Satsang Schizz

On Sunday I experienced my first ever Satsang.  Like lots of stuff I end up doing it started with me seeing a post on Facebook, thinking “hmmmm I’m not sure what that is but it looks kind of interesting” and signing up.

 

According to Wikipedia, a Satsang is “a traditional activity in the Indian spiritual context, and basically translates to “being with good/righteous companions.”” In other words, it is a group of people sitting together with an enlightened person who usually gives a short speech and then answers questions.

 

Sunday afternoon saw myself, Ann & Otto piling into a tuktuk and heading about 10km down river to the secluded guesthouse that was hosting the event.

 

We arrived to find our guru, Ladu Baba already in residence, resplendent in his faded orange robes, sipping a cup of jasmine tea whilst gazing firstly into the middle distance and then latterly at his mobile phone.

 

At the requisite time we all plodded down to the lower deck to start the Satsang together with Ladu Baba.

 

A beautiful note resonated from a singing bowl deftly handled by a lady worthy of spiritual enlightenment solely as a result of her chosen outfit – harem pants, a bejewelled crop top, various jingling bracelets and three silver toe rings.

 

We sat patiently as the note quivered on, me already regretting my choice to adopt the seated meditation pose I know I can’t sustain for more than five monutes without starting to get chronic back pain.

 

Thankfully, reprieve came.  Just as Babu opened his eyes ready to enlighten us, the Chinese woman sitting opposite started jerking her head and poking at her ear.  Her boyfriend joined in the exploration of the ear canal and all sense of peace and tranquillity was lost as we stared on incredulously at the apish display in front of our eyes.

 

They got up and left, with miss harem pants explaining that she had a creature in her ear.

 

I took the opportunity to move, firstly as a way of better supporting my back by placing myself next to a pillar to lean on but also as Ann and I had struggled to hear the few words that Babu had so far uttered – a fact we thought might negatively impact on our experience which was specifically centred around listening to him talk.

 

And we waited with Babu maintaining his peaceful enlightened state for a good ten minutes before bluntly muttering something to harem pants lady which I didn’t quite catch but definitely had something to do with getting started as it had involved him getting his mobile phone out to check the time before hand.

Sitting closer and having time on my hands I was able to observe Babu more closely.  He truly was the epitome of Indian guruness, his face appearing to have been carved from a block of mahogany before being lovingly waxed, his hands leathery from years of toil and exposure and his great straggly beard tapering off into split ends galore.

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Finally, ear girl and her boyfriend returned – an ant had caused the issue and resolution was achieved after first drowning it in olive oil before scooping it out of her shell-like.

 

With everyone seated Babu shared some kind of spiritual prayer thingy (in Sangskrit I assume) before inviting us to chant a mantra together.  Norman was convinced that this was a stupid thing to do as how did I know what he was getting me to say – it could be anything, but I ignored him and complied, finally managing to get the different syllables in the right order by about the eighth time round but never quite mastering the key change (I sure wasn’t alone in that – there were some very oddly pitched noises coming from the right of the room!).

 

Rituals over, Babu settled into his stride, sharing with us his take on happiness and how to achieve it.  It quickly became apparent that Babu had a limited command of English which led to some interesting choices of phrase, a lot of repetition of the words god, stupidness and misunderstanding and more than a few side wards glances between Ann and myself that resulted in stifled giggles.

 

The giggles weren’t quite held in when, mid flow, Babu was interrupted by the resident dog who had come sniffing around to try and work out what was going on and in the process get himself some fuss and love.  Babu was having none of it, very firmly (and a little too loudly) stating no whilst commanding the dog to go away with a forceful hand gesture.  It worked and the dog shuffled away, tail firmly between his legs allowing Babu to continue to enlighten us with all things happiness and stupidness.

 

I took to gazing out towards the river as Babu continued on, listening to stuff I’ve read and heard many times before and in the main believe to be true but struggling at times to reconcile with some of the stuff he was saying, wondering if he truly meant that we shouldn’t judge others but should judge ourselves or whether it was a case of a message lost in translation.

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His message finally delivered, Babu invited questions from his assembled audience.  A well-meaning chap, the companion of harem pants lady and wearing more than a little hemp fabric, decided to share with Babu his difficulties maintaining focus on the stuff that’s really important thanks to the noise of the outside world and ask for his guidance.  Well, that’s what I heard anyway.  As for Babu, I’m not so sure as the question was met with a fervent (and again a little too loud) NO, followed by a bit of rant about stupidness.

 

And then came that moment. You know the one.  That moment when something like the above lost in translation engagement occurs and the questioner decides to try again.

 

It took every ounce of self-control I had to not yell ‘stop it you muppet” (yep I know it’s not a very enlightened way of being but it’s me so get over it!)as the same outside world… noise… staying on track…. speil spilled from hemp man’s lips to be met once more by emphatic, loud and totally irrelevant rebukes from Babu.

 

Eventually, both parties gave up and we were approaching the end.  A little white pot was retrieved from Babu’s bag of tricks and he invited each one of us to in turn go up and have a blob of it pressed onto our third eye whilst Babu did a weird rolling his eyes to the back of his head thing as he shared the energy or spirit or whatever it was with us.

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Ann & I feeling blessed

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Check out the eye roll thingy going on

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Hemp man receives his blessing despite having asked the same question twice

 

Ceremony complete and donations of energy paper (AKA hard currency) gratefully received by Babu, we headed back upstairs to grab a post Satsang libation and for me this was where the magic happened.  Our dissection and reconstruction of what had gone before led to a really interesting and enlightening discussion which went on well into the night.   Added to that we had the joy of experiencing Babu wandering down to the river and gazing out before taking numerous selfies from various angles .

 

So, would I do it again?

Well, whilst the Satsang itself was slightly underwhelming, the entertainment value inherent in it and the fab discussion that followed would certainly lead me to sign up for another should the opportunity occur.  Watch this space!

 

 

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More Cambodian food fun

Back in Phnom Penh for the weekend I met up last night with the lovely Kheang from VSO.  She’d contacted me earlier in the week and asked where I wanted to eat and I’d suggested soup, something we’d eaten together before and a reminder for me of many fun meals when living in China.

 

Basically, soup (or hot pot as they call it in China) is a communal affair.  A gas cooker is placed on the table and a bowl of steaming broth sits atop.  What else goes in is entirely at the behest of those around the table, this led to some hairy moments when dining with friends in China but last night meant a soupy mix of mushrooms, green veg, shrimp, crab and corn.  With an accompaniment of sweet chilli dip and a bottle or two of pretty shit tasting but icy cold Cambodian beer it made for what should have been a delicious meal.

Unfortunately though, in the restaurant Kheang had taken me to the soup was only half the story, the other half consisting of barbeque.  Again involving a gas camping cooker, this time with a griddle pan atop onto which two lumps of white greasy pork fat were placed along with a dish of bright yellow gloop which Kheang described as butter.  One sniff and my worst fears were confirmed, the dish did not contain butter but instead was filled with vile smelling margarine – the type found in those 1kg Kraft tubs any Brit of my generation or older will remember well.

 

Slowly, the lurid yellow plastic fat melted in the dish, the smell drifting towards my nostrils causing me to feign an I’m hot moment requiring major hand wafting as I tried to fan the stench away.

Eng, our companion for the evening excitedly poured the gloop onto the griddle and slapped meat, fish and seafood on to fry away having firstly blocked the griddle drain hole with a plug formed from an okra finger ensuring the food was swimming in the processed oil slick.  Thankfully, the cooking food smell masked that of the marge but that only served to lead me to a foolish decision to try a piece of the lightly charred barbecued beef.  The minute I put it into my mouth my gag reflex kicked in as the taste of bad margarine flooded my mouth.  A quick gulp of beer washed away the worst of it and I lavishly dipped some mushrooms into chilli sauce before chomping away on them to remove the remainder of the gruesome flavoured oil slick in my mouth.

 

Needless to say, for the rest of the meal my chopsticks were pointed firmly towards the soup cooker and my eyes studiously averted from the yellow cesspool that Eng was delightedly dipping his animal products into before lobbing them onto the griddle.

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Having had my fill of soup I headed to the icecream stand (yep it appears that icecream is the standard all you can eat buffet dessert offering in countries other than England) and grabbed a ridiculously small metal saucer which I piled high with garish pink strawberry ice cream.  Back at the table I tucked in using a tiny teaspoon which buckled under the weight and density of the frozen dessert. Undeterred, I shovelled the tasty sweet treat down and thankfully had finished my last mouthful before I turned just in time to see a certain someone dip a digit in the toxic fat pot before transferring said finger to his mouth.

Even now my tummy does a little turn at the thought!

A lovely Cambodian afternoon

One of my favourite Cambodian things to do is to go and eat banh chao.  It’s one of those eating experiences best shared with a friend and on Tuesday I had the opportunity to indulge.

 

A huge storm on Tuesday afternoon meant that:

  • Class was a very noisy affair as I competed against the noise of the torrential downpour and accompanying electrical activity (complete with shrieks from both kids and TA at each thunder roll and lightning flash)
  • I got the opportunity to teach the kids the ‘I hear thunder’ song and then sing it every single time a clap of thunder rolled overhead. I was entertained by it – everyone else not so much so!
  • All of the dirt roads in Kampot turned to red mushy sludge

 

The latter point in that list is significant as it meant that when Channy picked me up from school at 4.45 to go eat banh chao, within 5 minutes we were immersed in this mud fuelled hell.  In fairness to Channy, she’s an excellent motorbike driver meaning I felt confident enough to video part of the yukky journey (I obviously kept my feet very firmly planted on the foot pegs of the bike) only erring at the point where Channy contemplated turning back to visit a different banh chao seller (listen carefully to the video and you can hear my concern at the potential that this would occur).

On arrival, having chosen our hut and with only minimal mud splashes on our feet and calves we headed to the counter to order.  Both ridiculously hungry we ordered not only one banh chao each but also a bowl of noodles each – curry flavour for me and traditional Kampot noodles (fish soup noodles basically) for Channy.  Oh and I almost forgot, Channy also bought us 6 lotus flower seed pods to snack on while we waited.

 

Settled in our open sided hut I had my first try of lotus seeds and whilst they have very little taste I could see how I would very quickly munch my way through a head full of them.  The rhythmic process of pooping the seed from the head, then releasing it from its shell before popping the seed in your mouth felt very therapeutic.

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Our first course arrived and, with Channy expertly seated in her hammock and me choosing the far safer option of sitting on the floor, we slurped away happily.

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And then it was time for the main event.  Banh chao is basically a rice flour pancake stuffed with minced pork.  You eat it with your hands by ripping off a piece of the pancake and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf that you add various herbs too.  Dipped into a pot of fish sauce, chilli and nut dip it’s ready to chow down on and far more delicious than it probably sounds from my description.

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We had had a bit of an eyes bigger than our bellies moment when ordering and so had to have a brief rest with Channy swinging in her hammock and me embarrassing her with my rolling about in various bad yoga poses on the floor.

 

The little huts that you sit in are quite low to the ground and as you sit eating the local wildlife will often come for a wander around.  We were visited by the obligatory cats and dogs on this occasion along with a couple of chickens and a gorgeous young calf who came for a chew on a nearby plant.

The venues are very popular with groups of young people and the vague sound of chatter and music videos being played on the mandatory smart phone fills the air whenever you visit.

 

On an earlier visit to this spot, Channy told me of a nearby location that has huts where the roof comes all the way down – perfect for that clandestine engagement should the opportunity ever arise!

 

The lotus pond to our right was beautiful in the early evening light with the post storm breeze gently bending the stems of the buds and leaves.  Couples and groups of young people wandered across the rickety little plank bridge to reach the other side and embark in selfie activity on the train tracks and all the while Channy and sat and chomped and chatted.  A perfect way to spend a late afternoon/early evening, although I have to admit that the ten degree drop in temperature from a gluey, yukky body temperature equivalent of 37.6 degrees down to 27 left me chilly in general and with positively icy feet.  This does not bode well for my upcoming UK trip!!

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Finally finished with our feast, we washed it down with the Cambodian non-alcoholic drink of choice – fruity, sweet sugar cane juice and Channy (having planted the remaining herbs from my banh chao in the mud next to the pond as it was apparently “perfect growing time”) continued to munch away at the lotus seeds, determined at one point to finish all six heads before we left.

With the light fading fast and the chill really setting in we decided to stash two heads of lotus in the bike seat and head home.  On concrete roads this time the ride was less slippy and muddy but the cool breeze and odd huge rain drop plopping down on us added an element of entertainment to the extremely sedate pootle home (27kmh was our top speed).

 

Back home, I quickly locked the door to keep the cold out and changed into my PJs before curling up under the sheet (no fan!!!) to catch up on my documentary watching (my latest TV obsession).

 

A lovely Cambodian afternoon indeed.

Classroom characters

I’m coming to the end of my brief spell teaching the English as a Second Language class in the lovely little home school in town and have been busy writing handover notes for my successor.

 

Whilst trying very hard to remain professional whilst writing this document, I couldn’t help but think how much easier it would be if I could just describe the children in terms of their animal characteristics and so, that is exactly what I’m going to do for you now.

 

Mischievous monkey

 

Often found hanging onto the back of your legs or jumping off furniture, mischievous monkey enjoys tipping boxes and buckets of things on the floor and also wiping his/her hands all over the chalk board before smacking you on the bum.  Permanent ants in pants means mischievous monkey will generally spin/crawl and twist around throughout any activity.  Has a tendency to wear trousers one size too big and therefore needs chasing around and hoisting back into said trousers whilst monkey is all the time trying to wriggle free.

 

Spaced out sloth

 

A vague ‘lights are on but nobody’s home’ look haunts the eyes of sullen sloth.  Often seen with mouth hanging open languidly, spaced out sloth finds it impossible to sit up straight and generally resembles a puppet whose strings have gone slack when sat in circle time.  Living in a world of his/her own creation, spaced out sloth will generally find something to do out of the activities on offer and do it they ill, very slowly and over and over again.

 

Chattering chimp

 

Prattling away ten to the dozen, sadly most of what chattering chimp has to say is incomprehensible to human ears.  Another character who likes to jump off things they also like to use your left arm as a swing/pull along toy.  Volunteers for everything without a clue what they’re volunteering for.

 

Stubborn mule

 

The sulky child in class, stubborn mule likes to get his/her own way and tries to do so by sulking and crying.  Yet to work out that his teacher is the queen of ignoring sulkers, can be seen muttering under his/her breath whilst dramatically folding arms and harrumphing if they aren’t allowed to take part in their first choice activity or ignore an instruction to not put hands up to get a go in a game.  When not sulking, stubborn mule is determined to get their message across – by saying the same thing (only partially comprehensibly) fifty two times in an hour.

 

King of the jungle

 

The king of the jungle has self appointed as teacher, criticising other creatures for their slovenly manners, use of Khmer in class or inappropriate behaviour.  Sadly, has also adopted a stance of do as I say, not as I do this creature regularly models the behaviours so unacceptable in others.

 

Cheeky chipmunks

 

Those little tiny tots who are sooooo cute you want to squeeze them.  Often pop up from behind a table or chair when least expected or cuddle in groups in the reading corner adorably ‘reading’ together.  Require frequent naps and toilet trips but OMG they’re just soooooo cute.

 

Sweaty moose

The biggest creature in the class.  This curious creature of a certain age takes significantly longer than the rest of the zoo to sit down in or get up from circle town.  Constantly pushing her glasses up her nose, wiping beads of sweat from her temples and trying not to drip on the children’s artwork, sweaty moose excelled herself this week by sporting not only a salt ring from sweat around her neck but two extremely distinctive sweat circles rimmed with sweat on her boobs.  This creature ages 2 years for every 2 weeks spent in the classroom and has been known to resort to alcohol consumption as a result of such work.

 

So there you have it, the creatures in my class.  Oh what fun we have!

 

It’s a Miracle

Laid on his side, eyes rolled to the back of his head and tongue hanging limp out of the side of his mouth there was no sign of breathing in yappy dog’s lifeless corpse that was swarming with flies.

 

I spotted him just as I was heading out to the spa yesterday morning.  He was at the top of the driveway, just off to the side in front of Jack’s car.

 

Papa was further down the drive sweeping and so I called to him and indicated via dodgy Khmer and hand gestures that I thought yappy dog was dead.   He seemed non-plussed, only briefly pausing before going back to leaf sweeping duties.

 

I wander dejectedly down the road, the image of the lifeless animal embedded in my mind, the evidence that life is cheap inherent in papa’s reaction jarring, the internal struggle of feeling sad but at the same time having to admit I was a little bit pleased that my home would in future be surrounded by slightly less yappiness.

 

The day passed in a haze of pampering, chatting and lounging by the river and after a brief but refreshing storm mid afternoon I headed home fearful that the ‘corpse’ would still be there and wondering how mama would be following the death of here beloved Bean aka yappy dog.

 

No sign of dead dogness as I wandered in, all was quiet, not a soul to be seen.  I headed in, hopped in the shower and then lay on my bed reading when suddenly I heard an all too familiar sound.

 

Yep, you guessed it, yappy dog was alive and well, charging up the drive way and yapping at full volume at an imagined imposter.

 

No wonder papa was non-plussed.  I can only imagine the thoughts going through his head as the stupid foreigner pointed out the sleeping dog to him!

 

All in a day’s bonkersness in the Kingdom of Wonder.

 

 

 

#breakingnews

Apparently there’s some kind of breaking news about Megan Markle and Prince Charles.  I have no idea what it is or if it is significant but in other news:

 

10 minutes before the end of class today a child, who shall remain nameless, decided to mix 3, 40 piece jigsaw puzzles into one

 

The frenzied ‘lets sort these puzzles out’ actions that followed resulted in class ending  late

 

My Friday (super strong made by Jules) G&T after class was interrupted by a parent who rocked up 1/2 hour late to pick up their child and was slightly bemused that said child was no longer at school as had been picked up by ANOther

 

That interruption paled into insignificance when I headed out to meet my cocktail buddies, with the first step being to  try to find my fitflops.

 

The help of children and school owners was requested for the search

 

Eventually, the missing flip flop turned up at the back og the school with the toe post and a significant chunk of the foot cover gnawed away.

 

It appears that resident puppy had decided my fitflop was an afternoon snack.

 

Thus followed a one footed bike ride to Jos’ house to borrow her only spare pair of shoes (thank god for felllow live in Cambodia big foots)

 

I managed to arrive just in time for the end of aperotime at Riki by the skin of my teeth and downed two Tom Collins cocktails like my life depended on it

 

Quiz night (my second attendance with a seriously committed to winning core team) resulted in super smug Saraness when an answer I gave proved to be correct but was ignored.  Needless to say I didn’t let them forget this fact for the remainder of the evening.

 

Quiz concluded ( we did actually win (in no small part due to my picture and music round prowess)) I stopped drinking gin and watched as a tuktuk driver secured my bike to the tailgate before transporting me home.

 

This post comes to you via a pickled liver combined with a real desire to actually make sense.

 

Who knows if I achieved it – maybe I never will!

 

My Twenty Firsts

Noodling about on Twitter earlier today, I came across a blog entitled ‘My First Time’ and dove in for a snoop to learn more.  Turns out it was a list of 30 of the author’s `firsts’ and it inspired me to write a similar post today.

 

So, here you have it, my 20 firsts:

 

  1. First app you check when you wake up in the morning?

The 1st app I check in the morning is always Instagram, followed by Gmail.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit that, despite having deleted the Facebook app to stop me obsessively checking it,  I check it 3rd every morning, using the web browser version which is second rate and really pisses me off – go figure!

  1. First foreign country you ever visited?

I first went abroad on a school trip to northern France.  I have very few memories of that trip other than the clocks changing mid way through the week confusing the hell out of everyone, eating saucisson et frites from a seaside burger van and throwing up over my coat sleeve on the ferry home and spending the remainder of the journey freezing cold and stinking of puke.

  1. First plane ride you ever went on?

My first plane ride was taken a week before my 21st birthday when I headed off to Egypt to go on a cruise down the Nile followed by a week in Luxor & Cairo.  We sat in the smoking section (yep that was a thing back then) and apart from sitting in a stinky haze for the whole flight that made me not want a cigarette myself (I was a 20 a day girl at the time)  I remember drinking really bad, lukewarm coffee out of plastic cups with an odd handle that wasn’t quite the right size to hook your finger in.

  1. First time I ever got into trouble at home and school?

I’ve no idea of the first time I got in trouble at home (ask Victoria or my mum, they’ll probably tell you).  As for school, I remember it well.  The first time I got into trouble at school was for talking in class (Yr1 primary).  I had to stand on my chair for the rest of the lesson as punishment.  There’s only one other time I remember getting in trouble in Primary School and that’s when I co-led a strike against the dinner ladies, which involved hoisting our cardigans on sticks and marching around the playground waving them and chanting “we hate the dinner ladies”.  I have no idea what brought on this protest but I do remember the humiliation that followed as we were torn off a strip by the deputy head.  As for getting in trouble in Secondary School, my free hosted WordPress site does not have the capacity to hold an article big enough to detail all of those!

  1. My first BF/GF?

My first ‘proper’ boyfriend was a guy called Neil who I met on a joint boys’ brigade/girls’ brigade camp somewhere down south.  We shared a love of The Human League and had an illicit snog on the last night of camp.

  1. My First car?

My first car was a red R registration mini called Ruby.  She was extremely tempremental and so I used to tuck her in under a big thick blanket and say night night to her every night in the vain hope that this would mean she’d start first time in the morning.

  1. My first ever cell phone?

The first mobile I had was some form of flip phone with a pull out ariel.  I bought it when I was on my placement year from uni as I was travelling huge distances everyday in yet another tempremental car, this time a VW Passat called Vernon.

  1. My first heartbreak

That was Neil too.  We dated for a while after camp (he lived in Loughborough & I lived in Shepshed) but then after a while he unceremoniously dumped me, in the process breaking my heart.

  1. My first internet activity?

This was using Yahoo mail when I lived in China.  The dial up (remember the shrieking sound of the line  trying to connect) was soooooo slow that I would often get up in the middle of the night to try to access my mail and regularly managed to make a cup of tea and return to my desk before the inbox had loaded.

  1. My first job?

I had two jobs when I was at school.  One was a morning paper round and the other was cleaning in the local butchers shop after school.  I’m not sure which came first, but I do know the tips were better for the paper round, but the pork crackling at the butchers was better than any financial compensation.

  1. My first piercing and when did I get it?

I had my ears pierced as a teenager at the same time as I was allowed to have my long hair cut for the first time.  A few years later I got my nose pierced and loved it, but had to take it out as trying to get a corkscrew stud into the hole made me wretch.

  1. My first swear word?

Oh gosh, who knows what this was.  I do know that it probably resulted in a mouthful of Imperial Leather soap which, for those who know me now know, didn’t deter me enough to stop me developing a huge potty mouth now with a particular passion for the F word.

  1. My first tattoo?

At the tender age of 37 I got a ghecko tattoed on my right thigh.  I now also have a Manchester bee on my left ankle and some writing on my right wrist and am contemplating a further addition on my foot.

  1. My first thought today?

Oh damn, I didn’t blog!

  1. The first book I remember reading?

This would probably be either Charlie & The Chocolate Factory or one of the Famous Five books

  1. The first concert I ever attended?

I was a late bloomer on the gig front, only attending my first concert in 2004 when I saw The Red Hot Chilli Peppers in Hyde Park.

  1. The first person I talked to today?

Mama.  We traded niceties and I then told here “have problem, water not good” and made wooshing noises whilst pointing furiously at the filter that was gushing out water

  1. The first thing I do when I get home?

Throw down my keys and purse, click the fan on full, strip off and lie until dry (keeping it classy!)

  1. First time I got in a fist fight?
    This was at secondary school where I had a habit of picking fights with boys which I think was my antedote to being bullied by the girls.
  2. The first film I remember seeing?

Whatever this was it would have been a musical.  I do have very clear memories of the first film we ever video recorded – Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – which we watched so often that I know every song off by heart.