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Postcard from Phuket – the quiet joy of people watching

February 24, 2020

Holidays are for what? Lying like slugs on a beach or at a hotel? Or hang-gliding, wrestling with crocodiles and discovering lost temples in the jungle? Possibly, depending on the state of your relationship with your beloved, spending much of your time wrestling in a private space.

For me and my beloved, holed up in Phuket, dodging the coronavirus by avoiding the hackers and sneezers and applying liberal quantities of antibacterial squirty stuff, life still offers many pleasures. There’s food to die for (hopefully not with pneumonia). There’s an hour of swimming every day to counteract the gorging, many books to read and a few blog posts to write.

And then, as much as anything else, there’s people watching. You might think that’s an old person’s pastime, but we’ve been doing it ever since our first holiday together, again in Thailand, thirty-eight years ago.

We’re one of those couples who delight in spotting doppelgangers – people who look like other people we know personally, or from TV, movies or politics. In all these years we only ever encountered one person who was the real thing: Rick Wakeman, who from afar appeared as gloomy as his Grumpy Old Man persona.

We’ve seen many other clones over the years. Last year a spectacular Larry David, perfect in mannerisms but fortunately lacking his Curb Your Enthusiasm rant mode.

This year there’s been a vintage crop. Le Juge – the stooping, silver-haired Judge Roban from the French TV series Spiral:

Matt Lucas’s Vicky Pollard, complete with vacant stare:

We also have a Santa Claus, or rather Dickie Attenborough’s version from Miracle on 35th Street; Logan from Succession (aka Brian Cox), ready to explode over breakfast; on the political front we have Dominic Cummings and at least three almost exact copies of Question Time Woman – the one whom the BBC helped go viral with her rant about immigration.

You could say that spotting doppelgangers is a family tradition. My father used to hoot with laughter at the same phenomenon.

Then there’s tattoos. I’m not a great one for self-adornment. Ugly, smudgy products of the tattooist’s art up and down your arms, legs, chest, back and God knows where else would not be my preference. Nor would a butterfly surreptitiously creeping down my arse crack, as seen on a number of otherwise undecorated women, do much for me.

Not that I really care, but it’s quite striking how many older people are sporting dragons, demons and satanic symbols. I doubt if they acquired them when they were bank managers or leading lights in the Women’s Institute. Retirement, and the presumably example of their juniors, have clearly inspired them. Nothing like living a little, eh?

Trouble, is, older folk, like me, look bad enough without covering themselves with ink. But hey, it’s their choice I guess, and a gruesome form of entertainment for the rest of us.

The third source of censorious delight is beards and moustaches. Again, I’m not a fan, especially on men.

Perhaps it also stems from my childhood, when my father made a mild comment about moustaches. He didn’t like them, because he thought they made people look irritable. I’ll go further than him, and say that the more flamboyant the moustache, the scarier it makes its wearer seem. Think of Merv Hughes, an Australian cricketer for whom the phrase “you looking at me, pal?” might have been invented.

My Dad also had a few things to say about beards. He thought that a lot of people grew them to disguise undesirable facial characteristics, such as a weak chin. I took that one on board too, especially when I looked at portraits of deeply insecure leaders such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany.

At one time in my life, I grew a beard. It was in the early seventies, when every self-respecting hippy bearded up. But it didn’t last long. I got fed up with having to sponge out drops of tomato soup, or comb it to remove bits of cheese and other foodstuffs that made an attractive target for passing squirrels when I was asleep.

Since then I’ve done without a furry face. Likewise a moustache.

I accept that there are beards and beards, and what men wear on their faces is entirely up to them. I also have no problem when people feel they have to wear them out of a sense of religious obligation. But subject to that exception, beards don’t impress me. For starters, they wipe out half of the facial expression to be seen on the unbearded. Do these folks like to be seen as men of mystery? Then there’s the idea that wearing a beard saves you having to shave. Those who wear carefully contoured beards shave the bit around them as often as anyone else.

Whether beards are the result of vanity or insecurity, I still don’t understand. Since women seem to get along fine with smooth faces, why not men?

Some beards are worse than others. I particularly dislike the type sported by overweight, gun-toting good ole boys from America who look as though someone has smeared something unpleasant from their upper lips down to beneath their chins. And then there are hipster beards, as prissy and self-righteous as their owners.

As for moustaches, apart from the Merv Hughes spectacular,

which has become as much an Aussie signature as the American facial smear, I dislike two types particularly. Adolf Hitler did for the toothbrush, but there remains the extended-Adolf favoured by Blakey from On the Buses (with apologies to anyone under 50 and not British who wouldn’t have a clue what I’m on about).

And then there’s the carefully sculpted, inverted V-shaped specimen, a moustache that might look great on a movie star, but not so good on a half-naked paunchy sunbather of a certain age.

Also up there on my list is the John Bolton shaggy number, which is a relic from the 70s.

In Bolton’s case it seems indicative of a person so welded to his self-image that he couldn’t contemplate any other look. Or perhaps he just likes being recognised in restaurants.

About the only moustache that doesn’t leave the wearer with a permanent scowl belongs to Tom Selleck, who manages to look pretty genial despite his adornment.

To my delight there have been examples of all sorts on this holiday. So I’ve been able to tut-tut to my heart’s content.

God knows what everybody else says about me during my rare public appearances. That old slob with the hat goes swimming every morning. Who does he think he is – Tarzan in his dotage? In fact, it’s a probably a vanity to believe that other people people-watch as much as we do. But what’s the fun in sitting at breakfast resolutely glued to one’s mobile phone, or fixated on yet another the fried egg sitting on the plate.

If it’s OK to sit at a kerbside café in Paris watching the world go by, then surely it’s no bad thing to sit in a restaurant in Thailand watching our fellow detritus waddle past?

Anyway, tomorrow we’re off home. Time to get the face masks out and run the airport gauntlet. I shall be looking with keen interest for a Dr House clone on the plane.

From → Postcards, Social, Travel, UK

  1. Andrew Robinson permalink

    Excellent uplifting “about nowt in particular” post – definitely written on a “proper” holiday. A question: How did you know about the squirrel? Did you wake up? Was it red or grey? – 3 questions in fact….Oh yes, did he/she like the cheese?

    I remember, decades ago, hearing someone on TV saying that when the French were surveyed on their pastimes, the number one Gallic hobby was….”people-watching with a coffee at a café, sitting in the sun….” (I thought, those are the sort of people I want to live with…).

    You know the rest…

    • As far as my addled mind can recall, it was the second Glastonbury, a time when you (and squirrels) had the space to run free… Grey, I suspect.

  2. Andrew Robinson permalink

    P.S. Dr. House is currently “non-captaining” the space cruise ship “Avenue 5” (an Ianucci creation)…where, art mimicking life, the guests have to stay “on holiday” 3 years longer than planned. Recommended.

    • Yep, can’t wait to see it when home! Along with Homeland, Baghdad Central and more….

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