Z is scrutinising Lonely Planet South-East Asia with an expression I can only describe as panic.
“Mum,” he says. “I really don’t think it’s a good idea to go to Vang Vieng.”
Vang Vieng, Laos, is a destination I’ve been to-ing and fro-ing over, as it happens. On balance, I reckon that an other-worldly landscape, white water tubing and caves will more than compensate for the prevalence of happy pizza joints, Western teenagers revelling in reefer-fuelled freedom from the parental home, and 21-year-old Israelis obliterating the memory of their military service. Plus someone has recommended a good guesthouse that’s out of town.
Furthermore, nine-year-old boys and 18-30s on mushroom shakes have rather more in common than either side might care to think. On balance, folk of an age to have children, nephews, nieces etc. think Z will love the tubing, as do I. Folk closer in age to Z than me think that witnessing such decadent scenes of canage will be traumatic for the pair of us.
“Why not?” I ask.
“Read this!” he says, incensed. “Just read it! Read what they say here.”
I know what they say “here”. I look at the passage entitled “Holy Smoke”, detailing a scam whereby locals dressed as plainclothes coppers wind up braying adolescent tourists who are spending a week’s salary on beer and weed and turn a very healthy profit — I’m sorry, exploit innocent travellers on very limited budgets — by imposing hardcore on-the-spot fines for persons in possession of weed.
I say, “Darling, this doesn’t apply to us. Neither of us will be smoking weed. It’s fine.”
“It doesn’t mention weed!” he says. Indeed it doesn’t. It mentions reefers, joints, but not weed.
My eye flips to the last sentence. “Quasi police aside, if you bump into the real article (they’re all plain-clothed in Vang Vieng) you have no choice but to pay the fine or be deported/jailed.”
I can see how this, stripped of the context of the preceding paragraph, could be a truly frightening prospect.
In fact, he is rather alarmed about Vang Vieng altogether. I was chatting to a Dutch guy on the bus from the border, which meant, of course, that we were both chatting to the Dutch guy on the bus from the border, when the topic of Vang Vieng came up, and with it happy pizzas. (That’s a pizza with extra, erm, ‘erb on top.)
Z asked what a happy pizza was. I sort of assumed, coming from Hackney, that they’d have covered most of the basics in school already. But apparently not.
So, I duly explain not just what a happy pizza is, but what marijuana, weed or spliff is, that it’s illegal, and why it’s not a good idea to consume it until you’re at least 18, and possibly not even then.
“Well,” he says, at the end of this. “If anyone comes up to me in a dark alley and tries to make me eat happy pizza I’ll throw shoes at them.”
“You what?” I say, observing that somebody, somewhere, has covered off the evil pusher concept we learned at school during the Heroin Screws You Up campaign.
The Dutch guy, being Dutch, is virtually pissing himself at this point, with suitable Low Countries discretion.
“I’ll throw my shoes at them,” Z says. “Like in that computer game? Based on the guy who threw his shoes at Bush? You play George Bush and you have to escape an entire avalanche of shoes. It’s really funny.”
Like I said.
Nine-year-old boys. Stoners.
Stoners. Nine-year-old boys…