The Chronicles of Dhaka #6
July is nearly here! The same sweltering time of year that, more than a decade ago, the kids came for a visit to BD! As they stepped off the plane, they seemed unfazed by the sauna heat or the man hammering in a concrete slab right next to his workmate’s skull or the women and children with bricks on their heads or the patient having his tooth pulled out with pliers by the roadside dentist, but then, they were born in Brighton.
After a jet-lagged sugar-rush kicked in, whereby two artisan lamps got smashed and the white sofa got smeared in Toblerone, the honeymoon period for mother-missing-kids was over and it was bedtime.
In the following week, my offspring had a ball in mad Dhaka, especially the crazy parties and breakneck-speed rickshaw rides. Although, my then 13-year-old son wasn’t too keen on our lovely driver wanting to hold his hand. Reassuring him that this was a compliment, a rite of male passage,
I also promised him that no photos would make it home.
We took a river trip on a 300-year-old wooden boat (not the one pictured above) with a large, jolly group, which was magical; Dhaka soon disappeared, and the emerald green riverbanks were dotted with excited welcoming kids, fishermen hailed us as they passed by, and dolphins leapt in our wake. As the glorious orange sun dipped below the horizon, my daughter took a swig from a large bottle of water from the makeshift bar. Horrified, she went to spit it out, at which I admonished her for being rude about the local bottled water. However, when the barman intervened and advised us that it was one of the other passengers’ "water", I realised the poor girl had had a gut-full of vodka; the perils of westerners pretending they follow local teetotal rules.
Then we flew south in a 12-seater plane which the kids loved because the white-knuckle turbulence was like being on a rollercoaster … that was until we hit a particularly deep pocket and my son started packing up his Top Trump Pokémon cards super-fast, bless him.
Our accommodation was a wooden hut at an Eco Resort in Cox's Bazar, set next to the world's longest unbroken beach (this is before its current location as the world’s largest refugee settlement for those poor Myanmar folk). We had a lot of fun there; apart from inferno night-time temperatures in a hut that was inhabited by most of London Zoo, including a toad the size of a biscuit tin.
I am very proud of my tough children.
Holidays over, it was straight back into the brouhaha of making a television programme in the Ramadan month where people fast all day and eat all night, don’t get enough sleep and are therefore (understandably) knackered all the time. August & TV don’t work, I discovered. And then there’s the weather.
On rehearsal day, the area for our Outside Broadcast filming was deliciously green. However, on the first day of shoot, the late monsoon season arrived! Hurrah! It was Biblical! Filming was abandoned as we watched the grass turn into mud. At first, it was amusing - it was Glastonbury. However, as the day drew on, it became The Somme.
Eventually, the rain abated and, employing plucky rickshaws to ferry all contestants, plus our fabulous presenter Munmun, through the quagmire onto set, we started filming, only for the Imam in the mosque next door to call everyone to prayer. So we stopped, people went and prayed, and then we began again, only for him to start again. It was as if he knew. By 5.30 p.m., the crows arrived in a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’, then came the plague of dragonflies, followed by the mosquitoes, oh and the leeches.
It was just like working at ITV again.
Day Two was another bitch when the talkback failed, and I was reduced to yelling at 100+ people, most of whom had no idea what I was yelling about. (In fact, by then, neither did I). In my bid to hurry people along, I needed to run, and so secured a pair of Size 11 wellington boots, which helpfully acted as anchors and I fell out of them, falling face first in the mud.
Unhelpfully, the large crew watched on as the poor design department struggled to repeatedly re-set the enormous sodden props, and when the entire set blew over during the lunch break, none of the camera-guarding security officers deemed it worth alerting anyone to. At that point, I very nearly took a trip to the mosque next door.
Remember lovely Kaká the Toilet Boy from the studio shoot? Well, his new role was now Umbrella Boy, which consisted mainly of shadowing yours truly wherever I went in an attempt to shield me from the blistering sun, bucketing downpours or raging insects. This included any trips to the loo, a hole in the ground with tap and bucket, which served all one hundred of us. Oh how fondly I thought back to that studio toilet we all queued for.
The weather still unsettled, we reconvened to a vast studio, which had no air con. In a Kew Gardens' hot house crammed with over 140 people, we filmed more giant games with more hot, tetchy contestants. On the last day, in anticipation of an early wrap, the eager crew struck the entire studio and most of the set while I was still directing – it was like piranhas stripping a cow.
After that, I went to the Radisson for the night where I indulged in the outrageously costly spa and drank the most disgusting and most expensive glass of wine I’ve ever had. I also lay by the pool and pretended I was somewhere else, that was until the earthquake tremor – the earth literally moved. Ironically, I was on the phone to my husband at the time, who took the credit.
And, naturally, as I wailed about the exacting shoot, announcing that I wanted to quit and come home, he replied:
“What? And leave Show Business?”