Wrong turn in the Valley of Windmills

At my age, any new sensation tends to either be an ache or a pain, however, on New Year’s Day I was up at 6am, which was definitely a ground-breaking feeling. I hasten to add this wasn’t because I hadn’t made it to bed after a night’s revelry. Admittedly in the distant past there might have been several occasions in Bangkok when I’ve witnessed dawn on Jan 1 before hitting the sack, but we won’t go into that.

At our Chaiyaphum abode, the wife and friends had decided an excursion to Khao Kho in Petchabun province was in order, demanding an unwelcome early start. Despite protestations from my long-suffering body, I just about managed it. In fact, it turned out to be a rewarding experience watching the sunrise on the first day of the year, although I admit to being more accustomed to appreciating sunsets, preferably with a sundowner or two.

This partly explains why on New Year’s morning, I found myself standing at the foot of a giant wind turbine in the hills of Khao Kho, in a place dubbed the “Valley of Windmills”. It was not exactly what had been planned. We were visiting friends who live nearby, but took a wrong turn and ended up on top of a mountain, which just happened to be home to 24 wind machines.

It was rare case when a wrong turn actually turned out to be not entirely bad news. I prefer nature untouched, but these machines straddling the mountain didn’t look particularly intrusive and of course generate important electricity supplies.

Although wind turbines have been a common sight for years, this was the first time I had been up close and personal. The sheer height (110 metres) and the 59-metre span of the blades are quite humbling if you happen to be standing directly below them.

Most importantly, it wasn’t even noon on New Year’s Day and Old Crutch was standing on top of a mountain. I suspect that won’t happen again in a hurry.

Worlds apart

Looking across the valley, my imagination got the better of me. The turbines sparked memories of those mechanical monsters in the movie of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, in which Tom Cruise saves civilisation once again. But unlike those ugly tripods, the Khao Kho machines are relatively easy on the eye and have come in peace.

Not that it was entirely peaceful, as the area was swamped with local tourists. There were the inevitable souvenir stalls full of what you would expect, including some rather sorry-looking plastic windmills. But on the mountain, there was an abundance of flowers, strawberry fields and healthy-looking cabbages — and a magnificent view, befitting the New Year.

The wind also displayed its versatility, not only energising the machines but helping us mad dogs to keep cool in the midday sun, a timely reminder that Mother Nature still prevails.

Indoor steeplechase

The wind turbines obviously don’t have the character of the old wooden windmills I recall from childhood bicycle rides in the Oxfordshire countryside. Such windmills, which seemed quaint even back in those ancient times, still play cameo roles in TV series like Midsomer Murders.

However, it was a windmill of a very different nature which attracted my attention when I strayed into London’s Soho as a youth in the mid-1960s. The Windmill Theatre, located on Great Windmill Street, was a variety and review theatre which had a reputation as being a bit “naughty”, as it featured Windmill Girls who posed naked on the stage. Strict censorship laws meant the women weren’t allowed to move, so they posed motionless and became known as tableaux vivants (living pictures) or works of art.

The review was non-stop so there was a chaotic scramble for seats when people from the front rows departed, prompting those at the back to clamber over rows of chairs in desperation to get a better view of these “works of art”. Staff called it the “Windmill Steeplechase”, the grand prize being a front-row seat — alas no carrots.

Always open

The Windmill achieved a quasi- sentimental status in Britain for never closing during World War II, despite heavy bombing, and during the Blitz the entertainers took cover in underground floors. The Windmill’s owners used the “We Never Closed” slogan to promote the place after the war, which comedians inevitably adapted to “We Never Clothed”.

Alas, in 1964, with sleazy Soho strip clubs making the Mill’s shows seem quite tame, the Windmill transformed into a cinema.

Among famous comedians who began their careers at the Windmill were Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsythe and Tony Hancock. It was an unenviable task trying to amuse an audience that was only interested in the works of art.

Singles alert

The following singles ad recently appeared in the Atlanta Journal:

“Single black female seeks male companionship. Ethnicity not important. I am a very good-looking girl who loves to play. I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping and fishing trips. Cozy winter nights lying by the fire. Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand. When you get home from work I will be at the front door wearing only what nature gave me. Call … and ask for Daisy.”

More than 1,500 men found themselves talking to the Atlanta Humane Society about an eight-week-old black Labrador retriever.

Contact PostScript via email at oldcrutch@hotmail.com