In the meantime, we have to make do with the other clues that tell us we’ve had too much. A spinning bedroom, a throbbing liver and a tongue like a piece of Jomtien beach—these are indicators that it is possible to be rather too generously endowed with good things, though I have to say the dial idea would be a vast improvement.
Mrs Pobaan has never been able to accept that she could have too many handbags until today. Hitherto, she has found it difficult to pass by a handbag shop without going inside, or staying glued to the window display at an absolute minimum. Handbags for Mrs Pobaan are like a pound of sausages for a ravenous hound. She sniffs them out and falls on them with rapacious glee as if she had been denied access to handbags for a year.
The thing that’s strange to me is that she has a cupboard full of handbags, none of which she ever actually uses. True, she occasionally takes one out and admires it, or poses with it in front of the mirror, but she never puts things in it or carries it around, and these are the two things that, to the Pobaan mind, handbags are actually meant for.
Today, we travel to Aranya Prathet, a three-hour slog by road from Pattaya. The town may be familiar to readers who are obliged (you’re not going to do it willingly) to cross a national border every now and then to get your visa renewed. Aranya Prathet is close to the frontier with Cambodia and, apparently, does a roaring trade in visa renewals. The town is unremarkable except that it is the location of the Roang Kluea market which must be the biggest market in the solar system. It’s so big that they hire out golf buggies for you to get about from, as it were, bras to men’s underpants. Or vice-versa if you’re so inclined. Walking around Roang Kluea is not an option, not if you’re going to see half of it.
The place is huge. They have a whole road of stalls that sell only hats. You could spend a week here just looking at hats. There are hectares of hats—more hats, you would think, than there are heads to put them on.
And then when we turn a corner, we find ourselves in a boulevard of bags, and enter an area the size of a town where every shop is a handbag shop. This is Bagville, Bagopolis, the capital of Bagland, a small nation whose economy is based solely on purveying receptacles for feminine paraphernalia. When we arrive in town, you’d think that Mrs Pobaan would be in heaven. Everywhere she turns, there are bags; bags here, bags there. Look up—there are bags hanging from the roof. Look down—you’re walking around big cardboard boxes full of bags. Look over there—women with sewing machines are turning out Guccis and Louis Vuitons by the dozen. You want Dior? Wait a moment, they’ll run you up a Dior. I look to my lovely wife, the mustard on my pork pie, to share in her ecstasy.
But there is no joy. She’s bored. She’s overwhelmed. She wants to go home. There are so many handbags, she can’t pick out one in particular to admire. She’s suffering handbag overload. She has OD’ed on bags. She’s had too much of a good thing.
We return to the car. Roang Kluea market is so big we actually have to use our handheld GPS device to find where we parked it. We drive back to the road past spreading acres of clothes. Our visit was perhaps a bit of a disappointment but, not to worry, it’s only three hours’ drive home.
When we’ve cleared the suburbs, I attempt a little light conversation. ‘I thought you liked handbags,’ I begin.
‘I do, but not like that.’
‘Maybe you have enough handbags already.’
‘No, never enough.’
‘But you never use the ones you have.’
‘Some of them aren’t really my style.’
This is the telling comment. This is the confession that cuts me like a machete. It’s the one I could hear coming, slashing its way through the jungle of unspoken explanations.
You see, quite a few of those handbags in Mrs Pobaan’s cupboard have been gifts from her loving husband. That’s me. Although she has always greeted such presents with admirable quantities of gratitude, the articles themselves have tended to be sent to the back of the cupboard rather than be used. And now I know: they’re not really her style.
I try to throw off the idea of white elephants, but they come at me, stampeding through the undergrowth. Albino elephants are, of course, sacred and thus let off work. In Thailand, such animals have traditionally been gifted to the king to show that he reigned with justice and power, and that the kingdom was blessed with peace and prosperity. That’s all very well, but elephants eat rather a lot, so a non-working jumbo is a bit of a financial burden on its new owner, making the gift a bit of a mixed blessing.
I realise with horror that, although well-intentioned, I have lumbered my wife with a cupboard full of mixed blessings, handbags she cannot discard for fear of offending me and which she doesn’t wish to be seen dead carrying about.
I understand that currently there are about ten white elephants living happily in the royal stables, which is great, and an example to anyone who considers their unloved gifts to be a burden in any way.