April 14, 2007

Nicholas Stoodley - Living in the Twilight Zone Chapter 9

Tune in every Saturday as Nicholas recalls the Disco Decade in Manila when Martial Law, Cuban heels, Donna Summer, Coco Banana and a lot of hair combined in a frenzy of uncertain excitement.

Chapter 9 - Camelot

One almost got used to it; waking up one morning and finding it quieter than normal. Usually I would be woken at about 6am by the sound of the garbage truck slowly advancing its way down the street outside my house with its horn blaring in a non-stop repetition of shrill sharp blasts guaranteed to wake all but the dead! This was the signal for my maids to haul the huge rusty old oil drum that we used for the garbage out into the street. There they would wait gossiping with all the other maids who were doing the same thing. They twittered like pigeons.

Occasionally though, the street was eerily calm: no garbage trucks, no children playing or cars passing. No maids gossiping, no scavengers scavenging before the garbage truck reached their quarry. Just an eerie calm. Most unusual in Manila! Tell tale signs of another coup! You forgot how many after the first few and became almost blase about them. "Sorry I'm late Sir, there's another coup," was an excuse at the office that was considered on about the same level as, "Sorry I'm late Sir, but I had LBM."

It had been one of those quiet mornings. Nesing, my maid, had appeared with my usual cup of tea but no newspaper. "Good Morning Sir."
"Morning Nesing."
"What would you like for breakfast Sir?"
"Nesing, where's the newspaper?"
"No newspaper Sir," No explanation had been forthcoming so I returned to the question of breakfast.
"I'll have poached eggs please."
"Sorry Sir only one egg left."
"Well then, poached egg."
"What Sir?"
"One, just one poached egg then!"

No doubt Nesing would have normally then informed me that there was no bread left and we'd carry on our little game until eventually I had ascertained what my breakfast was likely to be that morning, but a new element had been introduced that probably explained the absence of the newspaper.

"Can I please take the afternoon off Sir?"
"I suppose so, why?"
"There's a coup Sir."

I wondered what the connection was. Was she somehow involved in the proceedings? Was she going to watch, something that many of her countrymen chose to do - rather like going to the movies? Worse, was she perhaps planning to manufacture homemade bombs in the garage for delivery to the rebels? Nesing answered my unasked question. "My sister Sir, she lives near the base." That made it a bit clearer. There were two large military bases right slap bang in the middle of Manila and of course in any coup that was not the best area to be living near.

"Who's winning?" I asked, assuming she's been following the progress on the radio.
"The coup, what's happening?"
"Oh, I don't know Sir....just like before." It was no big deal.

This particular coup was being carried out live on the radio and after listening for a few minutes it became clear that the action was, as yet, confined to certain well-defined areas of Manila and the rest of the city was basically carrying on life as normal; which is what I decided to do. I had work. Unfortunately my car was being repaired after having descended into an enormous bottomless pit which is called a pothole in Manila. "Nesing!" I shouted, There was no answer. She was in her room listening to a hysterical news reporter giving a blow by blow account of the coup as though it was an Olympic event. After several attempts she finally emerged from her room looking annoyed at the interruption but then that was a normal expression. I had asked her to get me a taxi and a few seconds later I hear her scream Anna's (my other maid) name as loudly as she could. Equally loudly, and from the other side of the yard, Anna shouted back. "TAXI!" Screamed Nesing. That was how they communicated if it were at all possible - positioning themselves as far apart as they could and then screaming at each other.

Anna had produced a suspiciously new looking taxi almost instantaneously which was strange in a city where you could never get a taxi when you wanted one and they were, on average, at least twenty years old in those days! Telling the driver my destination I was promptly informed that there was a coup. He further went on to inquire if he could make a detour because of this coup which seemed pretty reasonable to me, I had even flippantly said he could take a long detour if he wanted. After all I wouldn't want to get involved in the action that was coming in off the car radio at full blast!

"And now we switch over to out mobile reporter, Rod Reyes, who's at this moment just outside Camp Crame........Rod? come in Rod......(sound of static)....hello? Rod? are you there?" There was the sound of a loud explosion followed immediately by loud cheering.
"Yes, Nestor, I'm.......standing here (boom....boom) in front of Camp Crame....there's thick black smoke coming from....here they come again! (boom....boom!....more cheering)......and it's a direct hit! Smoke really pouring out from the main command post now and the crowd of people here this morning....(ka-BOOM)......that was really a big one Nestor!......there's an........(boom)................"
"Rod?.....hello Rod....are you there? (sounds of yelling then cheering again).....Rod.....ROD?"

It transpired Rod was still alive and the coup proceeded in gripping detail as I wondered which way my taxi driver would take as he took a right turn down a side street not far from the Camelot Hotel - a somewhat seedy recollection of Las Vegas motel masquerading as a whimsical castle done out in pre-cast concrete and King Arthur Gothic. At that particular moment the hotel was temporary home to a contingent of rebel soldiers who were, as we headed towards the action, trading pot shots with government troops. I had thought foolishly that the "short detour" was because the driver wanted to avoid trouble, not actively seek it out!

Previously: Chapter 8 - Coco Banana

Start from the beginning! Read: Chapter 1 - An English Virgin

Nicholas Stoodley was born near London and has lived at one time or another in the South of France, Rome, Sydney, Tagaytay, England, Paris and Manila with plans to move to Ibiza shortly. A former assistant to Valentino in Rome, he arrived in Manila in 1976 and pioneered Ready to Wear in the Philippines with the NICHOLAS STOODLEY brand of casual clothing. During his stay in the Philippines Nicholas also won the PBA Invitational Basketball Conference in 1980 with his team from Los Angeles, designed and manufactured a Stainless Steel Sports Utility Jeep that was featured in the Frankfurt Motor Show and opened "Skatetown", a Roller Disco with Jorge Araneta in Cubao. And that was just the first course!

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