Postcard from Lille Valete


Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2020

They say that as soon as you’ve finished writing your story then you’ve reached the point when you have to write it. They are correct. Words, like muscles, need flexed and re-used over and over again. Especially if you’ve been writing to a deadline, there was never a synopsis and, famously, at times you were still finishing an episode on WordPress after it had already been published.

By the time our never-ending trip to Lille appears as an e-book, it will shorter, sharper, faster moving and easier to understand. Perhaps if I just write myself out of it? To ensure that the 49p (a quarter of the price of a high street cup of coffee) you invest in the download is wasted, may I tell you in advance what happened to the characters and places?

Shall we start with the easy ones? No need to reach for an old address book or social media, they keep in touch via the front pages of every newspaper in the world. Our old mucker ‘Rod’, former mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, is now the vigorous 16th modern president of the Philippine Republic. We should have stayed and cultivated him. We could have been rich, important and famous by now (or dead in a ditch).

Hubert Webb was, as expected, convicted of the Vizconde massacre and spent fifteen years in prison, five of which were on remand, before being (sort of) pardoned. Seven out of fifteen Supreme Court judges ruled in his favour. Four found against him and four abstained. It’s my understanding, and I’m often wrong, that he would have been released anyway, under a presidential pardon granted by the then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The court agreed with the appellant that ‘Jessica Alfaro was not an actual eyewitness to the crime, but a National Bureau of Investigation asset pretending to be an eyewitness’.

They are probably correct, with a number of terrified witnesses’ statements having been put into Alfonzo’s mouth in order to try to secure a conviction against a wealthy and well-connected suspect. Five of Webb’s co-accused were also released. Two others, Artemio Ventura and Joey Filart, remain at large to this day. Officer Biong, having been convicted of a lesser offence had been released previously.

In the way in which these things have to be altered about in order to tell a good tale, myself and my wife left the Philippines via Hong Kong, for the last time promptly after ‘leaving’ jail. Remember the notorious ‘dentist’s chair’ in China Jump? When you’re on your way back to Blighty, all you wanted to do is sleep, and you’re kept awake by Gaza smashing up First Class? In the e-book, you may read what I had to say to Graham Kelly.

Our paths had crossed previously. Holidaying in the Lake District, he dragged Mrs Kelly to a Workington Reds match. A linesman having been overcome by hypothermia (or was it frostbite?), a call was put out for someone with the appropriate FA badges. Mr Kelly volunteered and ran the line. Top man.

Gisele did de-camp to California and there she remains with her mother, ‘Nini’. Her father died many years ago. Gisele continues to thunder through life at a hundred miles an hour, busy-busy-busy with her businesses and network-network-network. I know all of this from stalking Facebook, we are yet to have that awkward, ‘I’ve written a book about you’ phone call. Bits of the ‘Anglo Philippine Enterprise and Friendship Company’ remain, although I sold my advance earnings years ago, part of the reason why (fingers crossed) I live in underserved and uninterrupted comfort, way beyond my apparent declared income, during a lockdown.

Those naughty girl twins continued a provincial life in ‘Josephina’ and have children of their own. In the modern style, they don’t both have husbands. I didn’t realise that Matilde the maid girl was one of the cousins until I found her on Facebook. All grown up now, she has her own daughter. Has she sent her to be a bullied maid? Or has the cycle been broken? Miss Cortez married an American businessman and is partway through, in the effortless way that the Filipino wife can, turning his millions into billions.

The other Miss Cortez is still in the Gulf, mother of a grown-up son, wife of an engineer. Her bothers are professional gentlemen. Her father retired from the docks. They are occasionally in touch.

My eighth cousin ten times removed, Lotus Blossom, has taken one of those DNA tests and is insisting that I do the same. I am stalling. As you know, these fingers could never type an untruth, and I’m sure none of my ancestors could have either. Every single story passed down through the family (mine and yours) is true. Being extremely farfetched, in these odd times, just makes it sound even truer. It would be a shame if a mistake at the DNA factory cast doubt on such things, and meant that DNA evidence took a meat cleaver to that e-book. My DNA kit remains in its box, like that cat of Schrodinger’s, better left undisturbed.

Princess Fads did introduce me to her husband, a very sullen chap, didn’t say a word. She whispered to me that he wasn’t very keen on the infidel. Added to which, I think she might have told him about our trip to the gynaecologists. The RAND organisation does all of these things online now and is unlikely to make the same mistake again.

The Remittance Bank has barely survived, Paypal and Western Union having diminished it. It has been severely merged, through a series of complex deals based in Hong Kong, but does retain a couple of offices in un-likely places. If I may quote myself, ‘If you want to be rich, own a bank.’ That mountain of money was very well preserved (as mountains of money often are) and ‘cousin’ Malanga remains comfortable and very well-travelled. Her brother, who never got a mention, apart from a photo of his business card, is involved in the ‘God for Business’ movement. Good for him.

Businessman and philanthropist Geronimo De Reyes goes from strength and has added a ‘los’ to his name to make himself sound like gentry. Why not? Evangelista really did pretend to be my wife and really did spend-spend-spend-spend-spend and charge it all to my account. Life’s never dull.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
A piece from the Imelda Marcos collection (ownership disputed).
L’église à Vétheuil- Claude Monet. ChristiesPublic Domain

Ninety-year-old Imelda Marcos is still about the place as is her son, Ferdinand junior, who President Rod persists in threatening to make Vice-President. She continues to add to the common merriment. She has even made a contribution to the language. When something is shamelessly vulgar it is ‘Imeldific’.

The Swagman is still there, according to Street View. That big plastic Dirty Digger still winks knowingly at passers-by on the glitzy Ermita ‘strip’. He has a new companion, an outsized plastic kangaroo. The little steam engine at Fort Santiago seems to have rotted to dust. Josefina apartments have been done up and had a name change. Singalong street is still there. The Manila Pavillion, thinly disguised as the ‘Orchid’, was burnt out and hasn’t re-opened.

Intramuros golf course seems to be free of squatters, as does the Post Office building. San Augustin Street in Makati City just looks the same, except that the invention of Wifi and the smartphone seems to have increased the amount of cabling visible, not reduced it. Parts of Alaya Alabang remain so exclusive that, never mind the plebs, the Street View car isn’t allowed in.

Meanwhile, way down south, Davao City is one of those boom towns best avoided. The Durian sits derelict in the shadow of new skyscrapers. They still talk of Fr Conrad. Next time a missionary priest gives a talk at the end of church, raise your hand and ask of him. There will be a tale to tell.

The Cortez properties at Bajada have been overwhelmed by sprawl. They used to be little bungalows with open land for vegetables and flowers. All the little bungalows have been extended in all directions. The little streets now look like Blade Runner, except worse. Since I was there the population of the Philippines has doubled (same with Pakistan) and it wasn’t exactly deserted to start with.

Victoria Plaza is like a shoebox compared to the new malls. Mr Giasano now has a string of such. The one in General Santos City, in keeping with the ethics of the brand, is ‘temporarily closed due to fire’. The one in Davao City has been bombed twice in recent months. I still have those cotton pants that cost a pound, I wear them in the summer, likewise the silk shirt and Panama hat. Maybe I shouldn’t complain?

As the literal meaning of the word suggests, Utopia never existed, it was a euphemism to show a young man’s attempt to change the world through well-meaning blundering, while ignoring the better-informed locals. Guilty.

As for myself and my wife, within four years of the end of the tale, the two of us had become six. There are six beds in each compartment of an overnight train’s couchette carriage. There is a God in heaven. We went back to Hungary, when the children were small, via ferry and sleeper train. Even more recently, a superfan has visited on a ‘Postcard from Lille’ walking tour. Look out for ‘A Street Corner in Pest’, and book a day off, there’s a lot of it.

Housman told us that the happy highways along which we once went cannot be visited again. Shall we prove him wrong? It is our silver wedding next year. The trade winds whisper to me in my sleep. These days there is a Trump Tower in Manila. Imeldific.

Next Time, a new adventure!

© Always Worth Saying 2020

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