Between you, me and the lamppost
Over the years we have had allegations of wrongdoing involving the entire spectrum of life in Thailand. Among the more unlikely cases have been allegations of questionable facts regarding purchases of items such as school pianos, parliamentary clocks, cows and even kindergarten toys.
The last to go under the microscope is the humble lamppost.
More than 6,700 lampposts adorned with the mythical Kinnaree half-bird, half-man, which appeared in Bang Phli, Samut Prakan, attract attention. It’s not so much the decorations that come under scrutiny as the claims that street lights are overpriced due to unscrupulous approaches to purchasing them. God forbid.
Before we get too excited, fancy street lamps are nothing new to Thailand and are a part of the culture. All over the kingdom all kinds of exotic street lamp decorations can be seen, some tasteful, some not so much. Most reflect the local culture. Chai Nat has royal barges adorning its lamps while Nonthaburi had models of traditional vendors in boats.
One of the most curious exhibits in a Chiang Rai park features a giant catfish coiled around the lamppost. Near Suvarnabhumi Airport, eyebrows have been raised over fanciful airplane models attached to streetlights. Some say they are more like those little planes that adorn the shelves of travel agencies.
A little local color displayed creatively on the streetlights doesn’t hurt, although of course it would be better without shady deals. At least the street lights perform a useful function.
My little self’s main concern is not what the street lights look like, but whether their lights actually work. Dogs like them too, for different reasons.
Besides its important service to the dog community, the lamppost has other functions. For starters, the old Benny Hill TV shows wouldn’t have been the same without someone stepping into a lamppost. It made people laugh even more than the banana peels.
It reminds me of a night in Sukhumvit a few years ago while I was waiting for a taxi. Across the road, three people dressed in funny clothes stumbled out of a taxi. They had probably been to a fancy dress party and seemed quite happy. One was dressed as a Roman centurion with a white tunic and filled with matching helmet, sword, shield and insignia. He looked quite splendid although a little wobbly. He had only taken a few steps when he stepped right into a lamppost. Fortunately, the helmet prevented him from sustaining serious damage to his noggin.
In the aftermath of this temporary setback, the intrepid Centurion defiantly brandishes his sword at the offending lamppost and slipped down the street, scaring the minds of some Thai pedestrians confronted with this deranged ghost. Our valiant Centurion finally vanished into obscurity, a fine example of Roman military motto, virtus and honor (Strength and honor).
There was recognition of the lamppost’s versatility in George Formby’s classic 1937 hit song, Leaning on a lamppost, in which he uses a floor lamp as an unlikely support to pursue a romance. Unlike some issues of Formby, he’s not sassy, and the lyrics tell us “I’m leaning on a lamppost around the corner / In case a certain little lady comes by…”
Fans of lampposts will be delighted to hear that the song is one of Britain’s favorite Queen Elizabeths and is part of her personal top ten. According to Daily Mirror, the Queen told her private secretary that she could sing all of Formby’s songs. Imagine her screaming “Oh me, oh my God, I hope the little lady passes”.
Perhaps the most iconic floor lamp is the one that Gene Kelly is swinging from in this wonderful sequence from the 1952 musical, Sing in the rain.
As he waded through the puddles, Kelly’s performance was all the more remarkable as he was not doing well, suffering from a fever. Being absolutely drenched didn’t help much. Still, the creative way he uses the umbrella as an accessory in his dance routine is quite amazing. The 10ft tall green fiberglass lamppost used in the film was then stolen from the backyard of someone who collected such memorabilia.
As a tribute to Kelly’s performance, in London’s Leicester Square, there is a statue of him dangling from the lamppost, and there is no need for special Hollywood weather effects as London kindly provides the rain and the rain. puddles for free.
In the olden days, when there were gas lamps, lamp lighters in England would ride or ride on strollers lighting the lamps with a wick attached to a long pole. It was a highly respected profession because they made people feel safer on the streets after dark. This proud image was endorsed in one of Charles Dickens’ earliest short stories in 1838 titled Igniter in which the author describes them as “highly moral and thoughtful persons”.
We noticed that in the 2016 film Mary Poppins Returns, Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep from the original 1964 film is replaced by a lamp lighter, an occupation more acceptable to a Disney character than a “Dusty Bob” as chimney sweeps were called.
Surprisingly, there are still 1,500 active gas lamps in London. Maybe we could be in Mary Poppins Returns Again.
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Bangkok Post Columnist
A longtime popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994, he won the Ayumongkol Literary Prize. For many years he was a sports editor for the Bangkok Post.
Email: [email protected]