You’re probably wondering why this event is worth recording in this month’s despatch from the Funtown suburbs. I’ll tell you. I haven’t seen a 1.25 litre bottle of Coke Zero since the Bangkok floods sloshed their way into the headlines more than eight months ago.
Before the flood, in what classicists call the antediluvian world, big bottles of the black-labelled cola were everywhere. They were often on special offer at Big C and made a regular appearance in the Pobaan shopping trolley, destined for fairly swift consumption as I enjoy mixing the stuff with Scotch.
But as soon as central Thailand became inundated with what must have been pretty mucky water, deliveries of big bottles of Coke Zero to Big C suddenly dried up. It would be reasonable to surmise that the Coca-Cola factory had disappeared beneath the waves, yet supplies of regular Coke were unaffected. Oddly, Pepsi Max seemed to follow a similar pattern which made me wonder whether it was the sweetener factory that went under; but you could still get Coke Zero in cans and small bottles. The whole affair was, and remains, a mystery.
It made me think about how lucky we are, in this particular corner of Paradise, that by and large we can lay our hands on just about everything we need. Sure, some things are a bit more expensive than we’d like, and come in the smallest and thus dearest packages. Granted, when Mrs Pobaan and I venture as far as Europe, I generally come back with my suitcase full of giant jars of Marmite and Colman’s mustard, while Mrs Pobaan likes to travel with large quantities of chorizo sausage. We have friends who do the same with breakfast cereals. We find dishwasher salt quite difficult to find in Pattaya and more expensive than moon-rock but I draw the line at hefting boxes of common salt half-way across the world. Apart from these trifles, the town provides us with pretty much all we need.
That’s what I thought until this week.
Suddenly, after five years of active service, while I am dreamily mowing my face, my electric shaver makes a crunching noise and disintegrates into a dozen pieces which clatter into the wash basin, leaving me pressing three dangerously spinning spindles to my cheek. I could have done myself a mischief.
I consult the instruction manual which informs me in rather patronising terms that, in a year, the blades on my shaver travel the equivalent of 49 times the journey up Mount Everest, all on my face. This is supposed to impress me with their powers of endurance, but they don’t have to deal with snow and ice on their journey, nor with yetis, so I’m not that sympathetic. Nevertheless, I do accept that I should be replacing them every year, so I go in search of the appropriate parts.
It seems that electric shavers are quite unusual appliances in this part of the world. The locals don’t need to shave as much as we hirsute Northerners so an electric device must seem an unnecessary luxury.
Foot-sore, I return home and log into the trusty internet. I find the shaver parts on sale in America, but the shop won’t deliver to Thailand as that’s classed as abroad. Luckily, my brother lives in the USA (a highly recommended arrangement, by the way) so I get the stuff delivered to him and he sends it on, probably thinking what a backward lot of okies we are over here.
Then in the same week, Mrs Pobaan drops a bombshell. It’s her birthday in a couple of weeks. I know what you’re thinking. Being a good husband, I should have known that already. But you are too quick to condemn. Actually, I did know the date of my beloved’s birthday; I just didn’t realise how close we were to reaching it.
She’d like some perfume, she tells me. Fine, I think, I shall purchase a small vial of fragrant liquid which will bring her much delight. It’s a good plan but unfortunately Mrs Pobaan doesn’t want just any bottle of perfume, she wants Escada Signature.
Can you buy this stuff in any of Pattaya’s likely emporia? Can you heck. I trudge around the sort of shops I wouldn’t normally enter without encouragement from a cattle prod, drawing a series of blanks. I begin to imagine the Escada factory under a couple of metres of floodwater, the bottles of precious fragrance bobbling along in the current that washes them out to sea.
Would Mrs Pobaan accept Dior? No. Givenchy? Chanel? Gucci? Bulgari? They all supply excellent pongs. No. Victoria Beckham? No way.
As before, I revert to the internet. I find that you can get loads of scents made by Escada, but none of them is the right one. They don’t seem to make Signature anymore. I scroll through pages and pages of Google suggestions. As these become increasingly off-target, I become increasing desperate, until I hit upon an outfit in Singapore. They have the right stuff. I breathe a sigh of relief. Luckily, since I don’t have a brother in Singapore, they are willing to send my purchase to this deprived corner of the world we are lucky enough to call home.
Today, I breeze back into Tops to buy another load of Coke Zero.
‘Sorry, no have. Some farang bought our entire stock last week.’