The Despicable Dust – SPECIAL GUEST WRITER

Introducing special guest – Limey Snacket

LIMEY SNACKET is a gifted writer who was born very far from wherever you are. He’s also taller than you and widely regarded as the greatest violinist ever born, despite never having picked up a violin. Today is his birthday.

I’ll start by telling you immediately, right now and from the beginning, not to continue reading this sad story. I know James likes to write nice things about nice people in nice places, but I’m not him, and I’m warning you in advance that what follows is all sadness and misery. If you want fantastic adventures in a variety of wonderful places then I suggest you click ‘back’ and look somewhere else. This terrible tale takes place on just one road, the Horrible Highway 6, from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and it concerns the final 115km that James, our poor protagonist, and Dora, his even greater burdened bicycle, took to reach it. So again I implore you, if you value your happiness, to stop reading, or else you’ll be wholly miserable in about five minutes. The people and events in this frightful feature are entirely factual, though I’m sure many of you will choose to take them with a pinch of salt, a phrase that in this case means you won’t believe that this part of James’ cycle was as miserable as I’m saying, even though it really was. What I’m not saying is that you eat whatever device your reading this awful anecdote on with the amount of sodium chloride that can be held between a thumb and forefinger, I ensure you it won’t improve the taste of a smartphone. But if you insist on reading on, then I’ll begin.

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James has sometimes been called bright, clever, funny and handsome, but ‘a bit dim’ has also been uttered on more than one occasion, particularly when it comes to bank cards, flight bookings and remembering to brush his teeth. James is, for now, a cyclist and it’s easy to tell when he’s thinking about something as he has the unattractive habit of nibbling on the ends of his very fine facial hair. His bicycle, Dora, is a bicycle.

James woke up the morning our story starts with a jump. He was jumping partly because he’s always surprised when he wakes up, partly because he’d been dreaming about flesh-eating caterpillars and partly because what looked like an entire village was standing just five feet away from his hammock, watching as he casually scratched himself. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t the whole village, as they didn’t get to stare at him until five minutes later when he was pushing his way through said village feeling pretty embarrassed, until he reached Horrible Highway 6.
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One thing you need to know about this shocking stretch of road is that it’s dusty. I don’t mean dusty like the top of your wardrobe might be dusty if you haven’t cleaned in a while. Or even as dusty as an old and very dusty attic room filled with spiders, much like the one I’m hiding in now as the police search my house below. I mean desert storm, can’t see, can’t breath, can’t do much at all kind of dusty.
“Eeeek, clunk!” lamented Dora. Now Dora is, of course, a bicycle, and like most bicycles she mostly talks in unintelligible screeches and horrible clunks. So when she said “eeeek, clunk”, what she probably meant was something like “not again James, this looks worse than yesterday and my cogs are still clogged with gunk”. James just nodded in grim agreement before clumsily throwing a leg over and setting off, to the dismay of his saddle sores.

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They cycle and cycled, getting dustier and dustier and itchier and more clogged, for hours. James had no choice but to grit his teeth as they pushed on. The phrase ‘grit his teeth’ usually describes the act of pressing your top and bottom teeth together, usually in anger or determination. Here, however, it literally means, he gritted his teeth, as despite wearing a surgical mask to prevent exactly that sort of thing, James’ teeth were being coated in layers of dust and dirt that crunched every time he tried to nibble his very fine facial hair. Usually cheerful, or at least in a kind on ‘cycling zone’ where his brain keeps busy while his body is on autopilot, James couldn’t deny that the dust was really bringing him down. “This dust is really bringing me down” he moaned to the only person who would listen, Dora, who isn’t really a person at all. “Clunk-chk-chk-eeek!”, she replied, which most likely meant something along the lines of “stop complaining and clean my chain again before it’s ground to a fine powder.”

Another thing that made James’ day even more miserable was that his jaw and arms were hurting. The reason for this is that the people of Cambodia always seem to be very happy and quite glad to see him as he rolls by on his bicycle with his surgical mask and his holey bike bags, so they often stop what they’re doing to smile and wave at him. As this is a very nice thing to do and it makes James very happy as he momentarily forgets that he’s cycling through a vortex of despicable dust, he always tries to wave and smile back. This is why his jaw hurts, from all the smiling, and his arms ache, from all the waving. Dora doesn’t really approve of all this smiling and waving, neither do I for that matter. Smiling and waving always reminds me of the horrible grin on Count Offal’s face as he locked me in a birdcage and stole both my dearest love and my favourite parrot. The reason that Dora didn’t approve is because sometimes, when James was smiling and waving with particular enthusiasm, he often forgot he was on a bike at all, and had an unfortunate tendency to swerve into traffic, or cows, or even off the road entirely, which more than once made him fall of the bike and further damage his bike bags.

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After five hours of dusty cycling, James and Dora found that they were just one hour from Phnom Penh. As a reward he decided to get himself a big, fresh, ice cold coconut, filled with lots of fresh, ice cold coconut milk. He also gave Dora’s chain a good clean with extra oil, and a man told James that the road from here to the city wasn’t dusty at all, but lovely, sealed tarmac.  Soon, thought James, he’d arrive at a nice, cheap hostel where he could have a nice hot shower and forget all about Horrible Highway 6.

Now you might be thinking that this is all building to a happy ending. But you’d be wrong. As I warned you from the start, this is a tale of misery and woe. If that’s what you’re after then I suggest you close this page now and go and make a sandwich, or a donation to Hope for Children, or something like that. You may then spend the rest of your life thinking that James made it to Phnom Penh on a wonderful sealed Tarmac road and soon found a hostel, which had never seen a dirtier, dustier thing arrive on their doorstep. You’ll keep believing that he had a lovely hot shower, made some new friends on the rooftop bar and slept like a log in a real bed with nice sheets and not a single flesh eating caterpillar. But I’m afraid that’s not how the story goes.

DSCF6761The shower was cold.

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