Rooted to the spot
Benny Hill said it best, with his immortal line in the classic 60s film, The Italian Job: ďAre they big? I like Ďem bigĒ. I do too. Anything big is fine by me.
To be honest, Iím not sure what it is about big stuff that I like. It doesnít matter what it is really, as long as I can use it. Big cars, big furniture, big bikes; anything big. I even write with a big pen, and the computer mouse I use is the biggest I could lay my fat hands on. Is it some kind of deep unresolved, psychological link to my ample physical girth? Perhaps, as our transatlantic cousins may suggest, I ďhave issuesĒ. Iím sure one of them will be only too willing to psychoanalyze me.
Well psychoanalyze this: I donít see the problem, personally. Thereís something quite reassuring about being able to go to McDonalds and get the slightly bigger version of those set meals, and not feel guilty. Supersize away. Iím a bit of a bloater, and rather proud of it.
Even though I am an ardent fan of anything huge, I do draw the line at some things. What is it that possesses people to go our and buy a one-foot wide wristwatch to hang on their wall? Or a chessboard several meters wide that they can use in the garden? Or even a two-foot tall acrylic hamburger that they can sit on? Perhaps among the most useless of all are those three-feet playing cards. Is there actually any point to any of these things, apart from making money for novelty plastics manufacturers?
We live on a big island, and we drive on big roads Ė roads that seem to be getting bigger on a daily basis, for no particular reason. Do we really need every carriageway in Phuket to become a four-lane superhighway? This is supposed to be a tropical island paradise, rather than a paradise for those who want to drive that bit faster or find even more lanes not to drive in.
Itís the side of the roads where I put my pseudo-gardenerís hat on and get a bit agitated at the people who make the decisions to hack away at whatever was there before, and lay down more tarmac. The problem is that they always cut back a bit more that they need to, in order to give themselves room to work, rather than thinking about what really should be there.
This inevitably leaves an unfortunate bare patch at the side of the road. Throw a bit of water into the equation (or several million gallons, as Phuket can expect on a regular basis at this time of year), and that bare patch isnít likely to stay put for long. There are areas all over the island where the rain has had exactly that unfortunate effect.
Viset road, south of Chalong as you head south to Rawai, has been upgraded to motorway status recently, and in places the road widening has left its mark. Chunks of the verges are disappearing as the Ďdrainsí are Ďimprovedí, but much worse is whatís going on north of Patong, as you climb the hill towards Kamala.
Theyíre building there at present, and I have the sneaking suspicion that the proud owner of the land will be chasing his real estate down towards Chalong Bay before he knows it Ė in places thereís absolutely nothing there to hold it together.
I can confirm how well-bonded together the soil in the picture was Ė I tried to climb up it just after I took this picture, and it was seriously hard work. It was literally like trying to climb up a sand dune, so I can imagine how easily the smallest amount of rain could ease it down the hill.
These kind of spots need help. Plants do a lot more than just sit there and make the place look tropical Ė in many areas theyíre the ones that are holding the fabric of the island together. If we remove them, then the ground where they once stood will simply disappear.
Thereís a very simple answer to this problem Ė plant trees there. An absolutely perfect tree for this purpose is the macaranga denticulata, or tong-tao kalo in Thai. Itís not the most sui plant in the world, I have to say. In fact Iíd go as far as describing it as rather ugly. On the plus side, itís incredibly effective at laying down roots very quickly that spread over a wide area and bind the soil together.
Clever road planners use them all the time. Rather that cover the banks at the side of the road with plastic netting, or acres of concrete, they just plonk a few hundred of these things in the ground, and long term, the verge will very much stay in its proper place, with absolutely no maintenance.
Before I started chuntering about nutty land owners and road planners, I was thinking about big stuff, I seem to recall. This is where the macaranga denticulata comes in Ė is leaves are absolutely huge. About 25 to 30 cm long, they look a lot like an elephantís ears.
The macaranga denticulata doesnít have a great deal with another big-leaved plant, the alocasia, which is a bit on the girly side, letís face it. All that one seems to do is sit there whether itís wanted or not, and sprout a few leaves before itís either hacked down or dies. The macaranga denticulata grows into a proper tree; a far more testosterone-oozing affair. It does the job well, too.
They started a research project at a university in Chiang Mai a few years ago, to try and work on the deforestation in the area. What they needed to do was encourage the regrowth of plantlife, and find trees that would develop and mature as quickly as possible. They wanted to attract seed-dispersing animals back into the area, so that once everything was in place, they could just leave the area to look after itself.
In the first 18 months of the project, the macaranga denticulata trees that they planted increased in size by about 4 meters. Thatís seriously going some.
Normally I spout on about how various plants will brighten up corners or provide shade or generally look good. Not the macaranga denticulata. Itís the ugly duckling of the plant world but itís a worker.
All we need in Phuket is a few more of these around the place. If we do that now, then at least when next the rainy season rolls along, at least thereís a chance that some of the soil thatís seen the light of day during recent island Ďimprovementsí will actually stay where itís supposed to be.
In the meantime, Iíll work on my size issues. Time for a double Big Mac, I think.