Khmer New Year in Kampot. It was just fantastic. And i'm not talking about the barbecued ribs.
The holiday in the 'Pot with my fellow journalists was, allegedly, wild. Unfortunately i remember nothing. But since returning to work the stories have been flowing thick and fast: many, varied, and unrelenting. Because journalists are known for primarily two things: the ability to tell stories, and alcoholism. So naturally, we took to a holiday in a well-stocked bar like crayfish to raw sewage.
Apart from purportedly holding the Bodhi Villa bar in thrall with a stolen guitar and stolen tunes from Warren Zevon and the Ramones, the Art Director also, according to eye-witness reports, danced semi-naked with a topless midget who had walked into the Villa in the early hours, straight to the bar to order a joint, and, after it was allegedly consumed, challenged A.D. to a near-naked dance-off á la Zoolander, but without the underpants. Here i must stress the word allegedly. These journalists are slippery customers. Especially when they are oiled up with body lotion. One of them even claims that i confessed an undying love to our Lifestyle Editor, Juanita, but by part way through the second morning i had regained my senses...
I awake, naked, in a room above the bar, alongside our Supplements Editor, and begin a search, traipsing the length and breadth of the Villa, for my missing clothes, only to find them on my return in a sodden heap next to my bed. Sensibly, i elect to pull on swimming trunks, return to the bar, and breakfast on a fruit shake with two shots of Creme de Bananes.
It is at this point that i begin to pull focus. Finch. The spectacles. Last night's skinny dipping and its subsequent consequences. Clearly, it is time for me to go freediving at the bottom of the Kampot River. Finch, our illustrious deputy chief editor, lost his spectacles the previous night while trying to swim upriver from the floating pontoon to his bungalow while carrying a bottle of Pimms and two glasses of ice. And now i must, i simply must, find his spectacles: my bar tab is dependent upon it. For although things are spiralling rapidly out of control, Finch has offered a cash reward.
"I'll give you twenty dollars if you can come up with my glasses," Finch yells, somewhat recklessly, from the bar. This is Cambodia, where twenty US dollars is the equivalent of five bottles of Russian vodka. And while i am already haplessly diving and groping about in the mud in two fathoms of water at the bottom of the river, the prospect of ready cash pushes me to lift my game. I clamber up the pontoon and accost Zoë - easily the skinniest of the last night's skinny dippers - who has just returned from another of her legendary cross-river swims. I put on her swimming goggles. We are, after all, professionals. After the next dive i come up, having held my breath right to its limit, only to crack my head on the bottom of the pontoon. Air - wherefore art thou, air? I have little time to ponder why all Cambodian rivers are about as transparent as a Eugene Ionesco play as i search in desperation for the surface. Eventually, fighting panic, i think laterally, swim sideways, and come up, thankfully gasping a lungful of the languid Kampot air, by the speedboat.
I hoist myself up onto the steps, and notice a beautiful young woman lying on the pontoon, half in and half out of her bikini. She seems vaguely familiar, this sunlit blossom of ladyflower. But i must not be distracted. My further inebriation may depend upon my success. I dive again, and again, and again, and i find some glasses all right - a sorry-looking pint mug, and two wine glasses.
"Those look like the glasses i was carrying last night," yells Finch, and drags on a cigarette. This is a valuable clue. I do some quick calculations. Figuring on the lighter weight of his spectacles, the direction of last night's current (today it flows in the opposite direction, with the incoming tide) and the direction in which the beautiful young woman from the pontoon is now swimming, i set a trajectory like a catenary and dive again. Against all odds, there they are, sitting upright on the bottom of the river, as if Finch had casually got up to switch off a reading lamp. I come up next to the bikini girl. "I found them," i whisper into her startled, wet, and yet somehow sublimely beautiful face.
When i casually stroll up the gangplank wearing Finch's spectacles, an air of stunned disbelief descends upon the bar. Zoë steps forward. "I just want to shake your hand," she says. "This is unbelievable." I'm sure her disbelief stems mainly from the idea that she may not get her goggles back, because she takes these from me quite deftly during her brief congratulations. Finch, too, looks momentarily gleeful, then morose.
"I guess i owe you twenty dollars," he says.
"You got that right," i say.
The promised $20 reward goes toward paying my bar tab, which is extensive, even though, apart from the Chuck Norris cocktails, and a few Black Russians, and the morning heart-starters, i imagine i have spent the past twenty four hours drinking only from my smuggled $4 bottle of Bacardi rum, which i allegedly last night drained and threw into the river, before spending the next half hour asking people if they had seen my bottle of Bacardi. Again, i stress: allegedly.
The bikini girl comes up and dresses for breakfast, and it is then that i suddenly realise that i have indeed met her before and the only reason, in a somewhat ironic and bizarre twist, that i didn't recognise her on the pontoon was because she didn't have her clothes on. She is, as it turns out, the inimitable Lulu Wayward from last week's performance of the Vagina Monologues. A play which of course i didn't go to see, owing to my Freudian castration anxieties, but we really needn't go into that at this juncture. However we did publish Lou's picture in The Paper, a fact which Lou was not remiss in drawing to the attention of her Spacebook acolytes: "Lulu Wayward is congratulating the PP Post for choosing to print the ugliest picture of her in the entire world - what did I do to you?!?!"
And indeed the picture did not do her justice, because Lulu is absolutely fabulous - only a whole lot funnier, and with a greater capacity for alcohol and cigarettes than Joanna Lumley. All she needs to do now is work on her accent. It's just way too London. We get to talking, and the allegations continue. I am surrounded by allegators, so it seems. As Lou recounts over breakfast, i met her last night, for the second night running, introduced myself, for the second night running, then asked where she was from, to which she replied "South of England... near London" and to which i, apropos of nothing at all, responded, "Well, you can go fuck yourself." And the previous night, Lulu continues, i invited her, again shortly after introducing myself, to an impromptu modelling shoot the following morning. Now this, like the skull of the Hunchback of Notre Dame when he doesn't have his mind on the job and is struck by two hundredweight of solid brass, rings a bell.
"Yes, i do remember that," i say, putting my hands up to my head. "But you never turned up."
She shakes her blonde head and lets out an exasperated sigh. "Yes i did," she says.
"You so did not - i was here at the bar waiting for you at 7am," i say.
"I was here at six," she says. "You said six."
Now this is the sole mental image i am unable to erase from my memory. And i wasn't even there.
Lulu then begins to recount a very interesting theory. "And you know what else?" she says. "Whales. Whales beach themselves because they are driven by evolutionary forces beyond their control, which make them attempt to walk on land. And if Darwinism is correct, which it indubitably is, eventually one of these hapless creatures will harness the requisite genetic mutation to manage to do just that, and stumble up the beach into oncoming traffic..."
I interrupted her in amazement, pleased to hear that my postmodern evolutionary theories on apsirational whales have finally reached a wider and more appreciative audience.
"That's amazing!" i say. "Where did you hear that?"
I am, naturally, incredibly curious about the six degrees of separation through which she has stumbled en route to my theory. Lulu stares at me blankly for a moment and says, "You were talking about it to me last night. And I must say it's the biggest load of fucking bollocks i've ever heard in my entire life."
"Well, you're only young," i proffer.
And it was only when she started talking, over a cheeseburger with cheese at the Rusty Keyhole later that night - about the preposterous Klang Beer challenge, the man-eating piranhas, the rules that apply to fucking goats, gastronomically adventurous spiders, dead dogs and the fact that the human body is an amazing thing - it was only then that i knew i was in love.
Photo: Tracey Shelton
Which of course i had forgotten all about by morning. Because i'm pretty sure i introduced myself to Lulu all over again later that evening, and it is statistically probable that again i told her to go fuck herself. "South of England... near London? Well, you can go fuck yourself." And this morning, i remember nothing. But such is the nature of the 'Pot, the Villa, and those god damned Black Russians.