Wednesday, 30 July 2014

My first facial

Being in Thailand, one is constantly exposed to a lot of new things. I vividly recall a jet-lagged morning, ten years ago, when unable to sleep I stumbled around the Asok area, my only company stray dogs and sleeping street people. Before dawn the sounds and smells of a million breakfasts being prepared were evident, as were the bright orange robes of the monks, collecting alms.

I hopped on the new skytrain, took a river boat to the edge of the metropolis at sunrise, and watched three transvestites solemnly and prayerfully releasing fish into the river from a plastic bag. But I'm not going to write about a muddy old river or a reclining Buddha - I'm going to write about being pampered.

Panda eyes
I've long been a fan of the foot massage - a  30-minute or one-hour kneading away of the pains of the day, complete with elements of deep tissue massage of the arms, back and legs, popping of fingers and toes and clicking of the neck - and while there may have been some confusions sometimes about the type of venue I was in I have always made myself clear that a felicitous denouement is not required.

So there I was, in the cavernous MBK centre recently, having my feet and lower legs luxuriously swathed in oil when in strolled a big, I mean Big, Aussie fella, dripping testosterone, with his pleasant local lady. He greeted the masseuse like a old pal, heaved his bulk up onto the gurney-like massage bed, bade farewell to his woman and settled in for a facial. I couldn't quite believe it - the rugged sexagenarian, with the ears, nose and body of a prop forward, laying back beatifically while a beautician placed little pads o'er his eyes, tied a towel around his head, and commenced to slather him in unguents, attacking his face with all matter of implements that looked they belonged in a dentist's, while he let out little mews of pleasure.

I recounted all this to Mrs Wife when I got home. As per usual, she knew what I was really saying before I did.

"You want to go for a facial, don't you? OK, I'll book somewhere."

With her usual efficiency and eye for value, Lena quickly got us an appointment for 5pm the same day, and trusting her (and without paying much attention) I ambled up Silom Soi 2 to our rendezvous. Ah... I knew there was something special about this laneway I thought, as I passed the "Senso Men's Club" and the mother of our children led me into "Pinky Body Care."

At times like these, I am glad we have Russian to switch to. "Bl... shto takoy galoboy tsentr" I started to protest, to be shshed with a look that said "oh grow a pair" by my beloved.

Ho hum. In for a satang in for a baht I suppose. The place was pretty chi-chi. Or pretty and chi chi. And when you got over the frills and frippery it was quite cosy. The staff looked at us (actually at me) in slight confusion, so i brazened "me and the WIFE. 5pm. Facial" in my best heterosexual accent.

The only other customer was a women, in mid-treatment. The lady beautician (there were only ladies, and before you ask, yes I am able to spot the difference here) seemed to be gouging the sides of her client's nostrils with a crochet hook, but she wasn't whimpering (unlike me, ten minutes later).

Lena changed into a fetching scarlet robe, whereas I was given a blue nylon dressing gown that I swear my grandmother wore in the early 70s. It barely fit over my bulging biceps, let alone my manly chest (OK, OK, truth is I couldn't tie it closed over my gut, Happy now?)

And then, masseuse lady number one set to work. A warm cologned wipe was applied to my face, and cool, moist cotton pads to my eyes. Deprived of the ability to see, the other senses became heightened. First, a pleasant cream was applied, followed by what felt like grainy French mustard but I imagine was a "scrub". Next came a moist cloud of vapour, followed by what seemed to be the tongue of a middle-sized dog, possibly a labrador, licking my face. That was followed by a bird's beak scratching me, paying particular attention to the grubby bits on the flanges of my nostrils, grinding out the Krung Thep grime. Ow ow ow. When the jackdaw had finished that, it started kissing me on the cheeks, forehead and chin. Aaah. A coat of gloss paint was then applied and removed, wiped off by icy sticks of uncooked spaghetti, and then it was back to the steam treatment.

I was enjoying this.

A metal bar was then inserted in my fist, and a tiny paint roller, which emitted equally tiny electric tickles glided over my face. Weird, but far from unpleasant.

And then a deep tissue massage of the legs, arms, upper back and neck. And - pads off eyes - finished. Apparently I had the better of the masseuses/facialists but we both left with clear, healthy skin and you know what? I'm damn well gonna do it again. My mate Lasse Norgard, in Bangkok for a month or so, has promised to take me to his favourite spot, Cutey and Beauty. Please don't Google it. Please.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Breaking on the Border

Some reflections on days spent on the Cambodian-Thai border. First published on www.iom,int
Cambodian mother and child stare out of a police van as they cross from Thailand into Cambodia. Joe Lowry/IOM
When you’re surrounded by the intensity and emotion of a live disaster situation it’s surprisingly easy to switch into a robotic state, where the hubbub, the hazards and the humanity blur into the background. Yes you are aware of the clamour, the heat, the smells but it seems to fade and retreat, so that it’s a movie screen wrapped around you, and you are performing one task, giving it your all, but disconnected from the cacophony.

I suppose it has to be like that. Perhaps after too many disasters, absorbing too much vicarious suffering, aid workers need to lose perspective to gain focus. You can feel the situation getting in through the pores of your skin but you need to block it, to leave it pooling in your innards, prevent it getting to the brain where it will cloud your mind and affect your judgement. You need to compartmentalise, to do one thing at a time: to select, prioritise and react. You can’t do that when your conscious mind is screaming “This Is All Wrong”.

And you know that there may be a cold can of beer waiting for you long after sundown. Perhaps a hot shower too, when you can purge the layer of chaos on your skin, feeling it washing down the plughole leaving you ready for a rapid sleep, which you already know will be broken in the quietest hours with a jolting memory of a task not done, a face in pain, an abandoned child, or simply an ache for the arms of your own loved ones.

Sometimes you just lose it, and you have to rely on your colleagues to bring you gently – even firmly – back to your role. You are no use burned out. You drag the team down. Let the tears out gently, in private. Even if you’re a veteran, there is no shame in emotion, if it brings you to a better place.

Here’s an example, of what happened to me on the Cambodian-Thai border last week, in a little town called Poi Pet. I know from experience when I am slipping into a land marked “caution”, and thankfully I have developed some coping mechanisms. (But it was hard. Seeing photos of dead children face-down in the mud in Myanmar, unable to travel the thirty miles to assist, corpses lining the pavement in  the Philippines, Port-au-Prince reduced to rubble, the cliché of the African baby, flies in eyes, sucking a leathery breast… something has to give. How do I cope? I work, I write, I expunge the demons like that. Like this.)

There was no heartache on the border last week as tens of thousands of people poured off buses and thronged a muddy roundabout in a flyblown town you’ll never hear of again, going to places that are just dots on the map, down roads that peter out into tracks, where they will be hugged and kissed and feted, before the solemn reality of more mouths to feed, day after day, kicks in. No heartache, just movement. Lots of movement. People, trucks, buses, bikes, taxis, tuk-tuks, stray dogs, chickens, soldiers, cats, cascading silver rain from mercury clouds, drying in the white sun and pushing waves of hot, wet air, drawing beads and rivulets of sweat which became a paste on the skin when the mud dried rapidly to dust.

So many lives congregating in one point. Thousands of stories, thousands of photos for the communicator that is me, notebook in hand, camera on shoulder, flip-cam in pocket. And when they all come together; impelled, compelled, propelled across this stinky, litter-strewn stream that denotes where Thailand ends, and Cambodia begins, like so many hundreds of thousands did when Cambodia was a vast killing field; then, yes then they become one story, and like it or not, I have to pimp that story to the media.

Where are the journalists? Apart from some bright young things from the Phnom Penh post they are all sitting in Bangkok, covering the alarming crises in Iraq and Ukraine, the Afghan elections, the opening of the World Cup. I’ll never drag them away from that, for this – comparatively – small story, especially when no one is dying, no one is being openly abused.

Then two things happen. Two of the sort of incidents that jerk me out of my melancholy and make me justify my salary.

I take a lift with an IOM driver, a man of about 60, with intelligent, lively eyes shining from a weather-beaten face. He speaks Khmer, excellent Thai and very good English. He learnt English in the school of life, and Thai when he lived in a wooden house across the border for ten years, as a refugee.

A cloud passes over his face.

“I lost ten years of my life. It’s terrible, being a refugee”.

I don’t meet many refugees who have gone home, trailing their possessions and their memories. If I talk to refugees it’s in the white heat of escape, or the dull misery of daily life “there”; a million metaphorical miles from their hearths and lintels, from the land that defines them, their suffering land, the fields and the houses and the good neighbours that are parched and burned and slaughtered.

“It’s terrible being a refugee”.

The people passing me on open trucks, jammed together in a solid mass of bodies are not refugees. They are returning migrants, fleeing from a rumour of a threat. They are disgorged from trucks that come from Thailand, they spill onto the mud and litter-spattered street like fish released en masse from a trawler. They wait, and some hours later, after they have combed through the plastic bags and the rice sacks that hold their earthly goods to be reunited with these paltry possessions, they board another truck for the big towns, where they will have to find more transport to get back up those paths and tracks to their villages.

I take some more photos, speak to a few people, and damn the news agenda which is preventing this story getting out. My colleagues, young Cambodian men and women, a doctor from Myanmar, a stubbled Aussie from Victoria are out there doing life-changing, life-saving work. Others in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Geneva are urging us on. All I have to do is witness, document, publicize. And I’m not doing it.

I go to the most unlikely of places – a glitzy casino right next to this madness, where the wheels spin and the slots whirr and dozens of people gamble their lives away – and I order a good coffee. I sit on the terrace, as more trucks go by. Several of the human cargo lock eyes with me, puzzled. And I think.

Time for me to gamble.

Halfway through the cup, almost before I know it, my phone is in my hand and I am calling all the senior journalists I know. I berate, I accuse, I castigate, I curse. I hound and I beseech. There are excuses, justifiable perhaps, but there’s also a hint of remorse. Journalists need to be where the stories are, their pride and their reputations are at stake.

CNN bites first. Then Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, AFP. By Sunday IOM is headline news. The pressure is on governments to react, to ensure the migrants’ dignity is preserved. Whatever is happening on the pitch in Brazil, I can safely say my team lifted my game on this muddy roundabout. Well played, IOM.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Southampton should keep it Swiss

So Mauricio Pochettino is gone. And although I have enjoyed the beautiful football he has brought to St Mary's this season, I have to say I feel a sense of deliverance now that he has gone. It would have been difficult to get behind him next season, knowing he was merely marking time.
Out: Mauricio Pochettino
In? Murat Yakin

Yes, he will be missed, and yes, I am worried that there will now be a fire sale and our best assets will be stripped. But we have come a long, long way.

The new board has come under a lot of fire for not communicating, despite new chairman Ralph Krueger's assertion that he would be open and honest. But what could he have said? The leaks were all true, it seems. They offered Pochettino a new and improved contract, they slapped huge price tags on the two most sought-after players, Lallana and Shaw, and seem to have put off (for now) the moves. I believe it will come good, and I believe the club will prosper.

Before I analyse Pochettino's record, there's something important that needs to be said about player sales. Southampton is rightly famed for bringing on new, local talent. At one stage last year we had five English teenagers on the pitch. There is a whole host coming through, with a bevvy of England under-21, under 19 and under 17 players showing massive promise, and playing in a European championship-winning side while they are at it.

The Southampton Way means making space for them, bringing them in and on. If their value increases from a thousand pounds to 25 million, as it appears to have done with Lallana, then that's an amazing achievement. We now have a mega-wealthy director in the form of Katarina Liebherr, we are solvent, so we can afford to let young talent blossom.

I confess now that I never really had much time for Pochettino. It took him almost a year to publicly thank the fans. He let them down massively by fielding a weak team against a beatable Sunderland in the FA Cup, denying us a morale-boosting cup run.

His signings: Lovren is a class act who will certainly become captain if Lallalna leaves (assuming that England under-21 captain James Ward-Prowse doesn't get the armband.) But the other flash signing, Danny Oswaldo was a terrible piece of work. The man came in with the air of a man who is owed a living, and went out, humbled, despised by his team mates for loafing the honourable and decent Jose Fonte.

As soon as Oswaldo came in, Lambert was either relegated to the bench or forced to play out of position. The result was the goals dried up, we slipped from 3rd to 9th (which also coincided with our "easy" opening schedule ending, remember, when we drew with West Ham and Sunderland at home?)

Victor Wanayama took time to settle, broke a leg, and came back stronger. Like Jay Rodriguez I feel he works hard as a man of honour, not "just" for a manager.

Pochettinos' tactics were not remarkably different to the way Nigel Atkins has the team playing, until his disgraceful sacking. No Saints fan will forget the opening day of the 2102-13 season and how we went at Champions Manchester city. Nor the "up for it" attitude against Manchester United; only to be denied a victory thanks to two last-gasp RVP goals. And the vaunted "pressing game" was quickly rumbled and unlocked by not only the artisans of Everton but also the morre prosaic hoofers of West 'Am.

Pochettino only won one more game than lost - we may have had 58 per cent possession (and it's true that the other team can't score when you have the ball) but we've also thrown away more leads under Pochettino than any other team. Worse, we've also lost more games from winning positions than any other team.
It was wonderful to see that only Roma had a better defence than us in all of Europe after 5 games, but that quickly crumbled. Yes, injuries played their part, but Pochettino insisted on playing Hoovield and Fox, the Laurel and Hardy of domestic defences. I can still see them, heads in hands, as own goal after own goal bobbles across the line.

As for Pochettino's record - 40 per cent losses in his entire career, versus 34 per cent wins. It's unfair to compare him to Atkins (but I'm going to anyway), who won 67 of his 124 games in charge at Saints, losing just 32. He was fired for not having the type of ambition that ex-Chairman Cortese required. He also brought in a few clangers, but he does take the credit for bringing in Jay Rodriguez, one of the brightest striking talents in the Premiership.

In Pochettino's defence, the players are possibly the fittest in the UK (a long way form the days of Manager Paul Sturrock turning up to take training eating a fried egg sandwich).

In sum, Pochettino did some good things for the club but he is not irreplaceable. He's chosen to take a massive gamble by going to Spurs, and good luck to him there (apart from on two occasions next season). But if people don't want to be at the club, let them go.

So who is next?

We don;t want another tired old face. No Mackay, no McLaren, no Sherwood, no Poyet (maybe he's not old, but he is ugly). Certainly no one from a lower league (except perhaps Atkins) - we need a fresh and exciting name, and that of Murat Yakin keeps popping up. I very much like the idea, he has done wonders at Basel. Rafa Benitez, David Moyes, Michael Laudrup and Roberto Di Matteo's names are also being bandied about, but surely they are on downward trajectories now.

Yakin for me. Keep it Swiss.

Stop Press. Ronald Koeman also being touted. Hmmm,

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A Pacific Solution from the World Bank

Off to work on the Marshall Islands (IOM/Joe Lowry 2013)
This blog was first published on 
I am no Pacific expert, but my trips to rural Papua New Guinea, and my marathon flight from Bangkok to Majuro (via Manila, Guam, Palau, Chuuk, Kwajelain, Pohnpei – and then from Majuro to a teeny tiny atoll in the midst of a turquoise ocean) got me thinking.
How do all these people find work?
It’s true that there does seem to be a spirit of mañana permeating the Pacific – on the surface of thing people seem to enjoy a more relaxed pace of life, in keeping with the stunning views and balmy climate. And many people stay busy doing things that are automated in the West – catching and preparing food, market gardening. But people have to eat; they have to have health services, water, shops, television, internet, mobile phones, the same as the rest of us, so you can be sure people are grafters.
Put another way, behind the exquisite Marshallese greeting “Yokwe!” (literally “you are a rainbow”) there is an urgency to keep the wheels moving and development charging forward.
But think of the challenges. First, there’s the distances involved. Then the topography. And the weather. Getting anything, from a frozen pizza to an industrial freezer from A to B is always a complex logistical exercise. These people have to be creative. (Lucking they pretty much invented human mobility, if you look at the historical spread of the Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian people.)
But now they have new factors to contend with, not least among them climate change, which is already causing droughts, floods and increased emigration. Demographics are colliding with higher expectations, a fact recognised in a recent World Bank report: “Wellbeing from Work in the Pacific Island Countries”. It issues a stark warning that increasing employment opportunities, especially for women and youth, will be critical for the sustainability of Pacific island economies, as populations grow, the number of young people increases, and people move to urban areas.
In fact, over half of Pacific islanders are under 24, the highest ratio in the world. More than half of those are out of work, which, the Bank warns, increases the risk of poverty and social unrest.
“The 10 countries studied in the report are all among the world’s 50 smallest and most remote nations, which poses distinct challenges for job creation,” said Tobias Haque, Economist for the Pacific Islands at the World Bank and lead author of the report. “Innovative solutions are needed from governments and partners if economies are to meet the employment aspirations of Pacific people.”
The report underscores the need for new ways of thinking about labour mobility. It is clear that not everyone will find work at home and remittances from large regional economies in Australia, New Zealand and the United States will continue to be of prime importance. Large infrastructural projects like the Liquid Natural Gas programme in Papua New Guinea are pivotal – will it enrich the underdeveloped nation, or will profits be repatriated? Time will tell.
The report hints that Australia could do more if it increased the size of its Seasonal Worker Programme to a par with New Zealand’s Recognized Seasonal Employer (RSE) programme, proportionally. The authors calculate that were this to happen, it could generate an extre 10 per cent of GDP across the participating countries, saving Australia 60 per cent of its aid budget.
Certainly something to consider.
The study looked at Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

"I'm looking for my mother"- poignant film from Moldova

This film brought a tear to my eye. It was made by a 12-year-old Moldovan girl, and won a prize at  2013 PLURAL+, a Youth Video Festival on migration, diversity and social inclusion. It is a joint initiative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) and IOM, supported by partner organizations from around the world. The actress is just 10 and the music - full of poignant pathos - written by a 16-year-old. More on

It reminded me of a visit to rural Moldova in 2008 when I was working for the Red Cross, seeing the effects of drought in that former Soviet Republic. I wrote the following for the IFRC website after than visit (with apologies to my wife Lena - she wrote a far superior piece on trafficking in Moldova but it's no longer on the website. If we find it, I'll reprint it)

Temperatures last summer hit an incredible 70 degrees Celsius in the direct glare of the sun. Moldova's famous grapes "fried on the vine" according to one local farmer. All over the country the fields dried up, and farmers slaughtered their cattle for cash, compounding an already serious situation. The country, still reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the effects of the breakaway Transnistria region, is withering.
Although the capital, Chisinau, is barely an hour's drive from the EU border with Romania it feels stuck in a time warp. Buildings and roads are crumbling, and the impoverished vast majority try to survive any way they can. For many, that means leaving their homeland. Up to a quarter of Moldova's population of four million now lives outside its borders, and villages are full of children who have forgotten what their parents look like.
Thousands of women have been driven to the last resort, emigrating to sell the last thing of value they possess - their bodies. While some might return, or at least send home money, as many gradually fade out of sight, out of mind. The poverty, up close and personal, is stark. In the southern region of Gagauzia, where the people speak a Turkic language and, in better times, celebrate with their robust local wine, everything seems to be ebbing away - the young people, hope, even the colour of the land.
Stepan Tatar, mayor of Congazchick, a village home to 2,080 souls says he has a monthly fund of 2,200 lei (about 200 USD) for emergency medical assistance. He has to spread it between 20 applicants a month, most of whom have a pension amounting to a little under a dollar a day.
He takes us to see a typical family. From outside, the house is a little ragged, a couple of ducks run through the yard, a rangy dog struggles against a chain. Inside, Feodora Zachariah, a 64-year-old invalid sits by the stove fuelled by vine roots (the gas has long since been cut off). She, her husband Mikhael and a brother are bringing up two girls and a boy, aged between 15 and eight. The household income is about 80 USD a month.
"Our daughter left three years and two months ago," says Feodora. "We have a phone number for her, but it just rings and rings. We think she’s in Turkey and her husband might be in Russia, but we don’t know". Like many families, they get by on potato soup and homemade bread. "We hardly ever eat meat," says Mikhael.
On the other side of the village, 15-year-old Stepan Stefu is getting ready to cook the evening meal for his blind father and his brother. Stepan looks like a ten-year-old, and weighs just 39 kilos. Although he's an exceptionally bright child he had to leave school to look after the family. His mother moved to Turkey five years ago and has only been back once. Stepan doesn’t want to discuss her visit.
Next door we find Dmitri Zavrichko (43) who is bringing up his family of four alone, on an official salary of 400 USD per year. Luckily his skills as a mechanic means he can occasionally borrow a tractor from the local farm to raise some more money, and his brother also pitches in. "My wife left when our youngest girl was 20 months old. Now she's eight and doesn’t know anything about her mother."
Yet somehow people survive. In Proteagaylovka village, on the outskirts of the town of Bendery in the Transnistria region, we meet Grigory and Maria Voloshchuk, both 40, and their ten children. "We have a cow, and that saved our lives last summer," said Grigory. He calculates that the cow provides dairy products worth 115 USD per month, whilst he can only earn a maximum of 35 USD a month as a freelance appliance fitter. "It was so hot last summer and things got so bad I thought we were going to have to kill the cow. Luckily I managed to do some work for a farmer and he paid me in fodder."

Friday, 16 May 2014

The making of "Portraits of Recovery"

IOM's Alan “Blue” Motus volunteered to tell the story of beneficiaries through his photographs on “Portraits of Recovery.” © IOM 2014

First off, apologies for the lack of blogging. I had changed the template to "dynamic views" which was, cut a long story short, a mistake. The piece below was written for by  Naomi Mihara, an intern I have been working with for six months. 

At the end of her time in Bangkok she got a consultancy to go to Manila to produce a multimedia project, including a photo-book, to commemorate the six-month anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan. 

She did a pretty good job. JJB

By Naomi Mihara, IOM
In a tent city of evacuees in Tacloban, I met Leonarda, a 62 year old widowed market trader, five months after she had lost her husband to the typhoon.  As I started to interview her for the book Portraits of Recovery, she told me in Tagalog “habang may buhay, may pag-asa” – as long as there’s life, there’s hope.
My colleague Alan ‘Blue’ Motus snapped away with his camera as we talked. His photo of Leonarda is on page 7 of the book and shows her embracing her grandchild as if her embrace would protect the child against the struggles of life that have already shattered her family.
In one way or another, everyone we met along the way moved me and deepened my understanding and respect for this wonderful country. 
When typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines, I read the news about it from afar and followed IOM’s relief efforts without really understanding the realities of what was happening on the ground.  I was an intern in Bangkok helping IOM’s Communications department where I read and heard the many tales of survival and perseverance.
I didn’t think I’d ever get the opportunity to meet these courageous people and hear their stories firsthand.  But that is what the past month has been – a fascinating, humbling experience meeting all kinds of people who still have hope that their lives will begin to move forward again, even if they don’t yet have a home to call their own. 
After arriving in Manila six weeks ago, I went on a whistle-stop tour through the Visayas region visiting some of the areas worst hit by the typhoon.  I was joined by ‘Blue’ who, besides being a superb photographer, is also an IOM field health coordinator in Roxas, the most westerly area to be hit.  
For one amazing week we were on the road together and I watched in admiration as he used his charm to get people to relax and always photographed them in ways they would be proud to see and be seen.
Even in its devastation, this part of the world is still breathtakingly beautiful and vibrant.  But it also screams of vulnerability, and even though people are slowly restoring their former lives, inevitably more disasters will come their way.  While there’s hope, there’s also an understanding that this is something that people will have to deal with time and time again, leaving a feeling of uncertainty, especially for those still without a permanent place to live.
We visited all kinds of displacement sites as well as people’s homes and workplaces, assisted by the staff in the IOM sub-offices – many of whom are young, new recruits from the affected areas - who gave up their time to help us.  We met people of all ages, personalities and backgrounds, all of whom had experienced different degrees of suffering and loss.  We met IOM staff who are also survivors of the typhoon, now living in displacement sites along with the communities they are working to help and proving that ‘aid workers’ and ‘beneficiaries’ are not so different after all. 
Hearing the stories, the enormity of what had happened here suddenly came home to me.  I realized that so many people didn’t really stand a chance against this great force of nature.  But what really struck me was that, for the most part, the feeling of hope remained.  There may be massive challenges still to come, yet time and again I was reminded of the Filipino spirit that fails to be beaten.  Two of the most inspiring interviews were the youngest and the oldest to feature in the book: Raymundo, who I met along with other members of the youth organization that he is a part of (Eclipse), who passionately spoke of his goal to improve things for young people from poor, rural areas.   And Leonarda, who despite everything she has been through could still speak hopefully about the future.
For more information please go to: Donate Here to get a Limited Edition copy of Typhoon Haiyan: Portraits of Recovery.
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Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A Musical Journey

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of...
There's a post going around Facebook, asking me to name 12 albums that have stayed with me over the years. I haven't (yet) got round to answering for a number of reasons. One, I barely remember what albums I have. (OK, I lie, I could probably name them all, together with the singles, but they are not "with" me, they are in a plastic bag in a shed in Wicklow.) My "tapes", once my proudest possessions, have long wriggled off into eternity. Even my CDs are in a few of those black folder-type cases in a cupboard in Bangkok. My music is digitized across several machines, and in clouds. More germainely, people filling out that list seem to feel duty bound to put in something clever by Sibelius or a Guatemalan one-legged Woodie Guthrie ("WHAT? You've never heard of  Nelson Cincodedos Del Pie?"). Or comment like the illuminati on the virtues of the Spoon versus The Lovin' Spoonful.

MY nostalgia is for a day when I would sit by the radio ("studying") during a chart show, with my digits rigid over the first and fourth buttons on the two-in-one, to record a gem like "Just What I Needed" by the Cars (which I last heard on the radio about 13 years ago on a Russian FM station, as we roared across the tundra). These days, you want to hear your favoruite song? Shazam. There's an app for that, no need to buy a record, or call a pirate of the airwaves.

But, the world seems to demand lists, so a list is what I will give you.

Travelling up from the coast on Sunday, from Hua Hin to Bangkok, I was squished between my daughters in the back of the car. Polina, 6, was immersed in Minecraft, but Maya, 7, wanted to know more about the song Mama Mia, which she had heard someone singing. So I told her all about Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Annefrid, and how the name ABBA was formed, how they all got married and then split up, and even, under pressure of questioning, which of the girls I fancied (Agnetha, of course, later changed to the more worldly Frida, like most males, I have since discovered.)

And then I realised I probably had Mama Mia, in fact all of ABBA Gold, on my phone. And once I realised that, and that I had a captive audience, I decided to expand the musical lesson. Bearing in mind that I didn't want to scare the driver too much, that my wife's tastes also needed to be included, and that I didn't know how long I would keep Mme Maya's attention, here's the list of songs I introduced her to.

What do you think? (Nirvana was a no-brainer, she's been a fan since the age of 5... God help me when she finds the full back catalogue.) Remember this is peretty much random DJing, with not much thought put into it).

ABBA - Mama Mia, Fernando, Does Your Mother Know, Waterloo, Super Trouper (my personal favourite)...

and then ...

Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
Heroes - David Bowie (Live in Paris)\
Ashes to Ashes - Bowie
Maria - Blondie
All My Loving - The Beatles
With a Little Help From My Friends - The Beatles
Different for Girls - Joe Jackson
No Woman No Cry - Bob Marley
Sunday Girl - Blondie
One Way or Another - Blondie
Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty
Video Killed the Radio Star - Buggles
One Love - U2 ft Mary J Bligh... that was when she said "Enough! Can I have Minecraft back?"

I relented, secure in the knowledge that I had planted a seed or two, which will germinate, mushroom, bloom and blossom as she and her sister discover there is more than One Direction that music can take. When the 16-year-old Maya hears that soaring, triumphant sax at the beginning of Baker Street, will her mind's eye see the Thai countryside rolling by?


Da Daam dam dadda daaam....Baker Street?