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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

50 Days to launch

The bugger about growing older is that it’s an invisible act of decay. Like watching a rose bloom, one minute it’s a bulging bud and the next it’s as vast as a cauliflower, falling to pieces, and soiling its vase water. Yesterday, against all odds, I turned 34 years old, which no doubt some of you will think sounds old, and others will deem it mere spring chickendom. The thing is, I felt exactly the same on the morning of my birthday as I’d felt the previous night when I was still a youthful and vigorous 33 year old – apart from the blinding hangover that is. Now 34, I considered my somewhat haggered and unshaven face in the bathroom mirror and tried to analyse my visage dispassionately. My Dorian Gray moment was shattered by a sly mosquito who emerged out of a small potted bathroom fern with intent to give me the Gecko treatment. In Cambodia the nocturnal female mosquitos spread malaria, and by day, a different species of female mozzie spreads Dengue fever. There is no mention of the rare Dawn and Dusk mosquito in my guidebook, although local wisdom has it that they’re devout pacifists that only spread goodwill.

I lunged forward and thumped my palm into the wall, but the cunning Mrs Dengue evaded my swing and sniggered loudly as my hand crashed into the wall. I am pleased to report that after a swift and bloody battle I triumphed over the death fever carrier and thumped her into the basin in a splatter of blood. But it was my blood on the basin, and my ankle now had a nasty pink welt and itched like hell. Happy Birthday Johnno – you may be 34 but you still have a way with the ladies…

Jules and I took to the streets of Phnom Penh for a leisurely lunch – well actually it was a debaucherously late breakfast and outside the airconditioned hotel the heat was oppresive and the noise of motorbikes and the chaos of the Asian street was everywhere. We chose a french coffee shop on the corner and settled in for a languid feast and some freshly brewed Khymer coffee. My eyes, as always, scanned the street and then fell upon the coffee shop entrance where a customer waited patiently to be served. He was over three metres tall and weighed in at a portly three and a half tons.

Jules said calmly, “There’s an elephant on the veranda”. And there he stood in all his glory staring right at us like he was expecting something. My God, I thought, what does one order an elephant in a coffee shop. Bottomless Coffee? A crowd of onlookers gathered, a few cameras snapped away whilst the rest of us gaped at the sight of an elephant in a coffee shop in the middle of a bustling city.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    April 21st, 2009 @18:02 #

    Happy birthday, John. Nice to know we're reading the same horoscope, despite the obvious discrepancy in outcome.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Vanessa</a>
    April 22nd, 2009 @13:09 #

    Happy birthday John! Does anyone know when Learning to Fly will be available in Australia?


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