Many will say that it is impossible to have a quiet New Year in Isan, but my wife and I somehow managed it, a reflection of getting wrinkly one fears. But to look on the positive side, I am now the proud possessor of a yellow Winnie-the-Pooh mug, courtesy of a couple of farmers' kids who live next door to us in deepest Chaiyaphum.
Shortly after I arrived from Bangkok for the festivities, the two young sisters approached, clutching a package. After overcoming the giggles, they presented the mug, blurting out in their best English "Happy New Year", which they had apparently been rehearsing for several days.
The mug featured a grinning bear sniffing a giant sunflower growing out of a large pot labelled "Hunny" _ spelling wasn't one of Pooh's strong points. The mug was a delightful gift that I will treasure and I christened it with a very British brew of tea.
Pooh's creator, AA Milne, had a way with words in recounting the adventures of " a bear of very little brain". Something all kids could relate to was when Pooh explained "My spelling is wobbly. It's good spelling but it wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong place." I know the feeling well.
This coming Friday happens to be Winnie-the-Pooh Day, marking the anniversary of Milne's birth. So if you want an excuse to tuck into a giant jar of "hunny", this is your opportunity.
Pastime from the past
Being an old-fashioned fellow, I often take a jigsaw on my visits to the country manor. This is partly an attempt to persuade the aforementioned kids that things don't necessarily have to be electronic to be fun. This ploy has, of course, failed miserably. But it is also to help me while away those hours in the Isan afternoon when everyone else seems to have fallen asleep and I'm wondering what on Earth I'm doing there.
On earlier visits, the next-door kids helped me out with the respective jigsaws, dutifully putting together those vast areas of blue sky or sea I didn't have the patience to tackle myself. And the puzzles were duly completed after a couple of days.
Not this time.
I had bought the jigsaw in a rush and hadn't looked very closely, only knowing it featured camels in the desert and a couple of pyramids. If I had examined the puzzle closer, I would have discovered that roughly 90% of it consisted of boring blue sky and equally monotonous brownish desert, and little else, apart from a trio of snooty-looking camels.
After the kids had sat there diligently for half an hour staring at all the brown and blue pieces, the elder sister asked why I had bought such a difficult jigsaw. She had taken the words out of my mouth.
Getting the hump
I tried to save face, explaining it was good to tackle something that is bit of a challenge, but that didn't work either. Not surprisingly, they drifted away and for the next few days conveniently found themselves occupied with all sorts of other important tasks, mainly involving mobile phones and tablets. They also observed that ood (camel) was not exactly their favourite creature.
So I was left with only the camels for company.
When the time came to return to Bangkok, the half-completed jigsaw sat on the table looking very sorry for itself and my reputation as a jigsaw expert in tatters. Next time I'll take a puzzle featuring Winnie-the-Pooh.
To mark the anniversary, a little more on Milne. My introduction to his works came not through reading, but a 1950s BBC radio request programme called Children's Favourites. It was hosted by a gentleman called Uncle Mac who greeted his young audience every Saturday morning with "Hello children, everywhere!" One of the most requested songs was an adaptation of one of Milne's poems _ They're Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace _ in which Christopher Robin goes with his nanny Alice in an unsuccessful bid to spot royalty.
"They saw a face, but it wasn't the king's/he's much too busy a-signing things, says Alice".
I particularly related to those lines because the first time my mum took me to Buckingham Palace when I was about seven, I too was hoping to spot Queen Elizabeth peering out of the window, but she didn't oblige. Not even a wretched corgi to be seen.
Milne, who didn't just write children's books, was not without his critics. In one scathing review, British critic H Dennis Bradley snorted: "I see no future for AA Milne, whose plots are as thin as a filleted anchovy."
Even his son, Christopher Robin, whose teddy bear was the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh and whose name appears in a number of Milne's works, wasn't entirely happy. He hated Vespers, which includes the famous lines "Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares/Christopher Robin is saying his prayers." He was teased about it at school where he eventually smashed a recording to pieces. Christopher Robin later described Vespers as "the one [work] that has bought me over the years more toe-curling, fist-clenching, lip-biting embarrassment than any other".
Not to worry, if he was still alive Christopher Robin would have been pleased to learn that in Thailand they still do a good line in Winnie-the-Pooh mugs.
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About the author
- Writer: Roger Crutchley