people do the strangest things. A while ago one Brendon Tahau, 26, of Rotorua, died after being hit at least 40 times with a baseball bat and then stabbed five times in the back during an unusually heated game of Scrabble. Watch how you go with those triple word scores.
An anonymous Austrian doctor. According to a ‘top Austrian doctor’, picking your nose and eating it is good for you: ‘Medically it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine. Modern medicine is constantly trying to do the same thing through far more complicated methods, people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free.’
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who explained that ‘technical failure’ led to the killing of a Gaza family. An internal military investigation blamed a radar malfunction for the deaths. The report was said by the Israeli military to have found a malfunction had misdirected the fatal artillery barrage. There was, apaprently, a faulty electronic chip in the artillery battery’s guidance system. I understand Olmert said ‘computer stuff happens’ but apologised for any inconvenience that may have been caused.
November 10, 2006
What is it, I wonder, that makes hair migrate southwards with age? Is it because ageing nares can’t look after themselves and need extra protection that some old folk appear to have a rodent nestling up their snout? As far as I am aware science has yet to come up with an answer, though boffins have got their slide rules and calculators out to work out what actually does go on up there. One experimental report reads: “Measurements have been made of the anterior nasal passage and nasal hair of an adult caucasian subject, and calculations have been carried out using fibrous filter theory to determine the deposition efficiency for unit density spherical particles of diameter ranging from 1 nm-40 µm at three steady inspiratory flow rates. For particles > 5 µm, inertial and interception deposition on the nasal hairs was predicted to account for a measurable fraction of the experimentally measured nasal deposition, becoming significant for particles > 20 µm. Diffusion of ultrafine particles to the nasal hair was predicted to be appreciable for particles < 5 nm.” Well, they do say that you learn something every day.
what’s that creature lurking in the undergrowth?
Whatever the explanation for their growth, nasal hairs are often made the butt of ageist jokes, as when the 5 year old wrote “When I go to heaven, I want to see my grandpa again. But he better have lost the nose hair and the old-man smell”. One woman who was hired as an administrative assistant won substantial damages form her employer after her boss had asked her to trim his nasal hairs for him. She pointed out, quite rightly, that such depilatory activities were not part of her job description. Naturally, the modern man cannot allow these follicular excrescences to flourish and the ‘Male Grooming Guide’ by one Shane Corstorphine has some excellent advice to get you started: ‘First things first, trimming unwanted nasal hair will not make them grow back thicker and faster. So relax and feel free to trim any nose hair that you are conscious of.’ (my emphasis) Could anything be more relaxing than feeling free to trim one’s unwanted nasal hairs? How, I wondered, did our world religions tackle this prickly question of hairs in the nose? The Buddhist code of behaviour for monks is quite specific on the matter:”Nasal hairs should not be grown long. (In the origin story to this rule, people objected to bhikkhus with long nasal hairs “like goblins”). Tweezers are allowed for pulling them out; by extension, scissors should also be allowed for trimming them. The Vinaya Mukha notes that nasal hair performs a useful function in keeping dust out of the lungs, and so interprets this rule as applying only to nasal hairs so long that they grow outside the nostrils.” So let any of the offending strands protrude and if you’re not careful you’ll be coming back in your next life as a chihuahua. Islam, showing the tolerance for which it is noted, is much less prescriptive: ‘Muslim law (Sharia) puts hair in three categories: that which it is recommended to remove (pubic and armpit hair), that which it is recommended to keep (the beard), and that which is not the object of any recommendation (foot, hand, back, nasal and chest hair).’ And where does Christianity stand on this? The Bible is deafeningly silent on the question, the only references to noses being in terms of putting rings or cords through them. Unless the Pope has issued an encyclical on the subject without my knowing, I would say that this is a serious failing of the church. Finally, does anyone know what a Bonto is? The Bonto is a new formal type of poetry devised by Edward de Bono for use on the net. There are, he says four lines in each poem.
“Rhyming is aa bb.
Syllables: as yet undecided (5, 6 or 7)
* First line: sets out some extraordinary behaviour. The more bizarre the better.
* Second line: gives the explanation for the bizarre behaviour.
* Third line: gives the result or outcome of the behaviour.
* Fourth line: provides some “philosophical” reflection on life in general but arising from the situation.”
For some reason, nasal hairs feature prominently in this new literary form:
I pulled my nasal hairs
To move myself to tears
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997
I plucked my nasal hairs
To beautify my nares
A tear wells in my eye
It’s sad to say goodbye
©Steve Smith & Edward de Bono Creative Team 1997
Wonderful thing, creative writing.
November 10, 2006
Just finished editing a CD of the sounds of Thai wildlife. The birds, insects, frogs and squirrels were easy as I have literally weeks’ worth of recordings to choose from. For most of the mammals, however, I had to resort to recording in wildlife sanctuaries as you don’t often hear them in the wild. The last one I recorded was the binturong, or bear-cat. I had been visiting this group in the early morning when their food arrived expecting to hear them call then but day after day they remained stubbornly silent. Then one day I was passing around midday and I heard them yelling (of course I didn’t have my recorder with me). I went back yesterday and they obliged with a series of cat-like mewing, shrieks, growls and wails that far exceeded my recorder’s ability to cope with the decibel range. I had already recorded a number of big cats including the tiger, clouded leopard, leopard panther and leopard cat and listening to some of the extraordinary sounds they made got me thinking about the noises my own cats make. One day I must get round to recording them, too, as I am a long way from understanding what they mean.
Only one makes the traditional miaow and that is when she is trying to tell us something. One has a plaintive miou with a rising tone when she wants to be let out or in. One tries to miaow to us but no sound comes out but she wheezes and snores like a trooper when she’s sound asleep. Saddam makes a mixture of duck-like quacks and waaa sounds when he calls us and a gargling sound when he wants to play with one of the other cats. He is the loudest purrer but the others do on occasions when they are stroked. The purring seems to be a sound reserved for humans as they don’t purr when, for example, they are preened. One of them growls like a tiger if a stranger or enemy cat approaches the house. If play gets too rough they hiss, again just like a small tiger. Miao has a loud insistent call when she’s anxious (if I go for a walk away from our usual route, for example.) Finally there are the eerie wailing sounds they make when threatening or defending themselves against another cat. One day I will stop trying to learn people languages and attempt to understand some cat language.
November 9, 2006
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